In tranquil surroundings bathed in autumnal sunshine, I took part in a classic wedding in rural Somerset the other day.
It seems to have been ages since I drove a heritage bus for a wedding. In fact, although I’ve done numerous private hire duties for Crosville Motor Services during this year, the last one to involve a wedding was back in May.
One of the many delights of Crosville private hire duties is that occasionally they involve more than one bus. So it was good to meet up with my friend Dave Moore at the Crosville depot last Saturday as together we prepared our two vehicles. I was rostered with 1950 Bristol L5G KFM893 (Crosville KG131) and Dave had 1959 Bristol LD6G 969EHW (Bath Services L8515). The duty Operations Manager popped over with a bag of ribbons and bows supplied by the client. He appeared rather keen not to be involved in affixing them to the buses so left them for Dave and me to sort out. Fortunately we had both arrived with plenty of time in hand so we had time to dress up the buses as well as do our usual checks and preparations. I also had a few moments to check on two other Lodekkas, both of which were undergoing major engine surgery.
As is my custom, I had earlier studied the routes for the day. So had Dave, so we agreed on the best route for our buses. Although there was nothing we could do to avoid the long and arduous climb of Red Hill on the way towards Bristol Airport, we decided not to use the more direct road to Winford Manor which would have taken us there via a long and occasionally narrow lane. By going a little further past the Airport, we made use of a wider road which offered fewer hazards.
Staff at the Manor had helpfully cordoned off an area for wedding transport parking so we reversed our buses into the space and took a break while the guests arrived. Also arriving soon after was a gleaming 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith. The smartly dressed driver (who I’m sure I’ve met before…) soon got busy with his cloth, making sure that his beautiful limousine looked its best.
When all the passengers were on board I led the way in the Bristol L. The trickiest part was the lane down to the main road and I narrowly avoided being caught in the middle of one of the narrowest bits when, over the hedgerows, I saw a Land Rover approaching. I was able to wait where the road was wider until the Land Rover had passed.
I had another heart-stopping moment when I changed down from overdrive (or 5th gear) into 4th in preparation for the long descent of Red Hill. Lifting the clutch, I found that the gearbox was still in the second neutral position that lies between 5th and 4th, even though the stick was fully back in the 4th position. Some fancy footwork then ensued, along with a few blips on the throttle, before finally finding safety in 3rd gear ready for the steepest part of the descent. Phew!
It wasn’t long before I arrived in the tiny village of Burrington and stopped near the church gates. There was a small parking area in front of the church and the Primary School but it was mostly full of cars. After the wedding guests had alighted, I walked around to work out the best way of turning and parking the buses. The Lodekka arrived as I was doing this and I stood with the driver beside the platform as the passengers stepped down. I was surprised to note that nobody said “Cheers, droive!” – they usually do, especially if they are broad Bristol folk! My faith in traditional Bristolian was restored by one elderly lady who appeared on the platform, waving something in her hand. “Oo-ee!” she called, as she stood on the edge, “sumbuddy av lef thur purrse on da bus, look!” Students of the Bristol dialect will know that you have to use the words ‘look’ and ‘mind’ often, whether they’re required or not!
We turned the buses and reversed them into the last remaining spaces, whereupon a lunchbreak and a long-overdue catchup were enjoyed. Eventually the church bells began to ring out so we stood by to receive guests once more. We couldn’t help remarking that the bridesmaids were probably very glad to have thick ‘fur’ stoles to protect their shoulders against the chilly afternoon breeze.
After the ritual of confetti at the church gate, the Rolls departed for the hotel and the guests boarded the buses again. Aware of the impending long slog up Red Hill with a loaded 5-cylinder Bristol L, I had to warn Driver Moore that I would most likely be in 1st gear for most of it. As it happened, the Lodekka left first with me not far behind. We seemed to be keeping pace with each other as we met the gradient and the old Bristol L managed the climb in 2nd gear. It may have been wishful thinking, but I’m sure I was gaining ground on the LD by the top of the hill! During the climb I had plenty of time for observations and I was happy to note that the exhaust from both buses was clean and clear, signs of well maintained pumps and injectors.
After a journey of about 30 minutes we were back at Winford Manor and we stood back while various photographs were taken with the buses as a backdrop. The father of the bride expressed his thanks and the bridal party continued indoors to be greeted by champagne and the soft sounds of a harpist. That was our signal to leave so we proceeded empty to the depot. We arrived to find the garage in darkness – the cleaners’ evening shift had not yet started so we fumbled around in the shadows looking for switches to operate the newly installed floodlighting. With the lights now on, we could see a bit better but it was still dim in the ‘heritage corner’ so we had to help each other park with the aid of torch signals.
Coming up next: a continental journey for one of the Olympian open toppers.