A few days ago I had the pleasure of transporting staff from a Bristol web development company on a scenic tour through the Chew Valley, Somerset.
Managers at Simpleweb had planned a Christmas celebration for staff at two venues but had kept the means of transport secret. So when I turned up with ex-Bath Services Lodekka L8515 (969EHW) outside their Albion Dock offices I got some blank looks when I announced that their vintage bus was ready and waiting!
I was originally rostered with ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) but this is now in winter storage but I was more than happy with the replacement, especially as the final destination was in the centre of Bath!
For the first time in many months I drove up to Bristol on the A370 and saw firsthand some of the major works on a new South Bristol Link road which will eventually skirt around the south side of Bristol. This will prove very useful to me on those occasions when I need to head across in the Bath direction.
The client had requested a scenic route to their first destination, via the Chew Valley so I had previously spent some time planning my route. What I hadn’t planned for was a road closure near Chew Magna, a village through which I’d planned to pass.
The bus wasn’t full by any means and all the passengers were easily accommodated upstairs. Due to a road closure near the Cumberland Basin, we headed out of the city through Bedminster but met more roadworks on the A38 where the aforementioned South Bristol Link road is under construction. We soon turned off the A38 and passed through much more pleasant countryside as we pottered along the B-roads through Winford and the Chew Valley.
The weather was mild for December and the wintery sun bathed the fields and hedgerows with its pale rays. We passed very close to a very impressive buzzard which glowered at us from the top of a hedge as we trundled by. Our rustic rambling was brought to an abrupt halt when we came to a sign at a crossroads which indicated that there was a road closure ahead. I didn’t recognise the placename on the sign so I stopped the bus and went round to ask if anyone knew where the closure was. After several of us consulted maps on various smartphones we decided – particularly in the light of another sign which said ‘Businesses still open’ – that it would be OK to carry on towards Chew Magna where I’d planned to head off southwards anyway. Plan B was to turn the bus around and use the diversionary route! It all turned out OK as the closure affected a road which my route didn’t use, thankfully.
I was very glad, however, when we reached the A368 and we were able to make good progress without fear of further delays. Despite being an A-road, it was very hilly and once or twice had to go down to second gear but at other times was able to bowl along at 40mph.
Eventually we turned in to The Pig Hotel, Pensford and the passengers went inside for their Christmas meal. Several passed on compliments on my driving through the country lanes and one observed that the bus seemed to struggle on the hills. He was right, it did. But I explained that it was from another era when all heavy vehicles were underpowered by today’s standards.
The Pig Hotel is a Georgian manor house formerly known as Hunstrete House and is primarily a high class restaurant. The interior style is what they call nowadays ‘shabby chic’.
After taking the photo seen at the top of this post, I parked the Lodekka in one of the large parking areas behind the house. I had several hours to kill so had some lunch and wandered round the grounds. I also investigated the front destination blind on the bus. I had wanted to change it but had discovered that the winding handles were located inside the cab and not on the outside as per usual. This meant that I couldn’t see what the destinations and numbers were showing on the outside. After some sleuth work in the cab I found that, after moving the ceiling-mounted sunshade down, I could access another flap which provided a view up behind the destination box. Success! I changed it to display ‘Bath – 2016’ ready for the next leg of our journey. While I was at it, I changed the rear numbers to ‘1959’, the year the bus was built. Hooray for a 4-track number box!
As departure time approached I brought the bus round to the front of the house again. By now it was getting dark and chilly. The nice lady from Simpleweb who had booked the bus came out and invited me inside to have a cup of tea. This was just what the doctor ordered and I enjoyed a cuppa while sitting beside a roaring log fire. Lovely!
As people came out from the house I started the engine and turned on all the lights. Soon we were on our merry (literally, in some cases) way, heading towards Bath and the final destination. It was properly dark now and I was glad to be on the main road and not the narrow lanes! Friday evening rush hour was now in full swing and, as we headed into the city, I prepared myself for lots of stick work as we mingled with the heavy traffic. Fortunately I knew exactly where I needed to go but even so I had to be on my toes so as not to be a hindrance to other road users.
Reading the road ahead is key here, not only by being in the correct lane but also being aware of other traffic at junctions. To get away smartly from traffic lights and at junctions it pays to get into the right gear beforehand so that we can forge ahead without delay. Knowing that a Lodekka is sluggish at the best of times, I used the whole rev range to get the best performance out of the Gardner 6LW engine.
Finally we arrived at Opium Bar, a nightclub near the famous Pulteney Bridge. Now with an empty bus I could breathe a sigh of relief and turn my thoughts to the journey back to Weston. I’m a bit of a poser when I’m driving a heritage bus, I must admit. I like to wear an authentic Tilling winter uniform when on duty in the cold, dark months of winter. For the same reason I decided I’d keep the interior lights on, even though the bus was empty. Well, it’s not every day I get to drive an ex-Bath bus through Bath at night time! But before I set off I pulled the blinds on the front bulkhead down so that I wouldn’t be distracted by the interior lights on the unlit sections of road I’d be using later.
Apart from the usual heavy traffic in Brislington, the journey was trouble-free. I took advantage of a long bus lane past the Park & Ride site to jump a long queue of cars, which made me smile. I was entitled to use it, so why not?!
It had been a long day and I was getting weary by the time I’d parked the bus in the garage. All the same, I count myself very lucky to do what I do and it brings me a lot of pleasure to see people’s faces and hear their comments after a job well done. Happy Christmas, Simpleweb!