The long drawn out saga of the Exeter Bus Station redevelopment had a milestone day recently, as a strong turnout of heritage and modern buses and coaches filled the station for a farewell event.
I say long drawn out because the station was due to have been closed by now and the running day on Sunday 19th March was to have been its final fling. But planning officers, contractors and the square wheels of bureaucracy conspired to delay the closure and the site remains open for the time being.
I played a small part in the running day by collecting Western National 3307, a 1979 Bristol LH6L/ Plaxton Supreme coach which belongs to the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), from its storage yard and driving it in service during the day. Several other historic vehicles from the area queued for fuel in a nearby town before heading off for Exeter.
I’ve driven this LH before and, although it’s not my favourite type, I found it quite easy to drive smoothly. I had time before my first duty to wander around but, even before I’d stepped off the coach, my planned duties were changed and I found myself covering a duty that was left vacant by a bus which didn’t appear.
Instead of doing a few trips up Telegraph Hill and back I was given two turns out to Alphington and one to St David’s Station. I knew roughly how to get to Alphington (a suburb on the west side of Exeter) but got the finer details about where to turn the LH coach from my WHOTT colleague Inspector Andrews. I drove down Western Way to Exe Bridges, which was very busy as per usual. Passing the Marsh Barton Trading Estate, I turned left and drove through Alphington and turned on a small triangle on the edge of the village. We stopped there to wait time and several passengers took the opportunity to take photos.
Speaking of photography, on one of the Alphington turns I was closely observed by a chap sitting nearby who captured the entire journey on video. Fortunately I only noticed him near the end of the trip. It always puts me on edge when I know that my driving is being recorded for others to scrutinise!
None of my trips that day were fully loaded but I noticed that most of the Devon General deckers left the bus station well loaded most of the time. One of the DG AEC Regents on static display (seen right, parked next to the Routemaster) belonged to the late Philip Platt who sadly passed away late last year. He was largely responsible for the day’s events and did much of the initial planning so the event, as it unfolded, served as a fitting tribute to Philip as well as the Bus Station. The Regent O661 bus I mentioned is unique in that it carries a very unusual lightweight body constructed by Saunders-Roe, a company more associated with aircraft than with buses.
As usual I was able to meet up with friends and former colleagues as I wandered about the site and at lunchtime. One of them, another WHOTT colleague, was to meet up with me at Crosville’s depot in Weston-super-Mare later in the week but more of that another time! I had time between duties to take a ride on Portsmouth Corporation Leyland PD2/12 LRV992, which is now owned by Stagecoach and wears a traditional Devon General open top bus livery. On this occasion it was driven by my friend James Pratt and it was interesting to compare the sound and performance of the bus with the slightly older PD2 which I drive on sightseeing tours in Torbay.
My final trip of the day was a short journey down to Exeter St David’s Station and, after returning to the lower level of the Bus Station, I watched some of the visiting vehicles departing the site for the very last time. I was reminded of the day when I took part in another event to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station – a sign of changing times!
This rear view of Western National 1969 (Bristol FLF6G 468FTT) captured a very pleasing array of period advertisements. I always appreciate seeing buses which carry appropriate adverts as they are the finishing touch that’s often missing from heritage buses these days. To that end, I’ve been helping the folks at Crosville to research and recreate period adverts for their latest restoration, a Southern Vectis Bristol Lodekka which is due to re-enter service in the heritage fleet soon.
In other news, I also had a wedding duty recently with Crosville KG131 (KFM893), a 1950 Bristol L5G. This involved picking up the bridal party from a narrow residential road in Whitchurch, Bristol, and taking them to the Register Office in Bristol city centre before taking them and a bus-load of guests out to Old Down Manor near Thornbury for the reception.