Yesterday’s private hire duty was notable for taking me to some places with very limited clearance. It was a good test of my spacial awareness skills.
The allocated bus was open top Lodekka DGF81 (FSF6G 891VFM), a genuine Crosville bus dating from 1961. I had spent most of the previous day in the office at Crosville and had time to check and fuel the bus so that I didn’t have to spend too much time early the next day in preparation. The pickup time was 10:30 at Orchardleigh House, near Frome so I allowed myself a generous 2 hours to make the empty journey. The most direct route was nevertheless a tortuous, rural one and my speed would rarely get above 30mph.
In fact ‘limited clearance’ could apply to the outward journey quite easily as I trundled through the villages of Banwell, Sandford and Blagdon. There was plenty of hedge-hugging, double-declutching and wheel-heaving! Reaching West Harptree, I set off along the B3114 to eventually join up with the A39 at Chewton Mendip towards Bath. Briefly reaching 45mph, I soon went back down the box for the turning to Farrington Gurney, Midsomer Norton and Radstock. Somerset seems to have more than its fair share of double-barrelled place names and today I seemed to be visiting most of them!
Finally, after passing through Buckland Dinham, I reached the imposing entrance to Orchardleigh House. I’ve been here before with a heritage bus and I recognised the twin stone-built lodges which stand guard over the gated entrance to the vast estate. The drive up to the house is almost a mile long and passes through a golf course on the way.
I parked the bus near the Walled Garden and the complex of cottages in which most of the wedding guests had spent the previous night. I caught up with some of them on the lawn and learned that the celebrations had started the previous evening!
Our buses are not decorated with ribbons as standard (although I plan to change that eventually) so some family members set to work with cream ribbons, bows and streamers of their own.
The wedding ceremony was set to take place at the parish church not far away, in the village of Lullington. I had been advised (and already knew from my previous visit) that there is a northern entrance to the estate but the gateway is through a narrow arch so I had planned a circuitous route via Frome town centre instead.
What I hadn’t bargained for was the trees in Lullington Lane on the way to the church. I had done a ‘virtual trip’ with Google Maps a few days previously and had already planned to warn the top deck passengers to be wary of low branches. As it turned out, they were plentiful and I had to drive carefully and slowly to avoid the worst ones.
The lane passed the aforementioned northern entrance at one point and I shot a quick glance at it. The big wooden gates were open and, approaching up the long drive from the house, a vintage Rolls Royce was bringing the bride up to the church. I made a mental note to come back on foot and check out the archway to see if there was any chance the bus would fit. Plan B was hatching as we approached the church – I wanted to avoid a return journey through the low branches if I could.
Once the bus was empty I turned it around in a nearby farmyard and looked for somewhere to park up while the wedding took place in the church. The road outside the church was narrow and I couldn’t leave the bus anywhere without causing an obstruction so I decided to take it back down the lane a short way to check out that archway. I stopped just short of the archway and got out to size up the situation. Plan C was to reverse back out if the bus didn’t fit! I decided that there was room to pass through so I inched through very slowly and the bus passed through unscathed.
Safely through and Plan B in place, I took a lunch break and waited for the agreed pickup time. Back at the church, I waited until everyone was aboard and seated.
Me: “Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?”
Laughter and groans, in equal measure.
Passenger: “Is it going to rain in a minute?”
Me: “No, not that. The good news is that we don’t have to do battle with those low branches again!”
Another passenger: “Oh, I rather enjoyed that…”
Me: “The bad news is, you still have to duck because we’re going through a low archway instead!”
I assured them that the bus would fit, having proved it while they were in the church. I mentioned the archway to the downstairs passengers and asked if, at the critical moment, they would all be kind enough to breathe in.
Just to assure you, dear reader, that those on top were never really in any danger as the top of the archway was well above their heads. We proceeded slowly through and on down the driveway to the Walled Garden, where gazebos and marquees were set out in readiness for the wedding reception. A final brush with nature lay in wait as we had to drive through more low branches at the entrance to the garden car park! I decided that, although no harm was done, I would make a note to take only single deck buses to Orchardleigh in future!
In other news, I took a Crosville Bristol L5G to Taunton recently to take mourners to a funeral, a ‘first’ for me. The gentleman who had passed away had been an avid bus enthusiast for most of his life, with a particular interest in Crosville buses. His widow was moved to tears when she learned that we could not only accept her late booking (which is unusual) but also provide a genuine Crosville bus.
Last week I brought back the final hybrid bus to be converted to open top format. The journey back from Yorkshire was punctuated by a serious road accident near Driffield. Fortunately I could see the blockage ahead and was able to turn the bus around in a filling station (after topping up the tank). Smartphones are great in these situations and I could use my map app to plan an alternative route and check that there were no low railway bridges on the way!
Finally, I’m looking forward to driving the cream open top Bristol Lodekka featured in this post on Saturday. We’re running it in service on the 100 route to Sand Bay in Weston-super-Mare, which is normally the domain of the modern open tops I mentioned above. Together with a 1950 Bristol L, we are turning the clock back and running the service with half cab buses, complete with bus conductors! Hold very tight please, ding ding!