If there’s anything worse than driving a Bristol Lodekka in the middle of a heatwave, it’s driving a Lodekka with CBC cooling in the middle of a heatwave.
On one of the hottest June days since the infamous summer of 1976, I had to endure the searing heat of not only the weather but also of the plumbing for the Cave-Brown-Cave cooling apparatus which passes through the driver’s cab.
This came the day after an equally hot and energetic duty with Bristol FSF6G 891VFM on the 100 service to Sand Bay and, while I usually enjoy sunny days, I began to wish it wasn’t quite so hot. Together with my conductor Kevin, I prepared ex-BOC LC8515 (Bristol LD6B 972EHW) at the Crosville depot. The bus hadn’t been used for a week or so and was very reluctant to start. It needed a lot of persuasion and, as I sat in the cab teasing the Bristol AVW engine into life, I began to wonder if it would ever develop enough power to drag the bus out of the garage! Eventually the AVW settled down into its familiar burble so I left it running while we attached ribbons and bows which had been sent in by the customer. With all the checks completed we set off through Banwell, Churchill and Lower Langford.
We arrived at Coombe Lodge with time to spare so we parked the bus in the turning circle and sought out some shade. Coombe Lodge is an attractive mansion built with local Bath stone, topped off with Cotwold tiles. It was originally the opulent country residence of the Wills family (founders of the W.D. & H.O. Wills Tobacco Company, based in nearby Bristol) and I was pleased to see that it retains a lot of wooden panelling. It’s not particularly ancient, being completed in 1932, but the pseudo-Jacobean style is well suited to its current use as a conference and wedding venue.
The guests were due to be taken to St Andrew’s Church in the nearby village of Blagdon in two batches and the first group gathered in the shade of the building until it was time to board. Once we were fully loaded we set off through the village. It gets quite narrow in places, with very little forward visibility. True to form, several oncoming cars appeared just as I had begun to pull away into one of the narrow sections. As they had right of way, I had to set back but that was easier said than done as traffic behind me was very reluctant to make room. In the end I had to leave the cab and walk back to direct drivers as they reversed. The driver of the car directly behind me was understandably cautious – he was driving the bridal party in a vintage Rolls Royce!
The road down to the church was also very narrow and we had to do a dance with a couple of cars in order to turn the bus around and return to Coombe Lodge. The second trip was lightly loaded by comparison and we passed through the village with no problems this time. We reversed the bus right up to the church gates alongside the vintage Rolls to await the end of the wedding ceremony. In a conversation with the Rolls driver it turns out that we’d met before, on a wedding duty in 2014 to Thornbury Castle.
Bells rang out, confetti was thrown and many photos were taken before we finally loaded up for the return to Coombe Lodge, again in two sittings. The wedding reception was a lavish affair and included champagne and canapés on the lawn, accompanied by a string quartet playing Pachelbel’s one hit wonder. On the bus, further photos were taken of the bride and groom as they posed on the platform.
Eventually we were dismissed and just over 30 minutes later we were back at the depot to wash and fuel the bus.
Since then I have done another Hestercombe Express duty in conjunction with the West Somerset Railway, a guided tour of the Crosville depot followed by a sightseeing tour around Weston, and a very interesting (but currently top secret) filming job with ITV.