If you live in the UK you’ll know all about the cold snap we’ve endured recently (March 2018). Spare a thought for the busman who drew the short straw.
Now and then I take on private hire jobs for Crosville with relatively modern vehicles, especially in the winter months when there are very few duties for the heritage fleet. This past weekend saw me driving a busload of party-goers through a snowstorm in the wee small hours. Deep joy!
The duty involved driving mostly after dark so opportunities for photography were few so, for you dear reader, I will paint a word picture.
We knew it was coming, thanks to the weather reports. An amber warning for Devon, Cornwall and Somerset for snow and ice, together with advice from the Police not to travel on the roads unless absolutely necessary. Some weeks ago I had taken a booking for Crosville to take a group of people from Cheddar to the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare and return. With heavy snow forecast for Sunday March 18th I was hoping that I would be able to complete my duty before the snow made the roads treacherous. I suppose I just about made it!
We’d been asked to transport 70 people so we allocated one of our double deck buses from the service fleet. I took the bus straight out of service on the 106 to Worlebury Woods, leaving the driver to return to the depot in the works van. After popping my tacho chart into the bus I high-tailed it across to Cheddar via Congresbury and Langford – the quickest way I knew. I only had about 35 minutes before I was due to pick up my passengers in the middle of Cheddar.
A group of smartly dressed people boarded and we set off to pick up more in the quaint town of Axbridge a few miles away. By this time the bus was full but, thanks to automatic transmission and power steering, I hardly noticed! My bus was Volvo B7TL/Alexander V139LGC and is one of four ex-London Central buses operated by Crosville on town services.
My passengers were to attend the ‘Purple Ball’ at the Grand Pier, a charity event in memory of Cheddar teenager Johdi Russell who tragically died last year. We arrived at the Grand Pier bus stop with just 5 minutes to spare. Phew! I took the bus back to the Crosville depot to be fuelled and then took myself back home for a meal and a power nap. I was not looking forward to setting out again at half past midnight to get ready for the return journey!
We’d had a few snow flurries during the day but now it was properly snowing and a strong easterly wind was making itself felt too. The temperature was close to freezing so the snow was settling quickly as I waited at the bus stop for my passengers to emerge. As expected, most of them had been drinking and some were very wobbly! Few were dressed for the wintry weather and were most glad to step into the relative warmth of the bus.
It was 01:30 before everyone was aboard and we set off through the town with only taxis for company on the roads. On the unlit A38, driving through the swirling snow reminded me of one of those screen savers we used to get in early versions of Windows. Anyone remember ‘Flying Through Space’? Yes, it was just like that, but more intense.
As we got closer to Axbridge, long patches of road were completely covered by snow so I reduced speed and took the corners gently. I didn’t want to end up in a ditch! None of the roads in Axbridge had been salted evidently and we crawled downgrade to the first of many stops along the way to offload passengers. Fortunately the snow wasn’t yet very deep and the bus forged along, leaving tracks in the virgin whiteness.
Cheddar was no different and the absence of traffic in the wee small hours ensured that sudden braking, which could have led to slips and bumps, wasn’t necessary. My passengers, not used to seeing their town disappearing under a blanket of snow, were understandably grateful not to be driving their own cars. I made light of it, assuring them that it would take deeper snow than this to stop a bus. Inside, however, I was alarmed as they were, not having driven a bus in snowy conditions before. Careful acceleration and gentle braking seemed to be the key and there was no slipping or sliding that night except by a few inebriated party-goers in their inappropriate footwear!
At last the bus was empty and I headed back to Weston, arriving back at the garage at 03:00. 20 minutes later I was back home and ready to crawl into bed. I was so grateful that driving back to Paignton is now a thing of the past!