Life has been so hectic lately that ‘Busman’s Holiday’ posts have been regrettably thin on the ground. As promised in an earlier post, here is a flavour of a typical day in my new role as a Baker Dolphin coach driver.
During term time every available driver (except those away on tour) starts and ends his day with a school or college run. Most days will see me rising, blurry eyed, at about 5am (ugh!) ready for an early start at the depot. Regular practice is for the Operations Department to finalise the day’s roster by the evening of the previous day. Unfortunately this means that I won’t know what duties I’ve got until the previous evening, which leaves very little time to do my customary route planning.
As soon as I arrive I pick up my Work Tickets and the keys for my coach and greet some of my colleagues before heading off into the coach park to find my allocated coach. With up to 70 vehicles stabled there overnight, finding the right one sometimes takes a while! For the next 20 minutes or so I complete my walkaround checks and fill in a Defect Report. If anything is amiss – such as a blown bulb – this must be attended to before I can leave.
Depending on which school/college route I’ve been given, I may have to check with another driver or a member of the Operations staff if it’s one I haven’t done before. Although all the pickup points are listed on my Work Ticket the exact locations aren’t always clear. One route which I have done quite often is a Bridgwater College route which starts in Portishead, near Bristol. After a quick blast up the M5 for the first pickup, it meanders through the Gordano valley and into Clevedon to pick up students from a couple of places in the town. I continue southwards and into Yatton and finally Congresbury before re-joining the M5 for a short distance. Arrival at Bridgwater College is normally around 08:40. On busy days I will then have a series of short jobs, mostly conveying school children on swimming trips or other outings.
My favourite kind of duty is a private hire day trip, some of which last for the rest of the day after a school run. One such trip (as illustrated above) took in two venues in Devon. The coach was hired by members of a U3A group in Weston-super-Mare and I met them at the town’s coach park. I welcomed them on board, made sure they were comfortable and checked with the group leader about further pickup stops. After giving a safety talk over the PA we set off, picking up a few more passengers along Locking Road as we headed towards the M5 motorway.
The coach I had been allocated was a comfortable Mercedes-Benz Tourismo, which has an automatic dry-plate gearbox. From a passenger’s point of view, it feels like a manual box (with a pause between gearchanges) but the automatic transmission takes care of all the clutch work. It’s 10 years old and was bought second hand by Bakers Dolphin, with 3 others, from Swanns of Chedderton. I quite like driving these coaches although some of my colleagues don’t get along too well with having to wait for gearchanges to complete. They are rather ‘leisurely’ which is a pain when one is hoping for a swift acceleration!
Our first stop was Buckfast Abbey, which took me well into familiar territory. I was able to mention quite a few points of interest along the way, including the fact that the Abbey was celebrating 1,000 years since religious communities first occupied the site. The Abbey has its own coach park so parking was easy, unlike the final destination! The group wanted to spend about 1.5 hours there before moving on so I had an early lunch while waiting.
Soon we were gliding along the A38 again, heading further south. Our final stop was Lukesland Gardens, near Ivybridge. As soon as we left the A38 dual carriageway the roads became progressively narrower. I had plotted the best route the previous evening at home but a sharp turn into a lane, closely followed by narrow railway bridge over the GWR main line, nearly defeated me. Fortunately I had seen it coming and made a wide sweep before entering the turn. There were several sharp intakes of breath as we inched past the stone parapets!
There was more drama once we’d entered the Lukesland estate. The driveway wasn’t built for large vehicles and, even now, the estate is only open to the public on Garden Open Days so a coach arrival is comparatively rare. I’d done my best to view the driveway in an aerial view courtesy of Google Maps but this gives no idea of scale really. There was an awkward bend in the driveway with dry stone walls on either side. It was very tricky to ease the coach through and I was very glad to have large mirrors in which to monitor our progress.
Once in position the passengers alighted, some making comments about the narrow places I had only just managed to pass through. There seems to be a pattern emerging – I took the same group out to Cadhay House near Ottery St Mary several months ago and we had fun and games getting out of the place due to what I shall politely refer to as ‘limited clearances’!
Lukesland is a private house, owned by the Howell family since 1930 and a very friendly welcome was given by the lady of the house. She and her mother-in-law later served us with tea and cakes. The house isn’t open to the public but the gardens are, so I had a wander. It’s not the kind of highly manicured estate that you would expect to see at a large National Trust property but is beautiful in its own way. The visit ended with a slideshow given by Mrs Howell.
Apart from negotiating the narrow driveway again, the journey back was easy. After the final drop-off I drove into the yard to top up the fuel tank and put the coach through the wash plant. There are brushes and a jet wash for stubborn marks and fly-spattered windscreens but otherwise it is automatic. Drivers usually discard the litter bags that hang from the armrests but a cleaning team usually comes round with brooms, mops and cloths to deal with the interior. My final task was to fasten all the seatbelts and take out my digital tachograph card.
In other news…
Some of the other places I have visited have included Oxford, the American Museum near Bath (formerly Claverton Manor), Tyntesfield and Dunster Castle. The last of these combined a guided tour of the Castle with a steam train ride on the West Somerset Railway for a group of children from a primary school in Weston-super-Mare. Their topic was evacuees in WW2 and they, together with their staff, were all dressed in period outfits. Two different year groups made the same visit in the same week and I was driver for both so, on the second of these, I took the opportunity to join in with the dressing up. While I waited at Dunster Station to meet the children from the train, I changed into my traditional busman’s winter uniform complete with Setright ticket machine and leather cash bag. My Setright, mostly in storage these days, had a good work-out issuing tickets to all as they boarded the coach. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t manage to get a photo of myself together with Stationmaster Alan Bond. He often frequents these pages and we’ve both worked for Quantock Motor Services and Crosville Motor Services driving heritage buses.
I almost had a well-overdue spell in the cab of a heritage bus the other day. I was due to drive ex-Crosville DFG81 (Bristol FSF6G 891VFM) in Weston-super-Mare Carnival procession but poor weather forced a cancellation of the entry.
This photo shows Mr Brunel’s innovative auxilliary steam-ship the SS Great Britain, which I visited with a social club private hire. In the background you can see the historic MV Balmoral, which spent some time recently moored up in the Cumberland Basin.
Well, that’s it for now. Next time I’ll tell you about a return visit I made to Torquay where I was invited to drive a Dennis toastrack bus.