My first heritage bus duty of 2020 was a wedding in Clevedon using ex-Southern Vectis 573, a Bristol Lodekka I have driven many times before.
It was also my first duty from Crosville Vintage’s recently established storage unit just outside Weston-super-Mare which is best suited to the double deck members of the fleet. There had been a vehicle change during the previous week because a London Transport RT had originally been allocated but this vehicle was still under repair elsewhere in the UK. I didn’t mind using YDL318 instead as I am very familiar with it. Besides, I have a Tilling winter uniform but not a London Transport one!
Also during the previous week I had used a couple of spare hours between school contract runs to carry out a recce by car in Clevedon because I was not sure about access for the bus into Clevedon Hall. This is a large hotel near the sea, formerly a private residence, which is a popular wedding venue. There is a driveway up to the original main entrance but there isn’t enough room to turn a bus around so I went into the hotel reception and found out that, when they have coach parties arrive, the vehicle reverses up the drive. I walked down and visualised a Lodekka doing a reversing manoever. Satisfied that it was all do-able, I went on to St Andrew’s Church which is only about 10 minutes drive down the road. There is a narrow one-way system serving the church where low hanging branches also posed a problem but I decided that there were alternatives!
Having earlier had a guided tour of the storage unit I arrived on the Saturday morning to prepare and do my walk round checks. Since having an engine overhaul last year, the Gardner 6LW seems to be reluctant to burst into life when cold so there were a few anxious moments while I coaxed the old girl into life. In previous years I remember she would fire up after a couple of turns. The storage unit soon filled with pungent exhaust smoke so I quickly brought the FS outside into the open.
I settled into the old crash-box technique like I’d never been away and soon found myself plodding up the M5 to the Clevedon junction. This is always an anxious time as I feel vulnerable at such a low speed with other traffic, especially trucks, hammering up behind me. I was very glad to reach the safety of the exit slip road!
As I trundled through Clevedon town centre I chuckled to myself as I passed pedestrians of a certain age. Many of them look up at the smartly turned out Lodekka with a curious half-smile, as if they have just been transported back to 1962. One young dad with a small boy in tow pointed at the bus as it passed. I’m not sure, but I think he was saying “Look, an old London bus!”. You wouldn’t believe how many people at weddings I’ve done in the past come up to me and ask “Is it a Routemaster?” I shouldn’t knock it really. If it wasn’t for entreprenurial exporters in the 70s and 80s, many Bristol Lodekkas wouldn’t have survived as long as they have.
Just as planned and with plenty of time in hand, I drove up the tree-lined driveway of Clevedon Hall and reversed up the final section. The main pic above was taken while I waited for the guests to arrive. By the time they had boarded and were ready to leave, the bus was about half full. The journey down the road to the church was uneventful, apart from some frantic hauling on the wheel as I turned left out of the venue. All those months driving coaches with power steering have allowed my arm muscles to get out of condition!
Fortunately the narrow road up to the church was free from parked cars so I was able to drive straight up to the church path and let the wedding guests alight. For some of the ladies with tight dresses, that was a bit of an ordeal as there was no pavement and the step down from the platform was unavoidably large. Once all inside, I reversed back down to the junction, turned around and reversed back up until the FS was in the church car park next to a grassy verge with a kerbed edge.
There followed a lunch break for me while the ceremony took place. I also had an opportunity to try out a new tripod I’d brought with me and the result is shown here. YDL318 looks so much better for having had an external restoration. This has included a remodelling of the front cowl to recreate the proper numberplate layout. Well done Ashley Blackman! See this pic of the bus from earlier to see what I mean. The bus also displays signwritten adverts for Isle of Wight businesses from the 1960s, which is the icing on the cake.
It wasn’t long before the church bells rang out and the newlyweds came down the path for their photos. They were whisked away by their wedding car and the wedding guests boarded for the return journey to Clevedon Hall, which had been set up for the reception.
Annoyingly, as we approached the tight entrance to the venue, I misjudged the turn and had to try it again to avoid demolishing a lamp-post. In my defence, I may have been wrong-footed by a gaggle of racing cyclists who rushed around the corner just as I was shaping up for the turn. I had braked to let them pass before continuing but, having come to a halt, the steering wheel was much harder to turn to complete the manoever. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.
With the guests safely inside sipping their apperitifs, I reversed back down the drive and began the empty journey back to the storage unit. The chain-operated roller shutter door seemed much heavier than before – I must do some more upper-body exercises! My final job was to bring Crosville’s Bedford OB/Duple Vista coach (MFM39) outside so that I could park the Lodekka at the back of the unit. I had been told earlier that the OB was due out the next day.
Exhausted but satisfied with my day’s work, I headed home unaware that my next few heritage duties would be cancelled or postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak that is currently sweeping through the UK. This is also having an impact on my weekday job at Bakers Dolphin so this will probably feature in my next blog post.
Thank you for reading and I hope you all stay healthy.