To Priston Mill with a Leyland PS1

I spent a very enjoyable day with an ex-Crosville Leyland PS1 recently and, just like the previous outing, it involved a debate about a seriously steep hill.

It was the first time I had been allocated this bus, a 1947 Leyland PS1 formerly operated by Crosville in north Wales. It has been restored and maintained in excellent condition and was ideally suited to this wedding duty as it matched the cream colour of the day. It also blended well with the two other vehicles involved, a VW campervan and a Beauford limousine.

My walkaround check in the morning revealed nothing untoward so I set off at about 11:00 for Bath Mill Lodge Retreat, just outside the city of Bath. This is where I was to collect a group of wedding guests and transport them to the wedding venue, located deep in the countryside not far away.

I had driven this bus just once before, on a positioning trip across Weston-super-Mare. Powered by its original 6-cylinder Leyland E181 engine (which pre-dates the more common Leyland O.600 diesel engine) and driving through a 4-speed crash gearbox, I found that the ride was rather more ‘lumpy’ than the Gardner 6LW-powered Bristol FSF I had driven on my previous duty. I think this is mostly a Leyland engine characteristic, which seems to want to ‘hunt’ at low revs. It makes the task of driving smoothly a lot more challenging!

My usual double-declutch technique seemed to suit this vehicle without any modifications, except that the pause in neutral while changing up was a bit shorter. Later on I discovered that the gearbox has a decent clutch brake, which came in very handy when I needed to make an up change while going uphill. The clutch brake is operated by pressing the clutch pedal to the floor while the stick is in neutral and it stops the gear shafts in the ‘box spinning, making it possible to engage the next gear more quickly. There’s usually a bit of a clunk but no grinding of gears.

My route to the pickup point took me past Newton St Loe and down the 1-in-6 Pennyquick hill. This is the reason for the aforementioned debate, because I needed to go back up this hill with a loaded bus later, in order to reach the wedding venue. In fact I was so worried about this aspect of the job that I drove the route in my car a few days earlier while visiting a relative in Bristol. This confirmed that it would be risky to attempt this hill, especially as I had read on a news website recently that heavily-laden HGVs regularly got stuck on the hill and caused chaos. I didn’t want to add to that tally so had a Plan B up my sleeve.

I arrived early, so wandered around a bit in the warm sunshine. Parked in the same spot was a cream split-screen VW camper van, obviously dressed up for a wedding. Later, its driver appeared, complete with braces and 2-tone brogues. Very 1960s! Naturally, we got chatting about our respective vehicles. As ushers and guests began to arrive, I re-positioned the bus to make boarding a bit easier and the VW driver remarked on how slowly the Leyland engine idled. “Yes,” I replied, “if you listen carefully you can count the pops!”

As more guests began to gather, some of them took a closer look at the bus and commented on the classic curves of the Weymann bodywork. I had to agree – the rear aspect in particular is very pleasing!

The ushers eventually shoe-horned themselves into the VW which then puttered its way down the drive. Soon afterwards the PS1 was ready to leave with about 20 friends and family of the bridal couple. Before climbing into the cab I mentioned to them the 1-in-6 hill and the chances of the 74-year-old bus making it to the top. I then assured them that I had a Plan B and that we would be taking a longer route with easier gradients.

As we left Bath Mill behind, we turned left and made our way past Pennyquick Park and down into Twerton, a suburb of Bath. Passing beneath the long, curving viaduct carrying the GW main line, we joined the A36 out of Bath towards Bristol. We managed 40 mph down the dual carriageway just before The Globe pub! Speed fell away rapidly after that, having joined the A39 Wells Road which climbs towards Corsham.

Our progress was slowed even more as we joined a stream of traffic following a tractor and fully laden trailer. On this occasion the drivers behind us would have to blame the tractor and not the old bus for the hold-up! As we passed through Marksbury the tractor turned left, ironically taking the road leading to Priston Mill, which was our destination. In some ways it was fortuitous, as traffic coming the other way on the narrow lane had already pulled over to let the tractor by. All I had to do was follow it closely! There was only one tricky moment where the passing place was only just long enough to allow a tractor, trailer and bus to pass three cars.

The tractor disappeared into a farmyard, leaving the PS1 to deal with the narrow lanes alone. I’m used to driving full sized coaches down lanes such as these on school routes so I wasn’t particularly daunted by the prospect. Also, I’ve been to Priston Mill with a heritage bus on two previous occasions, so I knew what to expect.

Arriving at the venue, we crunched over the gravel and parked next to the VW camper which had travelled ahead of us. My passengers disappeared into the Mill to await the start of the wedding ceremony. The bride and her father arrived a little while later in a cream Beauford limousine.

All three vehicles were required after the wedding for photos so I put my tacho on ‘break’ and had lunch. The weather had turned hot and humid so I and the other two drivers were very pleased when a member of the Mill staff came out with some bottles of chilled water, which was much appreciated.

While we waited for the photos to be taken, one of the venue’s managers came out and spoke to me about the bus and, more importantly, the journey to the Mill. Apparently several other coach and bus operators had declined to quote for private hires to Priston Mill on account of the narrow twisty lanes. I replied that I didn’t find that a problem, having already driven vintage double deck buses there before but agreed that a full sized modern coach would struggle as they are wider and much longer. He went away, armed with contact details for Crosville Vintage, very encouraged.

A long photo session then ensued, using all three vehicles. Eventually, at about 16:15, we were free to leave so I fired up the old girl and prepared to do battle with the long, winding lane back to the main road. Surprisingly I didn’t meet a single vehicle coming the other way until almost the end, where a 4×4 towing a horsebox had seen me approaching and held back at the junction. I waved a ‘thank you’ gratefully! The rest of the journey back was uneventful, apart from a sudden downpour which would have seriously hampered the photo session, had it arrived earlier.

In other news, two days after this wedding duty I had another with open top Bristol FSF6G, 891VFM. This time it was very close to home, picking up in the village of Banwell (where there is ALWAYS a traffic jam either side of the narrow main street) and proceeding to St Paul’s Church in Weston-super-Mare.

In a sudden change of plan in my day job yesterday, I found myself heading up to Cadbury World in Bournville, instead of doing local school runs. This pleased me no end because I haven’t done a day trip like this since before the pandemic started.

Finally dear reader, I hope to introduce you to a guest writer who will bring more bus adventures your way soon.

2 comments on “To Priston Mill with a Leyland PS1

  1. Ruth says:

    Hi. Just found a copy of an old photo of an open top Wilts & Dorset bus. Can WhatsApp it to you and if you want paper copy I will post it to you?

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