We’re just coming to the end of our first three weeks on the sightseeing bus and the popularity of our tours has been, rather like the weather of late, mixed. But there have been some highlights, such as the one pictured below.
This was a couple of days ago when the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines kindly turned up to provide some musical entertainment while I collected the fares. I jest, of course. They were leading a parade of Royal Navy personnel, the crew of HMS Torbay. I’m quite a fan of military band music, especially the Royal Marines, so this was a rather exciting addition to our morning. The relaxed pace of their marching music brought me back to my youth when I was a member of a Boys’ Brigade marching band. For a number of years we had an instructor who was also a member of the Royal Marines band, based at Lympstone on the banks of the River Exe. He insisted that we march at the same pace as the Marines band! Compared to other regimental bands (and indeed most other civilian bands) their marching tempo was marginally slower and hearing the band this week brought back some marching memories!
We went on to include HMS Torbay in our commentary that day. It went a bit like this: “We have HMS Torbay visiting us today, folks. But don’t bother looking across the bay to see her, HMS Torbay is a submarine!”
As I mentioned, the weather has been mixed and this affects the popularity of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. After all, who wants to sit on a wet seat for an hour and a half? We’ve had a few days like this and sometimes we’ve had to admit defeat and park the bus up. We need eight people on board to make a tour viable and on a few occasions our tour guide, whose job it is to sell each tour to passers by, had to take shelter on the platform and shout from there. Unfortunately there were very few people at the harbourside to shout at!
I have reluctantly decided to give up driving the Agatha Christie bus to Greenway House. My last day was a few days ago and it coincided with a local village fair, which made life interesting because I had to drive the bus right through it!
The annual Gooseberry Pie Fair at Galmpton virtually takes over the centre of the village but they do try to keep the main road through the village clear. Apart from the Fair, my last day was pretty much like any other day on the Greenway House bus. Loadings were rather light for a summer Sunday. My heaviest load of the day was the final run into Torquay at just after five when 11 extra passengers joined the handful that I’d brought in at lunchtime. The extras had arrived on the Fairmile boat from Torquay but were travelling back on the bus.
Unfortunately my day was marred by a faulty governor on the Leyland PS1’s engine, which surged and hunted uncontrollably every time I touched the accelerator. This behaviour made it impossible to give my passengers a smooth ride which was very irritating! I had to apologise for the resulting rough ride otherwise my passengers may have thought it was the driver revving the engine unneccessarily!
Of the 14 times I had to pass through the village about half were affected by the Fair. There were cars parked on both sides of the road which leads into the village. After a couple of journeys, accompanied downhill by squealing brakes and uphill by a surging engine and massive clutch judder, I resorted to using another road which emerged on the Brixham side of the village.
Do you fancy driving this 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1 regularly? There’s a vacancy for a fully qualified driver coming up. (See the previous post for an overview of the job.)
For the right person, this is a dream job. You’ll be driving an historic vehicle (the only bus with a Barnaby body running in service in the UK), carrying very appreciative visitors to Greenway House, the former summer home of crime writer Agatha Christie. Not only that but you’ll also be driving through stunning scenery too, taking in the iconic English Riviera and the lush countryside around the River Dart.
You’d need to be available for the rest of the season (until October) and be free to drive 2 or 3 days a week, sharing the duties with another driver. The bus runs every day except Mondays and Tuesdays normally but, during the school summer holiday, also runs on a few extra Tuesdays. You’ll also need to deliver an entertaining commentary as part of the journey but this is secondary to giving the passengers a safe and comfortable ride!
If you’re interested (or know someone who might be), please leave a comment and I’ll put you in touch with the operator.
To supplement my part time driving to Greenway House I have recently started doing a few days’ work with the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus. This is a Leyland Titan PD2/3 with Leyland body, converted to open top in 1962.
The operation of this bus is quite different to the Leyland Tiger PS1 that I drive for Greenway Ferry & Pleasure Cruises. The sightseeing bus is not running a registered service but pay-on-the-day tours and only runs when the weather is fine and there are enough passengers to make it worthwhile! The Greenway House bus runs to a timetable, from three different parts of the Bay. Bizarrely, both of these Leyland buses were built in 1947!
As you would expect, both buses are similar to drive. The biggest difference is that the open top PD2 is fitted with a 4-speed synchromesh gearbox whereas the Greenway PS1 has a crash box. This makes the PD2 easier to drive in terms of changing gear and I can perform quicker changes (helpful when climbing a hill) without crunching the gears.
The tour starts from Torquay Strand, beside the harbour (pictured above) and starts climbing immediately. Passing well-to-do Wellswood, we pause briefly on Babbacombe Downs to take in the stunning views. If the air is clear, we can see right round to Portland Bill, on the other side of Lyme Bay! After passing the famous Babbacombe Model Village, we retrace our steps towards the harbour but make a detour past the Hotel Gleneagles which provided much of the inspiration for the classic TV series Fawlty Towers, starring John Cleese. Then past Kents Cavern and down the Ilsham Valley to Meadfoot Beach. A stiff climb over the Lincombes comes next, followed immediately by a steep drop in 2nd gear to Torwood Street and back to the harbour.
An interesting job came my way last week while on duty for Greenway Ferry on their Agatha Christie vintage bus service. Richard Wilson, probably most famous for his portrayal of Victor Meldrew in the TV sitcom ‘One Foot in the Grave‘, is making a new travel documentary for ITV and he visited Greenway House as part of his tour of Britain.
I had been forewarned about his visit but, other than that, it was a fairly normal day on the bus. I usually turn up for duty at around 08:30 and, as I arrived, one of my colleagues had just finished giving ‘the old girl’ a wash and she was sparkling in the early morning sunshine. After doing my daily checks and collecting a list of pre-booked passengers I set off in first gear up the steep, narrow lane that connects Greenway Quay to the rest of the road-going world.
At that time in the morning there was little traffic about so I stopped on Paignton seafront to wait time. I was a bit apprehensive about Richard’s visit because I’d heard that he wanted to talk to me as we were travelling along. I really wasn’t sure how that would work out as it is so noisy in the cab. I had all morning to ponder on this as he wasn’t due to board the bus until the afternoon.
I picked up about half a busload of passengers in Torquay and headed back to Greenway. I’m gradually getting used to giving a commentary as I drive but it’s still the most difficult part of the job at the moment. Next came a trip back to Paignton seafront for the 11:00 departure but there were only 4 people waiting this time. Then came a trip into Brixham where I picked up about 15 passengers from the stop beside the quay. As I turned the bus outside the new Fish Market, many cameras pointed my way as tourists tend to congregate here as they wait for boat trips.
One of the most pleasant parts of the job is that I get to sit in the gardens at Greenway for my lunch and today it was really warm in the sunshine. All too soon it was time to head back to Torquay with my passengers. At the stop near Torquay harbour I was met by Ellie, one of the TV production team. She told me that Richard and the film crew wanted to board the bus outside the Grand Hotel so I gave my usual welcome and introduction over the tannoy. As we approached the Grand Hotel, which is where the newlywed Agatha and Lt Archie Christie spent their honeymoon night, I was told that Richard was outside the main entrance and that they wanted to film our arrival. This was a bit off-route as we usually sail past the hotel on the seaward side. Anyway, I saw a man beckoning me on (he turned out to be the director) so I drove up to where they stood. After some discussion about how we were going to turn the bus around, they filmed Richard Wilson climbing aboard. He’d already been told my name so he reached through the gap behind my seat and shook my hand. “Good afternoon John, I gather you’re to take us to Greenway,” he said in his distinctive Greenock accent.
The chilly morning air hung motionless above the River Dart as I met my new colleague, who was wiping the dewy moisture from the windows of our bus. I have joined Greenway Ferry Pleasure Cruises to drive their vintage bus from Torquay to Greenway House, Galmpton. The other driver and I had met before so we went through the walk round checks together.
I was to spend the day learning the route so I sat behind the driver as we set off up the steep hill from Greenway Quay, where the bus is stabled overnight when in service. The window behind the driver has been removed to facilitate One Person Operation so he was able to point out things along the way and give me tips and advice.
After negotiating the narrow lane from Greenway through the village of Galmpton we emerged onto the main Brixham to Paignton road and headed north towards Torquay. We had left early so we parked beside Paignton Green for a while so that we could chat to passers by and drum up business.
The bus drew many admiring glances. It is a 1947 Leyland Tiger PS1, delivered originally to H. Bullock of Featherstone, Yorkshire. It has had a long, hard life. After operating on rural bus routes in Yorkshire it was sold out of service in 1965. It’s history since then is patchy and I’m determined to find out more about it. In the 1970s it was rescued for preservation from a gliding club and it is rumoured that a well known cast member from TV’s ‘Casualty’ was once an owner. It is also rumoured to have appeared on TV’s ‘Heartbeat’ as a mobile library but, for me, its greatest claim to fame is that it is one of only two roadworthy buses to carry a Barnaby body. Unless you know different, of course.
We carried on along the seafront in the sunshine to our first stop, in Belgrave Road, Torquay. After taking some leaflets into a nearby hotel, we awaited our two pre-booked passengers. For some reason they never showed up so we carried on to the next two stops in Torquay. Still no passengers, not even passing trade. Well, it was the first journey of the 2014 season so perhaps it takes a while for word to get around.
Another photo from my archives, showing Bristol LS6G OTT 98 arriving at Torre Abbey, Torquay in 1990 on the occasion of the Agatha Christie Centenary celebrations.
OTT 98 was delivered to Southern National in 1953 for their Royal Blue fleet and, at the time this photo was taken, was owned by the Dorest Transport Circle. It attended Torre Abbey along with a number of other forms of historic transport including cars and commercial vehicles.
Not far from the spot where I took this photo stands Torquay railway station, once owned by the mighty GWR. Later that same day, a delightful Christie cameo was played out as a luxury Pullman train arrived at the station. Among the guests stepping onto the platform to attend the Christie celebrations was a certain Hercule Poirot (David Suchet). He was observed to walk up to a lady of advancing years, tip his hat and present a bouquet of flowers to none other than Miss Jane Marple (Joan Hickson) before they were both taken the short distance to Torre Abbey in a vintage Rolls Royce.
OTT 98 is now owned by the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust and can often be seen attending rallies and special events. I hope to be driving this vehicle in 2 weeks time when it, along with others from the WHOTT collection, take part in a “Drive It” day when friends of the Trust can drive a selection of historic buses from the Trust’s collection on a private network of roads. If all goes well, I hope also to drive an Exeter Corporation Leyland PD2 and a Southern National Bristol LWL.