The long drawn out saga of the Exeter Bus Station redevelopment had a milestone day recently, as a strong turnout of heritage and modern buses and coaches filled the station for a farewell event.
I say long drawn out because the station was due to have been closed by now and the running day on Sunday 19th March was to have been its final fling. But planning officers, contractors and the square wheels of bureaucracy conspired to delay the closure and the site remains open for the time being.
I played a small part in the running day by collecting Western National 3307, a 1979 Bristol LH6L/ Plaxton Supreme coach which belongs to the Westcountry Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust (WHOTT), from its storage yard and driving it in service during the day. Several other historic vehicles from the area queued for fuel in a nearby town before heading off for Exeter.
I’ve driven this LH before and, although it’s not my favourite type, I found it quite easy to drive smoothly. I had time before my first duty to wander around but, even before I’d stepped off the coach, my planned duties were changed and I found myself covering a duty that was left vacant by a bus which didn’t appear.
Instead of doing a few trips up Telegraph Hill and back I was given two turns out to Alphington and one to St David’s Station. I knew roughly how to get to Alphington (a suburb on the west side of Exeter) but got the finer details about where to turn the LH coach from my WHOTT colleague Inspector Andrews. I drove down Western Way to Exe Bridges, which was very busy as per usual. Passing the Marsh Barton Trading Estate, I turned left and drove through Alphington and turned on a small triangle on the edge of the village. We stopped there to wait time and several passengers took the opportunity to take photos.
Last weekend saw the final runs in regular operational service for Torbay’s long-serving Bristol VRTs and I enjoyed a last fling with them on an evening Mystery Tour.
Rail River Link (the bus operating division of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) has operated open top Bristol VRTs in the area since 2000 but now, due to the introduction next year of new regulations to bring all service buses into compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (commonly referred to as ‘DDA’), the VRTs are being phased out.
Jim O’Hara and his team of drivers delighted local transport historians and enthusiasts by putting on a weekend of extra services and Mystery Tours. The 2 remaining RRL VRTs were joined by two other vehicles, another VRT supplied by North Somerset Coaches and a Leyland Atlantean which is owned by a local collector.
I joined the party at Paignton Bus Station after returning from the afternoon Sightseeing Tour on the PD2 (FFY403). Incidentally, this was my final duty of the season as the Tours season also finished the same weekend. A good number of other people also waited near the 100 Service stop for the celebrity VRTs to arrive. A gentleman standing nearby started asking me about the buses which were due to take part and he revealed that he’d seen publicity about the weekend a few days earlier but didn’t know what a VRT was. Apparently he’d found the information he needed on a website written by a local chap who also drives for a company in Weston-super-Mare. Yes, he’d been reading this blog!
Before long 2 of the VRTs had joined a Volvo B7 which was also in the station on the 100 run. I decided to take a ride on VDV138S for the first part of the tour. This was especially poignant because the bus (no 4 in the RRL fleet) was originally named ‘Warspite’ and was part of a batch of convertible Bristol VRTs supplied to Western National in 1977 as its 938 for service in Torbay. These buses replaced the ageing Leyland Atlantean ‘Sea Dog’ open toppers and happily several members of both types of bus have survived. Joining the fun for the weekend was VDV134S, now in Southern National NBC livery and carrying the name ‘Thomas Hardy’. To complete the set, as it were, one of the aforementioned ‘Sea Dog’ Atlanteans joined the convoy not long after we had left the bus station. Now registered MSJ499, it was originally 925GTA in the Devon General fleet and it has been returned to DG’s reversed cream and maroon livery, complete with ‘Admiral Blake’ name.
Plans are coming together for the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally 2016, at which I plan to be very active! The date is Sunday September 11th.
Back in 2014 there was a rally and running day based at the seafront at Weston-super-Mare but this year’s event is centred on the Helicopter Museum in Locking Moor Road. Since the 2014 rally Crosville has expanded further, adding fresh vehicles to its heritage fleet and many others to its modern fleet of local service buses and coaches.
For this reason Crosville has struck up a partnership with the Helicopter Museum which – like Crosville – is based on what used to be RAF Weston-super-Mare, albeit on opposite sides of the airfield site. It seems quite appropriate to team up with a museum which celebrates another form of transport history. There is ample room for static displays, indoor areas for society and trade stalls as well as the added attraction of the museum itself. I’ve never been there myself and am looking forward to seeing what’s there.
New for this year is the addition of a steam section. It was originally planned to have Crosville’s own Sentinel DG6P Steam Bus ‘Elizabeth’ in action, fresh from restoration. However, as is often the way with these projects, work is behind schedule and the steam bus won’t be ready in time for the Rally. There will still be plenty of steam power present though as several entries have already been received from traction engine and steam roller owners.