Yesterday’s private hire duty was notable for taking me to some places with very limited clearance. It was a good test of my spacial awareness skills.
The allocated bus was open top Lodekka DGF81 (FSF6G 891VFM), a genuine Crosville bus dating from 1961. I had spent most of the previous day in the office at Crosville and had time to check and fuel the bus so that I didn’t have to spend too much time early the next day in preparation. The pickup time was 10:30 at Orchardleigh House, near Frome so I allowed myself a generous 2 hours to make the empty journey. The most direct route was nevertheless a tortuous, rural one and my speed would rarely get above 30mph.
In fact ‘limited clearance’ could apply to the outward journey quite easily as I trundled through the villages of Banwell, Sandford and Blagdon. There was plenty of hedge-hugging, double-declutching and wheel-heaving! Reaching West Harptree, I set off along the B3114 to eventually join up with the A39 at Chewton Mendip towards Bath. Briefly reaching 45mph, I soon went back down the box for the turning to Farrington Gurney, Midsomer Norton and Radstock. Somerset seems to have more than its fair share of double-barrelled place names and today I seemed to be visiting most of them!
Finally, after passing through Buckland Dinham, I reached the imposing entrance to Orchardleigh House. I’ve been here before with a heritage bus and I recognised the twin stone-built lodges which stand guard over the gated entrance to the vast estate. The drive up to the house is almost a mile long and passes through a golf course on the way.
I parked the bus near the Walled Garden and the complex of cottages in which most of the wedding guests had spent the previous night. I caught up with some of them on the lawn and learned that the celebrations had started the previous evening!
Our buses are not decorated with ribbons as standard (although I plan to change that eventually) so some family members set to work with cream ribbons, bows and streamers of their own.
I spent a very long day assisting with the making of an episode of the BBC Antiques Roadshow last week, by driving a Bristol Lodekka on a Park & Ride service.
As well as having a glimpse behind the scenes as the programme was being filmed, I also had the pleasure of conveying most of the Roadshow experts on the bus. But my abiding memory of the day was that it left me completely exhausted!
I left home at 06:00 in order to pick up the bus and be in position by 08:15. As this was to be a very long duty, I had arranged for the bus (ex-BOC Bristol Lodekka LC8515) to be driven to an outstation just a couple of miles outside Minehead, which is where the programme was due to be filmed the next day. As I drove up the M5 in the pouring rain my heart sank as I knew that the cab of this bus is not watertight in any way. Walking around doing my checks left me soggy and even the Bristol AVW engine seemed reluctant to start.
My first task was to ferry the Antiques Roadshow experts from their hotel, where I also met my conductor Richard, to the West Somerset Railway station at Minehead. It was strange to see them up close and to exchange a bit of banter about the wet weather. One of them, clearly not a bus expert, asked “Is this a Routemaster?”
My instructions were to spend the rest of the day shuttling to and fro between the station and the Monday Market field, which was being used as a Park & Ride car park. I had looked it up on Google Maps previously and, while there did appear to be a tarmac track it didn’t seem to offer anywhere to turn the bus so, to avoid the risk of getting bogged down on account of the weather, I reversed the bus off the main road and down the track to the field. I was pleased to see in my mirrors as I slowly backed around a corner that a large part of the field had been recently covered with hardcore and stone chippings so, for the rest of the day, there were no problems getting in and out.
My final bus driving duty of 2016 involved a road cone, a Bristol Lodekka and a witch. Yes, you’ve guessed correctly, it was Bridgwater College Rag Day.
My conductor and I brought ex-Bath Services 1959 Bristol LG6G 969EHW down to Bridgwater College on the last day of term when traditionally the sixth form college students and staff dress up and do all sorts of wacky stuff in the name of charity. ‘Rag’ stands for Raise and Give, I learned today.
We had been given a route to follow, which was very similar to the one taken by the famous Bridgwater Carnival procession. As soon as I had parked the bus in one of the departure bays at the college we knew we were in the right place as almost every person that passed by was wearing a fancy dress costume of some sort. Pirates, road cones, bananas, clowns… and of course the aforementioned witch.
The lady in question (pictured above) actually organised the bus tours we were about to provide and her costume was, as you can see, a work of art. Well done Sue!
She had planned for us to take groups of students and staff on a 20-minute circuit of Bridgwater town centre. As part of the trip each team had to take part in a quiz based on notable buildings that we passed on our way around. There were also a couple of questions relating to the bus and the teams had to listen carefully to my little welcome speech to pick up clues.
The bus was never full and the route was free of gradients so driving the Lodekka was certainly not arduous. My conductor Richard and I were happy to be involved in the frivolities and I must admit that I felt right at home, dressed in my 1960s busman’s uniform, when I ventured inside the college building during a break in proceedings. In fact my outfit looked quite tame compared to some of the others!
Sadly the weather turned dull and wet as the day went on and by the time we ran the last trip we had all the lights on. If it wasn’t for the rain I would have taken more photos so, for now, you’ll have to make do with a set of photos and a YouTube video made by the college. This is made up from outtakes so presumably a fully edited version will appear in the new year.
All that remains is for me to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas. I hope your 2017 will bring good health and happiness. I look forward to sharing more bus adventures with you next year. Ding-Ding merrily on high…!
A few days ago I had the pleasure of transporting staff from a Bristol web development company on a scenic tour through the Chew Valley, Somerset.
Managers at Simpleweb had planned a Christmas celebration for staff at two venues but had kept the means of transport secret. So when I turned up with ex-Bath Services Lodekka L8515 (969EHW) outside their Albion Dock offices I got some blank looks when I announced that their vintage bus was ready and waiting!
I was originally rostered with ex-Crosville Bristol L5G KG131 (KFM893) but this is now in winter storage but I was more than happy with the replacement, especially as the final destination was in the centre of Bath!
For the first time in many months I drove up to Bristol on the A370 and saw firsthand some of the major works on a new South Bristol Link road which will eventually skirt around the south side of Bristol. This will prove very useful to me on those occasions when I need to head across in the Bath direction.
The client had requested a scenic route to their first destination, via the Chew Valley so I had previously spent some time planning my route. What I hadn’t planned for was a road closure near Chew Magna, a village through which I’d planned to pass.
The bus wasn’t full by any means and all the passengers were easily accommodated upstairs. Due to a road closure near the Cumberland Basin, we headed out of the city through Bedminster but met more roadworks on the A38 where the aforementioned South Bristol Link road is under construction. We soon turned off the A38 and passed through much more pleasant countryside as we pottered along the B-roads through Winford and the Chew Valley.
Some time ago I featured a few photographs of a very well researched model of a Bath Services Bristol L5G. Now, to complete the scene, a colleague and I have joined the bus on the fine scale model railway.
The detailed layout, along with its skilled owner, is located in far-away Melbourne, Australia and the bus crew is of course represented in miniature form! The layout is described in more detail in this post from March 2014.
The addition of the driver and conductor was the finishing touch to this wayside station cameo and Ray, always keen to get the details right, asked for some help with the bus crew uniforms. Although I’m a relative newcomer to the world of vintage buses I did have some photographic reference, including a shot of a colleague and me wearing authentic ‘Tilling’ uniforms beside a Bath Services Lodekka.
Ray used these photos as reference material for the professional model makers who painted the cast resin bus crew. I hope you’ll agree that the finished scene is remarkable. I also approve of the early Morris Minor in the background, complete with split screen and clap-hand wipers!
In other news, I’m ‘between jobs’ as they say in the acting profession. Driving for the local sightseeing tours has come to an end now and, although I have a couple of wedding duties with Crosville coming up in November, I’m driving a desk and catching up with jobs at home before the next bus-related project comes along. Also on the horizon is a new book, based on the early part of this blog and covering the trials and tribulations of a bus conductor who is looking for promotion up to the noisy end! Good fireside reading – anyone interested in buying a copy one day?
Not long after my Birnbeck Pier duty (see previous post) I had the opportunity to run free bus tours around Minehead with a bus that’s very close to my heart.
This is a duty that I’ve done many times before in support of the West Somerset Railway. This particular day was billed as a ‘Shaun the Sheep’ day, aimed at children of course, and one of the attractions on offer was the chance to have a free ride on a vintage bus.
I was thrilled to find that, for the first time on a private hire job, I’d been allocated a Bristol KSW. Crosville doesn’t own one of these in operational condition (although a genuine ex-Crosville example has just been taken north for a full restoration) so the one I was to drive was on loan from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection.
L8089 entered service with the Bath Services subsidiary of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company in 1952 and was often in use on the long distance Bath – Salisbury route. This is where my family connection comes in. Salisbury is where my grandparents lived and L8089 would have driven past their house many times. I remember Bath Services Lodekkas (the successors to the lowbridge Bristol Ks) passing by when I stayed with my grandparents in the 1960s and 70s.
So now you can imagine my delight to be given this particular bus to drive! However, I tried not to let the mists of nostalgia cloud my vision while I prepared the bus in its compound near Minehead and drove it over to the WSR terminus to begin service.
Some private hire duties with heritage buses involve driving many miles to reach a far-distant destination. On others, the destination is just around the corner. For this job, it was both.
According to my Work Ticket, the destination was about a mile from the Crosville garage – Weston-super-Mare seafront. The only snag was, I had to drive to Keynsham first!
The occasion was a birthday bash for a chap who was celebrating his big Five-O and that of a little girl of seven. They and a party of folk including friends and family had booked the bus for a trip to the seaside and so I drove the 26 miles to Keynsham at the stately speed of 30mph to pick them up. Apparently many of them were members of a local VW Campervan (often referred to as a ‘bus’) club, so were delighted to see the Bristol Lodekka turn into the car park to meet them.
Prior to this I had no idea what kind of event they were going to so, as soon as I learned that birthdays were involved, I set the destination blinds appropriately! On the way there with the empty bus I nearly had a panicky moment when I was confronted by ‘Road Closed’ signs on one of the main roads through the Bristol suburbs. Fortunately I had driven along a parallel residential road on a previous private hire job so I was able to continue my journey with a hastily chosen Plan B.
By the time everyone had boarded we had half a bus-load. Understandably they all decided to travel on the top deck and, as we picked our way through the busy centre of Keynsham, I wondered whether this would affect the handling of the bus. I needn’t have worried. Lodekkas, in common with most double deck bus designs, have a low centre of gravity so I barely noticed that everyone was up top. I had warned them about the detour around the byways of Hartcliffe but discovered as we rejoined the main road that I needn’t have bothered because the closure only affected east-bound traffic!