A very wet wedding hire to end the year

Before I post my personal review of a very active and interesting year, here is a brief account of my last driving turn for 2012. It was easily the wettest wedding day I’ve ever driven for and I had great sympathy for the newly-weds and their guests. Everyone who sets a date for a wedding knows that most things can be planned for but the weather is one factor that cannot be relied upon to co-operate!

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If you lean in close you can smell the dampness and hear the swoosh of cars passing by on the wet road. This photo was taken while I was parked up in a layby on the road into Bath as I had time in hand and took the opportunity to eat my lunch and down a couple of cups of hot coffee.

The rain had started during the night and persisted through the morning, making my journey up from Paignton a rather slow one due to the spray being kicked up by the motorway traffic. Fortunately I had allowed myself plenty of time and was prepared for traffic problems and diversions due to the excessively wet weather of late.

At the Crosville depot, three other heritage buses were being prepared for the long journey to Winchester. A Bristol LH single decker, a Bath Services Bristol LD and my old friend, a Hants & Dorset Bristol FLF. They were to take part in the annual running day organised by the Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB) on New Year’s Day.

I picked up ex-Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G YDL318 from the depot and drove, at a stately maximum of 30mph, up the A38 towards Bristol. Cutting across the southern outskirts of the suburbs, I passed through Brislington and nodded towards the Lodekka’s birthplace in a tribute to the sturdily designed vehicle in which I sat, which had lasted 50 years so far.

After waiting at a convenient spot just down the road, I pulled up outside the cast iron gates of the Roman Catholic Church in Julian Road, Bath. As the wedding ended, guests boarded the bus. One of the ushers looked bemused and asked “Where’s the red bus?” I had no idea so I replied “Sorry, I don’t know. Did you have a different bus bring you here?” Apparently another operator’s bus had collected the guests from the reception venue and transported them to the church but now, with extra people having joined the party, they were expecting to see two buses. For a while it looked as though I would be making two trips but all became clear when someone else explained that the other bus would be returning soon after I had left with the first load. I was very relieved, knowing that my bus could only do 30mph and that I may have risked running out of driving hours if the weather, as well as the slow speed, had delayed my return journey to Weston.

In the end, all was well and I delivered my load safely to the Guyers House Hotel on the outskirts of Corsham, Wiltshire. There were only two hairy moments and they both involved tight turns. The first of these came soon after I had left the church and I had seen it on the map earlier. It was a light-controlled junction so I deliberately held back at the lights to give myself room to swing wide and avoid the traffic island at the end of the turn. I had to really heave on the wheel to reach full lock as quickly as possible and I was glad to do it in one ‘take’. The other tight turn was at the end of the journey, just before the hotel. The entrance is down a narrow lane and, having been there once before in a Bristol FLF, I knew I had to pull over into the middle of the main road and turn sharply before sticking the nose down the lane. Once again, we just squeezed in with a few inches to spare.

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Bristol FLF on wedding hire to Corsham, Wiltshire

Last Saturday’s wedding hire job to Corsham, Wiltshire was possibly my longest duty yet. But, despite driving many empty miles there and back from Weston, it was by far the most enjoyable driving job so far.

Two other Bristol Lodekkas were being prepared for another wedding duty as I checked over my FLF at the Crosville Motor Services depot early in the morning. I had a long drive ahead of me and the route I had chosen brought mixed blessings. Although more direct, the A368 towards Bath was slow and twisty, despite it being an ‘A’ road. This required lots of hauling on the large steering wheel and plenty of gearchange practice! The most pleasant aspect was that, being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend, all the little villages were decked out with flags and bunting. People were out and about in their gardens, already in festive mood, waving to me as I passed by.

I kept checking my 1950’s wristwatch (I only wear it when I’m ‘on the buses’) as the long journey progressed, unsure whether I would make it in time for the first pickup. Following the main road through Bath was relatively painless and, after climbing through the village of Box (famous for the elaborate GWR tunnel portals nearby) I arrived at the Guyers House Hotel with half an hour to spare.

The bride’s father, the groom and four immaculately dressed ushers boarded the bus and I took them into Corsham for lunch. I drove empty to the Rudloe Hall Hotel (pictured above) where I took my lunch break while waiting for some of the guests to board. As on previous occasions, I had checked out the access to this venue on Google Street View and the main entrance seemed to be obscured by low hanging branches. During the previous week I had emailed the hotel to ask if there was another, more suitable entrance. Fortunately there was, the reply told me, completed after the Street View images were taken.

The short drive back into Corsham village took only 5 minutes or so and the guests walked the short distance down a lane to St Bartholomew’s Church, where the wedding was to take place. Although I hadn’t ever been to Corsham before, I was becoming familiar with its main roads as I left the village once more and drove the 8ft-wide FLF up the narrow driveway to the Guyers House Hotel again. This time the bus filled to capacity as yet more guests poured out of the courtyard and into the car park where I waited. This was obviously a large and opulent affair, with no expense spared. Steering, acceleration (if you can call it that) and braking were noticeably different with a full load and I was glad I didn’t to have to negotiate any steep gradients! There were yet more guests to transfer to the church so it was a case of ‘pedal to the metal’ back to the hotel for another load.

In the nick of time, they were delivered to the church. I drove round the town and found a quiet street to park up and kill some time. Returning to the High Street, I parked near the church and waited for the guests to re-appear.

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