All change for Busman John

Have you missed me? Yes, there has been a shortage of posts on this blog for quite a while, for which I apologise. So here’s why.

Some of you already know that Mrs Busman John and I have forsaken the delights of the English Riviera for the rather flatter surroundings of Weston-super-Mud, otherwise known as Weston-super-Mare. The reasons are two-fold: to be nearer our family and because I’m now working full time for Crosville Motor Services.

As you can imagine, moving house causes a great deal of upheaval. Even now – six weeks after moving – we are still unpacking boxes! This, together with working full time once more, has meant that ‘Busman’s Holiday’ has had to take a holiday itself. But fear not, I intend to restart my scribblings and bring you some updates including the Crosville Bus & Steam Rally, the return of a Southern Vectis Bristol Lodekka, school runs, private hires and much more.

Just as a taster, here’s a photo of the aforementioned Lodekka on the day it returned from an extensive refurbishment:

I’ll be back shortly with news in more detail.

Vintage bus driving – a photo potpourri

There have been so many vintage bus duties this summer that I haven’t had time to share each one individually so here’s a potpourri of recent activities.

YDL317-bath-coach-park

A private hire for Crosville that was unusual – it wasn’t a wedding or a school prom! Global Design Solutions had hired Southern Vectis 573 (YDL317) to take its staff from Bristol to Bath, where they were celebrating 10 years in business. While the party and presentations were going on in the Salamander restaurant, I parked the bus in the Riverside Coach Park where it contrasted starkly with much more modern machinery!

FFY403-Babbacombe-Downs

Another private hire involved the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus, Southport Corporation 86 (FFY403). Directly after the afternoon sightseeing tour we picked up a load of enthusiasts from the Merseyside Bus Club. On this occasion I acted as Tour Guide, wielding a microphone instead of a steering wheel. The latter was in the care of Glyn, with whom I share the regular driving duties on this bus. We took our passengers around the Torquay segment of our normal tour route, stopping on Babbacombe Downs (seen above) for photos and also Meadfoot Beach.

Continue reading

New Metrobus joins English Riviera Sightseeing Tours

KYV633V-Preston-Sands

I got back from my holiday yesterday to find that two of the Sightseeing buses had been sold and this replacement MCW Metrobus was already in service! The open top Metrobus known as ‘Big Bertha’ (BYX304V) and a closed top Volvo Olympian (P915RYO) have moved on to pastures new.

The 1947 Leyland PD2/3 will remain for the forseeable future but was unserviceable yesterday morning so I had to jump straight into this machine and take it on the two tours of the day. Fortunately the cab layout is very similar to the previous Metrobus so it all felt very familiar.

Previously used by Harrods in London for a City Sightseeing Tour, this bus is fitted with tables and comes complete with a kitchen at the back of the lower saloon!

Our tour route takes us ‘off piste’, away from normal bus routes, including the pretty Ilsham Green and Meadfoot Beach. Having a full height roof at the front means that we have to pass under low branches very carefully. Behind the bus in the photo is a low railway bridge at Preston Sands and clearance is down to the proverbial ‘fag paper’! Only joking, it’s a few inches but still quite tight.

In other news, I’ve been invited to drive a VERY historic bus soon. It dates from between the wars and is just coming to the end of a thorough restoration. Watch this space!

Vintage bus wars in Torbay

A few weeks ago I heard a rumour that a Leyland PD2, similar to the one operated by the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours, was being prepared by Stagecoach to run in Torbay. Well that turned out to be true because former Portsmouth Corporation PD2/12 LRV992 has started running on the 22 route around the Bay.

LRV992-TQ-Strand

Stagecoach (and its predecessors) has run open top buses on its seafront routes before but their choice of vehicle this time can only be an attempt to steal our thunder, or so it seems. In practice though it doesn’t seem to have affected our loadings in fact yesterday afternoon we carried our highest loading ever since our PD2 came to Torbay, with 51 passengers onboard.

Actually the Stagecoach PD2 is not in direct competition as theirs runs in normal service, following the timetable and route normally operated by modern deckers. It stops frequently to pick up and set down passengers and is probably being thrashed to keep to time whereas ours is a much more leisurely journey. We also have an informative commentary, delivered by an entertaining Tour Guide, which Stagecoach passengers won’t get.

So we’ve concluded that the PD2’s appearance has merely added to the appeal of Torbay as a tourist destination. It seems that ‘retro’ is cool these days! It’s quite bizarre at times, especially in Belgrave Road at about 10 in the morning when we park the sightseeing bus to promote our tours. A Bristol VRT from Rail River Link will pull up behind us and then the Greenway House Leyland PS1 trundles by as well! One day the 3 Leylands were joined by the old Carmel Coaches Dennis coach, in town on a private hire job.

Just a short post today. I’m off on my hols tomorrow so no more new posts until later in the month. Oh, and greetings to the gentleman from Somerset who rode on the sightseeing bus yesterday. He reads this blog and stepped onto the platform saying “How’s your back, Busman John?!”

English Riviera Sightseeing Bus roundup

For the time being, as my back injury seems to be improving, I am continuing to drive the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours bus. This occupies me for a few days each week and has given me some interesting adventures over the months since I started.

FFY403-Torquay-Strand-2

The weather plays a big part in determining how many people travel as the vast majority of travellers make their decision on the day and pay on the bus. A handful buy their tickets from the Tourist Information Centre but they too are bought on the same day as travel. As you know, if you’re a UK resident, our weather is not always best suited for an open top bus ride so we’ve had some very poor days. If it’s very dull, cold and wet we are likely not to run the tour at all as so few people (if any) want to pay to travel in these conditions.

However, there have also been some superb days which means we’ve had some good loads as well. One day last week on the PD2 we had a full load on the top deck and a dozen downstairs as well and, as the school holidays are now upon us, this can only improve.

Although I drive the same tour route every day, there are still some interesting variations. These are mostly prompted by roadworks. For quite a while one of the roads near Babbacombe Downs was being dug up in several places which meant we could only just squeeze past the coned off bits. Add to that some contractors’ vehicles and oncoming traffic and progress was often slow. My spacial awareness skills went into overdrive! Only yesterday I was confronted by an unexpected set of roadworks in Wellswood. There’s a very tight, full-lock left turn at a junction near Kents Cavern and, to make it round in one go, I have to take it very wide, borrowing a bit of the opposite carriageway to give myself a chance.

But yesterday I found roadworks in the middle of the main road which only came into view after I’d started the turn. I hauled on the wheel faster still to make the turn as tight as possible and I began to think I’d have to reverse and give it another go. But I crept forward on full lefthand lock and, with the offside front tyre about an inch from the road cones, just made it round. On the afternoon tour there were parked cars which made it more difficult and I did have to do it in two bites. Grrrr.

Continue reading

Heritage bus driver vacancy on Agatha Christie bus

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.)

AHL694-Paignton-seafront

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.

Down the leafy lanes to Greenway House

AHL694-Greenway-Road

A visit to Greenway House is an adventure not to be missed. And that’s before you set foot inside the National Trust’s Dart-side property! Just to restore the blog’s balance, I thought I’d describe a journey to Greenway in a vintage bus in a nutshell. It might tempt you to come down and try it for yourself!

The Agatha Christie Tour Bus, Leyland Tiger PS1/1 AHL694, actually makes three morning trips to Greenway every day that the house opens; one from Torquay, one from Paignton and one from Brixham. That’s followed by three afternoon trips to the same places, returning the visitors to their starting point. For the sake of this blog post, I’ll describe the run in from Torquay as it’s probably the most varied of the three.

Greenway-duck

When I arrive at Greenway Quay, where the bus is stabled, I’m usually greeted by the resident duck, closely followed by the ferryman’s dog. Sometimes quite literally. The duck usually flaps into the air to take refuge on the river.

When the bus is ready I drive it up the narrow, twisty lane from the Quay and through the village of Galmpton to reach the main road that connects the Bay’s three towns. The first of several hazards is met just a matter of yards from the Quay. The lane (still climbing) does a sharp turn around the estate’s North Lodge and, with a stone wall on both sides, I have to steer a particularly careful course to avoid scraping the side of the bus.

At this point the exhaust from the cold engine is still very smoky but, by the time I reach the main road, it begins to clear. Traffic is light as it’s only just gone 9 in the morning and I usually have time to park up opposite Paignton Pier for a few minutes.

AHL694-Paignton-seafrontI turn off the seafront road by Torquay railway station, where the sightseeing bus is stabled, and plod up the steep Falkland Road towards the top of Belgrave Road, my first stop. Annoyingly, there’s a set of traffic lights at the foot of the hill and, if they’re red, I always drop down through the gears in the hope that they will change before I get there. If not, it means a hill start in 1st and a snatch change into 2nd on a brief level bit before the road rises again.

A squeal from the front brakes announces my arrival at the junction with Belgrave Road. Anyone standing at the bus stop outside the Southpark Hotel will probably be nodding and saying “Ah, she must be just around the corner!”

Passengers are often picked up here and I issue tickets through the window behind me. Originally there would have been a sliding window but it’s been removed. I had to chuckle to myself a few weeks ago when one lady got on at this stop and asked “Do you stop at the harbour?” The answer of course was “yes” but I assumed that she wanted to alight there on the way back from her visit to Greenway. “How much is it?” she went on. “Twelve pounds, madam” I replied. She looked puzzled. “Really? Just to the harbour?” Then I realised that she only wanted to go to the harbour, not to Greenway at all. I had to politely explain that this was a tour bus to Greenway. I nearly added “Does this look like a Stagecoach number 12? Didn’t you see ‘Greenway House’ on the front and the side of the bus?” but thought better of it!

On down Belgrave Road through ‘hotel-land’ towards the seafront and Torre Abbey Sands. It’s here that three heritage buses are often found at the same spot.

3-heritage-buses-Belgrave-RoadIn this photo the Greenway PS1 has just passed one of the Rail River Link open top Bristol VRTs that I drove last year and is just about to pass the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours PD2.

Finally I arrive at Cary Parade, close to Torquay harbour, where more passengers are usually waiting. This is where my commentary starts so I don a headset and welcome everyone aboard. The commentary is the part of this job that I enjoy the least. I’ve had to work really hard to develop a reasonably entertaining script. Finding facts has been easy as I’ve lived in the Bay for about 30 years and additional research has been a doddle but my presentation and delivery is what I’d call ‘work in progress’. Not only that but I’d prefer to concentrate on driving the bus smoothly and safely so talking to the passengers at the same time has been quite a new discipline for me. I really envy the other Greenway bus driver – it seems to be second nature to him!

Only a few moments after setting off, we have to reverse our direction. A sharp turn around the Mallock Memorial calls for plenty of heaving on the steering wheel. We trundle along Torquay’s seafront, observing the Pavilion, Rock Walk and Torre Abbey on the way. The terrain is reasonably flat, apart from the short climb above Hollicombe, and soon we are passing Preston Green, the Redcliffe Hotel and Paignton Green. This is a busy bus route and most other drivers give a friendly wave although some of the Stagecoach drivers seem to think that waving at a vintage bus is not cool.

At the end of Paignton seafront we turn inland and cross over the railway lines. After the bridge there is a sharp drop, ending at a mini roundabout which heralds more squealing from the brakes. Then we pass Paignton’s ‘Big Tree’, except that now it’s not so big. Sadly disease took its toll and the once proud 92ft Monterey Cypress is a mere stump, albeit a very impressive one.

Passing the junction at the foot of Penwill Way we’re on a two-lane road which soon merges into one. It’s here that many impatient drivers try to squeeze past us, keen not to be stuck behind a slow old bus on the climb up to Waterside and Goodrington. It’s here that I make scathing (but good natured) comments about the pulling power of our bus, even doubting that it could pull the skin off a rice pudding.

Soon I’m changing down the gears in readiness for the turn onto the Galmpton road. There’s usually a line of traffic coming the other way but it’s not long before some kind soul lets me through. Passing through the village can be tricky, with parked cars and oncoming traffic presenting hazards and delays. But that’s nothing compared to the delights of driving down the lanes to Greenway. For a start the road surface is bumpy and, even at our slow speed, everything rattles. Then there’s other road users to contend with. Not only cars but delivery vans, dog walkers, tractors and horse riders. Last week I even met a dustcart coming the other way! Thankfully there are plenty of passing places and I’m glad the bus is no wider than 7′ 6″!

It’s a relief to finally pass through the gateway to Greenway House. A charming chap called Mike is usually there to ask how many passengers I have on board so that he can radio ahead to reception. If we have a full load they will mobilise extra staff to move people through as quickly as possible. We trickle down the driveway at about 10mph before pulling up near the reception building and, with a parp on the horn, I reverse the bus into a parking spot designated for the bus. I remind the passengers what time to meet the bus for their return journey and they disappear up the path to reception. For me, it’s a quick breather before taking the bus back up the lane for the 11:00 departure from Paignton seafront.

If I’m required to do all the timetabled journeys it’s a very full day and I normally return the bus to Greenway Quay after a 10.5 hour duty. I get two breaks during the day and, if the weather is warm, I like to wander in the gardens or sit on a bench overlooking the Dart estuary. There are times when I can imagine myself being here decades ago when Agatha Christie was living here. The illusion is completed by the distant sound of a steam train charging up the grade towards Greenway Tunnel and the elegant sight of PS Kingswear Castle paddling gently upstream…