A recent wedding duty with a Bristol Lodekka brought me one of my toughest challenges yet. I’m pretty good at judging the width of any bus I’m driving (well, I haven’t hit anything yet…) but this tested my driving skills to the max.
Even before I arrived at the pickup point, I thought we were doomed. I had met Simon, my trusty conductor at the Crosville depot and had prepared FS6G YDL318 for its long trip to Beaminster and back. Now armed with my own Crosville fuel card, I topped up the tank with diesel. I had allowed plenty of time to do the 51 mile journey, or so I thought. As we headed down the M5 in our 30mph bus all went well until we met our first traffic jam. Not long after passing Bridgwater, red brake lights lit up ahead. I’m not sure why, but all three lanes slowed to walking pace for a mile or so, very frustrating.
The route I had planned took us off the motorway at Taunton and down to meet the A303 via the A368, which is a single carriageway road. I was glad that it wasn’t too hilly because I was having to endure some very lengthy gearchanges. This particular bus has a Gardner 6LW engine, very common in Lodekkas. But, of all the ones I’ve driven, this one needs the longest pause in neutral in the history of crash gearboxes. Gardners are well known for having a lot of inertia and it takes quite a while for the revs to die away between gears when changing up. But the one in YDL, when the engine and transmission are hot, takes AGES to spin down and, if changing up on an uphill gradient, you can easily run out of road speed while waiting and you have to abandon the change and start again. Either that or force it into gear before it’s ready and suffer the inevitable grinding noise. Embarrassing!
Pretty soon though worries about changing gear were overtaken by worries about arriving late. We met nose to tail traffic on the A368, as far as the eye could see. I nervously glanced at my old wind-up watch from time to time as my generous time allowance was gradually eroded. Eventually we reached the A303, crossed over it and continued south through Ilminster on traffic-free roads. I love the summer but I’m not too keen on the traffic delays it brings!
I don’t know how we managed it but we arrived in the village square in Beaminster (pronounced ‘beh-minster’, apparently) just in time to hear church bells ringing. Phew! I was annoyed that I couldn’t park straight, though. As you see in the photo at the top of the page, we stuck out at an angle but my excuse is that this was the only place on the square we could use and, hidden behind the bus, there was a pile of Co-op delivery cages standing in the road so I had to do a reverse parking manoever. My arms ached a bit after that!
After the wedding car had left, the guests boarded the bus and we drove out of Beaminster and headed for the village of Waytown. I had checked the route on Google Street View and knew full well that some of it was very narrow. It was very nearly our undoing. We almost got stuck in one particular street in Netherbury, where there were parked cars on one side and a very solid looking stone wall on the other. To make matters worse, there was a telegraph pole planted beside the wall at the narrowest point! I was very glad to have a conductor right then as Simon stepped down from the platform and waved me forward as I inched my way through a gap that was only a few centimeters wider than the bus. Although I was relieved to get through unscathed, I knew we’d have to do it all again coming back!
The passengers left the bus to go into a reception venue which had been set up on the wedding couple’s property while we took the bus a bit further down the lane and reversed it into the car park of the Hare & Hounds pub. The landlord and his wife were very kind to us, offering food and drink, as well as their ‘facilities’ while we waited for about an hour and a half to pick up the guests again. As they boarded the bus we could tell that they had been well ‘wined and dined’ as some of the erm, ‘young ladies’ were decidedly unsteady on their high heels. One be-suited young chap had just finished off a can of beer as he stepped onto the bus and was at the ‘loud’ stage of inebriation.
After navigating ‘the narrows’ again, HMS Southern Vectis set sail for The Acorn Inn at Evershot, another village about 8 miles away in the Yeovil direction. Again, I had memorised the route beforehand but many of the other guests (who were travelling by car) obviously had not. They all waited for us to depart so that they could follow the big green bus!
As we descended the hill into Evershot, the bell rang in the cab. I stopped the bus beside the verge. Looking at my nearside mirror, I could see my conductor standing on the platform, having already opened the platform doors. Standing beside him, looking very agitated, was Mr Loud. He leapt off the bus and darted behind some bushes. Simon came up to the front of the bus, laughing. A round of applause could be heard from inside the bus. Apparently Mr Loud had been asking “are we there yet?” and “how much further is it?” while at the same time doing a little pee-dance on the platform. In the end it got too much for him, the beer won the battle and he demanded that we stop the bus for relief! The convoy of cars streamed past, their occupants grinning at the escapade they’d all just witnessed. Included in the convoy was the white wedding car containing the bride and groom. I suspect that Mr Loud was teased merciliessly once everyone had disappeared into the pub!
The journey back was uneventful in comparison. We joined the A37 just before Yeovil and stuck to ‘proper’ roads – now mostly free of holiday traffic – all the way back.