Now that I’m working on the sightseeing tours 5 days a week and also some Saturdays for Crosville, life has become rather hectic of late. Hence the lack of new posts. So, to bring you up to date, here are some recent happenings in Busman John’s world.
A significant sighting this morning was ‘Illustrious’, a Bristol VRT acquired by Rail River Link (the bus operation run by the Dartmouth Steam Railway & Riverboat Company) in 2013 from East Yorkshire Motor Services. Originally 938 (‘Warspite’) with Western National in 1977, it finally entered service last week on the 100 service from Torquay to Totnes via Paignton. It has spent much of the last 2 years in storage awaiting and undergoing an engine transplant. It arrived from EYMS under tow, having suffered an engine seizure before withdrawal. Now, wearing RRL branding over the existing EYMS livery, 938 is active once more in Torbay where it once operated (wearing Devon General fleetnames) when new. When I was working for RRL in 2013 I had a slim chance of driving 938 in service but, as it turned out, its return to active service has been rather protracted.
If you hadn’t already heard, the Leyland Tiger PS1 which was operated by Greenway Ferry to the National Trust’s Greenway House (Agatha Christie’s former summer home), has not run at all this year and rumour has it that the ferry and bus operations are up for sale. To fill the void, Rail River Link has acquired a 2004 Dennis Dart and is now operating it to Greenway House. NT1 runs to Greenway from the railway’s Churston Station and the early morning NT5 runs from Torquay. This is where I managed a quick passing shot of it a couple of days ago. FD54FGG is especially branded for the Greenway service and carries the name ‘Miss Jane Marple’.
We’re just coming to the end of our first three weeks on the sightseeing bus and the popularity of our tours has been, rather like the weather of late, mixed. But there have been some highlights, such as the one pictured below.
This was a couple of days ago when the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines kindly turned up to provide some musical entertainment while I collected the fares. I jest, of course. They were leading a parade of Royal Navy personnel, the crew of HMS Torbay. I’m quite a fan of military band music, especially the Royal Marines, so this was a rather exciting addition to our morning. The relaxed pace of their marching music brought me back to my youth when I was a member of a Boys’ Brigade marching band. For a number of years we had an instructor who was also a member of the Royal Marines band, based at Lympstone on the banks of the River Exe. He insisted that we march at the same pace as the Marines band! Compared to other regimental bands (and indeed most other civilian bands) their marching tempo was marginally slower and hearing the band this week brought back some marching memories!
We went on to include HMS Torbay in our commentary that day. It went a bit like this: “We have HMS Torbay visiting us today, folks. But don’t bother looking across the bay to see her, HMS Torbay is a submarine!”
As I mentioned, the weather has been mixed and this affects the popularity of English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. After all, who wants to sit on a wet seat for an hour and a half? We’ve had a few days like this and sometimes we’ve had to admit defeat and park the bus up. We need eight people on board to make a tour viable and on a few occasions our tour guide, whose job it is to sell each tour to passers by, had to take shelter on the platform and shout from there. Unfortunately there were very few people at the harbourside to shout at!
If any of you happened to be watching ITV yesterday evening you might have spotted me in action with the Agatha Christie vintage bus. It was one of several segments in the ‘Richard Wilson on the Road’ programme in which he has been touring Great Britain using 1930s Shell Guides as reference.
As you may have read before, Richard and his TV crew spent a day about 9 months ago riding on the Leyland PS1 (AHL694) and visiting Greenway House. As per usual with these things, they shot much more footage than was actually used in the programme. In some ways I’m quite happy about that, particularly as some of the footage would have come from a camera mounted in the cab, focussed on me! Oo-er, a bit too close for comfort!
A few days ago I posted a review of 2014 which was in fact generated by WordPress. It served up a number of stats relating to the performance of my ‘Busman’s Holiday’ blog but takes no account of my personal highlights of the year. So here they are.
First of all, in early January, was the special running day to mark the closure of Salisbury Bus Station. I had the pleasure of driving Wilts & Dorset 628 (Bristol LD6G OHR919) during the day and, on the first journey of the day, called at Salisbury General Hospital where I was born umpty-something years ago. At the end of the day there was the unforgettable moment when I led a convoy of four Wilts & Dorset buses out of the bus station on the last departure ever. Such an honour.
With a cameraman in the saloon behind me with Richard, a fixed camera in the cab and a camera car in front of the bus, I was filmed driving from Torquay to Greenway. On the way there Richard interviewed me, which was the most difficult part of the journey. Mostly because I was still driving at the time! The series is being screened on ITV at the moment – it’s on Monday evenings at 8pm. Look out for the Greenway episode! Although driving to Greenway was mostly good fun, the condition of the bus and the operation of the service left a lot to be desired and so I bade farewell in June.
Many of you will have followed my driving adventures since I was a lowly conductor and will know that the subject of railways has cropped up more than once. In fact it’s curious how often the buses I’ve conducted on – or have driven – have crossed paths with trains of one sort or another. Naturally, those hauled by steam locomotives grab my attention more than any others!
This was the scene a couple of weeks ago when the Sightseeing Tours bus was parked at Preston Sands halfway through the afternoon tour. The coastal road passes over the railway line by Hollicombe Beach and I’d spotted a plume of steam rising from the stationary loco as it waited for a path into Paignton station. Fortunately I had plenty of time to position myself for a photo before the train passed by. The loco was GWR 4-6-0 No 5029 ‘Nunney Castle’ which was hauling the Cathedrals Express into Paignton from Westbury.
Several years ago I was a conductor for Quantock Motor Services (sadly no longer trading) which had its depot right next to Bishop’s Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway. I was able to see, hear and smell many steam-hauled trains while preparing buses.
Quantock used to provide a fleet of buses for a Christmas Park and Ride service into Taunton town centre and it was while conducting on one of these services that the bus I was on passed over the new Silk Mills bridge just as Gresley Pacific ‘Sir Nigel Gresley‘ passed directly underneath!
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.
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?!”
I have reluctantly decided to give up driving the Agatha Christie bus to Greenway House. My last day was a few days ago and it coincided with a local village fair, which made life interesting because I had to drive the bus right through it!
The annual Gooseberry Pie Fair at Galmpton virtually takes over the centre of the village but they do try to keep the main road through the village clear. Apart from the Fair, my last day was pretty much like any other day on the Greenway House bus. Loadings were rather light for a summer Sunday. My heaviest load of the day was the final run into Torquay at just after five when 11 extra passengers joined the handful that I’d brought in at lunchtime. The extras had arrived on the Fairmile boat from Torquay but were travelling back on the bus.
Unfortunately my day was marred by a faulty governor on the Leyland PS1’s engine, which surged and hunted uncontrollably every time I touched the accelerator. This behaviour made it impossible to give my passengers a smooth ride which was very irritating! I had to apologise for the resulting rough ride otherwise my passengers may have thought it was the driver revving the engine unneccessarily!
Of the 14 times I had to pass through the village about half were affected by the Fair. There were cars parked on both sides of the road which leads into the village. After a couple of journeys, accompanied downhill by squealing brakes and uphill by a surging engine and massive clutch judder, I resorted to using another road which emerged on the Brixham side of the village.