Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kingsbridge 2014: The Human Dimension

Bus travel forms an important part of our social history, and our running days offer the chance to learn, first hand, about a way of life in days gone by.

At our annual running day in Kingsbridge on Saturday, over 5,200 journeys were made by the public on thirty-one buses and coaches, ranging from a 1933 Bristol H saloon to a 1998 Mercedes Vario minibus. Every journey across the rural coast and countryside of the South Hams was, for our visitors and our volunteer crews alike, its own authentic account of the adventures afforded by bygone bus travel.

Photo (c) Graham Richardson,
Lots of excellent photos of the buses are appearing online as we speak, so we thought we'd concentrate here on the humans: the people who volunteered to help in all sorts of ways, and those who turned up in their thousands to enjoy and learn from the buses. We hope the photos go some way towards capturing the unique spirit of our running day, as well as giving an insight into some of the less visible efforts that are essential to staging an event such as this.

Our running days are preceded by many months of preparation, the culmination of which involves an intensive programme of cleaning and preparing vehicles for service. Here, our volunteer cleaners wash Bristol LS 1376, one of fourteen buses and coaches scrubbed by hand, inside and out, in the days running up to Kingsbridge 2014.

Mechanical testing of the buses is an important part of the preparation. In the interest of safety, all participating vehicles are required to show a valid MOT certificate (or evidence of a road worthiness inspection in the case of vehicles exempt from MOT, by virtue of their age); but the vehicles must also be practically capable of withstanding the challenges of carrying passengers on often difficult terrain. Here, Dennis Mace 668 returns triumphant from its test under load - and is admired by some of its volunteer weights!

Wherever possible, period destination blinds (mostly from the Trust's archive) are loaned and fitted to the participating vehicles. Depending on age, condition and type of vehicle, installing a blind can be totally straightforward or an awkward, time consuming process. Here, a volunteer has apparently been driven mad by the challenges of installing blinds on Bristol FLF 1969....

Kingsbridge running day is noted for its beautiful scenery, and there's much opportunity to stand back and admire the surroundings. Instead, volunteer Driver Tancock chooses to admire his favourite vehicle... but is it really Bristol SUL 420, or the Dennis Mace, which is turning his head?
Demands on drivers and conductors are many, and Kingsbridge is known for being one of the more taxing running days. Here, an anonymous volunteer conductor enjoys the last few moments of a good night's sleep in the confines of our museum, ready to face the delights and challenges of a day helping the public.
All vehicles are crewed by suitably qualified volunteers, such as those above, dressed for action. Left to right: Conductor Farley; Conductor Silvester; Driver Sheppard (sr.); Conductor Page; Driver Sheppard (jr.); Driver Williams.
Months of logistics, weeks of washing buses, nights without sleep and hours of ironing uniforms - all become worthwhile when the passengers arrive for their rides. At Kingsbridge, the buses are as much an attraction for local people - keen to sample a part of their heritage and learn about a bygone way of life - as they are for the enthusiasts who travel the country to attend. Bristol SUL 420 re-loads at the picturesque East Portlemouth terminus after a dramatic trip through narrow, winding lanes that are unserved by bus services today.
Many hundreds of thousands of photographs are taken at Kingsbridge running day each year, and even our depot for the day - kindly provided by Tally Ho! Coaches - goes well chronicled. Bristol VRs 1056 and 1157, L 333, K 994, LH 1560 and SULs 1234, 425 and 420 catch the photographers' attention in the early morning sunshine.

The smiles and waves through the day are many...
Driving, conducting, marshalling, selling programmes and volunteering in general, all work up quite an appetite. As soon as the buses are safely locked away, the volunteers' dinner at The California Inn begins, offering a chance to swap stories from the day and to learn from each others' experience.
If you volunteered in any way, we'd like to thank you for helping to make this year's Kingsbridge Running Day another record breaker in terms of the number of people who came along to enjoy a ride on the vehicles. If you were among them, thank you for coming; we hope you learned a great deal about the adventures of rural bus travel in days gone by, and had a great time whilst doing so.
Next year's Kingsbridge Running Day will take place on 19th September 2015, but there will be plenty of chances to see and ride on our vehicles between now and then. Our next event will be on October 18th/19th, when we'll be operating free bus services in the Thames Valley in conjunction with the Great Western Heritage Weekend. More details will appear in due course on our website.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Royal Blue & Associated Motorways Coach Run, 2014

The Trust is committed to sharing vehicles with the nation, so that current and future generations may learn about our transport heritage.

Royal Blue 1250 at London's Victoria Coach Station
Whilst our running days focus on recreating the experience of bygone bus travel, another major highlight in the calendar is our annual run for express coaches.

We've been organising the Royal Blue & Associated Motorways Coach Run since 2002, each year recreating a different express coach route from the past, reuniting survivors from the famous Royal Blue fleet and other appropriate vehicles.

Past routes have taken us all over the UK, including Penzance to Aberdeen and, last year, across the breadth of the South Coast from Kent to Cornwall; and we always call in at those unlikely little places where, would you believe, it was once possible to catch an express coach.

We stick as closely to the original roads and lanes as we can, avoiding the modern dual carriageways and motorways that have superseded them. We also try and stick to timings! Thus, drivers and passengers gain an authentic feel of what was expected of the coaches in service and how they performed - a true sense of what bygone coaching was all about.

Coaches in convoy, including Bristol RE, SU, L and MW types.

And along the way, we collect many thousands of waves from local people who turn out to enjoy the coaches as they pass by. We prompt and harvest many memories and stories wherever we stop, from those who remember using the Royal Blue coaches for everything from holidays to courting purposes!

Navigation through Bournemouth
on Western National 420
This year's run, in June, took us from London, through Surrey and Hampshire, 'home' to Bournemouth (birthplace of Royal Blue), through Dorset and across the Somerset levels to Bridgwater, down to Exeter, up through mid-Devon to Minehead, across Exmoor, and back down to Bridgwater. Quite an adventure for eighteen old coaches, some now well into their seventh decade.

The run is always well photographed, and there are many collections of photos online which tell the story, some of which have kindly been made available to us for use on the blog.

We thought you might like to join us for a virtual trip on the run...

Photographs (c) TVaGWOT, unless otherwise stated.

At the kind invitation of Transport for London, we were able to recreate once familiar scenes at London's Victoria Coach Station, our departure point for the run. Fleets represented on the stands alongside Royal Blue included Western and Southern National (its parent companies), Wilts & Dorset, Red & White, H.R. Richmond and Greenline: a selection to match any Summer Saturday of the 1950s and 60s.

Photo (c) Dave Hooker
Here, Royal Blue 2270 leads 1299 out of the iconic art-deco coach station, ready for the journey out of London via Putney Bridge and Kingston-upon-Thames, and into the green leaves of Surrey...

Photo (c) Les Ronan
... where Royal Blue 1460 is seen resisting the temptation of an early refreshment stop in Farnham.

Photo (c) Peter Delaney
En-route to Winchester, Royal Blue 1250 - the oldest Royal Blue on the run, owned by TVaGWOT Chairman Colin Billington - shows off the elegant lines of its Duple body.

 At Romsey, a low railway bridge necessitated a route variation for taller vehicles, namely the Royal Blue Bristol LS coaches with roof mounted luggage racks. Other types were able to proceed on the original route, and here we see Western National 420 - owned by TVaGWOT Trustee David Sheppard - about to make the tight squeeze.

Evidently, 420 made it unscathed, as witnessed by this triumphant pose outside the former stop for Royal Blue horse-drawn vehicles in Ringwood, with Driver Rampton at the wheel.

The comradery amongst drivers and passengers is a key feature of the run, and evenings are typically spent refuelling. But comradery is not exclusive to humans, as witnessed by this fine gathering in a Bournemouth hotel car park.

The following morning, coaches assemble into an impressive line-up at Bournemouth's Queen's Road coach park, the site of the former Bournemouth West station, terminus of the much lamented Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway from Bath. Drivers, passengers and well-wishers are somewhat less tidily arranged as they enjoy the spectacle.

A great highlight of the runs is the opportunity to reunite vehicles of the same type. Sisters, like Bristol MWs 2267 and 2246...
Photos above and below (c) Ken Jones
... and Bristol SUs 420 and 425. The comparison between these vehicles is an important lesson in social history. The rise of the motor car and the foreign package holiday resulted in a decline in the market for local coach tours, meaning that many touring coaches were converted for use on stage-carriage (bus) routes. 420 (left) was converted, 425 (right) wasn't - compare and contrast...

On with the highlights:

Photo (c) Route 4 and More, Flickr
This spectacular shot was taken alongside Wimborne Minster, and shows Red & White RC968 en-route from Bournemouth to Saturday's luncheon stop in Sherborne. Many photographers chase the coaches along to enjoy them at various locations along the run, and we're very lucky that so many have chosen to share their results this year.

Photo (c) Ken Jones
Further comparisons between sisters, this time Bristol LS coaches over lunch at the Sherborne Hotel, with Southern National 1376 alongside Royal Blue 1299 and 2200.

Following a spectacular journey across the Somerset levels, RE, MW, SU, L and LS types rest at Bridgwater ahead of their journey to Exeter. During this stop a former Bridgwater-based Western National driver arrived to impart stories of a once legendary coach with a reputation for breaking down. Little did he realise he was standing in front of that very coach... (identity withheld to spare the blushes of David Sheppard Jr.).

An impromptu stop outside Taunton depot - once home for many of the vehicles on the run - proved to be a memorable highlight for photographers. How many years since such a variety of coaches graced the forecourt?

Exeter's Bus & Coach Station celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, so it was fitting that our run should visit on both the Saturday night and Sunday morning. Here, Southern National 1376 and others (in the mirror) are viewed from Western National 425, about to depart for Minehead on Sunday.
An incredible, unbroken convoy of no fewer than eight coaches was maintained for much of the journey to Minehead. The view from the back of Southern National 1376 reveals a mouth watering selection, lead by Western National 425.
From Minehead, narrow vehicles were selected to perform an Exmoor tour across some challenging terrain. Here, a pause is taken to admire the exceptional view from Dunkery Beacon before the long descent towards Porlock Weir.
Photo (c) Peter Delaney
Triumphant after their outward journey, Wilts & Dorset 279 and Western National 425 pause to provide scenery for those enjoying a pub lunch in the sunshine at Porlock Weir.

Photo (c) Peter Delaney
Meanwhile, back at Minehead, visitors to the West Somerset Railway were able to enjoy the spectacle of the wider coaches. Here, MWs 2250 and 2246 await departure with LS 1299.

Finally, coaches assembled at the current Bridgwater Bus Station to complete the run.

Countless thousands of people were able to enjoy the vehicles as they passed through no fewer than seven counties, covering several hundred miles of town and country roads. The Trust would like to thank the owners and drivers of all the coaches which joined us for this year's run. Thanks also to the many photographers who have made their work available for others to enjoy.

We hope you've enjoyed the journey, too.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

New Pals for Old Buses

A brand new blog, and look - already a follower...


You join us at a really exciting time for the Trust, as we look to make some new friends who perhaps we haven't met before. We hope the blog will be a great way of doing this, a chance to inspire you with our vehicles and our mission to keep them alive for the nation; we hope you'll make this the first of many, regular visits to learn about buses from a bygone age.

We've also launched a new Facebook page which, if you follow it, will update you with opportunities to ride on our vehicles, and send you some pretty pictures from time to time.

And if you want to get to know us a little bit better, our main website has more detailed information on the Trust's mission, and our many achievements to date.

The online world is a great way to inspire, but of course, nothing beats seeing the buses in person and learning from them up close. This weekend, we'll be exhibiting in the heart of the Thames Valley, with our stand at the Fawley Hill Steam & Vintage Weekend, a charity event hosted by Sir William McAlpine in the garden of his estate. (Shouldn't every garden be full of old buses?)

Our 1927 Great Western Railway Guy FBB will be joined on our stand by vehicles from some of the Trust's friends of old, forming a display that represents many different eras and types from across the Thames Valley & Great Western Corridor. We hope this will be a great place to meet new people with a thirst for learning about bygone buses - perhaps you'll join us?

We'll soon be posting about some of the many opportunities to get involved with the Trust, and if you think you could play a part in what we do, be sure to come back over the coming weeks to find out more. Or drop us an email now, to

But for now we hope you'll enjoy getting to know us a bit better. We really look forward to getting to know you.

P.S. We have a new logo (click to enlarge). Which bus is your favourite?