Monday 29 June 2015

Royal Blue Run 2015

Photo: Ken Jones
The spectacle of vintage coaches on a long-distance run is one that can be enjoyed by passengers and spectators alike. 

Our 15th annual Royal Blue & Associated Motorways Coach Run last weekend attracted hundreds of photographers and wavers along its route from Windsor to Penzance and back to Exeter. Through some of the photographs they've kindly shared, plus those taken by the crews and their passengers, we thought you'd like to enjoy the spectacle for yourself. 

Here's our virtual 2015 run.

Day 1: 

Windsor - Bracknell - Hartley Wintney - Basingstoke - Andover - Salisbury - Shaftesbury - Yeovil - Chard - Honiton - Exeter.

Drivers convene for pre-run coffee and bacon rolls. The building is a former Thames Valley ticket office and waiting room, originally sited at Maidenhead bus station, and newly reconstructed by the Trust for hospitality and display use. (DS)

Contrasting traction as Royal Blue 2270 - newly repainted and extensively restored since last year's run - tackles the famous hill alongside Windsor Castle. Viewed under keen pursuit from Western National 425, a First Beeline Mercedes and Duck Tours amphibian await their somewhat more local runs. (DS)

Formerly home to The Swan, a famous Royal Blue refreshment stop, this is Hartley Wintney in north-east Hampshire. Here, RootyMasters captures 2351 passing through the gateway to the West. (RootyMasters, Flickr)

Our Royal Blue runs follow, as closely as possible, the original routes taken by the coaches in service. Drivers and crew are issued with detailed instructions (37 pages this year!), which require meticulous research and preparation. Nonetheless, the crews show varying degrees of navigational aptitude, and this anonymous co-driver is about to lead his coach on a circuitous route around Andover - together with those following! (Anon)

The approach to Salisbury was made approximately on time, enabling this excellent shot of Royal Blue 1250 passing under the West of England main line from Waterloo. (Dave58282, Flickr)

The seventeen coaches taking part in the run spanned an operational period of 1949 to 1986. The oldest was Lionel Tancock's 1948 Wilts & Dorset Bristol L6B, and the youngest was Lee Shephard's 1973 Royal Blue Bristol LH6L. The latter is seen here with Royal Blue 1250, demonstrating the contrast between Royal Blue's image in the 1950s and 1970s. (DS)

Arrival at Salisbury took the Coach Station refreshment hut by surprise, and news spread quickly that sandwiches were in short supply. Royal Blue 2351 appears to have been the lucky head of the queue, whilst a wide-open door suggests the crew of Royal Blue 1299 were determined not to starve. Perhaps the Cornish contingent were stockpiling on board 1460? (DS)

Late running caused by heavy traffic in Crewkerne meant that most coaches headed straight for their hotels in Exeter, while the sticklers battled on towards the Coach Station. Royal Blue 1250 is seen settling in. (DS)

Day 2: 

Exeter - Pathfinder - Okehampton - Wadebridge - Newquay - Perranporth-  Portreath - St Ives - Penzance.

This year's run featured what may well be the final visit of Royal Blue coaches to the traditional coach stations in both Exeter and Plymouth, with both scheduled for redevelopment soon. Here, despite cloud, the uplifting sight of fourteen coaches about to begin Day 2 captures the spirit of the coach station on a busy Summer Saturday in its heyday. (CB)

Drivers concentrate on their morning briefing, this time without the distraction of bacon - in most cases. The dog is, in fact, "Bear", a regular Royal Blue passenger who was so enthralled with the briefing he made his own notes on the tarmac. (DS)

The journey into North Cornwall was beset by an eerie mist. Here, Driver Farley - new to the front seat for this year's run - pilots Western National 420 with great determination towards Wadebridge. The two SULs had taken an 'alternative' route between Exeter and Okehampton, accidentally reliving the days of Western National's Dartmoor tours... (DS)

The presence of tea and pasties in Wadebridge made for a longer-than-scheduled pause. Awaiting the return of their refreshed crews, Western National 1423 together with Royal Blue 2246 and 1250 occupy former railway land to the side of the old goods shed. (DS)

Suitably blinded for Associated Motorways work, Red & White RC968 ("Ruby") arrives at Newquay for a brief stop ahead of the journey yet further West... (Toby Abbs)

... and departing again, close to the site of the former Western National Bus Station, recently redeveloped beyond all recognition. (Stephen Wren)

Climbing above Portreath with Driver Grigg at the wheel, Royal Blue 1299 makes good progress towards St Ives. (Rich W, Flickr)

The famous Malakoff Bus Station in St Ives - notoriously voted "Britain's most scenic bus station" - is small as well as beautiful. To achieve photographs of all fourteen coaches without hampering traffic required two carefully controlled stacking operations. Watch the video as Royal Blue 2380 returns from its moment of glory, passing the two SULs awaiting their signal to proceed from Bankswoman Williams. (DS)

One of the many superb shots captured by Ken Jones, National liveried 2380 contrasts with Royal Blue 2351 and 1299 of a previous era, in a timeless scene at St Ives Malakoff Bus Station. (Ken Jones)

Arrival in Penzance afforded views of the UK's most Westerly railway terminus, with the former Western National bus station adjacent. (DS)

Mingling with more contemporary coaching arrivals, Royal Blue 1299, 2247, 2351 and 2270 take a dignified rest at Penzance Bus Station, while Western National 425 and 420 look pleased by their own achievements. (DS)

Day 3: 
Penzance - Camborne - Redruth - Bodmin - Launceston - Tavistock - Plymouth - Buckfastleigh - Ashburton - Exeter

A panoramic view of Penzance Bus Station with coaches assembled for departure. Click for an expanded view. (DS)

With Driver Sheppard on loan to Wilts & Dorset, Lionel Tancock's superb 1949 Bristol L6B leads the convoy through the lush Cornish countryside beyond Camborne. (Stephen Wren)

The baby of the run, Lee Shephard's 1318 of 1973 vintage, is chased through Redruth by two relative old timers in the form of John Handford's 1420 and Roger Burdett's 2380 (of 1966 and 1968 respectively). Younger than all, though only just, is the High Speed Train passing over the viaduct. (Rich W, Flickr)

Wilts & Dorset 279 hurries through Redruth, with pressure applied by Royal Blue 2267, the well presented Bristol MW of Graham Clifford. (Rich W, Flickr)

A special occasion. Day 3's agenda was tweaked to enable a meeting with Bill Hawke and Royal Blue 1266, which he has been restoring for many years. Here it is reunited with 1250 for the first time in many years, near Bill's home in Summercourt. 

While the coaches begin the day in convoy, natural selection takes over, especially on dual carriageways. Crossing Bodmin Moor, Royal Blue 2351 emerges from behind the Duplicate cars 425 and 420 to take pole position. The SULs showed themselves to be well matched, with 420 slightly faster on the flat, and 425 more capable on hills. (DS)

The Launceston Arch is notoriously tricky to negotiate, especially with today's littering of parked cars on the approach. Here, Driver Growns is seen demonstrating how to make the operation look easy, with 1460 having disturbed not a single hanging basket. (Dave Growns) 

The journey back into Devon was made using the pre-Tamar Bridge crossing between Launceston and Tavistock. Here, Western National 425 returns to England high above the River Tamar with a background of lush Kernow foliage. (DS)

2270 creates a fine sight as it emerges on the Devon-side and, with the smiling faces of the owners aboard, encapsulates the spirit of the run perfectly. (Stephen Wren)

The market town of Tavistock is sleepy on a Sunday, but the arrival of fourteen coaches and their hungry occupants brought welcome business to the pasty shop. The coaches themselves made a fine sight as they passed through the town, with some pausing for photographs in the Bus Station, still based on its original site. Here, Royal Blue 2270, 1250, 1460 and Western National 425 and 420 rest in the coach park. (DS)

Driven and owned by father and son, Western National 420 and 425 remained together for much of the run. Here, they are captured arriving at Bretonside Bus Station in Plymouth, demonstrating the evolution of the SUL coach as-built (425) to its modified dual-purpose form (420). (Dave Fricker)

Plymouth's Bretonside Bus Station has been the location for thousands of photographs over the years, but photographers on the run were acutely aware that this may be the final opportunity to photograph Royal Blue coaches and friends at the site, which is currently earmarked for redevelopment. Here, 2267, 2351, 1250, 420 and 425 mingle with their contemporaries in a scene that has little changed since any of these vehicles first visited. (DS)

The route of the run between Plymouth and Exeter rarely touched the modern A38 dual-carriageway, following instead the pre-trunk roads through Ivybridge, Buckfastleigh, Ashburton, Chudleigh and Kennford. Here, Royal Blue 1250 winds its way towards Liverton in territory that feels surprisingly remote, despite its proximity to the modern route. (DS)

Driver Farley successfully completes his first Royal Blue Run, arriving at Exeter Coach Station in 420. (Dave Growns)

Journey's end - or not? With the run complete at Exeter Coach Station, 2247 awaits its trip home to Dorset. Each of the seventeen coaches completed their intended sections of the route, plus their journeys home, some travelling well over 700 miles in total. We're very grateful to the owners, crews and photographers for supporting the run once again. (DS)

Fortunately a virtual tour requires no such long drive home - but we hope you've enjoyed the trip enough to come back and visit our blog again soon. There's more news of the Trust's activities and events at, and on our Facebook page.

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