Sunday, 24 September 2017

Backstage at Kingsbridge

This year's was our 10th Kingsbridge Running Day and we wanted to make it special...

Well loaded Bristol K6A 353 (FTT 704) - (c) Barrie Whitehall
This majestic scene at Slapton Sands is typical of the magic achieved, thanks to the efforts of our Supporters, vehicle owners and other volunteers. Free bus services were operated by 43 vehicles - more than ever before - on 24 routes through the glorious South Hams. Visitors came from as far afield as Australia as well as all corners of Great Britain; and, of course, our army of local residents turned out for what we're told has become one of the town's favourite events.

(c) Ben Woolvin
Consequently, we gave a record 6,550 free passenger journeys, each one creating a big a smile and furthering public interest in our transport history.

Not a bad day's work, you might think; but for our Trustees and Supporters organising 'KE' is a year-round operation. No sooner have the vehicles returned to their various bases across the country, we are already reviewing the lessons learned from this year's event, making arrangements for the use of the bus station next year and telling the world to 'save the day'.

For some vehicles, the return from Kingsbridge signals the start of Winter maintenance and restoration, though many have other events still to attend before the end of the season, so any faults or issues developed during 'KE' must be put right.

Early in the new year, vehicle entry forms and posters are prepared, programme sponsors are approached and early calls for bus crews and other volunteers are made in our Supporters' magazine To and Fro'. We try to give lasting value to our event programmes by including historical information and articles that will ensure its place on your bookshelf long after the event itself. Many months of hard work go into researching and writing these through the year.

The Summer months are dominated by the mammouth tasks of researching 'new' routes (every one is actually an authentic route from the past or present), creating route instructions for crews, scheduling the free bus services, allocating vehicles and crews and fashioning the timetables you will use on the day to plan your journeys.

The amount of work in preparing the vehicles might surprise you, too. The 'home' fleet alone - those vehicles belonging to Trustees and Supporters which are based locally - comprises some twenty vehicles which must all be fully prepared by volunteers.

Bristol SUS 600 (672 COD) awaits its 5am departure for MOT Testing (DS)
Eight of these require their annual MOT tests in early September, entailing staged departures for eight drivers, the first at 5am, for a 140 mile round trip to our 'local' Class V test station in mid-Devon. (1,120 bus miles in total!) The promise of participation in the annual drivers' breakfast at Sourton Services acts as an incentive, but only for those who pass their tests...

Pre-1960 participants may be exempt from MOT, but to ensure the highest safety standards at Kingsbridge we require these buses to undergo a full fitness inspection by a qualified tester. For the 'home' fleet these inspections are carried out locally, while visiting vehicles must show documentation to confirm they have been inspected. We also collect evidence of suitable insurance, taxation and driver qualifications for every vehicle and driver taking part.

Bristol LL6B 1218 fuels with LWL5G 1613 on their return move to Devon. (DS)

For some vehicles, preparation includes heavy maintenance or repairs, either carried out on site or elsewhere. This year, four vehicles each made the 400 mile round trip to our Berkshire base to ensure they would be ready for 'KE', each individual move requiring a full day, a tank of diesel and sometimes a low-loader plus crew. And pasties...

Bristol LWL5G 1613 (LTA 772) underwent treatment for major oil leaks plus some bodywork; LL6B 1218 (JUO 983) received attention for some engine idling issues; Bristol LHS 1560 (FDV 790V) received a major engine rebuild alongside other work to remedy ongoing problems with the clutch; and Bristol FLF6G 2019 (824 KDV) underwent a programme of mechanical improvements following return to its owner from First.

The two months leading up to Kingsbridge involve many more tasks than you might imagine when you're enjoying the big day. Every volunteer receives a detailed instruction pack which must be individually prepared and distributed. Programmes must be completed and printed in time for pre-orders to be satisfied, and stocks must be distributed to the local Tourist Information Centres who experience great demand from local people.

Arrangements for accommodation and catering must be made, not just for the volunteers over the weekend itself but also the various work parties in the immediate run up to the event. Pre-orders must be taken for the post-event volunteers' dinner. Hundreds of sandwiches and revitalising cups of tea are made and consumed during preparations - this year, some of the cake and bread was even baked by volunteers!

Warwick Hulme's Devon General SN 839 arrives from Bristol (DS)

Many vehicles travel long distances to take part in 'KE'. Some are brought by their owners for the weekend, others are loaned to the Trust for the duration of the event, and these must be collected and returned by volunteer drivers. This year, Albion Nimbus SN 839 (XTA 839) was ferried from Bristol and SUS4A 603 (675 COD) was collected from Herefordshire. We are grateful to all owners for allowing their buses to take part and for generously covering the cost of the fuel used by their vehicles.

During the last few days of preparation, fuelled by adrenaline, every participating vehicle is washed and dried externally, hoovered and mopped internally, windows are cleaned and appropriate destination blinds from our archive are installed. Uniforms are allocated to volunteer crews and ticket machines are issued to conductors from our growing fleet of working Setrights.

Despite a demanding build-up during the days, weeks and months preceding the big day, our volunteers somehow always find the energy and enthusiasm to put on a spectacular show like no other for our thousands of grateful visitors.

Happy passengers enjoying the adventure of a South Brent School Bus journey. (DS)
We send our thanks to each and every one who helped to make our 10th 'KE' so special. 

If you'd like to get involved with planning and delivering our events, there's plenty to do - as you can see! Tasks big and small can be found to suit all skills. Visit our Supporters' page for more information on how to get involved with the Trust, and sign up online. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Royal Blue Run 2017: "Right Along the Coast"

All photos and videos (c) Thames Valley & Great Western Omnibus Trust (DS)

'Have you ever said to yourself "I wish I could get there without the trouble of going"?'. 
So asks a leaflet advertising Royal Blue's new express service 'right along the Coast'.

For the owners, drivers and passengers of the fifteen vintage coaches taking part in our Royal Blue & Associated Motorways Coach Runs, it's all about the going. Our annual long-distance run is unique in recreating a bygone era of coaching as faithfully as possible. For most, the journey back in time along spectacular country and coastal roads is as much of an attraction as the destinations.

The runs stick as closely as possible to the original roads, submitting to bypasses only where essential. After months of careful research, each proposed route is driven in advance by car, inspected and interpreted in a comprehensive book of instructions and maps, issued to each coach. This year's three day run took us from Northampton to Bournemouth, along the coast to Exeter, then east along to A30 towards the Trust's Berkshire base.

'Every coach is warmed' the leaflet continues, 'with rugs to every seat'. There was no need to deploy such features this year, thanks to the carefully planned heatwave which gave rise to some spectacular sunny views of the coaches along the way, enjoyed by countless spectators across eight different counties.

In this virtual journey, we hope you'll enjoy a few sights we captured along the way.

The coaches joined us from various parts of the country, including the West Midlands, Home Counties, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Many had a long journey to make before the run began, with an overnight stop for most in Northampton. Western National 420 and Royal Blue 1250 nap after their journeys from South Devon (224 miles) and Berkshire (52 miles) respectively.

Welcome to Sixfields Stadium, Home of the Cobblers - and, on Friday 16 June 2017, the start of our run. Representing Royal Blue in this all-Bristol line up are LL, RE and MW types, with relief cars consisting of a Hants & Dorset MW, two Crosville REs, a Wilts & Dorset L-type, and the inevitable Western National SUL - the latter not just for the cases, despite jibes!

A drivers' briefing gets underway ahead of the 1030 departure. As can be seen, the run is a spirited and informal occasion, with some drivers extending the visual spectacle to their own attire and others choosing to wear a vintage uniform...

 The coaches avoid travelling in close convoy to minimise inconvenience to other road users, but natural clusters do form and allow for 'on the road' shots such as these, showing (above) Royal Blue 1299 near Bicester and (below) Red & White RC968 near Abingdon.

Lunch on Day 1 was taken in Newbury, where coaches parked on the site of the former Thames Valley bus station at The Wharf.

The run south took us across green and pleasant lands through Andover, into the quaint city of Winchester. Here, our Northampton to Bournemouth service coincides with the route of the London to Exmouth service whose later stages were to be recreated on Day 2 - the one described in the leaflet.

Onwards to Southampton where Friday rush hour traffic slowed our circuit of the city.

Terrain is notoriously varied on our runs. Only half an hour separates these shots of Royal Blue 1460, seen exiting the suburbs of Southampton (above) and later resting in the wilds of the New Forest with Western National 420 (below); meanwhile, Royal Blue 1250 forges on at some considerable speed...

 A major attraction of the runs is to witness similar vehicles working alongside one another. Here, at Bournemouth West Coach Park - journey's end for Day 1 - three of the five participating Bristol RELH coaches flaunt their stylish attributes.

Day 2 began at Bournemouth West, picking up the route 'right along the Coast' after some Saturday morning congestion had been negotiated.

In the same week the town of Wareham has been celebrating its newly reinstated railway service to Swanage, resident spectators must have been hopeful that Royal Blue might also make a return, with an incredible fifteen coaches an hour!

Now firmly into former Southern National (and later Western National, and even later, 'Southern National' again!) operating territory, the coaches were enjoyed by hundreds of beach goers as they passed along The Esplanade.

The journey then passed along the spectacular undulations of the B3157 to Bridport.

Here, the familiar bus and coach station survives in almost its original form and, aside from modern cars and camper vans (and that very futuristic white RE!), the scene is one of a busy Summer Saturday in the 1960s. The former Royal Blue refreshment stop opposite, the Cafe Royal, survives as a Domino's pizza outlet - so modern day passengers adapted accordingly!

Coaches were able to choose between two alternative routes west of Bridport, according to size and disposition. Smaller coaches were able to negotiate the 'service car' route along the Jurassic Coast via Lyme Regis, Seaton (left, alongside the former Southern National depot) and Beer, while larger coaches travelled inland.

 These two intrepid duplicate cars tackled the winding lanes and hills to complete the scenic route, with Wilts & Dorset 279 climbing towards Beer (above) and resting in the village (below) with Western National 420, looking characteristically pleased with its achievement.

Both routes lead coaches into, and out of, Sidmouth, creating some useful passes for photographers on the main road. There are many occasions on Royal Blue Runs when coaches pass one another travelling in opposite directions on the same road, but this time it was deliberate! Royal Blue 1250 makes a fine sight as it enters the town....

... as does the shorter L6B on its way through Budleigh Salterton, flanked by Royal Blue 1299 and its reflection.

 Day 2 concluded in Exmouth, where the early evening sunshine made for spectacular scenes such as this, the coming together of Royal Blue MWs 2256, 2250 and 2246.

Day 3 began at Exeter Coach Station, earmarked for redevelopment last year but mercifully still extant.

 The journey to Berkshire took us along the course of the original A30, these days substantially by-passed between Exeter and Honiton, so the quiet and scenic roads made for scenes from quite another era.

 An early start from Exeter meant that coaches were away before breakfast (although some were carrying substantial provisions!), so a longer-than-scheduled* stop was made at Yeovil Bus Station for bacon sandwiches. Here, Rodger's National Express RE meets its contemporary.

*Here, during a much longer than scheduled stay at Yeovil, we see fitters Helliker and Sheppard engaged in jubilant horseplay, having just secured Western National 1420's continued participation following a puncture. This was to be the only major issue to affect any of the fifteen coaches on a run totalling some 450 miles.

The run concluded at our Berkshire base with a party to celebrate, amongst other things, Royal Blue 1250's 45th year in preservation with TV&GWOT Chairman, Colin Billington (although there was a different number on the cake).

We'll therefore conclude our virtual trip with a shot of 1250 in action on its way home from another hugely successful and enjoyable Royal Blue Run. Our thanks to everybody who made it possible.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Holidays Are Coming

Our 16th Royal Blue & Associated Motorways coach run sets off on Friday, with fifteen vintage coaches crossing seven counties on a three day, long distance adventure.

Photo: Ken Jones
This year we'll travel from Northampton to Bournemouth (Friday), Bournemouth to Exeter (Saturday) and Exeter to Berkshire (Sunday). Why not give us a wave en-route? Route details and approximate timings are here.

To whet your appetite, take a virtual trip on some of our previous runs:

2016: London - Reading - Bristol - Bath - Bournemouth - Lulworth - Lyndhurst

2015: Windsor - Salisbury - Exeter - Newquay - Penzance - Tavistock - Plymouth - Exeter

2014: London - Bournemouth - Bridgwater - Exeter - Minehead - Bridgwater.