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.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Kingsbridge 2016: A Unique Day

There's nowhere quite like Kingsbridge.


And there's nothing quite like our annual Kingsbridge Vintage Bus Running Day, which is unique for its scenery, its authenticity and its team spirit. This year's event was the most successful yet, with almost 6,000 free rides given to the public, and was characteristically full of adventure.

SUL 420 awaits the arrival of a good shepherd.
Photo: Luke Farley
The terrain poses unique challenges for the drivers, who must always expect the unexpected. These sheep were encountered by Driver Luke Farley and clippie Zoe Williams on their way to East Portlemouth with Bristol SUL coach 420. We were once treated to a story by a former Western National driver who'd encountered cows crossing on this route in the 1960s, halting the bus on its way down a hill, and causing significant wheelslip on its way back up! Now we (including Luke and Zoe's full load of passengers) know how he felt...

Meanwhile, passengers on SUS 600 looked-on with relish as its Driver and Conductor grappled with a huge fallen tree branch in a narrow lane near East Charleton. This had apparently been pulled down minutes earlier by a tractor and trailer carrying hay, and had to be moved to a safe place to enable the bus to get underway. Following a quarter mile-walk (drag?) and much applause, the bus eventually did....

An unSUSpecting 600 at Gara Bridge earlier in the day.
Photo: Nigel Canham

Whilst it certainly poses challenges, the terrain compensates with spectacular views of the unique South Devon scenery. Our free luxury coach tours to Blackpool Sands (formerly a location for scenic Royal Blue publicity shots) were once again very popular, as were trips operated by visiting open-top vehicles.

Bristol LS 1376 is chased through Torcross by a Leyland PS2 (FNV 557).
Photo: 'Torbay Bus Boy' on Flickr
Passengers aboard Leyland PD2 LRV 992 enjoy Kingsbridge Estuary.
Photo: 'Torbay Bus Boy' on Flickr

In addition to our 5,972 passengers, others turned out with their cameras to enjoy the spectacle of the buses at work. Many terrific photographs are appearing online and we're always pleased to see how the vehicles looked as they assumed their place in the landscape. In many cases, it was as if they'd never been gone.

Bristol VR 1141 looks at home in the South Hams as it heads for Slapton.
Photo: William Spencer

Kingsbridge is a hugely sociable running day, made great by the people. Our visitors are a unique mix of local people, keen to experience an important historical aspect of their area, and enthusiasts from across the country. This makes for a lively atmosphere on board the vehicles and in the bus station itself.

Bristol FLF 2019 and LD 1943 await departure to Salcombe, the day's
most popular destination. Photo: Paul Featherstone

Authenticity is an important aspect of the day, as our mission is to educate the public in how bus and coach travel has evolved in the area; to that end we take great care to ensure that the correct vehicle types are used on the various routes. This recreates the original experience precisely and gives rise to some unique, magical recreations as history comes to life in all the right places. Even the former Western National depot in Kingsbridge, closed in 1971, came back to life as our overspill yard for the day, evoking scenes from a half-century ago.
The former Kingsbridge depot then, now a factory for Jades Electronics.
Photos: TV&GWOT (DS)

We're very lucky to have the support of many vehicle owners to compliment the Trust's 'home' fleet, and many travel long distances to take part. We're especially grateful to the Isle of Wight Bus Museum who, despite an unavoidable mechanical problem with their bus, beat the odds to attend with this fine Wilts & Dorset Bristol VR as a substitute, surely a first time visitor to Devon.
Bristol VR BFX 666T navigates through the stone walls of Malborough.
Photo: Charissa Bartram

Supporters round off the preparations... and the cake.
Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
So, we love the terrain, the scenery and the adventures, but the running day is only possible thanks to the help of our Supporters. Many have volunteered their time over several months to help with preparations and planning; on the day itself they crewed buses, acted as controllers and marshalls, they sold programmes and helped our thousands of visitors to get the most from the day. Kingsbridge Running Day is a great team effort with a unique sense of team spirit.

To all our visitors, our sponsors and our Supporters, a heartfelt thank you for making Kingsbridge 2016 such a unique and successful event.

If you'd like to help us stage events like this for the public to enjoy, you might consider joining our Supporters Group. As a Supporter you will enjoy several exclusive benefits of working closely with the Trust, including our quarterly magazine To and Fro'. Visit www.tvagot.org.uk/supporters.htm for more details and join us online today.

Monday, 19 September 2016

A Special 70th Birthday

Tuesday 20 September 2016 marks precisely seventy years since Thames Valley 446, our Bristol K6A, was first registered. 

So we're counting this as its official 70th Birthday!

The bus has a rich history, both in service and during its long career in preservation. We'd like to celebrate that history by collecting together as many photographs of it as we can for display and archive purposes.

A gallery is now beginning to grow on our website and it is hoped that, with your contributions, this will soon flourish into an extensive collection charting 446's first seventy years.

446 at Newbury Wharf in its latter years of service with Thames Valley (c) Robert F Mack
We'll also be celebrating 446's coming of age by taking it along to Oxford Festival of Vintage Transport on 2 October. New and existing Trust Supporters are invited to join us - sign up as a new Trust Supporter here and email us for details if you'd like to attend.

In the meantime, please submit your photographs of 446 via our Facebook page, or by email, stating any permissions or copyright restrictions there may be.

We can also accept photographs via our registered postal address, listed here (please include an SAE if you require photographs to be returned after scanning).

Happy 70th Birthday, 446!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A Virtual Trip on the Royal Blue Run

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
"Do they run every Friday?" asked a lady at London's Victoria Coach Station on Friday morning, gesturing to the eight vintage coaches which had just pulled onto the stands as if fifty years had slipped down the back of the sofa... 

"And where do I book a ticket for next week?"

As it happens, there's only one Royal Blue & Associated Motorways long distance coach run each year; it takes much of the remaining year to recover and plan the next one! But it's an opportunity for drivers and passengers to experience what was once an every day occurrence for the coaches and the people they served.

Photo: Keith Valla
In case you missed our run last weekend, here's a virtual run for which no booking is required. We begin at Victoria Coach Station, nowadays the start of almost 10 million journeys each year, so we were delighted to be invited back and accommodated so well by Transport for London (TfL).

Photo: Keith Valla
Ahead of our 1030 departure, coaches assembled in familiar surroundings for the public to view, while drivers received their briefing for the day ahead.
Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
This year's journey - using authentic Royal Blue routes wherever possible - was to take us from London to Bristol (Day 1), from Bristol to Bath and Bournemouth (Day 2), then on an excursion to Lulworth Cove and the New Forest (Day 3). The days would be long, as they would have been in bygone days of coach travel, with refreshment stops en-route.

Photo: Keith Valla
The assembled coaches departed Victoria Coach Station at 1030, with the lead coach - Royal Blue Bristol LL6B 1250 (LTA 729) - driven from the coach station by Leon Daniels, TfL's Managing Director of Surface Transport.

Photo: Keith Valla
Passing through the coach station's famous exit onto Elizabeth Street, coaches travelled via Buckingham Palace Road onto the Embankment and along the River Thames. Picking up the A4 at Earl's Court, they negotiated heavy traffic through Hammersmith and Chiswick before moving out onto the open road towards Heathrow, Colnbrook, Slough, Maidenhead and Reading.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
 Here are some hungry coach drivers, assembling for a canteen lunch which was very kindly hosted by our friends at Reading Buses. Best of all, it was Fish 'n' Chip Friday! The more hardy photographers worked through lunch as can be seen, as 1250 receives attention from one of Reading Buses' off-duty drivers. The variety of traction can be seen, with dates of manufacture spanning 1947 (Lionel's Bristol L6B on the right) to 1968 (the Bristol RE coach in the centre, flanked by two slightly earlier REs, including Ruby complete with lipstick).
Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Whilst the route is meticulously planned and documented, we have to respond to live traffic conditions and we were kindly tipped-off about some delays in Thatcham which would affect our proposed route out of Reading along the A4. Consequently, coaches (mostly good for 50mph or more) followed the M4 for a short stretch to Junction 13, where we picked up the A4 at Newbury.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
At Marlborough, the pretty town scene is often dominated by cars, but fine sights such as this were to be recorded as RE 2351, enjoying a break, is passed by an energetic 1460. (The latter has a semi-automatic gearbox, while the former has constant-mesh, so the need for a left-leg break is quite understandable.)

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Typical of the view enjoyed by passengers, the open road and rolling countryside are seen here from Wilts & Dorset Bristol L6B, 279 (EMW 284), very at home bowling through the Wiltshire countryside near Calne. The weather for Day 1 was mixed but generally kind, with coaches remaining clean after days of polishing before the run.
Photo: Stuart Turner
 We're very grateful to the many photographers who share their roadside shots with us, as the weekend can be very intense for drivers who often don't get the chance to observe the coaches in action. Here, in a superb shot by Stuart Turner, newly restored Bristol LS6G 1286 (MOD 973) - on loan to the Trust - is caught ascending Sidbury Hill having unusually claimed pole position from LL6B 1250 back in Newbury. 1250 gives chase, as does enthusiastic Bristol Greyhound Bristol MW 2138 (BHU 92C).

Photo: Stuart Turner
Beyond Bath, late MW 1423 is seen reaching a summit towards Newton St. Loe.

In Bristol, we were welcomed to the City's fine M-Shed museum, celebrating its fifth anniversary that evening with a special on-site party for staff. The arrival of the coaches (by now swollen in number to fourteen) was kept as a surprise by their Managing Director and we duly delighted both staff and public alike.
Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
279 is seen beneath the dockside cranes while below, items of Bristol's maritime past rise from behind a line-up that is very much 'Made in Bristol'.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Whilst M-Shed was our official destination for Day 1 of the run, several coaches completed a tour of the famous Downs en-route to their hotels. Seen 'up on the Downs' (an expression which makes perfect sense in Bristol), 2270 makes a fine sight alongside the Avon Gorge and Brunel's Clifton Suspension bridge.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
The route for Day 2 was designed to commemorate 50 years since the final train on the Somerset & Dorset railway, a much loved and mourned route that ran through Royal Blue heartland from Bath to Bournemouth.

Our route intertwined with several famous S&D locations, recreating in part the former rail replacement service that was created when the line closed in 1966.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Courtesy of our friends at First, we were invited to begin the day's run at Lawrence Hill depot, the former Central Works of Bristol Omnibus Company. By now totaling fifteen, the coaches assembled amongst the contemporary First buses not already out earning their keep on a Saturday morning, somewhat outnumbering them in our corner of the depot! 

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
A range of Associated Motorways operators was represented on the run, including Crosville and Bristol Greyhound alongside Royal Blue. 

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Comradery is a big feature of the run, with high spirits prevailing over even the most heated disputes about navigation! Below, Team Widdly Diddly (Wilts & Dorset), confident in their impeccable route knowledge, recite lines from The Titfield Thunderbolt as they approach an appropriate part of the world.
Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Photo: Jeff Day
Having passed Bath Green Park station (the S&D's northern terminus), coaches climbed Devonshire Hill (through which the S&D tunnelled) and descended into Radstock, where they passed over the former level crossings of both the S&D and the Great Western Railway. Climbing up Silver Street past Midsomer Norton station (where a stretch of the S&D has now reopened as a preserved railway) the two early-style MWs appear to be having great fun.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
The former Evercreech Junction station is a place of pilgrimage for S&D enthusiasts and the adjacent Natterjack Inn couldn't have been a more appropriate venue for a lunch stop. Also highly appropriate, Mike Walker's Bristol Greyhound MW is said to have been amongst those to operate the S&D replacement service, so appears on familiar ground here as it crosses over the site of the former level crossing towards lunch. 

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Evercreech Junction is a remote location, defined where the S&D main line to Bath diverged from the first-built line to Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea. Much of the station site is now an industrial estate, although previously it was used for the storage of withdrawn Southern National vehicles in the 70s and 80s. Paying tribute to its less fortunate ancestors, 1250 enjoys a break alongside the former station buildings.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Driving coaches burns many calories, and those of the bygone age must have been fit men. (Unless, of course, they replenished with chips.) Our Natterjack lunch was a 'Proper Job' and we're very grateful to them for such a warm welcome - plus an excellent photo shared on their Facebook page.
Photo: The Natterjack Inn

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Onward, via Castle Cary and Bruton, we tracked the S&D through Henstridge and Shillingstone, where coaches ran for a time in a pleasing convoy for photographers. 

After a stop for ice creams in Blandford, coaches travelled via Poole into Bournemouth. Our destination here is known today as Queens Road Coach Park, built on the site of the S&D's former terminus station at Bournemouth West

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Here, RE 1460 looks out to the former Midland Hotel (now flats), which derived its name from the Midland Railway who jointly operated the S&D. A victorious line-up of smiling coaches concluded the route for Day 2, all fourteen coaches having completed the journey without trouble.
Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

Day 3 was to be an excursion from Bournemouth to Lulworth Cove, followed by a trip across the New Forest to Lyndhurst. Tired but happy faces were in attendance at the morning briefing, some passengers in dark glasses after a night out in Poole... 

Note the Co-Op's new medium-weight range on display in the window. Something for slimmers.

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
The journey to Lulworth Cove was spectacular, as was the sight of the coaches descending the hill en-masse. 

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

After morning tea in the secret garden (it was Sunday, after all), a walk to the cove itself gave participants an opportunity to swap stories about the route, nights out in Poole, all-night Birthday parties with the Village People or any other unexpected sidetracks from the Royal Blue Run!

If only all were as focussed as Team Widdly Diddly.

Photo: Tim Stubbs

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)

The coaches attracted much interest from the public visiting Lulworth Cove, including one who asked if they were "always here?"... perhaps a sister of the passenger at Victoria?

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
The penultimate leg of the run took us to Milford-on-Sea for lunch, where coaches and passengers alike were able to enjoy a clear view of The Needles across the Solent. Here, the two L-types perform a PV2 salute to their Southern Vectis cousins, helped by a late MW plotting to steal its owner's picnic.

Photo: Tim Stubbs
A trek across the New Forest to Beaulieu Motor Museum brought natural hazards for the drivers to negotiate, much to the enjoyment of their passengers, as well as spectacular views of the kind that had once made these sorts of day tours so popular. 

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Reaching Lyndhurst on time, all thirteen of the day's participants completed the run without incident. Eight had made the full three day trip from London, with only the journey home to locations as disparate as the Midlands, the West Country and the Home Counties to make before a good rest.
 Where to next? A question for next year certainly - but definitely not for next Friday...

Photo: TV&GWOT (DS)
Our thanks to everybody who makes the run happen, the owners and drivers, those who allow us to use their facilities along the way and, of course, our Supporters for their tireless work in researching the routes and preparing vehicles. Thanks also to those who have shared their excellent photographs of the run so far, many of which are featured here with kind permission - we hope you'll continue to post on our Facebook page (using #RB16) or email them to the Trust via www.tvagwot.org.uk.