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.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Return to Didcot

Our second Didcot Transport Rally took place on Sunday, a joint venture between the Trust and Didcot Railway Centre.



With more than 30 buses on display, 14 in use on free bus services, traction engines, vintage cars and steam at the railway centre, there was much for our visitors to enjoy.


As well as shuttling between the rally site and Didcot Parkway station, free vintage bus services ran on authentic former GWR Road Motors routes to Wantage, Blewbury, Wallingford and East Hendred. We recorded 2,409 passenger journey across all routes.

Thames Valley vehicles from the 'home' fleet included 446, our Bristol K6A; 152, 556, and D40, respectively the Tilling Stevens, Bristol LL6B and FLF6G currently on-loan to the Trust; and 748, Peter Pribik's Bristol KSW6B. There was a welcome star-appearance from 620, an ex. United Welsh Bristol LD6G which joined Thames Valley in 1969. This has been owned and cared for by Brockham Scouts since its retirement from Alder Valley in 1975. 620 is the only Bristol LD with a Thames Valley pedigree known to survive.


There was an exotic selection of visiting traction, including contrasting Bristol REs from Ulsterbus, Crosville and Eastern Counties, an AEC Regal from Oxford Bus Museum, a former Reading Mainline Routemaster, plus Bristol VRs from Southdown and Western National - and many more.

As ever, we're very grateful to the owners and crews of visiting vehicles, as well as our Supporters who worked hard on the day. Trust Supporter Jonathan Radley was responsible for the bus and coach element of the event and his tremendous organisational skills, plus months of hard work, ensured the event was a great success for our visitors. We are also grateful to the teams at Didcot Railway Centre for their help and support.

Meanwhile, some Supporters may still be there now, working out how to get our tent down...


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Special Garden Party

We were invited to a very special garden party this weekend, to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Sir William McAlpine. Here's the 'garden'...



The party was the unique Fawley Hill Steam & Vintage Weekend, laid on by the McAlpines as an opportunity for charities like ours to showcase what they do to the public, to fundraise and recruit new support.


Our stand and display had a strong Thames Valley flavour, appropriate for the area, with five 'Valley vehicles joined by our Great Western Guy FBB and friends from neighbouring fleets. Tilling Stevens 152 (MO 9324) arrived under its own power, along with our Bristol K6A 446 (DBL 154), Graham Tyler's LL6B 556 (FMO 938), Peter Pribik's KSW6B 748 (JRX 823) and FLF6G D40 (GRX 140D).


Besides our buses, attractions included camel racing, a ride on Sir William's full sized garden steam railway, parachutists, stunt aviation, a railway museum and a full fairground. Here's our stand as viewed from the helter skelter!

There was great interest in the vehicles and our forthcoming events, particularly Didcot Railway Centre Transport Rally, now less than a fortnight away on 5 June. If you came to see us for the first time, we hope you'll consider returning your form to become a Supporter of the Trust to continue the good work you inspected at the weekend.

As always, many thanks to the volunteers who helped to assemble the display, crew our stand and answer questions from visitors. And, of course, our thanks to Sir William and Lady Judy for welcoming us to the event.