Tuesday, 1 September 2009

SVBM Summer Open Weekend

"What is it about wrapping a hard-boiled egg in sausage meat and breadcrumbs that suddenly makes it Scottish?"

With the answer to this and a couple of less important posers at the forefront of our minds, the LEYTR did sally forth to Scotland, during which time we'd attend the annual Scottish Vintage Bus Museum (SVBM) rally on the second of its two open days.

We chose to travel to Edinburgh from Hull. Being fairly stingy when it comes to travel, we'd been downhearted back in June when we booked our overnight accommodation in Scotland's capital city, that the most obvious modes of transport were either not forthcoming with suitable journey options that best-fitted our three days away, or those that purport to offer fares from £1 were in effect offering single fares 2,500% greater!

So good old dependable National Express it was. If we were going to be stung for a few quid, it might as well be for travel in a coach and not a Scania/Enviro400! The route linking Hull with Edinburgh is one of the best I've travelled on to date. I enjoy Service 534 for a few reasons: the loadings are not as heavy as, say, London-Bristol; the service is operated by 'Scotland's Driving Force' - Park's of Hamilton, who provide at least modern, air-conditioned (if not very clean!) coaches; and the route takes in areas of England that other NX services do not frequently call. Beverley, for example, only has this solitary coach service since March, when NX curtailed all its Service 562 journeys at Hull.

Hull really has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years. Its Paragon Interchange - despite recent reports of errors in Braille signage - really is excellent, with the initial teething problems reported over its forthcoming departures screens seemingly fixed now. Stagecoach has ensured a decent number of cascaded vehicles now operate here to reduce its fleet's average age - especially apt in this, its historic year.

Some Braille signage translated this sign as Bay One Deft!

From Hull, our coach travels direct to Beverley, calling at the minster-town's bus station. You can't cover this section of route by any other scheduled coach service, nor the section hereafter to York. One of the previous occasions I'd travelled aboard Service 534, a short-cut was utilised just north of York station, that saw the driver lower the vehicle's suspension in order for us to squeeze under a very low bridge. No such excitement today, with our Glaswegian driver opting to stick to the more traditional trunk route.

As I'd expected, Park's of Hamilton had provided us with a fairly new vehicle - a Volvo B12B with Plaxton's Panther C49Ft body, registered LSK 506, being new to them in September 2006. While the climate control was excellent and the leather trim a welcome sight, the vehicle interior's cleanliness lead a lot to be desired! The dirt wasn't a case of the driver choosing not to thoroughly clean the coach out last night while overnighting at the hotel in Hull, more a case of a very long-overdue deep clean needed!

As predicted we were very lightly loaded throughout, travelling to Thirsk thence to Middlesborough, Sunderland and Newcastle. Here a mid-journey refreshment break is taken and for security reasons, through passengers are turfed out into the elements while the coach is locked. We wandered to the nearby train station for a nosey, but there was nothing out of the ordinary therein, so meandered back having a game of 'spot as many Go North East liveries in 2 minutes as you can!'

Seen here during the mid-journey refreshment break in Newcastle.

The most popular section of Service 534 is between Newcastle and Edinburgh and from here we were our busiest with about thirty soles aboard. I dozed off at this point and awoke in the Restalrig suburb of Edinburgh, en route to the city's bus station, just off Princes Street. The last time I travelled aboard Service 534 it was double-manned throughout and additionally operated via Hull Docks. It would appear the service is now wholly one-manned and the Hull Docks extension was removed in 2008 due to low patronage and increased security.

As with all occasions we visit Edinburgh, we'd booked into the Heriot-Watt University at Riccarton, to the far-west of the city, which necessitates a trip aboard one of Lothian's excellent bus services. We generally catch Service 25, which is Plaxton President/ADL Trident-operated, running to a ten-minute frequency. Today was no different and having tendered the exact fare for a day ticket (a very reasonable £3), we took a seat in readiness for the 35-minute journey.

Absolutely spotless - Lothian Buses once again surpassed our expectations.

In my opinion, Lothian Buses is the last-remaining large bus fleet that operates in a manner that is both traditional and yet adaptive to the current market trends. Their extensive network of radiating bus services, operating to high frequencies are typical of today's way of doing things, yet their vehicles are absolutely spotless inside. Each bus is mopped out each night (even Trent Barton do not do this), the interior fluorescent casings are removed each month and cleaned and all evidence of graffiti is removed. Our bus - an 04-reg - actually smelt new inside. Quite phenomenal.

Having dumped our things in our rooms forming part of the Heriot-Watt University, set in the opulent surroundings of well-landscaped grounds with the northern tip of the Southern Uplands clearly visible, we returned to the city centre to have a nosy around. It's fair to say that Princes Street is a right old mess at the moment, being closed for some months while work is underway to build the city's new tram network. Having said this, and considering the Edinburgh Festival and its Fringe were in full-swing, congestion was minimal, it has to be said. Our journey times throughout our long weekend were typical to those stated in Lothian's publicity and not once did we find ourselves in excessive congestion.

Somewhere amongst the JCBs and traffic bollards is Princes Street.

Sunday saw is travel into the city centre again in order to catch the 0955 First ScotRail train service to Dunfermline Town, where we would ascend the hill into the town centre and catch one of the free buses laid on by the SVBM to transport us to their premises, within the M90 Commerce Park at Lathalmond.

There are a number of ways those basing themselves at the Heriot-Watt University at Riccarton can travel to Dunfermline, though on a Sunday the options are much-reduced! Stagecoach in Fife operate a very handy hourly service from Riccarton to Inverkeithing via the Ferrytoll and Edinburgh Airport, though annoyingly not on Sundays. It would mean a trip into central Edinburgh then.

Lothian offer two services into the city centre at weekends: Services 25 and 34, which both operate along the arterial Calder Road, with Service 25 continuing to the city centre via Gorgie and Service 34 heading southwest to Slateford before bearing northeast to the city centre via Shandon and Fountainbridge. We caught the 0900 departure on Service 25 with a view to catching First ScotRail's 0955 to Dunfermline Town for 1030. This was duly caught and was formed of a Class 170 'Turbostar', namely 170459.

We made haste northwest towards the Forth Bridge, which we crossed on the 'up' line with a speed restriction imposed. This caused us a few minutes' delay by the time we'd arrived at Dunfermline Town. From here, it's a steady walk uphill to the town centre. The Scottish Vintage Bus Museum's (SVBM) free shuttle service operated half-hourly at 00 and 30 from outside the town centre fire station. Our vehicle arrived just as the heavens opened. We were to travel aboard WG 9180, a Leyland Titan TD7 in W Alexander's livery. A ride aboard this vehicle is one of the main reasons I make a religious pilgrimage to the SVBM at least bi-annually: where else could you ride on a vehicle like this? It doesn't visit Showbus, Cobham, Fleetwood or North Weald. Many of its historic sisters that were operating the shuttle services likewise do not travel very far afield.

This lowbridge Leyland Titan TD7 was the vehicle in which m'colleague travelled to the rally two years ago.

The other reason why I enjoy the SVBM open weekend so much is the location of the site. Sure enough, its address - the M90 Commerce Park - conjures up images of a dodgy-looking industrial estate with e-coli vans serving what purports to be red meat at the road side, but up here in Bonnie Scotland, things are a little different. If there was an award for the most picturesque setting for an industrial estate, that of the M90 Commerce Park at Lathalmond would surely win.

The bus ride from central Dunfermline to the site takes about 10 minutes and necessitates a fairly steady climb, during which the Rennies depot is passed on the left. With the exception of some old-looking deckers in Stagecoach livery in the yard, there are no other openly noticeably signs that one of the 'big five' is in charge. One of the timetables Rennies produces is identical to that Stagecoach provide throughout the UK, although its colours are different and nowhere is the 'S-word' mentioned.

Plenty of modern vehicles attend, including this patriotic Volvo B9TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini, operated by First.

The entrance for the rally today was £6. Money very well-spent in my opinion. Once in the grounds, it was as it is at any other bus rally really, everyone disperses into the crowd and you 'do your own thing' (caravanners say this a lot!). As with 2007, so many vehicles turned up, some were double-parked meaning a photo was impossible. Owing to the nature of the site and where the vehicles are parked, some are always in shadow, or your photo is always taken directly into the sunlight. The trade stalls are held within the large building at the top of a mound to the north of the site, named the Bus Station. A large number of stalls were in attendance this year and it was nice to see a few same faces manning them. I made a good contact at one of the stalls as I handed over £17.25!

One of the SVBM's collection is this Alexander M-type-bodied Seddon Pennine, which has links to the LEYTR area as it used to operate Anglo-Scottish services calling at Stamford and Grantham! Back in 1976 the SBG was removing seats for additional legroom - this is C42Ft

There are tours running to nearby localities throughout the day, plus the half-hourly shuttle service to Dunfermline and the internal service, which is provided by a plethora of vehicles. Despite the large number of vehicles attending, and the relatively few tours operating, the organisation leads a lot to be desired. A bus would pull up and no announcement would be made of its destination. The internal services would carry a board in their windscreens, but no other route would. Was it the tour as scheduled or was it a Dunfermline? The cry of its destination was only heard after a few minutes. To complicate matters further, some of the Dunfermlines had duplicates, too, which when added to the mix caused further uncertainties.

As ever, the Lothian collection was present and turned out in a manner befitting the current operation.

Perhaps those in charge of dispatch should visit the twice-yearly Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society bus rally, which is a model of how departures should be run.

As ever the day lived up to my expectations and I made a couple of not-so-cheap purchases and added a further three to my tie collection.

We caught the 1515 shuttle back to Dunfermline and then went in search of its bus station. A relatively new one has been built near Queen Anne Street, replacing that which backed onto Carnegie Drive, under the shopping centre. It seemed very impressive. Timetable information was most forthcoming for an un-manned site (on Sundays). Rather than wander back to the train station, we opted to catch the 1555 Service 80C, which would drop us off outside. It was our first Stagecoach journey of the jaunt and the vehicle's interior was equally as clean as can be found within the confines of Lothian's fleet; the only difference was that the saloon heaters were stuck on hot and we started to bake.

A livery I've not seen before is worn here - a kind of Scottish Citylink-style but with Strathtay lettering.

Four minutes later and we were outside cooling down. Trains back to Edinburgh operate not as you'd expect and are sufficient to ensure numerous passengers (tourists) stand on the wrong platform. The frequency is roughly hourly and yet alternate journey times take almost three-times as long as the others. Why? Well as I've coined it, the 'Fife Loop' is the culprit. Trains operating the clockwise loops travel as directly as possible between Edinburgh and Dunfermline, then north to Kirkcaldy on the coast and back south to Edinburgh, crossing the Forth. In this direction, travel from Dunfermline to Edinburgh takes 1:30. Trains operating the anti-clockwise loop manage a 37 minute journey time. The 1626 First ScotRail service is a clockwise loop, so more 'metals' for your money!

Having arrived in Edinburgh at 1756 we went for a spot of lunch before visiting the Vue cinema within the Omni complex to watch the re-make of The Taking of Pelham 123. A write-up will appear in due course.

We returned aboard Lothian's Service 34 at 2255, being used was a Volvo B9TL/Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini, though the least said about this journey the better!

Our chariot for the 0908 Riccarton-Ferrytoll service, provided by Stagecoach's Dunfermline depot. It's a shame this service doesn't operate on Sundays.

The following morning, by way of a change, we utilised Stagecoach in Fife's handy link from Riccarton to the Ferrytoll and caught the 0908 Service 747. Again, the saloon heat was stuck on hot as we awaited our departure time. The heavens had opened, too, which didn't cause us alarm until the windscreen wipers ceased operating. The driver tried everything and with only us on the bus I was wondering what the drill would be. Dunfermline depot (who operate the service) isn't exactly just down the road. During a phone conversation with the depot, the driver was presumably told to pummel the dashboard with his fist! As he was smacking the dashboard for all his worth, I remember turning my head in disbelief! The things people will try. Astonishingly, it worked and the wipers of 34729 (SP05 ELH), an ADL Dart SLF/Plaxton Pointer resumed operation! It really was a miracle - and something for those who drive this type of vehicle to bare in mind!

Stagecoach operate four buses an hour into Edinburgh using these extended Scania tri-axle, 56-seat buses. They're generally allocated to Services 53 & 55 during the day.

We carried on, passing the Royal Bank of Scotland's HQ at South Gyle and diverting into Edinburgh Airport where a fair number boarded. These vehicles have diddly-squat luggage provision, which needs addressing if the amount brought on by three Japanese tourists is anything to go by. We appeared lucky, too, as we passed some vehicles working Service 747 that were Optare Solos!

My favourite sign of the past month: a question mark is missing after 'gear'; 'remembered' is underlined to the left; 'its' is missing an apostrophe; and 'the' is missing between 'and' and 'handbrake'. Car drivers not sure of the concept of leaving a car in gear as a fail-safe should the handbrake faulter need to be told in which gear they need to leave their car - no point selecting 1st if pointing downhill!

The bus heads north to Queensferry and then over the Forth Road Bridge to the Ferrytoll Park & Ride site. Here we alighted with a view to catching the 1025 Stagecoach in Fife Service 55 to Edinburgh, hoping it to be formed of one of the 57-reg, tri-axle integral Scania K270UB6 commuter buses, seating 56 people with high-back leather seats. This duly arrived, formed of 24009 (SP57 CNX). It was a very enjoyable ride, though the advertised free WiFi wasn't working.

24009 approaching the turnaround point at the Ferrytoll Park & Ride site. Over 3,800 departures a week call here.

Having ticked another box, we alighted a few minutes late at Edinburgh bus station. Today's journey, in for 1105, was the first that saw a decent volume of traffic and associated congestion. We had plenty of time though as our coach back to Hull didn't leave until 1230 and when it arrived it did so in Park's of Hamilton livery. We were treated to LSK 495, a Volvo B12M/Jonckheere with sunken central toilet and continental door. Unfortunately, the driver was what I describe as 'a minimalist', doing the absolute bare minimum for his passengers.

A clue to the company who covers Service 534 is given in this photo, taken at Newcastle during our mid-journey refreshment break.

The southbound trip is virtually identical to the north but in reverse. We had a break at Newcastle where we were turfed off, and again sauntered to the city centre but opted for Greggs this time over the train station. It was a quieter run back than coming in terms of passenger volume. We were bang on time though at all stages, actually pulling into Hull's Paragon Interchange a few minutes ahead of our 1955 scheduled arrival.

We didn't manage to answer our opening question (thanks, Al Murray), though we did consider purchasing a deep-fried Mars Bar while away. Interestingly, its saturated fat content is seven-times one of one of those eggs, draped in tartan just because of sausage meat and breadcrumbs! (GL)