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Scorching Sacrewell

GCT 113’s second outing of 2018 was to the family farm attraction at Sacrewell, just off the A1 at Wansford, near Peterborough. The day started in a particularly surreal fashion, as I passed GCT 57 – a Daimler CVG6 – in the middle of rural Lincolnshire at 0915. We were both destined for Sacrewell, but I was headed in a slightly different direction to visit a filling station, under whose canopy I knew GCT 113 would fit.

The weather was not dissimilar to that of 20 May, when GCT 113 visited the Fenland BusFest rally based on Whittlesey. Temperatures forecast anywhere up to 30C would be likely today – ideal open-top weather!

Arriving at the rally site, where the officially named Peterborough Bus Rally & Commercial Vehicle Show was taking place, officials handed over a bucket of goodies (quite literally) and directed me to park in a specific location.

The Rally here at Sacrewell offers free rides on Service 302 from Sacrewell Farm to Nene Valley Railway and back via Wansford, in a figure-of-eight-type circular tour, with buses departing every 20 minutes. However, unlike most other rallies, a schedule is not produced in advance. Rather, upon arrival, those who have shown an interest in operating their vehicle on the 302 needed to make themselves known to a member of staff in the Crew Tent.

Over I headed, where two friendly ladies offered me complimentary drinks, and I offered GCT 113’s services for the free service. I was a little surprised to learn that just one journey now needed covering – the 1405 departure (1425 return from Nene Valley Railway). I agreed to work this journey and was given a laminated schedule card and route number.

This particular rally has been operating for more than a decade and has always been a fairly quiet affair. Its date in July seems to be something that isn’t compromised, even though patronage would be higher if it were tied-in with an event at the Nene Valley Railway (which, I understand, has been the case in certain years gone by). That said, today there were just under 40 entrants and three sales stalls.

Having chatted for some time with the owners of GCT 57 (originally registered TJV 100, though during a short spell outside of GCT ownership, the bus lost this mark and was allocated a Hull(!!) one – NAT 766A), I headed for a trip aboard another open-topper to Peterborough. This is an hourly service, linking Sacrewell Farm with Peterborough’s Queensgate Bus Station. My journey was provided by Diamond Coaches’s partial open-topper, R738 XRV.

Once aboard this Volvo Olympian/Northern Counties, new to Musterphantom in April 1998, though latterly operating in open-top format with Go South Coast in Island Breezers livery, we headed down the A47 into Peterborough at a speed in excess of 50mph. It was quite an experience. Fortunately for top-deck-goers aboard GCT 113, she has a top speed of just 40mph, so hopefully the experience is less one of endurance and more one of enjoyment.

We returned from Peterborough Queensgate Bus Station at 1200 and upon arrival at Sacrewell Farm I heard the bus marshall state that it would now operate a 302 to Nene Valley Railway, so I stayed on board for the trip there.

The journey lasts around 10 minutes and covers 3 miles and I was rather disappointed to see the NVR so quiet. Speaking with volunteers there, they felt that when the weather is this hot, families choose to visit the seaside rather than travel by historic railway. It was a shame, but those who were spending money to travel by train were offered the standard Sunday timetable and had plenty of seats to choose from.

Returning on the 1325 departure, the vehicle working it was ex-Stagecoach in Hull (S832 BWC). I have photos of it with ‘Frequento’ branding. New to Stagecoach in London, the interior of the vehicle has been retrimmed since passing to Diamond Coaches, save the rear seat in the upper saloon, which still displays Stagecoach ‘beachballs’ for some reason.

Back at the rally site, it was another trip to the Crew Tent for much needed refreshment before I headed over to GCT 113 and started her up. At 1400 I pulled up to the bus stop and 30 passengers loaded for our one and only trip to the Nene Valley Railway.

As I’ve mentioned, the journey is three miles long, but to avoid meeting other vehicles on the narrow road to/from Sacrewell Farm, buses leave via the farm road which brings you out onto the A1 just north of the A47 junction near Wansford. This does necessitate turning left onto the A1 with very little sliproad, in a vehicle designed for comfort not speed.

Having waiting until a car stopped and flashed me out, I headed down the A1 ‘in service’ bound for the NVR ‘Wansford’ station, which is actually located some distance from the village. A photo opportunity later (the sun had briefly gone in), it was the turn of my travelling companion Adam to drive GCT 113 back to Sacrewell Farm.

It was the first time in many years that I had travelled on GCT 113 as a passenger. Ever since I was able to drive it in service from 1998, I don’t think I’ve ever travelled on board as a passenger since I was a child. There was a theoretical stop in Wansford outside a pub and then it was back onto the A1 (where there was a much more substantial sliproad) albeit briefly before turning off for the A47 towards Peterborough then left along the narrow road into Sacrewell Farm.

By now it was 1500 and the owners of GCT 57 and myself posed our vehicles side by side, with appropriate destination. GCT 57 was new in July 1962, while GCT 113 came along 15 years later, yet the 45 to Immingham Docks was operating throughout this period, hence our decision to display this on the front of both buses.

GCT 57 was withdrawn during the early 1980s, so both buses would have been based at GCT’s Victoria Street depot for around five years. GCT 57 was, by this point, painted into the darker shade of blue adopted by GCT during the mid-1970s, which GCT 113 was delivered in, and from September 1980 GCT 113 wore the short-lived dark-blue and white livery.

Having swapped preservation notes and tips (as is customary at these events), and with a rather burned forehead, I made one last trip to the Crew Tent for a cup of tea, before driving GCT 113 back home, followed a few minutes later by GCT 57.

It was another scorching day, and while GCT 113 wasn’t worked as intensively as previously, I still covered 77 miles in her and discovered she now returns 10.99mpg – quite an improvement from the 9.1mpg I recorded previously after filling her up. I’m hoping to take her to the Nottingham Area Bus Society’s Summer Rally at the Great Central Railway’s Ruddington base next week. The weather looks set fine for another good day.

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