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Foraging the Fens

​I took GCT 113 to her first rally of the year today. The annual Fenland BusFest is the first large running day local to me and it was to this event on the same weekend last year that I took GCT 113 which marked her first ever rally in private preservation. Last year, as can be seen in the write-up by clicking here, was a scorcher of a day and every single one of my three trips to Ramsey left with all seats taken. It was quite an event and nothing that I subsequently attended during 2018 matched it in terms of ridership.

The weather wasn't set as fine this year. There was no Royal Wedding the day before, of course, which is probably why. Yet I headed out to Whittlesey from where the various free bus services are based, and there was a definite chill in the air. Only when attending last November's Transport Festival in Lincoln did I drive with my cab window closed and yet I was doing so today. This shows how spoiled I'd been by the protracted heatwave of 2018.

Whittlesey was a throng of historic vehicle activity. So large has the event become that the usual road closures had been authorised and I parked my bus up in Market Street with a large number of others attending.

My first timetabled journey was the 1040 departure on Service 341 to Ramsey, though a vehicle hadn't arrived to work the 1035 circular tour on Service 320 to Yaxley. I was asked to work the latter since the frequency of services to Ramsey had been increased to a bus every ten minutes this year (from every 15 last year) and the Yaxley circular ran hourly. I'd never worked this service before, but my conductor assured me he knew the route and so after we'd loaded around 40 people we left.

The route taken by Service 320 is different on its outbound to its return, operating a circular service of sorts. We headed almost into Peterborough, turning left in Stanground and passing through Farcet to reach Yaxley. From here we turned left to Holme, where the route crossed the East Coast Main Line to Pondersbridge and then back to Whittlsey via what I can only describe as a 'back road', Grassmoor Bank and Turningtree Road. Last year all services returning from Ramsey were asked to head into Whittlesey via this route but I must have missed the memo as I returned using the outward route and I'm glad I did! Turningtree Road disintegrated before my every own eyes. The decent load helped prevent the bus from doing its trademark bouncing, but even so the road was atrocious and became single-tracked in one place. On all other journeys I returned via the 'main (outward) road'.

Our arrival heralded the sun breaking out and as I approached the market place saw a long line of people which started back from round the corner. Were they keen to be the first to enter the Wetherspoons pub there, I thought. It transpired that this was the queue for the Ramsey bus stop. There must have been in excess of 100 people in it. Having dropped my passengers off at the local bus station, I parked the bus up again in Market Street.

My friend David Longbottom approached and said he'd acquired through various sources a Wayfarer II ticket machine of the style used by GCT. The bus had worn one from their introduction in 1987 until they were replaced by the AES Prodata machines in 1999. This was an astounding find, since the base on which the Wayfarer II once sat is still extant and this is something I'd certainly want to use, even if it is a dummy that doesn't work.

My next trip was the 1310 departure on Service 341 to Ramsey and as I'd expected I left Whittlesey Market Place with a full load. I even had to stop people from boarding. The ten-minute frequency was certainly needed. Ramsey's draw this year was the same as last year: a large classic car show was taking place there, with the organisers of both this and BusFest ensuring co-ordination. And as with last year the organisation by stewards at Ramsey was superb. Intending passengers were queued in the correct place and weren't allowed to board until all those choosing to alight had done so. I benefit with GCT 113 having centre doors and so kept the entrance doors closed until I'd established how many free seats we had for the return journey.

Again I had to leave people behind, but the dwell time at Ramsey ensured that the following service was arriving as soon as the previous one was departing. With my second full load of the day I returned to Whittlesey and staged a nice photo shot at Ramsey St. Mary which saw me do something I thought I'd never be able to accomplish: I made my friend Steve Knight run to capture what was an excellent shot.

While dropping passengers off in Whittlesey bus station I quite literally had a Wayfarer II ticket machine waved at me. What Dave hadn't told me was that he'd brought it with him and had kept it in his car, which was parked near the bus station. The machine looked to have last been used by Brylaine Travel some years ago since it had a sticker affixed to the opening door to where the driver module would be inserted that mentioned Langrick to Horncastle.

Furthermore, during the ensuing lay-over before heading out to undertake my last trip of the day, Dave reappeared with a Wayfarer II base that he'd seen for sale on one of the stalls moments earlier. The holes where screws pass through the base onto the stand actually lined up with holes already visible on the base, so I was assured of a perfect fit. It was quite a find and now GCT 113 come complete with a ticket machine from the era of the livery she currently wears.

My final departure would be the same as my first - a trip on Service 320 to Yaxley, departing at 1535. This journey was busier than the first though not quite full like my previous trip to Ramsey. I was confident of the route on this occasion and we all benefitted from the sun coming out and the day feeling very warm indeed. Normally I'd lament having to wait for a train to pass by at a level crossing, but rather quite fancied a brief halt at the level crossing at Holme, though typically this didn't happen, so over we went and on to Pondesbridge.

Upon the last people leaving the bus, I had toyed with the idea of returning to Market Street and parking up to say goodbye to the organisers and any other contacts who were present, but the town centre was very free-flowing and so I decided to head back directly. It's just as well that I did because ten minutes away from where I store GCT 113 a number of dark clouds appeared seemingly from nowhere. The heavens really opened and it was quite a dash getting the bus back undercover. Once complete the upper deck was pretty wet, though nothing she'd not dealt with many times before while in service along Cleethorpes seafront.

Fenalnd BusFest is the sort of rally where anyone who wishes to attend with a vehicle will feel as though they're hitting the ground running. It's exceptionally popular and the co-ordination with organisers of the Classic Car Show at Ramsey ensures a very popular flow. As I mused last year, quite where you 'take' the event from here doesn't immediately present itself. Enhancing the Whittlsey-Ramsey service is something that was identified and instigated to good effect. Other local routes seem to be comprehensively served - Coates, Thorney, Yaxley, Peterborough. Possibly a tour to Wisbech and back could be incorporated, but this is rather lengthy and would lose a bus or three from the system for some time. Maybe simply ensuring a professionally-run event with consistently high standards in terms of frequencies and destinations and visiting vehicles will be sufficient to ensure Fenland BusFest remains one of the largest events in the East of England.

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