Dedication to the cause

Photography is an art, right?

And if you do your art properly, it means mind, body and soul. Sacrifice. Engagement. Forward planning, knee-jerk reactions. Whatever it takes. Getting wet, even…

A little while back I posted a photograph of former Crosville Bristol LH SLL620. It’s a vehicle I rode in service a couple of times, one of a type of which I’m particularly fond. It’s always a pleasure to reacquaint myself with it at the running days its owners kindly participate in. But back in 2006, and I gulp as I realise that that is fifteen years ago, it was under other ownership. I found myself invited along on a ramble around Wales with a view to finding attractive photographic locations pertinent to its previous time in service, or to others of the same type.

It was a day of heavy showers, and in North Wales they can be serious showers.

We had already spent time hiding from a downpour in the old stone shelter at Llangwyfan Sanatorium near Denbigh…

From the shelter at Llangwyfan Sanatorium

Llangwyfan Sanatorium was the terminus for short workings from Denbigh on Crosville service M76, winding along the back roads between Denbigh and Ruthin, the sort of roads where grass grows in the middle. Buses had to wait at a point en route when operating southbound if a northbound bus was due, because there was nowhere for buses to pass on the long stretches of narrow lanes. A sign in the photo above warns off drivers of large vehicles, but it is still a bus route.

Our furthest destination from the agreed meeting point at Wrexham that day was Cwm Penmachno, a disappointment because parked cars prevented our reversing at the terminus to pose the bus for the classic photo at Glanaber Terrace. At the Cwm you are a four-mile walk from Blaenau Ffestiniog. There is no road but the path will take you nearly 1000ft above the starting point, over the pass and down the other side.

On the way back from the Cwm we rounded a bend after a little bridge called Pont Llechwedd-hafod to find a tiny terrace called Rhyd-y-Grô. I called out for a photo stop but there were no other takers as the heavens had opened again.

Rhyd-y-Grô. Very twee.

I didn’t spend a lot of time composing this shot, I must admit. It was sheeting down. But I look back in satisfaction that this is the only record of the halt because the other so-called “enthusiasts” didn’t want to get wet.

A little further on is the village of Penmachno proper. There was even a pub there, I hope there still is. Here was an opportunity for one of those shots where the road seems to be impossibly tight but is negotiated hundreds of times a year by buses with little ado. I can imagine the blind corner being problematic, though, when vehicles meet unexpectedly.

The Eagles inn at Penmachno. You can still get a bus here from Llanrwst.

There are many more photos of this extremely enjoyable day for another time. And then photos from other enjoyable days with other enjoyable vehicles. I will revisit them all. In the meantime, perhaps these pictures will inspire some to go out and find some interesting locations near to wherever they are. Post your links to your favourite pictures out in the wild in the comments below!

Betty’s Bus

Back in the late 70s and early 80s Ribble got some good publicity for their special rural bus services wending their merry way around the area between Clitheroe and Burnley, in the Ribble valley and around Pendle Hill. Their regular driver, Betty Gray, became a bit of a local celebrity after appearing on local TV in reports showing her at work. She was also as a guest, or rather a subject [if I remember correctly] on “What’s My Line” on ITV. She had her place on a Ribble publicity postcard, feeding the ducks at Downham, which features in my archive.

“Betty’s Bus” even had its own special headboard as seen above. Actually, there were two “Betty’s Buses”, a pair of consecutively-numbered Bristol LHS buses. The Ribble fleet numbers were 271 and 272. Monday to Saturday there were different route variations each day, mostly based on Clitheroe and reaching Burnley four times a week. The Saturday service in my 1983 timetable did not start or end at Clitheroe, apparently being worked from the Burnley end. This, I imagine, because Betty had her weekends off.

The Bristol LHS was perfect for the narrow country lanes and quite photogenic with it. I could have taken hundreds of photos along the route because there were so many scenic compositions to be made. Film cost was a limitation in those days, and obviously there was only so much stopping for photographs that the driver and the posse of regular passengers could tolerate [I made them late!!]. But Mrs Gray was very patient and generous and allowed me to take some really unique photos.

I will not linger too long on the subject here because I have decided to focus on the route in more depth in a special extra-blog feature, extra in two senses:
(a) it will feature material not shown on these blog pages and
(b) it will be distributed outside the blog by e-mail to my signed-up blog subscribers only.

To receive a copy of this first special issue – and those which will follow – just sign up on any of my blog pages. The intention of these special issues is to explore an “e-mag” format, overcoming the limitations of the web site and using full HD images to fill your tablet, laptop, monitor or TV screen corner-to-corner with omnibological eye-candy. These will at first be short and sweet but if they are well received I am considering authoring some more extensive photographic essays and studies of operations in an expanded e-book format.

So your participation in this experiment [by signing up and giving feedback] would help me decide whether this is an endeavour worth pursuing. I hope to send out the first “extra” in the next few weeks, so subscribe to benefit from this free offer. I will advise on this site and on social media when the first “e-mag extra” is to be distributed but you can subscribe right now, above, on the right.

Note: As a privacy lover myself I do not share your e-mail addresses nor will I use them to pester you with irrelevant stuff. All features for tracking and analytics are disabled on this web site.

In the wild

Bus preservation is great, we have some splendid examples to cherish of vehicle types we have loved in your younger days, and sometimes from way back before our day. It’s our memories brought back to life, our heritage for all to see and appreciate. Museums and rallies have their place in this scenario, where we can come together and enjoy all this beloved machinery. But these places and events have their limitations with static displays and crowds of people milling about… these buses deserve to be depicted in another environment, in the real world!

I have been extremely fortunate to have been invited along on private excursions on a number of preserved buses and even co-ordinate a few such trips with the help of willing owners and enthusiastic passengers. The beauty of these days has been the freedom to pose the buses in pleasant locations, be it in their home from their working days or perhaps further afield. One of the earliest I remember was on Crosville Bristol LH6L SLL620 which had operated in the Wrexham and Denbigh areas. So we took a tour starting in Wrexham and, working outwards along Crosville routes through Denbigh, we made our way to Llanrwst and ultimately Cwm Penmachno, places formerly frequented by the LHs based at Llandudno Junction and its outstation at Llanrwst.

The photo above is at Bwlchgwyn, a village up in the hills outside Wrexham on the Ruthin road. The photo was taken on the 19th of August 2006 and happily the Kings Head appears still to be functioning as a pub. Apart from the 21st century van poking its nose into the road there is little in the photo to date the view. With the cheapness of digital photography hundreds of photos can be shot and stored on memory cards on a day like this. Though I have shared some of my pictures from this day previously, there are many views of different locations that remain unpublished. And many days such as these have taken place with hopefully more to come. With such great locations on offer, it is a good exercise in trying to find pleasing and original compositions using geographical features, buildings and landmarks. These owners spend vast amounts of time and money on their buses and they deserve recognition for their contribution to heritage preservation. I think there is no better showcase and tribute for a preserved bus than this… out in the wild.

Shortly after the pause at Bwlchgwyn we were in Llandegla village where short runs on the D8 service used to turn. The village is quiet and pleasant and has an attractive backdrop being overlooked by Moel Famau, just visible here. SLL620 probably paused here in its days working out of Wrexham looking a lot like this.

A great day was had by the small party on the bus and wonderful souvenirs were created.. I will no doubt return to this subject again… and again…