Today it was time to rectify that situation and armed with my First VIP pass, I decided to do the whole route and meet up with Des for a day out.
The weather was pretty depressing at Walton Highway at 08.00 with a fine drizzle. My first bus of the day was easily recognisable when it rounded the corner from Wisbech - a narrow font destination display meant it must be 37579 and so it proved to be.
The driver was bemused by my pass and asked why I was a VIP - I told him it might be something to do with the X1 blog which I write online, to which he replied "I don't even know what a blog is ". well, he's certainly not alone there - us who are fairly up to speed on computers and the like sometimes forget there are still thousands of folks who seldom, if ever touch one. Once aboard, we proceeded at a fairly rapid rate - clearly he might not be up to speed with computers, but he certainly knew how to make the most of a Gemini.
It occurred to me that I was on the successor to the bus I used to travel to school on from 1969 - 1974. This was due at Walpole Highway at 08.05 having left Peterborough Bishop's Road bus station at 06.45 and into Lynn (on paper at least) at 08.30. In practice this was never achieved and 08.50 was the usual arrival time because of the long queue into Lynn - this was in pre-bypas days of course. Today's X1 turn K1 departs Peterborough Rail Station 15 minutes later at 07.00 and is into Lynn at 08.24. Today we were well on time at the South Gates as Bob our relieving driver remarked. The departing driver duly informed him that "We have a VIP on board". This left Bob (below) quite unphased - not surprising considering that he is the only one of the nine original X94 drivers to have remained on the route since its inception.
Leaving Lynn on time, the fact that we were running before the 09.30 deadline for pensioners passes soon became obvious - I was the solitary upstairs passenger and our timetabled diversion off the A47 through Narborough was unnecessary, with nobody to alight or pick up there. Swaffham saw seven passengers embark plus another at Necton. En route so far we had passed the following : K5 at Terrington with 37565, Y6 on London Road with 37568, Y7 with 37567 arriving as we departed King's Lynn, L8 at West Bilney with 37569, while Y9 arrived at Swaffham soon after we did with 37573, but with nobody having ventured upstairs. L10 was next, passed near Wendling with 37577, At Toftwood, a pensioner tried using her bus pass, but it was still before 09.30, so she had to stump up at least some of her fare to Great Yarmouth.
The first delay of the morning didn't affect us, it was L11 which arrived at Dereham as we were leaving at 09.38 with 37159 running about 3 late. At Hockering we met 37563 on L12 and noted on Newmarket Road as we headed into Norwich was a broken down Volvo / Wright Eclipse single decker, 66950 receiving fitters attention whilst on its way to Wymondham. Scania 65556 was a few yards behind, so presumably took the stricken passengers forward.
By now it had become obvious that we had an experienced driver at the helm and our journey was proceeding at a comfortable but relentless pace. At Norwich, Des Speed joined me for the journey into the 'Far East'. We met 37157 on K14 as we left Norwich bus station ( I guess I must have blinked and missed Y13 somewhere). At North Burlingham, K15 went by with 37566 but then there was an extended gap before a wedged 37160 was seen leaving Yarmouth on K16 and running about 13 late. Yarmouth bus station at Market Gates had a somewhat gloomy air with the concrete structure overhead - it reminded me of Birmingham New Street rail station ! A glimpse of the putrid puppet man and we were away again encountering 37570 on K17, then 37156 on K18
and finally K19 with 37574 at Gunton St. Peters.
It was good to have Des as guide from Norwich as he was able to point out all the local landmarks.
Bruce had phoned earlier and reported 37578 in Lynn garage together with another B9 (37571 as it transpired) in the back over the pits. Back with 37579, Bob delivered us into Lowestoft on time. Lynn driver Wyn Parry was to take 579 back west and obliged with a wave as he left (below)
Des had kindly arranged with the local maintenance controller for permission to visit the garages at Lowestoft and Yarmouth during my visit, so armed with a loaned hi-vis from Richard in Lowestoft control, we made our way on foot down to Gas Works Road, or as the sign on the opposite side of the road states 'Gasworks Road'. One word or two ? Who knows ?
The staff at Lowestoft depot were very welcoming and once signed in, we were able to tour the site which was opened around 1985. Prior to this, the garage had been down by the bus station and I was told that the original site is now occupied by shops. I certainly recall watching Bristol LFS' being tested on the skidpan here in around 1971/2 - quite spectacular to a teenager at the time. We were able to get some good photographs here and X1 regular 37158 was being held in reserve for possible use on the X2 later.
From here it is but a short walk to Britain's most easterly point. In complete contrast to Lands End and John O'Groats, this is situated at the back of an industrial estate and there are no gift shops, ice cream vans and the like, just a large metal engraved circle indicating distances and directions to places far and wide. Fascinating none the less and worth a visit.
Going back into town it was time for fish and chips and how excellent they were - the finest I've tasted for years.
A quick dash back to Lowestoft bus station saw us waiting along with a sizeable queue for the 13.55 X1 departure. 37565 was there blinded up and ready, but no sign of a driver. Eventually our man ambled up and then the Lowestoft lady cleaner arrived and gave 565 a cursory inspection before passengers began to board. In the end we departed 6 late. Apparently the driver had only just had time for his allotted break, hence the delay. By the time we got off at Gorleston, things were not looking too good for K5 which was by now 10 late and still had to encounter the Friday afternoon traffic en route westbound. It was later seen arriving at Lynn from the west about 17 late.
A visit to the Speed household was next and I had the delight of meeting Mrs Des who made me very welcome. After enjoying a drink on the patio, it was time to continue our travels and this time it was a short walk down the road to catch a number 8 through to Caister Road garage. What we hadn't bargained for was the time of day and when our Volvo B7TL arrived it was wedged with school pupils, so standing along with many others was the only option. 30889 smelt strongly of hot brakes but was nevertheless a good steed and eventually we arrived at the stop near the garage unscathed. At this point I ought to mention that the school pupils from Cliff Park High School in Gorleston were very well behaved and a credit to their families and teachers.
Having signed in at Yarmouth garage, we met Ryan and with Des I was given a guided tour of this pretty massive establishment. Of note for X1 fans was 20126 being given attention and undergoing an MOT, so good news there. In front of it on jacks was 20109 and this may explain why in Lowestoft we saw driver trainer and ex X1 stalwart 20122 being driven by a fitter.
As if three B10Ms wasn't a surprise, we also saw 20115 occupied on the 878 contract and X1 shuttle, so all in all relatively healthy news.
Back at the bus stop, we awaited a service 8 to take us back to town and up popped 30889 again, this time with plenty of room on board thank goodness. The driver engaged in some banter with Des and was pleased he'd made up quite a lot of lost time.
So to Yarmouth and a short wait for my homebound X1. Whilst waiting Mr. Woodhouse arrived driving 37572 on Y13 which I'd missed seeing earlier and next was my bus, 37577 on L10 driven by James who gave an impressive performance in handling the B9. Top speed was attained on several occasions and arrival at Lynn was fractionally early.
On the way I noted that services from Peterborough had obviously been in the wars, 37157 was packed when viewed at Acle running 21 late on K14. Next was 37566 noted departing Norwich bus station at 17.51 (26 late). With Bruce having texted to say 37160 was almost 40 late at Tilney on K16, it was a major surprise to see it departing Norwich 30 seconds early, still on K16. Presumably it had run light from Lynn to Norwich ?
Whilst at Norwich, the second broken down bus of the day was sighted, this time an Optare Solo belonging to Neaves which had been due to work a Happisburgh service.
37570 was sighted on Newmarket Road on K17 and K18 with 37156 was just entering Easton pretty near to time at 18.29. 37574 on K19 was also punctual leaving Dereham, but after this K1 went missing - it was eventually passed near Necton, still with 37579, but running 26 late with 'not in service' on the front. Passengers had to wait for K2 which was 12 late into Swaffham with 37576.
With 37575 having been glimpsed at Lowestoft on K3 (above) , this just left K4 outstanding and it was seen leaving Lynn about 5 late with 37564 on the 19.35 to Lowestoft.
Bruce later told me that 37156 on K18 had not gone to Peterborough this afternoon and instead, at 15.15, it was resting at Vancouver Avenue, so another service gap which is disappointing.
37577 left Lynn on time, but the relieving driver didn't seem very interested in getting away from the South Gates driver change very swiftly. As a result we were 7 late by Walpole Highway where Bruce was in situ to kindly deliver me home.