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The MacBrayne Circle Rally 2001
The MacBrayne Circle 2001 AGM and summer rally was held at the Dunollie Hotel, Broadford, Isle of Skye on the weekend of 8-10 June.

Our day started at 10am on Saturday 9 June at the old MacBrayne ferry terminal, Stornoway, where our bus was awaiting to transport forty members and non-members to Tarbert.  After a broken spell of weather the sun shone down on us from summer skies.  As we headed south with Calum Macleod at the wheel we enjoyed a comfortable ride to Tarbert.  Once there we boarded the new triangular route ferry, MV Hebrides. It carries a high volume of HGV traffic, especially from Uig to Lochmaddy, although sadly these days it is all the usual DAFs, Volvos, Scanias and the like.  When the MacBrayne buses we were viewing were new, names like Albion, Bedford,  Commer, Leyland and Dodge would have been well to the fore. 

On arrival at Uig we were met by Murdo Macpherson, Vice Chairman of the Circle, who very kindly stayed behind from the AGM to be our MacBraynes bus guide for the day.

The buses awaiting us at Uig were two Bedford C5s, one Bedford VAS, a Maudslay and a Thornycroft.  Murdo suggested that, as most of the buses were 29 seaters and there was forty in our group, we would take three buses into Portree.

A thirty-five seat 1949 Maudslay Marathon III

One of the buses that we rode on was HGA 983D, a Bedford VAS with Willowbrook body.  This is a 24 seater which was new in 1966 and was subsequently sold to Highland in 1970 (Highland fleet number CD93).

The Bedford VAS (VA Short) was another new offering for the 1960s, and one that went some considerable way to recapturing ground that had been traditional Bedford territory since the days of the 29 seater OB.  You could say it was the return of the small bus to suit traditional Bedford operations - the SB had been getting bigger while passenger loadings had not.  It had a wheelbase of 164 inches (4.16m) and a low overall height that was  achieved with a new feature from Bedford: 16-inch road wheels, and fitted with the Bedford 330cu, a 6 cylinder diesel engine.

According to Murdo, HGA 983D needed little work to get it through its MOT test.  The only item that required renewal was the indicator repeater light on the dashboard!  However, the starter inhibitor switch is getting unreliable and needs attention and work is also needed on the front wheel arches and panels.

The bus was stored at Weir’s premises in Clydebank, but has recently been moved to the Glasgow Bus Museum in South Street, Whiteinch.  Storage conditions are not ideal but the vehicle is at least under cover - necessary to allow a fresh coat of red paint to be applied. 

This bus was of particular interest to me, as Lochs Motor Transport (Roddy Dan) had one (registration number 386 FGB).  It was new to MacBrayne in 1962 and then passed to Highland Omnibuses in 1970.  The vehicle was then bought by Lochs Motor Transport in 1973 and served them until 1982.  It was used for school contract work and I traveled on it from Balallan to Leurbost school.  How easy it is to forget the sound of the Bedford 330 diesel engine and air brakes, compared to today’s modern bus.  Calum Macleod drove us on this vehicle from Uig in Skye to Portree, and it was driven back to Uig later in the day by Donald “Murray” Macleod.

The second bus we used on the day was a Bedford C5 (registration number YYS 174), powered by a Bedford 300 diesel engine.  Built in 1960 with a 21 seat Duple body, it was sold in 1970 to Western SMT.  Charlie Dobson acquired it from Stagecoach Western in July 2000 - just a few months short of the 30th anniversary of its transfer from MacBraynes to Western SMT. 

When Charlie retrieved it from Arran it was not in a very good condition:  It had a blown cylinder head gasket; the chassis and seats were extremely dirty; the radiator grill had to be repaired and re-chromed; and the front bumper had been ripped, probably by a towing chain.  Since changing hands YYS 174 has been taken for one major outing, the 2000 Scottish West Coast Road Run.  On the journey from Lockerbie to Oban it ran well and was one of only two buses on the Run. 

LEFT:  ‘Bus na steamair’ - a 1949 twenty seater Thornycroft Nippy owned by Derek Hunter from Stonehaven.

The third bus we rode on was GUS 926 - a 1949 Maudslay Marathon III, with a 35 seat Park Royal body.  For some time this bus has only required routine maintenance, which says a lot for both its robust build and the excellence of its restoration in the hands of Derek Hunter.  It continues to be in demand for occasions such as weddings and Rotary Club outings, as well as local rallies near its home base near Stonehaven.

In Uig, some of the group were given a thoroughly enjoyable short ride in a 1949 Thornycroft Nippy, 20 seater, with Croft body (reg. HGG 359).  It was sold in 1962 to McLachlan, Tayvallich, and then to Alan Nightingale, London.  After lying in storage for a while it was then sold to the present owner, Derek Hunter from Stonehaven. 

The bus was originally fitted with a Thornycroft petrol engine, but is now powered by a Fordson 4D engine (same engine as the Fordson Major tractor, 4 cylinder diesel).  By special request from Caledonian MacBrayne, it traveled on the new MV Hebrides on her maiden voyage to Tarbert, Harris.  It was used to collect the ship’s bell from the original “Hebrides” (built in 1898) from the Harris Hotel, where it had been kept for a number of years.

As Stuart Bell put it so well in his book, The MacBraynes Bus : “The romance of Scotland, that special aura  that attracts millions of visitors a year, the patriotism and bravado depicted by a rampant Scottish lion, the defiance of a Highlander warrior brandishing a Claymore, was captured beautifully on MacBraynes buses and coaches.  MacBraynes were ‘flying the flag’ long before anyone else had worked out that there was a flag to fly!  After 65 years of bus operations under the most appropriate banner ‘MacBraynes for the Highlands’ the reality had become ‘Highland for MacBraynes’ and in 1972 the last green, cream and red buses ran on their old routes.”

On behalf of the group, I would like to thank the following people: Murdo Macpherson, Vice Chairman of the MacBraynes Circle; Kenny Macaskill and staff, Caledonian MacBrayne office, Tarbert; Murdo Macritchie, Ness, of Hebredian Minibus Services; and our bus drivers, Calum Macleod, Kenny Angus and “Murray” for making it such an enjoyable day in Skye.  The group presented a cheque for £75 to Murdo MacPherson for expenses incurred on the day.

From WITPG Newletter 2 (2001)

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