|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.
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
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
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
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.
‘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
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.