Central SMT

BL346 in Preservation

Bristol Lodekka FLF6G, Chassis No 236119

ECW 'long' body (78 seats, forward ascending staircase)

In service with Central : May 1967 - Feb 1981

Purchased from Central Scottish for preservation

Home : Scottish Vintage Bus Museum / Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust

Peebles Run 2003 - Trip Report

Setting off

Most unusually for a Saturday, my alarm clock went off at 0600 on 11 October 2003. Even more unusually, I didn't mind it a bit, for it was to be a very special day. Courtesy of owner Douglas Forbes, I had been invited to join a trip to Peebles on board BL346, the magnificently preserved long Bristol Lodekka FLF, formerly of Central SMT and at the time based at the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum at Lathalmond, Fife. I arrived at a near-deserted Lathalmond at 0810, a bit early for the planned 0840 departure, but who wants to take risks on an occasion such as this? I may have been early, but not surprisingly, Douglas was already busy, making final preparations for BL346's big day out.

Although the trip was principally being run in connection with the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust, a few of us were starting from Lathalmond and the initial group were all aboard in good time for an on-schedule departure. As we passed through Dunfermline on our way towards the Kincardine Bridge, I quickly realised that, among the day's many attractions, an unexpected bonus was the pastime of people watching. While many pedestrians and drivers were completely oblivious to our presence, those who did register a reaction made interesting viewing : there were the stoppers-and-starers, the jaw droppers, smilers, pointers and wavers! Most baffling of all to a group of enthusiasts were those at bus stops who tried to flag us down. These people were looking at one of the finest examples of bus preservation, representing the late 1960s and 1970s, yet they were presumably seeing only some kind of generic bus. Oh well, I suppose they would consider us a bit odd as well!


On approaching Glasgow, we avoided the M80 and reached the City Centre via Stepps and the Royston Road route. Travelling south on North Hanover Street, we passed Buchanan Bus Station and Queen Street Station before heading round George Square for a pick-up stop in Union Street. Soon after passing the famous Glasgow landmark known as the Heilanman's Umbrella, we were re-enacting Central SMT history by travelling along Clyde Street and up the Saltmarket for the traditional right turn at Glasgow Cross into Gallowgate. A short drive took us to the former Bridgeton garage of Glasgow Corporation Transport, currently home of the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust, where more people were due to join the trip. A very welcome comfort stop allowed the opportunity for a look around the main garage, home to a number of preserved buses, including Central SMT's T150 (XGM450L), a Leyland Leopard / Alexander Y-type dating from the early 1970s. 

Glasgow - Hamilton - Lanark

On leaving the GVVT premises, we turned right into London Road and travelled the short distance to Bridgeton Cross to take up a 60/65/67 route to Hamilton, via Cambuslang and Limetree. The journey was a roll-call of once-familiar mileposts : Farme Cross, the Hoover factory at Cambuslang (which had had its plug finally pulled that very week), Halfway, Dechmont, Low Blantyre, Limetree Cottage and Burnbank, including the site of the one-time depot there. Soon we were passing the County Buildings, once the administrative headquarters of Lanarkshire County Council, quickly followed by the site of Clydesdale Depot. The buildings here have long been demolished, but the site itself continues to lie vacant behind ugly advertising hoardings, adjacent to the grounds of what was once Hamilton College. Good grief, doesn't anything ever stay the same?

As if in answer to that question, Hamilton Mausoleum quickly came into view, looking quite splendid, bathed in the rays of an ever more confident Autumn sun. But then another jolt back to the future! Unable to follow the traditional route to Hamilton Cross, we were soon negotiating completely new roads through equally new retail parks. I was struck by the sheer number of parked cars and by the somewhat transatlantic feel of it all, as though the focus had moved away from the old town centre and into these new, car-centred developments. This was surely an indication of the problems facing modern day public transport. Yet I hesitate to criticise for, much more so than the other major, old-established towns of the former industrial heartland of Lanarkshire, Hamilton seems to have made a reasonably successful transition into the 21st century.

At this point, our Lodekka itself made a seamless transition onto traditional route 16, one of the most scenic in the Central SMT network. As we headed out of Hamilton through Ferniegair, I almost expected to see one of BL346's HGM-E sisters working inwards from Coalburn, Netherburn or Strathaven. With a large proportion of the batch allocated to Hamilton's Clydesdale Depot, these buses were stalwarts on the 'fifties' group of routes for much of the 1970s. It wasn't to be, of course. My imagination was clearly getting out of control.

Soon we were following the A72 along the scenic Clyde Valley route towards Lanark, crossing over the M74 and taking the new detour via the A71 to approach Garrion Bridge. The name of this community is arguably no longer strictly accurate, because there are now two bridges, forming opposite sides of a large, river-spanning roundabout! This must be one of most expensive roundabouts ever built, but it does appear to have been successful in dealing with the dreadful queues that used to form at the traffic lights here.

As we travelled along the Clyde Valley, it was good to hear fellow passengers' positive reactions to one of Lanarkshire's best-kept secrets. In the words of one : "Nobody thinks of countryside like this when you mention Lanarkshire!" Douglas had us on 'tree alert' for this part of the journey, but thankfully there were no close encounters with errant foliage. Having passed through villages such as Rosebank, Crossford and Kirkfieldbank, we were soon ascending the once notorious Lanark Brae into the town itself, everyone on board enjoying the amazing Gardner sound effects as we slowly twisted and turned our way towards the summit.

Lanark - Peebles

We passed through Lanark uneventfully, but as always it was fun to watch for reactions among members of the public. Those of us in the know paid homage at the site of the former bus terminus, now a supermarket and car park, and soon we were heading out of town by way of Lanark Loch, past the old racecourse and towards Hyndford Bridge. After a spell on the open road, we turned off and made our way towards the traditional stop at Thankerton Post Office for a quick photo session. The next excitement was to be our passage under the low bridge at Symington. Of course, Central SMT Lodekkas once passed under this bridge routinely, but with the effects of 25 years' worth of re-surfacing activities unclear, Douglas decelerated to dead slow, made for the centre of the road and gently edged BL346 through under the guidance of members of the group.

Very soon afterwards, we arrived in Biggar and stopped for a coffee break. This was another opportunity for photos, with strong Autumn sunlight, under almost cloudless blue skies, considerably enhancing the scene before us. A retired driver from Carluke Depot, out for a morning stroll, could hardly believe his eyes! We waited while he rushed home for his car and camcorder to record the occasion. It really made his day.

Once more on the road, and soon we crossed the boundary into what, until recently, had been Borders Region. Several of us tried with limited success to recall the old, pre-1974 county structure in this part of Scotland. We passed through the pretty village of Skirling (where our ex-Carluke driver was ready and waiting, camera in hand) and shortly thereafter, on meeting up with the A701, we made the sharp right turn to take us in the direction of Broughton. This was the point at which routes 242 and 243 temporarily parted company, and we were following the 242 branch. A further photo stop was made in Broughton itself.

The final leg took us along the narrow B712 through Drumelzier and Stobo to re-emerge onto the A72, and re-unite with the 243 route, near Lyne. Neidpath Castle provided a final point of interest before we arrived in Peebles, making our way to the former Eastern Scottish depot. Peebles was one of a number of Borders depots recently closed by First, the successor of Lowland, which itself broke off from Eastern Scottish in the 1985 re-organisation of the Scottish Bus Group. However the depot yard was still available for bus parking and we were able to make use of it. My watch read 1345 and my stomach told me it was time for a nice lunch!

Return journey

As we pulled out of the old depot yard at 1555, into the Eastgate and along the High Street, just as similar buses did a quarter of a century ago, we once again succeeded in turning a fair few heads. Cloud cover had moved in from the west during our stay in Peebles and, as we left this classic Central SMT destination behind, a typical Scottish drizzle began to impair our view. The priority on this return journey was to achieve a fairly direct routing back to Glasgow, but it still made for an interesting journey. Between Peebles and Law Hospital, we managed to re-enact part of routes 243, 38 and 241, travelling via Elsrickle, Carnwath and Carluke. After dropping off a member of the group at Law Hospital, we made a most un-Central move, turning left to pass through the village of Law, home of the independent Irvine. Arriving for the second time in the day at Garrion Bridge, we made a brief farewell to route 16, joining the M74 for a fast run to the city via the motorway and London Road. After brief stops at Bridgeton and George Square, we were soon on the M80 and heading back to base. A fuel stop at Cumbernauld offered the opportunity for some final photos in the gathering dusk. We arrived back at Lathalmond at around 1915, our highly successful and enjoyable day out at an end.

Grateful thanks are due to Douglas for making the trip available, for all his preparatory work and for his flawless driving on the day itself. And, of course, renewed congratulations on being the owner of the truly magnificent BL346!

A frosty Autumn morning at Lathalmond, and BL346 is ready for the road.

BL346 picked up some of the group in Glasgow's Union Street, turning a few Glaswegian heads in the process.

A stop at the Bridgeton premises of the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust allowed a visit to be paid to sister vehicle T150, also in preservation.

BL346 poses in the sunshine at the traditional Thankerton Post Office stop.

An anxious moment is over as BL346 emerges unscathed from Symington Bridge.

BL346 has a break in the centre of Biggar.

Another rear view of BL346 as she pauses in Biggar.

Who could resist this photo opportunity, as BL346 pauses in Broughton on the traditional 242 branch of the Glasgow - Peebles route?

Two-legged and four-legged passengers disembark on arrival at Peebles.

Contemporary operations at Peebles were represented by two Leyland Olympians, themselves getting quite long in the tooth.

BL346 parked at the former Eastern Scottish depot yard in Peebles.

After a thirsty day's work, BL346 called at Old Inns Filling Station, Cumbernauld to fill up with diesel. The twilight conditions add a touch of atmosphere to an otherwise uninspiring location.