Coach touring at its best

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Jonathan Taylor and his partner Sarah Day were on holiday recently when they had an enjoyable and memorable chance encounter in the Exmoor National Park with Heyfordian Travel driver, Dave Smith

It was after crossing the Withypool Bridge that Jonathan and Sarah came across Dave Smith. SARAH DAY

A trip to Devon and Cornwall and all points west in late June saw my partner and I driving along country lanes over the top of Exmoor, and gently down valleys with sparkling streams in full sunshine with birdsong and wild flowers. That’s the Lorna Doone Exmoor bit done.

We drove over the top of another hill (with fantastic views) and then down to Withypool (‘withy’ means ‘willow’). We crossed the very scenic River Barle bridge. This is where you can start the walk to the Tarr Steps. They form Britain’s longest (55m, 180ft) ‘Clapper’ bridge and were constructed in around 1000BC to cross the Barle, which joins the River Exe lower down, between Dulverton and Exe Bridge.

Dave Smith as his passengers normally see him – smartly attired in Heyfordian Travel uniform. HEYFORDIAN TRAVEL

Just as we got across the Withypool Bridge we saw an unusual sight. A man in shorts (obviously enjoying the sunshine too) was washing the side of a parked-up ’67 plate Beulas Cygnas with a yard brush.

Is this a CBW Big Picture opportunity, I thought? I pulled over before the brushman saw us. My partner, Sarah, reached for the camera and long lens to get the shot. Then I thought, ‘it would be polite to go and talk to him and ask permission first.’ So she waited while I walked down towards the man and his bucket of water.

As you can see from the picture, the coach was part of the Heyfordian fleet. I introduced myself and asked permission for the shot.

The man in shorts turned out to be Dave Smith, brother of Steve Smith who now runs Heyfordian day-to-day. Incredibly, Dave lives in Tasmania and travels back to the UK for three months each summer, while it is winter over there in Tazzie, to help out by doing the driving for some touring parties. He loves it.

The Tarr Steps clapper bridge across the River Barle was why Jonathan and Sarah were in this part of the Exmoor National Park. JUDY DEAN (CC BY 2.0)

Dave’s clients, on the day we met, were a group of 25 German ramblers enjoying an 11-day tour of the West Country. He had dropped them off at a start point some miles away and was using the spare time waiting at his pick-up point to wash his coach.

Dave was very pleased with the Cygnus (which had been acquired from Moseley PCV) and admitted thoroughly enjoying piloting the coach down familiar lanes and routes to give his group the best holiday possible.

He had changed out of his uniform to do the cleaning and really wanted to get back into it for the picture, to represent Heyfordian properly. But I thought he was already doing that, by taking care of his vehicle. So the shorts version is what you see, a well-organised and happy driver delivering a great tour to a foreign group who love the experience and deliver repeat bookings year after year in return.

Dave Smith hard at work cleaning his coach, but enjoying the sunshine at the same time. SARAH DAY

HEYFORDIAN TRAVEL – Five decades of service

Established in 1947, Bicester-based Heyfordian Travel is a family owned and managed business, although its roots go back to the 1890s when a branch of the family were the horse-drawn carriers in the village of Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire from where the name Heyfordian originates.

Haulage was the mainstay of the business in the early 20th century, with motorised trucks introduced after the First World War. That was the primary focus until after the Second World War when the founder of Heyfordian, James Thomas Smith, identified a need for passenger transport. Prosperity followed, because what he created soon acquired a reputation for delivering high quality customer service.

The Smith family, which continues to own and run Heyfordian, has built on that reputation over subsequent decades by continuing to deliver for a wide range of customers, whether they are corporate clients, education establishments, clubs or individuals – anyone who needs to move numbers of people comfortably, reliably and safely. The firm now operates just over 90 vehicles from bases in High Wycombe and Oxford as well as in and around Bicester.