Monday, 21 October 2013

Day 7 Part 2: Keith to Inverness

An alternative view of the Stagecoach 10
We exited Keith towards Elgin simply travelling and looking out of the window. We passed some 20 or so bonded warehouses belonging to Chivas Brothers – a bonded warehouse is where the whisky is stored, in wooden barrels for the years that it needs to age. They are easy to spot; they are (unless new) blackened by the evaporating whisky that leaches through the barrels (the Angels share). I was just explaining this exceptionally interesting and useful process to Michael when we stopped. And we waited – ahead were three stationary trucks and, ahead of them, flashing blue lights. Not again – was this a random spot check to ensure that no unlicenced travellers were making their way north? Nope, an accident… the police cordoned off the road with (very helpful) ‘SLOW’ signs… nice touch! Another bus pulled up behind us, and those who could turned around did and escaped.

The driver was informed that it would only be about half an hour… but after that time had gone it was time to stretch my legs (and see if I could get a photograph of the bonded warehouse… After another ten minutes, the driver joined me on the road, and then Michael and the drivers in the bus behind (which was running empty to Elgin). Much fun ensued – we put a case to the driver that technically he could take a break and press on to Inverness (I will let Michael explain that in a mo). He told us ‘where to get off’, and we had banter about such things as starting a new ‘busway’ using the disused railway track nearby.

An unexpected passenger
I think the highlight was seeing one of the vehicles involved in the accident eventually coming down the road. A pick-up truck that looked too new to have a great dent in its side….. And, as it came towards and then alongside us something seemed a bit odd: it was driving diagonally – the front pointing towards the grass verge and the back towards the centre of the road. The driver promptly said “That looks like a crab” and made a joke out of the window; understandably the car driver ignored!

The accident took an hour to clear in the end… but we didn’t mind. We retook our seats and were off towards Elgin again… albeit an hour behind.

We realised, in discussion with the driver, that there could be a problem ahead. This may get a bit complicated but I will try to explain. The bus we were on was the 1300 from Aberdeen to Inverness. The driver of this bus changed in Elgin at 1524 with a new driver taking over to drive to Inverness. When we got caught our driver contacted the supervisor in Elgin - so he was aware of the problem and try to minimise the disruption to passengers.

At this time of day the 10 runs an hourly service, so if any bus was missing it could be a 2 hour gap, which would not be good for those waiting.  The supervisor therefore had to decide what to do.

The first action was to find a spare bus and to give that to the driver who was supposed to take over at 1524 and to get him to start from Elgin on time. That way any passengers on the way to Inverness would not realise there was a problem.

The driver of our bus from Aberdeen and with whom we were stuck waiting was due to come off the bus at 1524, have an hours break and then take over the bus behind at 1624 and take that to Inverness. There are rules that dictate how long bus drivers can drive and also when they should have breaks. Once we got moving it was obvious we were going to be almost an hour late arriving just before 1624… the time our driver should be coming back from his break not starting (and he needed a minimum of 45 minutes). What we realised is we could arrive into Elgin and there would be no one to take over our bus or the 1624 departure! 

Replacement Stagecoach 10 to Inverness
When we arrived in Elgin all became clear. The supervisor had also realised there would be a problem – but he had a solution.  The passengers on our bus would transfer onto the 1624 bus behind, which as our driver could not drive it due to needing a break, so to ensure it was not cancelled or delay he decided he would have to drive it himself.  Having not driven that day he did not have any issues with drivers hours. He might have thought he was finishing about four o’clock, but now it would be more like eight. 

What was so impressive from a fly on the wall perspective was how well it was handled. Given the late running caused by the accident the actions taken minimised the disruption for every passenger on both journeys. Full credit to the Stagecoach Supervisor at Elgin – First Class job!

We arrived on the outskirts of Inverness a fair amount later than planned, although it was meant to be an early finish for the day in readiness for the final push to John O’Groats. We settled our stuff in the hotel and caught yet another bus into Inverness for the evening… they have a Wetherspoons you know.

Stagecoach 5 to Inverness
Being early, we had a beer before ordering food. I was reflecting on what had been and what would come tomorrow and suggested we order. “Not without us you don’t”, came the response from behind me. Peter and Carol Crichton had driven up to be our support and photographers when we reached the end tomorrow! Now, how many companies have Directors who do such things… Omnibus is a very special company.

So our early evening turned a little larger and we eventually got to our rooms at about 23:30. What a nice surprise and what a good day tomorrow is going to be.

Final leg of the journey tomorrow. Not that many people will want to get up here to join us for the last bit, but here is the plan anyway:

08:55 – Depart Inverness on Stagecoach (5A)

09:07 – Arrive at the centre of Inverness

09:40 – Depart Inverness on Stagecoach (X99)

13:02 – Arrive at John O’Groats

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