Classic Coach Wends Its Way Back To Shetland

by Alastair Hamilton -

A coach that saw 29 years’ service in Shetland has returned to the islands. The old Bedford arrived in Shetland in 1950, having been bought by W Thompson of Sandwick, and later saw service with Johnson of Scalloway and James Watt of Reawick before being sold, in 1979, to a firm in Stourport-on-Severn.

It was used by another operator, in Wimbledon, before being bought by Jeff Cook at Wincanton. He began the painstaking task of restoration and it then passed to Nick Taylor in Norfolk, earlier generations of whose family had, for many years, been in the coachbuilding business.

Mr Taylor completed the restoration and it became a popular exhibit at classic vehicle shows. Then, one day, Mr Taylor was contacted by Mr Watt, who had driven the coach every day when his firm operated it in Shetland. There followed what seems to have been a quite emotional reunion, and Mr Taylor decided that the bus must return to its roots in Shetland.

a popular exhibit

Thus, in June, the journey began at Norwich Cathedral, with a blessing by the Bishop. It took 12 days to reach Shetland by a route that took in some of the most beautiful parts of England and western Scotland.

On the journey north, the start and finish of which was covered by BBC television, many onlookers admired the old coach. Enthusiasts regard this particular model, with its sweeping curves, as one of the most attractive ever produced. It was designed in the late 1930s and production continued after the second world war. The coaches saw service with many operators and were a familiar sight on Britain’s roads in the 1950s and 1960s. The specification makes interesting reading: these buses have 3.5 litre, six-cylinder petrol engines, not diesel ones, and have neither synchromesh in the gearbox nor power steering, so are challenging to drive. The top speed is around 40mph.

one of the most attractive ever produced

One of the features of the Shetland coach is a huge sunroof, making the interior light and airy; but there was no heater, so Mr Watt used to issue his passengers with blankets during the winter months.

On arrival in Shetland, the bus was the guest of honour at the Shetland commercial vehicle show, and it will henceforth be seen on special occasions around the islands, including, no doubt, the Classic Car and Motorcycle Show, which draws entries from all over the UK. Anyone moving to Shetland who has an interest in classic vehicles of all kinds feels very much at home, as local enthusiasts and restorers have amassed a surprisingly large number of preserved cars, trucks and motorcycles.

You can read much more about the coach and its history, and about the journey north, on the Shetland Coach Trip website.

Posted in: Heritage