It is unequivocal that the Coronavirus pandemic rocked the world and changed life as we knew it. The imposed restrictions and periods of lockdown meant that people were spending more time than usual at home. Like others, I spent a lot of this time catching up on jobs around the house and garden, spending quality time with my wife, catching up with family and friends on Zoom and investing time in various hobbies. Certainly not wishing to breach lockdown rules, I refrained from pursing my interest in bus and coach photography. ‘What was there to capture?’, you might ask, when bus services were reduced, and transport events cancelled. Well, various odd workings had been reported locally such as Blackwood allocated Stagecoach Gold Enviro200MMCs on the X24 to/from Newport and Blaenavon – an unusual working that normally I’d endeavour to capture. Instead, I found myself getting my ‘fix’ by catching up on reading and revisiting various bus and coach publications of interest and taking time to sifting through my hefty collection of photographs, circa 185 of which were included within ‘South Wales Buses in the Twenty-First Century: Variety in the Valleys’.

This exercise evoked fond memories of the passenger transport scene in Wales gone by that I was fortunate enough to share with my late Nan Beryl and capture on camera, since 2002-ish. I found my internal monologue running away with itself, asking ‘remember that type of bus…’, ‘remember that time that I travelled on…’, ‘remember when those buses ran on service…’ and provided moments of escapism from wondering what the next Coronavirus Briefing would bring. In the essence of ‘every picture tells a story’, I thought I’d share some memories of the vehicles here.

A pleasant photograph of variety in the old Blackwood bus station in October 2005. (c. South Wales Buses in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

I grew up with Glyn Williams Travel competing on routes alongside Stagecoach Red and White on the Western Valley, South Wales. I remember coming home from school one Friday on a Newport Bus Scania Strider and passing a ‘new’ Glyn Williams Bus. Not being able to get a good enough look just a mere glimpse, I initially though that it was an Enviro 300, but on further exploration, the example was in fact an uncommon Turkish build BMC Falcon (pages 42 and 55). That very next day, I travelled to Blackwood on what would have been CN53GWO or GWP on the 151. They were quite different to other offerings in South Wales and had a somewhat oily but pleasant smell on board and an odd sounding parking brake release noise. Of course, I had to sit on the rearward facing seat but position myself to look out of the front windscreen. Little did I know that some years later, examples from the fleet would be painted into the Stagecoach corporate livery upon the takeover of Glyn Williams. This period of transition from Glyn Williams to Stagecoach was an interesting one, with Dennis Dart K97XNY pressed into service with the Pontllanfraith depot in the ‘old’ striped livery (seen on page 63). I never thought I’d see Alexander PS Volvo B10Ms on the 151 again, yet pending the delivery of new, quite futuristic-looking Optare Versa’s for that very route with an increased frequency (page 43), many M-reg examples saw out their days working out of Pontllanfraith depot. I also never thought I’d see refurbished UVG Ubanstar’s with Plaxton front ends (page 18)!

A number of former Glyn Williams UVG Urbanstar-bodied Dennis Dart SLFs received Plaxton Pointer fronts under Stagecoach ownership. The first to enter service in its new guise was R422 AOR, in May 2007. It is seen here on route 56 to Tredegar, via Markham, yet to receive its new destination equipment. (c. South Wales Buses in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

Another memory. I remember a trip to Cardiff specifically to travel on the then-new Scania Omnicity articulated Baycar’s (page 21) – come 2021, ‘bendy’s’ on that route are in the process of being withdrawn and replaced by ‘BayCar’ branded Enviro200’s. I was impressed by the livestream of BBC News 24 on board and air-conditioning, particularly on a hot summer’s day. Of course, sitting in the ‘trailer’ was obligatory as was eating fish and chips from Harry Ramsdens on arrival at ‘The Bay’. These were not the only articulated buses that have operated in Wales of course. The more futuristic Wright StreetCar’s plied the streets of Swansea (page 14). I can remember travelling on an Irizar PB from Cardiff Bus Station branded as ‘The Greyhound’ (page 10) another Saturday just to see this type. I only travelled on the Streetcar once, however, years later when their lives were on the cards.

Seeing Newport Buses in special Christmas liveries was always pleasing (pages 22 and 76). I remember photographing examples in the Bus Station whilst having a trip out ‘on the buses’ to do Christmas shopping. One trip was on the 30 to the Capital on one of the Volvo Olympians that Newport acquired from Lothian Buses (example of which on page 30), still spotting its tartan moquette. I sat on the offside front seat upstairs which offered great views of the journey. Today, the journey can be completed by Enviro400MMCs by Newport and Cardiff Bus – both municipals working the same route, with no steps to board and traditional-style destination displays in sight!

Newport Bus Alexander Royale-bodied Volvo Olympian P279 PSX (279) is seen operating on a Newport school contract. These were a surprising transfer from Lothian Buses, being high floor vehicles with dual doors. (c. South Wales Buses in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

Seeing pictures from the preservation scene such as Festivals of Transport at Barry Island brought back more fond memories. Seeing the Cardiff Bus Leyland Lynx’s side by side on the old Butlins site (page 59) reminded me seeing these enter the old Cardiff Bus Station as I awaited the X16 (Cardiff to Brynmawr) to turn around the corner and position itself on stand A6 and most likely block the National Express stand momentarily. I remembered travelling on a mark one Lynx on the Western Valley, again on the 151 from Blackwood, when unfortunately, I was slightly too young to carry a camera (late 1990’s). I couldn’t believe it when the driver turned into the entrance of the since demolished Crosskeys Depot to swap the bus (most likely being ex-Chesterfield E63WDT) with a new LowLiner (one of the R6**SWO batch, interior of one example shown on page 93) – a batch that I became increasing fond of as well. I caught a glimpse of the buses parked inside, Bristol VR’s, Leyland Nationals and Tigers as well as newer Mercedes minibuses, Alexander PS Volvo B10Ms, ALX200s and a few more oddities.  It’s pleasing that many examples of these types remain in preservation and let’s hope that examples of today’s buses follow suit in the preservation scene in years to come. Fingers crossed that Covid continues to decline so that, amongst many other things such as seeing family and friends face to face rather than via Zoom, transport rallies and runny days can return to provoke more memories and tales from the transport scene and times gone by. I’m certainly looking forward to attending events with my son, Elis, born during the pandemic in August 2020.

Hopefully ‘Variety in the Valleys’ has been enjoyed by a vast audience and sparked many internal monologues or shared stories about the vehicle’s presence in and around South Wales. Perhaps fellow enthusiasts have used the lockdown ‘down time’ to revisit their photo collection – I wonder how many reflections will result in forthcoming Amberley publications? Let’s watch this space.

Simon Ingham's book South Wales Buses in the Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.