DING! DING! All aboard for a bus out of Bishop Auckland – and there are certainly plenty of people up for the ride.

In High Bondgate, there were three bus stops. We’re talking from the 1940s to the early 1970s here, so we’re taking a broad brush approach.

The top stop was the Weardale run up to Stanhope. It was the “Heather Bell” bus – sometimes the “Bonnie Heather Bell” – operated by Baldwin and Barlow, of Tow Law.

The middle stop was from where the red United bus went to Crook and Tow Law.

And the bottom stop was where three companies shared the route to Willington. They ran every alternate 20 minutes, and they were Bond Bros, Elite and Frankie Wilson.

The broad brush approach to all this will cause trouble with some people because it omits Stevenson’s and OK, and probably several other short-lived operators.

But, to answer last week’s question, the bus that dropped people off for a walk in the haunted countryside of Harperley was the fondly remembered Heather Bell.

“Heather Bell were rather luxurious buses compared to United,” said Mary Parker of Bishop Auckland. “There was a personal touch about them.”

However, someone else remembered that a Heather Bell driver kept a shotgun in the cab with him and whenever he spotted a rabbit on a rural run, he leapt out and took a potshot.

And another regular traveller remembered: “The buses were very unreliable and seemed to be always breaking down. The driver would ask if anyone had a piece of string or boot lace, and he would do something under the bonnet and the bus would set of again.”

The Heather Bell line was founded by two Tow Law men, Dobson Baldwin and Thomas Wren Barlow who fought alongside each other in the trenches of the Somme. In peacetime, they formed a motor partnership and opened a garage in Tow Law High Street - since 2006, the site of a supermarket. They also sold wireless sets, gramophones, and paraffin for lighting and heating.

As well as running from Bishop Auckland to Stanhope, Heather Bell ran from Crook to Stanhope, a route they shared with Safety Coaches and Gibson’s, which were both garaged at Frosterley.

Initially, Heather Bell buses were chocolate brown and green, separated by a purple band, although they soon became a more conservative beige and brown.

“Heather Bell’s vehicles in the early 1960s included a small 29 seater petrol engine Bedford OWB and larger two-stroke Foden diesel engined flat fronted buses,” says Chris Gibson, who took a Heather Bell from Howden-le-Wear to Wolsingham Grammar School every day. “They were slow and crawled up Harperley Banks at walking pace.”

When Messrs Baldwin and Barlow retired, Heather Bell was sold to Gibson’s in 1962 and became Weardale Motor Services. Mr Baldwin died six years later and his Tow Law house, 5a Station Street, remained locked until 2000, a strange time capsule so that even his dress shirt was still laid out on the bed, ready to wear but untouched for more than 30 years.

Additional information from Jeff Gale of Tow Law, Alan Thexton of Leyburn, Audrey Gibson, Dave Williams of Willington, John Alderson of Fir Tree, Joan Potts of Howden-le-Wear. Thank-you to them all.