by Simon Woodall
Early September has of late become synonymous with warm dry weather of late, a last minute revival of the summer weather that we should have been having through July and August but didn’t.. As the days moved towards the weekend of the first trial of he autumn round, this state of affairs seemed set to continue. All seemed set fair for a pleasant day’s sport in glorious sunshine. Alas, mother nature is a perverse mistress. The Taw & Torridge Trial is named after the two rivers through whose area the event is run. This name seemed most apt to those competitors who travelled into the area on Saturday. At 4:30 in the afternoon the heavens opened reducing visibility to next to nothing and appearing to wash away the solid tarmac let alone the unsurfaced lanes that we all hoped to traverse the following day. I for one was imagining what must be going through the organisers’ minds. If it had been me laying out the course, I would have just about finished the job by now, having done all the work in the warmth of the early afternoon. Setting a course of stiff restarts and hard tyre pressures. I had every sympathy for Roger Pole and his team at this point.
Sunday morning showed none of the threats of the previous evening and the run to the South Molton start was a pleasant warm up in the early morning sunshine. We were slightly confused however when we saw Bill Bennett in his J2 rushing in the opposite direction. Even though I know the roads in the area quite well, there is always that instinctive feeling that the other chap knows something that you don’t. We were to discover later that what he did know was that he had no fuel and had to find an open garage!
The Quince Honey Farm at South Molton always has a start of term atmosphere to it, with friends that have not seen each other all summer greeting each other and the wonderful relaxed air of semi-chaos that reminds us more northerly types that we are back in the south west. The trial followed its normal pattern with a short run out to two sections in Huntstone Woods. The first zigzags through the trees on a soft surface of rotted pine needles and a restart for the upper classes which is both tricky to pull away from if your position is not right, and takes away and speed prior to the last climb. In spite of everyone’s foreboding about the wet night and the C-of-C’s decision to stay with both the planned route and tyre pressures high climbs were still the order of the day. The Escorts showed the lead they were to hold all day, with clears from eventual winner Thomas Bricknell and Paul Bartleman, Tristan White and Andrew Martin. Back through the woods to almost the point at which they are entered to Higher Huntsone – curiously named as it is lower down the hillside than the previous climb. Its rocky restart managed to claim one or two from each class.
Back onto tarmac for a short run round to Bray Hill and the cheery sight of John West on the start line. With the next ACTC council meeting scheduled for the following week, it was inevitable that a short discussion on trials politics would ensue. John’s happy verbosity continued even after he had told me the hill was clear with the result that I am still chatting as I drive off, and completely forgot which side of the track I should have been on for the restart. A lot of noise, smoke and very little movement resulted. I cannot blame John though, as even after backing off to something a little grippier, the polished stones of this hill were still quite a struggle all the way to the top. And the results were littered with the names of those who, like me, should have known better. Did JW chat to ALL these people? Back past the entrance to Huntstone Woods and on to Riverton with its approach through the concrete tube under the North Devon Link Road. There has traditionally been a diversion for classes 7&8 on this hill, but the surface has deteriorated so much in the last 12 months – as the Restart Cover shows – that this time all classes had a straight run, and only those with a cautious frame of mind came to grief.
Kingford and Colnbrook Woods whizzed past, giving all a chance to see a zero on their cards and on to Huntshaw Water – which was bone dry(?). Through the woods to Huntshaw which, starting in a stream, was very definitely wet.. Haven’t you got these names the wrong way round chaps??? A large outcrop of rock on awkward turn called for just the right line and point of power application but by this time most people had their brains in gear. Lunch came next with its own confusion as all the competitors swaps scores and tried to make some semblance of who was leading on what was turning out to be a very interesting day. The restarts on Tuckers Mill and Watergate, both in the same woods, both decimated those classes that had to attempt them, with only Pete Fear in the Dingo, and Roger Ugalde in the big ex Geoff Imhof J1 Allard clearing both. Two such contrasting motorcars that can only tell those of us that didn’t make it that we cannot blame the machinery. I blame my personal failure for the fact that when I stopped on the restart line I was met by the cheerful smile of Ian Facey whom I have not seen for some time ( See “JW” above!)
Langtree Common comes next after a brief run through some of the tightest lanes. This is one of those sections that has to be treated with understanding. It seems to require a straight rush off the start up a steep grass & rut incline. But what those ‘in the know’ know is that a bump hidden in the grass just after the start will wipe out any grip if taken too quickly but the steep slope immediately after requires a good deal of power. There was no one that I knew marshalling here so one of the best climbs of the day was in order. Feeling a little smugger we wandered on to the curiously named Abbots Track. Either North Devon people know more about the proclivities of the clergy than I do, or the Abbot in question has a strange definition of what constitutes a right-of-way. The approach is across a grass field, and then on drops down to a river bed, where the section crosses a ford and follows a clearly defined track along the riverbank and moving away from it. At the summit, and semblance of a track disappears and we exit back to tarmac across another glass field. Cutliffe Lane comes next, but the memory of damp Easter mornings is blown away by the bright afternoon sunshine and the cold mud is replaced by a firm surface that justifies a restart at the point where most Lands End entrants are slithering to a halt. Not surprisingly therefore that the whole of classes 7 and 8 moved not one jot off this marker. 5 points for those smart enough to stop right at the top of the box, 6 for the rest. And the hill treated with contempt by all those that did not stop. Leigh Woods, this time without its southern loop, restored one faith in one ability and delayed the early runners just enough to ensure that the final section of the day – Crossleigh – was attempted by the entire field in the pouring rain that returned at almost the same time as it had on the previous afternoon. For the early runners this was definitely the cue to dash back to the finish at the White Hart in Holsworthy and a swift toddy and a tall tale or two prior to facing the delights of the M5. Another T & T over and the car and driver nicely warmed up for the Edinburgh two weeks ahead.