And you thought the Anniversary Run was a doddle?
by Pat Toulmin
Jonathan likes to use the Cream Cracker on special occasions and the MCC’s 90th Anniversary Exeter Run was one of these. We decided to trailer the car part of the way, more to make sure that we get back on reasonable time on the Sunday than anything else. But where to leave it? A quick look at the map and we realise the start is not too far from Frank and Brenda Burton, who very kindly found some friends with space at their farm.
All was well until, on the way to a local pub for a meal, we realise that we have no dipped beam, so it’s back to the farm to try and fix it. I have to walk up and down to keep the security light on – now I know what a sentry must feel like. Changing over connections does not work, so in the end Jonathan unscrews the headlights and points them to the ground and we set off for Popham on main beam pointing at the road. I had seen the query about the location of Popham on the Classical Gas web community, but had ignored it, as Jonathan had done last year’s event as bouncer for Ken Green and started from Popham. Jonathan always remembers how to get somewhere when he has only been once. However there is always the exception that proves the rule – and this was it. We arrived in the locality with 45 minutes to go and then drive up and down every road we can find several times but cannot see any sign of an airfield. Eventually we retrace our steps right back and follow the road to the crematorium, flash into the service station and get directions from another competitor. Why can’t the MCC give some directions and/or put up some signs?
There is now only 20 minutes to go! We fail scrutineering – the reversing light doesn’t work. Jonathan tells the scrutineer that he only needs it for Fingle and we’ll do that in daylight, but “if it’s fitted it must work” so we have to park up and fix it. Luckily giving it a wobble gets it going and we get rescrutineered. 10 minutes to go! On to Signing On and, horror of horrors, there’s a long queue. Only two people officiating and they didn’t share the drivers between them. Eventually we run back to TJ jump in and just make it, not the best frame of mind to set off in.
On the A303 Jonathan misinterprets the sign and starts to turn off too early. I tell him he’s wrong and we stop on the cross hatching. After discussion we reverse and rejoin the main road. Two seconds later there is a flashing blue light behind. We pull into a layby and the police officer queries our driving across the hatching. Jonathan explains about the route card query and the Run (he didn’t mention the MCC!) and the policeman realises he is not drunk – that is what he thought was the problem. I guess you have to be either drunk or mad to drive a 65 year old car at 2am in January??? The policeman wishes us well and we set off again.
You would think that was enough drama for one night, but no…… The supercharger belt falls off. The first realisation of this is a smell of rubber. It’s fairly simple to put it back, but it gets very tedious after the 7th time! Jonathan tries another approach after the last time and moves the pulley to the back – luckily this solves the problem. All this and we have only done the first 80 miles. Breakfast at the Jolly Diner was very welcome and after this we had no further problems, which I think was a good thing – even Jonathan was beginning to wonder whether we should give up.
The first of the old (now tarmac) hills was White Sheet Hill, which must have been a good section and the Control at the top at Meerhay gave us the first opportunity to meet the other ‘Runners’. Kevin Barnes in the works Singer parked next to us and it was good to see old rivals together again, both in the hands of the original families. I had previously only communicated with Kevin via email and the web, so it was good to meet. The biggest question around was “who is going to do Fingle?” We had decided before to attempt it of course, but the note at Tintinhull about the ruts was worrying for some. Peak Hill out of Sidmouth was next and this was very steep with a great view at the top. Had a good chat at the Control with Anne Whellock, out in the Austin 7, while Tim was driving their class 8 beast on the main event. Again the Fingle question was in the air and at least one car sprouted a tow rope.
Pin Hill brought us to the Exeter services and what a hill it must have been – it still is! I think Jonathan thought he was speed hillclimbing and we had the MG sideways. There is a huge gully on the left and we almost went into it. There were groups of locals cheering us on, which was great. At the services Jonathan changed to the trials tyres we had used on the 1995 Lands End, so he was serious about Fingle. At the time control I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Browne, someone else I had only met in cyberspace before. She noticed the name and made a special effort to say hello, which was great. I look forward to her continuing to write articles for this magazine.
Fingle was next and the exciting news was that Kevin had changed his mind and was going to take the works Singer up. He had never driven a trial’s section before and I think it was a brave move in front of such a crowd. He said that he had been psyched into it by some of the rest of us – Toulmins included I should think! We were two cars behind him and at the top he was on a realhigh. I think classic trialling may have a new recruit. Three Cream Crackers (TJ 5000, JB 7521 and ABL 964) went up Fingle this year, which has probably not happened for quite a while (since the 1930s?) It is a great section. Pepperdon was next and, even with the tarmac, it is very exciting – very narrow with high banks and very sharp hairpins – great fun.
So all that remained was to get to the finish and sign off. We had a very good and entertaining run, the first 80 miles apart!, and we really enjoyed the old hills. I know that some people thought of the Run as the ‘little boys’ trial’, but it is important to provide historical events that allow more precious cars to take part.