Last in Class and Last in Trial
by Nicola Butcher
Our journey starts Saturday afternoon to friends in Church Stretton to stay the night, towing the Beach Buggy on the A frame with our van. My Dad drove our VW Beach Buggy from Church Stretton to Ludlow and up to Burwarton and I am passenger. There is a howling wind but as yet no rain! We are togged up in our snow suits and I have two more layers on than I usually do for PCTs, just incase it gets cold. We arrive at “The Boyne Arms” just before 8 am as requested one hour before start time. Inside to sign on, outside to be scrutineered and back in again, to get the route card.
This is only the second time we have been on a classic trial so the route card system is fairly new and I am nervous that we will go wrong. So I read through it all, highlighting our tyre pressure limits, restarts and where the route divides etc, along with asking Barbara Selkirk loads of questions when she’s organising the signing on of everyone, so thanks Barbara for accommodating me. At 8.40 Dad and I go out into the paddock to await our start time. We find number 17 and 19, but no 18 (who is unfortunately a non- starter) and wait in line. The starting marshal’s comment when waiting for 2 minutes to go by after no: 19 had disappeared. “Gosh, you haven’t got much ground clearance have you!” was worrying to say the least and proved to be our downfall on getting very far on some of the hills, or even out of them after the section…9.03 came and off we went.
Reading the route card and looking out for the turnings on the 5 miles to the first hill, “Farlow”. No restart and free tyre pressure limit, so we decide on 15 psi in both front and back. We get a 9 on this hill, not very far but never mind we are just having fun. I then continue to read about the hill and discover the section description! It may have been useful if I had actually told Dad these, will try on the next hill. Two miles along the road brings us to Special Test 1 at “Catherton Common” we are not very fast, but never mind. Now for the longest mileage between sections of the day, so the back tyres are pumped up to 20 psi. During the 20 miles we have time to enjoy the wonderful scenery around us, although it is a bit miserable the wind is fast and is keeping the clouds moving. As yet still no rain.
Stuart Ridge appearing from the top of Round Oak
“Round Oak” is hill number 2 and the general information informs us that it is a new section for 2002 although it was used in the 50s and 60s by motorcycle trials, so we are at least on a par with everyone this time due to this being a new hill. Free tyre pressure limit, so we decide to be a little more adventurous and go down to 10 psi. Well we got to the 6 maker to claim those points then the sump shield decided it would sit on the mud/grass between the ruts and not move. Ground clearance a major problem and Dad says we will stick to 15 psi from now on. We seriously need to raise the back end of the Buggy. Other than that getting up the hill was not that much of a problem, coming down was another story entirely! Once out of the ruts we slid sideways into the hedge on our right and our left wheels ended up in the right hand rut. We were stuck in the hedge and the left back wheel just span making the hole deeper, we were not going anywhere. The marshals on this section come to help push and bounce the back end but its no good as we are sat on the sump shield. Oh delight! The film crew have decided it would be good to film all this mayhem. So after making the left wheel spin again for the camera and Dad being interviewed about what went wrong, we were told never to do a trial with the roof on… The learning curve is huge by now. It is back to deciding what to do next… someone calls for the Land Rover, but decides it would be best for us to be pulled backwards out of our predicament. So the Land Rover comes around via the road behind us. If I was no help before I am certainly no help what so ever now and decide I am probably more of a hindrance than a help. I let the marshals decide where and what to do with the Buggy. Did I mention the film crew, now it’s my turn to be interviewed and why do I do this as a hobby and not something like playing scrabble? Mmm… Because this is slightly more interesting … as you can see… I look a state but I am really enjoying myself even though a little scared at times. We now focus our attention back to the Buggy!
I can only look on in horror and see Dad’s face do the same, as the Buggy is being pulled backwards along and into the hedge, nearly taking the right hand front wing and lights with it. Making a lovely crack in the fiberglass, we will soon have 2 matching grey wings. Shame we could not of been pulled forward. There were lots of people around trying to see if they could lift the Buggy sideways out of the hedge and ruts, the front is fine but the back is just to heavy and the rut to deep. After more pulling and scraping we finally get to a place where the ruts are shallow and the verge between track and hedge widens. The Buggy is driven forwards and at last free of the hedge. We proceed to reverse down to the bottom to find a huge queue of cars waiting and lots of people watching. With our breath back we pump up the rear tyres to 20 psi during which Emma Flay and David Wall came to see if we were OK, it is great to see people care and the sporting spirit there to help everyone if needed. Thanks very much guys.
Whilst the recovery of the Buggy was being undertaking I was thinking at least we have done 2 hills and a special test before having to retire, but we are OK. So we continue on for 10 miles to Adstone. “Oh! were we supposed to go straight down that track, where that grass triangle was?” Good job we had two cars following and Dad saw them turn down the track, we then doubled back. The general information informed us that this hill is a country road although not shown on an OS map even as a footpath! Oh! well we were up for anything as nothing could be as bad as the hill. Tyres 15, restarts RED that’s us. We always get stuck on restarts. Section description is mud and stones, slippery and wet at top. Damn, did I say this was going to be an easy hill? We amazingly cleared the hill, our spirits were lifted (for the time being).
We journey the 5 miles to Section 4 (Rattlinghope) being as quiet as we could be in our Buggy with our exhaust, slow is not a problem. Past the white house then stables and cottage (we find out later on why, because of passing it again on our way to Harton Wood. Rattlinghope, we were informed, was a country road used in late 1938/ 39 by the MGCC which is described in Wheelspin. (Dad informs me this is a book describing classic trials before the war that is now out of print). Tyres 15 and no restarts with hard stony track and almost a straight climb. I just read Dad “What to do when you clear the section” Brilliant Dad does it again, we are clear. I am happy, Dad’s happy and the Buggy is still running! One mile on to Gatten’s Gamble and another country road! Should have been a superb view from the top if the weather was good to us. Tyres 15, Restarts none. It would really help if I had read the special instructions before we went up this hill. “Did you say mind those gorse bushes” Dad finds out the hard way with a face full of them. I am not doing my job properly, but we cleared the hill and yes the view was lovely, which we got time to admire whilst our tyre pressures are being checked.
Stuart Ridge near the top of Gatten’s Gamble
Next section was 16 miles, but we stay on 15 psi because Harton Wood is road tyres pressures only, no adjustments allowed. Passing the YHA and the white house again and up onto the top of the Long Mynd we only met one vehicle with trailer which had a courteous driver, which we later find out was a rare occurrence. Which is why all the warnings about extremely steep unguarded drops to the Left was in bold and underlined. Harton Wood was the last of our clears, but it was nice to see that we got the same as some others on the remaining hills.
Six miles onto the next section with a little petrol and toilet stop in-between, nice lady letting me put muddy footprints all the way through her shop. Hungerford is section 7 and we park on the verge as instructed. The nice marshal informs us of some rather deep ruts after the section has finished that have been made by large farm machinery. To stay out of these by straddling them is easier said than done! Tyre pressures said 10 but we stuck to our 15 psi because of ground clearance. Restarts for Red, and we are not so lucky this time because our sump shield decides it is going to stop us just as we come up to the first line of the restart box. Another nice marshal politely tells us that people usually stop on the second line of the box. We reverse a little to take the hill without the restart. We got out of the section and then the fun really began. Just out of sight of cars coming up from the section, we meet the deep ruts and slipped back into them and got stuck. Dad tried pushing while I tried to drive but to no avail. I went back and met car 19 coming up the hill. With Dad’s and their help we manage to push the Buggy to a flatter, less rutted area. We didn’t think that was to bad until we met the really big ruts! We were straddling these as well until the mud got really bad and we slid back in. They gradually got deeper and deeper until we stopped again. Enter Robin and Derek from Car 19 then the same situation of Dad and the others pushing while I drove. By the time we got out this set of ruts there were at least 4 other cars waiting who all helped by pushing and lifting the Buggy.
I was told to get back in and drive towards the hedge! (“Haven’t we met one of these before? You really want me to do this? Ok!) So there are about 10 people pushing and bouncing the Buggy while I am looking and driving straight at the hedge. I was told to keep driving until it was flat with no mud. I did as I was asked at what felt like a 45 degree angle. I was scared stiff that I would tip over, but I have great faith in my Dad, that he would not have made me do this if it was that dangerous. I could see the ground in front of me and it looked pretty good. I relaxed and stopped on a large grass verve and Dad rejoined me and we drove on. We wondered whether to stop and say thank you, but as no waiting was allowed we continued on to the next hill. Longville is a by-way (BOAT, what ever that stands for)(By-way Open to All Traffic – ed) through another piece of National Trust land. This was used in the 1940s and then since 1980. Tyre pressures were kept at 15 psi and there were restarts for red and yellows in different places. We nearly stopped at the wrong restart but then it didn’t matter because again we didn’t get any further than the red restart line, so another 6 penalty points.
During the next three miles to Special Test 2 (Railway) we take a little detour by missing a very sharp left hand turn. Another detour was then taken underneath the old railway bridge instead of over the top, so again we had to double back, being careful of any horses or pedestrians we may bump into. The general information told us that the railway ran along where Special Test 2 was run, until Dr Beeching had his way. Nothing special to report other than the slowest time, so we continued to Majors Leap. I haven’t seen Ippikin’s rock but it must have been impressive to have had a tale told about it for over 250 years. We did not see the blinding sun at the top of Majors Leap due to the grand total of 12 penalty points in this section.
Jenny-Wind was Section 11. It was an old railway incline, that sounded exciting! We managed to get 7 penalty points, which good as the restart box was at marker 8. Only another 200 yards to Harley Bank, now this had a very interesting diversion in the way of a very sharp hair pin to the left for red and yellow classes. We got stuck at marker 10 and had to reverse down to join the easier hill that the other classes were using. We got to maker 7 this time and after trying with more marshals to keep us moving up the hill, (with no success) we found there was no tow available. We had a long reverse to the foot of the section to ask if there was an alternative route to get out. As no alternative was known we double back to find Much Wenlock so to follow the route card again.
When we arrived at the control and waited our turn, car 19 arrived and we had our first opportunity to thank them for their help (they were covered in mud from Hungerford). After 25 minutes we were sent off to tackle Section 13 Meadowley Wood, the ground was soft and very slippery with some tree roots, that will be another 6 points for us than. Once at the Boyne Estate we went passed sections 14 and 15 to Special Test 3, “Ditton Slack”. In the general information we were told it was always used before BT tarmaced it. After this test we found out that we were not the only ones who failed this, due to some of the lines not being exactly straight and with the marshal watching. Section 14 Hillside should have been a restart for our class but was unnecessary due to the fact we stopped at maker 9 before the restart at 8. Forrester’s Fright was the last section and only a couple of hundred yards further on, we scored a grand total of 11.
We had extremely good fun during the day and realised that our performance could have been a lot worse if the rain had fallen. Dad and I would just like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who helped us throughout the trial with advice and man power. See you all next year when we will have 3 more inches of ground clearance!!!