There is an excellent classic trial organised by another club, but it is the same year in and year out – experienced competitors have no need of a route book for the lanes and hills are so familiar.
If that is a criticism, it cannot be levelled at the Midland Automobiles Club’s Clee Hills Trial, and this year’s event would see more changes than for many a year. The most noticeable was the new start and finish venue at the Craven Arms Hotel. We were so sorry the leave the warm, friendly welcome we have received at the Boyne Arms for many years, and it was doubtful whether we would be able to enjoy such culinary delights as always came from Janet’s kitchen. But last year, the trial’s home for the last 7 years had lost half of its rather small car park. With the kindness of Lord Boyne, the event had used several different sections on the Burwarton Estate each year since 1994, but it was time to look for new sections, and to shorten the road distance of the trial – I was determined to get everyone to the finish in daylight.
For 2001, I had passed the organiser’s mantle to Simon Woodall. He had found some superb new sections, and his 2003 event won MAC the much-coveted ‘Trial of the Year’ award, presented just a few weeks ago. After 3 years, Simon has passed the event back to me to organise the event for the next 3 years (?).
The club’s trial has developed a reputation for equality of opportunity – potentially a competitor from any of the eight standard classes could win the event outright and indeed, over the last eight years, the winner has come from six different classes, and that again was one objective for this year’s event. Perhaps this is the reason for the trial’s popularity with 86 entries being received, including a healthy ten entries for the “clubsport” (shorter/easier) event. Other objectives for this year’s event included a shorter trial, with fewer delays and new sections with the usual three challenging special tests. The most radical change for this was to develop the idea (that Simon and I had discussed several times during the last three or four years) of running the trial in more than one loop, so that different sections could be used simultaneously. Simon had tested the idea successfully tested last year, with a couple of small loops, and one large one, to spread the field out. This year’s event would see two loops of almost equal length, with half the competitors doing the western loop in the morning and then tackling the eastern loop in the afternoon, whilst the remainder did it the other way round.
Sunday January 18th dawned with a bright clear sky and a hard frost, with the first cars leaving the start at 8.40am, some with a difficult drive over the narrow precipitous and ice-bound Burway, whilst the “East-loopers” tackled two timed tests. The second – at Longville – was straightforward, but required considerable skill to avoid penalty. Only eleven drivers managed it successfully! Immediately after Longville was a new section on National Trust land at Easthope, where the local NT warden watched only eight drivers see the top without penalty. Most unfortunate here was previous Clee winner Paul Bartleman who got his Troll to the top, but a keen-eyed marshal spotted a stop, and even a small roll back, before continuing the climb, so Paul got 5 penalties which cost him the outright win. The next section was Major’s Leap so called as in the Middle Ages, a Major, returning from the pub on horseback, leapt over Ippikin’s Rock and lived to tell the tale in the pub the next day! Last year only two got up, but with slightly drier conditions, five saw the summit. Earlier that morning, I had shown one of the Land-Rover boys who were providing recovery there, where to park at the top of the section. Standing beside the “Section Ends” board, and looking down the near-vertical gradient, he uttered “B….Hell!”.
Amazingly Andrew Martin, in his Class 7 Dutton Melos, got to the top – as he did on all the other sections (except the easy Longville special test!) – which gave him the overall win.
To the west of the Long Mynd, there were three new sections. The first, a byway running from Walkmill to Wentnor, looked easy but many struggled here and it stopped a few. There were perplexed competitors as they approached the next section, called Medlicott, another new one.
For classes 6, 7 and 8 only, the approach was down the much-loved Adstone section, which was all marked out, as it would be used later in the day for the other classes to come up! Despite deep ruts, adverse cambers and a tricky kink through a gate at the top, Medlicott stopped only 5 competitors. The new section at Plowden was very easy but gave competitors spectacular views over the southern tip of the Long Mynd. Everyone obeyed the country code and closed the many gates on this private track – just as well as both the tenant farmer and the land-owner were spectators there. Perhaps next year we can persuade them to let us use the full length of “Allez ‘Oop”.
Last year there had been a two-hour wait at Round Oak, but most competitors had agreed that driving the section made the wait worthwhile. With the two-loop arrangement, and cars running a 2-minute cycle, there were no delays this year, helped, no doubt, by the greater familiarity with the section. This year 44 got up, and no one attacked the hedge, which had caused big delays last year.
The early competitors were signing-off at the finish from shortly after 2pm. Round Oak, just four miles from the finish, was closed before 4pm, whilst on the other loop, the last hill was Hungerford, which saw its last competitor that day before 4.15 pm with still half an hour of daylight left. The hotel provided some much appreciated meals both before and after the event, and Sue, the manageress, was most helpful. The entire hotel has been booked for next year!
The MAC handicapping system worked well with 6 classes featuring in the top 12 overall positions. Seventy-two competitors signed off at The Craven Arms Hotel – all seemed to have enjoyed the event with excellent sections, no delays, and early finish – and excellent weather. The novel routing proved universally popular. The clubsport event was won by Bill Faulkner (Troll), whilst Dave Symons’ Citroen AX won the front wheel drive class. The pre-war class went to Jeremy Flann in his Austin 7, and Harvey Waters (RWD Escort) won Class 3. Former Trials Champion Adrian Marfell won Class 4 in his 1300cc Beetle. The sports car class went to Jeff Buchanan driving a Reliant SS1. With Andrew Martin being declared the overall winner, the award for Class 7 went to Howard Stephens’ Marlin and Ian Davis won Class 8 in his VW Buggy. Simon Woodall, also driving a VW Buggy, (now fuel injected) won the ‘Best MAC member’ cup.
I wish to thank those who helped MAC run the trial – the officials including Dave Whitefoot (who persuaded an huge number of marshals to turn out), Dave Ball, Cathy and Jack Warner, Roger and John Warren, Ian Bevington, Robin Parker (with noise meter – what else?) Tony May, Ian Williamson, Keith and Caroline Harris, and by no means least, my wife Pat who did countless hours of the growing paperwork necessary to put on this event. In addition, Simon Woodall gave me many hours of vital help right up to the day before the event (despite being a competitor!). Most sincere thanks, of course, go also to the 90+marshals who endured sub-zero temperatures and enjoyed bright winter sunshine for several hours on the day – without them there would have been no trial.