So there we were , in our nice, warm Suzuki X-90, on the way down through the fields to the most infamous hill on the entire Edinburgh Trial. A hill thats been in use since before the seond world war and MG’s own magazine THE SPORTS CAR ran a whole page on how to tackle this hill with one’s T-Type in 1939.
Funny name, but then rural English place names often verge on the comic as anyone living in Wyre Piddle or Lickey End would have to agree. Funny name or not, Litton Slack focuses the mind because people talk about it and have ambitions to actually reach the top…some day! 80 years on from the MG magazine feature you would imagine modern tyres and suspensions, let alone modern engines, would have tamed the hill as they have with the once feared , but now rather pedestrian Begger’s Roost near Lynmouth. Not so… it’s still the one to worry about.
Up to this point, 123 miles and 8.5 hours into the route we were doing well. We hadn’t failed any hills and we had done what seemed like a pretty quick and clean run against the clock on the first Special Test.
It hadn’t been entirely easy, the first daylight section, Haydale, had resulted in a punctured tyre and we lost half an hour getting that changed because the jack sunk into the ground and we had to borrow another one from a fellow competitor (Many thanks!) to get the car high enough for the new wheel to go on. And we had lost a bit of time stuck in a long queue for fuel at the only station open for miles at 5:20am.
But we were OK . The two hills attempted in the dark had been ‘cleaned’ although the second had been a bit close … lots of excited and slightly colourful comments can be heard on the in car camera footage.
We reached the Litton holding area and asked the marshall how it was going “Well….some of them are getting up !” Which didn’t sound too bad. We parked on the top, looking down into a deep narrow valley at the foot of which was the start line. The hill, looking quite inoccuous, ran round a right hand bend and then stright up a long muddy slope to the finish, just out of sight in the trees. Simple enough. Car after car came back down, having proved it wasn’t. Finally having had too long to watch and work out a strategy it was our turn to creep down the narrow ledge to the start. And as normal I put thecar in 1st gear. But the start was slightly downhill through a dip and then sharply up round the corner and off along the main climb. Off we went, but the revs shot up and before the bend we were already bouncing off the limiter. Too late I grabbed 2nd gear and with a horrendous grinding sound it refused to engage . The momentum had been lost and instead of a dramatic battle with this now-imposing looking climb up ahead, the Suzuki ground to a muddy halt, wheels spinning and forward motion absent. It was pathetic. Thus ended out hopes off a Gold Medal (for completeing the 183 mile route, with 15 observed hills and tests, free of penalties. )
Our attempt was so bad we didn’t even get sent back up the return road but exited through a gate at the bottom of the valley and had a 5 mile detour past Litton Mill to get back onto the route. Then we got halfway up the next observed hill at Booth Farm and that cost us the Silver medal. Right at that point I stopped enjoying the event for a while.
But after a picturesque run down off the Peakes and a rest halt at Hollinsclough village hall, we successfully blasted up the next section , HobHay with some style and suddenly the enthusiasm was rekindled. Another cleaned section at Excelsior meant we might still match our Bronze medal from the Lands End Trial at Easter. Down into the woods at Clough Mine and the first of two sections here went well, but then there was a mubath on the next one and up to the axles in sloppy clay we ground to a halt. That was the end of the medal hopes. One more section , which we also failed, and a final observed test, which was fun, rather like a short rally stage , and a short run up the A515 to he DUKE OF YORK pub brought us to the finish.
The car had run faultlessley aside from that one duff gear change which was really my own fault.
My navigator/daughter , 13 year old Charlotte, had successfully guided us through a very complex and tortuous route with little more than a cat-nap in the previous 30 hours. We hadn’t had a crossed word and we hadn’t eaten all the food…which was a surprise in itself. It had been quite an adventure. Flooded roads…
Knee-deep mud and hikers who innocently stepped back out of our way and stood in front of the very signpost we were looking for …it was about 4 miles later we (and the car ahead) concluded we had missed the correct turning and had to retrace our steps.
But that was just a minor glitch. And the views were lovely! It was the over-thinking of Litton Slack that set us on the slippery slope to a medal-free event. Other sections which we went into unsighted, and relied on reactions to negociate, all went well. Best to just get on with it next time then and not think about it all to much!
Live and learn…live and learn!