“Sorry To Bother You But…” Exmoor Clouds Trial 2021

 September 5th . It’s supposed to be red hot and balmy but on the north Somerset coast, Exmoor is shrouded in mist and the temperature has been distinctly average for much of the day. We are queued up in the middle of a large private woodland awaiting the next Observed Section on the 2021 Exmoor Clouds trial (celebrating it’s 50th running). Beside me my daughter Charlotte is dividing her time between reading the route map and attending to her crochet. Wool and crochet hooks mingle with maps and half empty bags of crisps.

The sun finally breaks cover and I decide to get out and take a photo or two as it’s a nice spot. Our Suzuki X-90 is lined up behind a Scimitar SS1 and a  proper (old..) VW Beetle  , under the broadleaf trees still resisting the first tints of autumn. There’s a voice “Sorry to bother you but…” and it’s one of our competitors, lined up some way further up the lane. I know exactly what he’s going to say as he looks toward the back of the car. “…I think you’ve got a flat tyre.” It’s very good of him to warn us and I thank him, but this is the third or fourth time it’s been mentioned since the start and despite appearances, we actually don’t. What we do have is very low tyre pressures . Down in single figures in fact. It’s the secret to getting grip on loose and muddy surfaces when the rules forbid limited slip differentials and knobbly pattern tyres. But it does look a bit extreme. Charlotte puts down the crochet and grabs the tyre gauge. But it’s fine. Still the same as it was at the start, when the first kindly soul pointed it out.

Paul Brooks’ Marlin

It’s not that anyone else is running much higher pressures but maybe the level of ballast in the back of our car (the other prime factor in gaining grip where there isn’t any) is higher than some others? Either way it does look flatter than it really is.

This is the first event we’ve done since May. As a rule car trials don’t run in summer. Muddy conditions are preferred to dust . This one was supposed to feature a traditional road route from wood to track to by-way via picturesque  Exmoor lanes but with all the covid hoops to jump through it was reworked into a single-venue event with all the sections pretty close together. But there is a hidden benefit – the usual need to continually inflate and deflate the tyres is removed. We’re happy either way, it’s more testing for Charlotte if she has a road book to follow and junctions, gateways and little hidden lanes to locate, but on this occasion the balls of wool are providing an unlikely substitute.

Stewart Green’s SG Gruffalo lined up to climb…

The truncated route is actually a real blast. The link sections between each point-scoring observed hill are very steep, very slippery and thread through overhanging branches in close proximity to sturdy tree trunks in such a way that one or two of our fellow runners are having trouble actually reaching the start of some sections!

And it does make the crews pull some odd faces…Instead of a nice gentle trundle we’re wrestling the cars over ditches and the detritus of recent tree felling work , and that before any points are even on offer. It’s very entertaining. It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher at times. The map doesn’t always look entirely like the roads it represents and the occasional direction arrows are quite small so can be easily missed. At one point we disappeared into the ‘hinterland’ having lost our way and after finding the route ahead getting narrower, realised there were no wheel tracks visible up ahead… We were “proper lost”. In this wood I think you could well get lost for some considerable time. It’s a real maze.  Luckily we found some hikers. “Have you see any cars?”. They pointed us in the right direction. No harm done.

Gary Browning’s VW Beetle

There are 22 ‘sections’ in all and we are ‘cleaning’ most of them without penalty, heading for 2nd in class but some way behind out arch rival Nick Deacon, who’s thoroughly battered looking X-90 (below) has been developed over many years and like that famous lager, reaches the parts other Suzukis cannot reach!  I confess to fluffing two particular hill and getting stuck half way where Nick had reached the end without penalty on both.  But for that… well he’d still have beaten us but the margin would have been less enormous!

Nick Deacon’s class winning X-90

So at the end of the day, having avoided inflicting any new dents on our car, retained the same pressure in the tyres throughout, despite appearances, and given it ‘the beans’ where possible, we trundled homewards having enjoyed a great day’s grass-roots motor sport. Minehead Motor Club ran the whole show with great enthusiasm and spirit . Our grateful thanks to all those who volunteer to keep such events possible.

And Charlotte has almost finished her cardigan… a crochet cardigan? Is she really only 15?

There were bikes as well as cars on the event

Keith Sanders’ Reliant Scimitar SS1

Paul Watson’s historic VW Beetle powered Hillman Imp

Phil Parker’s smart Mk1 Escort with our Suzuki lined up behind.