It’s raining hard and the lanes to Middleton-By-Youlgrave in the English Peak District are a chain of puddles through dripping hedges and overhanging trees. It’s mid afternoon on Saturday October 2nd and we’ve been on the road since 2 am following a tortuous route book that hasn’t always led us exactly where we were supposed to go. The weather has turned very sour and the previous two ‘observed sections’ have been cancelled due to flooding. There are now only two sections left before a final run to the finish at the Duke of York pub. Or so we think.
Hooking left in the middle of the Middleton village the instructions tell us the penultimate section should be about quarter of a mile up hill on the left…and there it is! A line of competing cars is neatly queued up on the roadside and in the woods above we can see bobbing headlights illuminating the hi-viz jackets of the marshals and observers. As we turn our Suzuki X90 to join the back of the line fellow X90 driver Nick Deacon, a world class farrier when he’s not driving in car trials, walks towards us forlornly gesturing for us to stop . Opening the door (X90s have really poor electric windows) the better to hear him we learn it’s not good news. This section has been cancelled for our class and so has the final one, the sting-in-the-tail , the infamous Litton Slack, which caught us out badly last time the event ran in 2019. So the trial is over and we have missed out on even attempting a third of the sections that were planned.
Things had gone wrong even before the start. The lingering threat of covid19 had left the organisers short of volunteers as positive tests forced several to withdraw their services. Then the glorious British Media, in search of an easy ‘Big Bad Wolf’ story, had almost completely invented the “fuel crisis” overnight . Suddenly people were struggling to find service stations still open after sudden mass panic-buying . The event website was peppered with stories of people stuck at home for want of enough fuel just to reach the start in Lichfield. That start venue itself was at the town’s smart rugby club where a communications mix-up had seen the clubhouse closing it’s doors long before most of the 250+ entry had even arrived on site, let alone partaken of the anticipated refreshments. Then a bridge we were intended to cross a matter of minutes away had decided to collapse earlier in the day forcing a reroute…”follow the signs” was the instruction. We didn’t see any. Along with almost everyone else we promptly got lost almost as soon as the event began!
Having eventually re-located the route we progressed along it, through tiny back roads , rather quicker than planned in order to avoid being late in arriving at a time control . The timing was not very obvious and the advice was that we would…and wouldn’t get penalised if that happened. In the end we all seemed to arrive there 90 mins early! Looking at the car numbers ahead and behind us it was clear that almost the entire field had arrived at this point via different routes . The sequence , intended to be in programme order was shuffled like a pack of playing cards. From our position on the moorland near Tissington, the lazy crescent moon hung in a clear sky and the early morning was mild and still. It was actually rather pleasant to hang about shooting the breeze with the other competitors until it was, finally, time to check in.
The first section came and went smoothly enough but something was causing delays on the second one a dozen miles up the road. The queue (above) stretched back for half a mile and we waited in line for nearly an hour to take our turn. Thereafter it seemed to go fairly smoothly until after the breakfast halt. Then the rain started and sections started getting cancelled as cars got bogged down and recovery become an issue. We got lost after one such re-route and even though we seemed to be wandering around for ages, by the time we located the next section we seemed to have progressed up the running order somewhat . Others must have been even more lost!
We saw some odd sights in the midst of our wanderings, the Army were engaged in manoeuvres on the moors at the top of the Dove valley and the image of camouflaged gun-toting figures at the roadside emerging from the developing mist was rather startling. In the passenger’s seat my daughter Charlotte was doing the navigation and getting us back on track very effectively once we realised we were lost.
She was also volunteering to do the tyre pressures at each section (above) – down to 12psi for the slippery bits then back up to 25 for the following road section (the car has a wired-in compressor). She was getting soaked each time but never complained although at various times she admitted the event was creating mixed emotions. I felt the same. There were moments when we both felt rather fed up and then five minutes later everything was exciting again and we were keyed up for more. I don’t recall having this experience quite so strongly on other events. It was probably the lack of sleep getting to us and the warmth of the car’s interior followed by the regular cold blasts of rain.
Despite all of this we seemed to be doing OK and it was quite a way into the event before we actually failed to get up a section. This was on the mist-shrouded heights above Booth Farm , not far from Buxton stock car track. On a clear day the view here is jaw dropping. Axe Edge cleaves up out of the valley floor like a pocket mountain.
When we tackled it, the mist made it merely a sinister shadow(above) . To add insult to injury the car ahead of us, Nicola Butcher’s VW Beetle flew to the top without a problem. Later we found only about four others had replicated this performance to the that point. Some consolation after getting the tow-of-shame from a large tractor (below).
That section turned out to be the penultimate one, the cancellations coming thick and fast afterwards as the small roads became small streams and the puddles became geographic features in their own right. And so it squelched to an end.
How did we do? The results are still not out as I write some 10 days later. The story being that some of the score cards are still being dried ! A lot of people found the whole event a disappointment and yet for Charlotte and I it was a Big Adventure which if it didn’t go to plan was still very memorable and enjoyable in a dramatic , slightly frustrating kind of way. Are we masochistic to think that? The jury is out. But I’m sure lessons have been learned and we look forward to having another go at the event next year when I am sure fewer random elements will conspire to get in the way.
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