If Ever A Place Was Well Named… Clee Hills Trial 2022

Photo: Kate Maxwell

In Shropshire, England, near the town of Craven Arms is a strange stone tower rising out of the woods at Callow Hill. Known as Flounder’s Folly it’s an 80 foot structure built by a

Flounders Folly looks down from the horizon as we approach the ‘section’

Quaker land-owner, when he was a mere 70 years old, for no known reason (there are theories , naturally) . Just below it, running up through the trees is a muddy un-made road that is used once a year by the Midland Automobile Club as an ‘Observed Section’ on it’s long running CLEE HILLS TRIAL.

In 2022 my daughter Charlotte and I took part in said trial. Flounder’s Folly formed the very last obstacle before the finish and up to that point we had been having a pretty good run. Taking in almost a dozen similar Observed Sections along Wenlock Edge and the Clee Hills themselves, we had successfully got to the end of (‘cleaned’) all but two without accumulating any penalty points. In car trials, unlike a certain TV game show,  “Points…” do not “…make prizes”. The further up the hill you get, the less you gather, the better you are doing.  With 11 on the board, we were doing pretty well. We were not going to beat the class front runner, Nick Deacon who was still in low single figures, but 2nd place might be on the cards.

Nick Deacon’s class winning Suzuki X-90 lines up for the first ‘section’

Running very late in the order at number 73, our trusty Suzuki X-90 had only given cause for concern once when the newly fitted alternator (see previous blog for that story…) had loosened off and stopped charging the battery. That was, thankfully,  a quick fix and we were soon back on track .

Tackling the amusingly named “Jenny Wind” section. (Photo Gail Knight @RobMacShots)

Half an hour later, happily eating delicious jam buns baked the night before by younger daughter Georgie, we waited patiently for our turn at the next ‘section’. Up ahead another Suzuki X-90 set off and disappeared from view into a claustrophobic lane running deep between high hedges known as Hungerford Steps.

Our Suzuki waits for it’s run up Hungerford Steps….

….but this lot get to have a go first!

This is a favourite. It’s unusually long for such an ‘section’, taking about 3 mins to drive through , bouncing over rock slabs, slithering through muddy ruts and skidding along on the raised ground between those ruts. A lot of cars ground out and fail to make the end. The Suzuki up ahead didn’t get that far and reappeared a few moments later being pushed back. A marshall following behind it bearing a mangled con-rod that had made a bid for freedom through the side of  it’s engine block. Not a happy day for that crew.

Eventually it was our turn and we blasted through it flat-out in bottom gear at what seemed like a decent speed given the proximity of hedges and trees but was probably 25mph at most!   On we went, traversing a gap chain-sawed through a huge fallen tree and past a waving marshal ; our local rally-hero  Stuart Harrold , from whom I’d only recently bought a collection of books.

Hello Stuart!

On and on the section went, the engine screaming away happily as Japanese engines seem to do, but with the car getting slower and the ruts deeper as we went. Momentum is everything and we were running out of it.

Thankfully the finish marker appeared just as we got down to a crawl with Charlotte busy ‘bouncing’ in approved fashion to gain that last bit of traction. We ‘cleaned’ it. Just. The highlight of our day. Just two sections left…

Photo – Mathew Hall

The penultimate one was located on the uninspiringly named Brown Clee Hill and we found ourselves being filmed by a drone from AIRSCAPE SOLUTIONS. A  pity we didn’t ‘clean’ that section with it’s lens looking down at us from on high.

And so to Flounders’ well named Folly. We put the rear tyre pressures right down for maximum traction and lined up for the start , beyond which was a small and very slippery clay covered uphill left hand bend. And about five seconds later we’d stopped , having nosed past just one marker (of 12). And thus we doubled our score in one go. The car simply slipped out of the ruts and ploughed straight on. We had traction, but no front grip left for steering!

We had floundered….it was our folly! (…sorry about that…)

We ended up 4th in class, tied on points for 3rd but losing out on the timed Test (which involves a bit for back and forth through cones) because I didn’t get reverse gear at the first grab and wasted a couple of vital seconds.

But that’s life and in reality, after I had stopped beating myself up, I had to admit it had been a really enjoyable day’s motor sport, in a lovely part of the country, among  great cars and friendly people. Charlotte , as ever, enjoyed her role as navigator and “bouncer”, enthusiastically attending to the tyre pressures before and after each section.

Charlotte hides behind the door of the Suzuki while adjusting tyre pressures “No Paparazzi!”

While on route we were snapped by an unusually large number of photographers for a trial : among them journalists Paul and Ben Lawrence and Peter Macfadyen, trials regular Dave Cook, plus several members of Tenbury Camera Club , including Kate Maxwell and Mathew Hall who both kindly allowed me to use their images in this blog. As did our friends from the world of Speed Hillclimbs Rob Macdonald & Gail Knight. Thanks everyone!

Among the cars entered were everything from VW Beetles and Mazda MX5s to a Ford Model A, several Austin 7s, a very careworn MGB and a couple of 2CVs. For some reason this event always attracts them! But if I could have taken one car home it would have been Peter Kite’s lovely little Frazer Nash.

Thanks to the MAC for running such a good event against the background of Covid uncertainty, all the marshals and observers without whom these thing would never happen and mostly to my two daughters – Charlotte for being such a great passenger and great company, and Georgie for being our Catering Manager and baking such lovely food for the event.

Next stop should be the Cotswold Clouds trial on February 8th. But we are only a reserve entry so getting a run relies on there being several non-starters… time will tell.

Winston & Patrick Teague’s functional MGB at the start

VSCC runners – Peter Kite’s Frazer Nash and Joe Stollery’s Wolseley Hornet

Robert Renshaw’s Austin 7 Chummy

Colin Bromley’s 2CV. by his own admission, didn’t see the top of many sections…

Graham Williams’ VW Badger