Finally Climbing That Ladder – Cotswold Clouds Trial 2022

Our Suzuki Awaits It’s Turn High Above Nailsworth

Charlotte, my daughter and trusty passenger/navigator,  is busy letting the rear tyres down on our Suzuki X-90 as it waits on a precarious little road high above the Cotswold town of Nailsworth. In front is a VW Beetle, behind a BMW Z3. Such is the sometimes baffling variety of entries on a car trial.  It’s early on a February morning, it’s cloudy and the overnight rain has abated leaving large puddles and a great deal of mud.  Just ahead of us, down the hill a little, is the start of the third ‘observed section’ on the COTSWOLD CLOUDS TRIAL , an event celebrating it’s 60th anniversary.

The route includes two of the most famous ‘sections’ in the sport, both in use since the early 1930s. We’ve just tackled the first of them, CROOKED MUSTARD , a serpentine climb through trees and high banks. We failed it dismally. We had a good excuse (honest !) as, running at no.7 in the order (out of around 80), we were still having to deal with the sloppy top layer of slimy mud that would soon be ground away by successive cars spinning there wheels through to the harder gravel below. You have to have an excuse, naturally.

‘Lucky’ No.7 ? We Are Unused To Running So High In The Order…

Ahead of us now lies the other great name, NAILSWORTH LADDER, a hill so famous in it’s time that featured in car advertising during  the 1920s. So, you are thinking, no problem for a modern day vehicle? Well it’s still the same 1-in-3 at the steepest point and the surface has been degraded by time and use over the past century, with not much in the way of repairs carried out. So yes it is!

The Sign That Once Stood At The Top

I have a special affinity with NAILSWORTH LADDER. My grand mother, Dorothy Rosser, as she then was, worked as a house-maid during the 1920s and 30s (think DOWNTON ABBEY) at several nearby manor houses & stately homes. Initially she worked at LAGONDA CARS director , Lord de Clifford’s, ‘Eastington’ and then at Woodchester House. Woodchester is  where a ‘new’ stately home,  built in the grounds  has remained unfinished & unoccupied since the money ran out in the mid 19th century.  While at Woodchester  she was taken out for a run on the pillion of the chauffer’s beloved BSA motorcycle .

Dorothy on the chauffeur’s BSA at Woodchester circa 1930

To show off it’s abilities, he included the nearby NAILSWORTH LADDER on his route!  She told me many times of this epic ride when I was a child and some 90 years later her grandson and great grand-daughter had a go at the same climb. That was pre-covid, our first go at the COTSWOLD CLOUDS and we didn’t get very far… let’s draw a line under just how feeble the effort was because two years later we were about to have another go.

With Adrian Marfell’s  very capable VW already at the start line and our Suzuki’s rear tyres reduced to almost single figure pressures, Charlotte and I trundled down to the foot of the climb and nervously lined up for the signal to go.  Here’s the in-car footage…

As you can see, it all went to plan this time. Even  that ‘re start’ test just at the bottom of the steepest part passed without drama. Generally most trialists now consider the hill pretty easy in decent conditions. Even so, a quarter of the entry failed to reach the top on this occasion so it remained something to celebrate when we reached to summit ourselves and looking back down it as we pumped the tyres back up, I can confirm it really is a hell of a lot steeper than the camera conveys!

Just About To Do The Stop-And-Restart Test On Nailsworth Ladder

With the main objective of our day conquered, it was on to the remaining ten ‘sections’ where overall we didn’t think we were doing very well. The first had been cancelled because a ‘local resident’ had decided to park his car in such a way that it intentionally , and  illegally, blocked to route, which was actually a public road. After that a couple of hills had been so ‘green’ that we hardly got anywhere at all, let alone near to the top, and a timed test “start at Line A and stop with wheels astride Line B” didn’t quote work out that way… having lost out on a 3rd place finish in our previous event by being a little slower on such a test (used as a tie-breaker) I was a bit more keyed up for this one and slithered to a halt just beyond Line B… Luckily this didn’t prove a big issue as by the end of the day we weren’t tied on points with anyone and it didn’t matter.

It was at this point we suddenly realised we were now running 3rd, rather than 7th on the road and so acting even more like a snow plough, so we took a little breather for refreshment : a flask of coffee and some jam buns made by Charlotte’s younger sister, ace cook,  Georgie.  That dropped us back a bit and made things easier although even the route to the following section included a problematic little access road through very soft deep mud on the edge of a very steep drop. We (like many others) needed a hefty push just to reach the start!   That section went OK. So did the following two and so we came to the sting in the tail, a trio of sections and one more test set in a large wood just outside Stroud.  The first one was OK, as filmed by Norton Selwood, you can see we almost made it!

This time around we got the Test nailed and although we didn’t get very far on the penultimate hill, TALBOT’S TERROR, neither did a lot of others. That left one final short sharp climb before the finish and we had to resort to some serious ‘bouncing’ to keep the wheels from spinning up too much as the top approached. Charlotte was chuffed to see her trials heroine, Emma Wall (overall victor on the recent Exeter Trial) stood at the side, shouting encouragement.

Emma Wall Offers Encouragement!

“Bounce! Bounce!” and it worked. It was a nice way to end a gruelling but enjoyable day in the Cotswolds among the VWs, the Marlins, Ford Escorts, Imps and all manner of other cars . But we didn’t think we would trouble the score sheet.

Peter Heywood’s Mk2 Escort On That Final Hill

Richard Haywards’s Very Effective Mk1 Escort Estate

Dean Vowden’s Unusual VW ‘Notchback’

Paul Watson’s VW Beetle -engined Imp

Later that evening I got a text from fellow Suzuki X-90 trialist Nick Deacon with the news that he’d seen the results…. and we were actually 2nd in our class! Suddenly the whole day just seemed so much MORE fun that it already had. And the twist in the tail – we were only 4th reserve entry and didn’t get the call to turn up until the day before.

Events now take a break as Charlotte does her GCSE exams at school and needs the weekend’s for some serious revising. We should be back out on Good Friday/Easter Saturday for the LANDS END TRIAL , all 300+ miles and 20+ hours of it.  Meantime we can rest on the knowledge that we finally climbed that darned Ladder!

Beetles, Beetles and More Beetles

Emma Wall Waits At The Start Of Bull Banks In Her Exeter-Trial-winning Cannon TRS