Two years ago we took part in our second EDINBURGH TRIAL, an event that predates almost every other motor sport contest on earth - running for the first time way back in 1904, two years before the first Grand Prix, seven before the first Indy 500. The 2021 event was very much a ‘trial’in ever sense … the media-created fuel shortage (remember that?) almost derailed it, the foul weather finally did derail it, with several of the later sections of the route cancelled in monsoon conditions. I wrote in my blog of the event “the event was creating mixed emotions. 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. ” Well 2023 had none of the organisational dramas of a fuel shortage and it avoided cancelling large chunks of the route when the weather once again turned nasty, but somehow it still threw up this mixed reaction from my navigator/daughter Charlotte and myself. We matched our best previous result but felt disappointed. We did better on sections we have never previously got through and messed up on two that we have cleaned easily in the past. And many times throughout, we just waited in long queues. And waited. It was exciting in parts but it was, above all, really rather frustrating.
For the third year on the trot we were starting near the tail of the order, 3 hours and 17 minutes after the first entrant left Lichfield Rugby Club and headed off north to the Peak District. So it was that we found ourselves queued up at 2.16am on a Saturday morning waiting for the signal to go(above) . It was a mild night but the windows still misted over if the heater wasn't on and it was already getting pretty stuffy in the cabin of our Suzuki X-90 and would remain so for the rest of the event. However we were warm and dry, unlike anyone on a motorcycle or in an open-top car so we could not really complain. But 2 hours later, having driven all of 42miles we were sat in a queue on the moor above Tissington Ford with a misty full moon overhead. We would still be waiting another hour and we both decided this bit of the event was not exactly exciting. Charlotte was also , unusually, feeling car sick. 3 hours and 13 mins (and just 43 miles) from the start we finally got over the ford and lined up to start the competitive bit of the event. We cleaned this first Observed Section and dis likewise on the second section, both in the dark, but it was nearly dawn as we sat in another queue for the first really tricky section at Cliff Quarry , and it was early light by the time we actually got to the start line. Finally a dose of adrenaline as the ‘section’ took an unexpected sharp left up a very steep bank and swung the the right (or left, depending on your class) of a stout tree and over the finish line. Now that was fun!
Cliff Quarry from the in-car camera, staring up at the sky and about to turn towards “Exit B”
We drove through Bakewell in the early hours, past a line of Post Office vans being loaded and out into The Peaks proper. The sections got more and more stony and the link roads between them were pretty tricky to find at times. One narrow gravel lane between hefty stone walls starts to look like another after a certain time. It was a very attractive part of the world to be driving through and the weather was still OK at this point, overcast but dry. The only issue we had was on the last Section before the breakfast halt where a seemingly innocuous farm road on a gentle slope with a firm limestone base seemed to have been polished like an ice rink with all the previous wheel-spinning traffic.
It really doesn't look very daunting at all but this innocent restart caused us so much grief! And a Silver medal…
The start marshal told us it was no big deal… how wrong he was! The TR7 up ahead just managed to getaway from a stop-and-restart in the middle, at a crawl with a great deal of bouncing from the occupants. We had a similar issue getting away from that restart , but much swaying and twirling of the steering wheel succeeded in picking up some slight forward momentum . It was painfully slippery and we slowed again before picking up more grip and crawling through the finish . I thought we just .. JUST… kept going but not according to the final score sheet. They failed us on that second slow down, counting it as a ‘stop’ .We just didn't know that at the time!
After a breakfast reset at the Duke of York pub, high on a ridge over Buxton (above) , we went straight into another huge backlog at a well known ‘stopper’ called Excelsior.
This caught us out last year and after an hour of waiting for another attempt, during which time most of the cars ahead failed and were towed up by a Land Rover, it did so again! Curses! One fail costs a Gold Medal. One more costs a Silver, a third means no medal at all. That was a low point as we imagined that was our first fail, our lost Gold. In fact it were were already in the last chance saloon! We drove out towards Darley Dale and a complex of three sections close together in Clough Mine . The first two revived our spirits, we cleaned both in a welter of revs and wheelspin, enjoyment restored…but then we learned the third section, one of the classics, not used for years and really tough, was by-passed for our class. Spirits sagged again. This is what this event seems to be : a rollercoaster of enjoyment and annoyance. The latter continued at the next stop in Dudwood where yet another monster tailback greeted us(below). Lots of time there for chat, with class rivals Jonathan Toulmin, who's father was trialling works-assisted MGs in the 1930s, and Jeremy Salter, one of the people who kindly helped us last year when the radiator holed and we had to retire.
Someone rode down the side of the queue on a motorcycle, got to me , pointed at the Suzuki and said “There's one of these wrapped round a tree up ahead”. Heartening…
When we finally got to this muddy, wooded section it turned out to be another moment of elation. We have never cleaned it before but this time we did, easily but with a perilously close shave against the tree seen below on the eight . We missed it by a coat of paint.
Breath in! Just avoiding that big tree in Dudwood on route to cleaning the section or the first time
An then it started to rain a little. By the time we got to the next section some 20 miles away and high on the moors above CAT AND FIDDLE, it was hammering down and we encountered another queue. This one really wasn't moving. After something over half an hour an official told us there was a stranded car on the section that could not be moved and so it was cancelled.
Watching the rain fall at Hob Hay, the cancelled section
Again we didn't know at the time that this was a contentious decision. We were certainly told to turn round here but the provisional score sheet showed us having “missed” this section and taken us out of the medals…
Tyres were re-inflated in the downpour. I got well soaked in the process even with a waterproof jacket on. A rather grumpy drive back to the afternoon rest halt/time check followed…not helped by a herd of cows on the way to milking delaying us further… Get a MOOOOOOVE on will you? (Actually we sat politely and waited as we always do with animals on the road)
…only to find there was no official on hand to do the time check, so everyone arriving either chose to stop for tea and cake or press on. We were so far behind schedule now thanks to all the delays, a by-product of startimg at the back is you suffer all the accumulated delays of everyone ahead, like those motorway stoppages caused by someone just briefly slowing 10 mile ahead! So in order to avoid any more delays we joined the latter group and drove out and up a gorge to Booth Farm, now famous as the location for the final scene in the final episode of the TV series PEAKY BLINDERS.
Booth Farm seen from the top. Thomas Shelby's caravan was parked somewhere near that white van in PEAKY BLINDERS…
The rain had turned this one into a skating rink and really we had no chance. Claire Oakes the start marshal said this was “a trial of two halves” as in the dry it had not been a problem. In the wet it was nigh-on impassable for everyone. We had a go, got quite a way and then had the second tow-of-shame to the top behind a huge tractor.
That left but one daunting and one easy section to go before the finish. Litton Slack was the daunting one, a long steep sustained climb up a grassy old path that's been used since the 1930s. It's a classic hill, constantly under threat of being denied inclusion in the event due to a footpath dispute of some kind. Every year might just be it's final hurrah. Chances to have a go at it are not to be missed. But we got to the start and were told our class wasn't even allowed to try it, we were sent up a shorter, gentler alternative route.
Portrait of a marshal about to break disappointing news… No attempt at Litton Slack for us!
A great disappointment. The easy final section proved…easy, but quite good fun. However the exit road was a remarkable washboard of evenly spaced dips into puddles and crests in between . Up and down we went for a mile or so and Charlotte was really feeling ill by the end !
We drove back and checked in at the finish some 15 hours and 35 mins after taking the start, having covered 174 miles. We didn't feel like celebrating much it was just so miswrable in the rain and fog. And we were both knackered by that point and we still had a 4 hour trip home in the gathering darkness - which for the sake of safety included an hour long nap when I found a suitable place to park up.
‘Monkey’ , Our Suzuki, with Dick Bolt's famous Ford Pop' at the finish, The DUKE OF YORK , Pomeroy, Buxton.
So that was the roller-coaster that is the Edinburgh trial. The weather is inevitably foul at some point, at the back of the running order those queues are frequent, and it takes an age to properly get going after the start, but despite all that we had fun on some really testing and tricky observed sections and enjoyed some gloriously picturesque roads between them. Then when the final results came out that second tow-of-shame, at Booth Farm, had been discounted, and the section we allegedly ‘missed’ likewise struck out. So in the end we did get a medal, a bronze, to match our previous best on the event. And that was good…but…no…lets leave it be. It was good. A bronze was good. And it had been an adventure! And that was what we were there for.
Early starters in the motorcycles classes at Lichfield
Steven Hill's Ford Model A with recumbent passenger awaiting it's turn to start
Warren Blaim;s MG Midget and Jospeh Wilson-Redding's Dutton Melos at the breakfast halt
One of us is camera-shy…the other less so!
Phil Tucker's Triumph TR3, which we followed for most of the route, exits Dudwood as we wait to try it.
John & Alan Wells wait for the start in thier MG PA
Two of the MUD PLUGGING MAIDENS team, the Beetles of Nicola Butcher and Karen Warren at the start
IN -CAR FOOTAGE