Archive for category 23rd Classic Marathon

South by Southwest

South by Southwest

2020 was not a good year for Rallies. We had planned to go to China, Tibet and Nepal in April but that got cancelled in late January so we booked a trip to Italy which was also cancelled. Then the Tibet organisers cancelled a 2021 rally to Mongolia and announced they were giving up rallies to spend more time with their spouses and gardens!

So when John O’Groats to Lands End came along as the post-lockdown rally (or should that be inter-lockdowns?) we were up for it. Events were still conspiring as our 4 year old collie, Quinn, needed an operation to remove a grass seed from his thigh. We couldn’t leave him and his new wound in kennels as he would soon lick it raw – so he had to come too along with collar (renamed airbag) and “lampshade” to stop licking.

Quinn with “airbag” in Skoda

Two adults and a collie in an Elan is not comfortable so the Skoda had to substitute. There was a rest day part way through so the plan was to take dog to kennels, retire the Skoda and finish the rally in the Elan – at least that bit worked!

Our route up north started with the long, slow grind on the A47 west from Great Yarmouth, via Kings Lynn to Newark and the A1 north. Then to a random field to give Quinn a brief walk and on to Alnmouth, where Allison remembered her childhood holidays and on again to our overnight stop in Dunbar.

At John O’Groats

The rally start was just outside Inverness with a run to John O’Groats and overnight in Thurso. Flagging off was from the signpost at John O’Groats but the organiser wasn’t having any photos of Skodas in his gallery so our low key start sees just man and dog.

With Conrad and Alexander at Dornoch Firth

Before that we visited the deserted village of Badbea – a memorial to the Highland Clearances when tenants were forced off the land in favour of sheep,

Bleak Badbea

and dumped on the windswept cliff to learn to fish.

Castle Sinclair

Castle Sinclair

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe has been a ruin since 1680 but is worth a visit; unlike the ruins further south it was free to enter and there was no need to book ahead.
A new feature of this rally was the need to plan everything ahead – meals, evening and lunch, dog walks and the “dog friendly” status of each hotel/restaurant. No more rolling up and assuming you’d get a seat; even breakfasts were timetabled. Most of the Scottish rally hotels were dog friendly – though one said they loved dogs but not in rooms but they could go to the bar. Helpfully adding the bar was closed because of the virus – we didn’t stay in that hotel! Another refused dogs but because we arrived late we were in the annex and after the late night dog walk, there was a navigational error……..which didn’t end in the car. Every morning we were treated to the spectacle of dogs exiting the hotel with their muzzled owners firmly attached to the lead.

Kyle of Tongue

From Thurso we went West via Castle Varrich and Smoo Cave, cursing the RVs which struggled to maintain any sort of speed as they inched past other RVs – and this was the main road! Later it got much worse as we drove on single track roads from passing place to passing place. The rally organiser likes narrow roads and we miscalculated how long the loop to Old Man of Stoer Lighthouse would take; so we got to the lighthouse but not the Old Man.

Castle Ardwreck with Quinn

Heading south and west again via Ardwreck Castle, our stop was in Gairloch and here we found the most dog friendly pub of the whole trip – the dog’s water arrived with our beer.

The Old Inn, Gairloch – with dog’s water bowl

Day 3 took us to Applecross and Fort William, Glencoe and, seeking 007 and Skyfall, to Glen Etive

From Applecross towards Skye

Castle Strome

before an overnight stop at Port Appin on Loch Linnhe. There were 8 cars in the rally and only the TR6 (fuel injection) had real problems.

Glen Etive

They had already ordered a spare manifold to be sent to Ullswater for assembly on the rest day but that didn’t solve the problem and they would retire in Bath. Whilst we knew most of the participants, only one car had been on previous rallies with us – the DB6, last seen in Kazakhstan. One mechanic we knew and the other had heard of us – via his father, a Lotus owner and avid reader of Club Lotus News!

Locks on Crinan Canal

Castle Lachlan

On day 4 we deviated from the route to avoid the “Forest Drive” and Inveraray Castle (no dogs) to visit Kilmartin and on to the Crinan Canal and Castle Lachlan. That evening we were in another hotel outside Tighnabruaich (Bute), though we had to visit the main rally hotel for our ferry tickets to get across the Firth of Clyde.
Day 5 was the last in Scotland and took us down the coast to Galloway, pausing for coffee at Dundonald Castle (castle entry strictly with pre-booked tickets, we hadn’t), where Allison gave the visitor centre some postcards from her childhood holidays in this part of Scotland. Despite this generosity, Qunn’s presence meant we had to drink outside in the chill!

At the Electric Brae

We stopped at the “Electric Brae” – a stretch of road where the topography makes you believe your car is rolling uphill. It was called electric as it was believed to be caused by electrical or magnetic forces – but is only an illusion. Through the Galloway Forest Park we reached Loch Doon Castle (before it rained).

Quinn at Loch Doon Castle

The castle was built by Robert the Bruce (or his father) but on an island in the Loch and the remains relocated in 1935 before the area was flooded in a hydroelectric scheme. Our overnight stop was in a cabin in a deserted wedding venue overlooking Wigtown Bay.
Next day we crossed Hadrian’s Wall and into a damp and drizzly England, we tried to visit Hermitage Castle,

Hermitage Castle

where Mary Queen of Scots visited her lover Bothwell – but it was closed (virus). Instead we went off route to Hexham Abbey, where my great grandfather was instrumental in rebuilding the Nave in 1908. We got wet again visiting the old lead smelting furnaces near Nenthead before arriving in Ullswater and the end of the rally for Skoda and Quinn.

Lead smelting furnace

The Elan engine had been noisy so I had replaced most valve shims and re-set the timing chain tension to ½ inch but it was still noisy so I tightened the tensioner by a turn and hoped it wouldn’t be too tight – its still running! The east coast of Norfolk to the west coast of Wales is 290miles and we were late leaving as we couldn’t drop the dog off before 10.00 but reached Portmeirion in time to wander round the Italianate folly in the dull evening drizzle.



The rally, now complete with the arrival of the Elan, was staying in the Castell and newly dog-free we were able to eat in the Hotel Portmeirion estuary side restaurant – in our carefully plastic-screened isolation from other tables.
We left the coast for the Hellfire Pass (Bwlch y Groes), a 1930’s testing ground for Austin and Standard Triumph before more single track roads took us on to the bleak moorland east of Aberystwyth. We failed to get to the Elan Valley – shame! The closest we got was Strata Florida Abbey, resting place of various Welsh princes of the 13th century.

Strata Florida Abbey

Another hill pass took us to the overnight stop at Llyswen. The hotel restaurant was vastly expensive so we ate out – joined by pure coincidence by another pair of exiles. There had been concern about more Welsh lockdowns so there was relief all round when we were able to leave without being pushed.
Next stop Bath, via Gospel Pass and Tintern Abbey; entry to the Abbey was ticket only, so we booked online the previous evening.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

When we arrived the car park was full but the Abbey reasonable – no idea where all the visitors got to between car park and the gate! We arrived in Bath in time for a wander round the city and a last minute entry to a museum. Back at the hotel the TR6 was being worked on but the problem was terminal.

The Crescent, Bath

Our last rally night was Rock;

Lynmouth Bay

before then we stopped in Lynton to see the 1888 water powered cliff railway, built on the simple concept of two carriages attached by cables on a steep slope.

Lynton Railway

One has 700 gallons of water in its tank and the other does not. The water comes off the moors so no need to pump it back up; it’s the braking system that’s complicated! And on to Tintagel. By now it was wet and cloudy, my jacket kept my top dry and as we clambered over the ruins my trousers and shoes got wetter and wetter, the cloud thickened and visibility diminished – who would really want to build a palace in this place? Seemingly the Earl of Cornwall in 1230, maybe he hoped to acquire a slice of Arthur and his magic?



Tintagel, new bridge to old site

Next day we drove the organiser’s narrow roads with high banks and incompetent RVs towards Lands End. It was busier than our other locations, the traffic stop/start, the electric cooling fan had died (along with the horn and handbrake but they were less important just now) and we had had enough when we reached the massive car park and declined its £7 fee for a brief photo op before the final rally lunch back at St Michaels Mount. Then we headed home; a brief rally for the Elan and a new experience requiring organisation and planning as we all try to escape the virus – but as Canute could not stop the tide can we stop the virus?

Lands End – the carpark

What about 2021? As Mongolia has been cancelled we have booked with Scenic Car Tours for Chernobyl – what could possibly go wrong?

The Rally photo album with loads more photos – click here

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23rd Classic Marathon

The 23rd Classic Marathon effectively started at Portsmouth harbour when the cars taking the ferry to Bilbao were scrutineered. Even at this early stage there was drama – a Lotus Cortina was overheating whilst in the “big” Healey the navigator trod on the fire extinguisher setting off clouds of powder in and around the car.

30 cars started from Santander; by the time we reached Ovideo six days later there were 24 still running, 3 of which were stranded at the foot of the results table after breaking down. Even though this was Regularity rally it was still tough on the cars. The route took us in the mountains from Santander in the east to Cabo Finisterra in the west and every day was up and down along narrow winding roads.

We were due to be accompanied by an Elan Sprint – but he transformed into a Scimitar after the clutch forks broke – and what did we do two weeks before the rally? Had the engine out to replace a seized clutch release bearing – one of many co-incidences, which characterised this rally.

After the Picos mountains, the first day ended at the seaside resort of Ribedesella and the mechanics already had the head off the unfortunate Cortina which broke down irretrievably during one of the regularity sections next day. At dinner, Paul and Roma in an MGB were convinced they had come across us before – they had, in Puerto Natales in Chile in March 2010 when we were replacing a trunnion! Having spoken to us then they decided rallying was for them……and there they were!

Day 2 took us through the Asturian mountains and out of the woods to the high arid plains where we spent most of the day at an altitude of over 1000m. At the overnight hotel another cylinder head was off – this time from an Alfa – but he did finish! We felt the need to check our diff oil level but all was well.

The third day includes what the organisers describe as “exploring interesting farm lanes”. Translated this means they are narrow winding lanes with lots of unlikely turns which you should go down and plenty of more likely looking turns you should not! The last regularity of the day saw cars flying in all directions and having got to the first (of 3) controls fairly respectably we lost the plot (and the route). Having given up all hope and heading straight to the hotel we saw three rally cars stream across our path at a junction and followed them to the final control.

Our hotel was another Parador – a chain of hotels in magnificent old buildings – this one at the monastery of St Estevo which dates from the 7th century and boasts three cloisters, sturdy granite stairs and an idyllic location on the tree covered slopes of the Sil valley. What better place to replace our points which were yet again playing up? We thought this problem was cracked when we replaced the distributor and had 6,500 trouble free miles in Patagonia – it seems not.

Day 4 included a forest fire but before that we passed a crashed BMW (went straight ahead when the road bent to the right) and saw the Atlantic Ocean. Lunches were a feature of this rally with far more than we wanted to eat; the hour’s break is meant to bring a calming civilisation to the crews but we just wanted a pitstop and off! This was in a luxury hotel with shaded gardens and tranquil lakes – just the place to savour the wine which accompanied every meal – except that Spanish drink drive laws are very strict! The evening’s task was the remove the sump guard to fix the vacuuum T piece which had split giving no headlights, reduced power and too much unfiltered air into the engine.

Next day was not good! The car really didn’t like the “special tests” which the organisers arranged – generally a couple of laps round a karting circuit. This test included a “stop in the box” halfway round. The car stopped fine, stalled and had to be pushed away so we missed the second lap completely and got maximum time penalties for the incomplete first lap. The mechanics arrived, poked and prodded – and she started quite happily without any problem. This cost us 7 minutes, one place and a class medal (ok it would only have been third!) and we ended up as the only car which finished and did not receive a trophy.

The last day ended with a hillclimb regularity up to an altitude of 1570m and a number of hot and bothered cars, including the Elan which again decided that after stalling on the finish line it was going to chose its own time to restart. The rally was just over 2000km – but we were only part through our trip as we wanted to visit Portugal – deciding that Evora was too far away………..
Our first stop was Braganza where we visited the old walled town and castle. Leaving town next morning we wanted a photo-opportunity outside the castle – and found the local car club were having their summer Meet & BBQ there – not sure who was most surprised when we rolled up! We knew we had a long day ahead so did not stay; the day turned out to be longer than expected with the roads much slower and roadworks occupying most of the motorway.

After the warmth of Braganza we found rain and cloud at the start of our tour round the port wine region of the Douro valley. The day brightened up and glorious sunshine accompanied our drive round the wine terraces. Our next stop was Porto where we found the signposting even worse than we had experienced so far and the driving standard awful with no leeway being granted to a car that was clearly old and lost.

Leaving the city we headed for the hills and the iron age city at Briteiros followed by the religious extravaganza at Bom Jesus where to our great surprise we bumped into Andrew and Sarah in the Porsche 914 from the rally – if we’d arranged to meet them here we’d certainly have failed!

Bom Jesus is more or less replicated in the nearby Santuario de Sierra da Pineda and one can but wonder at the effort spent on creating these edifices. We left Portugal in the direction of Ourense and this time were able to take some pictures of the countryside as we reached what had been rally territory. Although most definitely not a race there was little time to spare on this rally and we took many fewer photos than usual.

A long drive along the motorways past Leon brought us closer to the coast when another problem arrived – stopping for petrol the starter motor ground slowly round and the car just started. Surely the battery hadn’t failed? Thoughts turned to the regulator box but it seemed to be operating correctly and the contacts were moving as the engine revs rose. I had a spare but was reluctant to swop them over. We stopped at an expensive hotel with private parking and found the culprit – the starter motor end plate had come loose with 3 of 4 screws missing. I don’t carry spare screws but fortunately the bolts from the large size “chocolate blocks” were a good enough match – starter motor purred!

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