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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