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|History '88 Pat O'Mara|
Earlier last year Trevor Allkins and myself decided to enter the 1988 Round Britain Run in his recently totally rebuild TR6. However, since sending in the application and the necessary readies, certain doubts concerning the car’s capabilities sprung to mind – not surprising when you consider that every time the car comes across (or maybe doesn’t) Tinsley Viaduct it decides to throw a wobbly, but the route didn’t include the metal monstrosity and so we figured we’d be alright (that’s tactics for you).
To give a brief outline of the event for those of you not in the know, the idea is to complete a route starting at Cockfosters in North London that heads north to John O’Groats before turning south taking in the Land’s End Hotel and then back to the capital. A roadbook is issued to each crew at a driver’s meeting some ten days before the event which includes a check list of controls where you must obtain an organiser’s signature. Details of the route are given in two ways. For the majority of the route straightforward instructions are provided where motorways and A roads are to be used and “tulip” diagrams are used for the more rural areas particularly in each checkpoint, fuel stops, section timing and mileage are also given which makes the whole package appear very professional (and indeed it is).
The event was scheduled to start at 1900 hours on Friday, 7th October, and so at noon on that same day we headed for London, meeting up with fellow South Yorks entrants Paul Cawthorne and Richard Chapman at junction 30 on the M1. After taking the wrong junction off the M25 and fighting our way through suburbia (Barnet, actually) we arrived at the start venue to be told “you are too early, go and have a meal and come back later”.
At the start we should have met up with another South Yorkshire crew, Annis Hepworth and Pete Willey who travelled down the day before and stayed the night with friends, but alas, no sign of them. The start time approached, the police arrived so did the other competitors, (it is not a competition! Ed.) all that is except the intrepid duo in the Herald. After a brief drivers meeting to iron out any last minute problems, the car was festooned with event plates and sponsor stickers, then lined up with other 30 odd cars and made ready for the off. A lone police woman then braved the Friday evening traffic, stopping them in their tracks, thus allowing all the entrants to pullout of the start in convoy.
COCKFOSTERS – DONCASTER.
The first section from the start to Wentbridge services on the A1 some 6 miles north of the Yorkshire town passed without incident once away from the London traffic. Trevor drove to Peterborough where the first of many driver swops took place (the tactic being, take it easy and pace yourself), after all there were two more days of this to follow. We arrived at the services some 20 minutes ahead of the target time where we picked up a load of potted dog butties from Trevor’s missus Eileen and had the car checked over by resident mechanic and screenwasher Ian. The course opening car for the event (an original TR8 DHC) was in the control when we arrived and still there when we left – we later discovered fuel pump problems to be the cause of their delay, but they were to have the system faults remedied in Scotland. As we pulled away from the services Annis and Pete pulled in, their delay at the start being caused by rush hour traffic in the Finchley area.
WENTBRIDGE – CORBRIDGE.
We left Doncaster at 2220, eight minutes ahead of roadbook time, and due to a short cut along the B2675 from Scotch Corner to Bolam arrived at Corbridge thirty one minutes up on scheduled time – the section being 116 miles in length and trouble free. Departure from the fuel stop after comparing times with other drivers was at 1255 (11 minutes up).
CORBRIDGE – PERTH.
The first 95 miles of this section utilised the very fast but “roller coaster” like A68 as far as Dalkeith, where a regrouping control was set up by the local constabulary. The police were to provide and escort through Edinburgh city centre and onwards to the Forth Bridge. This must be one of the few cities in Britain where you can witness an uphill, reverse gear car race at 3 a.m., complete with spectators and cheer leaders. However, our escort stuck to his task and didn’t intervene, Once across the bridge (which incidentally costs 40p to traverse) the route followed the M90 as far as J10 some four miles south of Perth. A street plan of Scotland’s former capital city was provided in the roadbook, but yours truly who happened to be navigating this section did the honours and got us lost, but we did still make the Dunkeld Road filling station in 14 minutes up on book time. The section was 139 miles long and trouble free once more with the exception of a minor fault in the headlamp circuit – traced to the foot operated dip switch. By now it was becoming apparent that the long standing problem concerning the ingress of exhaust gases into the cockpit (no, its not a Spitfire) would dog us through the night unless we did without the heater and travelled with the windows open, not a very inviting prospect given the gale force weather predictions.
PERTH – JOHN O’GROATS.
One of the longest single sections of the event now followed – some 246 miles were to be tackled before breakfast at the Seaview Hotel. The route was nearly all A9 with the exception of a 20 mile stretch between Evanton and Bonar Bridge. Heavy rain persisted as far as Inverness where a driver change was thought advisable. Saturday dawned at somewhere around Cromatry Bridge and the rain eased off – just as well, we could open the windows now, carbon monoxide poisoning don’t arf give you a headache. Twenty mile short of the breakfast halt it was deemed necessary that the 5-gallon jerry can in the boot would have to be pressed into service – the next petrol was 40 miles away and the fuel gauge needle was banging on the E mark. The Seaview was reached by 0920 (46 minutes ahead) where a wash, shave and breakfast became the priorities. Over the fry-up Trevor pondered on the exhaust gas problem, deciding that the fumes were being sucked back through the boot lid seal and into the car. His remedy was to extend the length of the tailpipe using a discarded cornflake packet. Although the said modification remained intact to Bristol the following morning, it did nothing to improve the situation – surprise, surprise.
JOHN O’GROATS – DINGWALL.
Departure from the Seaview Hotel was at 1025, replenished with food and raring to go – the A836 heading west along the northern coastline towards Thurso was to be the route, first call, however would be petrol at Scrabster some 21 miles away. Once past the “Newkiller” power station at Dounreay road conditions deteriorated dramatically – single track and passing points being the norm for the next 50 miles or so. Trevor drove this section (which included a waterside view of Loch Naver) as far as Altnaharra where a stop for a swop was thought wise. A rock had been clipped by the front nearside wheel on this stretch and noise from the bearing in question left us in no doubt that repairs would be required in Dingwall. We arrived at the Rover dealers in Dingwall at 1410 (49 minutes up on book time), but due to effecting repairs on the aforementioned bearing, departure was not until 1520, which incidentally was scheduled time. Our efforts to stay ahead of book time at least gave us breathing space for the repair. Total mileage on this section was 137.
DINGWALL – STIRLING.
The next section, we had been reliable informed by the past masters of this event, was the most scenic of the whole marathon, running down the Lochside A82 past Nessy and others not so famous, then on to the picturesque Fort William before climbing once again to Gencoe taking in the breathtaking scenery complete with waterfalls fit to equal Niagara – well, O.K. then I exaggerate. The fly in the ointment came in the form of the weather; on leaving Dingwall at 1520 spots formed on the windscreen – in fact it wasn’t until Penzance at 0830 the following morning that the motor got its well deserved rest. By the time Loch Ness was reached the mist and torrential rain made it near impossible to even see the Loch, let alone enjoy the magnificent view (so they tell us) – with visibility like this Nessy could have chewed her way through the car’s bonnet without us knowing it. The road between Glencoe and Tyndrum in the weather conditions that prevailed was to say the least dodgy, rounding a corner complete with fresh air drop to the left we were confronted with a small flock of sheep (well 2) standing in the middle of the road. However, at the last possible moment lady luck intervened, they moved off and what could have ended up as a Triumph pile up, judging by the convoy following close behind, was averted. Down in the lower ground around Callander flash floods seemed to be the order of the day. However, food and rest at Stirling were in sight and its at this point you realise that you are just coming up to the event’s halfway point, and so onward through Doune and onto the M9 and into Morrisons Garage where a hot drink and sausage rolls awaited. The time was 1930, 26 minutes up on schedule.
STIRLING – BRISTOL.
The time as we prepared to leave Stirling was 2015, the weather was wet and the TR had a problem with its indicators. However, this was overcome and off into the night the intrepid convoy sped. The section to Bristol where the next official coffee break awaited was to be the one where staying alert at all times was of paramount importance due to the fact that the vast bulk of the 383 miles was to be motorway or fast dual carriageway. Nobody fancied driving through Glasgow in case the wheels were lost to some bounty hunter (and that’s whilst the car is still moving) and so a route along the M80, A80 and M73 was recommended by the organisers and so the sprawling metropolis was avoided. Before leaving Stirling the “in car Gas” problem mentioned earlier was cured, enabling us to approach the remainder of the run in much more relaxed atmosphere (in more ways than one). First stop for fuel would be the Star services near Preston on the M6 where an unscheduled cup of coffee was deemed necessary. However, this cost dearly in time as we were to find out at our next fuel stop at Frankley services near West Bromwich at 0310 where, after consultation with the road book, we discovered that the Bristol halt was timed for 0337 and the distance a mere 83 miles. The fact that the rain was still coming down in torrents probably helped more than it hindered as the M5 was deserted, but then again you could only get p….. on it at this hour. Bristol was reached just in the nick of time, some 17 minutes inside maximum lateness. Coffee at the West Country Gordano services took on a relaxed air as we knew that the next respite would not be for 3 hours 40 minutes or 191 miles, this being Land’s End and breakfast. Time of arrival at Bristol was 0420, departure being at 0505.
BRISTOL – LAND’S END.
After topping up the tank once more we headed towards Exeter on the M5 leaving at junction 31 which is the A30 intersection as well as the motorways end. The A30 runs all the way to Land’s End and is a mixture of single and dual carriageway. This route in the summer months becomes the most congested due to holiday traffic, but between 0600 and 0800 on an October Sunday morning this problem doesn’t seem to exist (wonder why?). The road twists and undulates quite frequently making a welcome change from the 400 miles of motorway previously traversed. By-passes around such places as Okehampton and Launcestone help keep the average speed up to something like 50 m.p.h although the road still winds its way through a number of picturesque villages along the route to Penzance. It was here that the rain finally stopped, having been persistent for the last 17 hours or so. A one way system operates through Penzance town centre routing traffic round the sea front road and then back on the A30 once more. The section of A30 between Penzance and Land’s End is probably the slowest and it appears that the resort’s hotel will never be reached. After 36 hours of driving, Land’s End on approach is something of a let down with every building advertising that it is the last chip shop in England or last pub ect., thus cashing in on the unique siting the place. The approach driveway to the hotel was flooded due to the continual but was just passable (nothing was going to stop us going to brekker!) A wash and brush up followed by a beautiful then a bracing photo session along the cliff top car park formed the itinerary before fuelling up at the village petrol station (probably the “last one in England”) and preparing for the of once more. The time was 0950, some 16 minutes up on maximum limit.
LAND’S END – TRAGO MILLS.
One of the shortest sections now followed which motor club members would probably find the most enjoyable part of the event was it not for the fact that you’ve probably been behind the wheel for 38 hours or so. The idea is to follow the A30 back to Launcestone where a right onto the A388 then left onto the A384 leads you towards the pretty Dartmoor town of Tavistock where the route turns into what closely resembles a navigational scatter event. On departing Tavistock the road twists and winds its way up through the mist shrouded moorland (have you been reading Wuthering Heights Pat?) through one house villages such as Two Bridges finally arriving at Ashburton where the whole of the south west’s sporting fraternity seemed to be doing there own personal thing, whether it be cycling, canoeing, running or whatever. Then its back onto the fast A38 for the remainder of the 121 mile section. Arrival at Trago Mills (a shopping centre with a difference) was 19 minutes up on book time. Coffee and sandwiches were consumed, cars refuelled and cards stamped by Marshall Roger “onto a whiff of Cossack” Clarke (how’s that for a motoring name) before leaving on what is probably regarded as the events “sting in the tail” – a 145 mile trek to Fleet in northern Hampshire.
TRAGO MILLS – FLEET.
After nearly two days of non stop driving the eyelids tend to become heavy and its on this section that your concentration tends to waver. Eyelids start to fall and driving errors become apparent when the road users blast you with the horn for blocking the way, straddling the white line or some other oversight. The route follows the A38, the M5 to junction 29 where the A30 is picked up, this leads to the A303 and finally the M3 where a 25 mile blast to the services becomes a windows down race in order to combat the ever increasing level of drowsiness. Everyone wants to be first into the service area or it appears that way considering the lane swapping antics practiced by many, not least the gang of 2.5PI saloons. However, we managed second behind one of the said vehicles. Arrival at Fleet services was at 1610, some 12 minutes up on early time. A leisurely snack brake (including headache tablets for most) was enjoyed here allowing the slower, smaller capacity cars to catch up in the hope of an organised Triumph convoy back to the Cockfosters finish 58 miles further up the motorway.
FLEET – COCKFOSTERS.
Departure from Fleet was at 1700 hours rejoining the M3 as far as the M25 intersection. Then its clockwise round the capital’s western perimeter to J24 where a nice and easy cruise down the last three miles of the event brought us back to Broadfields Garage exactly 47 hours after starting the marathon. Finish time was 1810 hours on Sunday, October 9th., just a small matter of the 160+ miles home now Trevor!
FOR THE RECORD.
Total mileage (not including Sheffield – London return) 1911. Total fuel 72.27 gallons. Average m.p.g. 26.44. Total time – 47 hours.
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