It’s good to get out and about again. Although this last winter hasn’t been especially hard, it does seem to have been a bit of a long slog. So, this first trip of the year in the ‘van’ has been eagerly anticipated and we’re hoping that we’ll get some decent weather in which to enjoy our Great British scenery.
We’re never stuck for interesting places to visit but I’m not sure that we’d have considered the Isle of Mull as a destination if Denise hadn’t received an invitation from her friend Diane who’s recently taken up residence there. But I’m getting ahead of myself – we’ll get to that part of the trip later and no doubt have some tales to tell and pictures to show.
Anyway, knowing that we’d be travelling pretty much past his front door I arranged some time ago that on the way north I’d drop the Stag off with Cliff Griffiths in Wolverhampton for it to be fitted with a new hood. The old one was getting pretty tatty and the folding mechanism had become a nightmare, so I’m hopeful that by the time we call in to collect the car on our way back home it will be resplendent with a new roof and it will no longer be a three round wrestling match to put the thing up and down.
We’d originally planned to spend a couple of days on the way up with the family in Bramhall, but unfortunately the girls went down with bad colds and chest infections, so we decided to defer our visit and call in to see them on our way home. So, with a couple of days to spare we opted to fit in a few visits, the first of which was to Biddulph Grange near Congleton. The National Trust gardens have fairly recently been returned to something like their Victorian splendour and are themselves worth a visit, but I was also keen to see the house where my mother spent the first part of her nursing career in the early forties. Sadly the house isn’t open to visitors and anyway much has undoubtedly changed in the eighty intervening years, but it was nice to establish a link with her past and to see something of what she experienced as a sixteen or seventeen year-old living away from home and family for the first time.
Leaving Biddulph we Googled a few local campsites and eventually ended-up at Berry Bank Farm at Wildboarclough just south of Macclesfield on the edge of the Peak District National Park. A little bit on the basic side but perfect for our needs: cheap, scenic and not exactly crowded – in fact when we arrived we were the only guests (perhaps that had something to do with the fact that we were at 1,250 feet and it was blowing a hooley). By the time evening came there was just us, 250 sheep and their lambs, three ponies and a young Polish couple who spent the first part of their stay trying to pitch their tent in a Force 8 gale – so we weren’t short of entertainment.
It’s occurred to me that, notwithstanding its title, this blog has been lamentably short on Triumph material of late – so I thought that I’d provide a quick summary of recent progress (or lack of it) with our four cars which, by the way, now have a combined age of 206 years!
As the most recent member of the family/fleet the Herald has had the lion’s share of attention over the past couple of years and is now, at last, approaching completion. The cancellation of Classic Le Mans for the past couple of years provided a convenient breathing space (and excuse) for taking the final stages of the rebuild quite slowly, but with the rebuild of the overdrive completed (thank you Eric) and the replacement seats (from an MX5) installed, the car was finally ready for a new hood to be fitted by Cliff Griffiths. It now looks the business and just needs a bit of fettling to make it completely ‘match fit’.
Towards the end of last year the GT6 and Stag moved barns and unfortunately attracted the attention of the local rodent population. This provided the incentive for me to bring them back to the house (the cars, not the mice) – which in turn has made it easier for me to get to grips with their maintenance and repair. Over the past couple of months I’ve rebuilt the Stag’s front suspension and fitted the two new exhaust boxes that I bought a little while back. While spending some time under the car I couldn’t help but notice a couple of bodywork problems and as I write the car is spending a couple of days in the body shop having those sorted. With that done I need to get to grips with the hood frame with the aim of getting Cliff to fit a new hood later in the year.
Despite having a brain the size of a planet I’ve been known to do some stupid things from time to time. Whilst working on the GT6 engine a couple of months ago I allowed the bonnet to drop from a great height, with the inevitable result that several small dents will need to be repaired and the bonnet resprayed. That done my intention is to sell the car – partly because it isn’t getting enough use, and partly because it’s so low that I now have trouble getting in and out!
Finally, the TR3A continues to provide great fun whilst needing little or no work other than routine maintenance (famous last words!). An oil change and coolant flush will be due shortly and we may consider selling it later this year or early next to provide funds for something slightly more civilized or exotic!
Day 6 took us from The Kyle of Tongue around Loch Ereboll, past Durness and down to Scourie. The scenery in this far corner of North West Sutherland is impressive, not least for the feeling of emptiness it imparts to those passing through. If you’re turned-on by wide open spaces with nothing but moorland, water and mountains then forget New Zealand and save yourself the airfare to the southern hemisphere. Ask yourself why(apart from the fact he’s a Kiwi) did Peter Jackson decide to go all that way to film The Lord of the Rings when he had everything he needed on the doorstep? The scenery’s perfect and Gaelic even sounds like a cross between Elvish and Orkish.
The caves at Smoo (yes, really) were a worthwhile stop. A narrow and deep rocky inlet leads into a series of massive caves that have apparently seen human habitation for thousands of years – including use by marauding Vikings (I’m not sure why, but Vikings somehow just have to be described as ‘marauding’ –whoever heard of ‘visiting’ Vikings?).
A short evening stroll from the campsite at Scourie up to the overlooking headland took us past the local cemetery which we noticed contains a single military war grave of a young sailor who died on 26th December 1939. Presumably he was lost from a passing Royal Navy warship and buried where he came ashore. Over the years we’ve visited a good many Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries, all of which have been kept in wonderful condition. This particular gravestone, however, was badly worn to the point where it was almost undecipherable and the grave was obviously untended and rather sad. A snottagram to the CWGC will follow shortly.
From Scourie we took the ‘B’ road that skirts Eddrachillis Bay through Drumbeg before re-joining the main road just short of Lochinver. The twenty-five mile detour took about two hours with much of the journey done in first or second gear with Denise clenching her buttocks or stretching for the brake pedal every time we went over a blind rise or down a steep slope; given that I was driving neither action had much effect on our progress but was probably excellent exercise.
The drive from Lochinver down to Ullapool was pleasant but uneventful, though we stopped briefly to visit another scenic ruin at Ardvreck Castle, tutting under our breath at those who seemed unable to understand the signs which implored visitors not to clamber on the fragile ruins. Ullapool itself is a nice little fishing port which also acts as the terminal for the ferry to Stornaway. After a short cycle ride we enjoyed a fish and chip supper whilst chatting to a couple who entertained us with hair-raising tales about the minor road that we’d planned to take to Applecross the next day. We’ll have to see whether Denise’s buttocks will allow us to take that particular route.
Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s TSSC trip to Spa we decided that for 2016 we’d ‘double up’ and join in with the Club’s planned trips to both Laon and Le Mans. As we once again planned to camp it was an easy decision to take the Stag, which has enough room to squeeze in essentials such as camp-beds, extra blankets and a comprehensive toolkit.
The attractive provincial French city of Laon sits on one of Picardie’s rocky outcrops just to the north west of Reims, and as the drive from Calais passes through the Somme region we decided that after the Laon events we’d stop off for an extra night in Albert to visit a couple of the July 1916 battlefields.
In company with six other intrepid members of Gloucester TSSC we crossed from Dover early on the Thursday morning and then enjoyed an excellent and fairly uneventful drive through rural France, ending up in the central square at Arras with around five hundred other classics just in time for lunch.
Arriving at our camp site just outside Laon in the late afternoonfate intervened. Having stopped the car for a few minutes to help move a tent I jumped back in again to find that the power steering had packed in. Disaster! The wheel wouldn’t turn at all in one direction and would only move jerkily (a word I never knew existed) in the other. Doom and gloom descended as I made arrangements for the car to be recovered (likely to take weeks), cancelled our stay in Albert and contemplated the prospect of once again attending a classic event without a classic car. Fortunately at that moment a fellow traveller (thanks Matt) made the sensible suggestion to see whether the car would steer with the power steering disconnected. It would – albeit you quickly develop arms like Schwarzenegger.
The rest, as they say, is historique. Saturday involved a 100+km ‘topless’ route through the local countryside, whilst on Sunday everyone congregated in the centre of Laon to show off their cars before tearing through the cobbled streets at high speed whilst the local gendarmerie conveniently looked the other way. Overall a lovely weekend in great company with more than a thousand classic cars as a bonus. Next stop Le Mans – what can possibly go wrong …….?
Yeah, right! Unfortunately Bertie’s been anything but dependable of late. Having behaved himself reasonably well on what was his first ‘commercial engagement’ for Dan and Hannah Eales’ wedding, he then let himself down on the homeward journey by conking out about a mile from home. Perhaps it was the excitement of the occasion, or maybe he just wanted to assert his independence, but whatever the cause, and despite my best efforts, he’s stubbornly refused to start for the last four weeks.
Now that wouldn’t have been too bad if he hadn’t been needed for Jennie’s wedding just a fortnight after he decided to throw a hissy fit. Anyway, when it became increasingly clear that he was likely to be ‘hors de combat’ for the big event I had to make the hard decision to leave Bertie on the touchline and put some extra effort into getting the Stag ready for a starring performance at Jennie and Nathan’s wedding. Now there’s a turn-up for the book …….. a ‘dependable Austin’ being substituted by a car which, to put it mildly, doesn’t really have much of a reputation for reliability!
But stranger things have happened and in the end the Stag played a blinder, motoring the 462 miles to Thirsk and back without missing a beat, and getting our little girl to the church (well, more of a Teepee really) on time and in a certain amount of style. As I think I’ve said before, when it comes to classic and vintage motoring its always a good thing to have the odd spare car knocking around – just in case!
No excuse really, other than whenever my conscience has told me to sit down and update the blog there always seems to have been a valid reason/excuse for not doing so. Its not as though we’ve been sat at home twiddling our thumbs without having lots to report – such as buying (another) Triumph, a fun trip to Belgium (not a phrase that would readily spring to mind), an enjoyable reunion with old friends and a few days camping on the South Coast, to name but a few.
Anyway, with that confession out of the way I can now hopefully get back to reporting the odd short snapshot of Ewbank life as and when interesting things happen that liven up our otherwise bleak and empty lives……………..
The latest addition to the motoring stable is a 1975 Triumph Stag bought at auction back in May. With the rebuild of the GT6 more or less complete it started to dawn on me that, lovely little car though it may be, driving the tiny Triumph for longer distances was going to be a less than comfortable experience – the fact that I need a Stannah Stairlift to extract myself from the driver’s seat says it all. Despite their early reputation of abysmal reliability I’ve always liked the lines of the Michelotti designed Stag, and the noise of that Triumph V8 is just wonderful – so when three cars came up for auction at Brightwells back in May I decided to take a look.
Examining the three offerings was like a scene out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one was a complete wreck and would obviously take years to restore, the next was low mileage and therefore likely to be expensive …… and the last, it seemed to me, was ‘just right’. The rest, as they say, is history; six days later the car was sat on the drive at home with a brand new MOT and ready for some serious tinkering.
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and an occasional account of goings-on in the Ewbank household