A dead-of-night blast along the Welsh border will never be forgotten

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Author: James ElliottPublished:

My list of dream drives is endless – and I'll revisit that along with some escapades that never quite came off another time – but it brings to mind the equally thorny issue of what is the best drive I have had to date.

As you can imagine, given my 16 years on C&SC and some of the kit and roads/tracks I have been privileged to experience, this is not easy.

What took me aback rather was how many of the shortlist I made up was in my own cars… and not exactly at the high-end of the glamour scale.

An MSA tour in the Elan, Prescott Hillclimb Driver's School, plenty of Poor Boys Runs in all manner of cars, the first convoy down to the Le Mans Classic, my first hillclimb (Wiscombe, way back when).

It seems that atmosphere and a sense of camaraderie mean a lot to me, which probably explains why the winner (until my fading memory brings to the fore something else I have forgotten) was a frantic dash along the Welsh borders in 2000.

It may have been sleep deprivation that made this memory shine (Clements and I had already been on the road for a solid 30-hours plus by that point), or perhaps it was simply the fact that, given our ragged state, we survived.

The reason we were travelling along these deserted (apart from Triumphs) roads in the dead of night was that it was part of the route for Club Triumph's Round Britain Reliability Run.

It was our first (of two successful) attempt(s) at this marathon event in my 1965 2000/2.5PI before our relationships and kids moved it to the back-burner (though every two years we feverishly talk about signing up again).

The roads were fantastic, real rally territory, and in the middle of nowhere where it is that much darker, a few extra spotlights on the front of the car wouldn't have gone amiss.

By the time we left Chester we had already decided that the stretch from John O'Groats to Fort William comprised the finest driving roads that we would ever encounter.

But throw in the thrill of darkness, some niggly roads and the only sound being the occasional blat of a Triumph 'four', 'six' or V8 and somehow the experience, and the senses, were greatly heightened on a later section.

I vividly remember at one earlier point the road splitting and, unsure which way we were meant to be going, being able to safely slew to a halt in the middle of the road while we made up our minds.

Truth be told, it wasn't really the longest, toughest, fastest or any other '-est' section of the 48-hour, 2000-mile event (London-John O'Groats-Land's End-London), but it struck a chord that has remained with me ever since.

It was as if we were transported back to the age when our cars were new and what real night rallying would have been like, as if we were on some reckless jaunt run by a university motor club.

It clearly wasn't just us, either.

By the time we had crossed the Severn Bridge and reached the stop at Gordano Services at 2.59am, everyone else seemed to be experiencing the same mixed emotions of relief and elation, adrenalin-fuelled hyperactivity swiftly followed by a huge down as if our batteries had ran out.

As we threw back some coffee and pastries, some (myself and most other then-drivers) jabbered endlessly about the last 20 miles worth of roads while others (Al and most other then-navigators) sat in stony silence.

Given the impact this brief route cameo had on me, it is a surprise that I had to be reminded of the precise roads by tireless Club Triumph RBRR organiser Tim Bancroft.

He kindly scanned the 2000 route book for me and I have spent the morning retracing it on the internet.

When Al and I usually discuss it, and rather sadly we still do, we describe it as the Oswestry to Bristol section, but while it is all good, it builds to a crescendo and only becomes phenomenal towards the end.

Like all great drives in the Welsh borders it starts with the A49 and a blast around the Ludlow bypass down to Leominster and on to Monmouth.

But it is at Monmouth that you are at the gateway to greatness.

If you are in the area, take the direct route to the bridge on the A466 and follow the River Wye all the way down to Chepstow and the M48 – you won't regret it.

So much so that, when I was in that part of the world some years later, I tried to recreate this trip, even joining the A466 much higher up – turning off the A49 at the Pilgrim Hotel and taking Tump Lane across to the A466 at Wormelow, adding a further 12 miles on the A466 – but it wasn't quite the same.

A quick Google of A466 Monmouth reveals that the wondrousness of this road is familiar to many and you can even experience it yourself (sort of) thanks to someone recording it and posting a video on YouTube.

In the meantime, the next Round Britain Reliability Run is in 2014. I think it is time Al and I made good on our biennial promise to do it again.

Comments

clark

This is my drive home every day, in an eager - if bit knackered - BMW 323 estate. I wish I had something more challenging to tackle it, I'll miss it when I end up having to go back to London.

Chris Martin

Yep there is something magical about that stretch. I first went there in the sixties on a school trip and stayed at Llandogo for a week. We explored various ruins as one does on such excursions, Tintern, Chepstow, the standing stones at Trelleck, Roman ruins at Caerleon, or was it Caerwent - maybe both, even a coal mine training centre somewhere west of there, but the winding river valley between the steeply wooded hills always stuck with me such that any time I was in the area I would divert a few miles just to include the Monmouth to Chepstow run. Twelve years ago my new (Australian) wife had to visit an old friend who was working at a hospital in Cardiff and I insisted on showing her the wonders of Symonds Yat ('twas a bit foggy that morning, so not it's best) and then drove over to Momouth just to show her what was always MY favourite drive. It didn't need any adrenalin rush from being on a night rally, just cruising along taking it easy enjoying the views, sometimes in the shade, then occasionally seeing a bit of sky through a break in the trees. A couple of picturesque villages later the valley opens out a little and then you come round a corner to be confronted by the ghostly outline of Tintern Abbey rising out of the mist. Worth the trip alone just for the view; Disney could not come up with anything better, but for anyone not familiar with the area take a day out, if it is sunny, drive to the top of Symonds Yat, otherwise there is a lot to enjoy with a lazy day's sightseeing in Monmouth, Tintern and Chepstow Castle. Then one last run back up the Wye.
Thanks for reminding me James!

 

AndyThompson

Love that stretch - eyes on stalks , howling through the valley at 7000rpm in Nigel Gairs 2000 with 400W of cibies leading a snake of cars to threading down to the Severn bridge. Then a flat out burn to Gordano with blue flames from exhausts on the old M4.

Do it again Mr Elliott!!!

Andy T

Owner of a mobile scrapyard in Perth

James Elliott

If I remember rightly Andy T, your eyes were even more on stalks in 2002 after you drank a whole crate of Red Bull in four hours!

Group Editor, C&SC

Chris Martin

Eh? How many in a crate?

 

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