Difficult to say much more about this than has already been said! I persuaded Bevan Blacker we needed to go and do this event, having heard stories from some curly haired lad residing in Kirkby Lonsdale and various SW navigators. Those tales seemed too tall and could not be true, could they?
Entry in, chauffeur found (cheers Simon Frost) and then an enjoyable festive break was spent sliding round Croft at the Christmas Stages in the newly log booked car. A nice 30 mile stage rally to warm up for 200miles in the mud covered lanes of Somerset.
Arriving in plenty of time we were quickly through scrutineering with no issues, noise was more tricky as it was in a boggy field and a car in front nearly didn’t make it back out. Being a pre-plot event there usually isn’t much to do until first handout but this was different, all neutrals provided and then 8 marked maps to transfer consisting of about 100 points to transfer to your map. The first handout then had you trace between the points with arrivals and departs, a very neat way of providing the route. Jez Turner and Moz Ellison provided light entertainment from the high concentration while they prepared for marshaling.
Nerves were high, no dinner had been eaten as usual and 2pm lunch seemed like a long time ago when at 11.04 when we set off into the night. We were happy at car 20, especially when the clerk of the course, Roger Hunt, had revealed that of the 47 experts in the field, 40 of them had wins. We were not one of those crews so felt fortunate to be so high. We set off to the first selective and I informed Bevan that this was now 1hr back to back so don’t worry about asking me if it was neutral out of control, just make sure he is on it out of every control.
The first few miles must have been chosen specifically to be the most slippy roads of the night as we nearly careered off within 3miles of the start, I gave a warning which is very unlike me, but I hadn’t come 5hrs drive to go off in the first section. The grip came back and we were soon on our 2min man (car 19 hadn’t started) who dived out the way to let us past, most considerate. We dropped 28s at the first control and then cleaned the next, the 3 rd control I we waited outside as we arrived at 55s and I wanted to drop a further 5s, giving us 1min penalty but then giving us a good chance of cleaning the “time to the minute” section next. Unfortunately the marshal timed us on sight rather than when we passed the board, but that’s life and we cleaned the next section anyway.
The lanes were extraordinary; narrow, covered in mud (think the muddiest white in Derbyshire and those are yellows in Somerset) and braking was treacherous, plus the pace was relentless and we were only just getting back into the routine at controls having not done a night rally since July. After a few moments the car, unusually being French, was going really well and appeared ideally suited to the demands of the event. Although calling, “caution, hump back bridge” was like a red rag to a bull and as we could see the control and we went flat, landing well. I even remember thinking that the dampers stood up to that test well.
Half an hour later it was clear that the rear dampers had both blown. Maybe they had cried their last with one final heroic effort before surrendering. This made handling unpredictable and we had a few moments on the brakes as the rear end made a bid for freedom although that didn’t stop us recording a fastest section overall before petrol halt.
1 st petrol at 80 miles and we lay 8th with fellow northerners who’d made the long journey; Danny Cowell 6th , Peter Scott 18th and Andy Ritchie/Terry Martin 32nd and about 10 cars had pulled out already. I was already starting to lose my voice…. I hid in the car checking my plotting as nerves were still high.
Onto Map 181 for the next leg and already we had a 3min gap in front of us as we re-joined our scheduled time but that didn’t stop us catching a smart Proton Satria who quickly pulled over and left us enough room to squeeze by half in a ditch. Our good fortune continued when we slid wide on a treacherous slot left and clouted a bank putting the car up on two wheels much to the spectators’ amusement. Seemingly with no damage done we continued at pace and our consistency paid off because at 2nd Petrol (161 miles) we were up to 5th overall, a fact I neglected to tell Bevan about as we still had 45miles to go. Although I did offer some encouragement as he was complaining his arms were sore!
The final sections were no less arduous although we did get a 15m break in between two lengthy sections to transport, one of few between petrol halts. It’s difficult to describe just how relentless it is going back to back competitive for so long and we were by this time counting down to the finish, knowing we’d achieve what we’d set out to do. With 15miles to go we slotted left off a short section of B road, steep downhill, 300 to 90R 90L in farmyard where we came across the unfortunate sight of one of the quick Seat Ibiza’s being friendly with a telegraph pole. Both crew were okay but the car was in 2nd and I knew we were now up to 4th , now trying to keep it together.
The final marshal congratulated us on finishing which was a nice touch and we slowly made our way to Ralegh’s Cross Inn for breakfast at 6.15am. 210 miles all in and we were both shattered. There were only 21 classified finishers on what was a very very tough event and I now appreciate the endurance element of road rallying. It had been described to me as the unofficial inter area association championships and this seems fitting with representation from all the main areas of the country. The title went to Wales, Mark Lennox/Max Freeman in an Escort Mk2 and as the only none welsh crew in the top 5 we upheld Yorkshire honor.
Highly recommended for 2019 and it would be great to see some familiar northern crews tackle this. Yes it is a 5hr drive, yes that is a long way and a full weekend but is it worth it? I’d do it again next weekend.
Niall Frost, Navigator – Car 20, Peugeot 106 – 4th Overall
2018 has come around and the first night event of the year is one of the best.
The Bagger starts in Chard, Somerset and takes on 200 miles of lanes around the Devon and Somerset borders towards Wellington and onto Ralegh’s Cross Inn on Exmoor. 44 crews headed to the South West from as far away as Kinross (a mere 460 miles away!), Whitehaven, Redcar, Caernarfon & Jersey all bringing a great selection of cars prepared to tackle the night ahead. Escorts, Impreza’s, Astra GTE’s and even a little Ford Ka and Nissan Micra all congregated at the Windwistle Inn at Cricket St Thomas to plot the 64 via points, 30 PCs and road sections ready for the handout later on to find out which was through those via’s to go.
21:30 soon came and Aled Richards, navigator in car 1, picked up his plotting instructions and headed back to the car to plot the route. A few pages of approaches and departs from each via and pc followed the challenging route that awaited. Just an hour and fifteen minutes later John Davies & Aled Richards left the car park in their Vauxhall Astra GTE ready to take on the lanes.
A short 5 mile run out took crews south of Tatworth to TC2 to start the first section. Through Burridge and Cotley before heading onto the first white back to Burridge, one PC and another TC already down. Through Brockfield, Narfords and up onto Bewley Down for the next control. The lanes were surprisingly wet and muddy already, but are they any different at this time of year around there?!
A quick run along the top of the hill and down to Twist, a great road with 90 degree junctions and jumps, a challenging road to read from the map as well as for the drivers to see. Up past Membury Castle and down the very fast road to just outside of Axminster before a hairpin right and up along side of the river Yarty. Over the river to Beckford to the first diagram of the night, a double triangle, keeping to the right of both into the PC before a hairpin left and back down along the other side of the riverbank.
Up over Danes Hill and Horner Hill to Heathstock where a few tight junctions kept drivers on their toes before heading past South Mill, Broadhayes and Ford. A couple tricky slots then followed which were situated on the top of browns on a hill, keeping eyes and brake systems working! Around Shortmoor and down the hill to Lake Farm, this year there were no signs of any car’s taking out the gateway just after the ford! Over the top of Rower Hill with another 90 right on the brow of a hill to keep crews awake and around to the other side of Stockland. Thats the Stockland maze complete and to be honest, I thought Roger was light on us! Is you haven’t been to the area before, imagine around 20 junctions, whites and LWR triangles all in that area, this year it was a fairly straight run through!
Down to Longbridge and slot 90 right at the crossroads, looking at the road some competitors took it fairly quickly and took off at the bridge just before, making it a little interesting stopping in time for the slot! Along through Yartyford and around the North Mill loop, looking at the map the corners after just look like a 45 left into 90 right into 30 left, not quite what it looks like when you get there!
Past Membury Court and up to a junction that seems to have caught a few people out. A slot right onto a white took people off route and down to a farm, dropping them time getting all the way down there to turn around. The junction to take was not as sharp as the white and then slotted 90 left onto another white into a PC. Down the steep hill and back up the other side of the valley through Farley before taking on the gated road to Godworthy. After the farm a track heading straight on at a 90 left with no hedges caught a few drivers out before stopping at the next time control just before the final gate.
Down the hill towards Webble Green before slotting right to Luggs, through the Yarty ford and up to the second LWR junction of the event. A tight slot right with a wall on the outside caught out a few who’s handbrakes weren’t working as well as desired! Up to Four Elms and down the A30 before slotting down the road east of Moorhayne and up the north side of Rower hill all the way up to the Seven Mile Straight for the end of the first section.
Andy Davies & Michael Gilbey (Impreza) had taken the early lead with a time of 04.12, Mark Lennox & Max Freeman (Mk2 Escort) were close behind on04:26 with Richard James & Dafydd Sion Lloyd a further 2 seconds behind them. A minute later in fourth were George Williams & Dan Stone (Mk2 Escort) with Iwan Jones & Stewart Merry fifth quickest on 06:20. The only Novice crew still in the event was Aubery Bage & Shaun Tolman (Rover 200) with a time of 52:50.
A neutral section then took crews along the A303 and along Marsh bypass to the start of the next section to the east of Bishopswood. Along the top of Longlie Common and down Cinder Hill to Knapp Farm, always a little slippery going into the buildings and a few round bales sending crews LWR just after the farm took competitors into PC7. Under the A303 and around the back of Marsh and up over North Common, this road is fairly cut up now so getting to the control just before the Brown Down was a little interesting!
Competitors then headed along Brown Down and slotted left towards Watchford. Another LWR diagram took crews into their first codeboard of the night before travelling along the unfenced road and to the usual loop between Churchinford and South Down. A square bale helped crews avoid the spring when travelling around the triangle and up the washed out hill. Once at the top it was straight back down past Luxton and over the hump back bridge at the bottom. Give way right and around the Twistgates loop and up Beacon Hill. Just before the give way junction the road gets quite steep and goes into a hairpin left 90 right, all hidden under a gradient arrow on the map. Local knowledge would have helped a little here.
Up onto the edge of Smeatharpe airfield and back down Chapelhayes hill to PC10. Great to see some of the Welsh crew’s had brought along a marshal or two with them, one crew being here before getting some shut eye before meeting everyone at the finish.
Down to the edge of Upottery and back up the hill past the football field. Unfortunately not heading south at the top of the hill towards Luppitt Hairpin, but turning right and left to go through the small avenue of trees before crossing the Luppitt Common road and completing a loop around The Knowle. Back onto the Common road and down the long straight road between Smeatharpe Banger Track and the airfield. A test of nerve for crews at the end to see who would take the ‘Bush Chicane’ flat out.
Down through Valentines, muddy as usual, with a few crews taking the bump before the triangle flat, landing in the middle of the grassy muddy triangle, I’m sure a few bums were clenched here! Past the Bolham Fishing site and around the top of Bolham Water. Crews then headed back the opposite way along the top of Ridgewood Hill to Higher Munty before heading down towards the village of Willand. A missing control here caused several people to drop time when double checking it’s whereabouts. Down Brimley Hill and across the Culm a couple times before skirting Hemyock and up Clayhidon Hill to the final control of the second section.
Quickest through the second section were Lennox/Freeman dropping just 01:10 with Jones/Merry just 16 seconds behind. In joint third were Davies/Richards and Reian Jones & Cadog Davies (Ibiza) both on 03:12 with Bevan Blacker & Niall Frost (106) in fifth on 03:44. Bage/Tolman were still going in the Novice class, missing quite a few control though picking up a total time of 1:12:25.
Crews then took the neutral section down Wellington hill and to the Shell garage in Wellington for the first petrol halt. 10 car’s didn’t make it this far, with problems ranging from too many punctures & bend steering racks to crew members being ill and even a navigator shutting her hand in the car door! Results at first petrol were as follows:
1st – Mark Lennox & Max Freeman, Ford Escort RS – 0:05.36
2nd – Iwan Jones & Stewart Merry, Ford Escort RS – 0:07.46
3rd – Richard James & Dafydd Sion Lloyd, MG ZR – 0:09.25
4th – John Davies & Aled Richards, Vauxhall Astra GTE – 0:10.10
5th – Telor Pugh & Andrew Edwards, Seat Ibiza – 0:11.46
6th – Danny Cowell & Mark Appleton, Subaru Impreza – 0:11.49
7th – Reian Jones & Cadog Davies, Seat Ibiza – 0:12.28
8th – Bevan Blacker & Niall Frost, Peugeot 106 – 0:13.59
9th – George Williams & Dan Stone, Ford Escort RS – 0:14.24
10th – Matthew Maidment & Byron Jones, Peugeot 205 GTi – 0:15.46
1st Novice – Aubery Bage & Shaun Tolman, Rover 200 – 2:05.15
Down the A38 towards Willand and onto section 3 starting next to the sand pits near White Ball. Along the edge of the Grand Western Canal and up towards Kytton Barton, crossing the canal twice before passing Greenham Barton and Thorne St Margaret and then back down to Cothay Manor. Up to the edge of Poleshill ford, unfortunately not using it (probably a wise move this time of year!) and through Kittisford Barton and Stawley before heading to the fifth LWR near Bathealton Court.
Heading north east and slotting under the old railway bridge the route then took competitors past the old Waterrow settlement and down to Hagley Bridge. Down the Norman valley and up and over Waldron’s Hill before the big climb up to Ashbrittle. Along the top of the hill to Thorn Cross, using this twice, the first time heading down past Stallenge-Thorne Farm and to Karswell Cross, another double junction. Through Hockford Waters and along the bottom of Beer Down crews soon came across the fifth and final LWR diagram. A deceptive farm that has a total of three entrances, many competitors going for the first one or overshooting the second, local or regular competitors in the area will know the far can only be used one way so would have gained some time here coming into the PC. Looping back up to Karswell Cross and to a third double crossroads to the north consisting of a rough yellow and a couple tight slot lefts.
Crews headed along the bottom of Bampton Down and up to the five cross way with the B3227 at Petton before heading back down to Thorn Cross for the second time. Looping back around the other side of Clayhanger and up to ITC30 followed by a rare neutral section!
Crews headed through Waterrow, keeping as quite as possible, and into MTC33 for the start of the next section near Wiveliscombe. A nice fast 90 left into long hairpin right into 60 left on the B-road started everyone off before slotting 90 left a couple times and up Heydon Hill. Before reaching the top competitors slotted down a bumpy white before heading back down the hill to Raddington and then looping back up to Little Heydon around the base of Bittescombe Hill and down Quartley hill and around the back of Shillingford.
Once over the River Batherm crews tackled a very muddy slippery white around the back of Bampton and another bumpy more solid one onto of Bampton Down finishing with a tight short way round triangle back onto the tarmac. Down to Van Post and Coombe the route went through Uplowman before heading back north up and down the hills past Fair Oak. Another loop skirting the edge of Westleigh quarry took competitors to the final control of the section ontop of the Grand Western Canal Bridge just outside of Sampford Peverell.
Quickest through this section by quite some way were Davies/Richards dropping just 03:09, almost 5 minutes ahead of the second quickest crew Lennox/Freeman on 08:08. Close behind were Telor Pugh & Andrew Edwards (Ibiza), locals James How & Nic Jones (MG ZR) and Jones/Davies on 08:13, 08:41 and 08:57 respectively. Novices Bage & Tolman were keeping at it but struggling to keep ahead of OTL, missing some controls to stay in the event picking up a total of 1:56:03.
A short run down the M5 took crews to a splash and dash fuel stop at Cullumpton Services. Results here were as follows:
1st – John Davies & Aled Richards, Vauxhall Astra GTE – 0:13.19
2nd – Mark Lennox & Max Freeman, Ford Escort RS – 0:13.44
3rd – Telor Pugh & Andrew Edwards, Seat Ibiza – 0:19.59
4th – Reian Jones & Cadog Davies, Seat Ibiza – 0:21.25
5th – Bevan Blacker & Niall Frost, Peugeot 106 – 0:26.15
6th – Matthew Maidment & Byron Jones, Peugeot 205 GTi – 0:31.14
7th – Ross Whittock & Richard Crozier, Rover 25 – 0:33.49
8th – Phil Harris & Liam Burns, Subaru Impreza – 0:37.44
9th – James How & Nic Jones, MG ZR – 0:38.02
10th – Dan Darkin & Nick Darkin, Subaru Impreza – 0:38.04
1st Novices – Aubery Bage & Shaun Tolman, Rover 200 – 4:01.18
Onto the final push now, the first section starting a little ways up the Wressing white and long way around the triangle at the end before heading up onto Whitmoor. Heading south and long way round the square near Sandfield and up to the East of Ashill before a loop around Fox Hill and past Leigh Court and up onto Hemyock Common. The end of this road is a little difficult to read with the corners taking crews between maps 181 and 192 a few times before looping around the base of Hackpen Hill and down to the B3391. A quick hop over the river Culm and along the Culm Davy white before getting to the top of the Blackdowns next to Wellington Monument for the end of the section.
A long (for the Bagger…) link section took crews through Wellington and up to Chipley near Milverton for the start of the final section, could the remaining crews make it to the end?
Through Bindon, over Slape Moor and through Croford before a long way round mapped triangle south of Fitzhead. Skirting the edge of Halse and through Ash Priors, crews took the scenic route to Handy Cross via Pyleigh, West Leigh and Gulden Manor. Avoiding Lydeard St Lawrence crews headed around Crowcombe Heathfield and back down to Coleford Water before a long run north over the level crossing near Lawford and up to a tricky to spot footpath past Heddon Oak. Another mapped long way round triangle to get the correct approach for PC33 before back to another double use junction and down to Leigh Cottage, Castlake Farm and a loop to get a PC above Higher Vexford. A run then down past Willett House and down to the base of Willett Hill and to the B3224 to the final control of the night! A short run west then took crews up onto the top of Exmoor and to the welcome sight of Ralegh’s Cross Inn for a well deserved breakfast!
The final section saw Lennox/Freeman take the quickest time dropping just 03:40 with Jones/Davies a further 22 seconds behind. Current leaders Davies/Richards dropped 05:40 with Matthew Maidment & Byron Jones (205 GTi) on a final push in fourth with 07:21 and locals How/Jones 16 seconds behind them. Bage/Tolman managed to make it to the finish, picking up a 1:50:00 penalty on the final section, quite a lot but they were the only novice crew to finish!
After a brief wait for the final crews to clock in, the marshals to bring their check sheets in and have a breakfast, the results crews were done and the results were made final. Lennox/Freeman managed to take the win back from Davies/Richards on the final section, winning the event by 1:35. Pugh/Edwards got a bit close to a concrete block near the end causing some damage to their Ibiza moving Jones/Davies into third, a whole 6:21 behind second place. A further 10 minutes behind were Yorkshire’s Blacker/Frost to finish forth and Maidment/Jones were fifth with a time of 0:38.19. Full results for the night can be found if you head over to www.britishroadrallying.com/bagger-2018-results
A final thank you goes to Roger Hunt for putting a fantastic route together, the rest of the organising team at VCRR Rallies, mtc1 for doing the results, the fantastic marshals, some of whom we saw three or four times throughout the night, the PR crews for their time and efforts visiting all the houses on route, the start and finish venues and also the fellow competitors for keeping the event going.
If you think you’ve done the best event in the UK, I would try this one first before you make your mind up…
Daniel Pidgeon, Navigator – Car 36, Nissan Micra – 10th Overall
Thanks to Jez Turner (www.facebook.com/jez.turner) & M&H Photography (www.mandhphotography.co.uk) for all of the photos! Make sure you check out their pages for more examples and for details on how to purchase yourself a copy!