I’m a HGV driver, I’ve been driving these bloody awful things now for twenty odd years, and I despise them so much. It’s taken me forty six years to find what I want to do in life, I want to try and let people see into mine and others peoples thoughts. I’m no Francesco Rastrelli or Tony Large, so photography is a no go, but what I am is passionate and can sometimes get this across with my words.
I never really thought about just how much I loved Rallying until I stood alone at sunrise over John O’Groats, the clouds had shifted shape many times, the colour of them, however, was evolving just as rapidly. From the cold light of dawn, until just before the sun broke the horizon the clouds changed from a very pale gold to a fiery crimson which looked as if the sky was on fire, it moved me to tears. The tears weren’t just about the sky; they were about what me, my partner in crime Bob Hargreaves and the rest of the people involved with this amazing event had gone through in some seventy odd hours.
Bob and I had set off to Lands End at around 10:30 on Friday morning, we had a great run down and were sat in the Lands End hotel with our dinner suit’s on for 19:30. Something was a little surreal, we had travelled down with an eclectic mix of snow shovel, basic hand tools, dinner jackets and clothes to keep us going, we had arrived for the opening meal in a 4 metre long panel van, not a classic sports/rally car and I must admit I was a little bemused by this. As the night wore on, we spoke to many people, some familiar faces, some who weren’t but came to be friends by the end of the event. At ten o’clock, it was if the plague had entered the room as it emptied rapidly, crews scurrying away as if the fateful clock had chimed 12 before they got into bed, their cars would be pumpkins and the event over prematurely. Being new to Le Jog, we decided to have a mooch into a local Inn we had seen on the way down, a night cap to steady our nerves, heaven knows what the crews felt like. We wandered down the street, chattering away about past events here in the north, R.L. Brown, Devils Own (and tests!)and Countdown amongst others, we arrived at “The Navy Inn” in Penzance, immediately the bar tender who was about 6 foot 10 and 19 stone smirked as two likely lads in dinner suits wandered in, we immediately saw a pair of kindred spirits, Doc Horn and Andrew Muldoon, car 2, sat poring over their maps with heads in hands, They couldn’t grasp why the maps wouldn’t plot, neither could we after reading what instructions they had been given. It was only after speaking with the one and only Ryan Pickering we found out they had mislaid a vital piece of the route. However, Doc and Andrew made it to John O’Groats, something I was very happy to see.
A very fitful night was Friday, I hardly slept, my task as on event reporter and baggage lad was weighing heavy on my mind, there had been talk of poor reporting past and I did not want this to be part of my remit. As the event wore on, it became apparent why things weren’t as instantaneous as people want them to be. Living in Liverpool, everything is 24 Hour, full speed, fully charged, to go to some of the remoter parts of the UK and see that internet and social media isn’t a priority opened my eyes. Not the fact that Twitter wasn’t having none, not even if I stood on one leg with my tongue out. Our mobile phone/data service is pretty appalling in the outlying parts, and even though I had reports written, I didn’t have the necessary coverage to upload. It was like being back in the days of 56k dial up modems. It all comes down to corporate needs.
Friday nights lack of sleep came to an end, even my alarm couldn’t beat me as I was up and in the shower before it went off, down in the breakfast room we sat with Tony Large, David Winstanley and some other well known faces and names from around rallying, the talk was of the rigours of the coming days, whether the climate in Scotland would be as kind as it was being here in the south west… Once again the pumpkin effect happened and at 07:00 hours we all charged away for the 20 odd minute drives from our B&B to the start. The first car we saw being waved away was a beautiful Twin Cam Escort belonging to Dave Bryan, Clerk of Course Peter Nedin gracefully twirling the Flag of St.Piran over its bonnet for the gathered media. The sun rose and the sight, sounds and smells of various cars being strangled and coaxed into life were amazing. From humble Mini’s to booming Mercedes SL, from a dainty A35 to the Behemoth Range Rover and VW Iltis, the collection and diversity was outstanding, petrol head heaven.
I could have stayed there all day, it was obvious from the off who the movers and shakers for the top positions were, and those who wanted to be in with a chance were also conspicuous. Tony Sheach, who is as flamboyant behind the wheel as he is in a kilt was the epitome of commitment, I heard stories of the TR4 thrown through fords on valve bounce, and seeing some of the antics of Tony and his co-driver, Rob Kiff on video, the test pilot award was well deserved, every credit to you both. However, not for us a life of leisure, we had to be on our way, a date with the Bickford Arms, Brandish Corner and controlling an unruly bunch of rally drivers was on the cards. The rally traffic was easy, what a great bunch, it was interesting to see David Mustarde/Shon Gosling go straight into the on event service crew, who I have to say were bloody superb, I apologise for swearing but they were that good. Many crews would not have made it half way without their sterling efforts. A welcome distraction was the ever smiling Andy Ballantyne waving a camera in mine and Bob’s face, always a pleasure to see you pal, and to bring Ballantyne senior along was even better, then came the first bit of fun. Nissan Patrol pulls up, “Apologies Sir” Says I, “The car park is closed today due to the LE JOG Rally”. Gent in said car smiles at me and says, “we come here every day”, I re-iterate that the car park is closed for a couple of hours and if he’d be so kind as to park down the side of the establishment… It was then that a mushroom cloud of biblical proportions exploded over his head and that “ I was stopping him watching the rally”, I made him aware the landlord was inside and if he parked down the side he would be able to voice his concerns. A quick flounce of sorts and he realised “yer names not down yer not coming in” and trundled off. I do wish people would get their head round the fact that shouting at others doesn’t get you anywhere.. We had another couple of incidents similar, big lenses waved and the fact small children were in the car (don’t bring them next time!) were pushed upon us, not happening Guvnor!
Once again we had to depart, after greeting some old and new friends to the wonderful Porlock area, Porlock Car Park to be exact and directing rally traffic around the sumptuous Somerset Cream Teas provided by Porlock Ladies.. No sooner had you stepped into the memorial hall than these wonderful ladies ( I am told some of them are members of the Porlock over 60’s Tae-Kwon-Do club) arm wrestled you into submission and forced plates of scones and gallons of tea down you. Joking aside, these ladies are the fabric of the community, and this event. Their wonderful efforts deserve legendary status. There wasn’t much to report as we wound our way out of Somerset, the roads were hard work and it seemed to take an age to find our way to Gordano Services to catch the event up, we finally got there and I tried to email the first set of results and a small report of the events up to lunch, computer said no.. No amount of modem twiddling and Wi-Fi wangling would allow me to connect, the black hole of Gordano had sucked the Radio Frequency out of the ether and I believe that even Guy Woodcock who has permanent satellite link via NASA to HERO control centre had difficulty, it was the first sign that even by a major thoroughfare most mobile providers can’t give good data service. From here we entered Wales via the Severn Bridges, I had said to Bob to avoid them like the plague due to cost, but that is the way we were going, £12.40, I repeat, £12.40. I have nothing more to say on this except that all that money isn’t going on the roads on the Welsh side of the bridge. We ran up through Ross on Wye and on through some familiar territory before getting into Newtown at around midnight, a quick stop and chat with Director of HERO, Brian Whyte and an explanation I was doing all I could updating Twitter/Facebook and of course British Rally Forum, as well as the HERO website, we all had connectivity problems.
As crews came in, it was obvious that this night section was proving hard, the meat of it was to come as the event wound north into Llangollen via Berriew, a series of 4 minute sections would be tight and would keep the crews not just on their toes, but absolutely sprinting to the finish! A lot of cars came in with split exhausts, Richard Boughton/Kevin Savage were one of the main runners, making it this far after a very close call on Porlock Hill, being stranded for 20 plus minutes and only losing 1minute in penalties due to the nature of this events structure. I had the task of informing crews about a retrospective change in lateness at this point, I think only one crew were disgruntled by the sounds of it as I remember, most glad at the little extra to fettle their weary chariots and take a break. Past winners, Andy Lane and Iain Tullie came in, I waved them down to pass the message on about lateness to be barked at by Mr. Tullie that they couldn’t stop, I had to bite my tongue as for Iain to be that wound up, there had to be something wrong, I could see they were both under pressure, a true sign that this event was taking its toll as Tullie is normally ice cool. We waited until we had to go and make the final run to Llangollen, where at 4 am we got into bed, again that curse of writers hit me and the words started to swim in my head, two hours sleep I got and we were up, picking bags up and learning of crews who had gone out or simply could not go on further. It was here that for me one of the stories of the event was unfurling. Peter Bonham-Christie is a well known logistics entrepreneur, he owns Straight Eight logistics, and this year he was service crew for his Partner, Mel Hatton and Navigator Phillipa Robinson in the “Team Bluebirds” Riley 1.5. They had raised an enormous amount of money for charity, some £8000 on the premise they finished this event, they had some difficulty as this was their first ever rally, Phillipa was struggling at times and Mel was in awe of the pace of the event. They had broken a driveshaft on the night section, found someone to weld it for them at 5 AM and fixed it, the repair had caused a hub to split, so they loaded the Riley into a transporter and swapped an axle loaned to them in a garage of a friends friend who basically gave them the keys and said “Crack on!”. I can tell you that I was over the moon to see them pull over the line at JOG, sincere congrats ladies and to Peter, it was my pleasure and honour to share the event and some laughs with you.
So that’s the first leg over, I’m off to bed now and will rattle some more words off tomorrow and finish this off. Thanks for reading.
So today has seen me and my best pal, Jack Russell-Terrier out protecting the land we shoot over, it has given me time to reflect on what I have said, and what I want to say.. A few friends have commented that Le Jog wasn’t their idea of fun and too intense. Intense it is, a true contest of crew (notice I omit Man, as many Ladies have shown the lads the way to go.. Cap Doffed to Mel/Phillipa, Seren/Elise, Clare (no I) and Rachel for the ladies only crews from the UK.. One of the memories of the event comes from the lovely Pam Furnish, the car she co-piloted with Hubby Kevin taking the sumpguard off in Wales; they soldiered on, making the finish and I have to say Pam’s smile was one of the highlights of the event as she asked me to take pictures of them crossing the line, true rally people.
And so we left Llangollen, we were on pacenotes, neither of us needed maps for the corners, just the pure adrenalin of keeping up with the event had us both elated, we were on it. Bob drove up from Llangollen, our first call was at Clapham, passing by my old Gamekeepers work at Claughton, we were on it. I don’t think I have read a map better, we got caught from Wray to High Bentham behind a slower car, the 14 foot long Mercedes Van we had unable to pass on the narrow lanes, as soon as the car turned off it was “ 350, 30 right into 45 left tightens”.. Bob was pedalling. Hard. We had but a few minutes to get into the control as it opened and help out. Shon Gosling and his wife were there, unfortunately retired, the steering bent on Shon/David Mustarde’s car beyond repair.. Still the spirit of LeJog kept Shon in..We shared breakfast with them in Carlisle and bode them well, another pair of true rally people.
At Clapham, we got the shout to cut to Stanhope/Eastgate, cones were needed on a manoeuvrability test and we were loaded not just with bags, but also loads of cones, the van went quiet as we hit Ingleton to Hawes, Bob calling the crests as flat, as the sprinter van was.. truly flat. I had undoubted confidence in my co-driver, we kept it lit ‘til Hawes, until we joined on a stretch of road to Brough we knew but weren’t familiar with, the pedal was still in, we had limited time to reach Eastgate, the chief Marshal at this test, Joy, had been on the phone asking how long we would be, toe planted. We called into Middleton in Teesdale, met by John Kiff no less, it has been one of the experiences of the event to get to know people I have known and admired for years, some disappointing, some being far more (John Kiff, this is you amongst a few others) than I could have wished for, Bob Hargreaves the main one, we didn’t have a cross word for 6 days nearly. Bob, you Sir are a legend and a friend I never want to lose. At Middleton, we also met Fred Winter, a true character, we didn’t have much time to chat, but made acquaintances and that is for sure another person I will look forward to further getting to know.
And so we headed for Stanhope, we met Pete (Head Scrutineer who was marshal at Stanhope), I threw a clipboard at him through the opened window on the drivers side, “I want this time, this time now..” mimicking a crew under pressure.. “ If you want a time get a watch, now f*%k off..” said Pete with a dry smile, we cracked up laughing, shook the hand of yet another character of LeJog and made our way to Eastgate.
As we pulled up into the test, Joy came over and shook our hands, wherever we were, we always received an amazing welcome, everyone in Le Jog is against it, and no matter how small the difference you make, it is appreciated.. We spent as much time as possible at Eastgate, Bob is back there in 2014 as Chief Marshal on “The Flying Scotsman” and he wanted to get a feel for the place. We helped out setting cones and giving the HERO hi vis vests to those a little inconspicuous.. One sad thing that annoyed me here was a pair who turned up just as the first cars were due asking to marshal, Joy found them a job, which was obviously not what they wanted due to their expressions, they soon scarpered. The only bit of negativity I actively saw in 2100 miles of Le Jog.
We had to leave to get the competitors bags to The Crown and Mitre in Carlisle, before first car arriving. The roads from Stanhope to Carlisle Via Alston were tight and we were against the clock, a massive, massive thanks has to go to the marshals and section commanders who ran Sunday afternoon in the horrible weather we had, horizontal rain and howling winds, every single one of you that stood out in that, I doff my cap and thank you on behalf of HERO for the difference you made. True stars. We got to Carlisle handy, a few minutes to spare, the ensuing meal we shared with Gerd, James, Pete and others was superb.. James (Car 20) called a waitress over.. James is a stockbroker, and a laugh to boot. This very attractive waitress joined us.. James said “Can you recommend a red as fruity as you are?” I howled, I don’t think this young lass had ever come across such a person, on seeing she was embarrassed, James reeled his attentions in, and made sure she understood he was having a joke after a stressful day.. The rest of the meal went by and we actually got a great nights sleep.. That’s enough until tomorrow, I have a duck to roast and think about the mammoth day I have to portray tomorrow.. Thanks for reading and many thanks for the wonderful comments received.
Alright, it’s just over a week since I updated this, that duck is well and truly done and there are a few more to get ready today so I better crack on and cross the T’s etc…. Before I go into the final day of Le Jog and just how epic that final run up through Scotland was, I have to put something on the record about the ability to post stuff to the internet. There have been some comments about information being posted about the event being sketchy, or a lack of them. All I can say to this is unless people go out there and see how poor mobile data services are in the UK in not just remote but rural parts, you cannot understand the frustration of having an article ready and not being able to upload it. Even Wi-Fi spots in motorway services were poor when we used them, let’s face it, this event has been through some pretty remote places, and unless people are going to pay for a satellite phone for me to upload stuff with, they’ll just have to hang on a little while. It really brought home to me how impatient the internet has made us.
Ok, so we left Carlisle after a hearty breakfast, said our farewells to people who were leaving us and headed North, it was unbelievably warm and the trip from Carlisle up through the borders was pretty un-eventful, we navigated our way to Loch Lomond and then cleaned up a test that had been run by Fred Winter, all immaculately packed away and ready for collection! As we were loading up, two ladies of a certain age came wheeling into the car park and asked with some disappointment, “Where are all the cars?” Informing them that the test had ended whilst they were in their spa, and they would have to catch up if they wanted to see the vehicles of their youth competing. They declined, and said they had a pressing lunch appointment and bimbled off, it just proves how powerfully we are connected to these wonderful old cars. Two well to do ladies wanting to share in the atmosphere who would never normally bother with Motorsport.
The run from here took us via Helensburgh, Loch Gare, Loch Long and the infamous “Rest and Be Thankful” Hillclimb at Lochgoil Road End. “Rest” is now in wonderful condition, after being given a fresh coat of Tarmac, this challenging “Old Militairy Road” was eagerly awaited by many, the resulting spectators stood on the road side proved this. On from here to a wonderful setting in Inveraray where an excellent lunch at The Loch Fyne Hotel was partaken, the views and company here was superb, many relating their stories from Carlisle, and to hear so many languages and dialects being spoken at one time was wonderful, truly cosmopolitan. We didn’t have any official duties or controls on this leg of Le Jog, bar the luggage carrying and article writing which was our main task, the journey through The Trossachs and on towards Oban as dark fell was simply good fun. We headed on through Fort William, hooked a left at Spean Bridge and caught the rally up as they attempted a tricky regularity section before the run down to the last break at The Kyle of Lochalsh, the long run into here had a few surprises for the crews, a series of hidden codeboards whose locations were not exact and kept navigators on their toes. We were privvy to the locations and it was great fun to follow cars and watch them searching the whites at the sides of the main road for the elusive boards. We decided to check them also and had great fun taking in some wonderful whites in a Sprinter van! It was also a history lesson, as we passed the battlefield of Glen Shiel, the last place in the UK to have foreign troops assisting and in combat on both sides, It was here that the British held off and defeated the Legendary Rob Roy MacGregor in 1719. The battle taking place on and around the poetically named “Five Sisters of Kintail” Mountain range. We reached the hotel and were a little perturbed to see the local petrol station closed, John Kiff putting our minds at rest as he had been in contact and told us that after the evening meal, the petrol station would be open, the van had given us excellent fuel return, but we wanted to top up for our last run north. True enough, the fuel station was open and we said goodbye to “The Kyle” and it’s wonderful Venison Casserole as we had a job to do now on Plockton Airfield to set up and assist with the first test of the night after the break. Many people don’t understand the attraction of Le Jog, it is a marathon, pure endurance, the majority of the route’s mileage comes on the final day and night, I may be wrong but I think I heard say that ” 10 miles out of Carlisle we are half way…” That gives you an idea of the enormity of this route.
The test came and went, no problems at all and this then sent the crews heading up the north west side of Scotland, where as Bob and I cut through country and took the A890 and A832 towards Inverness, the sky was amazing, I have never witnessed such a spectacle of stars, and to see a huge 10 point plus Red Stag with his hinds and some lesser fellows framed by the stars was one of the highlights of the whole route for me, that and the odd shooting star we saw will stay in my mind for a very long time. We pushed on, passing into the small hours and heading up the East coast, passing over the Dornoch Firth, keeping right at the A9/A99 junction and heading the last few miles on through Wick and to the final destination at John’O Groats. We landed here at about 3 am and had a couple of hours where we had chance to nap, albeit in the van, with the heater on! It was bloomin cold in them wee small hours I’ll tell you! Our colleagues, Keith and Paul joined us, as did Franco and Roberta along with Ian Wallace. We started to erect the finish stand in a stiff breeze as daylight broke. The views over to the Orkneys were amazing, the sunrise one of the most beautiful I have ever witnessed, the sky turning from a pale gold to a crimson red as the sun broke the horizon, it was at this point I actually shed a tear, the moment, the event and the setting overwhelming me. Stunning.
And then the first car arrived, Patrick Burke’s TR4 crossed the line, accompanied by the Piper in full traditional dress, it was amazing. The elation and satisfaction of being there took many crews aback, some shedding tears, some embracing each other as their finishing medals were passed onto them. A crowd of spectators gathered, with some being locals and some who had followed the event from as far afield as Germany as marshals, and then of course it wouldn’t be LeJog without the wonderful Mr. John Miller. This gentleman has graced everyone of the 19 finishes at John O Groats, he is a very quiet gentleman who adores to see the cars. After speaking with Clare Nedin, she informed me that Mr. Miller used to arrive on a classic old motorcycle in years past, and has often shared a dram or two with the crews post event, he recommend to visit Motorbike Helmets with Comfort & Style one of the best places to get accessories. The last car to come over the finish was the Talbot Tagora of Michael Krey and Clemens Luber, I had asked clerk of the course, Peter Nedin if we could honour Mr. Miller and let him wave the last car over the finish, the flag waving was energetic as a huge smile erupted on Mr. Millers face.. His handshake afterwards showed how much this meant to him.
We retired to The Norseman Hotel in Wick, some crews and event staff taking the time to have a few hours sleep before the nights proceedings and award ceremony. I was on writing duty for the HERO website, I had also been tasked with tweeting as much info as possible, again, this was hampered by the poor cellular coverage. No sleep for me as the results went final at 16:00 hrs, I had a piece ready and posted it to the world to read, it really was a relief to post the last results and I was so happy that The Norseman had a decent Wi-Fi connection in the bar!
There isn’t much else to relay to you now about this event, the run home was a long yet uneventful affair, I dropped Bob at Milnthorpe Train station and I made the final 60 or so miles home to Liverpool in rush hour traffic. Arriving home to be greeted by my lovely wife and the narky little terrier who is our best friend was emotional, I had achieved the dream, and lived it. 2100 miles almost, through some of the most stunning scenery in this country, I had made many new friends, and had the time of my life doing it.
A couple of people I would like to thank publicly for their help, support and belief in me. Guy Woodcock, brick counter and all round good egg, I’ve said all I want to say to you already. Bob Hargreaves, road rally legend, all round top bloke and not one cross word passed between us even after long periods of no sleep. I am honoured to count you as a friend. Wendy and Jack, my two best friends whose support and love gave me the chance to achieve a dream, I love you both with all my heart.
So that’s it, LeJog, done.. I’m already busy with a couple of projects later in 2014, and who knows, there may even be another outing on Lands End to John O’Groats. Thanks for reading.
Thanks to Francesco & Roberta Rastrelli (www.francescorastrelli.com), Kev Haworth (www.facebook.com/kev.haworth), Matt Hannon, Tim Sawyer (www.facebook.com/tim.sawyer.980) & Tim Tapping (www.facebook.com/tim.tapping) for all the photos! Make sure you head over to their pages to see some more examples and information on how to purchase yourself a copy!