Northern Trial 2016 by Keith Thomas

Last year Buckler enthuiast Keith Thomas bounced Carl Talbot to a win in his Morris Trialsmaster. He had hoped to do the same this year with Carl in his new Buckler. Unfortunately the car wasn’t ready so Keith went into the forests to lend a hand with the event, notebook and camera in hand.

It was a Wasp one-two at Fellside AC’s Northern Trial on 21 February. Both Dean Partington and Mike Chatwin finished with five marks, victory going to Dean on test times.

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Mark Milne pictures David Golightly in the gathering gloom on Sandale, the Northern Trials Signature Hill. David was 3rd overall, dropping only eight marks in his magnificent Morton & Brett Board Racer. Click Here for more of Marks Northern Trial Photos

Torrential rain of monsoon proportions across Cumbria on 4/5th December washed out roads, bridges and flooded thousands of homes in what was supposed to be a once in a two hundred year event. However four times this happened in the space of only a few weeks; such was the ferocity of the floods it tore away great chunks of the mountains creating avalanches, small streams became raging torrents and devastation was everywhere.

Keswick and surrounding area suffered really badly, thousands of homes and businesses were affected but in true Cumbrian spirit people worked their socks off and tried to get back to as normal a life as possible. Many properties will take a year or more to recover, the main road into the county from Ambleside to Keswick was totally washed away and won’t reopen until May leaving the only really viable route into Keswick via the M6 over Shap then A66 from Penrith.

One never really considered that whilst all this was going on the Fellside Auto Club’s Northern trial organisers had already submitted routes and were doing the PR work for the February trial. Each time different roads and bridges were closed they kept having to re submit routes to MSA, carry out repair work to sections in the forests and PR yet another part of the route informing residents of the passing of vehicles.

Unbelievably, under the most difficult conditions imaginable, competitors were amazed that they pulled it all together. They put on a fabulous, compact event that ran faultlessly even when faced with windblown trees suddenly blocking one of the favourite sections. Routenbeck Rise had this happen just before competitors were due to arrive there. The only petrol stations near the route were still closed so organisers arranged for a few marshals and helpers to carry some cans of petrol to pre- arranged locations, superb organisation indeed.

Tony Branson in Wythop Forest
Tony Branson guns his Class 7 Marlin through the mud in Wythop Forest. Class 7 was dominated by Liege’s this year, Julian Lack heading a trio of the three cylinder machines. Click Here for more photos by Keith Thomas

Hopes new Auction Mart at Wigton is superb for motorsport events, with acres of parking, wonderful food being served both at start and finish by helpful friendly staff, this venue could not be bettered. A gentle meander down the rather washed out byways in places soon had competitors at Setmurthy forest where various sections were laid out and the first of a couple of special tests timed to the second as a tie decider opened proceedings.
Black Hole and Telf’s Challenge are favourites here. Telf’s Challenge was named in memory of Mike Telford, a well known classic and VSCC competitor, who was killed in a car crash when an oncoming vehicle out of control hit his car head on and he tragically lost his life. He is greatly missed by the motorsport community but at least his name lives on in the sport he loved.

Watch Hill in the Setmurthy complex wasn’t kind to many and there were thirteen 12’s including Nigel Hilling and Jonathan Toulmin. Chris Hunter was another failure here in the venerable Tucker Nipper Special, created by the late H. W. Tucker-Peake for his daughters Marilyn and Susan. The next hill Telfs Challenge is named after the cars former owner the late Mike Telford.

On to Wythop forest, now decimated by not only the storms but by forestry operations as well. Trees planted many years ago have reached maturity and need to be felled and harvested but presently the area looks like a desolate moonscape until saplings take hold and put some growth on. The two sections that had to be cancelled at the last minute were on this exposed mountainside and marshals had a tough job in such conditions.

Kesterells Roost in Wythop was to decide the overall winner where Dean Partington and Mike Chatwin were the only cars that could reach the four marker. The section saw the end of the trial for Hal Branson (Marlin) and Mark Endley (Liege) who both retired soon after.

To keep road mileage to a minimum and to avoid the busy A66 the exit from Wythop forest was via a section often used in VSCC events named Lowthwaite Side. This takes competitors out near Wythop Hall farm and down the route which is part of the C2C cycleway heading towards Lorton and Cockermouth. Once again evidence of the organisers’ hard work and diligence were the notices put up along here warning mountain bikers of the possibility of meeting vehicles on the tricky twisty track where the iPhone App “Strava” can record the fastest descents of the mountain bikes that can be posted worldwide. It can be a hair raising and exciting spectacle to traverse this particular route even if one is only a pedestrian along here!

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Dave Cook captures Nigel Jones emerging from the moonscape on Falcon’s Crest. Nigel was second in a well supported Class 5 More of Dave Cooks Northern Photos

Further sections followed in Darling How forest where the weather had improved dramatically, really quite nice in fact; a big relief for the competitors waiting in the long queue to tackle the steep climb up Ullister hill. Initially a rocky climb it ends up in rather sticky, glutinous mud where marshals kept losing a welly. Many managed to “clean” the section although clean only in respect of getting to the top certainly not clean when arriving there. The cars and for that matter the marshals were far from clean as they helped to turn the cars or pull some out of undergrowth as they slithered off the section into the spruce trees.

Mark Gregg burning rubber on Ullister Hill
Mark Gregg burning rubber on Ulister Hill. Picture by Keith Thomas. Click here for more of Keith’s Photos

Leaving Wythop competitors, both cars and bikes in this event, meandered over to Caldbeck fells near to Lord Melvin Braggs home where the final section, the infamous “Sandale”, snakes its muddy way for several hundred yards out of the picturesque hamlet, this attracts lots of spectators to watch the entertainment and cheers competitors on.

Here again the organisers have spent many hours liaising with the locals at public meetings as inconsiderate parking in the past by spectators churned up the lovely verges and threatened the running of the section. Hopefully everyone was well behaved this year after such great effort by the club officials.

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It was getting gloomy when later numbers arrived at Sandale where Trevor Wood demonstrates an unusual line at the top of the section. Click Here for more photos by Mark Milne

A short run back to Hopes auction and welcome food, portions were such that anyone one on a diet would have to leave at least half of it. Happy faces, lots of tales to tell, some of the retirees with tales of woe of course but everyone well satisfied with the day’s activities and full of praise for the stalwart organisers who put so much work into this event in the face of great adversity.

Experience Sandale on a Motorcycle with Orlando Harrison

Having taken part in several Northern trials as a marshal, driver and last year as a bouncer in the winning car, organisation has always been faultless. This year the organisers jumped through so many hoops they could not have done more to make the event any more successful.

I know I will miss someone out if I thank individuals, so for those that I have missed I apologise, but Fred Mills, Myke Pocock, Derek Reynolds, Dianne and Chris Veevers have given so much time and effort, not just this year but over many years, to make this event so successful. It has been voted by competitors several times the best trial of the year. It certainly deserves this acclaim again, no one could have done more.

Thank you on behalf of everyone.

Keith Thomas.

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