Monday 18 July 2016

Cotswold Capers

The W.A.G.s Weekend was written around giving the “kit car widows” an insight into why we like these small, impractical, draughty cars, it was softened a bit with a nicer hotel & later starts than are traditional, but that was the plan. On the Friday I got the car out & loaded it, while Mrs Blatter did some last-minute packing, re-packing, deliberating about shoes, un-packing & packing again. Then at about 11:00, most of the group arrived & were treated to coffee, but where was our leader? After ½ an hour or so, a rumbling outside announced their arrival & after a quick loo stop we headed out.
There was only one stop, at a pub near the hotel, so now we were up against the clock. Usually the ETA on the SatNav counts down on A-roads, so we should be there in time for lunch – except that on this journey it didn’t. Towards the end we got separated from the others & arrived at the pub where two of our number – a couple from near Manchester had been waiting for two hours, but they had news! Our leader had broken down causing more delay, but was mended & heading for the hotel direct.
So with only 15 miles to go, two cars headed out of the pub car park watching the skies as it looked a little like rain. As we arrived in Cheltenham the promised rain arrived – in proper biblical fashion. The other car had the roof up as the occupants were sensible, I dived into a space off the road & put the roof up while schoolboys laughed (yes I’m getting wet, but I a minute I’ll be under this roof – you on the other hand, won’t).

So we set off again splashing through the early afternoon traffic & found the hotel in spite of the SatNav’s best efforts. The hotel (The Cotswold Grange) was really good, a detached Georgian place on four floors – we were in the servant’s quarters right up at the top which gave Mrs Blatter a good view over other people’s gardens. As we were unloading the car, the others arrived & after a hot shower & a change of clothes we met up in the bar's garden & exchanged stories of the journey. By this time the sun was shining & we set off on foot for a pre-booked restaurant, as we walked along, the buildings got shabbier & the amount of graffiti increased & with it the feeling of unease, but when we arrived,  the restaurant was really good, the serving & cooking being done by the proprietor, who was clearly enjoying having such a large party in. The food, the service & the company were all excellent & by now Mrs Blatter was settling into the swing of things (phew).
The following day saw the remains of the rain blow through while we were having breakfast & we set off in sunshine heading west making for the Wye Valley. First stop was a pub next to the river, it looked like they were preparing for a wedding reception, but provided us with 12 coffees & we sat outside in the sunshine. Some blokes appeared from the woods opposite & came into the pub, then some more in threes & fours, some on their own, all looking as if they’d tramped a long way. In the end there must’ve been 30 – 40 of them - strangeness.

After more chatting & me going off to take pictures of “The Bridge Over The River Wye” we headed off south, Mrs Blatter & I at the back for photographic reasons, after a few miles the cars came to a halt at the side of the road & the hazard lights came on. I strolled to the front & found that No. 2 car had suffered a suspension collapse. I got the tow rope & jack from the Fury & was able to lash the suspension back together enough to move it off the road, but frustratingly none of the tools we could muster could tighten the nut sufficiently, there was the right spanner in our group – with the one car that was now 20mins down the road. So having made arrangements, there was nothing else we could do & we set off into darkening skies. There was another heavy shower as we saw the screen & roofless car of the spanner-holder going back the other way. Apparently Mrs spanner-holder was wet through to the underwear & had to be provided with dry clothing.

Next stop was Tintern Abbey, a very picturesque ruin on the banks of the Wye, £3 to park, but with £3 off anything you bought in the shop / pub / café, so lunch was puchased & we ate outside. It was while sitting there that we heard that our downed compatriots were mended & back on the road, shortly afterwards we could see the rain coming down the valley like a net curtain, we adjourned indoors & when the sun came out again, set off for the next stop. Chepstow is a nice town, with small streets & a castle, we wandered about in the hope that the others might catch up , but they had made straight for the hotel, then the next heavy shower rolled in & we did the same.

Dinner that evening was provided by the hotel & very good it was too, the wine & conversation flowed & I think we may even have repaired to the bar after pudding - very civilised.

The next day was all about heading home by the prettiest route, so we made our way east zig-zagging between honey-coloured stone-built villages & for once all six cars stayed together more-or-less, though one of our number did stop for an impromptu loo stop 50 yards before a planned loo stop in the picturesque hamlet of Great Tew (much nicer than the neighbouring Mediocre Tew) & it was here that the group started to break up with our northern contingent heading north while we continued east with a plan.

The plan was to meet & have some lunch at Blenheim Palace, it was a good plan, except that someone famous (Elton John possibly??) was performing there that evening, so the place was gridlocked. We managed to assemble to discuss what to do & agreed to try to park up in the town & find food, but even that proved impossible as there was nowhere to park. So we headed home without a proper end to the weekend.

In spite of getting wet a number of times, all the participants said they’d enjoyed the trip, so there’s a good chance of a W.A.G.s Weekend II

Friday 1 July 2016

Rogue runners - Aftermath

With less than a week to go before the WAGs Weekend I had a car to fix - & quickly.

I started looking into all the electrical connections, working my way from the alternator back. I found a few thing amiss, but only when I got to the starter did I find the real culprit. The starter body was loose on the mounting (again - this happened to the last one). I also wasn't getting a battery light with ignition & research suggested the alternator was stuffed. So I ordered another from Ebay - this tie a 45A, a new adjuster to make it easier to adjust & a new belt as the old one was split.

By Thursday this was all on & working, so we were good to go - hopefully. A breakdown with Mrs Blatter in the car would not be a good thing.

Rogue Runners - The last Day.

With Henry gone home, waking up was a problem – as I’d been sharing rooms with him it was his phone we were using as an alarm. My phone was still missing. The front desk didn't do wake up calls, but fortunately Linda was in the next room, so although I woke at 05:00, at 07:00 Linda tapped a wake-up on my door & the day began properly. A little troubleshooting found a blown fuse in the exciter wire to the alternator, so it looked like there’s a short somewhere. I retired to the breakfast room.

The car started easily enough after a short push from the team & apart from a couple of folk who had their own plan, we agreed we’d stick together. This lasted about thirty seconds when I followed the wrong seven out of the hotel car park. Then got further confused, so Graham took control & led all the way through the midlands until we miraculously all met up again at about the right time & had a coffee together before going our separate ways.
Then Graham & I wound down through the Cotwolds on a very picturesque route until we separated on the A331.

That's a Car That's Been On A Proper Road Trip

The week had gone incredibly quickly, seven days of driving to the very north of the mainland, experiencing some truly spectacular roads, some wonderful views, some very good meals, but most of all, a week spent with some thoroughly nice people who will put themselves out to help their fellow Rogue Runners to get the most out of the trip - & no small amount of banter.
It really was a most excellent adventure.


Rogue Runners Day six (Seven)

A trying yet ultimately successful day.

As predicted it began with a jump start, Henry’s golf once again doing the honours. It was raining. We packed out still wet stuff into the still wet cars & headed out of town.
Town? Erm ……. Dundee I think.                                   

I was still puzzled by the car. It seemed the alternator was working, but not charging the battery, sometimes the volt meter said 13v J, sometimes 11.5 L. A good rev of the engine would jump it up to 13 for a while, so I drove along using the wipers sparingly, expecting the fuel pump to stop any minute. Henry followed my every move (even the wrong ones) in case I had to stop the car & couldn’t re-start it.
So at last mid-day came, we stopped for fuel & checked the pump as I always do, yes I recognised the logo. I didn’t need much, so just put 9 litres in. Then another few of our happy band pulled in & suggested the café next door for a drink. The Fury was bump started & I trundled towards the café car park – followed by a pall of smoke. What the hell had happened while it was stationary in the fuel station to make it burn so much oil? Ah – I checked the receipt. I’d put diesel in it.

After coffee I was pushed back to the fuel station where I brimmed it with PETROL, & filled the 5 litre can. This time it started on its own so I set off laying a trail behind me. Again the gallant Henry followed me, to ensure I did no more stupid things, until he departed for home along the A1. About ½ hour later I pulled into the hotel. The battery still seemed to be flat, but hopefully some help from the SKCC would get me on my way & I'd get home to do some fault finding.

Rogue Runners Day Five (Six)

 Today – Hmm – I think the phrase “not as good as yesterday” sums it up.

It started off wet – lashing down in fact, so we dawdled over breakfast , but it didn’t improve. We set off, there was a great deal of splashing & a number of aquaplaning events, but it was a challenge & these trips are supposed to be an adventure. By lunch time we had arrived at a café we visited last year, had some refreshment & set off into the skiing areas, they are a regular haunt for us being twisty, mountainous & near deserted, then we moved on to a valley in the Cairngorms, but getting there meant crossing a “pop-up” ford about 8” deep, I went first & shortly afterwards realised how wet the ends of my trousers had become, but worse was to come.
The route we were following went up one side of a Loch, called in at Breamar Castle (the only photos I took all day), then back the other side of the loch. As is often the case, two sat navs directed the drivers round one way, two the other so we met face to face on a VERY narrow road. Oh how we laughed.

After this we visited a fuel station manned (womanned) by a pixie, ok a very pretty petite girl with pinky-purple hair. We refuelled, we paid, I was a little late into my car & the others left. I turned on the ignition, pushed the starter & the car went “wer ……… wer …………………wer”. I moved it away from the pumps, sent a text to the group & went next door to the Quick Fit, where they were kind enough to lend me a battery. Assuming the flatness was caused by having the wipers, heated screen & lights on, I drove off (the others had returned by now), the weather had improved a bit & the roads were no longer under standing water. To help the battery recharge I turned everything off – even the SatNav was on night colours, but at the next fuel stop, the same happened. I limped back to the hotel & after a while a small crowd had gathered & solutions were suggested, joy of joys, one of which was water related & seemed to work – I’d find out for sure tomorrow, when the weather guess said it’d rain all day again.

Rogue Runners Day Four (Five)

What can I say about today? It was almost perfect – almost.

Another beautiful day dawned in Ullapool & having demolished breakfast we set off, seven for the north coast, two heading direct for Inverness to repair the wipers on one car. The northbound seven headed out on what must surely be one of the best roads in the world, busier than last year, but last year the NC500 route hadn’t been invented, fortunately the great majority of the campers were heading the opposite way. The sun shone, it was warm, the scenery was epic, inevitably we got separated, some of us pulled over for a photo stop at Kylesku Bridge, a couple didn’t notice & went past. Those that were left pulled into a café with a nice view & relaxed.
 Next stop was Smoo Cave (the largest sea cave in Britain – apparently) I didn’t have time to do more than take a photo at the top last year, so this time I ran down the steps, went in & ran back up (yes, RAN – mostly).
Smoo Cave - I got arty

After that we pulled over in Tongue as we’d spotted the missing two, I refuelled from a small establishment where you rang a bell & the owner came out & filled the car. There were no prices up, but I’m guessing “costly” as the man was both Scottish & smiling.
We were now heading due East with spectacular deserted beaches on our left – looking like Cornwall must’ve been once, the road was single track which slowed us up, but most people pulled over to let us pass, then the road went all epic again, next-to-no traffic, two proper lanes & constantly changing direction.

At the eastern end two of us went up to Dunnet Head to see the most northerly point on the mainland. As it was a clear day we could easily see the Orkney Islands.
We drove back to join the others at John O’Groats, where many many pictures were taken to go with the ones taken at Lands End. After that it sort of went down hill, the land got more ordinary, the road got more controlled, the weather got worse. We arrived in Inverness to a grey rainy day, rush hour traffic & suddenly the shining north coast seemed a world away.

Rogue Runners Day Three (Four)

Five Sisters
Fort William lived up to its reputation by raining at the beginning of the day, we sat down to a hearty breakfast (again) & headed out – the rain got harder. Several members of our happy but soggy band dived into petrol stations for cover as did I, but then remembering Fort William’s other reputation (for having a complete change of weather every 15 minutes) I went back out onto the road, aiming for the Great Glen. Sure enough the rain stopped after a couple of minutes. The roads were pretty clear away from Fort William, so I made good progress, but Henry caught up after not very long, then more lights in the mirror indicated the arrival of Duncan & we three drove up to Loch Ness, then up the Five Sisters road, then, as we refuelled police outriders came by shepherding three enormous wind turbine sails. Onto smaller roads making for the Belach Na Ba – Applecross Pass.

Before that though, a photo stop at Eilean Doonan castle - star of uncounted shortbread boxes, we parked just past it looking back - & while clambering around looking for the best angle, I fell in the brambles.

Applecross Pass was every  bit as spectacular as last year, but with more low cloud, two of us reached the top & got out for some photos while waiting, until a garbled radio message suggested that No.3 had already passed us, we weren’t sure how that could be, but we moved on, it later transpired that he wasn’t where he thought he was. By this time we were in need of coffee & possibly lunch, but mile after mile went under the wheels with no sign of refreshment.
Eventually we drove into Shieldaig, a lovely Lochside village with a very nice small hotel which served a very nice lunch on a very nice veranda overlooking the shore – very nice.
Then back to the route, very good roads around this bit, but very heavy intermittent showers took the endge off the enjoyment – especially as  I’d taken my coat of at Shieldaig. There were some odd moments, the vast majority of people moved to let us pass (in accordance with the signs at the side of the road), but one or two refused even to the point of accelerating to close the gap I was about to drive into. No matter – Ullapool was dry & warm & welcoming.

I Like Ullapool

We strolled into town looking for food, last year we’d found a great pub / restaurant, but had had to wait for an hour to get seated, this year was the same. The food however was once again exceptional & one member in particular was overwhelmed by a plate full of langoustines which she took great delight in wrestling to submission & dismembering. It was still almost daylight when we sauntered back to the hotel.