HILLS SOME OF US HAVE CLIMBED.
REX BR ITTAIN.
EvE,’R since the youth with the banner got busy trying for the altitude record (and, incidentally, provided generations of suburban quartettes with something really zippy to sing on winter’s evenings !) ” Excelsior ” has been a favourite motto with sportsmen, particularly the motor cycling fraternity ! They were high and far off times when an antiquated if h.p. Werner motocyclette conveyed me precariously and noisily round the country—she was antique even in 1903—and she provided thrills that I have never been able to match since, and the hill climb game was just beginning in earnest then.
The favourite test of those days (Cudham Church was thought utterly unclimbable, and it was rightly considered a staggering feat when old G. D. Hardee—still with us, praise be !—wangled a direct drive machine up Chalk Pit) was Westerham, to-day an easy secondgear job for a sidecar, then a terror to be dreaded. I can still hear the enraptured cheers when Pearks climbed it on a 2 h.p. Singer with the engine housed inside the aluminium spoked wheel, holding the chain of his pedalling gear in one hand to guarantee the performance! In days when you reckoned to cool down, put in fresh oil, strip yourself to the limits of decency, and screw down the adjustable pulley (if any) before tackling such a slope, this was a real achievement.
Then came the renowned Chase versus J.A.P. match, which arose out of a challenge after the regular Catford hill climb. (I still treasure a certificate which warrants that I pushed a bicycle up this grind in 4.57 !).
The J.A.P. engine was splendidly good of its day, but the driver, Low, had not the racing experience of the nimble ex-racing cyclist, Chase, and the latter won by a narrow margin after a thrilling scrap. (It was rumoured that Chase used picric acid, a forerunner of the ” dope” of to-day). I am afraid that Westerham wouldn’t do for 1924! Perhaps the favourite hill near London is Kop, where the Brooklands gladiators can gather for a legalised
scrap. It is not particularly steep, but is respectably stiffish at the top, perhaps one in six, and there are two easy bends. Lined as it is with natural grand stands, it is loved by the big crowds that are attracted there, for you can keep the men in sight practically all the way from the start. All the winds of Heaven sport up there, and the temperature is nearly Polar as a rule, but you forget that ! Four years back it was a sight to see Openshaw (what has become of him now) streaking up here on his sinister looking o.h.v. Zenith, which always made the onlookers sit up. The hill is S. M. Greening’s spiritual home, and if anybody wants to study the perfection of gear changing at speed, he has only to sit at the foot of the last rise and watch the popular J.A.P. expert at work. An equally pretty sight is to see George Dance on his Sunbeam wing his way up like a swift, plumb in the centre of the road, utterly ignoring the encroaching crowd—which separates before him as if divided by a magician’s wand—seeming to float more than touch the ground, with never. a flicker for that very unpleasant bump near the top. The London district is rather short of good hills, but there are one or two calculated to make one thoughtful near the metropolis. Succombe, though easy, is useful, for if you can take it easily on second, you know you will be about all right in the West country, where the real pimples pullulate ! Alms can be rushed, but it is one in three at least, and in the fall the leaves on the ground can unsaddle a solo man very easily. (Experto creek!) The sidecar that can climb it on second is a good one. It is dead straight, but in wet weather even Parsons’ chains don’t guarantee a view of the top. It is what one might term a ” windy ” hill ; a great place to take the motor cyclist who is given to fireside feats, and has never seen it. I took such a one once, and we gave him a picnic lunch on the Cannons, letting it thoughtfully sink in. When he came to climb it the effect of the good work was very apparent. It is well to go down it gently ; I still remember the
runaway combination that charged down there once, and the screams of the lady passenger, though both came off scot-free as it happened. Old Chalky, which is close to the Chalk Pit, is quite useful, if you have liberal crank case clearance, and so for that matter is Shoreham Cross, tmclimbable so far as “feet on the rests “goes on a moist day, bumpy, with a narrow path of chalk rubble steeply cambered, with a really fruity drop on the near side, and a stiff rise after that over submerged tree roots and generally wet leaves
But for those who are holiday making about this time, there can be no better way of combining sport with pleasure than to make for North Devon, where the acclivities can be as baffling as they are beautiful. I believe that S. F. Edge (I wonder if he has forgotten the days when we used to hang over the fence of the Crystal Palace track to watch him racing with Jarrot and Wridgway on the early De Dion motor tricycles ?) was the first man to go up that aged terror, Porlock, on a motor vehicle, in this case a prehistoric Napier. Someone betted that he couldn’t, and set out level with him on horseback. The equine finished a very bad second ! And it must be remembered that Porlock then was not what it is now : quite recently the bends have been considerably eased, and then it was well worthy of Monsieur Michelin’s definition of “steep, stony, sinuous and precipitous descent ! ” On a wet day it was just a slimy red river, and in a typically moist June it can be a teaser in 1924, if you have a heavy sidecar.
There is an easy second gear approach (for the benefit of those who don’t happen to know it—those who do can bear me out) followed by an insane right hand wriggle with a very stiff inside. As a local Ford delivery van on its Ioo to i bottom gear is invariably filling up the whole of the left hand easy curve as you come at it, you charge the one in three with a prayer that no one is coming down, skid across the road into the ditch, right yourself, and sail up a bonnie stretch of one in five or so, which is where a really first rate modem machine gets up into second in order to maintain that dreaded 19 m.p.h. average in the London-Land’s End. The top curve (easy left) brings you into bottom again, but not for very long, and after that a good machine will finish at thirty-five over the ensuing mile or two that leads to the glorious view that lies on your right as you slither down Countisbury.
The favourite sport of the Lynmouth people is to sit on the slope of this descent and watch the expressions of the people descending. It is just like a ” grinningthrough-the-horse-collar ” contest at a fair ; none of us knows how funny he looks when really intent and a trifle bothered, and this is not a slope with which to take liberties, as it has burnt out many a brake lining, and must have removed a good many tons of rubber from back tyres. Having been widened, it is much safer than it was. Lynton hill, just ahead, is extremely easy—if it is not treated cavalierly, when it has a knack of turning and flooring the too confident one. The surface up to the sharp elbow looks like the Chesil beach, after a few score drivers have been up it ; but keeping the right
hand path, and crawling round the left elbow at a tick over, there is nothing to apprehend. It is otherwisequite otherwise—with Beggar’s Roost, up the top and round the corner. This hill is as temperamental and treacherous as a Hollywood vamp. Many have been heard to boast that they could guarantee a dead certain climb of it with a heavy sporting sidecar,
or a light car. And scores have eaten their words, and many an ounce of good red Devon earth with them, by the side of the betraying hump near the top of that up-ended sea beach ! For a solo man there is a clear path, if he doesn’t object to leaving a trail of corpses behind him, since the spectators will cover the good going with their large, flat feet ! But the middle going and the stones on the left, only to be compared with shifting sands, have heard more good, heartfelt, soul searing profanity, have listened to the remarks of more strong men in agony than perhaps any other strip in England. A tired man who reaches this after an all-night run, with the sun well in his eyes, a cheering concourse yelling out advice and cluttering up the road, with his gold trembling in the balance—well, if he gets over clean, he’s good ! As far as I have been able to work it out, the formula is” Take the middle of the road and your courage in both hands, and rush like Hades ! ” Anyway, a sidecar is an awkward craft here, and no one is advised to tackle it (other than solo) without a little helping hand for
shoving, in case, if he doesn’t know the slope. It is very easy indeed to turn right over, and with all brakes locked and the engine in gear machines will slide bodily sideways, it’s that steep. You can spend a really sporting half day on it.
Station hill, Lynton, is almost hub deep in loose rubble, and so not very much fun to three wheels or more. But if you push through Lynton village, there is a very jolly rise called Lydiate Lane, which is not often used for trials—you will know the reason after you have got up ! (Especially if, as happened in my case, a very obdurate Exmoor pony projects his bony rump half way across the narrow road near the top). Thereafter, through several gates, one arrives via the golf course to the coast road, a really sporting drive by the
edge of the cliff over a shocking surface, with amazing scenery (but don’t let that distract your attention too much from the steering, as they are so overstocked with tenors in Heaven, and you might not care for a harp !), dropping down to Hunter’s Inn. There you will find a nice little slope leading back to Barbrook Mill. Tell me later if you did not think the right hand bend quite noticeable ? It was used in the trials—once. Quite a liberal lock is called for. Lynton Hill is dreaded by local drivers when it gets greasy, whether up or down, but the star turn is Brendon Hill, only a few miles away. Never go near it in the wet. (Continued on page 96.)