HOW WE WENT TO GLOUCESTER WITH THE N.W.L.M.C. By “.JONAH.”
AT least that is where we thought we were going— but it transpired that competitors were excused the last five miles of tramlines into the town itself and were allowed to refresh themselves on the crest of Birdlip before the” easy main road” run back to Slough.
Having been through a previous Gloucester on three wheels, it was decided that this year, in deference to the advance of old age and senile decay, nothing less than four wheels was permissible. A plot was therefore hatched, and at 8.42 on December 11th, we might have been observed to let in a nervous clutch and purr quietly away from the Slough Estate in a westerly direction, complete with all four wheels. About a mile from the start we passed a pathetic looking Morgan, with its front wheels at a most unnatural angle–the first casualty.
Anon we joined the queue at the foot of Quarry Wood Hill. Inch by inch the queue moved forward as each competitor attacked the leafy hairpin bend. Just as our turn arrived, a horrible shriek from the machinery warned us that all was not well. .Trying to look unconcerned we took off the lid and discovered a sheared dynamo drive. Cursing the inventor of coil ignition, we resignedly pushed our four wheels to one side, erected the hood and removed all valuables. But we had no intention of letting this triviality exclude us from the pleasures of going to Gloucester ; along came one whom we will call a son of Noah, since his name bears some resemblance to that of one of the off-spring of the pioneer houseboat exponent. This worthy was driving a
smart four door saloon and had only one passenger ; not knowing our ” Jonah-like ” reputation he rashly assented to the proposal that we should assist wheel adhesion by occupying the two rear seats. His suspicions were not even aroused when our combined weights were insufficient to avert hopeless wheelspin five seconds later on the hairpin itself !
Some mild speeding through lanes just wide enough, but only just, led to the tail end of an even longer queue at the foot of Maiden’s Grove. This hill with its terrifying camber and deep gully, arranged in a slanting manner on the remains of a wooded slope was in very bad condition, its chalky surface having defeated nearly half the solo motorcyclists. Sidecars and three wheelers fared somewhat better, though wheelspin stopped many. Por cars with differentials and without chains the hill proved almost impossible, the small and light class providing most of the few successes. Our own (adopted) chariot being chainless and somewhat ponderous, not unnaturally jibbed at being required to emulate a whippet tank, however, with Jonah and Bill (his passenger), standing on the rear ” cowcatcher” and aided by some stalwart pushers (Rex Judd etc), she was slowly coaxed to the top. During the hour delay at the foot we had time to observe some excellent climbs by several Morgans, Lovatt (Jowett), Abbott (Sunbeam) and the “
Cup” Austins. Soon after Maiden’s Grove the course emerged onto main roads and continued thereon for approximately fifty miles. What would otherwise have been an extremely monotonous section was rendered distinctly exciting and somewhat hazardous by the breakage of a very inaccessible pin in the throttle mechanism. (Jonah again !) In spite of the speed hinted at above we were twenty-four minutes late at Abingdon Bridge,
This time was not to be made up, so we pottered on our lonely way until met by a travelling marshall (ex’ route marker, eastern section) who told us that as the whole trial was so late we could make up as much time as we could. Shivers from the petrified but slightly recovered passengers ! However, the driver restrained himself fairly well, the only incident of note before Bushcombe being when we crossed a sharply cambered secondary road at right angles, running downhill at some 40 m.p.h. Jonah’s head and Bill’s head smote the roof in no uncertain manner and on the rebound smote each other. When we recovered consciousness we found ourselves at Bushcombe ; rubbing our still aching heads and
muttering a hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Weymann for his flexible body work, we surveyed the hill. As at Quarry Wood, it did not appear at all obvious which was the actual nonstop section, as marshalls were holding up competitors at several points inside the official notices. Lack of power seemed to be troubling several of the competitors, particularly those with small engines and high gears. The enforced stoppages on the steep gradient definitely caused several failures which would not have occurred if the driver had been allowed a clear run from the foot. After helping several of the unfortunates we made our own ascent, with all three passengers in the back seats. A clean climb was recorded in spite of a certain amount of wheelspin.
Gambles Lane and the Shaw Green section were easy, though we wondered how soloists enjoyed the latter.
Sandy Lane was the next obstacle and caused still further delay ; ruts, slime and boulders causing great suffering to undershields, silencers and crankcases. We observed excellent climbs on the part of P. W. White (Armstrong Siddeley) and A. S. Llewellyn (Alvis), while at the top we encountered a Morgan with a completely disintegrated back wheel. Several competitors declined to attempt the hill for fear of removing crankcases oil the boulders. Our own vehicle stuck once on the ascent and once on the opposite descent but was eventually extricated.
A short run through twilight brought us to the lunch check at the somewhat unconventional hour of 5 o’clock. However, the lunch was still there for us, so it didn’t matter ! After ” lunch ” we set off in pitch darkness and patches of fog to find Catswood Hill. The route marking for once proved difficult to follow and we spent some time wandering about South Cotswold lanes and villages before finally picking up the right course. We had long
since lost sight of all other competitors except for a few stragglers like ourselves, and in order to relieve the monotony and keep our spirits up, we proceeded in the following manner ; leaving village A, drive all out to outskirts of B, visit a house of refreshment until Jonah, who had assumed the role of timekeeper, announced that we were due at B; crawl through B and then full throttle to the outskirts of C, and so on. This procedure had a curious effect on “Cheerful ” , the original passenger, so named because he was just the opposite, anyhow he became rather more so and began to sing hymns and other somewhat vague and irrelevant ditties. By the time we reached Henley and had overtaken some other competitors friend” Cheerful” was distinctly so and endeavoured to goad our driver into breakneck races with the latter, whom he greeted with hoarse cheers as we passed.
Bill and Jonah were no longer able to experience fear, even when we rushed through thick fog at 40 m.p.h. Lest it be thought that our driver was reckless or ele
vated it is only fair to say that we never seemed to approach within a mile of any danger, such as hedges, banks or other vehicles, although the road was practically invisible. Jonah too, was still capable of keeping the cortege strictly to schedule and at a few minutes to ten we nosed our way once more through the gates of the Trading Estate.
Eggs and bacon were produced by some charming fairies who surely must have belonged to some more pleasant spot than Slough ; in fact Jonah and Bill hardly appreciated the meal, so engrossed were they in solving the mystery of the charming damsels.
Home through even thicker fog, striking matches to illuminate signposts, midnight, bed, thoughts, wondering wandering thoughts,—did we go up Catswood ? How many times ? Why did we eat potato crisps— they make one so thisty ! Is this Nettlebed—the King’s Arms ? 9.22 p.m., three minutes early—no ! one minute late. What were they doing in that horrible place, and what is the Slough Trading Estate anyhow ?
I wonder if old ” A— ” in the S.P.A. got back to London-!