Monday, 30 May 2022

The Middle Earth Tour

 The Middle Earth Tour with the SKCC was a week-long driving tour of the Scottish Borders. The idea was to stay in one hotel for the week in Haltwhistle, Northumberland, officially the Centre of Britain (and that was the slightly tacky name of the hotel).

A brief summary of the trip is below, with a video at the end.

Day 1 - Getting there, 420 miles

The trip started with a 7am meet at Lakeside shopping centre:

Six of the eight cars met here; me, 2 Elises (Roger and Graham), a Caterham (Brian), Stylus (Tony) and an MK (Matt). The first couple of hours was a blast up A-roads to breakfast near Peterborough where we met up with the final 2 of the group; a Tiger (Linda) and Caterham (Duncan with wife, Alison):

The next 150 miles or so were actually pretty good, considering they were major A-roads and 50 miles of the M1, not scintillating blatting territory but not the slog I was expecting. Much was helped by some great scenery as we skirted the Peak District and this improved even more as we meandered up through the Yorkshire Dales, stopping for the obligatory ice-cream:

The local who worked in the shop was a major F1 fan and homed in on Linda's Gulf-liveried Tiger - they were like sisters separated at birth.

The final 50 miles to the hotel were a taste of the days to come as discovered some great driving roads. What also emerged was the continual flakyness of everyone's TomTom sat navs; the new ones are too clever for their own good and if you put a waypoint on a closed road, the stupid things just refuse to allow you to load the route - they don't even suggest an alternative. Me, with my £35 CoPilot app on my phone worked flawlessly all week. Remind me never to consider an 'upgrade'...

Another theme for the week was my cooling system - since the new rad last week, I must have introduced an air lock somewhere. I wasn't over-heating but my header tank was over-flowing as the airlock forced coolant out as it got hot. This just meant that I had to top up the coolant every morning before we left. At the suggestions of others, I also tried to clear the airlock by removing the top rad hose, where we assumed the airlock was. However, all I got was lots of coolant all over the floor, which suggested the air wasn't there.

Dinner in the hotel was very good - pretty hefty portions and our own private dining room (we pretty much were the only people staying there).

Day 2 - Road to Lindisfarne, 266 miles

After a great breakfast (lots of choice), we set off from the hotel car park we had pretty much taken over. And what a great first day -  the route and roads (map above) were so good, I forgot to take any pictures. We went this direction because the weather radar showed less rain and so it proved - a few drizzles here and there but never horrendous.

After a semi-disastrous detour through a farm (lots of gates, sheep shit and puncture-threatening stones, all taken at 3mph), we stopped off in Duns, famous for local lad, Jim Clarke; motor racing legend who tragically died in a crash before I was born. The little museum is very impressive for a man who had a relatively short career (but won everything imaginable) and the local village cafe did a great range of cakes and pancakes.

We did get some slightly stronger rain here and it was at it's worst as we crossed the Lindisfarne causeway a little further on; very strong winds and a brief heavy rain squall meant we didn't stop at the tourist trap of a car park but simply turned round and came straight back. Some of the roads were quite bumpy and this was another theme of the trip - I'm not sure if this was because my new tyres (Avon ZVS) are stiffer than my old ones but I definitely felt more jostled all week. However, they do have much better grip than my Toyo's, especially in the wet.

A little further down the road, Bamburgh Castle was an impressive location - really should have stopped for at least one picture - doh!

Dinner in the hotel was again very good and after a quick beer, we all turned in - that much driving is pretty knackering.

Day 3 - Overhill and Underhill, 242 miles

Today was a route through the Lake District and a bit of the Yorkshire Dales. The weather wasn't as kind to us and we spent quite some time with hoods up. 

At this point, my wipers started acting up - they wouldn't work at all initially. Then, they started working but only on fast speed, which wasn't great (I wasn't sure how long they would keep working at that rate).

After going through Keswick, we managed to fill up the layby over-looking Buttermere:

More lovely roads, great views and satnav shenanigans meaning we were normally driving in smaller groups and always with different people. It is always amazing how, on these trips, we can all have the same route and (apart from me) the same satnav software but they often choose different directions. It is actually quite fun as you can never be sure who will be in front or behind you or for how long.

We drove through the pretty towns of Ambleside and Windermere and got a lot of attention as we managed to get most of us together in one line. This part of the country is my favourite in terms of scenery; quintessentially English with green hills, stone walls and the traffic wasn't even too bad.

A brief trip into the Dales (Tebay, Hawes, Kaber) and the first of 2 visits to the Brough Castle ice-cream parlour:

...before we entered the wide open moors of the North Pennines. The winds were so strong here, my passenger door kept flying open - I must fit the same armrest setup I have on my drivers door. But the roads were lovely; sweeping bends, no traffic (except sheep) - Seven Heaven.

Back at the hotel, we decided on the local pub across the road from the hotel (well, we didn't want to WALK anywhere too far) for our meal and it was very good.

Day 4 - On the doorstep, 279 miles

This route was named because we were originally going to meet up with a Scottish guy who lived locally but he had to cancel at the last minute. Wonderful blatting roads over through Lockerbie, past Dumfries and up to Moffat via a beautiful lake:

The day continued like that - driving heaven. At one point, I was leading the group and there was a 20 year old Nissan Almeria in front of us; a local who obviously wasn't going to let a load of Sassenach's get past so he proceeded to push his aging car at frankly ludicrous speeds around some lovely windy roads. I actually backed off from him because I was worried we were egging him on - he was almost on 2 wheels at times and any hill forced him down to bus speeds. Crazy loon...

At some point during the day, I had a genius idea to check the plug into my wiper motor and, sure enough, it was hanging half-out. I think all the bumpy routes had vibrated it loose but pushed back in and my wipers were back to normal, just in time...

There was more rain over the day with hoods up half the time but we got back to the hotel and a meal in the pub across the road again.

Day 5 - Not at home, 261 miles

The name for this route was courtesy of some dodgy MP (are there any other types?) who broke lockdown rules in the area. 

First up was our second visit to the Brough Castle ice-cream parlour - strangely, still had nice ice-creams and coffee; who'd have thought? The route carried us through Barnard Castle and Richmond, both very pretty towns and I would have liked to spend a bit more time in these places but I can leave that for when I'm too old to drive.

We also managed a great route up through the North York Moors where my poor passenger door took another pounding from the gale-force winds - if anyone needs a location for a new wind farm, let me know. I lost the others at one point while I stopped to get some pics:

At some later point, I met another enthusiastic local, this time in a Dacia of all things. This guy was good, however, and while I kept up with him ok, I couldn't have gone much quicker. Childish, I know but as Henry Ford once said, "motor racing was invented 5 minutes after the second car was built".

Back to the hotel and a second meal in the pub across the road - very nice burger.

Day 6 - Duncan's Route, 230 miles

This route was originally planned as a much longer route taking in the western town of Stranraer but it was decided to shorten it to this run - and what a corker it was. Using roads Duncan had been on before and wanted to share with his wife, it was probably the best day of the tour, partly because Duncan, like me, is not a fan of the small, single lane tracks and so avoids them.

It started off with a great road up to Hawick and more again across to the quaint town of Moffat, with a brief stop on the way while we were all actually together for a change:

Also during this time (I think - difficult to keep track), I was briefly leading the group and I saw a couple of bikers coming up behind, filtering past the others as we trundled along behind some slower traffic. Just as they got to me, I turned off onto a promising looking B-road and hit the after-burners - the bikes kept up with me for the first straight but after 2 corners, they were dots in my mirror. Four wide-ish tyres round bends makes a BIG difference. I heard later that they refused to let the others past initially but finally caved when they realised it was them, for a change, who were the mobile roadblocks. Must have been a shock to their systems...

I stopped at Moffat briefly to get some touristy stuff for the family while the others carried on and then had a very enjoyable thrash trying to catch up, which I eventually did as everyone turned up at yet another pretty lake, St Marys Loch which had an equally useful cafe for a coffee (which I proceeded to spill down their freshly painted counter - whoops):

On this thrash (I think), I met my final crazy loon of a local who wanted to show me how it was done. This time, he was in a BMW i3, the electric car with tidgy little skinny tyres. But, wow, he was moving - much like the Dacia the day before, I could keep up but couldn't have gone much quicker, although the roads were not as twisty, so he may have suffered more if they were. As it was, he turned off, probably to find a charging point as he must have blown his range with our 5 mile blat.

After our coffee at the lake, it was back via Hawick to the Kielder Forest, a beautiful, smooth, traffic-free, high-speed cruise through trees and valleys - delicious! We stopped for another coffee and cake at the Kielder Reservoir cafe, along with a bunch of Mini's:

Back to the hotel for my final meal (steak, hmmmm) and an interesting chat with the hotel chef who had just come back from holiday - a total nutcase of a woman who could hardly stop talking and told us her entire life story, including all the multiple health issues she suffered. And the 14 (fourteen!) Alsations she had on her farm, all trained to kill - nice. And the fact she hated kids but had 4 of them (and she was only 30 years old or so and the eldest was 16) - double nice. We were just glad she hadn't been there all week or we would have been at the pub more often.

Day 7 - Back to the Shires, 400 miles

I had originally planned to stay an extra day with the others but my wife had put her foot down about how long I was away, so for the sake of marital harmony, I left a day early.

I said my farewells as the others were preparing for the day's run and set off for the slog home.

My initial route was lovely - back through the Dales on some great roads to remind me of what I would be missing in congested SE England. 

But it went pretty horribly after that - I thought I'd skirted around Bradford but no, got stuck in horrible traffic and took me an hour to do 10 miles! Then the M1 motorway decided to become 60mph average speed for 20 miles followed by congestion for another 10 miles and finally, the M25 came out to play and was a car park all the way round - I had to leave early as I almost ran out of petrol! Cut across country for the last bit.

Suffice to say, 12 hours after setting off, I finally got home!


Distance travelled: 2,098 miles
Hotel costs: £520 (6 nights and 4 evening meals)
Petrol costs: I'm too scared to look - it will have been more than the hotel!!

While I was building my car, this type of trip was everything I looked forward to; great roads, good company, beautiful scenery, sun shining (ok, 3 out of 4 is still very good). It wasn't particularly cheap, I used up precious holiday time and we definitely didn't save any polar bears. But it was....EPIC.

Many thanks to Tony for organising all the routes and the hotel and for everyone else for being such great company.

And huge thanks to Zedster - for being massive fun and not breaking down (yup, he got yet another wash this year).

Video of the trip ( I tried to trim it down but it's tricky, so apologies for the feature-length):

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