Chilly Cover Story

So wondering about our fab cover photo…..

Well…..here’s the story, sent in by Chris Liles from the Norfolk Area

The Frostbite Run (by Simon Goldsworthy, Editor, Triumph World)

Remember when all that freezing weather brought Britain temporarily to a standstill in January 2010? Well, it takes more that a little snow and ice to stop some Triumph enthusiasts from enjoying their cars, as we found out.

The rumble from the twin tailpipes rises as the wheels scrabble for grip. Willing helpers bounce on the rear bumper to help the tyres find that extra ounce of grip through the hard packed ice as the driver tries desperately to balance forward momentum against an excess power and wheel spin. Bit by bit the Stag fish tails up the side of the mountain, finally cresting the ridge with a gasping leap. Ah yes, this is what rallying is all about!

It is not, however, what you would expect from a gentle 25-mile club run around the English countryside. And while I may have over-played the drama in that little description of events, I can assure you that everything I wrote really did happen, and at the time it really was that exciting. Even the mountain bit, and since we were in famously-flat Norfolk, that was a big surprise.

But then again, the whole day was full of surprises. The New Year’s Run had been planned by Club Triumph members Alan and Christine Hancock and, as I have intimated, was meant to be a non-competitive 25-mile run following Tulip diagrams. As so often happens at the local level, there is considerable crossover of both cars and owners between the various Triumph clubs, and members of the Stag Owners Club had also been invited along to share the fun – they call it the Frostbite Run because of their preference for going topless even in the depths of winter. And I in turn had been offered the navigator’s seat in Chris Liles’ Stag.

So far, so good. But when I woke on the morning of the run, it was to be greeted by a thick blanket of snow and ice – it looked like the Frostbite Run might really live up to its name. Still, I carefully slithered my way across Norwich to the meeting point at the Caistor Hall Hotel and was soon joined by Chris and two more Stags, one driven by Peter and Val Herwin, the other also owned by them but lent to friends Peter and Jean O’Neill whose own Stag was currently enjoying an overdue engine rebuild.

While we were chatting, three more SOC teams slid into the car park. Among them was another Stag (this time with a hardtop firmly in place) owned by Donald and Jane Mickleborough, as well as a Mazda MX5 driven by Brian Thompson (currently between Stags) and the Mercedes coupé of Dean and Tina Barker (their Stag is nearing the end of a total rebuild). Club Triumph cars included a Herald Coupé and a TR7, as well as a couple of moderns.

Frostbite Run 1-09 Caistor Hall start

The pre-run briefing was a good-news/bad-news affair. The good news was that the hotel had laid on coffee and hot chocolate; the bad news was that Alan Hancock was not happy about the road conditions. He had already been forced to revise the route once to avoid a couple of river fords that were flooded, and while the new route had been passable with care the day before, the snow and ice of last night had made them even more tricky. He suggested that it might be wisest to put the run on hold for a week or two.

In the end, the Club Triumph crews decided to postpone the run on the eminently sensible basis that if they rescheduled it for a less icy day, more members would be able to enjoy the fruits of Alan and Christine’s hard work. After a bit of discussion, though, the SOC crews decided to give it a go despite the weather. As we gathered our Tulip notes, I had a momentary twinge of conscience that they might be doing this for my benefit rather than because they thought it was a good idea (I was soon disabused of that notion).

I wasn’t the only one having a twinge of conscience, either. Chris later told me that he was a little worried it might look as though the SOC had hijacked the Club Triumph event but that, as Area Co-ordinator for the SOC, his members regarded him as their ‘gob on a stick, and if I hadn’t suggested going despite the weather, they would never have forgiven me.’ Fortunately I don’t think either of us needed to worry, as inter-club relations appeared undamaged when we eventually met up with Club Triumph for lunch in Wymondham. As for the SOC members – well, I soon discovered that they are completely barmy and the adverse weather conditions only added to their enjoyment of a great day out.

So off we set in convoy, me wondering how I would manage to talk, write notes and scout for photo locations whilst also fulfilling my role as navigator and following the Tulip directions. I needn’t have worried though, as Stags are not the only classic items to find favour among the Norfolk branch of the SOC. There were also three CB radios in our little convoy, with Val in the lead Stag calling in warnings of ice and tricky turns and Jean keeping us up to date with progress at the tail. And that included the occasional wiggle from the back end, to which Val replied: ‘Don’t worry, that red car likes a little bit of arse wiggle now and again.’ Remarkably, this passed without further comment, proof if ever proof were needed that the ladies had control of the CB in their cars and that Chris is a bit of a gentlemanly gob-on-a-stick!

Now, I don’t propose to give a blow-by-blow account of the entire journey, so you can wipe that worried look off your brow. Suffice it to say that what should have been a 45-minute jaunt took us nearly two hours and the 25.5 miles measured over 27 on Chris’ tripometer – whether from inaccuracy or the spinning wheels, we are not quite sure. But the centrepiece of the day does bear relating, and that of course will be forever known as the Norfolk Mountain incident.

It started off benignly enough, just a shallow ford across a river to provide a little extra interest and a photo opportunity. On the other side of the water, we paused while Peter and Val gave in to peer pressure and put the roof of their Stag down. As we set off again, a passing dog-walker waved and wished us luck getting up the hill. We thought that was a bit pessimistic, at least we did until we turned a corner and saw that the road was a single track, surprisingly steep and with a nasty 90 degree bend right near the top. Fortunately there was a fresh carpet of snow over the ice that gave the tyres something to dig into. We watched Peter and Val power steadily up the hill and round the bend without a hitch, then set off after them.

And that’s where the fun began. Just around the corner and only yards from the top of the hill, we were brought to a stop on the incline by a VW Polo trying to come in the opposite direction. ‘We tried to warn them that there were more cars coming up behind us,’ said Val over the CB, ‘but they thought we were just waving friendly like and kept on going.’

What then ensued would have graced the finest of Keystone Kops movies. The VW backed out of the way to get a good vantage point for watching proceedings as Chris struggled to find grip for a standing start on ice which had just been polished by Peter and Val. The helpful suggestion that he should put his wallet on the back seat to aid traction fell on deaf ears, so I hopped out to give a little extra shove. So did Brian and Dean in the cars behind, and that did just enough to get Chris moving forward and over the hill.

The same was done with Brian’s Mazda, at which point there was a shout from Tina in the passenger seat of the Mercedes. This was slowly disappearing round the corner and sliding back down the hill. Off Dean sprinted, heroically leaping into the car but then wondering how to stop it sliding if the handbrake was already on and it was in gear. Fortunately, before re-designing the front end of Donald’s Stag (which was reversing at quite a rate of knots downhill and away from the danger zone), Dean stopped the slide by parking the rear bumper gently into the bank. The Merc was then manhandled back onto the road and pushed, pulled and generally coerced unwillingly up the hill.

Unfortunately that left the remaining two Stags with a longer (and now very shiny) hill to climb. While the rest of the gang slipped and slided down the hill on foot to help, I got my camera out and took up residence at the best viewpoint. The driver of the VW joined me. Apparently, he only wanted to get down to one of the three houses at the bottom of the hill where a family Sunday dinner was being prepared. I apologised for holding him up, but he was more than happy to wait – dinner wouldn’t be ready for another hour anyway, and this was far more entertaining than peeling vegetable and stuffing a chicken.

Donald actually did rather well getting up the hill, with Dean sat on the bootlid for extra ballast and everybody else pitching in with a shove whenever they found enough of a foothold. But Peter and Jean were then faced with a virtual Cresta Run in reverse and my abiding memory of the day is seeing the red Stag inch its way up the hill, piled high with bodies and slewing from side to side. Like a rugby scrum defending a narrow lead under their own goalposts, when one body fell off (I won’t say who because Brian asked me not to!) they ran round the back and jumped on again. Peter Herwin didn’t fall off though, because he got hooked on the aerial. Like the captain of the ship, he was thus the last to leave his loaned-out Stag when it finally crested the hill.

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That brought the day’s drama to a close, the second half of the route proving to be less treacherous and giving us all the opportunity to look up and finally see just how beautiful the Norfolk countryside was on this sunny, icy day. Every junction was still a bit of an adventure, but by keeping the speed low and using the Stag’s ability to pull well from low revs, we reached the pub in Wymondham for lunch with nothing more dramatic than the occasional tail wag and spinning wheel. Not that the slow pace mattered one bit. As Brian said, it was not about miles per hour, but rather about smiles per hour. And we had loads of those.

SOC Team

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