The Shropshire Group's Tour of North Devon (In Search of Lorna Doone) 13th to 17th May 2018
The Shropshire Group's Tour of North Devon
(In Search of Lorna Doone)
13th to 17th May 2018
Why go in search of Lorna Doone? She's not real; a character of fiction. The answer is simple. It would legitimise 17 TRs ambling around Exmoor, breaking down and generally having a good time. Needless to say we never found Lorna.
Seventeen rooms were secured at The Park Hotel in Barnstaple. The hotel is owned by the Brend Group and has recently received an extensive refurbishment which has resulted in it being regraded by the AA to four stars. The promise of secure parking for our cars swung the deal.
The starting point was The Ludlow Food Centre and 13 cars met (lured by the excellent breakfasts served in the café) to commence the adventure. The 12 Shropshire cars were joined by Chris and Judy from Northwich. The café arranged a meeting area for us, Welcome Packs were handed out and walkie talkie radios distributed.
The first part of our journey was on the A49 into Hereford. Hereford is a nightmare to drive through, even on a Sunday morning. We stopped for a break at the ASDA store. Exiting the store involved a torturous series of traffic lights and roundabouts. It was a while before we regrouped. Our route took us away from the A49 and through Monmouth. From Monmouth we stayed on the A466 through the Wye valley to Tintern Abbey. This is a very attractive road. Tintern Abbey was our lunch stop. Richard and Christine, fresh from a stay on their boat moored in Tewkesbury, joined us here. In the knowledge that the Anchor Inn and the White Monk Tearoom were likely to be busy, many of us had bought sandwiches etc in Hereford. We picnicked on the banks of the River Wye in the sunshine. Idyllic.
It was in the second part of the journey that the gremlins set in. There was a new roundabout by Chepstow Race Course which I had overlooked. It caused some confusion and several cars went off on excursions! Steve and Cath's TR5 decided to throw a wobbly crossing the Severn Bridge. In fairness, this was the car's first serious outing for 3 years and it was protesting at being woken from its slumbers. A faulty rotor arm was diagnosed and replaced. The car misbehaved throughout the rest of the drive – more about that later. Then Pete lost a bolt from the alternator of his TR5! The run fell apart from there with some drivers relying on their sat navs (each of which seemed to show a different route). However we all arrived at The Park Hotel within minutes of one another. Waiting for us were Terry and Lyn from Leicestershire, Dave and Linda from Gosport and Adrian and Sheena from Hertfordshire. Unfortunately Adrian and Sheena's TR5 had had tantrums and they were forced to use their Mercedes SLK. However, it fitted in perfectly well.
When The Park had promised me secure parking, I had no idea what was waiting for us. The site had previously been occupied by the local Ford main dealer. When developing the hotel, the shell of the main workshop had been retained. This was the overnight home for our cars. Fantastic. It enabled Phil (the Patron Saint of the Tour) to tackle Steve and Cath's TR5. The "new" rotor arm was of the riveted variety and appeared to be shorting and two injectors had failed. Once these were put right, the car behaved faultlessly for the rest of the tour. With the help of Alan Burgess, Devon Group's GL, I was able to contact Andew Wilmott, a local Devon Member, for advice about Pete's alternator. Andrew appeared at the hotel almost before I had finished texting him. All was sorted before breakfast the following morning.
Sunday night was our first experience of The Park's cuisine. Unbelievably good!
Monday morning was heralded with bright sunshine and clear blue skies. After an excellent breakfast we were joined by Andrew, his wife Jennie and other Devon Group members for our first Devon Day. Initially, our route took us along the Taw and Torridge Estuaries. We drove through Instow and stopped in Appledore, a lovely seaside village. Living in a landlocked county, such places are a real treat to us. Our next port of call was Clovelly. This is even more stunning and, at this time of year, not too busy. We spent quite a while here and bumped into Gerry and Maureen from the Kennet Valley Group. TR Register members get everywhere!
After lunch, Helen and Anne drove to Bude whilst the rest of us headed to Great Torrington. Here the Group split – some visited RHS Rosemore whilst the rest of us visited the Dartington Crystal factory. Both groups reported an impressive experience.
Throughout the day Malcolm and Jacqui had had problems with the clutch master cylinder on their TR6. Back at the garage, Phil whipped a spare master cylinder out of his pocket and all was sorted within the half hour. Actually Malcolm had reported problems on Sunday and Phil had stopped off at his house (it was on the way) to collect a replacement.
Tuesday was another perfect day! We drove out through Ilfracombe and Combe Martin to Woody Bay Station (where the steam train arrived bang on cue) and on to Lynton via the Valley of The Rocks. Unfortunately a sea mist had rolled in and we did not see the views we had expected. Nor did we see the drops at the side of the road! We had made arrangements to park up, in display fashion, at the top station of the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway. This involved reversing a couple of hundred yards up a narrow roadway (more of a path) with a bend in the middle and stone walls either side. No TR was hurt in the creation of the display! We were a great attraction and the amount of interest in our cars was enormous. We stayed for an hour and a half. Here we met Barry from the North Wales Group and Ashley, the Cliff Railway manager, who had just purchased a TR6 (he had taken possession only a week earlier) and, of course, joined the TR Register. More TR serendipity!
On leaving the top station, I was at the back but needed to be at the front. This resulted in a game of musical chairs in Lynmouth. We drove through Exmoor to Exbridge where a buffet was waiting for us at the Anchor Inn. The garden of the Inn adjoins the River Exe. With the sun still shining and the river flowing gently it was a good location for lunch. On our way back to Barnstaple, we visited Castlehill Gardens. An amazing building and an excellent display of woodland plants.
On Wednesday our luck broke and the day started slightly cloudy with the odd drop of rain. Steve and Dave from the Devon Group joined us. However the rain became heavier as we approached our first stop at Simonsbath. The only answer was to drive faster. At Simonsbath no other TR appeared. No worry, they had probably stopped to put the roofs up. But Richard & Hazel's TR6 had misbehaved. Richard had switched the wipers on and the car had stopped! Much exploration and discussion took place in the car park and there seemed to be some correlation between switching on the wipers and cutting power to the pump. This took some time. Our plan had been to go to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor, but it was decided to abandon this because of the time lost and mist and rain would have obscured any views. So we headed directly to Cleeve Abbey.
Cleeve Abbey is a ruined monastery near Watchet. Some members visited the Abbey. Many stayed to look at the problem with Richard and Hazel's car and others went to the pub for warmth and a cuppa. There was great discussion over the wounded TR6. Many diagnoses and solutions were proposed. Finally it was decided that the fault lay in the wiring loom. The affected area was bypassed and the car ran well for the rest of the Tour. Richard is now sourcing a new loom. Many thanks to all who helped out.
Lunch was taken in Watchet where there is a good choice of pubs and cafés. A drive through Blue Anchor Bay took us to our next challenge – Porlock Hill. No problem for a TR! We then turned into the Doone Valley. This is a remote part of Exmoor and you can imagine it being the habitat of brigands and the like. After crossing the aptly named Robbers' Bridge we travelled through Oare and passed the church in which Lorna Doone was said to have been married and shot. The Lorna Doone Inn in Malmsmead provided us with probably the best cream tea of the trip. Helen kept us amused by driving through the ford - several times! We drove back along the coast road and, with the mist having lifted, we had views.
Thursday morning was a time of goodbyes and group photos as we set off in different directions. Some Shropshire members were staying on to visit friends and relatives and Dave and Linda were driving directly to Dover to go on to Laon.
The majority of us went to Dunster to visit the medieval village and castle. An excellent place to see. The plan had been to stay to 3:30pm but some we anxious to get home and people headed off in small groups. The remainder of us left as arranged and cars peeled off at various places. That left 4 cars to run up the A466 from Chepstow to Hereford via Monmouth. A great drive!
All in all a brilliant trip. We covered 630 miles from Ludlow Food Centre and back. I did almost 700 miles door to door. Most TRs behaved themselves and showed that they were equal to the task. Particular thanks must be given to Phil and all who helped with the sick cars.
A few words must be said about the hotel. It is very comfortable and well equipped. The food was excellent but it was the staff that made it special. They were very friendly and nothing seemed to be too much trouble. I would recommend this hotel to any Group wishing to tour North Devon and enjoy a bit of luxury.
I can see why North Devon is so special. The Youth Group were visiting immediately after us. I wanted to stay on and join them but it was pointed out that I lacked one important qualification – youth!
Joint Group Leader