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2014 Autumn Leaves 25/26 Oct

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of HRCR, Paul Loveridge and his team had taken the brave step to bring the HRCR 2014 Scenic Tour Series to a close with a 2-day tour, visiting many of the iconic venues that have life-long connections (for some of us!) with the world of rallying, joined together by some of the best roads that Wales has to offer. 

With so many to choose from, this was certain to be an absolute classic! It has been an outstanding year for the tour series, sponsored by Clayton Classics, made up of 14 established events and 4 new ones, covering a wide spread of England and Wales. This was to provide an outstanding finale.

The Metropole Hotel in the centre of Llandrindod Wells had been chosen as the host hotel (could there have been any other?!), with its very good facilities and large car park to accommodate the 50 entrants and a venue that has lived and breathed motorsport from the heady days of 60’s road rallies as well as RAC events. 

This unique tour had attracted entries from many of the regular tour cars and a number of original HRCR members. Robert and Gill Henry were in Car 1 - their MG TD of 1951 vintage, closely followed by Paul and Dorothy Critchely in another immaculate MG TD, dating back to 1952. David Stokes had forsaken the Ford Escort and the forests and brought along his Triumph TR4A with Sue reading the road book. Another crew making a change from their normal branches of motorsport were Mark and Sue Godfrey, who were using their very well campaigned MGB.

The proceedings started on Friday night with signing-on available for the crews from 18.00 hours. This was followed by what was billed by the hotel as a rolling buffet (a new term to us) but what a fantastic 3-course meal with silver service and very attentive staff. After a good night’s rest, it was time to start Day 1 of the tour, but sadly the weather gods were not playing ball today - the skies were grey and there was a promise of rain. This was Wales after all! 
At 10.31 hours, the first MG TD left the main control for the opening 56.97 miles of the tour, leaving the hotel behind, the route circled the very pretty town lake - complete with a monster reminiscent of the Scottish Nessie! - this short loop taking the route onto the main A483. This was followed by a beautiful scenic road to Howey and then to the showground at Builth Wells - another well-known motorsport venue.

Despite the weather not being at its best, there were some very nice distant views to be had as we passed through Upper and Lower Chapel and, motoring on through Cradoc, Aberyscir and the very pretty village of Aberbran, we arrived at the famous but now derelict motel that sits on the side of the A40 and the traditional entry point to that most iconic rallying venues in Wales – Epynt. Steeped in motoring history of yesteryear and still a place that is much-used and spoken of in awe by rally folk, we turned right here, signposted Llywel, and headed up the infamous dual carriageway on to the MOD Mynydd Epynt Ranges, known to all who have rallying in their blood. As we climbed to the German village, we were treated to the sight of Red Kites playing on the wind - what a magnificent sight these birds make just using wind power! Continuing on via Tirabad and then the descent through Cefn-gorwydd gave some superb views of the autumn colours. There was now just a short run to the Trout Inn at Beulah for the first break of Day 1 and a welcome bowl of hot soup.

From Beulah, the route headed to Abergwesyn and then a climb of the famous Devil’s Staircase (did we really use this road in 850cc Minis with drum brakes on 60’s road rallies?!). Dippy did puff a little on this climb, but it was worth it as we now had sun and the Tywi Forest was a delight with the colours and small waterfalls - what a picture! En route to Trisant, we passed by the massive working waterwheel at Tynycraig and then motored on to the next rest halt at Devil’s Bridge, where the preserved Vale of Rheidol steam railway car park was used for the 60-minute break that allowed crews the time to look at the engine in steam and the waterfalls that were only a short walk from the car park. This section had added another 39.09 miles to the Tour

Refreshed with cakes and drinks, it was time to change steam power back to horse power and start the last section of the day that would add another 38.28 miles to the total. As with other rest halts, the cars were released at 1-minute intervals to avoid convoys. After passing through Cwmystwyth, we had stunning views of more autumn colours and waterfalls as we passed along the valley road which gave way to wonderful lake views. Crossing back over the Powys border brought us to Elan Village and the reservoirs that supply Birmingham’s water supply. The road round the reservoirs can only be described as outstanding - the dam itself, very old wild trees and the road surface carpeted with pine needles, one could almost hear the bellowing exhaust tones of the rally cars (Austin Healey 3000s, etc.), as they thrashed their way towards the end of yet another 60’s event in the heart of Welsh rallying. After all this beauty, we arrived at Nant-glas and a link section to take us back to the Metropole Hotel. There was time now to relax and take in a drink or two before dinner and share one’s own memories with others. The 3-course meal followed a similar format to the previous evening and was once again excellent. During the meal, thanks were offered to Paul and the team for a splendid day’s touring. Paul responded, saying that if entrants thought today had been good - wait until tomorrow!

Day 2 - Sunday - and the weather was looking much better - clearer skies and no rain, with the local forecast giving Wales a good day – for once! The very efficient marshalling team released the cars from the hotel car park at 1-minute intervals for the first leg that would account for another 45.65 miles of touring. Leaving Llandrindod in a north-westerly direction, we passed by Crossgates, Fron and to Abbey-cwm-hir - another ‘name’ from rallying past. Once again, the autumn colours here were a delight. Next came the Coed Sarnau Forest, followed by Bwlch-y-sarnau and Llidiartywaun which brought us to the town of Llanidloes. A crossing of Afon Clywedog brought the route to the dam viewing point, where a short break was built into the tour to allow us to take in the breathtaking views of this eerie expanse of black water. The moorland roads now provided the tour route around Hafren Forest (with all its rally history) to Dylife. This was then followed by a real driver’s mountain road - a section of some 10 plus miles - that gave some amazing 360 degree views on the descent into Machynlleth. With the cars all parked up in the town car park, it took little guessing as to where the 60-minute rest halt was to take place – yes - the Wynnstay Hotel with all its memories of RAC time controls here.

After our refreshments in the hotel, it was time to start the last 61.25 miles of the tour. Leaving Machynlleth behind, we soon turned off the main A487 for a very steep climb on a real moss-covered rally road, using a number of intricate junctions to the hamlet of Glaspwll, a tricky right junction then taking the route through the forest along the Llyfnant Valley before rejoining the main road. A short run of main to Tre’r-ddol before again turning left for more exciting and testing yellow roads. The climb to the top at Cwm-slaid gave some wonderful views across the Dovey estuary to Aberdovey. After skirting Tal-y-bont, the route headed east on a very interesting mountain road to the Nant-y-moch Reservoir - the marshal at the passage control here commenting that the local name for this area was Artists’ Valley and one could understand how such a wonderful place could get this name.

After crossing the dam, the mountain road now turned due south to join the main A44 at Ponterwyd - for us this 14-mile section had to be one of our favourite pieces of road of the whole weekend. On the outskirts of Llangurig, the road book instruction was to turn right by Kevin Jones Cars. This was another gem of a gated yellow road that followed the course of the River Wye with the main A470 on the opposite bank - we know which road was our preferred option! Along this 10-mile section, we were travelling in the company of the Critchleys and another crew driving an MGB so we could share the opening and closing of the gates. We emerged from this delightful road to turn left in the direction of Rhayader and continued through the town centre to join the main A44.

Leaving the best to last is a very fitting summary of this final part of the tour, the leg from Machynlleth having contained some of the most enjoyable roads we have driven on this year. On the A44, we passed through Gaufron, Nantmel and Gwystre to arrive back at Metropole in Llandrindod Wells. To round a splendid second day, the hotel put on another first-class meal that was an appropriate finale to a memorable weekend of touring.

Congratulations to Paul and the team who did an outstanding job of manning many controls and placing copious code boards out along the tour route just to keep us all on the straight and narrow. For all those crews who completed the route, the finishers’ awards were action photographs of them taken en route. As part of the tour fun, a request had been made for period dress to be worn during the tour and we are very pleased to join in with this, but the award for the most outstanding period dress at Saturday night’s dinner went to Sue Godfrey, who looked absolutely stunning in her outfit - well done Sue! All that remains is for us to add our personal thanks to Paul and all of the team for their hard work in giving us a tour that will be talked about in motoring circles for a long time to come.

 For a full selection of photographs taken during the tour log onto www.kpbphotography.co.uk

For further information on Scenic Tours log onto www.hrcr.co.uk and www.classictourdiary.co.uk

Our sincere thanks to Peter Fieldhouse for all his help in editing and proof-reading this report.

Hilary and Mike Stratton plus Dippy - Car 36