We visit darkest Devon - and it certainly lived up to its name!
Our Season’s opener found its way back to North Devon this year, following a foray onto the rather damp Somerset Levels in 2014. We also returned to the splendid Commodore Hotel in Instow as our base, overlooking the twin Taw and Torridge Estuaries. But first we intended to meet up with fellow members travelling south to join us from the M5. The idea was to meet up at a lunchtime watering hole venue near Junction 25 on the afternoon of the last Friday in March as a prelude to the weekend and guide our northerly based crews down to our hotel via a non-direct route from Taunton to Barnstaple on the B3227, which by coincidence also happens to be one of our favourite driving roads.
Arriving at J25, our designated hostelry had been closed for refurbishments - this was not to be the only set-back on an incident packed weekend, but more of that later. A few hurried phone calls and a re-reroute saw our gathering reconvening at an alternative and very pleasant country hotel just a little further down the road from the original venue.
After 3 weeks of previously dry weather, usually accompanied by pleasant, if rather weak early spring sunshine, the Register fine-weather mojo forsook us with the whole weekend turning into a deluge of wind, rain, mist and generally inclement, monsoon-like conditions. So it was as we lined up for the first day of our 300 mile tour on Saturday morning.
But 997 Register members are nothing if not resilient and, after a hearty breakfast and undeterred we duly departed Instow to head south through Bideford, down towards Holsworthy, Okehampton and on into Tavistock. It was here we turned to climb steeply up over Dartmoor National Park for some anticipated sightseeing and photo opportunities. Alas, blanket fog rather put the mockers on that idea, but the route to get there had been exhilarating and presented us with some fine open stretches of road, allowing us to extend our cars and blow away some of those winter cobwebs.
The entry for this event was probably one of our best ever. As we queued up for the start, we had a lineout of 3 Turbo S’s, 3 Turbos, 3 GT3’s, a GT2, a GTS and a C2S – not to mention a fine example of one of Britain’s best known home-grown supercars. Geoff and Caroline Lane surprised us all by turning up in their newly acquired 991 GT3 that Geoff had only acquired the day before, having traded in his 997 GT3 RS for this later model. Nick and Anne West too arrived in their new acquisition, a very smart Rivera Blue 997 GT3 - their first time out in it and a left hooker to boot! It was a pleasure also to see Allan and Chris Mason in their lovely GT silver C2S, out and about again after a long lay-off; also former Register Secretary, Gary Willn with Jo in their stunning blue MP4 12C. First time too, were new members Phil and Dee Hunt in their silver GTS Cab and Tony and Jackie Williams in their black Turbo Cab, both having travelled a long way to be with us.
Lunch was taken at the Rifle Volunteer Pub in St. Mary’s Chapel, near Gunnislake, perhaps not the most salubrious edifice from the outside, but with adequate parking and chosen for its wonderful views across Dartmoor – except of course, it was foggy! Anyway, a decent enough watering hole and a chance for a breather before we continued on our way through Launceston, briefly returning to Holsworthy, then heading west towards Bude and the North Cornish coast.
Lunch at Gunnislake
Here there was a surprise in store for crews, as the route took an unexpectedly winding and very narrow single track lane right out into the sticks, running uphill and down dale towards the village of Morwenstow and passing the secret GCHQ monitoring station with its heavily guarded satellite dishes suddenly appearing beside the road, forming a James Bond-style backdrop for our tour. The site is not marked on any maps and is one of the main surveillance posts for UK security – so best not to tell anyone!
Now things became difficult as fate intervened once again, this time with an undisclosed road closure at the wonderfully named village of Woolfardisworthy, south-west of Bideford. This was to add a few more miles to our tour as we were obliged to skirt the obstruction, before regaining the designated route for a final blast back to Instow via the splendid road past Melbury Reservoir.
Seeing these magnificent cars line astern through the towns and villages was an impressive sight and created quite a stir amongst the locals – at least those who had ventured out of doors in such poor weather. People seem to enjoy our convoys and we managed to put smiles on faces and encourage waves from children as we passed by. It reminds us, these cars are a rare sight in rural areas and it’s a privilege to be able to drive them.
A marvellous sight line astern and a privilege to be able to drive these wonderful cars.
Back at Instow, there was time for a cup of tea and a chat before prettying ourselves for the champagne reception kindly laid on by the hotel management and our Gala dinner, which naturally included one of Alan’s world renowned after-dinner quizzes. Winners this time were Jackie and Tony, who gained a bottle of bubbly, whilst Jill and Andy were runners up with a small hamper of edible goodies.
Top Quizzers - Jackie and Tony Williams
Happy Diners at Instow
Hopes were for better weather on Sunday morning, but if anything it was darker and even more miserable, although spirits remained high as we’d all enjoyed an excellent evening with Commodore hosts, Gary and James Woolaway looking after us very well. Accordingly, we were well rested and looking forward to another day’s motoring.
It was Alan’s turn to lead off the convoy as we headed out eastwards towards Alverdiscott and once again a challenge - another road closure, necessitating our resorting to a narrow stretch of 3-ply road with grass growing up the middle. No casualties or dislodged aero kit amongst the GT2/GT3 brigade, I’m pleased to report and, after a minor detour, we were able to regain the route heading through Barnstaple and onto the A39 towards Blackmore Gate and Lynton, via the infamous Watersmeet cliff road and past the famous Beggars Roost hill climb test, used on the London/Lands End Trial. Narrow lanes and hairpin bends were the order of the day and helped keep drivers on their toes, before we found ourselves out into the wide open spaces of Exmoor National Park.
The weather had relented a little by this time, although the wind had picked up and was gale-force at times across the moor. Fate interjected yet again as we wound our way down Porlock Hill and into the village where we became bogged down in a tailback that had apparently been stationary for around 2 hours. A telegraph pole had blown across the main road and it was taking ages to clear the road. 10 point turns in the narrow approach were the order of the day as we took a second look at Porlock Hill, this time in an upwardly direction and headed back across the moors and down into Exford, where we were able to pick up our original route again, unfortunately bypassing the pretty Somerset village of Dunster, where so many period films have been shot.
There was a tricky slot to find in Timberscome, but everyone made it through OK as we continued through the narrow lanes and along the Exe Valley towards Tiverton and the M5. A couple of crews peeled off here for an early journey home, whilst the rest of the convoy crossed over the top of the motorway and out through the little villages of Culmstock and Hemyhock, past the wartime airfield of Dunkerswell, now a Nigel Mansell Motorsport Centre and onto our luncheon halt.
The Lakeview Manor Hotel Honiton is a most excellent venue for lunch, being superbly sited in its own grounds with plenty of parking and a huge conservatory where they had laid on a very welcome roast buffet lunch.
Our Register weekends are always a pleasant combination of enjoying our cars and each other’s company so our thanks to everyone who supported this event and made it a success. Hopefully the weather will have improved substantially by the time we meet up again!
Alan shows his best side at Lakeside Manor!
The Runners and Riders.
Clive and Judith White – Turbo S
Alan Stoneham and Marion Harbinson - Turbo
Rich and Nikki Porter- Turbo
Nick and Ann West – GT3
Andy and Jill Rodgett GT3
John and Pam Magarry – GT3
Geoff and Caroline Lane – GT3
Paul and Tanya Main Turbo S
Gary and Jo Willn – MP4 12C
Tony and Jackie Williams – Turbo Cab
Tom and Jacqui O’Kelly – Turbo S
Phil and Dee Hunt – GTS Cab
Allan and Chris Mason – C2S