Organised by Loughborough Car Club, the Welland Valley Wander started at The Kilworth House Hotel in Leicestershire, continued into Rutland and North Northamptonshire to finish at Leicester Airport, a total of 143 miles.
The journey from home to the start hadn’t been without incident as heavy rain had meant both wipers and headlamps were needed. After switching on the lights when the sky darkened I then pulled the wiper switch but after a few seconds of screen-clearing they stopped, switch still ‘on’, windscreen awash. ‘Fuse!’ I guessed and I was right, the 10amp fuse that had somehow found its place under the bonnet had blown which wasn’t surprising as it should have been 35amp. How it came to be there I’ve no idea, it wasn’t me, honest! With fuse replaced we continued to Naseby where we were staying overnight at The Old Post House, checked in, threw our bags on the bed, filled the kettle and kicked off our shoes – time to relax.
As we had topped up with fuel en-route in Market Harborough Riley Blue needed nothing more than the briefest of pre-event preparation the following morning, just an oil and coolant check and quick screen clean. We were soon at the start where I parked next to another blue Riley and we signed on before enjoying the customary pre-event bacon butty, washed down with a mug of tea.
While Gael studied the road book I wandered around looking at the ‘competition’. This is, of course, not a competitive event but pride means crews inevitably want to finish without the ignominy of being spotted back-tracking after missing a turn, us included.
Car 21 (us) was flagged away and, with our tripmeter zero’d as we exited the hotel grounds on to the A4304, we were off. The road book was slightly different from those we were used to; instead of tulip diagrams direction was by a series of signposts and instructions plus marked maps though we never needed those.
We made good progress, snaking through villages and along the straights between. Sheep dotted the fields, we gave ground to Range Rovers hauling ponies to a riding club show at Stanford Hall and waved at small boys outside cottages; all very civilised and good humoured.
Some English village names raise a smile: Husbands Bosworth is one, a shame our route missed it by a couple of miles or we’d have been able to add it to the ‘quirkily named places we have visited’ list – Nempnett Thrubwell and Steeple Bumpstead are already on it!
On through Sibbertoft, Haselbech and Naseby, a right turn onto the A508 and in no time had arrived at the passage control and coffee & cake halt at The Stag in Maidwell where I spotted something intriguing on the bar, bottles of Jeyes’s Northamptonshire Sauce, one of which was immediately purchased for our condiments cupboard at home.
Section Two took us a further 22 miles along country lanes, some better surfaced than others, between vast undulating fields of ‘green stuff in rows’ then via Rothwell and Desborough across the A43 into Geddington and our lunch halt at Boughton House, residence of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. Built by the 1st Duke of Montagu, the house is often referred to as ‘The English Versailles’.
After a picnic lunch and with route card filled in with our ‘in’ and ‘out’ times we headed off on the final 54 mile leg, retracing our route past the memorial to the USAAF bomber crews who had been based at RAF Harrington during WW2. Later, in the 1950s, it would be a RAF Thor missile base.
We meandered through the countryside, the sun high in the sky and beaming a blistering heat down at us but, with windows wide open, it wasn’t too bad. Departure times after lunch had been at one minute intervals but even before we’d left the Boughton House estate we’d caught the car in front and within a few miles it had closed on the one in front of it – ’10-4 good buddy, we’d got us a convoy!’ This often happens, it’s frustrating but, you’ll remember, this is not a competitive event…
As we drove into the village of Grafton Underwood the leading car, a Jaguar XK140, slowed and turned left, the following MG Midget continued ahead and so did we, the correct left turn was a few yards further on – one down!
Our route continued through high-hedged lanes too narrow or too twisting to slip past the Midget and we joined the A427 through Oundle, an attractive market town with its biscuit-coloured limestone buildings reminding us of the Cotswolds. On through Cotterstock and the pair of us caught up with a blue Mini…
As the three of us drove into King’s Cliffe we caught an E-Type however the Mini stopped to help another one at the roadside whose navigator was peering under the car whilst the three of us carried on towards Blatherwycke (population 55), a disappointed contender for our quirkily named places list, and caught yet another car, a ‘Frogeye’. We crossed the A43 and the E-Type pulled into an optional refreshment stop at a farm shop, down to three again!
Through the village of Harringworth where traffic cones and hi-viz stewards announced a summer fete was in full swing then over the River Welland and under a railway viaduct. Here there was a ‘route check’, the second of the day. It required us to answer a simple question, “What is the bridge number?” the bridge being the railway viaduct, the answer ‘GSM1-42’ (Isn’t 42 the answer to everything?)
Then we spotted an error in the roadbook! The sign in the book pointed left on the A572, the number on the road sign was A672 so we took it, all the while behind the Midget, the Frogeye now nowhere to be seen. Then our prayers were answered, a long, empty straight stretched before us and we were past, after 29 miles we were past! Our joy was short lived, before we had reached the next village, Lyddington we had also caught up with the Frogeye and dutifully followed it as the sky darkened with grey clouds – maybe they’d have to stop to put their hood up…
The route took us around Eyebrook Reservoir, constructed in the late ’30s and early ’40s to supply water to the Corby steel works and now a 400 acre trout fishery. The reservoir was used during 1943 as a practice site for the Dambuster raid, standing in for the Mohne Reservoir. The perimeter road was bordered by high hedges so only glimpses of the water could be seen but we’d ticked off another first, we had visited Rutland, at 18 x 17 miles England’s smallest county.
Horninghold, Hallaton, Cranoe and Glooston followed in quick succession. We were still behind the Frogeye and we’d both caught another car but with the finish fast approaching we were happy to sit there and soon swung right into the Leicester Airport car park to be greeted and presented with our ‘prize’, a commemorative bottle of Welland Valley Wander beer. Tea, cake, banter with other crews followed. It had been a great day, one we especially enjoyed as we’d been able to explore a new and rather attractive part of the Midlands.
Top marks and thanks to the Loughborough Car Club for its excellent route, first class event organisation and superb road book – we’d had a lot of fun.
Post script: a few days later we were to have a shock when we read on the event’s website the page entitled, “Close voting in the most desirable car”:
“There was one vote in it to decide the car that most participants would like to take home. Winning the popular choice was Ray Mill’s gorgeous Mercedes 190SL. A close run second was the immaculate Riley One-Point-Five saloon of David Pipes and Gael Hepburn, with past winner Richard White’s 1934 Aston Martin Le Mans in third.”