by Gar Cole
The tyres had barely cooled down on my little Fisher caravan following a blisteringly hot long weekend at the South Cerney steam show, just 3 days later I was packing up again ready for the 'Steam and Scrumpy' tour of Somerset, work has an annoying habit of getting in the way of our car hobby which dictated taking the caravan to the Cheddar campsite on the Thursday and setting up my pitch and the group banner, it did mean an additional 260 mile round trip but I didn't think my customers who I was driving to Southampton docks Friday morning would appreciate arriving at the luxurious Queen Mary cruise liner in a taxi pulling a 58yo caravan.
I've always loved Somerset and spent many happy family holidays around the Cheddar Gorge area and I always feel better once I've crossed the Avonmouth bridge , Petruth Paddocks campsite is a conrods throw away from Cheddar village and the owners are petrol heads and were very excited to be hosting our group, upon arrival I was greeted by Thomas Jenkins, his girlfriend Emily and their mate Thomos , thank goodness for the one letter difference or it could have been confusing, TJ's MK2 Granada looked as well polished as ever surrounded by 3 tiny pod tents. Having recently been given the moniker of 'Old Mother Cole ' I decided to fuss over the kids and make sure they had enough food and not just biscuits, I need not have worried, modern mobiles have something called 'App's and before I knew it fresh made hot pizzas were being delivered direct to the site, the wonders of modern tech, I bid the 3 intrepid campers farewell and headed home while tucking into my pre made Cornbeef sandwich, no Apps for this old dinosaur.
Arriving back at camp Friday afternoon I was pleased to see the expected biblical downpours had not arrived, also the campsite appeared to have entered a worm hole in the space time continuem, the front row was filled with classics from Jag XJS, Triumph Stag, Granada and Zephyr and gave the illusion of a campsite from at least 30 years ago, other campers were naturally admiring the cars and asking questions. Tragically I had arrived too late once again to help put up the Coleman shelter and it stood filled with table and chairs, we were still waiting on Mike Peake in Poppy the Herald and Last Minute Liam in the Rover P6 V8, the intrepid Debbie Fizz Berrimen had unfortunately suffered a mechanical issue on her Morris ambulance campervan and was awaiting recovery to Gloucester services.
Hungry faces started looking at me like a pride of lions looks at a steak so Old Mother Cole swung into action preparing a Chicken Chassuer for 12 people, Phil Allin was sceptical I could produce enough for everyone and in a reasonable time in my wee caravan, I shushed him up and set him to work chopping veg, which was soon taken over by wife Lorraine as he was making ' a pigs ear ' of it, just over an hour later a Cauldron full was bubbling and ready with more faces appearing at the door saying ' ooarr that smells noice ' in increasingly stronger and more bizarre Somerset accents, by the end of the night we all sounded more like Pirates ( Aharrrrr Jim Lad )
Arriving last was ummmm Last Minute Liam, with family in tow, we were all impressed watching their vintage 1960s inflatable tent being erected, way ahead of its time, in an effort to be helpful I pumped up the double airbed for them, it didn't occur to me it wouldn't fit through the narrow opening door into the tent, but the thought was there, as the evening drew on those of us in caravans looked eviously at Bernard and Ian's Caravan that was connected to the mains supply, and was boasting such luxuries as a working fridge and heater and lights, those in tents looked eviously at those of us in caravans that boasted such luxuries as a comfy bed, toilet and a waterproof roof ( but more of that later )
Poor Debbie had been messed around all day by the RAC and were now relaying her to Gloucester services where she would have to spend the night in the Morris camper until a suitable low loader could be sent first thing in the morning, having myself driven over 500 miles in 2 days I was the first to retire and left the others happily chatting around the campfire enjoying drinks and scrumptious gluten free cakes made by John's Ticehursts wife.
Saturday arrived in what seemed to me the blink of an eye , I slept a little too well and appeared to be the last to rise, lucky for me other cookers were making breakfast so I made myself a couple of cheeky bacon rolls and packed a bag of essentials for the tour (wine gums etc)
Word reached us from Debbie that she was expecting the lowloader at 9am so we made the decision to await her arrival so she could still join the tour riding shot gun in another car, as I was doing by riding in the back of Ian and Bernards Zephyr for the day. Sadly once again the RAC let Debbie down so she signalled for us to carry on without her, our climate changing convoy of V8s, V6s , Inline sixes and 1 four pot rumbled and thrummed our way out the campsite with that unforgettable smell of unburnt hydrocarbons, there had been concerns the annual Balloon Fiesta in Bristol would make it difficult to reach the SS Great Britain, however after a very pleasant 18 mile drive using the back roads into Bristol the traffic turned out to be remarkably quiet and we pulled in the ship's parking area.
We found a nice empty row and formed our own small classic car display, coach parties just arriving started taking photos before heading towards the ship, we were thrilled to be joined for the first time by 2 group members driving a stunning Austin Sprite, I'm hopeless remembering names sorry but I'm sure his name was Kevin , were always trying to encourage more local members to join us if a tour is passing by your town.
The SS Great Britain lived up to its reputation as one of the UKs best museums, you cannot fail to be impressed by the size of her and the engineering that went into building this ship 174 years ago, you are able to descend below the water line of the ship in its dry dock, a glass case encircles the ship with a thin layer of water on top which really creates the feel of being under water, huge dehumidifiers keep the fragile iron hull from rusting any further. The ship has been restored 1 area at a time in remarkable detail, we marvelled at how small the bunks and cabins were, even in 1st class it must have been quite the voyage on the 6 weeks trip to Australia, in contrast the first class dining room is a grand sight to behold, long banquet tables, gold gilded columns and paintings and even a piano. 1st class or not a tour of the galley kitchen complete with rats running around the cupboards was quite the eye opener, the whole ship is a fascinating glimpse into another time , for those of us who are admirers of Brunel's heavy engineering we found ourselves mesmerised at midships at the sight of the engine, a 4 cylinder monster taking up 3 decks in height, we estimated the stroke on the pistons to be over 12ft, seeing it all in motion again being driven now by electric motors was a real treat and we could only marvel at just how it must have looked in full steam with the pistons shooting up and down, steam hissing everywhere and the floors vibrating, you really must visit this ship if you get the chance.
We bid the SS farewell, after hearing the good news that Debbie was now safe at the campsite we decided to do the route in reverse so we could collect her from Cheddar, the convoy headed off to collect Debbie, however the ' 3 hoods ' in the Zephyr as we were described accidentally took a different road, knowing Debbie was being rescued by the rest of the party we trundled on our way towards the village of Priddy at the top of Cheddar Gorge and it was pure luck we arrived half hour before everyone else and were happily tucking into cheese n onion baguettes and pints before the rest turned up in what was now pouring rain, Bernard, Ian and myself practised our ' innocent smiles '.
Suitably refreshed we said our goodbyes to our new friends in the Sprite and the lovely olde world Victoria Inn and headed down the winding and twisting road that snakes its way through the Gorge, i was sat in the back of the Zephyr in total comfort and took the opportunity to film the steepest segment, as much as the rain, steamed windows and vacuum wipers would allow. Unfortunately at this point we lost Giles and John in the Stag after they suffered an overheating issue, which seemed strange as we were descending the Gorge not climbing it, being so close to the campsite they decided it was sensible to retire and limped back, it was later diagnosed as only being a water pipe not being tightened enough and they had slowly been losing all their water.
From here we drove through the picturesque countryside between Cheddar and Watchfield passing through several pretty but rain lashed villages, Watchfield is home to Richs Cider Farm, another place I've known about from childhood holidays, it has a lovely shop selling not only ciders but all manor of alcohol, exotic cheeses and jams and preserves, Debbie was more than happy to try a few samples of cider after her 24 hour ordeal at the hands of the RAC, the place also has it's own museum with 3 of the biggest oak barrels you've ever seen, one containing over 10,000 pints, plus a vintage tractor and restored delivery vehicle wearing the firm's livery, after helping swell their coffers we took a few photos in the rain and headed for ' Burnham on Mud ' as Lorraine 'Ooarrrr' Allin insisted on calling it. Let's be polite and say Burnham has passed it's heyday, the once impressive Victorian buildings along the sea front now looking faded and with peeling paint and green streaked plaster, in the gloomy rain filled skies it had a forlorn feel to it, undeterred we parked up along the front and headed for the fish and chip shop, the Battered Fryer produced a very decent meal from yet another tired shop front , the rain mercifully stopped long enough for us to enjoy our food and ice cream.
The drive back to Cheddar passed without incident and all cars performed faultlessly, however.... on returning to our campsite we found young Thomos tent had got soaked through, the same had happened to Liams inflatable tent soaking everything inside, living only 8 miles away and with an unhappy partner who doesn't really like camping he did the sensible thing and threw everything into the P6 and retired to a comfy warm home, we all sat in the Coleman shelter with rain drops forming on the roof poles and dripping on the table thinking Liam had the right idea, my reputation for inviting rain fall on our tours was well and truelly cemented, so nothing was left to do but crack open snacks, wine and other goodies and ignore the puddles building up all over the campsite.
Sunday drive out to Haynes museum.
Debbie had asked the more mechanically minded members of our group to have a look at her engine before we headed to the Haynes museum in Sparkford, now our regular blogger and admin Mike 'Fat Bloke ' Peake has recently had some success with the cars he's worked on, mine included, and in the absence of Gus Brooks A.K.A Super enthusiast man, he manfully offered his services, diagnosing the points as the cause of the loss of power and popping back through the carb, as the cover was removed from Debbies engine was removed we expected to see Mike fly past in a blaze or red and white, cape flapping in the Breeze, however Gus is a tad more slender than Mike and he ended up waddling past in star spangled hot pants and red boots, to the theme from Russ Abbots comedy show, all together now ' dun dun dun da dahhhhh, Blunder Woman ' .
I'll give you all a moment to delete that image from your mind 😎
Despite the tightness of the working area in the Morris engine bay and the chafing of the hot pants, Blunder Peake had the points changed in no time and the engine fired up and sounded sweet, a test drive showed Morris to be driving better but still down on power over 35mph, at this point myself and Tom Jenkins agreed it might have a blocked carb jet so I nipped out for a bottle of Redex, we put a whole bottle into only a quarter of a tank of fuel assuring Debbie that it might smoke a bit but would help clear any gunk out of the carb, as a final offer of advice Ian Woodward said the engine sounded retarded and Debbie should have the timing advanced at the first opportunity she had at a garage, feeling confident our convoy headed off on the scenic route through wells and Shelton Mallet to the museum, this time I was passenger in Andy Permans Allegro VDP auto and what a complete treat it was, I've not been in one of these for 36 years and usually when I get back into a car that we had in my childhood I'm always surprised how small they feel, my SD1 a prime example, but the VDP has great headroom and leg room galore, the wood and leather interior is a pleasant place to be and I can see why Andy loves it and is in the process of restoring a second VDP, Debbie's Morris camper seemed to be having no trouble keeping up at 50 mph so we pressed on to Sparkford.
You will not be surprised to hear it was raining at the museum, but now immune to the soggy feeling of wet clothes we lined the cars and camper up for some photos, the museum has been greatly extended since my last visit 7 years ago and is well worth a visit, something for everyone there and a great restaurant, a good place to meet up with friends on a cold winter's day.
At this point we had to say goodbye to a lot of our fellow campers who had to return home for that dreaded word 'WORK'
This left just the 5 of us, me with Bernard and Ian in the Zephyr and John and Giles in the V8 Stag, shortly after our friends departed the sunshine reappeared, not wanting to waste a minute we diverted into Wells, parking in the ancient square and enjoying a walk around the grounds of the Cathedral, I also showed the guys the filming locations used by the Film ' Hot Fuzz ' that was shot entirely on location in the city, Giles very kindly offered me a drive of the Stag back to the site but I politely said no but could I ride passenger, what an absolute treat being driven in this iconic car with it's V8 engine singing off the high stone walled roads, I loved it and can see why owners and enthusiasts hold these cars in such high regard, the evening was a real treat enjoying dinner at the excellent Brent Cross carvery and getting to know each other better as only spending quality time together can do.
A great weekend that triumphed over the weather with determination to enjoy it, oh and in case you wondered, Debbie did have her timing adjusted and made it all the way to Lands End, between 4 of us I think we sorted Morris motor home out 😀
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