2021 Portmeirion Tour

Well, since the beginning of 2020 we have been hibernating at home. No events, either touring or competitive have been running. I set to and had a go at getting the Talbot to run better and tried ignition timing and carburation but could not get to the bottom of the problem. Around May last year I thought I’d cracked it and had a super run up Croft Hillclimb behind our house but the next day it was the same as ever, coughing and spluttering and just not running properly.

I had my suspicions and they mostly centred on damage caused to the carburettors when the engine was re-built back in 2018 after the crankshaft broke in Italy. In the end I bit the bullet and decided to call on outside help. Sadly our engine builder had too much work in the shop and a couple of others at home were also too busy so in the end I decided to send the car over to Ian Polson in Suffolk. The guy who prepped the car and re-built the engine after the crank broke in Italy seems to have gone out of business but I wouldn’t have gone back there anyway.

Ian has been a great help in the past. Before we shipped to China in 2007 he very quickly identified and solved a problem with the oil feed to the gearbox and made a nice modification to the brake adjusters. Then in 2013 he again helped us out at the very last minute with an overheating problem before shipping the car to Buenos Aries so we have no qualms about his standards. We shipped the car to Ian at the beginning of the year and have been in near constant touch with his son, John ever since. It seems John is taking control of the business and doing very well at it. We received constant reports about the work in progress and we were shocked at the number of faults caused by poor workmanship that have turned up. Missing engine mount spacers, a cracked gearbox mount, various wrongly sized bolts, a badly worn distributor bush that made the timing erratic and of course the fuelling problem. Today, Tuesday 29th June we received the final report that the car is now ready.

The car waiting for collection at Ian Polson’s in Suffolk. Thanks John.

Penny and I are on a bit of a road-trip in England. This month is our daughter’s fourtieth birthday in Devon so there is an excuse to drive over and play with the grandchildren for the first time in ages. Our son, Ivan and his husband, Justin came too and we think this is the very first time that we have ever been able to all sit down for a meal together with everyone present. Wonderful! After that we visited one of Penny’s very best friends (and bridesmaid) in Wiltshire then headed further East to catch-up with more family on both sides. On Thursday we start heading North to Oswestry where the car will be delivered to us.

Once the car has been delivered we will be re-packing from our ordinary car into the Talbot and we’ll take a couple of day’s breather before we set off to Portmeirion in Wales. Way back at the beginning of our adventures, it was a chap called Ian Glass who originally found the tired old saloon that we eventually transformed into our trans-continental rally car. He runs a company called “Country Lane Tours” that has taken groups in old cars all over Europe for trips in far flung places. To date, we have never been able to tie up dates to join in with one but when he announced this one we both said “We’ve never been there – so why not”. We sent in the forms and entry fee and then Covid struck. After a couple of postponements it is at last going to happen and it will be the first event post covid for us and post repair for the car and more importantly, our first proper opportunity to say “Thank You” to Ian for finding such a super car for our adventures.

2nd July 2021

We are stopping off for a couple of days at what we thought was a half decent hotel near the Welsh border. Chosen because of it’s convenient location on a main road and with large car parks for maneuvering a large truck with a Talbot on the back in reality it is a pretty grim “wedding venue” hotel with almost no merits to mention. The room is minute and when you are in the bathroom it is phsically impossible to close the door. The food can only be described as ordinary and the staff are totally uninterested.

The moment I pressed the starter I already knew that the car was running better than at any time in the past few years. John Polson has told me that there is permanent damage to one of the carburettors and suggested a remedy that might even improve the performance too so once we’re home I’ll look into that option.

The only redeeming feature of our room was the view of the canal.

5th July 2021

The first day of the tour saw us driving into the Snowdonia National Park. An easy start with only about 47 miles round trip. The route took us up the Nant Gwynant Pass where “Carry On up the Khyber” was filmed and on to the Llanberis Pass where George Mallory practised for his ill fated attempt on Everest,

The Snowdon Mountain Railway is only running diesel engines this year as well as not going to the very top. It takes about fourty minutes on the single track line to reach 2,556 feet where we had a very bracing half hour before the train returned. When I say bracing, the wind was ferocious and extremely cold.

The drop-offs on either side were impressive. On the right – well, I couldn’t really see through the driver’s cab. On the left – that’s the valley we drove along.

6th July 2021

The second day took us back to Bala where we’d stopped for lunch on the way to Portmeirion. Roughly a 100 mile round trip today with a couple of superb regularity roads that are frequently used on the toughest of historic rallies, the “LeJog” or Lands End to John O’Groats; run by Hero over three days in December. Very steep and very narrow, one of them is named “Hellfire Pass” which should give you a clue as to what it is like to drive at three o’clock on a cold and wet December morning.

We stopped for a lunch of sandwiches at a very elegant Victorian country house that is now a five start hotel – Pale Hall. The return route offered to take us to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The route book didn’t exactly over sell the village: “The town, as you can see from the surrounding spoil tips, was once a huge slate producing centre. Now very depressed with all the closed shops” so we decided to give it a miss, especially as the rain was sheeting down in a most unpleasant manner.

7th July 2021

The last day was scheduled to take us to Caernarfon then on a loop out and around the Llŷn Peninsula. Penny and I were last here a very long time ago when I was still sailing and Abersoch was the venue for the British Squib Championships. Anyway, the weather wasn’t great to begin with and we’d been told that Caernarfon Castle was closed to visitors so we delayed setting off until the skies lifted a bit. We set off to Nant Gwrtheyrn and had a pleasant run all by ourselves. The village is at the bottom of a very steep track and historically was only accesible by boat. It is now a Welsh Language and Heritage Centre but it is now closed. More sandwiches and off we set again to Portmeirion.

I haven’t described this famous village much because we haven’t had much time to explore up to now so, as we got back at a decent time we had a good look around. It was created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and built between 1925 and 1975 as a holiday resort. Incidentally, he also designed Cushendun, here in Northern Ireland but it is considerably less eccentric than his Welsh wonder. His commissions are still visible all over the world but this place was his pride anf joy. It was used as a film set for the 1960s TV Sci Fi series “The Prisoner” which still has a huge following worldwide. To describe the place as “bonkers” isn’t an insult, it really is odd and is maintained to this day with the same colours and decorations as specified almostr a hundred years ago. Nearly all the houses in the vilalge are accomodation and there is a hotel down by the quay as well as Castle Deudraeth just off site. Mostly a pedestrian zone we had reserved parking in what is aclled the Town Square and there are golf buggies buzzing around helping tourists who are perhaps less fit for the very steep paths.

This is our very nice suite.

Some of the features of Portmeirion

I think I mentioned that the organiser, Ian Glass of Country Lane Tours was the person who ‘found’ our Talbot all those years ago for the Peking to Paris rally so we really did owe him a huge “Thank You”. Many years ago he tried to get us on one of his trips – Croatia I think but I did explain that after viewing his video of a earlier run that it probably wasn’t for us and he very graciously accepted this. Don’t get me wrong, there is a huge amount of work to set one of these events up and Covid restrictions certainly aren’t helpful, so, all things considered he did a very good job to get it on the road at all. Also, not everyone is enthralled, as Penny and I are with difficult competition timings, impossible navigation tests or even what might best be described as challenging accommodation – thinking Manjy in Madagascar or Bysk in Siberia – the Portmeirion is right up there with the best we have stayed in as regards service, comfort and quality of food. Touring jaunts like this are simply not for us. On the second day we were held up by a couple of our cars doing about 30mph on a busy main road and I consider it to be unfair and discourteous to other road users who could quite easily keep up to the national limit of 60 mph on such a road; there were about twenty impatient drivers behind us. Ian has very many returning clients who adore his events so that is a great testimony for Country Lane Tours. Long may he continue running entertaing tours for those with that mindset. I still say thank you for bringing us to a part of the world we hadn’t been to before.

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