Hexham to Gleneagles
The overall winners of The Flying Scotsman 2022 are:
1. William Medcalf and Andy Pullan – Bentley SuperSports
2. Martin Hunt and Bob Mannix – Frazer Nash BMW 328
3. Theo Hunt and Jimmy Galliver – Frazer Nash TT Replica
The driver’s hand brushed the freshly fallen snow from the bonnet of his 1924 Bentley, nearly 100 years old and covered in frozen precipitation, not the sort of conditions a pensioner should be subjected to, and that’s just the car. This machine though will no doubt be as unruffled by the weather as it’s pilot, snow and cold be damned. Wrapped up against the freeze that had descended upon Northumberland, and much of the UK, overnight, the driver and his navigator continued to clear the snow, and despite the protection of gloves they would both be feeling the tingle and chill of the flakes upon their fingers. Cold of hand and warm of heart though, or so it is said. Never has the old adage rung truer than on this frigid spring day, as whilst digits may have been frosty as they gripped steering wheels that were cast-iron cold, hearts were full as the gathered group met old friends and prepared for the return of the greatest rally purely for vintage motorcars, the 2022 Flying Scotsman.
It has been three years since the last time these enthusiasts gathered for this celebration of vintage motorsport, two of those as topsy-turvy as the weather that continued to torment the region during this, the scrutineering day. One minute the sun shone brightly, reflecting off the snow that lay all around and then, in the next instant the blue sky was obscured by cloud as the latest blizzard blew through and danced its erratic steps through the gathered cars.
A great percentage of the nearly 100 strong field are of course open top, but for the most part this sort of weather won’t bother them in the slightest, “I think it’s going to be a cold rally” said Stuart Anderson, one of a number of veteran Bentley drivers, “this is the sort of stuff we enjoy though, and we don’t have a hood anyway.” The field is full of characters like Stuart, old enough to know better, daft enough not to care. It takes a certain type of informed fool to attempt a rally of over 600 miles in a pre-war car, and I mean that with the utmost of respect. After all, these men and women have the spirit of the pioneer and adventurer within them, without people of their ilk we would never have ventured out of the cave and so a little bothersome weather will likely only heighten their enjoyment of the next three days of rallying action!
Three days that will track a carefully chosen course across the border into Scotland via Kielder Forest, gathering momentum as the cars escape the borderlands and push for the higher ground of the Cairngorms before heading south again after Aviemore, towards the trip’s terminus at the famous and traditional finish at Gleneagles. Along the way there will be the usual mix of challenging regularities to push the navigational skills of those in the maps seat and some exhilarating speed tests, that give those with a twitchy right foot the opportunity to display their abilities.
The lavish finish location will be nothing less than those that make it deserve, and it is a case of ‘those that make it’ as the task ahead is no easy weekend tour, for crew or machine. Some will undoubtedly fall foul of the rallying gods, and whilst none of us want a high rate of attrition, some retirements are inevitable, it is all part of the game. The sweeps often earn their money on this event, but today they were unusually quiet with nothing more major than the odd failed brake light to sort out. The only excitement came with the late arrival of four machines that were held up in customs, because of course everyone is smuggling vintage cars these days…
There will be plenty of excitement to come though, fate is but biding its time before it deals hands both fair and foul to the assembled hopefuls. How the cards will fall nobody can say, what is for certain is that after a three-year absence everyone is excited to get going and we will be in for a tremendous three days.
‘They’re gonna end up in hospital’ chuckled a bemused onlooker as he observed the open top vintage cars cutting a bead through the snow-covered landscape. ‘I’ll sell them my hat and coat, but I still reckon they’ll end up with hypothermia’ the man continued. I suppose to the uninitiated it must appear somewhat foolhardy to be out in such machines, when the countryside is decked in white and the air is cold enough to condense the breath of even the smallest animal, such as it was this morning, when the Flying Scotsman 2022 roared into action.
The start at Slaley Hall was particularly frigid, and as car no 1 was flagged away, the 1922 Bentley of Lieven van Hoylandt + Wim De Sutter, no doubt flag waver Eleonora Piccolo, HERO-ERA’s hospitality chief, was dreading the prospect of continuing the job for the other 92 machines waiting to start. Any thoughts about the cold amongst the competitors though would soon be forgotten, as the event began with instant action, with a test around the golf course at Slaley demanding immediate concentration. Some took it steady, some took it very steady and some, like Bill Cleyndert in his Model A Special, “Betsy”, came out of the blocks hot, with navigator Elise Whyte screaming the instructions over the silver machines boisterous exhaust tone.
The sky was threatening as the cars left Slaley, heavy and grey and as we picked a path through the countryside flurries of snow blew through the fields as the landscape undulated along the ancient contours. Soon though the clouds broke, and by the time the remnants of Hadrian’s Wall were reached a glorious sun shone through the pale blue atmosphere. Against the white landscape it was magical, and perhaps for car 23, the Lea-Francis of Kurt Vanderspinnen + Bjorn Vanoverschelde it was all a bit too enchanting, as they appeared to miss the first regularity entirely, although they wouldn’t be the only one’s to suffer in the snow, as later in the morning car 38, the stunning Singer Le Mans prototype, one of just three ever built and currently crewed by Chris Wilks and David Creech, would suffer mechanical gremlins and retire for the day. We all hope to see them out again in the blue flying machine in the morning.
The compass needle pointed north for most of the day, as the cavalcade of rally cars headed for Scotland, and strangely as the latitude increased so did the temperature and the level of sunshine, seemingly against the common laws of nature. But as the border was crossed the mercury rose and although still only measuring in the single figures it was deceptively warm and the snow was replaced by the green of the rolling hills just north of Kielder Forest. England was behind us, as was the first test and first regularity, but there would be a further two regularities to contest before lunch.
These would be conducted under yet more sun filled skies, as the maps directed a course through gorgeous hills with snow capped mountains in the distance. Clear meltwater streams sparkled in the light, and no doubt there were moments of clarity for people as it sunk in at just how fortunate we were to be rallying in vintage motor cars, on such tremendous roads in these conditions. It was like driving through a constantly evolving picture postcard, and one could be forgiven for forgetting that there was a competition going on.
But the competition was going on, and as the morning unravelled by lunchtime William Medcalf and Andy Pullan were top of the pops, in the instantly recognisable red Bently SuperSport machine, with a narrow lead over Martin Hunt’s Frazer Nash BMW 328, with navigator Bob Mannix, and then Paul Dyas and Ian Tullie occupying third place in Pauls Bentley.
The afternoon was largely about covering some ground, although there would be the reward of a further regularity and two tests to punctuate the miles. There was also tremendous crowds of people out to see the cars through particularly on regularity no 4, whoever had conducted the PR in this area had clearly done a sterling job. The last test of the day married up old and new, with the vintage cars venturing onto a drift racing circuit, heavens above! Some would take this quite seriously indeed, with much rubber and smoke being expelled from tortured tyres. A typically ostentatious display of driving skill was laid on by Theo Hunt, with navigator Jimmy Galliver struggling to hold onto the road book as the Frazer Nash rep was thrown this way and that. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and Theo’s father Martin was also putting on some display in his Frazer Nash BMW, at one point threating to rotate the machine entirely, although in true drifting style he held onto the raging beast.
By the time the scores for the day were totted up top spot was still occupied by William Medcalf, but now with Paul Crosby and Ali Proctor in second place, 13 seconds adrift. Martin Hunt and Bob Mannix are now third. It is early days though, albeit we are already one third done and sadly there is already one definite retirement, car 54, the Bentley 3-4 ½ of Andrew and Ann Boland. Tomorrow the Cairngorm’s beckon, and the weather is forecast to take a downturn, with the predicted chance of precipitation being at 80%, as if competing in these cars wasn’t difficult enough…
‘Welcome to the Highlands’ read the sign, a sure enough indication that the altitude was about to rise. But what goes up must come down, and the second day of the Flying Scotsman, whilst full of plenty of highs, would see some crews come crashing back down to earth as the mechanical gremlins began to strike.
The day began with the ground wet underfoot, and the prospect of a downpour loomed on the horizon. Before the weather could get involved though, a brisk time control section at Crail Aerodrome followed by a test gave crews the opportunity to stretch their legs before some miles would need to be covered to get the rally up into the Cairngorms. Crail, or HMS Jackdaw as it was known, is one of the best-preserved wartime airfields in the UK, a befitting status for this particular rally. It was also home to the Joint Services School of Linguistics up until it’s closure in the 60’s, and some of the crews would have done well to employ their services, as they struggled to get to grips with the roadbook instructions whilst navigating in and out of the listed airfield buildings.
As drivers pushed their cars for a decent time, components began to fail, including a second broken trailing arm for Bill Cleyndert, although a quick trip to a friendly farmer welding bay with car 76 navigator Matt Abrey got him back on track! Some incredible charity and rallying spirit, although Matt had been afforded the time to spring into action, the Aston Martin he was competing in with Simon Arscott had overheated, after Simon had forgotten to switch the fan on!
Simon and Bill were still in the rally though, which, by the time the day was done would not be the case for some and the sweep crews were kept busy for the duration of the leg. Other issues included a wiring fire for Dan Geoghan and Pip White in their Riley MPH, a broken clutch release bearing for Andrew Cairns and Ian Wallace in their Frazer Nash and a broken gearbox for Wilfred and Sandra Schaefer in their Talbot, amongst many others. As the hail hit during the morning as well, many may have been wondering why they had left the safety of the Fairmont at St. Andrews, but the reward, if the blast around Crail hadn’t been enough, would come as the day got going properly after the first coffee halt.
The second regularity provided the first hint of altitude of the day, and the first view of the highlands stunning scenery as snow capped peaks towered above the heather flanked roads of the competition section. It was a firm display of nature’s beauty, as well as her power, as whilst travelling between the trees of the Forest of Alyth, the devastating effect of the winter storms was in full view as the road was lined with upturned trees. It was quite an awesome sight and would set a theme for most of the days forest sections, including a regularity through the Loch Errochty Forest that took crews on an exciting and undulating navigation of the forest fire roads.
By lunch time, which would take place at the impressive Blair Atholl, the top three remained unchanged from the previous day, although there was the tiniest crack of daylight appearing between the top two as William Medcalf improved his margin over Martin Hunt in second place. But, nothing stays the same for long in rallying and there was about to be a shift in the fortunes of one of those fighting for the lead. Post lunch and there was no time for a length digestion, as a brisk test followed in the grounds of Blair Atholl, followed quickly again by another test up the sharp incline of the adjacent Lude House. The engine notes of William Medcalf’s Bentley sounded particularly sweet as it bounced off of the trees surrounding the Lude climb, as did Martin Hunt’s Frazer Nash BMW 328, but behind them there would be no car 97 of Paul Crosby and Ali Proctor. The second-place finishers in 2019 had suffered a difference of opinion with the differential of the supercharged MG TB and their rally was over for this year, promoting Paul Dyas and Ian Tullie into third spot, a just reward for their consistent performances on the competitive sections.
This would be how the day would finish, certainly for the top three in any case, but not until some more exceptional regularities, particularly the last of the day which wound its way along a sun-soaked road, under the gaze of yet more snow-capped peaks, before finishing with a flourish on the closed roads of a private woodland. It was a glorious end to a fabulous day for most, and to those that have sadly succumbed to the endurance element of this rally, we can only say we wish you were here. Tomorrow is the final day, and it remains to be seen who will make the flag at Gleneagles, and in what order they will finish.
After 600 miles over three days, in just about all of the weather the north of the UK could throw at us, the Flying Scotsman 2022 is complete, with those that have made the finish having taken the finishers flag at the famous Gleneagles. Champagne was served to all of the finishers on the crew cut grass in front of the hotel, shorn as short as one would expect from a world class golfing facility, and whilst golf will always ruin a nice walk, there was nothing that would ruin the last days driving for the competitors. Unless of course anyone was to suffer a mechanical retirement in sight of the flag.
81 cars began the last leg, with William Medcalf and Andy Pullan leading the machines away, the number 18 Bentley holding tightly onto the lead it had held since the first miles of the first day, all that time ago in Hexham. Martin Hunt and Bob Mannix, in the raucous and much smaller Frazer Nash BMW 328 would certainly chase them hard and with 3 tests and 5 regularities still to be completed there was still plenty to play for.
Plenty of competition left then, and to remind everyone that this would not be a tour into the finish the day was set to be bookended by tests, offering the chance of twists until the end. The twists at the start of the day though would be up through the most northerly part of the Cairngorms and a climb in altitude with snow capped peaks seemingly everywhere. The threat of rain had again not materialised, and the landscape was drenched in the soft glow of the early morning sunshine, although as the climb up to the lofty heights of The Lecht was completed everyone was feeling the chill of the wind as it howled over the tops of the mountains. The thermometer read one above zero, but with the wind chill factored in the mercury would have been dropping well below freezing, but for the view commanded from this height it was well worth it, that is if anyone could wipe the tears from their eyes for long enough to see it!
The snow in the distance was a reminder of some of the less pleasant conditions experienced on this rally, the hailstorm that blew across Scotland yesterday for example, but the sunshine was a reminder of just how blessed we have been for the most part and, on reflection, the landscape has been all the more spectacular for the snow. But enough of this discourse on the glory of the landscape, back in the competition and by lunchtime things were getting tense. Out front the Medcalf Bentley was still flying, now with a 30 second lead over Hunt and Mannix in second place, but the fight for third was getting interesting. Paul Dyas and Ian Tullie, third overnight after Paul Crosby’s demise, had slipped to fourth, with Theo Hunt and James Galliver over taking them on the score sheets. The crews had been level on times leaving the start in the morning, but now the young duo in the Frazer Nash had scraped out a ten second lead over their more experienced counterparts. It would be youth vs experience and David vs Goliath with the diminutive but more nimble Nash up against the towering Bentley, but the Nash was struggling, pinking and missing, the odds were swinging back in the favour of the big Bentley.
By the flag it would be the Frazer Nash that would triumph, in the end beating Paul and Ian in the Bentley to third place with the same margin of 10 seconds. Second would be secured by Martin Hunt and Bob Mannix, their chances of an assault on first place gone after they had made a mistake during the afternoon. It would make it a family affair on the podium, and perhaps next time Theo and Jimmy can go one better and beat Theo’s old man.
That of course meant that first place and the victor’s champagne would go to the imperious William Medcalf and Andy Pullan, with a lead that they never let slip. It was a dominant performance and a win that both were clearly delighted with, taking the opportunity to douse each other with their glasses of champagne as they crossed the line. “Thank you to Mr Pullan, it’s all in the nav, I just do as I’m told” was William’s self-effacing view on it, although as Andy pointed out “This is William’s third win now, and I’m delighted that this is my first. A great competition, really tight throughout.”
Of course, the competition element of the Flying Scotsman is but one part of something much greater. For most it is just about finishing, for completing a challenging route in cars that really might be better suited to enjoying their retirement. But for these people this is a celebration of these machines, an opportunity to show them to a public that hold a fond fascination for them, evidenced by the sheer amount that showed up along the route to wave the cars through and by those that gathered in the rain at the finish, clapping and cheering just as loudly regardless of the position in which the crew finished. It is also about keeping these old machines moving and inspiring the next generation, who will become the custodians of these motorcars, long after the current crop of internal combustion engines becomes obsolete. Youngsters such as Hugh Sutton, 14 years old and competing with his father Tony, and doing a bloody good job too. These are the people that will one day need to care for these cars and ensure there’s and the sports survival. Now though it is time to celebrate late into the night, to honour the tradition of this competition and observe the achievements of all those that have finished, as well as those that have tried. Until next spring, when we line up again in these grand old cars for another thrilling competition, with another entry no doubt populated by special cars and extraordinary competitors from all over the globe.