(words and pics by Bruce Kelsey)
As many of you know, Mike and I, together with Brian Samways and our good friend Tom West were planning to return to the Alps this year to complete unfinished business. However, it appeared that the classic car gremlins hadn’t quite finished with us and owing to a combination of issues, we opted instead to put our advanced plans on hold for a year. Watch this space for ‘Return to the Alps’ or MOT+ part two.
With no Morris adventure on the horizon, in late May I set about scanning the various UK rallies to see where I could visit. It was then the idea of popping over to Northern Ireland came to me. I have long standing friends in Northern Ireland (who, quite coincidentally, have a one owner from new March 1957 black 4 door Minor which they are hoping to restore soon) who have been longing to see the convertible. At the same time, I noticed that the Northern Ireland Branch were holding their Regional Run (as opposed to a formal rally) and part of this run would take in a large stretch of the Antrim Coast road. Now, any Top Gear or Fifth Gear fans will know that both shows regularly use this road to test new and old cars and it is widely acclaimed to be one of the best driving roads in Europe. So the chance to combine visiting friends, making new friends, driving the Minor and having a great time to boot was just too good to miss.
Having spent the previous few days sorting out a few spares and giving the car a good wash and polish, I set off from home around half past one with the aim of getting to my overnight stop in Dumfries somewhere around 7pm. After a very pleasant chat with the toll taker at Dunham Bridge I headed for the A1 and a right turn towards the North. A steady run at 55-60mph was really enjoyable and great to see a number of classics on the road too. I was passed by a spotless series 1 E-type Roadster – the Grace Kelly lookalike in the passenger seat was waving furiously and smiling as they blasted past. Great stuff. Before too long signs for Catterick and the various army barracks meant that Scotch Corner was fast approaching. Fuel was good and the car was running well so I opted to press on rather than stop so a left turn onto the A66 and we were heading westwards. As I climbed away from Richmond, the clouds were darkening and it was clear that at some stage the wipers would be tested. Well, they certainly got a good workout as the near horizontal rain found it only too easy to find gaps in the Minor hood. I did also notice the trademark trickle of water onto my foot from the screen but hey – it’s a Morris – what else was I expecting!!
The A66 is nothing like the road it used to be in days gone by with regular dual carriageway sections and much better surfacing it wasn’t long before I spied Penrith in the distance. Fortunately now, and somewhat bizarrely, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky (I thought the East side was supposed to be drier than the West?) After passing Carlisle, it was just a short spin to the Scottish Border. I was hoping to cut through to Gretna Green but time was pressing and so I carried on to the Premier Inn at Dumfries where, I stayed overnight. After checking in and just before having a bite to eat, I went in search of petrol as I would be away early in the morning to catch the Cairnryan ferry. Fuel sourced, I ventured out of the town and found a lovely spot to take a few photos in the glorious evening sunshine. Back at the Hotel, it was food, shower and bed. All told a very pleasant and trouble free drive of just over 235 miles.
Up at 4.45am and away from the Premier Inn by 5.15am and back on the road heading towards Cairnryan – a journey of around 75 miles or so. Not much traffic on the road so able to keep a steady 55mph most of the way. Only real traffic was the big waggons heading for the ports too. Pitched up at Cairnryan at quarter to seven so just had enough time to check in, go to the loo and grab a welcome cup of tea before we were called aboard. Once parked, I headed for the galley and tucked into a bacon and egg baguette and a cup of coffee. Once the inner man was satiated, I found a spot in the viewing lounge and sat down to enjoy the cruise. After an hour and three quarters of very calm sailing, we landed at Larne and disembarked. Once clear of the port and its surroundings, I headed for my friend Louise’s house at Hillsborough, just south of Belfast which would be my base for the duration. Much of the road to Hillsborough is motorway but you do get some great views of the City of Belfast as you pass directly through the City on your way south. The famous Titanic Centre and the Harland and Wolff shipyard cranes Samson and Goliath can be seen from virtually anywhere in the City.After a pleasant three quarters of an hour trundle along the Northern Ireland motorway network I arrived at Louise’s house and looked forward to a good catch up and some much needed food.
After a great nights sleep, the day dawned bright but blustery with the weather forecast promising brief showers with sunny intervals. Having prepped the car for the show the night before, all I had to do was load up my man picnic (not a vegetable in sight ) and decide whether it was going to be a hood up or hood down day. I wimped out and, for the journey to the start at least, opted for hood up.
Arriving at the Hillside garden centre at Newtownabbey, I was greeted and welcomed by many members of the NI branch who were thrilled that I had come so far to join their event. I parked the car and headed indoors for a huge full English breakfast which was included in the cost of the event. After letting this settle and after chatting to all the participants, it was time to set off. A long convoy of Minors headed away from Newtownabbey along the quieter back roads and aimed for Larne where we would pick up the coast road proper. As usual with such events, the sight and sound of many minors passing by attracted lots of local interest. At one point I heard someone on the footpath – watching as we all went by – note that we even had our own police car. She was referring, of course, to the branch chairman’s lovely Met police minor with all the working sirens and lights. Robert does love to play with those
Shortly we emerged onto the coast road just as the sun broke through which offered us fantastic views of Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre in the distance. The road itself hugs the coastline tightly and passes through some wonderful scenery, villages and communities. Ballygalley and Glenarm passed by before we reached our scheduled lunch stop at Carnlough. Picnic baskets and deck chairs emerged as we took advantage of the increasingly warm sun and I decided that the afternoon was the right time to go topless. Hood down now for the rest of the day – hopefully. Once back in the cars and after a very restful lunch break, we headed a little further up the coast before turning inland at Waterfoot to begin our return journey which would end, a couple of hours later, at the Tullyglass House Hotel for their famous carvery. What a carvery it was too! As much of everything as you could eat – fantastic. Very pleased to report that there were no breakdowns on the run and everyone finished in good time. All finishers received a free golf umbrella and all dipped into their pockets to support the raffle. After the meal, Robert Hoy the branch chairman thanked Kenny McIlroy, the Vice Chairman and run organiser and his team of helpers, for making it such an enjoyable day. Best NI branch car – judged (impartially of course) by yours truly – went to Stephen Gordon and his just restored 1954 black S2 4 door. A really well restored car. Then it was time for me to be surprised as Robert thanked me for supporting the event and presented me with a special edition glass key ring that the branch had manufactured. A lovely memento of a super day. Finally the raffle was called and much to my amazement and surprise, I won the main prize – an emulsion paint spraying system worth over £150. What a day!! After a few conversations and farewell’s in the car park, I headed back to base with a beaming smile on my face. A really lovely day, with great people and some memorable sights to boot. Life couldn’t have been much better
Louise was working today so I opted to head off early and do another portion of the Coast road route, this time from Portstewart in the North East round to Cushendell (but in actual fact I just went all the way round back to Larne) The weather was holding and the sun was warm out of the breeze as I regained the coast and headed East towards Portrush past the famous golf course. I stopped at various points along the way to take photos and to just marvel at the beauty of my surroundings. Every now and then folks would come over and ask about the car and take photo’s including a bus load of Italian tourists whose exclamations of ‘Bellisimo’ and ‘Bambino’ just made me smile from ear to ear. One chap insisted on showing me photos of his collection of vintage motorcycles via his trusty I-Pad. Still can’t quite get used to the folks who take photos with their I-Pad – it just looks wrong but then maybe I’m becoming a bit of a technophobe At one stop a cavalcade of classic cars pulled in including several MGB’s, an MG-ZA Magnette, a Clipper blue 2 door Minor (!!), an Austin Mini Cooper S with special Mole grip attached to a flexi brake hose to stop a leak and allow the driver to get home and two absolutely mint late eighties cars – a B registered Toyota Celica and an F registered Rover 213 (Honda Ballade shape). They were very interested in the car and what I had done to it and told me they were on their own run from Londonderry to Ballycastle. After spending about half an hour with them, I made my farewells and headed off again
I had decided that I was going to stop over at the Giants Causeway and spent a fascinating couple of hours marvelling at the wonders of this natural phenomenon. It is truly breath-taking and well worth a look. Lots of photos were taken before I jumped back into the car to mosey along the rest of the coast road through Ballycastle, Cushenden and Cushendell and eventually back to Larne and then home again. Another superb day and the car was performing flawlessly.
Big change in the weather today – rain – and lots of it!! Fortunately I had agreed to spend the day with David McCullough and his wonderful collection of projects. Wonderful friendly hospitality and the chance to see some superb cars. David really has gort a garage to die for. David also treated me, and Kenny, (who had also pooped round to see David) to my first proper ride in a Series MM.
After spending a relaxing day on the Tuesday with Louise and her family – who also have a very original one-owner-from-new 1957 four door – it was time to head home again. Once again the car performed flawlessly – unlike its last ‘foreign’ outing in Italy where a short in the wiring put paid to any hopes of further alpine adventure. The only fault I encountered was the failure of the mileometer as the mileage ticked round from 3,999 to 4,000 – it simply wouldn’t go past 3,999. Ah well, a small hindrance to what was otherwise a fabulously enjoyable trip. I did just over 1,000 miles and will not hesitate to do it all again next year. It will be a different route but the hospitality and fun, together with the warmth and humour of the branch members will make this a trip not to be missed next year. Are you going to come along next time???