The Bath Tub Club's 'Raid Imber'
Monday 27th December 2011
By Anna Halfpenny (Cambridge Legless Frogs)
I. In which we meet 'Captain Predictable' at Grantham Services.
After a very merry evening spent with Gary and Tanya ('Mrs. The Wife') Dicks (which finally saw us crash at 5am, after sampling some chocolate wine and, of course, some Baileys coffee), I arrived at Granada Services about 10:30am, resplendent - if somewhat bleary-eyed - bundled in the back of Gary's charmingly sheddy, bright-yellow-and-red-primer old van. There were already half a dozen A-Series in the car park to greet us, including co-organiser James Robbins' Bamboo, a new addition to his rapidly growing fleet. No sooner was I out the van, than I was greeted by a beaming Liz Morse, proffering home-made cake. What service!
To everyone's delight and amazement, the A-Series just kept on arriving in a steady stream, and soon we had to re-shuffle our line up to accommodate everyone. People had come from far and wide - Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Somerset, Wales, West Sussex... It was good to catch up with friends we'd not seen for a few months, meet a few new ones (hello Chris Collins - nice to put a face to a Facebook name!), and to grab a coffee (of which I was in severe need). Apologies were received from Messrs. Ashton, Creed and Clewer - the former two blaming it on a heavy night of excess on Boxing Day. Pah! A likely story! Well... actually, knowing them, that *is* a likely story. We missed you, guys!
Graham Colwill - the other organiser - returned to his car to find a lovely new set of bright red 'Captain Predictable' decals embellishing his front doors, courtesy of James. I understand these were to replace all the '69' racing numbers they'd adorned his car with, that Mrs. C had made him remove just the week before. I think 'well chuffed' would adequately describe his reaction (the choice of intonation is yours, dear reader... ;p ).
We even had some entertainment in the form of a modern car club with about 5 cars in attendance, setting up a load of cones at one end of the car park and conducting what I was reliably informed by Mr. Stenhouse, were 'driving skills trials'. I was most amused by the rally spec Peugeot 206 trying to hurtle round the 20m course, neatly parking between sets of cones and undergoing some tight reversing manoeuvres before screeching to a halt at the finish line and looking pretty chuffed with itself at having beaten the daily drive family estates it was up against. We'd pretty much filled the rest of the car park by then, and we did consider all pulling round to join their starting queue and bolster their numbers, but decided that wasn't really our idea of fun and set off in search of some muddy green lane action instead. Mrs. The Wife hitched a lift with Julian John (there on his own since Jan was unfortunately indisposed - we missed you, too, Jan!), leaving me to ride shotgun in the van. Yay!
II. In which we head for the hills.
We really did have a record-smashing turnout this year. Unfortunately, last year's event was cancelled because of the snow and ice, so maybe people were making up for lost time. In all, there were over 50 people in 36 A-Series, including:
- 2CVs from five decades, spanning the whole production run - '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s
- Dyanes from each decade of production - '60s, '70s and '80s
- 3 Méharis - more than have been spotted at Registers' Day!
- Every type of van - AK250, AK350, AK400 and Acadiane
- 1 4x4 (Mark Lewis' 'Yellow Peril').
There were also a couple of vintage 'guests' amongst the convoy - a Renault 4 van and an old Volvo (sorry, I'm no good with the details of those, but you'll see from the photos). The latter belonged to Sam Glover (of Practical Classics fame), who was delighted to have the opportunity to get out and about on a classic car event at which each car was totally unique, and where we weren't afraid to take our classics out to show them a good time, rather than standing around in a car park polishing them. Sam was our intrepid roving photographer, and it looks like there might be a write-up in Practical Classics magazine. [You can see his photos here.]
Our posse gathered, it was time to ship out. Our route was through parts of Salisbury Plain's military training area, which is usually closed to the public, and then on to the remains of Imber. After about a 10 minute road convoy, we reached MoD land. Ignoring the welcome signs bearing friendly messages like 'Warning Live Fire' and 'Do not leave the carriageway, as this area contains unexploded munitions which will kill you' etc., we put the metal to the floor to enjoy the rutted, mud-puddled tracks which crossed the hills and valleys of the Plain, affording some spectacular views along the way.
We surprised the dog walking fraternity at the White Horse car park by our unexpected arrival en masse, and raised a few smiles and sparked a few conversations about their A-Series childhood reminiscences. 'Captain' Colwill got out his enormous map (expertly handled in the wind!) and gave us a safety briefing which amounted to 'don't go off-piste or you'll get blown up'. I learnt that the MoD's training area is roughly the size of the Isle of Wight. Health & Safety duties discharged, the real fun began.
Lots of 'convoy swervys' and hoonage ensued, with many people preferring the topless option, and some passengers choosing to stand up in the back seats to better admire the view, or, if you're Sam 'The Editor' Fieldhouse, hanging out the back of your van. The weather was dry, if overcast, and pretty cold and windy up on the hills - but who cared?!
It was actually quite an eventful first half of the Raid. After the dog walkers, we had to pass some equestrians (two of them, fittingly), and wend our way through a local Half-Marathon event, with runners heading straight for us (probably faster than we were going). We also passed a few Land/Range Rover enthusiasts, out for a bit of a jolly, although they hadn't seemed to have found as much mud as we had. Apparently, there was quite a queue of them building up behind us at one point. We were also amused by the couple who had decided that heading off into the verges for a picnic seemed like a good idea... The intrepid Sam Glover was frequently seen pulling the Volvo over and climbing on it's roof for some high-angle photos, or leaping, gazelle-like, through No Man's Land (admitting later he hadn't remembered the all warning signs!) to document us all as we splashed past.
III. In which we arrive at Imber and discover the delights of St. Giles' Church (and it's welcoming coffee stall).
Now, for those of you who don't know, Imber was a tiny hamlet whose founders lacked the foresight to know that on 1st November 1943, the military would roll up and give its 135 inhabitants 47 days to gather their goods and chattels (including 5,000 head of livestock) and not be there by the time they returned. It was OK, though, the MoD would pay for the value of the vegetables they had to leave behind in their gardens. Glad to do their bit for the war, the villagers gladly complied, so that the military could practice for D-Day. Unfortunately, in 1948, the military decided that Imber was such a vital training area that their verbal promise that the villagers could return one day was gone with the wind.
Today, most of the village has disappeared, replaced with the empty shells mimicking a modern housing estate, used for training. St. Giles' Church, did survive annihilation. Most of the year it is closed, like the village, but today it was open. I wasn't expecting such a pretty church - the exterior is a bit plain, especially on a grey day. The interior was charming - decorated with holly, flood-lit, with a lovely wooden roof and tiled floors, and even some of the original paintwork in evidence on the masonry.
There was a display illuminating the hamlet's history - very sobering - and best of all, a welcoming group of local church preservationists on hand to sell coffee and tea. After an hour's pit-stop, with time to take photos of the impressive line-up, and wander round the churchyard and exercise the many canine companions that joined our party, we once again took to the road for some more dirt-tracking convoy shenanigans. No A-Series were harmed* during the making of this Raid, although Mr. Fieldhouse did put a dent in his exhaust pipe, but he's probably blaming Caitlin for that since she was driving 'Hetty', the gorgeous Belgian AK, while he was busy being David Bailley.
At this point, Sam Glover - whose Volvo* was the only car to break down en route - had to head off, citing a family commitment 'that started 2 hours ago!'. I don't think he really wanted to leave the fun...
IV. In which we arrive at The Churchill Arms and discover the delights of Minestrone soup.
About an hour later, we rolled up to The Churchill Arms in Lavington, where the beer was good, the welcome friendly and best of all, the heating on. James had arranged for us all to have lunch there, so after some ingenious double-parking in the car park, we flooded into the back room for a welcome sit-down and defrost. All except poor Bob Brotherhood, who decided that the points box on this '50s 2CV needed changing there and then if he was going to make it home safely. So, with a spare points box provided by Gary (lucky it was a modern one he needed!), he stayed outside to make some running repairs.
Our hosts served us a delicious home-made Minestrone soup with ciabatta bread. Now I'm not the biggest fan of soup, but this was really tasty, and just what the doctor ordered after the chilly convoy. The bonus was that I could have a pint of real ale as well, what with being in the back of the van again for the ride home...
This was my first Raid Imber, and what a treat to have such an array of vehicles to hoon with and to be able to see in the church, which hasn't happened in previous years. If you can possibly make it next year, I heartily advise you to do so. The best bit was definitely getting to drive across the rarely accessed military roads, which posed no problems for even the sheddiest of vans. Congratulations to The Bath Tub Club, and my thanks to James and 'Captain' Colwill for organising it all. It was universally acknowledged that all in all, it was a Grand Day Out, as Wallace & Gromit would have said.