Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

What can I say about Goodwood that conveys a sense of the place? Closest I can manage is “Sensory Overload!” especially the first day. Think of a Renaissance Faire on steroids for Car Guys and Gals. The roar of V12 Ferraris, straight 6 Jags, by God, a brace of H-16 BRMs? The smell of bean oil and racing gas? Tire squeal from proper treaded bias ply racing tyres? People dressed to the nines in period garb (at least 90% of attendees dress the part!) Close racing. It was the raison d'ĂȘtre for the whole trip. It made everything, despite the problems oh, so worth it! 

How close? Close enough to give my old friend, John Snow, Chief Steward of VARA a coronary. These guys are SERIOUS RACERS, not content on the fast parade of American Vintage racing. “If yew ain’t rubblin’, you ain’t racin’” is the mantra. In one race, a light weight E Type diced the whole race with a 289 Cobra. E Type led, then bobbled, Cobra struck and passed, then 3 laps or so from the end, the E made a brave move down inside, tapped the Cobra in a Pit Maneuver that the CHP should watch for lessons, spun the Cobra around, took the lead and won. No protest, not hearing with the Stewards, “That’s Racin’” as Gery Hunt would say. Good, hard, honest racing! 

It went on all weekend long. Even on Saturday where it pissed down rain all day, these guys were at it. Hard. Everything from Formula Juniors to Formula One, an entire race of A30 Austins, all equally prepared, Big Bad Le Mans racers from the ‘50s, D-Types, C-Types, Listers, THREE Ferrari GTOs and the Ferrari Bread Van! 2.5 Litre GP cars from the 50’s, including the last front engine F1 car to win a GP. DAMN IT WAS GLORIOUS! 

Then, there was shopping. Everything vintage from clothes to signs to cars. Everything done up as if it were still the Glory Days of Goodwood and Stirling Moss was hammering around, letting Maston Gregory find the oil, and dicing heavily with Juan Manuel Fangio. 

I’ll just shut up now and add a few photos. For more, go to and find the online videos. AND BUY YOUR TICKETS! Sell your soul or your first born and GO TO GOODWOOD!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Carlisle, the Enforced Stopover

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

It was not planned this way. Not at all. Still, lemons into lemonade, as they say. And what a marvelous find. Carlisle isn’t on anyone’s top ten of places to visit. It should be. A warm, friendly city, a fantastic and underrated cathedral, a fine castle, good food, what more could you want?

Constant reader will know of our argument with the Volvo. I may have said Saab before, who cares, it was Swedish and we lost. sigh. At the tow yard, we dialed up for a place that wouldn’t break the back and found the County Hotel. Not the choice any of the locals we talked to later would have made for guests. We’d tried the nearby Premier Inn (think a step or three above Motel 6) and no rooms. So, we signed up for Carlisle’s oldest hotel. 

Built about the time of the railway station, back when Victoria was queen, the place is some 130 years old. Frankly, it looks and feels it. The floors sagged in places, creaked a lot, there was no air conditioning (but don’t hold that against it, few places in the Isles have it, but man, having brought our SoCal sun along with it, this place needed it), and so-so breakfast, this place was well frayed about the edges, and efforts to keep it going were just keeping it’s head above water. We LOVED IT! It’s the kind of rough gem we look for. The staff was wonderful, the laundry service (and man did we need it!) was good and inexpensive, and it’s central location meant everything worth seeing was within easy walking distance. 

Across the street was a pub called The Griffin that served a wonderful apple/cherry crumble and pulled pints of several local ales and ciders, there was a Brazilian chicken place (think up scale El Pollo Loco), good breakfast at the Woodrow Wilson (seems his mother was born in Carlisle, as was Stan Laurel!) and some good luncheon places as well. 

The cathedral is the city’s (it can’t be a city without a cathedral, who knew?) gem. The castle is more famous, having been begun by the Romans, but see the cathedral. Magnificent! The ceiling alone is astonishing. Not the usual gothic arches, but painted a beautiful blue with gold stars. VERY different. The pipe organ is a monster as well. Wish we could have heard it! 

The Castle is a good solid fortress, and it seems that Carlisle is the most fought over place in all of Britain! It’s been traded back and forth between the Scots and the English more often than Mike Sillinger or Octavio Dotel. Look ‘em up. It’s an impressive site.

Carlisle also makes for a good base for a day trip to the Lake District, one of England’s rural gems. Once we arranged a rental car, we decided that we needed a break from the TR Stress, and drove off to see what Wordsworth and all those other Romantics were on about. Amazing area! Scenery to die for, little towns and pubs (some crawling with tourists or course) and even a neolithic stone circle. The views are breathtaking. 

Keswick is the main town, the stone circle is just outside of town. Too many tourists in Keswick, we stopped for lunch in Cockermouth, birthplace of Wordsworth, for a good lunch at a classic small pub, The Castle Bar. Good stuff! To get there, take the Winlatter Pass. If you dare. Mostly single track and a 20% incline in places, the views are spectacular. 

This whole are is what one thinks of when one thinks of Merrie Olde England. It’s rural, small villages and hamlets, market towns that still function as such, and the City of Carlisle. Even under the worst of circumstances, it was a wonderful port in the storm of our lives, and allowed us enough distraction to decompress and continue on our Grand Adventure. 

And again, huge thanks to John Morrison of the Umbria TR Registry. He is a Prince among Men. The Blue Meanie is in Dublin, waiting her container to go home. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Let’s Back Up a Bit and Look and the Fun Stuff

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

The good news is that the Blue Meanie is on it’s way back to Dublin, then home where I can fix it better than it was. The past few weeks have been a blur with no time to add any details to the quick and easy Facebook stuff. So, sitting here in Doolin, Ireland, rain pouring down and wind blowing enough to cancel the ferry trip we wanted to make to the Aran Islands, I have a chance to fill you in on the great stuff we’ve been doing, with and without the car. When last we talked, we’d made it to Edinburgh so I’ll pick up the story from there. 

Edinburgh was one of the few places we prebooked rooms, knowing it would be tough just dropping in and finding a place. Given our troubles in Inverness, this was a wise choice. I’d used a variety of search sites whilst planning this odyssey, and booked us for two nights in the Sherwood Guest House. Great decision. Vivienne our host was marvelous, reacting with “this is me being gobsmacked” at the TR. She’s a great hostess, and the food was wonderful. The house dates from the 1800s and the conversion is interesting. Our potty was down the hall and pretty tiny, but it was our own. Evidently it was in the space of the original house’s dumb waiter! 

Early on our first morning, we were off to see the sights and asked about a good kilt maker. She directed us to a lovely place at the foot of the Royal Mile, the heart of the shopping areal of Edinburgh. Nicolson’s. Great place and a lovely young lady to help us. Lovely and, well, tactful. Told her I needed a new kilt as the old one was from our wedding, 36 years ago. She smiled and said she was sorry the old one had shrunk. She then explained that I might need an extra yard, due to my “Scottish Gentleman’s Figure.” All measured up, and this time in Watson Tartan (my actual Scottish family name) rather than the Clan Buchanan I had before. It should arrive in October. 

That finished, we headed up the Royal Mile. I mean UP. It ends at the Castle. Castles are built on top of hills. Usually, steep ones. No one explains this in the guidebooks! We stopped and shopped and browsed, found a few trinkets for the natives back home and generally enjoyed puffing our way along. About 11:30 we needed to head for the train station and meet a long lost cousin from the Watson part of the family. Given our track record of missed meetings, we hoped for the best. First bit of confusion was about the station. Cousin Lorna called it “Prince’s Street Station”, but it goes by the real name, “Waverly Station.” We made a leap of faith and found it, sure enough alongside Prince’s Street. took some wandering and I was headed to the info booth to ask about trains from Glasgow, when who pops up behind me? Cousin Lorna and her husband, Robert. Amazing! 

We headed for lunch BACK UP THE HILL (this time using a taxi!) and found the “End of the World” Pub. Great place, good fish and chips. From there we wandered all the way up to the Castle, shopped a bit, chatted and there they left us, off to a meeting with friends. Great to see family we’ve never met, and great to keep a connection with the Auld Country. 

We plodded up and about the Castle, seeing the usual tourist stuff. The Scottish Crown Jewels were impressive, as was the Stone of Scone, now returned to it’s rightful place after several hundred years of captivity in London. The entire place is well worth the trek up hill to see it all. 

The next day, we were off, and Sean the Occasionally Reliable as Long as He’s Not in a City, sent us down the A702 to meet up with the M74. This was an amazingly beautiful road. One of the nicer drives we’ve done. Our plan at this point was to head through the Lake District, and then to Blackpool for a couple of days and a laundry stop. We got off the M in Carlisle, intending to see some of Hadrian’s Wall, and that’s where disaster struck. I’ll spare you all the details. It meant being stuck in Carlisle for several days while we got things sorted. You can see the previous blog for details of that. 

The one good thing was that Carlisle is an amazing town, and one we got to know quite well. Under the circumstances, it could have been a lot worse place to get stuck. I’ll tell you about our adventures there in the next installment, so TTFN. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

On the Kindness of Strangers

Road Trippin’
with Steve McCarthy

There are fundamentally two schools of thought regarding people’s interactions with one another. Thomas Hobbes, way back when (I’ll spare you most of the history lesson, difficult as that might be for me) thought people “Short, Brutish, and Mean…” and would do unto others before they we done unto themselves. John Locke (from whom Jefferson plagiarized much of the Declaration of Independence…there I go again) believed that people, when left alone, would exhibit the kinder, gentler side. As far as I’m concerned, given our experiences of the past week, Locke wins hands down. 

I managed to lose a confrontation with a Volvo on the A69 between Carlisle and Hexam, making the car undrivable. Three years of planning down the tubes. Yeah, and a bunch of money. This goes beyond the old “Stuff Happens”, or “That’s Racing/Road Trippin’” bromide. We were absolutely gutted. And that’s where the kindness of strangers comes in. Without the many small and enormous kindnesses we’ve been shown, the help above and beyond the call of duty we’ve been given, I don’t know where we’d be. 

The small kindnesses started with the man we tangled with. Completely understanding, helpful in ways you’d never see in a Big City. I was so shook, I couldn’t get the damn mobile phone to call AA, so he did from his phone, and waited about until he knew they were on the way. There was the older gentleman, a local, who came and chatted with us, trying to ease our pain. There were the other people who stopped to see if they could help. There was the tow truck driver who made sure the Blue Meanie was tucked in under the car cover in the recovery yard. 

The people in the hotel we found (a 130 year old monster called the County Hotel, I’ll write a whole epic just about this place) to Andy the waiter in the pub (The Griffin-WONDERFUL apple/cherry crumble and local craft beers) across the street that had heard Marianne tell our tale of woe and came up to us with condolences and real friendship (on our last night in Carlisle, he came to our table, saying we looked much better than that first evening), to the man who’d overheard us at the hotel and came up to us in The Griffin expressing his sorrow at our predicament. 

Even people who didn’t know our sorry tale, were inevitably kind, thoughtful, attentive, and, well, human. 

Then there is the King of Kindness. One of our own, John Morrison, head of the TR Register in Cumbria. Phil Tucker, UK Chair of the TR Registry (and another stalwart without who’s help we’d never have survived, I can’t say enough about his contributions) put us in touch. John suggested, well, it was a bit more emphatic than that!) that I get AA to move the car to his house, where he had room in his garage for the wounded Meanie. It goes on, beyond this. He's managed to out do Patrick in Dublin, and that's saying A LOT! He’s also agreed to essential be my agent while we continue our travels. The appraiser from Hagerty’s is showing up at John’s house at 7AM (we’ll be able to be there too) and when the trucking company shows up to take the TR to Dublin and the ship home (that’s a whole other tale), he’ll be there to see to things. As the TV ads say, “And wait, there’s more…” He’s making sure that the hood (uh, bonnet) is secured for transport, and the broken headlamps are removed. And to put the cherry on top, he doesn’t seem to care about a time line, “Let’s just get it sorted, I’ve got the room, and your car will be safe.” All said in the, well, curious, and at times barely intelligible to this poor Yankee’s ears, Cumbrian Accent. I’m telling you, the adage of “give you the shirt off his back” doesn’t half cover his kindnesses. I just hope that my humble scribblings pay him enough homage. 

So, we seem to have everything sorted (even if a large spanner is needed to sort the insurance guy, but who knows, why should HE be the fly in the ointment? I’ll keep my faith in humanity. There is a longstanding belief that CarGuys always help their own. Be they racers, hot rodders, concours exhibitors, or just the majority of us who just like cars, we will always bend over backward for one of our own. What we have found is that it’s not just Car Guys. People are basically good, and when left to their own devices, will exhibit the true meaning of the old Golden Rule. John Locke, it seems, trumps Thomas Hobbes, and we are all the better for it. 


“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.”—John Donne

Saturday, September 3, 2016

On the Road-Day One-Wet, Wild, and Wonderful

Road Trippin’ 
with Steve McCarthy

Always expect the unexpected (St. Serendipity: 1:1). It’s not a suggestion, it’s a dictum. Worries about the starter motor in the TR led to a 5AM epiphany that a logical backup plan would be to take the ferry from Ireland to Holyhead in Wales, forgoing the trip up to the North, and, if we still had problems, head across England to Lincoln and Rimmer Brothers. Evidently, THEY are the go to guys for Auld Brit Car Parts in the UK. Got a man from the hotel to help me push start it (thank the gods of motoring for the electric fuel pump, it could prime the Webers) and she fired right up. Bags loaded, the guy pushed us again (I forced a 20 Euro note on him, for meritorious service above and beyond) and we were off to Ferry Land. 

For once, “Sean the GPS” figured his way around Dublin (Sean has a problem with European cities. Can’t blame him, since they like to change street names every block or so. It’s ridiculous) and to the port. We told the guys that we’d like to be loaded towards the back of the queue in case. When it got time to load, the Blue Meanie fired right up! AMAZING! We trundled aboard and left it safely stowed, and headed aloft to the fancy “Club Room”. BTW, we’d opted for Irish Ferries, rather than the other guys for two reasons. Top Tip: Take the fast ferry (the “Jonathan SWIFT, nudge nudge, get it?)  between Dublin and Holyhead! Under two hours, pop for the “Club”. It gets you priority boarding and unloading. The other advantage is that it’s a smaller ship so fewer screaming kids and no serious traffic jam out of the port. And I’ll tell you, Holyhead is not laid out for the heavy traffic! BTW, the Meanie fired right up again, and again, and again. So, no need for a new one. PHEW. I think the battery was just too low from sitting. Again, PHEW. Besides, the guy who donated the brake hose? Seems he's the head of the whole Irish Ferries Shebang! Gotta show some loyalty! 

So, off to The North. That’s what the signs say. The North. As if it’s another planet. We cruised through northern Wales, puzzling at the incomprehensible signs (go ahead, Wales, seen the money, buy some vowels!). About noonish, we were getting hungry and asked Sean for a place. We just picked something random and wound up headed to the shores of the Mersey to Parkgate/Neston and the Boathouse. Great example of a classic Inn/Pub/Restaurant. Good food and great staff. 

From there, things went sideway a bit. Sean, the Not So Reliable in Cities, got us ALL turned around in Liverpool. Took a good hour to sort it out and back to the motorway. DID see some interesting (to say the least) old suburbs of ‘Pool. Finally, back on the highway and to The North.  OK, yeah, I know, we planned to shun motorways. But, sometimes, necessity can be a mother. The views along the way were great, far better than the I-5! We stopped for gas and a pee in Lancaster, then for the night at the edge of Carlisle. Premier Inn is a cut or two above Motel Six. Decent, moderate prices, and always with a decent, if uninspired restaurant. Serviceable in a pinch. Up early to breakfast and a steady rain. Now we’d see if all our foul weather planning would work. 

It took us a bit to get loaded and fed, just in time for a heavy cell to pass through, and by the time we’d properly girded our loins, it had mostly stopped. Timing is indeed everything. So, rain gear on, we headed out. Off and on rain as we headed North, and just as we passed the big sign “Welcome to Scotland” the rain stopped! No kidding! We wound through the outskirts of Glasgow, and found the road past Loch Lomand. Yes, the banks are bonnie and we took what ever road we could, high or low. The scenery in Scotland is spectacular. Even in the off and on rain. The good part was that we were almost warm and totally dry, until I got a good douche of water on my right foot. Don’t ask me how, but the TR is a leaky old tub. 

About 11AM we were getting hungry and we chanced upon a great roadside inn “The Bridge of Orchy Hotel” in the town The Bridge of Orchy. In fact, as far as I could tell, it WAS the town of Bridge of Orchy. Seems the place is a hangout for German hikers. they were all over the place. Inside, it’s well restored and updated. The food was great. We spit the Haggis with Neeps and Tatties. It came shaped like a Scot’s Bonnet, Neeps on the bottom, a layer of Haggis, then the Tatties, all covered in a nice gravy and topped with a deep fried rubbing of Haggis. Forget all the jokes about haggis, will ya? It’s sausage. Lamb sausage with some oatmeal in it. It’s good. 

We were now heading seriously into the Highlands and the scenery brings tears to the eye! Literally. Driving through Glencoe made the entire trip worth it. I have GoPro video that I’ll download when I get a strong enough internet connection. It may not be until we get home, but, it’s just WOW!

Past Ft. William and you are officially in the highlands. One of the neat things along the way are a series of locks for boats going down the river Ness from one loch to another. Yeah, Loch Lock. No, didn’t spot any rastas about, so no dreadlocks on the loch locks. It also made me wonder if any of the Keyes family were about, and I could go on. 

At Ft. Augustus, which looks like a neat little town worth exploring (at this point, we were both trying to get back on our “schedule” to make Edinburgh and our BnB reservations by Friday AND to meet up with Peter Bakke, a FB friend who was driving up from Aberdeen. The idea was to meet in Drumdronnach, near Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness, but…

Traffic came to a dead stop. People were out of their cars, some turned around. We waited (it wasn’t raining, so why not) and eventually, we were allowed to creep past a VERY BAD week. A motorcyclist had managed to roll his bike into a ball. uh oh…

Past that, we cruised along, sobered, to Invermorritson. There, the remainder of the road was blocked for another bad one. uh oh…Finally, we drove back to Ft. Augustus, texting Peter to meet us in Inverness, we’d look for a hotel. In Ft. Augustus, we took the old General Wade Military Road, built to tame those nasty wild clansmen of the North back in the 1700s. Bill Morgan had told us this was a neat road, he and his son Patrick bicycled it back in ’89. 

Yeah, it’s a neat road. It’s also mostly a single track one lane two way road. With a 60 mph speed limit. Normally, that would be fine. but now, it was being used as a bypass for the closed main road. both ways. Truck and buses! And lots of cars, many of whom thought 60mph speed limit was the appropriate speed. Now, constant readers know that I don’t hang about on the backroads. But DAMN! Now I truly understand why Jimmy Clark and Jackie Stewart were such great race drivers! The secret was to get BEHIND someone, and let THEM confront the on coming traffic for who’s move into the weeds or wait at the occasional passing point. There are no rules to this game, You either stop if you’re first to the wide spot or let them stop or move over, SO glad the Meanie is a NARROW car! Finally, we hit the outskirts and Sean the Fallable did his act again. Inverness traffic is the worst we’ve run into. Nothing like medieval narrow two way streets where people park along the way. CRAZY! Finally, we headed to the south end of town to meet Peter. We’d found another Premier Inn and pulled in there. Nope, no rooms. None. So, off to a Jury’s. Same there. Madly texting back and forth, we finally met Peter there. Seems the whole city was full. Yes, folks, there was no room at the INNverness. sigh. 

Peter graciously led us to a small coastal town called Ardersier. GREAT looking old time Inn, the Gun Club. Nope. Off to Nairn, the next town along. FINALLY got a room, the last one at another old Inn, the Havelock. Great Funky Place. Bar food was ok, room was, well, odd. Like so many of these places, modifications have been made to update them with “en suite” facilities. The floor was uneven under the carpet, the bed creaked, we didn’t care. By the way, we’d arrived about 8:30 PM! Remember when I said we’d gotten up about 5AM? Yeah, we were knackered! About 300 miles plus a ferry ride. WHAT A DAY! 

The next day was more like it. Nice breakfast and a view of the Moray Firth, then off towards Aberdeen. First stop was the first distillery we spotted. Benronnach. Very small place. Great tour. George, the guide was a hoot, mon. Good details on the ins and outs of whisky making. Then the tasting. And I realized the folly of my plan. It’s hard enough driving the Blue Meanie on the wrong side of the roads and doing gladiatorial combat in the roundabouts. To do it with a nice dram of whisky in you? No way. Especially as George pointed out that the ONE WEE DRAM they were offering would almost automatically put me over the limit in Scotland! DAMN! That and the fact that NONE of the distilleries can ship to the US. Fecking customs laws! Still, it was worth the taste. 

Following that it was Castle Hunting Time. Marianne’s ancestors seem to have had a BUNCH of castles around Scotland. First up should be passed down to our kids for obvious reasons. Duffus Castle. Yep, just for them. It’s a neat place but since we were supposed to meet someone at Glenfiddich, we had to press on. 

At Glenfiddich, somehow we missed connections. Ironically with Fiona, wife of the Saintly Peter of the day before. BTW, he got to Carlisle OK. We hung around an found out that they have a nice cafe. So, a plate of excellent meats and cheeses (venison, salmon, and local cheddars, bries, and bleus), I got smart and did a quick internet search for a place to stay in Aberdeen. Great stuff. I found the Palm Court and booked a room. 

But first, another castle to find, this time the biggie in the area, Huntley Castle, seat of the Chieftains of Clan Gordon, another of Marianne's ancestors! We twisted and turned about the NARROW streets of the town, and finally the approach. It's on the grounds of a school and through a narrow arch. Then there are the speed bumps that damn near grounded the Blue Meanie! Still it was cool to see the place. 

The Palm Court was not too difficult to find, even for Sean the Wanderer, and we spent a pleasant night, ate a good dinner and breakfast and were off. This was a wonderful place to stay with good eats. The lady at the desk was also kind enough to change us to a ground floor room so we didn't have to schlep the bags up flights of stairs. She even helped lug them along! 

As soon as we could, we got off the motorway and followed the Coast Route. OK, Scotland, this stretch of coast is spectacular. Right up there with CA1. But with a castle! Honest to God great castle ruin, called Dunnottar. Lots of films were done there (it served as the model for “Brave”). This place is amazing. Lots of history too. We chatted with the grounds keeper and he was a font of inspiration. William Wallace attacked the place and the English garrison holed up in the brand new chapel. They refused to come out, so he burned it, and most of them. It was also where the Scottish Crown was hidden from Cromwell during the English Civil War. Yeah, Ollie is the guy that wrecked the place! 

We trundled down the coast a bit until we got to Arbroath. Traffic is terrible, too many damn roundabouts, and the thing that really wrecked the place? Lots and Lots of churches. Yes, Too Many Kirks Spoiled Arbroath. We got back on the motorway to Edinburgh, and once over the second of the Forth Bridges (there’s a new one being built and of course, there’s the old Victorian Monster Iron Railway Bridge) over the Firth. You need a Fifth just thinking this through. 
Following the usual Sean Foolery trying to get around in Edinburgh traffic, we finally landed where we belonged, the Sherwood Guest House. 

Next installment we’ll tell you about Auld Reeky, the Royal Mile, Kilt shopping and  whatever else happens.