Well it feels a bit sad to be finishing today, we feel we could continue almost indefinitely. Our favourite blue wooden triangular pencil was lost (or perhaps stolen) in the wastes of Kazakstan and if we decide to turn back and search for it then both men and machine would be more than capable enough.
Highs and lows
There really haven’t been many lows – of course our accident in China was a bad start, and you could single out the stone throwing in Iran and Turkey as the only bum note in the entire event, and even then the reaction of the teams that had windscreens smashed or suffered damage to cherished parts was exemplary. There are grumbles about the event and the relentless pressing on with no time to stop, look, listen, talk but it is what it is and I think you have to accept it as such. The food in Central Asia deserves mention for being uniformly dull. A lack of both ingredient and imagination.
I’ll get to the highs in a moment, the route on this last day is a maze of tiny minor roads weaving through rural France towards Paris. As we pass through the tiny hamlet of Diant an elderly madame settles her ample bosom on the window sill in a manner that suggests it is her daily custom to do so and watch the world go by. And today finally she is rewarded by the sight of 80 or so magnificent machines. She is no doubt pleased to discover that Diant is on the silk route from Peking to Paris. And this is one of the highs – the simple and evident pleasure that we have brought to so many people young and old, knowledgeable about cars or not who enjoy seeing these old cars pass by.
The other highs in no particular order:
That we had no punctures, never ran out of fuel and had no significant navigational errors.
One thing that really worked well was the flying jackets, sheepskin hats, leather gauntlets and goggles from Jerry Leech at Greycar. Couldn’t recommend them highly enough, they have given great service and will remain friends for life.
The spirit of the rally has been excellent. Although we are competing against each other, everyone is generous with their spares, advice and time and we have kept each other going making many friends along the way.
A real high has been the fantastic design and engineering of the Bentley four and a half. It is so much stronger and better than we had imagined was possible. The engine and running gear have been superb, never missing a beat and pulling us up and over the most outrageous obstacles day after day. It has been an absolute and undiluted pleasure to drive and maintain. We have learnt a lot and are getting tolerably proficient at driving it now.
Do please think about making a contribution to our chosen charity The Afghanistan Trust
Here’s a pic of us hammering along in the cold. Another lovely day with great roads, easy driving and our competition today was a couple of laps of a racing circuit in Bresse. Peter drove them well and now we’ve just got the run in to Paris.
Fabulous day today in the mountains of Liguria. Roaring up and screaming down intestinal twists and turns with precipitate drops and splendid views. We had 4 time trials on impossibly demanding narrow little roads that even the Aston will struggle to do in the target times set. Penalties for everyone I’m sure, but we had no issues and should have done OK. This picture was taken a bit later on the Italy France border. The border is 1700 metres up in the Alps and rather impressive. Not a customs post or official to be seen. We continue to climb on a simply stunning road up over 2000 metres and the glaciers on Mont Cenis. For the first time in many days we have sunshine and blue skies. Fantastic.
We’re all done with Greece and waiting for the ferry to take us to Italy. The bug sweeper has been doing the rounds and has hooked up again with Julie’s monkey. Here is a reconstruction of Godzuilla using the eiffel tower on Hugo’s hat. Iwo Jima next.
Iran was one of the more eagerly anticipated countries for many of us on this rally. We hear so much negative news of Iran yet it has such a rich history with deep connections to its neighbours near and far. It probably wasn’t as well ruled as it should have been in the times of the Shahs and it probably was badly treated by Brits, Europeans and Americans. But the Islamic revolution was over 30 years ago and so the current state of the country is a fair judgement of the dismal regime there. First and most obviously it is clear that wealth does not trickle down very far. It is decidedly 3rd world and shouldn’t be. Iran has no excuse not to have a thriving economy with decent infrastructure and western living standards for its population.
On the positive side, the people are delightfully warm and friendly. The first reaction is always to smile and wave and everyone wants to talk to you. That’s not always ideal when you are driving at 90kph and your would be conversationalist is overtaking you with his passenger window open as he leans across his wife to point his camera out of her window at you and demand that you answer his questions. Inevitably there’s also a motorcylist coming up your inside leg and trying to get a good shot of the Bentley without his sheep’s head in the way and the oncoming traffic is honking wildly as the road is only so wide. And that was really a bit of an issue – the warmth and friendliness soon becomes total madness and horribly dangerous. The driving in Iran was by far the worst of any country we have been through and we all had far too many near misses for comfort. The fatalism of Imshallah does not make a good highway code.
Iran could be a wonderful country, a simple change of politics and religion should be enough to do the trick. The people have a strong cohesive national identity and teir destiny is rightly in their own hands. We wish them well and have no desire to return for the time being.
Today (Sunday) is a transit day – there is no rallying but we have to drive across Istanbul and the Bosphorus into Europe and to our hotel. We’ve teamed up with 3 other Bentleys and we are hoping for a quick speint down the motorway followed by a very slow lunch indeed. If we manage it, it will be our first really good meal since Peking. Here we are on the outskirts of Istanbul heading into a tunnel.
The final sorry chapter in the saga of my specs can now be told. We’d stopped for fuel and I was cold so – put on my neck warmer. I took off my glasses and placed them on the tonneau cover thinking, “don’t forget those”. Off we wnt and half a km down the road I reached for the map and thought why can’t I see this properly. No specs. We stopped and I got out to retrace our route on foot. As I ran back up the road three or four rally cars shot by. Glasses are quite small and vintage car tyres are quite narrow. I found both lenses a few yards apart, but no arms.
It was an almost exact reconstruction of the first time they were run over after a run on the south downs.
Should I switch to contact lenses? Perhaps not, if they get run over it would hurt.
It’s great to be in Euro land and yesterday was a lovely day – a border crossing that was just a formality (well there was a delay while they tried to get their computers working before it opened, but then it was how borders should be. Then we had a mix of fast motorway breaking off to do time trials in the hills. All very pretty and nice. As we approached Thessaloniki it started to rain. We stayed in a lovely hotel, good food, decent bar, well appointed bathroom with Molton Brown – it all started to feel quite like home.
We set off this morning in grey drizzle and straight onto the motorway – miserable – we didn’t come all the way to Greece for English weather.
Tonight we take the overnight ferry to Ancona – it should be a bit of a party, I think everyone will wear the fancy hats and clothes picked up along the route.
An update on the car – it’s still running like a dream. The engine never misses a beat. We’ve had starting problems the last few days in the morning. Just won’t fire on the starter motor but on a bump start it fires as easy as anything. We think it’s a weak spark and the starter motor just doesn’t turn the mags fast enough to spark the plugs. The other slight issue we’ve had is that we took the front hubs off and cleaned out the dirty old grease and repacked the bearings. A few hundred km later the brakes started smelling of burnt hydrocarbons. So we had a tiresome couple of hours scraping burnt gresase off the brake linings and then cleaned out and repacked the bearings with another type of grease that we hoped would stick to its task better. During yesterdays time trials we again smelt them, but we’re trying to ignore it and pretend that all’s well. We can still stop sharply and can even lock up the wheels with energeticc combined foot and hand braking.
Well it’s stopped raining now, but it’s still grey and the mountains ahead a wreathed in cloud. Three more time trials await.