After an exciting trial in Shropshire two months ago it was time to return to the hills on the Durham Dales Trial held in the North Pennies. This time I partnered up with veteran trialler Dean Partington in his DP Wasp (a car he built himself) to take on my first Durham Dales Trial.
Getting up in a morning can be a difficult task for 19-year-old uni student. This challenge was made even more difficult on the 10th March as I had to roll out of bed at 3am in order to make it to the start of the trial. After a rather wet journey up the motorway we arrived at the start point and found the rolling North Pennine hills to be covered in snow. After scrutineering and a hearty breakfast we travelled to the first section of the day called Howling wind.
The first section was a tricky climb. After driving up a steep bank we had to negotiate an awkwardly placed tree, then we had to drive back down a steep bank where we had a restart. The restart was placed at the bottom of a muddy bank which we managed to move away from easily. Annoyingly we picked up a point by not finishing the section correctly which was a poor error on our part.
Stumpy Stomp was the next section in our way which was not as testing as first feared. We snaked our way up the slippery field to the restart marker where we pulled away with minimal wheel spin. At the top of the section a steep bank had caught some previous competitors out but with a good boost of power we were up and out of the section. Stumpy Stomp B was a relatively easy climb, nevertheless we did have to look out for some rather poorly placed stumps. The restart was positioned at a slight angle, but this proved to be less challenging than we thought. With another section cleared we were feeling confident about the rest of our trial.
After a few hills it was on to our first timed section of the day. Known as observed tests competitors have to complete a particular route around cones against the clock. Now, I’ve been a passenger for Dean in the past and he can certainly drive his car quickly, but on this particular stage he could have given Sebastien Loeb a run for his money. We carried outrageous amounts of speed into the first set of cones and in my attempts to direct Dean I was lost in the experience. He was using the hydraulic handbrake to flick the car around the cones quickly and we were pushing 40mph in gear one on a loose surface. Dean set a blistering lap time that would put us in good stead for the rest of the trial.
Section four would be the first climb where we had to run at a set tyre pressure. This climb was not too steep, and the surface was more grippy than expected so we cleared the section with ease. On to Section 5 where we encountered a muddy restart that had been churned up by previous competitors. Still running at the set tyre pressure limit of 13psi we positioned the car well at the restart and with a good amount of power behind us we moved away, unlike some of our rivals on the trial.
Section 6 was a long climb up a rutted hill with plenty of loose rocks and soft grass to try and stop us from clearing the section. The first part of the section was straightforward, however, the middle proved to be challenging and my bouncing skills were brought into action to help us clear the section. Section 6B was another climb on a loose surface. The car performed well and was unfazed by large rocks and slippery grass. Towards the end of the section we almost made an error as the markers for the section had been placed in the strangest of positions. We had to turn back on ourselves and nearly got stuck in some heather in order to negotiate the section correctly. Eventually we cleared what was an unusual stage and maintained our overall score of 1 point.
Section 7 was to take place in an old quarry. On arrival the section looked so tight we thought we might struggle with the rather tight turns. We started the section quite slowly as not to run wide and hit any of the markers. After successfully making it up and out of a large dip in the section we came to a steep muddy bank. With a bit of bouncing and plenty of throttle we cleared one of the more complex hills on the trial. Section 8 was another tight and twisty climb but was less demanding than our previous hill and we cleared it with no issues. By this time the weather had taken a rather abrupt turn for the worse. Not only was it freezing cold, the snow was now coming down at an alarming rate and we knew that it could make the rest of our trial more challenging.
Section 9 was perhaps the hardest section of the day. As we started the section the car snaked on the slippery surface and we ended up with two wheels high up on the bank next to the hill. After wrestling the car back onto the track, we made it to the restart and thought we might have stopped too far forwards. Luckily this wasn’t the case and we managed to pull away nicely and cleared what was a demanding climb.
Section 11 had been cancelled due to the chilly weather conditions, so we headed to the next observed test. Once again, we had to follow a certain route around some cones and set the fastest time we could. This proved to be a difficult test as the cones were very close together and the surface didn’t allow for Dean to make use of his hydraulic handbrake.
Before we attempted section 12 known as Steve’s Pleasure I attempted to feed life back into my hands which had transformed into claws due to the appallingly cold weather. After replacing my sodden gloves, we tackled section 12 which was another easy climb for us. Our only challenge here was the stream midway through the section which we had to cross without getting stuck (or more wet).
We had a quick lunch break before we continued on to section 13. Here we were able to see some extraordinary scenery in the wintery conditions and were amazed when we came across main roads that were completely covered in snow. Some of the competitors taking part on bikes were sliding around on the slippery road surface with some of them narrowly escaping an accident. When we arrived at section 13, we discovered that it had been closed due to the snowfall.
We then travelled to section 14 and again we were told that our section was closed and there was no hill for us to climb. After what seemed like a wild goose chase across the North Pennines, we finally made it to section 15 where a hill was waiting for us. Here we would be the only car to have a restart.
This section was set in a small valley near a river and seemed to zigzag between trees and bushes. Although the surface was muddy and rutted the section was mainly on level ground with only a small number of steep banks in our way. The restart was placed at the bottom of a very rocky and steep bank. We had plenty of traction to move away here and cleared the section.
The final stage on the trial was an easy climb. The marker boards had not been set-up, therefore if you stopped it was an instant fail. Luckily this was not the case for us as we were soon up and out and back onto the main road. We took a short drive back to the end of the trial and much to our surprise the sun came out. I don’t think I’ve seen such changeable weather in one place.
The Durham Dales was an interesting trial that did have some good sections. When the results were published a few days after the trial I was very pleased to see that myself and Dean had won the event with an overall score of 1 point, a first overall win for myself as a passenger. Let’s hope I can achieve similar success as I take on more trials in 2019!