“I’m writing this on the evening of 24th September and thinking that just yesterday I had breakfast in Luxembourg and lunch in Belgium … a trip that took us around 9 months to plan and prepare for – the 2019 Screwball Rally in aid of Candlelighters Trust.
The charity rally essentially involves driving cheapish cars across Europe and this year that meant France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland – a total of 2224 miles this year over 5 days.
Everyone stayed at the pre-arranged camp sites with lots of noise and entertainment from around 250 people on the rally – everyone helping each other out before setting off on a new adventure the following day.
I’ve had a lot of people asking about the rally so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts about the past 5 days!
Wednesday 18th September
We met up with the rest of our group just off the M2 outside London – there are 5 of us this year, 3 from Yorkshire (including me, technically we are all Yorkshire lads), one now from London and one now from Devon, all very excited about the trip. We were in two cars, an Audi TT (Nigel Gearsley from Disney’s Cars 2) and mine an Audi A8 dressed up as an urban camouflage SWAT car with the usual lights, sirens etc and also sporting a set of ‘only-just-fit’ alloys from a Bentley.
Some fellow screwballers decided that the word SWAT actually had two ‘T’s in it and helpfully corrected my spelling mistake (all taken in very good spirits).
Then we headed to the rendezvous point with the Rally in Kent, a quiet campsite which soon turned into a colourful and noisy venue with 79 cars all decorated to various degrees and a couple which really stood out – the most comedy car was the winners from last year dressed up as the Beetles and in a ‘yellow submarine’ (complete with bubble machine and water cannons). However the real stand out this year was ‘Disco Stu’ in the mobile party bus… the car literally had a full nightclub lighting rig bolted to the roof with a disco ball, lights and lasers – not only that but it had a karaoke setup (tv screens and radio mikes) and a smoke machine! The quality of the sound was just mind blowing – the rear doors had nightclub speakers mounted in them and the passenger side dashboard was largely replaced by a fully working mixing deck.
Thursday 19th September
And we are off! … and we were on a mission – ahead of the rally team `Nigel` decided to tick another item off the ‘bucket list’ and that was to drive around the Nürburgring, so as we rolled off the ferry in Calais we bid them farewell as they drive off into the distance in search of Nürburgring. We on the other hand had opted not to cook the car on the first day and to drive to the first meeting point which was 644km away and a journey through 3 countries. As we took in the sights the temperature was in the mid 20`s when the aircon decided to give up. So we finally arrived at the rendezvous point mid evening, the first port of call was the showers.
Friday 20th September
Friday we were heading into Switzerland and decided to go to the longest dry toboggan run in Switzerland. This was only a 3 hour detour this time but the views were nothing short of spectacular – the toboggan ride is built as part of a ski resort so uses the standard ski lifts and meant we could have lunch at the top of a Swiss mountain before sitting on a metal tray and throwing ourselves down the side. The toboggan track itself is huge with twists and turns all down the mountain and it took roughly 8 minutes to get to the bottom.
Later that day once we pitched the tent, we headed into Bern for the evening and a bit of culture – three things struck me about the Swiss city, the first that it was so clean (compared to some towns and cities in the UK), the second was how quiet the place was for a Friday evening and the third was the brutal honesty of the homeless people as to why they wanted money (in a way it was refreshing but also very worrying!) I must say that Switzerland was my favourite country that we visited, twisty roads, beautiful scenery, amazingly long tunnels and with a V8 with a custom exhaust, we had endless fun filling the tunnels with noise.
Saturday 21st September
We travelled back into France on the Saturday to Morvan, once again taking a detour to the “Cite Del l’Automobile” museum which houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugatti’s in the world – over 400 of them ‘donated’ by the Schlumph brothers including some which are the only examples remaining in the world. For car enthusiasts this museum us a must see (it is ranked as the #1 in France) and apart from Bugatti’s it also houses a vast collection of other cars, both from the road and track such as F1 and rally cars, it was truly a magnificent collection of vehicles.
We ate lunch alfresco in a car park from the boot of the Audi. We had decided the weather was so good that we needed to BBQ, but trying to find a BBQ in France was impossible so instead we bought some ice-cream.
Once off the motorways and into the country side of Morvan we seemed to drive past endless fields of grapes and wine houses on some of the best twisty roads I have ever seen.
We arrived at the camp site set in beautiful woodlands, in a national park, unbeknown to us there was the French equivalent of cruft’s on next door and the dogs seemed to bark all evening and all night, so pretty much no one got any sleep.
Sunday 22nd September
The venue for today was Luxembourg and as the last night it was presentation evening for the winners of the rally. There are three awards given out, the ‘Best Theme’, ‘Spirit of the Screwball’ and ‘Most money raised for charity’ and there were worthy winners in each category however the real winners were all the charities that the teams represented. The event raised over £110,000 for charity which is clearly going to affect many people’s lives in a positive way.
Talking of winners, we did another detour to one of the best go-kart tracks in France to have a bit of a race of our own. It was a two level indoor track with ‘reasonably fast’ go karts (let’s face it they will never be fast enough but some karts are really slow and these weren’t). Our competitive streaks came out and it was an all out track battle, with a few friendly nudges and a lot of adrenaline, I didn’t come in the top 3 but I did manage to get the most improved lap time, shaving a whole 12 seconds from my first to fastest lap.
In any event like this where cheap cars are coerced into making it round a route, there are unfortunately always losers who end up going home on the back of a car transporter (or worse scrapped abroad) but I’m happy to say that there weren’t many casualties this year (last year there were loads!). Most of the teams have at least someone who is mechanically minded and this year the comedy fix was by the ‘LMFAO’ party car who ended up replacing an alternator belt using a pair of neon spandex hot pants as a temporary fix!
Yes that really is a neon green spandex alternator belt!(it was a good job he had a spare pair!)
Monday 23rd September
That’s it, the rally is over. It was a case of packing up all our things including our soaking wet tents into the car and heading back home. We were up around 5am to go from Luxembourg into Belgium for an early lunch and some sight-seeing in Ghent before getting the ferry from Calais to Dover. Then it was the reverse of the journey down, dropping friends off at the rendezvous point with a feeling of deflation (until next year) before heading north.
It’s been a blast, an exhausting blur with very little sleep, a bunch of crazy excitable strangers and 4 really good mates all in the name of charity. I’m not sure what theme we will end up doing next year but we have already started banding a few ideas around. ”
Written by Simon Firth.
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