Setting this years Hunt for October 28th was taking a gamble weather wise, but the way the weather has been for the last year or so I reckoned we stood a fair chance of a fine day. Our luck held and it was dry, if grey and cool. "Just right for driving a Classic" observed someone obviously familiar with overheating problems in cars of a certain age.
Being later in the year than usual may have put a few off, but I'm delighted to say the eight teams who took part this year seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves once again. The levels of enthusiasm were as high as ever, from both first timers and old hands.
Many of the cars were not as "interesting" as I'd originally hoped to attract, but this was partly down to last minute problems with an MGB and a VW that wouldn't start the night before!
Most competitors found the meeting point at the Botley Hill Farmhouse without a problem. I'd given out the postcode, which was supposed to help but actually led a few astray to a road adjacent to the one they needed. I'd placed the Harpers Hunt sign in clear sight against one of the pubs car park gate posts, to help make it obvious where we were meeting. I was totally unaware that during my briefing to competitors, the sign had attracted the attention of a passing Police car. The officers came in to find out what we were up to. They informed Andrea they were investigating reports of "suspicious activity in the area" and wanted to know "whose land we were intending to ride our horses over and what foxes we would be shooting?". I thought we would have been more likely to be taken for a bunch of hunt saboteurs, but it proved the sign works! It was just as well they hadn't turned up 10 minutes earlier, as that was when one of the last teams to arrive made a dramatic and amusing entrance (providing you knew the car) courtesy of the magnetically mounted flashing blue light on the roof. I wondered later if this was the "suspicious activity" the real cops came to investigate, fearing that this impressive arrival may have aroused the suspicions and worst fears of the Botley Hill landlord? We may never know.
Having finalised and printed off all the questions on Friday, I had the bright idea on Saturday, after seeing the new Skyfall 007 movie, and being a bit of a Bond fan anyway, to set the teams an additional Challenge. I had already asked them to obtain a till receipt for £10.07, a magazine with Daniel Craig on the cover (which possibly doubled sales of the Radio Times that day), take a photo of a Saab (featured as Bond's wheels in the books by John Gardiner) and of a team member "posing with a Very Expensive Car as if it was theirs". I decided it would be an amusing additional Challenge to photograph a team member in a "typical Bond pose" with a Bond car, as featured in any of the books or films. I stated this could be any Aston, Lotus or Saab, or any BMW providing it was a Seven series (too easy otherwise, and yes I did somehow forget about the Z3 and Z8). And then, just to make it a bit easier, I said they could snap any other car providing they could convince me it had been seen in a Bond film. I made the quite reasonable point that I could not accept photos of the Team Big Nose Land Rover Defender as that would also be too easy. But I completely forgot that in Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery departed Dover in Peter Franks' Triumph Stag, thus making Team Thorpedoes' motor the most photographed car of the day! I don't think anyone noticed my gaff. Certainly none complained.
How the hell Team Reem managed to find a classic Ford Thunderbird (as driven Monsieur Largo in Thunderball AND by Cec Linders' Felix Leiter in Goldfinger) en-route en the day, I will never know. It easily beats last year when they found not one but three trees they could stand inside! Can't say the "pose" was classic Bond though Mike...
After the Briefing, I asked the Teams to return to their vehicles and then handed out their Question Sheets in the order I thought it fairest for them to start. And, as has happened at each Harpers Hunt so far, there was one Team that was a bit too eager to get going. This year it was Team Bignose that got a hundred yards down the road before realising the first clue was in the Botley car park!
The halfway point was at a certain tea rooms on Ashdown Common. It was as they were collecting their Part 2 Question sheets that I should really have reminded the teams to look out for and COLLECT the Harpers Hubcaps they would find along the second leg, but in all the excitement... It was clearly stated on the Part One Question sheet and the Challenges sheet that the idea this year was to score points by COLLECTING the wheel-trims (and bringing them to the finish, thereby saving me the job of going back to retrieve them in the dark) rather than leaving them in place and taking a clue from them as in previous years. Of the seven we deposited along the route, only one made it back, thanks to Team Thorpedoes!
The Thorpedos Triumph came in handy once again for one on the ball team for fulfilling the Challenge of photographing a pair of antlers! Again, this was a possible solution that had never occurred to me.
If this year proved anything, it was that having experience or a quick car may not give you the edge you might think.
In 7th place came Team Choks Away! (Vauxhall Vectra...) Their intention was to compete this year in an MGB GT, which looked very nice in the photo they submitted when confirming their entry, in a sober shade of maroon not dissimilar to that of the Dutton they used last year. The Dutton had been laid up for repairs, and the MG refused to play at the last minute, so the boys took part in the Vauxhall. Thanks to you both for keeping the numbers up!
In 6th place, accompanied by two friends also new to the Hunt, competing under the team name Snowstar Snails (Nissan Almera...) was my good friend and customer Anthony Howard. They did well for a first outing as an inexperienced Team. I do hope they will be back next year.
5th were Team Reem (Ford Focus ST - Sweeney Edition) back for the second year in Mike's Focus and more determined to win than ever, driven by the fact they had recruited, and therefore knew they could easily beat, four of the eight Teams taking part. A slight lack of petrol in their tank, and of petrol stations along the majority of the route, scuppered their chances this year. They had to make a four mile detour for juice, costing them time and points. As ever, they excelled in the resolving the clues and Challenges, and provided the biggest laugh of the day with their arrival at Botley Hill. I am increasingly indebted to Mike, his family and friends for their support (to Simon in particular for his terrific photographic contributions) and hope they continue to enjoy the Hunt for as long as it lasts. Thanks boys!
4th place was shared by veteran Hunters the Thorpedoes (Chris Thorpe and his wife returning in their Triumph Stag) and Team Wassup in their Golf. Wassup had the advantage in team numbers, which Chris made up for in experience.
3rd was a cunningly disguised Team Bignose, returning in their trusty Land Rover Defender, proving that speed isn't crucial to doing well in this event. They really prove that the Hunt can be Fun For All The Family, and I was moved when Tracey said it was the highlight of their year. Many thanks!
Proving that the number of bodies in a team and previous experience are not deciding factors, was this years most ruthless entrants (Sorry, roofless!): Team Scotts Mist. Newbies Keith and Gemma must have got pretty cold in their custom VW Beetle, which added significantly to the intended automotive interest element of the Hunt, but they drove to a very well earned 2nd place, pipped to the post by just one point by...
This years Winners: The Fantastic Four, led by Stacey Samwell. Their Renault Clio may not have been the most Interesting car of the day. They were also lacking previous experience. Worryingly, they proved that can be the winning combination!
It was a shame that, for the first time, last years winners, Team Richardson, couldn't make it and so were not able to hand over the Trophy. They are looking forward to returning in 2013, when I may just be introducing a new Points category for how "Interesting" each teams car is...
Just one thing left to say then:
Harpers Hunt Will Return!