In the footsteps of Hannibal and Napoleon

Our rally is at an end, sob, sob but ahead of us is one of the most amazing drives we’ve ever encountered. We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but we thought it would be fun to drive across the Alps from Italy into France en route to Lyon rather than through the Frejus Tunnel and motorways, even though it would add hours to our journey. Boy, are we glad we did!

Mont Cenis, snow-capped mountains and the bluest reservoir

Mont Cenis, snow-capped mountains and the bluest reservoir

I made friends with the huge Turkish Kangol, right, who lives with these Bedlington terriers ... Soooo cute!

I made friends with the huge Turkish Kangol, right, who lives with these Bedlington terriers … Soooo cute!

The plaque commemorating Hannibal's amazing journey across the Alps

The plaque commemorating Hannibal’s amazing journey across the Alps

The sun shone and the scenery was stunning, as we expected. What made it even more special was a fabulous lunch at a tiny roadside cafe/refuge at the top of Mt Cenis. Hannibal crossed the Alps here with his elephant

Paris ... What a sight

Paris … What a sight

s! A plaque told us so. Napoleon also crossed here, and in more recent times (1861) the British built a steam train to bring tourists across the Alps (only the Brits eh?). A small tunnel at the side of the road is all that remains of the railway …. In its heyday it chugged up here bringing 4,000 tourists a year.

The pass itself was awesome. Would not want to drive it on anything other than a sunny day, though. We drove over a small rock and it seriously dented our exhaust. We stopped for lunch at a roadside refuge where we enjoyed delicious soup and quiche, tarteflette (ham, cheese and potato gratin – proper mountain food) and myrtle tart! The owner was so welcoming and I made more friends among canine visitors, so I was very happy.

We were reluctant to leave although when the sun disappeared behind the mountain it got very chilly very quickly and when we drove down the mountain Steve was surprised at a patch of ice on the road!

Several hours later as we sat in a traffic jam at Lyon our mountain idyll seemed so long ago and far away!

Next stop Paris, Calais and Dover!

It was an amazing experience and knowing that, thanks to all your amazing support, we’ve raised almost £4,000 for Variety is really quite an achievement – that’s 1/6th of a Sunshine coach or a child’s electric wheelchair. So thanks to everyone who supported Kings on the Run, we could not have done it without you!

What a road!

What a road!

Next stop Dover - we survived the Italian Job!

Next stop Dover – we survived the Italian Job!


Off-piste road trip

The water splash at La Battistina

The water splash at La Battistina

Monday October 27: This morning first stop is a cycle museum (the Museo Dei Campionissimi) 15 miles away. It has some amazing exhibits and some cycles carved out of wood that are almost works of art, they were so beautiful. Even those of us who prefer four wheels to two could see the attraction. The next stop was the Villa Sparina just five miles away through pretty countryside… and the demon road book tried its best to send us off the beaten track.

As we approached the Villa via a pretty country road we spied a classic Mini ahead with its bonnet up… a sure sign that something’s up, so Steve, who’s a bit handy with a Mini engine stopped to see if we could help. The car stank of petrol… there was a leak somewhere but Steve managed to fix it with a bit of jiggery-pokery, much to the amusement of a chap who was doing some gardening. By this time about three other classic Minis

A sight for sore eyes!

A sight for sore eyes!

had stopped to offer moral support and we enjoyed a bit of banter together with our new-found Italian friend.

The Villa Sparina is a vineyard that makes a wine called Gavi, which you can buy in England, I recommend you look out for it as it is delicious. The scenery around here is magnificent and well worth a visit if you’re touring this part of northern Italy.

Lunch was scheduled for another vineyard (such a hard life!) La Battistina… and the journey there provided us with some of the best fun we’d had on the road so far. It was only six miles away, a doddle, surely? Following the road book we were surprised to see a line of Minis driving back along the road we were heading for, all drivers and passengers gestic

The beautiful scenery around the villa that produces a delicious wine called Gavi

The beautiful scenery around the villa that produces a delicious wine called Gavi

The waiter who just lurvved our Mini

The waiter who just lurvved our Mini

ulating to say the road was blocked (no signs of course!) It was quite a narrow road, so impossible to turn around until we got almost to the end where there was the biggest concrete bollard across the road to block our path. Good thing a classic Mini is easy to manoeuvre. We joined the line of Minis when our friends, Jonathan and Malcolm, indicated to us to follow them… Jonathan had somehow managed to understand some directions to our destination from one of the locals so we put our foot down.

By now the road book was useless… so we drove blindly on not knowing if we were vaguely in the right direction until we eventually saw some of the red caps of Italian Job organisers waving at us to indicate that we should take a sharp right on to some rough ground. The reason soon became clear… a concrete bridge had collapsed ahead of us, so there was nothing for it but for us to ford a stream (quite fast flowing and a bit unnerving as Peach was already letting in water!) but of course the classic Minis made light work of it and we then drove straight ahead to the most beautiful vineyard where we had a magical al fresco lunch.

As we were among the first to arrive… Kent pioneers leading the way…  there was time for some banter with the catering staff who all came outside to admire our car(s) – a waiter and then a rather amply proportioned chef both vied for the chance to sit in our tiny car. They thought the fact that we had to wear ear defenders was hilarious! We spent a few hours in the beautiful courtyard overlooking the vineyards, soaking up the sun and generallly enjoying life.

Tomorrow we’re really looking forward to… it’s Monza where we’ll be allowed to drive on the famous F1 circuit. Wonder if they’ll let us anywhere near the fabled banking?

Jamming in Turin

One of the reasons that we wanted to take part in the 2014 Italian Job is because it involved a visit to Turin and anyone who has seen the original 1969 film starring Michael Caine will know why. The “escape” scenes through the city are unforgettable so to drive in the city around some of the sights in the film was always going to be a highlight.

First stop was the former Fiat factory and the Lingotto test track where they used to give new Fiats a trial on the roof. I was really looking forward to this, so you can imagine my disappointment when we found

Tour of Turin, mind the tram!

Tour of Turin, mind the tram!

Peach made it on to the roof of the Lingotto!

Peach made it on to the roof of the Lingotto!

out that cars

Kent gets everywhere! Behind me is the famous weir

Kent gets everywhere! Behind me is the famous weir

are no longer allowed to drive on the roof! Not to be deterred, Steve unbolted Peach’s bonnet and, much to the surprise of a stern-faced security guard we took it up in the lift to the roof, where much to everyone’s delight, we paraded him around the roof circuit!

After lunch was the much anticipated p

Police escort

Police escort

The motorcycle outriders were great

The motorcycle outriders were great

olice escorted tour of Turin. It was mad and huge fun. Keep up with the car in front, don’t allow the slightest gap or someone will squeeze in, we were warned. Ignore red traffic lights! Make as much noise as possible. Well, the police motorcycle outriders were fantastic. Speeding ahead to stop traffic and ensure no stragglers got left behind. The people of Turin were delighted to see us and it must have been quite a sight, over 50 Minis (mostly classics) causing traffic jams in the city once more!

It is an experience we’ll never forget. So thank you to the Police and the city of Turin.

A warm welcome from this mime clown

A warm welcome from this mime clown

Monza madness

The famous banking at Monza. What a privilege to be able to drive on it

The famous banking at Monza. What a privilege to be able to drive on it

Today is the day Steve has been really looking forward to… we’re heading for the F1 circuit of Monza, a legendary track for petrol heads and although we’d visited the city before on a previous trip to , then we had to content ourselves with glimpses of the circuit from a distance. The circuit is situated in a royal park… it’s a beautiful setting. Mind you, the biggest headache was finding our way in to the circuit, the road book didn’t help at all. We’d been told there would be no penalties for arriving early… what they omitted to tell us was that we’d be penalised for late arrival!

The track parade at Modena had been rather slow-paced, so Steve wasn’t optimistic that Monza would be any different. However, after posing for pictures on the starting grid we were given free reign, much to our surprise. No track speed limit… What? They cannot be serious surely! Well, dear reader, picture this. There I was sitting next to a racing driver who needs no persuasion to put his foot to the metal. I was clinging on to the seat belt for dear life and dropped the hand-held video camera I was supposed to be recording the lap on… in the event it recorded most of my lap instead!

It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. We were even allowed to drive on the famed banking. To think F1 drivers used to race along the banking up to the 1960s makes me realise how skilled they must have been because it is very steep – we were not allowed to drive over a yellow line about halfway up, but even then the car felt as if it could topple over (Steve says it was because we weren’t going fast enough to grip the road!). I was concerned that some of the other drivers might not be  used to race circuit etiquette and feared that someone might drift across the tarmac without checking their mirrors. Steve did accelerate fast and overtook a lot of cars (he derived most enjoyment from overtak

All smiles on the grid at Monza before the banzai lap!

All smiles on the grid at Monza before the banzai lap!

ing the BMWs!) but he drove safely.

If I’m honest, I knew he would want to see what his rally car could do, having spent years building it from scratch but 95 mph seems very quick when you’re so low to the ground! It took me a few minutes afterwards to recover my equilibrium and those of you who have seen the video will know that my language may have been a bit ripe! But it was great fun and you only live once, right?

Next stop Modena

No wonder I'm smiling, with the ear defenders on I can't hear a word Steve says!

No wonder I’m smiling, with the ear defenders on I can’t hear a word Steve says!

This little chap is a gift for my niece ... He's enjoying his trip around the track at Modena

This little chap is a gift for my niece … He’s enjoying his trip around the track at Modena

Sunday October  26: Sorry for the delay in keeping up with my blog! Honestly, the pace of the navigational rally has been relentless with starts most days at 8.30am, which means we have to be in the car ready to line up shortly after 8am and not getting back to the hotel until 6ish most evenings, with dinner at 8pm… it’s exhausting, but we’re holding up well. No arguments so far, although that could be because we can’t actually talk to each other while we’re driving as Peach is soooo loud! Hand signals are coming in handy, and so far we’ve managed to keep it all very civilised, as you’d expect.

Today we drove 118 miles to the city of Modena and the autodrome, which involved quite a lot of motorway to get there… my ears were ringing by the time we arrived on a beautiful, hot, sunny Sunday afternoon. We took part in some special stages trials in the paddock… mainly slaloming between traffic cones in 30 seconds (not as easy as it looked, as it happens) then we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch before the Italian Job Minis were directed on to the track by the marshalls for a parade. The pace was too slow for Steve to really enjoy it but the Minis were well received and we enjoyed our five minutes of fame!

Afterwards we were off the clock and free to explore the area. We chose, along with a few friends, to visit Casa Ferrari, the home of Enzo Ferrari, which is now an impressive motor museum. If we were hoping to see Ferraris we were to be disappointed, they had an exhibition of Maseratis to celebrate the marque’s centenary. Some of the cars were absolutely gorgeous, though, particularly those of the late 1950s – they had real class and evoked an era when motoring was something rather special.

Tonight we’re staying at the Spinetta Marengo in Allessandria, a couple of hours outside of Turin. The hotel has a pool… bliss I can’t wait to dip a toe in the warm(ish) water (mind  you, it had a whirlpool thingy and I couldn’t swim against the current. I’d have been going round in circles (there’s a theme emerging, have you spotted it  yet?) for ages if Steve hadn’t formed a human dam and literally grabbed my arm and threw me out of the whirlpool into the  main pool – it was hilarious! There’s a pizza restaurant adjacent to the hotel so with a couple of our new found friends, Malcolm and Jonathan, a father and son from Scarborough and Cannes respectively, we ate royally, just like kings in fact!


Toy Story

Toys (1 of 1) Niccollo (1 of 1) Minis at SOS (1 of 1)Saturday 26 October 2014 Trento, Italy: Day two of the rally. After yesterday’s debacle of ever decreasing circles before finding our way out of the city we were on a mission and the first few miles went without a hitch. The weather is fine and warm, such a relief after all the rain earlier in the week. The Mini floor well is very soggy, the carpet sodden so Peach is enjoying a bit of sun.

We had a tour of a hydro electric power station in the morning – there are an amazing 297 lakes in this area around Lake Garda. We walked around 1,600 metres inside a mountain to see how the plant works, followed by an amazing “taster” lunch at a farm with around 14 courses … We lost count in the end – it was delicious but too much! 

After lunch we visited the SOS Villaggio del Fanciullo in Trento where orphaned and abandoned children live in family groups with a house mother. This was where our toys, colouring books, pens and other items kindly donated by friends and colleagues  were destined for. We met some of the children who sat in our car, like Niccolo, left, who revelled in beeping the horn! It was a really happy place and lovely to see the teddies and other toys bring a smile to the children’s faces. This is one of the children’s charities supported by The Italian Job and we were greeted like old friends.

Later we visited the Muse Museum in Trento, like a miniature Natural History  Museum which was fascinating. The clocks go back an hour tonight but there’s no extra hour in bed for us … Our time trial starts at 8am for the long drive to Modena Autodrome where we’ll have a chance to drive the track before heading off to Alessandria where we are based for the next four days.



A photo opportunity in the Dolomite mountains above Trento, Italy

A photo opportunity in the Dolomite mountains above Trento, Italy

Well, we did it! Survived the first day of the Italian Job rally. Although it was not a promising start, I must confess. As team 12 we started eighth in line at 09.33.30 but it didn’t help that the start point, in the Piazza Dante (opposite our hotel) had areas closed off … So we were told at the start to ditch points 1 thru 7 and go straight to 8 which threw me completely. We must have driven round Trento in circles for almost an hour but I refused to lose face by returning to the start. I almost wept with relief when another classic Mini joined us and confessed they were lost too! We drove in convoy with a bit of help and eventually found the right road, although we drove round one roundabout three times and in the end a road workman pointed the way for us! We turned it into a bit of a game using phrases from the film to lighten the mood,  such as “We can’t keep driving round here all day!”

Woman with chestnut mare

Here’s a friend I made at the eco vineyard. She grazes between the vines!

No tears were shed, and in the end we had a great day. A wonderful lunch at a lakeside villa, a wine tasting (pity the drivers – I felt it might improve my navigational skills, well they couldn’t get any worse, could they?) Felt much better when I realised that almost every team had similar problems to us. But at least we made the timed trial on time.

It is a navigational rally first and foremost, so I had to remind Steve a couple of times not to try to get from A to B at breakneck speed… Once a racing driver … The mountain roads around Trento are amazing to drive and the scenery is stunning, so we’re having a blast!

Trento at last!

After a welcome rest on Monday night at Spa in Belgium it was just over an hour’s drive to the Nurburgring in Germany on Tuesday. The torrential downpour put paid to any sightseeing!

Wednesday morning we set off early for the long drive to Munich … An eight hour slog on motorways that had the longest roadworks ever. Peach leaks! The carpet in the footwells is soaking wet and underneath is a small lake. Ho hum, the joys of owning a classic Mini.

Thursday morning saw more torrential rain as we negotiated our way out of Munich en route for Trento in Northern Italy. Hah! That was nothing. We’d been warned that there was snow up on the mountain roads after Innsbruck. Well, we drove into blizzard conditions! I was trying not to worry that our track day tyres (effectively cut slicks) would not be up to the job but we survived a couple of hairy moments and the longest traffic jam over the Brenner Pass. But as soon as we drove into Italy the sun shone, magic!

The city of Trento was very welcoming … People waved as we drove into the Piazza Dante for scrutineering and a children’s choir sang to us. We’ve had our briefing for the rally … Hmmm, everyone says it’s just a bit of fun and not to to take it too seriously. We’ll see … Watch this space.

Snow and lorry on the Brenner Pass. Brrrr it was cold, too!

Snow and lorry on the Brenner Pass. Brrrr it was cold.


The road book for the rally. Easy peasy? We’ll see…


First stop Spa

Here I am at Dover before boarding the ferry. Flying the flag for Kent!

Here I am at Dover before boarding the ferry. Flying the flag for Kent!

Well we made it! At least the first 300km from Calais to Spa which is a relief, I can tell you! Even on Sunday Steve was still changing things on the car – he put in rear windows that open to aid ventilation, a sound decision as it happens because the exhaust fumes were somehow infiltrating into the car as we drove along the motorway! Couldn’t open the new rear windows or some of the teddies would have fallen out, which will never do!

So, as I write, Steve is employing tank tape to seal the gap. We only have less than two hours to drive today as Nurburgring is the next stop. Steve has raced at this iconic circuit several times, as well as Spa Francorchamps, so we are looking forward to returning. Sadly the Nordschlieffe (the scary old circuit) is closed for the season …. Or maybe that’s not such a bad thing!

Peach goes very well, stood up to the Belgian motorway well but you do feel vulnerable in a Mini as the HGVs thunder past!

The Competitors we’ve met so far seem a great bunch of people and we’re looking forward to making some new friends along the way.



Well, the clock is ticking down to our Italian Job adventure. Monday 20 October – will see us among 50-60 other Minis, mainly classic cars, as we queue to board the 10.15 DFDS sailing from Dover to Calais. Finally we’ll get to meet the other Mini “nuts” like ourselves. It’s our first time on the run but some people have done it many times before – some as many as 18!

The Kings Peach is ready – although we’re still biting our nails waiting for the DVLA to return Peach’s log book (no stress!). The excitement is building, the cats know something’s up…


some of the toys accompanying us to Italy

Here are some of the soft toys that will be accompanying us, they are for children living in an SOS children’s village in Trento, Italy. Thank you to friends and colleagues who donated toys – and the PDSA charity shop in Dover, which let me rummage through their store room stock.

There are 547 SOS Children’s Villages in 134 countries, providing long-term care for almost 62,000 children from babies to teenagers who are orphaned, abandoned or in difficult family situations. Children live in small family groups with an SOS “mother”. When they are older they are helped to find work or go on to higher education and move into shared accommodation sponsored by local supporters.

From Calais we drive to Spa in Belgium, then on to the Nurburgring and Munich in Germany. The rally begins on October 23 at 2pm in the Piazza Dante, in the centre of Trento, with registration and scrutineering of the cars. We’ll get to drive on the Lingotto test track on the roof of the former Fiat factory – it featured in the original, 1969 film, when Michael Caine says: “Do get a move on… we can’t drive around here all day!” The Minis will also be escorted on a tour of Turin by a phalanx of police motorcycle outriders which should be fun!

So… all that’s left to say is a huge thank you to the University and friends and work colleagues for your unfailing support. You can keep up with our progress through this blog and our Facebook page. We’ve raised over £3,200 so far (to be boosted by sales of official lottery tickets, £400, and whatever the Italian Job film screening at the Gulbenkian Cinema on 2 October netted – watch this space)!

If anyone wishes to make a donation you can do so via our Just Giving page at – any amount, however small, is much appreciated.