I have seldom been on one of the excellent MG tours where I didn’t see or learn something amazing. What’s more, on each occasion I wasn’t expecting it.
Drive It Day, this year held on Sunday 28th April, is a national initiative where car clubs across the UK decide to take out their classic cars, purely for the love of driving them and to enjoy the company of like minded people. This year, on Sunday 28th April, a route of about 40 miles in length was devised by Mike Wilson. We met at McDonalds in Sprucefield and chatted in the car park. By some strange coincidence the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club was holding a completely unrelated run to visit Lotus and Fiat cars and we found ourselves side by side at the start. There was also, for some reason never made clear to us, a rare 1950’s Simca Aronde parked beside us. Remarkable to see so many classics out and about on a pleasant Sunday; it really does an enthusiast’s heart good to see these old vehicles once more.
We got under way and travelled a few miles to McConville’s Flax Mill near Dromara. At this point expectations were on hold. However, as we got closer, the flax dam came into sight, exactly as it would have been in its hay-day. The sluice mechanism was rusted but appeared fully functional. Inside there were photographs and reading material on the walls outlining the importance of flax in Ireland, all sadly now killed off by cheap labour abroad.
We were shown the raw material itself, properly retted flax, and were shown how the hard outer part of the plant was broken up and removed by hand. The huge water wheel was then put in motion and flax was fed through the machine to bring about the same effect. Then Mr McConville demonstrated the manual scutching process using beech beaters. This was most impressive, not to say a precarious process and the end product was soft workable linen. Just when we thought we had seen it all, Mr McConville sat down in the middle of the room and played an ancient fiddle with remarkable verve for a man of his years, encouraging all to sing. Absolutely priceless!
And so we took to the road again, up the wonderful and unspoiled Slieve Croob, passing Legananny Dolmen and stopping at a viewpoint where the full majesty of the Mourne Mountain range could be seen in one take. And, lo and behold, there we happened upon the Riley Club on an outing that would ultimately lead them to lunch at the Millbrook Lodge in Ballynahinch. It was ironic that MG and Riley cars, historically rival racing marques, should find themselves meeting in a remote car park at the top of a mountain.
After a delightful run, we enjoyed a terrific carvery meal at Temple Golf Club before heading home.
It was a lovely run and enjoyed by everyone with that unexpected surprise at the Scutch Mill that made the day completely unforgettable. Many thanks to Mike Wilson and Des McDowell for putting it all together.