Following on from my participation in the South West Peninsular Rally I decided to have a crack at another event. I downloaded the entry form for the 2015 Welsh National Rally and in the good old fashioned way completed and sent off with a cheque to the organisers.
From initial enquiries I was told that this rally followed much the same format as the SWPSR so it was a case of sit back and wait for the list of checkpoints to be posted out.
The start & finish point for the event was at Castle Caereinion in North Wales, which, being 100 miles from home, I decided I would do the whole day in one with no stop over the night before.
The paperwork duly arrived via snail mail well before the event, this was perfect for me being my first attempt. I checked through the information and, after studying the check points on the hand written sheet, I decided to have a go at the Platinum Award which involved 15 unmanned checkpoints, 3 manned checkpoints and 4 dragon award checkpoints. This totalled 22 stops which, at an average of 10 minutes each, gave me nearly four hours without setting out on the road, add to this is rest stop time meant it was going to be a long day.
Next step was to decide on an area to cover, my logic on this one was to pick North Wales as I have a little knowledge of the region and thought that the roads may be of a better quality than in the central area of Wales. My mind wandered a bit to the saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” was this to be the right decision?
My first criterion was to complete the rally in daylight so a quick check of the civil daylight time for Bangor gave me a target return of 9:41pm which should be plenty of time. The fly in the ointment for this theory was the timing for the manned checkpoints. These are only open from 10am until 6pm and the distance involved to pick up three of these meant I had to factor in a good average rate to make the last one by 6pm.
My trusty edition of TYRE was pressganged into service, I entered the checkpoints in three phases, first up the 3 manned checkpoints, and this gave me a basic circular route to work from. Next on the list were 4 out of the nine possible Dragon Award checkpoints, these had to be sorted into the correct area of Wales and entered into my plan. Finally the unmanned checkpoints, I decided to enter all the North Wales ones and then see which provided the most logical route, I then sifted out the surplus to leave me with the required number of 15.
Looking at my initial plan through up a few problem areas and what looked like “middle of nowhere” routes so a bit of tweaking was required. After a few changes I still had problem areas but there was no way to avoid these so I settled on the route and decided to worry about the minor roads on the day. The difficulty factor of these would variable depending on the Welsh weather so I was literally in the lap of the gods on this one.
After a week deliberating I settled on the route, prepared the Roadbook and sat back to await the day.
My plan was to set out from home at 5:30ish and take in a TMBF Challenge 100 tag situated near the starting point just off the A5, this happened to be a cafe so my planned arrival time of 7am seemed perfect to grab, not only the photo, but a bacon sarnie to start the day off. However this didn’t go to plan, it wasn’t a timing issue or the fact that the M54 was shut at Telford for overnight works which resulted in a detour, it was that the cafe wasn’t open, oh well, not a real issue, a TMBF tag in the bag to start the day and it was off to Welshpool to fill up the tank before the starting point at Castle Caereinion.
I arrived early and the Clive Motorcycle Club crew were only just finishing setting up, the sausage and bacon was not yet cooked so it was a wait for the action to get going. Not much else to do but wander about and clock the machines arriving to quickly fill the car park, then the overflow car park, then out into the street. The tables set-up in the signing on hall indicated an expected turnout of well over 300 plus passengers, an impressive attendance, no wonder the place was filling up early.
With a half hour to go to signing on, the queues started forming in front of the numbered tables, not knowing the routine I decided to join the queue for my number range and wait, not the best part of the day but by now the throng was well out of the door and into the car park so my choice was probably a sound one.
Eventually the time came, a quick speech from a club representative and in was go, the signing in process was swift and I was soon making my way through the crowd with my pack in hand.
Back at the bike I sorted out the first clue and got away as soon as I could to avoid the rush. It must be a mental block but, like the SWPSR, I missed the first turning out of the village which meant turning around up the road and back again. Luckily there wasn’t anyone about so I didn’t look a complete idiot. Settling down I headed to the first stop at Llandrinio, this was a “Dragon” stop so the exact location was a bit woolly from the list provided but as they are only small places there was not too much to get wrong.
The first clue sorted it was off to the first official stop on the Rally at Llangedwyn and to find the school to solve the next clue. It was at this point, tootling down the lanes, that a piece of paper flew up, glanced off the visor and fluttered off behind down the road. Boll*x, what the f*ck was that???, the worst thing was that it could have been the clue sheet from my pocket, I found a place to pull over, not easy in Welsh lanes, and checked. I had made a real rooky mistake and not zipped up the map pocket on the tank bag, checking through it was a map of Bethesda and the TMBF tag planned for later in the day. Not really a problem but I still decided to go back and retrieve the offending litter, relief really, the day could have been over before it had got going if I had lost the clue sheet!!!
The next phase went without any hitches, the odd tricky lane thrown in by the Sat Nav, I made a mental note to try and sort this for the next one, some of the lanes I encountered in the day were no more than tracks, not a problem for the bike but the average speed is not what it should be in those conditions. I systematically rattled off the stops at Overton, “Reginald Frank Willows”, a quick set of question answering at Bike Devils, the first compulsory manned stop, and Hope Church “Talk Talk”. The next on the list was the second Dragon stop at Dobbs Hill, I had decided to use the Dragon waypoints as refuelling stops as they were conveniently situated a garages, t’was a sound idea until the Menai Strait but that comes later. With the clue solved and a quick refuel it was off for the next set of stops, Llanarmon-Yn-Ial where there were 12 windows on the front elevation of the Raven boozer, Bodfari 201745 710165” Llanfair Talhaiarn “three arches on the old bridge”, tricky one this as the first bridge I found only had one arch and didn’t look very old so a bit of investigation was required. Cerrigydrudion where the plaque displayed the date of “1951”, Ysbyty Ifan where the answer was “two benches” which overlooked the river, lovely spot to sit and while away the time watching the water flow by, however no time for myself and a few others which had congregated at this stop it was scribble down the answer, back on the bike and off to the next stop.
The next stop at Betws-Y-Coed had given me a few planning problems, the village is spread out along the A5 so the clue could have been anywhere, there was not much I could do but wait until the day and see what was thrown up. As it happened the clue was reasonably easy, it was just a case of finding the correct caravan & camping site “Riverside”.
Planned into the route next was a TMBF tag in Bethesda and a photo of the bike outside Fitzpatricks cafe on the main street through the village.
This part of the A5 winds its way through mountains and is very spectacular, this does mean it is restrictive and any problems on the road are big problems, this was the case today, I came up on a line of stationary cars so a bit of filterage was in order, slowly moving down the outside, always expecting a car & caravan combo to be coming round the bend the other way, I eventually got to the front and joined the other bikers who were on the rally and heading to Rhiwlas. The reason for the hold-up was a recovery truck doing its job and picking up what looked like a small Peugeot (other makes of cars are available), the policewoman blocking the road was quite chatty and quizzing the front runners on what they were up to and where they were going. Luckily the blockage was short lived, probably about 10 mins or so and we were all soon off, much to the relief of, what must have been a long tailback, of car drivers.
The stop in Bethesda was a quick one, the Cafe looked interesting and I made a note to come back and try it one day. From here it was back onto the WNR route and the bus stop in Rhiwlas “72, 73 & 85” were the busses which passes through, impressive considering the size of the place.
In my plans now it was detour time, my youngest offspring is at Bangor University so I had arranged to meet up with him for a short while and take onboard some sustenance, first though was another Dragon stop and fill up at the Shell Garage over the Menai Strait on the Anglesey side, good plan I thought but the place was rammed with cars so I just got the answer required “9 bollards” and set off for Bangor.
After a very enjoyable stop on the seafront and a quick catchup with #3 offspring it was back to the day’s task and a 25 mile run down to the second manned checkpoint of the day at Caernarfon airport. This turned out to be very picturesque, another place to come back to, with the quiz out of the way I headed off to Clynnog Fawr church and another tricky stop, the road fell away to the kerb so I decided not to dismount and struggle to get back on and level so the paperwork was done awkwardly whilst sat on the bike and reading the sign from across the road. “Court Cottage” was the required information so on the sheet it went.
This next leg to Gellilydan was the worst of the road conditions, at one point the Sat Nav took me up a track with more grass than tarmac but it all makes for the day’s experience!??, there was “one” disabled space in the church hall car park so off I set, on what was to be the best road of the day, down the coast to Fairbourne via the last of four Dragon stops at Dyffryn Ardudwy where the “38” bus stop was outside.
There was quite a gathering of bikes in Fairbourne with riders wandering about and using the convenience store for a quick pit stop. A quick check of the miniature railway station provided the answer of “3” fire buckets hanging on the wall.
Next up was the last manned stop at Abergynolwyn which was a decent looking cafe packed with bikers. The manned stops close at 6pm so these stops are the most critical, at this stage it was 17:05, I had covered 280 miles and was half an hour ahead of my planned timings which was excellent from my point of view, I done the last quiz and set off to Corris Railway Museum and the last opportunist TMBF tag stop of the day.
Back on track again and on the homeward leg, there was still 40 miles to cover and two stops to make, first up was at Pennal war memorial, I missed it coming into the village but a friendly local on a Repsol Rep Fireblade pointed me in the right direction and I doubled back to the memorial, Whilst I was sorting out the date another rally participant turned up looking for the same information “17th August 1941”, brave souls these world war two pilots.
Last stop of the day at Bettws Cedewain turned out to be an Agatha Christie moment, I arrived in the village hall car park and joined at least six bikes parked up and riders looking for what was between the telephone & post boxes at the entrance. This would have been easy except for the fact that the telephone box had been nicked!
It turned out that the box had been the subject of an automobile / phone box interface resulting in British Telecom taking it away, it was communally decided that the “yellow grit box” was the answer sought by the rally organisers so it was this duly recorded on the rally card.
All that remained now was to return to Castle Caereinion and fill in all the paperwork.
At the finish I sorted out the rally card and as I was going for the Platinum & Dragon award I could enter for the overall winner category which takes into account the whole day trip, the manned checkpoint quiz answers and also a “special” challenge at the finish. Off I went to a side room where there was a contraption made by one of the organisers to land an aeroplane using the stick and wire arrangement, fantastic bit of ingenuity but I made a complete hash of the process, my trail run was not so bad and I managed to land in the 10 point zone, however my three official goes resulted in three overruns and a grand total of Null Points, so much for overall winner although there was never much chance of that with my quiz answers anyway.
All that was left of the day was a couple of refreshments and a catch-up with Grim & Trevor on how their day went and a 100 mile trip home.
The Clive Motorcycle Club have to be congratulated in all departments, the organisation is very slick, facilities top notch and the rewards are brilliant, real Welsh slate paperweight for the platinum award backed up with a slate coaster for the Dragon Award, each printed with details, fantastic touch.
Excellent day all round, I reached home at 9pm which meant 15½ hours on the road and nearly 550 miles covered, great scenery, some dodgy roads but that is down to me, what a great way to spend a Saturday and not a mention of cr*p weather in the text.