The idea for doing this event came from my participation in the Grim Riders Virtual Rally back in August 2014, I enjoyed the planning and also following on from the long days out with Rig on the TMBF Challenge 100, thought I would give a dedicated day’s rally a go.
This type of rally is run over a single day as opposed to the diehard Iron Butt rally’s which run into days and at my great age would probably be beyond me but you never know.
The idea is to visit a number of checkpoints during the day between 08:00 and 23:59 the start and finish being in Langley, South Somerset.
The event is split into four categories:-
- Gold award 400 miles approx. – Visit 15 unmanned checkpoints and 3 manned checkpoints.
- Silver award 300 miles approx. – Visit 12 unmanned and 2 manned checkpoints.
- Bronze award 150 miles approx. – Visit 9 unmanned and 1 manned checkpoints.
- Land’s End Award – Gold Award + visit Land’s End
The entries opened early January so I downloaded the information, filled out the entrance form and, in the good old fashioned way, sent this off in the post with a cheque.
That evening, and back into the modern world, I booked a room at the Travelodge in Podimore near Yeovil for the Friday evening, the intention being that it will save the 140 odd mile trip early Saturday morning.
The information for the checkpoints are e-mailed out two weeks before the event, these have to be located on suitable software, i.e. TYRE or AutoRoute and all your stops etc. planned to enable the days chosen task to be completed in time. At each of the checkpoints a question has to be answered and entered onto your control card, these questions are not given out until the morning of the rally when checking in.
With the day of the event being the last day of BST, the Exeter sun is due to rise at 06:00 and set at 18:40 so the planning to make the most of the available daylight is crucial. If the weather conditions are favourable there is the added time of Civil Twilight up until 19:13 but being England this can’t be relied upon.
The final instructions arrived via snail mail and not the expected e-mail, still it’s nice to get a good old fashioned letter in the age of technology that we live in! The checkpoints are crudely marked on a small photocopied map of the South West Peninsular and that evening I sat in front of the laptop fired up TYRE and set down an initial basic route to include the necessary 15 unmanned and 3 manned checkpoints. It was soon apparent that a bit of thought will be required as to a suitable route, entering the checkpoint locations brought up a bit of “toing & froing” which would lead to a lot of lost time in the field. For the initial plan I entered the three out of the four manned points which are set in stone and then 20 odd unmanned checkpoints. The next stage was to clear out those that were too far off the beaten track and leave myself with a nice circular route. I ended up with one spare checkpoint at the end just in case one of the earlier ones proved a problem. I had decided to discount the Land’s End award, I felt this would be a step too far on my first attempt so I concentrated on a “simple” route.
The next few days was spent researching the proposed stops and also the roads to be travelled, this latter point ended up with me discounting one checkpoint as the road leading to it looked absolutely pants, even Bob wouldn’t take it on so rather than a long detour it was dispatched to the recycling bin.
Next task was to find suitable fuel stops, my route was running out at 310 miles so a couple of stops would be necessary, these were researched in good old Google Maps and added to the route accordingly.
At this point I transferred the route into Microsoft AutoRoute so I could calculate stop timings to cater for downtime. Also to take into consideration the fact that manned checkpoints are open from 10:00 to 18:00 so it would be no good arriving early or late. The timings seemed to work OK with my initial plan so I was happy to use these to formulate my road book which would form the basis of the days plan and ensure I was running to time. I did have a concern over the last manned checkpoint but decided the timing would be tight but acceptable.
Next consideration was the fact that I knew the locations but not the questions, so I decided to save and print small maps of each checkpoint location which, hopefully, would give be a bit of local knowledge when trying to find the required information, this involves a bit of hoping as I have no experience of the questions which would be asked.
After I was happy with my route I drew up the road book and printed out all the relevant information which I thought I may need, hopefully I will find room to stash it on the bike when rally day comes around.
As an hors d’oeuvres I had taken the day off work and planned a winding route to the Travelodge via a few TMBF locations, the theory being that it would give me planning & execution practice plus get me used to a long days riding around the countryside. I had planned the day with military precision to see what my timings would be like for the main event.
The bike was packed up and thankfully the forecast of rain was a bit wide of the mark, I set off slightly before the planned time of 8:15 so was a few minutes ahead of schedule from the off, always good to have time in hand I thought. The first leg was a steady trip down the Fosse Way to Cirencester, onwards past the always interesting Kemble airfield into Wiltshire and near Trowbridge where the first stop at Eva’s Kitchen Cafe was to be found. The weather was good so a bacon & sausage sarnie was on the menu washed down with a nice mug of tea. First tick done and still ahead of schedule.
Next it was off towards Bath, and the second stop at the Midland Spinner Inn near Kingswood. I always find pub stops a bit tricky and do try to arrive outside of opening hours. This however was not the case and whilst taking the snaps was approached by an unfriendly local asking questions, I appeased his initial aggressive nature by explaining what I was up to, all the time keeping my crash helmet firmly on my bonce!!
Off once more for a skirt around Bristol to pick up the M4 for its final short run to join the M5 south. A stop off the motorway at Cleveland found me by the Pier for the next photo, there was a lot of building works going on so couldn’t get too good a position but it was good enough for the evidence.
Off again back onto the M5 past Weston Super Mud and off again to Burnham on Sea. This time I was able to get on the pavement right outside of the shortest Pier in England. The place was deserted so I was able to get some shots of the empty beach as well.
Next target was Gough’s Cave in Cheddar gorge, the research threw up a few possible problems for a photo opportunity and the area was not to disappoint. I managed to stop and get a picture with the entrance in view, all be it well in the background, it would have to do. Again the area was quiet so I took the opportunity of a leisurely trip through the gorge and a few stop offs for photos, it had been a very long time since I had been here, the kids were small and they are now grown up with kids of their own, how time marches on.
All that was left now was the hop across Somerset and to my overnight destination of the Travelodge at Podimore which was seven miles from the event starting point.
I arrived at 2pm which was well over half an hour ahead of the planning so I was happy with that; however the downside was that I had to wait for an hour before I could check in.
Check in time soon came round and gave me some enforced rest time, the room could not have been further away from the entrance so had to lug my gear over several trips back and forward. I unpacked and changed over the paperwork and sorted the tank bag out for tomorrow’s epic event.
A shower and daytime telly saw the clock ticking round to 7pm so I wandered the very short distance to the Little Chef and sampled one of their Breakfast Burgers and chips, this was accompanied by a rather chocolatey Mocha coffee, Perfik. By this time the weather had turned and it was p*ssing it down, there were several bikes in the car park some of which were under covers. These rally boys come prepared. Back in the room I settled down to watch England’s attempt at football against one of the world’s minnows at the game, a 4-0 score line to England was adequate I suppose but more is always good.
The idea was to get an early kip and be refreshed for the Saturday morning, good plan but bad in practice, I woke up at 2am and didn’t really get back to a decent sleep so by the time I got up at 5am I was a bit on the tired side, Oh well not to worry.
Breakfast consisted of a couple of breakfast bars and a cup of caffeine laden coffee, perfect start I thought. At 6:30 I transferred the luggage to the bike and packed it all up ready for the off, there were a few doing the same and by 7am those that had ordered a pre-start breakfast were on their way. Not knowing the full procedure I wanted to get to the check in early so I could check out what the others were doing and try not to look like a complete novice.
The organisation was very slick and the check in opened a few minutes before the designated time of 8am so I was pleased to get ahead of the time which gave me a few minutes to read the clue sheets handed out. With the first clue memorised I set off a couple of minutes before 8 which gave me a head start on the time plan straight away.
I had memorised which way to turn out of the garden centre so that I didn’t look a total dick by having to turn round and I was a bit nervous and this showed about half a mile down the road when I missed the first turning, luckily no-one was behind so I managed to correct the error and set off on the correct road. I gave myself a bit of a talking to and settled down.
I had picked the first checkpoint a fair distance from the start to try and keep away from the masses, seems like this was a tactic of the experienced as I caught Grim and Trevor up just before Kilve. Grim showed his experience and soon found the village hall and the dates required and they were soon off. From here it was a short hop to the second stop at Cleeve Abbey in Washford, again I caught them up but was still well behind when they cleared off. I had to improve my stop time and started to formulate a new strategy.
Next on the list was Allerford, Grim & Trevor were long gone by this point, always assuming they were heading for the same stop, I did dawdle a bit at this stop and a couple of bikes arrived and departed whilst I was stationary, I was practicing my paperwork which didn’t really fall into a plan all day long. The weather didn’t really help on this front as it was wet for most of the trip.
I left Allerford and went through Porlock where I came upon the famous hill, this was for me the best bit of road on the trip, blasting up the steep incline was most rewarding, however the thrill of this was soon eclipsed by the view when I got to the top, I looked out to see the weather closing in at a rapid rate of knots and soon I was engulfed by mist and horizontal rain driven by the worst wind I had encountered on a bike. The trip to Lynmouth will be something I remember for a long time!!
Lynmouth was one of the places on my list which concerned me as it was a big place compared to others I had picked so the clue could be somewhat of a problem to find, this proved to be the case so I had to ask in a little cafe by the main car park, I left with the necessary directions to the flood memorial hall and in return I gave the owner a load of rainwater on his floor, I don’t suppose he was best pleased especially as I hadn’t made a purchase. At this point Grim & Trevor caught me up, god knows where they had been. The clue answered and it was off to Cook Island near Ilfracombe which was the first of the compulsory manned checkpoints.
At the cafe I took the opportunity to drain off some of the water, the horizontal rain had driven up under my jacket and the padded bodywarmer was dripping with water when I undone my top coat. A coffee went down well whilst I had a go at the quiz which I admit was pretty poor on my behalf, still it didn’t count to the overall result merely an excuse to get you off the bike and take a bit of R&R. Grim & Trevor were having coffee & cake so as a marker I was more than happy with my progress. However, this was the last time I saw them until the finish.
According to my plan the next thing to do was get a bit of fuel, as Dartmoor was coming up later on the route I didn’t want to be short of fuel on that leg so I topped up with enough to get me 3 parts of the way round with plenty to spare.
Next stop was the village hall at Umberleigh and the rock feature in the garden, there was a bit of a jam at this point, several bikes in the carpark and a bit of local toing & froing thrown into the mix, information gained it was off to the next port of call at Hatherleigh. The target here was the market car park so I assumed it would be easy to locate which proved to be the case, the clue for this was “How many legs are there in the Sheep Sculpture?” I thought it must be a trick question and the answer would be four, how wrong can you be, I pulled up and parked the bike, looking across the road it was difficult to make out how many sheep there were so a closer inspection was required, answer was 5, that’s 20 legs, wait a minute!, there are three shepherds leaning against a gate, that’s another six, as I was heading back to the bike I noticed something behind the shepherds, it was a sheep dog lying down, that four more, total of 30, good one I thought.
After the sheep conundrum it was off to what I thought would be the worst part of the route, Dartmoor but after the Porlock to Lynmouth run nothing was going to bother me. The first stop was a TMBF picture tag at the Dartmoor Prison Museum, the weather had closed in again and I was in the mist, rain and wind once more. Photo stop done the next manned checkpoint was half a mile down the road, the guys manning this one were huddled in the back of a big van, I didn’t take my helmet off at this stop as it was lashing down, I got my card stamped, completed the quiz and was off as fast as I could, there
was a trip ahead right across the moor.
The road across Dartmoor is a strange one for motorcyclists, not only are there sheep roaming about, the planners deemed it suitable to install manhole covers in the middle of the road, on bends in fact anywhere that they could!, not good in the wet, anyway back to the route, the next stop was at Chagford which involved some “rural” lanes as did a few of the remaining points of call. The sun started shining at this point so after walking around the Octagonal Building to find the answer to the clue, it was off to Ide in the sunshine. The clue to this one should be easy to find, it was to find out where Ide was twinned with so I assumed the first signpost would do the trick and I was thankfully proved correct. As it was not raining I decided to stop here a while and have some lunch which consisted of a bottle of water and a couple more breakfast bars. Welcome stock up by this time.
After my refreshment break it was onwards and upwards to Tipton St John and to find the river Otter, this was a bit tricky as I hadn’t got a clue as to the size of river I was looking for and there were a few streams knocking about, after a couple of about turns I stumbled across the river bridge and the clock, date sorted is was off to Honiton and the chance to catch up a bit of time on a main road. After a slight hiccup I came across the correct church and war memorial, there was another bike already parked up so we had a quick chat and set off in separate directions, next stop for me was a fuel top up, according to my route plan this would last me until the finish.
After the top up it was off to Rug town, namely Axminster, again an easy one to find as it was located at the railway station and these are always well signed so no problems, a quick stop and it was a quick blast down the A30 to Eype services which was my third and final manned stop, again I didn’t hang around, a quick chat with the organisers and a stab at the quiz and off I went, I was now targeting a finish in the daylight and I was on the home stretch.
Next on my list was Osmington mills, I had picked this as it was only one road which ended with a pub, what could be easier than that??, this one proved to be the hardest of the day, I cruised up and down the road three times looking for the sewage pumping station the tourists must have wondered what was going on. On the third slow pass I waited for a car to emerge from a track which went down behind some houses, this turned out to be very lucky as I spotted a sign warning not to block the access as maintenance vehicles may need to come by at any time, this rang a bell in my head that it must be the location I was after. After about a mile on this agricultural track, I was having doubts, I passed an electricity sub-station and was looking for somewhere to turn around when I chanced upon the sewage pumping station, a quick note of the number and I was out of there annoyed at the time taken and looking to make up a bit of ground.
The next two stops came and went pretty quick, both Tincleton Church and the bus shelter at Piddletrenthide were easy to find and within 16 miles, all that was left was a fairly long 20 mile trip to South Cadbury church and then a 14 mile stretch back to the start.
I arrived back in the daylight which was pleasing, handing in my rally card the organisers confirmed that I had done enough for the Gold Certificate which was duly handed over along with a decent cardboard tube so that I could transport it home undamaged, nice touch I thought. I was also given my commemorative Tee Shirt which again is a well thought out touch to round off the day’s efforts. By this time I was looking forward to a bit of hot grub, the offering was Beef Lasagne which came out in a good sized portion which was very welcome. I sat with Grim & Trevor who had been back about half an hour. This, from a time point of view, I was very happy with considering that is measured alongside the experts at this sort of thing, it did turn out that they had spent plenty of time at the stops so could easily have been halfway home by the time I had finished but still I was happy with the time.
All that remained now was the 140 mile trip home, the sat nav predicted 2½ hours so a quick call home and a fuel stop down the road was all that separated me from a long and very windy trip back up the M5 and A46.
A great way to spend a day trekking about the countryside on the bike, I will certainly do it again and will also try the Welsh Rally which is next up at the beginning of May. Hopefully the experience of this first attempt will stand me in good stead with the planning which I will consider more carefully and try to avoid some of the very minor roads I ended up on this time, however this may be easier said than done considering it will be in Wales!
Organised by the Somerset Advanced Motorcyclists – www.somersetadvancedmotorcyclists.org.uk