Into my second year of Motorcycle Scatter Rallies and the SWPSR is the first up on the calendar. The idea is to visit so many points during the day between 08:00 and 23:59 the start and finish being in Langley, South Somerset.
This 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.
- Lands’ End Award…Gold Award + visit Lands’ End
The entries opened early January so I downloaded the information, filled out the entrance form and, sent this off in the post with a cheque. I must have been early on this as I ended up with rider number 20.
I was looking forward to this year’s event with the view that I could improve my overall planning and riding experience. After the weather of last year’s event, I had already decided to try a totally different approach to this year’s routeing and see how it went.
As another variation for this year, I was contemplating doing the whole thing in the single day and ummed & arred over the Travelodge stopover. In the end, I decided that the 140-mile early morning trip would be a bit much on top of the planned mileage for the rally and homeward journey. With the Travelodge booked I prepared a route which would take in a couple of TMBF tags, this would break up the journey and keep my score ticking over. The earlier I could get away from work would make this a better idea.
The information for the checkpoints are posted out two weeks before the event and duly arrived through my letterbox on the promised day so it was onto the planning phase.
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.
I had already decided not to take the route across to Lynmouth and tried to keep to main roads as far as possible, hopefully resulting in a better average speed over the day. Whilst this did, in fact, result in a faster route is also gave me more miles to cover so in effect one cancelled out the other. Still, I was committed now so I stuck to plan ‘A’.
With an initial plan of 20 stops, plus the 3 manned stops I set about whittling that down to the necessary 15+3. The next few days was spent researching the proposed stops and also the roads to be travelled.
Next on the list was to find suitable fuel stops for the 350 miles, I figured on 2 stops which would double as rest stops too. I used the same garage as last year for my first stop and picked the second one on the main road by Exeter Racecourse, these looked perfect.
When I was satisfied that the route would work, I prepared the notes for the tank bag, as the clues are only handed out at registration on the morning of the event, I had to pick landmarks to head for in each village. For this, I usually pick the church as it is easy to spot from a distance and is the focal point of many communities.
The final stage of planning was to load the route into the Sat Nav, I was totally committed now.
I managed to get away from work at 2:30 pm on a Friday afternoon; this gave me plenty of time to make my way to Wincanton and the overnight stop at the Travelodge.
My TMBF targets were Donnington Castle near Newbury and Ludgershall Castle just off the A303 by Thruxton motor racing circuit.
The traffic wasn’t too bad for a Friday afternoon and I took it steady down the M40 and onto the A34 at Oxford, the route was nice and easy so I just plodded on following the Sat Nav instructions. This was OK until I got to Donnington and it took me onto the local golf course and then expected me to go through a lane which was no more than a footpath overgrown with shrubbery. Bugger it, I could see the castle from the road through the course so a long shot would have to do.
After this I set off to the next stop, no problems with this one and the photo all went as planned, this was more than can be said for the trek past Stonehenge, the road is busy at this point and took me a while to thread through the stationary traffic to the scene of the bottleneck, this must be a sole destroying commute day after day.
Once past the historic venue it was all plain sailing to Wincanton, I decided to fill up with fuel at the Morrison’s supermarket next to the Travelodge which, as it turned out, was a good plan as it had gone up in price by the time I left the following morning!.
After checking in I unloaded the bike and carted panniers and tank bag up to the room, whilst locking the bike up I managed to rip the top of my thumb open on the top case lock, bollox that will be sore tomorrow, I could already feel it and the thought of a day in the glove was not on my bucket list.
After sorting some snap and a refreshing shower in the minuscule shower cubicle I settled down to a relaxing evening.
After a half decent kip breakfast consisted of a couple of cereal bars and a cup of caffeine laden coffee. Time soon came to load up and set off for the rally HQ. I arrived in plenty of time and only a handful of bikes were in the garden centre car park, I parked up next to Steve and his BMW, it was a chance to see the front of his bike as I have only ever seen the back of it as he zooms off and I try to keep pace, the run out of Barmouth in last year’s Welsh National Rally always comes to mind, it was a good part of the day.
As with last year, the check in opened a few minutes before the designated time of 8am so I grabbed the paperwork and scanned through the clue sheet. My personal choice of progress is to check out the next clue and set off for the destination, I noted that some were busy writing, presumably adding the clues to their list of stops. I made a mental note to investigate this for next time and consider a plan. With the first clue memorised I set off for Rackenford at 8am which was 15 minutes ahead of my plan.
Mindful of the cock up I had last year with taking a wrong turn just down the road from the start, I was concentrating hard not to make the same mistake and after a few miles settled down into the day’s routine.
My chosen route plan was to start off on decent roads and get some early mileage under my belt, the first stop was a fair distance so got me out of the pack as it were.
I had decided to carry on the system of noting mileage, stop times and the answer on a pre-prepared sheet which I then used to transfer the answers at the end onto my official card. This kept the master paperwork out of the weather as much as possible. As I travelled around my thoughts were that this method cost me precious time at each location. Perhaps I should rethink this strategy for the Welsh National Rally.
With the first clue sorted I was off to George Nympton, great names these villages have, and in search of the village hall so I could identify the animal on the weather vane on top of the opposite cottage, so far so good, all was going to plan.
Next stop was Umberleigh and specifically the station, it had been raining since the start and was getting heavier now so the paperwork was starting to get into a poor condition already, nothing I can do about that, though, just got to crack on and hope it dries out. The answer to the clue was on the station information board and took some reading, finally, I spied a date and confirmed it was the information I was after wrote it on my damp paperwork.
Off I set to the next port of call which was the first of the manned stops at Ilfracombe, I was exactly on plan which turned out not to be the best as I arrived 15minutes before the stop so had an enforced wait before I could get away. A major thing I could have done better was to realise I was early and brought forward my planned fuel stop which would have saved me time. As I was just about to pull away I had my first meeting of the day with Grim & Trevor, I presumed they had taken the same routeing as last year and had come across via Lynmouth.
My next stop was for fuel and I was smarting a bit from not thinking of this earlier but it was too late now, After refuelling I headed off to what I thought would be the first problem stop of the day, it was well off the main routes but the roads looked OK on Google maps. The Huntshaw clue looked innocuous but proved to be a difficult one. I found, what I assumed to be the “Hall” but could not find what had been donated by Lord Clinton. In the end, I gave up and set off to Inwardleigh and the next clue. On the way I considered my options, I hadn’t planned a contingency stop so would have to have to improvise at some point. A bit further down the road, I had an inspiration, I decided to guess the answer and assume that it was the land that had been donated, this was a regular occurrence and seemed to be a good option. I do not know if this was correct but when the entry card was checked over at the end it was not flagged as incorrect so must have been near the mark. I had written it in a bit of a scrawl so I could claim it said something else if need be!!, I must look the answer up at some point.
The clue at Inwardleigh was easier to find and with the cottage, name noted it was off again to Willesworthy. This was another of my “problem” stops, there wasn’t anything there according to my research, only the firing range. The clue could have been very tricky but luckily I spotted a signpost to “Land End” so I followed the road, it was a narrow and tricky trip but I eventually came upon the firing range car park and discovered the necessary information required.
The last few stops had eaten away at the time so from here on in I was chasing the clock, the weather had dried up by this point which meant that the trip over Dartmoor to Princetown was a pleasurable one compared to the driving rain and mist of last year. A quick stop and it was onwards and upwards to Buckland Monachorum, another great name.
This clue was at the church so I was able to navigate straight to it and check out the sign which hailed the Parish Council as responsible for the wall restoration.
By now the sun was shining which made the day even better, off to Ermington and Rattery followed by a fuel stop by Exeter Racecourse at the aptly named “wining post service station”
After a short break, it was off again, this section was off the beaten track and took in Venn Ottery, Southleigh & Cotleigh. All went well until on the approach to Cotleigh I came upon an Electricity Suppliers truck parked on the road. Given that the road was only single carriage and the truck was a damn great thing with its stabilising jacks down and in the process of installing a new wooden pylon thingy there was not much I could do but turn around and try to navigate an alternative route. Thinking back on it I would have been quicker to walk the rest of the way, solve the clue and walk back!
After this slight setback, the next port of call was my last manned stop at Dorchester. After wondering around a bit to locate the SWPSR representatives I got my card stamped and headed back to the bike. As I got there Grim and Trevor had just pulled up, when Trevor spotted me he went to move his bike so I could get out easier and the next thing I knew he was on the deck performing the “dying fly” routine from TISWAS, Chris Tarrant and his motley crew would have been proud. Grim and I picked up the stricken Honda whilst Trevor dusted himself down and inspected the fresh damage which, due to sound investment of crash bars was not too bad. Apparently, this was not the first Trever / Tera Firma interface of the day!
All that was left now was three more stops, simple on paper but the first route to Moreton proved a little testing, I decided that the Sat Nav didn’t know what it was talking about and took a different option… wrong… bollox another detour… After finding the notice board outside of the church and reading through I found the length of the Trail and wandered back to where the bike was parked. It was at this point I noticed the chain flapping about and resting on the centre stand, more bollox! there was not much I could do about it now and I had to press on to the last couple of stops at Evershot & South Perrott
With the clue hunting part of the day concluded it was back to the Rally HQ so I could transfer the answers onto my rally card and submit this for scrutiny. By the time I got back Grim & Trevor had not only arrived but had eaten their meal! How they manage to cover the distance in a lot less time than I do, plus stop during the day for grub and refreshment beats me, there must be some way to improve on my methods, perhaps the Welsh National Rally at the beginning of May will prove more efficient!
After collecting my certificate and T-shirt I left to face the 140-mile trip home. After a fuel stop I hit the M5 and left at the A46 through Evesham, when I got to Stratford there was a road closure and by this time it was lashing down again so a detour via Charlecote was not a pleasant one, add to this the A45 closure towards Tollbar made for a thoroughly miserable last 20 miles or so. On the bright side, it is experiences like this that make dry sunny days all the better!
Second Year Conclusions:
Another great way to spend a day trekking about the countryside on the bike, the Welsh National Rally is up next and with the roads even worse in that part of the world another challenge awaits.
Organised by the Somerset Advanced Motorcyclists – www.somersetadvancedmotorcyclists.org.uk