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Bally Rally 2009

"The Bally Rally is a 24hr Motorcycle Rally which will require competitors to visit various locations throughout Ireland in order to collect points. It will be impossible to visit all the locations. Each will be worth various points values. The bonus locations will be released via a googlemaps email link 48hrs prior to the start of the rally. Riders will not know the points value or availability restriction until they receive the bonus book. This bonus release is to enable you to mark the locations on your Maps &/or GPS prior to arrival."

from the IBA Ireland website


The IBA Ireland  24hr Bally Rally took place on Saturday 27th June, starting at 8am from the rally HQ at Roundwood caravan & campsite, Roundwood, County Wicklow, and finishing back there by 8am the following morning.


I got to the campsite at Roundwood on the Friday evening, met the others and set up my small (very small in comparison to every one else's!) tent (the green one in the photo).  After going a few miles down the road back to the Dublin road to fill up with petrol there was not much time before Chris was ready to hand out the bonus books. We had been sent the locations of the bonuses a few days before so we had had time ot put them onto a map and input them into Mapsource, but we did not know what each would be worth or when they would be available, making any prior planning impossible.


At 8 o'clock Chris passed the books out and we repaired to the campsite's recreation room to spread maps out and power up laptops. Chris ferried in burgers from the barbeque to keep us going, and check up on our progress. Just looking through the bonus book made me realise this was going to be difficult. None of the 60 bonuses were worth notably more points than the others and there were lots of time restrictions, and several ferry crossings. There was a requirement to visit at least six of the bonuses with'Bally' in their name which also limite route finding. It was clearly necessary to collect the three bonuses in Dublin, since one was worth 1500 points but apart from that nothing stood out. Chris had also dangled in front of us the option of also completing a Circuit of Ireland during the rally, for an extra 2500 points. I spent the first half an hour or so trying to work out if this ws possible, before concluding it was not (I was wrong, as it turned out!). By 11 o'clock I felt reasonably happy with my route which involved heading north then across Northern Ireland and down to Cork in the early hours - then on checking my route I realised I had made a mistake, counting on collecting two bonuses at night which were only accessible during the daylight. I had to work out the second half of my route again and was left with a bit of a messy straggling route across the middle of Ireland, but it was nearly midnight and time to get some rest.


I woke around 6 after about four hours sleep - the campsite had been quite noisy until the small hours. I boiled up a cup of tea and a Wayfarer sausage & beans meal for breakfast before packing the bike up and starting at 8. I was the last away as the GS spent a little while sulking and refused to start. I headed straight to Dublin and picked up the first three bonuses in the first 45 minutes or so. Interestingly I had passed a couple of the others on the way to Dublin but we had all turned off the main road at different points. From Dublin I got on the motorway north towards Northern Ireland. The weather was just right for riding after a wet night and everything felt good. It was after getting off the motorway and heading towards the town of Newcastle that I started having a problem that was to dog me for the rest of the day. My satnav seemed to get itself in a mess and started to tell me there was 188 miles to the control (about 30 miles away) and I needed to turn around. I then followed it onto a single track road running alongside the main road, which I could not get back onto for another 15 miles. When I did I found myself in the middle of heavy traffic and came up behind Joe Fisher's red K1200RS. I went passed Joe at a roundabout but we then sat together for half an hour until I had to stop and change my visor and put my waterproofs on - the clouds had gradually got darker and darker and it was now pouring with rain. I had foolishly listened to the forecast which said it was not going to rain and left my waterproof inners for my Rev 'It jacket and trousers at home! I lost 7 minutes stopping and got into Newcastle as Joe was coming the other direction away from the bonus, the Slieve Donard Hotel.


From Newcastle I took the Belfast road, then cutting across country to pick up the road sign in Ballynahinch. The first part of my route was based on the requirement that I got to Larne in time to photograph the ferry leaving the port - this only happens three times a day and the only time I could collect it would be at 12.55. This just gave me enough time to get through Belfast, pick up one more bonus then get to Larne in time. There were two bonuses the in Belfast. The first was the City Hall, it felt a bit intimidating pulling up opposite this, with the number of armed policemen and armoured cars outside so I was as quick as I could be, not even getting off the bike. From there it was not far to the Old Crumlin Road Jail but it took me twice as long as I expected as my satnav sent me in circles and I went round the city hall twice before guessing on the likely route. It then settled down!


From Belfast I took the M5 and then the A2 through Carrickfergus along the coast to Island Magee. The power station at Ballylumford ws my next destination, right at the end of the island and tantalisingly right opposite the port of Larne, but too far away to photograph the ferry from. Racing around Larne Lough I could see the P&O ferry in the port with smoke starting from its funnels. I got to the viewing point at 12.49, just in time for a quick drink and bite to eat before the ferry left. Or so I thought. I was still waiting there half an hour later, getting more and more frustrated as the ferry just sat there in the harbour. I was just about to give up on the 888 points when the ferry left and I could get my photo - I wasn't sure it was worth the wait and wondered what it might cost me later on.  


Leaving Larne later did at least help me with the next bonus. This was the Asda store in Ballyclare. It was an accelerator bonus, which involved getting a receipt from the store between 1pm and 8pm - the ponts value would be in accordance with the time on the receipt, with 1pm being 100 points and 8pm being 800 points. Mine said 2.01pm, giving me 201 points. having said that, I nearly didn't get any as it was only when I checked the rally book to find out what I had to get a receipt for that I realised I also had to take a photograph from outside the store. This was one of the problems with messing up my planning last night - I had not given myself enough time to check through my route notes again and pick up such an error.


From Ballyclare I headed along roads that epitomise riding in Northern Ireland to me - a series of very long straight roads that look like you can wind the throttle on and make good progress along, until the first bump hits you, then the next and you realise the road surface is actually so bumpy your speed is limited by how well you can stay in the saddle! I did pass a group of Triumph Speed Triples, solely by dint of having much longer travel suspension -one of them looked like a rag doll about to be thrown off his bike!

The next bonus was one of the strangest ones I have visited - a government nuclear bunker, located at the back of an industrial estate in Broughshane. I would tell you more about it but would be breaking the State Secrets Act.


From there I headed back towards the coast and the harbour at Carnlough. This photograph had to be taken by someone else as both I and the bike had to appear in the shot. On arriving at the harbour I asked the first person I saw who kindly took the picture. Unfortunately in showing him how to use the camera I managed to lose my ear plugs - the second time in several weeks since I had lost my previous pair in London on the Brit Butt Rally (and these were not disposable plugs but £16 a time ones!). I continued along the coast north following the Causeway Trail, a great road which winds beneath the cliffs and looks out over the sea for a few miles.


Quite a few of the 'Bally' bonuses simply involved getting a photograph of the name of the place. This was the case for my next bonus at Ballyvoy so I stopped right by the side of the road and snapped the village sign as quickly as I could. I carried on along the coast road, through Ballycastle and Coleraine and to Downhill. It was only when I started climbing up to the top of the cliffs above the beach that I realised I had been here before - a bonus on the Norn Rally last year had been an AA sign not far from the Fishtail Sculpture I had to photograph this time. Unfortunately it was starting to get colder and a bit drizzly so the view was not as brilliant as it was last year.


I lost quite a lot of time on the next leg - my aim was to go across the ferry at Magilligan Point, which was only a few miles from Downhill. Looking at the map (my GPS was not working again) I was not sure if I woul dbe able to get fuel once I crossed and I was concerned I would not make it to Malin Head and back with what I had in the tank, So I made a detour to Limavady to find a petrol station - this was about 12 miles away so cost me nearly half an hour. To add insult to that injury, I just missed the ferry on my return and had to wait another half an hour for the next one. It did at least give me time for a break to collect my thoughts and get something to eat and drink. Gerald Perkins pulled up on his Honda ST1100 as I was waiting so we passed the time chatting. Gerald and his riding partner Ken Tucker had done well in the Brit Butt Rally so I was interested to see where he had been - it looked like we were following a pretty similar route, This is something of a dilemma when you meet up with other riders on a rally - you don't want to be followed and you don't want to look like you are following. Riding with someone else can be companionable but it tends to throw you out of your own rhythm, at the same time it can be difficult to get away from each other, as most riders will be riding at the same sort of speed. I was to spend the next few hours passing and being passed by Gerald! I did manage to get away when we landed at Greencastle because I had spotted the next bonus as we sailed into the harbour ad managed to grab a photograph from the ferry deck in between the waves of spray being thrown over me from the bow of the ferry. As soon as we landed I could ride off while Gerald had to stop to get his picture. However, the first place I rode past was a petrol station so I wasn't feeling that happy!


From Greencastle I headed north across northern Donegal, through the village of Malin (another petrol pump noted!) to the northernmost point of Ireland, Malin Head. Halfway along the road there was a terrific rainstorm which only lasted five minutes but managed to soak me through. It also became very windy, especially on arrival at the old lookout post at the top of Malin Head, where I nearly lost my rally flag. It was a very scenic spot, but the wind, and the fact that Gerald arrived as I had taken my photograph, didn't tempt me to stay! Shortly after leaving Malin there was another rainstorm - this time I stopped to pull my waterproof oversuit on, at which point it, of course, stopped raining.


My next stop was the village of Ballybofey for the road sign (with the bike in the picture). Again Gerald caught me up when I stopped so I headed off straight away. The following bonus was right on the west coast of Donegal, a long way out but worth a lot of points. I had thought I had been down the road from Donegal and had memories of a pretty awful switchback road but I must have been thinkin gof a different road as the one to Glencolumbkille was a good one and I was glad I hadn't missed the bonus out. The photograph had to be taken of the Folk Village, which was a couple of kilometres outside the village. On the road back towards Donegal, I saw first Gerald again and then Phil Weston on his black (with Pink Floyd decals!) Yamaha Fazer 1000. Seeing other riders heading for bonuses you have visited makes you glad to have been to them, especially when they are valuable in terms of points, but also sets you trying to work out how you can get to somewhere extra they may not be visiting too.


Gerald passed me when I stopped for petrol just south of Donegal and then I caught up with him and we rode together for a while down the N15, one of the best surfaced roads in Ireland (EU money!), towards Sligo, until I lost time and he got away from me - because of my helmet. Just north of Sligo there was a police roadblock - they were stopping every driver and breathalising them, including us - Gerald got away quickly qith his flipfront helmet, it took me mmuch longer as I had to remove and then refasten my lid. Another advantage of a flipfront! There was another roadblock further on but I was waved through that one. We both arrived in Ballysadare together, and both missd the village sign on entering the village. We rode into the centre, then he turned left and I turned right, stopping on the outskirts of the village to get the photograph. I then headed back into the centre of the village, passing Gerald coming the other way. I didn't see him again until the finish. Things like that get your mind going too - where was he going, what might I have missed? I had originally planned on heading out to collect a bonus at Ballycastle in Mayo but changed my mind on the road south - now I was wondering if I should have gone for it since Gerald was heading that direction. But you have to ride your own race and try not to think about what others are doing so I carried on. It was now getting dark and I knew the hardest part of the rally was ahead, also the part I was least confident about as I merely had a string of not very valuable bonuses and no great plan to be able to get any more.