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The 2013 running of the Brit Butt Light was the fifth incarnation of the rally, for which I had been rallymaster for the first three years. As usual the rallybook was sent out the week before the rally, giving plenty of time to plot bonuses, plan routes and go over and over them. The title of the rallybook for this year was 'The Don Quixote Tour', with the theme of windmills and mills in general running through the bonuses.
After last year's event when Rick, the current rallymaster, had thrown us a curved ball at the last minute - telling us just before the start that the places would be calculated on a points per mile basis (a point I had completely ignored and ended up finishing fourth!) - this year I tried to plan for every eventuality and ended up with ten possible routes. Some of these relied upon there being more points for collecting more bonuses; points for combinations of the same type of bonus, and a variety of other possibilities as I tried to anticipate what Rick might throw at us this year. One possibility was the fact that a bonus in Bristol had an extra points value allocated for getting a receipt there, but this was only marked as XX in the rallybook - I thought this might be a time bonus (where you get more points the later the receipt is, e.g. a receipt at 15:00 could get you 1500 points); so I built a couple of routes around this possibility (in the event the receipt was only worth XX, i.e. 20, points!). The one thing that really disappointed me was that the higher points routes all included the necessity of going right into London to pick up two bonuses, and there seemed to be no way of not including these and being competitive.
The Saturday of the rally dawned bright and I left home at 6.30, meeting up with a friend Dave McGrath who also lives in Wolverhampton so we could ride up to the start together. This was going to be Dave's second rally, after completing the BBR successfully earlier in the year. We got to Stoke on Trent in good time, meeting a couple of other riders at the nearest petrol station when we stopped to fill up. Coffee and tea were provided at the finish pub up the road for a civilized beginning to the rally and by 8am we were all (fourteen riders and two pillions) lined up for the off. This year the surprise was that there was only one addition to the rallybook - one bonus was compulsory, not a great problem as it was the closest to the start and finish so the only quick decision to make was whether to visit it first or leave it to the end. So most of my planning had been largely in vain - I simply selected the highest points scoring route and put that into my roadbook.
From the start I headed straight to the compulsory bonus of Mill Meece Pumping Station in Staffordshire; quarter of an hour later I was there and taking my photograph as two other riders pulled up. From here I jumped onto the M6, heading south past home and a quick diversion into Birmingham. I had intended to leave the bonus here until the end but decided it was worth picking up now as I was passing and there was a political march in the city which may have blocked roads later on. I was reminded of this by the fact that the bonus, the door to the Mills Munitions Factory, was just around the corner from Newtown Police Station, and the surrounding roads were filled with riot vans. From Birmingham I got back on the M6, then M42 heading south towrds the smoke.
There were three bonuses before London but I was only aiming to collect two of them; the third involved visiting the Natural History Museum in Tring to photograph a stuffed dog - having looked at the museum online I reckoned the time involved in finding this in gallery 6 did not make it worthwhile. The other two were Cobstone Windmill in Ibstone and the grave of Sir John Mills in Denham. It took a few minutes to locate the gravestone in the churchyard of the local church - neither of the two dog walkers I asked knew that he was buried in their village.
The two bonuses in London were in Soho and Merton so involved heading right into the centre of the city. the first bonus was Trenchard House, 28 Broad Street, Soho, the birthplace of the poet and visionary William Blake. As I got closer I started to have the first of my problems - the tall buildings causing my aged satnavs to lose their signal, leaving me having to approximate my position. Although I thought I was in the right place, the only street with a similar name was Broadwick Street, and there was no number 28. Soho is full of narrow lanes and alleyways so I thought it must be one of those and set out to find it. Unfortunately Soho is also full of one way streets, meaning you se toff in one direction and end up forced in another - a couple of times I ended back where I had started and eventually stopped there to ask soemone for help. The first guy I asked happened to be a courier and confirmed there is no Broad Street in Soho, only Broadwick Street - we worked out number 28 must have been behind the line of hoardings down part of the street, i.e. had been knocked down! I telephoned the rallymaster who confirmed the rallybook had the wrong road name in it (but the building was still standing in Google streetview) and we agreed I could take a photograph of anything which identifed the area - I was standing underneath a bicycle marker which read 'Broadwick Street Soho' so my new friend took a photograph of me standing under that.
Unfortunately this error had cost me around half an hour in lost time, which was to have a serious impact on my ride later on. I was also about to lose more time as the 12 mile trip across London to Merton then took me 50 minutes to complete, partly because of continuing problems with my satnavs, but mainly because of the sheer weight of traffic. It had definitely increased many fold from the days when I despatched into London in the mid-80s! By the time I left the Merton Abbey Mills I was pretty hot and fed up but decided to get out of the capital and to my next bonus before working out exactly what I was going to do for the rest of the day.
By half past one I was at the Silk Mill in Whitchurch, Hampshire. After taking my photograph I started looking at my route. My original plan was to pick up the highest points bonus in the book, the Mill House Cider Museum at Owemoigne (2180 points) before heading north via bonuses in Bristol, Hereford and Kidderminster to the finish - this would have given me 13250 points in total. However, according to my timing I was supposed to be in Whitchurch by 12:55 - the half hour lost in London because of the error in the rallybook meant I had to alter my route. I had two choices; either go to Owermoigne and miss out Hereford (976 pts); or miss out Owermoigne and go to Hereford but also pick up a further bonus the other side of Hereford for 1150 points. The second option was worth 54 points less, but was shorter and more likely to get me back in time so I opted for that.
From Whitchurch I went north on the A34 (after wasting ten minutes by first taking the wrong junction and heading south!) and jumped on the M4 west towards Bristol. The bonus here was to take a photograph of the front of the Windmill Hill City Farm Cafe and I had a brief stop to get a drink and a receipt for an extra 20 points. Then back onto the M32; M4 and then M5 north to Gloucester to pick up the A40 west as far as Ross on Wye. The winding B4224 took me to the next bonus, the Mill at Mordiford, and then continued on to Hereford where a short blast along the A438 got me to the other side of Herfordshire and the Sawmill at Whitney. This was closed but I took a photograph of the GS and flag outside the entrance gate.
My last bonus was the intriguingly named Museum of Carpet (qualifying for the book as a former mill) in Kidderminster - unfortunately I did not have time to do anything more than park up, run across the road and take a picture of the museum entrance, but feel sure a return visit is a must :)
From Kidderminster I had 60 minutes and 66 miles to get to the finish; fortunately it was not far up the M5 and then M6 to reach Stoke on Trent and I arrived with 15 minutes to spare and 20 miles short of the 600 miles limit (every mile over 600 would incur a 50 points per mile penalty). My final score was 12395 points, 238 behind John Young who had a great ride around Norfolk and Suffolk, also lost time in Soho and just made the museum at Tring five minutes before it closed to gain a well deserved win, and the first for a Triumph on an IBA rally in Britain or Ireland. I have organised enough rallies to know how difficult the job is, and how easy it is to make a mistake - in 2010 I inadvertedly made a mistake in scoring one bonus which I did not realise until the next day, and which affected nearly all the results; so I cannot criticise the rallymaster for this one, in any sport where we rely on people volunteering theor services to organise events, I think you have to accept sometimes mistakes will be made; such is life!