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The seventh 36 hour Brit Butt Rally took place over the Bank Holiday weekend of 24th-25th May 2014. Around fifty riders lined up on the starting line at 6am on the Saturday, with three riders - myself, Gerald Perkins and Gerhard Memmen-Kreugen the only three to have competed in all seven rallies to date; both Gerald and I riding the same bikes we had used each time. If you have read my other reports you will know I was fortunate enough to win the previous six rallies. I had spent a long time debating with myself whether to take part this year - but at the end of the day had decided that the fact I enjoyed the event so much and the GS was still going well (despite 104k on the clock) meant I might as well have another tilt at that windmill. I am sure a few people were surprised (pleasantly or otherwise) by my appearance on Friday evening but it was good to see some welcoming faces and rekindle a few friendly rivalries.
I shall start by saying now my ride did not go to plan - this was my thirteenth IBA rally and I should have known something would go wrong! You can probably forecast the likely conclusion!
The theme for the rallybook had been announced at the Christmas meeting as something to do with Monty Python and I am sure quite a few people spent time researching likely locations connected to that programme or films - on the Friday evening we were handed the rallybooks and found that all that was really taken from Monty Python was the title of the theme 'And now for something completely different...'. The book mainly consisted of 80 locations across England, Scotland and Wales identified by name, GPS coordinates and a black and white photograph, some from over a hundred years ago. In many cases the aim was to find either what was now standing where the photograph was taken, or to replicate the historic image as it appears now. Each bonus was worth so many points (between 250 and 1750) plus there were a couple of other ways of gaining points, including documenting the usual compulsory rest bonus; keeping an accurate fuel log;visiting a manned control near the start armed with a kazoo (!); identifying a number of photographs in the 'Rogues Gallery' at the back of the book; and visiting bonuses which were connected as combination bonuses (e..g visit both lighthouses and gain an extra 2000 points).
After getting all the bonuses into my GPS devices (BMW Navigator II and Garmin 2610) and set up in Autoroute on my laptop I started working on a route. It was immediately obvious that gaining the three combination bonuses (Shrewsbury-Eton; Middlesborough-Newport; and Shoreham-Hunstanton) gave you an extra 4500 points straight off so I assumed most people would devise a route around these locations. The difference between riders would be how many points you could get extra to this base route. I continued by adding in as many high value bonuses as I could and included bonuses in Galshiels (1000 pts); Grasmere (1745 pts); Bollington (930 pts); Bristol (900 pts); Oxford Street, London (1500 pts); Canterbury (1750 pts) and Great Yarmouth (1200 pts). There was one other high value bonus at Purleigh in Essex which I would ride past but it was a timed bonus, only available between 10am and 4pm on Sunday and as I reckoned on being there around 7.30am I would have to pass on the 1500 pts available there. This came to a total of 1422 miles, with 34 bonuses and 39,870 points; and with 12 photographs available at 25 points each in the Rogues Gallery I reckoned my final score could just be over 40,000 points. That would not necessarily be a winning score (in 2013 it needed over 45,000 points, conversely in 2011 only just over 30,000 points) - but it sounded like a good number to aim for. The main issue was that this was a pretty tight route - Autoroute gave my finish time as 16.43 on Sunday and while I can usually be fairly accurate with my time predictions on rallies, I could not afford any time loss or I would have to start dropping bonuses. I had several options to do this, while maintaining the core structure of the combination bonuses. I wrote down my roadbook listing the bonuses in order, and went to bed just before midnight - I needed some sleep as I felt rotten from a cold I had been struggling with for the past few days.
At 5am my alarm went off and I packed up the bike and headed off to the start, pulling in at the front of a packed car park outside the Premier Inn. Here is a link to a video on Youtube of the riders leaving the hotel - I am the first bike to leave. My first decision had been whether to visit the manned control at the start or at the end of the rally (it was open from 6.10-6.30am on Saturday and from 15.45-16.45 on Sunday). I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to get on the road - if I wasn't back by 16.45 I would lose another 2000 points.
I headed north on the A1(M) and then A19 towards my first stop at the Transporter Bridge in Middlesborough. Everything was fine and I kept a steady pace up which had me getting there ahead of time (still not as fast as the two 1200 GSAs which flew past me before I got there). A few miles before Middlesborough however my satnav screens both went dead. Pulling up in a layby I quickly lifted the bike's seat to check the wiring - the common fuse in the auxiliary fusebox for both satnavs had blown. I replaced it, checked they worked and set off again only for the screens to go dead again as soon as I started off. I found my way to the bonus anyway as I had been passed it before when visiting Temenos for the Sculpture Ride in 2012 and got my photograph. I tried changing the fuse again but again it blew, this time as soon as I started the bike.
What I should have done was stopped and worked out what was wrong there but for soem reason I just decided it was a sign I was not meant to do this rally, and I think I was glad of the excuse to pack it in so I turned round and set off back to the start. Sometimes you make strange decisions under pressure or maybe it was just the cold which made my head feel like it was full of cototn wool - anyway as I rode back south I thought about it some more and decided I would just carry on using the map - I reckoned I could still navigate to the six compulsory bonuses at least. I got the map out, worked out a route which would get me back on track and headed for the nearest bonus, at Knaresborough. I followed the road sign into Knaresborough and stopped on the High Street to read the rallybook. In previous years the rallybook has always included a Google map of the location which would have helped in this situation - it had not registered with me that this year's rallybook did not, so it was going to be especially difficult to locate any of the bonuses without a satnav. So I did what I should have done in the first place - got off the bike and sorted out the electrics. I had realised as I rode that I had also lost my spotlights and my heated jacket was not working. This gave me a pointer as I remembered all these come off the same auxiliary fusebox (I have three fuseboxes on the bike). After taking off the tankbag, seat, fuel tank I cut the wires for the Nav II GPS, extended the wires and wired it into the other auxiliary fusebox - and it worked. A couple of riders came by as I was finishing up and I met them at the bonus location which was only around the corner.
There were two photographs to be taken here - one of The Oldest Chemists Shop in England (250 pts) and an extra 100 pts for a photo of the blue plaque on the building. My loss of time and change in plan meant I was missing out all the northern bonuses and I just had to hope I could try and pick up enough bonuses further south to replace some of the points I was losing - for now I just had to get going and see what I could end up with. I added in the bonus of the Town Hall Square in Bradford for 320 ps before heading over the Pennines and down into Cheshire.
The next bonus was one I knew well - I lived in Bollington for a while and had walked up to the landmark of White Nancy a number of times. My journey also took me through the back of Handforth and within a few hundred yards of my mother's house (but no time to stop!). The satnav took me into Bollington and stopped at a dead end below where I knew White Nancy is, but I could not see it from there. I should explain that White Nancy is an 18 feet high beehive-shaped stone structure on the top of the hill above Bollington, and was built in 1817 to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo. Now the photograph in the rallybook showed the building up close, and the rallymaster had said in the meeting that he expected photographs to look like the images in the book; and I knew that there is a track up to White Nancy which I reckoned should be passable for a motorbike. The only thing I couldn't recall was where exactly the track goes from and I had to ride round the hills before I found it - the track was passable for a heavily laden GS, but only just being very broken and rocky in places (the photograph below is of the very best part of the track by far!). I stopped at the top of the hill where I could see White Nancy off to the left and the track winding on to a farm and then up to the monument. A local runner stopped and confirmed that the track went on up to White Nancy, but that it was a private road past the farm and closed off. I phoned the rallymaster and got through at the third attempt because the reception was poor, and confirmed with him that as long as I could see White Nancy the photograph would count for 930 points (you may be hard pressed to make out the white dome in the photograph above but it is there!).
At the finish there were people who had ridden as far as the pub at the bottom of the hill (where the coordinates were supposed to take you) and photographed the monumnet, and some who had walked all the way up the hill to take their photograph - a case where it is important for the rallybook to be precise in its instructions. From Bollington I set off across Cheshire, passing through Wilmslow and this time within a few hundred yards of my father's house and on to the M56 towards my next stop in Chester. Traffic on the motorway was heavy and I was surprised and slightly shaken at one point to find a blue car about two inches off my left hand pannier as a coach decided to take up his space in the middle lane and he pulled across into the outside lane, presumably without looking or seeing the GS sat there! The subsequent wobble as I ran across the rumble strip to avoid getting taken out by this idiot gave me quite a moment.
The bonus in Chester was in the Chester Rows, part of the old covered walkways and meant I had to park the bike at the end of the street and walk up to the right corner to get the photograph for 540 points. Straight out of Chester I also left behind the warm and sunny weather that I had encountered so far. As I rode towards Shrewsbury it started raining; lightly at first then increasingly heavy until it was absolutely pouring as I inched my way through the heavy traffic and narrow streets of Shrewsbiry to find the Market Square. After donning waterproofs I took two photographs here, one of the old market square (575 points) and one of the Victorian postbox in the square - this latter formed part of one combination bonus.
The rain continued to lash down as I made my way through the Welsh Marches, stopping at Leominster to photograph the Watsons Motor Works. opened in 1913 and now a Ford garage still run by the same family (585 pts); for my first petrol stop in a very busy Hereford; at the Skirrid Inn, the oldest pub in Wales, near Abergavenny to photograph the rear view of the inn (470 pts) and then down to Newport to find the second transporter bridge of the day. This was only worth 265 points by itself, but an extra 2000 points with the one in Middlesborough as well. It was still raining as I crossed the Severn but as soon as I saw the 'Welcome to England' I started to see blue sky, it dried up and I saw no more rain on the rally.
In Bristol I was looking for a folly called Arnos Castle (900 pts), now being used as a pub and hidden behind a Sainsbury's car park. I stopped here for a couple of minutes to change my gloves and go over the next section of my route which ws heading towards London. I debated over whether to add a bonus at Pewsey in Wiltshire before deciding against it but did realise I could add a day bonus at Bray I could not get on my original route. I set off back towards the motorway, took the M4 east until turning north on the A34 towards the dreaming spires of Oxford. The bonus in amongst the old colleges was a pub originally called The Flying Horse, now renamed (but I forget what it is now called), worth 765 points. Taking the photograph of the next bonus in Bray, Berkshire (750 pts)was a little more tricky as it involved trying to recreate a scene from 1885 and there were several new buildings in the village since then! I also had a little walk around in Eton trying to find the next bonus when the satnav coordinates came up slightly short. I was looking for a closed down pub once called The Cock Pit because it was used frequently for cock fighting in the 17th and 18th centuries. There was a set of stocks outside the run down building, and next to it a second Victorian postbox to photograph. I gained 275 points for the pub, and an extra 1000 points for the two postboxes.
The next part of the rally was the section I had been least looking for as I headed into central London. it was made worse because I was now entering it at 19.30 in the evening when my original plan had me here over three hours later when I had hoped it would be quieter. Sure enough it was busy! I had two bonuses to locate, one at Selfridges on Oxford Street, the other at Clerkenwell. The problem with riding in the centre of our capital, at least for soemone using older GPS devices is that the signal disappears amongst the tall buildings and several times I had to guess where I was going and hope the reception would come back soon - several times I had to retrace my steps as I went further than I thought I had or was forced into a different direction by one way systems. I eventually found Selfridges and pulled up on to the pavement to photograph the right corner of the building (1500 pts). Making my way to Clerkenwell I was getting so frustrated by the navigation that I was tempted to stop one of the guys riding round on scooters with large mapboards (doing the'knowledge' I assumed) and offer him a tenner to take me there! The Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell Green is famous for Stalin and Lenin meeting there in 1905 - it was undergoing refurbishment and cloaked in scaffolding now so probably less impressive than it was then. It was 20.30 as I took my photograph of the square it sits in, for 760 points.
It took me 2 hours to clear London and reach the south coast and find the lighthouse at Shoreham by Sea. I met another rider, Steve on his Honda VFR1200just before reaching the lighthouse and together we struggled to get the requisite photograph of the view of the lighthouse and houses behind it, taken from the seaward side. I took about a dozen photographs from all angles and hoped at least one of them would be good enough to satisfy the scorers at the finish. I was to have some difficulty at my next bonus as well. From Shoreham I headed back north to the M25, stopping for my second fuel stop at the services on the M23 and meeting Dave Baker (R1200GSA) there. He was just stopping for his rest bonus and I was tempted to stop too (the rest bonus had to be started between 22.00 and 05.00) but felt I could do another few hours and wanted to get the next couple of bonuses out of the way first. The coordinates for the next bonus took me into a new residential and retail estate and I had to stop and check what I was looking for - the site had originally been West Malling Airfield and we had to photograph the site today (615 pts). I followed the satnav around the corner and nearly bumped into Steve again. Neither of us were sure which building we had to photograph so again took a number of photographs of everything we could see in the dark - Steve also mentioned he had found a memorial to the airfield around the corner so I went and photographed that as well.
I met Steve again as I pulled up at my last bonus for the day (well, it was actually 00.40 on Sunday morning by now) which was the Westgate Towers of Canterbury, the last surviving of an origial 7 gates to the city. This was my largest points scoring single bonus at 1750 points. I was starting to feel tired now and decided I would look for somewhere to stop at the next services for my rest bonus. Getting on the M2 I soon came across services near Chatham and pulled in. There was nobody there except for the two ladies in the Costa Coffee shop so I got a hot chocolate and sandwich, and receipt for the start of my rest. I actually slept for nearly two hours, which must be longer than on any previous rally, waking up in time it sort my paperwork out so far and plan out the rest of my route. I did not have many options to gain more points - I still could not get the 1500 points bonus at Purleigh becasue being there at 10am would make me too late to get all those after it. All I could do was get all those I had planned to and add three in the Midlands. At 4.26, after a rest stop of 3 hours and 8 minutes I set off again into the rising new day.
On the High Street in Knaresborough
The track to White Nancy