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English Counties Ride

English Counties 2010

Have been thinking about doing this ride for a while now and put together a plan for it while I was laid up - basically to visit all 40 English county towns. Have written about how it came to be 40 on my website here! Discussed it with Pete and the format it would have to be recognised as an IBA ride, with certain receipt points at each of the 6 'corners' and particular photographic evidence at a set location in each of the 40 towns. Route would also have to be circular, with same start and finish point. Came to around 1850 miles so my hope was that it would be possible within 48 hours.

 

It was, just! Started out at midday on Sunday from Corley services and got back 47 hours and 37 minutes, and 1885 miles later. Had some pretty inclement weather, including terrible rain for first and last couple of hours and a hailstorm near Oxford (nb Aerostich was completely waterproof for first 46 hours!). It was a very hard ride - not very much motorway driving and lots of winding country lanes and traffic. Also spent a lot of time going round one way systems, through pedestrianised areas and struggling to find locations. In some towns I had to find alternative locations to photograph (some, like Guildford Castle, I could not see at night!), and lost a lot of time for this. But it is possible and you certainly get to see England!

 

I started off from home just on midday on Sunday 19th July - I had planned to leave earlier but it was the first weekend of the summer hoildays and I reckoned I deserved a lie in! I had planned my route using Autoroute and according to that, with 15 minute stops at each town and soem rest stops built in, it was just possible within 48 hours. After stopping at Corley Services on the M6 a few miles away for my start receipt I set off towards my first county town of Warwick in my own county of Warwickshire. The location here was the Lord Leycester Hospital. I had tried to select a variety of buildings to photograph but did not know how they would all work out - I ended up changing about eight of them during the ride for a variety of reasons.

 

From Warwick I headed south and into the rain towards Abingdon, at one time the county town of Berkshire, although it is now within the county boundary of Oxfordshire. My coordinates were not quite right here, taking me the wrong way around the building and I lost several minutes circumnavigating the one way system - this was to become something of a feature of the next two days. Eventually I ended up outside the museum, took several shots of the side of it before realising I could get a better picture around the corner - another feature of what was to come! From Abingdon it was only a few miles, probably the shortest distance between two county towns, to Oxford. Most of the county towns are around 25-30 miles apart, with the furthest distance being the 180 mile round trip to get to Truro from Exeter. I photographed the Town Hall in Oxford and headed back north as my route criss-crossed across the south midlands.

 

There was a band playing outside my next stop, the Old County Gaol in Buckingham, reminding me that it was Sunday, although not much of a day of rest for me. As I stopped outside the Guildhall in Northampton it immediately started to rain - this happened several times on the ride, each time I took it as a sign to get moving, especially as here the rain started to change to hail which I could hear bouncing off my helmet. From Northampton I headed east to Bedford amd a photograph outside the Corn Exchange. I had tried to select the locations to give some variety while each was unique and had some historical, religious, economic or cultural importance to the particular town. In Huntingdon I had to drive into the centre of the town to get this shot outside the old town hall. It was still raining. In Cambridge I had the senate building listed but when I got there it was not very easy to see the building from the riad and I could not see a sign for it. Next door however was the impressive entrance to King's College so I took a photograph of that instead. Despite the driving rain Cambridge was still full of tourists and I had to dodge the umbrellas to get in a position to take the picture!

 

The rain started to ease as I headed to the east-most corner of my ride, Norwich. I had done this same ride only the week before when riding to the Broads to collect the National Park there. I had considered collecting some of the parks and a few Round Britain Rally landmarks on this ride but had realised that time was going to be vey tight so I had no time for any other diversions (well, one little one later on!). I had produced a time sheet using Microsoft Autoroute, keeping the speeds as an average in the programme and adding 15 minutes for each stop at a town. By the time I got to Norwich I was just ahead by about 20 minutes. I took my photograph of the Cathedral (it is behind the trees!) and also stopped at a petrol station as I needed a receipt since this was my first 'corner'.

 

A quick ride down the A14 brought me to Ipswich, one of the few towns I had never been to before. The Ancient House (now an outdoor clothing store) was in the heart of the town and my GPS got me a few streets away but luckily I found a street sign pointing to it. This would have been a far harder picture to get if the streets had not been so quiet.

 

From Ipswich I headed towards London and stopped in Chelmsford to take a picture of the Shirehall. I had got up to forty minutes ahead of my planned route but lost much of this when I stopped for a bite to eat and spent some time tracing a fault on my heated waistcoat, eventually replacing the fuse. It was starting to get dark as I headed round London on the M25 and then diverted to Hertford to try and find the castle. This was locked up but I managed to photograph the sign outside.

 

My next stop was for the county town of Middlesex. This was a difficult one to decide on, partly because at least four places - Brentford, Clerkenwell, Westminster and the City of London have at different towns been considered to be the county town. I had decided on a monument called the Brentford Monument as my location to photograph but could not find it when I got there. In my defence it was dark and I had managed to leave the rallybook I had put together, with pictures and written descriptions of the locations, on the table when I had stopped near Ipswich. After riding around for a bit I decided I had to find somewhere to show I had been to Brentford and came upon this notice board with the name of the town on it.

 

I lost even more time at my next location, trying to find what was supposed to be Guildford Castle. Unfortunately it was not possible to see more than the top of the castle from anywhere, and I rode all round the town and got lost in one way systems and diverted because of roadworks before giving up on it and finding the museum to photograph instead. From Guildford it was back on the M25 around the south of London to my second 'corner', Maidstone, for a photograph of the old town hall, and a receipt from a petrol station. Heading south from Maidstone I came to Lewes, the county town of East Sussex. For the second time that night I could not get a sight of the castle in the dark but stopped outside the Castle Museum and Shop on the High Street to get this picture.

 

Across the border into West Sussex took me to Chichester and to find the Chichester Cross,a landmark whose location I knew exactly since I had visited it as a bonus on the Brit Butt Rally only a couple of months before! Luckily I didn't have to get myself in the photograph this time, as there was nobody around at ten past three in the morning. It was still dark as I got to Winchester Cathedral so I could only photograph the noticeboard outside.

 

I was beginning to get a little tired now after most of the previous seventeen hours on the road so I stopped at the services on the M27 for a break. I had stopped here on the Brit Butt Rally too for my rest stop, and the guy on the coffee counter remembered me and asked how I had got on, and if I was doing the same thing again - I explained but I have to confess, it didn't make a lot of sense even to me! After a break I set off again and decided that since I was crossing the New Forest and it was beginning to get light I would make a slight detour and visit the New Forest Visitors Centre to get my photograph for the National Parks Ride.The roads seemed to be full of rabbits and crows but thankfully no deer. I headed a bit across country from here to pick up the road direct to Dorchester. I had intended to photograph the Guildhall here but decided this photograph of the Dorset Museum opposite was more interesting.

 

My route card from Dorchester took me directly to Truro but since I was going around Exeter anyway I thought I might as well visit the Exeter landmark while it was still quiet. This was probably just as well as the Guildhall is right in the centre of the town and it would have been harder to get to it later in the day. From here I had one of the longest legs of the ride for the 90 mile run out across Devon and Cornwall to the cathedral at Truro. For once I had beautiful weather and no rain as I crosssed into Cornwall - this seems to have been a rarity in recent years. It was still only 9am as I reached Truro, found the cathedral for my photograph and then a petrol station to collect a receipt for my third 'corner' of the ride.

 

The route back from Truro past Exeter was the only road on the ride I had to ride twice but I made good time and by 11am I had reached Taunton in Somerset to photograph the castle. My photograph is not actually of the castle but of the tower and the Castle Green Inn - the castle is off to the right but was behind trees and sheathed in scaffold and I could not get any closer for all the builders' vans surrounding the approaches to it.

 

The next section from Taunton to Trowbridge seemed to be one of the longest of the ride, one of those legs which seems to go on for ever, and seemed to be spent stuck behind lorries or tractors on winding roads. I guessed I was probably tired and decided to stop for a while after reaching Trowbridge. On the road there as I passed Tintinhull (where I had stopped for breakfast on my first SS1000), I completed another SS1000 - completing 1012 miles within 23 hours and 59 minutes. I was not going to claim for any distance rides so did not need a witness but took a photograph anyway and resolved to see if I could make 500 miles in the next 12 hours, as then I would be sure of completing the ride within the 24 hours. In Trowbridge itself I pulled up on the pavement outside the Town Hall and had to take my photograph quickly as I could see a traffic warden approaching with his notebook open. I gave him a friendly wave as I pulled away.

 

I headed north to join the M4 and stopped there to get a drink and a short break before carrying on, joining the M5 and then taking the A40 exit for Gloucester and the first of three cathedrals in a line. My satnav took me into the centre of Gloucester and somewhere near the cathedral but not to a good enough position to photograph it so I had to go back out of the one way system and find my own way back to find a view of the cathedral.

The next cathedral was at Hereford and was much easier to find. I stopped outside for a few minutes talking to a couple of guys in wheelchairs who wondered what I was doing. My third cathedral in a row was Worcester Cathedral - I could only stop by the side of the road and close enough to get a photograph of the notice board outside the cathedral. I tried to see if I could see the falcons nesting on the cathedral tower - there were a few people with binoculars - but did not see them before heading back into the traffic and back towards the M5 and then M6 north.

 

Stopping off in Stafford I found the Ancient High House, now a museum, on the High Street - again this may have been harder to get to in the daytime but since it was now early evening and all the shops were closed it was not a problem to sneak onto the High Street behind a van unloading chairs. I decided I had had enough of the motorway and followed the A5 to Shrewsbury from Stafford. I couldn't stop by the building I had intended to photograph because roadworks had blocked the street so took a picture instead in front of the Shrewsbury Museum. As you can see it was raining again!