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South West Peninsula Rally 2018
I had calculated my route to complete the Gold course in the shortest distance and time. The instructions showed the Gold course at approximately 350-400 miles, but my route came to 265 miles, and My-Route app calculated it at 8 hours and 1 minute long - since the start didn't open until 5pm this gave me an extra hour or so for stops and time to locate the unmanned controls. I discounted going to Lands End - there is only one way in and out and I have ridden the A30 enough times not to want to do it again. Plus I had to ride home at the end so it was going to be at least 420 miles sat on the bike which seemed to be plenty enough.
I had intended to take the GS this year but again it was causing me problems - this time the front brakes were binding - my fault for leaving it outside and not riding it for a few months. I had bought a BMW RnineT Racer and was enjoying riding this too much so the poor GS had been neglected, and seemed to be letting its feelings be known by sulking at me. WIth no time to console or sort it out I decided I would have to go on the Racer. I added a cable and mount for the Garmin 590, and took the precaution of adding a connector for my heated gear - I knew there had been snow in North Devon the weekend before when the Lands End trial had gone across Exmoor.
I rode down the day before the rally to stay at the Travelodge at Podimore, just north of Yeovil. I had stayed here a number of times before, for this rally and the Exeter Trial - often enough for the receptionist to say she had recognised my name from the booking. The ride down, of about 160 miles, was the longest I had completed to date on the Racer. It has had a fair amount of comment in the motorcycling press for its extreme riding position, some of it deserved, and I was concerned about how I would feel after the next day, but I felt okay after 3 hours on the bike so maybe it would be fine....
I met up with Patrick Jordan who lives near Podimore, and we rode into Somerton for a bite to eat and a good chat over a few pints of the local cider that evening.
I got to the start, the village hall in Long Sutton, around 7.30 the next morning, in time to chat to a few friends and stand around at the front ot the queue for the signing in which opened at 8. By 8.10 I had scribbled down the clues for the unmanned controls on my route cards and was back on the road. Most of the riders were still queuing for breakfast or to sign in. Because the BMW tankbag on the Racer only has a small plastic window I had written out the controls in sets of five on each card, with mileage and approximate time to arrive at each. It had started raining before I had left the hotel and got heavier and heavier as I headed west.
I had four unmanned controls to visit before my first manned contol at Ilfracombe. The first was at Rackenford, 45 miles from the start, via a blast down the A378, M5 and A361 . There were controls closer to the start I could have included but I always prefer to get well away from the start, and other riders, before having to stop. From the greveyard at Rackenford (question: what happened to James William Crocker on August 7th 1938- answer: he 'fell asleep') I proceeded via a series of muddy single track lanes to find the date the bridge at Ash Mill was rebuilt (1924); what symbol was on the brown sign at the finger post in the centre of Heddon (a tank); where is the village of Goodleigh twinned with (Rosel and Lasson), towards Ilfracombe. Many of the lanes were covered in mud and gravel,with frequent pools of mudy water which were sometimes as deep as my boots.
The rain stopped shortly before I reached the control, to be replaced with thick fog. I got there just before 10am when it was due to open. There were no other riders there, nor dod any arrive before I left quarter of an hour later after a great coffee and a chat with the two guys from Somerst IAM manning the control, and remembering to tock off the answers (generally guesses) to the multiple choice questions there - I have forgotten to do this before and just crossed off any of the four possible answers at random!
The road south from the cafe was straight along the A road to Barnstaple - unfortunately I did not relaise this and insted blindly followed the satnav which decided to play games and take me along another series of muddy single track lanes before rejoining the main road I had turned off 15 miles before, grrr!
Another four unmanned controls led me through Alverdiscott to find the numbers on the hydrant next to the church (6/6); to Weare Gifford to find what apparatus is on the end wall of the pub (obvious since it is called The Cyder Presse!); to find what date is engraved on the house opposite the church in Peters Marland (1872); and slightly more tricky, who unveiled the Rams Head sculptures on the wall in the square (Anthony Gibson). It had been steadily raining for the past hour and when I stopped for petrol near Okehampton I found I could not get my sodden gloves back on. Not wanting to use the dry pair in my tankbag, which I was saving for the journey home, I resorted to the old courier's trick of first putting on a pair of the thin plastic gloves they have at petrol stations for users of diesel pumps - wet gloves then slip on easily!
The road across Dartmoor was very wet and slow, mainly because I was sat behind a police car going the same way as I to Princetown - slightly apt as the second manned control was at the Old Police Station Cafe there. Apart frm starting to see other riders coming in the opposite direction, this was the only time on the rally I came across other riders as the control was quite busy. It was also good to see old friends from the organising club - I have got to know a few over the years and they do a great job running the rally. I stopped here for a meal of very mediocre and disingenuos spicy fishcakes and a chance to sit out of the rain and get the drumming of the bike out of my head - the Pro-race exhaust on the Racer (nothing in it to earn the name of silencer) sounds great and suits the Racer exactly but was getting rather wearing after I had been sat on the bike for the best part of five hours. It was when I was sat down, after completing the multiple choice questions I realised I had forgotten to write down the answers to the unmanned controls I had visited. My system is not to stop and write them down at the time as most riders do as the accumulated time involved in parking up, stopping the engine, getting off the bike and locating the paper and pen to write it down at each of fifteen controls can easily add an hour on to your day. I just note the answer in my head, memorise them as I go along, and then write them down at the next manned control, wehn I have to stop and get off the bike. However, since there were only eight I could easily recall all the answers and wrote them down now.
Over the next hour the weather started brightening up and by the time I reached Dorset the rain had ceased completely. I stopped at the next unmanned control in Dunsford to take some ibuprofen as my shoulders and wrists were starting to ache - there had been a lot of slow speed riding and the Racer does not work very well at anything much below the national speed limit! I found what is mounted above the porch of St Marys Church in Dunsford (a sundial); the numbers on the hydrant by the church in Woodbury Salterton (150/18); the date on the front of the Cannon Inn in Newton Poppleford (1901); the date the pump on The Street in Musbury was restored (2002); the name of the parish council on the board in Ryall (Char Valley PC); and the words cast above the lot of the VR post box in the remote hamlet of West Compton (unsurprisingly 'Post Office'!). This was the best part of the day as the roads dried up and I ws able to push on well. By the time I reached the last manned control, in the ratehr unique location of Poundbury, an experimental new town owned by the duchy of Cornwall on the outskirts of Dorchester, I was over half an hour up on my schedule. I had time for a brief stop and chat with the recorder there - he had been busy earler in the day with riders going clockwise round the map but I was the only rider he had seen for some time as he was preparing for the anti-clockwise rush.
I had one last control before the finish and one task, to locate the name of the white house on the south side of the green in Halstock (Saylings). Ticking this off, I headed to the finish at Long Sutton. My schedule had me arriving back at 5.30, in the event I arrived just before 4.45. I signed out, collected my goody bag (stickers, key ring and 10 year celebratory mug, but sadly no T-shirt this year - my T-shirt collection is mainly maintained by rallies), and plugged 'Home' into the Garmin. I arrived back just after 8pm, thankful for the fact that my heated jacket started working when I left Long Sutton, having refused to offer up any heat all day before that. All in all a good day out; many thanks to Somerset IAM - shall hopefully see you all next year.
This was the tenth running of the SWPR run by Somerset IAM - the tenth time I had entered, the ninth time I had started it, and the eighth time I was to complete it. In 2009 I had entered but did not take part because my son Neil was visiting. Then in 2017 I started but after a couple of hours had to pull out because all the electrics on the GS failed, apart from the starter and the brake light, meaning I had to ride straight home before it got dark! That remains only one of two rallies I have not completed.
The format of the rally is that you are sent a map of the south-west (Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset) with four manned controls, which are in identified cafes in Ilfracombe, Perranporth, Princetown and Poundbury, and the names of 61 villages or towns which contain unmanned controls. You can choose to complete a Gold, Silver or Bronze route, For the Gold, which I have always entered, you must visit three manned controls and 15 unmanned controls. At the manned controls you get your control card stamped and have to answer ten multiple choice questions on a variety of topics. For the unmanned controls you are given a sheet at the start with a clue for each location - when you arrive at the village or town you have to find the answer to the clue and write it on your control card. There is also the option to visit Lands End (for which you also get the smallest pin badge in the form of the South-West).
At the start in Long Sutton - note how clean the Racer looks!
Typical Exmoor road - not the ideal environment for a BMW Racer!
In the fog at the first manned control, cafe at Mullacott Cross, Ilfracombe
Old Police Station Cafe, Princetown
At the Engine Cafe, Poundbury
At the finish - not looking so clean now!