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I think this was the 27th running of the Welsh Rally run by Clive MCC - the fifteenth time I had entered, finishing each one.
The format of the rally is that you are sent a map of Wales with six manned controls, which were in identified locations in Harlech, Colwyn Bay, Ruthin, Tregaron, Haverfordwest, and Bronllys, the names of 40 villages or towns which contain unmanned controls. You can choose to complete a Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze route. For the Platinum, which I have always usually 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 an additional award, the Dragon award (which you have to do if you have entered Platinum) - for this you have to also visit four of nine themed landmarks, For 2018 the theme was standing stones.
The weather foecast for the day of the rally was probably the best I had known it to be in fifteen years, and it did not fail to live up to its prediction. I left home at 6.20am and rode the 47 miles to the start, stopping only after a short diversion into Welshpool to refuel the bike. The start had chanegd for the first time sonce I had started doing the rally and was now located at the Livestock Market in Welshpool, handy as it is right on the outskirts of the town and the first building you come to arriving from the east. I got there about 7.10, chatted to a few people I knew from previous rallies (after a few years you get used to seeing the same faces, we are a relatively niche community!), and then signed on as we were given our control cards and question sheets from 7.30.
I had already prepared my route. There were basically three options - going north taking in Harlech, Colwyn Bay and Ruthin, going south taking in Tregaron, Haverfordwest and Bronllys, or heading west then south, visiting Harlech, Tregaron and Bronllys. I had looked at the possibilities for each and decided on a northern route, mainly because it allowed a shorter route, and because I thought I went south the previous year, and I try to vary my routes. The route I had calculated came to 271 miles according to My-Route app WEB and gave a running time of 8 hours 25 minutes, but that did not include any time for stops. My aim was to finish before 5pm. One reason for wanting a relatively short day was the fact that I was again riding the RnineT Racer. Now I love this bike, but it is not the most comfortable and I had suffered a bit after the SWPR the previous month (I could harldy raise my arms the following day!). My preparation for the bike had been limited to checking oil level and tyres, putting on a Bagster tank cover so I could use my favourite Bagster tankbag from the GS, and replacing the silencer. In truth the Pro-race can I had been running on the bike did not really count as a silencer - it is just a metal tube which allows the exhaust gases to escape with no restriction at all. The downside of this is that it is quite noisy. Given that the North Wales police were running a very well advertised presence on biker safety on some of the roads I would be using (I checked their website for locations), I felt it would be sensible to put the standard BMW silencer back on the bike.
I usually wait at the start to write down all the questions for each control on to my route cards. that way I can read the question on the way to the next control and know what I am looking for in each village before I get there. This time I was conscious that there were 400+ riders about to leave, and many would be going to the same first control. I read the first one on the way to the bike, realised I knew exactly where it was, so just got straight on and was the first to leave the car park. I figured if I got ahead of the crowds I could stop later on and write down the clues. Coming out of Welshpool I had my first shock when the two cars in front of me both swerved violently and braked hard - as I was braking I saw what had caused them to swerve - the first car had hit a very large badger. I had no chance of avoiding it so had to ride straight over the unfortunate animal. It was very solid and the bike bucked in the air, but I remembered my off-road training when we had to ride over a car tyre at 30 mph: looking at it you would be sure you would go flying, but if you hit it at 30 mph you go straight over it. I don't know what speed I was doing when I went over the badger but it was at least 30mph!
The first clue was to find the name of the shop in Llanwyddyn - I stopped just after that to take this photograph next to Llyn Vyrnwy. I then rode round he north side of the lake, remembering many years before wne I ran one of the few road races I ran, a half marathon which comprised one lap of the lake. Much easier on the bike!
From Vyrnwy I headed across the hills to the first Dragon clue in Bala - again i knew where the standing stones were there, having had to visit them on a Round Britain Rally a few years ago. Having noted the name of the vehicle repair business behind the stones I headed up the road a few miles to Llanfor. My strategy on these rallies is not to stop and write anythign down but simply to remember the answers to the clues as I go along, and then write them down when I have to stop at the manned controls. I go over them in my head as I am riding. This is not very difficult if you practice a bit, except that I tned to struggle with names. The clue at Llanfor was to find the name of the person to whom a bench is dedicated. I had no trouble remembering this name, as it was the same as one of my nephews. The second Dragon clue was to count the number of standing stones at Dolgellau, then to Penmaenpool to find what was carved into the top of the information board by the car park.
There is an old wooden toll bridge across the estuary at Penmaenpool - I had last been over it in November on our Nasareth-Bethlehem ride, when it was quite icy and slippery. Today was no problem, and i stopped and had a chat with the toll-keeper about BMW bikes and the relative merits of the R1200C (I was kind!).
My next stop was the first manned control at Harlech. My time schedule said it was 2 hours and 4 minutes from the start. In the past the start has not been before 8am, and since the manned controls do not open until 10am that seemed to work fine. However, because of the earlier start I arrived at the cafe in the leisure centre just before 9.30. There were a couple of riders there at the same time, including Rob and Barb who run BikerRalliesUK, and hold a scatter rally in the north-east in June each year. I took a picture of the castle above us and sent it to my wife - it was the first place she ever rode to with me on a bike - a K1200RS on a very wet and cold bank holiday.
There was at least time for a leisurely breakfast and a chat before the signing in team arrived. i also took the time to write out the questions for all the remaining controls on to th eroute cards I carried in the top of my tankbag. I made a series of guesses at the answers to the multiple choice questions and then got back on the bike and headed north.
The next few controls involved visiting a Honda garage in Talsarnau, a pub in Ffestiniog, a community centre in Llanbedrog before heading across the Lleyn Peninsula to the north coast to a little village called Pistyll. The clue here involved finding a number on a telegraph pole opposite a phone box. But there was no telephone box, not anywhere in the village - I rode up and down the road but couldn't see anywhere it might have been - I was joined by another rider on a Triumph Trophy and we both rode up and down the road. Eventually I stopped and took down the number of the only telegraph pole I could see opposite the only structure in the village, an old bus stop.
the third Dragon control was to count the bells in the church tower at Llanhaelhaearn (not sure what it had to do with standing stones), before heading further into Snowdonia. At Nantlle the clue was to find the date of the removal notice inside the telephone box - the organisers must have been intending this as a joke as again there was no telephone box in the village - this time I coud see where it had been a young boy sitting outside his house told me it had been taken away two days before!
My only stop for petrol was just outside Llanberis before picking up the date on a house in Brynrefail and turning south. When I had read the question for the next control I was sure I knew the answer - I had ridden or driven through Capel Curig on numerous occasions and was certain I could remember what colour the wheels on the yellow carriage outside the Tyn Y Coed Hotel are. But I had to ride past it anyway, and they may have repainted the wheels. As it was, the wheels were not at all the colour I was expecting them to be, so perhaps they had been repainted!
After a visit to find a slate milestone outside a chapel in Tal y Bont, I arrived at my second manned control, at teh KTM dealers in Colwyn Bay. I only stayed long enough to have a quick chat, answer the questions and clean my visor (far too much orange for my taste). Also there were only two more controls to visit before the next manned control so I had planned to have a brief stop there.
I started to see a few more riders coming the opposite direction now and to meet more riders stopped at controls. I also had my second scary moment of the day when I came over the brow of a hill to see the road covered in gravel and a sharp right hand bend at the bottom of the hill- the rear end kicked out when I started to brake, so I had to just hang on and ride through it with my fingers crossed. I collected the celestial symbols on a house in Llansannan and had to get off the bike to read the information board in Henllan before getting to the Doof cafe in Ruthin.
The weather had become decidedly warm by now and as well as getting something to eat and drink I removed my fleece jumper and opened all the vents on my jacket. Deciding what to wear on a ride is always a balancing act between keeping warm in the wind, but not overheating when you have to get off the bike - another reason not to stop too often. I had a chat with a rider I had met at the cafe in Princetown on the SWPR and a few guys I knew from the Round Britain Rally and completed the multiple guesswork before settting off on the final leg.
I had three more controls to visit. The next was a brief stop in a layby in Pandy Chapel to find the name of a house. The second was my last Dragon control and involved visiting a churchyard in Derwen I had been to before. Many years ago the stone cross in front of the church was a landmark on the Round Britain Rally - this time I had to find the date on the church house right next to the cross. My last control was next to the war memorial in Pontfadog, south of Llangollen. For the second time today I ended up riding up and down through a village before realising the memorial was actually on a street off the main road, and above it.
Another 22 miles riding got me back at the Livestock Market for 4.10pm. There were a few other bikes there, including John Young and Pete Churchill with their interesting Wasp/Triumph outfit. The organisers allowed us to sign in early (officially the finish didn't open until 5pm); they assumed everyone had completed the Bronze course so were surprised that I was claiming Platinum and Dragon. I had a chat with them about the new location for the start and finish and told them about the missing telephone boxes. After a sit down and a coffee I set off for home, arriving back at 5.45.
Many thanks to everyone at Clive MCC for organising another great day out on the bike - if you haven't tried the Welsh Rally I can recommend it as by far the best of the national rallies.
By the shores of
On the bridge at Penmaenpool
At the first manned control below the castle at Harlech
At the finish in Welshpool