Category Archives: Round Britain Rally

“I belong to the road.” #thedarkisreading

IMG_0325“Expect nothing and fear nothing, here or anywhere. There’s your first lesson.”

According to the internet, which as we know can always be relied upon for truth and accuracy, in Iceland people look forward to the Yule Book Flood just as much as the coming of Father Christmas.

Jólabókaflóð has been a tradition there since the Second World War. Family and friends exchange books at Christmas, which must be opened and read straight away. This seems a far better way of spending Christmas than bickering over who gets to be in charge of the remote control, or sitting in separate rooms bingeing on box sets.

This year I was given a very special book by a wonderful friend so that I could take part in #thedarkisreading, a community read-along of Susan Cooper’s fantasy novel, The Dark is Rising.

I can’t remember a time when I hadn’t read it. I re-read it in 2016 when I was reading books where the plot is inseperable from the location, for a feature I was writing. The novel is set rather firmly in 1970s Buckinghamshire, at a time when villages still have post offices and London still has docks.

Both of my copies are currently in storage in Scotland. So now I have a lovely new edition, and am slightly disturbed to find that it is now a Vintage Classic.

There are no rules to the read-along – just to enjoy the book, and share thoughts. I’m reading it in real time, to match the action to the days between the Winter Solstice and Twelfth Night, so we’re currently in the pause between Christmas and New Year. The snow is falling, and the Stantons are cooped up in their rambling rural home.

It’s a story about lots of things, which I won’t go into in detail because you might want to read it for yourself – and you should.

When I read it as a child it was about British folklore, Herne the Hunter and the king who sleeps under the hill. I grew up near Alderley Edge and we don’t doubt that he is there, ready to ride out when Britain faces its greatest peril. And it was about being the youngest in a family and how that makes you separate from the rest of them.

This year I’m reading it and it’s a story about the power of the landscape, the old roads and those who travel them. John Smith says to Will Stanton:

“They can do me no harm. I come of the wrong breed for that. And in this time I belong to the road, as my craft belongs to all who use the road.”

Which means, of course, that it’s really a story about bikers. Those of us who like to trundle around the byways of Britain, at least. And the rector’s motorcycle plays a small but important role on Christmas Day.

From Susan Cooper the road winds through Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, T H White, Robin of Sherwood and J R R Tolkein to Terry Pratchett. Next Christmas I might start at the beginning of the Discworld and come back to reality some time in mid-January.



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Filed under Riding, Round Britain Rally

You’re a bloody idiot

wales copy copyIt seemed a bit harsh. The bloke in the blue car who’d chased me down the M6 and wound down his window to deliver his verdict hardly knew me. I didn’t think I’d done anything particularly idiotic – changed lanes, discovered the  one I was in was about to dump me off the motorway into darkest Birmingham, changed back. Maybe he was fulfilling the role of Caesar’s slave, because frankly I was feeling pretty immortal.

There are few things as good as driving a car that was a basket-case when you first got it, hearing its barbaric yawp from the engine that you rebuilt,  and knowing that you and your doggy sidekick have got three more days of road trip ahead – and a weather forecast promising lots and lots of sun, which is unusual for the Welsh National Rally.

As already noted, this was my first solo run – though it isn’t ever really a solo run, not even a little bit. Steve and Jim, the Twins-soon-to-be-separated-by-a-CrossRunner were at the bunkhouse already, so Thursday night was fish and chips and a pot of tea. On Friday they were off towards St Davids, while AdventureDog and I were heading down the border towards Hereford and then heading into the mountains for what should have been a five-landmark day. The satnav foiled this plan by deciding, after I missed my turn to a landmark in the valleys, to shrug its electronic shoulders and decide we had been close enough, no need to tell me. Well done for trying. I didn’t notice for another half an hour. Bloody annoying but a good lesson for the Rally – always go point-to-point, don’t trust the technology! And the consolation prize was a drive down an amazing twisty road across a miniature moorland which I had no idea existed in this former mining heartland – stunning views interrupted by the occasional heart attack when a local came bombing round the hairpins not expecting to find a small blue roller skate in the middle of the road.

wales1 copySalt was rubbed firmly into the wound when I got back to the bunkhouse and the Twins pointed out that the back road from my final landmark to the one I dropped for lack of time was about 10 miles up a goat track, not the 40 mile detour that the Garmin wanted me to take.  It has turned into some sort of nanny, making its own decisions for me. ‘Not that way, dear, it’s not safe for you.’ It needs a telling!

On Friday evening the rest of Team RBR turned up – JD, and the Bell brothers, standing in for dad. Maps were checked – my tatty paper Wales Touring maps from my first RBR in 2003, Jim’s laminated A4 cards with route info and a photo of each target, the Bells with an amazingly detailed plan of attack and a GoPro.

We set off on Saturday morning. I got lost trying to find the petrol station, which wasn’t the best of starts, but it did mean my arrival at Castle Caerinion was perfectly timed to get my card stamped and get going.

I wanted a Dragon this year – I had worked out that to do the extra four locations added only 40 miles or so to the route, the sun was shining, and I would never have such a good chance again. But time gets away from you so quickly. This may have been because I spent the first half of the rally going up the goat tracks just for the entertainment value. On my second road I rounded a bend to find a BMW pilot covered in mud from knees to neck and his partner helping him fetch the bike out of the hedge. ‘It gets worse,’ they said. ‘You’ll be OK though.’ And it’s true – roads I wouldn’t dare on the Triumph are a breeze on three wheels. Shakey looked a bit alarmed when we headed sideways in a three-wheel drift towards the fence but it ended well.

At 4pm we were still somewhere the wrong side of Machynlleth. But there was only one WNR location and one Dragon left and the sun was still shining .We pulled in to Dinas Mawddwy, which sounds like one of P Diddy’s aliases, to be greeted by thumbs up and cheering from a group of blokes outside the pub. Cool. I stopped 200 yards further down the road to dive into the ladies. Not so cool. But they did give me directions to the Merion Mill, and that was my silver in the bag. The miles to the last reservoir were some of the best of the rally – empty roads, late afternoon sunshine, a happy dog under blue skies – perfection. And then the last miles back to Castle Caerinion were under a biblical thunderstorm with thunderbolts, lightning and torrential rain. Still, if you are gong to be soaked, far better to be soaked at the end when you can gain bragging rights but go home to dry out!

Standout memories of the day? A big cheery wave from JD who was heading south while I was heading north to the Dinas Dinlle airport. No, it’s not a Morgan. Finally escaping the 20-mph sightseers and powering round the sweeping curves of Snowdonia to see the granite soaring skywards. Incredibly polite Americans asking what on earth I was driving. A much-needed Mars Bar in the Co-Op car park. And my fabulous new coaster! Same again next year?

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Filed under Lomax, Round Britain Rally, spring, Welsh National Rally

Happy St Piran’s Day

Today is World Book Day, but I’m sure I’ve blogged about that before. It’s also St Piran’s Day, which gives me an excuse to mention the Round Britain Rally.

St Piran’s Cross was one of the landmarks in my early days of rallying. I first did the RBR in 2003, well before Sat-Nav. Some of the clues would be labelled ‘Short Walk.’ This is a short walk like that enjoyed by Eric Newby in the Hindu Kush.

Perran Sands on a sunny August day is not a great place to be roaming in full bike kit, carrying a lid, a tankbag, an RBR board and a camera. Oh, and a map. Did I mention this was before Sat Nav? My map reading skills are not very good and a helpful dogwalker took pity on me. I wasn’t the first biker he’d found wandering among the dunes.

Which is why this story made me laugh. I am quite sure the biker must have been looking for one of the more elusive landmarks and cursing Dave the D gently under his breath.

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So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind…

L1060144crop This is what the end of the RBR 2014 looks like.  Strictly speaking there are 9 days left in which to bag landmarks, but I am happy with my 215 points this year. Special Circumstances apply, and it seems to have been a low-scoring year all round. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you need to rebuild half of your engine before you can move forward.

It looks like a fairy ring but it’s the footprint of a medium-to-large tipi. Conkers being less wild than Low Wray, Shakey and I enjoyed a bedside lamp and a halogen heater. Because I am a bit slow of thinking at the moment, I hadn’t realised that a halogen heater doubles as a lighthouse. Still, it made the Klondike look very pretty – like a pointy Chinese Lantern, but not on fire. It would have been cool to have a mobile of bikers and three-legged dogs chasing landmarks to shadow-dance on the walls.

To the right is the windbreak for our Saturday afternoon Adjudication Barbecue. Those whom Graham decides to have photographed the wrong landmark can console themselves with a Frickadillo or a bratwurst. And a beer. Normally Dave and MommyBear come and do the actual cooking.  This year it was my responsibility and my skills fell sadly short. Thank god for caravans with ovens!








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Filed under 2CV, camping, Round Britain Rally

Wild? I was livid.

Robens Klondike

This was my campsite last weekend.

It was supposed to be the jumping-off point for a tour of the Cornwall and Devon RBR landmarks, but the Lomax’s cylinder heads were away at Ivor Searle’s for new valve seats so Shakey and I had to go in the car. Our reward was the opportunity to wave cheerfully at a big orange H-van coming the other way on the A4. There are almost no other 2CVs out there these days – I was chatting to someone the other day about Hortense and he said the only other 2CV in our town lives in a garage and comes out on dry sunny days. I think Hortense was quietly sobbing at this point.

It may not look much like wild camping but it is, in fact, an awfully big adventure.

When I was a little girl my dearest wish was to sleep in my tent in the back garden. It was a green ridge tent, the kind you would draw in a picture, or imagine the Walker children pitching on Wild Cat Island. But this tiny taste of adventure was vetoed by my mother, who was unusually concerned about stranger danger for the 1970s. Her concern that random strangers would carry out evil acts upon my person extended to banning 16-year-old me from going to see Bon Jovi, hardly the peak of rock depravity. Sleeping outside was out of the question.

So this isn’t just Martyn and Jane’s back garden. It’s a tiny slice of belated rebellion, with a side order of wish fulfilment. It’s also a bloody nice tent.

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Filed under 2CV, camping, Gear, Round Britain Rally

Game over, for another year

It's time to peel the stickers off the RBR map….stars are LMs, whales are LMs successfully bagged.

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Glitter tipi!

The lovely Swedish people who designed the tentipi put these eyelets in so that you could attach a hanging rail to dry your clothes after a day's manly outdoorsing. Fortunately they're also the perfect size for a set of John Lewis glitterball lamps!

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The next adventure

This is Winston. He’s the mascot for the Black Dog Ride, a fabulous Aussie initiative bringing bikers together against depression. There does seem to be a big overlap between bikers and people who suffer mental illness – though I don’t know whether that’s because bikers are more vulnerable to depression, or whether we’re just more willing to talk about it because we know our community won’t judge us.

I was hoping to take Winston with me as my passenger on this year’s Old Farts Tour of Scotland, which takes in the Scottish RBR Landmarks as well as sufficient checkpoints to qualify for a Touring Award in the Scottish National Rally – but he’s rather bigger than I thought he was going to be. That’s Nathan Millward‘s book in the photo for scale. Far from being pocket-sized, Winston is in fact about three-quarters of a Jack Russell.

Like the supersonic sausage dog of legend, he does indeed have rubber suckers on his feet, but I don’t dare stick him to 2Moos’s screen for fear he will have my knee off when he comes loose.

So Winston will have to stay at home and guard the house while 2Moos and I go off and play. In preparation I have changed his air filter and his oil, though not his oil filter because I don’t want to find at this late stage that I can’t get the bash plate back on with the bike on the side stand. I shall continue reading Mr Honda’s “Common Service Manual” to see whether he has any advice on this. And in the meantime, we are off back to the top of Scotland. Though not, this time, in search of Vikings.

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Filed under 2Moos, National Rally, Round Britain Rally

If I didn’t have bad luck…

At 3pm this was going to be a triumphant post about how brilliantly I had fitted a new exhaust to the 2CV. The only thing remaining to do was to start the car and run the engine for a short while to cure the assembly paste in the joints.

And that remains the only thing to do because, despite trying for a significant amount of time, there is no fuel getting through to the carburettor and so no chance of ignition.

It looks like the fuel pump has died. There is fuel in the line beneath it but none above. If I had a spare body I would get them to turn the engine over while I stuck my finger on the end of the pipe to test for suction. But there isn’t one handy.

Instead of booking the car in for an MOT next week and getting back onto the road I am going to have to phone the garage, ask them to send a tow truck, give them lots of money to investigate the problem, and then, and I really do mean it this time, I am going to sell the bastard thing.

Events like this make me realise how fragile my mood is. I am trying hard not to take it personally. I have done 2 good jobs on the car. The fact that something else has failed is not because I am a Bad Person. It is because the car is almost 30 years old. But at the end of a few days which included dropping 2Moos in Wales and having to work out whether it is me, or the person who declared himself to be in everlasting love with me after one blind date and then promised to “wait for me” until I was ready to reciprocate, who wass being unreasonable, another failure is proving difficult to cope with.


Filed under Round Britain Rally

Here’s our Graham with a quick reminder

Across the open countryside,
Into the walls of rain I ride. 
It beats my cheek, drenches my knees, 
But I am being what I please.
The Moos is loaded and I am off to ride all over Wales in the company of Panamaniac. As usual, I am fleeing a trauma and hope to find solace in the beat of a 750 twin and the drumming of the rain on my lid. The white noise will stop me from dwelling.

I have lived 2 years as a solo person with occasional bursts of company. Last week I attempted a blind date, set up by some well-intentioned friends. Although on paper all looked good – 6 foot 4, biker, guitarist – I have decided not to pursue the project.

Although I hope that I aspire to relationships with Happy, Sleepy or Bashful, my recent track record includes Psycho, Pisshead and Pervert. One took from me everything I held of value with the argument that I ought to love him more than living in the city, having an amazing job or spending time with my friends. One drank himself to death; one updated his Facebook status from his girlfriend’s bed less than 12 hours after being in mine.

I have achieved a certain level of peace in my life. I am quietly proud of what I have managed to salvage from a lengthy period of poor weather. It takes a lot of effort to keep the balance and it seems I have some way to go before I am ready to put this back at risk.

So I shall get on my bike and ride through the walls of rain, and all shall be well.


Filed under Introspection, Round Britain Rally