Tag Archives: round britain rally

Happy place

A little late – the Round Britain Rally started on Sunday, though “started” may be overstating things as the coronavirus restrictions on travel were still in force. Except in Wales. Lucky Welsh! – but I’ve finally got all my landmark locations into MapSource and onto the Garmin.

Yes, that is a Windows 7 logo on the laptop. I like MapSource. I don’t like BaseCamp. I’ve tried it, but I can’t get the hang of it. I keep the laptop for this One Job. But every year it gets a little bit more difficult to use MapSource for RBR planning. Until recently you could drop your Waypoint in MapSource and then fly to it in Google Earth to check that it was in the right place. For nearby LMs it’s overkill but for something in the remoter parts of the Highlands it takes a bit of risk out of the journey. Except now you can’t. Google Earth 7.1 doesn’t work at all any more, and the last version that talks to MapSource has had Streetview withdrawn.

This feels just petty spite.

So instead of getting stuck in to plotting, I had to spend several hours installing, deleting and reinstalling Google Earth 7.2 until it decided to work. I got very used to seeing this message.

Of course, all this technology isn’t really necessary. I have the grey hair now and the lack of knowledge of who any of the celebrities in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here are and sometimes I revel in my Old Gimmer status and think about how much the world has changed, even in my motorcycling lifetime.

My first rally was 2003. I don’t think Google Maps existed. There was StreetMap, which just showed roads, and there was a brilliant Ordnance Survey site called GetAMap which sort of still exists but you have to pay for it and that was great for memorial cairns, chapels and other things that there are OS map symbols for. My phone was a Nokia 5510, which could send text messages – actual text, no emoji. My rally route book was full of printouts and photocopies of maps.

These days I do my research, write down the OS grid reference or the postcode, feed them into the Zumo, and job’s done.

Is that progress? I suppose it depends if you see the point of the rally as the riding, or if the research is part of the challenge. I think I miss the days when, for the really obscure landmarks, you might end up telephoning a local Tourist Information office, or emailing a local history group to ask about a memorial plaque.

But it’s important not to look back with sadness for things gone but to look for happy memories too. The LM list – top secret so I have redacted it in the spirit of the Scottish Government’s evidence to the Fabiani inquiry – changes every year but Britain isn’t so big that the same places don’t pop up on a slowly- turning rotation.

In these days of no travel it is a privilege to think back to miles ridden on sunny roads, or bloody damp ones ending with a borrow of the tumble dryer in Scrabster’s Seaman’s Mission. And in these days of isolation it’s also wonderful to be able to think of the RBR friends I have ridden some of them with.

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Have a little patience

Finally! After the dark, the first signs of spring are here. Not the daffodils spearing up through the verge ready to get widdled on by the dog (sorry, daffodils) and not the fact that it’s daylight at home-time. No, spring is on its way because Saturday was the RBR awards dinner.

This year (and last year, but I couldn’t go last year, because Scotland) we gathered in The George Hotel, Lichfield, in a blue, vaulted room lined with slightly dodgy paintings (“Look,” said Jenny. “That chap’s feet are floating above the grass.”)  The Wingman isn’t allowed to come and it’s a bit too cold for him to sit in the car so he stayed at home to watch the Olympics. The good news was that despite me changing the fuel line and cleaning out the carb on Saturday morning Hortense still made it. The bad news was that I stabbed myself in two fingers with the end of the choke cable doing the job and they still bloody hurt.

“We’ll do this in reverse order and start with the Finishers,” announced Dave the D. Yes, that was me. I had the fewest points of all this year’s awards guests. That’s what happens when your Lomax dies in June and your job only lets you take days off if three other women agree you could have those days. (And that, dear reader, is why it isn’t my job any more. Three women with a veto on my riding time!) I got six landmarks out of more than 50. But they were good ones, in the remotest corners of the Highlands.

Now I have to scrape together as much patience as I can muster because the 2018 list won’t be released until March 11.  A few years ago Graham began auctioning preview copies for those whose pockets were deeper than their patience – an innovation which has raised nearly £4,000 for the Air Ambulance. I bought a preview list one year – but these days the moths are in charge of my wallet so I am just going to have to wait.

Still, that gives me three weeks to fix the Lomax….

 

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One step forward, two steps back

Image

The Lomax is not wholly well. It likes to cut out when you come off the throttle. This is not very safe.

I followed instructions given to me on Facebook. I replaced the points and condenser and set the static timing.

I tackled the valve clearances, which involved taking the rocker covers off the cylinder heads and putting them back on without causing the engine to spring a leak. 

I fitted a new engine breather from Silly CVs, to keep the oil inside the crankcase rather than on the garage floor.

After all this effort, the car sounded much more like a 2CV than previously and ran much better. We had a small but triumphant test drive, in which Shakey got fed salami, to make up for his last trip out in which he got stung on the bottom by a bee. We had a longer test drive yesterday to Pirtek to see about getting new hoses for the oil cooler. The car behaved impeccably, until the traffic lights on the way back to the village when it cut out and refused to start again until cooler.

Now things are back to square one, or possibly worse than before. I have been advised to swop the coil. There are so many things that could be wrong.

I also need to tackle an oil leak from the place where the cylinder head meets the barrel. 

I suppose none of these things are difficult, but because I don’t have a welding set or a workshop I feel I have no business taking an engine to pieces, and all the problems mean I can’t get out an about with Shakey like I wanted to.

Not yet, anyway. 

I am taking it step by step. Two lovely chaps at Pirtek are fitting a new oil cooler, because the one on there is buggered, and will relocate the coil for me to a cooler spot. Perhaps that will be enough.

We did get our first RBR Landmark of 2014. Shakey is looking very resigned to his kit-car fate in the photo, which hopefully abides by the rules by not giving away any location information!

I wonder whether people buy kit cars, struggle to get them working well, and sell them on after a few years? I tell myself that there is no reason it should not run properly and well. I have knowledgeable friends. I am really good at following instructions. 

One step at a time, and maybe by autumn we will be ready for 2015!

 

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New adventures await. How exciting!

RescueDog and I had a lovely day out in Norfolk last weekend.  Having tried the Africa Twin sidecar, and been a bit scared, and eyed up a Ural combination for sale in Wisbech, but been too chicken to go and try it out, and despite the offer of a Velorex sidecar to attach to my Triumph, we have gone down a different path.
The RBR, and other navigational rallies like the English and the Welsh, are open to three-wheelers as well as outfits.
Some people like to do them in Plastic Pigs.
Other people like to do them in a Lomax. On a cloudy day, and without your specs on, you might take a Lomax for a Morgan, but it is one-tenth of the price and, more importantly, built on the running gear and engine from a 2CV.
I know 2CVs. I am much less scared of the idea of travelling in a 2CV-derived skateboard than a ditch-devoted piece of Ukranian ironmongery.
This Lomax was destined to be ours. One of my RBR friends was given a classic car magazine by her dad. She flicked through it, she spotted an ad for a Lomax. It was February’s edition, so well out of date. I made a not-very-hopeful phone call. Yes, still for sale, yes, please do come and have a look. It is in a village on the edge of the Norfolk Broads.
So on Saturday, RescueDog and I got into our GrannyWagon and set off east.

The Broads mean only one thing to me – Arthur Ransome. While the Blacketts and the Walkers sail in the Lake District, Dick and Dorothea have their main adventures in and around Horning. When I was young I wanted to be Dorothea – brave, loyal, cheerful, and devoted to writing stories, having gentle adventures and challenging wrong-doing. Like Clark Kent, but with a cup of tea and a pony tail.  There aren’t many role models for girls in glasses who want to be writers, but she was one.

It is a very blue Lomax – fortunately for RescueDog  sufficiently blue to deter a previous viewer. We have bought it, and are off to collect it tomorrow.
We hope for many adventures.

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Green eyed monster?


I’ve found to my cost before that Ruby is a jealous girl.

Now it may be that the dropping of a media bomb at 9.52 this morning, which required me to drop everything else, slap the Emergency PR beacon onto my desktop and run around like a blue-arsed fly for the rest of the day, was a complete coincidence and nothing to do with the fact that I declared on Facebook last night that I intended to head up to Hayfield this evening by car (via a work conference in Manchester).

I’m sure Ruby had no interest at all in the fact that, since dealing with the issue pushed all the stuff I was going to do today back into the pile marked “tomorrow’s problem,” neatly requiring me to be in the office tomorrow not in Manchester, I will need to scorch up the country on Friday afternoon in order to reach The Sportsman in time for my dinner.

And lovely as my 2CV is, “scorch” is not in her vocabulary in the same way that it is in Ruby’s.

We think we are evolved into independent thinking humans. What we actually are is a detachable opposeable thumb for Bavarian twin-cylinder manipulatrixes. When she learns to pay for her own petrol I’ll be toast…..

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Helter Skelter


When it comes to the Round Britain Rally I am not famous for my stability. Ruby is prone to flinging herself at tents, other bikes, and most recently a neighbour’s caravan, which was innocently parked and minding its own business when she wantonly pressed herself against it.

Since my first rally in 2003 I’ve had five addresses, including a temporary stint at the Polar Bear Training Dojo, four jobs and three surnames.

Two different partners have come to the Annual Dinner with me. Twice I had to cancel because I couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be a domestic over the coffee and mints, which rather disturbs the digestion of everyone else round the table.

All this change is rather exhausting.

But sometimes change is for the better. For as long as I’ve been going, the Annual Dinner has been at the Manor Hotel Meriden, though JD and others recall an earlier venue with happiness, I think mainly because of the size of the puddings. General belt-tightening and the feeling that the Manor was a little too corporate led Dave the D on the search for a new venue: and he picked a winner.

In autumn the RBR Camping Section meet at Conkers for the adjudication weekend-cum-massive barbeque. Conkers has a Camping and Caravan Club Site, a Youth Hostel (of the new, shiny hotel-style), and a Forest Discovery Centre. Which is available for functions. So Dave booked it. The RBR likes Conkers, Conkers likes the RBR but no-one likes the Youth Hostel, which is why I was camping. In February.

I say camping…wallowing might be a better word. The site was a bit anxious about the state of their grass, and as the site manager’s boots sank into the squelch, I understood why. But I am rarely daunted, so Paul put the kettle on, Jim supervised and I got the tipi up while only covering most of my jeans, my boots and the sleeping bag in pale beige mud. Ci, Jim’s new Jack Russell, enjoyed helping.

The plan had been to walk to the Forest Hall but Jacki and Phil offered to drive, and it would have been rude not to accept 😉

Some things change, some things stay the same. Dave the D’s children get a bit taller each year, there are a few more auction lots (including the RNLI flag which we were given by the crew at the Lizard to take round all the other stations), and Rufus gets a fancier outfit, but the main business of chat and catching up continues unamended. This year I thought I would innovate by wearing a dress, though some are disputing whether there was enough of it to count as such, and by wearing heels, though Miz felt the fact I was carrying my army boots in lieu of a handbag rather spoilt the effect.

The food was fabulous – especially the apple pie. JD wanted two helpings and Paul narrowly avoided having none, being away from the table when the waitress came round to ask “custard or ice cream?” “Say ‘A bit of both’ next time,” he advised. Which I think is a rule that could apply to many of life’s decisions.

And no-one is saying that RBR’ers are competitive but as soon as it became known that there were helter-skelters in the centre there was a rush to become the first All-Rounder. An honour which I think was nabbed by JD…

Graham has studied the map and persuaded me that I can do 2/3 of the Air Ambulance run and still put in my 2 days at Cadwell Park for Hopp Rider Training, so that’s the new plan for May. I was gutted when the date was moved because I was so looking forward to doing this run for the first time without having to worry about whether I was going to be dumped when I got home.

Some changes are for the better!

Archimedes didn’t just need a lever to change the world. He also demanded a strong place to stand. This year I am finally standing on my own two feet – but I’ve still got the stabilizers on. When Ruby has a wobble, my RBR friends help pick her up. And it’s the same for me. See you all at the A.R.S.E!!

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I’m a biker – and the consultation on Roadside Facilities on the Strategic Road Network was my idea

As my years advance and my bones get old and knackered I find myself more closely in touch with my Inner Curmudgeon. Things were better when I was young. Hair was higher. Sony Walkmen were bigger. And Motorway Services lived up to their name, rather than being just an endless chain of opportunities to extort money from the road-weary traveller.

The trip to and from an otherwise excellent A.R.S.E was marred, on the way down, by the classic Small-Print-Parking-Sign shuffle. I used to campaign about these for a living so it’s profoundly annoying having fallen for one – maybe this is how Geoff Hoon feels, though at least I’m only out a tenner rather than a £5,000 day rate.

YOU MUST PAY TO PARK FOR MORE THAN 2 HOURS. Seriously? TRAVELODGE STAFF CANOT TAKE YOUR MONEY. YOU MUST PAY BY PHONE. What joy. Having been done by Westminster Council in the 5 minutes between parking and getting to my office in the hope of calling without getting rained on, I thought it were best to be done quickly, gritted my teeth and phoned the automatic call-handling service. £10 quid fee, oh, and a “handling charge.” How nice. How much does it cost to have a computer take your money anyway?

Drag the bags out of the panniers, squelch to the doors. In very small writing – FREE. Travelodge customers may park for free if they register their VRN at reception. I ask the receptionist that doesn’t speak English very well and the one with her ear clamped to her mobile phone if they can reimburse me. No, nothing to do with them, sorry.

So you have to pay for parking (if you’re going to be longer than 2 hours) and you have to pay to get your own money to hand back over the counter to the multiple retail opportunities, because free cash machines have been replaced by fee-charging boxes managed by the lovely people at LINK. (No, M&S in Service Areas don’t do cash-back, I asked.) At least in the old days the part of the services that was designed to ream you of your money was over-18s only and in plain sight as a slot-machine arcade.

What’s the point of a Motorway Services anyway? I’d argue that their key function is a safety one – they are a place to stop and rest if you’re so tired that your brain has stopped talking to your body. And since the arrival of HighwayHound, this is my perpetual condition. If you’re on a bike, you have a special need for somewhere you can sit that isn’t conditional on the purchase of fast food, because you can’t buy a sandwich and take it back to your warm and comfy car for scoff & shut-eye (119 minutes, max).

Maybe I am taking this too seriously in my sleep-deprived state. It’s good of the Government to consult on what Services should be provided at an MSA, and I don’t want to be too tetchy about the special prominence given to caravans and electric cars compared to the humble motorcyclist. The consultation says that we should be offered lockers to stash our gear. I’d prefer a parking space that wasn’t seen as a handy place to stash an RAC recruiting wagon. And that I wasn’t fooled into paying for.

Have your say: http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/open/2010-25/

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A review of the Naughties

I was supposed to be riding across to Kings Lynn this morning to meet Martin Hopp of Hopp Rider Training, but the weather delivered another 4 inches of snow and, just to make sure I got the message, I also woke up with the flu. So instead of actual riding I have been rooting around in my files to bring you a review of the decade. I realise this is about two weeks too late to be topical but I am a woman and being fashionably late is my prerogative.

Worst bike:- Though I’ve only owned three bikes in the last 10 years, counting test rides and off-road school I’ve now ridden a perfect ten. And the worst of them was the one I started the decade on. Well, technically I started the decade on a table in Homs dancing to Boney M, but I’m actually talking about the Kawasaki W650 – a pretty bike but undermined by one simple flaw. A misguided Japanese attempt to meet clean air standards by mixing air with unburnt fuel in the exhaust had the wholly predictable consequence of a massive backfire every time I came off the throttle. It was the automotive equivalent of having Brian Blessed on the back: “LOOK OUT – IT’S A ROUNDABOUT!!” My nerves couldn’t take it, and it was the only time I’ve ever encountered sexism in my riding life – according to Streetmachine, where I bought it from, “they all do that, madam – it’s a feature.” Oxford Motorcycle Engineering did their best but couldn’t fix it, and that was me pretty much out of options. With a bike in the garage that I dreaded taking out onto the roads, I took the hit and lost about £2,000 chopping it in for the genuine retro beast it was pretending to be: the Triumph With No Name.

Difficult second bike period: (Those of you paying attention may know the Triumph was my 4th bike, but let’s not allow that to stand in the face of a catchy title.) While you’re learning, it’s easy. Why are you taking the bike out? Because I have a test to pass and need the practice. You pass your test, and then what? If like me you have no handy local biker mates, and go to work on the train, the reasons to ride become a little limited. In 2001 there is was so much else that needed doing on a sunny day – the garden needed weeding, next week’s shirts needed ironing and the X-files weren’t going to watch themselves. I had a beautiful shiny bike. I also had RSI, the cure for which involved cutting my throttle hand open from wrist to health line. So I had mitigating circumstances, but they were still no excuse for keeping a bike in the darkness and doing less than 19 miles a week. I should have admitted defeat and rehomed her, but I’d put so much sweat and cursing into learning U-turns so that I could get my licence…. Thousands pass their test and then give up riding. It looked like I was going to become a statistic.

Unlikeliest saviour:
In 2003, Ken Livingstone did something wonderful. He cleared the streets of Westminster of cars for a week. Given that I could stand in the road opposite College Green and do a small dance without risk of being run over (or, in those halcyon days, of being shot by the Metropolitan Police), it seemed rude not to bite the bullet and ride to work. Provided that I got used to riding in London quicker than the cagisti got used to paying the congestion charge, I was onto a winner. My other advantage was that I had the use of God’s Parking Space, for in 2003 I was working for the Archbishop of Canterbury in Lambeth Palace. If you arrive at the Palace on foot you approach a postern gate, struggle to lift a large medieval knocker of the sort that brought Simon Groom to grief on Blue Peter, and wait for the gatekeeper to let you in. If you arrive by car or bike, you stop outside the gates, toot your horn impertinently and, if you are recognized as a friend, the sound of bolts being drawn will precede the sight of 2 massive oak doors parting to allow you through onto the magnolia-strewn courtyard tarmac. The Triumph was very sorry when we stopped working there and she had to jostle for space between the scooters like an ordinary motorcycle.

First foreign trip: Also 2003, which was turning into a very good year. My sister bought a BMW 650 from Vines in Guildford, on the understanding that they would deliver it to her. What they actually meant was that they would deliver it to her nearest BMW dealer, which, being Glasgow, was 85 miles and two motorways away from her house. Challenging, but not insurmountable, except that she hadn’t actually passed her test yet. So I took a long weekend and rode it up for her, and after a brief ethical pause, planned a route that took me past my first RBR landmarks – a pub in Piercebridge, and a standing stone in County Durham – and a photocall at the border. In September I went back on the Triumph to bag a few more, and did the trip in one day instead of two, making me feel like a proper gnarly biker for the first time. What puzzles me now is that in 2003 I could fit a week’s worth of gear into one Baglux tankbag, while in 2008 I needed three metal mule panniers and a duffle bag.

Best coffee stop:
the Lochearnhead Water Sports Centre and Cafe. Quality espresso, excellent cake and a free bucket of water to wash the flies off your visor.

Best B&B: these days I am a confirmed wigwam camper but in less hardy days I wanted to at least be sure that part of my day would be spent in the dry. This was a close-run contest. The Wigtown B & B had great big fluffy bathrobes, a glass of wine and James Spader on the DVD, but no actual breakfast (host hadn’t managed to obtain the necessary health and safety certificates for cooking). The Bringewood had great coffee and free wifi but was up two miles of slippery, corrugated concrete farm track so once I was there I didn’t dare leave for a day trip and missed a day’s landmarks. The winner is a small hotel on the seafront in Criccieth, for being utterly unfazed when an extremely damp lady biker rang the doorbell and for showing no visible signs of anxiety when conveying said dripping, filthy person into a room of surpassing daintiness. (I realise this part of the story would be better if I could tell you the actual name of the winner, and if the rain hadn’t dissolved the receipt that I stuck into the 2007 RBR album, I’d be able to…)

Longest trip: in 2008 the Round Britain Rally social section decided to do a ride round the Six Points of Britain. Which reminds me that I never did write part three, an omission I had best remedy before May this year, when the usual suspects are embarking on a coastal tour of lifeboat stations in aid of the RNLI. Given that I’m the only RBR (to my knowledge) to have been rescued by the coastguard, I think I’m uniquely qualified for this one.

Kindest words with the most unexpected consequences: On 27th November 2007, Frank on Friday wrote in his Telegraph blog “And now an ad. If you want to read a lovely personal blog, do have a look at one of the DT’s own readers. It’s beautifully written, gentle and warm. I loved it.” When Frank stood down from his column I got to take over for a year. I met lovely people, I rode in the Thundersprint and got to write about it every week on the Telegraph’s Motoring Blog. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever find myself following in Frank’s footsteps by running a massive bike festival in Northwich, but if I do, I hope that I can be as generous, kind and unflappable as Mr Melling.

I finished this decade standing on a plinth in Trafalgar Square as a RBR landmark. The next ten years are going to have to work hard to beat the ones just gone…

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Cabin Fever

My rally is usually like a cask-strength Macallan – savoured slowly and with a lot of water added. This year it was more like an Ardbeg Supervona – a smack in the throat with a blunt instrument. I mislaid anticipation and forward planning and have had to scrabble for LMs in the margins of everyday life. No week-long trip to Scotland – for the second year running – to ride under the pines, dodge the deer and get nibbled by the midgies. And I was thwarted in several attempts to get to Wales…

Have I become one of those people for whom riding can only happen when the demands of real life have been satisfied? For the rub there is that the demands of real life are infinite and hydra-headed, and if I allow it to take over there will be no time for frivolities like visiting Venta Silurum at dusk.

Still, better a rally of rags and patches than no rally at all. Admiring Panamaniac‘s photo albums at Conkers, I was amazed to find I’ve been doing this since 2003. Some people will see 6 years of landmark-bagging as little more than an astonishing waste of time and petrol, but (at the risk of sounding like REO Speedwagon) it’s taken me to places that on my own I’d never find. It’s made me a better rider – goat tracks and the Road of Baas would not have been attempted if there hadn’t been points at the end of them. I’ve peturbed and baffled the locals. I’ve been to John O’Groats. I’ve stood on a plinth. And I’ve eaten too many of JD’s bacon rolls.

This year was good, because there is no such thing as a bad ride. Next year will be better – because what’s the future for if not to look forward to?

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Anyone for tea and buns?

I’m catching up with my research for the RBR and would like to reassure the owners of ^^^sudden hacking cough likely to last till October^^^^ that their concern, stated thus:- “After a busy season in 2008 we are ready for 2009. We hope the current economic climate will not deter our visitors” is groundless, as they can look forward to about 250 bikers, at least some of whom will stop for a cream tea.

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