Round Britain by cafe

The night before the rally saw the team (of four, myself, Roger, Graham and Lee) gather at the Premier Inn, Hinckley and specifically in the pub next door. Too much chat and beer and a later than expected closing time meant there was some fuzzy heads in the morning.

MIRA and the special test (09h30)

A lot less people at MIRA (so it seemed and there were 88 Platinum entries) and the tests all went smoothly. Some planning this time, but we still managed to cock this up to some extent. Roger’s estimate on the bike length was slightly out….despite him having measured it at home.

The average speed test caught me out as having correctly calculated the time for a 45 mph average (which I’d drawn from the hat), I still given myself enough time by going too slowly. The two 5 second stops meant that even getting it up to 85mph down the straight wasn’t enough and I was 20 seconds over my calculated time. Graham drew 51 mph and was even quicker down the back straight, and still short by 15-20 seconds.

Into the canteen for a sausage roll and chat on the team performance.

Atherstone (12h00 Sat)
Our chosen start location was over in Cannock (and the Hollies Cafe) and on the way stopped off at Governers Bridge Motorcycles (now Huggy’s Speed Shop) in Atherstone to look at a bike. The Yamaha SC500 looked okay and the deal was done. Rog had a look at his wobbly front wheel on the XJ, which looked like a poorly balanced tyre.

Cannock (13h15)
Thirty minutes up the A5 saw us pull into the dust-bowl car park of the ‘famous’ Hollies transport cafe. In for a cup of tea whilst we waited for the 2pm start of the Rally itself. Ignoring the offer of the mega breakfast (for only £5), tea was obtained, though a plate of chips made us feel better. The toilets here are something special and not for the feint-hearted.

Around 14h00, the other bikers started to get ready and then once their cards have been stamped, shot off at the start of their rally route. Lots of people there doing the 540 mile route, with a total of 23 checkpoints.

Route started somewhat tediously down the M6, with some traffic. Going through Birmingham we passed the Belgian on the Vespa who was also planning to complete the main route, though at a slower rate than us. A fairly complex start to the navigation as getting to Barker’s Butts Rugby Club in Meriden from the east meant a detour off the A45.

Meriden (14h45)
Quick stamp of the card and we were off towards Stratford, after a refuel just off the A45 in Coventry. Manage to attract the attention of 3 woman in a Mini who seemed to seemed to be in good form. Some attempts at formation biking down the A45 didn’t work too well and the GoPro Helmet camera was a bit of a pain at speed.

All the bikes seemed to be running well and it was a fine afternoon as we headed off into Stratford, though Graham in his eagerness had to do a couple laps of the roundabout whilst we caught up.

Stratford upon Avon (15h30)
Lots of bikes and bikers in the car park in Stratford. Another quick stop and then out through the traffic and out to Alcester. Then back along Gray’s favourite Alcester / Inkberrow / Worcester road, which had a bit more traffic on it than the previous night.

The CrapNav did its work and brought us into the Worcester MCC club hut via a series of back lanes off the A449.

Worcester (16h15)
Again, only a short convenience stop, as we continued to try to make good time early on. The roads out to Cleobury Mortimer were excellent B roads all the way, and with no real traffic. Superb riding all the way.

Bewdley (17h00)
100 maps miles done in 3 hours and given that most of the road hadn’t been major we were making good time. Gray’s KTM immobiliser woes re-appeared but after a couple of worrying moments we were off again, with some more glorious B roads. Bit of traffic through Bridgnorth and then on the road to Telford until we reached Sutton Maddock.

Sutton Maddock (17h35)
Well serviced by the WI, time for a stop for tea and cake (or cherry pie and cream in my case). Quick chat with the couple of guys on BMW’s who had a similar route to us (and one daughter as pillion). Excellent spot this, round the back of the Vicarage and after 3.5 hours on the road a welcome break.

The route to the next checkpoint near Church Stretton was all B and minor roads (though the BMW sat navs took them up the M54 to Shrewsbury and back down the A49). Down through Coalport, and across the narrow bridge across Severn and up to Broseley. Dead reckoning and use of the sun, meant we found the road to Much Wenlock. An excellent run across Wenlock Edge, with Gray charging on and me playing catchup.

We turned offed before Church Stretton and used the back road through Acton Scott (and the venue for the Victorian Farm TV programme) before hitting the A49 and a short run to the Lazy Frog cafe.

Church Stretton (18h35)
Another quick stop and a chat to Clerk of the Course, Tim Fairbrother. The BMW riders had followed the sat nav round Telford and up the M54, A5 and then to the A49. A long way round and got stuck by a traffic accident.

The car smash was being cleared up as we headed north and a straightforward run up the A49 to Whitchurch, with some open roads and less traffic.

Whitchurch (19h15)
And another transport cafe and bikers favourite on the junction of the A49 and A41. A bit larger and a bit cleaner than others, we decided to stop for an earlier than scheduled dinner, which worked pretty well. Lee’s astounding decision to go for (yet another) breakfast seemed to pay off with another healthy plateful. Roger’s decision to plump for the curry seemed to be brave knowing the delicate state of his internals on last years rally.

Lee about to tackle another breakfast

Also some concerns about Roger’s head and it being squeezed into his new Arai lid. A combination of sun, wind and compression seemed to be transforming him from likeable father of 1, to that of Darth Vader just after Luke pulls off the mask in Episode 6 [[Indeed Louis must have been scared when he got home as he decided to drop Darth’s new iPhone into his bath.]].

The sun was going down when we decided to head off, slightly south on the A41 in the direction of Stoke. Heartened by the meal and spirits restored it was a nice ride spoilt only by traffic.

Stoke (21h00)
The checkpoint in Stoke, just off the south-east bound A50 isn’t the best location, but good chance for a refuel and also access to cash. Worth noting was the Bangladeshi eatery next door, however that may have had an even greater impact on Rog’s digestive tract.

Back up the A50 and A500 and then followed the A34 towards Congelton. A pity that there was no checkpoint in Bakewell or Buxton this year and therefore an excuse to run the Cat and Fiddle, but there’s a shame

Congelton (21h30)
The pub checkpoint seemed convivial and apart from a Rog stop, we pressed on, opting for the more scenic option by carrying on up the A54 and then heading north through Macclesfield and the joys of Cheshire and Greater Manchester. The Saturday night entertainment was already beginning to appear on the streets and the short skirts and pneumatic personalities were already beginning to have an impact on Graham’s straight-line abilities. As darkness settled in, it meant we didn’t get the full enjoyment of Stockport’s finest views.

A battle round the M60 and neighbouring roads saw us enter Hyde and though route markings from the M67 were promised, a combination of dead reckoning and route finding round the one-way-street maze saw us pull up outside the noisy Bike and Hound pub.

Hyde (22h30)
As the cover band inside seamlessly moved from AC DC to Ace of Spades we checked in via the van outside. Darkness was here and needed the torch to plot the fairly convoluted route up to Hebden Bridge. Back on the M67 and then the M60, we headed up to the always chilly M62 and climbed up onto Saddleworth Moor. Off towards Sowerby Bridge and it felt more like November than July. Probably an excellent day-time road, it was a bit more complex in the dark and with over 8 hours in the saddle caution was the order of the day.

Down through the valleys, weaving to avoid the Saturday night wobble from pub to club and after another fuel stop arrived in Luddendenfoot and the next checkpoint. Navigation not made any easier by the local ruffians on pedal bikes who’d nicked all the control signs.

Hebden Bridge (23h15)
Arrived at the same time as a group of Harley riders who made parking a lot easier because of the glare from their SatNavs. Another control card session and discussion amongst the team about stopping for a rest somewhere. Though not massively behind schedule, we weren’t ahead of it by much and the twisty roads pointed to more like a 10am rather than 8am finish back at MIRA.

Based on route suggestions from the guys at the control, we continued up to Hebden Bridge and then took the A road across the moors to Haworth. The alternate minor roads offered by the CrapNav were probably a better daytime option. Great road, the twinkling lights below and a calm but cold nights. Only on the NRR would you find yourself running round Yorkshire at around midnight.

Plenty of pissed up locals thronging the streets of Ilkley and Skipton and after a quick stop to look at the map and then missing the turning to Embsay, we found ourselves at the next check at the still open Cavendish Arms

Skipton (0h15)
Time to pull on more clothing and for another comfort break. Discussion again on times etc and very conscious that the trip over to Leeds wasn’t a short leg. By now the traffic had cleared and we managed to pick up the pace down a now moonlit A65, with a couple of other riders in attendance. Past Otley and then the Leeds ring road and we headed out on the A64 to the Leeds check.

Leeds (01h00)
The lay-by was party central and like the Siren’s on the Rhine, we resisted all offers of drink (non-alcoholic, they wouldn’t have been separated from the strong stuff) and flap-jack and headed on a pace to the A1(M). Decided to up the pace on the now deserted motorways and flying down to the M62 and the M18 we covered the distance quickly (if somewhat tediously) down to the check at Thorne.

Thorne (02h00)
We’d been here last year, though much earlier in the day. Luckily the petrol station was still open (just) which meant we avoided a detour down the M18 to the services. Whilst the adjacent Scunthorpe and Doncaster checkpoints were not far away (a lot less than the map 25 miles), we’d already been warned that the trip to Beverley was nearer 32-35 miles.

A blast down the M62 (past the site of one of my worst speeding offences in a hire car), along with some formation flying and then off on an obscure B-road which took a couple of stops and CrapNav checks to confirm the route. Still made a mistake, which luckily only meant a short detour before heading back up to the checkpoint hidden in a large layby (things are always bigger in Yorkshire).

Beverley (02h45)
We needed to stop and hindsight being what hindsight was, we should have stopped here in the large quiet layby, with offers of coffee and food (apologies to the guys on the control).

Not been across the Humber Bridge before and the £1.20 for bikes makes the Severn Bridge free crossing for bikes seem even more generous. Still too dark for excellent views and I tried to capture the ambiance on the GoPro helmet camera.

Scunthorpe (03h30)
One guy parked in the football club car park. Any thoughts of a stop were quickly dispelled and we pushed on to Gainsborough, for one of the shorter legs, which was a welcome change from the recent long sections.

Bit of confusion in a village where we turned off towards Cottingham, with a succession of turns and people shooting off. We were getting tired.

Gainsborough (04h00)

Just before 4am and a few of the locals were still drinking in the pub. Time for a coffee and in Lee’s and Roger’s case time for a kip. Arrived in the gloaming and by the time Graham and I went for a walk around Cottingham the sun was coming up. Lee woke himself up with his snoring and Rog responded from his sleeping spot under the dart board.

Rog’s attempt to remount his bike involved a swagger reminiscent of John Wayne after dismounting from a particularly long ride through the Badlands. The coordination was also going with multiple attempts to get the right clothes in the right place.

Roger (or some clone of him)

Good run down the A15 and bang-on through the middle of Lincoln, obeying the lights event if we were the only people around.

Lincoln (06h10)
All quiet at the check 7 miles south of Lincoln, with a couple and a camper van. Sun now up but not warm. Nice empty roads and a quick blast down a straight lane brought us to a twisty road towards Grantham and traffic. A sharp turn to the right and a recently sprayed in gravel lane brought us to the A1(M) and the next checkpoint..

Grantham (06h45)
Consisted of one bloke asleep in a deckchair in the middle of the Moto services. Gray was still dreaming of the brolly dollys from last years checkpoint at Grantham Honda and still bemoaning the fact that Rog and I had to drag him away. No problems this year, but still time for more fuel for the bikes.

The CrapNav had chosen the longer, but more main road route of the A53 / A46, which also meant avoiding most of the Leicester ring road. Still cold as the road of tedium (aka A46 at 40 mph in the roadworks) took hold. Probably the worst bit of the journey.

Leicester (07h45)
After constant yawning down the A46, the stop at the the bike club hut in Leicester bought a welcome cup of tea, to the background video of Wild Hogs. Plenty of people getting ready for the last leg to MIRA and still some humour though lots of the Platinum riders getting a little jaded.

Leicester and we're still smiling.

MIRA (09h15)

The special test results has Gray on 28, Malcolm on 32 and Roger on 34. None of us good enough to win overall, but a pretty okay team score (and better overall than last years. Roger wasn’t second this time. Lee’s score was higher and put down to first time special test nerves.

Picked up the plague and went to look for a cup of tea, with steely determination not to endure another breakfast. However, one sight of Lee’s fry up changed my mind and the breakfast was acquired. Graham also succumbed with only Rog holding out for the poached egg.

Decided not to hang around for too long and set off with Graham back down the M69 / A46 and then back to Hereford cross country, with another lap of the Alcester / Inkberrow / Worcester road (though failed to take it steady). Back home for a cup of tea before Graham headed on for Cardiff.

My body was then feeling a bit broken, with blood-shot eyes, numb bum and severe weariness. 6 hour’s sleep helped, its going to take a couple of days to recover. As for Roger, it all seemed a lot worse.

I’m writing this on Tuesday, whilst on a flight to Munich and my rear end has developed some form of memory, which meant that I decided not to take the bike to the airport and chose the van instead.

That said, if you are a new biker, or have a new bike, doing 18-20 hours of the NRR is a great way to acquainted with your bike. You become one. If as Flann O’Brien claims in ‘The Third Policeman’ that extended time with your bicycle on rough council roads means that atoms are interchanged and that man becomes part bike, then this may explain my affection for things two wheels.

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