A Good Day Out

I like long runs, and as I enjoy riding by myself sometimes, it can feel quite isolated especially if you are a fair way from home. This is why the Vintage Motorcycle Club Millennium Relay Rally seemed to be a good day out.

The Inter had just been rebuilt after damaging the main bearings during the Manx Grand Prix last September and I needed to do some miles to bed it in. Having checked everything thoroughly on the Saturday I went to bed early to get an early start.

Up with the lark on Sunday, went to get the bike out of the shed and found a flat front tyre typical. Still, I can put in a new tube and get to my start point if the tube change goes OK which, for once, it did. So we finally leave Bracknell about 7.15am to our start point at Old Sarum. Although this was not the nearest start point, it did open at 8.00am, an hour and a half before most of the other start points. Left the M3 at Basingstoke (the idea was to keep off main routes where feasible) and past Popham airfield where I hope to finish in about 9 hours time. The old A30 is a wonderful bit of road, almost dead straight for nearly 30 miles it shows its roman past very clearly. Traffic is nil at this time in the morning, the bike is feeling good, the sun is starting to burn off the morning mist and all’s well with the world. From Mitcheldever through Sutton Scotney and Stockbridge to reach our start at Old Sarum airfield. Arrive about 8.20, blast I have not gained any time back, but at least my first estimate of an hour to do the first 60 miles is OK. There are several people signing on here who have travelled a lot further than we have, to make the most of the early opening time.

8.30 and back in the saddle to start the first leg to Wells, traffic still light, the exhaust of the Inter rattles a few windows as we pass through Wilton and back onto open roads. The B3089 is a good shortcut through Teffont Magna and Hindon, where The Lamb has been an inn for drovers and stagecoaches for centuries. A short stretch of A303 then back to country roads with traffic starting to build. As we approach Shepton Mallet there are bikes heading to and from the classic bike show but we have no time to dally yet. On to Wells and the first check, I used to know Wells from my pot-holing days . I know where the check is, so like the idiot I am, I make straight for the check instead of following the signs. Big mistake! After disentangling myself from several laps of a new one way maze we finally make the check right outside the cathedral. 9.50 still 20 mins behind schedule, but after 110 miles that’s acceptable. Check the Inter over all seems good so on to Bristol.

Bad traffic up to Bristol and the 50mph speed limit on open roads has knocked our time table out considerably, the clutch is dragging a bit due to slipping the close ratio box, so its good to get to the check at the SS Gt. Britain. Now up to 130 miles but nearly 11.00

Quick cup of tea, refuse a free look at the ship as time is pressing, decide to use the dreaded motorway to make up time, so its down the Avon gorge to the M5 now to blow the cobwebs out! A steady 80 up the motorway and the old bike really seems to like it! Turn off before Gloucester back onto the A38 that we would have used if we were on time and into the South Cotswold control at Cambridge. Gained back quite a bit of time now 11.30 and 160 miles on the clock, but the bike gets a fit of the sulks and needs a bump to get going. Now we turn toward our furthest point west.

Around Gloucester on the ring road traffic is heavy but not for long as we leave the A40 for the quiet roads toward Hereford, good motorcycling country this and the Inter really becomes fun, if a bit bouncy. Up to Newent, turn right toward Ledbury and too soon we arrive at the next point of call at Much Marcle. This is the only check where we did not see anyone else in although as we left, some other riders were approaching. Now up to 193 miles but I am loosing track of the time, (about 12.20 I think) .

The next bit of the route was a right mixture. Over the Malvern Hills, back toward civilisation dodging wayward walkers (who could not fail to hear the Inter even if they were walking on the wrong side of the road), with wonderful views in all directions. Down into Malvern itself with some truly foul traffic. The next check duly turned up just north of the town. This is the shortest stage of the run, now at 210 miles at about 1.00pm.

Had another check over the bike as we had both got hot and bothered in Malvern put a pint of Castrol R in the bike and a pint of Best Bitter in the rider. We started off again but within a mile of the check drivers were gesticulating at us in an unusual manner (i.e. not the signs that say it takes them twice as long). On stopping I found my top box had come open and strewn half my kit down the A449. Amazingly I managed to retrieve all of it including camera, overtrousers, and route sheets without damage. The next section was via Worcester, Pershore and Evesham on the A44. This looked bad on the map, but another look showed the A4538 running parallel to the A 44, this looked a better option and so it proved to be, except that there seems to be a lack petrol on this road. Plenty of petrol stations, but none open on a Sunday how quaint! We ran through a few showers around this area, just the sort to wonder weather to put on waterproofs or not, but time and lunch are pressing so we go on toward the next stop at Chipping Campden. Just after Evesham we got lost, it took a while to sort out as I didn’t know the area very well, and I only had home made route notes with me. I thought this would turn my leisurely lunch into a quick sandwich but on arrival at the Lygon Arms in Chipping Campden, what a sight. I think half the rally had decided to lunch here for there were bikes everywhere. Even the coach parking bays had been requisitioned, but the non-plussed coach drivers did not seem to want to take on several dozen motorcyclists. Their foreign tourists however had a great time taking photos of rather less ancient relics than they had envisaged.
As well earned pie and a pint were partaken of, a ‘well-wisher’ thoughtfully pointed out that the rear luggage rack had fractured on one side. Our first aid kit contained lots of plastic ties for just such an emergency so it was only a few minutes to bodge, but of course if one side has gone the other will probably follow it. Now up to 255 miles but running very late at about 2.30pm

Left the village in company with another Inter but he soon turned a different way, That’s the best of this type of event, people come and go from every point on the compass, you may see them later, you may not. For us its down through the Cotswolds now, good motorcycling roads for miles! Down to Stowe then fork toward Cirencester down The Fosseway to the Check at Northleach. Gained time here now 275 miles 3.00pm

An unfortunate incident occurred at Northleach just after we arrived, a very pretty tiger 100 caught fire as it was being started but prompt action with a spectators handy extinguisher limited the damage to mainly wiring and cables but one persons rally was over. Not ours fortunately so its on again, this time to Swindon. Again good fast roads allowing the Inter to show its pedigree The control was conveniently situated just off the A 419 so we did not need to cook up in the town centre. Arrived at the control, this was the pub in which the local VMCC members meet. A lot of the controls are at ‘friendly’ pubs and this was particularly so judging by the ribald remarks from some of the locals when the bike had another sulk, apparently the rally had given them an extra excuse to stay at the pub all afternoon. Also the other side of the rear carrier had now fractured, more plastic ties soon had us running again. Never mind 300 miles now and 3.45pm its going to be touch and go to get to the last control before it closes.

Prior planning showed a good side road in the direction I was going, the B4000 via Lambourn downs and the valley of the Racehorse joining the A34 at Newbury. This is again a superb cross country route if a bit bumpy on a springer and a serious watch had to be kept for horses as the Inter has a reputation for announcing itself before its actual arrival. On to the A34 at the infamous Newbury by pass and press on toward Andover. Now its time to give the bike its head, the A34 is very fast here (roadworks permitting) and I wont say how fast we were going but not much overtook an ageing rider and a 1952 Norton Inter. Down to the A303 and turn toward Popham airfield. This check was run in conjunction with a ‘fly in’ at the airfield so there was lots still going as we pulled up at the final control after 345 miles at 4.45pm, 15 min. before the check closed.

By now my wrists, which I had strapped up before starting out, felt like they belonged to someone else and indeed I wished at this time, they did. So a quick look round the airshow as time is no longer my master. A few drinks and a burger how much? And its off home returning to Bracknell 11 hours after leaving it. We covered 380 miles in that time, most of that actually in the saddle, using 2 pints of ‘R’ (about right) and returning about 60 to the gallon. Stiff and sore but with great respect for the bike that apart from a couple of starting sulks didn’t miss a beat.
How about a club run next year?

Chris Norton