I’m still sleepy despite two really good nights’ sleep and I have muscle aches where I didn’t know I had muscles! Why? Our latest rally, the Wolfhound.
Designed by Chris McGaffin of IBA Ireland and Robert Roalfe, aka Grim Rider, the Wolfhound was a 2-leg UK and Ireland rally run over 75 hours and the most complex rally we’ve competed in to date. Leg 1 started at 08:00 on Thursday near J10 on the M42 and finished when we crossed to Ireland which could be any time we wished within the next 75 hours. Leg 2 finished at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Dublin on Sunday at 11:00 with penalty points for anyone arriving after 10:30.
The rally books were sent out a month in advance and boy did we need that time to get routes. Every time we thought we had a good route we’d spot another bonus we wouldn’t be able to get as we’d arrive at the wrong time – night time for a daytime-only bonus or vice versa, outside opening hours, etc. Chris and Rob are two very evil men who must have put a lot of effort into thwarting riders’ plans when they designed the bonuses; it was very well done.
Eventually we’d settled on a route we were happy with and then it was my job to look at the bonus locations to ensure they looked OK; there were also lots of extra bonus points to be won. We’d made a mistake in the 2011 Brit Butt rally by choosing not to do the ‘name bonus’ so we were determined to make the most of the extra bonuses available in this one. For Leg 1 it was county/country signs and any road signs with animals. For Leg 2 it was any village or town sign with the word Ballycontained within it. I spent ages looking through our routes to spot the places where the county boundaries were and choosing the optimum ones where the county in and out signs were close by. We had to wing the animals signs by just spotting and stopping; not always easy and despite sailing past at least two ‘deer’ signs we didn’t ever get a photograph of one of those.
Thursday: 852 miles
24 riders had entered the rally but by the time we arrived at the rally start early on Thursday morning there were only 10 starters, 12 including the two pillions. We spent some time verbally abusing the rally masters who cheerfully admitted they were very proud of how complex they’d made it. After a short meeting where we were handed our rally ‘flags’ we were off. Our number was 06…or was it 90?
Our first stop was a short hop up the motorway to a location where three counties converge. En route we spotted our first animal sign – an elephant. 200 points and we’d only been going 10 minutes! Two more quick stops for the Warwickshire/Leicestershire and Staffordshire boundaries. We were delighted that these signs also had a bear, fox, lion and griffin showing which bagged us a total of 1100 points.
We were off to Wales for our next stops – Ebbw Vale, Oxwich Castle, Milford Haven and Fishguard. This last stop was along the coast and down a very narrow road so we were getting some early practice in for our Ireland leg. As the afternoon progressed we stopped at an original AA box by Devil’s Bridge and then moved off to the café at Aberdaron which was also at the end of a narrow road. Unfortunately we were there too late to get extra points for a drink and cake receipt which was a shame ‘cos I like cake!
We were then into the evening and found ourselves in deepest Wales going cross country across moors. It was just our sort of countryside and we’d have dawdled to enjoy the early evening sunlight but we were on a mission and had a ferry to catch so will have to return another time to enjoy it better. Our next stop was to be ‘Itsy Bitsy Ifan’ (Ysbyts Ifan) for a Watermill which I’d found really difficult to spot on Google Earth. You’d think a big thing like that, which has to be on the river, would be easy enough to find but it wasn’t. Unfortunately the road to Itsy Bitsy was closed. Now what? We had to do the long detour anyway but would then have to backtrack down the other end of the closed road to photograph the watermill and time was pressing. We had a hard deadline to catch the Stranraer-Belfast ferry so we decided to give it a miss. It was hard to abandon the 595 points that were up for grabs there but it felt like the right decision.
We pushed on and bumped into Roland at our next stop, a 4000 year old Yew Tree in Llangernyw. He was relaxing having a quick ciggy and once we’d taken our photo we spent a few minutes chatting to him and then moved on. When we do these rallies it’s always a pleasant surprise to meet a fellow competitor. Like ships passing in the night you are both on your own separate journeys but it’s comforting to see a familiar face.
We bagged a couple of county signs en route to our next stop, a tiny ‘House of Correction’. I hope there weren’t too many miscreants in Hawarden because they’d have soon run out of room.
Moving out of Wales and up towards Scotland we had planned a couple of stops to photograph the Lancashire/Cumbria and Scotland/England/Dumfries and Galloway signs. The first pair of signs needed a slight detour so we decided to skip them because of time pressure. The Scottish border signs were right on the motorway making it illegal and dangerous to stop so we left those too.
We headed towards our ferry crossing at Stranraer and rode down the A75 thinking we’d be fine but would need petrol at some point before we got there. Mrs SatNav then took us onto another ‘A’ road but this time it was not a major route and we went through some beautifully fragrant forests that were home to Bambi and his family. Luckily the headlights were good enough to light them up as they appeared but it was somewhat disconcerting to be riding down a lonely road at night with deer bounding along beside us just off the road. It was a tortuous route and we began to think we were going to run out of petrol or miss our ferry. We’d obviously missed this ‘shortcut’ when we were checking the route.
Our last stop for the night was a key one for us as it was the second of a 3-part combination bonus for 5000 points – the Fisherman statue in Port William. It was dark and we had to get our torches out to find him. It looked quite easy to find on Google in the daylight but at night it was a different kettle of fish. We drove round the little area until deciding on the best place to stop and then marched off wielding our torches. Hawkeye Kevin saw him first. Both of us had to be in the picture with the statue and we were quickly on our way again.
We arrived at the port in Stranraer at 02:45 with 15 minutes to spare before they closed the ferry doors. We were pretty much running on fumes as we hadn’t found an open petrol station so we really hoped there would be one on the other side otherwise we’d be walking.
After boarding the ferry Kevin checked the IBA forum to see if there was any news. “Gerhard went straight to Ireland. That’s a clever strategy and I’m sure he’ll win as a result of it.” he said. Ah well.
End of Leg 1 with 10 of our 11 planned bonuses visited, 16 animal signs and 14 counties. We were feeling quite pleased with our progress. The route had worked out OK, we’d only missed one bonus, which wasn’t really our fault, and we’d made the ferry without too much drama.
We had a quick ‘breakfast’ on the ferry then settled down for a couple of hours kip.
Friday: 566 miles
The ferry docked and we rolled into a petrol station just after 06:30 where I was able to buy a plain chicken sandwich in preparation for later. I don’t mind going without food so long as I know there is some available if I need it. I had some sausage rolls in the top box but they were getting rather squashed and didn’t work out very well for this trip.
We rode through some of the Belfast suburbs which were interesting. There were areas where the Union Flag and Ulster Banner were hung on every lamp post and window (a sight we were to see in quite a few areas of Northern Ireland). In our naiveté we thought the ‘Troubles’ had been left behind but the presence of so many flags coupled with recent riots seem to indicate that is not to the case.
As we drove out into the countryside we were attacked by millions of flies. It wasn’t raining but it sounded like heavy drops of rain on my helmet. I just prayed that my neck tube was well tucked in! We could see the huge swarms as we rode into them and I hoped that the rest of Ireland wasn’t going to be like this otherwise I could see I’d have to keep my helmet closed all day. Fortunately we only saw this in one small area.
We did a quick detour next to capture one of the waypoints from the Grim Rider Race Circuits ride at Dundrod where we photographed the Joey Dunlop Grandstand. It’s weird coming across a grandstand in the middle of the country. It was looking rather overgrown, I guess it’s been a while since the last race. The Irish motorcycling heritage was apparent, as in the Isle of Man, by the majority of the motorists being very considerate to us. Irish drivers on both sides of the border are mostly very good but in Southern Ireland we saw some of the worst examples of driving we’d ever seen, we were sure some of the drivers could not ever have taken a test.
The Stress Free sign in Glenariff was our next stop. The area was advertised as the ‘Queen of Glens’ and I can see why – the scenery was stunning and very dramatic.
We took advantage of being in Ireland to complete our 2011 British Castles ride and detoured to Dunluce Castle to take the requisite photo. As we went along the top end of Ireland I kept seeing signs for the Causeway Coastal Route and hoped to be able to see the famous Giant’s Causeway. Unfortunately we didn’t which has added another very good reason to return as it’s something I’d like to see.
Our next official bonus point was a Pyramid hidden behind the main street in Garvagh. I was a bit concerned when I asked a couple of locals and they didn’t have a clue what I was asking about. It’s a bit like asking directions, you know instantly whether you’re in luck or not and if you’re not you want to escape as quickly as you can. The people were very friendly and it was difficult to get away. Luckily we finally got into the right car park and my Google research paid off. The pyramid was at the top of a small hill (thanks Chris) and we had a brisk walk up to it to take the photo. The weather was glorious and it was very tempting to stop at the picnic spot but we made do with a quick bite in the car park instead.
The following stop was a mortuary house in a small disused church yard near Dungiven. We took the photo then moved off to our next bonus which was also near Dungiven – a photo of a reservoir sign. We had a bit of a mix-up up here and found ourselves doing a 25 mile circuit when we realised we’d missed it; Kevin was rather annoyed with himself. We needed petrol and had a brief stop for some lunch at the same time and settled back down.
A derelict castle and a river sign were easily found and we moved off towards Rosbeg on the Donegal coast for a sad memorial to a couple of drowned fishermen. You can imagine the terrible impact losing two of this tiny community would have. The road gradually deteriorated into a narrow gravel-strewn track but the area was beautiful and very peaceful; again, we were very lucky with the weather.
A couple of hours later found us in a car park looking at a fishing sign. Unfortunately it didn’t look anything like the one we were looking for. There was a noticeboard box and a very new looking notice. The bike had to be in the picture and Kevin went down the rough steps towards the river to look for the correct sign. I was hoping he couldn’t find it as, knowing him, he would have ridden the bike down to it and that really wouldn’t have been a good idea. Luckily he found nothing and we called Chris to check about the sign. He said we might be on the wrong side of the river but if we took the photo and no-one else had the ‘right’ one he would allow it. We took the photo and moved off after having some discussion about what to do. Should we try to find the other side? No. Let’s just move on as we had some daylight only bonuses that we’d miss if we delayed too much. If it was right, fine, if it was wrong well we’d just chalk it up to experience. Nevertheless it’s very hard to let something like that go, especially as it was 1600 points. For quite a few miles I knew we were both thinking ‘what ifs’. Eventually you have to forget about it and move on. As it happened the sign had been changed and we did get the points.
Just round the corner (relatively speaking) was our next stop, another sign, which we photographed much to the amusement of a mother and child who were walking past.
We love old monuments and our next bonus location was a ‘Dolmen’, a Megalithic tomb, which has a very precariously balanced rock. It must be perfectly balanced to have lasted all this time (assuming it has of course). There was quite a walk to the tomb through very long grass which didn’t look particularly well-trodden. I guess by the time the rally had finished it would look well-worn. It was hot and I got quite worn out walking up the hill but we got the photo taken and had a sandwich as we walked.
Another pyramid was our next stop. We parked up and I went round the churchyard whilst Kevin wrote up the log. I was just about to give up when I saw a gate. I nearly didn’t go up to it as I was convinced the pyramid would not be outside the church yard but I looked and sure enough there it was. This one was bigger than the first one we saw but not so well built. We took the photo and carried on.
About an hour later we were parked up outside the Ballycahill Village shop but we didn’t see a sign for the village, so no extra bonus there. I looked over at the shop and saw a large rat run across the road and into the shop. I expect it lives in the thatch. The Irish are very friendly – as we were stood at the roadside a couple stopped to see if we were OK. I think they thought we were lost.
Our last stop of the day was a water pump. I’d seen what it looked like in Google Earth and we nearly stopped at a different one as we passed one that was very similar, obviously these were a national feature. When we did get into the village we parked up and a couple of very small dogs just yapped at us non-stop. Kevin swearing at them didn’t appear to help!
We finally arrived at the Travelodge in Limerick where we treated ourselves to 5 hours sleep. Bliss.
Saturday: 487 miles
We were up bright and early…well, early…and on the road again at 05:40. We had an appointment with a statue celebrating Bill Clinton’s visit to the local golf course. We both had to be in the photo and we were lucky enough to have the road to ourselves apart from the cheerful road sweeper. If a car had come round the corner that would have been our rally over as the camera, which was sitting in the middle of the road to take the picture, would have been flattened.
Fifteen minutes later found us in an old ruined church taking a picture of the 27m tall Rattoo Tower. Despite its decrepit appearance it was still cherished by the local community as evidenced by the flowers inside and the relatively recent grave in the churchyard. As we left we were held up by the local rush hour – milking time! I guess a lot of people go up the farm track to the church as the farmer didn’t give us a funny look but some of his cows did.
Our next stop was a statue of St Brendan the Navigator at Fenit and the instructions were ‘you must be at the summit of the memorial’. We rode up to the statue and I groaned at the thought of all those steps. Actually it wasn’t as bad as it looked and the views from the top were stunning.
Today’s main bonuses were out of the way places with high points. Knowing Chris this meant really bad roads combined with lots of walking, probably uphill. The Pedlars Lake bonus didn’t disappoint and had two options. The ‘easy’ one was to take a photo of ‘you and your flag with Pedlars Lake in the background’ the other one was ‘Remove your motorcycle seat. Take a picture of your flag, you and your seat beside the lake’ for an extra 1000 points.
You can’t see the lake from the road. There is a waterfall and you have to climb up the rocks to the top of this to get to the lake. We didn’t know what we’d find, expecting to have to walk a long way, but Kevin decided to take the seat anyway. We’d had the forethought to bring a rucksack with us the seat could be carried in. Pity that forethought hadn’t extended far enough to see if it fitted inside! We climbed up the rocks. Luckily our boots have good grip and give well-needed support to our ankles. It wasn’t too bad actually. Finally we got to the top and saw the lake. It was very close and there was a handily placed rock to put the seat on. Result! Kevin was really pleased he’d brought the seat as he admitted he would have felt compelled to go back for it if he’d left it behind.
On our way back to the main road we nabbed a further 65 points (not many, but you never know whether you’ll need them) by photographing the rather odd barrel with a pair of legs sticking out of the top. No doubt it brings the punters in to the pub which has the natty name of Ned NatterJacks.
The weather was a bit damp on this side of the country. As we got towards our next location the mist moved in. The Google Earth view of the Cottage Ruins near Ducalla we were looking for was fantastic – blue sea, green fields and picturesque ruins. What did we see? Not a lot. Mind you, the state of the road was such that it was probably a blessing that I couldn’t see the drop alongside the road as we bumped along ascending up, and up, and up into the fog. ‘Road’ is too good a word for what became a very narrow gravel track which was more grass than gravel and very bumpy.
Given this was worth 4100 points we wondered about the later bonus we planned to visit that was worth over 7000. Text messages with Chris were exchanged that started with Kevin calling Chris rude names and concluded with Chris telling us to stop yakking and get riding!
This one definitely got the ‘worst road’ bonus but on the whole the roads weren’t too bad except for the ones that were being repaired. I’d wondered where all the extracts from the numerous quarries went and we were soon to discover that a large percentage of it finds its way on to the roads. We came across lots of ‘slow, loose chippings’ type signs and the majority of them didn’t have any. On many others we’d ride far enough beyond the sign to conclude it was another false alarm only to ride into it just round the next corner. Occasionally we’d find stretches of road that had two to three inches of the stuff on it which was not fun at all.
By the time we got to Muckross Traditional Farm the sun had come out and it was very warm. Just what we needed for the yomp to the Large Farm House which was, needless to say, the one furthest away from the entrance. The lady at the desk gave us a discount as she knew all about us from “yesterday’s visitors”. On our way out she told us that there was another one of our party just on his way up and then I bumped into Steve. I tried to give him advice as to which way to go but for some reason he didn’t believe me ;-). The other person there was Gerald and we’d missed each other due to the ‘exit via the Gift Shop’ arrangement and afterwards he told us he’d been able to snap his photo without walking the whole way.
A very peaceful, sad, memorial to the Air India plane that was blown up off the coast was our next stop followed by our long anticipated ride to the 7459 point Sheep’s Head sign. Luckily we didn’t get much traffic on our way to or from the café and we enjoyed a bit of a break and some food and a drink while admiring the stunning scenery. We didn’t fall for the ‘combination bonus’ that would have reduced our 7459 points (+ 1001) to 5000. Naughty Chris!
By the time our next bonus stop arrived I was worn out. I’m not used to all the jumping on and off the bike this rally necessitated. My left knee was giving me merry hell and my arms were complaining. It’s not easy getting onto the bike when you’re my size especially if it’s parked on a slope. Unfortunately the Greyhound Bar was hidden away in a pedestrian-only area and Mrs SatNav was trying to take us the wrong way down a one way street. We resorted to parking and walking. Down hill. OK now but what about the way back???
Stop whinging girl! The last stop of the day was not far off and was the Elfordstown Earth Station, a futuristic establishment with lots of cool-looking equipment. This area in Ireland is often at the forefront of technology – the first trans-Atlantic cable ran from nearby Valencia Island in 1857. As I looked at those huge telescope thingies I couldn’t help but wonder who’s out there listening.
We rode to Waterford arriving at 21:45 for our overnight stop at another Travelodge. I wish I could say it was a long and restful night but it was disturbed by returning revellers and the iPhone alarm at 03:20.
Sunday: 238 miles
We rode out of Waterford in the dark and thought we were doing OK until Mrs SatNav announced ‘continue by ferry’. Not again! This happened to us last year in Germany so you’d think we’d have learned by now. It would have been brilliant – an extra 500 ferry bonus points – except the ferry wasn’t running that early so we had to retrace our steps all the way back to Waterford to use a bridge. Never mind. It still wasn’t light so we dawdled along as the next bonus was ‘daylight only’. I spotted another Bally sign and we turned off. As we approached the sign we overtook a couple of men staggering along. They tried to be helpful in case we were in need but seemed a bit incredulous that we were fine and all we wanted was a photo of their village sign. They would probably be accused of being drunk if they related the story later.
Our first proper stop of the day was the private Ballyhealey Castle. There are quite a few of these castles around which look like keeps. Anyway, another 1469 points bagged and I hoped we didn’t disturb the local residents too much at that time of the morning.
A very peaceful St Brendans Church was our next stop which was a combination bonus with the Brendan the Navigator statue and worth a total of 2000 points. There are lots of these little derelict village churches but they all seem to be still cherished and maintained in some way or another.
We weren’t sure we would have time for all our bonus stops today. For some reason our SatNav was giving us a longer than planned journey duration. Most of the stops were relatively small bonuses, but as they were all on our route back to the finish point we decided to do them anyway and see how we went.
Another Bally sign was near our next bonus point – a sign on the River Slaney. There were two river signs so we were careful to make sure it was the right one as you know how picky these rally masters can be. Then Clonmore castle for 401 points. Three Castles Fort was next where 2 photos had to be taken – Chris keeping us on our toes.
Finally we were heading towards our last bonus stop. We had set our 2nd SatNav to the Finish Post and kept an eye on that. If it got to the stage where it looked like we would be late we would abandon the bonus and head straight back because a late arrival, even by a second, means penalty points and eventually disqualification. We had about 10 minutes ‘spare’ as we rolled up to the gate at the end of the road to the Bailey Lighthouse (1296 points). Oh no, there was a ‘Private Road No Vehicles’ sign…or was there? Kevin obviously ‘hadn’t seen it’ so I found myself being ridden down the road. We got to a place where you could just see the lighthouse. That would do. Quick, get off, get the log done, take the picture, do a U turn and we’re off again.
The Dublin traffic wasn’t too bad but there were the odd one or two cars on Sunday Driver duty and, of course, we hit most of the traffic lights on Red. I could see the predicted arrival time on the Zumo. It was 10.27. Three minutes to spare!
No sweat. We arrived to be welcomed home by Debs and Bob who confirmed we’d made it on time. We were the last bike back. Everyone had made it to the finish point safely which is always a relief to hear.
Now, where’s that Jack and Coke for Kevin?
Postscript. When the results were finalised we’d come second with 83,323 points having ridden 2179 miles. We were rather pleased. Gerhard, as predicted, won the event.
It was tiring but we’d had a great time over the three days, a view shared by all of the other entrants. Thanks Chris and Rob for all your hard work and to the other riders, it was a fun event.
We’d ridden a little in Southern Ireland some years ago when we went over there to dive but we’d never been to Northern Ireland. We saw enough during this short trip to know that we want to return to Ireland and spend time exploring at a more leisurely pace as it’s a beautiful place with friendly people.
Here are all of our Wolfhound bonus photos plus other photos taken during the rally
Our track is below: