This was the 2014 Brit Butt Rally. Regular readers may remember that two years ago we didn’t take the rally book literally and it cost us 10,000 points. This year we did take the rally book literally and it cost us 46 minutes which may not sound a lot during a 36 hour rally but it is…not as bad as 10,000 points though so things are improving. Perhaps next time we’ll get it just right!
After the normal odometer check, bike inspection, dinner and rider meeting we picked up the rally book for this year’s And now for something completely different rally, loaded the bonus locations into our mapping software and started to figure out where we were going. The weather forecast was pretty dire for England and Wales but had Scotland looking dry. Unfortunately the best route we could find, which used 30 of the available 80 locations, totally ignored Scotland. It was going to be a wet one.
Everyone convened in the Castleford Xscape Premier Inn car park around 05.30 the following morning ready for the 06.00 start. This seems to be the longest half an hour of the rally; everyone is standing around chatting, some are trying to psych you out (‘I’d got the winning route planned by 9.30 and was in bed by 10’) or maybe psych themselves in! Everyone’s wondering whether their route is going to work, whether they’re going to get wet, if the bike is going to break down, etc. etc.
Suddenly it’s 5 to 6 and people start to put their helmets on and get their bikes running. A last minute round of “Good luck” and we’re off.
We joined a small group of bikes at the first traffic lights and then rode with them to our first bonus stop which was a mystery stop nearby for a whopping 2000 points. We’d all been told to bring a kazoo so were dreading what we were going to have to do. As it happens, it wasn’t too bad. We all got off our bikes, got out our kazoos and were video’d by Chris (the Rally Master) kazooing (is that a verb?) Always look on the bright side of life de doo, de doo de doo de doo. It was a bit of a laugh and set us up nicely for the day ahead. Even Kevin seemed to enjoy himself! If you want a laugh, have a look at this.
It hadn’t taken long, we felt good that we’d got our first bonus and it was a big one. The next was ‘the oldest chemist shop in England’ in Knaresborough. It wasn’t worth a great deal – 250 points – but you could get an extra 100 by photographing the blue sign explaining about the shop.
We headed further north for our next stop, past the huge Temenos sculpture we’d visited a few years ago as part of the Grim Rider’s Sculpture Trail, and on to the Transporter Bridge in Middlesborough which was part one of a combination bonus. This bridge was built in 1911 and is apparently the only bridge in the UK from which you can bungee jump. I don’t think either of us has seen a transporter bridge before.You drive on at one end then the piece of road you have driven on to slides across to the other side. Fewer than two dozen were built worldwide according to Wikipedia. Four of them were built in the UK but only two are in operation today; the second one goes across the River Usk in Newport (guess where the second part of this combination bonus is…).
What was ‘completely different’ about this year’s rally was that the photographs of the bonus locations in the rally book were all very old and we had to identify where they were taken from then replicate them as closely as possible, e.g. “If there’s a tree and a castle in the photograph I want to see a tree and a castle in yours.” or something very similar was what we were told which was a clever idea. We spent some time trying to find the best spot to photograph from but to replicate the old photo of the bridge exactly we would have had to have been in the river so we got as close to it as we could.
Up to Newcastle to find The Globe pub. We found the pub but the horse and carts and houses in the original photo had been replaced with cars and a warehouse. Still in this area we visited Morpeth where we needed to show the historic buildings in the distance. A quick discussion and another squint at the photo helped us decide which direction to point the camera as there were old buildings in front and behind us.
We had quite a long ride now over the Pennines towards Cumbria and Cockermouth, scene of devastation a few years ago when the river flooded. No floods today and we were blessed with beautiful sunshine as we tried to find an old ironmongers. There were a couple of other riders at the location and we chatted to Gerhard who seemed to be riding a similar route to us. We searched in vain for the shop and in the end I went into a café to ask if he knew where Banks the ironmongers was. The guy came out of the café and pointed back down the street to the shop. It was about 50 yards beyond the bike in the other direction. “Oh, that one with the big sign saying ‘Banks’ above it!” said Kevin.
We were now in the heart of the Lake District and looking for a cottage in Grasmere where Sarah Nelson sold her famous gingerbread. The old photo showed a little cottage, which was formerly the village school, encased in trees and bushes. We could see a National Trust cottage but it really didn’t look right. The lady in the NT shop showed us the cottage and it was just round the corner from where we’d parked. A quick photo and then on to our next location which was where Beatrix Potter used to live. A few other riders had obviously been there already as the car park attendant knew exactly what was required and pointed us in the right direction. A quick walk up the path to pose in the doorway (exactly as in the original photo except I wasn’t wearing such elegant clothing), quick check in the Beatrix Potter shop to ensure we had the correct rabbit names for the supplementary quiz, then onwards.
It was quite busy round here but, despite being a bank holiday, the roads weren’t as congested as we feared. Against all expectations the weather was quite good as well. As we rode towards our next stop we had to go across Lake Windermere on a ferry. It all looked a bit abandoned and there were no other vehicles when we arrived. We established there was a ferry running and that it would be arriving in about 20 minutes. Great, time to use the handy facilities without losing any time. Whilst waiting in the sunshine Gerhard arrived and we chatted about our routes which seemed very similar. I said to him that if he was doing the same route as us it must be a winning one!
Whilst we were on the ferry Gerhard removed his waterproofs as the weather was so good. We told him that was not a good idea as we were sure him wearing his waterproofs was the only thing keeping the rain from falling. He wouldn’t listen and not long afterwards it started to rain and got heavier and heavier as the day wore on.
By the time we arrived in Bollington, Cheshire, to take a photograph of a monument called White Nancy, our outer clothing was soaking wet. You know how it is when it starts to rain, you think “Is it worth putting our waterproofs on? it doesn’t look like it’s going to last” and later “It’s not worth it now as everything’s already wet”. Luckily our textile trousers and jackets are waterproof, so we were dry inside.
We pulled up in a car park looking for the monument and couldn’t see it at all. A young family were taking a Sunday paddle just down the road so I trotted down to ask them. Quite a long discussion ensued, both parents suggesting alternative routes but both agreeing on one thing: it’s a long way up and you’ll have to walk.
There it was! At the top of the hill was a small white blob that had been built to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo in 1817. The instructions at the front of the rally book were quite explicit: ‘You must replicate the same photograph of how it looks today’. The photograph in the rally book was a close-up and we couldn’t take that from where we were. We’d had to walk and climb in previous rallies so we parked the bike and started to walk up the very steep path. As we got near the top I felt like I was one of those guys you see climbing Everest, one step at a time, rest, another step…eventually we got there but by then we were both sweating profusely; great, now we were soaked inside and out. We normally allow 10 minutes per stop and, on average, we’re back on the road quicker than that. We’d spent 46 minutes here which is a Very Long Time and were now behind schedule but we’d got the points. When we got back at the end of the rally we found out that with few exceptions most riders had looked at the steep climb, phoned back to base and been told it was never the intention to have people climb the slope, they could take the photo from the car park which was where the waypoint was. Really? What happened to ‘…the same photograph’? Oh well, that explains why the waypoint was so far away from the monument, you live and learn. Anyway, for those who didn’t get to do the walk and took the photo from the bottom, here’s the view from the top.
A couple of hours later we were still very wet, both inside and out, and because of that Kevin was quite cold but one of us had a heated jacket on (do I look smug in this?!).
We next found ourselves parked in Bridge Street, Chester, to take a photo of the Chester Rows; it was pouring. Taking care to make sure the composition of the picture was correct was a bit of a waste of time for most of the photos Kevin took here as all you could see in the photo was blobs of water on the lens. The last one was OK though and passed muster. As I was standing there waiting for the picture to be taken I kept getting run over by people coming down the steps and opening their umbrellas right by me.
It was still raining when we were in Shrewsbury to take a photo of the Market square and the Victorian post box. Again, we were careful to get the right angle. It was crucial to get this one right as it was another combination bonus. (Combination bonuses are where two or more bonuses are linked to give extra points if you get both/all of them. This can add quite a few points when the individual bonuses are often low value on their own.). I got told off a short while later after I waited to pay for petrol, then ordered and waited for a Subway roll, took it outside then went to the loo. Apparently I should have ordered the roll and gone to the loo while Kevin was filling the tank then paid for the fuel and food. These rallies aren’t about riding fast everywhere, they’re about planning an efficient route and keeping going. Every minute stopped is wasted time so he was quite right as it cost us quite a lot of time doing it my way. I made sure I had my act together at the next stop.
By the time we’d reached Leominster for the Watsons Motor Works photo it had stopped raining but Kevin was still wet and quite cold. I persuaded him to stop long enough to change his t-shirt for something warmer and drier before we moved on to part two of the transport bridge combination. That was more time lost but a good investment. In Newport we met another couple of participants. Meeting so many other riders on a scatter rally like this is unusual in our experience as there are so many bonus locations and route combinations. We came to the conclusion everyone must be riding a variation of the same route. We suspect that’s not the case but that’s how it seemed.
The picture of Brislington’s Arnos Castle in the rally book made it look like a prison building but we still expected something reasonably majestic, even if it had been built as a folly out of preformed blocks of copper slag in 1755. What we weren’t expecting was a pub in the corner of Sainsbury’s car park that, despite being grade 1 listed, looked rather sad and pathetic. That’s part of what we love about rallies like this, they take you to places you’d never have seen without them. Some are good, some not so good but it all adds to the experience and this ‘castle’ certainly was ‘something completely different’ and interesting. As you can see from the photo below, the lens was still wet from earlier.
We had a number of bonus locations we’d classed as optional dependent on whether we were running early, on time or late. We were late, too late for the ‘daylight-only’ location in Bray as it would be dark by the time we got there, but not so late we had to miss the ‘any time’ locations just before it. Unfortunately they were average points, but took a long time to ride to. During the day the roads would have been perfect riding roads but at night on slippery wet roads they weren’t fun. Nevertheless, we managed to bag 615 points at the Royal Oak in Pewsey, Wiltshire, then another 765 points an hour later in Oxford at the Flying Horse. Again, trying to get the photo just right, in the dark, was time-consuming. Oh, did I mention it was raining again?
We generally try to avoid London but there were three bonuses in or around that great city. Our first was in Eton, the Cock Pit, which was the scene of many cock fights in the 17th and 18th centuries. We drew up outside and prepared to take the photos – one of the pub and a second of the post box adjacent to it. As we were doing that three young men came up and started to chat to us. They were in shirt-sleeves and dry so it must have stopped raining. Not so sure how dry they were inside as they kept asking us funny questions. We try not to be rude when people want to chat but we had to get going so I gave them one of our cards and suggested they look on our blog which would explain what we were doing and about the Iron Butt Association. If you are one of them – Hello, nice to meet you and we hope you got home safely. It looked like you were having a good evening :-).
Now we were off to the centre of London to Selfridges. We couldn’t believe how busy it was, lots of people around and lots of vehicles. Funny how we always seemed to get the red traffic lights as well. It was getting so bad that Kevin was beginning to regret the stops and was reminded how heavy the clutch is on the FJR. Our last London stop was the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell. We spent ages trying to get this photographed as it was really dark there apart from some very bright street lights that blasted any detail out of the photo. We decided in the end that enough was enough and it would have to do; it did.
OK, so that was London. Our next stop was to be in Shoreham to take a picture of the lighthouse – the first of two which made up a lighthouse combination. By now it was gone 01:00 and we needed to find somewhere to have our compulsory sleep break which we were ready for. As we rode down the A23 we tried a couple of service areas that were advertising beds. The first, at Pease Pottage, didn’t have anywhere to sleep despite saying it did on the signs. That was a bit annoying as the service area was a short distance away from the dual carriageway. The next one had a Travelodge but was full so we carried on to the lighthouse which was built in 1846 and marks the entrance to the harbour. It was very dark but we managed to get something in the camera. It wasn’t an easy photograph to take and took a couple of attempts but you can clearly see the lighthouse with the houses in the background which was a requirement for the photo.
When we originally looked at all of the bonus locations we saw there were some not far from where we live but we couldn’t put a decent route together that would allow us to take the sleep break in our own bed. Our next stop was in that direction, in West Malling, so we decided to ride back up to the M25 and rest in the Clacket Lane service area. It was very quiet there and we snuck into the comfy seats in the closed Costa café. There were large signs all over the place warning about penalty charges if vehicles were there for more than two hours. I checked to see if that included motorcycles and was informed it applied to all vehicles. Rather than risk a ticket we paid up. I tried to argue that we only needed to pay for an hour but it was still the same – TWELVE QUID! That’s just daylight robbery (well, night time robbery but you know what I mean). Still, cheaper than a fine would have been.
We had some food and a couple of hours sleep/rest and got out of there just before 07:00. Guess what, it was absolutely tipping down with rain again and this time we did put our waterproofs on. Of course, a few miles down the road it stopped. Presumably Gerhard had put his waterproofs on as well.
We rode into West Malling to take a picture of what used to be the airfield control tower and is now in the middle of a housing estate. Parking in front of a building we assumed was it, a quick investigation showed there were enough of the original building elements to confirm it was correct. Another bike came in and it was John. After a quick chat John took our photo – it’s nice to get pictures with both of us in, thanks John.
We all moved off towards Canterbury – our home patch – and a picture of the old West Gate. You can see from the photos that after the rain the weather had much improved. It was definitely more promising than the day before.
We were aiming for a timed bonus at a first World War aerodrome which opened at 10.00 and left us time to pick up some locations in Essex. The first one was a photo of the back of the Lobster Smack in Canvey Island, an inn mentioned in Dicken’s Great Expectations and famous for its bare knuckle fights in the 1850’s. The second was a rather Art Deco café, on the Canvey Island sea front, designed to resemble the bridge of the Queen Mary liner. Kevin nearly got his feet wet trying to take the exact photo required as the tide was in but managed a reasonable approximation. We were intending to go to the third Essex bonus at Southend Pier but abandoned that idea about 5 miles from the pier because we’d been stuck in a 25mph traffic jam for a couple of miles. It didn’t look like the traffic was going to improve and we were in danger of getting this one at the expense of a higher value bonus later in the day.
Our 10 o’clock timed bonus was the Stow Maries Aerodrome, an interesting place with several wartime buildings decorated in the way they were during the first World War. It was a shame we didn’t have time to look around properly as I’m sure it would have given a good insight into what it was like for the men stationed there. Dave was already there and pointed to where we needed to take the photo as we rode in – there’s always a great camaraderie amongst the participants.
From wartime fields to ancient mills, our next stop was the famous Flatford Mill, recorded for posterity in several of John Constable’s paintings. It was a beautiful setting on a beautiful day and a pleasure to visit. We took the opportunity to divest ourselves of our waterproofs and big gloves. Heaven!
Our last few bonuses were in East Anglia where one of the rally’s top points bonuses was located in Great Yarmouth. We had considered going there but my mother lives nearby and we know how busy it can get on a bank holiday; it didn’t seem worth the risk. Instead we cut up through the middle of East Anglia to Mildenhall and its 15th century Market Cross then on to the sleepy village of Wymondham to capture the Green Dragon.
Our last combination bonus stop was the lighthouse in Hunstanton. We pulled up next to it and were immediately joined by Debi. We had a quick chat then noticed we were parked in the wrong place to achieve the correct photo. After we’d moved Debi obliged by taking another photo with both of us in, thanks Debi.
Our last stop was the Village Hall in Dowsby, Lincolnshire, on our way back to the hotel. Once that was snapped we just had to make our way back, trying to avoid the traffic. We realised later that we should also have visited the shop used in Ronnie Barker’s Open All Hours sit-com but missed it when transcribing the waypoints we intended to visit. Fortunately that wouldn’t have made any difference to the result.
Back at the hotel we pulled together our paperwork, which is my job, then sat at the table for marking. Sleep Stop: Check, no problems. Fuel Log: 5 receipts, 1: OK, 2: OK, 3: “No, the time is wrong, sorry” said Rick who was checking. Horrified, that means 1250 points lost (equivalent to a high bonus). I couldn’t believe it. But he’s right, the receipt clearly shows 23:10, and I’d put 23:08 on the fuel log. 4 and 5: both OK. “Hang on, may I check that receipt again?” I really couldn’t believe I’d made such a stupid mistake. I could understand a 6 instead of an 8, but an 8 instead of a 10? That didn’t make any sense at all. I scrutinised the receipt and sure enough, in the middle was 23:10. Where had I got 23:08 from? THERE IT WAS!!! 23:08 at the bottom. The 23:10 Rick had seen was the credit card transaction time, 23:08 was the correct fuel receipt time. Smiling, Rick said “OK, that’s good, I don’t like people losing points” and it was allowed.
All our photos were OK and we scored quite highly on the picture quiz. I just wish I’d thought about gingerbread for the food picture instead of brownie, still, not too bad.
That’s scoring over with now into the rider meeting to see how we did. Kevin was unhappy with the route he’d created but then he always is. His guess was we’d be somewhere around fifteenth. By the time it got to the top ten we were still sitting and remained there until the top three were called to the front of the room. Third place went to a rookie – well done Lee on your first rally. Then it was between our good friend John and us. Congratulations to John for beating us by around 900 points. He’d also found a route that included southern Scotland so had remained dry for most of his ride.
Thanks to Chris, Bev, Phil and the army of volunteers for making this another excellent rally weekend. We had a great time despite getting rather wet. We didn’t enter last year’s rally as it was on a bank holiday and we’ve had some really congested and unpleasant rides in the UK on bank holidays. If we’d checked the date before sending our application we wouldn’t have entered this one either but we were pleasantly surprised by the traffic which wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we’d anticipated. The lack of traffic was obviously some compensation for the rain and we’re glad we participated.
This was our second rally on our FJR and we’d come second in both of them; good results but we both agreed we’d sooner have been on the GSA or Ténéré as they are lighter and more comfortable. Consequently that’ll probably be the last time we rally on an FJR and this one no longer resides in our garage. Mind you, we said we wouldn’t have another one once before and that was two FJRs ago!