Saturday was Somerset Advanced Motorcyclists' South West Peninsular Spring Rally
. You plan a route taking in manned and unmanned checkpoints, having as leisurely or hectic a day as you wish, sticking to major roads or exploring country lanes. The rally is designed to take you along some of the best roads Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall have to offer, visiting tiny villages and answering questions (of the 'What is the date carved on the wall of the school?' variety) to prove you've been. Last time
, Howard and I went for the Gold level plus the Land's End award. This year we chose a less hectic schedule, planning for Bronze (one manned checkpoint and nine unmanned), maybe Silver (two manned, twelve unmanned) if we felt like it and had time. Our day started with a ride from Dorchester to Wells, where my friend Paul from the scooter forum, who would be accompanying us, had kindly offered breakfast. Fortified by toast and map-reading, we set off for the start point in Langport, arriving fifteen minutes too late to register. Luckily, SAM were pretty relaxed about it and let us sign in anyway.
Our first stop was Watchet, on the coast, and our first task to identify the 'red object at the western end of the harbour' (a decommissioned seamine). Encouraged by the ease with which we had found it, we set off for Upton, which allowed me to make my fabulous 'Upton Girl' joke (she's been living in her Upton world).
The countryside was bursting with daffodils, sheep, and, on one occasion, daffodils I mistook for sheep until I got quite close. Some of the clues were easier than others, and we passed through Barbrook three times, in the pouring rain, looking for the village hall, before stopping at a petrol station and realising we were opposite it. (It was an excellent petrol station, with a resident cat and dog and one of my favourite ever local paper headlines: MARAUDING GOATS DRIVEN OUT OF TOWN.)
With four checkpoints under our belt, we made for Ilfracombe, our first manned control. This was in a cafe, and we seized the opportunity to stop for lunch (I enjoyed a cheddar and pineapple panini, not a menu item you see every day). Now it was time to decide whether to do the Bronze award, with a reasonably early finish, or go for Silver. Despite the rain, the three of us agreed to give Silver a shot.
Up on Dartmoor the weather closed in, with fog so thick that nothing was visible to either side and Paul's tail lights vanished if they got more than ten metres ahead. It was cold and wet and I kept thinking about the Hound of the Baskervilles, and when we reached our second manned control at Princetown, twenty minutes before it closed, I wasn't sure I could carry on.
We got a warm welcome at the control, however, plus tea and jaffa cakes, and set off again encouraged. The mist thinned, and the moorland became mysterious and beautiful. Two unmanned controls within a few miles of each other, and we were well on our way to finishing.
We ticked off the last of our twelve controls in the dusk just outside Tiverton, and hit the motorway for the return to Langport. When we walked into the pub shortly before 9PM we got a round of applause, a certificate, sticker and T-shirt, and a hot meal. It was a 370-mile day by the time Howard and I got back, which is high mileage considering the number of stops and how little of it was motorway, and a satisfying day's riding.