Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden
huskyteer

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Points West

This weekend was Somerset Advanced Motorcyclists' South West Peninsula Spring Rally, a navigational challenge across three counties.

Howard set his alarm for six AM, then got up at quarter to and made me breakfast. Win! We left for the start point, V&J Superbikes in Bridgwater, an hour later, the pink and lilac sky turning to blue with yellow clouds and a double rainbow.

The rally takes the form of a treasure hunt. There are four manned checkpoints where you get your card stamped, and nearly fifty unmanned ones in villages, at which you have to answer a question to prove you'd been. These tended to be along the lines of 'Which Saint is the church named after?' or 'What is the date on the war memorial?'

(It did occur to me that you could visit the manned checkpoints, then go home and look everything else up on Google Streetview. But where would be the fun in that?)

The list of checkpoints had been sent out a couple of weeks before the rally, and Howard and I had been poring over routes ever since. We'd decided to go for the Gold award, which meant visiting three manned and fifteen unmanned controls, and to include Land's End, which meant picking up the Land's End award too.

We received our question sheets and were signed out from Bridgwater at 8:04, headed for our first checkpoint, Crowcombe. We had until 10PM to complete our mission and return. It was on!

The third checkpoint was Stoke Pero, a hamlet near Porlock, marked on the control card as 'challenging'. According to Howard we took the less challenging of the two roads in, which still involved a lot of single-track, two cattle grids and a ford.

Halfway through this water feature the handlebars started flapping and I had one of those moments when you know you're going to come off and start contemplating how much it's likely to hurt and how badly your bike will be damaged, then suddenly you're through and somehow still upright.

A couple more checkpoints before signs welcomed us to Devon. After a damp start the sun came out somewhere after Challacombe, and the countryside was bursting with Spring life: daffodils, lambkins and little Exmoor foals.

We had coffee at Ilfracombe, our first manned checkpoint, and lunch at Princetown, the second. The SAM members were all brilliant, making sure we were greeted, refreshed, informed, rested and finally photographed as we left.

I'd ridden in this part of the world before, but never explored it so intimately. Across Exmoor and Dartmoor, down country lanes and on one occasion through a farmyard, much to the indignation of a large Muscovy duck; past ploughed fields, through lush woodlands, and finally to the sea.

Some of the villages were so small they were barely signposted, or not at all, but between us we worked things out. We wrote down a post box number in High Bullen, the brand of beer sold at the pub in Halwill Junction, and named the unusual object parked in a garden at a bend in the A3059 (a Spitfire).

Sometimes a cluster of bikes alerted us to the location of a clue; sometimes another rider followed us and stopped alongside. There was no rivalry - everyone wanted everybody else to succeed too.

Our last manned checkpoint, Perranporth, was the point of no return: should we commit to Land's End and risk losing everything if we didn't make it back in time? We decided to go for it.

The toe of Cornwall, in the golden 5PM sunlight, was well worth the journey, and we made time for a photo after getting our cards stamped at the Land's End Hotel.

The super-organised Howard had prepared not only a Plan B but a Plan C, in which we ditched scenic routes for faster roads and more convenient checkpoints. We switched to this plan after pretty Mousehole, travelling back towards Bridgwater on the A30 and bagging our last three points on the way.

Racing away from the setting sun, we reached our last stop, Tedburn St Mary ('What is written above the door of the parish church?') in the dark.

Here I would like it noted that I snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at the eleventh hour (well, at twenty to nine), first by spotting the church tower on the skyline and then by finding a side gate into the churchyard when the main one proved to be locked.

Howard would like it noted that he had brought a torch, without which I wouldn't have been able to read the sign.

The answer to the clue was 'Surely the Lord is in this place', and with appropriate thanks to Him we set off for the M5 and Bridgwater.

It was a tense ride, as my 200cc Vespa was only managing 70mph indicated (around 64 true) and time was ticking away.

We arrived back at V&J Superbikes with four minutes in hand, to receive T-shirts, badges, certificates and - especially welcome at the time - chicken curry and a choice of desserts.

Home at a quarter past midnight with a total of 560 miles on the clock.

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