2004 Welsh National Rally
Trevor Fairbanks goes train spotting in the rain
If you have read our other rally stories you may recall that my ambition to get a tri-nations rally award in 2003 was thwarted by a broken collarbone. I had to pull out of the Welsh National rally but I did manage to do the English and Scottish National rallies. By entering the 2004 Welsh National rally I planned to do the next best thing which was to complete all three national rallies in less than a year, i.e. July 2003 to May 2004. This year's Welsh National rally was held over the weekend of the 8th/9th May.
A brief description of what the Welsh National rally involves follows. Basically there are two stages to it, a day time stage from Welshpool to Aberystwyth and a night time stage from Aberystwyth to a place called Castle Caereinion, near Welshpool. For the night time stage you had to visit 8 unmanned and 4 manned control points. For the day time stage you had to visit 2 manned and either 8 or 12 unmanned control points depending on whether you were entering for a higher award. At each manned control point you had your card stamped and for the day time manned control points you additionally had to answer a set of multiple choice questions. For example, how many teeth does your normal human have? 30, 32 or 34? The possible awards were bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The award you got depended on whether you did one or both stages and the number of unmanned control points in your day time stage (assuming you did that stage). If you do platinum you also need to do a 'special test' when you get to Aberystwyth. This year for the special test we had to throw three darts into a dart board! To prove that you had visted unmanned control points you're given a set of questions at the start of the rally that you have to answer along the way. There's a question for each control point that can only be answered by visiting the control point. For example, what date is shown on the front of the village school? There is also the Dragon award which this year involved visiting 4 railway stations during the day time stage. Again, you're given questions at the start of the rally which can only be answered by visiting the railway station. For those train spotters amongst you the following links will take you to the railways I visited.
- The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway
- The Llangollen Railway
- Welsh Highland Railway
- Fairbourne and Barmouth Steam Railway
I entered for the Platinum and Dragon awards. This involved doing both stages and for the day time stage visiting 18 locations (control points and railway stations) excluding Aberystwyth. The day time stage starts at 9am Saturday at Welshpool and you need to get to Aberystwyth by no later than 11.30pm if you're intending to do the night time stage as well. After a compulsory 30 minutes stop at Aberystwyth, you can start the night stage anytime between 10.00pm and midnight on Saturday night and finish no later than 9am Sunday morning at Castle Caereinion. The night time stage manned control points also close at 6am Sunday so you need to visit these before then. One other thing I should mention is that there was a choice for the day stage of either going north or south. Those of us who chose north suffered at continual heavy drizzle with the ocassional very heavy shower. There was no let up with the rain and drizzle during the day time stage. Apparently those who went south faired much better weather wise. Good for them!
Because Dave had told me time was tight I rode up to Welshpool on the Friday so that I could start the rally as early as possible at 9am Saturday. I stayed in an excellent B&B 3 miles north of Welshpool and got a very good night's sleep. A tip, for anyone contemplating doing a rally, I can't emphasise how important it is to get a good night's sleep the night before. There was a fair number of riders at Welshpool in the morning. A 9am I was registered, fully kitted up with wet weather gear and ready to go. I ran into the famous Burg Man rally phenomenon at the start. He had changed his Suzuki Burgman for an Aprilla 125 scooter for this rally. The funny thing about wet weather riding is that the thought of doing it is the problem not the actual doing it. Assuming you have decent kit, once you're riding it's not too bad. Quite enjoyable in some ways.
I think north Wales is a lovely place but I have to say that I came a bit unstuck with some of the town and village names. My usual technique of memorising the road numbers and place names prior to starting a leg didn't always work. I know the town started with Ll... but was it Llanrhaedr-ym-mochant or Llangynog? Consequently I got a bit lost at the start. The thing with the Welsh National rally is that there are many possible solutions for the route through the control points and there were bikes going in all directions at the start. Next tip for a rally, know your own route and don't follow any strange bikes as you never know where you may end up.
Things were going well until I tried to find the Llangollen Dragon railway station which I logically thought was at Llangollen but turned out to be miles away. I had a lot of trouble finding it and only managed to find it after talking to a friendly local. Dave had advised me to keep off the dirt tracks and with the water running down the roads I thought I would keep to the main roads to get to Horseshoe Pass and the Ponderosa Cafe. Unfortunately the main road was blocked due to an accident and I found myself dirt tracking on wet, muddy and gravel strewn single track roads on my fully loaded CBR. When I got there, Horseshoe Pass was covered in a dense fog. I almost went right pass the cafe. After I stopped it was funny to watch other riders do the same thing and see those forks compress under heavy braking as they rapidly slowed down to turn into the cafe.
The ride through Snowdonia was impressive and in a way the weather added to it. Riding down the side of a valley with a steep drop to the side while an angry looking cloud scrapes the top of a mountain is something that sticks in my mind. At a place west of Porthmadog called Criccieth I teamed up with a guy who I had kept bumping into at each control point. Seemed he was doing the same route and as our riding styles were compatible (don't say it) we thought we might as well team up. He used to be a despatch rider. Impressed? Turned out that I know his Mum. She works at the same place as me. Small world! Next rally tip, if you can take it in turns to lead on each leg it's less wear and tear on you than if you lead all the time.
It turned out there was a problem with the location of the Porthmadog Dragon railway station. It was 50 miles back in the direction we had just come! No, we didn't go back for it. We made our way from Porthmadog to Aberystwyth via the coast road stopping at various places. We passed the impressive Harlech castle and we were not far from number 6's village. Portmeirion for all of us old enought to remember 'The Prisoner' TV show. What stands out in my mind is that the coast road had big drain covers all over it and being an extremely wet day we did our best to avoid everyone of them. The one point of excitement was a toll bridge across one of the river estuaries. Have a go at riding across very wet wooden railway sleepers placed side-by-side sometime and you'll get an idea of what it was like. When we got to Aberystwyth around 8am a ray of sunshine broke through and raised my spirits. It lasted all of 2 minutes.
At the Aberystwyth TA centre we received our Dragon awards, had a meal of curry and chips and I caught up with some of the people who Dave and I had met on the 2003 Scottish National rally. I was pleased to see that the 'Chain Lady' had recovered from her post rally accident and enforced stay in Stirling Royal Infirmary. We took our platinum special test and I'm pleased to say I scored 63 with the darts. A complete miss, a treble 20 and a treble 1! In total we stayed for around two and half hours at the Aberystwyth TA centre before setting out on the night time stage at around 10.30pm. The first stop was at Devil's Bridge. It was pitch dark when we got there. No stars and no moon. It was a weird sight watching a load of bikers wandering around with torches trying to find the Devil's Bridge clue.
On the night time stage we came across a 10 man IAM ride on the rally. I remember catching up with them on one leg and it was like watching a snake as each of them in formation studiously took up their 'view' road positions. (What's stability in the dark and they were all safe because they were with their mates.) We wanted to progress a tad faster than they were going but overtaking a 10 man IAM ride intent on maintaining its 'view' road position at all times did prove a challenge. Never the less, it had to be done and we did get past the lot of them. I would like say it was clean overtakes all the way but you had to take what you could get given their road positioning and closeness to each other. That's my mate's headlight behind me isn't it? They did project an impression of owning the road and thou shalt not pass. When they caught up with us at the next control point we did get a few glares. I thought an IAM reprimand was coming our way!
The night stage turned out to be fairly straightfoward and the rain held off for some of it. At around 4.30am Sunday morning we were nearing the end when at Oswestry the rain came on again big time. We rode onto Welshpool and the finish at Castle Caerinion arriving around 5.30am. Burg Man, of course, had already finished on his Aprilla scooter and was just leaving for Basildon. By about 6am we had collected our awards and had a good breakfast. We then found a quite room in the village hall and crashed with about 10 others on the floor. Cosy? I'm afraid you have to experience the sounds and smells yourself to appreciate the ambience. It cannot be described here. I awoke about 9am, finished off a few sausage butties that were going spare and left for Poole. I arrived home around 2pm Sunday afternoon. In total I had done 900 miles from leaving Poole on the Friday to returning on the Sunday. The day time stage was around 330 miles and the night time stage around 170 miles. I think the day time stage miles reflect riding about trying to find those 'tucked-away' railway stations and the map is definitely not to scale.
My thanks to Rob from Warwick for sharing the load and helping me to get around. Also a big thanks to the Clive Motorcycle Club for organising such a great rally. I must do it again soon.