The Round Britain Rally is an annual event that normally runs from the beginning of April to the end of October and involves using your bike to visit landmarks around the UK. I’d heard about it a few years ago and decided to enter in 2020, taking advantage of no longer working full time.
All the relevant information is to be found on the resolutely old-school website at www.roundbritainrally.co.uk . It’s probably best viewed using Netscape Navigator at 640×480 on a CRT screen. The site very concisely describes the aim of the rally:
“The objective is to encourage you to use your vehicle for recreational touring in some of the best countryside on mainland Britain. This will require you to explore back roads and lanes that you may otherwise avoid, to visit places of interest (landmarks) that you may not have known existed. To prove you have visited the landmark you will be required to take a photograph of the site with your motorcycle/tri-car at the scene.”
I sent off my entry form in January and was rewarded in mid-March with a full set of rules and a spreadsheet with the list of 80 landmarks. These were sited from Helston in Cornwall to Haster near Wick, from Pembroke in SW Wales to Orford in Suffolk, and all over the place in between. So you already get the idea that doing the whole lot would be quite a challenge. I’d decided that at a first attempt and especially given the Covid-19 restrictions that had to be observed, I wasn’t aiming for the whole set, but would just concentrate on days out from home and see how many I could manage.
The landmarks all have point scores, lower for those that are easy to find and near main routes, higher for places that are miles off the beaten track and far from any other landmark. Adding up the scores for those you visit gives you a total and an overall ranking from “Finisher” (up to 200 points) to “100% All-Rounder” at 2000 points with no errors.
One dubious advantage of the first lockdown period was that at least I had plenty of time to plan routes. I worked out that there were around 25 landmarks that should be fairly easy to reach from home, so I spent time googling them, bookmarking any relevant website for more details, and entering waypoints and routes into Garmin Basecamp. It struck me that doing this in ye olden days of the rally, just with a map and no internet references would have been an awful lot harder. As soon as lockdown was over, I was ready to set out to get the first three in my plan on a brilliantly sunny day. These were: The old Control Tower at Greenham Common (the closest to home); a memorial on the site of the old ironworks at Bratton in Wiltshire and Great Coxwell Barn in W. Oxon. The route was an easy 134 miles and took in some familiar roads on the way out before getting into new territory for me beyond Pewsey. I really enjoyed this section on the A345, A342 and B3098.
Then, some familiar Wiltshire roads via Avebury and back through the Vale of the White Horse. I’d scored 55 points and had a fun day out.
I wasn’t too bothered about planning the most efficient routes as I was looking to have enjoyable rides more than anything else. The least efficient ride I did was 200 miles to East Creech in Dorset, making 200 Miles for 1 Landmark (MpL*). The best was 197 miles around Herts/Beds/Bucks/Northants for 4 landmarks, so 49 MpL. The longest day was about 300 miles. I did work out after a couple of outings that the best strategy for me was to cover the most distance on the way to the first landmark and then work back from there, as visiting each landmark gave a break in the ride every hour or so and it meant I wasn’t left with a solid 2-3 hour ride home at the end.
The landmarks themselves varied from extremely low key to enormous, including war memorials, pieces of civil engineering, statues, and historic sites of various types. As advertised, plenty of them you would not have known existed, and some were rather poignant. At RAF Tempsford, now mostly reverted to fields, a stone pillar marked where SOE agents were flown into occupied territory during WWII, many never to return. A small plaque by a field in Northamptonshire recorded where a B-17 bomber had crashed on a training exercise that took the place of a cancelled raid, with the loss of most of the American crew.
A particularly memorable ride was to get 2 landmarks near the Welsh border. I had an errand to do near Stroud on the way, but with that done, set off via Gloucester and the north side of the Severn Estuary. The A48 was an enjoyable road and went through some towns that were more picturesque than I expected. At Lydney Harbour, I found the memorial to the Severn Railway Bridge disaster and took some pictures across the estuary. It was a dull day with rain starting, but rather an atmospheric view. The next target was St Michael’s Church at Garway in Herefordshire, which I reached after a brief flirtation with Wales and then a tricky approach up and down some ridiculously narrow, muddy AND steep lanes. The church dates from 1180, but had no direct road access, so I had to be satisfied with a rather distant picture. I then had a 2 hour ride home in pouring rain and discovered when I got back there was another nearby landmark just over the Welsh border that I hadn’t known about!
It was our wedding anniversary in mid-September, so we did a combined night away and landmark grabbing tour through Sussex and Kent. At the Rudyard Kipling statue in Burwash, against all the odds, we met another rally participant on a modern Enfield 650. He had ridden up that morning from Devon on a plan to grab 6 landmarks that day, with more the day after. He was clearly a more serious participant than us and said he’d actually completed the rally a few times with a full score.
After doing all the trips I’d planned, I added up my score for the first time and found that I’d made a slight error with one photograph and so if the rules were strictly applied, I’d be 10 points short of a Bronze award. Arrghh! So as insurance I ended up doing a detour to Wivenhoe in Essex on a day that I already needed to go over that way for other reasons.
That done, I submitted my entry and soon heard back from the organiser, Dave Hancock, that I had qualified for a Bronze award with 420 points. To get the next level, Silver, I would merely need another 380. A job for next year, perhaps?
In summary, doing the rally lived up to my expectations. I had several great days out on the bike, mostly in fine weather, I travelled on lots of new roads and learnt a bit of obscure history along the way. If you fancy a crack at it yourself in 2021, all the entry details are on the website.
First published in Slipstream January 2021