Archive index   Go to the Archive index

BTSC logo

Chiltern 100

Dave Stevenson

It all started in August 2000 when we were camping at Dalkeith for the Edinburgh Festival.  One evening about teatime a deep dark rumble began to reverberate off the forecourt of the filling station that acts as a camp office.  My son and I looked at each other before rushing to place our beady eyes by some loose slats in the fence.  Five large and lovely Harley Davidsons, supporting five large and somewhat less lovely Americans, had drawn up in front of the pumps.  They seemed in no particular hurry to get off again so we sauntered nonchalantly around to take a better look.  By the time we arrived on the forecourt one large jeep and an enormous people mover had joined the Harleys.  It was clear they were thinking of staying so we ambled back reckoning to get a better look later on.

Fifteen minutes later the convoy swept in and pulled itself into a circle on the other side of the little covert in the centre of the campsite.  Dalkeith is Injun Country.  They put up their tents, commandeered three picnic tables, lit a barbecue the size of a small oil refinery and hoisting Old Glory over the central turf, proceeded to unload and consume ice cold beers and steer haunches the size of sliced loaves.  The PA system that had materialised from the inside of one of the four-by-fours played the Eagles to anyone within a quarter of a mile who wasn't wearing earplugs.  On the other side of the bushes, on our flower print folding chairs, in front of our shabby little tents and unimpressive cars we sniggered and were unwillingly impressed by turns.

Those of you who have mixed with the jaundiced souls of the National Autocycle and Cyclemotor Club will know that they revel in the mischievous knowledge that their tiny wheezing steeds offer a malicious commentary on the masculine pretensions of many of those who ride large and imposing motor cycles.  The idea had already formed in my mind that, having visited the Chiltern 100 so often on my own, it was time to take my friends and family.  Here now was the example we had been waiting for - blow Land's End to John o'Groats by Harley - It was Rotherham to Luton by moped or bust.

Over the past decade I have motorised my immediate circle.  First there was Sheila, my wife, for whom I rebuilt the Bronze Wing, a quite disgustingly orange metallic coloured Mobylette Luxamatic AV89.  Then our colleague, Barbara Smith, the Maths Adviser, also approached the illustrious status of moped rider via early trials on the Albino Slug, a Mobylette Xl folder.  She offered to learn to ride our 1958 Bown 50 with twist-grip type scooter gears in order, she believed, to progress a little more elegantly along the byways.  There was a Bown Autocycle with Watsonian child sidecar to carry my daughter, Katy, until she, inconsiderate child, grew too big to fit in it.  That was followed by the Chip Shop Tandem, a Raleigh with a Mini-Motor attached to its suffering back-end so that my son Robbie could give up his place on his mother's Mobylette to his sister.  Then there's the Sunbeam, bought one year at the Chiltern 100 and motorised with another locally registered Mini-Motor, which my father likes to ride, and the Puch Grand Prix, The Vampire Motor cycle, which was originally bought as Robbie's first bike.  When he decided to opt for a Peugeot Speedfight instead, I couldn't bear to sell it and Maya, our Moroccan friend adopted it.  Last but not least is the Clockwork Orange, a Honda Novio four-stroke that was obtained specifically to take Stephen, son of Maths Adviser, to the Sars Poteries run in May 2000.

The original scheme mimicked our American cousins' vacation.  Sheila, Barbara, Robbie and Stephen would ride down the 140 miles to Pulloxhill, while Katy and I carried the gear in the Renault Kangoo and pulled a trailer for the inevitable breakdowns.  Two days would take us down.  The ride was on the Sunday and 70 miles each day Monday and Tuesday would bring us back.  First, the kids' willing involvement was bought with the concession that Monday would be in London and the bikes, apart from Robbie's whizzo scoot, would come back on the trailer.  Then there was a meeting for Sheila on Friday morning (more modifications), a party for Robbie on the Friday night (ho hum...), something Katy wanted to do on the same day (ah ha...), and finally food poisoning for Sheila after a farewell dinner for a colleague leaving work...

The Maths Adviser and her sequel, Son of Maths Adviser, had both booked leave, so it was difficult to cancel.  Our re-jigged arrangements were therefore that they would ride their mopeds down.  I would accompany them on the BSA combination carrying all our gear.  Robbie would ride down on Saturday morning to accompany us on the second leg and Sheila and Katy would bring the car, luggage, and trailer with Mobylette thereon on the same afternoon to Pulloxhill.  The god of stomach upsets willing, of course.

By midday the Busmar Astral was loaded to the window line, the Bown and the Novio were fed and watered with oil and petrol and we were ready for the off.  It is difficult to describe the joys of motor cycling and in this case the details of the journey sound like a nightmare.  The mopeds will go at about 25mph, slower up hills, while the BSA Al0 needs a reasonable flow of cooling air to keep it sweet, say 35mph minimum.  Periods of riding with the little bikes had therefore to alternate with bouts of higher speed.  I, however, was the only one who knew the way.  I had to stop either before the next turn or at least not so far down the road that the mopedists began to suspect that it was so long since they had seen me that they must have lost their way.  Add to this the fact that the main A-roads we had to use were sometimes too narrow to allow juggernauts to overtake the mopeds, so that they were often riding with 40 tonnes on their tail at the head of a quarter of a mile traffic jam, and you have the recipe for a difficult day.  In fact the weather was good and the satisfaction of this unlikely caravan making its way southwards counteracted any discomfort (at least for me on the reasonably sprung and broad saddled BSA).

We picnicked after 24 miles at Ollerton roundabout having persuaded Stephen that a dejeuner sur l'herbe, or in this particular car park sur kerb, was preferable to a MacDonalds.  At Melton Mowbray, nearly 40 miles later, we drank a civilised cup of tea at the cabin in the park under shady trees.  20 miles or so later we turned off the B6047 at Tur Langton onto the unclassified roads that lead to Medbourne and our chosen campsite.  The site was a long strip field in the middle of absolutely nowhere and in warm evening sunshine we pitched the tents.  There was hardly anyone else on the site and we ate our tea with the green-gold of evening all around us as smug as bankers in a city wine bar.  Afterwards we took the sidecar into Medbourne to a lovely old pub by a stream. In the soft darkness we sat under the stars drinking...  Unfortunately for the elegiac tone, a touch of Sheila's jippy tummy had gripped my abdomen and Stephen wasn't feeling so hot either.  The mood was temporarily dispersed by a rather hurried and undignified exit.  Back at the camp, however, away from the not terribly bright lights of Medbourne the night sky, lit by a low moon, was spectacular enough to rout all thoughts of dyspepsia.  If after the day's experiences Barbara and Stephen needed any reminding that they were small and insignificant blobs crawling across the face of a not particularly important planet then the sheer scale of that midnight blue sky was enough.

It is my belief that wombling about the countryside should be punctuated by interesting pauses, preferably not those involving oily fingers and the cursing of unwilling machinery.  Rockingham Castle, although more than eighty miles away from where we live, is still owned by descendants of the family who put up the money for Rotherham's Rockingham Pottery to enjoy a period of fame in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  It was to there that we now turned our handlebars and where we had arranged to meet Robbie.  Having your own castle means you can open it when you like and when we arrived it transpired that Rockingham was not deigning to open its doors to visitors on Bank Holiday Saturday.  As is the rule in such cases, Robbie had, of course, left home to meet us at Rockingham just minutes before we rang to say don't.  The second stop on our itinerary was the Triangular Lodge near Desborough.  This tiny monument to English eccentricity and sheer bloody-mindedness was erected in 1593 by Sir Thomas Tresham, a recusant Catholic numerologist whose obsession permitted him to glorify his faith in numbers on the wall of his cell when his jailers forbade him using words.  Freed from prison he built this lodge, shaped like a slice of cake, in which the number of windows, rooms and other architectural features as well as the numbers actually placed in iron on the walls had special and generally religious significance.  The building is triangular, for example, not only to signify the Holy Trinity but also because "Tres" (three) was his wife's nickname for him.  5555, which appears over the door, is the number of years from 1593 to the supposed year of the biblical Creation.  There are three numbers built into the fabric of the building which scholars have yet to decipher.  I had visited the lodge some years ago on my way back from the Chiltern 100 and it had seemed to me the peffect stopping point for our itinerant maths teacher.

At this point the complexity of the logistics of the journey caught up with us.  I led the mopedists to a pub in Rothwell and then had to return to the gates of Rockingham Castle to meet Robbie.  Parking the BSA in a prominent place just before the roundabout I lounged in the sun waiting for the characteristic buzz of the Peugeot as it crested the hill.  We rejoined the others back at Rothwell and prepared to take our longer convoy South.  I cannot speak too highly of these new automatic scooter mopeds.  Derestricted, most of them will top 45 - 50 mph and Robbie found it almost as difficult as I did to travel at the speed of the classic pedal-and-pops.  This led to an unfortunate delay.  He got ahead of me in the complex route east of Milton Keynes around Newport Pagnell and Cranfield which necessitated me chasing after him on the BSA, which is scarcely faster in a straight line and very much slower on corners, while our intrepid mopedists waited on a corner.  At tea-time the four of us ambled into the Pulloxhill campsite with at least 148 miles under our belts to be greeted by Sheila and Katy - who had just arrived, the two Daves (Haddock and Brain), Rosie and Dick - long time companions of my Chiltern 100 visits.

I won't bore you with the rest.  You have suffered enough.  The next day the Smiths were awarded the "furthest travelled" and "best pedal assisted" trophies.  A well-deserved accolade.  Sheila and they, escorted by Katy and I on the combination, had done the full 60+ miles of Sunday's route.  Robbie meanwhile went round with the Daves burning off unsuspecting Villiers machines of less than 200cc.  We got lost completely on a road I must have ridden five or six times before and ended up forlornly gazing at a ford at the bottom of a steep hill.  Ah! how merrily they cursed me.  Not one of the five bikes made an involuntary stop (apart from Stephen and I rather embarrassingly running out of petrol at different times) during the whole three days.  For the numerologists amongst you the Mobylette did 70 miles, the Bown and Honda 220 miles and the BSA and Peugeot about 370 miles each.  Given the age of the machines and the incompetence of their mechanic the combined mileage has to add up to some kind of sacred number.  Unfortunately for us, even if the six of us take off all our shoes and socks the Maths Adviser still can't add up over 120, so we shall never know our winning line.

This article was first published in the January/February 2002 edition of The Independent, the magazine of the British Two Stroke Club.

Archive index   Go to the Archive index