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Hobsons Choice II

John Hobson

They say the sun shines on the righteous - or is it the ungodly?  Whichever - after many weeks of wetness this year's Hobsons Choice weekend offered fine, warm weather as a party of Leicester Enthusiasts and accomplices assembled for a 10:30 start on Saturday.  Riders were Mark Astill on a Mobylette AV89, Brian Brimson on a New Hudson, Les Gobbett on a New Hudson, Ann Hobson on a VéloSoleX 5000, John Hobson on a pre-war Norton (it seemed a good idea at the time), John Potterton on a Raleigh Runabout, Pete Stratford on an Excelsior Autobyk and Ron Wright on an NSU Quickly.  In support was the Astills' trusty Fiat Doblo crewed by Tracey (Capt.) & Bruce Astill, Marlene Brimson and Jennie Wright.

Saturday's trip was to take in a look at one or two interesting Lincolnshire churches followed by lunch near Coningsby, giving a 20-mile run out through the the Wolds and about the same distance back across the flat landscape of the Fens.  We're not short of churches in these parts and the choice fell on Raithby-by-Spilsby, about five miles out.  The Solex was always going to be the slowest machine on all points of sailing and so Ann was packed off a few minutes ahead of the group which caught up with her as she - very sensibly - picked her way across the busy A16 by way of the centre refuge.  No-one broke down or got lost on this short stage but Tracey (against the advice of her Navigating Officer) doubled back for a few miles to explore Laundry Lane.  She was unable afterwards to explain the impulse, or to say what she had seen there.  Strange things happen in the Spilsby Triangle.

John Wesley is said to have described Raithby as "paradise on earth" and it's still a nice village.  The Wesley Chapel, built by the local squire and consecrated by the great evangelist in 1779, is a small room above a stable: simple, bright and airy and a fitting place, perhaps, for the world's oldest Methodist church.  The Anglican church of Holy Trinity next door is typical of many mediaeval Lincolnshire churches heavily made-over (ie: more or less obliterated) by the Victorians, in this case Giles Gilbert Scott Jnr.  Closed for some time for roof repairs, it is now accessible to view progress and we were shown a fine painted chancel ceiling and some discoveries, including an early frieze, made during the work.

The rolling countryside of the Wolds is as pleasant as any in England.  The route took us through ancient hamlets, farms and rural byways including the moped-killing Hareby Hill, which everyone survived (although the Solex needed HPA and the threat of being swapped for a twist-and-scream scooter).  A different challenge presented itself at Claxby where the gated road encloses (hopefully) a herd of Lincolnshire Red cattle: the beasts were unfazed by the buzzing but took exception, not unreasonably, to the Norton.

With his usual gallantry John Potterton had been holding back his Raleigh to stay with Ann and the Solex, and about fifteen miles out at Mareham-le-Fen the Runabout cried "Enough!" and went on strike.  Strong words of encouragement (and a plug spanner) soon had things rolling again and the last few miles across the West Fen brought us to Sans Souci for lunch.

Bob and Maureen Sleigh share their home at Coningsby Moorside with the Lincolnshire section of the British Two-Stroke Club and with their own private collection of all things two-stroke.  To call this an Aladdin's Cave would be to understate the sheer variety of material which Bob has gathered, from a huge naval generator through complete bikes and skilfully cutaway engines (including the 1950s Commer truck engine - remember them?) to cyclemotors and model engines.  Before you ask - the collection is not open to the public and access is normally limited to BTSC members at their meetings, and to a few special events.  Even so the Sleighs don't get many weekends to themselves and we were privileged to share their time.

Dragging our group away from these delights, and from Maureen's splendid buffet lunch, wasn't easy but we eventually trundled - sorry, roared - away across the Fens for home.  These long straight lanes, where you can see where you'll be at tea-time, have their own atmosphere but you can't get very lyrical about them: they are, well, flat but often (being laid on little but rubble) very, very bumpy.  The Solex asserted its Frenchness, or something, by stopping for a nap every couple of miles or so and by the time we rolled into Great Steeping it was, indeed, teatime.  After a decent interval the 'barbie' got under way: a writer's veil of discretion will be drawn over the rest of the evening but we are able to report that no arrests were made.

Sunday's run was to be an easy affair with ten miles or so of Fen lanes to Burgh-le-Marsh for lunch.  Burgh originated in an ancient Roman settlement and these days is mostly known as another bottleneck on the holiday road from the Midlands to Skegness.  Out of season it's tidy and quiet, with a strong community life and seemingly more pubs than people.  Lunch was a mile or two off the beaten track at the Rifle Club where the gunfire stops on Sundays and Margaret serves consistently good roast lunches instead.  Just when we'd got to the contented bit - the 'gosh-that-was-good-I-wonder-if-anyone-will-notice-if-I-have-a-quick-zizz' bit - Mark phoned his Dad in Louth.  Dad was taking his sports car to the Friskney Show and suggested we might like to make up the numbers in the display park.  A dozen Fen miles later we were welcomed into the village sports field, the L.E.G. gazebo appeared as if from nowhere and there followed one of those afternoons that only happen at English village shows: hot sunshine, tents selling local art and mysterious hand-made thingies, warm fizzy drinks - and of course "my Dad had one of those Velo Solo things - metallic blue it was, sat over the back wheel ..."

The run home was almost an anticlimax, though the Runabout was found to be nursing a terminal puncture and finished the day's outing in the back of the Fiat.  Tracey again found the official route lacking in excitement and went off with her crew to explore the East Fen, and the Solex finally found some energy from somewhere (not to mention a 15-minute start) and got home first.

Thanks are owed to Kay and Paul King, the Churchwardens at Raithby; to Bob and Maureen Sleigh for their hospitality; and especially to the stalwarts of the Leicester Enthusiasts Group.  We had a whale of a time.

First published, August 2006

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