Ride To The Wall 2011
The word “emotional” has almost become a throwaway line ever since Vinny Jones’ utterance in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. However, I can think of no better adjective to describe Ride To The Wall 2011.
Looking at the long range forecast a week or so before this year’s event I saw high pressure, sun, record temperatures and more sun. I crossed everything I had and prayed that the forecast held true. I need not have worried.
My weekend began on Friday when I rode to McDonalds on the A59 at Clitheroe in order to meet up with Damage at 11am as arranged. Neal was evidently working in Zulu time and we finally met up shortly after noon. Once on our way Agent Orange proved troublesome but after a couple of carburettor rebuilds Neal took his customary AA ride to Drayton Manor. In the meantime I landed at Buxton to find AFSC and biker friends had assembled in good numbers at Wetherspoons. I was given point duty which the Royal Air Force prefers to call “navigator” as it pleasingly quadrisyllabic.
Our first task was to pick up Al Chester at Ashbourne and refuel before making our way to Drayton Manor. A few minor breakdowns ensued but all landed safely. Enter Kris, Bones and Joey the spanner ninjas to work their technical wizardry on scooters and bikes alike.
As tents were pitched and many pegs bent in the sun baked, rock hard ground Neal arrived. Agent Orange was unloaded from the AA van to much hooting and roaring before we decamped to nearby Fazeley to load up on beer and fish and chips. As ever it was good to meet fellow AFSC members for the first time as Jim Wright and Nick Cupello extended the hand of friendship. The campsite now belonged to us as fun, games, pseudo (?) dry bumming and general nonsense ensued. Beers were consumed on the site before multi-patched denims and club colours descended on the exclusive bar of the newly-built Drayton Manor hotel and met with our very own Reverend Mike Brotherton RN and his charming mum. Decorum was relatively well maintained in the presence of an 81 year old lady despite ample alcohol consumption. Simon led the toasts with The Queen and we were joined by RTTW founder Martin Dickinson. The party moved onto an outside bar with a later licence where we were joined by Uggy and Jeanette.
The sands of time drifted and I found myself waking up with a thumping head the following morning as I drained my Lucozade bottle night toilet. The excellent shower block was utilised as Kris’ stove worked overtime brewing up and warming up ration pack breakfasts. Scoots were moved to the head of the queue and parked in readiness for the rideout as a bagpiper in his underpants sounded reveille to rouse any stragglers. Several of our group headed back to the bar to catch the England v Scotland Rugby World Cup match. When Chris Ashton grounded his winning try two minutes from time it seemed the day could only go from strength to strength. The bagpipes fell momentarily silent!
Neal stripped and rebuilt his scooter for the umpteenth time before his eureka moment and he was on the rideout! The sun blazed as noon came and the Ride To The Wall was underway. This ride is many things to many people but I would have struggled to speak to anybody with the lump in my throat as thousands of cheering people turned out to line the streets as an estimated 14,000 bikers and scooterists rode proudly by.
On reaching the National Memorial Arboretum AKA “The Wall” we bomb burst and each spent some time roaming the grounds. However, this was not before Agent Orange chose this moment for a terminal breakdown and was ultimately abandoned at the Arboretum leaving Neal as a pillion passenger. This is very much an individual time and I took the opportunity to revisit the Tactical Communications Wing memorial in the RAF garden. At 2pm the main event began with speeches, an impressive display by the RLC Silver Stars skydiving team and a spellbinding sermon by Reverend Mike Brotherton RN. The incredulous looks on the faces of the thousands of assembled bikers at the sight of a Padre in a parka stood over his fully modded Lambretta LI were a source of constant entertainment. Mike immediately won the crowd over before everyone was allowed to climb the steps to the wall and pay their respects. I teamed up with Al Chester to search out the Royal Signals and Royal Marines memorials to take photos for my father in law and his best friend who are veterans of those respective corps. It seems that “Jimmy” (The Royal Signals emblem) modelled for his statue on a VERY cold day indeed. Oh how I laughed….at Al Chester.
Leigh Cooper navigated us safely back to Drayton Manor before a curry/pub grub split in the camp developed. I again took up my navigational mantle but my printed Google maps proved woefully inadequate and a surreal time began. Since were hopelessly lost a passing Harley rider was flagged down as we desperately needed directions. This transpired to be Fluff of the local Outlaws branch who ended up guiding us to our pub of choice before joining us for a chat and a pint. Cast your mind back 20 odd years and ask if that would have happened then. Let’s hear it for the camaraderie engendered by the whole RTTW experience. You are a gentleman Fluff.
Back to Drayton Manor passing the AFSC curry team en route and more beers were cracked out before adjourning to the exclusive hotel bar again. Mike Brotherton and Martin Dickinson once again joined us as we drank al fresco in the Mediterranean conditions until the curry team returned. After multiple toasts the bikers Parachute Regiment karaoke division arrived. This served only to encourage Simon to clear his throat and belt out his Max Bygraves back catalogue to the amusement of us and bewilderment of genteel hotel guests in suits and floaty cocktail dresses. Joey will probably have learned the pitfalls of leaving his camera lying around if he has looked at his photos yet. All too quickly bedtime arrived with the thought of the ride home the following morning.
As I awoke our resident bagpiper stood in his underpants as he belted out his very own reveille once more. Kris Green ran repairs on my missing rear wheel stud before tents were taken down and the logistical problems of getting Neal and his kit to the Arboretum were discussed and surmounted. The time honoured pressing of flesh following a superb weekend passed and we were on the road for an uneventful trip home other than the first rain of the weekend as I passed Accrington and arrived home very wet indeed.
If you do only one rally in 2012 make it this one. It is like no other.
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