Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

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A Dirty Weekend In Malvern

Rally Date - 10-11 March 2018

By Ren Withnell

I've let myself and the readers down this year. I've not done a winter trip. I did go to see my father in Brighton but no camping was involved so that doesn't really count does it. There's been no opportunity for you to be thankful that I'm the idiot and you're the sensible one. I'm sorry, I must try harder.

The CBF 125 with camping gear at Tyndrum in Scotland with piles of snow in the car park
I do these things so you don't have to.

Being well into March now I thought "doing" the Malvern Hills Rally would be easy, especially as I'm only going for the Saturday night. A simple ride down to Welland in the Malvern Hills, pop the tent up, socialise, sleep then return home. Easy. It is still officially winter and we've recently had a crazy bout of snow but let's face it it's practically spring now. Hell it only goes dark around half six, it's practically summer.

After a warm and cozy Friday night at Sharon's pad (she puts the heating on, she's extravagant like that) I set out into a damp morning. There is the merest suggestion of rain from time to time though it is at least warm. Warm? Relatively warm. After the previous week's snow, biting wind and perpetual sub-zero temperatures this feels tropical.

Where's Sharon? She's staying home. Her daughter's not well, properly not well and she'd like to stay close by to keep an eye on things. She'll be decorating and that kind of nonsense while remaining on standby. Her daughter's situation is a mess, an awful mess and no-one knows what the problem is.

Today is a dirty day. I figure last week's snow has been treated by an excess of grit salt mixed with a lack of heavy rain to wash the surfaces clean. By the time I reach The Raven Truck Stop at Whitchurch I can barely see out of my visor. I pull in and clean said visor, ensuring to not buy any food at Lynn's Raven (go next door, much better).

The saddle bags are covered in road dirt spraying off the back wheel of Ren's bike
The roads are filthy and so are my panniers now.

Before I depart I don my waterproof trousers just in time. The A49 rolls south into grey clouds and heavy drizzle, good 'old British weather. In fact I don't mind - it's not snowing, it's not cold, I am familiar with riding in the rain and what scenery I can see beyond the droplets on my visor is improving. It's not beautiful here but it is pleasant and green and agrarian, far better than the industrial north. 

There are curves in the road too. Although the rain and the dirt precludes any exuberant riding it is good to once more sweep through bends at speed. The miles roll by until I feel there's a little too much blood in my tea stream. I drop in for a brew and a twix at The Lazy Trout just outside Church Stretton, I've been here before.

The dirty CB500X at The Lazy Trout Cafe on a wet and grey day
Hot tea for this filthy weather.

The Marlbank Inn comes into view along with the rain soaked and now rather boggy camping field. Any dry looking pitches near the pub are already occupied so I splash through be-puddled grass in search of the least sodden space. Hmmmmmm.

I'm pitched on a slight rise in the field but I have a minor quagmire to navigate if I am to return to the track and dry land. It is far from ideal but it will do and remarkably, stunningly, amazingly, shockingly the bike boots I purchased last year and have been saving for "best" seem to be keeping the water out. How odd.

The waterlogged field has a large puddle between Ren's tent and the track to the pub
It is but a mere splash across the marsh to reach the track. I'll be fine.

These rallies are not like traditional rallies with bands and entertainment. These are informal gatherings of roughly like minded people, I expected nothing more so that's fine. I join one group in a shelter with a hot stove to chat a while then move inside the pub to chat with a friend. 

There's not much to report about the evening, but don't think of this negatively. There's talk of motorcycles and waterproofs, stories of bodges and repairs, laughter at failures and of course much teasing. It seems most of the serious drinking was done last night as most of the participants are retiring early.

I have my thick box sided air bed and my comfortable to -3°C sleeping bag. I have my thermals and my hat. Despite this I'm freezing. Sleep comes in fits and starts between shuffling around trying to seal myself into the bag, way too many pee breaks, fighting with my jumper for a pillow and cursing Vango for lying about their supposed warmth rating for sleeping bags. 

The box sided air bed in Ren's tent
I've brought the big air bed I should be super comfy tonight.

ARRRGH! Ouch ouch oooh oooh ouch - deep breaths - ouch OUCH OUCH!! - breath Ren breath - Aaargh - sheeeeezzz - ouch ouch for #### sake argh ouch ouch oooooh oho - ho ho oh - Holy cow that hurts. Cramp in my calf muscle. It eases, then returns, then eases. Relief. Then my other goddam blasted freaking calf joins in. ARGH! That's .... ouch .... ooohooo .... never .... jeeeez .... happened before ..... nnnnnnnnnnnngggh.

How the hell I managed not to scream like a spoilt 5 year old and wake everyone I'll never know. 

I remain in the sleeping bag for a few more short bewildering dreams punctuated by twinges from the calf muscles until 0715. When I remove my earplugs I realise I'm definitely not the first out of bed. Judging by the slight ground frost I'd say it was around -1 to +1 degrees last night. As my friend Bernard finally surfaces at 0800 he tells me he was as warm and as comfortable as he would have been at home. Git, I'm missing something. I'm hobbling just a little, my calves are sore.

Taking the tent down is a very muddy affair. A few of the campers are trying to clean and dry their tents but to no avail, the rain keeps on returning. I throw mine into it's big bag, mud and water and all, and bungee it to the bike. I'll deal with it later.

Ren's kit is spread around the tent with mud on the floor and other places
I should have brought the vacuum cleaner and mop with me.

The ride home starts out wet but by the time I'm north of Leominster the rain has abated and there is - dare I say it - dry tarmac in places. Leominster. Lee - oh - min - ster. Nope. The word rattles around in my head. It is pronounced "Lemster" but we spell it Leominster. I'll be passing Cholmondeley soon. Chol - mon - del - ay. Nope. "Chumley" apparently. And we wonder why children struggle to read.

I need to read these road signs though otherwise I'm going to end up in Oswestry. Oz - west - ree. I've not heard that said any other way at least. I'd like to be carving these dry roads a little. That would be nice. Regrettably the car in front is at that speed - too fast to warrant an overtake yet too slow to feel like we're moving. Meh, relax and enjoy the ride Ren. 

By the time I'm in the north west my poor night's sleep is catching up with me. I drop into Sharon's for a brew, a biscuit and a nap nap. She continues decorating while I drool on the cushions of her settee. Then it's off to Mother's for more tea.

My tent is slowly drying in my bedroom leaving muddy stains on the carpet. My motorcycle is dirtier than a politician's secret. My opinion of sleeping bag ratings is in tatters. I'm tired and slightly bemused. It's been a good weekend overall though and to round things off perfectly it's time for the last episode of this season's "Endeavour".


The rear of the Honda is covered in light road dirt forming a crusty layer
The tent bag on Ren's bike is covered in claggy mud
The engine of Ren's 500 is splattered with dried on mud from the filthy roads

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Reader's Comments

Bob said :-
I admire your dedication.
I once did the MZ Riders club winter rally in North Yorkshire on January 16th, we woke up under an inch of snow.
But my camping days are over, one too many nights lying there unable to sleep, shivering, needing a pee and thinking "why the hell am I doing this?".
These days it's detached cottages, preferably with a log burner, Freeview and Wifi.
That said, this summer I'm planning on trying out my stealth camping plan in my old Van - similar to camping but it has the advantage that I set up "camp" wherever I want, a quiet lane up on a mountainside in Wales sounds about right to me.....

14/3/2018 9:44:55 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I can't decide if it's me or my kit Bob. I'm quite hardened to cold weather riding and cold weather camping, I just seem to unable to manage cold weather sleeping.

It could be my kit. I know Bernard slept perfectly well and he's 62 years old. He has a quality sleeping bag and a fancy insulated mattress. It could also just be me. Maybe there's something about my physiology that is fine being awake and cold, it just can't handle asleep and cold.

Do I go and spend perhaps £500 on a proper quality sleeping bag and mattress? I may find I'm toasty warm and happy to camp on even the worst of nights. Or I may find I've just thrown £500 away. Hmmmmmmm.

The van sounds good.
14/3/2018 11:08:43 AM UTC
Bob said :-
Spend your £500 on 2 weekends in a cosy cottage!

Some people can sleep whilst waiting in a bus stop, or on a train / plane. Others can't sleep in their own bed, I think it depends where you are on that spectrum - I'm definitely more towards the can't sleep end of things.

I tried air beds and camp beds 2, 3 & 4 season bags, heaters, ambient lighting, earplugs - nothing works.
I've just accepted it, I have never had a good night's sleep in a tent, even in my drinking days when the best I'd get would be a couple of hours "sleep" due to the borderline alcohol poisoning then wake for a pee and spend the rest of the night in flames (figuratively speaking).

A T-total lifestyle, no caffiene / tobacco / sugar / processed food, several hours intensive excercise a week and I've got to the point where more often than not I can get 5 or 6 hours sleep - tents are just a bad (if horrifically vivid) memory for me now.
14/3/2018 2:44:09 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
What always bugs me is if the weather is wet or cold or both Sharon grumbles and moans and gripes about how cold she is and how terrible it is. She laments the lack of central heating as she gets changed then curses her way into her sleeping bag. She then promptly falls into a deep sleep that can barely be disturbed. It drives me nuts!

I have had a few good nights sleep under canvas when it's been warm enough. It's not often though, I am not a natural camper at all.

While I don't partake of alcohol the rest of your healthy lifestyle choices cause me to admire your own commitment.
14/3/2018 3:14:54 PM UTC
Rod said :-
I still think that a hot water bottle is the winter campers friend!
14/3/2018 8:41:18 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hot water bottles. Now there's a thing I've not tried Rod. I do have a stove. Doesn't the hot water bottle go cold over the course of the evening?
15/3/2018 12:58:38 PM UTC
Borsuk said :-
I have a couple of bags you can try out if you want. Ones an old bulky Firebird mummy type 4 season, never had a problem with it hillwalking in winter.
The other is a lightweight 3/4 season I think, Got it when assigned to the States, never been used, you can field test it for me if you want, I think it is a mummy as well.
15/3/2018 1:03:00 PM UTC
Rod said :-
Ref : Hot Water Bottle.
See my post on your 2017 winter cornwall trip.
15/3/2018 4:21:50 PM UTC
Rod said :-
I have copied and pasted my post from your cornwall trip, to save you searching the site.

Rod said :-
I just found your site about two weeks ago, and have just read about your trip to Cornwall in January 2017. I have also been very cold when winter camping, but on a site in the Yorkshire Dales a few years ago I was just getting ready for bed when I saw two little girls coming from the toilet block with their hot water bottles. The light bulb went on, and I have used hot water bottles since then when camping in cold weather. I will fill two bottles when I go to bed and in really cold weather I will wake about half way through the night feeling cold (not freezing) and will empty the water from one bottle into my camping kettle and reheat on the stove. This will keep me warm until the morning. I know this seems like a lot of messing about, but it is better than freezing all night, and you have had a good nights sleep, so you are safer riding the next day.
15/3/2018 6:59:56 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Borsuk - I'd be happy to test the sleeping bags.

Rod - Like mankind it seems I am destined to keep on repeating the same mistakes time and time again. As you point out last year I promised to try the hot water bottle. Then summer comes and all is well with the world and the hard times are forgotten. Then as the winter returns and time has moved on another year I have forgotten the promises I made to myself. Just as mankind will keep on fighting over who has the oil and the best imaginary friend I am doomed to suffer for my own ineptitude.

Someone slap me sometime around the end of November or early December. I think a hot water bottle might make a nice, cheap and useful Christmas present from someone who doesn't know what to get me.
16/3/2018 6:06:49 PM UTC
Dave said :-
I fully understand about being unable to sleep when camping.I like to camp but never get a good nights sleep.As for the cold,I am too mean to buy an expensive sleeping bag that will only get used a couple of times a year.I take two average cheapish bags and put one inside the other.When it comes to lying on the floor I use any combination of roll mat/self inflating mat/air bed.If its going to be cold I have even used all three.The only downside with this approach is it is pretty bulky.
18/3/2018 1:14:12 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I too have looked at the idea of 2 sleeping bags Dave. Thing is being on the bike room is limited so it's not really an option. Also 2 bags - if they're the "mummy" shaped variety I think would be uncomfortable and a bloody nightmare to escape from when the inevitable midnight pee comes around.

Maybe the problem is I want to be a manly touch outdoors kinda bloke and...well...I ain't.

I'll keep on camping not because it's easy but because I'm just plain tight.

19/3/2018 11:52:55 AM UTC
Borsuk said :-
Midnight pee and empty plastic bottle = body core temp warm water bottle. No need to leave the bag never mind the tent.
When your benighted halfway up Ben More in a howling whiteout in winter you plan on not putting an arm out of the bag never mind your body out of the actual tent.

I'm back in April Ren, maybe we can meet up, will be in the Wrexham area for a week or so.
19/3/2018 8:45:13 PM UTC
Henrik said :-
Thanks for the look, admitted, I am getting sick and tired also, dealing with bad weather, and lousy tent-camping, overpriced also, for what it is

We will travel more in car from now, becourse we kayak also, and becourse my wife is even more tired of tents than me

MC wil be more small improvised trips, whitin the time-frame of the weather-forecasts, like weekends,..

The old Corsa is havinf company now with a Fabia-combo, we are progressing with a home-made "kit" being able to transform it to mini-camper :-)
20/3/2018 8:26:55 AM UTC
Henrik said :-
Could bring the MC with me on a trailer, for the norweigian hairpins, just in case the weather should be good,... LOL

20/3/2018 8:33:42 AM UTC
Henrik said :-
BTW. Mount Kjerag to the left, around 1 kilometre vertically right up, they jump out here with wingsuits, and can fly op to 3 kilometres before landing
20/3/2018 8:37:37 AM UTC
Henrik said :-
Correction: Kjerag in RIGHT side of course :-)
20/3/2018 8:38:55 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Yes yes yes Henrik just show us one of the most famous roads and make us green with envy. I am rather liking the idea of transforming your car into a micro-camper. While it won't be as luxurious as a big old van it'll be cheap and with some good ideas it should be effective too. I'd like to see the finished product.

Borsuk - you've got my email address. It would be fab to meet up somewhere near Wrexham, that's only an easy hours ride from Sharon's pad.
21/3/2018 12:32:36 PM UTC
Henrik said :-
Ok, I will return later, about micro-camper, today the wife cut the foam ;-)
21/3/2018 11:38:58 PM UTC
Henrik said :-

21/3/2018 11:39:57 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I don't think my little Ford Ka will be big enough for a micro camper. I might have to invest in an old Volvo estate...
22/3/2018 10:16:54 AM UTC
Henrik said :-
An old Amazon estate, in front of my old red house is a dream, but will remain so, I know my limmits, sometimes :-)

22/3/2018 10:40:10 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I was thinking cheap and cheerful Henrik - more like this...

Old Volvo Estate
22/3/2018 12:05:58 PM UTC
Bob said :-
A small van is the way.
I've got an old "Vanette", paid £700 for it. I bet it's not much longer than that Volvo, but cruicially there's room in the back to sleep next to a motorcycle and importantly the internal height means you can comfortably use a chemical toilet - I do think the toileting side of things is often overlooked and is often the source of most misery when it comes to camping.
Also, this particular Vanette is so old that it doesn't have a turbo, ABS or airbags and was registered before they started recording emissions figures, so it's actually exempt from the coming anti-diesel regulations (whatever they'll be).
Bikes and vans go together like pistachois and sultanas (try them and you'll see what I mean). With a van you can drive in comfort in the dry to your holiday destination, sleep in the back (stealth or on a campsite if you prefer), then pull the bike out and ride round when the sun comes out.
I'll never go back to not owning a van now, I only regret not having had one for the last 20 odd years!
22/3/2018 12:43:55 PM UTC

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