Our last event of the season was Geoff Brazendale’s Westmorland Rally, and I was determined to participate. I could use the occasion for some serious mileage on the Longstroke. And with no time constraints I could take as long as I needed to ride from Nottingham to the Fat Lamb. The big question was whether the warm and wonderful weather would hold.
I was happy that the bike was mechanically fit, but I still had to deal with accessories. The non-original toolboxes are each closed by a single strap, and one of these had frayed so that it wouldn’t fasten. I visited the local cobbler who made an authentic and impressive repair, fitting a fresh leather strap which he distressed to match the front of the box. Now I was sure that the tools in the box would still be there when I arrived.
Overnight luggage for the weekend was more of a problem. I don’t like wearing a back pack, and since my stroke it’s difficult to swing my leg high enough to clear a soft pack on the carrier. I checked out bicycle panniers, but they wouldn’t fit easily over the toolboxes. Then a solution was found in a charity shop - I bought a delightful miniature suitcase just big enough to take a change of clothes, underwear and toiletries which fitted snugly to the carrier. I clad it in a waterproof rucksack cover and strapped it to the bike. My footwear went into a sports shoe bag which was tucked snugly between the saddle and the suitcase. Problem solved!
There was ample time for the journey north. Leaving early on a sunny Thursday afternoon I followed the familiar route through Ashbourne to Bakewell, then onto new ground at Glossop and over Holme Moss, which I cleared in top gear. I made an overnight stop at a sympathetic B&B in Holmfirth. My host garaged the bike and put me up in a suite littered with motor sport memorabilia and marque histories. The forecast for Friday was emphatically discouraging - the fine weather was about to break, and there would be heavy rain in Westmorland by lunch, so that called for an early start.
My second day’s ride, avoiding highways as best I could, took me through Halifax and Keighley. Then I should have left the main road at Settle, but I decided to sacrifice scenery for speed. I took the A65 to Kirby Lonsdale, then through Sedbergh. Soon I was traversing wet roads and was hit by the spray of a couple of touring bikes which overtook me just before I reached the Fat Lamb. But I was still dry when I pulled onto the pub car park and stowed the bike behind Geoff’s outfit.
Changed out of my riding gear, I passed a sociable afternoon as riders arrived every few minutes. It was sufficiently clement to go for a walk with two of the Scottish contingent, and by the time we got back to the pub for more chat, the car park was like a Transit van convention.
It was quite a crowd - more than 20 Sunbeams at one time or another over the weekend. They included two machines I had never seen but which had caught my eye when they were featured in MCS - Chris Odling’s Model 90 and FL 2775, a 1922 TT 3½ now owned by Tom Gaynor.
Saturday morning dawned still wet after an overnight downpour, and Geoff decided that the route up the Buttertubs pass would be unsafe due to the combination of rain and low cloud. We turned west instead, and did the shorter run that he had planned for Sunday morning. It was actually dry most of the way round but the damp overnight made starting difficult and contributed to some irritating backfiring.
Early in the afternoon I set off from the pub to follow the main crowd of riders. They had decided to take on the Buttertubs challenge, now that the cloud had lifted and the rain cleared. At Hawes I caught them up but then, to my chagrin, the Longstroke failed to get up the first serious ascent. Still running but with little power, I limped back into the village. There, by serendipidity, my rescuer reached me before he even received my call for help!
The bike was still running but absolutelygutless. Cleaning out the carb and petrol line made no difference, so we concluded the problem was slipped magneto timing. With the bike mounted on the back of the car we drove back to the Fat Lamb. With several offers of expert assistance for the morning I could relax and enjoy the convivial meal that evening.
Next day, while I took charge of the parts and wielded the oily rag, Geoff and his helpers quickly confirmed the diagnosis. They retimed the magneto using just a bent wire.
By noon, just as the crowd was returning from the hastily devised Sunday morning run, I was ready to go.
The day promised the perfect ride - 170 miles with the weather set fair and ample time to reach home before lighting up time. I would head back to Yorkshire down the main road but then bypass Sheffield on the Mortimer Road, an old turnpike from Penistone to North Derbyshire.
But the ride was not to be - 40 miles into the journey, the timing suddenly slipped, and once again I limped to a halt, this time at the door of a pub thronged with families going for their Sunday lunch. A call to Footman James summoned the recovery truck, and I settled down to enjoy my pint and baguette.
The local press covered the start on Saturday morning, and a few days later Geoff passed on a copy of the newspaper.
That’s not quite the end of the story. Among the Sunday lunch crowd was a couple I saw studying the bike. The lady was better informed than the usual admirer. “My uncle Charles,” she said, “used to race Sunbeams like this in the Isle of Man in the 1920s - I’m so sad that he died young and I never met him!” We exchanged details, and I’ll leave it to Michael Ryan to fill in the rest of an extraordinary story.
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