South of England DAs’ Rally 1999
After a gap of one year, the South of England DAs’ Rally returned in 1999 hosted by Oxfordshire DA. Held on the weekend of 28-31 May, the Rally has been the highlight of celebrations this year to mark the DA’s 75th Anniversary. The venue was the Hill End Field Studies Centre, occupying a 65-acre rural site on the side of a hill overlooking the Thames Valley, some 3 miles West of Oxford.
The advance party arrived on Friday afternoon in glorious sunshine to find that the first group of cyclists had already arrived. By 6pm, official opening time, the small car park was already filling with cars bearing bicycles, and bicycles bearing cyclists. The tea bar adjoining reception was soon busy with a steady stream of visitors and the first inroads were made on the supply of 500 assorted cakes. Tents were quickly erected on the main sports field and our team of able-bodied porters was fully occupied helping to ferry luggage to the dormitories further up the hill. Caravaners staying beside the Thames at nearby Swinford cycled in to register. It was a gorgeous evening and a little later participants were able to sit on the grass to watch the entertainment provided by local clog dancing group Mason’s Apron.
Saturday started bright and sunny and cyclists were soon mustering in the car park for the start of the organised rides. A choice of 3 rides was on offer: a 70 mile ‘A’ ride, 45 mile ‘B’ rides and 30 mile family rides, each with a leader and a sweeper. 6 groups of 15-25 cyclists set off at 10 minute intervals heading west towards Witney and the Cotswolds. The A-riders had a hilly day visiting Burford, Bourton-on-the-water and Chipping Norton while the B-riders cycled through the Thames and Windrush valleys to Burford. The family riders spent the day visiting Cogges Manor Farm Museum at Witney.
Those left on site had the opportunity to explore. Hill End is farmed organically and is managed to encourage a diversity of wildlife, which includes a badger set beneath one of the dormitories. There are plenty of facilities for children, including a sound garden, a sensory garden, nature trails and a maze to get lost in. At 4pm, as the first riders returned, the tea bar opened for tea and cake and the outdoor swimming pool was opened by our two volunteer lifeguards. Nearly 30 cyclists braved the cold waters for a short dip. However, dark clouds could be seen massing on the horizon with the occasional flash of lightning and we were soon engulfed in the passing storm. With several swimmers lingering in the pool it was now the turn of the lifeguards to be soaked in the ensuing downpour! Several groups were still out on the road and although the storm did not last long, several very wet rides leaders reported their safe return a little later. After dinner, for those with excess energy, the evening entertainment was a Barn Dance with local band Captain Webb, while the tea bar stayed open serving drinks and cake for those who just wanted to chat with friends.
Sunday dawned murky and our guests could be forgiven for lingering over their breakfasts before heading out into the drizzle. The led rides were less popular than on Saturday and most cyclists opted for the B-ride option to Wantage or the C-rides to Bladon and Long Hanborough Bus Museum. Though it remained grey for most of the day, the rain largely held off. Sunday evening’s slide show saw the barn packed to the rafters (literally). In the first half, Wantage Camera Club treated us to an audio-visual tour of the local area – slide sequences presented using two projectors and a sound track of spoken commentary and/or music. A highly evocative sequence on the Berkshire Downs and the Ridgeway was followed by views of Wantage, the Thames at Abingdon and Oxford Colleges, with visits to Blenheim Palace and the model village at Bourton-on the-water. After the break (and yet more cake consumption) John Gosnell of South Bucks DA, took us Mountain Biking in the Yorkshire Dales, with some equally impressive photography of very different and dramatic scenery.
Bank Holiday Monday again started under grey skies but the weather steadily improved during the day. After breakfast we bade farewell to those with long cycle rides home. The led rides headed to Woodstock or to the Spring Fair at Bampton, a traditional gathering of Morrismen from all over the County. Not quite dancing in the streets from dawn to dusk (as Morrismen need beer for fuel, I’m told) but almost. A novelty photo-assisted ride was less popular, however. Rides were shorter on Monday so that everyone could get back in time for the final event of the weekend, the DA’s 75th Anniversary Tea at 3pm (although one group stayed so long in Bampton that they almost didn’t make it). We were delighted that so many of our visitors stayed on to share in this event. North Leigh WI did us proud with a wonderful spread of sandwiches and yet more cakes. Our guest of honour, Edith Corble, who has been active in the DA for nearly two-thirds of its 75 years, cut the birthday cake to warm applause. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to our guests and wish them a safe journey home. The rally was acclaimed a great success and all the effort was made worthwhile by the warm thanks we received and the knowledge that our visitors had enjoyed themselves.
Some Rally figures: 200 cyclists attended of whom 12 were children under-16; our oldest participants were in their 80’s; over 150 breakfasts and 160 evening meals were served. Nearly 400 cakes consumed (the rest went into the freezer for future use) and hundreds of teas, coffees and squashes drunk (it was no surprise that Eve Thornton our catering co-ordinator drew the warmest cheers during the vote of thanks).
This was the first time in recent memory that our DA had organised an event of this size, on our own (we co-hosted the 1992 Home Counties Rally – predecessor to this Rally – with West London DA), and there was a great sense of achievement at having managed it. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the 34 Oxfordshire DA members and four from other DAs who led rides, manned the registration desk, served teas, acted as stewards, porters and cleaners, etc. (and some did all of these!). To all of you a big ‘thank you’. Now we hand the baton on to West Surrey DA for Y2K. Those of us who were in the thick of it this year are looking forward to meeting old and newly-made friends again under more relaxing circumstances next year! …Oh, is that a piece of cake going spare?
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov 1999 edoition of Cycle magazine