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Event: Bisley 2007

As HOG’s European Rallies have wandered around the various countries that make up the member states, they’ve had a tendency to leave behind a little piece of themselves which has, in a number of cases – most notably Port Grimaud, Barcelona and Hamburg – ending up becoming a national focus in subsequent years.

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BISLEY2007

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Event: Bisley 2007

In the UK, we’re revisiting Minehead for 2008 in celebration of Harley’s 105th and HOG’s 25th birthday but in the years since the last excursion to the Somerset coast HOG’s UK members haven’t had a national event and instead have been attending the well-organised but inevitably smaller chapter rallies, and making up for it by hitting the big European event in substantial numbers. There is, however, something very close to a national event which has been held since 2004 at the National Rifle Association’s centre at Bisley, in leafy Surrey, and run not by one chapter or HOG centrally but five otherwise unrelated chapters – 1066, Invicta, Oxford, Surrey and Thames Valley – all of who are based in the south, hence the South of England Rally, or SOFER for short.

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It’s great to see such a spirit of cooperation between the clubs, especially as there is no commercial tie-in between their sponsoring dealerships, and they enjoy the support of HOG centrally, because they can recognise a good thing when they see one: this is just a bloody good idea that has been given the space to breathe, and a combination of that cooperation and the venue – a colonial time capsule set among the trees of Surrey parkland – gives the event a unique character that can’t fail to make you feel welcome. We know it by its excellent reputation, and took the opportunity to see it fi rst-hand for 2007 – albeit for a single evening – unsure how well it would fare set against the backdrop of the summer’s downpours which had rendered part of the site unusable, and which had restricted day ticket availability. If it was reduced in size this year, it must be a hell of a spectacle when it’s full, for there were tents everywhere among the trees, and camping was only one of the available accommodation options, with three different sizes of ‘cabins’ available – sleeping one, two of four people in single beds – set in blocks with shared toilet facilities, all of which sold out very early on, as well as male and female dormitories which were a modest £9 per head for the two nights. Camping was free with your ticket, with no apparent shortage of space or takers within the main area. The focal point for activities is the Pavilion building, with its labyrinthine collection of rooms for drinking, dining, dancing or just sitting down watching the world go by from its covered or its glazed verandahs. There’s a fifteen room hotel upstairs too, if you’re very quick to book, but it’s worth being aware that the bars don’t close ’til 2am, so if you like your creature comforts, you’ll need to be deaf or a party animal. Beyond that, there are many clubhouses scattered around the site, many offering food with a dazzling array of international flavours served within a Victorian or Edwardian atmosphere: the majority of the site’s original buildings survive and

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Event: Bisley 2007

little has been built since 1914 giving it an authentic sense of the past rather than a retro pastiche. One of the few modern buildings on site, the Lord Robert’s Centre, even has a fully equipped gym if you’re a fitness freak or are easily bored, but the number of activities on-site suggest that you’ll be stuck for time to do everything rather than at a loss. Six bands provided a varied musical repertoire, with one each afternoon on an outdoor stage and the entertainment moving indoors to the ballroom for the evening sessions, the ever-popular Chapter Challenge occupied a lot of people – the honours evenly distributed between 1066, who won overall, Invicta, Nene Valley and Thames Valley – and the ride-in custom show saw Martin Dickinson’s Fat Boy, featured last issue, come away with enough metalwork to warrant a new shelf in his trophy cabinet. Nene Valley HOG lived up their reputation too, providing their own floor show comprising a bizarre military parade of assorted members being bawled out by a WW1 drill sergeant: a kind of Private Benjamin meets Blackadder goes Fourth with much merriment, irreverence, an excellent sense of humour and all the military precision of a puppy on a lead. If you’ve ever accused HOG

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members of taking themselves too seriously, half an hour with Nene Valley will set you straight. We whiled away the last hours of daylight on that balmy summer’s evening round Martin and Victoria’s barbeque, refusing beer and watching the fi rework display that provided a deafening crescendo to the day’s activities before heading back north. If I’d realised there was still accommodation in the dormitories – having not taken a tent – it might have been a different story, but that’s something to think about for next year – subject to availability. You might wonder whether Harley’s Minehead open house event will make an impact on the UK’s biggest HOG rally, but I think it would be unlikely in the extreme: SOFER’s unique charm and atmosphere – in part gifted to them by the stunning venue – will ensure that people return year after year, and is a good enough reason to join HOG all by itself. Words: Andy Hornsby Pics: Ian Mutch and Andy Hornsby

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SofER Rally 2007