I had never heard of the Ice Ale rally. That was until the President of the Iron Horse MCC mentioned it to me.
The rally, organised by the Druids MCC, is an annual biker event held at Skillington, near Grantham, Lincolnshire. This year’s do, held on the first weekend of December, proved to be exactly that, icy, with, I imagine, plenty of ale consumed. If you recall that weekend, we had a huge dump of overnight snow on the Saturday, so any hardy campers at the rally would have awoken from their booze-sodden slumbers to a ton of snow lying on their tents and covering their bikes. I gather that in previous years the rally had been wetter and warmer as opposed to colder and bleaker, a typical midwinter weekend, then. Even so, without doubt, winter riders are a hardy lot, often filled with bravado, beer, and bullshit.
Skillington lies six miles south of Grantham and one-and-a-half miles west of the A1. According to a 2021 census, the population of the civil parish was 314. No doubt that swells somewhat dramatically with the rally, bikers causing a stir as they roll up on bikes packed with camping equipment. Turn up in a car and you will be turned round swiftly… no pussies allowed here, thank you very much.
There is a popular local, the Cross Swords, which offers accommodation, the three rooms available on a room-only basis, but I would imagine they are booked early in the season if you are not into camping. Apparently, however, the pub does serve a good pint of Timothy Taylor.
I digress. The Druids also hold a summer event at Skillington, The Poser rally, with the rural idyll often broken by the arrival of over three hundred bikes piling on to the old Gymkhana field on the outskirts of the village. The summer rally has been staged since 1986, with only one interruption due to the outbreak of Foot & Mouth. I can’t exactly recall when that was, but it doesn’t really matter.
If you have never attended a biker rally, there are numerous events happening throughout the year. You pay a pre-booked entrance fee, turn up, pitch your tent and head to the bar. Pretty simple, really. Then there are the daft games to enjoy, plus live music and trophies to be won.
A spot of research reveals that The Poser rally has grown considerably over the years when, in the early days, evening activities would take place in the old farm barns that once stood where Wagtail Barn and Ladies Mantle Cottage now stand. The barns have since long gone and with the steady increase in visitors, a large marquee is erected on the field to house the stage and bar.
Whilst The Poser rally is more for fair-weather bikers, the Ice Ale weekend is more of a traditional event for bikers happy to brave hazardous road conditions, crap weather and sub-zero camping conditions. Just like the event just past. No doubt these die-hards are seen as celebrities by the locals, but we can namedrop a couple of other real-time celebs to Skillington, though not to any rally. An occupant of one of the two manor houses, now called The Abbey, at some time after the war, was the daughter of Lord Rank the cinema mogul. This could be why the film star David Niven would often spend his weekends in the village. And long before the war, the village’s thriving Methodist group had a guest preacher, Alfred Roberts, who would attend regularly from nearby Grantham. He would bring along his young daughter, none other than Margaret Thatcher.
I shall try and make it along to The Poser rally in 2024. Sounds fun. I’m not so sure about the Ice Ale rally, although I’m sure that’s fun, too, and whilst I am more of a fair-weather rider, I don’t really mind the cold and rain, but as for snow, no thank you very much. It’s not so much about me, but the bikes. During these dark winter months, a precious few hours of blue skies and a cold snap in the air will happily see me out and about, but getting a bike clogged with mud, and with salt spewed everywhere by the grit lorries, a ride-out easily can result in four hours of cleaning. So, my bikes are currently staying housed in the garage. One of them, the Indian Scout, is interred in a quiet corner shrouded in a bed sheet enjoying a trickle charge drip feed. It’s been like that since its MoT earlier in the year when it was saw daylight for only the second time during 2023. It’s an eye-achingly gorgeous bike, in a sparkly green with tan seat, Vance and Hines exhaust and posh grips. It’s also immaculate. Just like the Ducati XDiavel S and the new (2023) Suzuki GSX-8S. And lying dormant as they do, idling away their time as they await the better weather, that might be the whole crux of the problem. It’s a small infringement on my personality, but OCD has been the bain of my life ever since childhood. Things must be in a certain place, square on, clean and tidy… you get my drift.
Now, I know many of you will be thinking, shame on you, bikes are for riding, and indeed they are, which is why, like others I know, I have been scouting for a ‘winter bike’, one that can be ridden during this season and beyond without fear of getting it mucky, for wont of a better word. The cleaning I am more than happy to do, and I say that whilst trying to push the word ’meticulous’ to the back of my mind. As a result of my searches, I have come across a rather nice Ducati Monster 696+. It’s at a dealership, the one where I purchased the Suzuki. It’s a Cat N, so had suffered the odd abrasion but no mechanical damage, and whoever had it before had done a fantastic job of prepping it back to nigh-on perfect condition. It’s spot on for my needs. I love Ducatis. Not in an obsessive way like some Harley owners I could mention, but I love the history, the bikes, the looks, the sounds. I have ridden a Monster previously, and the Scrambler version, and thoroughly enjoyed them. So, I am looking forward to my new purchase.
Also on the showroom floor is a used Suzuki DL1000 XT V-Strom in immaculate condition. I have my eye on that for springtime when I hope to do some overnighters. I said to Jon, the salesman and Ducati aficionado, if he would be happy if I traded in the Ducati for the V-Strom when the time was right. He said of course it wouldn’t be a problem. But then I think it might be for me. If I love the Monster as much as my other charges, then it will be hard to let it go, so I may well end up simply adding the V-Strom to the small, but perfectly formed, collection.
Whilst I am, somewhat inadvertently, on the subject of camping, allow me to introduce you to some recently launched products that may well serve you (and me) well for 2024. As a former Editor of Camping magazine, I was often out on the fells, up mountains, or hunkered down in valley floors, enjoying glorious nights under the stars, around a camping stove, heating up meals, chatting with like-minded individuals, and it is something I am looking forward to doing once again… when the weather improves!
Light My Fire Outdoor MealKit
Light My Fire is a Swedish brand which is new to me, but then I have been out the picture for a while. All of the items included in its rather splendid eight-piece Outdoor MealKit have been specifically designed to fit together in a compact and lightweight package so you can easily transport them in a pannier or top box. Pieces include a storage container; cutting board/strainer; plate and bowl; and the iconic Light My Fire Spork in original and small sizes. The kit also contains a Swedish kåsa, which has multiple uses as a measuring jug, mug or bowl. What is particularly inventive about this product is that Light My Fire has paid careful attention to the design, with details such as measuring lines, holders for the sporks, and curved bowl bases that match the spoon end of the spork for frustration-free, al fresco dining. Each item in the Outdoor MealKit is made from BPA-free bio-based plastic that is microwave and dishwasher safe. For transport, you can simply hold the set together with a strap-harness. Available in a wide range of colours, expect to pay £38.95. www.berryuseful.co.uk
SOTO Thermostack Cook Set Combo
If you are worried about space, then worry no more, as the lightweight and compact SOTO Thermostack Cook Set Combo has been designed for bikers, solo backpackers and travellers… well, in fact and anyone who has limited space at camp or on the move. Made out of a combination of aluminium, titanium and stainless steel, the eight-piece set weighs just 310g and has dimensions of a mere 8.6cm x 11cm when stowed. The impressive list of Items includes a large aluminium pot (750ml) that can be used as a mug; a titanium mug (400ml); a stainless steel mug (350ml); a pot handle; two sipping lids; a joint to combine two mugs and enhance heat retention; and an insulated cover, which keeps ingredients in the large mug/pot warm in ambient temperatures, and doubles up as a bag. This versatile, neat and functional cook set costs £71.95 and is available from www.newheights.co.uk and selected specialist retailers.
Whitby multipurpose pocket knife
I have enjoyed using Whitby’s excellent range of knives for outdoors use for years and it is good to see the brand continuing to producing its durable products with its expanded range of multipurpose pocket knives suitable for legal everyday carry in the UK. The carrying of knives continues to be a contentious issue, especially today with so much deplorable knife crime being carried out in this country, so it is worthwhile making sure that you are aware of what the law does and does not permit, but that is a different story altogether. Back to Whitby. Based on the brand’s bestselling Kent range, it has added the Whitby KENT+ EDC knife to its collection. This compact multipurpose pocket knife can be used for a wide range of tasks both in the home and on the move, and features the range’s popular dual colour handle design with the addition of four essential devices ideal for tackling a range of everyday tasks. Weighing in at a mere 108g, the KENT+ EDC features a 5.7cm (8.7cm closed length) plain blade knife with a finger hole made from tough, corrosion-resistant 12CR27 steel. In addition, it offers a handy flat head screwdriver, scissors and a Phillips screwdriver with cap lifter. It is available in a choice of five eye-catching colours: Lava Orange, Carbon Fibre Pattern, Cactus Green, Black Pakkawood and Olive Wood. Priced at £29.95, the Whitby KENT+ EDC is available from www.berryuseful.co.uk. A Whitby Kent+ black nylon sheath with a handy 1.75-inch belt loop can be purchased separately for £2.95.
Zippo rechargeable hand warmers
Zippo has extended its range of heated products with the new HeatBank 6 and HeatBank 9s rechargeable hand warmers, so if you’ve had a bit of a chilly ride, then these are perfect for when you reach your destination. Providing hours of warmth, they also double up as power banks. Press a button, and the HeatBank 6 delivers up to 50°C of heat, with three settings and indicator lights for heat and battery level. The rechargeable 4,400mAh lithium-ion battery provides up to six hours of run time and will also recharge other USB-compatible devices. The compact Zippo HeatBank 6 measures 10.8cm high x 4.4cm wide x 2.4cm deep, and weighs a mere 142g. Available in green, blue and orange, the retail price is £29.95. Designed to fit in a hand or pocket, the dual-sided HeatBank 9s will provide warmth of up to 50°C for up to nine hours, with six heat settings. Indicator lights show the different levels and the status of the 5200mAh lithium-ion battery, which can be recharged using a USB cable. The HeatBank 9s will also recharge other USB compatible devices, making it ideal for travel and time outdoors. The Zippo HeatBank 9s is 12.4cm high x 6cm wide x 2.4cm deep, and weighs 156g. Retailing at £39.95, it is available in black or silver from https://berryuseful.co.uk
Selk’bag wearable sleeping bags
Two of Selk’bag’s core products are now made from 100 per cent recycled materials. The Selk’bag Original and Selk’bag Lite are two of the brand’s most popular wearable sleeping bags and boast warmth, comfort and freedom of movement for outdoor and camping enthusiasts. Each Selk’bag Original and Selk’bag Lite combines a 100 per cent recycled polyester face fabric and lining with 100 per cent recycled hollow fibre insulation made from discarded plastic bottles (230 bottles for the Original and 153 for the Lite), making a meaningful step towards less impactful production. The main zip and other components are also fully recycled. The updated Selk’bags offer campers and outdoor enthusiasts the very best performance features for year-round use, no matter the conditions (ah, perhaps spot on for the Ice Ale rally, then!). Features include no-hassle elasticated hand openings that allow wearers to bring their hands in and out of the bag quickly and effortlessly; large kangaroo pockets; and removable booties with reinforced outsoles. The adjustable, insulated hood offers added warmth, and the two-way double zipper makes it easy to get in and out of a Selk’bag and access pockets. It comes with a handy stuff sack when not in use. The Unisex Selk’bag Original (£139.99) weighs 1.54kg (S) to 2.08kg (XL) and comes in a choice of four colourways: Burgundy Earth, Ash Foliage, Black Light and Ice. The Selk’bag Lite (£99.99) weighs 0.96kg (S) to 1.51kg (XL) and is available in Teal Sunlight, Foggy Blue and Black Terracotta. Both Selk’bags are available at www.selkbag.co.uk, in sizes from small to extra large to fit wearers between 4’11” and 6’4” tall.
- Main image | 12019 from Pixabay