The Wessex Wanderer

You asked me first of all where the idea came from. Well about 10 years ago I got involved with a number of motorcycle clubs that organised navigation rallies. Both national and international ones. And I thought, well, it would be quite interesting to do a sort of treasure hunt locally in Wiltshire. So it started off with a small local treasure hunt event and after about 4 or 5 years we then started to think about 'maybe we could broaden this into a trail riding type event' and it just sort of grew.
The first Wessex Wanderer if you like was 5 years ago. We had 42 people. The idea was to provide the opportunity for members from around the country to come down to Wiltshire and to be guided. To be honest with you, the inspiration for that was the original Scarborough to Hest Bank TRF Coast to Coast event, which I took part in quite a few times which was really enjoyable. We thought, well I'm sure we could do something fairly similar down here in Wiltshire.
How it's evolved, well it's grown in size, we had 65 this year. Originally we wanted to create funds for our fighting fund and use it to generate income. Last year we reached a point where we had about £10,000 in our fighting fund which we draw on if we needed map work or if National TRF asked for contributions to a legal case. We felt that perhaps a change in direction might be appropriate. So therefore this year we've actually raised funds for 2 local charities. One is called Hope for Harmony, a little girl who unfortunately was born with very severe disabilities. The main charity we will be supporting this year is Wiltshire Air Ambulance because riding in Wiltshire does take you to some pretty remote parts of the county which can't be easily reached by conventional emergency services so the air ambulance is a vital link. .
The cost of the weekend is currently £40. That covers breakfast on both the Saturday and Sunday mornings, and the ride fees. We use a pub that's got a campsite beside it and also good shower and toilet facilities. Riders pay for their accommodation separately with the landlord direct, or I know that number of them actually use local B&Bs

In terms of contribution to the community - my estimate is that over the weekend about £10,000 went into the local economy. And in addition to that there are employment opportunities created in the pub which was very busy both Friday and Saturday evenings. That £10,000 is made up of food, petrol, campsite fees, B&B accommodation, which for 65 participants plus the run leaders actually adds up.
Planning usually starts in December. The key thing about this type of event is run leaders. Identifying sufficient run leaders then determines the number of participants that we can actually cater for. You know what it's like, in December the general call will go out - 'who is interested in leading a run?' It's very easy in December to stick your hand up and say yes but as it gets closer to the event and you are pressing people - 'are you still up for it?', 'Well actually I think I might be able to do one day but not both'. So having run leaders and contingency run leaders in case you have problems, is absolutely essential.

The second planning issue is about the venue. It's got to have adequate camping and caravan facilities. It's got to be fairly remote because the last thing you want to do is annoy the local community. It's got to have adequate shower and toilet facilities with 60+ people. It's got to offer a cafe or pub that will offer breakfast and and evening meal. So the location is absolutely critical.

I had to do a risk assessment for the first time this year. We wanted to make sure that we could take advantage of the TRF indemnity and liability cover which is provided through the BMF.

Then there is the question of taking entries. This year I promoted the event via the TRF forum. I think I launched it in January. Within 4 weeks I had filled almost all our places so the Forum is a really effective way of getting the message out there. I also advertised in Trail Magazine in February and that mopped up a few more people. The people of course that it doesn't help me connect with are those who are not internet savvy who still rely perhaps on a printed copy of Trail given to them by friends.

Post event - there's the evaluation. I email all the participants and ask them if they have any comments about the venue, the rides and any suggestions on how to improve the event for next year.

We had 14 groups that went out on each day. In Wiltshire we limit our group sizes to 6, that's including the run leader, so essentially we have 2 types of groups. We have our Intermediates - that's more than 100 miles, probably less stops than the gentle and scenic and the pace will be a little bit quicker - still within the Code of Conduct but overall the pace during the day will be a little bit quicker and that would probably suit the fitter riders.

We also have the gentle and scenic group - that's less than 100 miles and they have cafe stops and garage stops, it's much more relaxed, it's about taking in the views and having regular stops. We had 4 gentle and scenic and we had 10 intermediate groups.
You asked about why it's good for the TRF and trail riding in general. I think there are five quick points:
  1. It emphasies that the TRF is a riding community as well as being concerned with the conservation of rights of way
  2. Events like this offer a tangible benefit for members across the country. It's a chance to experience a different part of the country
  3. It reinforces the fraternal nature of the TRF. It's a club. It's about socialising with people with a similar interest.
  4. It encourages the idea of getting out and riding. The run leaders we have, they will go out perhaps 3 or 4 times to practice their routes and check them. That's good for them because it gives them a reason to get out and ride.
  5. Finally I think it promotes the TRF as a responsible organisation which is promoting the legal and safe enjoyment of the countryside on a motorcycle.
The way other groups could benefit from doing something similar, well income generation is one benefit. I think it also encourages members to develop skills as run leaders. Quite often you find in groups that it's the same people who lead group runs. Or people will just go out with their mates. What this does is encourage people to develop run leader skills. It also gives something back to the community. I have talked to the venue owner and his estimate is that the weekend generated around £6,000 for his business alone. In addition, our two charities have benefited to the tune of £1,500.

A great weekend riding plus a great deal of money raised for charity. Derek Sadler, Chairman, Wiltshire TRF presenting Kelly Leese from Wiltshire Air Ambulance with a cheque for £1000

The 2019 Wessex Wanderer is on 11th & 12th May. Bookings open soon. Contact for more information.