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Reading MAG's Lion Rally.
10th - 12th June 2005
We last visited the Lion Rally in 2000.
This is a strong contender for our favourite rally - I think it's just down to the atmosphere of the event. Reading MAG regularly attract 1000+ each year, but still manage to maintain an intimate, small-rally feel to the event.
On paper, the Lion should be a fairly non-descript affair, with little to distinguish it from many other events. However, it's all in the detail. The location is good - a little far south for my liking, but far enough away from the larger cities that you can still get there on a Friday night after work. The site is superb - a decent sized camping field, then two smaller areas, one for shopping, the other for beer/food/music. The bar is well priced and well stocked (Real Ale fans are catered for, so no need to start moaning). The food traders are all excellent (we tried most of them - just in the name of research, you understand!)
Our favourite Lion-feature (and I think a major contributor to the laid-back atmosphere) is the provision of a second marquee. The main marquee houses the bands and the bar, whilst the second just has the MAG stand, and loads of tables and chairs. Having somewhere to chill out and do what bikers do best (drink, eat, talk endlessly) is a real treat at a bike rally, and something I haven't seen at another event. It must have been hard to justify originally in terms of cost, but it is a superb addition to the event.
The only slight confusion was caused by the use of beer tokens - instead of paying cash at the bar, you bought beer tokens from the MAG stand in the second marquee (in £5, £10 or £20 sheets), which the bar staff then just had to attack with a marker-pen to tick off what you had used. It worked very well, and probably made the bar run smoother, but it could have been better advertised - I'm sure I wasn't the only idiot queueing for my first drink on Friday night, only to have to run next door to buy a sheet of tokens.
Aside from this, I can't think of anything to criticise the Lion for - even the toilets are excellent (cabin-type portaloos) and regularly cleaned.
We even found time for a trip out to nearby Windsor on the Saturday morning, where we horrified some American tourists by using a Pelican crossing without waiting for the green light - they were totally in awe of our daredevil exploits (and probably looking around for cops - sorry, no jaywalking laws here Yanks). It's got a decent town centre, but seems to be suffering from a chronic shortage of employees - almost every shop had a "Help Wanted" sign in the window. Another victim of rampant house prices - you can't afford to live in Windsor on shop-staff wages.
Just time for a quick run down of the weather. Friday daytime was glorious for travelling down and setting up, but Friday night was viciously cold - a 5am lager-bladder found the site swimming in two feet of mist, with frost up most of the tents. Saturday was excellent, apart from a short rainstorm in the early evening. Sunday was perfect for packing up, but turned bitterly cold on the way home (of course, extra clothing had been packed underneath everything else!)
We'll definitely be back to the Lion again, and you should try it as well (just don't tell too many people - we don't want to spoil it!)
Great Food & Beer
Cracking mix of bikes