After an entire winter of following the rally trail around the country, and silently wishing I could have a Sunday morning lie-in, it seems that the end of the working season always comes too soon, and we always feel a little surprised when it is suddenly upon us.

This season begins to wind down now, and the 5th of March found us in the wooded trails near Ringwood in Hampshire, at the Moors Valley Country Park.  Put on by BSA and organised by Southcoast Sleddogs (Zara Wooliscroft and Chris Leyland), this was the season finale for the BSA championship 2015-16 season.

The continued growth of the sport of mushing and other dog sport (i.e. canicrossing and bikejoring) has meant there has been a very positive increase in available events across the country this year.  On the flipside, of course, that means that some very tough scheduling decisions had to be made throughout the year by all mushers of the events they could go to – depending on championships being followed, location and the events themselves.

For us, this was only our second BSA rally of the year – and it was somewhat sad to find ourselves at what is arguably our favourite trail to run, at the final rally of the year.   For others of course – this rally represented the cumulative work of an entire season with BSA and the excitement when we arrived was clearly palpable.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love the trails at Moors Valley.  For many besides us, this is one of the favourite rallies of the year, and one that everyone hates to miss (there were a number of events on that weekend and I think everyone had extremely difficult decisions to make on whether or not they could attend).

BSA Ashley Heath Rally

Interestingly, the venue is not unlike that of the last rally we attended further north at Hick’s Lodge – however Moors Valley has the benefit of exclusivity, and in this you can really appreciate the trail, the venue itself and the entire event to a whole new level.

This event is a single night rally only – and though the venue is absolutely heaving with tourists, dog walkers and the general public in general when you arrive at approximately 3 pm for rig inspections – by 5:30 when the venue closes all that is left is the happy sounds of mushers and the anticipation of the race to come.   The trail is pretty standard each year (rather nice knowing what to expect on this one!) and is listed as 3.6 miles.

We are very lucky for this rally to be a fairly local one, with only an hour and a bit of driving finding us arriving at the gates of Moors Valley.  As mentioned the mushers meeting was set to be at 3 pm so our arrival was still happily in the daylight - though negotiating all of the pedestrians and loose dogs does take a bit of care.   There was separate parking allocated to the mushers (a brilliant addition by the organisers as the other carparks were heaving) though some mushers opted to park in the regular car park for easy leaving once the running was completed.

Here too – like Hick’s Lodge – staking out the dogs was not possible.  In fact there was no staking out at Moors Valley at all whereas there were at least some small areas to stake dogs out at Hick’s.  It was though, perhaps not as hard on the dogs given that it was only a night rally and so the dogs were in their crates a little less time than they would have been had it been an entire weekend of racing.

For us running in the two dog freight class being one of the last classes of the night – we had quite a wait after the musher’s meeting was done, but the waiting is never so hard when you find yourself in the forest on a crisp and clear March evening, to the happy sounds of dogs and mushers with actual inside toilets and a warm café with hot coffee at your disposal!  What more could you really ask of a Saturday night??

Once hellos were said and the dogs stretched and settled in the vans, the rigs inspected and the musher’s meeting over, we found ourselves warm and contentedly enjoying a coffee with friends and discussing the season thus far, and making plans for racing seasons yet to come.  The café was also good enough to stay open not only for snacks and drinks for the mushers before their races, but also for much needed food after!

Spirits were very high throughout the evening, and not just because of how much everyone enjoys the trails here – but we were all full of a deep and abiding gratitude that we were bringing the rally season towards its end with a very cold night, and not a hint of rain.

One of the few downfalls of this rally was that – due to the size of the venue – there were a limited number of entries available, so you do have to book this one as quick as you can.  Despite clashing with some other large events on that weekend the rally was fully booked.   Also – because of the numbers this rally had one minute starts, which can always be a bit hair-raising, but with our noisy, excitable dogs at the start lines, we didn’t much mind setting off quickly!

Once all of the general public were gone after 5:30 and the light start to fade, the event was off, starting with the canicross runners.  The classes were staggered throughout the evening between the larger Sibe and freight classes, with also bikejor and the smaller freight dog classes running late.   We were running two of our dogs separately in the 2 dog freight team (DR2F) class and so went out after 8 pm, giving us plenty of time to prep the dogs as well as enjoying the warmth of the café and a bit of socialising.

There’s something always that little bit more exciting at a night run, as the rig lights flash past with teams heading out, and the twinkle of lights through the trees as people excitedly call their dogs in from the dark – hoping but never sure if your team is the next one coming…

It was with added anticipation that we set off our two teams – never having had to manage two teams going out in one class before, it was quite interesting!  It’s hard to match the elation you feel when you see your team come in and finally recognise them in the flood lights and know that they’ve had a safe and happy run.  A huge congratulations to everyone who went out and enjoyed the trails at this event!

The trails at Moors Valley are good fast ones, so there were some really excellent times all around.  Dan Brown came first in the canicross class with his Siberian Husky Kiera finishing in 18:58, and Victoria Rock finished first place in bikejor with her hound Indi with a cracking time of 9:48 – the fastest time of the event with an average speed of 20.2 mph.   After the rally, she said “We had a fab rally at Moors Valley, great venue and trail and as always really well organised by the BSA. We were lucky with the cold and dry weather and my dog Indi loved it. We had a really good run. All finished off with a well-deserved burger at the cafe afterwards.”

Nick Stone also ran a fantastic 11:30 timed run in DR3NB coming in first, and Colin Drever running his two Greenlands in the two dog freight class (DR2F) did a phenomenal 15:38 minutes taking first place in the group.   Taking second place in that group was SnowPaw Store's Adam Johnson – running his first rally on a rig this season with his Malamute Ria and new team mate 15 month old Sawyer – came in with a fantastic time of 17:54.

Adam, Ria and Sawyer

Also a very big well done to Ross Lewis who stepped in for this rally after his wife Gwynne injured her hip racing last weekend, and ran a new team coming in 7th place in the very fast DR3NB class.  Well done to everyone who raced this weekend – and as always thank you for the good sportsmanship and a positive atmosphere throughout the event.

Once all the racing was done a lot of tired but elated mushers retired to the café for some much needed food and chatting – followed by the awards presentation.  Matt Eames was good enough to visit the mushers one by one to present trophies for BSA’s last rally West Harting Down.  The second day there was cancelled due to the weather and trail conditions, so trophies were gratefully received that night.  Thank you Matt!

Chris and Zara presented the awards for the evening after everyone was done eating, really rounding off the season for BSA and bringing it all to a happy close.

Thank you very much to all the organisers for continuing to put on such a great event – we look forward to seeing you again next year!  And to all of the volunteers and mushers who helped us and others throughout the night – your good will is always appreciated.

For full results please see the BSA website: http://www.britishsleddogactivities.co.uk/

"The opinions, observations and comments included in these race reports are solely from the writer and do not necessarily reflect the position of either Snowpaw Store or of any specific club.  These reports are written from the point of view of a spectator and/or participant and though every effort is made for unbiased, factual accounts, they will likely not represent everyone 's experience of the event. You are warmly welcomed to attend events for a more first hand experience!"

All photos taken by Red Anderton-Tyers and used with her kind permission.

Red Anderton-Tyers is a writer and photographer originally from Houston Texas. Her kennel, Flint Sky Alaskan Malamutes, run working sled dogs in various sporting events in the UK. SnowPaw Store is delighted that she has joined our team of article contributors and Red will be writing race reports on many events attended this season.