Downton Abbey star backs nephew’s 8,000-mile ride to raise funds for the RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

A biker is clocking up the miles for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) on his classic motorcycle with support from Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville.

RNLI/James Dwyer

Harry Bott is aiming to cover 8,000 miles as he visits all 238 RNLI stations in the UK and Ireland riding a classic 1926 Sunbeam Model 1, which used to belong to his great grandad.

The 96-year-old bike has a top speed of just 45mph and Harry expects his epic coastal journey – plotted with the help of an RNLI teatowel ­– to take him around four-and-a-half months.

And one of the supporters cheering the 23-year-old on is Notting Hill and Paddington actor Bonneville, who is Harry’s uncle and took to Instagram to wish him well.

‘I’m really grateful for my uncle’s support and everyone who has donated to my fundraising effort so far,’ said Harry, who started his journey at Teddington RNLI and is aiming to raise £5,000 for the lifesaving charity.

Riding a bike that is nearly a century old hasn’t come without its issues, with Harry facing blown-out tyres, punctures, ignition issues and a seized piston.

But fortunately, he has the skills to keep the bike on the road, having recently graduated with an engineering degree from Oxford Brookes University.

‘It’s more or less a lawnmower engine, but it does its job… when it’s working,’ he said.

‘The Sunbeam has a top speed of around 45mph, and I’ve been averaging around 20mph, so everything goes by a little slower. But that’s what you want when you’re on such a nice route.

‘Everyone’s been really excited to see it. It’s not every day you get to see old bikes like this out and about.’

Harry was inspired to embark on the trek after he and his dad restored his great-grandad’s motorcycle, bought in the 1930s and kept in the family ever since.

His great grandad bought the bike in the 1930s and used it to commute to his job as a shipping agent in Falmouth until the 1950s when it was stored in a barn where it remained for 67 years.

Fortunately, Harry’s seafaring great-grandad never required rescue during his career, but, Harry said, his family are keen sailors and are comforted by the RNLI’s reassuring presence along the nation’s coast.

‘It’s a great charity and has always been very present in my life as I sail, so it’s nice to be able to give back,’ he said.

The RNLI has just launched this year’s Mayday fundraising campaign encouraging supporters to sign up for a Mayday Mile to help the charity keep saving lives at sea.

And Harry is set to complete his own Mayday miles as he aims to cover 100 miles on his vintage bike on May 1 to shine a light on the campaign.

Harry added: ‘You don’t have to do as many miles as me and I would encourage everyone to sign up for a Mayday Mile if they can.’

RNLI/James Dwyer

RNLI/Tom Dale

RNLI/James Dwyer

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.