Riding through time in the N.East of England

August 21st, 2009

An area of Great Britain that I’d always by-passed in the past was the North East corner of England.
I had a job interview in York (didn’t get it) and with my hosts having a celebratory leaving for America party for their son (not something I felt comfortable attending), I decided it would be a good time to take advantage of my proximity to the area.
The interviewer said he’d not hold my motorcycle clothes against me, so I set off on Thursday.

Unlike crossing the USA, crossing England is a few hours at most, especially at the point where the wall was built by Hadrian between 122 and 130 AD. Much of it has gone. Pillaged for use in other buildings near by. In certain areas it has disappeared altogether. In others, remains show how formidable an obstacle it would have presented, especially where combined with geography and geology.

This is a slide show from some of the stills I took. There’s lots of video that I need to edit, but I’m also working on changing this website at the moment, so patience is needed on that.


When looking at history and travel, sometimes it’s easy to think it was only invented a few hundred years ago. The fact that sitting on a wind swept, wet dark, cold and overcast volcanic outcrop, high above the marshy lands that were the boundary with the barbarians, was the job of a Syrian archery battalion in AD 100, suddenly brings home how arrogant we can be to be dismissive of the achievements of our ancestors.

That buildings were constructed, which have lasted time, wars and weather for centuries, where as the modern structures we throw up have a fifty year life expectancy, makes you question our temporary, disposable attitude.

One thing to remember about building a wall is, it will have two sides…one side to keep people out and the other side keeps people in. You are building not only a structure but also division, creating an us and them, mistrust, alienation and fear. Always been the same with walls, always will be.
Hadrian’s version was as much about financials as it was safety.

Of course, when the Romans and their forces withdrew, they left behind a very prosperous country but without admin and a strong law. Others tried to move in, so defences were needed to keep them at bay.

Human nature being what it is, when not facing an enemy, often the powers that held this force, would use it to further their own causes, which sometimes resulted in the subjugation and exclusion of the populace from sharing in decision making and wealth. The few gained a lot, at the expense of the masses.

So there you have it. Fear and the manipulation of fear, enabling the few to prosper and create a clique of power, at the expense of the people they are supposed to be protecting. Still that’s just history…isn’t it.

Oh yes, the bendy bloke…St Cuthbert. Locked himself away, so that the view and other people wouldn’t interfere with him performing his devotions (not sure what practical use that has). Anyway, he died and was venerated for what seems to be a purely selfish lifestyle. Still on Lindisfarne Island, the monks had amassed wealth by selling prayers to save the souls of those willing to pay. The Vikings came over and raided. St Cuthbert was exhumed and moved. His body was still flexible and hadn’t decomposed, even though he’d been dead for 40 yrs. He was dug up several times there after, always bendy and fresh. So it seems that St Cuthbert’s reward for his piousness was to be blessed with a flexible body…after death…so that’s useful.

Took a leisurely 3 hours to meander across England from one side to the other, following the 80 mile long wall as closely as possible. Took 4 days of riding around, to see what I wanted to see though.

Things frequently seem so cut and dried in historical reports. That’s very rarely the case as you soon discover following the Wall. We were taught that it was the end of the Roman Empire, but that was only the case for a 40 yearish period. Trajan had gone much further north and you see Roman settlements and forts on the “barbarian” side of the Wall. Plus these barbarians weren’t all that barbarian. They were skilled farmers and crafts people. They were just different and had a different culture to the Romans, who happened to write the reports.

Anyway, Cumbria and Northumberland, full of history. I even tripped over history, it’s everywhere.Vindolanda, is the site of the most treasured British find in the British Museum, the earliest written records found in the country. The excavations in this picture are of the 7th layer of fort built by the Romans. Their structures used unseasoned timbers, so had to be demolished every 20 years or so. They’d cut the wood down to ground level, then use clay to set a new floor. This anaerobic layer effectively sealed the layer beneath and trapped everything for posterity.

As I mentioned previously, the forces here came from many locations, with the Roman Romans holding the senior positions. Even the local Brits joined the Roman army…minimum 25 years after which you were eligible for Roman citizenship.
This is a modern stone to commemorate all who served at Vindolanda and the Wall.

The Batavians (Latin Batavi)[1] were a Germanic tribe, originally part of the Chatti, reported by Tacitus to have lived around the Rhine delta, in the area that is currently the Netherlands, “an uninhabited district on the extremity of the coast of Gaul, and also of a neighbouring island, surrounded by the ocean in front, and by the river Rhine in the rear and on either side” (Tacitus, Historiae iv). This led to the Latin name of Batavia for the area.[2] The same name is applied to several military units, originally raised among the Batavi. The tribal name, probably a derivation from batawj? (“good island”, from Germanic bat- “good, excellent” and awj? “island, land near water”), refers to the region’s fertility, today known as the fruitbasket of the Netherlands (the Betuwe).

Tungrorum:
The Tungri were a tribe inhabiting the western Ardennes in central Europe. The only concrete evidence for the presence of this unit in Britain is an undated altar to Hercules unearthed at Mumrills on the Antonine Wall, where they were probably the first garrison. The only other records of this regiments service in Britain are on military diplomata from Chester and York

Nerviorum: from the Bavay area of northern France.

The Vardulli [or Varduli] were a small tribe from north-east Spain, whose neighbours were the Vascones. Their territory was a narrow strip which stretched from the coast (between San Sebastian on East and Motrico on West) in land just about to the river Ebro between Logrono and Miranda de Ebro. Strabo only specifically mentions the Vascones as occupying the region now populated by the Basques, however Pomponius Mela and Claudius Ptolemy mention in addition, the Vardulli and a third tribe the Allotriges [or Autrigones]. It is probable that the Vardulli and Allotriges were either tribal subdivisions of the Vascones or separate tribes linked by at least a common language.
The early history of the unit is unclear, however it is likely that the cohort had been raised by the time of Claudius. It is first recorded in AD98, as part of the garrison of Britain. By this time the unit had already earnt the titles fida [loyal] and Civium Romanorum [Roman citizens]. It was an equitata cohort which meant that of the approximately 500 troops about 120 were cavalry the remainder being infantry.

Sometime between AD105 and AD122 the cohort was enlarged and become a milliary unit. The introduction of milliary units in the second century AD was an important development. These were approximately double the size of the standard quingenary [500 strong] cohorts. In the second century AD there were at least 7 of these units in Britain, one of which was coh I Fida Vardullorum. These units were not only larger than the standard cohorts and alae, but were more highly regarded than them, being commanded by the pick of equestrian officers. Milliary units were commanded by tribunes, rather than prefects who commanded quingenary units. From time to time it was necessary to split the milliary units in two, with the rump quingenary cohort and a vexillation of nearly quingenary strength. It was normal for the unit to drop the title milliaria at these times, retaking the title when the vexillation was restored to the unit.

http://vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk/

This is the link to what the British Museum consider to be the most valuable items in their collection. Why?
Well jewels and carvings are valuable, but due to the fact that these tablets are fragile slivers of wood with ink writing, there’s very little chance of survival. That they record, first hand, the communications of folk, is like being able to listen in to a time gone long ago. “It is as near as one gets to travelling in time and meeting someone from that age”.When Romans were riding their early versions of Lambrettas, MVs, Ducatis and other Italian makes around the Empire they obviously needed road signs, as although motorbikes had been invented, GPS was still in its infancy.

This is what they had:

Obviously the top of this road sign is missing. It did say, “Beware, un-marked police chariots are operating. Anyone exceeding the speed limit of XXV in a built up area will be fined on the spot and sold into slavery, or forced to become a gladiator.

“Do not drive your chariot while using a mobile phone, as they haven’t been invented yet and you will just look weird”.

Emperor Hadrian was a Spaniard. Born within the Empire made him a Roman Citizen and therefore entitled to rise to the highest office. However, some questioned his suitability, as he wasn’t a “true Roman” in their eyes and he had to survive an assassination attempt in his early years as Emperor.

He was however a very successful Emperor.
This is history though. Purely history, from which we will all have no doubt learned much, so I dare say we won’t be making such judgemental calls again…ooops too late.

Return to the scene.

August 10th, 2009

“If you fall off a horse, climb back on”, we’ve all heard that old chestnut and I’m sure the spinal wards are full of folk who’d like to reassess that concept. Anyway, as I’d gone into momentary spasm of adrenalin fuelled limb and mental capability non-function last time I went down hardknot pass, there’s a clue to the road type in the name, I was climbing back on to give it another go.
Why?
This isn’t a road I need to navigate on a regular basis, indeed I could avoid it quite happily for the rest of my life. But having said I’d join a ride to the Lakes, then finding that apart from the original poster I was the only one going, I did feel a bit obliged to turn up and follow his route.

I also needed to escape from reality for at least a few hours, as things have got no better, in fact they have continued on a downward spiral of no work, no social life, no home, no news (am I divorced or not…heard nothing since February when the papers were due to be with me in a few days)…so to be able to think about impending doom from running off a cliff face, rather than impending doom as a consequence of running out of money and the will to live, would make for a jolly uplifting, if somewhat short lived, change.
Still, I’d do my best to cling to the sinuous thread of tarmac, just to spite fate, if nothing else.

I was follower as Pugsley had a route, saves thinking. Let’s just say his Aprilia is enthusiastic and sometimes keeping up required a few manoeuvres that the fragment of instructor that I retain, would have frowned upon.
Because I was following, it meant I never actually knew where I was, but we stopped for a cuppa by a Lake in a town that seemed crammed full of tourists. The weather was warm and dry and a quick chat soon revealed that indeed it had been so for some time. See 50 miles away in Liverpool it had been grotty for weeks. That’s the sort of weather you can get on a small island like Britain.
Anyway tea was supped and away we went.

First up was Wrynose Pass (rhino’s). I’d ridden it only a few short weeks ago (actually they’d been standard length weeks, the seven day variety that seem fairly popular, so not short weeks at all), yet approaching it the way Pugsley had brought us, gave it a far more splendid appeal, as it revealed itself in a dramatic fashion, presenting vistas and a scenic panorama that the other way had closed off. Unfortunately, because I’d not known in advance, and because the Aprilia had had a sudden burst of joie de vivre, only in Italian, and was hurtling along, I’d neither prepared the cameras, nor had the ability to do so while riding at the speed we were licking along at. So trust me on this, approach Wryenose from this way and not that other way, it’s far better. ?????.
What did bring us to a halt was; one, I had something fly in my helmet and lodge in my ear and even riding doing the head to shoulder compacting earplug in the hope of squashing motion, I didn’t achieve sufficient squish pressure, and; two, I saw Hardknott ahead and was determined to get that on film.
The film covers what happened next, but obviously, even without spoiling the ending, I survive:

We pulled into a steam-railway station for lunch. The crowds had arrived with the last train, so we had to share a bench outside with a couple who were on a day trip. An absolutely charming couple, who didn’t deserve the deluge of information and guff that I was pouring out (I don’t get much opportunity to communicate socially at the moment, so this poor couple copped for both barrels).
Still something must have been put in their tea, as after having heard of almost everything that had happened since my birth, they politely smiled and asked how they could keep in touch. See, I think that was the three teas at work again and I must admit, it did give me a bit of a lift. They even promised to buy their Amazon purchases from the link at Threecupsoftea.com, thereby ensuring some of their money will be redirected to the school building and education providing mission. So there you bloody doubters, I’m still working on this and helping out, in a small and restricted manner granted, but none the less.

Such was the amount of time spent in lecturing the couple, that our next intended stop was cancelled and it became a blast back. I think Pugsley had been ashamed of me prattling on and thought that if the same occurred at an ice cream stop, firstly he’d end up in ice-cream dribble and secondly, it would be midnight before we returned.
So, three teas back on the road, Hardknott Pass nearly mastered and another day nearer to something else…let’s see what that might be.

3 Peaks Pish up…Yorkshire with the UKGSers

July 17th, 2009

3-peaks-phish-up-medium

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Setting off late on Friday to make the 60 mile trip to the venue (yes that seems close, but it’s a world away), meant that I had a dash up the motorway system. Dull but efficient and thankfully lightly trafficked, the turn off came fairly quickly. It was like dropping off the side of a swimming pool into the water, a completely different element. Gone was the straight and hello bends, hedges and stone walls. Hello villages and towns. Welcome back countryside and welcome back England of the storybooks and biscuit tin lids.

Still without a job or income, with no news on the divorce since April (no communications with Karen, she was posting the papers in February), no home and no real prospects, it’s only scenery like this and riding, that brings even the remotest inspiration, everything else is just turgid, treading water in uncertainty and continual disappointment, in what seems an increasingly ugly world, where the only option available is to just carry on and hope. So it’s always a pleasant relief when your soul is uplifted by simple road layouts and countryside.

The late afternoon was drying out nicely, despite having set off in waterproofs. 10 miles from the motorway and North Lancashire’s panorama of open fields, mellow hills, a castle silhouetted by the lowering Sun cresting the nearest of them, plus, a GPS  reading the route that I just placed all of my trust in. It was relaxed.

I had all my camping gear stowed and a visit to the supermarket had produced a few bits and bobs which, when thrown on a portable BBQ would produce a charcoal offering, barely edible and certainly not as good as the fish and chips I could smell as I rolled into Main Street, Bentham.

There stood a chippie of yore, a living monument to the people’s cuisine, a ‘sit in and eat’ chippie. It closed the seated area at 7.30 and it was 7.28 as I walked in. “Sure we’ll keep it open, as the take out side is still going strong”. How refreshing. Not the all too familiar and brusque, “sorry we are about to close”, which actually means you are still open, but just can’t be bothered.

Tea came in a china pot. Bread had butter, not margarine and the fish, chips and mushy peas were the best I’ve ever had. Honest to goodness, simple and sublime. A family business and you could tell. The conversation was friendly, the service was just right and the food had everything that a family tradition of being bothered and proud of what they serve, can imbue upon it. Unchained and homely and as right as it should be.

The Fish Inn, 22 Main Street Bentham, Lancaster.

(For other unchained venues like this, or to add your own, click here to go to unchainedworld. Thanks. Recommendations only.

The site was only a few miles away and I was able to arrive, set up my tent and not worry about supper, although a bottle of Magners was very welcomed.

Having suffered at the hands, or rather noses of a snorers in Ullapool, I’d taken a precautionary tour of the camp area, then decided to set up in an open area. Mistake. A bunch of gits from W. Yorkshire had set up camp a reasonable distance away…reasonable for reasonable people that is. These were far from reasonable, considering the campsite to be their personal arena. NO BALL GAMES! obviously didn’t relate to them, neither did having music blasting into the early hours. At 23:10 a ball came within inches of my tent for the umpteenth time, “F**kin’ Can’t see a F**ckin thing it’s so f**ckin dark” said one of the two girls who had decided it would be a good idea to start kicking a ball about, a ball that in daylight had been hitting other people’s cars, bikes and tents. One small group in a site with a hundred or so campers, decided to ruin the night for as many people as they could, screaming kids, swearing, music blasting…scum, scum, scum.

I bet if people had complained-I did the next day- “We are just having fun, so f**k off” would have been the reply. That their fun was at the expense of other people sleep and property, didn’t even cross their arrogant, selfish minds. So if you ever see a white transit from West Yorkshire from a Volvo dealership, please feel free to give them a scornful look and also if that’s the way they behave when representing their company, perhaps their company should be given a miss too.

Anyway, back to happier times. The next day’s ride out was special. I’ll be posting a movie of clips in the near future. But suffice to say that it was superb. Scenic, challenging, everything you could want from a day ride. It was like a sampler plate of all the finest ingredients an area could offer up. the weather was even in the mood to join in with the fun and games, keeping dry roads beneath us and dry skies above.

On one pass I had a mini freak out. A Saab took the downhill hairpin so slowly that I ran passed my turn in point. This left me looking straight over the edge and with my bike facing that way too. I was in the process of a three hundred point turn when the vertigo kicked in and I needed to find my comfortable place. The tail end guy did help, “look up at my eyes” he said, having positioned himself in a position just behind me, effectively dragging my view from the edge and the dropping road. Big thanks for that.

The rest of the day ran smoothly and splendidly.

As I was roughing it and had a pannier with meat and a portable BBQ in, I set up my kitchen and proceeded to burn flesh, while the majority went for the set meal. It was as the knife was in my hand and the BBQ was flaring that the ball came over again. Temptation to stab it and then cook it was tempered and I asked, “How many times do you have to kick that close, before you get the idea to go somewhere else?”

I didn’t understand the grunts that came back. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

All the Magners had gone the night before and a home-made scrumpy was on offer. It was enough.

The heavens opened, which was a blessing as the rhythmic rain spatterings on canvas kept the gits quiet and their football unemployed.

Sunday was a damp day to start with and the water proofs were on as all was packed away.

A few conversations over a breakfast cuppa and then all headed off on their ways, as is the nature of such meet ups.

I am left with a challenge however. That one pass where I stalled, must be revisited and conquered.

Counter Steering Critique

July 8th, 2009

I joined an on-line group for riders a couple of weeks ago. I quit a few days ago. First clash came when an older guy , cool shades and leather jacket, decided that anyone with a GPS wasn’t a real rider. You know the “I’m hardcore because I use a map” type. Well if you are real hardcore, why not use wooden wheels and sit on a brick?

It really is a load of tosh and just a means of elevating oneself at the expense of others. Of course point this out and you become the git.

Next, a new rider came on. 1000cc bike and 2,000 miles of experience, and wanting to know about cornering. The more experienced members of the site offered a number of views, then I simply asked, “are you using counter steering?”

“Never heard of it. But I gave it a go and I’d not want to do it at any speed. I’ve done 2,000 miles and not needed it though”.

“Well if we are ever in a group ride, can you let me know, because I don’t want to ride with you in front of me, or behind”.

You’d have thought I’d called him a Kiddie fiddler, or said his mother was a whore.

All hell broke out on the thread.

How dare I. Give him his passport and get him out of here. Who does he think he is calling us all lesser riders.

It seemed that once one particularly challenged individual thought there was in some way a reference to her (of course there hadn’t been, it must just have been a projection of inadequacy), a swathe of women became involved. Not pleasant. One in particular had a structured debate style that consisted of, “No”. “No” “No”. Well done for being so persuasive and eloquent in the reply. At least brevity was a factor that was much appreciated as the txt stile mssiges uzally uz’d was evn more anoyin. Why do people use text style shorthand in this manner, to look young and trendy, or to hide an inability to structure sentences, or is this the way their minds are working?

I went on to point out that, even with the highly inadequate US training that I’d learned to deliver, counter steering was a part, so, that it wasn’t used in the UK was a concern and where my safety was concerned, it was imperative to me, that I reduce risks as much as possible, so, when a 1,000cc rider hits the first bend  feeling uncomfortable with “nudging the bars” (a term used in the argument, which in-of-itself shows a lack of understanding of the process) would only lead inevitably to the novice rider standing the bike up and T-boning whoever was in front of them, as they straight lined their 1000cc bike.

It quickly became obvious that this site only had a few capable riders and a whole bunch of “lifestyle” folk and certainly not people who I’d feel comfortable riding with, or even near. Sit them in a camp site getting p!ssed and wearing leather and that was their escape from humdrum mundanities, and that’s fine for them but not what I was looking for. Each to their own.

Rather than continue to bother with these people I left the site immediately…who needs that sort of bother, reaction and ignorance? Not me.

Two weeks earlier I had ridden out with two groups. One was the GS group, the other a local group of mixed bikes.

The mixed bike group may have individually been able riders, but as a group there were three that were shockingly thoughtless. Over taking just as the road narrowed, closing gaps when overtaking other vehicles and letting your wife get off the bike at the car park entrance so she can get into the ice cream queue first, while leaving all the riders behind stuck out on the road, in a single lane, because of road works, which were operating on traffic lights, so we were stuck blocking people behind us and when the lights changed, those coming towards us too.

I left that group eating their ices, to ride alone.

The GS riders, far better, far more of a unit and it’s not just the brand as most had other models of bike too. It was that the riders all had each other in mind and acted accordingly. They showed a discipline to riding responsibly, fast and enjoyably, but responsibly.

I guess that’s the key, ride within your limits, have respect for those around you and if that means learning the skills required to ride competently before you join a group, then that’s what you should do. Because if you don’t, it’s the ultimate in arrogance and selfishness and you may not only make yourself a statistic, but also add someone else to the rta list.

And those who feel pointing this out isn’t supportive, think again. If all the authorities need is sufficient data to limit motorcycling, then by pointing it out, I’m supporting all those who treat riding responsibly and cherish their ability to have two wheels on the road to such a degree that they train, they learn and they don’t believe 2,000 or 1,000,000 miles means they’ve stopped learning.

And to the folk riding in the BM Online group and the Waterloo based group, please remember that being ignorant may not result in you having an accident, it may not cause those around you to have an accident, but when the statistics dictate that you end up paying more for your insurance or have the cc of your bike restricted, or find that motorcycling is made more difficult to enter because the test is made more stringent, so fewer riders come through, so fewer bikes are sold, so manufacturers put the cost of machines up, that it’s behaviour and attitudes that you’ve displayed that are a big part of that…so thanks a lot!

Comedy Classics

July 7th, 2009

I thought I’d see how far I could ride up the coast. No real plan and only a few destinations as vague suggestions. It helped that having planned a route in my garmin, it wasn’t saved and I couldn’t be bothered to re enter it. However a few names stuck in my mind and that’s all I needed.

It takes time to get out of the conurbations and be free to choose to take coastal roads, rather than be force feed ring roads, about 30 miles to be exact. That’s 30 miles that tie you up in traffic. 30 miles that make you question your choice to challenge the weather forecast (several storms and localised flooding) and just turn back.

Preston has to be the worst, but it’s also the last, so that should give you heart if you are ever passing through to the N.W coastline.

A few sweeps round a rocky mass and the marshy areas of the Morecombe Bay area come into view. I saw a dirt road that I assumed would lead to the coast itself. It didn’t. But it did lead to a bird sanctuary and the first of the comedy classics. Eric Morecombe, who took his name from the area (no not an area called Eric) was a famous half of a UK double act Morecomebe and Wise. Their Christmas Special became an institution. Apparently he was also a bird watcher and I’d found his hide. Red Shanks, Plovers, Reed Warbler, a Grey Wagtail and Heron, Dunlins and Sandlings. Carrying my tank bag and helmet meant I had no hand free to block the spring-loaded hide door, which smacked shut with a crack like a gun shot. The couple in the hide were very understanding and only tutted mildly, so not radical, fundamentalist, break-away, attack twitchers.

It was like a sauna in this wooden hut. A silent sauna.

I managed to use my boot to stifle the door’s closing on the way out.

Jenny Brown’s Point, was the next stop, running into a dead end after following a detour around the Silverdale Carnival, and all damp and soggy bunting that entailed. It did look sad and under attended. I noticed that the “parade” ran from 1:00pm to 1:15pm, so that must have been something worth catching. Still, I bet a committee had argued vehemently over every detail for days and days and munched their way through malted milk biscuits by the gross. And if it turned out well, then congratulations on a job well done, at least you did your bit. Now there’s next year’s to look forward to.

Jenny Brown’s Point was a great little find. I watched a deer playing on the beech and even taking a dip in the tidal pools.  Captivating. Time slipped by easily and contentedly.

Retracing my route a few hundred yards, I passed the art gallery and cafe. Well not passed exactly, more stopped and went in. Home made elder flower presse and lemon drizzle cake, three presses, the most refreshing drink I think I’ve ever had. The lemon drizzle was special too, and I did see someone with a large bowl of fresh berries and cream which looked good.

Ullveston was having it’s carnival too, and looked equally as soggy but I did promise myself to call in on the way back.

Another downpour and another scurry for a pub. Obviously a local pub for local people, but with a wooden gazebo in the car park where scantily clad girls huddled in the rain, so that they could smoke. Classy.

The rain was sharp but short and I was soon on my way again.

I realised I wasn’t going to make it all the way to my intended destination, Whitehaven.

Whitehaven has a special place, in the “special relationship” between the UK and USA. It was here where a disgruntled Scot who was leading the US Navy, planned to attack one of the UK’s ship building centres.

Davy Jones and his two ships sailed into the harbour with the intention of burning the town down. The bright lights of the local tavern however, were a temptation too far (It may have been the light from the cigarette ends in the car park gazebo that caught their eye of course, but I doubt that).

The crew came ashore and partook of the hospitality, to such a degree that they were incapable of fulfilling their mission. The next day, hung over and obviously with their cunning plan discovered thanks to some brilliant detective work and much drunken boasting of their intentions, they set sail for home. It’s still celebrated, at the local pub…by the locals and a contingent from the US Navy, they must feel very proud.

Anyway, that’s another ride, on another day.

Ableside, there’s a river side town, (bridge pic) which on a drier day would be far more appealing, so long as there were more parking spaces.

I rode round to Piel Island. The ferry had stopped running for the day, providing another reason to return this way. But the biggest hassle was that the only camping I’d seen, was over on the island.

Nearest big town now was Barrow in Furness…however I can only assume and hope for the sake of the inhabitants, that I took a route through the town that was less favourable. Saturday night had brought out the people too. There seems to be a big fashion towards dayglo pink, which on a Mediterranean evening, lit by a golden setting sun, as it kisses sun bronzed bodies, may work. Fat lasses with ghost white bingo wing arms, not quite so good a fashion statement. Ask your Moms before you go out…oh you already are Moms!

I’ll see if there’s a ring road next time. Same should apply to Blackpool which I’d passed through earlier. A giant inflatable dick being waved from an ‘Executive Transit’ basically a workman’s van with benches and, based on this view, too many windows, full of full war painted sirens, isn’t what you want to see in full daylight, if ever. “Kiss me kwik, F**k me slow” novelty hats, you must be so very, very proud!

Anyway, it was 8:30 pm and I needed somewhere to camp, or a decent b&b. I passed a slip road that looked promising and turned around, only to find a 6 mile central barrier stopped me from getting back  a to the entrance, so a  12 mile detour later, I headed a short distance off road, passed a stagnant pool with clouds of mosquitoes and on to a small clearing. I was about to get off the bike when a tumbling, snorting and obviously annoyed feral pig came rushing into the space (it wasn’t dayglo pink, just muddy pink, which is how I could tell it wasn’t a local courting couple that had been disturbed). It made it quite clear that any thoughts of resting there for the night were a none starter. I wasn’t far from the M6 North/South motorway and a two hour blast would have me back before it was too late, although I preferred to stay in the area and carry on the next day further North. Still another series of downpours made my decision for me, plus nowhere to set up a tent that wasn’t also a spot for tippers to have dumped their crap, lazy, thoughtless bastards.

So back down the motorway. Stopped at services twice, due to rain. Just north of Blackpool a stretch limo pulled in so that the contents could spew out in a mass of…dayglo pink. Spewing out and up, seemed to be what the passengers were most intent on doing. A hen night on the way to Blackpool, with even a group of lads travelling back from a rugby game turning their noses up at what was on offer.

Having said which a coach arrived with a women’s althletic team on board. What a contrast and restoration of faith in standards. Smart, not foul mouthed and even without all the gloop troweled on, naturally attractive. Then it was the rugby boys turn to turn oafish.

Anyway I forgot Ullveston. Small market town, sad damp bunting and all, but with a civic theatre, outside which stood a bronze statue. Laurel and Hardy.

Seems Stan was born in the town. Part of my early years when black and white movies were shown at Saturday Cinema chums club and sometimes on TV and at school end-of-year parties. Even then they were old movies, watched as much out of curiosity as in fun, but they were funny. Thanks Stan for being part of what made me smile, when so much nowadays just doesn’t.

It seems the ‘simpler things’ are where I’m finding more happiness, the natural, the uncontrived…the deer on the sand, home made drinks, lemon drizzle cake, even the pig encounter. Details that are increasingly harder to spot, or just fortuitously glimpsed, that’s where I need to focus, where at every opportunity I need to give myself the chance to be ‘fortuitous’.

I spent the night back in my room, glad at what I’d given myself the chance to see and at the rewards which that had brought. One deer playing in tidal pools outweighs metaphorically, if not physically, a whole transit of dayglo pink and party puke.

And once again, thanks Eric and Stan for simply being funny.

A weekend in Africa, Asia and Australia

June 22nd, 2009
I've been everywhere. HD all countries on the planet

I've been everywhere. HD all countries on the planet

It takes some careful consideration to be outlandish in an environment where outlandish and overlandish is the norm. Where squirrel is skinned and gutted then devoured as a display. Where lash ups, bolt ons and frankly, stuck on and hopes, are gathered.

But still some tried at the Horizons Unlimited meet up. Unfortunately the need to have to try, set those who didn’t need to try apart and only highlighted what a pillock you were for needing to stand out.

The same could be said about the scars of travel. Seems the more, the greater and the more damaging  the scarring, the less interesting I found the people were. After all aren’t they just bragging that they got something wrong?

Fortunately these folk were few and far between, it’s just they were the loudest and most obvious and alcohol only increased their volume.

One bloke kept blathering on about how a Garmin tracking your speed at certain points, was a weapon that authorities could use against him..okay so you go fast and take risks you little go faster risk taking guy you, the choice is, don’t, or don’t use a garmin zumo, being oh so out there and dangerous and going on and on and on about it, doesn’t make you look any better, even arriving on your Ducati 99 something-or-other, just added to the impression that you needed to be seen, more than we wanted to see, or hear you.

Anyway, some interesting talks were held in the three rooms, Asia, Africa and Australia, including one by Johann, a swedish guy who was riding in S.America and had developed www.gaiafix.com Take a look if you have a trip planned.

Dan Walsh was there and we had a chat, we even had a couple of acquaintances in common, Stefan Bartlett your ears should have been burning. Yes I remember you as an objectionable little scooter monkey at the Cannock Advertiser, covering WI jam competitions and trying forlornly to build them up into something more than they were, just for your own credibility, and dismissing motorbikes out of hand…see I’m not sure how it worked out that you now…oh never mind, it’s your own conscience that you have to live with.

Then there was Gus Scott…we both thought fondly of this guy…sad loss.

Ted Simon signed a Jupiter’s Travels for me and I believe now has a Three Teas sticker on his bike.

Sam Manicom was there too with his reworking of the reworking of the book about his original trip. But bald blokes with pony tails bother me, so I avoided him. Manic Nick Saunders showed up and was…manic and the bloke from Terra Circa was wearing his most obvious ‘marketing attire’ of white racing overalls and tweed jacket…less said about that the better.

Once again I managed to set up tent next to the snorer, but on my other side were my real heroes of this trip. A couple who were sharing a small tent, had a couple of 650s and were setting off on a ride to India. No hulla baloo, no matching promo T shirts or any of the trappings, just a couple who were unceremoniously about to undertake an epic journey of discovery. I truly wish them well.

Gathering of the Clans UKGSers Ullapool Scotland

June 8th, 2009

 Highland sights

Rode up on Thursday to Ullapool. Fairly eventless trip up, although there were signs that there was something quite splendid, riding wise, in the area. The campsite was quickly found as was the chip shop. Typical tourist town prices though, I guess that they make money on people who visit once. It’s not a trip that has generated any Unchained recommendations, although I always felt it should do and that’s a disappointing outcome.

With no obvious pitch up for bmws I put my tent up next to another bikers tent. He was broad Scots and his accent was so thick it would have blunted a Sheffield steel knife. He may have fore warned me, but if he did I dinna ken, that during the night he would demonstrate an ability to whistle, snore, sing and fart in his sleep.

In the morning I moved.

The early morning was glorious and so I set off on a ride. It was spectacularly good and the down side was that I wasn’t sharing it. Still with my own agenda I could stop when and where I wanted  and so took copious amounts of pictures and I’ll share them with you.

There’s a 12 mile stretch from Lochinver back to the Ullapool Road that I defy anyone to not nominate in their top 10 roads anywhere. A tin of corned beef, a slab of cheese and a couple of bread rolls with a loch and a few mountains as a back drop and it’s almost idyllic.

Since being forced out of the USA, this was the first place I’d found where there wasn’t the sound of traffic. Even on the Yorkshire Moors, the echo of sports bikes pervaded the solitude. You knew they were somewhere, even if you couldn’t see them. Here on this road, nothing. Only the noises of nature. Space, space like I’ve not experienced since leaving the spaces of the USA and Central America. It felt clean, fresh, liberating.

I got back to find that the GSer camp had built quite considerably and a gathering had formed around one particular tent. It was full of Scots in various states of drunkenness, some vertical and defying gravity, others obviously having lost that particular challenge, several times…wee drams passed hands and Jaeggermeister was quaffed.

The chippy beckoned a second time.

That night I found that my camping neighbour didn’t have the range of my earlier sleeping buddy. He did however have mastery of the snore and had a volume that beggared belief, even with my ear plugs rammed home the rhythmic intrusion was insufferable. If you know you do this, why park your tent slap bang in the middle of everyone else’s,, why not be unselfish and set up on the edge?

The following day’s organised ride mirrored my solo ride, so I was off, alone, again, going my own way.

Drizzle in places, stunning throughout. The pass into or out of Applecross, is as near to anything vertical that there can be to ride in the UK. It’s the highest pass. Easy peasy to start with but there’s a few switch-backs and blind bends that just tickle the vertigo buttons.

Sights of the Highlands

N. Yorkshire and Cumbria Pics

June 2nd, 2009

Another glorious weekend.

May 31st, 2009

Two weekends on the trot that the sun has been shining and with the bike back and nothing to stay in for I decided to ride out again. This time Yorkshire and Cumbria.

The Sun had bought out the 1 litre sports bike crowd and a few more HDs than I remember being in the UK, must be a fashion thing. Still, the roads that appeal to these riders are not those that a GSer looks for, so my sheep trail single tracks were almost empty, apart from an intrepid cyclist or two and the gypsy caravans gathering for next weekends Appleby Horse Fair.

Pics to follow.

first proper ride since Nov 13th text.

May 25th, 2009

Llanberis-Bets y Coed junction Snowdonia

Llanberis-Bets y Coed junction Snowdonia

Well at least I’ve been able to salvage something and unlike my marriage, where the silence has been deafening and I’ve just been written off, with my bike I’ve been inundated with documents, call centre conversations, discussions with a stream of people behind glass, who profess to be customer service centric but aren’t…yet I’ve finally got back on the road. 

North Wales yesterday, just me and my bike.

Great Orme is a large rocky outcrop. It’s home to a Bronze age mine, a funicular tramway and these…

rutting is in full swing

rutting is in full swing

Tea was taken in a converted railway carriage in Bets Y Coed, along with a salad with cheese, 

“What sort of cheese?”. 
“Welsh cheese”, 
“Yes but what sort?” 
“Dunno, it’s just Welsh”. 
Ah national pride and staff that can’t give a toss.
“I’ll have that then please, but can you add extra Welshness”.

Great Orme has switchbacks that are tighter than a bankers tax return, not many of them, but tight enough to require a stop and three point GSA turn when confronted by a car coming up, as you go down. Pay a pound to the man then on to the rock face road that sinuously hangs above the sea, in a tight one way road of contours. Again, as good as anywhere I’ve ridden, just not very much of it. Britain is compact, which is good as you can comprehend it and bad because it doesn’t challenge your boundaries of comprehension in the way vastness, or extremes, do.
On the summit of the Orme is a Bronze age copper mine…surely that will be a copper age mine then…(I know…just playing).

Good to be back riding, I will sleep the deep sleep of the satisfied and pleasantly tired.