The Dukes Pass A821

Sunday 28th June found me and Bean Counter setting off from Edinburgh where we stayed at my brothers for the weekend. I was going to ride to Callander near Stirling and ride along the Dukes pass, the A821. This stretch of road was featured sometime ago in a programme presented by Richard Wilson of One foot in the grave fame. Prior to this programme I had never heard of the Dukes Pass or the Trossachs which is spectacular part of Scotland. It is described as 12 miles of A road with 120 bends, dips and hills in it and particularly challenging requiring concentration. As soon as I saw the programme I knew I had to do this ride some time and as I was already in Scotland this seemed like a good day to go for it.

Sadly the mist along the M8 and M9 from Edinburgh to Kilmahog was already leading me to have doubts about the wisdom of this venture. I had planned for it to be a bright sunny day with barely a cloud in the sky. As it was I could hardly see in front of me although this was down to mist condensing upon my visor and was soon wiped away. It took just over an hour and a half to reach our designated starting point and before long we were on the trail haring around bends (responsibly of course we would never break speed or safety limits!) I am incapable of describing how beautiful the place really is despite the fact that visibility was very low and at one point a loch disappeared before my eyes as the mist rolled down from the mountains.

As fantastic as the pass is there was one really special gem that I did not know about and that is the trail around the Achray forest. At the entrance to the trail is a sign announcing £2 per car but it said nothing about motorbikes and there was no one to take any money off us and I did not see anywhere to leave any money so we rode straight through the gates. It is approximately 7 miles maybe more of rough road alongside three lochs.  The road is unsurfaced and although not off road as in green laning it is a challenge on a motorbike and I saw more than 1 four wheel drive vehicle struggle with the mud and gravel tracks. The scenery is simply stunning and I will go back there hopefully on a sunny day.

There was the possibility due to the inclement weather that we would not make it home that night but we decided to give it a go anyway. At around 5pm we set the untrusting satnav up to take us home to Hiredew because I could see no signs to anywhere that I recognised and so it was that it took us into the heart of Glasgow and on to the M8. It was plain sailing from there although the satnav threw a wobbly and decided it did not know where it was and lost all of my recent finds and routes. I have ranted about this Garmin in the past but I will do so again. It is SHITE do NOT BUY ONE OF THESE!! As a by the by 3 people have all taken a look at it and all said “well mine does not do that” but each recognises that is it the single most useless piece of crap they have ever seen. By comparison a Stylophone was a marvellous piece of electronic engineering. Why do I still use it you ask? I can’t afford an upgrade!

At Gretna Green it started to rain and we pulled over for an hour until the worst of it had passed but by this time it was almost dark. After a few petrol stops and rest breaks we finally landed home at 2-30 am. I had completed 356 miles since we set off from Edinburgh and this was the most I have ever completed with a pillion. It was the furthest BC had ever gone on a bike period. It was hardly a trip around the Andes or Patagonia and seasoned riders will laugh at the distances involved but I was exhausted by the time we arrived home. My legs, hips and shoulders all ached. I guess old age really is settling in. Was it worth it? You bet and I will do it again.


Give peas a chance

June 22nd and it was to have been mums birthday but as she was not here to celebrate it we held it without her and in her honour. Sophia Loren and her mum came along and we had a meal and celebrated with a toast of Vodka in memory of Elsie aka the Marchioness of Ghastanbury. I say a toast there were quite a few of them and the evening fairly rattled along. My brother rang and I had a beer or two over the phone with him and before we knew it the night had become a blur. The following day Elsie’s ex carer called in and so we did it again joined by Roger Moor and the Animal and another hazy night of memories and anecdotes passed into oblivion.

I had made arrangements to go and stay with Big Bro for the weekend some time ago and as Friday morning arrived I loaded up the bike and Bean Counter and I set off to Edinburgh. The plan was to go at a steady pace and try to outrun the pending dark clouds and possible rain which we managed to do. 250 miles of motorway slipped effortlessly by and before we knew it we were being greeted by familiar faces. It was a relief to get off the bike and my arse is now resembling something like a teak plank but a few beers later followed by a cracking meal and I had forgotten about any pain in my posterior.

The following morning arrived and I just did not feel like getting out of bed at all and it was 10-30ish by the time I surfaced to a cooked breakfast cooked by Sis in Law along with a mug of steaming tea. I had planned to go out for a ride and view some of the spectacular scenery in his part of the world but the clouds did not look inviting and so I chilled out until his friends came along for a drink and a meal sometime in the afternoon. It had been a few years since I had last seen Camouflage and his wife the Lighthouse Keeper but we caught up in no time aided by a few beers. As happens all too often the evening ended and as they left we promised to try and stay in touch longer and not leave it so long. I will try this time I promise.

Arriving back at Chateau Ghastanbury it was obvious the weather had played havoc with the grounds. My sweet corn and green beans are rocketing along as are the tomatoes and salad crops. However, my peas have all but died. I have no idea why, perhaps someone out there can enlighten me? For now all I can do is pray to the gardening gods to give peas a chance.


the HUBB at Ripley 2009

And so from the wilderness of rough camping to the delights of running water, toilets and organisation, yes I took Bean Counter camping once more but this time to an organised rally in Ripley Derbyshire. On the Thursday morning our magnificent trio of Ted Magnum, BC and yours truly headed off to Lumb Farm in Ripley for the annual Horizons Unlimited meeting or the HUBB as it is known. It has been running for nine years although this was the first time I had attended. Arriving at noon with no hold ups or mishaps apart from the odd bout of cramp we made good time in a little less than two hours. We would have been considerably quicker but Rhonda was heavily laden and stability was somewhat lacking on bends and tight corners.

After arriving BC and me went into a highly organised drill of me setting the tent up and she got the camp fire on the go and made tea. Running water was readily available and the toilets were so near the tent that BC remarked they were practically en suite! With camp set up it was off to the shops for the all important provisions consisting of a couple of cases of beer, a few bottles of red wine and a bottle of Jim Beam. The organisation at these HUBB meetings is incredible and a vast array of speakers on various subjects from packing light to going half a million kilometres around the world on the same bike had been arranged over 3 days and evenings in 3 separate halls within the grounds of Lumb Farm.  A huge bonfire of Tedstock proportions was on the go from before we arrived to when we left 4 days later.

There were road kill cookery demonstrations and squirrels, rabbit and pheasant were peeled and cooked before our very eyes in a most entertaining manner by an incredibly knowledgeable man and I can say that all the animals were dead before he skinned them. Amongst some of the delights were cooked crayfish and trout and these can all be caught in local waters and cooked easily. This guy knew his stuff and presented us with wild garlic and herbs that can be found in the wild in the UK. The talks and presentations were hard to get to, let me explain. With over 500 people all walking around and talking to each other you soon forgot what time it was and I missed most of them because I was busy talking to people about my bike or their bike or what gear we had or used and the time just flew by.

I did manage to attend 3 of the events though.  The first was about packing light and the speaker was an extremist down to cutting his tooth brush handle in half and then drilling holes in what was left of the rest to make it lighter. He was an advocate of no tent and no cooker. Sleep in the open and eat cold food. Definitely not my idea of touring but it was entertaining nevertheless. The second one I managed to attend was by Ted Simon who toured the world over four years nonstop and then did it again when he was 70. It was a fascinating talk from the man who has done more to inspire people to travel around the world by motorcycle than anyone else and he was the inspiration behind Ewan McGregor and Charlie Bormans tours. The next one I managed to catch was held by Austin Vince of Enduro Mondo and Terra Circa fame. This was the funniest lecture I have ever attended and no comment or description from me could ever do it justice except to say that even if you hated motorcycles you would have enjoyed his lecture and slide show. He tore into BMW owners and touratwat with a humour that was appreciated by even the intended victims.

There were many sights that will stay with me and I only took photos of the ones that I felt were exceptional. One of those being a Vincent parked next to my tent. I have not seen one of those on the road for over 40 years. The only ones I have seen were in a museum. Sadly of all my mates the only one who I felt would really appreciate this sight would be Billy Whizz who passed away a few years ago and for an hour or so I became very sentimental thinking about my oldest friend and wishing he could have been there but it was never meant to be. The meeting taught me a lot and I spoke to people who been around the world on numerous occasions. I consider it a feat Just to do it once but some people had done this many times and some people who had done were intending to do it again. I also learnt that of all the equipment I have bought much of it is of no use for motorcycling. My tent is far heavy and bulky and so are my sleeping mats and sleeping bags. I had of course bought what I could afford as I attempted to catch up with people who had gathered their equipment over the course of many years and made mistakes along the way. It is probably a good job my own trip has been postponed for another 18 months. It will take me that long to collect all the correct equipment.

All too quickly Sunday morning arrived and the realisation that the party was over hit us all. TM had been ill for a few days and so he packed up and set off home early. BC and me made the decision to pack at a more leisurely pace and leave a few hours later. TM was already home by the time we left. Again regular readers will know of my inane lack of direction and to no one’s amazement we got lost on the way back home. The mileage there was 104 but we managed to take 150 to come home. I started worrying when I saw signposts for Sheffield and we drifted all along the dales and peaks. The satnav absolutely refused to let me set a course that would take us onto the M56 and then the M53. It continually tried to take us via Manchester and the M6 to the M62 and through Liverpool. Once again it was only BC who managed to stop me throwing this absolute piece of junk into a canal that we were passing. At the risk of being sued by Garmin I can state the Quest is the single most useless piece of shit it has been my displeasure to purchase and operate. If they want to sue me then let them. I would welcome the sight of a judge trying to make this piss poor excuse for a navigational aid work at all.


Cheers boys!

All seasons in one month! Yes it is June, supposedly flaming June, but we have had flash floods, snow and now severe weather warnings of thunder storms. No wonder my plants and crops are not growing; they do not know what time of year it is. The forecasters suggested that this year would produce a wonderful summer but I have seen little evidence of it thus far. The only way you know it is supposed to be summer is by the bumper number of slugs, snails and of course mozzies! The slugs have devastated my border plants and a large herd of caterpillars have munched their way through an entire red currant bush and are now starting on the blackcurrants. Why is it that slugs, snails and caterpillars do not like weeds and nettles? If there was any need at all for genetic engineering surely it would be for something that has a voracious appetite for garden pests and mozzies or to make such creatures have a preference for things apart from food crops and flowers.

In order to obtain more sunshine to my greenhouse I have chopped over one ton of timber from my cherry blossom tree and while I was in such a mood Ogri from next door asked me to trim the dividing hedge. It has been cut back from six foot tall to just over three feet. There is now a budding pile of firewood just waiting for November the fifth and bonfire night. Of course if my mate the Tiler was here we would be burning stuff as we speak whilst knocking back a bottle of JD between us. Sadly one of the things I look forward to most of all in summer has been noticeably lacking. That is of course the good old barbecue. Regular readers will know that this started off as a barbecue site and has now developed into my own take on life and a personal travelogue. Bad weather has reduced the barbecue season to tossing a few burgers and the occasional sausage onto the grill in between rain drops. Between the rain and the economy it looks as though the big affairs at Chateau Ghastanbury and events such as Tedstock have seen their glory days and may never be repeated.

It is a sad state of affairs but events like those mentioned take up vast amounts of time and planning and not an inconsiderable amount of hard cash. When the weather cannot be relied upon it is soul destroying and spirit crushing to see all that effort and money simply wasted. Moving abroad to sunnier climes and predictable weather has never felt more appealing. Unfortunately any move has had to be put on hold until the economy picks up. Even a planned foray into Europe later on in September is now in some doubt. There is of course more than one reason for this but finance does play a big part and the numbers involved are bigger than I had thought. The schedule is also hectic and I doubt if I am physically fit enough to cope with the mileage involved during 14 days. I have started a diet and it is going well so far and my fitness levels are on the up but I can do nothing about the numbers which have seen petrol creep up again to scary prices. A petrol station in London was charging £1.42 per litre for unleaded fuel. The average nationwide is now around £1.10 or roughly a fiver per gallon.

Of course the government simply has no room to manoeuvre in the way of cutting fuel tax. The economic deficit is now so large that it will be future generations paying it all off. The knock on effect is that prices of almost every commodity are rising due to vastly increased transportation costs. At a time when wallets are being hit the hardest for almost 70-80 years this is the very last thing the country needs. It may be winter down under but I bet the Tiler and the Printer will be laughing their socks off when they read this. Cheers boys.


Rough camping in the Dales

I went rough camping this weekend gone. The arrangements had been made some months ago via Ted Magnum and a bunch of other likeminded people and so me and Bean Counter saddled up and rode out alongside TM to a beauty spot in the Yorkshire Dales. The meet up had been arranged for the Saturday morning however the three of us decided to go on the Friday night and get another night in. We were met at the arranged spot by a fellow biker called Steve who informed us that a large horse fair was taking place in a town nearby and as a consequence a very large contingency of “Gypos” and “Pikeys” had arrived and that crime had gone up by 35% and everything that was not nailed down or could not be thrown into the back of a transit van was fair game. Steve took us to the safety of a camp site only a few miles away where we could be safe from our travelling brethren and our possessions would remain with us. As we arrived I looked at the sprawling site and followed TM up a grassy hill and stopped to ponder where we would set up. When TM took off to turn around and go back down I attempted to follow but my back wheel just ground a trench in the earth. Mounds of shit and earth flew from my back wheel as the bike sank lower and lower and almost up the back axle until finally two fellow campers came along to push me out of the rut. TM jumped on my bike and rode it downhill for me.

With the tents set up the four of us wandered to the local hostelry and sampled some of their finest ales. (Don’t ever drink the perry, it is truly disgusting) With our thirsts duly quenched we wandered back to the site and our tents and out came the disposable barbies, the steaks and the almost obligatory bottle of Jack Daniels. Steve produced a bottle of wine and a glass from his panniers along with a jar of olives and some feta cheese, for camping it was incredibly civilised. That is until Charlie appeared. Charlie is a local “character” and he turned up clutching a half drunk bottle of scotch. To be fair he offered everyone around our camp fire a swig from his bottle and then proceeded to collapse into TM’s bike.  An attempt was made to pick him up but he just staggered some more and so Steve stayed with him until he heard snoring.

Charlie had disappeared by the time we all woke up and we went for a breakfast at the site headquarters. A truly awesome meal with as much tea as you could drink for only four quid. We then rode out to Hawes along some truly twisting and turning roads high over a large hill, Small Mountain, and met up with some of the other adventure riders. We decided that we would go to the rough camp site. After the usual episode of me getting lost and finally arriving just before a search party was sent to look for me and BC we arrived and set up camp again. Most of the riders elected to go a ride out to the Tunhill pub; this is highest pub in the UK and I would loved to have gone but the truth is I could not keep up with the other riders who were mainly riding solo while I had a pillion. They are vastly more experienced than me and I was already feeling like Captain Slow AKA James May because of my cautious but steady riding style and I would either have held everyone up or got lost. Instead we went for provisions and chilled with our feet in the stream and a cold bottle of Merry Down cider.

As evening approached more and more riders arrived until there were 23 tents on the field and again the barbies came out. The thing is that in the Dales radio reception is not very good due to the mountains and TM who had brought his radio could only receive Classical FM. As the strains of Sibelius and Taichosky floated across the camp site I figured this was one of the most surreal settings I had ever been in. It was also one of the most beautiful. As most meals were finished it was onto the camp fire. Some wood had been brought to the site but with a few beers and manly egos ready to make fire the search was on for some real wood. Several hunting parties formed and set off. I along with two young blades found a fallen 30 foot tree (see photos for proof). Unfortunately it was on the other side of a stream and up a steep embankment. When you are full of Jack Daniels and strong cider nothing is impossible and so it proved as the three of us struggled to get the tree from one side of an embankment across a stream and up the other side and then carry it 150 yards along a road to the camp. When we arrived there were cheers and some embarrassment from other who had only managed to find six to ten foot logs. The problem now was to chop it up and axes, machetes, saws and other implements of destruction, enough to storm the Bastille, appeared and competitions took part to see who could chop/saw the fastest using whatever they had to hand. Before long we had a blazing fire that would have done Nero proud. I was truly in my element.

Conversation soon turned to all things about bikes. Orlins or Bings?  Bridgestone’s or Metzelers?  Raising kits or lowering kits? BC nodded sagely and kept her counsel as biking and travelling advice was showered on her by the 27 blokes there. There were two other women as well but it was mainly a blokey thing but I could see that BC fitted right in there and she went to bed to mull over the myriad of advice she had been proffered. Sunday morning and after a slow start to the day that included a wash in the stream and breakfast with gallons of tea I had the urge to never go back home, to just jump on the bike and head off somewhere, anywhere but home. It had been one of the best weekends of my life. I can only assume BC must have thought so too as she was completely silent for most of the weekend. I reckon this was in awe of the event and she was just lost for words. The people I met were fantastic and incredibly friendly and helpful. I hope it is not too long before I meet up with most of them again. As usual I promised the costing’s. We spent two nights away the cost of camping was eight pounds for the one night at Dent. We spent around 60 pounds on food and entertainment I used two tanks of fuel covering 239 miles at 26 pounds. Total cost for 2 people 94 pounds and a bargain at that for the fun we had. The next meet is about three weeks away but it will be organised with toilets and washrooms and facilities that mean you do not have to hide behind walls in fear of a rambler or fell walker chancing upon you in the middle of ablutions. I am sure BC will appreciate this.


Stuck out here with the rest of us.

After 14 days of continual rain, it finally stopped and the sun appeared last Friday resulting in the hottest day of the year so far. The weather has been absolutely glorious and at long last some serious grass cutting has been performed by me and my two neighbours, Roger Moor and Ogri. The wet weather has played havoc with gardening schedules and as a by product there has been a bumper crop of mosquitoes and caterpillars. The mosquitoes made a right meal out of me on Sunday evening as i sat outside watching the stars and the said caterpillars have munched their way through a complete red berry bush and all I have left on display is a twig! I hate to say it but I am going for the chemical fix.

The long running saga of MP’s expenses continues to rumble on with some members of the cabinet announcing that they will stand down at the next election. This is simply not good enough. If an MP stands down at an election then they receive a “parachute payment” that could be as much as 50K sterling plus a “winding down allowance” of almost as much again. If they stand down at any other time of year apart from an election year they get nothing. They are still milking the system and announcing that they are following the rules. They should resign today and get in line on the dole queue. For us mere mortals who get caught with our hands in the till it is the sack, a possible criminal conviction and years on unemployment benefit with nothing. I said in an earlier post that I had never seen British politics sink so low and to be at a lower point of esteem at any other time in my life. I was wrong; it is lower today but not as low as it will be tomorrow. The politicians will only have themselves to blame if a minority extreme party such as the BNP take up a lot of seats.

This brings me to another worrying point, I mentioned again in a previous post, a comparison with the earlier depressions of the early 1900’s and the 1930’s and the consequences that followed. It would seem that a whole lot of countries are in the re-armament business today. China has announced an expansion of its fleet to cope with the size of the South Pacific fleet of the US and North Korea has ended its 53 year  truce with South Korea. At the moment it sounds like a lot of sabre rattling but then again so did Hitler’s military build up and invasion of the low lands prior to his invasion of Poland.

At least when we see the many vapour trails across the sky followed by a few mushroom clouds we will at least know that those cheating thieving scum who used to represent us will not be in government bomb proof shelters but stuck out here with the rest of us.