Cannich revisted part one, The plan

Having missed the ride out to Cannich the previous year I contacted the organisers early in the year to see if it was happening again. Thankfully it was and a date was set for May. Eagerly I told Beancounter we were going away to Scotland for 10 days and not to make any alternate plans. I also contacted Touring Ted who said he and his missus would like to come along but did not fancy going two up on a bike ride with camping gear for 10 days. So, a plan was hatched and with the aid of the back of a fag packet and a pencil along with a few beers for inspiration we designed a bike trailer that would take two bikes and the four of us would go in a van wiath enough camping gear to be comfortable.

By the beginning of February we had enough steel to rebuild the Titanic and work started in earnest on our engineering project. Ted has also just started a new job which meant the hours we had to construct this behemoth would be at best limited. Coupled alongside a very cold winter which meant it was freezing in his workshop during the evenings we could get together and it was becoming obvious progress would be sedentary at best. It was so cold we struggled for the first hour to get his log fire going in the garage and after a short while it was time to clean up and put all the gear away so very little happened. During hours of head scratching and teeth chattering a construction of sorts was taking change shape albeit at a tortuously slow pace.

Then came bombshell one, Teds missus could not make the voyage due to work commitments. This was followed by bombshell number two, Beancounter did not want to be gooseberry to us two running around the woods gathering firewood and making camp fires of towering inferno proportions while consuming large amount s of alcohol and she dropped out. Naturally this dampened our spirits a little as we no longer needed the trailer, we could just ride up there but the 10 hour ride was something neither of us fancied and just on costs alone the fuel required by the two bikes would be double that of the van and trailer.

Over 12 weeks and with lots of fettling the behemoth took shape weighing in at around 250 kgs and with suspension to handle 750 kgs so we named it the Brunel model. With only 1 full Sunday before the ride out we intended to finish the beast off but the weather got the better of us. We rolled the trailer out into the sunshine where the white paint reflected what was left of the fading sunshine and managed to get the two bikes onto the back and then the heavens opened. The tie down points and the size and shape of the ramp were going to be settled once we had the bikes in position. This was not helped by the fact it was parked on the slope of the work shop drive. The back of the trailer was much higher than it would have been on level ground. I was holding my own bike up while we worked out where to position the final tie down points but it was so wet and slippy that after an hour I gave up and we struggled to the get bikes off the trailer again. The trailer would not be finished or road tested before we would set off and we decided to ride the bikes up.

The plan had gone horribly wrong.

Shell Island. Graveyard of tents.

A bit late but in the best of traditions better late than never…… After the trip to the dark sky park I decided that me and Bean Counter would not be camping on the bike again. I cannot carry enough equipment to ensure that people of our age (ie not in the first flush of youth) have enough comfort and warmth. Sleeping on a wafer thin roll mate when you are in your 20’s to mid 40’s is one thing but past mid 50’s it feels a little undignified. So I decide to buy a large frame tent and a four berth one at that complete with blow up bed and lots of camping gear like chairs and ensure some comfort. The tent was tried out in my garden and tested by Ted Magnum and his mate one mate with the verdict it was great.

I took the tent down and stowed it away in the shed. The following day I sparked up the barbie and while I went inside to fetch some things a stray spark from the barbie landed on the bag in the shed through the open door. I was lucky the shed did not burn down but the tent was a complete write off. Nonetheless I felt I had not given the tent a decent chance so I bought another identical model and BC and me set off for Shell Island in Wales. We found a perfect isolated spot on the top of a cliff only a few yards away from the toilet block and duly pitched up. The new Barbie was brought out and the airbed I had bought that morning was taken out of the car boot. I went to plug it into the cigarette lighter only to find it had a 230 volt mains plug on it. (Tip when buying camping gear take your time and read the box, I had bought a household inflatable airbed and not a camping one) I put the bed in the boot and we drove to the main hut at the campsite entrance where for a small donation they allowed me to plug it into the mains and inflate it.

This where the fun started, It was far too big to go back into the boot and too big to carry without turning into a hang glider. After 200 of 500 yards I dragged it behind me by the power cord not caring whether it ripped or punctured. Finally after getting it back to our camp it was installed. I had bought BC a new portable barbecue in a fetching shade of pink and she had in turn gone out and purchased a load of pink accessories including pink candles and pink plastic cutlery. After setting up camp to our satisfaction I sparked up the Barbie and poured some red wine into our new pink wine glasses and BC lit the pink candles. After an enormous meal, partially caused by Ted Magnum and his girlfriend “Snake hips” not turning up and us bringing enough food for at least four and there being no refrigeration we gazed out to sea with the camp looking like a Gay gin palace. At night it looked like your worst nightmare or something off an 80’s porn set with the pink candles blazing away for all to see for miles around.

It was during the middle of the night that BC realized why the spot we had picked was so deserted. The wind had picked and was blowing so hard the tent had blown in on itself and was resting only a few inches above BC’s nose. I of course slept right the way through this howling blizzard in a sound and fitful slumber. When I woke up in the morning the damage to the tent was all too visible. Where the fiberglass poles had rubbed against each other they had worn away the fabric of the tent leaving gaping holes that could only be fixed with gaffa tape. The zips had come away from the door frames and some of the poles were not the same shape as they had been when they left the factory. I cut holes in the doorway and attached some string so that they could be tied shut; I put extra guy ropes on the poles to keep them upright and repaired whatever holes I could find in the best manner I could. There was no doubt the tent was beyond economic repair and would not be coming home with us but it would provide us with shelter of some sorts for another night at least. I know lesser mortals would have come home there and then but we are made of hardy stuff and in any case I would never let anyone know I had failed!

We stayed another two nights in relative calm compared to the first evening. We even ventured out sightseeing on the second day taking in some of the castles and sights along the coast. I find it hard not to recommend this place, weather aside which can be crap anywhere and all too soon it was time to come home. I did not bring as much equipment home as arrived. The tent or what was left of it was dumped in the skip and one wag said “oh yes Shell Island, grave yard of tents”.

The site itself is magnificent and like all places when the weather is good it is worthy of a visit, right on the coast and with all the facilities you could want on a camp site. These included showers, a shop, a bar, somewhere to wash your dishes and a launderette and even a camp shop that sold just about everything. It had the obligatory fast food outlet and a restaurant of sorts with some fruit machines and arcade games for those who like that sort of thing. Even if you don’t, the site is big enough to hide away from all of those things and be left in solitude if that is your thing. Shell Island markets itself as one of the biggest camp sites In Europe and has strict regulations about how near another tent you can pitch. I think it is something like 30 yards but it is enough to ensure some degree of privacy. I will be going back at some point although a different and much more substantial model of tent will be accompanying us.


Cannich Scottish Highlands 2011

The last two years have not seen me enjoying the best of health and Rhonda and me have not been to as many places as I would have liked to go. After missing two previous invites to camp in Scotland I decided I would not miss out on a third. I contacted Ted Magnum and my mate Diehard some time in February and we collectively decided that all three of us should go and meet the good folk in the North of Scotland who had after all been good enough to invite us and make all the logistic arrangements on our behalf. Nearer the departure date and in the time-honoured fashion, the excuses were made as to why we could not go. Touring Ted the man who has conquered South America and raped, Pillaged and plundered his way across the Dark Continent decided he could not travel ALL of that way because his bike was not comfortable enough! Diehard had problems in the Emerald Isles and was physically unable to make the journey. That left me. After checking my bank balance and the weather reports I admit I felt like pulling out myself but for the sake of my credibility and the honour of the HUBB community on our fair peninsula there really was only one option and that was for me to travel the 420 miles to the designated campsite on my own.

I had never travelled that far before on a motorcycle in one day, I have never had any reason to. I spent a week packing and re-packing and deciding what to take and what not to take. In the end I packed everything that would fit on my bike and woke up in the early hours of Friday morning at 4pm. The plan was to be on the road at 5pm but that went out of the window as I tried to drag my weary bones and sleepy head out of bed. I managed to leave just before 6-30am and with clear roads hit the M6 just after 7pm. The plan was to ride until 8-30 when the worst of the morning rush hour would be sharing the road with me and then make a pit stop for an hour until 9-30 when the morning rush would be over. Nature had other plans and the showers I had planned so carefully to outrun caught up with me. The day was spent placing waterproofs on to keep out the rain then taking them off so I did not become a boil in the bag item when the sun came out again.

For all the efforts I was rewarded with some gorgeous scenery as I hit Scotland and headed for the highlands. I eventually pulled into the campsite at 5pm after 10.5 hours on the road, exhausted, aching in places I had forgotten I had and desperate for some rest. I felt like John Wayne after I dismounted Rhonda and I could empathise with any porn starlet who has spent a day on set with Ron Jeremy. Nevertheless a welcoming committee consisting of three guys with smiling faces that I shall name Robert De Niro, Christopher Walkden and XRM greeted me and welcomed me to their fold. After pleasantries and the setting up of my tent Robert De Niro muttered the immortal words, “reet tharts dun, ah ye oneten eh paint”, which loosely translates as good show old man would you care to partake of some refreshment at the local hostelry? Christopher Walkden smiled as he waited for an answer. I bonded with those guys in an instant. A short walk later and the four of us are sinking pint after pint of Cider in the local pub.

The pub deserves a mention it is an art Deco pub of the 1920,s style with a warm and welcoming atmosphere and decked out in pine with Canadian artefacts and décor. Whatever you think of this mix it is worth a visit and the food is to die for and reasonably priced. You will not need a second mortgage to be entertained in this place. Around about the third pint, I noticed a herd of cows slowly ambling along the main road. This was the Cannich bull run and while it may have lacked the pace and testosterone of the Madrid bull run it made up for it in a quintessentially British way in much the same way as Pimms and a plate of cucumber sandwiches does, full of charm and understatement with a hint of UK reserve. Daisy, Buttercup, and the rest of the herd gave it their all as the ambled along the road in a slow orderly fashion checking out the most luscious grass and dandelions. It was a truly surreal (especially for a city boy like me) moment and one of the most precious occasions I have ever experienced. You do not get to witness moments like that where I live and consequently when you do, such occasions tend to stick in your memory.

Fast-forward several pints (read a lot these boys can drink) and a few shorts as my stomach was filling up and it was time for bed. Staggering the short distance back to the campsite I slept like a log. I woke up at ten am and wandered over to the café where the rest of the gang where patiently waiting for me. By 11-30am, I was washed, dressed, fed and watered and ready to roll with only the slightest hangover and even the aches and pains I had arrived with had dissipated. By this time it was apparent I was the only one who made the journey apart from the locals. Whatever ride out had been planned was going to be tailor made for me. At midday another rider arrived and the tourist numbers had doubled. A decision was made to take me to Applecross and show me some of the scenery. Our merry band was joined by some guy I shall call Valentino Rossi. He was to lead our entourage that by now consisted of 6 bikes with Christopher Walkden carrying a pillion in the form of Mrs Artois. Valentino charged ahead at a rapid rate of knots and we followed. It may of helped if I could of understood a word he said but I digress, as it was I followed the nearest bike in front of me as we headed towards Applecross mountain (the locals call it a hill).

Stunning is an oft-misused word and as such it often loses any impact but the roads and the scenery was truly stunning. I would have noticed more if it were not for the fact that Valentino Rossi was riding at speeds of over 80MPH. This was over B roads with sheep that looked as though they just might wonder across the road at any given moment to see if the grass truly was greener. To be fair our band did stop on a couple of occasions for me to take photos. The Isle of Skye in the background looked so close I felt as though I could reach out and touch it. The ride out was over 160 miles long and absolutely fantastic. I can honestly say it was the best ride I have ever had in my life, except for perhaps, no best not to go any further BC would get jealous! Up until that moment I had considered the Dukes Pass in the Trossachs to be the best bike ride I had ever undertaken but it paled into insignificance compared to the ride out these lads took me on. The winding road up to the top of Applecross was worthy of comparison to any road in Switzerland and included more than one heart stopping moment for a novice to the area like me. Would I go back? The answer is yes and in a heartbeat.

All too soon the ride was over and upon arrival at the campsite Christopher Walkden announced that they had taken it easy on me because I was not familiar with the roads. For Gods sake travelling at 80 MPH on B roads is faster than I travel on the damn motorways! (He really is as mad as the namesake I have given him and for good reason) He then announced that they regularly travel on that road at speeds in excess of, well let’s not go there, let’s just say that a Harrier Jump jet would struggle to keep up. To be fair they live in fantastic scenery with little or no traffic and a marked absence of speed cameras. No matter the immortal words were repeated and we found ourselves in the pub-sinking pint after pint and when the Magners barrel ran dry I hit the Jack Daniels while Christopher Walkden hit the Scotch. Robert De Niro and myself got into a heated debate about Maps and then about the difference and benefits of stainless steel and carbon steel. Robert De Niro is actually a deer hunter by profession, hence the anachronism, and he knows a thing or two about sharp knives and guns. We agreed to differ but I suspect he is right and in the circumstances he finds himself stainless steel is best for him. Carbon steel was good enough for Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie and as such it will always be good enough for me! Just to rub salt into the wounds when was the last time any one ever saw a genuine Samurai sword made of stainless steel, I rest my case your honour.

After yet another fantastic night it was time for bed again. I did not want to go I did not want the day to end but you cannot stay awake forever-even vampires and Keef Richards (my hero) need sleep. Morning came and I woke up at 6am and started to pack. After breakfast at the campsite cafe, which deserves a special mention, the site is wonderful with full amenities, showers, laundry room, separate wash facilities for cleaning pots and pans etc and is very reasonably priced. I also have to mention the ground is not rock hard and you do not need a power drill to stake your tent pegs. The shop is stocked with everything you could need in an emergency, spare rope, pegs, gas bottles and they will even sell you a tent if you need one. Our hosts had thought of everything and full marks to them, I tip my hat to the guys who had arranged all of this. They had obviously sat down and thought long and hard about arranging for fellow bikers to come along and have every possible need catered for. I had the benefits of the almost exclusive attention of our hosts and what marvellous hosts they turned out to be. Boys there will always be a welcome and a beer in the fridge if you turn up at Chateau Gastanbury.


The road back from Cannich

I set off in the morning and upon the advice of mine hosts I opted for the scenic route to my brothers riding through Fort William along the banks of Loch Ness and eventually arriving in Edinburgh. The plan was great on paper but it rained not hard but constant drizzle and then I got stuck behind caravans and mobile homes on winding roads with no passing places and then the infamous Scotch mist descended. Scenic it was not! Fort William was almost invisible as I rode through it. I finally arrived at my brother’s home some two hours later than planned due to road conditions. No matter I was met with the words, “Yo bro here’s a beer”. This loosely translates as “Greetings dear brother welcome to my humble abode, would you care to partake of some refreshments”. And so with aching limbs and glad to be out of the saddle I took him up on his offer and after a beverage or two (read lots) I was persuaded to stay for two nights instead of the one I had planned. By now some of you will have noted that I did not say I reluctantly agreed or even that I took any persuading at all.

After two nights of pampering and constant raiding of a drinks cabinet that appeared to almost magically replenish itself, it was time to depart. I really did not fancy a trip that consisted of 75% of almost mind numbingly boring motorways and I took the A7 road to Carlisle. I felt good again with both my mood and spirits uplifted and the ache in my backside and legs had gone. Rhonda was behaving like the lady she is and the ride was enjoyable until I hit the M6. The wind from Carlisle til Lancashire was almost unbearable and I was blown across the motorway one more than one occasion. At times I was leaning at an alarming angle to stay on the road. I have to say at this point that I am not the best rider in the world and Rhonda is not the best motorcycle. She is the Delia Smith of the biking world, not much to look at (sorry Delia), but is certainly no moose does not set the pulse racing and is hardly likely to have you overdosing on adrenaline. However, she is reliable, very forgiving and tolerant and you know the end result will be excellent. We were made for each other; we go together like ham and eggs, Amy Pond and short skirts and Pimms on a summer’s day. Both me and Rhonda arrived home safe and in one piece and just before the rush hour had gathered any noticeable pace in the city centre.

Ok now for the boring bits. How much did all of this cost and why do I bother with costings?  Some people have said whatever it costs you it will be different for other people because we all spend differently. That may be so but if I use a gallon of fuel to get from a to b then someone else will use roughly the same amount and if it costs me six pounds per night to camp then it will cost another person the same to camp at the same site. If you are on limited income then such things do become important. Most writers and bloggers leave out expenses leaving many of us to wonder could we afford to do the same thing. If we knew how much the writer or blogger had spent and on roughly what then we could decide in an instant if we could do likewise. The argument that prices change over time holds no water with me because if something cost ten pounds ten years ago then with inflation it will cost around 50% more today. For what it is worth I save money where I can. I take sandwiches and a flask with me on journeys because I cannot bear to spend up to three pounds on a paper cup full of liquid shite from Starbucks or Costa whatever and the same goes for stale sandwiches on the motorway service stations.

In five days I travelled 1050 miles at roughly 50 MPG and averaging at six pounds per gallon. The camp site cost six pounds person per night and I stayed two nights.

I hit the bar hard but I need not have done and I could of ate a lot cheaper than I did although I thought the prices reasonable. To sum up then:

Fuel £126

Camp site £12

Food and entertainment aprox £80.

The food and entertainment could have been cut by three quarters by me cooking my own meals and drinking tea and I would still have had a good time and any one not wanting to camp could have stayed in a B+B. I could have done this trip for £150 and still had an amazing time or I could have maxed out my credit card.

The current financial climate has affected almost everyone and after speaking to various people at the meet it was obvious that plans to travel have been put on hold by a lot of would be travellers. We can’t all be like Charlie and Ewan and have equipment donated to us and then make money from the trip. Many of us will never be like Ted Simon and become ambassadors for a motorcycle company whilst keeping our jobs as newspaper correspondents and having an income on the road. This is not criticism of any one and many of us would jump at the chance do what they did in the manner they did it. But for the vast majority of people the chance to travel is far too costly to say nothing of personal circumstances that may prevent people from taking off for long periods of time.

Occasional small trips like this, meeting other likeminded people and enjoying the amazing scenery on my own doorstep will have to suffice until circumstances improve. However I am not on my own and like most of the folk I have met I suspect I will manage it one day.


The dark sky park

Several years ago I stayed with friends in Wyoming in the USA and although there are many memories that will stay with me forever, the most prominent one is the blackness of the sky and the twinkling of the stars. (Thank you Amanda, I need to repay the favour some day) I had never seen so many stars in one place at the same time in my life. I have been searching for a similar sky ever since. And so after watching too many programmes featuring stunning night skies, Beancounter and me decided we should find a place somewhere in the UK to star gaze. Our quest was helped by an article in a daily paper which gave the top ten darkest places in the UK. Right there up at number one was the Galloway dark sky park near Stranraer in Scotland. At the time of writing this is one of only three dedicated dark sky parks in the northern hemisphere which carry a gold tier standard. There are others but they only have a silver tier standard.

I loaded the bike up with our camping gear and we set off early one Friday morning to cover the 220 miles or so to the only camp site within the park itself. Rhonda groaned under the weight of all the goodies I had loaded her up with and once we had set off down the motorway the truth sank in, Rhonda was behaving like Gloucester old spot with a saddle on it. It was obvious that there would be problems ahead but no matter we were one our way and I would deal with them as they arrived. They soon appeared in the form of high winds along the motorway and the bike was soon swerving across lanes at an alarming rate. Through the helmet intercom I had bought in February I could just about hear BC mouthing prayers that we would soon be there and she could get off this pig.

After 200 hair raising miles, much cursing and lots of muscle pain that I knew I would pay dearly for the following day, we arrived at the forest and headed off down the track that passed for a road. In fairness it is surfaced with Tarmac and in good condition but it is narrow and there are no street lights. Obvious really if there were lights it would not be dark would it!! Add to this it is twisty and on the way there it is nearly all downhill. No matter we arrived safe and sound and checked into the campsite.

The camp site itself is gorgeous and it features a duck pond complete with its own troupe of inquisitive ducks that like to check each tent that arrives in search of tidbits and goodies. After a struggle to get out of the saddle I set up the tent in bad humour and made our camp. The ground is rock hard and each of my pegs bent. The sleep mats struggled to cope with the lumps and bumps of the ground and the wind was so strong I thought I was going to lose the tent on more than one occasion. After a short walk to a nearby pub (the only one for miles) for a well earned drink and a meal we came back and waited for the sky to turn black and the stars come out to play. Being up north and heading towards summer it does not go dark as soon as it does down south. By 11pm it was still too light to see all but the very brightest of the stars and being exhausted I turned in.

The following morning and in a state of shock by how cold it was during the night I was greeted by the ducks and the realisation we had no milk and that the nearest place we could buy fresh milk was 9 miles away. (note if you ever go to this place take milk with you). It has to be mentioned just how cold it was and the pair of us quickly came to the conclusion that the sleeping bags we had brought with us were completely inadequate, however space and weight restrictions meant that I could not carry anything heavier or bulkier than I had already loaded up. Washed dressed and saddled up on a, by comparison, near naked Rhonda, we rode into the nearest town stocked up with provisions and came back to relax in the sun with a bottle of red or two. The trauma of the previous day simply melted away with each fresh glass of wine until it seemed like a positively enjoyable experience and one we would laugh about in years to come.

We managed to stay awake until it went completely dark which was about 1am but we were treated to something beyond my wildest dreams and the light show was simply stunning. There were so many stars I managed to lose the plough in a myriad of dots that made the recognition of any constellations difficult and fruitless. Finally when I could stay awake no longer I crawled back into my tent and started to play with some of the toys I had brought with me. Namely the wind up radio and the wind up lantern (what were you lot thinking about!). The radio had no signal at all and all I could receive was some foreign station that faded in and out in medium wave. The lantern on the other hand was completely useless and what little light it did give off soon ran out until you hand cranked it up for about five minutes or so giving three minutes of semi useful light. By the time I was ready to sleep my arms and wrists ached and I felt as if I had been masturbating for hours without the euphoria at the end of such actions. The lantern was not coming home!

The original plan had been to stay at Glentrool for one night, head off to the Tan Hill pub the following day and then ride down to Dent in Yorkshire before setting off back home on the Monday morning. Our plans had already been altered by the ride and the bad night’s sleep we had on the Friday plus the fact we had not seen much of the night sky. So Sunday morning came and after breakfast we broke camp, loaded up and headed off to Yorkshire for the Tan Hill pub which is the highest pub in the UK. After a hair raising ride complete with higher winds than on Friday and with many trouser filling moments we arrived on a cold windswept hill in North Yorkshire only to realise that it would be impossible for me to put up my tent anywhere near this place. We asked at the pub if they did bed and breakfast and they laughed, we cried and despair sank in. BC did not want to go any further on the bike, I think she was in shock, and I could not find anywhere to camp that would be out the wind. Fortunately the staff at the pub pointed us in the direction of a friendly B+B and we set off to Kirby Stephen about 15 miles away across the moors.

After more trouser filling moments with suicidal sheep jumping in front of us and local land rover driving maniacs that would have put any suicide driver to shame complete with the most hair raising bends I have yet to ride on, we arrived at the sanctuary of the Jolly farmer who not only gave us bed and breakfast but offered us safe parking for Rhonda. Another meal and a couple of drinks at a local pub and it was time to turn in. I was so tired I fell asleep on top of the bed with my clothes on. Sadly and all too soon morning came and after breakfast it was time to return home. The planned trip to Dent had fallen by the wayside. The journey home was only slightly less frightful than the journey there and I was grateful to be home.

The lesson learned from this trip is not to take so much gear, do not go two up in cold weather and the newest green technology is not always worth the bother. I left around four items behind including two folding chairs, a wind up lantern and a supply of candles that kept us warm in the tent. I would have gladly left more behind but BC would not let me! BC has stated she does not want to go camping on the bike again but camping in the car would not be a problem as we can take much warmer gear and the weight of the gear will not affect the cars performance as much as it did Rhondas.

It is only a week since we went and already we are laughing at the so called misfortunes and scary moments and we would go again. I would also recommend the dark sky park to anyone who wants peace and quiet and to gaze at the stars for a few hours.

In keeping with other posts the costs are as follows:

950 miles 7 tanks of petrol.
2 nights of camp fees £21
Entertainment and food for 3 days around £60
Bed and breakfast? You really do not want to know!!


Camping in Cornwall

It has been a while since I took Rhonda out for a spin. In fact the last time proper was a trip to Yorkshire in September where I discovered most of my gear was wholly inadequate. Reading the HUBB forums, I discovered a winter camping trip in Cornwall and figured as my ribs had healed it was time to test out the new gear I had purchased and meet some new people. My travelling partner, Diehard fancied the idea and together we made arrangements to go.

The day arrived and after programming our respective satnavs, his a Tom Tom and mine a Garmin, more about this later, we set off at around 8-20am. The ride down was hairy to say the least and at one point whilst trying to cross the bridge over the Bristol Channel I struggled to stay in one lane and could not reach speeds above 60mph. Rhonda when fully packed has the aerodynamics of a flying brick and due to the high wind speeds and much fuel consumption with several much needed pit stops we finally landed in the Cornish town of Darite at 3-40pm.

It was a welcome sight to see a village hall in which we were greeted and met with hot tea. After so many hours against the wind, yes I know it is not exactly the Patagonian highway but I am not a young man, my arse was killing me and every bit of me ached. The town or should that be village due to its size, was very welcoming and our camp site was to be the school playing field which doubles up as the village green outside of term time. For those not wanting to brave the elements the option of sleeping in the hall was open to those who wanted to take it. Me and Diehard being the big roughty toughties that we are opted for the field and the fresh air along with the opportunity to test our new tents, cookers and other assorted toys.

This is where the first of our problems started. The high winds stopped us from putting up the basha which was to be our cooking area and it prevented us from using the home made charcoal burners we had brought along with us plus a supply of charcoal to keep us warm and dry stuff off if we got very wet. I had learned my lesson from the last trip! However we did manage to put the tents up and to peg them suitably. The gear I had brought along worked out and everything was bone dry. My waterproof clothes kept out the water on the trip and the boots along with the sealskinz socks worked a treat. The new sleeping bags along with the Exped airbed kept me toasty warm and I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

After a few beers in the village hall with the infamous “Doom Bar” local brew it was time for bed and an early night, very unusual for me. On the Saturday morning full of sleep and still feeling tired I was greeted with “Oi gert orf moi lorne” by some of the local kids. It must have put the fear of God into them when I shouted back there is a “tarmac crew coming along in a few minutes and we have an application for retrospective planning permission lodged with the council”.  I can only imagine the panic caused when some of them went home and the locals thought “shit, the Pikeys have arrived”. Even more so when delivered by some one with an Irish accent and another with a scouse one!

A ride out had been arranged and as I had road tyres on I elected for a relaxing day at the camp. The off road mob headed for the hills and the slippy stuff as me and Diehard prepared breakfast. This is when we heard sounds from the next couple of tents and two guys who generally looked the worse for wear appeared wondering where they were and what time it was. Apparently they had a heavy night and arrived back at camp somewhere around 2-30 am, my kind or people! The slippy stuff was not for them either and as Diehard and me headed to the local shops for provisions they disappeared for a “walk” asking for directions at several pubs along the way.

Getting back from the shops was a mini adventure. Those narrow Cornish lanes all look the same and none have street name plates so if you do not know where you are then you are basically shagged! We went over one enormous hill at least twice as the two satnavs battled for supremacy. Narrow country lane followed narrow country lane and some more lanes that led to dead ends. Obviously the Tom Tom and the Garmin have issues with each other as who ever was in the front followed the instructions in front of them while who ever was at the back wondered why the hell are we going this way. I had visions of spending the night seeking refuge in a local pub named the Slaughtered Lamb. Thankfully and after some time we managed to make it back into camp.

Later that evening when we reconvened at the village hall I asked one of the brave souls who had ventured out for the off road ride where he had been. He said there and back. There and back was supposed to be some sort of answer? Anyway I asked how far they gone from here to there and back again and he said 30 miles. Me and Diehard had travelled more miles and probably over rougher terrain to the supermarket and back due to the fact the Tom Tom and the Garmin could not agree which route to take.  Anyway after a few more beers it was time to go to the local pub for a meal which was fantastic and then back to the hall for some slide shows and some talks.

The talks were great and I met some people who I had corresponded with but never actually seen and was offered accommodation for the following night. This seemed like a great idea and would have been an extra day in Cornwall. It was with a heavy heart that I stumbled back into my tent realising I would have to go home soon. All too soon morning arrived and I started to pack up. This is when the weather really pissed me off. We had had gales of around 25 mph all weekend but with gusts much faster and as I took down the tent it turned into a kite and disappeared into the brambles some yards away. By the time I had retrieved what was left of it, it was full of holes and tears and beyond economic repair. It ended up in the village skip.

I was so pissed off and the weather report for the following day was horrendous that both Diehard and me decided it would be better to pass up the offer of an extra night and try to get home while the going was good. After saying our goodbyes we set off with the wind that had been in our faces coming, at our backs and we actually made good time coming home and the fuel consumption was noticeably lower. It must have helped that I took a lot less home with me than I had brought.

The lessons learnt this time are that you can do something about the rain and the cold but you can do nothing about the wind. You can make yourself warm and waterproof but you cannot stop gales from blowing everything you have about. With this in mind I think I can say I have everything I need at long last except for a tent of course!

Full marks to the organisers and the people of Darite, a fantastic place with wonderful friendly people and I cannot wait to go back there again if they will have me, hopefully in summer when the weather will be better.


Kettlewell 2010

From the idyllic sunshine of Ripley to the wilds of Yorkshire and some off roading, it sounded like a great idea. Danny Diehard and me had spoken about going camping again since we got back from Ripley and this seemed like just the ticket. Glorious countryside, lots of winding twisting country roads and hopefully wonderful weather. The pair of us set off one sunny morning in October all loaded up and with the details in my satnav (Garmin you have redeemed your self with the Zumo).

It was quite windy but dry when we set off and the plan was for a quick sprint up the M6 and then a slow amble along the country lanes. However, just before the pair of us came off the M6 it started to rain, a very fine drizzle which quite quickly became torrential. I had problems seeing through my visor no matter how many times I wiped it and I soon began to realise that my gear was not as waterproof as I had thought. No matter it would not be long before we arrived in the scenic little village that was Kettlewell and I could put the tent up, get into some dry clothes and meet old acquaintances.

On arrival we looked at the rain sodden field that was to be our home for the next couple of nights and looked at the only two other tents in the field. Were we early or had many cried off due to the inclement weather? No matter, we set up camp in a fashion and to my horror everything in my panniers was wet. The sealant I had painted on my textile panniers had obviously not sealed them. I erected the tent and placed my sodden gear and belongings in the tent porchway where they proceeded to drip and make an indoor paddling pool in the bucket type groundsheet. I would have cried but I did not want to make the paddling pool any deeper than it already was. Leaving it outside was not an option as it would have only got wetter!

My boots were full of water, my gloves required wringing out and everything I wore was dripping. I had no dry clothes they were at best damp or as wet as the ones I had on. Sadly my sleeping bags fared no better. I chose the least wet one to sleep in and laid it out on the airbed in the vain hope the fairies may come along and dry it for me before I retired for the night. The occupants of the other tents offered hot drinks and sympathy, Thanks to Deb and Ian and the other couple on the Bonneville outfit.

My mood brightened later on in the day as other campers arrived and my body heat at least had my shirt steaming. Among the arrivals was Sleepdog and Crusty the pair who had taken pity on me and rescued me at Cropton. There was only one thing to do and that was to purchase a bottle of Jack Daniels and share it with them. After all the only way I was going to get to sleep that night was if I managed to pass out. I had already decided that I would not be going on the ride out as my gear was in no fit state and my spirits were not much better. After rolling around the camp site in a state of delirium I managed to stagger to my tent which by now was complete with an indoor swimming pool and I blacked out on top of the air bed.

I woke up at around 10 am to a deserted but sunny (it had at last stopped raining) field. All of the others had gone off on the ride out as I had snored above the sound of revving engines. This was later reported to me but I suspect that it was true. My snoring is legendary! I spent the day wandering around the town taking in the sights and fresh air as my gear attempted to dry out but not before I had bailed the swimming pool out. Some of my gear hung below the too small basha and other bits and pieces hung from the fence by the river which was rising at an alarming rate. I had visions of the river bursting its banks and washing away everything I had.

Fuelled by some strong tea and a bacon sandwich I waited for the other riders to return and by 6ish pm most had. It was time for tea and as most of my provisions were either soaked or damp (powdered stuff might be light but don’t get it wet) I elected to go to the chip shop. Denny told me how fantastic the puddles (fiords) he rode through were and what a fantastic time he had. I believed him but was still convinced I made the right decision staying behind. Sleepdog and Crusty set up the charcoal burner and I moved my gear to the heat of the burner inside of their encampment. As the steam rose we decided it was time to head for the pub and so we did.

After a few brews and much banter I realised that it was enough for me to have ridden out and enjoyed the company of the people I had met. I did not need to be hurtling around mountain trails that only a rabid mountain goat with webbed feet and a life jacket would attempt, it really was enough to get away from my everyday life and be in great company for short periods. As we left the pub I realised it was raining again. When we arrived back at the camp everything I had left out by the burner was wet through once more and the flames had died out under the downpour. I didn’t feel like crying I wanted to slash my wrists. I got into my mildly damp sleeping bag and tried not to think about the rain battering my tent.

Morning came and Sleepdog lent me a pair of sealskinz socks so my feet would at least be dry during the ride home. I packed my gear away as best I could and Denny and me set off for home. In a strange way it had been a wonderful weekend and hats off to Dazza for the organisation, full marks to him for the trouble he went to organising this.

I arrived home and battered my credit card. New bigger tent that I would not have to crawl in on all fours, bigger basha, waterproof over trousers, waterproof over mitts, waterproof boots, sealskinz socks, water proof dry sacks for my panniers and stainless steel mixing bowl from Asda for a quid to make my own charcoal burner.

I cant wait for next time!!


Ripley 2010 the 10th anniversary

It comes round so quick, it only seems like a few months ago that Ted Magnum BC and me packed up and headed off to the annual HUBB meeting at Ripley. That was a year ago and this time we were going with BC’s two sons astride a Honda Hornet along with a fellow Hubber called Danny. Three bikes and five people set off all fully loaded and all following me and my brand new all singing all dancing satnav. BC’s youngest piloted the Hornet while his elder brother sat on the back with the biggest fully loaded Bergen I have ever seen in my life. How he did not fall off on the way there is a complete mystery to me but we made it without getting lost and I have rarely seen some one express so much relief at taking a rucksack from their shoulders.

With the tents all set up it was time to make tea and run up the Jolly Roger. I have decided that each time I go camping I am taking this piece of kit with me. I could see my tent from miles away and it ensured that no matter how much I had imbibed I would not get lost or fail to find my tent. The turn out was fantastic in keeping with it being the tenth anniversary of this annual meeting. It was the biggest so far with many more speakers’ demonstrations and much more space than ever before. Danny got to meet Ted Simon and has his photo taken with him and I got the opportunity to try out some of my new toys.

The Trangia which had not been used in anger at Cropton was set up and the boys lit it. Well I say lit it, there is a set of photos that show what can go wrong judging from the face of BC’s eldest.  There were loads of presentations, lots of familiar faces and many new ones and the sun was glorious. Danny was fascinated by the tyre changing competition and I loved the talk given by Austin Vince. I took the opportunity to chill out and relax with BC and generally amble around talking to all and sundry. The most fantastic thing for me apart from the company and the sunshine was that I never once felt the urge to buy a new piece of kit. I felt absolutely vindicated that I had finally got it all right and everything was coming together.

One thing I had not taken was a barbecue and so we decided to knock up a make shift one. Danny and me rode out to a branch of a well known chain of supermarkets and “borrowed” one of their shopping baskets. This was our grill. Turned upside down and with a stock of self lighting charcoal underneath it we soon had sausages and all manner of other tasty treats cooking fabulously. Not that I would ever encourage the use of “borrowing” shopping baskets but in an emergency they are absolutely fine.

The only mishap over the event was me falling over one of the “Luminous” guide lines on my basha after having one too many and setting it up in the first place. It is not really large enough for the purpose I had intended to use it for but it provided a little sun shade when the sun got too warm. Putting it up in a suitable fashion was a little trying and I spat my dummy out on one or two occasions much to the amusement of BC’s charges. It will be replaced by a larger one soon. I also bought some lightweight fibreglass poles from the largest army surplus I have ever seen in my life not far from the campsite. There are not too many places that have spare helicopter engines on display for sale!

All too soon it was time to decamp saddle up and move out. It had been a fantastic long weekend and the brilliant satnav got us home without a wrong turn. This is surely the best piece of kit I have ever bought! For a better description of the itinerary see last years report and photos of the same event.


Dukes pass revisited

As regular readers will know, I and Bean Counter rode to the Dukes pass in Scotland last year. As I enjoyed the scenery so much I was determined to go back and take some one along that would appreciate not only the scenery but the ride up there and the Achray forest trail. With this in mind Ted magnum and me decided we would ride up to Scotland along with BC and leave her there in the company of my brother and his wife while we played on our motorbikes.

A few days before we set off I noticed several cracks in my rear disk. They were not there when I went to Cropton and no one could tell me what caused them. The general consensus was that my brakes were over heating and the heat had caused the disk to crack. Other suggestions were that the huge chain I lock Rhonda up with and normally passes through the rear wheel had damaged the disk and others said that the amount of times I dropped my bike on Hamburger hill at Cropton as I now call it would have had some effect. Either way it would have to be replaced which this meant not only money for a new disk but some new tools to get the damn thing off. Several days later and one before my MOT expired it was replaced and I was set to go.

The ride up to Edinburgh was nothing to write home about, miles of scene less motorway and stiff backside when we landed. In truth we had a schedule that would have been impossible but we decided to try it anyway. We knew of some people leaving Edinburgh on the Friday morning to go camping some four hours north of the capital. We had figured if we got there early enough we could leave Edinburgh early on the Saturday morning catch up with them and then after a few hours set off for the Dukes Pass. This was a lot easier said than done and so we decided that a four ride north coupled with a four hour ride west to the Pass and then another 2 hour ride east back to Edinburgh was more of an endurance test than a pleasurable ride out.

So on the Saturday morning after an amazing evening meal prepared by big brother TM and I mounted up rode off west to the Brig of Turk. When we got there the famous Tea Shoppe was closed. I had always wanted a photo of that place with a cuppa in one hand and my keys in the other. It was not to be. With a rapidly descending mist we roared off around the pass stopping to take photos of the scenery and then hit the trail. This was just how I expected it to be and the pair of us were on our pegs for most of the way round. Again it was not the Patagonian highway or the road of bones but to me it was as enjoyable. I think TM appreciated it; he certainly admired the many views.

From the pass we decided to go and see the Falkirk wheel as neither of us had seen it before and we had no idea when we would be in that area again. I had heard of the wheel but never seen it. It is absolutely huge and carries barges from the lower loch gates some 80 foot into the air onto another waterway. After an hour or so admiring this feat of engineering we headed back to Edinburgh and as TM had never been across the Forth road bridge we rode over that and back again. Then it was time to ride back to Edinburgh. Not once did my new satnav let me down. I have even got used to the various bings, bongs and other warning sounds that it emits as we near speed cameras and enter speed limits. I even like the soothing voice of the little lady who lives in the satnav and tells me which lane to get into.

After another superb evening of being looked after and entertained by my brother and his wife it was time to go home. The good times always seem to come to an end too soon but we loaded up and headed off back southwest and to Liverpool. The weather was not as kind to us as it was on our way up and so we took the scenic route to Carlisle to join the soulless M6. With the weather being bad me and BC donned out matching wet weather gear and with the pair of us looking like Howard and Hilda from ever decreasing circles we certainly drew some strange glances from passing motorists and even other motorcyclists.

The enjoyable weekend had been and gone and with TM going to South Africa in September it may be some time before the pair of us get to ride out together again. The cost of the weekend was 4 tanks of fuel and approximately 30 pounds on entertainment. Great value for the memories it has left me with.


An expensive learning curve

It feels as though I have made a full recovery after my jaunt into the wilds of Yorkshire. I have however discovered that a lot of my equipment is hopelessly inadequate and so within a day or two of arriving home it was time to hit the credit card where it hurt.

The first issue to address was my sleeping arrangements. My sleeping bags were too light and my sleeping mat was too thin and not fit for the purpose of sleeping on cold ground. I ordered the VSS or Vango variable sleeping system consisting of two purpose built sleeping bags of different weights and designed to fit inside of each other if the temperature really drops. To compliment this system both sleeping bags can be fitted inside a waterproof and breathable bivi bag to stay dry. I have not purchased the bivi bag yet but an ex army one should do the job nicely. I also ordered the Exped down air mattress. This was not cheap but the blurb said it should keep you warm down to -12c. It is certainly comfortable.

The next issue was heating and cooking. A tap has been fitted to the fuel line on my bike and this should allow me to draw off fuel to my petrol stove which was used properly for the first time shortly after arriving home. The only addition to this bit of kit was to order a purpose built kettle as an uncovered pan of water takes far longer to boil in cold weather. I also ordered a very small lantern that runs off cheap T lights. This should provide a small amount of heat as well as a limited amount of light that will be supplemented by torches anyway. Being in an enclosed and spill proof casing the T light can be left on even when I am not in the tent.

My mattress cost around £100 and the two sleeping bags were approximately £45 for the pair; the bivi when it becomes available should be around £50. It sounds a lot but I have justified the expense in this way. A night in bed and breakfast would cost me a minimum of £20 a night if I am lucky so after a mere ten nights under canvas, in any conditions, I should have made my money back on them. The cost of the fuel line alterations plus the kettle and lantern was around £45 pounds. Again the cost of this outlay should be recouped in a small amount of time by cooking my own food and drinks instead of relying on cafes and bars.

This new kit has produced its own problems. The sleeping system while not heavy is bulky and I have to think long and hard about my luggage. I am keeping my existing soft panniers but I am hoping to replace my plastic top box with an aluminium one. I have also ordered an Ortlieb rack pack to fit all of this new stuff into and it will sit on the rear seat of the bike secured in place with a Pac safe.

Apart from the steep learning curve the main thing to come out of the trip was the discovery that my new satnav, a Garmin Zumo 660, is fantastic. I bought this at the beginning of the year and also purchased at the same time a headphone kit that enables me to hear the instructions from the lady who lives in the satnav. It took me door to door and I was even able to listen some tunes on the built in MP3 player to relieve the monotony of the motorways. How I ever lived this long without one of these babies is a complete mystery. I still maintain that the Garmin Quest is the single most useless piece of kit I have ever bought but the Zumo more than makes up for it. Sadly the quality is reflected in the price and at over 400 quid for the GPS and a further £150 for the coms system, it is not cheap but I will never leave home without it again!