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Posts Tagged ‘England

Being George Orwell

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Based on the film Being John Malkovich

In the aftermath of the Second World War, author George Orwell secluded himself on the bleak, outpost of Jura in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was here in the splendid isolation of the western isles that he wrote his opus, 1984. This is a journey to retrace his steps.

I departed from Nottingham in the East Midlands, traveling north through the Yorkshire Dales. If you’ve seen my previous trip reports, you know that the Yorkshire Dales are a bucolic setting worthy of being a destination in itself. It was on the narrow roads of West Yorkshire where TT champion David Jefferies honed his craft. Yorkshire is also home to the Lampkin motorcycle trials dynasty and it is not unusual to spot a number of trials bikes using public roads to link their trials areas. By chance, I come upon the The Yorke Arms hotel in a tiny village in the Nidderdale Valley that featured a Michelin starred restaurant. Sometimes I just get lucky.

The second day would be a short jaunt to the English Lake District, where I procured a room overlooking Lake Windermere

Windermere

I spent the following day touring the Lake District passes in splendid October sunshine

Lake District 1

Lake District 2

Lake District 3

After an overnight stay near Glasgow, I head north along the scenic Loch Lomond with the splendid weather still holding firm

Loch Lomond

A left turn at Tarbert takes me on the A85 along the Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne

I reach the ferry port of Kennacraig at midday, and by some miracle, the ferry to Islay is loading. It’s as if it were meant to be. After about a 3 hour sail, we reach Port Askaig on Islay. I ride across the island to Bowmore where I secure a room right next to the Bowmore Distillery. The next morning, I catch the small ferry across the Sound of Islay to the Isle of Jura

Jura Ferry 1

Tourism is light at this time of year. I’m the only vehicle making the crossing. I guess the adventure riders went elsewhere

Jura Ferry 2

My only link to civilization disappears over the horizon (possible embellishment)

Jura Ferry 3

Looking across the Sound of Islay towards Islay

Islay Sound

The only road on the island heads up the east coast from the ferry port

Jura Road

A farm house with a million dollar view across the Sound of Islay

Farm House

Looking southwards

Southwards

The splendid isolation and wild beauty of Jura, virtually unchanged in the sixty some years since Orwell travelled this same road

Wild

Orwell spent approximately three years writing 1984 in between jaunts with his son, hiking and exploring the island

Beauty

Clusters of farm houses dot the coast

Cluster

As you continue northwards, the road begins to deteriorate

Road 2

An unexpected patch of forest and pasture

Forest[/IMG][/URL]

Before the scenery opens up once more

Scenery

I spotted numerous stags in the grasslands who exhibited no fear of human contact

Stag

Close up

Close Up

Four miles short of Orwell’s farmhouse in Barnhill, the ride comes to an abrupt end

End

Curses!

Curses

Nothing left to do but turn around and head south on the same single track

Single Track

An old barn overlooks the coast, the Scottish mainland in the distance

Barn

Although Orwell’s writing thrived on the island, his health took a turn for the worse. In 1947 he was diagnosed with TB. At the time, there was no cure for the disease. He managed to finish 1984 in November 1948, and died early in 1950.

The only hotel on the island is the Jura Hotel in the village of Craighouse, where I stop for a lunch of tomato pepper soup and fresh crab

Soup

Soup 2

After a late lunch, I catch the four o’clock ferry back to Islay. Back on Islay, I ride along the narrow sound between Islay and Jura.

Looking across the sound to the Paps of Jura

Paps of Jura

A quick stop for refreshment at the Bunnahabhain Distillery

Distillery

Another view across the Sound of Islay towards Jura. The natural light at these northern latitudes can sometimes provide some spectacular displays, especially when rain showers simultaneously compete alongside bright sunshine to produce some mesmerizing lighting effects which in turn compete with the beauty of the natural surroundings. Something of a reward for being out in inclement weather

Light

Islay lacks a bit of the rugged isolation of Jura, but has its own special charm

Islay

Two friends along Loch Indall in southwestern Islay

Friends

The village of Portnahaven with the Orsay Lighthouse in the distance

Portnahaven

Hairy Scottish cattle give me the once over

Cattle

The 7 o’clock ferry was the only available crossing back to the mainland. UGH!

Early

Watching the sunrise over Jura from aboard the ferry

Jura Sunrise

This description of an Islay malt made laugh. I had never seen spirits described in military terms

Islay Malt

After reaching the mainland, I take a short jaunt across the Kintyre Peninsula and catch another ferry to the Isle of Arran. The weather began to take a turn for the worse and I was holed up for two days waiting out the rain. Fortunately, I stayed in a comfortable country home with an excellent restaurant. Eventually, the rain tapered off, and I caught yet another ferry across the Firth of Clyde to the town of Ardrossan on the mainland.

Looking back at Arran from the ferry

Arran

After 5 days in Scotland, I head south back into England, where I make my way to visit an old friend in Shropshire. The next day would be a short hop across the Peak District back to Nottingham.

I stopped at the famous Cat & Fiddle Pub. As it is a sunny Sunday afternoon, the place is hopping with bikes

Cat & Fiddle

Not just bikes, but even some Lotuses (Loti?)

Lotus

Even the Smart cars were out in force, cheekily making three parking spaces out of two

Smart

About an hour before reaching Nottingham, I pass thru the town of Matlock Bath, the East Midland’s answer to L.A.’s Rock Store. The town is bursting at the seams with hundreds of bikers enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. Almost looks like the main drag of Sturgis

Matlock Bath

Trip Stats:

Distance- +/- 1300 miles
Travel days- 9
Rest days- 3
Police sightings- 0
Deer sightings- 3
Bee stings- 0

Route maps:

Scotland leg

Scotland

England leg

England

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Written by orsonstravels

November 6, 2013 at 4:22 am

Western Scotland & Northern Ireland

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A plan was hatched to do Scotland properly. I had been once before in 2003 when the Guzzi was in a friend’s barn in Shropshire. At that time, I only had a week and had only made it as far as the Isle of Skye before time ran out and I had to turn around and head south. Still, what I had seen was enough to whet my appetite for more.

A P.M. was fired off to a friend in Scotland, asking for a few route tips. Instead, he went far above the call of duty and provided Google maps and plenty of suggestions on where to stay. He even went as far as to arrange an oil change in Aberdeen for my Thruxton. I hafta doff my chapeau to him. I owe him the equivalent in return. Unfortunately, as I headed out the door to the airport, I left his maps and printed advice on the kitchen counter. D’oh!

After an overnight flight to the U.K., I arrived in Nottingham and loaded up the Thruxton. By 2 P.M., I was on the road and heading north along the A1. At Scotch Corner, I turned westward on the wonderful A864 across the Yorkshire Dales. It was at this point that the team orson photographer realized that he had forgotten the camera’s battery back in Nottingham. He tried to blame it on jet lag but, his actions were inexcusable

At around 6 P.M, it began to rain lightly (this would be a recurring theme) and decided on a nice inn near Hawes. The plan for the following day would be to make time on the M6 motorway in order to catch the final day of the 100th running of the legendary Scottish Six Days Trial held around Fort William. I got lost in Glasgow and ended up heading northeast instead of northwest. I finally realized my mistake when I reached Stirling but, it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as, the A84 turned out to be a great ride. Ha! Let’s see yer GPS do that!

Back when I was but a wee lad, the Scottish Six Days Trial was a major motorcycling event, dutifully reported on by the U.S. bike rags along with the ISDT and the Motocross des Nations. Sadly, in this day of freestyle MX and stunt shows, the trial has lost it’s luster and like the Daytona 200, lives off its former glory. Still, I felt an urge to witness this unique event in which trials riders cover as much as 100 miles per day over 6 days.

From my hotel, I rode up towards Kinlochleven, not really sure what I was looking for. After riding through the town and seeing no signs of the event, I eventually came across many cars parked alongside the road. A short walk up a dirt road soon had me at one of the sections along a rocky creek bed. It was interesting to see how the different riders tackled the sections, from the apprehensive youngsters to the wiley gray beards. Although the skies threatened to rain, it stayed mostly dry.

I then rode a few more miles to reach the famous Pipeline Section. Since I didn’t have a camera. It’s difficult to convey how long and how steep it is. It’s so long, they separate it into four sections. It was amazing to watch the riders switch from unstoppable bulldozer mode to ballerina mode then back to bulldozer several times.

Later in the afternoon, I rode to Fort William for the awards ceremony and to walk around the pits. A couple of blasts from the past were there with the team Ossa truck as well as the newly reformed Greeves factory. I was hoping to score a 100th SSDT t-shirt but, they were sold out and I had to settle for a beanie.

The next day, I woke up to face of an ominous rainy weather forecast. I was to ride across the breadth of Scotland to meet up with my friend in Aberdeen on the east coast. Amazingly, I rode through bright sunshine all the way up until 2 P.M. when a brief shower finally lashed out at me. Upon reaching Aberdeen, directions from a friendly local soon had me my friend’s front door.

My friend lives in an amazing home, formerly a church. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film where the protagonist is invited into Dr. No or Goldfinger’s lair, that’s what it was like. A vast open area with a couple Ducatis and a KTM motard overlooked by a huge stained glass window. I think having a Bond villain’s lair is everyone’s fantasy. Impressive!

Stained glass

Following his advice, we agreed to make the fishing port of Ullapool our base of operations on the west coast. We left Aberdeen the next morning headed towards, Edinburgh. As I was just following my friend rather than relying on a map, I had no idea where I was but, the sun was out and the traffic was light so, all was well in the world. The highlight of the day had to be the road on the north shore of Loch Ness. What a magnificent motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves and lots of places to pass slower traffic.

Looking north from the south end of Loch Ness

Loch Ness

After a drenching rain, we finally reached Ullapool just after 7 P.M. A fish and chips dinner from the local chippie, a hot shower, a wee dram of scotch and it was off to never never land to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Sunset over Ullapool

Ullapool sunset
The next day we headed north, using the single track road that hugged the coast.

Heading towards Achiltibuie on the Coigach coast

Coigach coast

Go north

Continuing northwards

North

Encountering two other bikers heading south

Bikers

The coastline reminded me of Norway at times

Coast

Coastt

Despite the threatening rain, we remained dry as we approached the north coast.

Loch

Near the north coast, the Highland terrain opened up and offered vast vistas

Vast

Open

Lake

We reached Durness on the north coast at around 4 P.M. before deciding to return to Ullapool via the main highway.

Views heading south

South

Southh

Southhh

Southhhh

Dropping down into Ullapool from the north

Ullapool

In Ullapool, we managed to find a shop that sold cheap digital cameras so, apologies if the pictures aren’t up to snuff. We returned to our friendly hosts at our bed & breakfast just outside Ullapool for a hot shower and a nice steak dinner. After a good night’s sleep, we headed south from Ullapool, again following the coast.

Glen

Vista

Mountain

The Isle of Skye hoves into view off our starboard

Sea view

Belach na Ba kind of surprised me. Being so close to the coast, I wasn’t prepared for something that resembled an Alpine pass.

My friend heading downhill on his Ducati

Belach na Ba

Loch Carron. Somehow, dark and moody seems to fit this location better than bright sunshine

Loch Carron

By 5 P.M. we were still on the west coast and my friend had been hoping to make it to Aberdeen that night! At Locharron, we bade our farewells and went our separate ways, my friend back to Aberdeen while I headed back to Ullapool for one more night before catching my ferry to the Outer Hebrides.

Outer Hebrides

The following morning I woke up to more rain. I suited up and made the short ride into town to the ferry pier. Only three other bikes waiting to board. You must really want to go to get there.

Hebrides ferry

By the time the ferry reached Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis at midday, the weather had improved. The rugged Isle of Lewis and Harris contain some of the oldest rock formations in Europe. While the scenery might be stark and bleak, I’ve always been attracted to these “edge of the world” type places.

Desolate isolation on the Isle of Lewis

Lewis

The standing stones of Callanish whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time.

Callanish

From Callanish, I turn south along the rugged western coast of Lewis

Rugged

West

Westt

Westtt

I continued south until grass started growing out of the asphalt. A sure sign I was getting near the end and would have to turn around

Grass

I should note that these aren’t ideal sport touring roads or even motorcycling roads at all but, if you have an itch for remote places, the Outer Hebrides definitely scratches that itch.

Pointing north

West coast

I rejoin the main highway and head to the southern part of the island known as Harris which is even more rugged than Lewis

Harris

In the town of Tarbert, I find a cozy bed & breakfast run by an elderly woman who reminds me of my mother. I’m struck by the friendliness and warmth of the Hebridean people.

The next morning, I continue south to catch another ferry, this time to the Isle of North Uist. I make a quick detour to the small island of Scalpay where I again reach the end of the road and am forced to turn around.

Scalpay

Cross Harris

I’m surprised when the sun makes a rare appearance to reveal some pristine, sandy beaches on South Harris

Beach

Sandy

Sandyy

I reach the ferry port at Leverburgh to find that I am the only motorcyclist waiting in line. You must really, really want to get somewhere to be the only motorcyclist.

Leverburgh

The ferry ride to North Uist took about 50 minutes but, it was no simple crossing as the captain had to zig-zag his way amongst a veritable mine field of rocks and islets. He definitely earns his paycheck. Although not quite as rugged as Lewis & Harris, North Uist seems even less populated and remote

North Uist

Sunny

A lonely telephone box stands sentinel along a back road

Phone

North Uist is connected to the Isles of Benbecula and South Uist by a series of causeways. A local told me that during a bad, winter storm, a car and its occupants were swept off a causeway and out to sea by a rogue wave.

Another squall about to drench me blows in off the Atlantic. The wind was blowing the entire time I was on the Outer Hebrides. I can only imagine what the winter storms must be like

Squal

I made it as far south as the Isle of Eriskay off the southern end of South Uist before turning around and heading north. About 10 miles from my hotel, I was hit by yet another drenching squall. Suddenly, the Thruxton sputtered to a stop as if it had run out of fuel. Great! I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, with the rain pouring down. I peered into the gas tank and gave it a shake. I pushed the starter button again and, she fired right up! Hmmm. Maybe the carbs sucked in some rain or sumthin. I high tailed it to the hotel before she changed her mind again. That would be the only hiccup during the trip.

The next morning on the main road on North Uist (seriously, this is the main road), a herd of sheep blocks rush hour traffic. By the time they had been herded to their paddock, a four-car traffic jam had been created

Sheep

I made my way to Lochmaddy where the MV Hebrides would take me on the 2 hour crossing to the Isle of Skye.

MV Hebrides

Once again, I was the only motorcycle on the boat. I didn’t see any motorcycles that looked like they were ridden by locals on the Hebrides. The few bikes I saw were obviously touring. With their roads and their weather, you’d have to be serious to be a regular motorcyclist on the Hebrides.

Once on Skye, the weather let lose with a vengeance. The forecast called for two solid days of rain so, I did what every perfeshunal dilettante does and found a nice hotel to hole up in and get some laundry done.

Rain

Eventually, the rain let up a bit but, not enuff to give me blue skies. Portree is the main town on Skye

Portree

The Cuillin Hills in the distance on the Isle of Skye

Cuillin Hills

Ferry number 4 would take me from Skye back on to the mainland

Skye ferry

Argyll

The Morvern Peninsula is an isolated place of wonderfully stark scenery

Morvern

In the little town of Lochaline, I stumble upon the White House restaurant that serves locally sourced meals. It was here that I had one of the best meals of the trip. These unexpected gems that you happen upon by chance are part of the allure of travel for me.

Heading back north along Loch Linnhe with ever-present threatening skies

Loch Linnhe

Ferry Number 5 takes me across Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe ferry

Once again heading south, I make a detour thru Glen Coe. This is one of those places, like Yosemite, whose beauty stands out even in inclement weather

Glen Coe1

Glen Coe2

Glen Coe3

I continue south through the port city of Oban which kind of reminds me of small version of San Francisco. A western port with a slightly seedy underbelly. I make it as far south as Lochgilphead before a bit of rain followed by a strong, cold wind makes me stop for the night.

The next morning I head south along the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula on the A83. With a good view of the ocean and a salty sea air, it stirs memories of my days in Northern California

Kintyre1

Kintyre2

Kintyre3

At Campbeltown, I fill up with fuel and turn north following the single track lane up the eastern side of the peninsula

Kintyre4

At Claonaig, I await ferry number 6 to take me across as the Isle of Arran looms in the distance

Arran1

Arran2

Impressive mountains of Arran

Arran3

I head east across the middle of the island and get a view of the Firth of Clyde with the Scottish mainland in the distance

Firth of Clyde

A one hour ferry ride takes me back to the mainland at Androssan where I make a quick hop south to get a hotel in Troon in preparation for tomorrow’s ferry to Northern Ireland.

I wake up bright and early on Friday and make my way to the ferry terminal. This is the day before the North West 200 race in Northern Ireland and this time, I surely won’t be the only motorcyclist on the boat. I’m one of the first bikes in line and get to watch the bikes accumulate

Ferry queue

I soon begin to notice a trend. Most of the race fans are in their 50s or close to their 50s. I see a few riders who might be in their mid-30s and none in their twenties. I’m wondering if high insurance rates are the cause of the lack of youth or maybe it coincides with the birth of the internet some twenty years ago.

Soon the signal is given and the horde of bikes is herded on board. I figure there must be between 200 and 300 motorcycles

Bikes

Northern Ireland

I arrive in the port of Larne at about midday and am met by fellow Guzzisti, BelfastGuzzi from the V11lemans web site and his friend, both on Guzzis, who have kindly offered to provide me a tour of the northern coast

Guzzi

The North Antrim coast road doesn’t seem to get much press but, it’s a fantastic ride. Much too tight and lined with stone walls for any kind of serious sport riding but, the scenery more than makes up for that

Antrim1

BelfastGuzzi takes me on a road less traveled that hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of Torr Head

Antrim2

The picture doesn’t adequately convey the steepness of the single track lane descending the hillside

Antrim3

Antrim4

Antrim5

Antrim6

Antrim7

Unfortunately, race day dawns with a windy rain. I walk from my hotel down to the grassy viewing area at the Metropole and by the time I find a place to sit, the rain is diminishing

Metropole

By the 11:00 starting time of the North West 200 race, the rain has stopped although the track remains wet. The 600 Supersport class leads off and Aussie Cameron Donald engages local lad Alastair Seeley in a ding-dong back and forth battle. Donald’s Honda seems to have the ponies but, Seeley’s Suzuki gets him under braking and manages to hold on for the win.

Unfortunately, during the Superbike race, a bike spews its oil on the racing line as it begins to rain again. Cleaning up the track and a bomb threat to the paddock throw a wrench into the works and, by 4 P.M. the organizers decide to call the event in the name of safety. I can’t say I blame them. following a mist of spray at 190 mph is no place to be.

Still, I’m glad I went as I got a good feel for the event and enjoyed the atmosphere. Excuse the crappy hand held photos

Entering the Metropole Section after a 160 mph straightaway

Metropole entry

The famous railroad bridge

Bridge

which leads up a slight rise into a blind right hand kink

Kink

I walked further down the coast to get a shot at the top of Black Hill

Black Hill

As luck would have it, the day before and the day after the race were rather nice. I mount up and head west towards Donegal in Ireland

NI

You can hardly tell when you cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If there were any signs, I missed them. I make my way to Glenveagh National Park against a considerable head wind. I’m surprised by the sparse vegetation, almost looking a bit like New Mexico. Not what I expected of Ireland.

Glenveagh

After about 4 hours, I reach the west coast of Ireland

Rosses

I turn back towards the east and what was once a headwind, now became a tail wind…woo hoo!

A sectarian mural in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands and Che

Sectarian

I continue eastward on the scenic Barnes Gap scenic route thru bucolic countryside

Barnes Gap

I had planned to go see the Joey Dunlop memorial in Ballymoney the following day but the weather once again foiled my plans. High winds with gusts up to 70 mph created havoc across Northern Ireland toppling trees and making it generally unsafe to try and ride a motorcycle. The high winds also forced the cancelation of my 5 P.M. ferry so, I had to book for the following day.

The next morning, the winds had subsided and I made my way back to the ferry port in Larne.

I don’t know which is more impressive…this guy riding an Aprilia 125cc two-stroke from Scotland

Aprilia

or this guy who rode a BSA Lightning from Switzerland

BSA

I arrive back on the Scottish mainland at Cairnyan and begin to make my way towards England across the Scottish Borders district

Scottish Borders

After spending the night in Carlisle, I begin my last day on the road with my last bit of two-lane across the scenic Northern Pennines

Pennines1

Pennines2

At Scotch Corner, I grab lunch then hit the M1 Motorway and make the final blast down to Nottingham. Despite all that rain in the forecast, I really only had about four bouts of riding in solid rain. The rest of the times I was dodging rain showers or riding in a drizzle which wasn’t hardly like rain at all and, even had a few spells of sunshine. I had previously rated the Kiwis as the friendliest people I had encountered but, after this trip, I think the Scots and the Irish are on par with the Kiwis. Outstanding hospitality.

Trip stats:

Mileage: 3000 miles
Travel days: 18
Rest days: 3 (due to rain & winds)
Ferry crossings: 9
Police encounters: 2
Police interaction: 0
Midge attacks: 1

Route Maps:

Scotland

NI Map

South Wales

with 91 comments

During my recent visit to the U.K., they were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year. In the U.S., they would call it an Indian Summer. I dunno what they would call it in Wales. A Druid Summer?

I arrived in Nottingham and reunited with my Triumph Thruxton after a two year absence. The Trumpet fired right up as if it were only yesterday. We set off towards Wales under cement gray skies but, with an improving forecast. When I say cement gray skies, I don’t mean cement-colored but that, it actually looks like the sky is filled with cement. A thick pea soup mixture that dulls everything it touches. The grayness persisted for the entire first day of the trip so, not many pictures.

After overnighting in Brecon, Wales, day two dawned under similarly gray skies but, the weatherman was calling for patches of sun as I headed south across the Black Mountains. As I crossed over the top of the mountains, the fog was so thick that, I had to slow down considerably and had to allow a car towing a caravan (camper) to pass 😮

By 10:30 A.M., I was beginning to detect some brightness through the mist

Mist

Fall colours

Fall

Welsh backroads tend to be a tad narrow, down to one lane wide in places with pullouts to allow other traffic to get by

Backroad

By noon, the sun was out in full force as I approached Swansea on the south coast

Sun

After getting through Swansea (a lovely looking city), I made my way to the Gower Peninsula. I stopped at the seaside village of Port Eynon for a lunch of fish & chips. I talked to a couple of local riders, one on a Harley and the other on a beautifully maintained, 30 year old Kawasaki Z900. I continued on to the town of Rhossili where, I found lodgings at a hotel overlooking Worm’s Head

Worm

Looking north from Worm’s Head to the wide expanse of beach. The little black specks in the water are surfers. Yes, surfers in Wales…in October

Surf

Sunset over Worm’s Head

Sunset

The next morning, I was so taken by the beauty of the locale that I had to snap a few more pictures

Morning

Exploring the narrow roads along the coast. In the U.S. this would either be a bicycle or golf cart path. It’s hard to make out due to the brightness of the sun but, that’s the Bristol Channel on the horizon

Path

On my third day, I left the Gower Peninsula and made my way around the Loughor Estuary, following the coast towards the Pembrokeshire National Seashore. The rugged Pembokeshire coast near the town of Bosherston

Bosherston

Continuing westward, there were many other people out enjoying the fine autumn weather

Westward

Looking back eastward along the narrow, coastal road

Eastward

I spent the third night in Haverfordwest before continuing the next day towards St. Brides Head in far Western Wales

St Bridehead

The village of St. Brides is as peaceful and idylic as they come. Location, location, location

St Brides

Nearby, two fishermen were setting their pots

Fishing

I continued north along the coast, trying to stay as close to the shore as possible by following the narrow, one-lane roads. Less sport and more touring really. Looking back south along the coast

Coast

Approaching the town of Broad Haven

Broadhaven

Coastal farms were in abundance

Farm

A solitary stroller enjoying the fine day along one of the broad, Welsh beaches near the town of Newgale

Beach

Time was beginning to run out and I had to begin to make my way northeast towards Nottingham. The mysterious Preseli Hills from which the bluestones of Stonehenge eminate, hove into view

Preseli

I rejoin the coast at Cardigan and follow the coastal road northwards past retirement and vacation homes. Near Aberystwyth, I find a nice country hotel with a splendid view and a fine restaurant. I enjoy a nice meal with accompanying adult beverages for my last night on the road. Wales is the closest place I’ve found that matches the beauty of Northern California. Sonoma County or Wales?

Wales

The next morning dawns bright and shiney and after a full Welsh Breakfast, I point the bike eastwards back towards England but, not before getting a few final pictures of the stunning Welsh countryside

Welsh

Welshh

Valley

The roads open up as the terrain begins to change. The Triumph falls into a relaxed pace as if trying to delay the journey’s end. It seems happiest when just puttering along at 65 to 70 mph on a lazily sweeping two-laned roads. A steady, unhurried beat like a Miles Davis composition 🙂

Home

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. To expect 4 days of continuous sunshine in October is to be tempting fate but, somehow it was as if I flew through the eye of a needle. I get the feeling I may have to pay on a later journey.

Route map:

Map

Trip stats:

Riding Days: 5
Rest Days: 0
Mileage: 800
Police encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: 1,000,019
Bee stings: 0

Wandering Wales

with 3 comments

I had some free time so I decided to escape from the summer heat in Saudi for some cooler British climes. As I had never been to southwestern Wales, I decided to make that my destination. I picked up my trusty Trumpet in Nottingham and made tracks towards the southwest, splitting Birmingham & Manchester.

Crossing the Welsh frontier near Newton at midday, I immediately headed south on the fantastic A483. I’ve raved about this road in the past, slicing north to south through Wales, it’s a fun-filled festival of high speed sweepers.

I continue in a southwesterly direction on the A483 under sunny skies, skirting the Brecon Beacons National Park, arriving at Haverfordwest around 4 P.M. After securing a hotel for the night, I decided to make the most of the sunny weather, as the next day’s weather forecast called for rain. I continued west to St. David’s Head, a headland in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Near Solva, I catch a glimpse of St. Brides Bay.

After negotiating several miles of goat trails, I finally make it to St. David’s Head. Looking south along the rugged coastline.

From this point, I turn and head northeast, following a small, single track lane along the northern edge of the peninsula.

a bustling seaport near Abereiddy….ok ok, a sleepy fishing village then…

The Pembrokshire coastline, is the only part of the British coast dedicated as a national park and I can see why. I thought it was nicer than even the rugged Cornish coastline. Another shot of the coast.

From the coast, I began to make my way inland through the Preseli Hills. The Preseli Hills are often referred to as mysterious, haunting or atmospheric. A place where strange things have occurred and where the waters are reputed to have healing effects.

The bluestones used at Stonehenge, have been traced to the Preseli Hills. The stones, weighing up to four tons, were somehow transported some 250 miles to the plains of Salisbury.

An ancient dolmen, Pentre Ifan is also located here, overlooking the Irish Sea. Dating from 3500 BC, this was supposedly a communal burial ground. Originally a small mound surrounded the stones, explaining how the massive capstone was put in place.

It was now getting late in the day, so I began to make my way down the Preselis to the hotel near the coast.

The next day was raining as per the forecast. It’s never good when the weatherman uses words like Biblical and flooding. This was supposed to be fun, so I made a command decision that watching STNG and eating Cornish pastys out of a paper bag was more enjoyable than riding all day in the rain. The rain was supposedly going to taper off late in the afternoon, so I decided to go visit the home of Dylan Thomas nearby.

A bit of a bohemian, by many accounts, Thomas was a bum, a filcher and a drunkard. His only redeeming feature was his booming voice and his writing, and boy could he write. He apparently made an impression on the New York beatnic scene, so much so that rock stars appropriated his name. In 1953, after another drinking bout, he slipped into a coma and died. He was 39 years old.

While in the UK, he lived in the coastal village of Laugharne in a house overlooking as estuary where he wrote most of his poetry. A darkened view of Thomas’ writing shed.

The view from the workshop overlooking the estuary.

Thomas was buried in the village churchyard in an unpretentious grave.

A picture of Laugharne Castle built by the Normans. Wales is dotted with the ruins of many castles, recalling a history etched in violence.

The weatherman lied and the rain continued to come down, giving me a good soaking on the way back to the hotel.

So you want to ride in the UK, Exhibit A:

Day three began with the weatherman calling for “improving” conditions, whatever that means. As I left the hotel, it was still raining but I sought consolation by telling myself “it’s gonna improve”. Three hours later, I was still muttering “it’s gonna improve” as the rain continued to pelt down.

So you want to ride in the UK, Exhibit B:

I was headed back northwards along the western flank of the Cambrian Mountains. A multi-hued Welsh village.

At the village of Cwmystwyth, I cross over the Cambrians along a narrow single track.

Finally, at around 3 PM I get a respite, as the sun peeks through. The motorcycle gods are merely taunting me as an ominous darkness lurks on the horizon.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Thruxton is a bit of a poser’s bike, the Triumph struggling to keep up with faster, more powerful competitors on the open roads, yet when the roads become tight and narrow like this, the little twin mill really enters its own element. The engine’s healthy torque is accompanied by what has to be one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in all of motorcycledom. The twin’s snarling bark never lets you forget you’re on a proper motorbike.

Triumph country:

There’s just something intrinsically right about riding British iron on British roads. The two seem to be perfectly compatible with one another. When you’re out by yourself on a lonely backroad, listening to that lovely rumble, it’s all to easy to imagine that you’re back in the 1960s when the British motorcycle industry ruled the world. It’s a shame the engine doesn’t have about 20 more horsepower.

Fortunately, I play dodge’em with the rain clouds for the rest of the afternoon, only getting a few sprinkles here and there.

At around 4 PM, I pull up and take stock in my situation. I’m soaking wet and right now would be a nice place for a hotel to materialize before my eyes. While staring at the map, I notice a lake with the word “Hotel” written next to it. Strange. It must be nice if it appears on the map. I head towards the lake and, sure enough, there’s a hotel overlooking Lake Vyrnwy. Quite a nice one too. It turns out the Lake Vyrnwy hotel is a former hunting lodge for the city leaders of Liverpool. I get a nice room with a view of the lake. More importantly, the room has a hair dryer so that I can dry out some of my soaked gear.

The Beatles drank from these waters, as the lake serves as the reservoir for Liverpool’s drinking water. Gerry & the Pacemakers also drank from these waters, so make of that what you will.

Day four, my final day on the road, began the same as day three, with the promise of improving, but unsettled conditions, meaning “a roll of the dice”. I head north from the lake taking another scenic single track.

A typical Welsh predator lurks by the roadside. Usually, a blast from the mighty Triumph’s exhaust pipes were enough to send them scurrying for cover.

The single track continued climbing out of the valley…

up and over the top and down the otherside. Somehow, the misty weather in this photo perfectly captures the mystical Welsh countryside. A sunny picture just woudn’t convey the same feeling.

Early morning puttering through a small village as smoke rises from a farmhouse chimney.

I find the B4391 and it takes me towards home. What a nice farewell to Wales!

Wales lives up to all its accolades and more. From stunning, fast sweeping bends, to narrow single tracks, the Welsh terrain encompasses all types of motorcycling pleasure with its majestic natural beauty added as a bonus. The people are extremely warm and welcoming, especially after they hear an American accent.

On the way back to Nottingham, I make a small detour to explore some interesting roads in the Shropshire Hills. Mercifully, I was fortunate and managed to escape any major drenchings on the last day. the motorcycle gods must have had their fill of entertainment.

Fun for the entire family…that is if mom rides a GSXR.

Route map:

Days: 4
Miles: 800 (would have been more if not for the day 2 washout)
Police interaction: 0
Bee stings: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: about 2 brazillian
Bike problems: 0

The West Country

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team orson recently had the opportunity to escape the blistering summer heat in Saudi for some cooler climes in the British Isles. Arrangements were made to meet with ST.N member and fellow Guzzisti, Martin Barret. Martin is entered into the Round Britain Rally which is sort of like a photographic scavenger hunt with landmarks all over Great Britain. So, I would tag along while Martin nabbed a few of the landmarks.

As I left Nottingham, weather was “unsettled” as the English tend to describe weather that can change from sunshine to downpours to sunshine and downpours to sunshine, all within one hour. A late start and a wrong turn meant I was “only” an hour and a half late when I met up with Martin at a rest stop just south of Birmingham. We made our way west towards the Welsh frontier. A missed turn led us into the maw of a torrential downpour for about 15 minutes. Not knowing any better, I thought this was “typical” English biking weather and dutifully followed behind Martin. Shortly after, we were back on the correct path to our first landmark.

We must have paid some sort of penance for afterwards, the skies cleared up and we enjoyed glorious sunshine for the remainder of the day. One small set back occurred when my gloves mysteriously went missing at a gas stop. Fortunately, I had some back up winter gloves to use. Our last landmark for the day was the Blaenavon Iron Works in southeast Wales. This was the spot that marked the birth of the Industrial Revolution. It was here that new smelting procedures were used that led to the widespread use of iron for industrial uses. This would lead to trains, ships, skyscrapers and yes, motorcycles such as Triumph and Nortons.

The remains of the Blaenavon Iron Works

By then, it was getting late in the day. We made our way to Brecon, the gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park. We sat down for a dinner of fish & chips before Martin began his ride home & I sought out a bed & breakfast.

As I watched the weather forecast the next morning, I saw the weather down south would be much sunnier so, I made the spur of the moment decision to head southwest…to the West Country. This is the term the English use to refer to the finger of land that juts out into the Atlantic culminating at Land’s End.

In the county of Somerset, I passed through the Cheddar Gorge, the largest gorge in the United Kingdom.

While riding with Martin the previous day, the Triumph felt flustered and out of breath as it tried to keep up with Martin’s mighty, mighty Goose. However, riding without the pressure to keep up, the Triumph felt transformed and in its element. trundling along the narrow English backroads at around 70 mph, the Triumph was a joy to ride and that sumptuous soundtrack only added to the enjoyment. After the previous day’s showers, this day was turning into a glorious display of English sunshine.

Somewhere on the backroads of Somerset…

Continuing in a southwesterly direction, I entered the Exmoor National Park which straddles both Somerset & Devon along the Bristol Channel.

rolling terrain near the entrance to the Exmoor…

Turning north, I headed towards the coast and the picturesque village of Lynton, where the Exmoor meets the sea. Lynton is a quaint if not a bit touristy and a nice place to stop for an ice cream made from fresh Devon cream.

The Devon coastline near Lynton

Continuing west along Barnstaple Bay, I ended the day in Horns Cross where I found the delightful Hoops Inn. Built during the 13th century as a traveller’s inn.

Of course I had to partake in the local liquid mead. The Golden Pig ale is guaranteed to pound yer head in the dirt and make out with yer little sister before the night is through.

Followed by a dinner of pan fried duck in a raspberry reduction with some fancy, schmancy potatos and local veggies

The following morning I set out to explore the nearby fishing village of Clovelly, famous for its steep, cobbled streets and picturesque harbor.

The village is closed off to vehicle traffic. The view of the harbor…the white building at the far left is the village hotel.

The view from the weir looking back at the village…

From the coast, I began to make my way south through the rolling countryside of Devon. Again, the Triumph was in its element. Long queus of vehicles stacked up behind slow moving farm machinery were dispatched with ease.

By mid-afternooon, darkening skies were beginning to make their presence felt. I was sprinkled on a few times but continued to enjoy mostly sunshine.

Dodging rain showers in the distance…

I passed through the Dartmoor National Park on my way south…

The arch spanning the middle of main street in Totnes. Saddly, the original Elizabethan arch was destroyed by fire in 1990.

Time was beginning to expire on my journey so I turned and headed north through the pastoral Devon countryside. Again, the Triumph…in its element…narrow country lanes and thatched roof farm houses.

thundershowers threatening the quiltwork Devon countryside…

The beautiful village of Bickleigh. I swear, sometimes I think the English hire Disney Imagineers to make achingly picturesque villages for us tourists.

Leaving Bickleigh…the town church steeple in the distance…

By now it was almost 4 P.M. and the showers continued to try to pen me in. Showers to the east blocked my path so, my only alternative was to head north on the M5 Motorway. I proceeded north, with blue skies ahead yet, the dark, ominous clouds in my rear view mirrors following me all the way. Not wanting to end the trip one day early, I opted to take a hotel room just south of Birmingham in hopes that the weather forecast for the next day was wrong. I was hoping against hope that I might enjoy one last day of riding. Alas, I woke the next day to rains pelting down.

Time to pay the piper for all my frivolity. I suited up and headed back onto the motorway accompanied by steady showers along with the spray thrown up by the lorries. By the time I made it back to Nottingham, the rains had eased up. Down south though, the rains were wreaking havoc. I just made it into Birmingham on the last train before all the trains were cancelled due to the weather…a narrow escape.

Summary:

Total mileage: 950 miles in 3 days.
Puckers: 0
Police interaction: 0
Bee stings: 0
Drenchings: 1

Route map:

The Yorkshire Dales

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September ’06

My original plan was to try to make it to Ireland for a quickie tour. However, a poor weather forecast and the airline losing my luggage forced me to drop back and punt. Instead, I decided to focus on three National Parks in the north of England. The Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors National Parks.

Starting out from Nottingham, I headed to Matlock Bath on the southern edge of the Peak District. Matlock Bath has been a tourist site since warm springs were discovered there. Nowadays, it’s a major Sunday biking destination seeing close to 1000 bikers on summer weekends.

Colorful hotel near Matlock Bath.

Staying on the backroads, I zig-zagged my way north through the Peak District. Apparently, the Peak District isn’t named for its terrain but for its former inhabitants, the Picts. The last time I passed this way, it had been pouring rain so, it was nice to see it in a different light.

Winnat’s Pass

Heading north through the rolling terrain of the Peak district.

The Snake Pass through the northern Peak District has been rated one of the best motorcycling roads in the U.K. and rightly so. Just put your lips together and make vroom-vroom Triumph noises and imagine yourself disappearing over the rise 🙂

Continuing north, I left the Peak District and headed for the Yorkshire Dales. Although the skies were threatening, there was no rain in the forecast. After being in Arabia, where the skies are eternally cloudless, it’s a bit of a welcome sight to see the ever changing skies of England. There’s something about the northern light and the effervescent skies that combine to create an swirling palette of colours.

The southern Yorkshire Dales holds desolate yet beautiful wild heather moors. Again, the ever changing skies provide an almost surreal beauty to the landscape.

Deeper into the dales, the terrain becomes lusher and greener. The omnipresent drystone walls, built by sheep farmers in days gone by, seem to blend into the natural beauty of the terrain.

I stopped in Grassington for fuel. Unlike in the U.S. where gas stations seem to be on every corner, in the north of England you have to search them out. Most locals are amiable types who are more than happy to give directions to the “petrol” pump.

The residents of the Yorkshire Dales are a hearty, hard-working lot as evidenced by all the stone walls. This area produced some of the world’s best trials riders including the Lampkin brothers, famous for drinking their opponents under the table on Saturday nights then going out the next morning and kicking their butts on the trials course.

I picked up the A684 which cuts across northern England from east to west and is another fine motorcycling road. Just keep your speeds in check as the stone walls are rather unforgiving. I head east, leaving the Dales behind, heading for the North York Moors.

A quiet stream near the North York Moors boundary.

The British are known for being masters of the understatement as this road sign will attest to. Why post “Steep Hill Ahead” when a subtle “I say old boy, give your brakes a go” will do?

I find a hotel in Helsmsley and then have a great Italian meal at a restaurant run by real Italians. The next morning dawns with bright, blue skies!

Early morning on a quiet country lane near Rievaulx Abbey

The B1257 north from Helmsley is known to the local riders as the Helmsley TT. I don’t think any more description is needed 🙂 Keep an eye out for the rozzers though, as the road has gained a bad reputation in the press.

Another view of the Helmsley TT

Leaving the B1257 at Stokesley, I head deeper into the moors via the narrow backroads. The sheep are everywhere. Thankfully, they usually stay put when you pass. They even come into town for a pint or two.

The Triumph is well-suited to these backroads. The torquey twin seems to have just the right amount of power and torque. It’s no wonder they continued building them for so long before succumbing to U.S. market pressure for more powerful engines.

Bucolic countryside in the North York Moors.

I continue eastward until I arrive at the coast near Whitby, home of Captain James Cook. I came across this odd looking church. I’m not sure of of its age. The North Sea lies in the background.

The star of this show, the torquey, twin mill. What a little jewel of an engine. Only 65 some horsepower but it more than makes up for it in torque and aural effects. Kudos to John Bloor for bringing it back.

South of Whitby on the coast lies Robin Hood’s Bay. This village was once a smuggler’s haven but its the village’s labrynth of tight, alleyways climbing the cliffside that make it really unique. To say it’s quaint would be an understatement.

Robin Hood’s Bay

I tried to get a picture capturing the essence of the narrow alleys but this was all I could capture before it started to rain.

I rode through a squall for about 30 minutes before I found a pub in the village of Castleton that had rooms to let so I grabbed a room and dried off. A dinner of Yorkshire pudding stuffed with veggies and sausage along with a pint of local ale finished me off.

Saturday was to be my last day and fortunately, the previous day’s showers had blown out into the North Sea and the day started with bright, blue skies. I began to head south towards Nottingham again. I still had a little time to explore the North York Moors though. These moors are a little more harsh and desolate than the Yorkshire Dales but the stark terrain has its own beauty.

Heading toward Egton Bridge, not a car in sight.

An abandoned farm house is all that breaks up the terrain. The narrowness of the road is typical of the backroads in the moors.

More vast expanse of moors.

A scenic bridge near Egton Bridge.

Stopping for a cuppa in the village of Rosedale.

It’s scenes like this that make the North of England seem a world away from the busy south. With the tiny villages seemingly unchanged for decades, it’s all too easy to imagine that I’m a young officer in the service in the 1940s much like my father was, trundling across the countryside on a trusty Triumph (albeit without Lucas electrics).

Reluctantly, I make my way south towards Nottingham. I stick to the backroads and though the roads are still pleasantly twisty, the traffic increases and the views become more modern and industrial. I dodge one last afternoon shower before arriving at my friend’s house and dropping off the bike. The bike performed flawlessly throughout the trip.

A short train ride takes me to Birmingham and I spend the last day of my trip touring the British National Motorcycle Museum.

I couldn’t have asked for better English weather in September. In 4 days, I only encountered about 30 minutes of rain. The temperatures varied from around 70° F/20° C in the sun and down to the upper 40s F/ 15 C when it threatened to rain. While the north of England is no match for Scotland’s beauty, there is still a rustic, timeless charm to the place that I find very appealing.

Welsh Waltz II

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March ’06

it had been almost 6 months since team orson had been together…too long. Long months spent gnawing on a mouse cord did little to alleviate the symptoms. Cabin fever is an ugly condition. I arrive in Shropshire and make my way to the dusty barn, hoping a family of mice hadn’t made themselves at home in the goose’s air box. Fortunately, my friend has four cats who patrol the grounds. The barn door creaks open and a ray of light shines upon the beast…looking as if I had just left it. The tension in the air is palpable as I reinstall the battery….I press…an angry roar fills the barn as if to castigate me for my lengthy absence…

Plans are made for the assault across the border into neighboring Wales…the land of endless, fast sweepers and…well, Catherine Zeta Jones :inlove:

I made plans to meet some of the lads from v11lemans.com at the summit of Horseshoe Pass north of Llangollen. Temperatures are in the 40’s…well below team orson’s level of comfort…but we are on a mission. We soon get acclimated if not completely warm. We comfort ourselves with the thought that 40 degree air is worth some extra horsepower.

Someone’s house near Oswestry, Wales

The Welsh town of Llangollen

After another full English breakfast, we take off. Heading west towards the coast, we stop to take in the snow capped Carneddau Mountains including Snowdonia.

Stopping for a dash of petrol

Reaching the coast, we turn south for some fish & chips with mushy peas. The road climbs the cliffside and for a moment, resembles California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway.

After a leisurely lunch, we turn inland towards Lake Vyrnwy. Traffic is light and the Guzzis make good time through the plethora of sweeping bends. Occasional vistas of snow dusted mountains distract us of the task at hand.

We veer off onto the single track. By now, team orson is thouroghly lost and just following the locals.

Snow peaked mountains gave an Alpine-ish aura.

Near the end of the day, we arrive at Lake Vyrnwy. Don’t ask me to pronounce it. It’s a lake 🙂

Heading back across the border into Shropshire.

Illegally parked Guzzi in front of the first bridge to be built out of iron. It was built in 1769 and called…uhmm…Ironbridge…near Telford, Shropshire.

team orson motto 🙂

This trip served to further enhance my opinion of the Welsh highway system. A thoroughly jolly time was had by all. The Welsh roads deserve all the accolades heaped on them by the British motoring press. Some of the best riding in Britain!