Charity Registration No. 206002 Combat Stress is the leading charity specialising in the care of British Veterans who have been profoundly traumatised by harrowing experiences during their Service career.  

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day Thirty - Home, James

I write this from my luxury hovelette in Walkhampton, phew! Made it, but only just. I had a slightly weird night's sleep in Rob's 17th century gaff, explained by the fact that I was in the lying-in room when it was an undertakers. How I laughed!

Well, a quick slurp o'tea and back on that cruel old road again. Last day, I was thinking. How the gods laughed! "We''ll sort out that flash upstart, let's do the chain gag, then when he thinks he's home safe, a good dunking to finish him off." So followed a lovely ride to the Dartmouth ferry, and on the other side, an interview with the baying press mob. Well, the Surrey Advertiser anyway... then into the rest of the South Hams, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, Slapton et al. The old Smug-ometer was now running 11 on a scale of 10, picking up wealthy inhabitants with their BMW X5s and utterly crap driving.

I thought I was done and then, as I approached Mothecombe, I almost was. The knicker elastic chain leapt off the chocolate sprockets, mangling itself in the process and breaking a side plate. This meant that the chain had a horrid kink, at which point only half of it still worked. Looked like game over, but I managed to cobble the thing back together and limped on, having sacked the last (boring) ten miles into Plymouth and decided to go over Lee Moor, making horrid grinding noises. I was reminded of the poor guys limping back over the Channel in some horribly shot-up bomber in the last war, listening and praying. Yeah, right! Not as if I was going to die, just ring up the missus and wait for a rescue.

To my intense surprise, and gratitude, the wounded Yamaha, in dire need of a service, kept going. So, when I got to Meavy ford (so enticing!), Old Nick jumped on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. "Nearly home, eh, and you could just nip through smartly. Look pretty good in the blog, you could just casually just slip it in...". Yes, indeed, I certainly casually slipped it in. The front tyre found a rock in just the right spot. The bike lay there like a stricken whale, bubbling away as the left pannier filled its boots, so I took some photos as a worried passer-by asked if I was okay. Resisting the urge to snap "Well, as I've just dumped a quarter ton of bike and associated tat in the middle of a surprisingly deep river, I would say, on balance, no."

But I smiled bravely, and, bracing the old war wound, picked the beast up and rode it out, streaming Meavy in all directions. Clanking and dribbling down the hill into Walkhampton,(and the bike was pretty rough too), I passed Nigel Pollard in his motor... like I left yesterday, same old same old.

Some more nonsense tomorrow, if you can stand it. Now, must bail out that pannier.

Photos from day 30. [And some from day 29 I just got today - Ed.]

Day Twenty-Nine - Next Stop, Home

I've got that end of term feeling. Last day's riding tomorrow, it's going to feel very different not grappling with the bike all day. Left Swanage this morning, and promptly stopped at an old fashioned garage with a very pretty Series One Land Rover parked outside. One of the guys had been reading about me in Trail Bike magazine not ten minutes before, so was a bit gobsmacked when I tipped up.

Dorset was lovely in the sunshine, but scores quite high on the Smugometer. A little bit too manicured, but was saved by the cheery sight of a troop of Scimitar tanks preparing to fire at Lulworth ranges. The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur, broken by a stop at a fantastic oak furniture showroom near Exmouth, a game I dabble in occasionally myself... really nice people as well. I have ended up staying near Teignmouth in a place that you couldn't make up. It's a former wheelwrights, then an undertakers and coffin makers, bits date back to the seventeenth century in an oak and cob kind of way. You can feel at home in your motorcycle boots, but it's warm and snug. Enough room for the biggest collection of dirt bikes I've seen for a while, including a couple inside well. This is, like the place in Edinburgh, a time warp jammed into the middle of nowhere. It's even got the old sawmill buildings. Marvellous.

Well, I'll blog a bit more tomorrow, and then we'll see how it goes. I feel a book coming on.

Photos from day 29.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Day Twenty-Eight - No Admittance

The most over used word on the south coast is - 'Private'. It applies to roads, paths, drives, beaches and anything else they can come up with. And when you get into the New Forest, it promptly gets worse. The place has that feeling of "go away, you're not one of us, are you?". A mix of arrogant old money and chippy new money, while the tourists drift about like faintly anxious sheep. But very beautiful in a way it probably never was, when farm labourers were paid starvation wages and kids had no shoes. Okay enough of the chippiness, what of the journey?

Well, I left Sussex at 9 and picked up the coast near Brighton, and it took ages to go through a constant stream of towns and villages, averaging 20 miles an hour. Boy, was I relieved to find the Swanage ferry running, as it saves a massive detour inland. Was amused to see that Sandbanks, the most expensive coastal real estate in Britain, is in fact like a slightly upmarket version of Blackpool, well Rock anyway. You mugs!!

Tonight I'm at a very nice campsite in Swanage, 'cos the National (mis) Trust owns everywhere and no camping, parking, fires, smiling or any kind of fun, like being able to wake up in the wilds, is permitted. The joyless muppets... The bike is slowly eating its chain, drive sprockets and the howlingly loud new back tyre. Will our hero make it home before doom strikes? Watch this space folks!

Stop press. Completely forgot the thank Peter and Julia for a hilarious night at the Hunt Supporters bash. I was dragged onto the dance floor by a keen, well refreshed lady for a couple of cheeky numbers, ooerr what am I going to tell Baroness Walkhampton? So I cunningly diverted her into a glass of wine and made like a tree, easy for an arborist. Yes, dear reader, I got on my bike and leaved... Baboom, tish.

Photos from day 28.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Day Twenty-Seven - Photo Shoot

A day of three halves, I would judge. Up at stupid o'clock, having blissfully conked out through a monsoon. On the road for seven, and then a glorious ride to the coast over Romney marsh. Having to get to Dorking via Brighton for 10.30 means not much spare time for rubbernecking, which is a shame as before you get to the coastal strip of Hastings, Eastbourne et al, is a gloriously deserted, shabby/beautiful/industrial bit with a kind of spooky feel to it in the early light... Maybe all the aircraft that piled into the marshes had something to do with it, RIP, lads, sorry for all that noise and I really must repack those silencers. Getting through endless ribbons of God's Waiting Room to the London road tried my patience pretty sorely, then it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. And cameras. Bloody things, even Ceaucescu's goons couldn't think that one up... grr.

Then up to Azcari, the guys that supplied my navigation gear, for a photocall with the Surrey Advertiser and the crew from Combat Stress. Thanks, one and all, nice to put faces to the names. If you're into motor cycles and travel, these are the guys you need to see, and they have the full range of Husqvarna bikes too, which are achingly gorgeous to a sad ol' bikie like me. Finally, to west Sussex, to stay with my cuz and his lovely bird, and now I find I'm going to the 50th anniversary bash of the local Hunt Supporters Club, blimey, will it never end? (Chid and Leck, for those interested) I'm taking the bike, and a load of calling cards, just have to keep plugging away.

Big thanks to Alex and Simon for last night, I really needed that. I never imagined that riding every day could catch up with you quite so insidiously. Tomorrow, yet another Big Push, I'll sneak up on the coast early and catch the bugger by surprise....

Photos from day 27.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Day Twenty-Six - Lap of Luxury

If you wanted the perfect antidote to the cynicism and negativity of modern life, live my life for a while. For the last (nearly) month and 4300 miles, with only two exceptions, I have been shown nothing but generosity and kindness. And mostly by people that I've never met, from ferrymen to forestry workers to toll keepers to till operators. Cheers to you all, it's been a great trip thanks to that spirit.

I legged it down the South Circular at some speed thanks to a guy on a Suzuki 600 who knew where all the cameras were, and the traffic was very light at that time of day. I eventually explained what I was doing, and he was more than happy for me to slipstream him. Back at Dartford, I resumed my coastal capers; pretty awkward in the Medway towns and horribly slow. Still, I was well surprised by the views, which just got better and better as the day wore on. Herne Bay, which I've never seen, was great. Late afternoon, by complete good fortune, I ran across the Battle of Britain memorial at Capel le Ferne. It was impressive and really quite moving. We really owe those guys, big time...

In the rugged spirit of my tour, I'm roughing it at Simon and Alex's near Romney, steeling myself for roast lamb... Tomorrow, I'm up to Dorking to Azcari, the Satmap guys, headed up by Craig Zocher, for a press bash. Then scuttle back to the coast for the final push, probably in a General Melchett stylee...

Photos from days 25 and 26.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Day Twenty-Five - Catching Up

[This is from earlier - I think probably Tuesday, but I can't be sure. - Ed.]

It's been a day of old friends and strange machinery. I left my freezing field edge in Lincolnshire at seven, cursing as the stove half died and then I knocked over the messtin. So, no porridge and no tea, just half a cup of water, shame. Still, on to Norfolk and up to the north, in the sun as usual and a biting north wind. At Salthouse, near Cromer, a car behind started hooting and flashing. I pulled over, to see my friends Nigel and Sarah, who had put me up on my first night away, in Falmouth. They were up on holiday, and had no idea I was in the area, try calculating the odds on that...

I found, respectively, an armoured bulldozer having a bit of a service at a boatbuilders yard, as you do, and a lovely old Churchill tank outside a museum. And other things besides, like the vintage bus at Southwold. Tonight, I find myself inland a bit at Sam and Andy's lovely cottage on an estate, near Diss. It feels strange, being indoors again after several days on the road and rough camping, not that I'm complaining. Funny how you take things like hot water for granted - until they're not available. Tomorrow, I'm being threatened with a day off. Very tempting after pushing four thousand miles and twenty two days' continuous riding...

[And this is today's offering. - Ed.]

Had a day off yesterday, as I realised that I was absolutely shattered after 22 continuous days of riding, about 200 hours in the saddle. And rough camping is harder than it sounds, especially in a bitter north wind and frosty starts...

So instead of riding, my friend, Andy, took me to see his place of work, called Heaven. It's a large grassy woodyard surrounded by trees, with an esoteric collection of workshops, built of timber, hazel and tarpaulins. Now before you get the idea that this is some crummy traveller camp full of rubbish and sponging wasters, think on. These guys are full-on sculptors in wood taking on comissions from all sorts of public bodies. Look at the photos. [I'll put the photos up when I receive them - Ed.] This is a very well organised set-up, with everyone working both collaboratively and singly, as required. Inspiring, not least because I knock out a bit of sculpted furniture myself.

Back to the trip: I started today at Aldeburgh, where I loved Maggi Hamblyn's sculpture of a scallop shell. Suffolk is a mix of fashionable hotspots, with the strong money living in the nice architecture, and dining in the swanky bistros, and the rest living on the estates, doing the cleaning and the service stuff. Yup, a sweeping statement I know. So, then I checked out Essex. Damn, it's a big old place, nice in the north, and crowded in the south and in fact you can't really see the sea unless you're actually on the seafront. And so busy that you crawl along in
the traffic, taking forever to get from A to B. What a pain. After a couple of hundred miles, I hung a left after the Dartford bridge and nipped over to Balham, gateway to the South and the venue for a nourishing glass of beer and a Ruby Murray with my nephew Tim and the lovely Beth. Hurrah. Tomorrow, I take on the men of Kent, whoever they are. Cheers chaps.

Photos from day 23.

Letter from the Editor

I received some photos from Mike a day or two ago which I've yet to put up, but nothing since then. I am sure things are just busy and, what with the iffy weather, possibly too wet to mess around with hi-tech gadgetry. I am sure we'll have another update soon. - Ed.