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Gordon Mackie

Honda 750 to Spain & Portugal - March 2003

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Having turned 70 on 23rd February, with no obvious ill effects, I decided to take my 18 stone body and its arthritic knees on a motorcycle ride to Spain. Instead of the family throwing their hands up in horror and talking me out of the idea they proceeded to shower me with gifts to encourage me to go! - something unnatural here I think. A new sleeping bag, a new radio for the long dark nights in the tent, new motorcycle gloves and a set of handlebar muffs to put my gloved hands in - all these gifts and I knew I couldn't back out. I added to the gift list by taking the 1 500 watt fan heater out of the motor caravan and fixing a connection so that I could plug into electrics on winter camp sites in France and Spain. I also carried a lead to a 60 watt bulb which I hoped would make my small Kyam tent a bit more homely.Now the motorbike - a red 750cc Honda complete with cockpit screen and though 20 years old it looked quite smart and had only done some 34k miles. I had only owned the bike for a couple of months and had done one trip up to a rally in Shepton Mallet and had been very pleased both with the performance and the comfort of this bigger bike. When I think of the agony I had suffered on my little Honda 250, and to a lesser extent on my old Yamaha 650, on long trips abroad I wish I had started my biking career on this bike - sort of "behind sight" if you follow. The bike was loaded with three bags - a large "tank" bag which sat on the petrol tank and was held in place by magnets - an oilskin kit bag and the tent in a small bag right at the rear. The last two bags were secured by three webbing type straps and the load looked quite professional in my opinion. The large kit bag was very good and at no time was it ever completely filled - it even took my sleeping bag as well as all my clothing. So - there's the bones of it and that is why I am writing this diary on a camp site near St Jean De Luze near the Spanish border. Lying in my tent with the heater blowing quietly and dusk falling I look forward to switching on my light and my radio. This is most enjoyable. Lets go back to where I started - St. Ives. I left home around 4.30pm and had an uneventful ride up to Plymouth. I wear a thermal vest, a t-shirt, a heavy fleece jacket, thermal long johns, thick socks, long rubber motorcycle boots, a pair of M & S lined shower proof trousers, thermal gloves, a woollen neck warmer, a small balaclava under my full-face helmet and on top of all that a one piece padded waterproof motorcycle suit which really does the job. This suit is an old friend and on one or two very cold nights camping in the past I have come out of the thin sleeping bag I had and used the suit as a sleeping suit, with opened bag as a top cover, quite successfully - but my face still froze, hence the fan heater. With all this gear on, if I fall off, I reckon I will bounce out of sight. Arriving in Plymouth in the dark I made my way down to the docks, bought my return ticket and changed some pounds into Euros at the Brittany Ferries desk. I had a cup of tea and bought the evening paper to pass the time before boarding commenced at 10pm. This being a Friday night the crossing was going to be quite busy. The ferry tonight is the big Val De Loire and I was very impressed with my small but well lit and furnished cabin with toilet and shower. The French seaman who made my bike secure told me it would be a fairly rough crossing so I took two Nautamine seasickness tablets and after showering went to bed. The ship moved quite a lot and I was pleased not to feel nauseous - my usual condition - and had a good night’s sleep. Over the weeks before this trip I had been planning how I would cope in difficult situations - like pulling on my boots! These excellent articles are so tight in the leg that pulling them on was a major effort as I could not reach down far enough to catch the tops to pull on. I remembered an idea I’d read in a magazine and put my feet into plastic bags to make them more slippy - they disappeared like rabbits into a burrow but my feet sure smelled when they re-emerged. Crouching to bang in tent pegs was also difficult but I carried a small mat to kneel on - another problem solved. Paying for the motorways while wearing gloves was a lesser difficulty I just made sure I had plenty of small coins and notes in my suit pocket and then pulled in past the control to put my gloves back on. Well goodbye Roscoff and off on a cold and cloudy morning with one very heavy burst of rain to cheer me on my way. My outfit really does keep me dry and comfortable and the windscreen takes the most of the wind and rain. I made good time to Rennes though I had to stop to put in wax ear-plugs as the loud wind noise would have been too much to contend with all day. The plugs work well but you keep wondering if anything is working loose or about to fall off. You are now in a much more silent world and you do travel faster as you cannot hear the engine racing and therefore tend to open the throttle that bit more. My first rest stop was south of Rennes when the mileage was showing 140 done and as I didn’t know how far the bike would go on one tank I filled up. I took the opportunity of re-fuelling myself and had a good coffee and hot quiche Lorraine perched on a high stool in the service station caf é - £2.90 - eat your heart out Granada and others. I have been feeling too tired to attend to this diary for some days but now that I am reclining in my tent as the sun sets here in El Racco camp site - one of the best in Spain - I have the heater blowing gently and the light from my 60 watt bulb is making a nice environment to catch up on the journey. Remember- full of quiche and petrol I made a straightforward run to La Rochelle, an old port and fortress I have often visited before. The warden was not on duty at the municipal camp site and I squeezed in through the pedestrian entry rather than wait for his appearance at 5pm. I put up my tent and plugged in to the electrics before having a coffee in the motor van belonging to a friendly couple from Sunderland who have been on this site for a few days. When I returned to my pitch I found that my electrics had been unplugged as the warden said that electricity was not allowed in a tent on this camp - candles, lanterns, paraffin cookers, gas lights and probably blow torches - yes - a 60 watt light bulb - no! I used my two small torches and actually was quite comfortable. After a hot shower I put on my gloves and fleece jacket and rode the short distance into town to eat. Being a Saturday night and very busy no one seemed to want to give a lone diner a table and I ended up having pizza and a glass of wine instead of the French cuisine I had been looking forward to. During a cold night I was comfortable having put on long johns, socks, a thermal vest, a t-shirt and wore a woollen balaclava to keep my face and head warm. The large new sleeping bag (for the more generous figure!) was a big success. Up around 8am I began the slow process of re-packing everything and taking down the tent - it takes me about 40 minutes to achieve this and I was sweating profusely after struggling with my boots and motorcycle suit - the remains of my “flu” are still with me. I stopped some 60 miles from La Rochelle at a lorry park and had coffee and a croissant with two British lorry drivers who were having to wait there till 10pm as lorries are not allowed to travel in France on a Sunday - not many people know that. In good sunny conditions I drove along at a steady 70mph and really enjoyed the ride on my “new” machine. I rode on past Bordeaux and found the usually boring run down straight roads to Biarritz went very easily and I was in La Rouletta camp near St. Jean de Luz by late afternoon. The site owner - a charming lady - said “No problem” regarding plugging in to her electrics - it must only be dangerous in La Rochelle! There is no doubt that I should have done more motorcycling in preparation for this trip but the terrible weather in Cornwall had cut down on my normal motorcycling and I was aware that I was pretty unfit - aching arms and knees and a general feeling of extreme tiredness at times made me hope that as the days went by I would become fitter. On the site owner’s advice I drove down to Hendaye to a big restaurant on the sea front. At first I was the only diner and the elderly (older than me) lady waitress gave me her whole attention regarding what I should eat and drink. She so strongly recommended the fish soup that I weakly succumbed and when it arrived in a big tureen and I realised it was pretty solid with stewed fish I wished I had not ordered duck to follow - that soup was a meal by itself. Around the walls of the restaurant were some old oil paintings - landscapes and portraits. One of the paintings was of a very pretty young girl and I took a chance and said to my waitress that I knew it was of her - she seemed very pleased and I felt it was a nice moment. Back to the camp on a cold night and I was glad of my heater in the tent. I do not know what was wrong with me in the morning but I felt very lethargic and to pack away my sleeping bag, mattress, clothes, tent and tidy up all the small things which were lying around seemed to take an age and I was sweating profusely even before donning the heavy suit. Either it was the effects of the cold I had been nursing or maybe I had not been drinking enough water but I was not thinking positively - even managed to mount the bike then discover that my keys were in my trouser pocket under the motorcycle suit. I checked the oil and was disappointed to find just a blob on the end of the dip stick so my first stop was at a supermarket where I bought and filled with oil. Standing in the supermarket car park and sweating heavily I thought I’d try wearing less and took off my fleece jacket and changed to lighter gloves. I rode off and shortly crossed into Spain. Just over the border the road was blocked by police vans and men wearing flak jackets and carrying automatic rifles seemed to be looking into the fields to my right, not men to trifle with! I expect it had something to do with ETA. I stopped at a very nice Spanish service station and had morning coffee and cake. Feeling refreshed I stuck the wax plugs in and found I was travelling much quieter and ten mph faster. I do not like the feeling of plugs in my ears but they certainly make riding fast a lot easier. There is not much to relate about this trip from St. Jean de Luz down past Pamplona though the scenery was lovely and the road excellent. I may have made a mistake near Zaragozza as I ended up driving through the centre of the city to find the road south for Teruel, surely there is a by-pass, but if so I never saw it. The road south goes climbing up onto a high plain and for any rider who likes taking bends at high speed it is ideal - I am a founder member of the GTS (Get there safely), so though I enjoyed the curves I took it very steadily. As the day wore on it became appreciably colder due to the higher altitude and when I stopped in a lay-by for a biscuit and some water I really missed the company of another rider. I tend to talk to myself as I travel - if I start getting replies I’ll know it’s time to head home!) I saw 130 miles appear on the clock and should have refuelled but thought there would be another petrol station shortly - wrong - this road is new and I drove for 30 miles with no fuel station - I could have turned off down to one of the small villages but there were no fuel signs so I slowed down to conserve petrol and where the new road met the old road I saw that most welcome sight a big service station - there were 163 miles on my clock and still I hadn ’t needed the reserve! I had been told that there was a winter camp open some six miles off the main Teruel - Valencia road and sure enough I followed a narrow road, as darkness fell, saying to myself “You are on a loser here, who would want to camp up here in the winter”. The camp was open however and a lady appeared at the gate to show me where to camp and to connect to electrics. I was the only camper until a large British motor van came in (and parked well away from me). The man from the van approached and asked if I intended to eat in the camp restaurant - I certainly did. He then entered the restaurant and, when I arrived, poured me a glass of rose wine and said “We will just split for the bottle and I have ordered hake for your meal” - I must have been in a weakened state as I just meekly agreed. I then had to suffer the story of the big worry in his life - his shower tray had split and he didn’t know whether he could have it repaired when he got home or be able to buy a new one for his six year old van. This problem was looked at from every angle and possibility not once but about ten times and any attempt at conversation was rudely ignored while his dilemma was aired again and again. Getting “ratty” I asked him to stop and said “listen - I know for a fact that the caravan industry in the UK is up to it’s elbows in plastic shower trays - now believe me and stop talking about it” - it worked. I left my fan heater on at 750 watts but during the night was surprised by the cold and turned it up full to 1500 watts. Sticking my head out early next morning I was amazed to find a white world and a bike covered in hoar frost though the sun was shining. I had a shower in the spotless heated toilet and felt ready for the journey. In lovely scenery and feeling glad of the warm motorcycle suit I drove down towards Valencia where I had breakfast on the Autovia. After some miles I felt I needed a change from the motorway and took the N route to give me more variety, see some towns and enjoy a bit of stimulation overtaking in traffic. Even using the slower road I arrived in Benidorm in the early afternoon and made my way to El Racco camp site on the edge of the town. The camp looked very busy and I noticed that they were even parking vans in their car park. The receptionist said they were full but when she saw I only had a tent she relented and offered me “The last pitch” she had - number 691. I drove down through the lanes past literally hundreds of vans and as I dismounted on my pitch a voice said “Hi Gordon - want a coffee” - friends Monica and Steve from Perranporth, who were wintering on this site, were across the fence from me - some coincidence. I spent three days of rest and recuperation in the sunshine and enjoyed the company of friends old and new. This camp is quite special as many Brits, Dutch and German people have escaped the northern winters by renting a pitch on an annual basis and then siting their caravans or motor homes together with large awnings, or even conservatories, laid wooden floors and put flagstones down - the end product is a comfortable home in Spain with every comfort, security and company for an annual outlay of some £1800 - not a bad deal. The restaurant on the camp is very good and on my second night I enjoyed a large steak as I watched Real Madrid play Inter Milan on the TV - it doesn’t get much better than that! I used the bike to tour around the town and went down to our favourite place, La Cala, but without company it was not the same. On my last night I dined with a Scots couple who had just sold their business in Aberdeen, bought a large 6-wheeled Hymermobile in Germany, sold their house and were enjoying life on the road. Grace and I have often met people who have gone “full time” but this couple were so full of life that I think they may very well have made the right decision. The weather during my stay in the camp was sunny during the day but cold at night and incredibly damp in the mornings - but very enjoyable for March. I could have stayed longer in Benidorm but the idea of this trip was to see if I could still hack a long motorbike trip so next morning I was packed and away by 9am. I still get a “buzz” every time I mount the bike and set off. This morning’s route was to be down past Alicante and Murcia on the Autovia (free motorway) towards Malaga. Oh! I nearly forgot - next to me on site was a couple from England who had had a bad experience. Allan had been diagnosed back in December as having a clot on his lung and was in hospital for some six weeks but being insured thought that his bill of £6k, yes £6k, pounds was covered. Not so - he had omitted to put on his application to his insurers the fact that he was using a blood thinning medication therefore his insurers refused payment. The fact is that had they not had private insurance and just presented their form E11 for members of the EU they would have been treated and not had to pay anything - a big point for Brits abroad to note. Wearing considerably less clothing and feeling quite comfortable I rode south in cloudy conditions. Two things obviously governed my progress - one was the need to re-fuel every 150 miles or so and the second was the pain in my knees after some 50-60 miles. I really look forward to my rest stops and as I was on good roads could make good time. I found I was cruising at 75mph and only speeded up to get past lorries quickly - some of the trucks seemed to be travelling in the high 60mph bracket. The day passed very pleasantly and I reached Torre del Mar some 20 miles from Malaga in mid-afternoon. I booked into a camp I have used before - good clean toilets and a warm reception. This is the site where there are so many vans in rows all with TV that it is known “in the trade” as “Satellite City“! I walked in to town at night and had a meal in a small Italian restaurant. A couple from Ireland were at the next table and were keen to tell me how wonderful life was full-time on the road in their unusual vehicle - a big American 5th wheel trailer - like a caravan but the front drops down onto a big pick-up truck. They said they just stuck to major roads and never entered a camp without checking first that there was room for their outfit. From their description of the trailer they certainly had comfort but you would need to be a good driver to negotiate around Europe. In the morning I checked my oil and had to put in the last of my 2-litres, a bit worrying but I had been travelling fast and far. I seem to be better organised regarding the re-packing side of the trip - a big difference from the poor wreck who made such a muck up of the packing in San Jean de Luz. Off down to Malaga next morning - and a very cold and misty morning it was. As I climbed up into the high ground the mist became a fine rain and the scenery, instead of the blue skies and mountains I had been looking forward to, became a sort of Spanish Glencoe! I stopped for breakfast some way off the main road at a big Hostal and enjoyed coffee, loads of toast and marmalade. The sun appeared and at one of my stops I daringly removed my gloves and neck warmer and opened my motorcycle suit to allow a bit of ventilation as well as drinking copiously from my water bottle. This 750cc Honda sounds really sweet and I am enjoying the day despite a nagging pain in my right knee - that is supposed to be the better of the pair! I keep stretching my legs forward to relieve the pain but about every 60-70 miles on I call a halt. Circling Seville was easy and I now headed west towards the Portugese border. The strong wind I was now facing made the journey seem longer and past Huelva I thought the border would never appear. I wanted to stop as I was feeling tired and sore but on this new Autovia there were no service stations on the last stretch. I crossed into Portugal and turned off the main road towards the town of Monte Gordo but at a t-junction I saw a big restaurant and turned in to a busy car park. The place was full of Portugese families having Saturday lunch and I felt a bit conspicuous in my full on riding gear but hunger was the spur and I was easily persuaded by a friendly waiter to have the meal of the day - delicious lamb shank washed down with a pint of shandy - heaven.

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Making my way along the minor coast road to my next camp at Fuseta I was soon set up and saying “Hello” to people I had met on previous visits. This site is quite the opposite to El Racco - you just camp where you like and the place looks quite rough. Only hot showers but no hot taps but despite this it is our second most enjoyable place to camp. You can just walk into the small town square and as there is no holiday trade apart from the campers it has a good atmosphere.

I went into town at night but did not need a meal and just had coffee and cake sitting outside in the square. A kind German in a motor caravan insisted on giving me a warm blanket for the night was going to be very cold he said. I did not plug into electrics as I felt I would be warm enough with the inner tent zipped up and my head torch provided enough light to read by.

I spent a lazy day in Fuseta after a cold start - the “hot” shower wasn’t and on complaining I was told they were waiting for a fresh gas tank - now they tell me! I did a small washing and felt quite professional as I hung it out on my line. I strolled to town and bought the Saturday Mail on Sunday! and read it sitting outside a café with good coffee and cake - okay cakes. There were plenty of Brits around to chat to and we could see that bad weather was coming, lots of cloud and high wind. At night I enjoyed a meal at “The Wee Man’s Café” as Grace and I call it - he is a character and runs a tight ship. I was caught in the rain as I hurried back to camp where I had been invited to have a drink with two young Brits in their big motorvan. I enjoyed sitting in their comfortable van listening to the heavy rain while “Sean” gave me his views on Life, The World, Religion etc aided by puffing on a comforting smoke. I awoke during the night aware that all was not well. The high wind had pulled the pegs out on one side and the tent wall was blowing in against where I was lying. After pretending it wasn’t happening and trying to ignore the wall pushing against me I crawled out into the wind and rain and found I had enough spare cord to tie the tent to an adjacent tree - sorted.

What a depressing sight in the morning - still strong winds and rain and rather than spend a day or maybe two waiting for the weather to improve I decided to change my plan to ride up to Lisbon by going back to Seville and making my way home via Cordoba, Madrid and Burgos before making for the French border again.

When I left Fuseta I could not believe the strength of the wind blowing off the sea - I was reduced to driving at 45mph and even then was being blown around. After the border with Spain conditions improved because I was sheltered by hills and I was able to resume my 75mph cruising. Once again there was a noticeable drop in temperature as I climbed up to the high ground before Seville - I had made the wrong decision regarding clothing as in Fuseta despite the high wind it was not very cold - now the neck warmer I was wearing rapidly became a wet towel and I felt quite chilled. There is an excellent service station between the border and Seville, the only thing was I couldn’t remember how far it was. I knew if I kept plugging on it would eventually appear. Cold, wet and hungry as I had no breakfast, I finally got there and the warmth as I pushed the door open was a delight. I had a good snack meal and coffee and took the chance to blow hot air into my gloves in the toilets. After properly “togging up” with warm clothing I found that in the next 20-30 miles as I descended into Seville it became warmer and less windy but, of course, taking the route towards Cordoba meant I was climbing again and I was so glad that I was wearing all the right gear at the right time - the big handlebar muffs in particular do a good job of keeping my gloves dry and my hands fairly warm. At an afternoon cafe stop on the way to Cordoba I got talking to a Dutch lorry driver and his wife who travelled Europe on long haul deliveries. I was a little taken aback when, in order to include her in our conversation, I asked the little lady if she enjoyed the travelling - “it’s okay but it’s sore on the ass” - the lady said.

This drive North to Cordoba was not as long a trip as on other days but I was glad to get there and drive through the city centre to the municipal camp site. I had a fabulous hot shower and used the disabled facilities quite shamelessly as they had more room and a chair - well I wasn’t all that far from being disabled, the state I was in. In the evening I wandered around the district outside the camp looking for a place to eat but in the end took a taxi into the city centre - very spacious and well lit, the city, not the taxi. I had a very average meal and walked around for a while with a “what the hell I am doing here all on my own when I’ve got a lovely wife and a motor home at home feeling ” - there was no answer to this question.

Back at the camp I tried to sleep but having walked quite far my knees were aching and hot - so much so that I unzipped my bag and used it as a quilt so that I could press a cold cloth to my knees. With the heater on the tent was very comfortable. In the morning the English chap parked in his van beside me was very chatty and, of course, turned out to be a biker. He owned ten classic bikes that he had restored and said he would never sell them but would pass them down to his family - na ïve.

I made my first real error after leaving this camp - turned right and headed North but must have missed the right turn for Madrid and ended up a narrow road outside Cordoba - ten miles wasted. It was a nice sunny morning, initially, and was so warm I took off my gloves and rode with my bare hands inside the muffs quite comfortably. Once again condition changed rapidly - the sun went - the wind blew - and it became much colder. Learning from yesterday’s experience I stopped by the roadside and put everything on! - including the wax plugs. I decided to really stick the plugs in deep and in the ensuing silence I sailed along at 75-80mph. My proposed night stop was a camp site at Val de Pinas which I had been assured by campers in Fuseta was open in the winter. I came off the Autovia and drove slowly through the town looking for a “campismo” sign but on the other side of town asked a chef in a roadside café for directions - “no problem” - pointing to a nearby flyover and indicating I should come back down the other side of the motorway. I finally found the site and was somewhat peeved to find that it was closed and in the process of renovation.

Now late afternoon, cold and windy, the thought of trying to find another camp open in the winter as I rode along was not an option and I decided to try for a Spanish hostal. The first village I turned into had a hostal and I entered the place and asked the less than charming proprietor if he had a “habitacione” - he picked up a set of keys and showed me a room that any monk with standards would have refused. Pointing out the inadequacy of a room lit by a tiny bulb and having no heating we parted and I drove a short distance to the next town and turned off the main road to go through the procedure again. This was a much busier hostal with lots of lorry drivers in the bar and a good atmosphere. I was shown a comfortable room with the door opening out onto a courtyard. I was invited to bring my motorbike round to the rear of the building where it was locked in their enclosed yard. After humping my heavy gear into my room I ran a hot bath and subsided into it - heaven. As the restaurants in these hostals do not open till 8pm I listened to my radio, watched Spanish TV news of the situation in Iraq and read my book about a chap who Ran to Australia some thirty years ago - made my little trip seem luxury on wheels!

I enjoyed a good meal in the restaurant and lay on my comfortable bed in my heated room listening to BBC World Service and watching Real Madrid play Locomotiv in Russia.

I wonder if I will be home before the war against Iraq begins? - more of a punishment exercise than a war in view of the unequal forces involved.

This bike ride through Spain and down to Portugal is proving a test of adapting quickly to changing conditions - wear too much and you “boil” when you dismount, too little and you chill on the bike. The 20 year old Honda has performed well so far (Am I tempting fate?) and is a comfortable bike to sit on- shades of the old 250 which was my first bike. I used to wriggle all over the seat as the foam saddle was too thin and my weight bore me down onto the frame. The power of the 750 makes overtaking easy and though I have not exceeded 90 mph the speed is there if you want it.

Writing this early the next morning before re-packing and leaving my warm room for the ride up round Madrid and on to Burgos, I felt the benefit of a good night ’s sleep.

I have neglected my diary for a couple of days and am now trying to catch up while lying in bed in a rather plush Logis de France motel just North of Nantes in northern France.

When I left my room in the Spanish hostal it was a very cold morning and I made sure I was well buttoned up. I approached Madrid in bright sunshine and could see the snow on the mountains to the North. Driving round the city was quite easy and I was able to maintain a steady 65-70mph. Taking the exit off the ring road I headed for Burgos and made the mistake of selecting an old hotel for breakfast - the service was unfriendly to put it mildly. After a fuelling stop I used the station café for a snack, phoned Grace and winged to her about how cold it was - fifteen minutes later I had dropped down to lower levels, the sun came out and life was much more pleasant. The high average speed meant it was quite possible to reach the French border before dark and therefore I aimed for the camp I had used on the way south - La Roletta. The camp was surprisingly busy for March and I elected, as the only tenter, to use a pitch with no one beside me. I plugged in and had a sleep before once again driving into Hendaye to eat. The restaurant I had used before was closed but on ordering fish soup in the one next door I was served the huge tureen as before - they must draw from the same barrel - but I was too wise this time to order any other food.

In the morning I was pleased to note how much easier packing was than when I started this trip. After a hot shower I was on my way in good condition. OH! - strangely the bike has not used any more oil, I wonder why?

Feeling home calling I elected to use the French Autoroute to avoid negotiating the roundabouts and traffic lights I remembered on this road. By the early afternoon I had to concede that I was very tired - maybe overdressed for the warmer weather I was having. By 2.30pm I decided to call it a day just South of Bordeaux and took a room in a cheap motel just off the motorway. This was more of a cabin than a room but clean and well fitted. After a two hour sleep and watching events unfold in Iraq I went out to a nearby Buffalo Grill for a meal - they are certainly consistent - not very good in the early nineties and still not very good. The TV proved a godsend and I watched Liverpool play Celtic on Eurosport - good game and result.

Packing in a comfortable room without having to dismantle a tent could become habit forming and on loading the bike I thought it looked so good I took the only photo of the trip - of the bike!

The ride from Bordeaux towards Nantes was quite monotonous - just steady 75-80mph on great roads with regular stops for fuel and food. I drove into Nantes centre to find a cheap hotel - thought I’d found one called BB’’s but it was one of those unmanned till 5pm jobs - you enter and pay by your credit card and it would not let me in with my Switch card. Lucky for me that my card was refused in Nantes as I am now ensconced in this very nice Logis de France and am about to immerse myself in my Jacuzzi bath complete with all sorts of soaps and shampoo etc. In the evening I enjoyed a delicious meal before retiring to my room and drifting off to sleep - more than 400 miles today.

A minor contretemps in the morning - I packed and debated whether to just leave my key in the door and go as my room opened out to the motel courtyard - better manners prevailed and on handing in the key was bade adieu by the staff. At the door, however, a young lady appeared and said “have you paid?”. I told her that I had handed my card to the receptionist on arrival and the waiter had said my meal was included in my bill.” Not so, monsieur we only took your name and room number - please pay now”. There was a sudden lack of smiles and the atmosphere was chilly - I gave them my Switch card and as they handed me my bill I decided to don my glasses and actually check it - “What’s this breakfast? - I had no breakfast” - abject apologies - another bill was prepared and I loftily suggested that their system needed a little fine tuning - aurevoir.

On the road to Rennes next morning I allowed the bike to travel without re-fuelling till I arrived in the big shopping centre there with 185 miles on the clock and still with the reserve to come so this machine would do over 200 miles without re-fuelling - that’s a tourer.

I stopped in Morlaix to search again for the essential gift for my ever patient wife and was at last successful - no prize for guessing what I bought but I avoided the company of men till the gorgeous smells I had been sprayed with died away!

At Roscoff I met a group of Brits who were on an overnight trip from Roscoff to Plymouth and enjoyed their chat before making my way down to the ferry as we were allowed to board at 6pm to spend the time before sailing using all the facilities of the ship - an excellent idea. I showered and read three daily papers before having a meal in the self-service café and joining my friends of the afternoon for company. A very smooth crossing on the Val de Loire and I was in Plymouth by 8am British time. I really enjoyed the early morning run, along winding roads for a change, to sunny St Ives. Arriving around 9.30am .

Another long trip completed - would I do it again? - maybe but I would prefer another biker with me - Robert Chaplin please note ……


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All text and photographs are copyright © Grant and Susan Johnson, 1987-, or their respective authors. All Rights Reserved.