June 05, 2012 GMT
The Thundersprint and Loch Ness - A ride in the freezer.

Have been on a journey to the Arctic Circle. It had been temporarily moved right down to Stoke-on-Trent, and my first destination was Northwich. Which is sufficiently further north to almost qualify as the North Pole. I took clothes for May.....

I put my little Yamaha on display at the Thundersprint Saturday Bike Show, here.

I had always fancied visiting the annual Thundersprint. And as it was on the way to a Horizons Unlimited camping weekend on Loch Ness the following weekend, then this was the year to do it.

I was surprised at the amount of interest the bike attracted, which made for a nice day.

I laid out a map with the bike show entry page, plus some photos, next to the front wheel.

The sun shone, but it stayed resolutely cold. I wondered about Loch Ness.

Sunday was the Sprint day. Sun still shining, cold colder.

The pedestrian town centre of Northwich became reminiscent, on a small scale, of the Isle of Man TT.

Bikes wedged in everywhere, a good many boxed in for the duration.
I wondered about Loch Ness again, but set off north the next day.

Under black clouds well past the North Pole, somewhere around Carlisle, the wind roared right in my face. Climbing up a motorway hill I was slowed right down to 4th gear and I wondered about Loch Ness yet again.
The next exit, I decided, would be enough. I'd do a U-turn, head south, be home and warm by the following day.

Well, it was one of those interminably long bits of motorway, no exit until the next country. It was enough time and distance for the wind to drop and the sun to shine for a while, lifting spirits. Which brought me, a few days later and after my arrival at the Loch Ness campsite, to:

The top of the Bealach na Ba pass (Pass of the Cattle), up above Applecross and overlooking the Isle of Skye.

But it was still COLD. Enough snow to put your front wheel on.

HM The Bike seemed to be drawn to the snow.

This was the Saturday ride-out from the campsite at Loch Ness, arranged by local members of Horizons Unlimited.

Now I'm going to borrow a Youtube video, posted by another group.
This is the ride down from the summit, to the hamlet of Applecross. On a sunnier day!

And then we were at the water's edge. Isles of Raasay and Skye beyond.

It might have been cold (it was!) but at least all the views were clear, everywhere.

The next day it was south, at last. Just as far as Dundee for a long-awaited visit to Ian, one of the friends that Caroline and I went to Ukraine and Russia with in 1996.

Excuse for a Ukraine photo.

Lost in Kiev. Ian of Dundee looks at the camera while fellow rider, also Ian, tries to get directions from locals. Caroline remains sitting on the pillion of our Ducati, observing the goings-on. Ian's and Ian's bikes were both Harleys.
A few minutes later a police car turned up (they always do), looked at the address that we had on paper written in Cyrillic, and escorted us right through the city to the front door.

Back to my Scottish trip, it was a little warmer in Dundee. After a great visit and a substantial Scottish breakfast prepared by Ian, things very slowly thawed on the journey southwards to home. Thanks Ian!
During those 2 weeks Scotland had its coldest May day ever. And shortly after my arrival home, its warmest May day ever!
Wonderful British weather, as anyone following the Diamond Jubilee will see.

Just for the hell of it, I'll post this again - The English Weather. It's about a million miles from one end of this blog to the other now, so there may be people out there who haven't seen it......

Coming up in the blog:
There's been progress in the garage here. My hooligan rocket-ship racing Aprilia (RSV Mille) is running at last after 3 years of disuse, and should feature in a future posting. Have checked I can still sit on it and reach both handlebars and footrests at the same time.
All set for the annual MOT test. But obviously we need dry weather for that! Hah! It's bucketing down and probably won't stop now til after Wimbledon.
Watch this space.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 03:45 PM GMT
June 07, 2012 GMT
The Transit Of Venus And Other Journeys

Yesterday was the Transit of Venus, earlier today was the Transit of East Surrey.

The Transit of East Surrey occurs every six months.
The Transit of Venus occurs every 110 years or so. In pairs, about 8 years apart.
It's when the planet Venus passes directly between the Earth and the sun, making it visible as a silhouette against the face of the sun.
To see one is quite something. You have to be born at the right time, give or take about 70 years. Neither of my parents lived at the time of a Transit, and my Grandchildren will never see one. With any luck my greatgrandchildren will be alive at the time of the next pair of Transits, but not necessarily.

So I made sure to see the previous one, in June 2004, which was easy as it was readily visible in Europe.


I was at the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy and set up a simple white card and telescope clipped to my Honda Dominator to display the sun's image.

There's a tiny dark dot near the top edge of the sun's disc, which is the silhouette of the planet Venus passing between the Earth and the sun.

That Transit was quite satisfying to witness, seeing as they happen so infrequently.
Consequently, the past week has focussed attention on the possibility of seeing two of them in one lifetime.
But the timing of yesterday's Transit was a little less sociable than 8 years ago.
It would be in progress right at sunrise, at a quarter to five. Demanding clear skies on the north-eastern horizon first thing in the morning.

So the evening before yesterday I followed the weather forecast closely. And it looked pretty hopeless.
Never mind, everything is possible. The Transit commenced late that same evening, visible in other parts of the word, enabling me to watch live feeds on the internet from observatories in the southern US and Hawaii. And pretty good pictures they were:

Internet feed from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, early on in the Transit. Venus is travelling from left to right. Telescope fitted with red sun-filter. 11:50pm London time.

Wider view from Mauna Loa with blue filter, at 00:47 Wednesday morning. Venus is above a large area of surface activity.

Magnificent close-up at the same time, showing lots of activity on the sun's surface. Live internet feed from Prescott Observatory, Arizona, via the SLOOH Space Camera service.

A while after the above observations, the sun set over the US, and then Hawaii.

But by now, the sunrise at Kenley Airfield, up above Whyteleafe, was approaching.

I checked the weather outside. Well, it looked like it was clearing - maybe......

So I collected together tripod, binoculars, white card, sun-viewing glass filter and camera and set off up to the airfield a few minutes away.

A father and son were already there, looking at the moon through a large telescope. The sky was nice and clear in the west, but stuffed full of dark cloud on the eastern horizon.


A few more small groups arrived while the dense clouds to the east swirled around in the wind, growing a little brighter.



And amazingly, (well, we were amazed), after a little more waiting, the clouds parted enough for clear views of the sun for the final 20 minutes of the Transit.
We were able to watch the tiny dark silhouette of Venus reach the edge of the face of the sun, and then disappear from view on its continuing orbit around it.

On returning home, the final few minutes of the Transit were still being observed in Japan, live on the internet:

From Kobe, Japan, via SLOOH again. About 10 minutes to the finish. Half an hour after the end of the Transit at Kenley.

A pretty lucky thing, to see two Transits in a lifetime! And with the help of the internet, at different places around the Earth.

That was yesterday. Today was the Transit of East Surrey to reach the hospital of the same name. For a consultation and to pick up the results of last week's 6-monthly test.

Transiting East Surrey earlier today - there's lots of horse life here. More than on Venus I think.

Well, the results were ready, and show that the ongoing treatment is still keeping everything clear. Resulting in the next tests being booked in another 6 month's time.
Venus's next transit is in 2117.
There's also the last day in the present Mayan calendar to look forward to, 21st December 2012 if you're interested.

Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:08 PM GMT

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