Ever since I read an article in AMCN about a motorbike tour of the Baltic states I was hooked. I had visions of ex-soviet cities filled with intrigue and mystery, new food to try, new friends to make. Then there was the rest of Europe of course. All on a motorbike. Who could want more ??
Flash forward five years (I think) and Jo and I (Rob) are 6 weeks away from our first big biking adventure together. We both love travel and bikes so it was only a matter of time before a adventure was planned and ours is to head off around Europe in a bit of a zig zag, anti clockwise circuit from France. Going through Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungry, Slovakia, Romania, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium.
Before bringing the divvy inside (which is a whole new story) I fitted a kappa hard luggage rack for the panniers and topbox.
The bike in from the cold and snow I decided that some pre trip maintenance was in order. The usual suspects, change the oil, plugs, clean air filter, check the bearings. I am glad I did too because one of the swing arm bearings was completely shot. Rusted, seized and generally not doing what a bearing should.
A quick look around and the suspension linkage bearings are not in the best condition either. I have decided to replace the lot and not have to worry about it 3000 miles later. A crack next to a weld on the exhaust was fixed too. While indoors the bike has also had some extras added, a taller screen, 12 volt socket and rider to pillion passenger intercom for Jo to tell me I have missed the turn off. The maintenance continues.
Once a Bedroom, Jo is very understanding !!
After a total of six new bearings, a shock bush and the odd curse, finally the bike is back together and running the way it should. It's nice to have working suspension again. All that's left to do now is finish the top box rack and fit it.
After that the order of the day is packing, repacking and still more repacking. The panniers and top box seemed so big and all our stuff seemed so small when it was spread out over the bed. We will get it all to fit, we just might have to leave the kitchen sink at home that's all.
Well we have started our epic trip and on day 4 there has been a few changes already.
We are no longer going to Ireland this end of the journey, nor John O'Goats. We have been up to Ullapool and decided to we would skip Ireland as we thought the weather may not be the best (it has rained since we left) as it's the green isle and all.
Instead we have are heading down through main land UK to lands end, London and then France in a bit of swoop. The Bike is going well, only a small alteration needed with an angel grinder. The rear axle was rubbing a little on the left exhaust after me putting it back in a slightly different position post rear end rebuild. The intercom works well and is nice to be able to talk to Jo along the way, even if most the noise heard is teeth chattering.
As I said before the weather has not been the kindest since we left although not as bad as it could be. Reading the newspaper today, it says that it snowed in the Cairngorms as we passed through but all Jo and I noticed was the freezing wind and rain.
We are currently in Perth and catching up with Friends and their new puppy. It's very cute and I think I may have to check the luggage to make sure she has not been stashed away somewhere. We are being treated to delicious food and generally loving being homeless and jobless !
I must say at this point our blog entries may be a bit hap hazard and of course my friends at the Aboyne Academy English Dept must read this with one eye closed. As there may be quite a few errors :-) I will be putting some photos up soon.
I must apologise for the lack of action on the blog over the last 11 days Jo and I have been having too much fun riding around the UK and seeing all the sights.
The bike loaded up at Perth
After leaving Perth, the puppy and the great company we headed for England and Hadrians wall. Unfortunately the weather did it's best to make us question our faith in waterproofs and why indeed it needs to rain as much as it does in that part of the UK. But after some interesting comments between Jo and I about global warming and the like I am happy to report all our waterproofs are indeed waterproof and although Jo would disagree, they are mostly warm too. A day's riding and we stayed in a nice little sheltered camp sight (our first camp of the trip) just outside Carlisle. At this stage the weather was still doing it's best to scare us but all was good.
Here we are at a section of Hadrains Wall.
After being blown off the hill that Hadrains wall crossed we headed for Formby and another good friend that we hadn't seen in a while. It was a rather sedate by past drinking standards with this particular individual but I do like Slovakian Gin I tell you. No problem with sleeping on the floor that night. It was a whole lot of fun and we were all sorry to say goodbye the next day.
Off the to the beautiful bath the next day via Chester (the home of Hollyoaks) and Wales. I must say we should have spend more time in Wales are the roads are great for biking and despite all the stories in MCN we were not bothered by the police at all. Having said that the Divvy doesn't really do anything fast, brake, speed up...you know what I mean. I did get mislead by a trio of sausages though.
We stayed at a nice little farm camp site, where we were the only tent and had the pick of the spots. We set up just near a small stream and all was well with the world. Or so we thought. Over night the heavens opened and although we were fine in the tent, I forgot to cover the bike. (I know the people who know me are shaking there heads in disbelief) well on this occasion the water proved to be rather crafty and found just the spot to create a short and flatten the battery, dead. The next morning after loading up the bike, nothing after turning on the ignition. Nothing at all. After a few choice words, unloading the bike and a general check of all things electrical, a push start was in order. All is well now but I think the battery has been dealt a mortal blow. Maintenance in London I think.
After the farm we continued through Wales and down to Bath. Jo & I liked Bath very much. The sun was out and so were the people, having coffee, drinking the odd beer all in the sun. We liked it and after a hot tip on where to stay, we set up the palace and had a beer of our own..
At the Bath campsite that didn't allow tents....
Jo at the Roman Baths, the water looks tempting doesn't it
More to come soon...
After staying in the very nice caravan park (and there was some absolutely huge caravans there, more like buses or lorries ) just in the outskirts of bath we packed up our portable palace (with an audience in wonder of how it all fits on the bike, I think or maybe my hair in the morning) and went sight seeing in Bath. The Roman Baths and the other usual suspects all on the cards. All well worth seeing. We will say again Bath was really nice.
Those with a keen eye will note what top Jo has on at the Roman Baths...
The Circus in Bath.
The Royal Crescent.
The panoramic doesn't do them justice but hopefully you get the idea.
After most of the day walking around Bath, looking at both the attractions and the shops we headed south towards Longleat house (An animal park). We got there and as expected couldn't take the bike on the safari ride (although I think the Divvy could outrun a lion, truly) so would have to do the bus ride around the safari section. Rightly or wrongly we decided that because we wanted to see the wolves, the bus may not be the best way to get up close and left to continue down the road, after a picture of the very grand Longleat house of course.
Nice house though...
After Longleat we headed south east towards landsend via Devon or as far as we could manage comfortably. So far the riding has been ok, the motorways are pretty boring, chew the petrol a bit but do get you from place to place quickly. The A and B roads that we have been along are much more fun in terms of the twists and turns and the general scenery. Jo has been doing a fantastic job navigating from the back of the bike. Juggling a europe map, the weather and my requests for which exit at the many, many round-a-bouts can't be easy and I would like to say I am sorry for any harsh comments I have made. Apart from the push start the previous day the bike has been great. On the camping and luggage side of things we think we are carrying too much. We have by no means been in all the weather scenarios we had thought of but already we think we will leave a few things in london when we get there in a week or so. Things like the 3rd and 4th pot/pan/ mess tin, powered milk (which isn't really adding to our early morning drinks taste) and a few other items of clothing.
The next stop after some rather dull motorway riding with weather to match was Barnstaple. A quick search of the GPS for camp sites and we were off armed with some supplies from Lidl for dinner. We didn't end up at the camp site the GPS suggested as we got lured just down the road by the promise of a camp site with it's own pub and various over things. A pub on a camp site, Brilliant !! As it was around 7 o'clock when we arrived the site office was closed and after riding around the massive site for about 15mins we picked a spot near some other tents and set up camp. A fantastic chicken and pesto meal later we went off to find this pub. Approximately 2 pints, 2 gin and lemonades later we where more than ready for bed and clearly out of practise. A short trip back to the tent and we started the best nights sleep for the trip so far.
The next day it was official, this place was huge. We have never seen so many caravans in one place. It was just field after field of them. Not really our idea of holidaying but what ever floats your boat or caravan. Off to have breakfast some where in this mega complex only to discover that it was not available. The indoor 25 meter pool, games room and horse riding was but no breakfast area. No problem, we would just head off to the nearest village / town.
We found a very nice little cafe in beautiful seaside town of Coombe Martin. While munching away I noticed a few photos of a man and some wolves on the wall. Not your average photos, these showed the man and the wolves at play so to speak. It turns out just up the road was wildlife park with a resident pack of wolves and the pictured man who had lived amongst them (as a pack member) for nearly 18 months. Being a bit of a fan of such things, Jo and I quickly agreed that we should go and them. It was funny how things work out especially after not seeing the wolves at Longleat.
I will only write a little bit about the wolves as I could have stayed there all day just watching them and talking to Shaun Ellis (the man from the photos in the cafe) about the pack. He and wolves are very interesting and we would recommend very much meeting them both. Here some of my favourite photos of them.
The two wolf cubs were absolutely gorgeous.
Of course there was other animals at the park but as you can guess the wolves were the big attraction for me. Here some of the others.
We didn't (Ok, I didn't want to) leave the Park but off we went still heading towards Lands End. That night (the night before Jo's birthday) we stayed in a great beach town called Newquay. We applied our new found camp site criteria DTP (distance to pub) and stayed in a great spot on the beach and walking distance from two pubs. The site was fairly empty but was really nice. The fact that the toilet block had music playing inside was the deal maker for me !! A pub meal and the rediscovery of vanilla vodka lead to a great night. A walk along the beach was even squeezed in between drinks. All in all another great camp site. Up the next morning and off to find a nice birthday breakfast spot. We headed into Newquay and found the great view below from a cafe and enjoyed a nice relaxed breakfast.
The beach even looked half decent.
Next stop Lands End via Penzance.
After the below photo we got talking to a couple of fellow bikers. Two really nice Northern Irish blokes. Unfortunately we didn't they names because after discovering we had this blog going and the fact that they had read some of it. They asked us for our picture. We where so amazed that some one wanted our picture we forgot to ask their names and with the picture they wanted they where off. So if you are reading this guys PM me.
Jo, Me and the Bike at Lands End.
Riding off still in shock we headed into Penzance in search of pirates and something to eat. A quick meal at tesco or somerfields of sandwiches and juice. On the way back from lands end the oil level light came on then off again after having to do a quick stop as car forgot to look. Doing a little check of the level after the meal break sure enough she has used a bit of oil. I did wonder how/why the fuel consumption did not seem to change if the old girl was one up, two up or two with full luggage. It seems it makes up for it with oil use with a full load. No real bother I will just carry a litre to top it up every 2000 miles or so. The advise for the divvy is to do the oil and filter every 3000 3500 miles anyway so its not that much of a prob.
Along the coast on some great bike roads and we head off to St Austell to camp at yet another lovely site (GPS helped us out again) where the guy came out to see us well after the site office had closed, let us know how far the pub was and even found a piece of wood for the side stand of the bike. Great site and the most friendly by far of the trip. Off to the pub around the corner which happened to have rather posh restaurant and as it was Jo's birthday we were seated and decided to make the most of it. A Mexican starter, Rump steak, Lasagna, Chocolate Gateau for desert. We rolled out of the restaurant full to the brim and into the bar for a drink before heading back (slowly) to the tent.
Next we pointed north for the first time in a while and made a bee line for Stonehenge. We where more than a little surprised to round a bend and find it just a 100 meters or so from the road in full view. A few pounds each later and we were talking to a very helpful lady about the where, when, what and why's of Stonehenge. The latter being the most difficult to explain. All I have to say about it is: ALIENS !! Lots of strange things happened in the world around that time in history...
Another Aboyne Academy Visit
Comming soon Portsmouth and Brighton Beach....
We got to Brighton and found a park for the bike.
The weather was starting to turn on us, (as usual) so I in particular was feeling the cold, we both needed the loo so we found the nearest and headed in.
Once we had both relieved our bursting bladders we found somewhere warm to have something to eat, we thought it would be rude to go to Brighton and not have fish and chips so we did.
Once full and warm we headed back out for a short walk up Brighton pier and of course to take photos like the tourists that we now are.
Jo on the pier
We finally finished and headed back to the bike, get all our gear on and started our way to make the surprise visit to my parents. We navigated the M25 surprisingly well, the traffic wasnít too bad either. We must have timed it just right.
We ended up staying here for three weeks longer than the originally planned week due to some issues that needed to be sorted before we could head off. Although this was eating in to our time overseas we both had a great time while we were there.
Thank you to everyone for a great time back at home in good old Essex and to those of you that we didnít get to catch up with we will see you in August/September time.
The 11th of June we packed the up said our goodbyes and headed on our way to hopefully sunny France!!!
We left my parents house with plenty of time to make it to Dover, the traffic was good and it was pretty much straight there. We headed straight for check in, apologising for being over an hour early, but to our surprise he very kindly put us on the next ferry due to depart an hour early . Bonus!!!
The ferry journey itself was good, the bike got tied down securely so we didnít have that to worry about that.
So we made ourselves comfortable and waited to dock at the other end.
We were both quit nervous when we got off at Calais, myself never driving on the right hand side of the road and Jo was worried about navigating.
We rode off the ferry and tried to find our way out of Calais, but..... sad to say, we couldnít. We decided to follow the flow of the traffic which wasnít any help to us as of course they were all heading to Paris or beyond.
After about half an hour of what felt like riding around in circles we decided to stop and consult the Sat Nav, (the first if many such consultations), figured out what direction we were travelling in and what direction we wanted to go in and eventually found our way out.
We both decided that we wasnít going to travel to far today but make a big push tomorrow.
We found a camp site along the coast, it was cheap (11 Euros) but basic, but that is all we need, as long as there was hot running water we werenít too fussed. We settled into our new home easily, we made ourselves dinner a very appetising meal of beef and noodles (it tasted better than it sounds) and then headed off for a walk along the seafront.
The weather had improved since we got into France but I was still quite cold, I suppose the sea breeze didnít help that matter either.
We headed back for camp to settle in for our first night on foreign shores.
Dover from the ferry
The first night went well, for Rob at least I said I was cold and didnít get a good nights sleep hence thatís why I was up at 5:30am
We took it quite slowly the first morning, the people in the tents next to us also were riding a bike, although we didnít speak to them much, The Guy also snored like a train so Rob and I were trying not laugh too loudly in case we woke everyone else up, the camp site seemed to be quite busy.
By the time we managed to re pack everything and get ourselves sorted out it was about 9:30am
We headed into Boulogne and across a huge suspension bridge which we managed to get cross for free. The roads so far seemed to be very good, not in just quality but a nice ride as well, descent corners and all.
We decided as it was our first full day of riding we really wanted to make a big dent in the miles planned. We thought it would be an idea to see what the toll roads were like and how much they would cost, there was an alternative roads on the same route we were heading for, so if the first one was too expensive we could get off at any available junction.
The first toll we paid for was only 4 Euros and 60 cents which we didnít think was too bad although we did think that as we were bikers we my be able to get through free like the tolls in the UK, that bubble was soon burst.
We carried on, deciding that although the first toll wasnít expensive we couldnít afford to do toll roads everyday so thought we had better start as we meant to go on.
We were doing great until we came across another toll booth, we were both perplexed as to how we managed to end up at it, we were sure we hadnít seen any toll signs on the roads, We took the ticket and carried on going, there were no turn off or Junctions to avoid going through, so we had no choice but to go through it. Again the price wasnít too bad it was 5 Euros 20.
We headed to La Harve for lunch, We seemed to be making good times and we couldnít wait to stop as we were both a bit numb and both very hungry, it was all going well until we hit La Harve itís self, with its spaghetti junctions and not very well sign posted roads, we inevitably got lost, we managed to end up at the huge oil refinery, it was all a bit strange so we headed on and ended up outside a very big Gypsy camp, we stopped to consult the sat nav and get it to direct us into the centre.
The sat nav did its thing and we took off as fast as we could go away from the camp, it took us back through the spaghetti junction and took us smack bang into the middle of the centre where we found a nice little patisserie and had extremely yummy baguettes for lunch.
Ok so we hadnít started off very well this morning but we got over it and started to make our way to our final destination of the day which was Bayeux Via Cean. There is some great little villages between La harve and Cean.
All along the motor way there were mega expensive cars whizzing past us and it was the same when we got to the petrol station. It was a great sight to see there was just car after car lined up, we soon became to realise that it was the le Mans TT race later on in the week.
We met up with an English guy who was riding a Honda VFR, (for those of you that donít know what that is, it is a Sports tourer with a lot more guts than ours although we didnít do a bad job of keeping up with him.) who we got talking to at another petrol station.
Turns out he was heading to Cean too, so we decided to follow him there. He also then informed us that he wanted to stay off the Paege roads, realising a few moments later that these were the toll roads.
Once we got to Cean we stopped and had a chat and figured out the best route to get to Bayeux. (again consulting the sat nav)
Well we obviously didn't memorise the directions well enough because we ended up heading in the totally wrong direction (i'm blaming the crappy French road signs) But to our surprise we ended up on the north coast of normandy not far from the D-Day beaches.
We headed into the nearest camp site which was what the French call a municipal site. All that means is that its cheap (10 Euros 50) and basic, we sorted out our things and made dinner. We were both feeling quite sore today it was the furthest we had both been on the bike. we did roughly 250+ miles in one day.
After dinner of chicken rice and beans we headed into the village for a walk around. Me being nosey, I rolled ankle whilst gawking at a bus load of German soldiers!!!
It was a nice little town with a Museum about the D-Day landings, there where still memorial reefs laid out from the anniversary which we both stood a read in silence.
We headed back to the camp and headed for bed.
The D Day Museum
Considering we were up at 6.30am the day before we sure made up for it today, we got up at about 9.30 which put rest to the thought of me now being an early bird. Yesterday must have just been a one off :-)
We ate the left overs from dinner for breakfast which wasn't as bad as it sounds. Packed up the tent and re packed the panniers and top box which we realised we had to do everyday to get everything in them how we wanted to and headed off for another day of French riding.
We didn't get very far just the next Village along to go to the Office de tourism which was in Port de Bessin, we collected a few leaflets of where the D-Day beaches actually were and other such things of interest. We sat on a bench outside the tourist office for about half an hour watching a weir in action (Rob is so sad), filling up with more water opening the gate, letting the boat in from the harbour then opening the other bridge, we were fastinated.
We headed for Omaha beach and the American cemetery, We spent a while at both, we met three British Harley riders at the beach and followed them up to the cemetery.The cemetery was very moving, you just see row after row of white crosses and their names, it was quite surreal but moving all the same, unfortunately every single battery for both cameras had decided to die at this particular point so the only photos we have of this are tiny little ones on Joīs phone.
From here we headed to Bayeaux to see Bayeaux tapestry, this was very impressive and if it was for the the hand held audio we wouldn't of had a clue as to what was actually happening along it's 70 metre length.
After leaving Bayeaux we headed for Le Mont saint Michael were we stopped by the side of the road and had a look at this very impressive building
We headed into a village to find a camp site as it was getting late and we needed to buy dinner. We would head back to Le Mont Saint Michael first thing in the morning. We stayed in a little camp-site which was essentially someone's garden, it was reasonably ok for the 12 Euros we paid. There was only us and another woman there but we figured it would be the cheapest camp site being so close to Le Mont saint Michael.
We made dinner, went for a walk and headed to bed in prep for a long day of riding in the morning.
Rob had noticed that along the way the houses have started to look Spanish, I on the other hand didn't agree and said its a Mediterranean thing, Rob was still not so sure.
The weather has been good so far although we are both still riding in full motorcycle gear, it kept threatening to rain so better to be safe than sorry. Well that was what we said anyway.
A little dog that liked the smell of our food
Le Mont Saint Michael from near we camped.
More to come soon, we promise :-)
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