Neist Point Lighthouse

One of the destinations on Skye that I was going to get to, even if I had to crawl to it. After setting someone else’s photo of this location as my computer wallpaper many months ago, I needed to get here to take my own version. This isn’t it. It’ll be along shortly. The road to the lighthouse is very long, very single track and very full of animals. Also very full of tourists that randomly stop to take photos where there are no passing places. It was a somewhat frustrating drive with a very large reward at the end of it.

Part 8: The Beer Run

I had originally mapped this meandering waffly mess out as a 10 part saga. The kind of thing that’d keep on giving all the way to the end. As this is supposed to be a photoblog and not a repository of short stories, I’m going to squash all the final detail in this post. Parts 9 and 10 would just have been text anyway. I didn’t exactly take many photos once leaving mainland Europe. If you take any fantastical revelation away from this first paragraph, let it be that I actually planned these posts, even though at the best of times it may only appear as if I’m winging it, completely feckless and without a single rational thought running through my head.

Having packed up at the hotel and paid my bill, the first order of the day was breakfast. I’d spied many, many Boulangers in the area and on visiting the first one, I found it was closed. Same with the second and third. Right then, no breakfast in Ribeauville. There was one major thing I needed to bring home, supermarket wine. In France, that means something else. It means buying a bottle of wine for €10/15 that would probably cost upwards of €40 in Ireland, if you could even get your hands on it. So the wine shopping isn’t unlike sniping, buying a select few bottles that’ll fit on the bike but is good enough so you’re not wasting the space for the journey home. In this case, Sauternes. A tiny region south of Bordeaux, famous for sweeter than sweet wine. I picked up a few top shelf samples and made my way to the checkout. I have adopted a certain style at French supermarket checkouts, mostly by way of coping with understanding about 5% of the repeat by rote speech that checkout people give to customers. Turns out this was a little different. I thought she was asking me if I wanted a bag, but I said they’d fit into the tank bag I was carrying around with me. Again, pointing at the tank bag. This went on for a minute, with the people in the early morning queue behind me becoming noticeably more Parisian with every passing second. Finally, the penny dropped, mostly when she slowed down what she was saying. In essence “open your bag so I can check if you’ve robbed anything, you dodgy looking foreigner”.

That little bit of excitement made me completely forget about breakfast. Which was unfortunate, because I hear supermarkets are in the top three most ideal places to buy food. I returned to the bike and played a little game of Tetris, figuring out where I could stash the wine so it’d be in one piece when I got home. For anyone that needs to know, the answer is “in layers of dirty socks”.

Onto the motorway and pointed north, toward Luxembourg. I was being a cheap bastard today, deciding to completely avoid France and it’s notorious tolled motorways in favor of an ‘as the crow flies’ style of navigation toward my next destination, Brugge. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have taken the empty, wide French motorways. More on that in the next few laboriously detailed paragraphs. I did eventually stop for breakfast, although it was lunch by the time I got it. Just because I know you were worried about my wellbeing.

Luxembourg, yeah that’s fine. You get through Luxembourg in about the same time it takes to toast a slice of bread. For some unimaginable reason, I’d chosen to ‘see a bit of Belgium’ and take the route directly up the middle of the country. Oh man was that a bad idea. I think I made it about as far as Namur before the traffic started. Then it was solid traffic all the way through Brussels and almost as far as Ghent. Normal traffic would be fine, you’d deal with it. But Belgian driving standards make Ireland look like I don’t know, Germany maybe? Well, that was a confusing sentence. Most of the time I was too horrified and terrified to attempt to filter through the somewhat stationary traffic, for fear of ending up as fodder to someone’s lapse of judgement.

It goes a little something like this; A low percentage of Irish car drivers will purposefully block filtering motorcyclists, in a kind of typically Irish begrudging “nobody gets in front of me. If I’m stuck in traffic, so are you”. In France, quite a high percentage of car drivers make it their mission to move over in their lane so filtering motorcyclists can pass them. I gather this is because at some stage in their driving career, the majority of French people were motorcyclists. France is awesome. In Belgium, it seems to be the case that a decent percentage of car drivers are too busy trying to figure out what shapes the clouds remind them of, or what is happening in an adjacent field to be in the slightest bit worried about what’s happening on the road directly in front, beside or behind them. The basic awareness of other road users seems to be somewhat lacking. Or maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe they just don’t give a shit about anyone else on the road and their primary goal is to get where they’re going, dead or alive. That was my journey to Brugge via central Belgium.

But it was OK, there was a golden light at the end of this tunnel. A malty, hoppy golden light that was calling to me like a siren song since I left the Alsace region that morning. I arrived in Hotel Maraboe in the early afternoon, left my bike in the indoor parking and had the quickest shower & change of clothes known to man. Hit the street and with great purpose and furious thirst, headed straight to De Garre for the house beer. A Belgian (of course) tripel with a striking resemblance to one of my favorite beers, Gulden Draak. No coincidences here, they also make that beer. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if Willy Wonka was a slightly bemused, grumpy character standing at a small bar, polishing elaborate glassware. The beer was delivered with the customary small bowl of cheese and I only then realised that this was dinner. This was going to end poorly.

Undeterred, I forged ahead into the beer menu. Actually, no I didn’t. Because I knew exactly what I wanted from this place. Their own beers. This is why I came to Brugge, for a precious hour or so spent quietly at a table in De Garre, watching the locals and tourists do their thing. Next up was my favorite, Gulden Draak quadrupel but this time on tap. As if flowing from the secret stash of the Gods directly into my face hole. With the tripels and quadrupels on the menu, I thought I better get something a little more substantial, food wise. Not being able to make sense of the menu, I asked Willy Wonka for some help, only to be informed that “this is a bar, not a restaurant” in a tone that very much said “drink your beer and fuck off, tourist”. Except it wasn’t like that. The tone and delivery you get when you ask direct questions in Europe sometimes bewilders an Irish sensibility. You ask a direct question, you get a very direct answer. Getting into a brief ‘who can be most direct’ rap battle style competition with the staff ended up with him winning the bout, but me getting a plate of charcuterie and mustard to go with my beer. This would surely save me from going face down on the street and giggling like a schoolgirl as soon as the fresh air hit me when I left the bar.

I quaffed my Gulden Draak with accompanying sausage and mustard with a smugness and sense of accomplishment that I’m not usually known to possess. The reward for long journey almost completed successfully. For not slipping on the wet, wood chip strewn roads of the Black Forest and not sliding to my doom on the freezing cold mountain passes of Austria. There’s a theme developing here, but I’m not going to explore it too deeply right now.

The moment of truth. The ultimate test of mettle was upon me. Two strong beers in and very little food, could I now stand up on my first attempt and if I made it all the way up to a standing position, can I remember how to walk? Left, right, left, right, left, right. Yes, the body remembers. In a way I can only seem to manage once I’ve had a few beers, I quick-marched back to the hotel, set my alarm and made boozy snow angels in the bed. A much needed disco snooze before round two.

Ding ding, seconds out, round two. Next up was another staple. A place you go to more for people watching and the inevitable tourist doing something uncharacteristically wacky. Like last years Asian salaryman entirely out of his gourd, walking around the bar trying to speak Flemish to strangers. Except he didn’t know any Flemish. Nobody knows any Flemish. It’s a made up language, like Danish. Anyway, the destination was a mid-point between the hotel and some proper food. It was ‘t Brugs Beertje, with a seat at the bar and a copy of their comprehensive beer menu in hand. I went with what’s on tap this time, first up a Rodenbach sour (yes, I’m getting more into the sours in the last couple of years. Never thought I’d say that) followed by a ‘when in Rome’ Brugse Zot. In between those two, about another hour of people watching and conversation earwigging. Highly enjoyable stuff, even if it probably made me look like a nutcase. Or at least more nutcasey than usual.

The call of food was once again upon me and I floated down to the main square to peruse the selection. All a bit ‘pizza’ or ‘seafood’ related really. So I ended up in a fast food place with frikandel and chips, drowned in fritessaus. All prepared and delivered by a very happy but monumentally sarcastic staff member. A tourist in the queue ahead of me was frantically searching around in her bag, before looking up and proudly asking “can I pay with dollars?”. Knowing what was coming, I had to put my hand up to my mouth to hold back the shit eating grin. The man practiced the best comic timing I’ve ever seen before delivering a short, sharp blow that was among the most witty and cutting responses to a stupid question I’ve ever heard. Either that or my beer-addled brain filled in the blanks and made it that way. I wish I could remember what he said. The customer paid with a card, then retreated to the upstairs seating.

I sat outside under a canopy adjacent to another gentleman, a fellow traveler in the world of fine beers, who looked as if at any moment, he might pass out face down into his carton of sauce covered chips. I’m with you my brother. Or at least I will be a couple of hours from now. I sat eating my delicious but somewhat poorly thought out dinner and watching the sheets of rain that had rolled in across the square, sending under prepared people scattering for the nearest cover.

Around the corner and back to De Garre. Two more beers, probably two of the same that I’d already had earlier in the day. That’s how good the stuff is. I’d gladly substitute those beers into my diet in place of water. It’d be a short life, but it’d be a good life.

The same ‘can I stand, can I walk’ mental evaluation was performed when it came time to leave, which was chucking out time apparently. Seems this happens earlier in Belgium. Or maybe the staff had just had their fill for that particular evening. Seems like that kind of place. I did the dance of a thousand hiccups back toward the hotel, passing on the way a couple who were in full-on photo shoot mode in the pitch black alleyways. Him directing and critiquing the whole affair and her striking poses not seen since the heady days of early 2000’s glossy magazines. It was as surreal as it was preposterous as it was hilarious. I was in a new, post-beers state. At least 50% more witty and 500% more unable to give a single shit than usual. For some reason, after I’d passed them I let out a loud guffaw that echoed around the empty streets in my very best faux-French accent. It went something like “huaw huaw huaw, Les Americans, huaw huaw huaw”. I don’t know why it came out in a ridiculously overplayed French accent, I just went with it. Seemed right at the time I guess. Yes, I am an asshole.

Passing ‘t Brugs Beertje, I pondered going in for a moment. I quickly realised that was a poor plan. For one, I was already far thinker than I drunk you am and two, on closer inspection the place was closed. The decision was made. Either way, I had to get up relatively early in the morning to be in Calais for a train back to the UK. If I missed that I’d have to stay in Brugge forever. Drinking, writing, taking photos and being smug about things I have no right to be smug about. I’m still unsure why I got up the next morning to get the train.

Surprisingly fresh the following morning (yay for great beer with no shitty additives), I wandered downstairs for some breakfast. Lots of breakfast. Like, breakfast for four people. I was going to have to store it in my cheek pouches because I was unlikely to be eating until much later in the afternoon. I tend to do that when I know there is road to be covered. Get it done, or at least the majority of it, then worry about why I suddenly feel lightheaded. It’s one of my many character flaws. The ride to Calais was relaxed, even detouring through Dunkirk on the way, because war stuff. Except I again realised that there’s no war stuff in Dunkirk. I’d done the exact same thing the previous year. “Ooh, lets go through Dunkirk, because war stuff”. Idiot. Even with that diversion, I still made it to Calais in time to catch an earlier train. That’s one of the huge strengths of the Eurotunnel. There are so many trains departing, you can get an earlier one if there is space and you turn up well ahead of your booked time. Simply marvelous.

The rest is motorway. Miles and miles of UK motorways, although mercifully quite a bit less congested than I’d experienced some days ago when this journey was beginning. I did also find the right services. By right I mean one with a pasty shop directly adjacent to motorbike parking. Reading services. Need to commit that to long term memory. Now back to about 70% mental capacity following my pasty and coffee, I checked my itinerary and came upon the idea that I’d be able to get home tonight instead of tomorrow. I’d have to ride like a possessed bastard all the way to Fishguard, but I could possibly get there with minutes to spare before the 6:30pm ferry departed. I’d be able to get home by about midnight and surprise Julie. Surprise, I dragged my disheveled, thousand yard stare corpse home a few hours early. Yeah, maybe not such a good plan after all. I’d also lose money on the B&B and on the ferry, neither of which allowed cancellations or changes.

So I rode on through the now beautifully sunny late morning, not realising that the sun beating down on me was going to give me a thumping headache later that evening. It was either the sun, the lack of earplugs or the last of the beer leaving my system. Take your pick.

More monotonous motorway, miles and miles of it. Across the Severn bridge and through the toll (free for motorbikes). Into South Wales. Some time later, including some time spent shouting at the GPS, I arrived in my B&B in the middle of nowhere. Just as I had planned it. A couple of pints in the almost empty bar over a pleasant conversation with a hill walker and his very chatty miniature schnauzer. No politics, no religion. Good food, peace and quiet. Early to bed to catch up on some Netflix and to be ready for the final leg.

The next morning I enjoyed another huge breakfast, although somewhat different fare than the last week or so. Fried everything and not a slice of cheese or bread roll in sight. It was possibly a little much, given that I’d been eating continental breakfasts. I should have given up half way through and not left the table with a slightly overfilled feeling. Same old story.

I was still the best part of three hours ride on back roads from Fishguard port and my ferry was departing at about 1pm, so I needed to get a move on. The morning was sunny and fresh, great weather for making progress. Except then not so much. I was less than an hour into the ride when it all turned to shit quite rapidly. That slowed me down somewhat and I arrived soaking at the ferry check-in. Ready to peel layers off to get at the required documentation, I was beyond grateful when none of that was required because the cheery man at the check-in desk already knew my name and allowed me to go right through. Service you can only dream about. Got straight onto the ship, another thing to be grateful for when it’s pissing rain. I’d like to think that was on purpose, a kind of ‘get the bikers out of the rain as quickly as possible’ sentiment from the port crew. It is very much appreciated.

The crossing was as crossings are, long and boring. I peeled off the layers of soaking plastic and laid them on a chair in the area I’d now entirely taken over. Tried to get some sleep, a difficult proposition when there is a disaster movie playing in the background. I can’t understand why mass transport companies choose to play movies about mass transport disasters on their services. Maybe I’m attributing too much thought into the selection process.

Something that always cracks me up for some reason is the border crossing when you get back to Ireland. You wait in line for a member of the Gardai to lazily inquire on your country of residence or your nationality. You see me in the line, you see the Irish registration on my bike and the Irish flag sticker on the windscreen. You can see the huge, dopey, sun and wind burnt Irish head on me as I roll to a stop next to you. Sometimes, I’m tempted to say “Rwandan” or “Micronesian” just to see what’ll happen. I suppose what’d happen is me being directed to a customs search area for being a smart ass, then spending hours with some revenue official quizzing me about every sock, t-shirt in my luggage and then anally probing me to ensure I’m not a drug mule. So instead, I just say “Irish” and pass by without event.

As always, the traffic coming out of Rosslare port is a nightmare. Little bit less so when you’re on a bike and can pass much of it with very little effort. Although in this case, the overtaking was spiced up a bit by the relentless heavy rain that showed no sign of letting up. Again, miles and miles of road. Although much more familiar roads this time. Maybe it’s worse knowing every inch of the road and knowing that even if the best scenario happens, it’s still going to take you precisely X amount of time to get home. The monotony was broken up a bit by chatting to the nice lady at the Waterford bypass toll booth for a few minutes. “Coming back from holidays?”, “Oooh, Austria”, followed by the usual Irish small talk about the weather and how shit everything here is in comparison to where I’d been. Good times.

The weather did finally clear up, a nice finale to the 2785 mile journey. It allowed me to be a little braver with my speeds and offered up a few more passing opportunities for the remaining miles. I got home as if I’d never left. Put my bike back in the garage and gave it the now customary thanks for being absolutely faultless throughout. Slippers on and a large quantity Julie’s home made soup in the microwave, served with enormous and poorly sliced hunks of bread. As much as I love motorcycle travel and seeing new (and some familiar) places, there is nothing quite like coming home.

Part 1: From Here to Mediocrity

I had a grand plan. It was mostly successful. With the summer doing it’s usual death rattle in mid July, my window of opportunity to actually see something outside of Ireland was closing fast. As we had started looking at the possibility of buying a house in March or so, any possibility of going anywhere off in foreign parts was written off as luxuriously frivolous. But if we know anything about me, it’s that I’m a stubborn little shit. In my defence, I blame YouTube. Watching multi-part videos of guys (who admittedly already live in Central Europe) take off for a long weekend or a week to the mountains had gotten to me in a major way. A way that couldn’t be ignored. Before the long, dark, rainy nights rolled in, I need some decent roads and something resembling sunshine.

In my usual way of poorly planning the shit out of something, I left it too long to take some time off from work. So I ended up with two weeks in mid-September to play with. Not exactly ideal Alps weather. Not exactly ideal ‘going anywhere on a motorbike’ weather really. Also in my usual habit of procrastinating to an Olympic gold medal winning level, I hummed and hawed about actually booking anything for a few more weeks in August. In the end, I booked the entire ten day trip over the course of two days in the dying days of August.

The rough plan was to get to Eastern France, see some more of the Black Forest in Germany and somehow fit in a few days in the Alps in France, Switzerland or Austria. Austria seemed like a long shot. But then I guess this whole trip is a long shot.

I was going on my own, entirely unsure about my ability to spend ten whole days and nights in my own company without returning an even more raving lunatic. I was also going to at least three countries where I didn’t have an all too firm grasp of the local language. I settled upon a Rosslare to Fishguard ferry, followed by the channel tunnel the next morning to bring me into the land mass I needed to be on. I figured that if by the time I got to South Wales and started suffering very cold feet (inclination to go on, rather than weather induced), I could put myself on the next ferry back to Rosslare and write the whole thing off as a learning experience. It seemed like the soft option, compared to jumping on a sixteen hour ferry crossing from Rosslare to Cherbourg. The downside? A 4am start from Cork to make the ferry in plenty of time, allowing for minor mishaps along the way.

With Julie having flown out to Holland the previous morning, I was surprisingly full of beans springing out of bed at 3:15am on the morning of the kick-off. I loaded up the bike (that I’d been so wise to do 95% of the prep for the night before) and as quietly as I could, rolled it down the driveway and onto the road before firing it up and letting it idle for a few minutes while I fixed my helmet, gloves, music and did my usual pocket patting routine to make sure I have my phone, wallet, and keys. The same routine I’d do if I was riding the 10 minute journey into the city to buy beer.

As I pulled out of the estate, I was stopped by a red traffic light and it gave me time to consider that I had never been on the bike this early before and certainly hadn’t traveled the distance I was intending to on my own before. “It’s an adventure I suppose” is what kept me pointing in the right direction for the first 40 minutes or so.

The ride to Wexford was very uneventful, given the early hour and the lack of traffic on the road. I was free to fully enjoy the spectacle of riding toward the sunrise, even though by the time I reached the port it still hadn’t brightened up sufficiently to call it ‘daytime’. On boarding the ferry, I thought I might chance a bit of breakfast. Well, a lot of breakfast given that the only thing to pass my lips so far was a cup of tea at a nearby petrol station to warm myself up a bit. “Good thinking”, the guy serving the food said. “Better to get some food into you so when you start vomiting, you’re not doing it on an empty stomach”. Oh. Right then. Apparently the previous crossing from Wales had been so bad, the crew hadn’t even slept. Helpful sort of chap that I am, I shared the good news with the only other two bikers on the ferry.

Three and a half hours later, we docked in Fishguard. The sea had calmed significantly, I think I even got a few minutes sleep, lulled by the almost gentle rolling of the ship on the waves. My only memory of arriving in Fishguard was the GPS sending me the wrong way, through mazes of tight, windy streets. Not the best beginning but not entirely unexpected. After a short scenic detour north I got on the dual carriageway, then on the motorway. It remained that way for hours. The monotony was broken briefly by the Severn bridge but that was an all too short distraction before motorway began once more. In all, it was about 8 hours or more by the time I got to the general Folkestone area. The traffic approaching London was typically horrific and left me needing to filter between stationary cars for what seemed like at least an hour. Chance of rough crossing notwithstanding, I wish I’d been on the Rosslare to Cherbourg ferry.

But the traffic thinned as I got onto the M20 and soon enough I was seeing signs for the Channel Tunnel. Yes, it’s possible to ride from Cork to France in one day. The arrival in France would be horribly late, but it’d almost be worth it.

That ‘almost be worth it’ became ‘totally worth it’ as I rode on past the signs for the tunnel and onto my destination for the evening, a cheap B&B in Folkestone. I had imagined Folkestone to be a quaint little seaside town, somewhat like a played down (very played down) version of Blackpool in the north west of the country. The kind of place that was a hit in the 80’s / early 90’s and always thought it could regain it’s popularity. It was sitting there on the end of the country shouting “I used to be cool, then they changed what cool was”. It was shouting, but apparently nobody was listening. Folkestone has all the charm of a brick to the face. Not a fancy brick either. A brick that was used in a 19th century septic tank and has been infused with decades of human filth. No, I didn’t like Folkestone. As tired, hungry and cranky as I was, it would probably have been hard to like anywhere. I ‘checked in’ to the B&B / halfway house / B&B and was advised that the best place to go for food was ‘to the ‘spoons’. Wetherspoons pub, ten minutes or so walk down the road. So I strolled down to the ‘spoons to sample the local flavour. Then I walked straight past the ‘spoons. The kind of walk you to when you see someone on the other side of the street that you really want to avoid making eye contact with, lest they try to strike up a conversation. The pavement suddenly became hugely interesting. The ‘spoons was oozing. I’ll say no more.

As I was contemplating cooking and eating my own leg as an alternative, I happened upon a beautifully empty restaurant that seemed to serve all the fixings that a contemporary hipster has become accustomed to. Which was a bit crazy. It seemed this lovely, clean, well lit restaurant had just fallen from space and landed in a perfectly sized space between a bookmakers and yes, another bookmakers. So I dined on a reassuringly expensive beef brisket thing with other fancy stuff on the plate and washed it down with a run of the mill but very welcome craft beer. I was even considering indulging in dessert until a group of 12 or so cookie cutter loud Londoners ambled in, all wearing the same denim shorts, all sporting the same haircut and all taking turns to prove themselves the biggest asshole in the room. The verdict is in, you all win.

So instead I went back to the halfway house. Or at least I tried. It was bright outside when I came in here, now it’s not so much. Tired as I was and with a couple of pints inside me, I had to consult Google maps, a compass and a topographical map several times to figure out which direction I should be walking in. That was moderately stressful, but I’m sure hilarious beyond all measure from the perspective of an onlooker.

All in all, the B&B did it’s job and I woke up the next morning with all my internal organs in the same place I left them the night before. Result. Also, the bike was still there. I was on a roll. I got myself together and packed up the bike, searching for any sign of human activity in the B&B. Mostly for whoever it was that was going to make my breakfast. Long and relatively uninteresting story short, I did eventually get breakfast. Well, I got two slices of questionable toast and a bowl of stale cereal. “What time did you book your cooked breakfast for?” Eh, I didn’t. Because I was never told I needed to. Perhaps that was a bullet dodged. The cold but sunny start woke me up quickly and once I finished hostage negotiations with the GPS, it pointed me toward the tunnel check-in. Onward!

Cornwall

Ferry

After the huge trip to Italy and back (with a lot of detouring in between) last year, holidays this year were going to have to be a little more low key. Don’t get me wrong, I was still all for a week or two in France but wedding savings said no. So instead, we decided on something we’d wanted to do for a long time; go to Cornwall! After all, pasties and cask ale. It sold itself well in advance of the big day.

We arrived into Holyhead around noonish and had whole afternoon to travel the length of Wales and make it to Bristol where we’d be spending our first night with Julie’s friend. Wales, as it always is, was perfect. The route from Holyhead to anywhere in south Wales is now set in stone, taking in sights like the below.

Wales

Photos from the rest of the evening are sadly lacking. Dinner was in a Bath Ales pub. I don’t really think I need to elaborate. I was completely taken with Bath Ales since I picked up a couple of bottles in Sainsburys quite a while ago.

Mmmmm beer

Many pints were had. It was the fear of beer becoming suddenly and inexplicably unavailable that drove me on. The usual dining argument “you don’t have to eat it all” that Julie uses on me when I’m already groaning about over eating never really holds when beer is involved. I think she’s more sensible than to say “you don’t have to drink it all”. But beer. Beer!

The next day we were back on the road at a reasonable hour. The weather had turned to crap. Not the worst kind of crap; Just grey and overcast. Not holiday weather. We headed down toward Plymouth although we were both quite eager to avoid it. We were armed with a list of stuff we should see while we were traveling and the cable ferry from Devonpoint to Torpoint was one of those things. The few minute wait for the ferry to arrive left me enough time to fumble around in my pockets for a few quid of change, an activity that turned out to be completely redundant when I saw the fares. If I remember correctly, we ended up being charged about 50p for the journey. I eh, ok. no argument.

By this stage we had already passed through Dartmoor. As we approached the area, the fog got thicker and lower, giving a wonderful ‘axe murderer’ feeling that seemed just about right. My last experience of a UK national park (apart from just having come through Wales of course) was in the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District a year or two previously. Both hilly, picturesque places full of winding lanes and tiny villages with suspicious people in them that stare as you pass by. Not really so much in Dartmoor though. Granted we didn’t really have a lot of time to explore the area and the weather wasn’t really conducive to a lot of stopping and strolling about but it was more or less one long straight road to the other end of the park.

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There were some scenic breaks in the trip though.

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The next nights stop was in Charlestown, just outside St. Austell. As I usually end up doing, I chose the ‘interesting’ route to Charlestown. ‘Interesting’ meaning down every narrow winding grass track I could find. We ended up at another ferry (by design I should add), the Bodinnick to Fowey service. The price of that relatively short run made up for the earlier fare we’d paid just outside Plymouth.

Charlestown

Some more country lanes and almost being flummoxed by farmers with tractors the entire width of the road, we ended up back on the A roads and soon thereafter in Charlestown itself. The B&B was great, run by a fellow BMW biker (hereafter to be called the biking elite and/or the worst biking snobs in the world) and his wife. We got some food in a nearby cookie cutter St. Austell pub (as in, they all look the same, serve the same food and have the same great service) and after a few pints, retired back to the B&B to plan the next days adventures.

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Those adventures were starting in the Eden Project only a few miles up the road. The damp, soggy, overcast Eden Project. Damp on the outside anyway, hot and sticky on the inside. I had the best of intentions to do the zip line that ran several hundred feet over the domes but given the weather, the incentive wasn’t really there. After all, I could spend the next few hours on the bike getting equally soaked and sprayed in the face. That wouldn’t cost me as much as the zip line adventure would either.

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Once inside the dome (and taking a moment to get used to the size of the crowd in there) it was all good. There were two domes as you can spot in the photo; One was decidedly tropical (i.e. hot, sticky, unpleasant) and the other more Mediterranean (i.e. dry, warm and entirely more pleasant).

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There was also a suspended walkway that brought visitors to a platform just under the roof of the dome. I was looking forward to having a go for almost the entire walk (death march) around the tropical dome but became utterly deflated when on reaching the end of the queue for the activity, it turned out to have a 60-80 minute waiting time. Standing around for an hour or more in this heat? No ta.

After a pit stop for refreshments and a walk around the other dome we braved the outside world again. Yup, still raining. I found some hops. Lots and lots of hops. “Some day” I thought, “Some day when I have a garden, there will be hops upon hops upon hops”. That’s the kind of gardening I can really get into.

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As we climbed back up to the exit, the above view presented itself. I can imagine that on a pleasant summers evening it’d be great to attend an event here. Sadly, pleasant summers anything this was not. So we hauled on all the bike gear again and made tracks.

We only had a relatively short break so stops had to be planned carefully. We had originally intended to stop somewhere (i.e. a pub with lots of casks) on the way down to St. Ives but once some thought was put into it, we decided the better option was to head direct and spend two nights in St. Ives instead. Turned out to be a wise choice. Why St. Ives though? Well, it’s almost at the end of the world so we couldn’t have gone much further. I had also considered Penzance but after riding through Penzance, I’m very happy we chose St. Ives. Also any time I mentioned where we’d be going my mother would say something like “Oh you have to go to St. Ives” as she’d been there many years ago with my dad. So why mess about, we’ll just stay in St. Ives.

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Finding a B&B in the town with space to park a bike outside was an interesting task. Most of them either didn’t have any parking whatsoever or weren’t inclined to allocate what little parking they had to a motorbike. So given how protective I am of the bike, we ended up just outside the town. To summarise our stay in St. Ives; Pasties, cask ale, fish & chips and cream tea. I could also stick ‘seagulls’ in there, but as we didn’t actually eat a seagull it might have looked out of place. Fish & chips on the beach was cancelled and instead we sat inside. The seagulls were numerous and belligerent. Some the size of a small family car.

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Up to now the weather had pretty much stuck with us. Grey and overcast with the odd drop of rain. Far from the sunshine and heat we had riding down through Wales. We had resolved to go riding around Lands End the next day so it was fantastic to see blue sky and sunshine that morning when I stuck my head between the curtains.

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We made it to Lands End and several more places on the list we’d been given back in Bristol. Perhaps the most spectacular of which was Minack Theatre, perched high up on the coastline, carved into the rock. Should you ever find yourself in the area with an hour to kill, I highly recommend it.

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The weather stayed with us all evening as we made our way back to St. Ives and enjoyed our gourmet fish and chips in a decidedly upmarket spot along the quayside.

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All good things must blah blah blah but not before we had some cream tea. I would have possibly been executed without a fair hearing if I had returned home and reported that no, we did not stop for cream tea.

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After that full fat interlude, we had to be on our way. There was a ferry to catch the next day in the very top of Wales and so, lots of miles to cover. We rode up the coast as much as possible, taking in some fantastic scenery and very steep hills along the way.

Our stop for the night was in Brecon, Talybont-on-Usk to be precise. The Malt House to be even more precise. It was booked primarily because I didn’t want to be bothered looking around for B&B’s in the area for hours while I was supposed to be working. Turns out I couldn’t have booked a better place if I’d tried. The B&B was fantastic, on a quiet road in a quiet area only a few hundred meters from the A road. But wait, there’s more. A proper pub across the road. Proper like 8 beers on cask proper. After dinner, I set about making a dent in the cask collection. It was a nice surprise to end a great week away.

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No surprises that our last day trekking towards Holyhead was spent on the now well worn bike route to Anglesea. There are just a few roads that the bike always seems to want to go down whenever we find ourselves in Wales. Who am I to argue?

With the coast of Dublin in sight from the ferry, alas the holiday was over. Back to Ireland and back to the grind. Until the next one I suppose…

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Across Scotland in six panoramas

Or, well, up the west coast anyway. I can never seem to leave Scotland without either taking a whole load of photos with the intention of stitching them later in photoshop or (now that I’ve got the X100) using the built in panorama mode. Before you scoff along the lines of ‘pah, built in panorama mode indeed’ it’s not actually that bad. Yes it does sometimes do things that only the processor of the camera will understand or would be able to explain but overall it’s a less involved means of producing a panorama. But back to my point. Those that have been to New York or any other large American city will understand. You get into the city and the first thing you do is gawp skyward at the tall buildings. Scotland is like that, except the gawping is done horizontally, not vertically.

Once in the highlands, you could stop pretty much every five minutes and stare at a brand new landscape that has all the right ingredients. Foreground interest (usually lovely rocks, oh yes) and whopping great hills/mountains in the background. You just can’t go wrong. So like the last trip over in 2010, I end up with a few dozen images to heave into photoshop on my return to Ireland. Slightly less this time actually, mostly because we didn’t actually stop every five minutes and that we’d already done (for my benefit of course) all the majorly tourist spots a couple of years previous.

In an attempt to present something other than a series of squished landscape shots that will have any viewers squinting and straining to see what’s going on, I’ve made all the below clickable. A quick click and as if by magic, a better view. Although unless you’ve got the monitor of the God’s, you’ll be scrolling. Sorry about that.

No, I didn’t remember to bring the Lomo/Diana/other contraption. I’m just messing around. I thought the odd flare + photoshop stitching was worthy of a bit of preset madness.

Somewhere on the way to Fort William. I couldn’t swear where exactly but I have vivid memories of trying to get a decent shot (video) while crossing the bridge to the left of the photo. This was taken at a petrol stop.

Ahh Bealach Na Ba. All those photos I’ve looked at and read various reports of people that had ridden this road. It’s like the ring of Kerry on steroids. It was also surprisingly quiet on our trip up there. Unlike the ring of Kerry, it’s no place for nervous tourists in rental cars. Much of the ‘road’ was only just about wide enough for a very small car. Most of the time the narrow road was paired with a drop of 10+ feet on each side. A road made for bikers if ever there was one. Well, one closer to home than the Alps anyway.

After descending from the madness of Bealach Na Ba, one simply has to stop at the Applecross Inn. Seemingly the only pub in miles and happily serving tasty food and what looked like a tasty local ale. No, I didn’t sample it. This time.

When so far from home, it’d be rude not to ride the rest of the way up the coast. Miles upon miles of perfect tarmac winding its way up through the hills and around lochs. I wouldn’t bet my life on it but I think this was Loch Torridon. Either that or Loch Shieldaig. Either way, the photo doesn’t do it justice.

“If you don’t like the weather in Scotland. Wait five minutes.” However, if like in the photo above you do like the weather in Scotland, you’re going to be pretty miffed in about 4 minutes and 30 seconds time. We saw it all on our trip. Sun, wind, rain, sleet and snow. More on this in later posts.

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One of what I’m going to call ‘the limited run’ of photographs that was taken over the weekend in Snowdonia. This was on the way back to the ferry, a little diversion that had us stop at a viewpoint that appeared to be quite popular. Snowdon is just to the right of this scene, the peak hidden by the cloud. With the tight timescale we were working with we didn’t get to see a lot of Snowdonia but as I may have mentioned before, I fully intend on going back for a long weekend at least. Its ‘like Wicklow had a baby with the Isle of Skye’ to borrow a phrase used on our trip. The fact that this is only 2 hours away by ferry makes it all the more appealing.

Shakycam is Go!

What was intended to be a mostly entertaining way for me to record and review my very limited off-road jaunts while in the UK in April has turned into a public service video on the effects of motion sickness and a case study on why people buy those expensive little helmet cameras. While I wasn’t expecting Steven Spielberg results, I imagined in what I now know was supreme, unwavering naivety that I might get something other than a dodgy late 1990’s horror movie.

This is a very cut down version of the full experience, I didn’t want to subject anyone to the full six minutes. My most sincere apologies to sufferers of motion sickness and indeed to those that contract acute motion sickness as a result of viewing the above. Next on the shopping list, a helmet camera and possibly an Adobe Premier manual.

Crossing

While taking my time on the way back to the ferry from Derbyshire on a nice sunny morning, I found this place while quite lost. I was looking for a place to buy a sandwich and a cup of tea before hitting Holyhead for the ferry but that’s neither here nor there. For those interested in my sandwich and tea exploits, I did eventually find a shop with marvelously cheap & tasty sandwiches only about 5 mins from this spot. It struck me at the time that this was possibly the spot that Fran took some wonderful photos of the same bridge from recently. Or maybe slightly lower down. I wasn’t energetic enough to get off the bike and walk down the path.

This, of course, is the Menai bridge that links the island of Anglesey to mainland Wales. A much nicer sight than it’s neighbour down the river slightly, the Britannia Bridge. I could recite all kinds of wondrous facts and figures about it, but I guess if you’re bothered about that kind of stuff you’ll go to Google anyway.

Perhaps the most memorable part of my stop here was the look of utter disdain I got from an elderly gentleman as I stopped to take a photo. I’d get suspicious glances all the way through the process of putting the bike on it’s side stand, rummaging around in the top box for my camera, taking a couple of photos, stopping for a minute to appreciate the view (without the camera in front of my eye) and then repacking everything and getting back on the road. Perhaps I misread it? Perhaps seeing me arriving on a panzer, laden down with a holidays worth of dirty clothes and various trinkets was the most exciting thing that’d happened to him in weeks. Maybe months? I suppose I’ll never know.

As I so often tend to do these days, I also tried my hand at a quick panorama. This one is only about 8 or 9 photos, lovingly stitched together by the good people at Adobe and converted to black and white in Lightroom the only way I know how; Flinging sliders every which way until I see something acceptable. Rationalising the creation of these aspect ratio challenged jpegs, I often tell myself that ‘some day I’ll print a load of these and hang them up’. The walls will surely buckle under the weight of prints when I finally do get around to printing even a small percentage of my collection.

I have the greatest of intentions to start processing both Peak District and Yorkshire Dales photographs next weekend. The Peak District lot will be thin on the ground as I spent most of my time there on rocky dirt roads, wondering what the hell I was doing on rocky dirt roads.

The change of plan

“T’ra”, a term used interchangeably by some. It can mean either hello, thanks, excuse me or goodbye. The change of plan came on Saturday and after deciding I wouldn’t be spending a third night in the general environs of Chorley, I headed slightly further north to Yorkshire. Found myself a gorgeous B&B in Carleton and spent the day cruising around the Dales getting further sun burnt in an amusing pattern.

The above is a straight out of the camera shot from my adventures today, while taking this shot my internal monologue was in overdrive. “See that house down there, 12 of us lived in one room and had nowt to eat all day except when father came back from t’mines with half a loaf of mouldy bread.” Then another strongly accented gentleman pipes in with “Half a loaf? Only 12 of you? You had it easy. There was 18,000 of us all huddled in one corner, only heat we had was from a gone out candle, father would thrash us with his belt when he got home from the mill and all we’d have to eat for the entire week was half a bag of damp coal.” No idea what I’m on about? You need to click on this then lad.

Making my way back south tomorrow, down to somewhere on the outskirts of the Peak District. That’s back to the original plan. I’ve got 150km of B road and off road routes in the sat nav, ready to be followed with less than pin-point precision. My usual method of navigating while on the bike normally ends up with “Ah, that feels like it’s the right direction”. Worked well so far anyway.

Outbound

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Procrastination, I’ve got it. For the best part of, if not more than six years I’d been talking about how some day I’d take a mad notion and do this. Jump on the bike, book the ferry and go see some people in Chorley that I haven’t seen in probably close to 20 years. Maybe more out of the feeling that if anything happened to them and I hadn’t gone over, I’d regret it for anything between a year and the rest of my life.

The trip I’d some day take never really materialised despite numerous google maps I created and several queries on the price of the ferry crossing. Some day turned into today and I find myself aboard the floating crèche that is the Irish ferries Jonathan Swift. I’m fairly sure too that the disagreeable chap that barked instructions at me in broken English on the car deck has well and truly screwed the new saddle on the bike too. Shit.

Before I arrive in Chorley, I need to constantly remind myself that it won’t be the same place I knew from our family visits there in the 80’s and early 90’s. People I regarded as being invincible back then will have grown older. Only in direct proportion to how older I’ve grown I suppose. I don’t think I’m adequately prepared (in my head at least) for how difficult this afternoon could be.

Anatomy of work travel

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Those of you that have ever asked me what I do for a living, besides bitch and moan (which to be honest, feels like a full-time job anyway), well you’ll know that I am a technical support/field engineer. If you don’t know what that actually is, I’m the guy that goes somewhere at the drop of a hat and stays there until either one of two conditions are met.

1. The job is done and I’m allowed to go home or,
2. The job cannot be completed because someone else didn’t do their job

Normally it’s number two. This does inevitably mean that I travel frequently and in erratic patterns. If I have a territory, it’s UK & Europe. I’m often to be found wearing down shoe leather on the streets of London or being taken ‘the scenic route’ around small Spanish towns by a taxi driver that obviously saw me coming.

This time it’s London and another night, another overpriced 1970’s throwback hotel. SW6 to be more accurate or at least somewhere near there. Again with the iphone, my convenient travel photography companion.

Being a general technical monkey means I get to spend 9/10 hours a day either standing next to a server rack or piling up a stack of cardboard boxes to form a crude bench. 5434367060_623a4353f3_d

I used to really enjoy travelling for work. Like really. I’d jump  at the opportunity to do a job in Letterkenny (which for someone driving from Cork is a hell of  a round trip to do in a day). Now I’d take it or leave it. It’s a welcome break from the routine but any regular business travelers will tell you that it gets very old very fast.

Sure there’s the odd pint of ale followed by the occasional kebab. Sometimes there’s even a colleague on skype at 11pm taking the piss.

It’s swings and roundabouts. If you don’t learn to take the good with the bad you’ll go nuts. I’d never been to either London or Spain before and I’ve never been to either on holiday. Wait, that sounds kinda sad.

The ‘experiences with most Spanish people’ is another rant for another day but it was pointed out to me recently that Londoners have very little in the way of brain to mouth filter. In Ireland, we might think someone is a complete wanker or have a complicated inner rant about some situation or scenario but it rarely comes out of our mouths in the same  graphic detail. Not even ranting and raving  though. It’s everything. You know when people on twitter post updates about every single thing they’ve done that day? A minute by minute, blow by blow account from the time they wake up in the morning to the time that they shut their eyes at night. That’s mostly been my experience of Londoners so far.

However, most of the ones I’ve met will also come out and tell you exactly what they think of you in all the colours of the language rainbow. Yes, I’ve been sworn at a lot by Londoners. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a part of my job spec. In summary, business trips (unless they’re booze fueled junkets) are mostly shit. G’night all!

Hanwell

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Cross the tracks safely at Hanwell station in west London. On the way back to Heathrow after a rainy day of meetings in the city. Yes, this is a lazy shot and it’s the first of the fauxlaroids I’m going to be posting. For two main reasons; 1, I’m too lazy to load lightroom and 2, I’m too lazy to develop film, scan it and then load lightroom.