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CROATIAN ADVENTURE

Teachers are doomed to pay peak holiday prices, but having retired this summer I had freedom of choice at last and planned to take off on the bike in September just because I could - a solo trip, to celebrate retirement with some real freedom. [Judy was understanding about this but wasn't giving up her annual biking holiday, so we had in a week in Ireland in August: rough roads and dramatic scenery on the Dingle and Beara peninsulas and the Ring of Kerry, with a visit to the Puck Fair at Killorglin - a bizarre ritual with a billy-goat paraded through the streets then hoisted in a cage to the top of a tower in the town square, to live there for the weekend. Venerated in memory of the legendary goat that ran into the town to warn of the approach of Cromwell's army, in reality it's a pretext (if one were needed) for an awesome booze-up.]

Croatia caught my fancy because it was reputedly beautiful and remote, and I'd never been! On a map of Europe I traced a rough loop down through Italy to the 'heel', across the Adriatic to Croatia because an extra ferry trip made for more adventure, and north towards home, resolving to go down directly and back up at leisure. The Bari-Dubrovnik ferry runs irregularly, but there was a sailing on Sept. 22 nd so I decided to aim for that.

WED 17 th SEPTEMBER . Set off for the 1.45 Dover-Calais crossing, but made the 12.45 instead, and was waved on first with the whole empty, echoing car-deck to ride through, which put me in the holiday mood. This dissipated that evening when I got into Reims to find no rooms available in the budget hotels on the outskirts and had to settle for the dearer, grotty but aptly-named Hotel Touring in the centre. Just over 400 miles, so a meal, a look at the splendid cathedral and some sleep.

THURS. Through the rather featureless Champagne and wooded, rolling Lorraine regions, around Strasbourg and south through Germany. Decided to stop short of the Swiss border to save bothering to buy Swiss francs, and pulled off at random in a small town called Bad Bellingen. A spa town (as the 'Bad' should have warned me), full of clinics, cures and people even older than me. Cruising around looking for B&Bs lost its appeal after a couple of refusals and the distinct impression that one-person one-night stopovers are not an attractive deal. Anyone who has tried this form of touring will know that finding accommodation at the end of a hard day can be a pain. I took the easy way out and found a hotel room (Hotel Markgraf); the owner had a Harley and had ridden it to Barcelona for the centenary celebrations and Stones concert. He advised me on my route over the Gottard pass and recommended a hotel at Brissago in southern Switzerland, where he'd stayed on his trip. 300+ miles.

FRI. With warnings of severe penalties for speeding in Switzerland ringing in my ears, I by-passed Lucerne and picked up the old mountain road at Altdorf. A spectacular ride, with views of snow and ice, lots of hairpins and lots of bikes. I decided the recommended hotel (Hotel Primavera) was maybe worth a detour, so rode around the north shore of lake Maggiori and found it easily, high above the lake and with breathtaking views. The owner rides a Blackbird, and produced a guidebook (in German) to biker-friendly hotels in Germany, France, Switzerland and northern Italy. He even dug out last year's edition to give to me. We'd plenty more in common as he also enjoys shooting, as I do, and entertained me with tales of gruelling days hunting chamois in the high Alps. There was even chamois on the menu, at a price. 200 miles approx.

SAT. A motorway blast through northern Italy, past Milan and Bologna, stopping only for fuel and a snack. I had impressions of flat plains, burned in parts, with some elegant landscapes of slender trees and red-tiled houses, but concentrated mainly on the antics of the lunatics around me. During the rugby world cup the Italian Premier encouraged the Italians to play rugby the way they drive - they'd be fast, sure, and dangerous too, but what about discipline? In my experience, on a 3-lane motorway nobody will be seen dead in lane one, lane two has a wagon-train in it and lane three is full of 100+ mph tail-gaters. Surviving to pull off at Pesaro, a stylish and glitzy seaside resort south of Rimini, I found a hotel room (Hotel Perticari)with a balcony overlooking the sea. Pizza and wine in a pavement café, a stroll in the old town and then to bed to dream of Alfas and Lancias inches from my rear light. 300+ miles.

SUN. More motorway riding, on down the coast to the Adriatic port of Bari for the ferry to Dubrovnik, passing through more 'typical' Italian landscapes, now mostly brown with sunburned vegetation and plough-land. Bari is a bustling port with motley ferries, big and small, bound for destinations in Croatia, Albania and Greece; it's not a tourist city, and I cruised the entire seafront without seeing a hotel. Asking directions of a couple of parked-up Ducatisti, I was obligingly led at a cracking pace to the Grand Hotel & d'Oriente - imposing and too expensive but I took a room anyway. Sunday is posing and parading day, and that includes the police. They were everywhere - navy breeches to match their navy Guzzis, dazzlingly white short-sleeved shirts, open-faced helmets and shades. A job to die for. Several were women, and take it from me they looked stunning. 340+ miles.

MON. The Dubrovnik ferry sails at 22.00, leaving a long, hot day to while away. Rooms had to be cleared by noon, so I managed to cram jacket, leather jeans and boots into the 2 Givi cases (good job I'd left some space), persuaded the staff to keep them at reception and the bike in their garage until evening, vacated my room and spent the day lightly clad, at temperatures of 30 degrees, in the streets and bars of the old quarter. I also introduced myself to the world of Internet cafes, using a Hotmail account to keep in touch with folk at home.

The ferry was old but securely held together by numerous layers of paint. A one-way ticket for bike and self with shared cabin cost 102 Euros including breakfast. I shared with a lad called Suzuki (yes, really), making his way home to Hong Kong, and found a drinking partner in a US Marine who'd served in Bosnia and gave me some insights into what to expect across the water. I was elated to know that I was actually going to make it to Croatia after all the anticipation - there's always that fear of coming a cropper early on and the humiliation of having to give up. It was starting to feel like a real adventure now.

TUE 23 rd SEPTEMBER. The Bari- Dubrovnik ferry docked at 6am, in the dark. I rode off past a throng of local landladies holding up cards offering 'SOBE' (rooms), and after a couple of coffees in a workmens' café I took a room in Lapad bay, 2km. outside the old town - superb sea views and immaculate, apart from a couple of bullet holes through a glass partition on the balcony. A garage for the bike too, and whilst getting the U-lock from under the seat I noticed a hole where a bolt should be, holding on the Givi rack. Astonishingly, it had lodged in the wiring, complete with washer, and was replaced with an Allen key lent by my landlord, who wouldn't accept it back. A short bus ride into Dubrovnik to walk the splendid walls of the old city, now showing very few signs of the 1991-2 siege, then back to Lapad for a meal at the Pergola restaurant rightly recommended by my landlady.

WED. The Croatian coastline has a myriad islands, and a boat trip is a must. Off Dubrovnik are the Elaphite islands, only three of which (Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud) are inhabited. An 8-hour trip visiting all three, with a grilled fish lunch on the latter and all the wine you could drink all day cost about £14 equivalent. The wooded islands contrast with the stony, barren backdrop of the mainland, and there is an abundance of figs, pomegranates, limes and olives. My co-travellers in the small boat all turned out to be Irish; tapes of Irish music were produced from somewhere and the free-flowing chilled Croatian wine had middle-aged women dancing jigs in the stern by the time we got home.

THURS. Washed clothes, sent e-mails, wrote postcards, swam in the bay with fish around my feet in the clear water, ate cevapcici and drank beer, snoozed, semi-packed and speculated inconclusively about my next destination. A lovely, lazy day. Then later, sitting with a guide book over a sea-food platter and carafe of wine, with a map of the country before me and nobody to please but myself - it just doesn't get better than that!

FRI. Left Dubrovnik on the Magistrala, the Dalmatian coast road, heading north for the destination that had somehow distilled out of my musings the previous evening - the town of Trogir. The road swoops along, twisting and turning to follow the coast and giving dramatic views of the offshore islands. Passed through part of Bosnia Herzegovina where it funnels down to the sea to have its own pitifully short section of coastline, stopping only for petrol. Trogir is one of the finest of the Adriatic towns, built on an island sandwiched between the mainland and a second island, with short bridge links. A welter of palaces, belfries and a maze of narrow streets, with a splendid cathedral - all in the typical creamy stone of the region. Found a room through an agency, costing about £13. Explored the market, ate 'burek' - warm flaky pastry filled with soft cheese - and ice cream. Weather still sunny and hot, but with a breeze to keep things comfortable, so felt smug when Judy told me on the phone of the first frosts at home. 160 miles approx.

SAT. To town first thing for coffee and delicious market-stall chocolate doughnut, then a bus-ride into Split about 20km away. This is Croatia's second city after Zagreb, and grew out of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Visited the cathedral and campanile, then the crumbling palace which has evolved into a complex of houses, churches and chapels. The city bustles with traders and travellers, there is exuberant café life with warrens of narrow streets, a fine airy seafront and a splendid bay.

SUN. Left Trogir, heading north on the coast road - a great ride, exceptionally twisty with a good surface, flanked by scrub trees starting to take on autumn colours and with the bare Velebit mountain range towering above. Decided on Rab island as a stopover, involving a half-hour ferry trip at a cost of £4.50 return, including the bike. My landlady spoke German, so I exercised the rusty remnants of mine and we had a surprisingly successful conversation over glasses of her home-grown rose wine; I was soundly told off for contemplating staying only a single night. Time for a ride around the island and a meal, then to bed to the sound of rolling thunder. 185 miles.

MON. Heavy rain overnight, dry by morning, but the idea of staying another day had taken hold, so decided to stay anyway and explore the island. It is a place of stark contrasts with an arid, lunar landscape on the landward side (in fact, as I'd approached on the ferry I wondered why I'd chosen to go there), but lush and green to seaward. I rode out to admire the sea views, and came across 2 adjacent cemeteries; one held the dead of the Croatian conflict but the other nearly 1500, mostly Slovenian, victims of starvation and violence in an Italian concentration camp situated there in 1943-4.

TUE. A touring French couple on the bus to Split a few days earlier had mentioned 'the best thing they'd seen' on their travels - the Plitvice National Park - so I made it my next objective. An early ferry and a fresh, exhilarating ride back down the coast took me to the mountain road inland towards Gospic - not the most direct way to Plitvice, but I was lured by what the guide book called the 'strange, wild land' en route. A long, winding climb up scree- and scrub-covered mountains in autumn colours with dramatic views down to the islands behind, a plateau on top with long, unexpected straights, flocks of sheep with attendant shepherds, some war-damaged houses and then the descent into an immense, flat valley bottom. Got to Plitvice by early afternoon, found a room, shed my leathers and headed for the park. Its attraction lies in its vast 'staircase' of lakes and waterfalls, the water a vivid light green, clear and teeming with fish. Did a tourist-style visit along a waymarked route, including a boat trip and a land-train. Spectacular sights around every corner, the most stunning being a monster waterfall intriguingly named Veliki Slap. 170 miles - topped 2000 today.

WED. Fancying a walk on less trodden paths but uneasy at the thought of uncleared landmines, I took my landlord's advice and re-entered the park, turning off the tourist trail into an unused area. With binoculars and a snack, I spent an idyllic day mooching along in the sun, observing wildlife and surrounded by silence such as we rarely experience nowadays - just birds, insects and the occasional jumping fish. Came across a deserted hamlet which, I later learned, had been forsaken during the war by its elderly inhabitants, who had no young people to renovate it and never came back. On the bus home I chatted with an English-speaking park employee - a single mother who told me of the difficulties of earning a living wage in the area, of her own hardships and of her fears for her child's future. All with a dignity and lack of envy for the wealthy tourists which at once made me humble and reminded me of how privileged I was.

Indeed, whereas at home kids may ask you how fast your bike is, here they asked me what it cost. On the eve of departure from Croatia, some other random thoughts. The currency is the Kuna, a word meaning pine-marten: in mediaeval times taxes were paid with marten pelts. Apart from the odd foreign tourer, bikes are small and utilitarian; one biker in ten wears a helmet. The ice- cream is of Italian standard, ie. superb. German is spoken much more widely than English. Officially-approved accommodation is handled by travel agencies, but there are plenty of 'unofficial' cheap rooms to be had. Breakfast is not normally provided with rooms but can often be negotiated. Food, drink, travel, petrol and entry fees are all cheap. . A typical meal for me (eg. half-litre beer, grilled fish, salad, bread, quarter-litre wine cost £7-8). The grilled fish is special, as are the bean and pork stew (grah) and cured ham (prsut). People are friendly and helpful, but the language is difficult and I regretted not being able to talk in any depth about the war and the current situation. The Rough Guide to Croatia is thoroughly recommended.

THURS 2 nd OCTOBER. On the 16 th day of my solo tour, 9 of them in Croatia, I decided to head north in a generally homeward direction. After breakfast on a sunny terrace and a chat with my landlord about the local wildlife - there are 50-60 bear in the National Park, commonly seen on moonlight nights on the forest trails, and also wolf and boar populations - I took the road for Karlovac and the Slovenian border. Regrettably, my panniers had no room for the thick honey, plum jam and cheeses sold by old ladies at the roadside. The road out via the Zumberak region was good and twisty, winding through wild country with small-scale agriculture and people tending a flock of sheep, a couple of cows or a few turkeys. Into Slovenia by mid-morning, with impressions of picturesque, heavily wooded landscapes with pretty houses and impressive mountain ranges. The old ladies are now selling mushrooms. Lots of hitch-hikers about yet I'd seen none elsewhere - wonder why? People were helpful - a toll-booth operator told me to 'ride carefully', and when I stopped at a roadside café with no local currency but waving only a 10 Euro note, the two waitresses made it their mission to provide me with as much as it could buy - sausage, bread, fruit juice and coffee.

Circumventing the capital, Ljubliana, I made for the Austrian border and the Grossglockner high Alpine pass. A 17 Euro toll is payable for the bike, but it's worth every cent; your money is charmed out of you by a woman in traditional dress who gives you a couple of commemorative stickers for your bike - a hint that you're about to enjoy yourself. It far exceeded my expectations, with a superb surface and a feast of bends right up to the snow-line. Off on a spur to extensive parking with free 'biker-safes' where you can leave your gear if you want to, and splendid views of the snowy peak above and the glacier below. Other bikes about, and the inevitable exchange of cameras for shots of each other against the dramatic backdrop. Then the descent, almost as good as the climb; I followed that rarity, a well-driven car, for much of the way, and was puzzled for a while by a worrying smell of burning, until I realised it came from his brakes.

Got B&B for 25 Euros in a pension in the immaculate, chocolate-box village of Fusch, and ate venison with dumplings, pear and redcurrants in a Gasthof up the street. 300 miles today, and enjoyed every one.

FRI. An early start, sunny and cold with some mist and condensation at first, but a lovely run on down through the mountains into Germany. Had decided to make for Munich to catch the end of the Oktoberfest; rode straight into the city centre, and very nearly rode straight out again when I found that all tourist offices were closed and was assured by taxi-drivers that the chances of finding available accommodation during the Beer Festival were zero. However, I spotted a small back-street hotel and asked anyway; the owner informed me in fluent English that it so happened that for one night only he had what he described as a 'student room, probably the cheapest room in Munich' (at 40 Euros). Top floor, no facilities, suited me fine. He led me to his personal lock-up garage to store the bike, assuring me apologetically that although his is normally a nation of law-abiding folk, during the festival no vehicle and especially no bike is safe on the street. He illustrated this by recounting an incident he'd recently witnessed involving a convertible parked with its top down and a reveller who needed to relieve himself but couldn't be bothered to find a toilet.

By underground to the festival; wandered the vast site with its stalls and beer-halls, drank steins of Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr and found a rare vacant seat at a table with some German schoolboys who attempted to wind me up with remarks such as: 'Hey, Englander, Beckham is sh*t'. In this they totally failed, so relaxed and good-humoured was I by now, and we were soon bosom pals. In fact, they much admired Beckham 'because he's cool', and were keen to practise their English with me. I made more 'friends' of various races and colours as the evening wore on; the atmosphere was convivial to say the least, and the beer seemed stronger and more flavourful than what they export to us. An event that could seem naff and tacky or the pinnacle of international bonhomie, depending on your mood, but I enjoyed it and bought the T-shirt. 120 miles.

SAT. After a look around the Marienplatz, Munich city centre, and a visit to the twin-towered, brick-built cathedral, immensely tall inside and out and very elegant, I set off by motorway past Stuttgart, Karlsruhe and Baden-Baden, heading for France. Heavy rain forced me to shelter, with other bikers, at a service-station. One of them, a German, quipped that I was presumably used to such weather; I passed him later on up the road and noticed he'd put on an appropriate over-suit, the back of which bore the finger sign with the caption 'Scheisse Wetter'.

Into France, via Strasbourg and Metz to Verdun. Saw an accident on the other carriageway in an urban area, strangely silent because of helmet and ear-plugs, as one car exploded in tatters out of the traffic and left another shattered, with its woman driver's pale face pressed motionless against the window. Sobering. Cruised at 100-110 mph on the peages, and made good time when the rain stopped.

Stayed at the Hotel de la Cloche d'Or where I've stayed previously. It has a good restaurant - terrine of Coquille St. Jacques and veal Forestiere for me - with an affable proprietor who was kind enough to claim to remember me from a previous visit, and treat me to a Calvados. 375 miles.

SUN. The last leg. Off early with the sun up but the temperature down, some mist about and my visor fogging. Put service-station plastic gloves under my summer gloves and donned extra layers, but still had to use toilet hand-warmers a couple of times to restore feeling. Heavy rain set in with blinding spray, but cleared and I made Calais for a 1.15 -ferry - I'd booked an open ticket so as not to commit to a return date. Dry on this side for once, and home to Pandy by 6.15. 487 miles today.

Seven countries and a journey total of just under three and a half thousand miles. The VFR never missed a beat. A real adventure, hard at times but exciting and hugely enjoyable.

A note to Jonathan Rogers - sorry I wasn't back to rehearse you for your test yesterday, but you passed anyway. Congratulations.

 

Tony Morgan.

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A Few Days in France

(September 2002)

On returning from Norway, the Pan needed a service, tyres and slight cosmetic repairs (a new mirror housing). Having had the work carried out, and not being particularly enamoured with the new Pan; I was resolved to keeping the Honda, for a while at least. However, my resolve is not always steadfast. One Saturday I joined my friend Roy on a visit to Bath Road - Bristol, to discuss changing his BMW for a new R1150 RT. In the showroom a K1200 LT caught my eye, being in extremely good condition for a 3-year-old. I was persuaded to take the bike home to Usk, for a test drive. I returned to Bristol with Leah (my wife) on the pillion and her words when we dismounted were "we are not going home on the Honda - are we?"

To be honest I had reservations when I finally struck a deal to change, but I did like the K series and I was ready for a change. As I was off to Ireland the next day on business and had decided before the change to travel on the bike, I would soon know whether I had made the right decision. It is a larger heavier bike than the Pan but as people had told me they do handle quite well. At Fishguard I was apprehensive about loading, as it was wet, however there wasn't a problem and it actually rolls on to the stand easier than the Pan. A week in Ireland and the journey home this time via Holyhead (the scenic route gave me ample opportunity to accustom myself to the BMW.

A couple of runs with Leah on the pillion has confirmed beyond a doubt that for the two of us, this is most definitely the machine. So when the opportunity presented itself for another short break we grabbed it and opted to return to south-west France, where we had visited the previous summer by car. The MCN discount offer with P & O Ferries was very attractive and we went for the Portsmouth / Cherbourg crossing on the Saturday afternoon to return on Thursday from Bilbao.

Saturday the last day in August, we left Usk nice and early arriving in Portsmouth in good time for the 2pm ferry. Allowing time to collect the tickets. We had booked the "fast ferry" which would get into Cherbourg at approximately 6pm local time, giving us a couple of hours to get to our overnight stop near Mont St. Michel. Unfortunately the "fast ferry" turned out to be the "late ferry" and the delay amounted to 1 ½ hours, leaving us with a faster than intended ride to Mont St. Michel in time for dinner. I rang the hotel from the boat to let them know we were going to be late - thank God for mobile phones!

When travelling in France I have come to rely on "Logis de France" hotels, which are essentially three star and normally with very good restaurants. The Gue du Holme near Avaranches did not disappoint. The accommodation was more than adequate the food was exceptional, and the parking was safe.

After a comfortable and restful night we set off early Sunday morning to visit Mount St. Michel and some 10 minutes later we could see in the distance the outline of the beautiful old monastery. The magnificent towers embroidered with gold in the skyline make quite a spectacular sight. Leah remarked how it was so surreal it looked like a Disney fairytale castle, but this was the real thing. It is approached by a road, which at one time would have been a railway to take visitors. Adjacent we found, more than adequate parking. After walking through the portcullis guarded by a huge old cannon we walked through the narrow cobbled streets. Up a steep hill to a small church where Leah bought a small booklet on the mystical stories of the monastery. She has to buy something! We wandered and marvelled so many souvenir shops, a tiny island steeped in history. After a strong coffee it was time to think about heading south, so at 10:30 am we left to continue our journey. As we were walking back to the bike it became very apparent why the parking was so organised and large. There were - literally - hundreds of people making their way to the monastery. And the road to Mont St. Michel was getting jammed with queues. We had definitely done the right thing in visiting early and leaving early.

On to the autoroute and the Beemer really comes into its own. I never thought I'd use "cruise control" on a bike - but I did and it does make a difference. We did mile after mile with little traffic to bother us, just enjoying the sunshine and scenery. Leah claims it's more comfortable than a car, and I have to admit I also find it effortless on the French roads.

Our destination was a small town called PONS just south of Saintes and just off the autoroute. We'd stopped briefly for a spot of lunch and fuel but still managed to arrive at the hotel by 4pm. A bonus being that cruising down the autoroute the big Beemer had averaged more than 50 m.p.g., an aspect I find amazing for such a big machine.

Once again the hotel did not disappoint - the accommodation comfortable and food excellent. However, we had both began to realise that the prices were noticeably higher than last year. We put this down to the influence of the change in currency from francs to the E uro.

Not such a restful night as our room overlooked the main road, but up early and off to our final destination St. Jean de Luz. As we drove South the weather got warmer and warmer and the only heavy traffic around the Bordeaux ring road. We reached our destination around midday and found the hotel La Reserve which was situated on the cliff overlooking the town and bay. After a light lunch Leah could not wait to get poolside and improve her tan - as for me I went for a dip in some large G & T's mixed with a very good book. St. Jean de Luz is a lovely resort, and not too busy at that time of year. We flopped out for a few days taking the odd walk into town.

Thursday morning and time to return came all too soon, as I opened the curtains I saw an unfamiliar sight - rain! I can't say that I was surprised as the weather had changed the day before. It wasn't too disastrous as we were only heading down the road a little way into Spain and on to the port in Bilbao. The LT is easy to pack mainly, I suppose because you have such huge cavernous panniers and top box. Before we knew it we were once more threading our way through the town on to the auto route and heading for Spain - and the heavens opened.

This is another aspect of the Beemer that I think cannot be bettered. The rain lashed down, but we didn't get wet. We safely kept up a decent speed passing some other bikes that had decided it was too wet to continue. A pair of Harleys were moving slowly on the inside lane and looked on enviously as we cruised past. On reaching the outskirts of Bilbao the rain stopped - giving way to bright sunshine, and we arrived at the Ferry port with time to spare. After a while the two Harley's appeared and they were drenched. The one Dutch guy had on a pair of leather jeans, a leather waistcoat over a shirt and sandals on his feet. Whatever turns you on I guess?

In addition to the mad Dutchman there were a few other bikes and a convoy of vintage cars returning to the UK after a tour of the Pyranees. Plenty to look at and admire including my LT, which after 1000 miles, the last 30 in torrential rain, looked amazingly clean.

The boat from Bilbao to Portsmouth is excellent and our cabin fine. From Portsmouth home was pretty uneventful, except that you suddenly became aware of the volume of UK traffic, all over again. Added to which the weather had one last shot at us at as we reached Bristol. Big black clouds loomed, and decided to dump on us all the way back to Usk. Roll on the next trip I say.

 

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The Irish Trip

Six intrepid motorcyclists recently set off on a long weekend to Ireland. On the yearly boys outing this year were Dave Elger, Jerry Haslett, Andy Lamb, Mike Odolet and Stuart (watch out for my aerosols) Walker with a special guest appearance of Richard Millington (not an IAM member but more than competent on two wheels).

The group set off on Thursday night spending night one in Aberystwyth ( yes I know that's not in Ireland), a few social beers and a very pleasant meal were had by all followed by a strange but fascinating, almost circus like display, effectively reducing Dave and Jerry to tears. The speed and accuracy of the display was awesome, the cost of the high tech equipment frightening, I am sure the highly trained performer could make millions if only he would go professional. Myself and Dave were clambering to become his agent, but apparently Stuart was determined to keep his extraordinary collection of aerosol deodorants as quiet as possible.

Maybe it is because Dave and me are 40+ and Stuart a mere half that age, but we could not understand why ANYONE needs one pannier crammed full of various "my God don't I smell good" accessories. From that moment on Stuart was history and Oz (short for Ozone) was born. I digress.

Friday morning, on to Ireland, Dublin to be precise, smooth crossing with the worst on board entertainment ever witnessed this side of the Berlin Wall. Within an hour of landing in Dublin the group witnessed another strange sight, Jerry sprinting 600 yards in full leathers in pursuit of Mike Odolet, we were all convinced he was lost he wasn't, Jerry was close to a coronary, the rest of the group were in hysterics. Why run when you have 1100cc of bike? Strange lad that Jerry.

The entire weekend proceeded in the same vein of good company, good motorcycling, with a dash of hysteria. Believe no-one when they say Irish roads are bad, we had a whale of a time on some of the best roads we have ever seen ( ridden entirely to IAM guidelines of course). And of course the Guinness, Ahhh the Guinness.

Don't miss next years trip, get your name down early for 4 days of constant FUN.

 

Jerry Haslett.
ere...

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A BEER IN PROVENCE

Following last year's Poland trip with a tour of France had seemed a bit tame to start with, but Terry and Lesley, who used to holiday with us but had dropped out for the last two years, wanted to join us again and preferred a gentle re-introduction. Then we had an invitation to a wedding near Paris, the plan firmed up and we decided to combine the two. So, with the VFR having had its 28,000 - mile service and a new front tyre at D & R in Hereford, we set off for Portsmouth on 25 th July with the other two on their FJ1200. The holiday starts with the first beer on the ferry, and there was a good Czech rock band to listen to before turning in - to a 4-berth cabin, all that was available, so it was as well we were already close friends.

Le Havre in the drizzle at 6.45 am isn't the most appealing face of France, but after crossing the Tancarville bridge we turned off before committing ourselves to the motorway and headed for the nearest village, where a café was obligingly open for breakfast. The owner pointed us in the direction of Evreux on D and N roads, as we wanted a leisurely ride. On through Dreux to Chartres, where we stopped to admire the cathedral, then via Etampes to Fontainebleau where the wedding was to take place next day. Our daughters met us, having flown out and brought us some clothes as Judy, my wife, was puzzlingly reluctant to attend in leathers.

The ceremony was followed by the traditional motorised wedding parade around town with each driver's hand jammed firmly on the horn, then the 'vin d'honneur' with bucketsful of champagne at a hotel on the banks of the Seine, and the day merged seamlessly into an evening reception. This was an Anglo-French wedding; I've been to one before and at this one, like the last, I had to pay the price for being a French teacher by doing simultaneous translation of a speech. That stopped me relaxing (ie. drinking too much) until it was over, but people laughed in the right places so it must have been OK. The French go out to drink, not get drunk, and the partying pace is leisurely. We were early leavers, in bed by 2am.

Our friends, who had spent the Saturday sightseeing, reckoned we'd be too hung-over to travel far on the Sunday, but we'd booked a hotel in the Massif Central, so needs must. This was at Le Puy en Velay, a town known not only for its dramatic scenery but also for its lentils. An item difficult to be too enthusiastic about, you'd think, but like all French regional produce it was proudly advertised and sold wherever you looked - we even felt obliged to eat some. Le Puy also boasts an enormous hilltop statue of the Madonna and child, cast out of bronze cannons from the Crimean war. For a small sum you can climb up inside her - which we did, indecent though it seemed - to admire the view. Judy and I also explored the neighbouring Margeride region, a tract of splendid country with twisty, quiet roads and a stronghold of the Resistance movement in the last war.

After three nights in the Massif we headed south for Provence, our main destination. This entailed a spectacular ride down the Ardeche and Rhone valleys, with a stop to take in the Pont du Gard, the three-tier Roman aqueduct which is a tourist trap but still magnificent, and we envied the bathers in the river below as it was now scorching. Watching a black leather-clad Terry toiling along in front of me, I overheard someone say "If I was a biker, I wouldn't come here!" We got to Arles by mid-afternoon and found a hotel with no trouble, then out for a meal - Camargue beef and rice, excellent. The next day we toured the Camargue marshland area itself, and got thoroughly beaten up by the local mosquitoes. Still, the river trip with views of the bulls, white horses, flamingos, avocets, egrets and bee-eaters, then a great bouillabaisse in Saintes Maries de la Mer made the pain bearable.

The headlight bulb on the FJ had blown first dipped beam and now full beam too, so we extracted the bulb and took it to a nearby bike shop, to be told sternly that it was 100 watt and illegally bright, carrying the possibility of blame if the bike was involved in an accident. Terry's light in my mirrors was distinctly yellower for the rest of the trip.

Judy and I wanted to explore the interior of Provence too, and took off next morning first to see Les Baux de Provence, an ancient hilltop village, then on to a market to buy a picnic. We ate this halfway up Mont Ventoux, a mountain I'd imagined to be of modest proportions. Wrong, it's vast and the fuel gauge was not looking healthy. I asked a couple of people who stopped, coming down the mountain, if they'd noticed petrol but they recalled none. I hate turning back, so we pressed on and got to the top (where the chalky scree makes it look snow-capped from below) with the fuel warning flashing. Stopping the engine for a look at the view, I then found as I did once before at a summit that I couldn't disarm the alarm. This is because of the magnetic field generated by transmitter installations I believe, and last time I managed to shield the alarm and de-activate it, but no joy this time. Coast downhill then, alarm blaring, and see who tries to stop you. Nobody, of course! Eventually we were out of range and could start the engine, but not for long because it became obvious we'd not got enough petrol to reach the next village, now signed at 30 km away. Nothing for it but to freewheel down and leave a little juice for the last run-in to the village. Just as well too, as it was up the other side of a valley. To coast without the alarm being triggered by movement, what Datatool call "ferry mode" was the order of the day. I got 205 miles out of that tankfull, excluding coasting, where I'd never seen more than 190 before. A ride through the Luberon, the region celebrated by Peter Mayle in 'A Year in Provence' took us back to Arles and packing, ready to move on to Carcassonne next day.

It was Saturday 3 rd August when we planned to move on from Provence, and the television news spoke of a 'black weekend' on the roads: evidently the move to a 35-hour working week in France has led to people taking more and shorter holidays, and the weather forecast for this weekend was good, indicating a major departure date. So, as we loaded up the VFR and FJ1200 outside our Arles hotel, I casually suggested we might be wise to ring ahead to Carcassonne, our destination that day, as we'd booked no accommodation. Terry produced a list of hotels he'd got from the Internet and I rang the most attractive (ie. cheap & cheerful); before long I was ringing anything, cheap or not, as all was ominously booked up. Finally there was a hotel with two double rooms free, but the proprietress would only hold them until 2pm. I protested that we couldn't make that, so she grudgingly granted an extension until 3.

Abandoning plan A, which was to have involved a leisurely coastal route, we opted for a motorway dash. On joining it we saw what the forecasters had meant - it was jammed, as the world and his wife took unanimously to the roads. A feature so many cars had in common was a lopsided rooftop load bodged on with sticky tape, leaning drunkenly and clearly looking for a biker to fall off in front of. We filtered, we weaved, we blatantly used the hard shoulder, we lost each other! A massive tailback signalled our approach to a toll and, again blatantly, I filtered to the front, expecting to find Terry waiting for us beyond and slightly concerned when he wasn't. Nothing for it but to press on, traffic lightened a bit and Judy and I made Carcassonne centre with half an hour to spare. Our next problem dawned on me some time before our arrival - namely, that I couldn't remember the name of the hotel we'd booked from among so many. Terry had the list but we didn't have Terry! Embarrassed at my own stupidity, or senility, I explained this lapse to a girl at the Tourist Office. Luckily she seemed to find it quite understandable, which is more than I could say for Judy, and produced a list of hotels for me to peruse. Several sounded familiar, she obligingly started to ring around and mercifully the third said yes, they were expecting a Monsieur Morgan. So we got there before the deadline, but still no Terry. We booked in and assured the management that our friends would be joining us 'soon'. We were thankful when they did, both wringing with sweat in the heat, to tell us their tale of woe. Terry obviously has more of the English gentlemanly queuing mentality than I do, as he hadn't felt he could filter past cars waiting to pay the toll and had queued himself. The FJ, being air-cooled, had resented this treatment, over-heated, given up the ghost and had to be pushed through the peage and off the motorway. There it sulked, cooled, re-started and consented to splutter along N roads the rest of the way. A shower, a meal and some beer soon made us all feel better, as always.

The bike seemed to be back to normal next day, except that it had blown all the oil out of its Scottoiler, including that in the touring reservoir. Something to do with abnormal suction in the induction tracts owing to misfiring, we supposed. I have the same system on the VFR and have found it good, but mine too was playing up, presumably through air getting in somewhere; the bottle wasn't topping up from the reservoir fast enough and its level kept dropping.

After a couple of days exploring the stupendous Cathar citadel outside Carcassonne we turned North, destination Perigueux. We were hit by thunderstorms on the way, giving Judy and I the chance to test our newly-purchased Hein Gericke Voyager two-piece outfits - no leaks to report. Somewhere along the way I lost my throttle rocker, a little plastic clip which gives control with the ball of the hand on steady throttle openings; I used it to relieve the wrist and elbow soreness I get on long trips. I assumed someone had nicked it at our last stop, but when I mentioned it to Terry later he told me that at one point he'd seen something tumble along the road behind me. He even added helpfully that he thought he'd run over it. When we got to Perigueux Judy remarked that she'd 'lost' about 20 kilometres somewhere. Does anyone else have a pillion who falls asleep? Is it a tribute to smooth riding? What happens (I ask her) if I have to emergency brake?

Duck and foie gras are the specialities of this region, and we supported local industry to the full during our stay. There was an international festival of mime going on, so plenty to watch from café terraces. The street market was superb: we strolled, ate strawberries, bought tins of foie gras (at a price!) and celebrated my birthday. As I write this now on a wet November day, it's hard to believe it's not a dream!

Next came a one-night stop in Tours, in the Loire valley, with time to visit the cathedral and the old quarter before the final leg of the holiday - we'd booked the last two nights in Honfleur, on the coast and close to Le Havre for the return ferry. Honfleur is touristy but has a good busy buzz about it, with plenty of seafood restaurants around the harbour and lots of art galleries, studios and attractive back streets to wander around. Oysters, mussels, crepes, galettes, cider, Calvados - a northern diet unlike the richer Mediterranean fare of Provence but we managed to live with it, and walked it all off on the coastal paths above the town.

Then comes the return journey, the sinking realisation that it's all over lightened by an eagerness to pick up the threads and check out what we may have been missing at home. The morning run in to the ferry is brightened by crossing the Pont de Normandie, so like our own second Severn crossing but soaring skywards in a spectacular arc across the Seine. So that's it for another year; under 2500 miles this time and a bit tame compared with last year's Poland trip of 3000, but the contrasting areas visited (and the food!) compensated for a lot.

And as for next year? Maybe Greece in September. Anyone fancy coming along?

Tony Morgan

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PAN EUROPEAN TOUR 2003

Having owned in all, three ST 1100 "Pans" I had not been entirely pleased with my first demo on the STX 1300 when it was finally released last year. I therefore had a brief romance with BMW and an affair with an FJR which is still ongoing! However the Beemer had been replaced last November with a shiny new 1300 ABS version of the new "Pan" - but until the start of this tour it had covered only barely 1000 miles (I blame the affair with the FJR). This tour was again organised impeccably by David Jones, the head honcho of the Gilwern Bikers Association. David had arranged the Chunnel out and Ferry return, mapped out the route and also earmarked a couple of stopovers. All the rest of us had really had to do was to turn up with bike and provisions for what was to be a 17 day "Grand Tour of Europe". Also a very nice touch was that George had arranged some polo shirts for us in three different colours and each one embroidered with tour details and individual names,

Wednesday 30 th April - 2003

After much anticipation Gilwern - 13:00 hours on 30 th April was the starting point and when I arrived there was everyone else (David, George, Mike and surprise, surprise, Ben) already on their blocks raring to go. First of all a group photograph and then without any fuss or ceremony we were on our way. The Pan felt good and I had been able to easily stow away all I needed for the trip in the two panniers, top box, tank bag and fairing pockets - with plenty of room to spare. The only difficulty I was having was with my new helmet which was proving to be a bit tight. It had been fine when I first tried it on but the introduction of the autocom ear pieces and microphone had changed all that. In fact as we passed Usk on the dual carriageway I was very tempted to return home for my old helmet. In hindsight I probably should have.

The ride along the M4 was petty uneventful except we had to make a stop for Mike and George to put on their waterproofs. Also Mike seemed to be having some trouble with his autocom as did I for that matter, but my trouble was the location of the ear pieces in the new helmet. The M25 is very busy and some filtering was called for to get through the stationary lines of traffic - thank God I'm not in a car! Our first night's stop is in Ashford within easy reach of the "Chunnel" and after re-fuelling in the local Sainsbury we proceed to the Travel Inn which proved to be adequate. The Pan has done everything asked of it and the weather protection is certainly as good as the "old pan" and if anything the adjustable screen gives it an edge in this department. I am still not quite at home on it yet though, and one thing that is beginning to irritate me (apart from the helmet) is no matter what I do to position the mirrors I cannot escape from the brake and clutch levers obscuring a large part of my rear view. This was a heavenly feature of the "old pan" where the STX 1300 is definitely a retro step.

Thursday, 1 st May 2003

We leave the hotel the next morning fully dressed for rain as although it is not exactly raining it looks as if it could at any moment. David and I have the full "gortex" regalia as has Ben (he learnt his lesson from Ireland) but Mike and George are still relying on plastic waterproofs. The few minutes to the Terminal were uneventful other than Ben dropped his "dragon" (we each carry one of these small dragon mascots somewhere on the rear of our bikes) and as losing it would incur a fine I stopped and picked it up for him. I am the last to arrive but Ben has already missed his dragon and is grateful to me for picking it up. My helmet in the meantime is now proving to be very uncomfortable and I am regretting not stopping in Usk to change it.

The beauty of the "Chunnel" is that it is very quick and before you know it we are in France. David leads off a little gingerly as it is wet and very windy and before long I have taken up the lead followed by Ben and we hurtle into Belgium to the services where we had agreed to have our first stop. The others soon arrive and all is well except my helmet is still giving me some discomfort. A coffee followed by a call of nature and we get ready to leave but now my helmet is even harder to get on and the chin strap is very difficult to do up which now seems to give my friends something extra to laugh about. On we go and the Belgium motorways are not really the most interesting of roads particularly in the wind and rain. Through Lille we all managed to keep together our lunchtime break is coming up and I'm thinking that I will be glad to get this bloody helmet off. It is May Day bank holiday in Belgium with the services quite busy but we're not bothered and have a plain but very welcome lunch. The other guys seem to be quite jovial but when we come to set off again their pangs of guilt finally catch up with them and Ben explains that at the last stop when I was in the toilet they had stuffed paper napkins under the lining of my helmet - no wonder it had felt even tighter. I had to see the funny side of it and the first "little joke" had been at my expense. At least without the paper stuffing the new helmet felt a little bit more bearable.

Off we go again but after a few miles I realise that I have forgotten to plug in my autocom lead so I pullover to the hard shoulder at the same time motioning Mike and Ben to carry on - but they both pulled in with me. As I connect the radio I hear the word "puncture" and sure enough Ben's rear wheel is flat. Lucky thing I pulled in as it was only as he slowed to see what my problem was that Ben realised he had a puncture. Try as we may we could not find a hole so just put in some air and proceeded to the next junction where, as luck would have it, there was a garage with a tyre depot next to it. Even more lucky it was open on a holiday. But even they could not find the puncture and we resolved to using an aerosol foam repair. As I put this into the tyre I could see the foam and bubbles of air escaping through the tiniest of holes so we were able to plug it as well. This repair was to last the duration of the tour.

This now put us behind by an hour or so but we were still able to pass Namur onto a small town called Marche where we found a lovely hotel to stop overnight. We share rooms again and this time David and I are together. We have an excellent but pricey meal. The following morning we take a walk into the town and I am able to buy a head/neck scarf which I wear around my ears and this coupled to some adjustment of the earphones make the helmet much more comfortable. We had parked the bikes overnight in the hotel underground car park and one little characteristic of the new pan which showed itself even more that morning is that she is a bitch when cold. The automatic choke sometimes gives the impression she is not quite on all cylinders - normally this is not a problem but this particular morning trying to exit the uphill corkscrew turn out of the car park she nearly stalled and caused me a nervous second or two.

Friday, 2 nd May 2003

Today the schedule is to take us from Belgium into Luxembourg. We are no longer on the motorway and the roads through the Ardennes have become more interesting. A coffee stop and some photographs before we leave for the German border and once in Germany we stop for lunch which is typical and wholesome food. After lunch we seem to see a lot of Honda Goldwings and when we pass through a small town it is obvious that there has been some sort of Goldwing convention. The roads are getting more and more interesting - our destination for that night is Baden Baden but we seem to be making slow progress due to traffic and I am bringing up the rear. A black BMW car with it's lights on is hovering around behind me, David and George in front are waiting their opportunity to overtake some traffic to catch up with mike and Ben which they eventually do. After a while I do the same and set off to catch them all up. The road straightens out and my lane is clear but there is a flow of traffic travelling in the opposite direction and I glance the end vehicle indicating that he is pulling out to overtake. Initially I think he is going to pass the one car and return to his side of the road but quickly I realise that is not his intention and the car is coming straight at me. I move to the extreme right but still I thought there was insufficient room so on to the grass I went. The car whizzed past and I struggled with the Pan to get it back on the tarmac. All this happened so quickly that all I can remember about the car is that it was red. It was a very close shave and I doubt that I shall ever come closer to a head on collision. But on I went still trying to catch up the others and finally I heard some very familiar voices on the autocom - they are just ahead in front of another long queue of traffic so a quick bit of filtering and I was back with them. There appeared a large Honda garage and the boys indicate to turn in and so we did. I had been contemplating buying another helmet but after my jousting with Helmut the Hun it was the last thing on my mind. Ben was the first to notice that I was a little off colour and when I related the incident to him his comment was that had we collided the car driver would have thought "that was a bloody large fly on his windscreen". It made me laugh and that in itself was probably a good thing. A quick look around the shop and we were on our way -my Shoei was loosening up anyway.

I was not going to be left behind now so I led on to Baden Baden followed by Ben and Mike. A dual carriageway leads us into the town and we pull over to wait for George and David. After 10 minutes or so they arrive and we proceed in single file into the town centre and a lovely place it is but very busy. Also it is not the easiest place to get your bearings and we are struggling to see any hotels - finally we stop to fuel up and David gets some directions to the hotel district and we leave the garage forecourt but it is not easy to get into the traffic flow. David and Ben have disappeared from sight so when I turn a bend into some traffic lights my instinct is to go straight on - this is confirmed by Mike over the autocom but as we pass through the lights we see Ben and David have filtered left - it is too late for us to change lanes. George Mike and I wait to see if Ben and David can re-join us but there is no sign of them nor can we make radio contact. We are on a dual carriageway traffic coming up behind us and it is prudent for us to move before someone rams into the back. This is the dual carriageway that we entered town on and it is some miles before we are able to exit and stop. We ring the others using a mobile and it appears they have found the hotel district but due to there being a business convention in the town all hotels are full and they have been recommended to try at least some 20 Kms outside of town. First of all we have to rendezvous and that in itself was to prove no mean task but meet up we did in the end. We left Baden Baden behind which was a pity really as it probably would have made a very good overnight stop but it was not the end of the world. However we needed to find an alternative urgently as by this time it was approaching 8'o clock lo' and behold we see a "guesthouse/restaurant" on the brow of the hill which looks good and they have accommodation available plus a garage for the bikes. A few beers before a substantial meal and we were all ready for a relatively early night.

Saturday, 3 rd May 2003

The next morning it is hard to accept we have only been touring for 2 ½ days as it felt we had been away for a week already - a couple of times the comment was made that we had another fortnight to go! We had crammed in 700 plus miles in that time! After breakfast we needed to get the bikes out of the garage which was to prove a little awkward on a cobbled stone surface which fell away from you. Riding in the night before had been easy but coming out in reverse not so easy. It was also still damp and I let the pan roll back gingerly until I could move forward and out - David did the same with some support from Mike - George and Ben on their much lighter Thundercat and ZX9R had less difficulty - but it was poor Mike who was last and he lost his footing on the cobble stone to drop the bike on its left hand side. Luckily Mike's Fazer 1000 is equipped with panniers that resemble Delsey suitcases and they cushioned the fall so as to leave no trace of any damage. You could see however that Mike was a bit peeved maybe to be the first to "drop" his bike - but as it was to prove he would not be the last! Finally we move off only to stop two miles later to U-turn as we had gone in the wrong direction. After another 10 miles David and others stop for a photo session but George and I carry on. We have digressed from the days

original route card but are travelling in the general direction we need towards Freiberg. With the aid of autocom we have re-joined the others although David is some way ahead - we catch up with him but he is travelling very slowly so I overtake and lead onto the A5 which is the route we are supposedly taking followed by Ben. At this point I hear Mike's voice over the autocom saying we've gone the wrong way so Ben and I pull over and eventually do a U-turn to go back to the main party when there is total confusion over directions only to finally find that Ben and I had been going the right way in the first place. By this time the others were back on route waiting for us and I overtake and lead on. After passing some traffic lo' and behold I am on my own again and there are no voices coming through the autocom. I know the route so I just stuck to it until I join the Autobahn where I take a steady 65-70 mph to let the others catch up, but there is still no sign of them. Then I see a couple of bikes coming up in my rear mirrors one looks like a red Yamaha the other a green Kawasaki; so I think here come George and Ben - but when the two bikes fly past they are two Germans on an R1 and ZX9R and they really are shifting. I realise the Pan is no match for them but it does make me itch to go a little quicker - little by little I turn on the tap until I am up to an indicated 120 mph and the Pan feels good so maybe I can get some more out of the old girl I think. All the time I am periodically scanning my mirrors as even at that speed there are cars catching me and overtaking me but as my eyes return to the front I glance a red light and my immediate thought is the ABS warning light as David had this problem with his old pan. I slow down and enter the next services as I could do with some fuel anyway. When I pull to a halt I can see it is not the ABS light but the Engine Management warning light. After refuelling and a brief stop to look at the handbook the light does not come on so I think it is just a glitch in the electronic system and I get back on the Autobahn and slowly build up speed again. By this time I am unsure where the other lads are - they could even have overtaken me whilst I was in the services neither could I raise them on the radio. Poligny in France was the destination that night and we had a hotel in mind called the Hotel Paris although nothing was booked. I thought if the worse came to the worse I would see the boys in Poligny that night and decided to press on - not often do we Brits get the opportunity to ride our machines to their full potential and the pan is made for high speed cruising on Autobahn's and the like. Well all Pan's except mine that is! Cruising at a "ton" the pan was smooth and quiet but alas on comes that red light again - I pull over to a parking area and decide to ring Honda (UK). The 0800 number on my Honda warranty card gets me through to a call centre and whilst the young lady (Sharon) is extremely helpful she knows little or nothing about engine management units - she also tells me that I have no European cover on my 6 month old Pan European!! The best she can offer is to ring someone in Honda's Technical Department and ring me back which in fairness the girl does very promptly to tell me the advice is "slow down and find a Honda dealer". Sound advice I thought but it would have been even better if she could have given me the name of a dealer near to me but apparently she did not have access to this information. The bike started OK it ran OK and there was no sign of overheating so I decided to carry on "slowly" and if I happened across a Honda dealer I would go in but if not I would try and make it to Poligny. In the meantime I had managed to get hold of Ben on his mobile to tell him my dilemma. From his description it seemed they were on a slightly different course to me - so off I went on my little lonesome.

German Autobahns are no fun at all at 60 mph and even a little scooter went past me at one stage - how humiliating! After a while I thought to myself that I had not experienced this problem in the UK so 70 - 80 mph should be OK and that proved to be the case. My route took me from Mulhouse to Belfort. I stopped for a sandwich between Belfort and Besancon - it was a lovely warm sunny Saturday afternoon and there were lots of German and French bikes about. Up to this day the weather had been a bit changeable and although we had not seen rain since Belgium I had decided to stay in my gortex trousers but they were now proving to be a little uncomfortable. Luckily there had been ample room in one pannier to store some leather trousers and for sure there would be a change in clothing for the next day. I also missed wearing sunglasses as my normal Oakleys would not fit under my new helmet and I decided to buy a cheap pair with thin stems at the next opportunity.

Besancon proved a little tricky to get around as it was very busy and I had to stop look at the map to get my bearings but I was OK and soon found the N83 to Poligny which is an excellent riders road and I was pushing on all the time until I saw some French speed cameras - but still at 60- 70 mph the road was very enjoyable. I rang the boys one more time and warned them of the speed cameras - it was obvious they were way behind me now as they had stopped a couple of times. I refuelled on the way into Poligny and was given the once over by a couple of French Motorcycle Cop's on BMW's then on to the Hotel Paris where I was able to book rooms for us all - but there was no bar or restaurant - not to worry I have showered and scrounged a bottle of beer from reception before the others arrive. When they finally do flop down to join me it transpires that Ben has dropped the Kwacker in the Hotel car park and damaged one of his indicators but it is easily repaired with a bit of tape.

We eat in a small basement restaurant in the town which turns out to be excellent and then Ben Mike and I have a couple of strong beers at a bar in the square. Soon we also return to the hotel as it has been a long day and the most miles so far at 284 miles.

Sunday, 4 th May 2003

Poligny is on the edge of the Jura mountains and the N5 takes us winding up through some fantastic scenery. I have decided that my limit on cornering is to be when my feet are scratching the tarmac and so it is on the left to right and right to left corners hairpins - switchback - you name it - the new pan definitely handles better than the old one and what's more try as I may I cannot go quickly enough to get the red light on again so all for the moment is well. Mike and I open up quite a gap on the others but even we are made to look standstill when a local SP2 passes us at a good few mph more than we are travelling - no point in trying to stay with him so we just continue to ride quickly but still well within ourselves. We seem to have reached the highest point and are beginning to descend when we turn a corner only to see the most magnificent sight of Mont Blanc in all its glory. A little further on is a stopping place and we have to stop. After a short while we are joined by the others and all cameras are busily clicking. We eventually continue stopping once more for a coffee break - the roads around here are fabulous although they begin to straighten out as we approach our lunchtime destination - Annecy.

It has long been a golden rule of mine when touring to avoid large towns or city centres unless absolutely necessary. Even with autocom systems there is always the likelihood of a party such as ours loosing each other and so it was to be in Annecy. But Annecy was absolutely necessary and thanks to autocom Ben and Mike were soon able to find us at the canal side which is lined with restaurants and a bike park which makes it seem like an up market Abergavenny Bus Station. It was a fabulous setting for Sunday lunch but extremely busy with the weather now turning a lot warmer with bright sunshine - thank God I'd packed my leather trousers.

From Annecy we were to make our way to Chamonix where David had earmarked a hotel for us and this time I think it had also been booked. The roads again are fantastic - we first go along the lakeside on to Ugine and Mageve to St Gervais before joining the autoroute for the final run to Chamonix. All this time in the background are the French Alps which makes it a fabulous journey for anyone but even more so on a motorbike. We enter the town and David seeks directions to the hotel which is very easy to find - as we ride into the car park there is another motorcyclist with a number plate familiar to me. He is Irish from Co. Kildare where I am a frequent visitor - as we unloaded and chat to him his two friends turn up also from Kildare - they are staying in the same hotel so it almost goes without saying that we eat and drink together that night and being all Celts a good time is had by all culminating in an Ireland v Wales v Scotland pool match which Ireland won. I will concede that George was somewhat disadvantaged being the only Scot there.

Monday, 5 th May 2003

The next day there is no sign of the Irish but we are up fairly early as although it is a day off from riding we intend to go up Mont Blanc in the cable car and across to Italy in a gondola. David has done this before but for the rest of us it will be a new experience so despite being a little hung-over and disappointed that the Welsh had lost to Ireland yet again we were quite excited over breakfast and on the bus into town. All that is, except Ben who did seem under the weather. On reaching the cable car we were disappointed to find it was not operating due to high winds and after waiting an hour or so it seemed the situation would not alter. We decided therefore to take the next option and that would be the train up to the glacier. By this time the Irish lads (PJ, Dave and Sean) had joined us again and we all had a laugh. Perhaps the glacier was not quite as spectacular as the original plan but still it gave us a feast of scenery both in terms of the Alps and a birds eye view of Chamonix. By the time we came down it was lunch time - the Irish boys were moving on - we were due for some food and plonked ourselves in one of the many outside restaurants in the town to enjoy a lovely meal washed down with a couple of bottles of wine. We walk back to the hotel through the town and it is four very weary Welshmen and one Scot who make it back to the hotel mid afternoon and all bar David and Ben take a siesta. David and Ben decide to take a short 20 mile or so ride into Switzerland to a café that the Irish lads had told us about. That night only four of us showed for dinner - Ben was unwell still and would take an early night - the rest of us ate again in the hotel with David and George electing to eat a cheese dish called "raclette" which involved a large chunk of cheese being heated on the table by means of a "one bar electric fire" which was great for them but Mike and I had to face the "electric fire" for the duration that gave us faces like lobsters at the end of it. David claims it was his best meal in so far on tour but I think that was due to the laugh he had at Mike and my expense.

Tuesday, 6 th May 2003

This is our 6 th day on tour and we are not yet even half way through the holiday. Yet we all feel we've done so much and seen so many things it is difficult to envisage what more we can do or see but Ben seems fully recovered and raring to go. The answer is quite simple as today we are off to Italy through the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The approach is deliberately corkscrewed to slow down traffic but it has not had the desired effect on a lorry which has shed it's load of steel sheets on the roadside. We carry on and are given a knowing look by a couple of gendarmes but they need not fear as we have no intention of racing through this tunnel as apparently the French/Italian police conspire to time vehicles that look likely to speed through the tunnel giving the culprit an unpleasant surprise on reaching the other side. The tunnel itself is much like any other tunnel but it is about 7 miles long.

We know that we have to leave the autostrada at the 1 st exit after we emerge from the tunnel. I have made some extra notes to the route card that the road we need is the S26 through Pre-St-Didier and onto the St Bernard Pass. I lead on and the beginning of this road has some very tight hairpins and to make matters worse there are road works which means that the road surface on the apex of these hairpins is just grit and shale. I call out a few of these hazards over the autocom and it seems we are all through safely, we also manage to overtake a slow moving truck which has been a nuisance to get past.. We are now climbing all the time but the road is fine - through a town onwards and upwards until turning a corner I see a barrier with the words "ROAD CLOSED" - I call this out over the autocom but I don't think the others believe me until that is they come round the bend and see it themselves. We adjourn to a small car park just below the bend and consider our options as to go back we would either have to return through the tunnel to France or travel much further into Italy on the autostrada which would take us a long way from Val d'Isere where David had hoped we could take lunch. Also it had taken a good 40 minutes to get up this far so it would take at least that long to get back to the tunnel.

As we contemplate what to do we see a 4 X 4 pick up truck coming up the road and when he gets to the barrier he lifts it and drives through - we continue to watch the truck meander up the mountainside before disappearing from view. We all looked at each other and the decision was made to give it a try so through the barrier we went and to begin with the road was fine except for some leaves and debris from the trees which should have suggested to us that the road had not been used for some time. After a few miles we saw a small snow drift which barely covered the road and we all got through without any problems. Soon however we came to another which this time was quite a few inches deep one side and perhaps up to 30 inches deep at the other end. There were however ruts from the 4 X 4 that had gone up before us and we decided to give it a try. Yours truly went first followed by Mike and Ben but David and George didn't fancy it so I went back and brought David's pan through and Ben did the same for George. Having re-mounted my own pan I went on quite a way before coming to a house with the 4 X 4 outside and a guy motioning me to stop and gesturing that there was more and deeper snow ahead and that I would not get through! I radioed this to the others but Ben was up with me anyway and volunteered to do a Tonto. He was soon back saying there was 3 - 4 ft of snow covering the road. Needless to say we turned around as had the others and by the time we caught up David and George they had arrived at the last drift we had come through But also that truck we had seen at the bottom (which turned out to be a snow plough) had come through removing the ruts we had used. Also one of the council workers with the truck was giving poor old David a massive rollicking in Italian. At one stage he seemed to be taking David's number although what good that would have done him I don't know. Amazingly George who had been reluctant on the upward journey volunteered to go first and he successfully negotiated the snow drift. I could tell David was apprehensive and the "Italian rollicking" had done nothing to help so I called out I would go next planning to return for David's pan. I proceed to go where no other pan had gone before trying to follow the path George had taken but I could feel the front wheel lifting out of the rut and the pan went on its side in the snow. It all happened in slow motion really but Ben rushed to help lift the bike and I climbed on board to join George. I was looking over my pan for any damage when Ben and Mike came through and Ben brought David's pan through too - Ben was the hero of the day. I am pleasantly surprised when there is no sign of even a scratch on the pan. The other drift is relatively easy to get through and we scurry back down to the barrier. As we do we hear the sound of two helicopters overhead and I know I'm not the only one thinking it may be the police after us - we keep on going through the barrier and back to the bottom like some kids who have been found out but don't want to be caught.

When we get back to Pre-St-Didier we stop for a coffee and to decide what next? Obviously I am the butt for jokes about pans being good for tobogganing etc. - I am just grateful that I don't have any damage to the bike.

Our dilemma now is that we have wasted a few hours; and should we go back into France or on into Italy? We decide the latter option, the plan being we make up time covering ground faster on the autostrada, trying to get as near to the Mediterranean as possible by evening .

So it was Turin here we come stopping only once for fuel and a quick sandwich lunch at some services. I led but expected to be overtaken by all of the others due to my being restricted to about 80 mph but to my surprise only Ben went past. As we approached Turin I had to slow down for the others to catch up. For me the Turin traffic was not so bad but some comments were made later about cars closing in behind but I think the secret is to go quicker as the Italians all drive fast so if you appear in their way they will come up close and have even been known to nudge someone from behind. David had expressed some concern at the services that I was now the only one with a map of Italy but he needn't have worried as I knew exactly where I was going and tried to make sure that I kept everyone in sight. We needed the A6 south bound and I was keeping an eye out for the towns Carmagnola , Savigliano, Fossano and Cuneo all of which would be off the A6 autostrada. After eventually leaving the autostarda we ended up in Cuneo which was a more industrial type of town but we stopped briefly to ensure everyone knew where we were headed. It was coming up to 4:00 pm and with a bit of luck we could make the Med. Everyone agreed that's what we should aim for with the destination being Ventimiglia which is just inside the Italian border on the Mediterranean coastline. The main road number to look out for was E74 which was to take us through the mountains out of Italy into France and back to Italy. I enjoyed this road immensely - it had all sorts of corners, climbs, drops tunnels - you name it - it was there. But I was soon out in front on my own again with occasional glimpses of Ben. I waited in the first garage I came to in Ventimiglia but when they appeared the convoy kept going so in I followed and we made our way to the sea front, I volunteered to go and find a hotel which I did without problem right opposite a garage and a McDonalds. It was also air-conditioned which helped as it had been very hot in Italy that day with the temperature moving over 30?c at times . The Pan's computer gives out a lot of information - that is - when you can read it. In the bright sunshine we had been experiencing for the last couple of days the display was impossible to read - another black mark for the lady Pan.

Showered and refreshed by a beer from the bar we were all very hungry as little or no food had been partaken during the day. The hotel had no restaurant but the young lady in reception directed us to a nearby establishment which was seemingly family run with the waiter being a very jolly individual who proceeded to recommend this and that but the meal when it arrived did not quite live up to expectations. Having said that we cleared our plates and were ready for beddy byes but still Ben and Mike wanted to walk into town - I think Ben was trying to make up for the night he missed in Chamonix. David George and yours truly went back to the hotel as we were whacked - although we had only covered 259 miles that day bear in mind that mileage was mostly done in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 7 th May 2003

Ben and Mike reported over coffee that the town had been dead but in their walk they had seen a Yamaha and Honda garage just down the road from the hotel. I make my way to the Honda place along with Mike and David and explain to the girl behind the counter the problem I have had with the Pan. She in turn explains to her father who appears to be the proprietor. It seems they would be unable to look at the bike as they were too busy but from my description her father thought that it was not serious and could even be the result of the sudden rise in air temperature causing the engine management system to react. I tried to explain that the problem had occurred in Germany 4 days prior when it was not as hot but I could not make myself understood. Instead I bought a couple of cheap T-shirts a micro cloth and a new visor for my helmet - oh yes I had dropped my lovely Shoei at some services and marked the visor.

We returned to the hotel and prepared to leave - the day was already warming up - I had bought some sunglasses in Poligny that fitted inside the Shoei and now the flip up front was to come into it's own I also did not zip up my jacket to allow more air to flow. All this was to prove very worthwhile as we made our way along the coast to towards Menton and Monte Carlo. Ben and Mike had taken the lead but in doing so must have missed the sign for Monaco and have disappeared - I lead down into Monaco through the main part of the town followed by David and George - the traffic is unbelievable but I am pretty sure of my way down to the front which is a good place to stop. Part of the problem with the traffic is that the streets are being prepared for the Grand Prix at the end of the month but apart from David's Pan momentarily overheating we get down the front and park opposite the café as I had intended to. Ben and Mike though are still missing and we guide them with the autocom - it's coffee time again. It turns out David has trodden on his autocom lead and this is why he has not been on air - I lend him my spare lead so that little difficulty is resolved - we have not negotiated the rental fee though.

We should have learnt our lesson from Monte Carlo but instead we headed straight into the cauldron that is Nice. The traffic is unprecedented and it is stiflingly hot - David wants to make for the Promenade de Anglais and he appears to know where he is going but does not follow the sign for the Promenade de Anglais - he is instead heading for the port and is calling out over the autocom but his transmission is not too clear. I have got into the lane for the Promenade de Anglais and cannot change to follow him - Ben, George and Mike follow me but at the next lights they turn off and I lose them. I make my way round towards the Promenade de Anglais and hear David calling out and at the same time I see him so I call back to him and tell him I am at the lights he has just gone through waiting to join the Promenade de Anglais and if he pulls in I can catch him up. Where the others went to, got to or came from I don't know but after a while I move on only to see Ben going in the opposite direction - further on George and Mike are in the process of doing a U-turn at the lights. Somehow we manage to end up in the same place pointing in the same direction which again we must put down to the autocom systems - this is the first tour we have done with bike-to-bike radios and whilst they are not perfect I dread to think about where we would have been without them on this trip.

Anyway we've got to get out of Nice - what did I say about large towns and city centres? - must avoid!! We consult David's hotel book at the next stop and locate some accommodation in Golf Juan which is just a little way along the coast. After consulting with a tourist information office David, Mike and I find the hotel quite easily - Ben and George take a little longer. The hotel is OK but not the best on tour so far but when I ask for the best room the manager smiles and says Mr Jones already has it. Up I go to my room which is 109 only to find David has dumped some of his things in there and gone back to his bike for more - I look for the key he has left and it is for 112 so I guess that he has gone to the wrong room (all the doors were ajar) - I decide room 112 is for me and I swap keys - would you believe room 112 is huge with it's own balcony etc. I smile to myself when David complains later that his room is very small and it is a couple of days later before I let him into my little secret.

That night we walked down to the front and ate what was to be the best meal to date. The tables we sat on were adjacent to the main part of the restaurant on the other side of the road and overlooked the sea - fantastic. One thing we couldn't get over was a guy on his own who sat on the table behind us had seemingly done a runner without paying!.

Really all we wanted to do that night was go to bed as although we had only covered a grand total of 48 miles it had been an exhausting day - but Ben wanted to go to this club so Mike and I went with him but laughed when they would not let Ben in as he had shorts on - he! he!

Thursday 8 th May 2003

Our destination today is a small town called St Gilles near Nimes(Perrier water country) in the Carmargue area David has seen, in his book, a "restaurant with rooms" which is highly recommended and five rooms are booked for us that night.

First we are leaving Golfe Juan and there seems to be some confusion as to which route to take I am not keen on taking the coast road as we need to make sure we don't fall behind. It ends up George and I take the middle road to Frejus and St Raphael the rest poodle around the coast which results in George and I having an hour on the front in St Raphael to while away the time. After that St Tropez is on the agenda although it is to take us a good hour but we have lunch there and then head back to St Maxim to pick up the auto route - A8 to Aix en Provence.

We need to get on but all except Ben are very slow particularly as I am still restricted to about 80 miles per hour. What the hell - everyone knows where they are going and I get to the hotel at about 4 o'clock but go past into St Gilles to get petrol. I am just going back to the hotel when Ben rings me to say he is in St Gilles having a beer so back I go to join him. We also contact the others who are about to arrive at the hotel so Ben and I drink up and go to join them. The rooms although basic are fine and we are all eager to wash and change to go down to the restaurant. We are not disappointed as the food is magnificent - George and I have the "Royal Plate" as a starter which consisted of 16 oysters, 16 mussels, 16 King prawns, a whole lobster and a host of other shellfish. Mel's in heaven and this is definitely the finest meal of the entire tour.

Friday, 9 th May 2003

We are now a day ahead of schedule as we did not stay in the Nice area for two days as originally planned. I wish someone had suggested we stay in the Carmargue for two days instead, if only to enjoy another meal in "Le Flaumant Rose" as I would have definitely seconded that motion - no one did - and I didn't think of it either - too late now.

Instead we are leisurely moving across the Carmargue towards Nimes to join the auto route - A9 which is to take us past Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan. As I join the A9 I am mulling over in my mind what the Italian Honda dealer said, but when I attempt to go faster the red light comes on again and I pull into the first services which was on the agenda anyway as a coffee stop. I decide to ring Honda (UK) again in the hope as it is a week day I may be able to get some more help particularly the name or telephone number of a dealer in the area. This time I spoke to another helpful young lady called Debbie but the advice was the same as given previously. So I was governed to 80 mph for the duration of the tour it would seem. By the time I got to Pepignan I was very glad to leave the autoroute not because of my self imposed speed limit but because it was so windy, at times I thought I would be blown off. Ben had gone on and I suppose without panniers he was slightly less susceptible to cross winds. Mike and I stayed together rarely going over 70 mph whereas David and George had fallen behind, David, who does not like cross winds at all, later told me he'd gone down to 50 mph in parts, and frankly I didn't blame him.

We began the climb out of France to Andorra together but it was not before very long Ben Mike and I had left behind both David and George who appeared perfectly content to bring up the rear. The road has a good surface with plenty of twists and turns, here the new Pan was well able to keep up with the Kawasaki and Yamaha - my feet are scuffing left and right handers and I am enjoying myself, I believe Mike and Ben are also. We stop at a small town at what looks like the nicest place for food. Lunch is adequate, but after the last evenings meal nothing was going to compare well. After some banter at the table we leave in the same formation as we arrived, and continue the climb to Andorra the same three front riders elect to ride over the mountains rather than through the tunnels. The roads are open so you can plan your lines and approach well ahead. On approaching Andorra there is a long queue of cars in the opposite direction undergoing a customs search, not a good prospect for us when we leave I thought. As we hadn't seen either David or George for some time we stopped at a small bike shop to wait for them. I had heard about the prices of goods in Andorra that they were extremely cheap for bike clothing and accessories but, this was not the case in this particular shop. Mike contacted the others who were a good way behind us even though they had come through the tunnels - they must have stopped I guess. However they soon arrive and we all continue on to the town of Andorra. It isn't long before we are booked into a hotel with a garage - so all is set for a night in Andorra, and tentative plans made for a second night there also. On that presumption I get ready and decide to wash my union Jack shorts and hang them on the balcony of my room which overlooks the busy street. As I am ready before the others I just nip out to look at my Union Jack only to be just in time to see them blown off in the wind and floating down to the street. They don't get far - instead they land on another balcony of a room that appears to be unoccupied - just as well! I rush to reception just as Mike and David are negotiating an extra night, to declare a National emergency regarding my shorts! This lovely girl in reception must think I am mad but she obliges by coming out into the street to see what all the fuss is about and then she goes to retrieve them for me - what an angel! With my shorts safely back in my room I go down to the bar to meet up with the boys, and we into town to find some food. We end up somewhere cheap but cheerful and the food is fine, and we enjoy our customary Mickey taking and banter. Next on the agenda is a trip to a club where Ben and I take on the local dart champions on an electric board.

Saturday, 10 th May 2003

We are not pleased when we find out from a different girl on reception that we can't stay an extra night as the hotel will be full. A pity we did not know the night before as we wouldn't have made such a late night of it. To compromise we decided to walk off the alcohol and delay our departure until we have to check out at midday. A brisk walk around the town which incorporates a shopping spree (more T-shirts for me) and a couple of mugs of strong coffee with a snack and we were ready to go. There is also a garage at the entrance of the hotel car park so we fuel up enabling us to leave with the intention of covering a fair amount of miles that afternoon. However imagine our frustration as we ride out of Andorra towards Spain and we see at least six, maybe more bike shops- we don't stop as we could not visit just one shop and not the others but for anyone planning a trip to Andorra the bike shops are on the Spanish side. There is some traffic near the border with Spain but nothing like we had seen coming in from the French side. We glide past the cars and on through customs without any hitches.

The road down to Lleida is a little like the Builth to Rhyader to Llangurig road but the scenery is more like a Spaghetti western plus we followed the edge of a lovely lake for quite some time. Reaching Lleida we join the autostrada to go to Saragossa and beyond. We go on to Junction 19 where we need the N122 which will eventually take us across country to Burgos. Somewhere along the way I have lost the others - again. I wait after the tolls under some shelter out of the sun. I am having even more trouble with my helmet. The ratchet holding the visor has come loose and I have lost one of the plastic screws. I remove the visor and ratchet completely to rely on the Pan's screen and my sunglasses for protection. After these running repairs It is not long before I hear some chatter on the radio and I see David leading the others up to the booth. There appears to be some commotion and traffic is building up behind with one or two cars tooting their horns in protest at being delayed. The toll man is out of his booth and taking David's number but finally they are let through. It turns out that David had lost his ticket causing much confusion before finally the toll man agreed he could pass through only when he had paid the same toll as appeared on the other riders tickets. For me as a spectator it was like a scene from the Keystone Cops. We had a quick conversation regarding how long we should continue to travel before we needed a bed and decided an hour or so should do it. Approximately an hour later we leave the main drag and turn into a town called Tarazona but surprise, surprise we cannot find a hotel. On we go to another town called Agreda and we see a hostel (which I think is a truck drivers stop) it looks interesting and they have rooms and a garage. Also it is very cheap at €29 per night. You know what? The rooms are fine and I would recommend them to anyone but what was even more of a surprise was the 3 course "top" menu at €25 which was absolutely delicious with the main course being a very generous portion of hake cutlet and free wine luuvly jubbly! An early night suited us all as we needed to catch up on some sleep missed in Andorra.

Sunday, 11 th May 2003

The next day we should be able to complete our journey to our final destination - Comillios. It is no time before we are in Burgos and once through the town we stop for fuel and coffee. After that we are back in the hills and the roads are great again. On we go and this time Mike and Ben have swapped bikes. Ben has wasted no time getting used to the Fazer but somehow Mike doesn't seem quite as comfortable on the Kwacker. Just as well Ben didn't ask me for a swap as you'd have to winch me on and off the ZX9R. Still the three of us open a gap between us to David and George. So it continues until lunch time when we stop in a small village at what appears to be a pleasant bar cum restaurant. On TV is the 250CC race from Jerez Grand Prix and it seems to be won by a Spaniard. David and George take the customary 15 minutes to catch up. Lunch is fairly plain compared to the transport café from the night before and it would have helped if the waitress had even a smile for us. A pity as we were closer than I had thought to a place we had stopped on a previous visit and had a lovely meal. Not to worry we are in easy reach of Camillios now and stay on the main road until the autostrada which takes us virtually all the way. Again Mike, Ben and I have broken away from the others and we arrive at Casa de la Castro late afternoon and are able to get three rooms that overlook the town and the monastery. David and George are 15 minutes or so behind us but soon we are all settled in and meet outside for a beer.

We have completed the route a day early having covered 2,439 miles.

The Casa de la Castro is a lovely old Parador now in private hands and not only have we stayed here before but it was the same girl on reception. That night we are all off down town to the Filipino bar which serves delicious food at excellent prices. George who had been such an asset in France with his fluent French came down to the same level as the rest of us with his "pigeon" Spanish. So much so that he managed to order two fried eggs and rice for his starter followed by sausage (chorizo) two fried eggs and chips for his main course - mind you I can talk as I had fish soup to start followed by sausage (chorizo) and bean broth as a main course. After a few drinks we agree to walk to another hotel to meet some ex colleagues of David's - Paul x 2 and Richard. David and I walk back to our hotel after a chat with "old" Paul whilst Ben and Mike go off for a few extra drinks and show "young" Paul and Richard what little night life Camillos has to offer in May.

Monday, 12 th May 2003

This was to be a complete rest day as none of us particularly wanted to cover any more miles for a little while. I had decided to venture into Santander to see if I could get some bits for my helmet and possibly a "second opinion" on the Pan's engine management problem. The young lady in reception gave me exceedingly good directions but to the Yamaha garage, never mind I was ay least able to get the bits for the Shoei and what's more they did not charge me anything! I was also able to wash the Pan in one of those power wash booths so when I re-joined the boys at a bar in Camillos it was nice and shiny again. I too wanted to rest from the bike and returned to the hotel with the Pan only to see one of it's relatives roaming the streets as if lost. I stopped to ask if I could help with directions but the couple who were from Yorkshire were just looking for a place to stop for lunch. After leaving my bike at the hotel I walked back into town and again bumped into the "Pan couple" and exchanged some experiences - this guy is even thinking of reverting to another "old" Pan so disappointed is he with the new one! Anyway I leave them to their lunch and re-join my old cronies who have now settled themselves down at a table outside another bar/restaurant. Lunch as we have become accustomed to in Spain is a very good experience - washed down by a bottle or two of wine but this time between three of us as Ben and Mike have decided to go for a short run on the bikes in the afternoon. George David and I make our way back up the hill to the hotel and take a well earned rest. I take time to fix my helmet using some glue on the plastic screws to make sure they do not come undone again.

That night we have arranged to meet David's friends at the Filipino at 8:30pm for dinner and a good night was had by all. To give some idea of cost we ate well and drank copious bottles of wine and beer with the total bill for eight coming to only €108 (say £77 - less than a tenner each!). At the end of which David and I walked up the hill to the hotel, "old" Paul went back to their hotel along the beach but the other five scoundrels went on the town again!

Tuesday, 13 th May 2003

Rain had been forecast in the night and sure enough it was drizzling this morning. We planned to take a trip into the Picos Mountains but George elected to stay behind and rest (he's already covered this route on a previous visit anyway) so it was just four of us who set off that morning. Initially there was some confusion about Mike and fuel but eventually we got off with David leading the way and showing us all a clean pair of heels (we were to tease George that night that David set a much quicker pace without George shadowing him). The others have been on this route before but for me it is my first time and I have to wait for Ben and Mike in St. Vincente as I am unsure of the route that David has taken. They pass me and after a while I have slipped behind as a result of some traffic and they get so far ahead that I have lost radio contact too. Not to worry I know that they are heading for "Potes and Panes" and I see the sign for Panes. The road is taking us up through an unbelievable gorge twisting and turning it is really fantastic to ride through. Eventually I hear a familiar voice and I think they are not so far ahead - sure enough as I enter Potes I see them ahead at some traffic lights. Here we stop for some breakfast which is "bacon and eggs" for a change.

We now head on to Riano which David tells us is a new small town built to replace an original town which was flooded to create a reservoir. It seems at the time it was not a popular move and a lot of the old residents did not take up the new accommodation being offered preferring to move away completely. The roads again are typical with a good surface which means both rider and machine are able to perform well. The approach is quite stunning and the lake formed by the flooding a lovely blue against the green foliage background. It was a bright sunny day by this time as the rain had cleared long ago. A short stop for a sandwich and a drink of water and we are beginning our return journey which now takes us off the mountain and down another gorge which is equally as impressive as the one we had travelled up that morning. At one stage I saw a sign for Cangas which said 18 kms but by the time we got there is felt like 80 kms due to the twisting and turning that we had to do through all sorts of bends and having to keep a watchful eye out for the odd goat on the road. We had stopped for a coffee at a particularly magnificent ravine and waterfall when knowing that Ben by now would be running low on fuel I could not resist the temptation when he went t o the loo to turn off his fuel. I think this created the required panic attack a couple of miles down the gorge although he quickly realised it was someone getting his own back!

After Cangas we link up with the main road again and we have not travelled very far when we see police motorcyclists moving traffic over and bringing everyone to a halt. It transpires there is a major cycle race heading our way and very impressive it is too - first there are more motor cyclists and a couple of cars before we see the leading pack which consists of about four riders with motorcycle camera crews following them - then after about fifty metres the main pack containing must be a couple of hundred bikes follow again accompanied by motorcycle police and camera crews - finally the whole entourage of support vehicles which is massive again trailed by motorcycle cops all of whom are on BMW 1150 RT's. The whole procession is quite an impressive sight at what seems a furious pace and I for one am glad we were able to see and photograph.

It is not far now to the autostrada that will take us along the coast and back to Comilios but before that we are descending a hill with a queue of traffic approaching on the opposite side of the road when out pops not one but two"kamakazzi over takers" who pull out of the traffic and come straight at us. Luckily this time there is enough of a hard shoulder for us to move onto but I began to have that déjà vu feeling and I figure there must be a phenomenon amongst younger drivers which gives no respect or right of way to oncoming motorcyclists. It is certainly something extra I shall now take into account on the continent and the UK roads for that matter.

Anyway we arrive safely at the hotel and tonight we have decided to take our meal at the hotel. Surprisingly George is not there to meet us but a quick phone call finds he is on his way up the hill and he is soon sitting down on the patio having a beer telling us what a wonderful time he's has in town that day and in fairness it does sound as if he's had a good laugh. The meal that night is somewhat disappointing but more so the service is not good - in fact everyone save the night porter has disappeared at 10 o'clock. Just as well we are all shattered and don't mind the prospect of an early night. At least we don't have to walk up that hill again.

Wednesday, 14 th May 2003

This would be our last full day of the holiday and we had decided to go along the coast road as far as Lastres stopping where and when we felt like it. The coastline of Northern Spain is quite beautiful and much underestimated by us Brits who always prefer to make a dash for the south and virtually guaranteed weather. In May however we were seeing mid 20's and better and the wonderful beaches were clean and deserted. None of us were dressed for the beach as we were more interested in sight seeing the fantastic roads plus a nice lunch if possible. The latter we found in a small quayside restaurant in Llanes that had been decorated to resemble the inside of a ship. As normal it was excellent and reasonably priced.

David had by this time developed a bit of a head cold despite the day before and that night robbing Mike of any medicines he had brought. I had also sought out a Pharmacy in St. Vincent during a coffee stop and bought some more medication for him. It was all to no avail and poor David was definitely suffering.

After lunch we decided to head back down the autostarda and get back to Comillios at a reasonable time. Ben and Mike were up for one last blast plus yours truly couldn't resist the temptation but true to form the red warning light came on again. She definitely does not like any sustained high speed on the autostarda that's for sure. This time I do not even stop but merely slow down into the inside lane flick the bike into neutral switch the ignition on and off and the light goes out back through the box to fourth then fifth gear and away we go but more slowly. Back at the hotel we sit outside and have a couple of beers and reminisce over the day and the holiday as a whole. We adjourn before making our way down town for our last night at of course the Filipino bar where again we eat and drink our fill before David finally gives up the ghost and says he's for an early night - I think the cold was getting him down - to be followed fairly rapidly by George. All that's left is the three wise men and as we do not need to leave Camillios very early the next day a good night is in order. We have a few more drinks at the Filipino bar before Mike finally decides its time for him to go up the hill. Ben and I go to another bar hopefully to play "bar football" but there are already some locals playing and we move on to the "Kiwi Bar" where we pretend to be New Zealanders and earn a couple of free drinks as a reward. We have a bit of fun with some locals but it is not too long before we too are winding our way up the hill to the hotel.

Thursday, 15 th May 2003

On his day off George had managed to wangle "bacon and eggs" at the hotel for breakfast so for the second consecutive morning we were able to start the day off in true style. Over breakfast Mike and I decided we would go into Santander to the Yamaha garage to get a bolt to hold his petrol tank on as this had worked lose at some stage and popped out. At the same time the others would make their way to the Ferry Terminal but congregate further along the coast where there was a bit of a beach. So Mike and I went off and sure enough we found the Yamaha garage, who supplied, and this time fitted the bolt free of charge - we were also able to visit the pressure washer and clean the bikes thoroughly. To get to the Ferry terminal we rode through the old town which was a little tricky due to very steep narrow and damp cobbled streets with extremely tight turns. A trials bike would have been more in order not a fully loaded up Pan and Fazer. We were grateful when we eventually dropped down to the main stream city centre traffic and towards the ferry terminal. We rode past the terminal and it was obvious there was no boat in yet so we continued along the front to look for the rest of the gang. When we come to a fork in the road we took a right to continue along what we thought would be the coast but after awhile we saw no sign of the others so turned around - we also could not raise them on the radio - I suggested to Mike therefore that we go to the terminal to check in and wait for them there as time was going on and it wouldn't be long before they would have to do the same. So that is precisely what we did only after checking in to find that there was up to a three hour delay and that we could not exit with the bikes. We made our way to the queue of bikes already lining up near the terminal building and rang the others on their mobiles to tell them not to rush and find themselves in the same predicament as Mike and I. By this time we had also found out that the terminal building itself was undergoing a complete refurbishment and you could not even get a cup of coffee.

I began to talk to another guy with a Welsh flag on his bike who turned out to be from Abergavenny - his name was Gordon and as he was on his own Mike and I invited him to stroll across the road with us for a coffee. This we did and found a table amongst several other bikers who'd had the same idea. Gordon turned out to be a very interesting character who was still biking on a ZZR 600 at 70 years of age!! Now this made my day as David had repeatedly reminded us on tour that he was nearing his 65 th birthday and that he hopes some of us could be riding as well as he at the same age. Now here was a man at least 5 years his senior who claimed he was covering 3 - 400 miles a day without any fuss. In fact he had just completed a holiday with his wife in Southern Spain - dropped her in Malaga airport (in a taxi) and then made his way to Santander all on is own. Apparently Mrs Gordon had some years prior given up riding pillion but Gordon talked as if he would never stop riding.

Eventually we strolled back to the terminal just as the rest of our crew were riding past. By this time there must have been a couple of hundred bikes in the queue but amazingly not that many cars. Soon after we were loaded and as a result Mike and I were a good bit further down the gangway than the other three. There was little or no help to tie down the bikes and also there seemed to be a shortage of ropes. I was glad therefore that I had my own ratchet and strap which I had learnt to carry following my first trip with David who I knew carried a couple of ropes with similar ratchets. I think he actually loaned one to Ben but George and Mike had to beg some rope and eventually tie their bikes down. I ended up helping a damsel in distress (with a Fazer 600) to tie hers down too.

We had booked three double commodore class cabins which have beds rather than bunks and are much roomier and civilised with TV fridge etc. All agreed that David as the organiser should have the room on his own - or was it because no one wanted to catch his cold? Dinner was arranged for 7:30pm and I for one used the balance of the afternoon to rest. We again all wore our formal polo shirts this time in mauve - except Ben who'd been told by someone to wear blue - tut tut! After dinner was beddy byes for me as I do not think I have the stamina these days for two late nights on the trot. The others also did not have a terribly late night although there were stories the next morning that the other bikers on board had almost provided their own cabaret in the main bar.

Friday, 16 th May 2003

After breakfast Ben Mike and I went to the cinema whilst George and David did some shopping. We had arranged to have lunch in the cafeteria where we finally saw Gordon again who expanded even further re: his exploits on two wheels which confirmed even more that he was an extremely interesting and well travelled motorcyclist indeed. He is definitely a loner though and must be respected for that although I must admit I for one would be more than happy in his company if only to benefit from his vast experiences.

Before we know it we were packing for the final time and then loading the bikes to depart the boat which was a little later than scheduled but some time had been made up on the crossing as conditions had been quite calm.

In Plymouth the culture shock began and it was cold and threatening rain. All these bikes coming off the ferry at once causes some confusion but eventually we are on our way through the city and onto the A38 and everyone seems to have negotiated the many speed cameras that line the exit to Plymouth.

I am purring along at the speed limit and get passed by Ben but no sign of the others and no radio contact either. I get overtaken by everything from Hyabusa's down to Gordon on his ZZR 600 although it is fair to say that everyone is being a little cautious about their speed. Ben has pulled over and I motion to him that I am going to keep going as we have provisionally arranged to have a stop at Sedgemoor Services. Around Exeter the rain starts and it pours - a lot of bikes are pulled over on the hard shoulder under bridges putting on their waterproofs. My jacket is OK and despite my leather trousers the Pan is keeping me dry. On I go to the services and I decide to wait outside but 20 minutes later there is still no sign of them or any radio chatter. I decide to move on but the rain is still coming down and so it does until about the Severn Bridge and it is cold - welcome back to the UK I think. The M4 is busy and from Magor onwards it is about standstill so I eventually take to the hard shoulder as I am leaving at the next exit for the A449. Soon I am turning off for Usk and I am home - my wife Leah opens the door and comes down to help me unload but she is beaten by Rizzo our Jack Russell who does everything but jump up on the tank. Home sweet home! It turns out the boys went on to Gordano Services instead so I did not see them again which is a great pity, as it would have been nice to just say cheerio.

Conclusion

The tour was well organised and we completed the route a day early. We all learnt even more about touring on the continent not least to pay particular attention to oncoming traffic. I personally have also returned with mixed feelings about the Pan. It has awesome touring capability but Honda in my opinion have failed to retain that package that the old Pan had to do all the basics right and in doing so install total confidence in the machine. The new Pan needs to have some rough edges smoothed over. In particular the mirrors need resiting as the flash of the sun shining on the levers gives the impression that there is a bike immediately behind you plus the gauges are impossible to read in bright sunlight. As for the electronics there does appear to be a fault in the fuel/exhaust system and to date no one seems prepared to rectify this problem. Honda (UK) dealers seem to be a little like the NHS - plenty of patients but no beds. Maybe I shall divorce the Honda and marry the FJR?

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SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS 

I have been on a number of foreign tours riding solo as part of a group but the opportunity came for my wife and I to finally try a bike touring holiday during my daughter's school trip.


Sunday 24 th July
We waved the school bus away at 7:30am, my wife Wendy looking as if she would start crying at any time as i tried hard not to show my delight. I did think about us already wearing our bike clothes to the school but decided it might look like we were rushing her away on the school trip, so instead they were all laid out at home.


Getting to Fort William


With heavy rain to start and heading north the omens did not look too good at this stage. Wanting to get there reasonably quickly but also hoping to see some sights we used mainly the A roads but by-passed the heavily congested areas by using the Motorways.
The A49 took us to Shrewsbury for our first cuppa where we provided onlookers with much entertainment whilst removing our waterproofs; i suppose we did look like aliens in this garden centre café. Moving on to Whitchurch and heading for Warrington I finally had to relent and used the M6 getting off for the Lake District and Newby Bridge .
Riding along Lake Windermere proved slow going with the heaviest traffic we endured all trip then over a rather disappointing Kirkstone pass and along Ullswater to Pooley Bridge for our first nights B&B accommodation. Distance - 273 miles


Monday 25 th
Dry weather and we were away at 9am using the M6 from Penrith to Carlisle , things getting better on the A roads to Dumfries and Kilmarnock with slow moving vehicles spaced out for easy overtakes.
Following signs for Glasgow we skirted around the west of the city through Paisley and over the Erskine Bridge noticing the contrast of high rise housing in Glasgow towards the east and the Highlands in the distance. Feeling as if we were at the real start point it was onto the A82 alongside Lock Lomond taking a well earned rest at Inverarnan in the Drovers Inn.


Drovers Inn

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Built in 1705 the Inn was used by the Highland drovers on their way to the markets in Glasgow . On entry to the reception area you are faced by a full grown, stuffed Grizzly Bear and assortment of other animals and an impression that little has changed over the last 300 years.

 

Drovers Inn


During the final push of the day neon road signs warned drivers to expect delays ahead due to roadwork's and holiday traffic, but I can't say they held us up too much as we filtered to the front and made steady progress through the dramatic location of Glen Coe. Finally we reached Fort William the largest town in the Highlands , finding our accommodation with ease where we based ourselves for the next three nights. Distance – 236 miles



The Highlands


Tuesday 26 th
A day off the bike, so with the intention of walking Ben Nevis i had posted my walking gear ahead of us to the B&B rather than use up essential luggage capacity.


Ben Nevis - Britain 's highest mountain has a summit of 4,406ft (1,344m). The mountain begins its rise from the shores of Loch Linnhe so the ascent is virtually the full height from sea level to the summit over a distance of 10 miles.

 

Loch Linnhe

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The views up to 3500ft were wonderful being able to look across the dozens of other peaks within sight and taking every opportunity for pictures. The mist then reduced visibility and made things much colder. Total walk took almost 5 hours, but later in the visitor centre i was humbled to read the record is less than 2 hours.


During the evening we opted for the entertainment of McTavish's Kitchens. Initially we thought the sole piper to be worth the entrance fee, until we heard the tremendous sound of the highlands band making their way along the main street. If only we had gone window shopping instead that evening!


Wednesday 27 th We spent this day exploring the surrounding area without having to carry the luggage. Firstly we rode along Glen Nevis which is a single track leading to a parking area for all those that want access to walking routes and climbing.
Next we visited the Ben Nevis Distillery which was easy to find as we could smell the whisky from some distance. Established in 1825 this was an interesting visit around one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland . From here we travelled just a few miles to view Neptune 's Staircase.


Neptune 's Staircase - In 1803 Thomas Telford was appointed Chief Engineer when Parliament commissioned the building of the Caledonian Canal . Taking nearly 20 years to complete the canal runs from Loch Linnhe on the west coast to the Moray Firth on the east via Glen More, so that sailing around the dangerous north coast could be avoided. A system of four canals linking three lochs over a length of 96 km, it is controlled by a series of 9 gates and 8 locks hence the name Neptune 's Staircase.


After approx 3 hrs we were still within the area of Fort William but soon covered some distance on the wonderful “Road to the Isles.” A 40 mile ride on the A830 through Glenfinnan alongside the famous 21-arched Viaduct (as shown in the Harry Potter films), enjoying wide sweeping bends to the quaint fishing port of Mallaig with a view of the Inner Hebridean islands.
After relaxing for a while we retraced a few miles before turning off on the A861 for the scenic route around Glenuig and Kinlockmoidart. This is single track but nevertheless good road surface as we made our way back the long way round along Loch Sunart, Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil. Although within sight of Fort William this area is very remote as it takes approx 2 hours to reach when driving around the Lochs, the only other option being the ferry across from Ardgour to Corran.
Wanting to pack for an early departure the following morning it was back to the B&B to get ready for the next destination. Distance – 170 miles


Thursday 28 th
With a long day ahead and hoping to arrive at a reasonable time we were away by 8am travelling northwards on the A82.
Within 15 minutes whilst passing through Spean Bridge on a tight left hander we came to a car on its roof with the music blaring, wheels still turning, driver hanging out of the door and the passenger dazed but walking around. First on the scene was a car driver travelling in the same direction as the accident victim, and we arrived next in the opposite direction. Thankfully the victim had already been placed in the recovery position so it was a case of stop the traffic, get an ambulance on its way, try to get a response from the victim and reassure the passenger.
Slowly the Paramedics recovered the victim to the extent where he regained consciousness. All traffic respectfully waited for the scene to be cleared and the Police to start directing them through. Unfortunately one bike could not wait and came filtering from the other direction, managing to avoid the debris as he passed a scene that looked as though there must have been a fatality involved. Personally I felt utter contempt at the actions of that rider, but had some reassurance of British principles when I recognised the number plate – lets just say it was foreign.


On our way again at 10ish it was a struggle to put the scene out of my mind and concentrate on my riding, but i then started to relax as we neared Invergarry taking the A87 to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
At Shiel Bridge we took the scenic detour along single track over some steep inclines leading down to the shore of Gleneig Bay.

The two main routes onto the Isle of Skye are the ferry from Mallaig to the southern end and the Skye Bridge to the northern end, but there is a little known ferry crossing, reputably the last of its type in the world where the upper deck swivels around to accommodate rolling on and off. This operates during the summer months only and crosses when there are enough passengers waiting.

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After waiting for 30 minutes and paying our £4 we boarded with three cars and four cyclists and were soon over onto the Isle of Skye . Continuing on un-named roads to the A87 we departed Skye on the un-tolled bridge over the Kyle of Lochalsh and into the area of Wester Ross where we continued north on our second little detour.


The sign said “Often closed in winter,” which fuelled my interest as we aimed for Applecross over the UK 's highest road pass “Bealach Na Ba,” (Pass of the Cattle).

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This is a steep climb with hairpin bends up to a peak of 710m (2329 ft) on Meall Gorm. The views were stunning enhanced by the colors of the angry sky where storms rained down in the distance.

Snow poles to indicate the depth of the snow and direction of the road lined much of this route which is very useful when reading the road ahead. “Passing places” are available every 100metres or so with signs encouraging slower moving vehicles to pull in for others to pass by. In fact although it is a very remote location every effort has been made to cater for the motorist without spoiling the landscape.

Bealach Na Ba

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This is a steep climb with hairpin bends up to a peak of 710m (2329 ft) on Meall Gorm. The views were stunning enhanced by the colours of the angry sky where storms rained down in the distance.
Snow poles to indicate the depth of the snow and direction of the road lined much of this route which is very useful when reading the road ahead. “Passing places” are available every 100metres or so with signs encouraging slower moving vehicles to pull in for others to pass by. In fact although it is a very remote location every effort has been made to cater for the motorist without spoiling the landscape.
After the photo stop it was a gradual downhill to Applecross just managing to beat the cyclists to the local café.

 

Continuing north around the coastal route it was onto the A896 at Shieldaig then the A832 at Kinlochewe. Single track with a wet surface meant slow going along Loch Maree and Little Loch Broom but thankfully we continued to miss all the surrounding storms that looked so close. Finally we reached the A835 for the last few miles to Ullapool.
When arriving at a new destination i always get fuel ready for the next journey and then take the opportunity to check the street map for our accommodation. After a long day i find this gives me a little rest before struggling through built up areas trying to find a particular address, this worked well and we arrived at our accommodation “The Old Surgery” at 6pm .
We spent the evening in a pub struggling with the local language – Russian, as half the customers and staff seemed to be Russian, even the rather stern looking door man. Still we had a most enjoyable evening with some tourists from North Germany who visit Scotland every year. Distance – 241 miles


Friday 29 th
Leaving on the A835 we continued northwards on the A894 over open Mooreland with sweeping bends spoiled only by the strong easterly crosswinds.
We stopped briefly at Kylesku to view the highest waterfall in the UK . Now I wasn't expecting anything like the Angel Falls of Venezuela of course, but nevertheless this was a little disappointing when viewed from a few miles as the only way to get close is by boat. After marvelling at the local Post Office – a garden shed, we continued north to the area of North-West Sutherland.
Continuing on single track again we arrived in Durness on the North Coast to watch their Highland Games being opened by the highlands band. Cape Wrath , the furthest point North West is only a few miles from here but involves a short boat trip across the Kyle of Durness and then a mini bus ride to the lighthouse. That was sure to be one detour too many so we continued east along the north coast, marvelling at the unspoilt beaches and battered coastline following the A836 to Thurso for our next two nights accommodation.
It was still only mid-afternoon so we pushed on to Dunnet Head the UK 's most northerly point, took the obligatory photographs and then went to John O'Groats. Here we booked ourselves for a trip to the Orkney Islands and then returned to Thurso via Wick and settled into our accommodation. Distance – 217 miles.

 

Saturday 30 th Firstly a brisk ride to John O Groat's followed by the 8:30am crossing over the Pentland Firth , arriving in the Orkney Islands some 40 minutes later where a coach awaited us.
The day tour included visiting many local attractions including the Churchill Barriers, the Neolithic village of Scara Brae (2,500BC), the Italian Chapel and the capital Kirkwall .
After the windswept return crossing we rode back late evening to complete an enjoyable and interesting day. Distance - 40 Miles


Sunday 31 st
Departing Thurso and heading south we followed the A9 along the coastal route to Inverness , and the A82 along Loch Ness to rest at Drumnadrochit. Loch Ness is well known of course but still surprised me in that it holds more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England combined, it is up to 230 metres deep and 38 km long. A visit to the Loch Ness visitor centre followed, where a surprisingly balanced view of the myth was presented that showed hoax claims and unexplained sightings.
We pushed on further through the now familiar Fort William and on to Ballachulish, arriving early after making much better progress by avoiding the single track roads. This was to be our base for the next two evenings. Distance – 195 miles

 

Monday 1 st August We spent the morning walking some delightful little known routes along Glen Creran courtesy of local information from our hosts, nothing too strenuous i'm glad to say but very relaxing as we were away from sight or sound of any other persons.
Throughout the afternoon we explored further on the Bike. First we rode along Loch Leven to take a look at the area of Glen Coe with Majestic views of mountain scenery, and then we visited the monument to the MacDonald Clan massacred in 1692. Next we followed the wonderful B863 to Kinlochleven where we spent a few hours around the local waterfalls and the indoor ice climbing centre.

Glen Coe

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The evening brought our first introduction to some well known locals – Midges. Leaving a pub and riding away with a crash helmet full of them made us realise what we had been warned about, thankfully that was our only encounter with the Midges. Distance – 60 miles



Heading Home


Tuesday 2 nd
Leaving on the A828 along Loch Linnhe and Loch Creran our first stop was in the bustling seaside resort of Oban. Next the A85 took us to Loch Awe turning right onto the A419 and then the A83 along loch Fyne. The A83 goes over the aptly named “Rest and be Thankful” a road first built in 1746 that rises to 262m, taking the name from the inscription on a rough stone bench at the summit. This road is ideal for motorcycling with fast open bends and great views and plenty of room to overtake any slow movers.

Rest and be Thankful

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Arriving at the A82 just south of the Drovers Inn at Inveranan we retraced our steps around Glasgow and Kilmarnock . Stopping at a café in New Cumnock the old photographs on the wall showed that the area used to rely heavily on coal mining. Carrying on through Dumfries we encountered the strongest winds so far along the exposed M6 leaving at J40 on the A66 for the Yorkshire Dales National Park .


Having already studied the map for any steep inclines the call to explore was too great to ignore so it was off the beaten track again onto the B6270 for Thwaite and then unnamed roads over Buttertubs Pass to Hawes. This section was tough after a long day being buffeted by strong winds, but certainly not to be missed. However the roads were very difficult to read with blind crests and hidden dips over open moors giving little clue of which way the road would turn.
Arriving in Hawes late afternoon this being the one evening we had not booked accommodation in advance we found what must have been the only available room in the village. The reason it was available soon became apparent but it was too late to go looking elsewhere so we made the most of what was on offer and were soon out for an evening meal. Distance – 305 miles.

 

Wednesday 3 rd Our last day, we carried on through The Dales on yet more twisties noticing that there were many more motorcyclists in this area. Through Settle and Clitheroe it was onto the M6 at Preston and back off again at J15 to continue on the A roads.
Final route took us through Market Drayton, Telford , Bridgenorth, Kidderminster , and Worcester and onto Malvern Hills for a cuppa. Here we had the telephone call to say that the school coach had managed to get the earlier crossing over the channel hence would arrive at 7pm instead of 10pm .
So it was home via Ledbury arriving with time to spare at 5pm, in fact I'm sure we could have squeezed in a few more unnamed roads on the route home. Distance – 270 miles

Highlights

 

A 2000 mile trip over a period of 11 days was comfortable, and a mix of moving on regularly yet also basing ourselves at a number of locations was about right. Having travelled so far north it would be a shame not to visit Dunnet Head and John O'Groats, yet these were certainly not the best part of the ride and paled into insignificance compared to the wonderful west highlands. The lush beauty of Glen Coe and the Road to the Isles gradually changes to a more rugged and unforgiving landscape as you head north, all leaving wonderful memories that compare favourably to other European destinations visited previously.

 

Greg Sullivan

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Croatia Adventure | The Irish Trip | France 2002 | Provence | Pan European Tour 2003 | Gregs Highland Trip
 

CROATIAN ADVENTURE

Teachers are doomed to pay peak holiday prices, but having retired this summer I had freedom of choice at last and planned to take off on the bike in September just because I could - a solo trip, to celebrate retirement with some real freedom. [Judy was understanding about this but wasn't giving up her annual biking holiday, so we had in a week in Ireland in August: rough roads and dramatic scenery on the Dingle and Beara peninsulas and the Ring of Kerry, with a visit to the Puck Fair at Killorglin - a bizarre ritual with a billy-goat paraded through the streets then hoisted in a cage to the top of a tower in the town square, to live there for the weekend. Venerated in memory of the legendary goat that ran into the town to warn of the approach of Cromwell's army, in reality it's a pretext (if one were needed) for an awesome booze-up.]

Croatia caught my fancy because it was reputedly beautiful and remote, and I'd never been! On a map of Europe I traced a rough loop down through Italy to the 'heel', across the Adriatic to Croatia because an extra ferry trip made for more adventure, and north towards home, resolving to go down directly and back up at leisure. The Bari-Dubrovnik ferry runs irregularly, but there was a sailing on Sept. 22 nd so I decided to aim for that.

WED 17 th SEPTEMBER . Set off for the 1.45 Dover-Calais crossing, but made the 12.45 instead, and was waved on first with the whole empty, echoing car-deck to ride through, which put me in the holiday mood. This dissipated that evening when I got into Reims to find no rooms available in the budget hotels on the outskirts and had to settle for the dearer, grotty but aptly-named Hotel Touring in the centre. Just over 400 miles, so a meal, a look at the splendid cathedral and some sleep.

THURS. Through the rather featureless Champagne and wooded, rolling Lorraine regions, around Strasbourg and south through Germany. Decided to stop short of the Swiss border to save bothering to buy Swiss francs, and pulled off at random in a small town called Bad Bellingen. A spa town (as the 'Bad' should have warned me), full of clinics, cures and people even older than me. Cruising around looking for B&Bs lost its appeal after a couple of refusals and the distinct impression that one-person one-night stopovers are not an attractive deal. Anyone who has tried this form of touring will know that finding accommodation at the end of a hard day can be a pain. I took the easy way out and found a hotel room (Hotel Markgraf); the owner had a Harley and had ridden it to Barcelona for the centenary celebrations and Stones concert. He advised me on my route over the Gottard pass and recommended a hotel at Brissago in southern Switzerland, where he'd stayed on his trip. 300+ miles.

FRI. With warnings of severe penalties for speeding in Switzerland ringing in my ears, I by-passed Lucerne and picked up the old mountain road at Altdorf. A spectacular ride, with views of snow and ice, lots of hairpins and lots of bikes. I decided the recommended hotel (Hotel Primavera) was maybe worth a detour, so rode around the north shore of lake Maggiori and found it easily, high above the lake and with breathtaking views. The owner rides a Blackbird, and produced a guidebook (in German) to biker-friendly hotels in Germany, France, Switzerland and northern Italy. He even dug out last year's edition to give to me. We'd plenty more in common as he also enjoys shooting, as I do, and entertained me with tales of gruelling days hunting chamois in the high Alps. There was even chamois on the menu, at a price. 200 miles approx.

SAT. A motorway blast through northern Italy, past Milan and Bologna, stopping only for fuel and a snack. I had impressions of flat plains, burned in parts, with some elegant landscapes of slender trees and red-tiled houses, but concentrated mainly on the antics of the lunatics around me. During the rugby world cup the Italian Premier encouraged the Italians to play rugby the way they drive - they'd be fast, sure, and dangerous too, but what about discipline? In my experience, on a 3-lane motorway nobody will be seen dead in lane one, lane two has a wagon-train in it and lane three is full of 100+ mph tail-gaters. Surviving to pull off at Pesaro, a stylish and glitzy seaside resort south of Rimini, I found a hotel room (Hotel Perticari)with a balcony overlooking the sea. Pizza and wine in a pavement café, a stroll in the old town and then to bed to dream of Alfas and Lancias inches from my rear light. 300+ miles.

SUN. More motorway riding, on down the coast to the Adriatic port of Bari for the ferry to Dubrovnik, passing through more 'typical' Italian landscapes, now mostly brown with sunburned vegetation and plough-land. Bari is a bustling port with motley ferries, big and small, bound for destinations in Croatia, Albania and Greece; it's not a tourist city, and I cruised the entire seafront without seeing a hotel. Asking directions of a couple of parked-up Ducatisti, I was obligingly led at a cracking pace to the Grand Hotel & d'Oriente - imposing and too expensive but I took a room anyway. Sunday is posing and parading day, and that includes the police. They were everywhere - navy breeches to match their navy Guzzis, dazzlingly white short-sleeved shirts, open-faced helmets and shades. A job to die for. Several were women, and take it from me they looked stunning. 340+ miles.

MON. The Dubrovnik ferry sails at 22.00, leaving a long, hot day to while away. Rooms had to be cleared by noon, so I managed to cram jacket, leather jeans and boots into the 2 Givi cases (good job I'd left some space), persuaded the staff to keep them at reception and the bike in their garage until evening, vacated my room and spent the day lightly clad, at temperatures of 30 degrees, in the streets and bars of the old quarter. I also introduced myself to the world of Internet cafes, using a Hotmail account to keep in touch with folk at home.

The ferry was old but securely held together by numerous layers of paint. A one-way ticket for bike and self with shared cabin cost 102 Euros including breakfast. I shared with a lad called Suzuki (yes, really), making his way home to Hong Kong, and found a drinking partner in a US Marine who'd served in Bosnia and gave me some insights into what to expect across the water. I was elated to know that I was actually going to make it to Croatia after all the anticipation - there's always that fear of coming a cropper early on and the humiliation of having to give up. It was starting to feel like a real adventure now.

TUE 23 rd SEPTEMBER. The Bari- Dubrovnik ferry docked at 6am, in the dark. I rode off past a throng of local landladies holding up cards offering 'SOBE' (rooms), and after a couple of coffees in a workmens' café I took a room in Lapad bay, 2km. outside the old town - superb sea views and immaculate, apart from a couple of bullet holes through a glass partition on the balcony. A garage for the bike too, and whilst getting the U-lock from under the seat I noticed a hole where a bolt should be, holding on the Givi rack. Astonishingly, it had lodged in the wiring, complete with washer, and was replaced with an Allen key lent by my landlord, who wouldn't accept it back. A short bus ride into Dubrovnik to walk the splendid walls of the old city, now showing very few signs of the 1991-2 siege, then back to Lapad for a meal at the Pergola restaurant rightly recommended by my landlady.

WED. The Croatian coastline has a myriad islands, and a boat trip is a must. Off Dubrovnik are the Elaphite islands, only three of which (Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud) are inhabited. An 8-hour trip visiting all three, with a grilled fish lunch on the latter and all the wine you could drink all day cost about £14 equivalent. The wooded islands contrast with the stony, barren backdrop of the mainland, and there is an abundance of figs, pomegranates, limes and olives. My co-travellers in the small boat all turned out to be Irish; tapes of Irish music were produced from somewhere and the free-flowing chilled Croatian wine had middle-aged women dancing jigs in the stern by the time we got home.

THURS. Washed clothes, sent e-mails, wrote postcards, swam in the bay with fish around my feet in the clear water, ate cevapcici and drank beer, snoozed, semi-packed and speculated inconclusively about my next destination. A lovely, lazy day. Then later, sitting with a guide book over a sea-food platter and carafe of wine, with a map of the country before me and nobody to please but myself - it just doesn't get better than that!

FRI. Left Dubrovnik on the Magistrala, the Dalmatian coast road, heading north for the destination that had somehow distilled out of my musings the previous evening - the town of Trogir. The road swoops along, twisting and turning to follow the coast and giving dramatic views of the offshore islands. Passed through part of Bosnia Herzegovina where it funnels down to the sea to have its own pitifully short section of coastline, stopping only for petrol. Trogir is one of the finest of the Adriatic towns, built on an island sandwiched between the mainland and a second island, with short bridge links. A welter of palaces, belfries and a maze of narrow streets, with a splendid cathedral - all in the typical creamy stone of the region. Found a room through an agency, costing about £13. Explored the market, ate 'burek' - warm flaky pastry filled with soft cheese - and ice cream. Weather still sunny and hot, but with a breeze to keep things comfortable, so felt smug when Judy told me on the phone of the first frosts at home. 160 miles approx.

SAT. To town first thing for coffee and delicious market-stall chocolate doughnut, then a bus-ride into Split about 20km away. This is Croatia's second city after Zagreb, and grew out of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Visited the cathedral and campanile, then the crumbling palace which has evolved into a complex of houses, churches and chapels. The city bustles with traders and travellers, there is exuberant café life with warrens of narrow streets, a fine airy seafront and a splendid bay.

SUN. Left Trogir, heading north on the coast road - a great ride, exceptionally twisty with a good surface, flanked by scrub trees starting to take on autumn colours and with the bare Velebit mountain range towering above. Decided on Rab island as a stopover, involving a half-hour ferry trip at a cost of £4.50 return, including the bike. My landlady spoke German, so I exercised the rusty remnants of mine and we had a surprisingly successful conversation over glasses of her home-grown rose wine; I was soundly told off for contemplating staying only a single night. Time for a ride around the island and a meal, then to bed to the sound of rolling thunder. 185 miles.

MON. Heavy rain overnight, dry by morning, but the idea of staying another day had taken hold, so decided to stay anyway and explore the island. It is a place of stark contrasts with an arid, lunar landscape on the landward side (in fact, as I'd approached on the ferry I wondered why I'd chosen to go there), but lush and green to seaward. I rode out to admire the sea views, and came across 2 adjacent cemeteries; one held the dead of the Croatian conflict but the other nearly 1500, mostly Slovenian, victims of starvation and violence in an Italian concentration camp situated there in 1943-4.

TUE. A touring French couple on the bus to Split a few days earlier had mentioned 'the best thing they'd seen' on their travels - the Plitvice National Park - so I made it my next objective. An early ferry and a fresh, exhilarating ride back down the coast took me to the mountain road inland towards Gospic - not the most direct way to Plitvice, but I was lured by what the guide book called the 'strange, wild land' en route. A long, winding climb up scree- and scrub-covered mountains in autumn colours with dramatic views down to the islands behind, a plateau on top with long, unexpected straights, flocks of sheep with attendant shepherds, some war-damaged houses and then the descent into an immense, flat valley bottom. Got to Plitvice by early afternoon, found a room, shed my leathers and headed for the park. Its attraction lies in its vast 'staircase' of lakes and waterfalls, the water a vivid light green, clear and teeming with fish. Did a tourist-style visit along a waymarked route, including a boat trip and a land-train. Spectacular sights around every corner, the most stunning being a monster waterfall intriguingly named Veliki Slap. 170 miles - topped 2000 today.

WED. Fancying a walk on less trodden paths but uneasy at the thought of uncleared landmines, I took my landlord's advice and re-entered the park, turning off the tourist trail into an unused area. With binoculars and a snack, I spent an idyllic day mooching along in the sun, observing wildlife and surrounded by silence such as we rarely experience nowadays - just birds, insects and the occasional jumping fish. Came across a deserted hamlet which, I later learned, had been forsaken during the war by its elderly inhabitants, who had no young people to renovate it and never came back. On the bus home I chatted with an English-speaking park employee - a single mother who told me of the difficulties of earning a living wage in the area, of her own hardships and of her fears for her child's future. All with a dignity and lack of envy for the wealthy tourists which at once made me humble and reminded me of how privileged I was.

Indeed, whereas at home kids may ask you how fast your bike is, here they asked me what it cost. On the eve of departure from Croatia, some other random thoughts. The currency is the Kuna, a word meaning pine-marten: in mediaeval times taxes were paid with marten pelts. Apart from the odd foreign tourer, bikes are small and utilitarian; one biker in ten wears a helmet. The ice- cream is of Italian standard, ie. superb. German is spoken much more widely than English. Officially-approved accommodation is handled by travel agencies, but there are plenty of 'unofficial' cheap rooms to be had. Breakfast is not normally provided with rooms but can often be negotiated. Food, drink, travel, petrol and entry fees are all cheap. . A typical meal for me (eg. half-litre beer, grilled fish, salad, bread, quarter-litre wine cost £7-8). The grilled fish is special, as are the bean and pork stew (grah) and cured ham (prsut). People are friendly and helpful, but the language is difficult and I regretted not being able to talk in any depth about the war and the current situation. The Rough Guide to Croatia is thoroughly recommended.

THURS 2 nd OCTOBER. On the 16 th day of my solo tour, 9 of them in Croatia, I decided to head north in a generally homeward direction. After breakfast on a sunny terrace and a chat with my landlord about the local wildlife - there are 50-60 bear in the National Park, commonly seen on moonlight nights on the forest trails, and also wolf and boar populations - I took the road for Karlovac and the Slovenian border. Regrettably, my panniers had no room for the thick honey, plum jam and cheeses sold by old ladies at the roadside. The road out via the Zumberak region was good and twisty, winding through wild country with small-scale agriculture and people tending a flock of sheep, a couple of cows or a few turkeys. Into Slovenia by mid-morning, with impressions of picturesque, heavily wooded landscapes with pretty houses and impressive mountain ranges. The old ladies are now selling mushrooms. Lots of hitch-hikers about yet I'd seen none elsewhere - wonder why? People were helpful - a toll-booth operator told me to 'ride carefully', and when I stopped at a roadside café with no local currency but waving only a 10 Euro note, the two waitresses made it their mission to provide me with as much as it could buy - sausage, bread, fruit juice and coffee.

Circumventing the capital, Ljubliana, I made for the Austrian border and the Grossglockner high Alpine pass. A 17 Euro toll is payable for the bike, but it's worth every cent; your money is charmed out of you by a woman in traditional dress who gives you a couple of commemorative stickers for your bike - a hint that you're about to enjoy yourself. It far exceeded my expectations, with a superb surface and a feast of bends right up to the snow-line. Off on a spur to extensive parking with free 'biker-safes' where you can leave your gear if you want to, and splendid views of the snowy peak above and the glacier below. Other bikes about, and the inevitable exchange of cameras for shots of each other against the dramatic backdrop. Then the descent, almost as good as the climb; I followed that rarity, a well-driven car, for much of the way, and was puzzled for a while by a worrying smell of burning, until I realised it came from his brakes.

Got B&B for 25 Euros in a pension in the immaculate, chocolate-box village of Fusch, and ate venison with dumplings, pear and redcurrants in a Gasthof up the street. 300 miles today, and enjoyed every one.

FRI. An early start, sunny and cold with some mist and condensation at first, but a lovely run on down through the mountains into Germany. Had decided to make for Munich to catch the end of the Oktoberfest; rode straight into the city centre, and very nearly rode straight out again when I found that all tourist offices were closed and was assured by taxi-drivers that the chances of finding available accommodation during the Beer Festival were zero. However, I spotted a small back-street hotel and asked anyway; the owner informed me in fluent English that it so happened that for one night only he had what he described as a 'student room, probably the cheapest room in Munich' (at 40 Euros). Top floor, no facilities, suited me fine. He led me to his personal lock-up garage to store the bike, assuring me apologetically that although his is normally a nation of law-abiding folk, during the festival no vehicle and especially no bike is safe on the street. He illustrated this by recounting an incident he'd recently witnessed involving a convertible parked with its top down and a reveller who needed to relieve himself but couldn't be bothered to find a toilet.

By underground to the festival; wandered the vast site with its stalls and beer-halls, drank steins of Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr and found a rare vacant seat at a table with some German schoolboys who attempted to wind me up with remarks such as: 'Hey, Englander, Beckham is sh*t'. In this they totally failed, so relaxed and good-humoured was I by now, and we were soon bosom pals. In fact, they much admired Beckham 'because he's cool', and were keen to practise their English with me. I made more 'friends' of various races and colours as the evening wore on; the atmosphere was convivial to say the least, and the beer seemed stronger and more flavourful than what they export to us. An event that could seem naff and tacky or the pinnacle of international bonhomie, depending on your mood, but I enjoyed it and bought the T-shirt. 120 miles.

SAT. After a look around the Marienplatz, Munich city centre, and a visit to the twin-towered, brick-built cathedral, immensely tall inside and out and very elegant, I set off by motorway past Stuttgart, Karlsruhe and Baden-Baden, heading for France. Heavy rain forced me to shelter, with other bikers, at a service-station. One of them, a German, quipped that I was presumably used to such weather; I passed him later on up the road and noticed he'd put on an appropriate over-suit, the back of which bore the finger sign with the caption 'Scheisse Wetter'.

Into France, via Strasbourg and Metz to Verdun. Saw an accident on the other carriageway in an urban area, strangely silent because of helmet and ear-plugs, as one car exploded in tatters out of the traffic and left another shattered, with its woman driver's pale face pressed motionless against the window. Sobering. Cruised at 100-110 mph on the peages, and made good time when the rain stopped.

Stayed at the Hotel de la Cloche d'Or where I've stayed previously. It has a good restaurant - terrine of Coquille St. Jacques and veal Forestiere for me - with an affable proprietor who was kind enough to claim to remember me from a previous visit, and treat me to a Calvados. 375 miles.

SUN. The last leg. Off early with the sun up but the temperature down, some mist about and my visor fogging. Put service-station plastic gloves under my summer gloves and donned extra layers, but still had to use toilet hand-warmers a couple of times to restore feeling. Heavy rain set in with blinding spray, but cleared and I made Calais for a 1.15 -ferry - I'd booked an open ticket so as not to commit to a return date. Dry on this side for once, and home to Pandy by 6.15. 487 miles today.

Seven countries and a journey total of just under three and a half thousand miles. The VFR never missed a beat. A real adventure, hard at times but exciting and hugely enjoyable.

A note to Jonathan Rogers - sorry I wasn't back to rehearse you for your test yesterday, but you passed anyway. Congratulations.

 

Tony Morgan.

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The Irish Trip

Six intrepid motorcyclists recently set off on a long weekend to Ireland. On the yearly boys outing this year were Dave Elger, Jerry Haslett, Andy Lamb, Mike Odolet and Stuart (watch out for my aerosols) Walker with a special guest appearance of Richard Millington (not an IAM member but more than competent on two wheels).

The group set off on Thursday night spending night one in Aberystwyth ( yes I know that's not in Ireland), a few social beers and a very pleasant meal were had by all followed by a strange but fascinating, almost circus like display, effectively reducing Dave and Jerry to tears. The speed and accuracy of the display was awesome, the cost of the high tech equipment frightening, I am sure the highly trained performer could make millions if only he would go professional. Myself and Dave were clambering to become his agent, but apparently Stuart was determined to keep his extraordinary collection of aerosol deodorants as quiet as possible.

Maybe it is because Dave and me are 40+ and Stuart a mere half that age, but we could not understand why ANYONE needs one pannier crammed full of various "my God don't I smell good" accessories. From that moment on Stuart was history and Oz (short for Ozone) was born. I digress.

Friday morning, on to Ireland, Dublin to be precise, smooth crossing with the worst on board entertainment ever witnessed this side of the Berlin Wall. Within an hour of landing in Dublin the group witnessed another strange sight, Jerry sprinting 600 yards in full leathers in pursuit of Mike Odolet, we were all convinced he was lost he wasn't, Jerry was close to a coronary, the rest of the group were in hysterics. Why run when you have 1100cc of bike? Strange lad that Jerry.

The entire weekend proceeded in the same vein of good company, good motorcycling, with a dash of hysteria. Believe no-one when they say Irish roads are bad, we had a whale of a time on some of the best roads we have ever seen ( ridden entirely to IAM guidelines of course). And of course the Guinness, Ahhh the Guinness.

Don't miss next years trip, get your name down early for 4 days of constant FUN.

 

Jerry Haslett.
ere...

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A Few Days in France

(September 2002)

On returning from Norway, the Pan needed a service, tyres and slight cosmetic repairs (a new mirror housing). Having had the work carried out, and not being particularly enamoured with the new Pan; I was resolved to keeping the Honda, for a while at least. However, my resolve is not always steadfast. One Saturday I joined my friend Roy on a visit to Bath Road - Bristol, to discuss changing his BMW for a new R1150 RT. In the showroom a K1200 LT caught my eye, being in extremely good condition for a 3-year-old. I was persuaded to take the bike home to Usk, for a test drive. I returned to Bristol with Leah (my wife) on the pillion and her words when we dismounted were "we are not going home on the Honda - are we?"

To be honest I had reservations when I finally struck a deal to change, but I did like the K series and I was ready for a change. As I was off to Ireland the next day on business and had decided before the change to travel on the bike, I would soon know whether I had made the right decision. It is a larger heavier bike than the Pan but as people had told me they do handle quite well. At Fishguard I was apprehensive about loading, as it was wet, however there wasn't a problem and it actually rolls on to the stand easier than the Pan. A week in Ireland and the journey home this time via Holyhead (the scenic route gave me ample opportunity to accustom myself to the BMW.

A couple of runs with Leah on the pillion has confirmed beyond a doubt that for the two of us, this is most definitely the machine. So when the opportunity presented itself for another short break we grabbed it and opted to return to south-west France, where we had visited the previous summer by car. The MCN discount offer with P & O Ferries was very attractive and we went for the Portsmouth / Cherbourg crossing on the Saturday afternoon to return on Thursday from Bilbao.

Saturday the last day in August, we left Usk nice and early arriving in Portsmouth in good time for the 2pm ferry. Allowing time to collect the tickets. We had booked the "fast ferry" which would get into Cherbourg at approximately 6pm local time, giving us a couple of hours to get to our overnight stop near Mont St. Michel. Unfortunately the "fast ferry" turned out to be the "late ferry" and the delay amounted to 1 ½ hours, leaving us with a faster than intended ride to Mont St. Michel in time for dinner. I rang the hotel from the boat to let them know we were going to be late - thank God for mobile phones!

When travelling in France I have come to rely on "Logis de France" hotels, which are essentially three star and normally with very good restaurants. The Gue du Holme near Avaranches did not disappoint. The accommodation was more than adequate the food was exceptional, and the parking was safe.

After a comfortable and restful night we set off early Sunday morning to visit Mount St. Michel and some 10 minutes later we could see in the distance the outline of the beautiful old monastery. The magnificent towers embroidered with gold in the skyline make quite a spectacular sight. Leah remarked how it was so surreal it looked like a Disney fairytale castle, but this was the real thing. It is approached by a road, which at one time would have been a railway to take visitors. Adjacent we found, more than adequate parking. After walking through the portcullis guarded by a huge old cannon we walked through the narrow cobbled streets. Up a steep hill to a small church where Leah bought a small booklet on the mystical stories of the monastery. She has to buy something! We wandered and marvelled so many souvenir shops, a tiny island steeped in history. After a strong coffee it was time to think about heading south, so at 10:30 am we left to continue our journey. As we were walking back to the bike it became very apparent why the parking was so organised and large. There were - literally - hundreds of people making their way to the monastery. And the road to Mont St. Michel was getting jammed with queues. We had definitely done the right thing in visiting early and leaving early.

On to the autoroute and the Beemer really comes into its own. I never thought I'd use "cruise control" on a bike - but I did and it does make a difference. We did mile after mile with little traffic to bother us, just enjoying the sunshine and scenery. Leah claims it's more comfortable than a car, and I have to admit I also find it effortless on the French roads.

Our destination was a small town called PONS just south of Saintes and just off the autoroute. We'd stopped briefly for a spot of lunch and fuel but still managed to arrive at the hotel by 4pm. A bonus being that cruising down the autoroute the big Beemer had averaged more than 50 m.p.g., an aspect I find amazing for such a big machine.

Once again the hotel did not disappoint - the accommodation comfortable and food excellent. However, we had both began to realise that the prices were noticeably higher than last year. We put this down to the influence of the change in currency from francs to the E uro.

Not such a restful night as our room overlooked the main road, but up early and off to our final destination St. Jean de Luz. As we drove South the weather got warmer and warmer and the only heavy traffic around the Bordeaux ring road. We reached our destination around midday and found the hotel La Reserve which was situated on the cliff overlooking the town and bay. After a light lunch Leah could not wait to get poolside and improve her tan - as for me I went for a dip in some large G & T's mixed with a very good book. St. Jean de Luz is a lovely resort, and not too busy at that time of year. We flopped out for a few days taking the odd walk into town.

Thursday morning and time to return came all too soon, as I opened the curtains I saw an unfamiliar sight - rain! I can't say that I was surprised as the weather had changed the day before. It wasn't too disastrous as we were only heading down the road a little way into Spain and on to the port in Bilbao. The LT is easy to pack mainly, I suppose because you have such huge cavernous panniers and top box. Before we knew it we were once more threading our way through the town on to the auto route and heading for Spain - and the heavens opened.

This is another aspect of the Beemer that I think cannot be bettered. The rain lashed down, but we didn't get wet. We safely kept up a decent speed passing some other bikes that had decided it was too wet to continue. A pair of Harleys were moving slowly on the inside lane and looked on enviously as we cruised past. On reaching the outskirts of Bilbao the rain stopped - giving way to bright sunshine, and we arrived at the Ferry port with time to spare. After a while the two Harley's appeared and they were drenched. The one Dutch guy had on a pair of leather jeans, a leather waistcoat over a shirt and sandals on his feet. Whatever turns you on I guess?

In addition to the mad Dutchman there were a few other bikes and a convoy of vintage cars returning to the UK after a tour of the Pyranees. Plenty to look at and admire including my LT, which after 1000 miles, the last 30 in torrential rain, looked amazingly clean.

The boat from Bilbao to Portsmouth is excellent and our cabin fine. From Portsmouth home was pretty uneventful, except that you suddenly became aware of the volume of UK traffic, all over again. Added to which the weather had one last shot at us at as we reached Bristol. Big black clouds loomed, and decided to dump on us all the way back to Usk. Roll on the next trip I say.

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A BEER IN PROVENCE

Following last year's Poland trip with a tour of France had seemed a bit tame to start with, but Terry and Lesley, who used to holiday with us but had dropped out for the last two years, wanted to join us again and preferred a gentle re-introduction. Then we had an invitation to a wedding near Paris, the plan firmed up and we decided to combine the two. So, with the VFR having had its 28,000 - mile service and a new front tyre at D & R in Hereford, we set off for Portsmouth on 25 th July with the other two on their FJ1200. The holiday starts with the first beer on the ferry, and there was a good Czech rock band to listen to before turning in - to a 4-berth cabin, all that was available, so it was as well we were already close friends.

Le Havre in the drizzle at 6.45 am isn't the most appealing face of France, but after crossing the Tancarville bridge we turned off before committing ourselves to the motorway and headed for the nearest village, where a café was obligingly open for breakfast. The owner pointed us in the direction of Evreux on D and N roads, as we wanted a leisurely ride. On through Dreux to Chartres, where we stopped to admire the cathedral, then via Etampes to Fontainebleau where the wedding was to take place next day. Our daughters met us, having flown out and brought us some clothes as Judy, my wife, was puzzlingly reluctant to attend in leathers.

The ceremony was followed by the traditional motorised wedding parade around town with each driver's hand jammed firmly on the horn, then the 'vin d'honneur' with bucketsful of champagne at a hotel on the banks of the Seine, and the day merged seamlessly into an evening reception. This was an Anglo-French wedding; I've been to one before and at this one, like the last, I had to pay the price for being a French teacher by doing simultaneous translation of a speech. That stopped me relaxing (ie. drinking too much) until it was over, but people laughed in the right places so it must have been OK. The French go out to drink, not get drunk, and the partying pace is leisurely. We were early leavers, in bed by 2am.

Our friends, who had spent the Saturday sightseeing, reckoned we'd be too hung-over to travel far on the Sunday, but we'd booked a hotel in the Massif Central, so needs must. This was at Le Puy en Velay, a town known not only for its dramatic scenery but also for its lentils. An item difficult to be too enthusiastic about, you'd think, but like all French regional produce it was proudly advertised and sold wherever you looked - we even felt obliged to eat some. Le Puy also boasts an enormous hilltop statue of the Madonna and child, cast out of bronze cannons from the Crimean war. For a small sum you can climb up inside her - which we did, indecent though it seemed - to admire the view. Judy and I also explored the neighbouring Margeride region, a tract of splendid country with twisty, quiet roads and a stronghold of the Resistance movement in the last war.

After three nights in the Massif we headed south for Provence, our main destination. This entailed a spectacular ride down the Ardeche and Rhone valleys, with a stop to take in the Pont du Gard, the three-tier Roman aqueduct which is a tourist trap but still magnificent, and we envied the bathers in the river below as it was now scorching. Watching a black leather-clad Terry toiling along in front of me, I overheard someone say "If I was a biker, I wouldn't come here!" We got to Arles by mid-afternoon and found a hotel with no trouble, then out for a meal - Camargue beef and rice, excellent. The next day we toured the Camargue marshland area itself, and got thoroughly beaten up by the local mosquitoes. Still, the river trip with views of the bulls, white horses, flamingos, avocets, egrets and bee-eaters, then a great bouillabaisse in Saintes Maries de la Mer made the pain bearable.

The headlight bulb on the FJ had blown first dipped beam and now full beam too, so we extracted the bulb and took it to a nearby bike shop, to be told sternly that it was 100 watt and illegally bright, carrying the possibility of blame if the bike was involved in an accident. Terry's light in my mirrors was distinctly yellower for the rest of the trip.

Judy and I wanted to explore the interior of Provence too, and took off next morning first to see Les Baux de Provence, an ancient hilltop village, then on to a market to buy a picnic. We ate this halfway up Mont Ventoux, a mountain I'd imagined to be of modest proportions. Wrong, it's vast and the fuel gauge was not looking healthy. I asked a couple of people who stopped, coming down the mountain, if they'd noticed petrol but they recalled none. I hate turning back, so we pressed on and got to the top (where the chalky scree makes it look snow-capped from below) with the fuel warning flashing. Stopping the engine for a look at the view, I then found as I did once before at a summit that I couldn't disarm the alarm. This is because of the magnetic field generated by transmitter installations I believe, and last time I managed to shield the alarm and de-activate it, but no joy this time. Coast downhill then, alarm blaring, and see who tries to stop you. Nobody, of course! Eventually we were out of range and could start the engine, but not for long because it became obvious we'd not got enough petrol to reach the next village, now signed at 30 km away. Nothing for it but to freewheel down and leave a little juice for the last run-in to the village. Just as well too, as it was up the other side of a valley. To coast without the alarm being triggered by movement, what Datatool call "ferry mode" was the order of the day. I got 205 miles out of that tankfull, excluding coasting, where I'd never seen more than 190 before. A ride through the Luberon, the region celebrated by Peter Mayle in 'A Year in Provence' took us back to Arles and packing, ready to move on to Carcassonne next day.

It was Saturday 3 rd August when we planned to move on from Provence, and the television news spoke of a 'black weekend' on the roads: evidently the move to a 35-hour working week in France has led to people taking more and shorter holidays, and the weather forecast for this weekend was good, indicating a major departure date. So, as we loaded up the VFR and FJ1200 outside our Arles hotel, I casually suggested we might be wise to ring ahead to Carcassonne, our destination that day, as we'd booked no accommodation. Terry produced a list of hotels he'd got from the Internet and I rang the most attractive (ie. cheap & cheerful); before long I was ringing anything, cheap or not, as all was ominously booked up. Finally there was a hotel with two double rooms free, but the proprietress would only hold them until 2pm. I protested that we couldn't make that, so she grudgingly granted an extension until 3.

Abandoning plan A, which was to have involved a leisurely coastal route, we opted for a motorway dash. On joining it we saw what the forecasters had meant - it was jammed, as the world and his wife took unanimously to the roads. A feature so many cars had in common was a lopsided rooftop load bodged on with sticky tape, leaning drunkenly and clearly looking for a biker to fall off in front of. We filtered, we weaved, we blatantly used the hard shoulder, we lost each other! A massive tailback signalled our approach to a toll and, again blatantly, I filtered to the front, expecting to find Terry waiting for us beyond and slightly concerned when he wasn't. Nothing for it but to press on, traffic lightened a bit and Judy and I made Carcassonne centre with half an hour to spare. Our next problem dawned on me some time before our arrival - namely, that I couldn't remember the name of the hotel we'd booked from among so many. Terry had the list but we didn't have Terry! Embarrassed at my own stupidity, or senility, I explained this lapse to a girl at the Tourist Office. Luckily she seemed to find it quite understandable, which is more than I could say for Judy, and produced a list of hotels for me to peruse. Several sounded familiar, she obligingly started to ring around and mercifully the third said yes, they were expecting a Monsieur Morgan. So we got there before the deadline, but still no Terry. We booked in and assured the management that our friends would be joining us 'soon'. We were thankful when they did, both wringing with sweat in the heat, to tell us their tale of woe. Terry obviously has more of the English gentlemanly queuing mentality than I do, as he hadn't felt he could filter past cars waiting to pay the toll and had queued himself. The FJ, being air-cooled, had resented this treatment, over-heated, given up the ghost and had to be pushed through the peage and off the motorway. There it sulked, cooled, re-started and consented to splutter along N roads the rest of the way. A shower, a meal and some beer soon made us all feel better, as always.

The bike seemed to be back to normal next day, except that it had blown all the oil out of its Scottoiler, including that in the touring reservoir. Something to do with abnormal suction in the induction tracts owing to misfiring, we supposed. I have the same system on the VFR and have found it good, but mine too was playing up, presumably through air getting in somewhere; the bottle wasn't topping up from the reservoir fast enough and its level kept dropping.

After a couple of days exploring the stupendous Cathar citadel outside Carcassonne we turned North, destination Perigueux. We were hit by thunderstorms on the way, giving Judy and I the chance to test our newly-purchased Hein Gericke Voyager two-piece outfits - no leaks to report. Somewhere along the way I lost my throttle rocker, a little plastic clip which gives control with the ball of the hand on steady throttle openings; I used it to relieve the wrist and elbow soreness I get on long trips. I assumed someone had nicked it at our last stop, but when I mentioned it to Terry later he told me that at one point he'd seen something tumble along the road behind me. He even added helpfully that he thought he'd run over it. When we got to Perigueux Judy remarked that she'd 'lost' about 20 kilometres somewhere. Does anyone else have a pillion who falls asleep? Is it a tribute to smooth riding? What happens (I ask her) if I have to emergency brake?

Duck and foie gras are the specialities of this region, and we supported local industry to the full during our stay. There was an international festival of mime going on, so plenty to watch from café terraces. The street market was superb: we strolled, ate strawberries, bought tins of foie gras (at a price!) and celebrated my birthday. As I write this now on a wet November day, it's hard to believe it's not a dream!

Next came a one-night stop in Tours, in the Loire valley, with time to visit the cathedral and the old quarter before the final leg of the holiday - we'd booked the last two nights in Honfleur, on the coast and close to Le Havre for the return ferry. Honfleur is touristy but has a good busy buzz about it, with plenty of seafood restaurants around the harbour and lots of art galleries, studios and attractive back streets to wander around. Oysters, mussels, crepes, galettes, cider, Calvados - a northern diet unlike the richer Mediterranean fare of Provence but we managed to live with it, and walked it all off on the coastal paths above the town.

Then comes the return journey, the sinking realisation that it's all over lightened by an eagerness to pick up the threads and check out what we may have been missing at home. The morning run in to the ferry is brightened by crossing the Pont de Normandie, so like our own second Severn crossing but soaring skywards in a spectacular arc across the Seine. So that's it for another year; under 2500 miles this time and a bit tame compared with last year's Poland trip of 3000, but the contrasting areas visited (and the food!) compensated for a lot.

And as for next year? Maybe Greece in September. Anyone fancy coming along?

Tony Morgan

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PAN EUROPEAN TOUR 2003

Having owned in all, three ST 1100 "Pans" I had not been entirely pleased with my first demo on the STX 1300 when it was finally released last year. I therefore had a brief romance with BMW and an affair with an FJR which is still ongoing! However the Beemer had been replaced last November with a shiny new 1300 ABS version of the new "Pan" - but until the start of this tour it had covered only barely 1000 miles (I blame the affair with the FJR). This tour was again organised impeccably by David Jones, the head honcho of the Gilwern Bikers Association. David had arranged the Chunnel out and Ferry return, mapped out the route and also earmarked a couple of stopovers. All the rest of us had really had to do was to turn up with bike and provisions for what was to be a 17 day "Grand Tour of Europe". Also a very nice touch was that George had arranged some polo shirts for us in three different colours and each one embroidered with tour details and individual names,

Wednesday 30 th April - 2003

After much anticipation Gilwern - 13:00 hours on 30 th April was the starting point and when I arrived there was everyone else (David, George, Mike and surprise, surprise, Ben) already on their blocks raring to go. First of all a group photograph and then without any fuss or ceremony we were on our way. The Pan felt good and I had been able to easily stow away all I needed for the trip in the two panniers, top box, tank bag and fairing pockets - with plenty of room to spare. The only difficulty I was having was with my new helmet which was proving to be a bit tight. It had been fine when I first tried it on but the introduction of the autocom ear pieces and microphone had changed all that. In fact as we passed Usk on the dual carriageway I was very tempted to return home for my old helmet. In hindsight I probably should have.

The ride along the M4 was petty uneventful except we had to make a stop for Mike and George to put on their waterproofs. Also Mike seemed to be having some trouble with his autocom as did I for that matter, but my trouble was the location of the ear pieces in the new helmet. The M25 is very busy and some filtering was called for to get through the stationary lines of traffic - thank God I'm not in a car! Our first night's stop is in Ashford within easy reach of the "Chunnel" and after re-fuelling in the local Sainsbury we proceed to the Travel Inn which proved to be adequate. The Pan has done everything asked of it and the weather protection is certainly as good as the "old pan" and if anything the adjustable screen gives it an edge in this department. I am still not quite at home on it yet though, and one thing that is beginning to irritate me (apart from the helmet) is no matter what I do to position the mirrors I cannot escape from the brake and clutch levers obscuring a large part of my rear view. This was a heavenly feature of the "old pan" where the STX 1300 is definitely a retro step.

Thursday, 1 st May 2003

We leave the hotel the next morning fully dressed for rain as although it is not exactly raining it looks as if it could at any moment. David and I have the full "gortex" regalia as has Ben (he learnt his lesson from Ireland) but Mike and George are still relying on plastic waterproofs. The few minutes to the Terminal were uneventful other than Ben dropped his "dragon" (we each carry one of these small dragon mascots somewhere on the rear of our bikes) and as losing it would incur a fine I stopped and picked it up for him. I am the last to arrive but Ben has already missed his dragon and is grateful to me for picking it up. My helmet in the meantime is now proving to be very uncomfortable and I am regretting not stopping in Usk to change it.

The beauty of the "Chunnel" is that it is very quick and before you know it we are in France. David leads off a little gingerly as it is wet and very windy and before long I have taken up the lead followed by Ben and we hurtle into Belgium to the services where we had agreed to have our first stop. The others soon arrive and all is well except my helmet is still giving me some discomfort. A coffee followed by a call of nature and we get ready to leave but now my helmet is even harder to get on and the chin strap is very difficult to do up which now seems to give my friends something extra to laugh about. On we go and the Belgium motorways are not really the most interesting of roads particularly in the wind and rain. Through Lille we all managed to keep together our lunchtime break is coming up and I'm thinking that I will be glad to get this bloody helmet off. It is May Day bank holiday in Belgium with the services quite busy but we're not bothered and have a plain but very welcome lunch. The other guys seem to be quite jovial but when we come to set off again their pangs of guilt finally catch up with them and Ben explains that at the last stop when I was in the toilet they had stuffed paper napkins under the lining of my helmet - no wonder it had felt even tighter. I had to see the funny side of it and the first "little joke" had been at my expense. At least without the paper stuffing the new helmet felt a little bit more bearable.

Off we go again but after a few miles I realise that I have forgotten to plug in my autocom lead so I pullover to the hard shoulder at the same time motioning Mike and Ben to carry on - but they both pulled in with me. As I connect the radio I hear the word "puncture" and sure enough Ben's rear wheel is flat. Lucky thing I pulled in as it was only as he slowed to see what my problem was that Ben realised he had a puncture. Try as we may we could not find a hole so just put in some air and proceeded to the next junction where, as luck would have it, there was a garage with a tyre depot next to it. Even more lucky it was open on a holiday. But even they could not find the puncture and we resolved to using an aerosol foam repair. As I put this into the tyre I could see the foam and bubbles of air escaping through the tiniest of holes so we were able to plug it as well. This repair was to last the duration of the tour.

This now put us behind by an hour or so but we were still able to pass Namur onto a small town called Marche where we found a lovely hotel to stop overnight. We share rooms again and this time David and I are together. We have an excellent but pricey meal. The following morning we take a walk into the town and I am able to buy a head/neck scarf which I wear around my ears and this coupled to some adjustment of the earphones make the helmet much more comfortable. We had parked the bikes overnight in the hotel underground car park and one little characteristic of the new pan which showed itself even more that morning is that she is a bitch when cold. The automatic choke sometimes gives the impression she is not quite on all cylinders - normally this is not a problem but this particular morning trying to exit the uphill corkscrew turn out of the car park she nearly stalled and caused me a nervous second or two.

Friday, 2 nd May 2003

Today the schedule is to take us from Belgium into Luxembourg. We are no longer on the motorway and the roads through the Ardennes have become more interesting. A coffee stop and some photographs before we leave for the German border and once in Germany we stop for lunch which is typical and wholesome food. After lunch we seem to see a lot of Honda Goldwings and when we pass through a small town it is obvious that there has been some sort of Goldwing convention. The roads are getting more and more interesting - our destination for that night is Baden Baden but we seem to be making slow progress due to traffic and I am bringing up the rear. A black BMW car with it's lights on is hovering around behind me, David and George in front are waiting their opportunity to overtake some traffic to catch up with mike and Ben which they eventually do. After a while I do the same and set off to catch them all up. The road straightens out and my lane is clear but there is a flow of traffic travelling in the opposite direction and I glance the end vehicle indicating that he is pulling out to overtake. Initially I think he is going to pass the one car and return to his side of the road but quickly I realise that is not his intention and the car is coming straight at me. I move to the extreme right but still I thought there was insufficient room so on to the grass I went. The car whizzed past and I struggled with the Pan to get it back on the tarmac. All this happened so quickly that all I can remember about the car is that it was red. It was a very close shave and I doubt that I shall ever come closer to a head on collision. But on I went still trying to catch up the others and finally I heard some very familiar voices on the autocom - they are just ahead in front of another long queue of traffic so a quick bit of filtering and I was back with them. There appeared a large Honda garage and the boys indicate to turn in and so we did. I had been contemplating buying another helmet but after my jousting with Helmut the Hun it was the last thing on my mind. Ben was the first to notice that I was a little off colour and when I related the incident to him his comment was that had we collided the car driver would have thought "that was a bloody large fly on his windscreen". It made me laugh and that in itself was probably a good thing. A quick look around the shop and we were on our way -my Shoei was loosening up anyway.

I was not going to be left behind now so I led on to Baden Baden followed by Ben and Mike. A dual carriageway leads us into the town and we pull over to wait for George and David. After 10 minutes or so they arrive and we proceed in single file into the town centre and a lovely place it is but very busy. Also it is not the easiest place to get your bearings and we are struggling to see any hotels - finally we stop to fuel up and David gets some directions to the hotel district and we leave the garage forecourt but it is not easy to get into the traffic flow. David and Ben have disappeared from sight so when I turn a bend into some traffic lights my instinct is to go straight on - this is confirmed by Mike over the autocom but as we pass through the lights we see Ben and David have filtered left - it is too late for us to change lanes. George Mike and I wait to see if Ben and David can re-join us but there is no sign of them nor can we make radio contact. We are on a dual carriageway traffic coming up behind us and it is prudent for us to move before someone rams into the back. This is the dual carriageway that we entered town on and it is some miles before we are able to exit and stop. We ring the others using a mobile and it appears they have found the hotel district but due to there being a business convention in the town all hotels are full and they have been recommended to try at least some 20 Kms outside of town. First of all we have to rendezvous and that in itself was to prove no mean task but meet up we did in the end. We left Baden Baden behind which was a pity really as it probably would have made a very good overnight stop but it was not the end of the world. However we needed to find an alternative urgently as by this time it was approaching 8'o clock lo' and behold we see a "guesthouse/restaurant" on the brow of the hill which looks good and they have accommodation available plus a garage for the bikes. A few beers before a substantial meal and we were all ready for a relatively early night.

Saturday, 3 rd May 2003

The next morning it is hard to accept we have only been touring for 2 ½ days as it felt we had been away for a week already - a couple of times the comment was made that we had another fortnight to go! We had crammed in 700 plus miles in that time! After breakfast we needed to get the bikes out of the garage which was to prove a little awkward on a cobbled stone surface which fell away from you. Riding in the night before had been easy but coming out in reverse not so easy. It was also still damp and I let the pan roll back gingerly until I could move forward and out - David did the same with some support from Mike - George and Ben on their much lighter Thundercat and ZX9R had less difficulty - but it was poor Mike who was last and he lost his footing on the cobble stone to drop the bike on its left hand side. Luckily Mike's Fazer 1000 is equipped with panniers that resemble Delsey suitcases and they cushioned the fall so as to leave no trace of any damage. You could see however that Mike was a bit peeved maybe to be the first to "drop" his bike - but as it was to prove he would not be the last! Finally we move off only to stop two miles later to U-turn as we had gone in the wrong direction. After another 10 miles David and others stop for a photo session but George and I carry on. We have digressed from the days

original route card but are travelling in the general direction we need towards Freiberg. With the aid of autocom we have re-joined the others although David is some way ahead - we catch up with him but he is travelling very slowly so I overtake and lead onto the A5 which is the route we are supposedly taking followed by Ben. At this point I hear Mike's voice over the autocom saying we've gone the wrong way so Ben and I pull over and eventually do a U-turn to go back to the main party when there is total confusion over directions only to finally find that Ben and I had been going the right way in the first place. By this time the others were back on route waiting for us and I overtake and lead on. After passing some traffic lo' and behold I am on my own again and there are no voices coming through the autocom. I know the route so I just stuck to it until I join the Autobahn where I take a steady 65-70 mph to let the others catch up, but there is still no sign of them. Then I see a couple of bikes coming up in my rear mirrors one looks like a red Yamaha the other a green Kawasaki; so I think here come George and Ben - but when the two bikes fly past they are two Germans on an R1 and ZX9R and they really are shifting. I realise the Pan is no match for them but it does make me itch to go a little quicker - little by little I turn on the tap until I am up to an indicated 120 mph and the Pan feels good so maybe I can get some more out of the old girl I think. All the time I am periodically scanning my mirrors as even at that speed there are cars catching me and overtaking me but as my eyes return to the front I glance a red light and my immediate thought is the ABS warning light as David had this problem with his old pan. I slow down and enter the next services as I could do with some fuel anyway. When I pull to a halt I can see it is not the ABS light but the Engine Management warning light. After refuelling and a brief stop to look at the handbook the light does not come on so I think it is just a glitch in the electronic system and I get back on the Autobahn and slowly build up speed again. By this time I am unsure where the other lads are - they could even have overtaken me whilst I was in the services neither could I raise them on the radio. Poligny in France was the destination that night and we had a hotel in mind called the Hotel Paris although nothing was booked. I thought if the worse came to the worse I would see the boys in Poligny that night and decided to press on - not often do we Brits get the opportunity to ride our machines to their full potential and the pan is made for high speed cruising on Autobahn's and the like. Well all Pan's except mine that is! Cruising at a "ton" the pan was smooth and quiet but alas on comes that red light again - I pull over to a parking area and decide to ring Honda (UK). The 0800 number on my Honda warranty card gets me through to a call centre and whilst the young lady (Sharon) is extremely helpful she knows little or nothing about engine management units - she also tells me that I have no European cover on my 6 month old Pan European!! The best she can offer is to ring someone in Honda's Technical Department and ring me back which in fairness the girl does very promptly to tell me the advice is "slow down and find a Honda dealer". Sound advice I thought but it would have been even better if she could have given me the name of a dealer near to me but apparently she did not have access to this information. The bike started OK it ran OK and there was no sign of overheating so I decided to carry on "slowly" and if I happened across a Honda dealer I would go in but if not I would try and make it to Poligny. In the meantime I had managed to get hold of Ben on his mobile to tell him my dilemma. From his description it seemed they were on a slightly different course to me - so off I went on my little lonesome.

German Autobahns are no fun at all at 60 mph and even a little scooter went past me at one stage - how humiliating! After a while I thought to myself that I had not experienced this problem in the UK so 70 - 80 mph should be OK and that proved to be the case. My route took me from Mulhouse to Belfort. I stopped for a sandwich between Belfort and Besancon - it was a lovely warm sunny Saturday afternoon and there were lots of German and French bikes about. Up to this day the weather had been a bit changeable and although we had not seen rain since Belgium I had decided to stay in my gortex trousers but they were now proving to be a little uncomfortable. Luckily there had been ample room in one pannier to store some leather trousers and for sure there would be a change in clothing for the next day. I also missed wearing sunglasses as my normal Oakleys would not fit under my new helmet and I decided to buy a cheap pair with thin stems at the next opportunity.

Besancon proved a little tricky to get around as it was very busy and I had to stop look at the map to get my bearings but I was OK and soon found the N83 to Poligny which is an excellent riders road and I was pushing on all the time until I saw some French speed cameras - but still at 60- 70 mph the road was very enjoyable. I rang the boys one more time and warned them of the speed cameras - it was obvious they were way behind me now as they had stopped a couple of times. I refuelled on the way into Poligny and was given the once over by a couple of French Motorcycle Cop's on BMW's then on to the Hotel Paris where I was able to book rooms for us all - but there was no bar or restaurant - not to worry I have showered and scrounged a bottle of beer from reception before the others arrive. When they finally do flop down to join me it transpires that Ben has dropped the Kwacker in the Hotel car park and damaged one of his indicators but it is easily repaired with a bit of tape.

We eat in a small basement restaurant in the town which turns out to be excellent and then Ben Mike and I have a couple of strong beers at a bar in the square. Soon we also return to the hotel as it has been a long day and the most miles so far at 284 miles.

Sunday, 4 th May 2003

Poligny is on the edge of the Jura mountains and the N5 takes us winding up through some fantastic scenery. I have decided that my limit on cornering is to be when my feet are scratching the tarmac and so it is on the left to right and right to left corners hairpins - switchback - you name it - the new pan definitely handles better than the old one and what's more try as I may I cannot go quickly enough to get the red light on again so all for the moment is well. Mike and I open up quite a gap on the others but even we are made to look standstill when a local SP2 passes us at a good few mph more than we are travelling - no point in trying to stay with him so we just continue to ride quickly but still well within ourselves. We seem to have reached the highest point and are beginning to descend when we turn a corner only to see the most magnificent sight of Mont Blanc in all its glory. A little further on is a stopping place and we have to stop. After a short while we are joined by the others and all cameras are busily clicking. We eventually continue stopping once more for a coffee break - the roads around here are fabulous although they begin to straighten out as we approach our lunchtime destination - Annecy.

It has long been a golden rule of mine when touring to avoid large towns or city centres unless absolutely necessary. Even with autocom systems there is always the likelihood of a party such as ours loosing each other and so it was to be in Annecy. But Annecy was absolutely necessary and thanks to autocom Ben and Mike were soon able to find us at the canal side which is lined with restaurants and a bike park which makes it seem like an up market Abergavenny Bus Station. It was a fabulous setting for Sunday lunch but extremely busy with the weather now turning a lot warmer with bright sunshine - thank God I'd packed my leather trousers.

From Annecy we were to make our way to Chamonix where David had earmarked a hotel for us and this time I think it had also been booked. The roads again are fantastic - we first go along the lakeside on to Ugine and Mageve to St Gervais before joining the autoroute for the final run to Chamonix. All this time in the background are the French Alps which makes it a fabulous journey for anyone but even more so on a motorbike. We enter the town and David seeks directions to the hotel which is very easy to find - as we ride into the car park there is another motorcyclist with a number plate familiar to me. He is Irish from Co. Kildare where I am a frequent visitor - as we unloaded and chat to him his two friends turn up also from Kildare - they are staying in the same hotel so it almost goes without saying that we eat and drink together that night and being all Celts a good time is had by all culminating in an Ireland v Wales v Scotland pool match which Ireland won. I will concede that George was somewhat disadvantaged being the only Scot there.

Monday, 5 th May 2003

The next day there is no sign of the Irish but we are up fairly early as although it is a day off from riding we intend to go up Mont Blanc in the cable car and across to Italy in a gondola. David has done this before but for the rest of us it will be a new experience so despite being a little hung-over and disappointed that the Welsh had lost to Ireland yet again we were quite excited over breakfast and on the bus into town. All that is, except Ben who did seem under the weather. On reaching the cable car we were disappointed to find it was not operating due to high winds and after waiting an hour or so it seemed the situation would not alter. We decided therefore to take the next option and that would be the train up to the glacier. By this time the Irish lads (PJ, Dave and Sean) had joined us again and we all had a laugh. Perhaps the glacier was not quite as spectacular as the original plan but still it gave us a feast of scenery both in terms of the Alps and a birds eye view of Chamonix. By the time we came down it was lunch time - the Irish boys were moving on - we were due for some food and plonked ourselves in one of the many outside restaurants in the town to enjoy a lovely meal washed down with a couple of bottles of wine. We walk back to the hotel through the town and it is four very weary Welshmen and one Scot who make it back to the hotel mid afternoon and all bar David and Ben take a siesta. David and Ben decide to take a short 20 mile or so ride into Switzerland to a café that the Irish lads had told us about. That night only four of us showed for dinner - Ben was unwell still and would take an early night - the rest of us ate again in the hotel with David and George electing to eat a cheese dish called "raclette" which involved a large chunk of cheese being heated on the table by means of a "one bar electric fire" which was great for them but Mike and I had to face the "electric fire" for the duration that gave us faces like lobsters at the end of it. David claims it was his best meal in so far on tour but I think that was due to the laugh he had at Mike and my expense.

Tuesday, 6 th May 2003

This is our 6 th day on tour and we are not yet even half way through the holiday. Yet we all feel we've done so much and seen so many things it is difficult to envisage what more we can do or see but Ben seems fully recovered and raring to go. The answer is quite simple as today we are off to Italy through the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The approach is deliberately corkscrewed to slow down traffic but it has not had the desired effect on a lorry which has shed it's load of steel sheets on the roadside. We carry on and are given a knowing look by a couple of gendarmes but they need not fear as we have no intention of racing through this tunnel as apparently the French/Italian police conspire to time vehicles that look likely to speed through the tunnel giving the culprit an unpleasant surprise on reaching the other side. The tunnel itself is much like any other tunnel but it is about 7 miles long.

We know that we have to leave the autostrada at the 1 st exit after we emerge from the tunnel. I have made some extra notes to the route card that the road we need is the S26 through Pre-St-Didier and onto the St Bernard Pass. I lead on and the beginning of this road has some very tight hairpins and to make matters worse there are road works which means that the road surface on the apex of these hairpins is just grit and shale. I call out a few of these hazards over the autocom and it seems we are all through safely, we also manage to overtake a slow moving truck which has been a nuisance to get past.. We are now climbing all the time but the road is fine - through a town onwards and upwards until turning a corner I see a barrier with the words "ROAD CLOSED" - I call this out over the autocom but I don't think the others believe me until that is they come round the bend and see it themselves. We adjourn to a small car park just below the bend and consider our options as to go back we would either have to return through the tunnel to France or travel much further into Italy on the autostrada which would take us a long way from Val d'Isere where David had hoped we could take lunch. Also it had taken a good 40 minutes to get up this far so it would take at least that long to get back to the tunnel.

As we contemplate what to do we see a 4 X 4 pick up truck coming up the road and when he gets to the barrier he lifts it and drives through - we continue to watch the truck meander up the mountainside before disappearing from view. We all looked at each other and the decision was made to give it a try so through the barrier we went and to begin with the road was fine except for some leaves and debris from the trees which should have suggested to us that the road had not been used for some time. After a few miles we saw a small snow drift which barely covered the road and we all got through without any problems. Soon however we came to another which this time was quite a few inches deep one side and perhaps up to 30 inches deep at the other end. There were however ruts from the 4 X 4 that had gone up before us and we decided to give it a try. Yours truly went first followed by Mike and Ben but David and George didn't fancy it so I went back and brought David's pan through and Ben did the same for George. Having re-mounted my own pan I went on quite a way before coming to a house with the 4 X 4 outside and a guy motioning me to stop and gesturing that there was more and deeper snow ahead and that I would not get through! I radioed this to the others but Ben was up with me anyway and volunteered to do a Tonto. He was soon back saying there was 3 - 4 ft of snow covering the road. Needless to say we turned around as had the others and by the time we caught up David and George they had arrived at the last drift we had come through But also that truck we had seen at the bottom (which turned out to be a snow plough) had come through removing the ruts we had used. Also one of the council workers with the truck was giving poor old David a massive rollicking in Italian. At one stage he seemed to be taking David's number although what good that would have done him I don't know. Amazingly George who had been reluctant on the upward journey volunteered to go first and he successfully negotiated the snow drift. I could tell David was apprehensive and the "Italian rollicking" had done nothing to help so I called out I would go next planning to return for David's pan. I proceed to go where no other pan had gone before trying to follow the path George had taken but I could feel the front wheel lifting out of the rut and the pan went on its side in the snow. It all happened in slow motion really but Ben rushed to help lift the bike and I climbed on board to join George. I was looking over my pan for any damage when Ben and Mike came through and Ben brought David's pan through too - Ben was the hero of the day. I am pleasantly surprised when there is no sign of even a scratch on the pan. The other drift is relatively easy to get through and we scurry back down to the barrier. As we do we hear the sound of two helicopters overhead and I know I'm not the only one thinking it may be the police after us - we keep on going through the barrier and back to the bottom like some kids who have been found out but don't want to be caught.

When we get back to Pre-St-Didier we stop for a coffee and to decide what next? Obviously I am the butt for jokes about pans being good for tobogganing etc. - I am just grateful that I don't have any damage to the bike.

Our dilemma now is that we have wasted a few hours; and should we go back into France or on into Italy? We decide the latter option, the plan being we make up time covering ground faster on the autostrada, trying to get as near to the Mediterranean as possible by evening .

So it was Turin here we come stopping only once for fuel and a quick sandwich lunch at some services. I led but expected to be overtaken by all of the others due to my being restricted to about 80 mph but to my surprise only Ben went past. As we approached Turin I had to slow down for the others to catch up. For me the Turin traffic was not so bad but some comments were made later about cars closing in behind but I think the secret is to go quicker as the Italians all drive fast so if you appear in their way they will come up close and have even been known to nudge someone from behind. David had expressed some concern at the services that I was now the only one with a map of Italy but he needn't have worried as I knew exactly where I was going and tried to make sure that I kept everyone in sight. We needed the A6 south bound and I was keeping an eye out for the towns Carmagnola , Savigliano, Fossano and Cuneo all of which would be off the A6 autostrada. After eventually leaving the autostarda we ended up in Cuneo which was a more industrial type of town but we stopped briefly to ensure everyone knew where we were headed. It was coming up to 4:00 pm and with a bit of luck we could make the Med. Everyone agreed that's what we should aim for with the destination being Ventimiglia which is just inside the Italian border on the Mediterranean coastline. The main road number to look out for was E74 which was to take us through the mountains out of Italy into France and back to Italy. I enjoyed this road immensely - it had all sorts of corners, climbs, drops tunnels - you name it - it was there. But I was soon out in front on my own again with occasional glimpses of Ben. I waited in the first garage I came to in Ventimiglia but when they appeared the convoy kept going so in I followed and we made our way to the sea front, I volunteered to go and find a hotel which I did without problem right opposite a garage and a McDonalds. It was also air-conditioned which helped as it had been very hot in Italy that day with the temperature moving over 30?c at times . The Pan's computer gives out a lot of information - that is - when you can read it. In the bright sunshine we had been experiencing for the last couple of days the display was impossible to read - another black mark for the lady Pan.

Showered and refreshed by a beer from the bar we were all very hungry as little or no food had been partaken during the day. The hotel had no restaurant but the young lady in reception directed us to a nearby establishment which was seemingly family run with the waiter being a very jolly individual who proceeded to recommend this and that but the meal when it arrived did not quite live up to expectations. Having said that we cleared our plates and were ready for beddy byes but still Ben and Mike wanted to walk into town - I think Ben was trying to make up for the night he missed in Chamonix. David George and yours truly went back to the hotel as we were whacked - although we had only covered 259 miles that day bear in mind that mileage was mostly done in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 7 th May 2003

Ben and Mike reported over coffee that the town had been dead but in their walk they had seen a Yamaha and Honda garage just down the road from the hotel. I make my way to the Honda place along with Mike and David and explain to the girl behind the counter the problem I have had with the Pan. She in turn explains to her father who appears to be the proprietor. It seems they would be unable to look at the bike as they were too busy but from my description her father thought that it was not serious and could even be the result of the sudden rise in air temperature causing the engine management system to react. I tried to explain that the problem had occurred in Germany 4 days prior when it was not as hot but I could not make myself understood. Instead I bought a couple of cheap T-shirts a micro cloth and a new visor for my helmet - oh yes I had dropped my lovely Shoei at some services and marked the visor.

We returned to the hotel and prepared to leave - the day was already warming up - I had bought some sunglasses in Poligny that fitted inside the Shoei and now the flip up front was to come into it's own I also did not zip up my jacket to allow more air to flow. All this was to prove very worthwhile as we made our way along the coast to towards Menton and Monte Carlo. Ben and Mike had taken the lead but in doing so must have missed the sign for Monaco and have disappeared - I lead down into Monaco through the main part of the town followed by David and George - the traffic is unbelievable but I am pretty sure of my way down to the front which is a good place to stop. Part of the problem with the traffic is that the streets are being prepared for the Grand Prix at the end of the month but apart from David's Pan momentarily overheating we get down the front and park opposite the café as I had intended to. Ben and Mike though are still missing and we guide them with the autocom - it's coffee time again. It turns out David has trodden on his autocom lead and this is why he has not been on air - I lend him my spare lead so that little difficulty is resolved - we have not negotiated the rental fee though.

We should have learnt our lesson from Monte Carlo but instead we headed straight into the cauldron that is Nice. The traffic is unprecedented and it is stiflingly hot - David wants to make for the Promenade de Anglais and he appears to know where he is going but does not follow the sign for the Promenade de Anglais - he is instead heading for the port and is calling out over the autocom but his transmission is not too clear. I have got into the lane for the Promenade de Anglais and cannot change to follow him - Ben, George and Mike follow me but at the next lights they turn off and I lose them. I make my way round towards the Promenade de Anglais and hear David calling out and at the same time I see him so I call back to him and tell him I am at the lights he has just gone through waiting to join the Promenade de Anglais and if he pulls in I can catch him up. Where the others went to, got to or came from I don't know but after a while I move on only to see Ben going in the opposite direction - further on George and Mike are in the process of doing a U-turn at the lights. Somehow we manage to end up in the same place pointing in the same direction which again we must put down to the autocom systems - this is the first tour we have done with bike-to-bike radios and whilst they are not perfect I dread to think about where we would have been without them on this trip.

Anyway we've got to get out of Nice - what did I say about large towns and city centres? - must avoid!! We consult David's hotel book at the next stop and locate some accommodation in Golf Juan which is just a little way along the coast. After consulting with a tourist information office David, Mike and I find the hotel quite easily - Ben and George take a little longer. The hotel is OK but not the best on tour so far but when I ask for the best room the manager smiles and says Mr Jones already has it. Up I go to my room which is 109 only to find David has dumped some of his things in there and gone back to his bike for more - I look for the key he has left and it is for 112 so I guess that he has gone to the wrong room (all the doors were ajar) - I decide room 112 is for me and I swap keys - would you believe room 112 is huge with it's own balcony etc. I smile to myself when David complains later that his room is very small and it is a couple of days later before I let him into my little secret.

That night we walked down to the front and ate what was to be the best meal to date. The tables we sat on were adjacent to the main part of the restaurant on the other side of the road and overlooked the sea - fantastic. One thing we couldn't get over was a guy on his own who sat on the table behind us had seemingly done a runner without paying!.

Really all we wanted to do that night was go to bed as although we had only covered a grand total of 48 miles it had been an exhausting day - but Ben wanted to go to this club so Mike and I went with him but laughed when they would not let Ben in as he had shorts on - he! he!

Thursday 8 th May 2003

Our destination today is a small town called St Gilles near Nimes(Perrier water country) in the Carmargue area David has seen, in his book, a "restaurant with rooms" which is highly recommended and five rooms are booked for us that night.

First we are leaving Golfe Juan and there seems to be some confusion as to which route to take I am not keen on taking the coast road as we need to make sure we don't fall behind. It ends up George and I take the middle road to Frejus and St Raphael the rest poodle around the coast which results in George and I having an hour on the front in St Raphael to while away the time. After that St Tropez is on the agenda although it is to take us a good hour but we have lunch there and then head back to St Maxim to pick up the auto route - A8 to Aix en Provence.

We need to get on but all except Ben are very slow particularly as I am still restricted to about 80 miles per hour. What the hell - everyone knows where they are going and I get to the hotel at about 4 o'clock but go past into St Gilles to get petrol. I am just going back to the hotel when Ben rings me to say he is in St Gilles having a beer so back I go to join him. We also contact the others who are about to arrive at the hotel so Ben and I drink up and go to join them. The rooms although basic are fine and we are all eager to wash and change to go down to the restaurant. We are not disappointed as the food is magnificent - George and I have the "Royal Plate" as a starter which consisted of 16 oysters, 16 mussels, 16 King prawns, a whole lobster and a host of other shellfish. Mel's in heaven and this is definitely the finest meal of the entire tour.

Friday, 9 th May 2003

We are now a day ahead of schedule as we did not stay in the Nice area for two days as originally planned. I wish someone had suggested we stay in the Carmargue for two days instead, if only to enjoy another meal in "Le Flaumant Rose" as I would have definitely seconded that motion - no one did - and I didn't think of it either - too late now.

Instead we are leisurely moving across the Carmargue towards Nimes to join the auto route - A9 which is to take us past Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan. As I join the A9 I am mulling over in my mind what the Italian Honda dealer said, but when I attempt to go faster the red light comes on again and I pull into the first services which was on the agenda anyway as a coffee stop. I decide to ring Honda (UK) again in the hope as it is a week day I may be able to get some more help particularly the name or telephone number of a dealer in the area. This time I spoke to another helpful young lady called Debbie but the advice was the same as given previously. So I was governed to 80 mph for the duration of the tour it would seem. By the time I got to Pepignan I was very glad to leave the autoroute not because of my self imposed speed limit but because it was so windy, at times I thought I would be blown off. Ben had gone on and I suppose without panniers he was slightly less susceptible to cross winds. Mike and I stayed together rarely going over 70 mph whereas David and George had fallen behind, David, who does not like cross winds at all, later told me he'd gone down to 50 mph in parts, and frankly I didn't blame him.

We began the climb out of France to Andorra together but it was not before very long Ben Mike and I had left behind both David and George who appeared perfectly content to bring up the rear. The road has a good surface with plenty of twists and turns, here the new Pan was well able to keep up with the Kawasaki and Yamaha - my feet are scuffing left and right handers and I am enjoying myself, I believe Mike and Ben are also. We stop at a small town at what looks like the nicest place for food. Lunch is adequate, but after the last evenings meal nothing was going to compare well. After some banter at the table we leave in the same formation as we arrived, and continue the climb to Andorra the same three front riders elect to ride over the mountains rather than through the tunnels. The roads are open so you can plan your lines and approach well ahead. On approaching Andorra there is a long queue of cars in the opposite direction undergoing a customs search, not a good prospect for us when we leave I thought. As we hadn't seen either David or George for some time we stopped at a small bike shop to wait for them. I had heard about the prices of goods in Andorra that they were extremely cheap for bike clothing and accessories but, this was not the case in this particular shop. Mike contacted the others who were a good way behind us even though they had come through the tunnels - they must have stopped I guess. However they soon arrive and we all continue on to the town of Andorra. It isn't long before we are booked into a hotel with a garage - so all is set for a night in Andorra, and tentative plans made for a second night there also. On that presumption I get ready and decide to wash my union Jack shorts and hang them on the balcony of my room which overlooks the busy street. As I am ready before the others I just nip out to look at my Union Jack only to be just in time to see them blown off in the wind and floating down to the street. They don't get far - instead they land on another balcony of a room that appears to be unoccupied - just as well! I rush to reception just as Mike and David are negotiating an extra night, to declare a National emergency regarding my shorts! This lovely girl in reception must think I am mad but she obliges by coming out into the street to see what all the fuss is about and then she goes to retrieve them for me - what an angel! With my shorts safely back in my room I go down to the bar to meet up with the boys, and we into town to find some food. We end up somewhere cheap but cheerful and the food is fine, and we enjoy our customary Mickey taking and banter. Next on the agenda is a trip to a club where Ben and I take on the local dart champions on an electric board.

Saturday, 10 th May 2003

We are not pleased when we find out from a different girl on reception that we can't stay an extra night as the hotel will be full. A pity we did not know the night before as we wouldn't have made such a late night of it. To compromise we decided to walk off the alcohol and delay our departure until we have to check out at midday. A brisk walk around the town which incorporates a shopping spree (more T-shirts for me) and a couple of mugs of strong coffee with a snack and we were ready to go. There is also a garage at the entrance of the hotel car park so we fuel up enabling us to leave with the intention of covering a fair amount of miles that afternoon. However imagine our frustration as we ride out of Andorra towards Spain and we see at least six, maybe more bike shops- we don't stop as we could not visit just one shop and not the others but for anyone planning a trip to Andorra the bike shops are on the Spanish side. There is some traffic near the border with Spain but nothing like we had seen coming in from the French side. We glide past the cars and on through customs without any hitches.

The road down to Lleida is a little like the Builth to Rhyader to Llangurig road but the scenery is more like a Spaghetti western plus we followed the edge of a lovely lake for quite some time. Reaching Lleida we join the autostrada to go to Saragossa and beyond. We go on to Junction 19 where we need the N122 which will eventually take us across country to Burgos. Somewhere along the way I have lost the others - again. I wait after the tolls under some shelter out of the sun. I am having even more trouble with my helmet. The ratchet holding the visor has come loose and I have lost one of the plastic screws. I remove the visor and ratchet completely to rely on the Pan's screen and my sunglasses for protection. After these running repairs It is not long before I hear some chatter on the radio and I see David leading the others up to the booth. There appears to be some commotion and traffic is building up behind with one or two cars tooting their horns in protest at being delayed. The toll man is out of his booth and taking David's number but finally they are let through. It turns out that David had lost his ticket causing much confusion before finally the toll man agreed he could pass through only when he had paid the same toll as appeared on the other riders tickets. For me as a spectator it was like a scene from the Keystone Cops. We had a quick conversation regarding how long we should continue to travel before we needed a bed and decided an hour or so should do it. Approximately an hour later we leave the main drag and turn into a town called Tarazona but surprise, surprise we cannot find a hotel. On we go to another town called Agreda and we see a hostel (which I think is a truck drivers stop) it looks interesting and they have rooms and a garage. Also it is very cheap at €29 per night. You know what? The rooms are fine and I would recommend them to anyone but what was even more of a surprise was the 3 course "top" menu at €25 which was absolutely delicious with the main course being a very generous portion of hake cutlet and free wine luuvly jubbly! An early night suited us all as we needed to catch up on some sleep missed in Andorra.

Sunday, 11 th May 2003

The next day we should be able to complete our journey to our final destination - Comillios. It is no time before we are in Burgos and once through the town we stop for fuel and coffee. After that we are back in the hills and the roads are great again. On we go and this time Mike and Ben have swapped bikes. Ben has wasted no time getting used to the Fazer but somehow Mike doesn't seem quite as comfortable on the Kwacker. Just as well Ben didn't ask me for a swap as you'd have to winch me on and off the ZX9R. Still the three of us open a gap between us to David and George. So it continues until lunch time when we stop in a small village at what appears to be a pleasant bar cum restaurant. On TV is the 250CC race from Jerez Grand Prix and it seems to be won by a Spaniard. David and George take the customary 15 minutes to catch up. Lunch is fairly plain compared to the transport café from the night before and it would have helped if the waitress had even a smile for us. A pity as we were closer than I had thought to a place we had stopped on a previous visit and had a lovely meal. Not to worry we are in easy reach of Camillios now and stay on the main road until the autostrada which takes us virtually all the way. Again Mike, Ben and I have broken away from the others and we arrive at Casa de la Castro late afternoon and are able to get three rooms that overlook the town and the monastery. David and George are 15 minutes or so behind us but soon we are all settled in and meet outside for a beer.

We have completed the route a day early having covered 2,439 miles.

The Casa de la Castro is a lovely old Parador now in private hands and not only have we stayed here before but it was the same girl on reception. That night we are all off down town to the Filipino bar which serves delicious food at excellent prices. George who had been such an asset in France with his fluent French came down to the same level as the rest of us with his "pigeon" Spanish. So much so that he managed to order two fried eggs and rice for his starter followed by sausage (chorizo) two fried eggs and chips for his main course - mind you I can talk as I had fish soup to start followed by sausage (chorizo) and bean broth as a main course. After a few drinks we agree to walk to another hotel to meet some ex colleagues of David's - Paul x 2 and Richard. David and I walk back to our hotel after a chat with "old" Paul whilst Ben and Mike go off for a few extra drinks and show "young" Paul and Richard what little night life Camillos has to offer in May.

Monday, 12 th May 2003

This was to be a complete rest day as none of us particularly wanted to cover any more miles for a little while. I had decided to venture into Santander to see if I could get some bits for my helmet and possibly a "second opinion" on the Pan's engine management problem. The young lady in reception gave me exceedingly good directions but to the Yamaha garage, never mind I was ay least able to get the bits for the Shoei and what's more they did not charge me anything! I was also able to wash the Pan in one of those power wash booths so when I re-joined the boys at a bar in Camillos it was nice and shiny again. I too wanted to rest from the bike and returned to the hotel with the Pan only to see one of it's relatives roaming the streets as if lost. I stopped to ask if I could help with directions but the couple who were from Yorkshire were just looking for a place to stop for lunch. After leaving my bike at the hotel I walked back into town and again bumped into the "Pan couple" and exchanged some experiences - this guy is even thinking of reverting to another "old" Pan so disappointed is he with the new one! Anyway I leave them to their lunch and re-join my old cronies who have now settled themselves down at a table outside another bar/restaurant. Lunch as we have become accustomed to in Spain is a very good experience - washed down by a bottle or two of wine but this time between three of us as Ben and Mike have decided to go for a short run on the bikes in the afternoon. George David and I make our way back up the hill to the hotel and take a well earned rest. I take time to fix my helmet using some glue on the plastic screws to make sure they do not come undone again.

That night we have arranged to meet David's friends at the Filipino at 8:30pm for dinner and a good night was had by all. To give some idea of cost we ate well and drank copious bottles of wine and beer with the total bill for eight coming to only €108 (say £77 - less than a tenner each!). At the end of which David and I walked up the hill to the hotel, "old" Paul went back to their hotel along the beach but the other five scoundrels went on the town again!

Tuesday, 13 th May 2003

Rain had been forecast in the night and sure enough it was drizzling this morning. We planned to take a trip into the Picos Mountains but George elected to stay behind and rest (he's already covered this route on a previous visit anyway) so it was just four of us who set off that morning. Initially there was some confusion about Mike and fuel but eventually we got off with David leading the way and showing us all a clean pair of heels (we were to tease George that night that David set a much quicker pace without George shadowing him). The others have been on this route before but for me it is my first time and I have to wait for Ben and Mike in St. Vincente as I am unsure of the route that David has taken. They pass me and after a while I have slipped behind as a result of some traffic and they get so far ahead that I have lost radio contact too. Not to worry I know that they are heading for "Potes and Panes" and I see the sign for Panes. The road is taking us up through an unbelievable gorge twisting and turning it is really fantastic to ride through. Eventually I hear a familiar voice and I think they are not so far ahead - sure enough as I enter Potes I see them ahead at some traffic lights. Here we stop for some breakfast which is "bacon and eggs" for a change.

We now head on to Riano which David tells us is a new small town built to replace an original town which was flooded to create a reservoir. It seems at the time it was not a popular move and a lot of the old residents did not take up the new accommodation being offered preferring to move away completely. The roads again are typical with a good surface which means both rider and machine are able to perform well. The approach is quite stunning and the lake formed by the flooding a lovely blue against the green foliage background. It was a bright sunny day by this time as the rain had cleared long ago. A short stop for a sandwich and a drink of water and we are beginning our return journey which now takes us off the mountain and down another gorge which is equally as impressive as the one we had travelled up that morning. At one stage I saw a sign for Cangas which said 18 kms but by the time we got there is felt like 80 kms due to the twisting and turning that we had to do through all sorts of bends and having to keep a watchful eye out for the odd goat on the road. We had stopped for a coffee at a particularly magnificent ravine and waterfall when knowing that Ben by now would be running low on fuel I could not resist the temptation when he went t o the loo to turn off his fuel. I think this created the required panic attack a couple of miles down the gorge although he quickly realised it was someone getting his own back!

After Cangas we link up with the main road again and we have not travelled very far when we see police motorcyclists moving traffic over and bringing everyone to a halt. It transpires there is a major cycle race heading our way and very impressive it is too - first there are more motor cyclists and a couple of cars before we see the leading pack which consists of about four riders with motorcycle camera crews following them - then after about fifty metres the main pack containing must be a couple of hundred bikes follow again accompanied by motorcycle police and camera crews - finally the whole entourage of support vehicles which is massive again trailed by motorcycle cops all of whom are on BMW 1150 RT's. The whole procession is quite an impressive sight at what seems a furious pace and I for one am glad we were able to see and photograph.

It is not far now to the autostrada that will take us along the coast and back to Comilios but before that we are descending a hill with a queue of traffic approaching on the opposite side of the road when out pops not one but two"kamakazzi over takers" who pull out of the traffic and come straight at us. Luckily this time there is enough of a hard shoulder for us to move onto but I began to have that déjà vu feeling and I figure there must be a phenomenon amongst younger drivers which gives no respect or right of way to oncoming motorcyclists. It is certainly something extra I shall now take into account on the continent and the UK roads for that matter.

Anyway we arrive safely at the hotel and tonight we have decided to take our meal at the hotel. Surprisingly George is not there to meet us but a quick phone call finds he is on his way up the hill and he is soon sitting down on the patio having a beer telling us what a wonderful time he's has in town that day and in fairness it does sound as if he's had a good laugh. The meal that night is somewhat disappointing but more so the service is not good - in fact everyone save the night porter has disappeared at 10 o'clock. Just as well we are all shattered and don't mind the prospect of an early night. At least we don't have to walk up that hill again.

Wednesday, 14 th May 2003

This would be our last full day of the holiday and we had decided to go along the coast road as far as Lastres stopping where and when we felt like it. The coastline of Northern Spain is quite beautiful and much underestimated by us Brits who always prefer to make a dash for the south and virtually guaranteed weather. In May however we were seeing mid 20's and better and the wonderful beaches were clean and deserted. None of us were dressed for the beach as we were more interested in sight seeing the fantastic roads plus a nice lunch if possible. The latter we found in a small quayside restaurant in Llanes that had been decorated to resemble the inside of a ship. As normal it was excellent and reasonably priced.

David had by this time developed a bit of a head cold despite the day before and that night robbing Mike of any medicines he had brought. I had also sought out a Pharmacy in St. Vincent during a coffee stop and bought some more medication for him. It was all to no avail and poor David was definitely suffering.

After lunch we decided to head back down the autostarda and get back to Comillios at a reasonable time. Ben and Mike were up for one last blast plus yours truly couldn't resist the temptation but true to form the red warning light came on again. She definitely does not like any sustained high speed on the autostarda that's for sure. This time I do not even stop but merely slow down into the inside lane flick the bike into neutral switch the ignition on and off and the light goes out back through the box to fourth then fifth gear and away we go but more slowly. Back at the hotel we sit outside and have a couple of beers and reminisce over the day and the holiday as a whole. We adjourn before making our way down town for our last night at of course the Filipino bar where again we eat and drink our fill before David finally gives up the ghost and says he's for an early night - I think the cold was getting him down - to be followed fairly rapidly by George. All that's left is the three wise men and as we do not need to leave Camillios very early the next day a good night is in order. We have a few more drinks at the Filipino bar before Mike finally decides its time for him to go up the hill. Ben and I go to another bar hopefully to play "bar football" but there are already some locals playing and we move on to the "Kiwi Bar" where we pretend to be New Zealanders and earn a couple of free drinks as a reward. We have a bit of fun with some locals but it is not too long before we too are winding our way up the hill to the hotel.

Thursday, 15 th May 2003

On his day off George had managed to wangle "bacon and eggs" at the hotel for breakfast so for the second consecutive morning we were able to start the day off in true style. Over breakfast Mike and I decided we would go into Santander to the Yamaha garage to get a bolt to hold his petrol tank on as this had worked lose at some stage and popped out. At the same time the others would make their way to the Ferry Terminal but congregate further along the coast where there was a bit of a beach. So Mike and I went off and sure enough we found the Yamaha garage, who supplied, and this time fitted the bolt free of charge - we were also able to visit the pressure washer and clean the bikes thoroughly. To get to the Ferry terminal we rode through the old town which was a little tricky due to very steep narrow and damp cobbled streets with extremely tight turns. A trials bike would have been more in order not a fully loaded up Pan and Fazer. We were grateful when we eventually dropped down to the main stream city centre traffic and towards the ferry terminal. We rode past the terminal and it was obvious there was no boat in yet so we continued along the front to look for the rest of the gang. When we come to a fork in the road we took a right to continue along what we thought would be the coast but after awhile we saw no sign of the others so turned around - we also could not raise them on the radio - I suggested to Mike therefore that we go to the terminal to check in and wait for them there as time was going on and it wouldn't be long before they would have to do the same. So that is precisely what we did only after checking in to find that there was up to a three hour delay and that we could not exit with the bikes. We made our way to the queue of bikes already lining up near the terminal building and rang the others on their mobiles to tell them not to rush and find themselves in the same predicament as Mike and I. By this time we had also found out that the terminal building itself was undergoing a complete refurbishment and you could not even get a cup of coffee.

I began to talk to another guy with a Welsh flag on his bike who turned out to be from Abergavenny - his name was Gordon and as he was on his own Mike and I invited him to stroll across the road with us for a coffee. This we did and found a table amongst several other bikers who'd had the same idea. Gordon turned out to be a very interesting character who was still biking on a ZZR 600 at 70 years of age!! Now this made my day as David had repeatedly reminded us on tour that he was nearing his 65 th birthday and that he hopes some of us could be riding as well as he at the same age. Now here was a man at least 5 years his senior who claimed he was covering 3 - 400 miles a day without any fuss. In fact he had just completed a holiday with his wife in Southern Spain - dropped her in Malaga airport (in a taxi) and then made his way to Santander all on is own. Apparently Mrs Gordon had some years prior given up riding pillion but Gordon talked as if he would never stop riding.

Eventually we strolled back to the terminal just as the rest of our crew were riding past. By this time there must have been a couple of hundred bikes in the queue but amazingly not that many cars. Soon after we were loaded and as a result Mike and I were a good bit further down the gangway than the other three. There was little or no help to tie down the bikes and also there seemed to be a shortage of ropes. I was glad therefore that I had my own ratchet and strap which I had learnt to carry following my first trip with David who I knew carried a couple of ropes with similar ratchets. I think he actually loaned one to Ben but George and Mike had to beg some rope and eventually tie their bikes down. I ended up helping a damsel in distress (with a Fazer 600) to tie hers down too.

We had booked three double commodore class cabins which have beds rather than bunks and are much roomier and civilised with TV fridge etc. All agreed that David as the organiser should have the room on his own - or was it because no one wanted to catch his cold? Dinner was arranged for 7:30pm and I for one used the balance of the afternoon to rest. We again all wore our formal polo shirts this time in mauve - except Ben who'd been told by someone to wear blue - tut tut! After dinner was beddy byes for me as I do not think I have the stamina these days for two late nights on the trot. The others also did not have a terribly late night although there were stories the next morning that the other bikers on board had almost provided their own cabaret in the main bar.

Friday, 16 th May 2003

After breakfast Ben Mike and I went to the cinema whilst George and David did some shopping. We had arranged to have lunch in the cafeteria where we finally saw Gordon again who expanded even further re: his exploits on two wheels which confirmed even more that he was an extremely interesting and well travelled motorcyclist indeed. He is definitely a loner though and must be respected for that although I must admit I for one would be more than happy in his company if only to benefit from his vast experiences.

Before we know it we were packing for the final time and then loading the bikes to depart the boat which was a little later than scheduled but some time had been made up on the crossing as conditions had been quite calm.

In Plymouth the culture shock began and it was cold and threatening rain. All these bikes coming off the ferry at once causes some confusion but eventually we are on our way through the city and onto the A38 and everyone seems to have negotiated the many speed cameras that line the exit to Plymouth.

I am purring along at the speed limit and get passed by Ben but no sign of the others and no radio contact either. I get overtaken by everything from Hyabusa's down to Gordon on his ZZR 600 although it is fair to say that everyone is being a little cautious about their speed. Ben has pulled over and I motion to him that I am going to keep going as we have provisionally arranged to have a stop at Sedgemoor Services. Around Exeter the rain starts and it pours - a lot of bikes are pulled over on the hard shoulder under bridges putting on their waterproofs. My jacket is OK and despite my leather trousers the Pan is keeping me dry. On I go to the services and I decide to wait outside but 20 minutes later there is still no sign of them or any radio chatter. I decide to move on but the rain is still coming down and so it does until about the Severn Bridge and it is cold - welcome back to the UK I think. The M4 is busy and from Magor onwards it is about standstill so I eventually take to the hard shoulder as I am leaving at the next exit for the A449. Soon I am turning off for Usk and I am home - my wife Leah opens the door and comes down to help me unload but she is beaten by Rizzo our Jack Russell who does everything but jump up on the tank. Home sweet home! It turns out the boys went on to Gordano Services instead so I did not see them again which is a great pity, as it would have been nice to just say cheerio.

Conclusion

The tour was well organised and we completed the route a day early. We all learnt even more about touring on the continent not least to pay particular attention to oncoming traffic. I personally have also returned with mixed feelings about the Pan. It has awesome touring capability but Honda in my opinion have failed to retain that package that the old Pan had to do all the basics right and in doing so install total confidence in the machine. The new Pan needs to have some rough edges smoothed over. In particular the mirrors need resiting as the flash of the sun shining on the levers gives the impression that there is a bike immediately behind you plus the gauges are impossible to read in bright sunlight. As for the electronics there does appear to be a fault in the fuel/exhaust system and to date no one seems prepared to rectify this problem. Honda (UK) dealers seem to be a little like the NHS - plenty of patients but no beds. Maybe I shall divorce the Honda and marry the FJR?

 

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SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS

 

 

I have been on a number of foreign tours riding solo as part of a group but the opportunity came for my wife and I to finally try a bike touring holiday during my daughter's school trip.


Sunday 24 th July
We waved the school bus away at 7:30am, my wife Wendy looking as if she would start crying at any time as i tried hard not to show my delight. I did think about us already wearing our bike clothes to the school but decided it might look like we were rushing her away on the school trip, so instead they were all laid out at home.


Getting to Fort William


With heavy rain to start and heading north the omens did not look too good at this stage. Wanting to get there reasonably quickly but also hoping to see some sights we used mainly the A roads but by-passed the heavily congested areas by using the Motorways.
The A49 took us to Shrewsbury for our first cuppa where we provided onlookers with much entertainment whilst removing our waterproofs; i suppose we did look like aliens in this garden centre café. Moving on to Whitchurch and heading for Warrington I finally had to relent and used the M6 getting off for the Lake District and Newby Bridge .
Riding along Lake Windermere proved slow going with the heaviest traffic we endured all trip then over a rather disappointing Kirkstone pass and along Ullswater to Pooley Bridge for our first nights B&B accommodation. Distance - 273 miles


Monday 25 th
Dry weather and we were away at 9am using the M6 from Penrith to Carlisle , things getting better on the A roads to Dumfries and Kilmarnock with slow moving vehicles spaced out for easy overtakes.
Following signs for Glasgow we skirted around the west of the city through Paisley and over the Erskine Bridge noticing the contrast of high rise housing in Glasgow towards the east and the Highlands in the distance. Feeling as if we were at the real start point it was onto the A82 alongside Lock Lomond taking a well earned rest at Inverarnan in the Drovers Inn.


Drovers Inn

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Built in 1705 the Inn was used by the Highland drovers on their way to the markets in Glasgow . On entry to the reception area you are faced by a full grown, stuffed Grizzly Bear and assortment of other animals and an impression that little has changed over the last 300 years.

 

Drovers Inn


During the final push of the day neon road signs warned drivers to expect delays ahead due to roadwork's and holiday traffic, but I can't say they held us up too much as we filtered to the front and made steady progress through the dramatic location of Glen Coe. Finally we reached Fort William the largest town in the Highlands , finding our accommodation with ease where we based ourselves for the next three nights. Distance – 236 miles



The Highlands


Tuesday 26 th
A day off the bike, so with the intention of walking Ben Nevis i had posted my walking gear ahead of us to the B&B rather than use up essential luggage capacity.


Ben Nevis - Britain 's highest mountain has a summit of 4,406ft (1,344m). The mountain begins its rise from the shores of Loch Linnhe so the ascent is virtually the full height from sea level to the summit over a distance of 10 miles.

 

Loch Linnhe

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The views up to 3500ft were wonderful being able to look across the dozens of other peaks within sight and taking every opportunity for pictures. The mist then reduced visibility and made things much colder. Total walk took almost 5 hours, but later in the visitor centre i was humbled to read the record is less than 2 hours.


During the evening we opted for the entertainment of McTavish's Kitchens. Initially we thought the sole piper to be worth the entrance fee, until we heard the tremendous sound of the highlands band making their way along the main street. If only we had gone window shopping instead that evening!


Wednesday 27 th We spent this day exploring the surrounding area without having to carry the luggage. Firstly we rode along Glen Nevis which is a single track leading to a parking area for all those that want access to walking routes and climbing.
Next we visited the Ben Nevis Distillery which was easy to find as we could smell the whisky from some distance. Established in 1825 this was an interesting visit around one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland . From here we travelled just a few miles to view Neptune 's Staircase.


Neptune 's Staircase - In 1803 Thomas Telford was appointed Chief Engineer when Parliament commissioned the building of the Caledonian Canal . Taking nearly 20 years to complete the canal runs from Loch Linnhe on the west coast to the Moray Firth on the east via Glen More, so that sailing around the dangerous north coast could be avoided. A system of four canals linking three lochs over a length of 96 km, it is controlled by a series of 9 gates and 8 locks hence the name Neptune 's Staircase.


After approx 3 hrs we were still within the area of Fort William but soon covered some distance on the wonderful “Road to the Isles.” A 40 mile ride on the A830 through Glenfinnan alongside the famous 21-arched Viaduct (as shown in the Harry Potter films), enjoying wide sweeping bends to the quaint fishing port of Mallaig with a view of the Inner Hebridean islands.
After relaxing for a while we retraced a few miles before turning off on the A861 for the scenic route around Glenuig and Kinlockmoidart. This is single track but nevertheless good road surface as we made our way back the long way round along Loch Sunart, Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil. Although within sight of Fort William this area is very remote as it takes approx 2 hours to reach when driving around the Lochs, the only other option being the ferry across from Ardgour to Corran.
Wanting to pack for an early departure the following morning it was back to the B&B to get ready for the next destination. Distance – 170 miles


Thursday 28 th
With a long day ahead and hoping to arrive at a reasonable time we were away by 8am travelling northwards on the A82.
Within 15 minutes whilst passing through Spean Bridge on a tight left hander we came to a car on its roof with the music blaring, wheels still turning, driver hanging out of the door and the passenger dazed but walking around. First on the scene was a car driver travelling in the same direction as the accident victim, and we arrived next in the opposite direction. Thankfully the victim had already been placed in the recovery position so it was a case of stop the traffic, get an ambulance on its way, try to get a response from the victim and reassure the passenger.
Slowly the Paramedics recovered the victim to the extent where he regained consciousness. All traffic respectfully waited for the scene to be cleared and the Police to start directing them through. Unfortunately one bike could not wait and came filtering from the other direction, managing to avoid the debris as he passed a scene that looked as though there must have been a fatality involved. Personally I felt utter contempt at the actions of that rider, but had some reassurance of British principles when I recognised the number plate – lets just say it was foreign.


On our way again at 10ish it was a struggle to put the scene out of my mind and concentrate on my riding, but i then started to relax as we neared Invergarry taking the A87 to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
At Shiel Bridge we took the scenic detour along single track over some steep inclines leading down to the shore of Gleneig Bay.

The two main routes onto the Isle of Skye are the ferry from Mallaig to the southern end and the Skye Bridge to the northern end, but there is a little known ferry crossing, reputably the last of its type in the world where the upper deck swivels around to accommodate rolling on and off. This operates during the summer months only and crosses when there are enough passengers waiting.

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After waiting for 30 minutes and paying our £4 we boarded with three cars and four cyclists and were soon over onto the Isle of Skye . Continuing on un-named roads to the A87 we departed Skye on the un-tolled bridge over the Kyle of Lochalsh and into the area of Wester Ross where we continued north on our second little detour.


The sign said “Often closed in winter,” which fuelled my interest as we aimed for Applecross over the UK 's highest road pass “Bealach Na Ba,” (Pass of the Cattle).

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This is a steep climb with hairpin bends up to a peak of 710m (2329 ft) on Meall Gorm. The views were stunning enhanced by the colors of the angry sky where storms rained down in the distance.

Snow poles to indicate the depth of the snow and direction of the road lined much of this route which is very useful when reading the road ahead. “Passing places” are available every 100metres or so with signs encouraging slower moving vehicles to pull in for others to pass by. In fact although it is a very remote location every effort has been made to cater for the motorist without spoiling the landscape.

Bealach Na Ba

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This is a steep climb with hairpin bends up to a peak of 710m (2329 ft) on Meall Gorm. The views were stunning enhanced by the colours of the angry sky where storms rained down in the distance.
Snow poles to indicate the depth of the snow and direction of the road lined much of this route which is very useful when reading the road ahead. “Passing places” are available every 100metres or so with signs encouraging slower moving vehicles to pull in for others to pass by. In fact although it is a very remote location every effort has been made to cater for the motorist without spoiling the landscape.
After the photo stop it was a gradual downhill to Applecross just managing to beat the cyclists to the local café.

 

Continuing north around the coastal route it was onto the A896 at Shieldaig then the A832 at Kinlochewe. Single track with a wet surface meant slow going along Loch Maree and Little Loch Broom but thankfully we continued to miss all the surrounding storms that looked so close. Finally we reached the A835 for the last few miles to Ullapool.
When arriving at a new destination i always get fuel ready for the next journey and then take the opportunity to check the street map for our accommodation. After a long day i find this gives me a little rest before struggling through built up areas trying to find a particular address, this worked well and we arrived at our accommodation “The Old Surgery” at 6pm .
We spent the evening in a pub struggling with the local language – Russian, as half the customers and staff seemed to be Russian, even the rather stern looking door man. Still we had a most enjoyable evening with some tourists from North Germany who visit Scotland every year. Distance – 241 miles


Friday 29 th
Leaving on the A835 we continued northwards on the A894 over open Mooreland with sweeping bends spoiled only by the strong easterly crosswinds.
We stopped briefly at Kylesku to view the highest waterfall in the UK . Now I wasn't expecting anything like the Angel Falls of Venezuela of course, but nevertheless this was a little disappointing when viewed from a few miles as the only way to get close is by boat. After marvelling at the local Post Office – a garden shed, we continued north to the area of North-West Sutherland.
Continuing on single track again we arrived in Durness on the North Coast to watch their Highland Games being opened by the highlands band. Cape Wrath , the furthest point North West is only a few miles from here but involves a short boat trip across the Kyle of Durness and then a mini bus ride to the lighthouse. That was sure to be one detour too many so we continued east along the north coast, marvelling at the unspoilt beaches and battered coastline following the A836 to Thurso for our next two nights accommodation.
It was still only mid-afternoon so we pushed on to Dunnet Head the UK 's most northerly point, took the obligatory photographs and then went to John O'Groats. Here we booked ourselves for a trip to the Orkney Islands and then returned to Thurso via Wick and settled into our accommodation. Distance – 217 miles.

 

Saturday 30 th Firstly a brisk ride to John O Groat's followed by the 8:30am crossing over the Pentland Firth , arriving in the Orkney Islands some 40 minutes later where a coach awaited us.
The day tour included visiting many local attractions including the Churchill Barriers, the Neolithic village of Scara Brae (2,500BC), the Italian Chapel and the capital Kirkwall .
After the windswept return crossing we rode back late evening to complete an enjoyable and interesting day. Distance - 40 Miles


Sunday 31 st
Departing Thurso and heading south we followed the A9 along the coastal route to Inverness , and the A82 along Loch Ness to rest at Drumnadrochit. Loch Ness is well known of course but still surprised me in that it holds more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England combined, it is up to 230 metres deep and 38 km long. A visit to the Loch Ness visitor centre followed, where a surprisingly balanced view of the myth was presented that showed hoax claims and unexplained sightings.
We pushed on further through the now familiar Fort William and on to Ballachulish, arriving early after making much better progress by avoiding the single track roads. This was to be our base for the next two evenings. Distance – 195 miles

 

Monday 1 st August We spent the morning walking some delightful little known routes along Glen Creran courtesy of local information from our hosts, nothing too strenuous i'm glad to say but very relaxing as we were away from sight or sound of any other persons.
Throughout the afternoon we explored further on the Bike. First we rode along Loch Leven to take a look at the area of Glen Coe with Majestic views of mountain scenery, and then we visited the monument to the MacDonald Clan massacred in 1692. Next we followed the wonderful B863 to Kinlochleven where we spent a few hours around the local waterfalls and the indoor ice climbing centre.

Glen Coe

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The evening brought our first introduction to some well known locals – Midges. Leaving a pub and riding away with a crash helmet full of them made us realise what we had been warned about, thankfully that was our only encounter with the Midges. Distance – 60 miles



Heading Home


Tuesday 2 nd
Leaving on the A828 along Loch Linnhe and Loch Creran our first stop was in the bustling seaside resort of Oban. Next the A85 took us to Loch Awe turning right onto the A419 and then the A83 along loch Fyne. The A83 goes over the aptly named “Rest and be Thankful” a road first built in 1746 that rises to 262m, taking the name from the inscription on a rough stone bench at the summit. This road is ideal for motorcycling with fast open bends and great views and plenty of room to overtake any slow movers.

Rest and be Thankful

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Arriving at the A82 just south of the Drovers Inn at Inveranan we retraced our steps around Glasgow and Kilmarnock . Stopping at a café in New Cumnock the old photographs on the wall showed that the area used to rely heavily on coal mining. Carrying on through Dumfries we encountered the strongest winds so far along the exposed M6 leaving at J40 on the A66 for the Yorkshire Dales National Park .


Having already studied the map for any steep inclines the call to explore was too great to ignore so it was off the beaten track again onto the B6270 for Thwaite and then unnamed roads over Buttertubs Pass to Hawes. This section was tough after a long day being buffeted by strong winds, but certainly not to be missed. However the roads were very difficult to read with blind crests and hidden dips over open moors giving little clue of which way the road would turn.
Arriving in Hawes late afternoon this being the one evening we had not booked accommodation in advance we found what must have been the only available room in the village. The reason it was available soon became apparent but it was too late to go looking elsewhere so we made the most of what was on offer and were soon out for an evening meal. Distance – 305 miles.

 

Wednesday 3 rd Our last day, we carried on through The Dales on yet more twisties noticing that there were many more motorcyclists in this area. Through Settle and Clitheroe it was onto the M6 at Preston and back off again at J15 to continue on the A roads.
Final route took us through Market Drayton, Telford , Bridgenorth, Kidderminster , and Worcester and onto Malvern Hills for a cuppa. Here we had the telephone call to say that the school coach had managed to get the earlier crossing over the channel hence would arrive at 7pm instead of 10pm .
So it was home via Ledbury arriving with time to spare at 5pm, in fact I'm sure we could have squeezed in a few more unnamed roads on the route home. Distance – 270 miles

Highlights

 

A 2000 mile trip over a period of 11 days was comfortable, and a mix of moving on regularly yet also basing ourselves at a number of locations was about right. Having travelled so far north it would be a shame not to visit Dunnet Head and John O'Groats, yet these were certainly not the best part of the ride and paled into insignificance compared to the wonderful west highlands. The lush beauty of Glen Coe and the Road to the Isles gradually changes to a more rugged and unforgiving landscape as you head north, all leaving wonderful memories that compare favourably to other European destinations visited previously.

 

Greg Sullivan

 

 

 

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