Crotty’s Treasure : a short trip to Ireland

This trip took place 9 years ago and pre-dates my writing up of regular reports on bike trips.  However, with Xander Harkness’ untimely death from cancer this last weekend, it’s a trip that has really come back as one of the stand-out journeys I’ve made on the bike and as part of working for Red Hat. 9 years okay, things were a little more ad hoc in Consulting and myself and others in the UK team, which was 7-8 people had picked up reputation of travel-anywhere fixers. This was at the end of period where the bulk of our work was doing Oracle RAC installs on Linux in 4-5 weeks, that were taking Accenture and others 12 months. A couple of years earlier, following a Severity 1 call from Bord na Mona in Ireland at 9pm, I’d ended up on another overnight ferry trip and in their data centre in Kildare at 8h30 and problem solved before the morning tea and scones.

Therefore the consulting team was made up of some very self-sufficient people, who could plan travel and make decisions autonomously, all to good effect with the customer.   Over the previous year or so, Xander had been working with  large retail  in Eastleigh and Southampton and in a creative effort to cut expenses we’d rented a house cheaper in the marina in Southampton, so we’d spent some time together onsite and at the house, and we’d even held a UK Consulting team meet up there, which involve a lot of recycled computer hardware and skullduggery.    At one point, Xander has discovered the main build server and version control system was on a PC under a receptionists desk,  rather than in the data centre. With 80% of the people working there as contractors, it wasn’t the easiest environment, especially as you normally had no desk or chair and worked from cardboard boxes.   The main office was Mitchell House, opposite Eastleigh railway station and it’s reputation amongst the Red Hat team wasn’t high. At one time over 50% of the RH Consultants in the UK worked there.

Mitchell House, the main offices used by the customer in Eastleigh, which had a serious poor reputation. After resigning, one of the contractors made a slight alteration to the signage.
Mitchell House, the main offices used by the customer in Eastleigh, which had a seriously poor reputation as a workspace. After resigning, one of the contractors made a slight alteration to the signage.

Like all good trips, it wasn’t really planned and unfortunately I cannot remember how I ended up in Cardiff at 22h00 on a midweek April evening and picking Xander up at the station. I was going to the Red Hat Cork Office for a meeting, and as a bit of a surprise for Dave Owens, original Finance lead for Red Hat in Europe, as was leaving and taking a new job with ex-RH CFO Kevin Thompson. Somewhere during the day, I must have said to Xander I was off to Ireland and did he want to come. So with some borrowed motorcycle kit, we headed off at 22h30 from Cardiff, with the aim of getting to Fishguard for the 02h30 sailing to Rosslare.

Fishguard waiting for the night ferry to Rosslare
Fishguard waiting for the night ferry to Rosslare

At the time, my KTM 950 Adventure was nearly 3 years old and just run in. Pretty good bike for a two-up run and it didn’t hang about. It was a pretty chilly run down to Fishguard, but pretty rapid and we ended up in a cabin on the boat by 02h00.  Unlike some friends and colleagues, Xander you knew was pretty self-sufficient and one of those people who leads and adds to trips rather just follows and doesn’t want to get involved.  As with some previous trips,  travelling and working with Xander was easy as he (like me) had a natural self sufficiency and an ability to pass this on to others.


We did read the sign and yes, we did ask to go up to the lake. A superb April day in the Comeraghs
We did read the sign and yes, we did ask to go up to the lake. A superb April day in the Comeraghs

You get off the ferry a bit too early at Rosslare, at 06h15, and that’s especially true in April as its only just getting light. It was going to be a nice day, but it was a chilly start.  As part of the reason of being in Cork was to be a surprise turn-up at the leaving party, we had some time during the day and given it’s only a 2 – 2.5 hour drive to Cork (this was before the Waterford bypass before you ask why it was taking me so long on the bike), I’d already planned a bit of diversion.  At the time I was doing some Geocaching with the kids and as part of work event in the Black Mountains in Wales, had placed a few caches, including one that I’d rated 4 / 5 for terrain.  Therefore I’d been eyeing up a cache in the Comeragh mountains between Waterford and Dungarven, which had had very few finds and was a bit inaccessible. Crotty’s Treasure was obscure to say the least, and rather than picking off hundreds of micro-caches in motorway services and in city parks, I’d started to do a few of the difficult ones.  It was probably this plan, with a bit of walk in the middle of nowhere that had interested Xander in the trip, as much as the Red Hat meeting and Dave’s leaving do.

Xander above Crotty's Lake at the bottom of the gully leading up to the cache location
Xander above Crotty’s Lake at the bottom of the gully leading up to the cache location

After some breakfast somewhere around Waterford, we’d headed up towards the mountains, with some printed instructions of where to get access, to park the bike and then kick off for the walk. The KTM  was excellent offroad and did a couple of steep miles up a track until we hit a locked gate on the mountain, and then finding somewhere flat parked the bike and got ready for a walk. The mist was burning off and it was going to be an exceptional day in April (for Ireland) with no wind or rain.  Unlike the UK, where most upland areas have some form of right to roam and public access, this isn’t the case in Ireland and as such the paths are less well define (or undefined) and access is a little more restricted. We’d asked permission to go up the lane and not had any issues, though this why the cache was archived later in the year.   Walking in Ireland is a little more wilder in Wales and you have a greater sense of remoteness. The walk up to the lake, following the description and the GPS was all good. Getting up to the cache wasn’t so easy and was a bit of scramble to the base of a steep gully. A few exchanged glances and we continued up what was all a bit slippery and filled with loose, recently descended rocks. Xander found the remains of the cache in washed down mud and rocks at the bottom on the gully. The cache owner, who I’d contacted beforehand had asked that as I was going there, whether I’d take a replacement with me, just in case.  I’d therefore taken a plastic tub with us on the bike and carried it up the hill and we set about finding the remnants, putting then in the new box and signing the new log book I’d also brought.

Arrow marks the spot; the cache was meant to be halfway up this gully, but was in fact in bits at the bottom. We'd brought a replacement at the request of the cache owner
Arrow marks the spot; the cache was meant to be halfway up this gully, but was in fact in bits at the bottom. We’d brought a replacement at the request of the cache owner

We went up the gully, to what we though was the right location and position the cache out of the way of water and rockfall, though we suspected that it’s future wouldn’t be a long one, given usual weather. It was a great walk and scramble and on the way down it was even warm enough (just) for a swim in the lake, though instant testicle retraction was guaranteed, as was the afterwards warming up agony of feet and hands. Given the lack of sleep the previous night on the way over, it was one way of keeping awake.


Comeragh Mountains, aren't far from the coast and are a superb range of hills
Comeragh Mountains, aren’t far from the coast and are a superb range of hills

Back to the bike and down the lane, before continuing on the road to Cork, I think stopping for a late lunch in Youghal.  The KTM was a great bike and went brilliant until 2010 until an idiot in a Mazda RX8 put me and the bike into the central reservation on the A419 coming out of Gloucester.  We made Cork in plenty of time for the meeting and then the bar, prior to having an interesting night out with Dave Owens and colleagues for his leaving do. To be honest, whether it be the 9 years or the amount of drink consumed on the night I don’t have many recollections of the evening, though searching through the photo/video archive I’ve some scary footage that should deter some people from trying to remember what really did happen.


KTM 950 Adventure, probably the best bike for road/off road I've ever owned
KTM 950 Adventure, probably the best bike for road/off road I’ve ever owned


Coming back from Ireland a day or two later, I was heading for the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales to spend a week with the kids and then wife (and the ex Mother-in-Law) and Xander also joined us for a day, doing some surfing and canoeing on the beaches of Broad Haven and Newgale. It did involve taking him down to Withybush A&E and he got smacked in the chin be the canoe when he got wiped out. He headed back east on the train from Haverfordwest, hopefully having enjoyed the trip. He did speak to me afterwards and like many things at the time, it was part of the culture of Red Hat, combining what wasn’t an easy job with quite a few laughs and adventures to keep you sane.


Later that night in Cork, as Dave Owens looks in to the face of what he was going to be become on working with closed-source software
Later that night in Cork, as Dave Owens looks in to the face of what he was going to be become on working with closed-source software

Over the last few years, with Xander changing jobs and settling down in Stockholm, I’d seen less and less of him and not really spent anywhere the amount of time that I’d done up to an including 2007. A really nice guy and great colleague, he was a person that was easy to be with and who had taste for the adventurous and less ordinary. Though I’d not forgotten about this trip, it’s something that I’ll now look upon with even fonder memories and with a continued to determination to live as much life as possible. If there is an opportunity, then grab it, as you may not get another.


Classic Off Road Show : Telford 2013

Once again time to load up the van and head north (via Tredegar) to Telford for the auto jumble at the Off Road Show.

Despite not thinking I had too much stuff, managed to fill the trailer, though this included two bikes I’d acquired in Bargoed during the week. The Yamaha XT350 was a runner, with V5 though a bit tatty, whilst the Honda XL200 had a Chinese engine fitted with the Honda one as a spare. Both good value (I thought), but neither sold on the day.


Despite snow on the way up (seem familiar ? ), it was only rain for most of the day. Once again the gazebo came into it’s own …a great investment that. We’d arrived at 07h40 as per usual other traders and the early birds were swooping around the stalls looking for the rare bargins.


Taking the usual approach, of everything has a price, I managed to sell a lot of spares quickly, even if there were a little too cheap in some cases. Made for happy punters and some space in my garage. A lot more interest in MX250 spares than I’d seen before, though not much for SC500 bits and pieces.


Had a walk round inside around lunchtime and the usual crazy prices applied. In fact, not so much in terms of the motocross stuff, some of which has always been expensive, but more so for the trials bikes and spares. I’m amazed on what people want for a Montesa 247, which they’ll never get. Mark sold his 247, for a good price, but a reasonable and fair one. Two grand for a Montesa is stretching it a bit.


That said, there were some good deals to be done. XT and TT 500’s for a grand, which is good value given current market. Did a long look at an Ossa Explorer, which had I sold either the XT or XL, I would have procured. A nice looking machine with V5. Needed a lot of work, but a great project for sure. (Didn’t manage to grab a picture whilst I was there).

There were a few MX250’s, 360’s and SC500’s for sale but all a bit pricey and a bit too original to race. I need to do an article on race prepping these Yamaha’s at some point, because though they may spark, the original ignition units are pretty awful. Moving to PVL transformed the MX250, as well as some other tuning .


Grumpy Club in Wales

Grumpy’s in Wales

Four of the club arrived; Roger, Roy and Dave accompanied my dad Allan on the trip, with Dave (with characteristic behaviour) riding his Bantam down from Berkshire to Bwlch. I’d already picked up the other bikes on trailer the previous week,

This years bikes, were the three Bantam’s from last year (though Roger’s was now more traditional black rather than last years orange) and my DT175 which I’d brought back from Belgium. Roy had a 4-stroke ex-WD BSA, which was by far the most powerful bike, but was nicely shod in trials tyres.

Day 1

Whilst Dave was riding down, (5 hours + including diversions as a result of a gas leak in Abergavenny), the others arrived by car, prepped the bikes and set off. I was working so caught up with them after a trip to Crickhowell, across Llangynidr mountain and then back to Llangorse and a bacon sandwich at the cafe there. A nice warm up ride and then back to Bwlch to meet with Dave whilst I think made chicken curry before adjourning to the New Inn. A disappointing pint if truth be told and some discussion about the weather for the week. Tomorrow was going to be the finest day by far and so get out and get some riding in.

Day 2

A route planned to take the team out over Mynnyd Eppynt and then across the Cambrian’s to Llyn Brianne was the order of the day.

View Grumpy Club Route 1 in a larger

I needed to fix a laptop before we left, but luckily it turned up early and we set off with some sunshine (not seen for a few weeks). Down the back way into Brecon and through town and on the excellent B road through Lower and Upper Chapel, before taking the left-fork across the Army ranges towards Llangammarch Wells.

Crowded garage

Quick stop on what used to be the Drover’s Pub, not functional since 1940, when the Epynt was cleared of people to make an artillery firing range. Interestingly (and not known until I was writing this up, it seems that this was also the home of Mainland TT races in 1940’s and 50’s . Now a remote spot, once a thriving community and a lifestyle lost.

Mynnyd Eppynt

Over the top and down the escarpment on into Beulah. Refueling not needed as we headed up the long single track lane through to Abergwesyn and the road across to Tregaron. it’s a brilliant route across the Cambrian Mountains and the steep inclines (1:4 / 25%) and sharp bends make it interesting on a small two-stroke. A few forestry lorries around to keep you on your toes, who must be well coordinated in order to prevent interesting roadblocks.

Lunch above Tregaron

We took the road down round Soar y Mynnyd (where there is a good green lane route across to Llandewi Brefi), before continue towards Tregaron (this deviating from the original route, based on the fact it was a nice day and we were going well). A packed lunch had been provided for the Grumpies and we stop in a forestry picnic spot, which was nicely away from the road. The DT reverted to it’s previous starting problems and it was back to dropping fuel down the plug hole to get it running. Not perfect.

The petrol station in Tregaron sums up the place really, Attended Service with a slight attitude, but nothing menacing or overtly hostile (unlike a cricket match I played there in 1994)

Attended Service fuel stop in Tregaron

Roger’s Bantam decided to play up a bit after refueling so a bit of a delay as we headed down towards Llandewi Brefi. A scan of the map (and for this type of trip I can recommend the very good, cheap Ordnance Survey touring map of Mid & South Wales and noticed a mountain road I’d not been over, going from Llandewi to Ffarmers (where I’d once been to a party where someone turned up just wearing woad, unfortunately I a guy in his 50’s).

The chapel in Llandewi Brefi

A quick sighter of a council notice confirmed my suspicions (around by the Road Closed sign) that the road was officially closed. Decided to press on anyway, as the detour meant going all the way down into Lampeter and then round. The road has plenty of gravel on it and is broken up in places, but easily passable on a bike (old and new) and it crosses over a great part of Wales.

Llandewi Brefi to Ffarmers

Getting to Ffarmers and noticed that we’d lost my dad, who was a couple of miles back with a misfire and then a non-running bike. Quick diagnosis of closed-up points gap, a fix and then fixed. Roger’s bike wasn’t being exactly lively either and was pretty slow out of the hill from Pumsaint (where the National Trust were looking for tenants for the pub there). We made good time across to Llandovery and a cup of tea and the well known bikes haunt at the West End Cafe. Parked the DT between a couple of large trail bikes and went in for a very nice cup-of-tea.

Points trouble for Allan

Further discussions on Roger’s bike, specifically around timing advance,points gap etc and decided to do a quick fettle before starting the journey back. Rather than going for the A40 (which from Llandovery to Trecastle is excellent on a modern bike), decided on the back roads, initially going up through Myddfai to the Red Kite feeding centre in Llanduessant, before turning left towards Trecastle.

West End Cafe, Llandovery

Roger’s bike was now flying up the hills and the haze of blue smoke reduced. Hard on the heels of the DT, which was now suffering the consequences of ‘mixing by eye’ the two-stroke oil.

Tuning Roger's Bantam

Through onto Crai and then other the next hill or two into Heol Senni and then to the A470 Libanus. A quick turn right, took us through the foothills of the Brecon Beacons and then to Talybont-on-Usk. Here, we took refreshment at The Star Inn , still one of the better pubs in the area, still serving really nice real ale.

After a nice pint of pale ale, back to Bwlch, but only after I ran out of fuel and suppressed the nice taste of beer with that of petrol siphoned out of Dave’s Bantam

Whilst I nipped down to the airport (in by now pouring rain) to pick up Sophie, I dropped the Grumpy’s back at the Star for dinner and participation in the quiz night (where they didn’t too bad).

Day 3

A rainy day, saw the senior members leave me doing some work and then head of a wet tour of the Black Mountains. Not sure exactly where they went, but neither did they.

They retired to The Bear Hotel in Crickhowell, along with Sophie, for drinks, before a steak dinner back in Bwlch.

Day 4

Weather not good, with heavy rain returning in the morning (wettest June since records began etc etc). A quick phone call and we booked a place on the tour of Penderyn distillery , the place where Welsh Whisky is made.

Dave needed to be back in Berkshire to present his koi carp, so he set off on the Bantam, with heavy clouds and a cold wind the air. He’d need the heated grips he’d installed on the bike.

The rest of us, with jackets on, overtrousers ready, headed off into Brecon for fuel and then on the lanes over past the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre and then over the pass from Heol Senni to Ystradfellte. The DT struggled but Roger’s Bantam was still going well up the single tracked hairpins.

More Bantam interest

The road here forms part of Sarn Helen, the ancient road that runs through parts of mid and west Wales. It’s a great spot , though the weather wasn’t helping the views. The Sarn Helen route is a well-known green lane for the off-road fraternity and I’m still not sure what it’s legal status is, as there are plenty of notices proclaiming no access for motor vehicles.

Down the valley into Ystrafellte and across the river and up and onwards onto Penderyn (more rain) and arrived at the distillery at spot on 1pm and at the same Sophie turned up in the van, The tour is interesting, and though the distillery is small compared with some of the Scottish ones, its worth stopping for a visit. They one use a single still and distilling process(compared with two in Scotland and three in Ireland), but get high strength alcohol from it. They also don’t seem to do the top-and-tailing that you see in Scotland (well at the Talisker distillery anyway).

Healthy Lunch in Hirwaun

After the tour ended up in the cafe in Hirwaun which has a practical , if somehwhat robust selection of cheap food for those passing through.

Sophie headed back to Brecon in the van, whilst I proceeded to get everyone lost as I tried to find a back-way out of Hirwaun. Ended up back on the road to Penderyn and then right on the small road through Cwm Cadlan. A great area (with some interesting caves and limestone morphology) though the tranquil peace of the area was shattered by Roger as the end cap, then the baffle detached from his exhaust. Roy picked up the baffle but after a 20 minute search back up the lane, no sign.

Roger's bike gets even sportier

Now sounding like something from lightweight TT circa 1963, we all set off towards Cefn Coed (a brief bit on the A470) and then across towards Talybont-on-Usk, via Ponsticill and the mountain road. Weather still crap, but road great and the steep pull across Torpantau had the DT struggling again. Nice run down by the reservoir though and it looked like the weather was clearing up.

Back in Star in Talybont, a plan was hatched with Roy keen for a quick circumnavigation of the Black Mountains, via Forest Coat Pit, Llanthony, Gospel Pass and back via Talgarth. My Dad and Roger repaired to Bwlch, and as the heavens opened, Roy and I played a game of psychological ‘chicken’ in Llangynidyr, as both thinking each other wanted to still do the trip.

Needless to say, we got through some big puddles, heavy rainstorms, and the cold of Gospel Pass (was this June?), before heading back with all haste towards Bwlch. Not been so cold on a bike for a while and following a nice shower, we retired for dinner in the Bear Hotel in Crickhowell.

One day good weather, two not so good, but some good trips over some excellent roads. As has been said before (probably on these pages) going slower on a bike is sometimes a lot better than going quickly and a lot better than being in a car. You see a lot more.

By Bantam in Belgium (for the over 70’s)

The plan was to fit 4 bikes in the van and head over to Belgium with the 3 of the members of the Berkshire Section of the Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC), aka the ‘Grumpy Club’; namely Alan (my father), Dave and Roger.

Day 0:

The van was loaded the night before, 3 Bantams and a DT175 ; had to strip the leg shields and front panniers from Dave’s bike in order to fit everything in. Dave’s is a D10/14 hybrid, with Roger’s is an orange (?) D14 (I think?), whilst my Dad’s (Alan) D175 was the one with the original patina. All the bikes had been lovingly prepared and paperwork and needs packed. Roger is used more to going to cruises than bike trips, but soon got into the swing of things.

Three Bantam's and a Yamaha

Really quick run round the M25 for a Monday morning; partly because we were in the van, not on 60’s and 70’s two-strokes and partly because it was holiday season and no traffic. Bit of a wait at Eurotunnel and then off through France and towards Osteende, Brugge, Gent and Antwerpen.

A warm welcome from Sophie in Lier and after a getting sorted in the hotel went for pleasant dinner in town.

Eyeing up a classic.

Day 1:

View Baarle-Nassau in a larger map

After some faff time fitting a new wing mirror (on the correct ‘european’ side ) to Roger’s bike, we set off in rainy conditions on a trip towards Baarle-Hertog (to Belgians, Baarle-Nassau, to the Dutch, more on the enclave situation check out Wikipedia ). Stopped after 3 minutes for Malcolm to find his over trousers.

Preparing the bikes for the Day 1 trip

Good to get on the road and head towards Zandhoven with all the bikes running well, with a range of blue smoke levels billowing forth from the bikes. [[ Two stroke oil and mixture ratios were the main contentious topic of the week. The approach ranged from the cheapest oil (£5 per gallon ??) to Silkolene Comp 2 and the exact mixture and measurement of oil to the more ad hoc methods. ]].

Some navigation issues towards Malle and Zoertsel as well as heavy rain, which saw us take shelter for a coffee and/or beer in a bar in Beerse. Suitably refreshed, we headed off towards Merkplas and then took the back roads up to Baarle Hertog. All bikes going okay (still) and after some suitable pastries and a conversation with a local beauty about the local parking legislation, we climbed back on board and headed back towards Turnhout.

What was clear, that the adventurous approach of using small back roads made navigation all the more difficult. There is no doubt that Belgian road signs and markings are the worst in Europe, both in terms of the inaccuracy and specifically their absence. Therefore, the route back used some bigger roads, in particular a dice with the Ring near Turnhout.

Weather was clearing up a bit as we continued back via Lille, Vorselaar and then Grobbendonk. Time for more beers and coffee before riding the final 20 kilometres or so back into Lier.

One of the main challenges of the trip was to find suitable beer for Dave (that is bitter, no head, ie like a local pint in Berkshire), so the team decamped to a bar near to the hotel to test out some beers (including Ciney and Palm ), which is where I found them over an hour later. Dinner consisted of a home cooked steak (which was ‘paarde’),some wine and beer. A slightly wet but day without major bike incident.

Day 2:
A brighter day and a mission. To the Holland but really ‘spare’ Belgium.

View Lier to Phillipine in a larger map

The aim was to catch up with Franz, who’d been on the End-to-End run with Dave the previous year. By happy co-incidence he also owns a mussel restaurant, so lunch should be sorted.

Some starting problems with the DT delayed the take-off and needed to adopt the fuel down the plug-hole to get the bike moving. The lack of maintenance (ie none since its arrival from the US) was beginning to take its toll in terms of trip reliability).

Nothing to ambitious for the morning run, through Mortsel and straight through the centre of Antwerp. Traffic not too bad and then through original tunnel under the Schelde and off towards Zeeland….

Except a problem….

Google Maps should be used with caution as despite best plans heading for the E34 towards Brugge. One of the advantages of lightweight bikes is their offroad ability between motorways. Back on track took us through some of the dock areas and then on into the Netherlands via the backroads. After a slight detour, the decision was made that lunch was an important event and we then made good time on bigger roads to get to Phillipine….and Franz’s restaurant.

Great guy, great food and great service, followed by a trip to his house to view his bikes (which was impressive). All in all it meant a later than planned departure back towards Lier, which was 120km away.

Franz's Mussel restaurant in Phillipine

A fuel stop and a failing fuel pipe on the DT delayed us further. Roger sprung some fuel pipe out of his bag and a quick fix saw everyone of their way. For a while, as everyone arrived in Wachtebeke, Dave did so without a clutch. Given that Bantam’s are a relative simple bike, replacing the clutch cable is anything but simple.

Replacing the Clutch cable on Dave's Bantam

There was offer of help from a local guy (Matchless owner) and then from a young lady who had seen Dave pull up on the side of the road. Another British bike enthusiast who distracted some from the repair task at hand. It was past 17h00, with 70km to go to Lier and dinner. A bit of pace was injected, as we headed to Dendermonde, though progress was held up slightly with a closed bridge back across the Schelde at Boom. As the cycle path was open, we decided to walk the bikes across, again another plus point for the nimble two-stroke.

Another 30 minutes and we passed through Rumst and Duffel and were back in Lier by 19h30. A quick aperitif and then pizza for dinner, which ended off a long day in the saddle. One of the positive things about small bikes, you can spend a long time not going very far, but having a lot of fun.

Day 3:

View Zonnebecke circuit with Ieper in a larger map

We left Lier in the morning and headed west over towards Ieper (Ypres in French) for a short day touring around the countryside. We parked the van in Zonnebeke outside the Passchendaele Museum with a nice day weather wise and then headed the short distance up to Tyne Cot cemetery. It’s the largest of the Commonweath cemetery’s with 12000 graves and a memorial to 36000 other soldiers without graves and it is a poignant memorial.

Menin Gate; Ieper

Off then via the back lanes into the centre of Ieper and after avoiding the road works found ourselves in the Grotte Markt where we met up with my sister Louise and family for a relaxed lunch. Took a look at the Menin Gate, before heading off south to Wijtschaete. We went to have a look at Spanbroekmolen crater now the Pool of Peace. This was the site of one of the mines that were exploded at the start of the battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917.

Spanbroekmolen : the pool of peace

Also had a look at the small Lone Tree Cemetery opposite, on a far small scale than Tyne Cot. Back on the bikes and a short tour via Hill 60 before arriving back to Zonnebeke. Packed the van again and then headed back to Calais, when after some delays got back to England and then reading and the end of the trip.

Good fun and some discussion about the next trip. Maybe some better route planning next time, though Belgian back roads are not the easiest to navigate if you are not a local. With route-finding, leading the group, choosing meals etc, I didn’t get enough time to take photo’s, which was areal shame, but a great trip and good fun !


Round Britain by cafe

The night before the rally saw the team (of four, myself, Roger, Graham and Lee) gather at the Premier Inn, Hinckley and specifically in the pub next door. Too much chat and beer and a later than expected closing time meant there was some fuzzy heads in the morning.

MIRA and the special test (09h30)

A lot less people at MIRA (so it seemed and there were 88 Platinum entries) and the tests all went smoothly. Some planning this time, but we still managed to cock this up to some extent. Roger’s estimate on the bike length was slightly out….despite him having measured it at home.

The average speed test caught me out as having correctly calculated the time for a 45 mph average (which I’d drawn from the hat), I still given myself enough time by going too slowly. The two 5 second stops meant that even getting it up to 85mph down the straight wasn’t enough and I was 20 seconds over my calculated time. Graham drew 51 mph and was even quicker down the back straight, and still short by 15-20 seconds.

Into the canteen for a sausage roll and chat on the team performance.

Atherstone (12h00 Sat)
Our chosen start location was over in Cannock (and the Hollies Cafe) and on the way stopped off at Governers Bridge Motorcycles (now Huggy’s Speed Shop) in Atherstone to look at a bike. The Yamaha SC500 looked okay and the deal was done. Rog had a look at his wobbly front wheel on the XJ, which looked like a poorly balanced tyre.

Cannock (13h15)
Thirty minutes up the A5 saw us pull into the dust-bowl car park of the ‘famous’ Hollies transport cafe. In for a cup of tea whilst we waited for the 2pm start of the Rally itself. Ignoring the offer of the mega breakfast (for only £5), tea was obtained, though a plate of chips made us feel better. The toilets here are something special and not for the feint-hearted.

Around 14h00, the other bikers started to get ready and then once their cards have been stamped, shot off at the start of their rally route. Lots of people there doing the 540 mile route, with a total of 23 checkpoints.

Route started somewhat tediously down the M6, with some traffic. Going through Birmingham we passed the Belgian on the Vespa who was also planning to complete the main route, though at a slower rate than us. A fairly complex start to the navigation as getting to Barker’s Butts Rugby Club in Meriden from the east meant a detour off the A45.

Meriden (14h45)
Quick stamp of the card and we were off towards Stratford, after a refuel just off the A45 in Coventry. Manage to attract the attention of 3 woman in a Mini who seemed to seemed to be in good form. Some attempts at formation biking down the A45 didn’t work too well and the GoPro Helmet camera was a bit of a pain at speed.

All the bikes seemed to be running well and it was a fine afternoon as we headed off into Stratford, though Graham in his eagerness had to do a couple laps of the roundabout whilst we caught up.

Stratford upon Avon (15h30)
Lots of bikes and bikers in the car park in Stratford. Another quick stop and then out through the traffic and out to Alcester. Then back along Gray’s favourite Alcester / Inkberrow / Worcester road, which had a bit more traffic on it than the previous night.

The CrapNav did its work and brought us into the Worcester MCC club hut via a series of back lanes off the A449.

Worcester (16h15)
Again, only a short convenience stop, as we continued to try to make good time early on. The roads out to Cleobury Mortimer were excellent B roads all the way, and with no real traffic. Superb riding all the way.

Bewdley (17h00)
100 maps miles done in 3 hours and given that most of the road hadn’t been major we were making good time. Gray’s KTM immobiliser woes re-appeared but after a couple of worrying moments we were off again, with some more glorious B roads. Bit of traffic through Bridgnorth and then on the road to Telford until we reached Sutton Maddock.

Sutton Maddock (17h35)
Well serviced by the WI, time for a stop for tea and cake (or cherry pie and cream in my case). Quick chat with the couple of guys on BMW’s who had a similar route to us (and one daughter as pillion). Excellent spot this, round the back of the Vicarage and after 3.5 hours on the road a welcome break.

The route to the next checkpoint near Church Stretton was all B and minor roads (though the BMW sat navs took them up the M54 to Shrewsbury and back down the A49). Down through Coalport, and across the narrow bridge across Severn and up to Broseley. Dead reckoning and use of the sun, meant we found the road to Much Wenlock. An excellent run across Wenlock Edge, with Gray charging on and me playing catchup.

We turned offed before Church Stretton and used the back road through Acton Scott (and the venue for the Victorian Farm TV programme) before hitting the A49 and a short run to the Lazy Frog cafe.

Church Stretton (18h35)
Another quick stop and a chat to Clerk of the Course, Tim Fairbrother. The BMW riders had followed the sat nav round Telford and up the M54, A5 and then to the A49. A long way round and got stuck by a traffic accident.

The car smash was being cleared up as we headed north and a straightforward run up the A49 to Whitchurch, with some open roads and less traffic.

Whitchurch (19h15)
And another transport cafe and bikers favourite on the junction of the A49 and A41. A bit larger and a bit cleaner than others, we decided to stop for an earlier than scheduled dinner, which worked pretty well. Lee’s astounding decision to go for (yet another) breakfast seemed to pay off with another healthy plateful. Roger’s decision to plump for the curry seemed to be brave knowing the delicate state of his internals on last years rally.

Lee about to tackle another breakfast

Also some concerns about Roger’s head and it being squeezed into his new Arai lid. A combination of sun, wind and compression seemed to be transforming him from likeable father of 1, to that of Darth Vader just after Luke pulls off the mask in Episode 6 [[Indeed Louis must have been scared when he got home as he decided to drop Darth’s new iPhone into his bath.]].

The sun was going down when we decided to head off, slightly south on the A41 in the direction of Stoke. Heartened by the meal and spirits restored it was a nice ride spoilt only by traffic.

Stoke (21h00)
The checkpoint in Stoke, just off the south-east bound A50 isn’t the best location, but good chance for a refuel and also access to cash. Worth noting was the Bangladeshi eatery next door, however that may have had an even greater impact on Rog’s digestive tract.

Back up the A50 and A500 and then followed the A34 towards Congelton. A pity that there was no checkpoint in Bakewell or Buxton this year and therefore an excuse to run the Cat and Fiddle, but there’s a shame

Congelton (21h30)
The pub checkpoint seemed convivial and apart from a Rog stop, we pressed on, opting for the more scenic option by carrying on up the A54 and then heading north through Macclesfield and the joys of Cheshire and Greater Manchester. The Saturday night entertainment was already beginning to appear on the streets and the short skirts and pneumatic personalities were already beginning to have an impact on Graham’s straight-line abilities. As darkness settled in, it meant we didn’t get the full enjoyment of Stockport’s finest views.

A battle round the M60 and neighbouring roads saw us enter Hyde and though route markings from the M67 were promised, a combination of dead reckoning and route finding round the one-way-street maze saw us pull up outside the noisy Bike and Hound pub.

Hyde (22h30)
As the cover band inside seamlessly moved from AC DC to Ace of Spades we checked in via the van outside. Darkness was here and needed the torch to plot the fairly convoluted route up to Hebden Bridge. Back on the M67 and then the M60, we headed up to the always chilly M62 and climbed up onto Saddleworth Moor. Off towards Sowerby Bridge and it felt more like November than July. Probably an excellent day-time road, it was a bit more complex in the dark and with over 8 hours in the saddle caution was the order of the day.

Down through the valleys, weaving to avoid the Saturday night wobble from pub to club and after another fuel stop arrived in Luddendenfoot and the next checkpoint. Navigation not made any easier by the local ruffians on pedal bikes who’d nicked all the control signs.

Hebden Bridge (23h15)
Arrived at the same time as a group of Harley riders who made parking a lot easier because of the glare from their SatNavs. Another control card session and discussion amongst the team about stopping for a rest somewhere. Though not massively behind schedule, we weren’t ahead of it by much and the twisty roads pointed to more like a 10am rather than 8am finish back at MIRA.

Based on route suggestions from the guys at the control, we continued up to Hebden Bridge and then took the A road across the moors to Haworth. The alternate minor roads offered by the CrapNav were probably a better daytime option. Great road, the twinkling lights below and a calm but cold nights. Only on the NRR would you find yourself running round Yorkshire at around midnight.

Plenty of pissed up locals thronging the streets of Ilkley and Skipton and after a quick stop to look at the map and then missing the turning to Embsay, we found ourselves at the next check at the still open Cavendish Arms

Skipton (0h15)
Time to pull on more clothing and for another comfort break. Discussion again on times etc and very conscious that the trip over to Leeds wasn’t a short leg. By now the traffic had cleared and we managed to pick up the pace down a now moonlit A65, with a couple of other riders in attendance. Past Otley and then the Leeds ring road and we headed out on the A64 to the Leeds check.

Leeds (01h00)
The lay-by was party central and like the Siren’s on the Rhine, we resisted all offers of drink (non-alcoholic, they wouldn’t have been separated from the strong stuff) and flap-jack and headed on a pace to the A1(M). Decided to up the pace on the now deserted motorways and flying down to the M62 and the M18 we covered the distance quickly (if somewhat tediously) down to the check at Thorne.

Thorne (02h00)
We’d been here last year, though much earlier in the day. Luckily the petrol station was still open (just) which meant we avoided a detour down the M18 to the services. Whilst the adjacent Scunthorpe and Doncaster checkpoints were not far away (a lot less than the map 25 miles), we’d already been warned that the trip to Beverley was nearer 32-35 miles.

A blast down the M62 (past the site of one of my worst speeding offences in a hire car), along with some formation flying and then off on an obscure B-road which took a couple of stops and CrapNav checks to confirm the route. Still made a mistake, which luckily only meant a short detour before heading back up to the checkpoint hidden in a large layby (things are always bigger in Yorkshire).

Beverley (02h45)
We needed to stop and hindsight being what hindsight was, we should have stopped here in the large quiet layby, with offers of coffee and food (apologies to the guys on the control).

Not been across the Humber Bridge before and the £1.20 for bikes makes the Severn Bridge free crossing for bikes seem even more generous. Still too dark for excellent views and I tried to capture the ambiance on the GoPro helmet camera.

Scunthorpe (03h30)
One guy parked in the football club car park. Any thoughts of a stop were quickly dispelled and we pushed on to Gainsborough, for one of the shorter legs, which was a welcome change from the recent long sections.

Bit of confusion in a village where we turned off towards Cottingham, with a succession of turns and people shooting off. We were getting tired.

Gainsborough (04h00)

Just before 4am and a few of the locals were still drinking in the pub. Time for a coffee and in Lee’s and Roger’s case time for a kip. Arrived in the gloaming and by the time Graham and I went for a walk around Cottingham the sun was coming up. Lee woke himself up with his snoring and Rog responded from his sleeping spot under the dart board.

Rog’s attempt to remount his bike involved a swagger reminiscent of John Wayne after dismounting from a particularly long ride through the Badlands. The coordination was also going with multiple attempts to get the right clothes in the right place.

Roger (or some clone of him)

Good run down the A15 and bang-on through the middle of Lincoln, obeying the lights event if we were the only people around.

Lincoln (06h10)
All quiet at the check 7 miles south of Lincoln, with a couple and a camper van. Sun now up but not warm. Nice empty roads and a quick blast down a straight lane brought us to a twisty road towards Grantham and traffic. A sharp turn to the right and a recently sprayed in gravel lane brought us to the A1(M) and the next checkpoint..

Grantham (06h45)
Consisted of one bloke asleep in a deckchair in the middle of the Moto services. Gray was still dreaming of the brolly dollys from last years checkpoint at Grantham Honda and still bemoaning the fact that Rog and I had to drag him away. No problems this year, but still time for more fuel for the bikes.

The CrapNav had chosen the longer, but more main road route of the A53 / A46, which also meant avoiding most of the Leicester ring road. Still cold as the road of tedium (aka A46 at 40 mph in the roadworks) took hold. Probably the worst bit of the journey.

Leicester (07h45)
After constant yawning down the A46, the stop at the the bike club hut in Leicester bought a welcome cup of tea, to the background video of Wild Hogs. Plenty of people getting ready for the last leg to MIRA and still some humour though lots of the Platinum riders getting a little jaded.

Leicester and we're still smiling.

MIRA (09h15)

The special test results has Gray on 28, Malcolm on 32 and Roger on 34. None of us good enough to win overall, but a pretty okay team score (and better overall than last years. Roger wasn’t second this time. Lee’s score was higher and put down to first time special test nerves.

Picked up the plague and went to look for a cup of tea, with steely determination not to endure another breakfast. However, one sight of Lee’s fry up changed my mind and the breakfast was acquired. Graham also succumbed with only Rog holding out for the poached egg.

Decided not to hang around for too long and set off with Graham back down the M69 / A46 and then back to Hereford cross country, with another lap of the Alcester / Inkberrow / Worcester road (though failed to take it steady). Back home for a cup of tea before Graham headed on for Cardiff.

My body was then feeling a bit broken, with blood-shot eyes, numb bum and severe weariness. 6 hour’s sleep helped, its going to take a couple of days to recover. As for Roger, it all seemed a lot worse.

I’m writing this on Tuesday, whilst on a flight to Munich and my rear end has developed some form of memory, which meant that I decided not to take the bike to the airport and chose the van instead.

That said, if you are a new biker, or have a new bike, doing 18-20 hours of the NRR is a great way to acquainted with your bike. You become one. If as Flann O’Brien claims in ‘The Third Policeman’ that extended time with your bicycle on rough council roads means that atoms are interchanged and that man becomes part bike, then this may explain my affection for things two wheels.

National Road Rally 2010: getting ready

Last years road rally was a great success, include best ACU team and Roger getting a joint second overall after an excellent special test. All 7 Red Hat associates finished the event, some more ropey than others

A couple of trips to the US in June has meant little prep time, though I’d done the valve clearances on the KTM, with the Transalp still laid up after last years pre-NRR disaster

During the migration of my Linode VPS during the year, I’d also managed to lose (alright, delete) my Google Maps API code to produce the roadbook for last year. All was not lost, as I needed to do some rewrites, and catch up with Google’s own move to v3 of the Javascript API

The aim this year was to again to tackle the Platinum route, which was 540 maps miles, with the maximum number of controls, all preceded by the Special Test at MIRA . This is the main event route and involves 18-20 hours of bum numbing on the bike.

NRR 2010 Control Matrix

Graham had already made a start and managed to identify a route by logging all of the NRR 2010 checkpoints into a google map and then the directions for our chosen route were then added.

The route selected was :
|11| Cannock | | 0 |
|27| Meriden | 25 | 25 |
|38| Stratford upon Avon | 25 | 50 |
|49| Worcester |25 | 75 |
|6| Bewdley | 25 | 100 |
|40| Sutton Maddock | 25 | 125 |
|29| Church Stretton | 25 |150 |
|47| Whitchurch | 25 | 175 |
|37| Stoke on Trent | 25 |200 |
|13| Congleton | 25 | 225 |
|22| Hyde | 25 | 250 |
|21| Hebden Bridge | 30 | 280 |
|34| Skipton | 25 | 305 |
|24| Leeds |25 | 330 |
|43| Thorne | 30 | 360 |
|7| Beverley |25 | 385 |
|33| Scunthorpe | 25 | 410 |
|18| Gainsborough |25 | 435 |
|26| Lincoln | 25 | 460 |
|19| Grantham | 25 | 485 |
|25| Leicester | 30 | 515 |
|99| MIRA |25|540|

View NRR WVAC Route 6 in a larger map

[ note only half of the initial route is there, the way directions are provided ]

A few hours hacking managed to get something decent, though altering the output of the directions panel was going to take longer.

Once the template was finished, the maps were produced from the template with a perl script for all of 22 parts of the route.

Printed and sellotaped roadbook

Printing was followed by use of the guillotine and then sellotape to produce the ‘snake’. It’s length was down on last years and so loading to the sat nav (sorry roadbook holder) was a lot easier than last year.

Loaded into the Acerbis 'CrapNav'

Last year managed to load a good set of tools into a BDH container and plan to load up the same. More description and information to come. Also to be packed:
– torch
– spare pants (yes)
– small stove, my MSR is good, with some water
– Red Bull or other such stimulant

Further report on the Rally itself to come

Classic Off Road Show, Telford 13-14 Feb 2010

I’d missed last years show and its a better location than the agricultural sheds of Malvern. The auto-jumble outside in the carpark seemed a lot smaller than at Malvern, though there were a few people inside the halls, with the retail traders.

The auto-jumble stand

After a delayed departure from Herefordshire, still made good time to get to Telford and got into the autojumble area by 07h45 and found a good position to lay out the jumble.

I then took the Beta TR240 into the show hall to form part of the Italian section, which to be honest was pretty badly presented with David Brick’s Beta as well as a Supertrial and TR34. Ah well, I think Wrighty had hoped for more, but what was there was the very nice Beta 125 Trail bike that had been one of Classic Bike’s restorations of the year [[It didn’t win the overall event though ]]

Lots of people looking around the jumble from 08h00, even though the show didn’t start till 09h00. By 09h00 lots of people and also some snow, though we’d managed to brew up some tea by then to ward off the cold.

By 11h00 managed to sell a few Beta spares, an engine and also some SWM spares, so all good and the day was already worthwhile. Things got quiet there after so plenty of time to head indoors to the show proper.

In the Telford carpark lift

There were some good stands, plenty of vendors and some good bikes on show. Again, all seemed to well organised and it was also nice to see overseas exhibitors and visitors to the show.

Bit of fun later, as we were asked if we were interested in a Beta motocross bike (circa 70’s). A trip over to the nearby multi-storey car park and an interesting (ie rare) example was wheel from the back of a Transit. A quick fire up and some discussions saw the bike wheeled back to the autojumbe via the lifts in the carpark, with Alan as the new owner. More on the bike in another article, but it does run and pretty well too.

Took some time to find some number plate ovals for the Yamaha MX250 project as well as a Clymer manual (for 8 quid) . A late rumage in the jumble also found some used MX body armour which will allow some room for growth.

Good show from my point of view, but I did sell some stuff, talk to a few people and have a look round.

Bike changes and the 5 quid SatNav

Latest news on the National Road Rally preparation; some ebay activity and building a cheap Sat Nav (ie for less than a fiver)

Roger has been active on ebay and has acquired a Yamaha XJ750 Seca, from 1985. This is an interesting move and though Roger can cite the ‘solid’ nature of the engne, its torque etc, there is no hiding that this is a cruiser. Its only one step away from the chaps and moustache. Its got a ‘sissy bar’ and a bag on the front forks. Hmm

For my own sins, a spur of the moment bid (whilst stick at Woking station) sees me picking up an 1987 VFR 400 NC24. It was cheap and _looks_ in good condition. More on this later, but its more likely to be thrashed round the lanes or Mallory rather being used on the , as its a bit small and focus. Pictures and write to come.

Google Roadbook

Reading through some of the notes on scatter rallies and the NRR specifically it seems that SatNav’s are becoming the standard tool. for these events. Though Daniel has a Garmin, I don’t intend to spend £400 on one, so have been working on the plastic lunchbox roadbook holder and then getting my head round the Javascript API for Google Maps.

The lunchbox roadbook holder seems a good idea for route-finding on the rally, as with the schematic routes and controls being published. There is an Acerbis roadbook holder and I went down to Pontrilas to have a look at one at LG Racing but wasn’t too impressed at the build quality for £50. Time to make one.

There are a couple of examples from an Australian desert rally site , but I went for a £1.20 plastic box and aluminium winders. It needs some modification to create Mark II and to ensure that I can get large rolls on.

The aim is to use Google Maps, rather than drawing a traditional roadbook you might see on an enduro, you could use something like RBEditor for that. Managed to get one map on the page and some nice legible direction arrows. Its work in progress but have a look at

Also, best picture we’ve got of Graham at the moment, about to chuck the KTM into a Welsh corner….more team photos to come.

Graham / KTM

But need to get the Transalp sorted, as its had a considerable oil leak, which seems to be somewhere around the oil pressure switch. More on this, but it seems that the switch is not working and a replacement is ordered.

Trip Planning: short journey to the Western Isles

Where to Go

Have an outline plan and then be flexibile. Our schedule was governed by the Calmac Hopscotch – ticket we bought, which covered 5 ferries. Scotland makes great bike touring country and the Western Isles combine that feeling of being miles from southern England without the expense of getting there (or needing the time to travel)

In terms of accommodation, there are some good campsites, and wild camping on the islands (esp Barra) is usually ok with permission. The hostels and bunkhouses were good. Camping prices ranged from £4.50 (in Uig, with free showers) to £7.00 in Glencoe. Most campsites will charge 50p or have a meter for the showers. Hostels were from £9 for the Gatliff hostels, which are good and in great buildings / locations, to £15 for the 5* bunkhouse in Leverburgh. The Oban Backpackers hostel is good value for £13.50.

When to Go

The weather is more changeable April -> May and Sept -> Oct, but can be varied at anytime of the year. The infamous midge is at its worst in July and August though not as bad on the islands as it is in places like Glencoe. The Horgabost campsite log book did have plenty of midge complaints even from the 2-3 weeks before we were there. They’d not camped in Glencoe recently.

Things to Take

Bike spares

|Item| Number|
|21″ inner tube | 1 |
|DPR8ES Spark Plug|2|
|Chain link|520 chain link|
|Oil|500ml 20/50w|
|cable ties|assorted|
|Electrical tape|roll|
|wire|short length, single core|

In the end we used none of the spares, except for the cable ties. The oil was handily mounted underneath the rear carrier, as the Transalp is using some but maybe as a result of motorway runs


|Tyre Levers| 2 short|
|Allen Keys|set|
|Adjustable spanner| 1|
|sockets|8,10,12,14,18mm (plug socket)|
|socket wrench|1/4″ drive |
|pump|Small bicycle hand pump for emergencies|

For each of use I managed to mount a BDH container on the rear footrest and strap it on. This allowed for easy access when on the road. The fuel container and knife also went in there.


Camping items
|Tent|small, North Face tent, 18 years old and beginning to show|
|Stove|MSR Dragonfly, petrol stove|
|Fuel Bottle|for the stove|
|Pans|lightweight pans from Trangia, two pans and a frying pan|
|Bascha|ex-MOD 2m x 3m cover with bungees|
|Head torch|small Petzl|
|Insect repellant|50 rated anti-midge, though the locals all swear by Avon “Skin So Soft” ?? |
|Utensils|tin and bottle opener and sharp knife|
|Thermarest mat|best sleeping mat around, Rog also used one|

Group Items
|Guide Book|Rough Guide to Highlands and Islands|
|Map|Map 2 of the Ordnace Survey Road Map Series|

Personal items
|Spare trainers|Hardly used infact|
|Underwear|yep did change them|
|Socks|in bike boots all day can make them agreesive|
|T-shirts|layers are good|
|Woolly hat|even in summer (?) good when outdoors|
|Fleece|lightweight NF fleexe, and heavier top|
|Cutlery|knife and spoon|
|Towel and wash kit|yep, I did take some|


Bike Clothing
|Jacket|Rukka Jacket, large|
|Trousers|Frank Thomas over trousers and Hebo trials pants underneath[[these did begin to get a life of their own after lots of use]]|
|Gloves|Frank Thomas Aqua + pair of lightweight mountain bike gloves|

No need for leathers or too much protection. Top speed on the trip may have hit 70 on the Harris, but it was a bit of blast.

With all travel, the less you take the better. Pack, remove the non-essential items and then go through it again. If anything it gives you space to load up with single malt and shopping as you travel. For me, I would have ditched a couple of t-shirts and possible the trainers and packed flip-flops.