Home from Derbyshire

I’m home: Here’s the track of the whole trip:

After buying my beef for dinner, I headed off via a couple of diversions and a stop for petrol where someone in what seemed to be a huge white van (converted into a mobile home) reversed inches away from my bike. I made the decision that an extra hour or so (4 as opposed to 3) on the slightly less boring A1 compared to the thoroughly boring M1 was not worth it so headed off for home down the motorway. I made one stop at Watford Gap Services with a mass of humanity:

Motorway services do not show humanity at its best (though nearly everyone was wearing masks) but I found some shade next to a bush to eat more sushi.

After spending an age on the hot (it was 35 degrees) Euston Road underpass I made it home by 2.30. As a stand in for what would have been a more satisfying trip to Spain (I wanted to ride some of the TET in Spain) this short holiday was OK. For my next trip a new bike would be a good idea. Maybe by the time of my next trip there will be a vaccination against Covid-19 and the world will be breathing a slight sign of relief. At the moment most things seem uncertain.

More from Dale Farm

30th July

I just remembered looking at a YouTube vid of an intrepid Norwegian wild camper last night in my sleeping bag who says a luxury he takes on his trips is a filter maker for coffee. What a good idea. A simple small plastic version and a supply of filters would be lighter than my metal expresso maker. And make the coffee I like. It’s almost worth going on another camping trip to test it out. 

Later (pictures and vids to come)

My un-parking and setting off this morning was tricky, full of fear and stuckness and in the end I had to ask a passing camper (my quiet neighbour who happened to walk by eating an apple) to help me by pulling me backwards so I could turn round and get going. Looking at my vid I see that I was trying to move the bike for 8 minutes but was stuck! Oh for a light bike with a low saddle too. I’ve been worrying about it all day and what to do. 

Now, today’s events. The Ride Bikers Britain routes are quite good but getting on to them with my GPS is a bit hit and miss. I must go on a Garmin course so that I am no longer being hit and miss. Some attention to detail on this would really enhance the experience… and in terms of courses I must do more slow speed practice to boost confidence on the bike. I hate the phrase ‘all the gear but no idea’ but it might fit. 

Now today’s events again. Where was I? I selected (I thought) one of the rides, number 40, and headed off to Glossop. It was meant to be a circular route but I was taken onto the amazing Snake Pass on the way when I was expecting to come back that way. But anyway it is indeed a beautiful route spectacular in places. A fair amount of traffic but not too bad. Glossop or the slice I saw was ok but as I said before everywhere is crawling with people. But the riding was mostly fun and when the sun finally came out as it is now my slightly flagging spirits lifted. Once there I set the controls (not for the heart of the sun) for Ashbourne again where I knew there was somewhere with ample parking to shop for dinner. As I returned to Belinda parked carefully in the shade a couple pulled in next to me driving a bright red open top Morgan. I thought all Morgans are vintages but I found out that they still make them. We engaged in mostly car but also motorcycle conversation for quite a while before they left and I sat on the grass and ate some Co-op lunch – I think it was some sushi. 

On my return to this lovely campsite I asked our host if I could park somewhere flatter and I think he understood my problem. The solution which was very flexible of him was to suggest I part on an unused grassy flat terrace near the bottom with the proviso I’d have to move to another option if someone turned up late and needed the space. its a nice touch that not everyone would have agreed to. Luckily they didn’t so my manoeuvring and packing up and finally driving off in the morning went without panic on my part. I keep asking myself whether a KTM 690 would end up feeling just as heavy as the BMW once you’d got used to it – but its nearly 100kgs lighter. That’s two years travels in a row I have come away thinking about a lighter bike – after experiencing tricky terrain that is almost impossible to manoeuvre a big bike in.

The temperature had risen during the day and was mid to high twenties with now a fierce sun, so previously welcome the last couple of nights here when it was getting cold by 6 or 7pm, but this evening it became something to try to hide from. I’m reading Dhalgren, bought for me by my son. Its not exactly a page turner in the way that another science fiction gift from him, Snowcrash was, but is still good. Everything is so murkily described that it is hard to imagine the characters. I read in my sleeping bag till about 9 when, unbelievably for me, I closed my eyes. 

Friday 31st July

I woke around six, stirred by the cows talking to eachother, maybe saying ‘good morning, we’ve been spared for another day’. The beautifully restored and maintained and lit and cleaned amenity building was surprisingly busy at just after 7 – but waking early is the stuff of camping especially with crying tired toddlers of which there were a few with admirably coping parents (actually mostly mothers I think). 

I rolled off after buying a frozen pack of their beef in their little shop. I expected a smiling person taking my money and advising me on how to cook, but instead there is an instruction up on a blackboard how to join the site wifi and a PayPal address to put the money for any item into. And a large security camera pointing at you – so it is a kind of honesty principle but not quite. As I fumbled with my phone looking for my PayPal app, I noticed there was also a glass jar and a notebook – a much easier option for a slightly frazzled traveller (as I often seem to be when on the bike). I was wondering how many days it takes to properly relax and get over the tension about little things. So a fiver in the jar bought me a pack of beef (cut unspecified).

Arriving in Dale Farm, Derbyshire

I’m not writing much on this short trip. Partly because it seems so inconsequential compared to travelling to Spain and compared to my flickering dream of Siberia. I’m in Derbyshire now in the Dales in Dale Farm campsite a very different model to the large field with tents around the edge. Here the site is narrow sloping and terraced with a stepped series of generous grassy plots each for one large tent and car leading up to a broader field at the top where there are four plots under Ash trees and two yurt type tents just higher up. We say hello to each other here. I knew it felt comfortable after being here just a few minutes. Down in Cuckoo Farm it was very different with large groups of a couple of families in little inward looking huddles. 

Note to self for my fiction: describe someone’s books as an alternative to describing them. 

There are cows here who moo loudly causing me to ask the Internet “why do cows moo?” To find each other is one reason. Also the wash building is an amazing very recently renovated barn amazingly white and scrupulously clean and brightly lit. It could be an operating suite. 

detail of the washroom

Of course many campsites feature difficulties for parking and un-parking heavy motorcycles. And this one because of its slope creates the need for some careful heaving upright without dropping the thing on the grassy slope followed by also careful paddling backward across bumpy terrain in an arc to end up pointing in a roughly down hill direction. All leaving me tense and colouring the first part of my ride with thoughts that I am not up for this and wouldn’t get very far on the route to Siberia.

Up on my avenue there seem to be two tents of two women who could be friends, partners or mother and daughter. And one huge and fancy tent over to my right that appears to house one solitary female walker. Then there are the two yurts opposite with young nice seeming families in each. By chance my plot with its pub table where I am sitting tapping this into my phone gets the evening sun which this event is beautiful and warming. Yesterday when I arrived it was cold and threatening rain.

And then some hills beyond. Now that the sun is out I can say that this is a very nice site. 

It’s good to be secluded here as out on the roads there were huge numbers of cars parked along the roadside at every beauty spot and the nearby town is heaving with people on holiday doing staycation like me. The Bike book route was ok and nice in places where I got into the zone of riding fairly briskly through a series of curves with double white lines down the middle. But overall I found it not that impressive as some of their routes definitely are, in Devon for example. 

Technically the new tent is good. It’s small and light and is a keeper. It’s smaller and more cramped than my Vango (am I repeating myself?) the porch part especially. It came with two too few pegs. But it does the job nicely. The snazzy Thermarest is thicker and more comfortable than the standard orange model but is slightly too long for the small tent space. It’s slightly lighter and packs down to the same size so is also a keeper though – for another trip where lightness is important I may leave it at home. Keeping everything charged is tricky with a mixture of plugging as much in while I ride and using a power bank in the evening. But I seem always a step behind and something is uncharged that needs to be. It needs constant thinking about. And the Sony helmet cam eats through batteries – and its clever remote controller does too. Campsite bathrooms don’t seem to have sockets any more perhaps because everyone was charging up their phones and bills were starting to climb. 

Tonight it will rain but tomorrow will be bright and much warmer than today. Hooray. 

First day Rutland and Derbyshire 26th July


This was always going to be a substitute holiday it started with a journey across London up to the A1 a road that has a history that most of the motorways don’t. A big jam up to Apex corner where I think the A1 starts delayed my arrival at Stamford Waitrose where I had planned to fish for my dinner and breakfast. The ride up the A1 was enjoyable no delays and I could have made even better time that I did. Stamford is stunning I had forgotten. In the days of coaches, before cars when travel had to conform to some natural world constraints and structures, it must have been a stop from London where they changed the horses. 

Cuckoo farm campsite is about 15 minutes out of Stamford. Its pleasant with a wide view across some gentle hills. The place is super clean perhaps due to Covid and I am pitched on a slight slope next to a field with gambolling lambs. 

As I’ve mentioned here at least once before, I’m trying out a few new lighter things, this lightweight tent for example. Terra nova starlight 2. It packs much smaller and lighter than my nearly ten year old and much travelled Vango Spirit 2. But it is definitely more cramped with a much more slopy vestibule and less versatile door. So far it’s workable and definitely a worthwhile trade off for being able to leave one top box at home. It came with limited pegs so I need to buy some more tomorrow – actually two short by design – they weren’t missing. I should have brought more with me. if I had tried putting it up before I left as everyone recommends.  

My dinner was some nice steak cooked with garlic, red pepper and fresh noodles cooked while sitting on those versatile Touratech panniers. My nearest neighbours here are one or maybe two Eastern European families with much calling after running off children but it is a great advantage not to be able to understand their conversation. 

The other new kit is a Thermarest inflating mattress slightly lighter than my old fave but actually slightly too long for the tent. The wind is buffeting the tent and as usual children are still running around playing while I am thinking about crawling into my sleeping bag and getting my head down. 

Tuesday 28th July

It’s payday today. I’m sitting on my Touratech metal box wearing my cap and waiting to leave Cuckoo Farm Campsite. Yesterday rained most of the day but today I woke up to bright sunshine, so the ground was dry as was anything else available to perch on. I’ve plotted a route up to Derbyshire to my next campsite Dale Farm. 

Camping in Rutland and Derbyshire tomorrow

As a consolation prize for my lost trip to Spain (it would be two years to Spain in a row), I have booked two campsites in England. The first is near Rutland Water and the second in the Derbyshire Peak district. Both seem nice quiet places and in one – if not both I can’t seem to remember (anything) – I have some adults only space.

I leave tomorrow lunchtime and first stop will be Waitrose in Stamford where I will stock up on dinner, and hopefully cold wine which will stay cold, and breakfast – ground coffee for my expresso machine and something very sweet to go with it. The weather over the weekend is set to be cool and showery.

For this trip I have really cut back and replaced stuff to travel lighter and I have packed for two panniers and no top box. The whole kit including camping weighs 11.5 kgs. Because the trip is short I’m not taking a laptop and charger. Big weight and space savers have been a much smaller pack tent, smaller waterproof gear (nice Klim stuff now not used since I bought it) a very small Protools set of tools instead of an over specified load of spanners in a nice but bulky Kreiga tool roll, far lighter clothes and shoes, Kindle instead of a pile of paperbacks (shame). Tankbag does carry some extra stuff.

Here is the stuff on my bedroom floor.

Ultralight tent

High on my list of lightweight travel equipment has been a tent, all with the dream of long distance travel at some point in the future, though thinking, planning and even dreaming is strangely subdued by the fundamental uncertainty that the Covid situation has brought, not just to me, my neighbourhood, all of London, all of the UK, but to all of Europe and the world! The impetus, momentum and motivation that I experience and conjured up has rather fallen away over the last few weeks. The unlocking of lockdown and the sight of small crowds of young men outside newly reopening pubs serving ‘takeaway’ drinks feels odd. On the one hand that is what we all want so much, along with a reopening of cultural life, but with no obvious cure for the disease caused by the virus and with a government clearly winging it, these sights feel extremely uneasy. The other day I made an appointment for my motorbike to be serviced – in about 5 weeks time – but I will be the only one in the showroom they told me, though I will still be allowed to wait and drink their coffee. It will be very easy to forget about social distancing and the need to avoid touching anything – like the shiny new motorcycles and other merch.

But back to tents. Months of online research pointed to the Terra Nova Starlight 2 person tent as a good candidate for lightweight travels. There are lighter tents but some reviewers complained about lots of condensation and delicate fabrics. This tent seems good in wet weather – the flysheet reaches all the way to the ground. It is smaller than the tent I currently have – and bought nearly ten years ago, with less storage room for items like huge motocross boots and jackets that don’t fold because of their armour. However, the loss of weight has to come at some cost. Here it is in all its 1.6kg (I weighed it) glory. My Vango tent weighs 3.1kgs.

the contents of the sack

And here it is compared to the tent I’ve been using on my travels to date.

The Vango doesn’t have the poles inside – I couldn’t find them for the photo

It will be the saving in size that will be most useful. I hope buying it will contribute to propelling me forward in plans to keep travelling.

I reluctantly cancelled by Brittany Ferries ticket to Spain and back, scheduled for late July. I have £178 credit which I am happy with as it will encourage me to book for next year. To replace the trip I’ve booked 5 nights away at a couple of campsites in England, in the Yorkshire dales and somewhere close by – on the Cool Camping site which I rate. Apparently campsites will be open by July, though I wonder if they will be crowded with people like me who have cancelled travel abroad or will there be social distancing? Its a bit muted but 5 nights away from the house and London should be really welcome.

I plan to spend the rest of my leave from work writing, working on the short stories that I am stuck with at the moment.

First ride in London as lockdown eases

On Sunday our bizarre prime minister announced some incoherent changes to ‘lockdown’ here in England (the other countries of the UK remain unchanged). Nobody knew what they meant apart from the need to ‘stay alert’. But it seemed that the motorcycle press and some usually cautious biking vloggers interpreted the change as permission to get back on our bikes.

I hadn’t ridden my bike since the beginning of February when, luckily (that word is an understatement) I brought it down from its (then) cold and power socket-less garage in Cambridge to stay in London for the few weeks that I was away in Australia, with the plan to ride it back up soon after getting home.

So, today I took an intrepid ride around my part of London and over a couple of bridges – Tower Bridge and Blackfriars, both of which look beautiful from a distance but rather pedestrian, so to speak, when you are going across them. I wanted to make sure the bike was still working and that I hadn’t forgotten how to drive it. Of course I got lost on the way to Tower Bridge as the GPX track shows only too well. The ride was only 6 1/2 miles and much of it was spent at traffic lights but it felt good, of course, to be riding in the sunshine in marginally quiet London traffic. I will take a longer ride in a couple of weeks and get away from the capital.

getting lost wasn’t my fault

One day I must add up all of the penalty notices that I’ve got after travelling through, usually London, but other places too. So about 10 days after this trip I got a fine for being somewhere where motor vehicles are not allowed, spotted by yet another automatic camera. I thought I’d check it before shelling out because I had both the timed GPX track and my video of the entire journey so I could go back to the exact spot that the letter identifies. And yes, they were right, at the time they said this was where I was going (just by the Bank of England), blissfully ignorant of the restriction. I think its because I very rarely drive around the city and am more usually on a bicycle where you can go anywhere.

Just coming up to the Bank

Week 6 of UK lockdown

This is the beginning of the sixth week of having to stay in the house, though for me its week 7 as I made the decision not to go to work a week before the government made it compulsory. The graphs of new deaths show the nation past a peak that occurred in around the 2nd or 3rd week of April. New cases seem to be levelling though what that means is uncertain given the low level of testing. It seems that the NHS was not overwhelmed and, overall, coped admirably, though first person stories from some of our staff who still do shifts in intensive care made it clear that some London hospitals were under heavier pressure than others, with one nurse to six ventilated patients in one unit. The newly built Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre, familiar to me only because of motorcycle shows, is getting ready to close and only had a few dozen patients – it was prepared for upto 4000 I remember.

So there is a sense that the worst of the clinical crisis has been averted. But the economic effects will be much more long-lasting. I heard on the radio today that the government are currently paying the wages of a quarter of the workforce. Now the problem is how to move out of this lockdown toward more economic activity. Even our local Borough Market faces that problem in microcosm. This Saturday noticeably more stalls were open, more of the ‘non-essential’ delis and artisan stalls. What’s not there are the prepared food stalls nor the hundreds of tourists. So, the market seems like an old-fashioned place where you go to find fresh produce once again. But how will they reintroduce the street food type stalls and will enough people want to buy from them to make it worth their while? And will more people make the whole market crowded and unsafe? On Saturday there was a slightly less nervous atmosphere down there – and on the streets, in fact in the afternoon at about 4.30 I walked down to Leyland on Southwark Street and as I queued outside to get in, it seems that this could be any sunny weekend afternoon, with people walking up and down and driving as usual. The Leyland worker organising the queue told me, while I waited, about his woeful experience of getting the virus, along with his wife. They both sounded very ill from his description and stuck for 5 weeks in a flat with only a balcony for fresh air. He told me that the characteristic total loss of taste was, for him, a ‘result’ because, he said, his wife’s cooking is terrible.

I think that there are more people now on the streets. Today there was a long queue to get into Tesco on Tooley Street, now my go to store for groceries and gin. The self checkouts are too small for the large shops that I and most people seem to be doing so you end up calling over the assistant to rescue you from till malfunction about 4 or 5 times before being able to pay. When I get home with the shopping, I spread it out on the garden bench and spray everything with disinfectant and wipe it down before washing my hands and putting everything away. It is tedious but could well be necessary.

Work continues on line but it seems to take longer to do anything though it is amazing to be in work and getting paid when so many people are not.

At the weekend, after trying to cook one more time on our old wok with the surface bubbled and peeling off, we bought a shiny new one which was delivered just as we were starting to cook dinner today. I say delivered, what I mean is discovered outside in the porch left some time during the day. We cooked some tasty tofu in harissa with a salad, partly from the garden, and rice from the trusty rice cooker. Eating during lockdown has become a prominent pleasure, as it has I think for many people.

Also delivered today was a lens from Ebay for using with the slide copier, also on order (another lockdown project is copying a hundred or so old family Kodachromes). Amazingly it can focus down to a couple of inches away from the front of the lens.

untitled-5.jpg untitled-3.jpg

Building work continues on the former Vinopolis site. After many months of groundwork the structure of the buildings is emerging fast. The continual noise is reassuring of economic activity continuing.

Route planning comparing MyRouteApp, Google Maps, Alltrails, and Basecamp

Planning a route in advance for successful motorcycle travel is always unfinished business – but crucial if you want to avoid ending up on mind-numbing motorways to get to a destination. Some clever marketing has brought a route planning website, MyRouteApp.com to my attention a number of times recently. And, by coincidence, I have spent a few evenings replacing very many links to the defunct Everytrail in my travel website with links to the company that took over from Everytrail – one by one – which is laborious. So I am looking for a site to not only plan and store my dreams, plans and travels but a stable site that I can link to in future accounts of those travels.
As an experiment I chose a journey that I am likely to take some day (when we are allowed out again) from my home to Harwich Quay. I tried planning the route in a few different applications. Google maps allows some flexibility in putting the route down in its map but doesn’t seem to allow export to a GPS – perhaps there is some plug in but I can’t find it. MyRouteApp has a range of avoidances and it does allow export direct to the GPS.

Alltrails (free account) doesn’t seem to allow options when setting a route e.g. avoiding motorways: also its not clear that its possible to export a route as a GPX to a device. Its great for archiving and linking to existing routes I’ve taken though, and placing the links in a blog. 

Garmin Basecamp: this application is much criticised and its not clear at all how it is calculating the route. In Google Maps and MyRouteApp I could avoid motorways but I’m not sure how to do it in Basecamp. It could well be my ignorance, but in this case I have the feeling that it isn’t. Export to the Garmin GPS from Basecamp is easy which is not surprising as its a Garmin product. Planning a route between two locations has always been a bit hit and miss to me in Basecamp. 
Conclusions: I am slightly surprised but with even a very quick comparison at planning the same route, it does seem that MyRouteApp does do all that’s needed: easy planning from one location to another (you just type in the address!), to include avoidances and to upload/export the result to a GPS device – and it lets you swap from a number of different maps (Open Street Map, Google, the HERE map used by Garmin and the mapping used by TomTom) which is very clever. None of the others seem to do all of these quite so easily. AND it has a ’share’ and ‘embed’ option for putting the maps of where I’ve been into my blogs.  I’ve yet to try this.

Day 2: Now I’m trying planning some longer routes – Hook of Holland to Lviv in Ukraine (about 1000miles) and Lviv to Almaty in Kazakhstan which is about 3000 miles – journeys that fit into the ‘dream’ rather than ‘plan’ category at the moment but that may migrate – who knows? MyRouteApp did both well see here for the second journey:

But what I don’t (didn’t when I first wrote it) know how to do is export the route intact to the GPS. The program works well to find the device and export it but it ends up as just a straight line on the device. Maybe its just a matter of adding lots of waypoints (which the programme allows you to do very easily) – and I think this is my ignorance not a weakness of the program. I need to sort this before forking out on paying the subscription, but I think I will go for it. Its my commitment to riding somewhere.  (An hour or so later…) I just paid 29 Euros so now am a member. Its the kind of company that you are really happy to support. And its a snip really.  Here is a webinar (they have really invested in instruction videos for this application which is impressive – its clearly a small outfit) how to export to Garmin  – and to avoid straight lines! https://www.myrouteapp.com/en/webinar/view?video=60&auth=lKIQ8R9U

TO EXPORT FROM MYROUTE.APP TO GARMIN: Open Apps on the Garmin – go to Tracks – select imported track Show on Map – check. Then select CONVERT TO TRIP (it will calculate).  Then open the trip (it will calculate again but quicker). I need to pin this instruction on my computer monitor.

The only thing is – nobody is going anywhere at the moment with Covid-19 lockdown and an uncertain summer ahead.