Back to Cambridge

Its Spring. The clocks have leapt forward, the sun is shining – weakly – and its time to bring my bike out of hibernation in London and ride it back up to Cambridge into my increasingly expensive to rent garage, where it will stay for the next 8 or 9 months – apart from when I’m riding it of course.

Riding and driving in London is not fun. Most other road users are fine but there are a few who are crazy or seem to be testosterone-fuelled idiots. Mainly, its just that there are so many other people trying to get somewhere. My route up the A10 is not as fast as the motorway but once past the M25 traffic starts to thin out and it turns into an enjoyable road past the turn for Hertford. The sun came out too. I’ve not been to Cambridge since before Christmas and it was nice to arrive back, each return and there is an extra block of flats and one more building on the Addenbrookes site.

My next major trip will be in mid-late July, after graduation, when I take the ferry from Portsmouth down to Bilbao again and spend a couple of weeks riding and this time tent-free, staying in hotels across northern Spain including near to the Bardenas Reales that I’ve heard so much about.

I’m still trying to solve the problem of decent audio on my recorded videos on the bike and wind noise seems to drown out my voice, even with the helmet vent closed and a new and better microphone. Here’s the trip in 4 minutes.

Box Hill by Motorcycle

The first piece of sunny weather and it was an opportunity to get back on the bike since before Christmas. Also an opportunity to test a new helmet cam, the Sony FDR-x3000. Its hugely better than the Contour Roam (Contour seem to have brought out a new camera – I thought they went out of business): it has better resolution and takes much nicer looking footage, is smaller, has a much better mounting system and I can plug a helmet mic directly into it. Probably the best feature is the remote controller with a small screen that mounts on the handlebars and saves feeling around in a gloved hand for an on switch somewhere on the side of my helmet. It was a test run so all didn’t go entirely to plan.

After reading brief recommendation I headed down to Box Hill in Surrey, just the other side of the M25 (which if you walk around I have heard you get a tour of London’s old asylums at a safe distance from the capital). I should have done more research because my webpage did not mention probably the main draw for motorcyclists which is the Ryker Cafe, run ‘by bikers for bikers’.

As said before, riding out of London in any direction involves many miles of driving through congested roads and then unattractive dual carriageway before getting to anything remotely rural. This time my journey passed nearly every Northern Line station going south towards Morden. But the more I do it, and the more familiar the route gets, the less I notice it and the quicker the journey feels.

The camera worked well, though just when I got to the picturesque, the never-ending circle of dots on the remote screen told me that the camera had already used its battery – of course I had a couple of spare with me. So I have fantastic footage of various tube stations in south London. Not having really looked hard in enough in advance I stopped at the worst possible establishment (there was a last space in the crowded car park), called Smith and Weston for an orange juice and a chance to search on Google for why my GPS was not working properly (clean the contacts someone wrote, even though they look clean – which I did and found it worked). My route out of there led me past two much more interesting looking stopping places, down through a couple of hairpins, and past Ryker’s Cafe with a carpark heaving with motorcycles of various styles.

The camera saves GPS data which I think you can only embed and render onto the footage using Sony’s movie making software which, apart from being able to do that, is not very good. Solution: save the file then import that into FCP to properly edit and the speed and other data remains on the screen.

The whole trip was just over 50 miles and was a lovely way to spend the first Spring-like day and the first riding day of 2019. Wimbledon was strangely deserted. Here’s a screenshot of the route.

to Box hill and back

Here’s the GPS track, strangely just for one direction (not the band):

Here’s the footage I took:

MCN Motorcycle Show London 2019

The MCN Carol Nash-sponsored motorcycle show at the Excel Centre in February comes as something to slightly brighten up a month that does not have much going for it. Even getting over there involves travelling on the still-a-novelty-to-me DLR, though I am gradually realising how well-placed London Bridge, where I live, is, certainly for travelling in an easterly direction.

I usually have some mixed feelings though. It is fun to sit on the amazing bikes and drink in their shiny beauty but sometimes motorcyclists in large numbers can make me feel alienated. One trick, that I learnt this time, is to arrive early because an hour or so after opening, the place is heaving. Was it my imagination or did everyone make a beeline, as soon as the shutters were raised, to one bike in the show, the new BMW R1250GS Adventure, sitting there in its mighty rally colours and golden wheels and black hubs.


And this one was fitted with a lovely Akrapovic can.


Not to mention the new fancy TFT highly coloured display where ordinary old bikes have a couple of dials with needles. Once on it, though, it was a case of tiptoes and memories of my years with the old-old version of this bike came back vividly as a kind of muscle memory: very hard to paddle it anywhere not just because of its weight but because of this height (should you be the kind of motorcyclist who needs to do that – backing into a parking space for instance).

On a nearby stand sat another model of the same bike and it was ignored by all (the paint finish was a little boring). Climbing on that was a completely different experience because, as the label confirms, it has a lowered seat and factory low suspension – extra cost £180 but would be worth it if I was in the market for this bike.


As I overheard someone say on the way in, the show can be overwhelming. Highlights for me, apart from the BMW stand, were brief visits to the Triumph (I used to have one), KTM (their bikes still look weird in an age of increasingly standardised looks) and Ducati (because their bikes look so beautiful, especially, of course, in red and are ridiculously fast).

But back to earth, my first purchase, and human contact, was at the EDZ stand, where I bought a merino wool base layer and discussed the care of woollen fabrics. Then there was the Michelin Adventure Stage with a schedule of interviews with the famous and not so famous. I wondered by first then spotted, sitting at a desk nearby, the unmistakable Ted Simon. Here is a link to his anticipation of the show. I made conversation with him. This is the second time I have met him. He seemed rather bemused by my attempts at conversation – I said I hoped he would not get bored sitting there for three days and he said he would because he had nearly finished reading his novel which he told me about and which I have completely forgotten detail of author and title. For some reason, perhaps knowing his German heritage, I recommended Gitta Sereny’s book about Albert Speer which I am reading and he seemed slightly interested, certainly remembering that Speer had spent time in Spandau after the Nuremberg trials. I told him that meeting him had made my day – which also seemed to bemuse him. After I had walked away I wished I had asked if I could take a photograph of him and I wished I had mentioned that we both had German mothers. But perhaps there was no call for that kind of assumption of a kind of familiarity.

Returning to a bench on the Michelin Adventure Stage, more to take off some hot layers, I was engaged by a couple of speakers talking about the benefits of riding trails alone and of riding in the moonlight and on small bikes. I was transfixed by the session on tyres and how to fix a puncture, with the technician from Michelin driving a nail through some new looking knobbly tyres on the presenter’s well-weathered round-the-world V Strom (I think) up on the stage. I realised by the end of it that I need to get a new tyre, as my ‘temporary’ repair from a few months back shouldn’t be relied on. And I will buy one of these repair kits. I found myself actually engaged and engrossed in a way I didn’t remember before at this show. When I left I wished I had been able to stay longer.

After the storm the supermarkets

Tuesday 4th August
It’s nearly twenty to five in the evening and the sun came out briefly for the first time today. There has been today, as people here and my weather widget predicted, a large drop in temperature, ushered in by thunder storms during the night. Something about yesterday evening worked well. It was good to be cooking for myself at at my own timing on this trip, after enjoyable meals made for me. With my chilled white wine the rest of which awaits me in the fridge sited in the huge barn here on the table and the chair provided for me, I was comfortable and I am sure I digested my meal better than those evenings I spent crouching on my low stool or boxes.

But it thundered and rained and rained in the night, in fact for most of the night in three distinct but interconnected storms. Pity, as I had settled quickly into the most comfortable nights sleep so far on this trip. I was prepared for the rain and, apart from some splashing, I and my pile of vestibule belongings stayed dry. I emerged rather blearily into a damp morning and had showered and was heating water for my tea before most people had got up. I think the dog lovers here were apprehensive about the weather for their pets. My neighbour told her her ageing twelve year old dog hyperventilated all night. Without a trusty order of breakfast croissant I was reduced to eating biscuits and some dry baguette from two days ago along with my pleasing green tea. The morning stayed cool and damp (I am seeing blue sky for the first time today) and I headed off down the road for a brisk walk to warm up meeting most of the dog owners walking for a different reason.

The great thing about this site is having access to a fridge and one that has space in it. The bad thing is it is tricky to move and park the bike here. The two work together in a way. I set off around lunchtime to ride the 7km to Nontron where there are an abundance of supermarkets, three in one small town. My GPS knew the one with the U in it so there we headed. But the mixture of deep gravel and lack of level ground on the site make parking and manoeuvring the bike, even with most of the luggage offloaded, really tricky. And I think probably my greatest fear is looking completely incompetent with my mixture of revving and stalling and heaving the bike backwards. I have a piece of stone under the side stand which I retrieved and intend to keep if I need to move it again, to get pointed in roughly the right direction for my final exit, laden with everything. I bought food hopefully for my remaining three days here which dovetails beautifully with the available fridge which is stuffed with more of my food and chilling wine (I bought two bottles of local rose – let’s see what 4 Euro wine is like) than anyone else’s it seems. If one stony space for a caravan is empty I can manoeuvre the bike round in it to get out, but if it is full then I will need to enlist an unsuspecting camper to help me with another approach, I will make a point of choosing some one young (not some heart attack candidates up there). Then off the few hours west to La Rochelle to stay with Helen for two nights before hitting the road on Sunday to Caen. In the meantime three more nights here, heading off on Friday, just to remind myself of the days.

At Manzac Ferme camping

3rd August
Now I am sitting by the little river at what will be my final campsite of this trip. In a sense it’s true that the sites are getting better and better or rather they are all good in different ways. This one Manzac-ferme has a fairly ordinary area up top for cars and caravans but tents can pitch down here in the shade by a small river that doesn’t seem to be flowing anywhere which is probably quite good because it won’t burble all night. What is best about this site is the beautiful restored farmhouse and barn that the owners live in. The barn is cool and enormous in the heat which is reaching 35 degrees today. The owners are Brits who have lived here for four years and are clearly thrilled with the place. He has an enormous white beard and reminds me of someone I used to know. This is another adult only site, so everyone seems accompanied by dogs, but not dogs as as you know them, these are almost silent non barking incessantly all night or when they see another dog. (I spoke too soon we now have a barky poodle-ish kind of hound in residence.)

The ride over here was good, though short, just 80 miles. I woke up at the last site having slept poorly (I was awoken by a rustling in my paper rubbish bag just outside my tent. I looked out with my torch and the whole thing was heaving. and with an upset stomach and headache again but after a cuppa (green tea) and Paracetamol and once up on the bike and rolling my spirits revived. As today was a short trip I had planned a nice curvy route on small D roads drawing a large circle around Limoges instead of taking the high road through or closely around it. My first direction was fine but after fifteen minutes of riding I found myself back on the same old main road I had left. I really have no idea how that happened. I looked at the trail afterwards on the GPS and can make no sense of it. Still the ride was mostly good and it was great to keep moving in the air to cool down with breeze finding the ventilation of the jacket I wear. I was spoiled with the last sites that served up food, in fact a delicious meal last night, and there is no shop though they say they can sell wine. Some one alerted me to the weather forecast which is for quite heavy rain for most of the night. Tomorrow will mercifully be a little cooler. There is also a fridge in the barn where I have stashed my food.

Last night I joined in the three course meal offered by the proprietors, one of whom is a chef. I joined three other couples, two Dutch and a younger quite quiet couple from Ayr. Our conversation was quite grown up, with some laughter but verging on the stereotypic (jokes about wives from the men), quite unlike the more witty talk at the first site where we talked about different views of the marauding migrants threatening to invade Kent and someone’s experience with a hugely powerful kit car (was it a Caversham? no Caterham) which was much more fun. The meal was delicious and much of it was courtesy in one way or another, of the chickens that stride around the whole site.


My friend Andrew Vass

Andrew Vass, who I’ve known since he was 18, died on Thursday evening of cancer.

I took this photograph of him just after Christmas. He is already marked.

Here we are in 1980 I think, fixing our bicycles outside a youth hostel somewhere in Germany or Austria on our way to Yugoslavia.


Tuesday 12th August

From the campsite bar. Today I rode the few miles up to Todnauburg, the strangely names mountain of death. Once there I used my cunning GPS to guide my walk to Heidegger’s hut or as close as you can get to it. He certainly had a beautiful view. There is no signpost to the hut so you’d need to know in advance where it waS though there is a large signpost about him and his attachment to the area with some photos of him looking rather creepy in his rural costume and funny hat. After that I took the lovely twisty road up to Freiburg about 18 miles away.
Ride to Todtnau and Freiburg at EveryTrail

Motoring and cities never works that well for me but I found somewhere to park and got a coffee and croissant though I didn’t see that much of the town apart from riding through it and platform 8 of the Hauptbahnhof. Back here in the cooling sun with a beer, I worked out a likely campsite to head for tomorrow only about 150 miles north and slightly west from here. So all was looking good but a chance glance at my weather app showed downpours for nearly all of tomorrow starting around ten or eleven. My spirits are rather dampened by this news so maybe I will make a hotel my lodging tomorrow night. I don’t know how accurate these weather maps are but it looks like if I can get a good start and make good progress going north I could keep ahead of the worst of it. So it’s good to be forewarned about that. But as the Dutch campsite owner has just said to me, riding a motorbike in rain is shit. As equipped as ever I have my vaguely waterproof overall and, more important, some anti fog liquid for my specs. I remember driving all day in Scotland in heavy rain with one of my lenses misted up so riding with my head at 45 degrees for about five hours. Usually my trips end up feeling like they are twenty four hours too long.

Saturday 9th August

I write from the sunny black Forrest next to my tent pitched by a stream. Today had its ups and downs literarily in this case. After sleeping well I woke to breakfast at 7.30 before the dining room opened but they were kind enough to serve me. It was raining outside so I delayed my exit for an hour until it stopped. €62 for a bed breakfast and garage seemed good to me and the place had the winning combination of being unpretentious and having English spoken. I packed up Bertha in her garage and then heaved her out onto the sloping alley and struggled to keep her upright. With my heart still pounding from exertion and the anxiety of nearly dropping her, I drove down to the hotel to return the garage key and promptly dropped her unfortunate bulk on the road while getting off without putting the sidestand down. I must say she took the fall very well. There was nothing for it but to unload everything and try to get her upright. I’ve done it before so I know it’s possible. A petite woman walking a dog asked whether she could help but I politely declined and just when I was starting to fish out my camera to record the event two beefy guys turned up and got her upright in no time without even taking the cigarettes out of their mouths. They seemed really pleased to help. It was strangely an enjoyable drama to live through the event you’ve been dreading. I remember reading, though from a different context and continent, Ted Simon saying that he didn’t fear disasters as he saw them as opportunities for people to express their humanity and provide help.

Once on the road I was heading about 190 miles to a campsite mentioned in the Cool Camping Guide, one of only a few in Germany. This one is in the black Forrest and has a car free tent area so the antidote to my caravan aversion, so some motorway miles with a parking stop populated by two coaches of football supporters and some lovely twisty roads later I found the place. It’s sweet and all the nasty caravans are tucked away completely invisible and everyone here is a cool camper under canvass (nylon) reading paperbacks and I am saying hello to people. It takes a while to wind down after arriving and organising everything in the heat to notice how beautiful the site is and how lovely it’s situation.

Miles 194 average 57.8mph max speed 92.5mph moving time 3 hrs 21 minutes

Working out the rest of the trip:
Sunday night here
Monday southern black Forrest
Teusday southern black Forrest
Wedn northern black Forrest
Thursday Northern Germany or Loreleyblick

Touratech is only 37 miles away south and Heidegger’s hut is 60 miles southwest and there seems to be a campsite quite close by where I can hide and prepare for my assault on the hut. Be warned, the guides say, it is still owned by the Heidegger family and they do not like their privacy intruded upon. The Heidegger family, Some sources say, are heavily armed and expertly trained in the techniques of close combat. I’ve worked out a good site to stay at close to Bitburg where Bitburger comes from for my last night before the ordeal of the Dutch motorway system.

Friday 8th August

Today has been mixed as all these days are. I got off around 10. It takes a good hour and a half to break camp. My cunning route across 20miles of country to near where the Mosel branches off from the Rhein took me to exactly where I wanted to be and I spent the day riding the road alongside this beautiful river. I stopped at a so called cafe in a less popular and less pretty town for lunch to be reminded that German food is not good. My salad was a mush of prawns with some curry powder thrown in for luck. Some French arrived by bike and made an entrance in reply to my greeting one asked whether the food was very good. I had to tell the truth. Then on the bike again. As the Mosel winds down towards Trier it is not as beautiful as further downstream and added to this it started to rain though lightly. I decided to keep to the river all the way to Trier and look for a hotel and to cut a long story short I stumbled on a place and seemed to get the last free room with a garage for Bertha to herself after alarming a young man with a motorbike who rents the garage next door by trying that one first. Once in the room which has a door that is one foot thick, I showered and fell asleep so deeply that when I awoke I had no idea where I was. I had a walk round this town and found a place to have a pizza and glass of wine and sat outside in a square in the sunny evening. Service is slow here in Germany so far. You need to settle down with a good book. My plan is to make a push south tomorrow to find a place from the cool camping guide with a car free tent only area. It’s 180 miles.
Today’s miles: 125 miles average 34.3 mph max 71 mph moving time 3:37 hrs