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

Back in Germany

6th august
So many trips have started with the ride through three counties over to Harwich, just over 60 miles from home. This morning forecast was for rain so I was prepared for a rather muted start to the trip. As it turned out today was glorious and the ride joined the catalogue of sunny evening trips arriving with the sun low over the sea but still bright and warm. Thank goodness for Morrisons Harwich where I go and fill a carrier bag with a cabin dinner and bottle of wine. This trip it’s Morrisons sliced pork pie with egg, Morrisons pea shoots, port salut cheese yoghurt and Morrisons strawberry shortcakes which if they don’t disintegrate will make a fine breakfast for a couple of days. Accompanied by Morrisons Beaujolais villages.
In the queue waiting to board is the usual dozen or so bikes of all shapes and sizes with riders to match and enjoyable conversations with a few Germans all on BMWs of course. The most notable being a highly camp police Harley Davidson complete with flashing lights and siren. I thought the HDs looked a real handful to ride slowly stop and go up the circular ramp to the back of the boat.
This trip I am trying out my just bought Redverz Adventure tent, so big and tall you can actually keep your adventure bike inside it. I bought it more thinking about being able to stand up inside it than sharing it with Bertha though I might try that if I get melancholy. What better than non human company at night? Accompanying me is the following literature: where angels fear to tread by E M Foster, The elephant vanishes, Murakami, a collection of essays and interviews by Paul Auster plus a slim text book about narrative analysis.
It is 10.15, late already. I think the unwary stay up drinking on this trip. The savvy realise that the clocks are one hour ahead when we are rudely woken at a round 6.30 so get their head down even before the boat leaves dock at 23.15. So many times I have caught this ferry. I remember the first time clearly when I had only recently learned to ride and was the proud owner of a blue Triumph with only a tank bag and something small strapped on the back for luggage. Now I carry around probably about five times as much stuff.
I went up on deck for a cigarette and bumped into German biker Frank with amazing English but I was in the shower heading for bed as I felt the ship move off.
Tomorrow is a 400k ride to just south of Koblenz (stress on the first syllable I learned this evening ) to a campsite on the bank of the Rhein. So nearly all on motorways, but after that much nicer roads. Tomorrow evening I plan to scatter my mum’s ashes in the Rhein.

7th August
After a very tiring ride on motorways I arrived at Loreleyblick camping at about 2pm. I lost my trip data from the gPS but it was about 260 miles, not that much but tiring roads to ride after being woken up at what felt like the middle of the night but was 6.30. I think I am at the prettier end of this long campsite by the very fast flowing Rhein. It is dominated by motor homes and caravans apart from a few intrepid cyclists with tents. The Redverz it’s good so far. I spent ages putting it up. There is such a huge amount of space to be untidy in.
I walked up the road and found a gate leading down to a footpath down to the river and it was there that I scattered mums ashes from my hand into the river just as a barge piled high with coal sailed by, appropriate as her father was a miner. I then lay down in the tent and fell asleep as I always do. Motorcycling leads to sleep. I’ve been too tired to open a book so far.
Reviews say this campsite is noisy at night with trains running all night on both sides of the river. In fact we’ve just had stereophonic goods trains and it is loud. It’s somehow reassuring that all this stuff is getting moved around.
Later I did read the first few chapters of Where Angels Fear to Tread. One of EM Forsters early readers said she felt she needed to take a shower after reading it and I agree. It’s nasty not a very positive view of humans so far at least. I am sure a film has been made of it.
I slept very well apart from beings awoken by the predicted thunder of freight trains. At one point in the night I started counting the intervals between them and they were very short. I finally awoke just before seven.

Finding the Thames path

A rare Saturday spent in London found me and H taking the riverboat from Bankside to Greenwich (£10 or so with an Oyster card – they hurry people on and off and move at high speed making the point they are definitely not a tour boat) and taking a short hot walk down the Thames path towards the east in the direction of but not going anywhere near the Thames barrier. A few of the photographs are below.

A gem we found was the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich, cool and uncrowded inside, but it turns out with variable reviews.