Haverhill to Great Dunmow in Autumn sun

One of the shorter rides in Biker’s Britain is a 16 mile dash from just south of Haverhill to Great Dunmow in Essex and not too far from Saffron Walden. Haverhill is about 20 minutes or so ride from Cambridge city centre and then its a right turn down the beautifully twisty B1057. After an annoying train and bus replacement journey up from London I headed off on this route, to avoid the sometimes aimless rides I find myself doing on these sometimes rushed fortnightly trips. On making that turn into the B1057 I immediately realised why this route is in the book –  it is full of unpredictable turns with generally good visibility and not too much traffic. In fact because I did the journey in the opposite direction to the guide’s recommendation,All the bikers I saw were coming toward me. I had no one driving a white van in front of me to slow things down and spoil and view and, more importantly, no one behind making me think I should go faster. Also heading toward me was the strong and dazzling winter sun which is the only reason I would do this route again from south to north.

About half way down is the beautiful Finchingfield, with its lovely sloping village green, packed full, on this perfect sunny Sunday late lunchtime, of travellers and parked up motorcycles, not a place I wanted to linger in but good to ride through slowly.

The ride home was via the lovely B184 to Saffron Waldon and Cambridge. My repaired puncture is holding up.

Riding after puncture repair

Last week I experienced a puncture on the motorbike for the first time (in ten years of riding). Flashing red lights on the dash was the first I knew about it as the bike, riding slowly in town, did not feel any different and it showed me the pressure dropping quickly: first 2.2 bar then under 2 and heading rapidly downwards. I am thankful this happened not at high speed, not in the middle of nowhere, not in a foreign country, but about half a mile from Sainsbury’s petrol station on Coldhams Lane – complete with its free airline. A huge sharp stone was responsible and once removed a loud hissing told me that a repair should be attempted. Never having used it before, I could not get my tubeless repair kit to work and called out the emergency service that I get free with my bike insurance. To cut a long story short an efficient and reassuring man with recovery van from SOS Motorcycles) arrived and plugged the puncture, talking me through how to do it (thankyou!). Next time I will have a more serious attempt to fix it myself.

It was a quick and uneventful ride back to the garage.

Yesterday I returned and took the bike for a longer spin and all seemed well. I wonder how safe it is to ride with this repair – how fast and for how long before I splash out on a new tyre.
It was a bit of a meandering ride and started a bit late, but also a chance to experiment with the helmet mic which seems to pick up so much wind noise. Judge for yourself whether it is any good. Among other Cambridgeshire villages, I rode through Soham, the site of the terrible murders in the early 2000s. It is such a small place. It must have had a huge impact on everyone who lived there as the story unfolded.

To change the subject, having resisted the un-aerodynamic GoPros for a long time, the GoPro Hero 7 cameras have caught my fancy. The trick would be how to mount them in an unobtrusive way.

 

aimless east anglia

Motorcycle trip to the southwest day 5 or is it 6?

Saturday

Friday night saw heavy rain. Many had been waiting for it eagerly but not campers and particularly not campers travelling by motorcycle. For the first time in my camping experience I put on wet clothes in the morning. Somehow, perhaps because of the artificial clearing made from membrane and back chips that I was camping on (as opposed to sponge-like grass) , water ran or bounced into the part of the tent used for storage – of my massive and unfoldable bike gear for example. My weather widget told me to expect showers all day followed by heavy rain all the following night and the day after that. Coupled with some pulls toward home – carpentry work my study was about to be finished and in fact I could speed it up with a particular contribution, I decided to head back to London. As it happened it was a mostly sunny ride moving east. My strange GPS took me down some single lane gravel path which it claimed was the A3 in an attempt to avoid what it described as ’42 minutes’ of delays on the A303. We took a slow route home, turning north on the M25 and coming into London on the M4, then along the north bank of the river, crossing over at Vauxhall then back through Elephant and Castle. Here’s a picture of the whole trip.

I recorded lots of video that I will edit and add later.

map of route

Motorcycle trip to the southwest day 3

Friday 27th

I’m writing from under a tarpaulin shelter at the amazing Hole station campsite. You’d have to describe it as alternative and eco conscious. Campsites reflect the character of their owner, that is obvious. This is a woodland site, not a field in sight, and a working farm with a variety of animals some of them wandering around. I arrived here the day before yesterday and have three nights here. On arrival the owner gives you a map showing a circular stones path through the wood where there are about a dozen or so cleared spaces each with a tarpaulin shelter and an old car wheel where you can light a fire. You take the circular path and come back and tell him which vacant spot you want. Nearly all seem empty though we are fuller now. The buildings are clearly home made out of reclaimed timber, the toilets are composting and there are two small wooden cupboards where you can charge up your device.

 

 

 

 

 

They even serve breakfast and nice very hot coffee, though this morning I brewed my own espresso and ate it with a sticky bun. I am waging war with a squirrel and a mouse who have a sweet tooth and found a way to get at my food how ever I secured it. So I have brought a pannier down here and keep everything locked inside. I also have a collection of stones to throw at the very audacious squirrel. My bike is parked up by the farm and you bring your stuff down here in a wheel barrow. It sounds a little inconvenient but is absolutely fine and the site would have a different character if you could drive a car up to each tent.

The site is down a stoney drive offering a few minor wobbles and which is definitely first gear at least to my level of riding skill. The roads round here are lovely, sometimes with traffic but often not. Yesterday I took one of the Bikers Britain routes across Dartmoor which was amazing, with grazing animals of all kinds by the road, a mixture of gentle and tight bends and again sometimes a queue of traffic usually not. On the way back I dropped in at my favourite Waitrose and even searched out a camera shop that sold me a micro SD card for my helmet camera. There is something slightly euphoric about having enjoyed a beautiful ride and know you are heading back to cook something nice and have a good book to read. I am rereading The Emigrants by Sebald and looking out for how he writes. I can see some of the advice he has given to aspiring writers in his work, the inclusion of meteorological  detail for example. And the first two stories are about people who have killed themselves, reminding me of the stories I am writing and how one reviewer thought they were too downbeat.

This morning at 8 am while I was still in my sleeping bag it started to rain. Not very hard but enough to make me jump up to tighten up the guy ropes and move things away from the edges inside. So sitting here under the tarp, digesting my breakfast, each gust of wind brings down more water from the trees and there is a kind of shifting equipoise in the sky as to whether is is overcast or brightening. The forecast on my phone shows showers for the next three days and it flashed across my mind that I could leave early – a foolish thought. It is meant to rain in the middle of the day which presents a dilemma for riding. I was planning to ride north taking in another part of one of the routes up toward the north Devon coast but I am uncertain how to time it. Nice as it is I don’t want to sit here all day, and riding the bike is how I charge everything up that needs charging.

Today I had some great riding particularly on the north Devon coast road to Porlock, including some slightly scary first gear hairpins and I noticed some people two up with luggage on big adventure bikes heading my way and heading to go up those same bends that I had just come down. Exmoor really does meet the sea along this amazing road. Apart from that there was probably around 100 miles of twisty roads with rain on and off, tiring but getting into a rhythm. When the road was first wet I was nervous but eventually got into a more confident stride on  fourth and fifth gear bends, stopping again at my favourite Waitrose to buy some sea bass for supper which I’ve just had.

This campsite is filling up with people, much younger than the middle aged folk that populate the more conventional sites, like, I imagine the one I will be staying at from tomorrow, Rosebud Farm, with the very polarised reviews on the net. I really like this place and feel as at home as I probably can get (I do remember as a standout campsite San Francisco in the north of Spain which I might say is a favourite) in a campsite but I do not enjoy the constant battle with squirrels and mice for my food. Today I packed everything I thought edible in my metal panniers but cam back to find my small bottle of olive oil spilt everywhere with its plastic lid bitten through. Annoying. Tomorrow I will call early for breakfast here then pack up which I have the feeling will take a while.

This is also a holiday where I have been in constant touch with the house, getting update photos of the amazing carpentry work in my study at home as well as seeing the temperature on our Nest. It was just a minute ago 29 degrees while here I think it is around 20 or less. Yesterday was 33 in London. This is a real heatwave summer, like 76 which I remember vividly along with the troubling girlfriend that I had then.

Motorcycle trip to the south west day 2

Tuesday 24th July

With camping planning is essential because if you have forgotten one thing, life becomes awkward. Yesterday evening I was scrabbling round for things that should have been to hand like my washing up stuff. This morning I remembered where I had packed it, a sign of not having camped for a few years. I ate my one pan chorizo and pasta dish but forgot to eat the rocket. My top box is turned into a portable fridge with a bag of ice keeping my Chablis cool, along with a few other items. This morning I find it is full of water a testament to its waterproofing. I slept really well waking just once at 4.30 when I wrapped my t shirt round my head against the early dawn and slept again till about half past eight.  This site is very quiet apart from the distant main road traffic. No children being disciplined and yelled at to go to sleep (I did it).  I chose a spot that is shadey in the morning which is lovely.. the sunlight is just creeping on to my bike.  This morning I plan to try to follow one of the Bikers Britain routes, the conveniently placed Lyme Regis loop of 140 miles. The ride here from London was only 168 so I’m not sure how long this will take. One thing is certain is that I will get lost probably sooner than I think.

Later. I’m back from a days riding. I’m still not sure what counties I have visited. But I am sure that I got lost. I am not entirely to blame as a road closure in Crewkerne at a crucial place spelled downfall for the next leg of the trip and then having got back on the route another turning seemed completely invisible. But I resisted my temptation to give up entirely because when I was on the track, I could see why these roads have made it into the best routes book, they were stunning roads, perfect for bike riding. I even found and had lunch in the first cafe (I was the only customer with a manager whose conversation to his colleague was constantly downbeat) on the route before heading back on some lovely roads, via Tesco to top up with another bag of ice. The weather is a little humid but so much cooler than back in London. It’s 21 here but my phone tells me that it’s 29 in London.

Motorcycle trip to the South West day 1

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Monday 23rd July 2018

Phew. I’m writing this sitting on one of my panniers outside my tent looking across the sunny valley in Dorset. So many of my posts start with a phew. Today it is the relief of leaving London. In fact I am still unwinding.

I knew it would not be much fun leaving London through the heavy traffic but before I had ridden 200 yards I ground to a halt as a dust cart and an articulated lorry jammed themselves in the tiny Elizabethan lanes outside the Rose Theatre. Then there were the duels with the nippy little cars full of young guys swerving in front of me then all turning round to stare at me menacingly till the lights changed and they zoomed off. Then Merton high street more stop than crawling for twenty minutes or more. The temperature was 30 degrees. Finally I seemed to turn onto a slip road and gather some speed on a dual carriage way, discovering I have more gears than two. Then the M3,  a service station where I park up behind some caravans and sit on the curb in the shade drinking chocolate milk from the bottle. Gradually I find myself in the country driving along beside Stonehenge. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. What a sight. And then I am in Dorset. But because I did not look at the map properly I was not sure where the GPS was taking me, mostly down the A303, not too busy and with plenty of places to zoom if you want.

So here I am, sitting on my pannier facing the sun with my motorcycle over to the left draped with my washing as usual on these trips. And it is 25 degrees or something like that down here with a welcome breeze that I don’t find in London. It has been a scramble leaving today, with a couple of other tricky chores to sort out at the same time as getting ready to go and with anxieties about the tail end of the renovation and a burglary a couple of doors away and a new washing machine coming with me not there to connect it up. But these trips simplify life: you find were you are headed for, put up the tent, go and buy some food and drink – in my case a handy Tesco about two miles away so that my pannier has become a portable fridge with a bag of ice chilling. A bottle of Chablis and some salad, have a shower then sit down. Phew. haven’t used my tent for three years but it is very familiar. 

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Camping in the West Country

Tomorrow’s trip has crept up on me, my first camping trip for a few years, but in the UK so not so much to organise, just to search out all the stuff I usually take and load up for a hopefully not too tedious and wobbly ride out of London in a south-westerly direction. I have have four campsites in mind, three of them – adult only sites – booked. This summer has been really hot in the UK, for week after week, up to about 30 degrees in London and tomorrow is scheduled for a similar sticky heat.

Belinda back in London for a visit

A10 ride

A10

I’m still a little decentred and stretched between London and Cambridge, now I’ve finally ridden my bike back down the A10 which stretches all the way from Cambridge right to London Bridge, just round the corner from where I live. The worst parts of this road are around Enfield but it improves nearer the city – in terms of traffic – and more interesting pedestrian life.

Belinda has a comfortable life down here with extensive cleaning, modern lighting and a trickle charge.
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Back on my GS

It is so good to return the heavy unexciting beast that is the 1200RT to the dealer in Welwyn and jump back on my own GS after its service. The GS is more comfortable, a higher ride, nice wide bars for countersteering, a zippier motor (well, it seems like it) with a much nicer note, so much easier to handle. However, bizarre road closures – both down to Lind Motorrad and back to Cambridge – led to a strange route. See below:

Adze trail

For more detail:

 

Riding the BMW R1200 RT

Motorcycling blog reviews are popular among the people that like that kind of thing. The only time I get near a bike that isn’t my own is the rare occasions I am lent a bike by the dealership that services my bike in Welwyn Garden City. One of those occasions was today, a beautiful sunny Saturday, a rare nice day in an erratic UK Spring. And the bike I got to ride up the sunny A10 back to Cambridge was an RT – as ridden by UK police.
It’s impressive at first sight with its cool circular headlights almost dazzling you so you don’t notice its bulbous front. This model had keyless ignition and a kind of lock-on hand break which according to Kevin some people set by mistake then are surprised to not be going anywhere when they try to head off from the lights.
So off I go. There is a large sweeping cross between a small ring road and roundabout that you exit from Lind Motorrad onto. And you often have to pick your gap between the cars heading onto it at speed from your right. The funny thing is that you drive on to the roundabout feeling uncertain on an unfamiliar bike but by the time you leave it you are confident.

So what did I make of this classic old man’s (all high vis and flip-fronts as they say) touring bike? What I liked: not quite so tall to throw a leg over, smoother gear changing, the back break actually slows the bike down, quite comfortable riding position and comfortable at (very) high speeds. What was not so good: less wind protection from its wide but actually short screen than the GS, a less comfortable seat (I thought this was meant to be a supreme tourer), heavy steering that seems to pull you round a corner in a disconcerting way, heavy to push around, not exactly zippy. So this bike rides exactly how you think it’s going to: a bit heavy and, I have to say it, a little bit boring (I’m not wishing I were riding it through this bank holiday weekend). Thankfully I would not swap my GS for this bike. The GS and especially the huge and high Adventure model has impressive road presence especially with some bright LED auxiliary lights. Nice look.