The final journey home: Portsmouth to Cambridge via the ill-fated M25

Just for completeness, here are the last stages of the journey home, to be fleshed out later:
I slept poorly on the boat,
in fact I slept badly for the whole trip! Gathering down on the very lowest deck as the boat came in to Portsmouth was a nice opportunity to chat to the others with bikes.
They were a pleasantly friendly and interesting group which restored my positive feelings towards bikers. There were at least 4 other 1200gs bikes there including the new water cooled model which its owner was very pleased with though the electric suspension turfed him off the bike when his pillion got off for the first time, he said. We made it up the very steep ramp and then I sped out of the port and up onto the motorway and up the A3 to the M25 at a really good pace. The bike’s fuel gauge has not been its strongest feature and it is on its third one since I’ve owned it. Telling me I had 66 miles left, then 68 then 72 miles should have made me stop for petrol but I thought I could make the next stop apparently 25 miles away. But of course I ground to a halt by the exit to the M40 and had to be rescued and re-fuelled by the RAC – the first time I have called them out.
I also learnt that 40 minutes of leaving the ignition on to keep the hazard lights flashing drains the battery to a point where it needs an on-hand RAC person’s charger to get the engine going.

When riding in the rain in Spain, water leaked into the tiny hole in the GPS screen (caused by me dropping it a couple of years back). So the route only starts from after I filled up with petrol near Uxbridge and is inaccurate.
Coming home at EveryTrail

Eventually, after stopping for something to eat at South Mimms on the A1 – which seems more like a business meeting centre than a motorway service station, I got home by 4pm.

Home after bike trip
I have to say I was exhausted – and still am. But It was a successful trip and most of the lessons I learnt from my last trip to Sweden I was able to put in to practice.


Day 1 Home to Portsmouth and on the ship

After an hour contacting the electricity board (its new incarnation) and ordering sinks, I squeezed my bags into Bertha’s panniers, filled up the oil and the vodka bottles strapped on the back and prepared to set sail. Unfortunately an earlier event with my GPS meant that it had forgotten its relationship with my earphones so I had to unmount and retreat indoors to the instructions and start afresh and fiddle about as I rode out of Cambridge before I could hear any directions.
Its 133 miles from home to the Brittany Ferries terminal in Portsmouth. There was little traffic on the road from Cambridge to the A1 but the M25 was queuing for much of the time I was on it, thankfully turning off for the A3, leaving another jam behind, to find my Little Chef I remember from my last trip, now renovated with smart red upholstery but still serving tea and scones for less than £5. Another stop for petrol and by the time I arrived at the terminal I was just waved through and up onto the boat without even a chance to stop and remove my super efficient earplugs so had no idea what anyone was telling me. Luckily everyone is well trained in exaggerated arm movements and I squeezed up about an inch behind another BMW or similar adventure bike with ABR magazine stickers and hard core luggage. Up on deck, a gnarled and bearded Spanish biker attempted to engage me in banter as we gazed down on the last cars and trucks driving on below. I realised – we both realised – that there is a great gulf between Spanish and English. I think he asked me some questions about my trip but I gazed at him completely uncomprehending. In the end I understood something, that its two hours ride from Santander, where we arrive, and his home town on the coast. He gave me a sticker of his motorcycle club.
I retreated to sundeck 6, the deck where the dog owners have to stow their annoying dogs and have them ticked off by a Frenchman with a clipboard. ‘Name?, you mean our name or the dogs’?’ Eventually we left 25 minutes late and I watched beautiful old Portsmouth pass by in the late afternoon sun as we sailed out into the sea, the green and bizarre Isle of Wight out on the right hand side (is that port or starboard?) as we sailed further out. One day perhaps we will all wake up and the Isle of Wight will have disappeared in the night. There will just be one of those slight inclines of the head, as if to say ‘well, that’s just one of those things’.
Finally I got into my cabin (the delay was to get the slow moving cleaners off the boat). This is one of the smaller cabins I’ve had, on the inside, so no view of the sea passing. Now I just need to wait till the children have all gone to bed and make my way up to find something to eat.
I ventured out to chose paella and a small bottle of white wine followed by another glass of wine and a couple of cigarettes on the cooling breezy deck in the dark, while the first live act in the bar started, a young woman in a black dress and too much make up sang to a recorded synthesised track, and small children ran in circles and screamed up above. Others watched English football on screens. Now I’m back in my cabin with Seven Pillars of Wisdom discussing the Arab encampment by night above Wejh. ‘Life in Wejh was interesting’, the chapter starts.
Getting the bikes off the boat will be interesting. There’s a mass of them and most of us will have to push our bikes backwards to drive them up the ramp into Santander.

Heading for Brittany Ferries Portsmouth

Next year’s tour

Despite western Europe having better weather, better food and drink, nice accommodation, languages that I can make myself understood in, and being closer to home I am drawn, for my travels, to those former communist eastern countries. Perhaps they are more slavicly exotic. They are certainly less familiar and harder to understand how things work. No sooner am I home from one motorcycle camping adventure than I am thinking about the next. I have been looking at Ukraine but I think it is too ambitious, certainly too far. Its exciting because it is on the easterly road to Russia and the stans and finally China. Instead I’m starting to look at Hungary and Slovenia to add to a trip that includes Germany, Austria, Czech republic and Slovakia (a country I’ve been wanting to revisit for a while).
The next stop is trip planning.

Gallows Hill to Home

This is such a good campsite. Its just a field with some basic facilities and it can only make a small amount of money for its owner but it does a good job. Its on a gentle slope and had a beautiful view over the valley. Chickens scratch around the site and in the next field are sheep and horses. On my two visits its not been crowded and reminds me of the Wee Campsite up in Scotland that was hopeless in terms of noise and disturbance as everyone was packed so close like terraced housing. Gallows Hill has so much space. Its also perfectly placed for a journey from the south up to Scotland.
Traveling back home was easy. With earplugs in I sat in the outside lane for much of the journey and thundered back home. Out of curiosity I left the A1 to see what Grantham had to offer, assuming it would be a pretty coaching town like Stamford. If it was I didn’t see it. Tired after just over two hours on the bike I tried to park in a car park there but it was built on such a slope that it was impossible to get off the bike so I headed off – without earplugs. Already I can’t believe how I rode without them. They make you go faster!
The trip was 1400 miles with 33 hours of riding.
So now I’m back home and thinking about the next trip. Lets chose somewhere a little more exotic and somewhere with better weather. Suggestions?

Back in sunny England

Another five hours or was it four it’s impossible to tell though my knees and right index finger were painful ride took me safely over the border back to Cumbria where though it’s blustery (a breezy day is what BBC news said on the large tv at the M6 service station where I surrendered to batter and chips and beans) the sun is shining brightly. But there are dark clouds and those vertical lines way off on the north that tell you it’s raining. It really is blowing here. I’ve put the tent up against a low wall and some bushes in the direction of the wind and banged those pegs in hard with a rock from the wall. I don’t have the energy to drive down to buy some dinner. I have enough here and some beer and lovely coffee for the morning assuming I can get the stove to light in this gale.
My thought about Scotland is that it is so rugged. It is rewarding but you have to pay a high price and with travelling by bike, living in a tent and solitude there is little to bulwark you against the rain and midge attacks. Maybe I would go back but in a decent car and with company. (I keep telling a BIG fly not to keep coming back in here (my vestibule) but he won’t listen.
Tomorrow is simple; 12 miles on the A66 to Scotch corner then straight down the A1 almost to home. Let’s hope it’s not too gusty.

In Bates motel

Well not really Bates Motel but it might be. It’s a guest house with a number of little rooms. I’m number 6. Despite the moment of beauty last night at Durness I woke to drizzle and heavy skies with the forecast for heavy rain all day. So I abandoned my plan to get the ferry over to Cape Wrath and packed up instead dressed in rain gear and warm scarf I headed south aiming for Glencoe. And it rained and rained. For a strange reason my visor misted up inside and I couldn’t clear it whatever I tried. There was nowhere under shelter to stop in. I tried tilting my head and going fast. Eventually I stopped to fill up and lingered as long as I could under the canopy of the petrol station. I vowed not to camp tonight. I had no heart for pitting up a tent in the rain in wet clothes so I tried a few hotels near Glencoe. The first wanted £145 for bed and breakfast. The second looked much more down to earth staffed by Australians but they had no room. The third also was full but phoned through to this guest house. An Australian woman answered but she is nowhere to be seen instead a very helpful man who keeps stuffed birds everywhere. He lives over the way with the mysterious woman. It’s deathly quiet or that could be the result of not wearing earplugs for today’s 5 and a half hour ride. There’s a toasty drying room which I would have loved to stay in all evening. Bertha will turn 20,000 tomorrow.

Sango Sands at Durness

Is it this tiny iPhone or the inclement conditions that abbreviate this travel account? Today I was pleased to get away from the Wee campsite which started off so well got exciting even with the arrival if the German duo with sidecars (and a scots bike veteran pointed out to me he knew they were foreign because the sidecars were on the wrong side and I noticed that one had reverse gear so mo wonder it manoeuvred so neatly) but it was the family with tantrumming boy and their own very apparent stupidity right next door that drive me nuts. “the professionals say there’s nothing wrong with him but we can’t cope” they complained to eachother. They arrived back after 9pm to fry bacon when I was already in my sleeping bag reading Big Sur as it got dark. Before them was another couple with too many children one crying and father losing his rag. But today was lovely after my getaway and a lovely ride on the sunshine to Ullapool for bagel and a pot of tea then restock at the last Tesco and throw out that nasty wine that gave me a headache tasted awful and finally leaked in my bag. Then after I turned left north and all the other traffic turned right so I am on my own to zoom past the sheep and tourists to arrive here at 2.30 where it’s good to arrive early to get the good places mine down by the fantastic cliff though there is a huge space by the entrance with scores of campervans. This is like a separate place, quite so far though there is a space next to me. The waves are crashing. Tomorrow I plan to take theinibus to Cape Wrath then on Monday head back south to Glen Coe again in one day.

More poised

I’ve made a more poised entry to the Wee campsite number 30 in the Cool Camping book. The midges are just appearing but though it’s overcast it’s dry – well it’s not raining. This little site seems to attract people from all over Europe who sit on easy chairs in couples quietly reading paperbacks. The view is over a loch and there is sunlight on distant mountains but I hardly look at the view. I rode through breathtaking scenery and as I was warned you begin to take it for granted. You almost have to. I met four Spanish bike riders from Spain who find Scotland to be paradise although they told me at home it was already 30 degrees and not raining. I stopped and chatted and caught them up thanks to my new found countersteering skill which zooms me around corners. I road 80 miles in vain fro the Mallaig ferry only to find it was all booked till 4:30. This is a pretty little site with basic facilities. My neighbours in a huge tent are still out. We are all a bit squashed and a man about 20 feet away continually coughs in a way that suggests he won’t be holidaying next year. Tomorrow I will make it up to the top of this beautiful country. To Durness.

Where am I?

Somewhere on the A1 in a Diner waiting for my all day breakfast. It’s lunchtime and the sun is still shining but 2 and 1/2 hours of riding have been tiring. As planned I rode through Stamford but had little sense that I was going in a straight line north. It’s funny how topology is so easily tampered with.