Friday, 8 August 2008

22260 – 22540 280 miles
Fethard on Sea

Had somewhat of a mad Friday, after a pretty busy days work I rode home with Tim. It's been a long time since I last rode anywhere with Tim but his obvious skills on two wheels still manage to make me feel like I'm doing my CBT again. The usual 30 minute ride must have taken all of twenty minutes all in all and by the time I walked through the door I was dripping in sweat. As a parting remark at the Banstead Junction Tim had said "Take it easy over there, don't go crazy and enjoy your trip" and then proceeded to pull away into a 70MPH wheelie! I caught up with him again at the next lights and asked if that was what he meant by 'Take it easy’; he just grinned and pulled away into an equally fast STAND UP wheelie – what a loon!

I had a million and one things to do including ALL my packing. I always make a concerted effort to leave it to the very last minute, that way I'll remember where I put everything. I still had my invoicing to do and I'd intended to spend a substantial amount of the evening with Sarah. Needless to say I ended up packing into the night, invoicing into the early hours and bickering with Sarah for an hour or so. The late night (or early morning) inevitably caused me to oversleep.

I got over to Simon's in Feltham about half an hour late to find him not ready. I know I like to consider my packing 'last minute' but this was ridiculous! He staggered out of the house blurry eyed and threw a pair of pants into his top box, strapped his '2 second tent' on the top and off we went. At least he'd fuelled up... unlike me who'd forgot. I managed to push the reserve as far as Reading services where we also took the executive decision to indulge in a splash of breakfast. Coffee and a dodgy sausage roll (which neither of us could finish). Simon asked a girl to take a picture of us with our bikes and her mum insisted on joining us in the picture – that little moments flirtation may have made Simon's day to be quite frank as the rest of the day consisted largely of endless motorway down to Wales. To be honest it was all relatively painless though and the XT held up fine, plugging away at the miles at about 80 all the way.

Shortly after the M4 the Sat Nav suggested an alternative route to the one suggested by the road signs. Remembering the advice of some truckers at the services – they'd suggested ignoring the Sat Nav altogether as they had a tendency to take one off the beaten track down tiny windy lanes... not suitable for trucks at all... sounded just right for the XT to me – so we hung a right off the roundabout and headed into the unknown. The route consisted of some brilliant winding and undulating country lanes through the heart of rural Wales all the way to the tiny village of Fishguard. Alas – not the Port of Fishguard so ensued a further 10 miles of winding country lanes. The sun was shining, the bikes were perfect and to be honest I can't think of a better way to start a big trip. Finally in the port town of Fishguard we navigated to the closest fuel station where we, quite surreptitiously bumped into Uncle Dave (the exact spot I'd had every intention of calling him to find out where he might have been). The odds of running into each other like that must have been staggering!

After a full Welsh, a bit of lounging around in the sun and a brief moments panic when I thought I'd lost my keys we boarded the ferry. No queuing to speak of and pretty much straight past the line of cars. Proper VIP treatment – we ARE bikers don't you know? The crossing itself was perfect. Still. Sunny. Smooth as you like. I joined Dave in a celebratory Cigar to mark the start of the journey and we drank a LOT of coffee. The sailing was four hours and everyone was itching to get back in the saddle by the end of it, there's only so much sitting around drinking coffee watching the locals getting steadily drunk (preparation for their onward journey I guess) that you can enjoy.

We discovered whilst on the ferry that Simon, amongst other things like a towel or a mug, had neglected to bring a passport! Just as well we found that we rolled off the ferry in the Republic of Ireland with no passport control and straight onto the road. Away we rode. Sticking to the plan we aimed for a port town not too far from Rosslare called Artherstown with the intention of pitching up at the first campsite we found. Sticking to the back lanes we wound our way around the first part of the south east coast of Ireland. I passed a sign stating "QUEERS FOR SALE", I have no idea what that might have meant and had no intention on stopping to find out. It is probably worth noting that at this point I was still a little unsure about which side of the road the Irish drive on as the few cars we did encounter seemed to be on the side best suiting their mood at the time. After a bit of a hunt for a rather elusive campsite I could sense that Dave and Simon were not brimming with confidence that we wouldn't be sleeping in a ditch on our first night. Finally, after a few directions from bemused looking locals we found ourselves in a small village called Fethard on Sea (although we only found the name out later and for the first few days we thought it was Fedda on Sea). The campsite was annoyingly expensive at a rather steep €22 and offered very little for the small fortune we paid. The village itself, conversely, was lovely and I think re-confirmed a little faith in my planning (or lack of). The second pub was markedly better than the first so we pretty much settled in for the night and had a lovely meal, which was very reasonably priced. I remember reading that the area is famed for its mussels so there was no contest on the menu for me. Excellent grub, lovely Guinness and great company. Even the weather was perfect. The omens were all good for a great journey. Dave did share some concerns over whether either he or the Thruxton would manage the whole trip on roads of a similar ilk. Personally I love a challenging road and I had every faith that he'd make it – I suspect it was just first day wobbles.

22540 – 22661 121 miles

The sun was shining so made for an easy and efficient start to the day. After a quick brew we were on the road by 0830. So early were we that hitting Arthurstown we had to wait until 0930 for the first ferry to cross the Waterford Harbour. At €3 it was well worth the wait though and made for an exciting start to the day. The ferry was super quick and we were soon riding once more through a tiny village on the other side crawling with dogs and up into some more windy roads. Before long we were blasting along fast sweeping roads (after choosing the fastest route option on the Sat Nav in response to Dave's concerns over mileage). Although not dull and certainly more interesting than motorway riding we were making some serious mileage so I thought a little detour would be the perfect distraction. I'd seen a sign for the 'Mahon Falls' so decided to investigate (as we were way ahead of any schedule). Of the main road and we were twisting and turning once again through rural country lanes, winding up towards the foot of the mountains before picking up a tiny trail style road (more like a small path in places). I was finding it's challenging nature great fun although I don't think Dave quite saw it the same. Simon managed a little off-piste but saved it at the last minute. It wound all the way up to some rather under-whelming waterfalls (so much so that we rode past them, barely noticing for all intense and purposes) but the ride itself was a great way to mix it up a bit for the day. The trail was a circuit up and down the mountain and then back round so after getting to the start again we turned round and picked up the main N25 again.

The road snaked round the coast hugging the sea while the sun shone. It made for pleasurable, lazy riding. We stopped at a decent interval at a tea-hut with a few other bikers hanging out there. Another strong coffee and we were pressing on again toward Cork. Cork looked an interesting city. All based around the Port it seemed to be a thriving, bustling place. We followed the harbour all the way through stopping only for Simon to use a cash point (I think he'd neglected to pack his Euros too!). Dave had a word with me, once again worrying that he might not be up for the miles and was considering heading off on his own (although I think, not having an Irish map might have proved problematic). I didn't like the idea at all and must admit to it leaving me a little low. I had no doubt that he'd manage the trip and thought that perhaps it was just early door wobbles and a touch of, maybe, a few too many Guinness the night before.

We regrouped and pressed on up out of Cork to Blarney, almost a suburb of the city itself, with the intention of kissing the Blarney Stone. We had a pub lunch (I had the boiled Bacon, veg and parsley sauce – which was surprisingly lovely) and then went of to do the tourist thing. The entrance fee to the Castle was €10 and was heaving with Tourists but I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity whilst I was there. The stone itself is housed at the very top of the tower of Blarney Castle. It is embedded in the uppermost turret, the idea being to lie down on ones back and lean out backwards over the 200 plus foot drop and kiss the stone upside-down. Dave and me queued for about two hours for the privilege whilst Simon opted to stay at the bottom with the gear. It turned out to be a bit of a laugh as it happens; never normally being one who enjoys queuing, especially dressed in sweaty bike gear, we laughed and joked all the way up and mucked about with other foreign tourists in the queue. At the top I went first (just after some bloke had chosen to 'lick' the Blarney Stone) and then Dave had a go and managed to scrape his nose on the Blarney Stone! We decided that this constituted an Eskimo kiss so if your ever hear my Uncle speaking Inuit no doubt you'll be impressed with his eloquent, silver tongued turn of phrase. Unfortunately the experience had little effect on me and I find that I still talk bollocks for the most part. The view from the top is pretty damn spectacular too; all in all making the queue well worth it and the whole experience a positive one. Just what the doctor ordered in fact.

The sum of the mileage and the site seeing left us all a little drained to be honest so we broke camp early and stayed in Blarney. It was early enough to chill out a bit in camp so we got some supplies and had a little picnic once camp was up. It was a nice relaxed feel and we all seemed happy again, especially after a shower. In the evening we went to the local pub for a couple of Guinness (being conscious not to over-do the black stuff this night). We even indulged in an early night just after the sun set.

22661 – 22791 130 miles
Tralee (pronounce TrĂ¡ Li)

Awoke to the distinct pitter-patter of rain, my immediate reaction being 'bollocks!'. Cracked on regardless and broke camp, by the time camp was down we were all soaked to the skin – not the best of starts to the day by anyone’s standards. The horrific weather lead to a particularly slow start. Even though we were on pretty straightforward dual carriageway it wasn't long before we found ourselves being over taken by lorries and the such – crawling along at about 40 MPH on the hard shoulder I deduced that there must be something wrong. As it transpired Dave was wearing a combination of glasses and a dark visor leaving him, in those conditions, blind to all intense and purposes. Not wanting to ride the whole day with Dave just using 'The Force' for direction we stopped at a garage for him to change his visor for a more appropriate (and legal) one.

Still haunted by opinions over mileage targets I gave my best case for doing the Ring of Kerry and a unanimous decision was reached that we'd give it a go regardless of the weather. My view being that the weather is always going to do what the weather is going to do so you can't let it dictate your decisions. At a garage before Killarne the friendly lady there told us that it can be a challenging road and how a lorry had got stuck there a couple of days previously. This information may well have instilled a little concern in the group but we pressed on regardless.

What can I say about the Ring of Kerry? This is said to be Irelands most beautiful National Parkland and it does not fail to impress. Even in the relentless drizzle and fog the vistas were truly breath taking and the roads, though challenging, had a grin factor on the Richter Scale! We started off winding up through a series of plush green peaks around rocky lakes reflecting adjacent mountains. The road snaked and turned down to Sneem (where they host the National Wife Carrying Competition???) where we picked up the West Coast and hugged it all the way back round to where we started. We stopped at a little beach-hut cafe-bar for a spot of lunch and something warm and wet (I must admit to this being the only disappointing meal of the trip but I was so cold and wet I didn't care). We passed another lake that was so still it could have been a mirror, the hills in the background reflected perfectly! By the end I don't think there was one of us that regretted our decision even though we were soaked through to the skin.

Previously we had purchased a Tourist information booklet listing details of hundreds of campsite and their addresses so we could plan our stop with military precision. We continued as far up as Tralee and found the site immediately with the Sat Nav. The drizzle didn't let up whilst we erected camp but we tried to ignore it and pitched under some trees at the bottom of the field. Once settled, we wandered down to the local Super Market for some supplies. I wanted something warm so splashed out a whole €1 on a tin of stew and a crusty roll. After our cobbled together meal and a little aperitif we wandered down for a few Guinness in the dry confines of the local pub. I think that we were so grateful to be dry and warm that a few Guinness may have developed into a few too many. On reflection, I'm sure that the whiskeys were a drink too far and when I splashed out €9.50 on an exceedingly impressive Irish Single Malt (the name of which now escapes me) it could well have been the straw that broke the camels back. I have a vague recollection of looking up at Simon asleep on his bar stool and an even vaguer recollection of staggering back to my tent and passing out. Slept well though.

22791 – 22959 168 miles
Conofin (near Ennis)

A disastrous start to the day! A car alarm awoke me, which is frustrating enough, but with my head banging like a pneumatic drill I tried to roll over and sleep on. It was as my arm splashed down in three inches of water that I realised something was wrong. I opened my blurry eyes and tried to focus, through the clearing mist of my vision I saw my Sat Nav and camera float past my head – "SHIT!". I sat up with a start and my head swam with the night before's intoxication. More of the carnage came into focus and I gradually realised the extent of the situation. I must have rather stupidly pitched in a dry puddle, which over the night had filled. In my drunken slumber I hadn't even noticed the rising tide in my tent. It now was above my sleep mat, soaking through my sleeping bag and generally drenching EVERYTHING! All my bike gear was in with me, all my dry clothes, even my towel! I had to resign myself to a few damp days ahead. To top it off it was raining again. "Bollocks". I have it on good authority that at least the first hour of that day all that could be heard was a constant tirade of cursing from me. I'm not proud of my fowl mouth but I turned that damp sky blue in a different way that day!

Not normally prone to hangovers I was suffering this day. We packed all our drenched gear up, Simon managing to knock his KLE over in the process (nothing nice about packing wet) and mounted up. I was in desperate need of something hot and greasy so we tried the local supermarket again to no avail (the Irish are late starters in the day – must be the weather and whiskey). I made the executive decision to move on to Dingle, reasoning that the ride might clear the cobwebs and we could get a decent breakfast there. The rain remained relentless all day; in fact, I would go so far as to say it got steadily worse as we headed out on the peninsula. The roads out to Dingle could have been fun on any other day but today they were drenched in Diesel spills, covered in fog and it was hammering down with rain and sleet. When we got to Dingle very little was said other than the agreement that none of us have ever been wetter. It was obvious that moral was low and even the very lovely breakfast (at the Apple Tree Cafe – I can highly recommend it) did little to lift the moods when it was so apparent that we'd have to make the same ride back before we headed north to our next camp. I felt terribly guilty that the lads were having such a crap time and felt responsible for dragging them out on this mad mission of mine. Other than the cafe we saw very little of Dingle and it's sites, I expect that Fungi the Dolphin would have been very surprised to see humans wetter than himself though.

After getting back to Tralee we switched northward and used the inland ferry at Tarbert to cross the Mouth of the Shannon into County Clare. I managed to drop my XT here, it just kind of rolled of the stand (oops) but I did get a hilarious picture of it with Simon and Dave both scrambling for cameras in the background. Simon had managed to lose the list of campsites (I blame the whisky) so we searched for a Tourist Information Office in Killrush. After a lengthy search we found it closed unfortunately so we moved on to Ennis where the next Tourist Information Office was housed. The roads were pretty quick and easy and the weather even seemed to be abating slightly. There was a little sporadic traffic, which could be problematic to pass but much easier riding than the Dingle Peninsula. In Ennis I guarded the bikes whilst Dave and Simon wandered off in search of yet another elusive Tourist Information. It was while awaiting their return that I realised that the Sat Nav actually had the Tourist Information Offices listed and could have taken us straight to the door step (only a shame that it only listed UK camp sites really) – oops, sorry lads! They returned with the replacement list soon enough though (another €5 well spent – not to be used in conjunction with whisky though) and we selected a site about 8 miles from where we were.

Conofin looked a lovely little village (if a little wet – it was still raining). After camp was up I wandered over to a pub, it seemed the only logical way to stay dry. We settled for somewhat of a duration in Bofey Quinn’s enjoying the odd game of pool and eating a superb meal including the most amazing Seafood Chowder. It was just such a treat to be dry. There had been a brief respite in the weather and I'd managed to get my roll mat dry and a few little bits but the most remained soggy and damp including my sleeping bag. In the end I resorted to sticking it in the campsite tumble dryer at about 2300 so I didn't get to bed until 2330-0000 but at least I had a nice dry and warm sleeping bag.

22959 – 23119 160 miles
Blaney (8 miles out of Enniskillen)

Miraculously, after the previous days weather system we woke to a beautiful dry day. Packed up camp in a relaxed lazy manor with one eye on the sky at all times, it was hard to believe that the sun was shining after the previous onslaught of rain. We took full advantage of the campsite facilities and made coffees and breakfast (bran bars and fruit) in the on-site kitchen area. After a few country lanes and a minor moments panic over fuel for Uncle Dave (luckily we found a garage within five miles so we didn't need to push the Thruxton after all) we picked up the fast sweeping roads in-land following the Shannon north. Cutting across inland Ireland didn't inspire for a large part of the journey but we soon found ourselves blasting through smooth roads cutting through plush woodland and pine forests. There was pretty much no traffic to speak of and a lot of the villages we went through appeared almost uninhabited ghost towns. I must admit to getting a bit carried away and enjoying the ride a bit on the more twisty roads as we zigged and zagged across land but at every junction I would wait for the lads to catch up and I suspect that they were enjoying it just as much. Bit of sunshine seems to make a lot of difference. I had some div in a white van reverse out on me passing through Trien, I could have sworn he'd seen me but he seemed to be looking right through me. Luckily I wasn't carrying too much speed and there was nothing coming the other way so it was nothing more than a brown trouser moment and not anything too painful thankfully.

The planned camp had been in Mohill, just outside Carrick on Shannon but the added pace and easy riding meant that we found ourselves parked up on the Quayside at Carrick by 1130 so the unanimous decision was made to push a bit further north into Northern Ireland (back into Britain – hoping that passports weren't required obviously). We decided to aim for a site on the shore of the Lower Lough Erne just north of Enniskillen. Over the border and the change was immediately obvious – even if the border itself wasn't. The first thing I notices was a 'National Limit' sign. It may be a case of familiarity but I always find British road signs much more legible and something just seemed fresh and exciting about seeing them again. I was still enjoying the roads and the dry weather and we were soon on the road that the campsite was situated.

Checking in, the owner seemed to display all the quirky eccentricities we'd been expecting from the rest of the Irish but not seeing up until now. Camp was up quick and all out stuff was put out to dry. I nipped off to the local village (Derrygonally – or as Simon and Dave liked to call it 'Diagonally') for supplies and a disposable BBQ. Apart from Simon's dispute with a few local wasps it was a lovely chilled afternoon with a few beers, BBQ and most importantly THE SUN!

Early that evening we got a cab into Enniskillen for our first night out in a decent sized town. As is the want of cab drivers the world over ours was just as keen to illustrate his local knowledge of the road by driving the whole way at a terrifying break-neck speed. We got there in one piece though and headed for the first pub for a couple of beers before a touch of site seeing. Like every pub we'd encountered in Ireland the TV was blaring with the horse racing on, we had an Irish cider before moving on to the next pub where the barman thought I was related to a local whom he swore could be my twin brother! Pint of Guinness and out we headed into the remaining light of what was fast becoming a barmy evening for a spot of site seeing. Enniskillen is sat on an island in a river between the two lakes (Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne), it has a pretty castle right on the river and at that time of the evening is very quiet. The sunshine had obviously gone to Dave's head who insisted that we must dine alfresco or not at all, so we opted for a German run Greek restaurant (can't describe how odd it is hearing a German/Northern Irish accent!). Soup and Welsh rarebit made with the HOTTEST mustard in the world followed by a mezze type-sharing platter. Just the ticket before heading out for a few more Guinness in the local establishments about town.

We learnt that Enniskillen had fallen victim to the troubles in a devastating way and since being bombed in the eighties it has only been in recent times that the main street has been re-opened to traffic. People are understandably reluctant to talk about those dark times and are eager to move on from the ugly past. The town starts really coming to life by about 2230 onwards with teenagers/youngsters out to party and tempting as it would have been to stay out and have a bit of fun I think we would have regretted it the next day so we let out fatigue from the day dictate an early-ish night. I think Simon was particularly gutted to be leaving earlier than everyone else.

23119 – 23233 114 miles

Although we had experienced some showers through the night we'd miraculously woke to a dry start. That said the brooding sky looked ominous and I didn't hold out much hope for a dry day. It felt like a refreshing change to be packing our stuff dry though and we headed straight out to the closest garage for fuel (for the bikes and ourselves – garage croissants for breakfast) before pressing ever onwards. I must confess to finding the riding pretty dull, consisting largely of fast straight roads teaming with lorries all plodding along. Passing was possible but the added pressure involved was taxing and didn't add anything to the enjoyment of being on my bike. Whilst navigating through a small town the heavens opened again and we were left to the mercy of the weather once more. We paused briefly for Dave and Simon to don their waterproofs (I had left a little more cynically prepared for the occasion) and then plied our way through Northern Ireland with very little change to the conditions or the roads. Other than passing the 'Joey Dunlop Memorial Leisure Centre' we saw very little of any interest on the road we were on and stuck on it until we started seeing the signs for The Giants Causeway.

At this point the Sat Nav started directing us circuitously around the area slightly towards the campsite. These country lanes made for a welcome change and although still murky the weather had abated slightly once again. Dave spotted a small bike shop in the most innocuous of positions, a brilliant spot as me and Simon (devoid of a Scott Oiler) were in desperate need of some chain lube. The guy in the shop was very friendly all be it a little illegible. We were probably less than two miles from camp so found ourselves pulling into the poshest campsite I have ever experienced within a minute or so. The lawns were immaculate, the facilities (which included everything the weary traveler could possibly require) were marvelous and the pitch perfect for our needs.

I treated myself to a wonderfully warm shower (in a shower room larger than my bathroom at home – they even piped music into the unit!) tucked into some tinned stew and then we headed out on foot to visit the Giants Causeway. Through the town and there is a coastal pathway, over a golf course all the way to the Causeway. Unfortunately, once again, the rains returned and caused us to rethink our route. Quite by chance and quite fortuitously we came across an old steam train heading our way so we forked out the £6 for a return fare (a little steep I thought for the relatively short journey) and so began our forth mode of transport in one week! (Bike, ferry, taxi and now steam train). The train only went so far and there was still a fair walk to the Causeway itself. From the station one walks up the hill to the Tourist Office and then begin the walk around two coves down a steep hill to the Causeway.

Bear in mind that the rain was getting into a steady drizzle by now so we were getting damper and damper by the minute. I was starting to worry that the Giants construction skills were not going to be as awesome as I had expected and this arduous wet walk was all going to be in vein. Approaching from this route you don't really notice the Causeway until you're on it (apparently there is a coastal approach which I hear offers a spectacular view of it on it's approach) but I can honestly say it is well worth the trek. We probably spent about an hour traipsing all over the slab type stones, exploring and taking pictures. Visually it truly is an amazing sight to behold. Seeing natural phenomena of this magnitude always leaves me in awe and re-establishes my perspective of the world we live in. The further out you go toward the sea the rock formations turn a dark black and shimmer in the wet. To walk on it feels like crazy pathing with steps up and down randomly at the will of the architect. I think the rain had kept a large number of tourists away, although there were still a lot of people around, not many braved the extremities of the Causeway so it felt like we had a large part of it to ourselves.

The walk back to the station was now up hill off course and with the rain I don't think any of us appreciated it (although we were reluctant to use the shuttle bus service – save it for the Americans). By the time we reached the train (the last one to run that day) we were uncomfortably drenched through to the skin. By the time we got back to the town of Bushmills all we could think of was getting dry so me and Simon opted for the pub and Dave went back to use the shower and tumble dryers. I tried to get hold of Dan, a friend of mine from the forum, to try and meet up for tomorrows ride; to no avail. By the time we regrouped in the Pub (Finn Mac Coulls – named after the mythical Scot-hating giant architect of the Causeway) we were nearly dried out and had already established a repartee with the locals. The landlord even suggested getting take-out and eating it in the pub so we had impressive fish and chips with a few more pints of Guinness. Back at camp I headed for the laundry unit in an attempt to dry out a pair of pants, socks, a towel and my sweater. I went to sleep praying to the Mayan Sun God for sunshine in the morning...

23233 – 23436 203 miles
Rush (just outside Dublin)

Sod's law, a rainy start again so had to pack camp wet again. At the garage for fuel there was very little in the way of breakfast so I opted for some Muesli biscuit things before heading out on more long fast roads down to the Ards Peninsula. At least the weather was brightening up and by the time we'd skirted Belfast and through Bangor the sun was shining and it was starting to look like another beautiful day. I tried once again to get hold of Danny but had no luck. We picked up the coastal road and it was a different ride altogether. I've heard this area called Irelands 'Golden Coast' and I could see why. With the sun beaming down the road snaked and undulated around the beaches on the Irish Sea. It was a brilliant fun ride and I even had my front end in the air over one little hump. I could liken it to the coast around Southend but without all the people, lights, cameras or traffic. I think we must have encountered the whole of about five other vehicles the whole way! By the time we got to Portaferry I was grinning like an eejit.

We took yet another ferry at Portaferry, crossing Strangford Lough into Strangford. From there it was more winding rural roads, passing 'Castle Ward', through the Mourne Mountain range toward Newry and the border. Surprisingly the Mourne Mountains seemed to be bisected by one large straight undulating road rather than the twisty switch backs one might expect through a mountain range so we passed through quite quickly (which was just as well as it was pouring down once again up there!). At Newry we started picking up signs for Dublin and the M1. I'm not the biggest fan of Motorways but it served a purpose and the lads seemed to be enjoying pushing their top ends hitting 100 plus, although it was pretty blustery so I can't imagine it being particularly comfortable. Some point just before our first Toll my Sat Nav gave up the ghost and died on me and, although having a vague idea of where we were heading I managed to ask the lady in the Tollbooth how far it might be. It turned out we were a mere 15 minutes from our camp (although having to stop and ask directions a few times may have added another 20 minutes all in). It seemed fitting though to arrive at a town called 'Rush' by motorway.

We'd managed to dry off largely as we reached the camp site but by the time the old lady had checked us in the weather had turned on us once again; the fickle bastard that it is! Erected camp in a pouring torrent plus we couldn't park next to our pitches so we ended up getting very wet all over again. Obviously there was nothing else for it, we didn't even get changed; in fact Dave and Simon left their crash helmets on, and we walked into town to the nearest pub. We had to walk along the beach to get to the nearest pub and the image of Dave and Simon walking along a rain sodden beach in full waterproofs and their crash helmets will remain with me until my dying day!

Our luck was in and the pub turned out to be extremely biker friendly. The landlord was even so kind as to put my Sat Nav on charge behind the bar in an attempt to breath some life back into it. I suspect Dave’s phone had gone the same way and fallen fowl to the weather. The locals were professing the merits of the roast beef so we splashed out and even had a Seafood Chowder starter (unsurprisingly, I was the only member of the party able to finish my grub – go figure). The food was brilliant, once again and we were starting to feel warm once more... just as the sun decided to show itself again – Typical!

Not wanting to stay in the pub all afternoon (especially as, in all likelihood, that's exactly what we'd end up doing that night) we headed back to camp. The campsite was particularly crap (especially in light of the previous nights accommodation); I had a shower but got the distinct impression that I came out filthier than I went in. I nearly wet myself when Simon popped his €2 in the slot and jumped in the wrong shower having to run across the pissy floor to the shower on the other side of the urinals when he realised his error. We still ended up back in the pub relatively early (I was reluctant to spend any time in my damp smelly tent without being suitably inebriated). Once I picked up my Sat Nav (I had to take the memory card out and replace it to get it to start again – pretty much the same method as Dave used on his struggling phone) we proceeded up the high street in a pub-crawl trying as many pubs as we could muster. Remarkably we even had another meal! Pizza in the local take-out place.

It turned into a lovely barmy evening. The locals were all a friendly bunch, all chatting and joking with us, many of them real road racing fans (The Skerries racing is local to Rush) so loads of bike chat ensued. I think we visited three or four pubs in total (including the Michael Collins) before braving the dark (and the odd viscous guard dog) back to camp, where I can assure you, I slept the sleep of the dead once again!

23436 – 23627 191 miles
Heanor (Derbyshire)

Everyone was up with the vigor of refreshed souls at the crack of sparrow. It was certainly the fastest we've ever broken camp and the dry start must have surely inspired a lot of the haste in the start in general. Enthused about getting the earliest ferry possible we neglected breakfast (or traffic lights I expect) and hurtled into Dublin's busy port. Straight up to the Stena Line Ticket office and we encountered our first hurdle as the lady behind the desk informed us that all of the vessels are fully booked until 2130 that night. Gulp. Never fear, there are other companies so we pootled around to the second terminal where there were two companies adjacent to each other. We opted to split our resources and Dave joined the Norfolk Ferry Line queue whilst Simon and me joined the noticeably longer Irish Ferry's queue. I could immediately sense that Dave's news was not good as he walked towards us: "€225 and it takes EIGHT HOURS leaving in over an hour!" – I don't think he was amused. Luckily Irish Ferries had space, left in under an hour, took a mere two hours to cross and only cost a very reasonable €78. Phew. Dave did mention that I was very lucky as he was just about to start yelling at me – oh ye of little faith! The lady that sold us the tickets couldn't resist a little joke on me by telling me (after Dave and Simon had their tickets) that they were now full when I came to book my ticket – she had a cruel streak!

The crossing was super quick and we barely had time for our final 'full Irish' (which was a shame because I could have quite happily eaten two of them). We retired to the upper outside deck after breakfast for the rest of the crossing. Although extremely blowey with the sun shining it was marvelously refreshing out there. Two young lads were having a ball throwing litter off the back of the boat and watching the wind pick it up. Not the greatest effect on the environment though so Uncle Dave had a word with the staff who sent out one of the ships bursars to have a word with them "t'wasn't me, oi swear t'ya, t'was me brot'er..." was his innocent little reply. I had to chuckle.

Back in the UK and after getting a little confused in the port the run from Holyhead up the coast to Chester was gorgeous! Fast sweeping dual carriage way bathed in beautiful sunshine. The fatigue from the week was starting to tell so the lazy ride suited me. Fuelled up just outside Chester where the traffic was a little sticky and then headed to Macclesfield via the motorway to do the Cat n' Fiddle run. Simon was yet to experience this road, where as I've been a big fan of it since my uncle first took me up there. As for Dave I expect he's done it numerous times but I think anyone would be hard pressed to get bored of that tight little twist road through spectacular scenery.

MAN I LOVE THAT ROAD!!! I had to giggle at a sport bike rider's double take at me hooning round the corner as low as I could get it fully loaded with all my touring kit still. I stopped at the Cat n' Fiddle pub and waited for Dave and Simon to catch up, they weren't far behind and Simon had a genuine smile on his face so I'm pretty sure he enjoyed that. It was here, so close to home, that Dave had his first and only technical problem for the trip: his immobiliser button stopped working. After taking it apart and cleaning the battery terminals we managed to get it going and the bike started again though. Whilst we were hunched over it a lady decided to take a picture of our bums – what lady can resist three leather-clad bums eh?

After our tea Dave and Simon went off their own way back to Ashby de la Zouch whilst I let the Sat Nav lead me to my brothers in Heanor. The roads through the peak district were stunning and far too much fun for an end to a journey. Just after Poynings I saw a guy on a GSXR pulled over by a bike cop – oops. The roads guided me through some lovely picturesque villages and I was feeling really happy just me, my bike and the sun on my back. My wife was already at my brother’s house waiting for me so we stayed the night, spent some time with my Brother and his family and had a few drinks. I may try and detoxify next week.

That makes a total of 1367 miles over the week plus the 180 miles of motorway to get back home on the following day makes it 1547 miles with not one single problem other than the rain! I would consider that a successful tour.

Monday, 21 April 2008


My wife's forbearance this year sees me taking my yearly indulgence to Ireland but she didn't half make me pay for it this time around. I've only just recovered from the mammoth DIY job on the lounge and hallway required to accrue the necessary brownie points for the week away with the other love of my life – the bike.

Simon will be joining me once again on his KLE500 (obviously well and truly bitten by the bug after last years Stella Alpina Rally jaunt) and for his first tour my Uncle Dave will be coming along on his Triumph Thruxton.

The three of us are planning on heading clockwise around the emerald isle taking in the four geographical extremities of the most Southerly, Easterly, Northern and Westerly points. Along with a few other landmark visits including the Isle of Man on the way home and the usual adventures a weekly tour will throw into the mix I'm sure this trip will be as amazing an experience as any.

As for the bike, my XTX is going through far less prep and modification than usual. Mainly because she's already good to go. I'm sure there will be the usual mad scramble to solve some unexpected problem prior to departure but that's all just part of the 'craic' isn't it?