La Route des Cols

I think I may just have found a little bit of heaven, but I’m not going to tell you about it because then everyone will want to go there….

Or as the Eagles wrote; “Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Regular Blogonaughts will remember our adventure on La Route Des Grande Alpes last year, when we rode North to South from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea, via all the high French Alpine Cols.

This year we have changed geographical area and are in the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that separates France from Spain. And this time we are heading West To East on what is locally called “La Route des Cols.”

My French chums claim that this is a tourist route that traverses 34 remarkable mountain Cols, or Passes if you’d rather.

Now, I my mind it’s pushing it a bit to claim that all 34 fall into the “remarkable” category. Indeed as you get past Andorra it’s a little hard to actually identify too many passes anyway, the land just falls away towards the Mediterranean, but top marks for trying.

The Route is a recent innovation to boost economic tourism and is to be applauded for that. It’s origins lie with a much smaller route that was first developed in the mid 1850’s la Route Thermale des Pyrénées which linked together four Spa resorts for which the region is still famous.

My plan is to ride from the Atlantic coast to either Andorra or Ax Les Thermes following the route as much as possible. If you want to follow us on a map, then look for the D918 road, which is largely the route, but it does vary in places.

Anyway back to the riding…

We left Saré this morning and headed straight back into Spain, crossing the Puerto de Otxondo 602m before hanging a left and attacking Col d’Iséguy 672m.

From Ispéguy, the call of the far away hills.


Somewhere on the climb to Iséguy the penny dropped…this is all very lovely!

Then, as the day went on and got hotter, a lot hotter actually, the riding just got better and better!

I’d ridden bits of the Pyrenees before, but this was way better than either I remembered or had expected.

The view from the office.


Firstly was the lack of traffic, true there were some other road users, but nothing like the chaos that can prevail in the Alps.

Then there was the road surface, generally very good indeed with no nasty surprise.

Finally was the road geometry and that can only be described as heavenly, really heavenly! Or it could be that I’ve just got better at riding hairpins?

Really, do I have to explain why?


The truth is, that Harls and I have had a ball sweeping around the bends and just enjoying being “off the leash.”

I knew I was really going for it when I grounded Harls rear brake lever going round one particularly enjoyable right-hander…I haven’t done that for years! This evening I’ve still got a big stupid grin on my face after that!

Somewhere down there I rubbed a bit of Harley metal on the road!


Ok, this is definitely not the Alps, the mountains are not anywhere near as high, nor are the passes, but they are still both impressive and challenging in their own right. The roads are definitely narrower than the major Alpine Cols and without guardrails in places you certainly need to concentrate.

Wiggly and lovely!


The lack of traffic is what I love. I may just have caught it right and missed the busier times, but I’m certainly not complaining.

In addition to those already mentioned, today we crossed the following Cols:

Col d’Haltza 782m
Col de Burdincurutcheta 1135m
Col Heguichouri 1284m
Col Bagargui 1327m
Col d’Erroymendi 1362m
Port de Larrau 1573m
Portillo de Eraice 1578m
Col de la Pierre St Martin 1760m
Col de Soudet 1540m
Col de Layae 1351m

As always, the star of the show!


Not bad, not bad at all!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Back on Land and How I Hate Motorways!

Right, lets get straight to the point. Motorway driving/riding is boring, period!

It doesn’t really matter if the motorway is slicing through wonderful scenery, hugging a coastline or plunging through alpine tunnels, the basic truth is the same…it’s a motorway! Autobahn, Autoroute, Autostrada, Freeway, Interstate…all the same by another name and all boring.

OK, I know, they get you from A to B reasonably quickly, that is assuming that some idiot hasn’t rearranged the central barrier and several other vehicles at the same time on your carriageway, but in essence they are tedious…or am I being a little over the top?

Take yesterday as an example.

We rolled off the ferry in Santander and for once the Spanish Border Police were in pragmatic mood; no need to take off helmets or stop engines, just show the passport and off we go then.

Straight onto the Cantabria Motorway, which runs along the North Coast of Spain and into France. Speed restrictions and road works galore; added to which is the somewhat dubious pleasure of having to pay tolls for the privilege, oh and most of it is only two lanes in each direction!

Progress was steady, if only through gritted teeth and ever grittier eyes. Truck traffic was quite heavy and seemingly all controlled by aspiring Formula One drivers.

After two and a half hours of punishment we crossed the border into France where the motorway suddenly grew extra lanes! We turned off and headed into the hills. Bliss.

Hey, wait a minute…after that motorway punishment, here’s our reward! The most wonderful windy, undulating little road ever, plus a couple of hairpins and our first Col of the trip. My angel, or late little brother G, must have been smiling on me!

For the map watchers amongst you, the road in question is the D4 from Ascain to Saré and the pass is Col de St Ignace, which at 169metres isn’t going to set any records, but it’s the first this trip and that’s good.

We stayed in a nice family run hotel in Saré, Harls had use of the owner’s garage and I had a great night’s sleep.

Hotel Room View, nice.


This is Basque Country, which for very complicated reasons doesn’t really like to think of itself as either French of Spanish. Basques are Celts, like me, so I really am feeling quite at home; there’s a vibe that reminds me of parts of Wales, Brittany and Cornwall. I cant exactly put my finger on it, but it’s definitely there and I like it, a lot.

Many of the buildings here are painted in a traditional red and white scheme that is very smart and gives things a unified feel, without being overpowering or monotonous.

I’m making a note to come back here…

Catch you soon with more from down the road.

Dookes

Early Birds

The Early Bird catches the worm; so goes an old saying.

In the middle of the Bay of Biscay it’s a little hard to catch a worm, but as reward for early rising and also not drawing the cabin curtains, I was able to see something very special.

I was disturbed from a very nice sleep by the light of a full moon shining brightly into my cabin window. It was 04:30 local. Lying in bed pondering whether to turn over and sleep on, it suddenly struck me that I really should get up and watch the moon set into the Atlantic Ocean and if I was very lucky I might also see the sun rise up as well!

Yeah, I know, crazy, but hey…I got the worm and saw the beauty of our solar system working right before my eyes.

On the Starboard side of the ship, that’s the right to land-based folk, I watched the moon sink slowly beneath the waves and at the same time, sure enough, the sun rose out of the Eastern horizon!

It was beauty beyond words, a little less cloud in the East would have been even better, but I’m really not complaining at all.

As far as I could tell, I was the only person on deck to enjoy this cosmic show and that’s pretty mind blowing when you think how far that light had travelled to be seen by only me! (93,000,000 miles from the sun and 250,000 miles from the moon, to be exact!)

As the book says,
“Don’t Panic!”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

“There’s Something Wrong With Our Bloody Ships Today!”

So said Admiral Beatty at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 as the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet clashed in a bloody, yet indecisive battle in the North Sea near the coast of Denmark.

Well…. fast forward to today and again there is something wrong with a ship, my ship!

It’s nothing unexpected, the MV Pont Aven has been beset with problems in 2019. Earlier in the year she suffered a fire in one of the engine rooms and then just as she got back into service a steering gear problem caused an extended visit to dry dock for repairs. She came back into service only last Friday.

As a result of the engineering issues, Brittany Ferries have been forced to modify the timetables for Pont Aven as she’s running at reduced speed.

This is undoubtedly an issue for some folk, but for me, with little reason to rush it’s OK. Our trip across the Bay of Biscay may be taking a few hours longer, but the sea is relatively calm the sky is blue and all is well in the world.

My engineering mind does however ponder exactly what is going on with the ship? Our wake is decidedly “lop-sided” and it seems to me that one propeller is doing the work whilst the other is seemingly along for the ride!

If you look at the photo, you can see where the cavitation (that’s the white frothy water) is stronger on one side than the other; that means that the propeller on that side is working harder. Pont Aven is fitted with twin variable-pitch propellers and I would normally expect two prop wakes.

Just a little thing, but I find it interesting!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The Pain of Leaving…

Travelling is great, if you love it as I do.

There’s a big BUT that goes with it though and it’s called “The Pain of Leaving.”

I am really lucky, no honestly I mean Really Lucky, because Mrs Dookes gives me the support and freedom to go off and chase my dreams and visions and has done for years now.

Inherently, what I do is selfish.

It’s possibly a little risky too, I’m not saying dangerous, but it is totally self-indulgent riding a motorbike around Europe alone. Many wives or partners simply wouldn’t accept or allow it, but that’s where I’m lucky; Mrs Dookes does.

I couldn’t say that she encourages me to clear off, but she certainly doesn’t stop me either!

In a way, I guess that’s where our relationship is strong, we both respect each others space and also trust each other implicitly. In addition, Mrs Dookes also has the view that without a good bit of “Me-Time” preferably on two wheels, I become, in her words “A monumental pain in the backside!”

Of course the flip side is that whilst I’m having my fill of “M-T” she has her “M-T” too!

To me the journey is the main thing; something to savour, enjoy and at times test me.

To Mrs Dookes, a journey is something to be endured in order to get to where you want to be.

You see the subtle difference?

As I get older, one thing I have noticed is how much more difficult the actual departure gets.

Yesterday, we had a lovely lunch together and I watched the end of the 24hours of Le Mans race until 14:00hrs.

Then I had an hour and a half to kill. Mrs D snoozed after lunch whilst I tried to find something to do.

Check the luggage. Check the ticket. Check the Passport. Check Harls.

Then it started to rain, not much, but just enough to annoy.

Mrs D and I became uncomfortable around each other; there was a tension.

Best go.

I put on my riding gear, made a fuss of the dogs. Hugged Mrs D and told her how much I loved her, we kissed and then I started up Harls.

The first ten miles were the hardest and not just because of the persistent drizzle.

It hurts, leaving……

Then Harls and I clicked; the team was back together.

….and then later, in totally self indulgent mode on board the ship taking me to Spain, I sat reflecting.

I have a De-lux Class cabin, I have just dined on a superb meal and am enjoying an expensive glass of Beaune de Château 2013 Premier Cru Burgundy, I’m setting off on a new adventure.

Yet still the pain of leaving hurts.

The Moon over The Bay of Biscay…travelling again.


Sometimes though, you have to experience a little pain to put things into perspective and make you appreciate even more what you have got.

Yes. I am a bloody lucky chap!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

24 Du Mans, Getting Twitchy!

I’m getting twitchy…less that 24 hours to go before Harls and I set off again on other adventure.

The same old weird feeling is beginning to grow; apprehension, excitement, impatience.

Harls is ready, bags are packed and I’m killing time.

Killing time watching Le 24 Heurs du Mans on television, possibly the greatest motor race on the planet…well it is in my view anyway!

Located in Central Northern France, the city of Le Mans is a splendid mixture of the old and new and is also a magnet for motorsport petrolheads the world over. The city hosts an annual 24 hour motor race over an 8.4 mile long circuit that encompasses public roads as well as a dedicated circuit section.

Le Mans Bentley Speed 8,
Winner Le Mans 2003


Over the years all the major marques have made their name at Le Mans; Porsche, Ferrari, Ford, Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar, Audi and Toyota have all tasted victory there.

Wow!


….and Harls and I have had our own little bit of fun there on he famous Sarthe circuit!

Oh my, wonderful!


Last year, on the way to La Route des Grandes Alpes, we had the opportunity to ride the Mulsanne Straight, scream under the Porsche Bridge, flick through the Indianapolis Curves and then howl around Arnage and fly down to the Porsche Curves.

Indianapolis


Needles to say, it was beyond magical and will remain with me forever….right up there with my spin around Monza on Baby Blue!

Porsche straight

Yeah, I know, I’m a lucky old geezer!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Something to Think About

Tomorrow, Harls and I are off on our latest adventure…a little trundle around the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to The Mediterranean Sea and largely form the border between France and Spain.

The first leg of our trip will be by ship from Plymouth to the port of Santander on the North Coast of Spain.

It’s all very routine really.

You turn up at the departure port, complete formalities of tickets and passports, pass through security and then roll onto the ship, secure Harls, find cabin, book table in the restaurant for dinner and relax.

Easy.

It wasn’t always like that and today is a good day to remember just how far we have come and how much we take travel for granted.

Exactly 100 years ago today the very first non-stop transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean took place. British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland to Ireland. In doing so they won a prize of £10,000 (roughly equivalent to £1million today) that had been offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for the first to achieve the crossing in less than 72hours.

John Alcock (right) and Arthur Brown (Left).


At 13:45hrs on 14 June, the pair took off and headed East. The aircraft was powered two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines and carried over 850 gallons of fuel.

It was to prove a difficult flight. The heavily loaded aircraft had difficulty taking off and only missed the tops of nearby trees by a few feet.

They recorded in the log that at 17:20hrs their wind-driven electrical generator had failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating, which in an open cockpit must have been difficult to say the least!

An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterwards, causing a deafening noise which made conversation impossible and they had to communicate by writing notes to each other.

They encountered thick cloud and for hours flew on blind and without instruments.

Shortly after midnight Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, to check their position, which proved to be spot on course.

At 03:00hrs they flew into a large snowstorm. Ice formed on the wings and twice they nearly lost control and crashed into the sea. The carburettors also iced up. Some reports say that that Brown climbed out onto the wings to clear the engines, although there is no mention of that in their log.

They made landfall in County Galway on the West coast of Ireland and crash landed at 08:40hrs local time, just less that 16hours after taking off. It was unfortunate that the smooth grassy field that they chose to land in was actually a bog and their aircraft was badly damaged as it’s wheels dug into the soft ground, fortunately neither man was seriously injured.

Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail prize of £10,000, they also were awarded £2,100 from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British Subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean.

Both men were later knighted by King George V.

Sadly, Alcock was killed on 18th December 1919 when he crashed near Rouen whilst flying a new aircraft to the Paris Airshow. Brown died on 4th October 1948.

Eight years after Alcock and Brown’s pioneering flight, American aviator Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight. Upon landing in Paris after his own epic endeavour he told the crowd welcoming him, “Alcock and Brown showed me the way!”

Over the years I have flown many times across the Atlantic and as I cruise in air-conditioned comfort at altitudes around 30,00ft, I have often thought about those who flew before me.

The Vickers Vimy aircraft in the London Science Museum. Photo:Oxyman.


Today Alcock and Brown’s valiant little aircraft takes pride of place in the Aviation Gallery of the London Science Museum and serves as a reminder when travel really was a much more hazardous business than just checking in and off we go!

“This time tomorrow where will we be?
On a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea.”

Catch you soon, on the road in the Pyrenees hopefully!

Dookes