Solstice – My Favourite Day.

Today is the Winter Solstice, a day that has firmly become my favourite of the whole year!

In our Northern Hemisphere it is the shortest day, when the Sun barely shows itself above the horizon and then for the briefest possible time! It marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer begins it’s long return journey. It’s also the real beginning of Winter, but hey you can’t have everything! For my friends South of the Equator the opposite is true, your days will now start to shorten towards Autumn.
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The relevance of this turning point has become stronger for me as I have grown older; I understand the ancient people who venerated the turning seasons and the Celestial Calendar. It appears that since the dawn of time our forbears have found reason to celebrate a festival of light in the depths of the darkest day of the year. So why not have a party to celebrate the ending of one celestial year and the beginning of a new one? Sounds good to me, but then I am a Welsh Wizard/Dewin Cymreig!

Let’s not forget that many other cultures and religions around the world also celebrate festivals at this time of the year and have the rebirth of light firmly as their focus.

The Christian Church has celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ, Christmas, on December 25th since the 4th Century when Pope Julius I chose the date in an effort to replace the Roman Feast of Saturnalia. In several languages, not just English, people have compared the rebirth of the sun to the birth of the son of God.

It’s also interesting to reflect that the origins of many “traditional” Western Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log, Tree and Wreath can trace back to pre-Christian times. Familiar decorations of green, red and white cast back to the Wiccan traditions and the Druids. The old Pagan Mid-Winter Festival of Yule also included feasting and gift giving, doesn’t it all sound very familiar?!?!

A real Christmas Tree.

A real Christmas Tree.


When I was younger we always did the usual Christmas decoration stuff, including a highly non-authentic artificial tree! My late father did little to dress the tree, but had his own take on the whole decoration thing that he insisted on doing himself; every year he would garland the house with boughs of green holly and evergreen, it was only then that I truly used to feel that things were being done properly. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this and I still carry on that tradition today in Dookes H.Q., I adore the house smelling of pine and other evergreens!

Many Pagan religions had a tradition where it was customary to place holly leaves and branches in and around dwellings during winter. It was believed that the good spirits who inhabited forests could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold; whilst at the same time malevolent forces and spells would be repelled.

Mrs Dookes enters into the spirit of the season with her splendid handmade evergreen wreaths. This reflects another Celtic tradition, the wreath’s circle has no beginning or end and the evergreen represents life in the depths of winter.
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Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, The Solstice, Dongzhi, Yalda, Saturnalia, Malkh, any other festival that I may have missed, or just looking forward to having a restful holiday, have a truly wonderful time and maybe spare a thought, or penny, for those less fortunate.

Thanks for joining me for the ride this year, it’s been a ball and I hope you will saddle up with Harls, Baby and I in ’17 for more two-wheeled adventure and opinion!

“Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Winter Dusk Dartmoor

Winter Dusk Dartmoor


In memory of “Crazy” Mon and Ann who rode on ahead in 2016.

Stonehenge

It probably seems that I just ride a pair of big American built motorbikes and yes, in some ways that’s true, but…in reality…I also ride two time machines!

Many countries around the world have ancient monuments, sites of great historic interest and significance. On my travels I like to look in on some of these places, but it’s strange it’s always the ones closest to home that you overlook or put off to “some other day.”

On a gin clear late autumn morning last week, I fired up Baby Blue’s engine, turned East from Dookes H.Q., rode 150 miles on the road and back 5000 years in time.

Our destination: Stonehenge.
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One of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, Stonehenge has been acknowledged by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site of International importance. Archeological research suggests that it was built in several stages: the first monument was an early henge monument, consisting of banks and ditches started about 5,000BC. That’s 2500 years before the Great Pyramid in Egypt! The impressive stone circle that is the quintessential image of Stonehenge was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. Many burial mounds were built nearby in the late Bronze Age, around 800BC, and dot the landscape around the monument to the present day.

Round Barrow Burial Mounds near Stonehenge

Round Barrow Burial Mounds near Stonehenge

Stonehenge lies on Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau in Central Southern England that covers over 300 square miles and is renowned for its rich archeological heritage. Even today it is sparsely populated, a combination of its worth as agricultural land and also use by the military for training purposes. As an aside my Grandfather Charles spent much of his early Army service with the Royal Horse Artillery training on the Plain, before heading off to the horrors of the Western Front in 1915. The Plain is also a special place for wildlife, with two national nature reserves, many rare plants and a haven for wild mammals and birds.image

Now let me be clear, I’m no archeologist, but I do have a massive interest in all things ancient. The reason I am saying this dear reader, is because there are many more detailed explanations that have been written about Stonehenge by far more qualified folk than I! So what follows is my take on the place…if you want more detailed stuff, well it’s out there in all different forms.

A fantastic new visitor centre was built in 2014 and stands about a mile and a half from the stones, where a superb exhibition tells the story of the monument through displays of excavated artefacts, photographs and diagrams. I thought it was very well done.

An example of a burial from 4500 years ago.

An example of a burial from 4500 years ago.

You can park at the visitor centre and catch frequent shuttle buses to the monument or enjoy the walk across the Plain, taking in some of the other surrounding archeology and delightful woodland as I did. Actually after 150 miles of riding I was ready to stretch my legs!image

I first visited the stones as a young lad, many years ago. In those days the public were free to wander amongst the stones and touch them as you tried to make sense of it all. Unfortunately, people then started to chip lumps off as souvenirs and the increased footfall of ever more visitors began to erode the delicate archeology. Since 1977 visitors are no longer able to touch the stones, but are allowed to walk around the monument and through the henge ditch, however on the two Solstice days plus the spring and autumn equinox access is briefly permitted.image

Exactly what function Stonehenge had in ancient times remains a mystery, indeed it may have had several uses. Hypotheses range from ancestor worship, celestial calendar, a place of healing or simply a place of the dead, a funerary monument if you like. The modern thinking on the reason for Stonehenge is that it was first built as a place of burial. Cremated remains of 63 individuals were excavated in 2013 and carbon dated to around 3000BC, it appears that at this time the standing stones that we know today were beginning to be erected and this is where things start to get very interesting.
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There are two types of stone found in the monument; Bluestones and Sarsens.

The first to appear were 80 Bluestones, of which only 43 remain today. These monoliths are about two metres high, about one metre wide and 0.8 metre thick, each one weighs about two tons. Now the really fascinating thing is that this type of stone, a variety of igneous dolerite, is only found 150 miles away in the Preseli Hills of South Wales…So how to goodness did they get to Stonehenge?

About 2000 years after the Bluestones were erected, the ring of 30 Saracens with their lintels resting on top made their appearance. Now these fellas really put things into ever greater perspective! Each stone is around 4.1 metres high, 2.1 metres wide and 1.8 metres deep, oh yes and they weigh about 25 tons!

Part of the Sarsen ring.

Part of the Sarsen ring.

Inside the Sarsen ring stood five trilithons, two large sarsens with a third one set across the top, in a horse shoe shape. imagePutting the all the other stones to shame, these behemoths weigh up to 50 tons each, the largest stood 7.3 metres tall with another 2.4 metres buried in the ground. These stones appear to have been transported from a quarry that was 25 miles to the North of Stonehenge…even so, just consider moving and erecting one of these mammoths with nothing other than manpower!

The whole site and specifically the trilithons and heel stone, which lies outside the main circle, are aligned to the position of the sun on the solstice.

The Heel Stone, on the Midsummer Solstice the sun rises over this point.

The Heel Stone, on the Midsummer Solstice the sun rises over this point.

On the winter solstice the sun sets over the alignment and in the summer the sun rises in line with the stones.
Looking along the Midwinter Solstice line from the Heel Stone.

Looking along the Midwinter Solstice line from the Heel Stone.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around looking at the monument, taking photographs, reading the various interpretation panels, listening to the free audio guide and generally really enjoying myself getting to know the place again. image

I took the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre and enjoyed a very pleasant lunch in the café/restaurant, after a quick look around the impressive souvenir shop.

Soon it was time to head back West towards home. I pointed “Baby” into the setting sun, we hit the road and basked in the freedom that only two wheels can give!

West, into the setting sun.

West, into the setting sun.

The air was certainly beginning to turn cool by the time we got back to Cornwall, but heated gloves, jacket and handlebar grips kept me snug over the miles.

What a simply brilliant day we had!

I’ve got to admit that as I rode back, I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the hilarious lyrics of Spinal Tap…

“No one knows who they were or what they were doing,
but their legacy remains
hewn in the living rock…of Stonehenge”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Admission to the monument, including free shuttle bus and the visitor centre exhibition costs £15.50 for adults and £9.30 for children, with a family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) £40.30. Best value is to buy English Heritage Annual Membership for a family (2 adults and up to 12 children) £92.50 or £52 for an individual adult. Concessions also available. This gives you unlimited access to over 400 historic places for a whole year. For Overseas Visitors EH offer passes that are valid for either 9 or 16 days. Family Overseas Visitors Pass (2 adults and up to 4 children) costs are £57 or £66 respectively. So you don’t need to visit many places before you start saving money and you can keep going back as often as you like!

Equalising the Equinox

There are some days when you just have to get out there and celebrate the sheer joy of life and if you can share that with one of your dearest mates then so much the better.

If that mate is battling cancer…

Well, it’s sort of inspiring and at the same time frankly humbling.

The Autumn Equinox, 22nd September this year, dawned bright and sunny.

I had arranged to meet G in the historic city of Exeter, about 50 miles from Dookes H.Q., just enough miles to warm up both man and machine. At our rendezvous G was on good form and after fueling both riders and machines we set out Eastwards along the beautiful South Devon coast. p1070794

We trundled along in glorious early autumn sunshine; OK I’ll be honest, I trundled along whilst G flicked his Yamaha Super Tenere effortlessly through the corners. These days, knowing what he has been going through, it always makes me smile when G does that with a motorbike; you see I know that underneath his crash helmet will be a big grin and that makes me happy too!

The beautiful County of Devon soon gave way to its equally lovely neighbour, Dorset and the famous world Heritage Site of the “Jurassic Coast.” The area cuts across nearly 190 million years of geological history, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Fossilised remains found in its rocks testify to the land having changed over the millennia from tropical seas to desert and marshland. The region is a magnet to fossil hunters from around the world whilst the mellow yellow rock is very easy on the eye and the gentle hills a delight to a motorcyclist. There are many interesting features along the coastal landscape with the natural arch of Durdle Door being probably the most famous.

Durdle Door -  Photo by Saffron Blaze

Durdle Door – Photo by Saffron Blaze

Between Abbotsbury and Portland the impressive shingle bank of Chesil Beach extends for 18 miles (29Km). The beach is 200 metres wide and 15 metres high and shelters a broad lagoon known as The Fleet. It is fascinating that the size of the shingle pebbles on the beach varies from West to East; they range from pea size at West Bay to around the size of an orange near Portland.

Chesil Bank

Chesil Beach

We paused high above Chesil, partly for a breather, but also to take in the stunning view and enjoy the gentle sea breeze. When a Westerly gale is blowing here the place changes out of all recognition and takes on a ferocious face as the many shipwrecks that litter the seabed here bear witness.

From Chesil we turned inland and skirted the county town of Dorchester before heading north onto the chalk downlands. At Cerne Abbas it was time for another stop, we needed to discuss the important matter of lunch, but also to grab a cheeky view of the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, a massive fella, (in more ways than one!), carved in the chalk hillside.p1070814

This old chap is a bit of a mystery. Some people believe he is a Celtic fertility symbol and dates from around 10 AD, others say that he is Roman and represents Hercules, whilst a third school of thought is that he dates from the 17th century and is a caricature of Oliver Cromwell. My shot of him shows that he needs a bit of re-chalking so thanks to Pete Harlow for the use of his aerial picture.

Carne Abbas Giant - Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

Carne Abbas Giant – Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

We decided on lunch in Sherborne, a short ride from the Giant and after a gentle stroll around the old castle settled down to a relaxing meal. p1070818

Sherborne Old Castle was built in the 12th century as the fortified palace of the Bishop of Salisbury; it seems a tad strange for a Bishop to live in a castle! p1070824Later the castle was home to Sir Walter Raleigh and following its siege during the English Civil War was left in ruins by General Fairfax of the Parliamentary Army in 1645.p1070848

Today Sir Walter is said to return to his castle each St Michael’s Eve, 29th September, to roam the grounds and check up on his beloved former home. I don’t blame him, it’s a lovely place.

Refueled by our lunch we turned East and soon were crossing the Somerset Levels. This region of around 160,000 acres is an ancient coastal plain and wetland area of tremendously important habitat and biodiversity of international importance, plus rich agricultural land. It has been inhabited since at least 4000BC.
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The levels mostly lie only about 20 feet above mean sea level, but in some places only manage 10-12 feet. With peak spring tides of around 25 feet you can see the area is frequently in trouble from flooding. Drainage and land reclamation has been going on here since the 12th century, but every now and then nature shows who is still really in charge!

I like to think of the levels as our local equivalent of “Big Sky” country, it certainly is a pretty special place.

Burrow Mump is a hill and historic site that lies towards the Western levels. Our road passed the base of the hill and I couldn’t resist squeezing off a quick moody shot looking towards the ruined church on top of the hill.p1070857

Our route to deliver G back home swept over the lovely Blackdown Hills at Whiteball where on sweeping roads we crossed back into Devon. We parted just by G’s house, set in rolling rural loveliness between the Rivers Exe and Creedy.

My friend looked a tad tired as I rode off, tired but happy. I still had another 50 miles to ride, 50 more glorious twisty miles to enjoy my lovely big blue Harley and reflect on special times shared with special friends.

The equinox had been equalised, everything was balanced up nicely.

“It’s easy watchin’ seasons go
As sunshine turns to new-born snow.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

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Taking it Easy With Memories

A couple of days ago, I was sitting on a ferry returning from France. It’s quite a long crossing at the Western end of the English Channel, so over an espresso I sat idly fooling around with my iPad looking at photographs and only half aware of the canned Muzak emanating from a speaker on the ceiling just above me.

It all changed when “Hotel California” by the Eagles began.

The album of the same name was one of the companions of my youth and I still love it now as much as when I first heard it. It’s also become one of my companions when touring on two wheels and today I guess it represents the sense of freedom that motorcycle travel gives me.

Having left the port of Roscoff in Northern Brittany, we were enjoying a glass smooth passage. The various Islets that rise out of the sea off the coast here fascinate me every time I sail by and over the years I’ve passed this way over fifty times now!p1070978

Now we were on the open Sea and the French coast had long disappeared in our wake over the receding horizon. I sat up and looked out at the passing ocean, the sun was rapidly setting. It’s always fun to anticipate the big hiss as it sinks into the water, but that never happens…!

A large container ship was passing through the lengthening golden rays, it’s decks and hold crammed with shipping boxes carrying goodness knows what. For a moment it seemed to pause, silhouetted against the horizon; what a shame it wasn’t one of those classic liners from the past, such as the Queen Mary, Normandie or France. I was fortunate, years ago, to have actually witnessed the last of those graceful ships before the scrapyards claimed most of them, what a memory to have!p1070994

Yes, the old Dookes mind was definitely wandering…

When I’m at sea I find I can have space to think, probably because there’s not much else to do and watching the endless waves go by has a wonderfully calming effect on me.

The Eagles continued as we left the container ship in our wake.

In my mind I was now back on my big two-wheeler, sweeping across the fertile plains of Central France and catching that first breath-taking glimpse of the Alps. I could feel the warmth of the summer sun on my face and the scent of wild flowers as we passed verdant meadows of blooms nodding in gentle summer breezes. The drum of the ship’s engines became the soundtrack of the road, or at least a pretty good substitute.

It’s been lovely to be back in Brittany, if only for a short time. The weather has been kind to us and the early colours of Autumn quite enchanting. For a change I’ve not been chasing the miles and have been quite content to stay in one place, visit some local towns and villages, catch up with friends and of course enjoy the local food and drink.

The season has been relentlessly turning, with the trees slowly fading from verdant greens to gold and brown.p1070960 In the dense forest around our friends château we found sweet chestnuts dropping from the branches of ancient trees, one of natures tasty gifts to be eagerly gathered and enjoyed a long with wild mushrooms and other edible fungi.p1070964 By the pretty village of Huelgoat the glassy lake looked stunning, framed by majestic autumnal colour.dsc_0060

The medieval town of Josselin has a street market that always captivates me and to have the time to stroll amongst its bustling stalls is a real treat. p1040879As with most things French, food takes centre stage. We stocked up with tresses of smoked garlic, air-dried sausages, onions and olives. Mouth-watering aromas hung on the air; there were spit roasting chickens, outsize pans of tartiflette, grilled ham and a host of other tempting goodies all being freshly cooked and available to eat now or later. I let my senses take in the atmosphere and I realised that each passing moment is another precious memory to look back on, enjoy and savour.

The Brest - Nantes Canal at Josselin.

The Brest – Nantes Canal at Josselin.

Yes, memories are wonderful things, though like many people I have some that I’d rather erase, but memories of travel I cherish. It’s really the heartbeat of my life, travel and memories. I guess that I’m just one of those people that is constantly called to keep moving by voices of the road.p1070789

“…and still those voices are calling from far away….”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Glenn Frey, 1948-2016, with thanks for all the music and memories.
– Take it Easy.

Playing on the Tracks

It’s a chilly late October afternoon, the temperature has struggled up to 9° Celsius and the sun refuses to burn through the grey covering cloud. Black feathered Rooks are calling from the high trees around the old railway station. The air is still.

This is Autumn in Brittany.

Jean-Claude and his mates are playing Breton Bowls on the ground where the old railway lines once lay. They gather here most Fridays to play their game share a meal in a local café and generally enjoy each other’s company. The cackle of their laughter competes with the cries of the black birds above them, whilst the clunk of metal bowling balls punctuates their conversation.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

“Hey, Gallois come and have a go!” Jean-Caude implores. “Leave the ghosts of the old railway alone.”

The old station fascinates me.
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Mur de Bretagne saw its last train steam out towards Carhaix nearly fifty years ago when the metre gauge Réseau Breton railway system closed down. I only wish I could have enjoyed it before it vanished forever. The network linked many rural communities and it’s closure pushed many small towns into a kind of time warp that they only really came out of after the turn of the 2000’s. Today around Brittany most of the old station buildings remain, the French can’t see the point of demolishing perfectly good structures when alternative uses can be found.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

At Mur the station now serves a local cycling club, the fire brigade and of course the Breton Bowling club, talk about diversification!

I smile.
“Un petit moment, Jean-Claude, je besoin explorer le vielle station.” – “In a minute Jean-Claude, I must explore the old station.”

My friend shrugs his shoulders, he understands my interest in the history of the old railway, but to him it’s just that, history.

He can remember the station when it was open and he stood here the day that the last train departed. To him it’s gone and no end of interest from me will ever bring it back… The bowling is what matters now.

I get it, but my curiosity and passion for old railways wins out.

The station is a wonderful mix of good repair and partial decrepitude. On the side where trains once ran the building is in good repair and well-tended, whilst at the rear there is evidence of slightly less love being endowed on it and that makes it more interesting. It’s just crying out for some monochrome photography.p1070925

In my mind’s eye I can see the busy bustle of the place when it was still served by the Réseau Breton. At least it still lives on serving the local community in other ways. p1070924

I marvel that the old enamel name board still proclaims the town on the gable end. Back in the UK that would have disappeared to a collectors wall years ago!p1070920

The game is progressing and I’ve missed out the chance of looking silly by joining in. Maybe the old station saved me from gentle embarrassment!p1070922

J-C looks at me and winks, he’s winning at the moment!

There’s a strong coffee with a splash of Lambig, the local calvados type firewater, waiting at the end of this game. Then there will be Poitrine Fumé, Haricot Blanc avec ail and tarte-tatin to follow, all washed down with a local rough wine, my kind of heaven!

There’s a hint of wood smoke in the cool air, the clear clean air of Brittany and just at the moment there is nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be.

Catch you later – À bientôt!

Dookes

Family Friends

Families can be strange.

Friends, it has been said, are the family that you choose for yourself.

Families can be strange.

There are tracts of my family, both near and distant, that I never see and in many ways I’m quite pleased for it to be that way. On the other hand, there are family who are emotionally close though frequently geographical miles keep us far apart. Mrs Dookes and I are lucky to have a wonderful collection of nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews who fall into that latter category. The one thing we really treasure is that some of them choose to keep in touch and show that they care about us; sometimes it’s a phone call, maybe a text message or something via social media, but best of all is when they drop in to see us or arrange to meet up. They do it because they want to and because they want to know us for who we are, not who others tell them that we are and that’s pretty special.

Take for example our nephew Chris.

Now, it’s fair to say that in many ways Chris has had it fairly rough in life, with a range of medical issues and with what some White-Coat once labelled him “learning difficulties.” I prefer to say that Chris just processes things in a different way to the rest of us, but because of this he can be restricted in what he is allowed to do. These days he works as a car and motorcycle mechanic, has his own chalet in the grounds of his parents home and generally rubs along ok in his own routine. For a number of years he has been taking part in motorcycle trials and has built two of his own bikes to use (and win trophies) in competitions, so much for “learning difficulties!”

Chris on his way to winning another trophy!

Chris on his way to winning another trophy!

Because of his success with the trials bikes, the Driving Standards Authority have given Chris special permission to hold a provisional licence that allows him to ride motorcycles of up to 125cc on public roads, obviously he has had to pass the Compulsory Basic Training test as well. Riding with him, I have been able to see that he is a safe and careful rider with good bike handling skills.

I’ve been promising him for a long time that we would go for a nice long ride together, but for various reasons it hasn’t happened which has made me feel pretty bad. Fortunately, Chris doesn’t really bother too much about such things; he doesn’t worry about the level in the glass, because he’ll just get you to buy him another drink anyway!

Which leads me to today, when I finally got to rectify the situation and go for a ride with him.

Chris lives about fifty miles West of us, not far from Redruth in deepest Cornish Cornwall, the heartland of the old Tin mining region and one of the cradles of the industrial revolution. In the landscape here today frequent reminders of that industrial past are often to be seen, most notable being the monumental stone engine houses.

This morning was a bit dull and certainly cool, a gentle reminder that Autumn is progressing and what a good idea heated jackets and gloves are! On board my big Harley I was quite snug behind the faring as we munched the miles West to meet up with my nephew. His 125cc machine was parked on the drive all ready to go when I arrived and he fussed around with last-minute checks. Chris didn’t offer a cup of tea, he’s not that kind of chap and he reasons that if he doesn’t want one, why should anyone else? You get used to things like that with Chris!

It’s fair to say that we looked a pretty miss-matched pair, Chris on his Yamaha XT125 and me on my big Ultra Limited, Baby. That’s the great thing about motorbikes though, you can have fun on them whatever they are or however big they are, for once in life size really doesn’t matter!

The odd couple.

The odd couple.

I had chosen a nice gentle loop around the quieter roads of North West Cornwall, partly so that we could relax without too much traffic, but also because I hadn’t been that way for a few years.

First off we headed for Porthtowan which today is one of Cornwall’s main centres for surfing. The village is a bit dull, but it’s a place where the big Atlantic rollers sweep in from the Ocean to crash on the sandy shore in a maelstrom of boiling white water. Powerful hollow waves are frequent here, allowing for that wonderful surfing experience of “riding the tube,” it’s definitely not for beginners! At the height of summer this place is rammed full of visitors and their surfboards, but on a chilly day in October only the dedicated surfers brave the elements, mind you there wasn’t much surf either!

Porthtowan beach.

Porthtowan beach.

Just down the road is Portreath, once a busy industrial port, integral to the Cornish mining industry. Raw materials such as coal and timber were brought in, while thousands of tons of tin, copper, lead and arsenic moved out; all efficiently moved to and from the mines by an extensive tramway system that radiated from the port. Today only a few leisure vessels and the odd local fisher make use of the crumbling facilities.

Portreath harbour wall.

Portreath harbour wall.

Further West we paused at Godrevy Point where a lighthouse stands about 100 metres out to sea and marvelled at the three-mile stretch of golden sand that leads to Hayle.

Godrevy Point Lighthouse.

Godrevy Point Lighthouse.

It’s another paradise for surfers and generally fairly safe for bathers, so long as they follow the lifeguards instructions. This is one of my favourite beaches anywhere and not just in Cornwall, I love these sands and the dunes that lie between the beach and land. It’s another world on a stormy day!image

The estuary at Hayle is noted as an important spot for migratory and water birds, whilst the town itself is another former mining based harbour whose port is today largely inactive. At its peak the immediate area saw a number of foundry and smelting businesses boom, bringing great wealth to the town. The last foundry closed in 1903 and the harbour has been allowed to gradually choke with sand, quite sad really.

Hayle harbour.

Hayle harbour.

On a plus point, today Hayle is the home to possibly the best Cornish Pasties in the world! The local family firm of Philps have been making the local delicacy here for well over sixty years and as we were passing it would have been rude not to grab a couple for lunch. As they say in these parts, “Booty!”

Trundling homewards we passed through the quirkily named village of Praze-an-Beeble, which is actually Cornish for ” the meadow on the River Beeble.” The river in question is really little more than a muddy stream, but hey if it’s all you’ve got…!

I delivered Chris home at around three in the afternoon – still no cup of tea! If his smile was anything to go by, then I think he had a good day. He doesn’t greatly enthuse about things does our Chris, I think he just assumes that you get it whatever mood he is in.

Time to mount up and ride home, with the chance of a bit more speed than I had been pegged back to for most of the day!
Regular blogonaughts will have spotted that I do a lot of musing on the way home from a ride and today was no exception, It’s sort of my “Me” space/time.

I really enjoyed the day spent with my nephew and I hope he did with me, I made a mental note to do it again soon. It’s great to share my hobby with him and I think that he gets that as well.

Yes friends are the family that you choose, but…..
With some family you choose to be friends as well… and maybe that is more important.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

PS When I got home I found that Chris had posted a Facebook message thanking me for the day. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

Milwaukee Eight

It’s that time of year when the Harley Davidson Motor Company and to be honest most of the other manufacturers, roll out their new motorbikes for the coming season. To be honest, I only normally only pay passing interest to the latest shiny stuff, but every now and then something really grabs my attention.

This year it was Harley’s launch of the new Milwaukee Eight engine.

OK, I admit, it did come about in a roundabout sort of way….

When I saw that Harley Davidson had unveiled a 107cubic inch capacity engine, that’s about 1750cc in metric terms, the thought crossed my mind, “Why?”

Let’s face it, Harley Davidson’s aren’t noted for being the fastest and sexiest handling motorbikes on the street, but what they do they do pretty well…in a rather idiosyncratic Harley way that you either love or hate.

The current “Big Twin” engine is the 103cubic inch, 1690cc, which has been around since its launch in 1999 and has equipped the Touring and Cruiser models since then. All of these engines have been air-cooled, apart from those fitted to the bigger Project Rushmoor Tourers, such as my big blue Ultra Limited, which enjoy dual air/liquid cooling. To my mind the 103 with its simple twin cams has been pretty much fit for purpose and certainly pushes out enough power for my needs!

So what’s the deal with an even bigger power unit?

Well, according to H-D, the customer wants more power and an engine that runs cooler. So that’s exactly what they have delivered!
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The new engine may at first glance look the same as the 103, but that is really where the similarity ends. Yes, there’s the familiar 45° V-twin shape but look closely and things are subtly different. Inside it’s all new. To start with, the two new cylinder heads each have four valves – hence the “Milwaukee Eight” tag, eight valves in total. The exhaust valves are liquid cooled as standard, quite an innovation for Harley Davidson, but also making life much more pleasant for the rider by assisting in reducing exhaust temperatures by around 100°. The compression ratio is pushed up to 10:1 with thin “low-tension” rings fitted to each piston, Harley claims that these rings will reduce drag inside the engine and hence improve efficiency. To ensure complete combustion each cylinder is fitted with two spark plugs. Engine management is facilitated by knock sensors, that keep everything running smoothly by very cleverly keeping the bang just far enough advanced to prevent pre-ignition. All this leads to an increase in torque of around 10% over the old engines and better compliance to ever demanding emission regulations.

Interestingly the new engine has only a single cam shaft, Harley claim that this reduces mechanical engine noise, though as most owners will probably slap after-market road-rumbler pipes on their bikes, I find the claim that this is important to be somewhat strange!

Cut away view of the Milwaukee Eight. Photo: Harley Davidson.

Cut away view of the Milwaukee Eight.
Photo: Harley Davidson.

Like the old 88inch Evo engine fitted to Softails, such as my Harls, the 107 is counterbalanced to reduce vibration, though rubber engine mounts certainly play their part too; riding proved the point beautifully!

Which leads me to Plymouth Harley Davidson, who very kindly gave me the opportunity to test ride one of the new models.

Now being an engineer by nature, I worry when presented with a brand new bike with only 169 miles on the odometer and the instruction to “Go ride it!” I just can’t let myself get too carried away, but Kevin at the Dealership assured me that I was in for a treat….

Looking around the Demo bike, a Street Glide Special in Hard Candy Custom Hot Rod Red Flake (honestly!) there were one or two nice little improvements; like new manually adjustable rear suspension, improved stiffened front forks and better pannier fixing. The new engine nestles nicely in the frame and the modified exhaust pipes both look and sound superb once the 107 burst into life.image

Drawing away I was struck by the new clutch, it feels crisp and usable, but that could be because it was hardly broken in. Like all Harleys, the gearbox has a reassuring clunkiness – something I like, but I know many folk hate; you’ll never please everyone! Out on the road I got caught at a set of lights and immediately noticed just how smooth and vibration free the new engine was at idle, really nice.

Then things got better, a whole lot better!

I swung the Road Glide onto the dual carriageway of the A38 and accelerated up through the gears. Now allowing that I had ridden to Plymouth on my Ultra Limited, which weighs in at nearly 500kg with a full tank plus me on board and the Road Glide is over 50kg lighter, the acceleration was more than impressive, it was fantastic…particularly at the higher end where Harley’s traditionally fade. This is an engine that gives its best at higher revolutions!

At speed the bike felt nice and “planted” on the tarmac and certainly had power to spare. Leaving the main highway and onto more twisty roads I was impressed with the new suspension, the front end was nice and firm whilst the rear sat nicely on the road without any wallow, though I must confess to not fiddling around with any settings. The linked, abs fitted, Brembo brakes give a feeling of confidence, this baby can stop in a hurry too!

Riding the bike a couple of nice little tweaks were noticeable. On the left hand side the new slimline clutch cover gives more room to the riders ankle whilst on the right the air cleaner case has a nice taper at the rear which allows your knee to sit snugly against the tank happiness on both sides of the body which on a long trip can make the world of difference!

When I returned the bike, Kevin, unsurprisingly, asked me what I thought of it?
“It’s something special!” I replied. “Very special.”

It’s clear that Harley Davidson have thrown plenty of resources at the Milwaukee Eight project and have trod a difficult path between the outright modern and the “Harley Tradition.” I feel that they’ve more than got it right, this evolution of the marque must surely be a winner.

So yes, I like the Milwaukee Eight a lot, an awful lot!

Enough to chop in one of my existing stud, or even splash out on a new one to join them?

Baby and Harls, going nowhere without me on board! Photoshopped by Ninja Alba.

Baby and Harls, going nowhere without me on board!
Photoshopped by Ninja Alba.

No, I’m not ready for that yet. I’m still enjoying getting to know my Rushmore Ultra Limited and as for Softail Harls….well she’s part of the family! Longer term, when I decide that the big Ultra Limited is just too big, I may be tempted with one of those lighter Street Glides, but not just yet.

I have seen the future though and it’s written “Milwaukee Eight.”

With massive thanks to Kevin, Chris and all at Plymouth Harley Davidson for the loan of their bike which made this review possible.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Dust

Grabbing some nice shots of the morning Autumn mist a couple of days ago was very satisfying. As you would expect, I took far more shots than just the one that I posted in “Soul Mover.”

To start with it was all looking good, but as I was inspecting my handiwork closely I noticed a blemish in one of the photographs. I checked the next frame. Oh no, same blemish and then again in the next shot and the next one. You can see the wretched things just above “Harls” in this shot.image

On even closer inspection, there were at least three small blotches on every picture. Time for a bit of head scratching!

I checked that the lens was clean. Then had a good look to make sure that there was nothing obviously amiss such a scratch on the lens or anything loose inside the camera. A couple of test shots revealed that the problem was unfortunately still there.

If I was dealing with a 35mm film SLR camera it would have been simple to remove the lens, check the shutter gate, clean as required and that would have been it, but compact digital cameras aren’t that simple. No, the things are sealed up like the tomb of King Tut!

The principle of a digital camera is quite simple. In place of film is an image capture sensor on which the picture is projected and converted into a digital information. There’s also small filter between the sensor and the lens. If any dust or foreign body was appearing as marks in my pictures then it had to be in that part of the camera. I suppose at this point that most people would have made a bee-line to the nearest camera shop and put their device in for a service.

Dookes isn’t like most people.

No, it was obviously time to head off towards the “Man-Lab.” In that haven of joy and peace, where much happiness is to be had amongst a multitude of unfinished projects, electrical components, models of trains, cars and aeroplanes, plus the other stuff that Mrs Dookes doesn’t even try to understand; I set to work!

The camera in question is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ22. It is getting on a bit, but I like it. With it’s Leica lens it performs well and being a compact is great for taking on my travels. One day I know I’ll have to replace it, but not yet.

With a large piece of plain paper on the desk, I began by dismantling the outer body of the camera. Next the three ribbon leads connecting the screen to the motherboard were carefully removed, followed by the board’s protective metal plate. Now I was getting into the heart of the camera and things were getting exciting! The sensor mounting assembly screws were carefully removed and it’s electrical connection released. With some trepidation I lifted the sensor out of the camera; I wonder if bomb-disposal feels like this…except of course without the risk of getting blown-up!

Once the sensor was free I carefully examined it under my desk magnifier and sure enough, there were the offending specks of dust. Now all I needed to do was to gently clean the sensor, reassemble the camera and test it. image

This is the camera stripped down, that’s the image capture sensor at the lower left.

How did the dust get in there? Well, like many cameras the Lumix has a retractable lens assembly that powers in and out on start-up and shut-down plus when using the zoom facility. I suspect that this action has over time worked a bit like a pump and simply drawn in airborne dust particles.

I’m very pleased to report that all went well and I am now enjoying dust free photographs once more!

Not a blotch in sight!

Not a blotch in sight, shame about the power-lines!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Soul Mover

I have friends who ride and friends who don’t. 

Someone once wrote that a car moves the body, but only a motorbike can move the soul.

Clearly that person was an officiando of two-wheeled transport and those of us who have been blessed with the motorcycling bug know exactly what they were getting at!

It’s often difficult to convey to a non-rider just what it is that us two-wheelers get from our machines. 

Many folk say it’s all about speed and certainly that rings true for some riders; I’m not going to deny that travelling at 100 and silly mph is one big adrenaline rush!

To others it’s about the fluid motion of the machine through bends and twisty sections of road when you ride it well, whilst to some it’s the “wind in your face” thing. Just ask any dog why they stick their head out of a car window?

I fall into the total package school, for me it’s a bit of everything and with the addition thrill of winning the daily battle against the idiots out there on the road who seem hell-bent on trying to kill you! Oh and of course there’s the noise….!

I must also add that to me riding is such an immersive activity that I really can forget everything else in the world whilst I am out on two wheels. It really does move my soul!

Last Wednesday I was in need of a bit of soul lifting. I was up early, three spaniels generally make sure of that at Dookes H.Q. normally it’s a good sing-song as the sun comes up, but with such things come great benefits. This was a classic early Autumn morning, crisp sunlight breaking through early mists that still hugged the landscape and hedges. image

The urge to ride suddenly became very pressing, I didn’t just want to ride; I needed to ride!

Dogs and breakfast sorted, I got into my riding gear and wandered out to “The Man Cave,” which also passes for my workshop. What a lovely conundrum now faced me, which of my two faithful Harley’s should I take out?
No contest this morning, it had to be Harls, my beloved Centenary Softail. I needed that rawness she possesses, her crisp handling, open to the elements riding position and most of all that staccato exhaust growl! 

I made a pact with myself to keep off the major roads, the day was about riding for pleasure not for working hard, at least that was what I thought….!

We set off East, skirting Launceston and dropped into the valley of the River Tamar, passing into Devon as we crossed the old bridge at Greystone. I decided that the high tors of Dartmoor would be our first target, on such a beautiful morning the scenery there should be spectacular.

Trundling through the ancient Stannary Town of Tavistock we turned right and began our climb towards the high moor.

Wisps of cloud hugged the hillside ahead and the air took on a distinct chill, it looked like things were going to get interesting. We climbed some more and sure enough were soon enveloped by thick wet Dartmoor cloud. So much for the stunning views, I spent the next twenty miles trundling along trying to spot white sheep in dense white fog whilst wiping the enveloping water droplets off my visor every few seconds! So dear blogonaughts my apologies for the lack of wonderful scenery photos, here some in the fog instead.image
One of the biggest problems with riding in fog or mist is the way that the water droplets deposit themselves on helmet visors, it’s a bit like trying to look through wet tissue paper! In rain you never have the same problem as the water droplets are bigger and flow off the visor with the slipstream, but riding sensibly slower in fog there’s less slipstream as well.image
We swung through the small and pretty village of Moretonhamstead before briefly pausing at Okehampton where delightfully we passed back into warm sunshine!

Heading North West now, my heart was lifted by both the warm sun and the contented roar from Harls’ exhaust as we ate up the miles considerably faster than over Dartmoor! 

Our route was following the old railway through the delightfully named village of Halwill Junction and on towards Holsworthy. This was the line over which part of the romantically named “Atlantic Coast Express” once trundled behind gleaming steam locomotives near the end of its 300 mile journey from London.

The old railway line, once the Atlantic Coast Express ran along here.

The old railway line, once the Atlantic Coast Express ran along here.

Now there’s an idea for a future ride…

We stopped to take in the view over the bucolic Devon landscape and then it was time to push on. image

With delightfully quiet roads, it was clear that most of the summer tourists have slipped home with the return of children to school. It’s one of the downsides of living in such a beautiful region, we can hardly move for visitors invading during the peak holiday season of July and August, but like the swallows they fly away at the end of summer and we get the place back to ourselves again!
I stuck to the plan and by the time we returned to Dookes H.Q. after 140 wonderful miles and not one major route had been touched by our tyre rubber.

Life had been refocused and all was good in the world!

“I have seen rings of smoke through the trees and the voices of those who standing looking”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Goodbye Dog Days of Summer

OK I admit it, I’ve not been out on two wheels anywhere near enough in recent weeks!

I’m not over worried about the lack of bike action though. I had to smile to myself yesterday when the latest copy of HOG, Harley Owners Group, magazine dropped through the Dookes letterbox and the editorial commented that this year’s  “Riding Season” was coming to a close.

I’m sure that I have previously mentioned, to me there is no defined “Riding Season.” I ride all year round, whenever I can get out. It’s just about having the right gear and more importantly the right mental attitude and the commitment to clean the bike off afterwards…!

As I said in my last post, life has been busy and just as if I needed reminding to slow up a bit my body has done it for me. A torn Achilles tendon and a mild kidney infection have slowed me up nicely and given some badly needed time for recharging the old Dookes batteries. I do feel a bit of a fraud though, my mate leukaemia battling G is back in hospital and considerably more poorly than I am; here’s thinking of you fella.

Sadly, summer in the Northern Hemisphere is beginning to wind down; shadows are getting longer and the nights are noticeably drawing in. We’ve still been enjoying plenty of good weather though, all is not yet mists and leaf-fall, but the dog days are certainly gone for another year.

In our garden at Dookes HQ we have a delightful raised bed planted full of various types of mint. It’s useful as a herb for cooking, but at this time of year I love it because the flowers acts as a magnet to butterflies and bees.  This summer the butterfly population of Cornwall has been noticeably depleted, possibly this is a result of our mild wet winter last year, so its been great to see at least some of our residents topping up their nectar levels on our mint blossom. On a glorious morning the other day I grabbed a camera and stalked the butterflies for a few minutes, I must say that I am quite pleased with the results!

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This rather lovely Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais ureicae) caught my eye with its dazzling colours. This is one species that has suffered a worrying decline in recent years, particularly in the South of our country. One theory is that is being attacked by a parasitic fly, whose range is spreading due to global warning. It’s still one of our most widespread butterflies and occurs throughout the British Isles. I just glad it chose our garden!

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Looking at the photos, I think that they might be two  different butterflies as the wing pattern doesn’t seem the same in both photos. I am, however, very pleased with the results and I hope you like them.

“What it’s like to walk amongst butterflies.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes