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

D-Day 75 Years On. Remembering Heroes.

Five years ago I published this post. Much has happened since then and for various reasons, not least the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, I have decided to re-post it in a slightly edited form. I do hope that you enjoy it and spare a moment to remember those who gave so much for freedom.

When Harley and I visited Normandy earlier this year we were privileged to be able to visit some of the famous D-Day beaches and contemplate the events of 70 years ago when the liberation of Europe from Nazi dictatorship began. Much is said about the actual landings on the beaches, but I mentioned then about the contribution that airborne troops also made to the operation. Sometimes I feel that this vital contribution is not given the full focus that it deserves, because without it the whole operation would not have been the success that it was. I am not decrying what happened on the beaches, merely drawing attention to the oft forgotten massive contribution by the airborne operation

In the hours leading up to D-Day itself, 6th June 1944, 13,000 allied airborne troops either parachuted into occupied Normandy or arrived by glider under cover of darkness. They had set out from fifteen airfields across southern England and crossed over the English Channel in a massive stream of 220 aircraft that was described as being nine aircraft wide and five hours long! Soldiers from all of the allied nations were involved, but the majority were British and American. Let me tell you a little about one of those American soldiers.

Daniel L. Reiling was a classic Mid-Western American kid, he didn’t have the easiest of starts in life, he never knew his father and at times life was a little tough. Determined to get on in life he joined the U.S Army as a career soldier. He progressed well through the ranks and married a good-looking girl from Chicago, named Florine, whose father owned restaurants and whose mother came from Britain. By the time that the war in Europe was raging Daniel was a Sergeant in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. Soon he found himself and his men crossing the Atlantic to Britain on a troop-ship which constantly zig-zagged to dodge the deadly threat of Nazi U-boats. On arrival in the U.K. the troops were posted to various locations for more training and preparations. Some lucky ones managed to get leave, which Daniel did and took the opportunity to visit his wife’s family, though by all accounts the poor chap was suffering from influenza and spent a fair bit of his leave in bed being looked after by his wife’s uncle, my Grandfather William. You see now that there is a big family connection here!

Following his leave, Daniel returned to his unit and began the final preparations for the Liberation of Europe. His regiment was allocated to two airbases, RAF Membury and RAF Greenham Common. Unfortunately, we have not been able to ascertain yet exactly which one Daniel’s platoon was at. On the evening of 5th June 1944 the various airfields involved swung into action. At Greenham Common, General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, dropped in to encourage the troops. IMG_0343Men and equipment were prepared and loaded onto the C-47 transport aircraft which at the assigned time taxied to the runways and began to take off. Sergeant Daniel L. Reiling and his men would have been dressed in full combat kit armed with a variety of weapons, they sat in total darkness inside the noisy vibrating fuselage of the C-47 as it took off and turned South towards Normandy.IMG_0342Once over the French coast the pilots took the aircraft down to the jumping altitude of 500 feet  The green jump light came on at 00:48 and Daniel threw himself out into the Normandy night, landing in a field near to Saint Martin de Varreville and set about making life difficult for the occupying German force.

By 06:30 St Martin had been captured and shortly after the German garrison at Mésières was taken as well. Five days later the town of Carentan was liberated after fierce fighting that included a bayonet charge. The 502nd then moved to assist in the capture of Cherbourg before stepping down for regrouping and rest, before rejoining the war and fighting their way across Europe, finally capturing Hitler’s private residence and many senior Nazis at Berchtesgaden in May 1945.

By the end of the conflict Daniel had been promoted to Master Sergeant and shortly after was promoted to Sergeant Major, one of the youngest in the Army. Later he was to see action in Korea and became an officer, finally rising to the rank of Major.

During WWII and the Korean War, Daniel was in a total of 13 major campaigns. In all that fighting he was wounded in the leg during the Ardennes offensive near Bastogne, but never received the Purple Heart. He won two Bronze and one Silver Star plus several other wartime decorations. Sadly, he died young in January 1969. I guess you could say he lived a full life, a real American hero, a John Wayne kind of guy. In our family we are all incredibly proud of him; none more so than my cousins, Peter and Marianne.

Over the last few weeks I have been able to visit the remains of both RAF Membury and Greenham Common. There’s not much left at either place to recall events of 70 years ago. There is however, another old base about 60 miles away from Dookes H.Q. that also played a prominent role in that airborne assault, RAF Upottery, here there is still quite a lot to see. Last evening I took the opportunity to make a pilgrimage with Harley and my little brother Greg to the old airfield and remember the events that unfolded on that fateful night.

It was a super evening to be on a motorcycle and riding through the beautiful Devon countryside I pondered if it was like this all those years ago?

The old airbase was quiet and still and much has reverted to farmland, though the runways, control tower and a few other buildings remain. P1010774Just by luck we met the local farmer who gave us permission to go on the site. It was with some awe that I turned Harley onto the main runway, the strip of concrete and tarmac from which 81 C-47’s took off, this was hallowed ground indeed! It seemed fitting that an American motorcycle was visiting the place where so many young American soldiers took off, some never to return.

P1010782

In some places the grass is beginning to win.

P1010779

After spending some time soaking up the atmosphere, we decided to leave the ghosts of the past to enjoy the sunset. As we rode off the airfield we were aware of other people who were gathering to pay their respects as well. DSCF3394

Stopping to chat with one guy he observed that we have much to be thankful for, we have indeed; like a super ride home west into a crimsoning sky on a growling Harley Davidson! I’d like to think that those young paratroopers would have approved!

Dookes

 

The battle patch of the 502nd, I think that this will look good on my leathers!

IMG_0344

 

 

Dedicated to all those who came by air in 1944.

And in loving memory of Greg, Paul and Florrine.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Engineering Baby!

It’s one of those lovely early summer mornings here at Dookes H.Q., the sun is shining, there’s a gentle breeze and all seems well in the world…until some crazy person messes it up.

Mrs Dookes is out, which means I can play a Jethro Tull album without snarky comments and grumbles; no, she really doesn’t appreciate Prog-Rock!

I’m also studying maps because trip planning time is here, actually that really came long ago, this is more like “Contingency Planning Time.”

This year’s adventure should see Harls and I heading off to the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain in a couple of weeks, we have unfinished business in those mountains.

There is, however, a slight spanner in the works.

We are due to sail from Plymouth to Santander on Brittany Ferries lovely flagship and one of my favourite vessels, the MV Pont Aven. Unfortunately the lovely white lady is currently dry docked in the port of Brest with fairly major problems in her starboard steering gear.

The poor ship has been a bit unlucky this year, back in April she suffered a fire in one of her engine rooms which led to a spell in the shipyard for repairs. Then, only days after her return to service, this fault in her steering system appeared.

One of the problems with modern transportation companies like Brittany Ferries is they operate on very tight margins, meaning that the assets are “sweated.” In plain language, they don’t have spare ships standing around doing nothing and those that they do have are kept earning revenue with minimal downtime. One breakdown can and usually does cause chaos to schedules. It’s difficult for operators to accurately predict when things are going to be back to normal and putting pressure on the engineers to get the job fixed as soon as possible can be counterproductive; better to do it once properly than to need to return through rushing or corner cutting.

Years ago a late friend and I undertook engineering services for a cross-channel ferry company operating out of Portsmouth. One of the jobs that we did was a repair on a vessel’s steering gear which necessitated a visit to dry dock in Southampton. One day I’ll dig out and scan the photo’s of that and maybe do a retro post about it. The job was straightforward enough, but getting all the parts, labour, heavy-lift equipment and inspection agencies together in one place when the dock was available was a logistical nightmare! I share the pain that the BF engineering team are going through.

Brittany Ferries operate a number of routes across the English Channel between the UK and France, plus serving Spain and Ireland. The impact of this breakdown has reached far and wide.

I have read some affected passengers grumbling that the company has not offered them good customer service by way of alternatives or compensation. From a personal point of view I do not agree.

Yesterday, I called into the Brittany Ferries offices in Plymouth to discus options for Harls and I. Basically, in the event of the ship not being back in service by our departure date, I was offered the option of being booked onto an alternative ferry to France, with costs if I have to travel to a different departure port and then provided with onward travel costs to get me to Santander as well as a refund of the difference in fares; or I could have a complete refund if that meant that I was unable to travel.

This I thought was perfectly reasonable and I’m probably going to accept the former, after all it’s no hardship for me to have to ride Harls for an extra two days!!

I did offer my engineering services as well, I was told to pop home and get my spanners; at least the staff haven’t lost their sense of houmour!

In the meantime, I’m really hoping that the MV Pont Aven is repaired as I do love sailing on her and best of all she has a fabulous restaurant.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned.

Take last Monday for example.

It was a lovely day, the sort of day that just screams at me, “Go ride motorcycle!” and to be polite, I accepted nature’s invitation.

My plan was to visit my old friend Vifferman, who lives about 50 miles away from Dookes H.Q. and to ride a nice circuitous, leisurely, route in the glorious sunshine.

Going out all was well for a few miles, until I got onto the A30 main road. That’s where we had our first inclination that this could be an “interesting” ride. Overtaking a VW camper van I had to smartly take avoiding action as it gently eased onto my lane without any indication. Yes, thought so… the driver was busy talking on his mobile telephone!

After that Hettie purred along nicely and we enjoyed the new lush greenery that always erupts into growth this time of year. It truly was the most perfect English Spring morning and a perfect time to be on two wheels.

Mr and Mrs Viff were on fine form and we did that most British of things, we drank tea outside in the sunshine; lovely.

In due course it was time to bid farewell and hit the road again. I decided to take in part of the A39 Atlantic Highway, mainly because it’s one of my local favourite roads, which is as good a reason as any.

That’s when the fun really started, not.

Traffic wasn’t too busy, but in one or two spots it was slightly bunched by some heavy goods vehicles, trucks to most of us. It wasn’t that these trucks were hanging about, but rural Devon roads are not straight Autobahns, they have bends and hills, lots of them. Add into the mix some hesitant car drivers, speed restrictions through the pretty villages and there you have a mobile traffic jam; except if you are on a motorcycle!

The thing I always watch out for when overtaking traffic in such a situation is jealous car drivers. You probably know the sort, they can’t/won’t overtake themselves and don’t see why anyone else should either. Sometimes they try to block by moving out across the road, or another trick is to try to close out the gap that the overtaking vehicle is moving into; either way they are annoying and very dangerous!

When making an overtake I always plan my passing move considering where I am going to, that I can abort and move back in with plenty of time and have a back up plan “B” if needed, this last one usually means somewhere else safe to go…! Oh and I also plan not to cause anyone else on the road problems with my actions.

Needless to say, as I carefully began to move through the traffic I was keeping very alert to any possible stupid antics….and sure enough to driver of a Mercedes 4×4 took exception to me passing him and attempted to accelerate to block my exit by closing the gap to the car in front of him; hmm clever, not! Fortunately at this point it was a nice straight empty road and Hettie easily cruised past him and the next two cars without any problem, but what the *@^# was that for?

Later on the same road on another overtake, another 4×4, a BMW this time, accelerated as I passed him and I mean really accelerated! Oh yes, the clown was another mobile phone user too, with one hand on the steering wheel and one firmly pushing his phone into his ear!!!

Now can anyone tell me just why some people think that it is acceptable to use a mobile telephone whilst driving?

I found some space on the road away from traffic and tried to enjoy the ride again, but in all honesty I couldn’t. Those three examples of crass stupidity, aggression and selfishness had left me more stressed than when I set out; time to cut the ride short and head home.

“Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies.
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Moor or Less

Springtime here in the extreme South West of the UK is always a wonderful time of year, because we stick out into the warm Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic Ocean, spring and summer always comes just that little bit earlier than the rest of the country.

Back in the halcyon days before the Second World War, the old Southern Railway used to advertise that “Summer Comes Soonest In the South!” (Sic), but I digress.

For various reasons, some of which regular Blogonaughts will already understand and some due to business commitments, I haven’t been out much on two wheels since my last road trip of La Route des Grandes Alpes….all that is now beginning to change, thank goodness!

Just recently I got out for some mind clearing two-wheeled therapy, to enjoy the Spring weather and take in some of my favourite roads in the high country of Exmoor and Dartmoor.

Now, I’ve written about both Moors previously, so I’m not about to do the whole description geography lesson again, if you want to know more about the Moors (good eh?) just go Google. All I will say is that they are pretty cool places, in more ways than one….OK enough of the puns, promise.

The other thing about the moorland roads is that they were some of the favourite ones for little brother G and I to ride together. My recent blast over them was a really great way to draw a line under my grieving and move on; G was there with me I’m sure and he was saying, “Let go now, it’s all fine, move on.”

Exmoor takes a little time to get to from Dookes H.Q., but the ride there is fun in itself as you can keep off the main roads and stick to minor routes, yet still make good progress.

I love the Exe valley road from Tiverton to Dulverton, where Exmoor really begins. This is a landscape that has been groomed by man over the centuries, but is still wild and refuses to be fully tamed. It’s also hunting country, red deer roam wild, pheasants and partridge flit across the sky and local public houses serve hearty dishes made from local game and produce accompanied by the sweet aroma of open hardwood fires; I love it. Oh yes, the Exmoor beers are pretty special too, but not when riding a motorbike!

One place that I had never visited was the famous Tarr Steps bridge; so I resolved to put that right. Beat you there G!

According to he Exmoor national Park website:

“Tarr Steps is a 17 span clapper bridge (Tarr Steps is an example of a ‘clapper’ bridge (the term being derived from the Latin ‘claperius’, meaning ‘pile of stones’) and is constructed entirely from large stone slabs and boulders.), the longest of its kind in Britain. It was first mentioned in Tudor times but may be much older. The river has silted up over the last century and often now comes over the stones in times of flood. The bridge has had to be repaired several times as stones of up to two tonnes have been washed up to 50 metres downstream.

The name ‘Tarr’ is thought to be derived from the Celtic word ‘tochar’, meaning ’causeway’.
It’s only because the local sedimentary rocks form such suitable slabs that it was built at all. At 59yds (54m), Tarr Steps is by far the longest of the 40 or so clapper bridges left in Britain.”

All I know is that it’s one of the most magical places I’ve been to in a long time!

From Tarr Steps we rode north the Simonsbath, that’s pronounced “Simm-ons-bath” before cutting West for lunch in the delightful market town of South Molton.

From there it was a brisk ride South to the majesty that is Dartmoor.

If Exmoor is grand, Dartmoor is royalty. It demands to be taken seriously, in bad weather you can get into serious trouble very quickly on its unforgiving landscape. On a nice day it appears demure and benign, but it can change at the rolling in of a cloud; temperatures can plummet in a cloaking mist, whilst bogs and cliffs wait to capture the reckless and inexperienced. It’s a landscape of myths and mystery, not very different from my beloved Welsh mountains, which is probably why I love it so much.

We got home after 250 miles of mind clearing, soul cleansing, ecstasy.

Ghosts were laid to rest and now it’s time to move on…

Thanks for understanding, now if you don’t mind I’m off to plan a little road trip: stick around things are going to get interesting again!

“With the wind in you hair of a thousand laces
Climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

RDGA Finalé – Up With The Big Ones!

I’ve written about Col de la Bonette on several previous trips, I fact it was the first big Col that I ever took Harls up and in many ways the one that got me hooked on “Col Hunting”.

In a way it was ironic, because it’s been downhill ever since I made that first ascent of “The Big One!” Strictly speaking Bonette isn’t the highest paved pass, that honour lies with L’Iseran, Bonette lies in 4th place, but what makes it crazy-special is the Cime de la Bonette; Cime translates as “Summit.”

The Cime de la Bonette is probably the most wonderful folly that the nation of France has ever constructed. It’s a road that just loops around the mountain from the Pass and back to the Pass reaching an elevation of 2802m/9193ft and that makes it technically the highest paved through road in the whole of Europe.

On the South side the road climbs steadily from Isola, the big mountain taunting you from miles away. The grandeur of the scenery is almost overpowering as the ribbon of asphalt snakes skywards and leaves trees and waterfalls far behind.

Wide vistas open as the hairpins steadily kick in, but in a civilised way; although this is a high climb it isn’t savage.

Remains of high altitude barracks from over a hundred years ago straddle the road. Soon after comes the first Pass, Col du Raspaillon at 2513m and then things start to get really serious.

The mountain begins resemble a lunar landscape, bare black and grey rocks dominate, very little grows up here. There is always snow lying, what ever state of the summer, this is probably the hardest country that you can take a road vehicle and definitely not a place to come in bad weather, if you value your life. This mountain has claimed many unwary visitors.

It’s because of it’s unique, wild, dangerous beauty that I love the place.

The last kilometre from the Col de la Bonette at 2715m to the summit at 2802m is like taking a ski jump to the clouds as the gradient hits 15%!

I kicked down Harls side stand at the summit stone and just drank in the majesty of the place and the moment, we were back.

Looking South I could just about make out the Mediterranean Sea, over 60 miles away, we were down there earlier. All around I was surrounded by high peaks, many snow-capped and all stunningly beautiful; it made me feel both very small and also incredibly lucky to be there to enjoy it all.

It was one of those moments that make me feel so alive and glad to be so.

When you hit a high, both figuratively and also in this case literally, it’s easy to think that it’s only downhill from here. Well, ok, geographically it is, but riding amongst these mountains you’d be crazy to only look on the downside. Also I had a “rest day” tomorrow and as the weather was looking good I wanted to do a bit of exploring whilst I was up here.

First off I took a stroll to the real summit of La Bonette which stands a further 58 metres above the road. Walking in motorcycle gear is never much fun, but believe me doing it at altitude is really not to be recommended. At 2860m/9380ft the effects of altitude are very noticeable if you try to do any strenuous exercise without allowing your body time to adjust; riding a motorcycle from sea level to this height in just a few hours is not adequate adjustment, I can assure you!

I like to think that I’m pretty fit for my age, true I don’t spend hours in a gym, but I do live an active life, I’m not overweight and I don’t smoke; but that eighty metre climb to the summit was something else! Never before have I found a short stroll to be such hard work and whilst I wasn’t struggling unduly it was clear that nature was giving me a gentle reminder as to who exactly was in charge up here!

It was worth it though, the view just got even better and I had the place to myself.

With a tinge of sadness I turned to start the descent down to Jausiers. RDGA had been a blast and it literally was going to be downhill all the way from here, but in the back of my mind I knew that I’ll be coming back one day.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I do. Looking back on that adventure last summer much has happened since and people dear to me have been lost to this world. I sometimes wonder how much longer I can keep doing these trips, because believe me they don’t get any easier with age! I’ve got a wonderful family and small network of close friends who support my crazy yearning to travel and explore the high places, so whilst I can I’ll keep going; you are, after all, a long time in your box!

What next?

Well, if all goes to plan, I’ve got some unfinished work to do in the Pyrenees in June this year. Then whilst perusing some maps the other day, I spotted some lovely looking passes in Switzerland and Northern Italy…!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

The whole of RDGA is dedicated to the memory of G, my little brother who left us too soon.

“Escaping the ghosts of yesterday,
you were behind me following closely, don’t turn around now.”