Habits and Rituals…Plus a Bit of Planning!

I’m one of those funny folks who has to follow certain rituals and if you spoke to Mrs Dookes she’d probably tell you that I have a number of habits, most of which she finds annoying!

Certain things I do, I do because that’s how I always have done them. One such habit is how I put on on my motorcycle boots and gloves. In this particular case it has to be left hand or foot first, never the right first. Crazy, I know and not at all based on any superstition either, it’s just the way I do it!

Another habit I have is the “End of Trip Photograph.”

For years now I have always marked the end of one of my Mainland Europe trips with a commemorative photograph taken by the sea in Brittany and just before getting the ferry back to the UK.

There’s actually a little common sense in this habit. It’s a way of taking a quiet breather before heading to the ferry port, a place to gather thoughts and yes probably kill a little time to avoid a long tedious wait before boarding and probably realise just how dirty my beloved Harls has become!

It’s honest dirt, riding dirt!

For years I used to negotiate the tight streets and alleys of Carentec, to a small harbour on the North Brittany coast, before I found a better spot nearby and so that’s where I now head for.

It’s great to park up there and breath in that lovely seaweed and salt laden air that only an estuary can deliver.Then to take time to reflect on the trip just completed and possibly begin to form some ideas of the next little trundle on two wheels….of course take the obligatory photo and maybe pick up a couple of shells off the foreshore!

Last time I found this lovely scallop shell.

I thought that was pretty apt, as part of our route through the Pyrenees had followed the Camino de Santiago pilgrims trail, which is marked by the symbol of a Scallop Shell, like this one in Cahors.

Bronze Scallop Shell in Cahors


Then it’s mount up and head for the ferry. get on board, get into my cabin, do some onboard shopping, then have a nice meal. Possibly then have a sleep and next thing is we are arriving back into Plymouth!

The final ritual is the chore of getting back into the UK via immigration control and customs…it’s been painful enough whilst we’ve been part of the European Union, goodness knows how bad it will get after Brexit!!!!

Now about those next trip plans….

“As long as we’re moving man I don’t care where we are”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

The Market

I love travelling by ship, no let me correct that… I love travelling. I don’t mind what form of transport it is, I was born a travelling man.

There is, however, just one problem with the overnight ferry from Plymouth to
Roscoff; it’s too quick. It always seems that by the time you get to sleep in your cabin, it’s time to get up and get up you will, to the early morning clarion call of traditional Breton music on the ship’s P.A. system! Now please don’t misunderstand me, I have the greatest respect for traditional music the world over, but to use it as a dawn chorus is almost a breach of basic human rights as viewed by the European Supreme Court!

Good Morning…at least it will be once the sun come up!


Anyway, we rolled off the ferry into a glorious September morning; at least it was going to be once the sun rose. I pointed the car South East and hit the road for breakfast with our friend Vivienne in Josselin, right in the heart of Brittany.

We pulled into the square facing the town hall and bagged the last parking space just before eight o’clock. Today is market day and the small town vibrantly comes alive as traders erect their stalls.

We hurried to Vivienne’s beautiful town house, just off the main street and delight at the table creaking with lovely things for breakfast. The smell of strong coffee hits me; my eyes are dry and gritty from the early morning drive, I need a shot of caffeine!

Vivienne fusses around the table, offering home made yogurt, and the Breton speciality, freshly cooked crêpes, thin pancakes that we are free to smother in honey or home made preserves. They always look deceptively nothing, yet satisfy even the keenest appetite.

“Pas de moto, aujourd’hui?” Vivienne teases. She knows that I am holiday with Mrs Dookes and motorbikes are not on the agenda! She is one of those special French ladies who even at just after eight in the morning looks a Million Euros, she must be well into her 50’s, but I’ve never had the nerve to enquire!

We laugh at my “Pas de Moto” situation and drink more coffee.

The church clock strikes and V looks up with surprise, time has moved fast.
“Alors, le marché! Allez vite ou le meilleur sera parti!” – “The market! Go quickly or the best will be gone!”

We laugh, but she is right the early bird not only catches the worm, but in France also the best produce from the market stalls.

Mrs Dookes and I take our leave and step out once again into the fresh autumn air. The market is only just getting going and many stalls are still in the build-up phase, but already the smell of cooking chicken and bacon fills the ancient streets.

There is a fish stall selling the catch from just two boats out of L’Orient, the trestle table creaking with prawns and mussels. Another catches my eye with fresh oysters, graded by size and quality; Mrs Dookes heads me off, there’ll be no oysters for me today, I ate a bad one some years back and I’m now permanently prohibited from eating them again…such a shame, I love them so much!!!

A simple trestle table holds, for me, the highlight of the market, local salad vegetables; frisée lettuce, calabrese, globe artichokes and carrots all still vibrantly fresh from the field. I can’t resist and head over.

Mrs Dookes appears with a tresse of smoked garlic, ail fumé, plus assorted onions and shallots. Now I’m off to grab some local saucisson sèche, dry sausage, we are going to eat well tonight!

It’s hard work this market shopping, time to stop, take a breather and relax in true French style; a beer for me and a Kir for Mrs D, we are, after all on holiday!

I sit at our street café table and take in the atmosphere; I love this way of life and this country.

Vive la France, vive la marché!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Une Canicule Mk2 and So Quintessential

It’s been a scorcher in France today, officially “Une Canicule,” a heat wave!

Last night the television news was full of the expected temperatures for the next few days. Throughout the country temperatures are expected to be in the range of high 30’s to low 40’s Celsius.

I can report that the meteorologists were incredibly accurate.

It seems to me that I’m getting pretty good at attracting weather extremes when I’m on my road trips. There was snow over the Grimsel Pass one June day, snow on the Silivretta Alpine road in September 2107, not to mention on that same trip minus 9ºC over the Albula Pass! Oh and the high temperatures of the South of France last year, plus the other “Canicule” that you can read about by clicking here.

In many ways today was sort of a transit day, just over 200 miles in total from Cahors to Soulac sur Mer. We passed through lovely countryside, but honestly I couldn’t wait for it to end, so energy sapping was the heat.

I drank a few litres of water and just sweated it all out of me…you really do not want to smell my riding gear this evening!

On one of my water stops I took a photo of the air thermometer on Harls; it was a bit hot in the Medoc!

Thats about warm!


Finding roads with shade was a bonus and at times I had to smile about a standing joke that Mrs Dookes and I have about French roads.

Many years ago on a Brittany Ferries sailing we were reading an article in their “House” magazine. You probably know the sort of publication, glossy and with little articles to pass a few moments before – Pow! – Here’s another advert for something you can/must buy on board!

Anyway what the article was about I cannot recall, but there was a nice photograph of a tree lined road with the title’ “A Quintessential French Road.”

I fell about laughing, it just caught me in a silly mood, but honestly in all the years that I’ve been visiting France I’m still trying to find that “Quintessential” one.

No, only a junior tree lined avenue…


Now it is true that in France you can find many roads lined with trees, often Limes or Planes. They may be lovely, but if you consider just how many kilometres of road there are in France the tree lined ones make up a very small percentage and they certainly cannot be accurately described as “Quintessential.”

Do towns count?


Incidentally, there seems to be no clear source of where the trees lining the road idea came from. Ask some folk and they say Napoleon Bonaparte, others will tell you it was the Romans, whilst many swear that the nobility were responsible. It’s a lovely mystery.

That’s more like it!


All is not good in the world of tree lined Avenues though.

The French “League Against Violence on the Roads, ” yes honestly, claims that trees are responsible for one in eight road deaths, because they reduce visibility and cause greater injuries when people crash into them and they want them cut down!

Needless to say the many of rest of the French population have a different view. My mate Gilles thinks that as you pass trees they make you slow down because you then realise how fast you are going….hmm, I not sure of that Gilles, all I know is that I enjoyed the shade of them occasionally today!

Very shady, nice!


Vive les Arbres, Vive La France!

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

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

Pondering through the Miles

Motorcycling is great, no really it is, even when the weather decides to test you with a bit of rain, or fog, or snow… actually forget those bits about fog and snow, it’s pants then!

One of the things I love about being on two wheels is the time I get to do a bit of thinking. Now I’m not talking real deep meditational stuff, because when I’m riding I really need to keep my mind fully on the road, but I seem to have developed a sort of “compartmentalised” mental ability to grab a thought or idea, place it in some recess in the old Dookes head and recall it later for further processing. Which is quite a handy trick really! It’s how I manage to absorb the day’s traveling, write about it later whilst and able to recapture the essence of what I was thinking when I was out on the road.

Take this morning for example.

The road across Northern Brittany from Morlaix to Rennes is a dual carriageway. It’s not exactly the most stimulating stretch of tarmac in the world, but like many such roads gets you efficiently from A to B with minimum of fuss. It’s also the road that I like to use to get me “in the groove” for Continental Europe travelling. As many people will be aware, those pesky Mainland Europeans, along with most of the rest of the world, drive on the “wrong” side of the road; that’s the Right side, only it’s not, “right” that is!

Which got me thinking….

As anyone with half a shred of historical knowledge will know, the “right” side to drive is the Left. Just like we do in the U.K. and so do Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and about 70 other “enlightened” countries, which equates to about 35% of the world population, but why?

Well it’s all largely to do with swords, farm carts and aristocrats.

In the days when roads were ruled by the horse, just about everybody travelled on the left hand side of the road because most people are right-handed; if you needed to pull out a sword to defend yourself you had you opponent just where you wanted them, on your right hand side. It also was good manners as it prevented your sword in it’s scabbard flapping about and hitting passing riders as you had it on your left. Plus, ever noticed which side most people mount up on a horse from?

Yep, the left, to keep the sword out of the way!

By the 1700s in France the aristocracy kept driving their carriages on the left, even though the necessity of having to have ones sword free had largely passed, but seemingly they enjoyed forcing the peasants over to the right! Around this time though, farmers in France began using bigger and bigger carts as farming techniques improved and crop yields grew. These bigger waggons often used more than one horse so the driver would sit on the left hand side animal in order to use their whip in the right hand, plus they could then also keep an eye on their cart’s wheels as they passed other road users.

Come the French Revolution one of the many ways that the new French Republic made itself “different” was to make driving on the right compulsory, from 1794. As Napoleon Bonaparte then went on to conquer vast swathes of Continental Europe everyone in his path was forced to conform!

All that to explain why Dookes has been riding on the Right-Hand side of the road today. To be honest, on a motorbike it really doesn’t make much difference except to keep your wits about you and look out for traffic coming from unexpected directions; I quite like it.

It’s always interesting and a bit amusing in the first few kilometres just off the ferry as inevitably you can spot the odd Brit car driver getting it totally wrong at either a road junction or roundabout!

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that I’ve just had a brilliant day riding Harls in warm sunshine on sticky tarmac on just about my favourite country on Earth!…(apart from Wales that is!!!) We’ve covered just short of 400 miles, some of it pretty hard grind, but when I’m on on Harls I never want to be anywhere else in the world.

Highlight of the day was riding some of the famous “24 Heurs du Mans” circuit, around the city of Le Mans. Whipping down the legendary “Mulsanne Straight” hanging a right at Mulsanne then zipping under the Porsche bridge before flicking through Indianapolis and Arnage to the Porsche curves was the stuff of dreams!

Indianapolis Curve, moving a bit!

I took Baby Blue around Monza once, I’ll tell more about that another day, but today beat that hands down as I did it with Harls! Thank goodness I didn’t see any Gendarmes.

Porsche Bridge.

Like I say, you just need to keep your wits about you and give a nod of thanks to Napoleon for making life interesting!

Vive La France, vive la revolution, vive la difference!

Catch you soon

Dookes

Arrival or Departure

Frequently, in those idle moments that journeys throw at me, I ponder what is better, Arrivals or Departures?

I know, the old Dookes grey matter wanders in mysterious ways, but bear with me and I’ll explain where I’m coming from.

As I type this our ferry is making it’s final approach to Arrive in the Port of Roscoff. On-board there is a palpable air of excitement, stoked in no small part by a number of French school groups. The children are chattering in the animated carefree way that only the young can indulge in. They don’t worry if everything is packed, passport and documents ready, someone else takes care of that!

For my part, I sit in the lounge watching busy activity on the quayside as dockers secure the mooring ropes and make fast the ship against the dock. The strong Solstice morning sun glares through the windows, it’s certainly looking like its going to be a lovely day. It’s early, too early for everything except strong coffee and a moment to let the day come to me; let it Arrive if you like.

Departing Plymouth


Last night we took the short ride from Dookes H.Q. to the port of Plymouth, so often the beginning of various adventures. It was the moment of Departure and in many ways I hate it; yet at the same time I love it too… weird eh?

I hate leaving behind everything that is precious and closest to me, Mrs Dookes, our home, comfort in the familiar; yet there’s an adventure and exploration lying ahead of us.

The open road….calling.


As I get older that wrench of separation gets harder and the excitement of the unknown diminishes.

Then we hit the road and the focus switches, time to concentrate.

Arrival or Departure?

It kind of depends on which one you are doing…

Catch you later.

Dookes