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

Riding on Ahead

I don’t often sit staring at a blank screen wondering what to write.

I don’t often have tears in my eyes when I sit at a computer screen.

I don’t normally find it difficult to articulate what I want to say.

This isn’t a “Normal” moment…

Over the years of blogging, I have occasionally mentioned my mate G, he of motorcycles and leukaemia.

On the 26th of December, G’s battle with cancer came to an end. He was 52 and leaves behind a loving wife and two young teenage children.

He also leaves behind a lifetime of memories, achievements and laughter.

G was a complex character, his highs were incredible, he could make a large room helpless with laughter; on the other side he had lows, deep black lows. Mostly though, he was a “Glass Half-Full” chap and it was only when his health issues got too much did he sometimes slightly look on the downside.

Our relationship was mixed. Mostly, we were great mates who had wonderful times together and yes we had some really great times! We also had moments, like in any relationship, when we really couldn’t stand the sight of each other; yet we came through it, eventually.

When, three and a half years ago he told me that he had cancer it shook me to the core. I tried to always be there for him.

Then he had a big motorcycle accident and I sat by his bed in the trauma unit as the medics tried to figure out if they could save his hands, let alone make then work again. In the weeks and months that he slowly recovered, I used to drive over to his house and again sit with him; then we would laugh and tell each other tales of what we would do once he was well.

He bought another motorcycle and the surgeons got him strong enough to ride. I went with him to collect the bike, a Yamaha Super Ténéré that had been modified to accommodate his injured hands; his joy at being on two wheels again was humbling.

Picking up the new bike, June 2017.

We rode again together, as often as his health allowed and the light came on in his eyes again.

The day after Christmas that light went out for the last time.

G, I loved you through all of our ups and downs, even through the times that you annoyed the hell out of me and drove me up the wall in frustration! You did what little brothers are supposed to do and did it very well; I’m missing you already.

Hwyl fawr, brawd bach!

Dookes

Rest day

Today was meant to be a rest day, a sort of “recharge the batteries” day.

…only one problem, what to do?

I admit, I made a bit of an administrative error staying at a hotel without a swimming pool, but the food more than makes up for that; tonight Magret de Canard, for example!

So what does a long distance motorcyclist do on his day off?

Go for a ride on his bike, that’s what!

To be more precise, go for a lightweight spin up Cime de la Bonette without the encumbrance of luggage, do a bit of exploring and have a nice picnic lunch on the high alp.

All of which came together perfectly.

We got out good and early and managed to reach to summit before the hoards descended. The big Cols often get busy late morning and mid afternoon, so if you want to have a bit of peace either go early or aim for very late afternoon/early evening.

We did a bit of trundling around at altitude and some on-foot wandering around, which at altitude was a tad tough, then found a lovely spot off the beaten track to enjoy lunch.

Not a bad view over lunch!


The altitude thing is interesting and effects people in different ways. It’s generally agreed that doing what I did, going up quickly and then trying to do some strenuous exercise like hike-climbing isn’t a great idea; I can agree with that. You really need more time to acclimatise than I had, my body is used to living at 600ft above sea level in Cornwall, not 9400ft in the high alps!

This afternoon I got Harls fuelled and sorted for tomorrow then planned to have a quiet time doing some writing or maybe having a little snooze, but somehow it didn’t happen and I sort of trundled into supper time…which is where I am now!

The highlight of the evening so far, apart from the Magret de Canard which is incredibly good, has been watching Madame, the hotel owner, giving five German bikers a good dressing down for turning up for dinner in their riding leathers. Then telling them that they smell and sending them off for a shower before she serves them and even then that they must sit outside on the terrace! Priceless!

She winked at me as she strutted past after delivering her instructions; this formidable lady has a sense of humour without a shadow of doubt!

As for the Germans, well they seem to have slunk off for the shower as instructed!

It’s good to have standards.

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

Snow

The “Beast from The East” blew through Europe this past week bringing sub-zero temperatures and snow on a biting Easterly wind.

Predictably, large parts of the UK ground to a snowy halt as our infrastructure and many citizens failed to cope with the conditions.

Here at Dookes H.Q. we found ourselves nicely snowed in for two days, no drama and no panic. These days we don’t have a 4×4 vehicle; mostly we have no need. We also do not have snow chains or special snow tyres; again largely no need. What we do have is a good stock of firewood, two log burners, central heating with a full tank of fuel oil, plenty of food and an emergency generator if we need it; no worries there then!

The thing is though, as I look back over the years, this small dose of winter weather is exactly what we used to get on a regular basis when I was younger. I don’t know if you can blame it on “Climate Change,” but our weather is definitely different from when I was a child. Now before anyone pipes up that I must be looking back through the rose-tinted view of a child, statistics seem to support me. In the UK our winters are definitely warmer and wetter than they were as recently as fifty years ago. Our recent “Cold-Snap” has lasted about a week, in 1963 the cold spell lasted nearly three months!

Back when I worked in the railway industry we had, and often used, large snow-ploughs that were propelled by hefty diesel locomotives to keep the track clear. Then as winters got shorter, warmer and wetter many of the ploughs fell into redundancy. Over the years many of these ploughs were gradually disposed of, they were not being used and the cost of their maintenance simply did not make sense when balanced against the probability of their use, or so it was said! True, a number of ploughs were retained in Scotland where snow is often guaranteed, but overall the numbers fell.

Snow Ploughs at Blair Atholl, Scotland, 1982.
Photo Steven Duhig

In a way those old snow ploughs represent the situation throughout the United Kingdom in many other organisations and infrastructure; our response to adverse snow and ice is based on the likelihood of it occurring. No surprise that this attitude originates from accountants and bean counters, not from the people who actually get out there and deal with the conditions!

To be fair, here in the UK when we do get some winter rolling in we can generally get by with a dusting of rock-salt on the roads and an extra pullover. I just wish that with our “Everything Now” society that people would just take a moment to accept that some journeys really are not necessary and why not just embrace the conditions and enjoy it?

Outside Dookes H.Q., going nowhere!

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying that I haven’t been out on any motorbikes for a few days… Actually, the thought of a nice 400cc single cylinder scrambler with big knobbly tyres really appeals, but Mrs Dookes just frowned at me with that idea!

In a way, I’m practicing what I preach. I haven’t needed to go anywhere, so why risk it. I have in the past ridden in snow, it’s OK but I really wouldn’t recommend it as a real fun experience. Some years ago I was heading up the North side of the Grimsel Pass in Switzerland. At the start of the climb by Lake Brienz it was raining and raining hard. I was heading for Andermatt and to get there I had to climb the Grimsel, which at 2165m/7103ft is quite a barrier.

Snow and Harls, not great fun!

As “Harls” and I began to climb, the air suddenly became noticeably colder and beyond the village of Innertkirchen the rain gradually turned to sleet, then it began to snow. Bear in mind that this was late June!

Somewhere down there is Innertkirchen.


The snow started to get heavy and I began to question whether I should go on. A pair of headlights came up behind and a van passed, giving me plenty of room on the whitening road. The van was sign-written for a builder from Andermatt, that was good enough for me, I set in to follow. The only problem was that it promptly disappeared into the murk.

My helmet visor was white with sticking snow, as was “Harls” touring screen; worst of all, my glasses were also covered over and I was peering over the top of them. I gritted my teeth and got on with it, I kept the bike in second gear and plugged away at the incline. My feet skimming the surface of the road acting as outriggers, but getting covered in snow! Bends came and went, I really had no idea where I was in relation to the summit of the pass; somewhere near the top I knew there were a couple of lakes, but I couldn’t see anything. I felt the gradient ease and we swung through a gap in the mountain, suddenly the snow turned to sleety rain we were over the top.

Grimsel Pass, South side.
Oh those twisties!


Within a few hundred metres the rain eased to mist and half a mile later we dropped out of the cloud, it had been quite an experience!

The lake on the top of the Grimsel – Nope, never saw it first time round!


Last summer I returned to the Grimsel and smiled to myself as “Harls” and I swept down its magnificent Northern flank. “So this is what it looks like” crossed my mind frequently!

Grimsel Pass North side.
“So this is what it looks like!”

Yes riding a motorcycle in snow is possible, but y’know I can’t really recommend it!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Taking The Bus

Dookes H.Q. is situated on the edge of Bodmin Moor, an area of high granite moorland covering 80 square miles of North East Cornwall.

There’s only one slight problem, it’s a bit remote. Not exactly “Off Grid” to use a trendy term, but certainly a bit rural, we call it “Out in The Sticks.” Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but occasionally it can be a bit awkward, like today; I had booked my car into the local garage, eight miles away, for a service and Mrs Dookes was working 60 miles away at the other end of the county. Not good planning.

Let me be very clear, I love where we live and I’m not moaning!

I had three options:

1. Borrow a “Courtesy” car from the garage.
2. Book a taxi.
3. Catch the bus.

One thing about living in a rural area like ours is that you can easily slip into a sort of “bubble” existence and traveling everywhere by car only heightens that feeling of isolation; you look out at the world rather than being part of it. Another issue is that us rural dwellers often moan about the lack of services that townsfolk enjoy, like Post Offices and Public Transport. Often though the problem lies in us not using what is provided, the old “Use it or Loose it” conundrum!

Having spent a career running public transport services, on rails, I hang my head in shame to say that in sixteen years of living at Dookes H.Q. I’d never used our local bus. This is a service that is viewed by the good members of Cornwall Council to be of sufficient social necessity to warrant it being subsidised.

So with all things considered, I took the decision that today I would ride the bus!

With three spaniels barking to greet the dawn and eager for their breakfast, most days at Dookes H.Q. start pretty early. It really wasn’t any hardship therefore to drop my car off at the garage just after eight o’clock, which was great as I had time for a leisurely double espresso and perusal of the newspaper before catching the bus outside a local supermarket just after nine.

I found the bus waiting at the pick-up point, it’s engine running and the driver busily mopping the floor. The previous trip had been collecting up school children from the surrounding areas and their muddy shoes left evidence of the rural nature of the catchment area.

Just a little bus!


This morning I was the only person joining the bus at the start of it’s journey.

It turned out that my jolly driver, Julian, was originally from Romania. I more friendly person you couldn’t wish to meet. He explained that he was an economic migrant looking for better opportunities for his family, his wife was a school teacher and they had two children – I found all that out before we had even got moving, it was a glimpse into life on the little bus!

We looped around town to our next pick-up stop; road-works with temporary traffic lights played havoc with Julian’s schedule, but he kept smiling.
“Try driving in Bucharest,” he grinned at me, “A million times worse than this!”

I don’t doubt it.

Leaving the town centre there were just three of us on the bus. Julian, myself and an elderly lady who was travelling to an outlying village to play table tennis!

The three of us happily chatted the miles away, as the morning sun rose higher in the blue winter sky. As the route looped around a number of villages it drove home to me just how many widely splintered communities this little bus served. Small numbers of people joined as the bus made sporadic stops, sometimes in villages, sometimes at scattered farms. The atmosphere on board was like a friendly club; everyone knew each other. Well except for me, I was like the new boy in school and came under friendly scrutiny; this was quite a microcosm of the local society!

It’s tight on these rural lanes!


Sadly my destination point hove into view and Julian slowed the bus to a halt for me to disembark, where had the last hour gone?

I waved farewell to my travelling companions and set off to walk the two miles to Dookes H.Q. where the first Snowdrops are now in bloom, perhaps Spring is just around the corner.

Snowdrops

On such a lovely morning it was a joy to meander back to home along the lanes, it gave me time to ponder the service that such buses provide to rural communities.

Near Dookes H.Q.


With the exception of myself and one other chap, everyone else riding this morning was a senior and therefore in receipt of free bus travel. It was clear to see that this little bus not only provided a vital lifeline to the communities that it served, but it enabled people to access amenities that otherwise may be beyond their ability to travel to; it provides a real social need. In addition one little bus this morning kept a dozen cars off the road and that’s good for the environment as well, everyone wins!

The thing is though, these services are audited for the number of people riding and if those numbers fall to far, there is a real risk that the route will be cut or at least severely reduced.

I made a promise to myself to go ride the little bus again and get others to do so too.

“Use it or Loose it!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

And Now For Something Completely Different!

A few years ago I took the somewhat, for me, momentous decision to retire early.

Since leaving a high-flying position the railway industry I had been running a grain storage cooperative for a bunch of ingrate farmers and had grown fed up with the job. I had a brilliant working relationship with the Company Secretary, he was fantastic to work with, but the politics of Directorial self-interest, coupled with what I believed to be a general air of Board incompetence which was holding the business back, finally got to me; I’d had enough it was time to move on!

I was fortunate to be in the position of not having to work. My pension plans had worked nicely for me, true Mrs Dookes and I weren’t going to be the next millionaires on the block, but we were OK. Who wants to be the richest corpse in the graveyard anyway?

One of the things about me is that I stew over things, I call it mental processing, but Mrs D calls it worrying! Faced with what was a pretty fundamental life decision I was frankly a bit bewildered. What the hell was I going to do with myself?

Now Mrs Dookes is a wise little bird…
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright,” said Mrs D and she promptly packed me off on a motorcycle trip!

I set out to explore the Größglockner High Alpine Road, Monza Racetrack and other parts of the Alps on Baby Blue. To be honest I was looking for a bit of head-clearing.. Click here to see more of that trip.

On the Grössglockner, sunny but cold.


Part of my planning was buying that brand new Harley Ultra Limited as a retirement present to myself, so I had put some thought into things!

It was whilst I was away, in Pavia just South of Milan if I remember correctly, that I got a call asking me if I was interested in helping out with English Heritage? EH is the organisation that manages the National Heritage Collection of England’s historic buildings and monuments which span more than 5000 years of history.

I had a blank page, so the answer was yes, with conditions. I wasn’t retiring to go back into full-time work. I wanted space to do other things that interested me, plus having more time for family and friends, not to mention riding motorbikes!

As a result I’ve two and a half years of fun playing around a number of amazing historic places and yes time for other interesting things…which leads me to the point of this post!

Just before Christmas I was talking to my good friend Alan, he runs his own stained glass business called Angel Stained Glass; you can get the link here.

New windows designed by Alan.

Alan gets involved in all sorts of interesting projects and by the very nature of stained glass windows much of them are in historic buildings, such as churches.

Poor Alan was a bit under pressure. Christmas was fast approaching. Christian churches as you may know, get very busy at that time of the year with all the carol services and suchlike, the pressure was on to get two projects finished!

Being the sort of chap who both likes a challenge and to help out a mate, I volunteered to give Alan a hand, plus I knew that it would be an interesting thing to do.

Which is how, in the week before Christmas, I found myself basking in winter sunshine, sitting forty feet up in the air on scaffolding outside a church in Cornwall’s County City, Truro. I was happily helping to repair a series of Victorian windows. My job was to check each tiny piece of glass was snugly held by the lead beading; any that were slightly loose needed attention with “lead cement.”

That’s me on the other side!

The name “Lead cement” is a bit misleading, it’s actually a type of black oily putty that is worked between the lead and glass to secure it all together, keep everything watertight and add strength to the panel. Working with the black gloopy stuff is highly satisfying and quite relaxing; well it is to me anyway! As an added bonus, when you are working on site with the windows you are right up close and very personal with the architecture. It’s quite a privilege to be able to touch things that normally you have to crane you neck to even see!

I’ve come to the conclusion that Alan’s line of work consists of three facets:
• Artistic creativity, particularly in the case of new windows.
• Diligent patience and sympathy with the materials.
• Hard, yet careful, physical work when moving the delicate leaded panels.

There is another factor though, that’s absolute total satisfaction and pride in the job when it’s finished; because its going to last another 150 years!

A few days later we were in the small but delightful Cornish village of Quethiock, population 429, with it’s medieval 14th century church dedicated to St Hugh. No sunshine to enjoy this time, but to work in such old and historic surroundings more than compensated.

The windows that we were working on had originally been made in the 1870’s by the then vicar of the parish the Reverend William Willimott. Some of the pieces of glass were medieval fragments that had been reused, whilst the good Reverend stained most of the rest in a wood fired kiln that he built in the Vicarage garden!

A window depicting St Hugh himself in Quethiock church.

“Willy” was by all accounts a pretty gifted chap, because not only did he make stained glass, but he also restored the church almost single-handed. He made wood-carvings, floor tiles and painted ceiling panels and murals whilst also attending to his Parish Duties. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, he was self-taught too!

The ceiling panels painted by Rev Willimott.

It was therefore pretty humbling to know that the last person to have handled the glass that we were refitting was the illustrious Willimott himself; talk about reaching across the years!

Anyway, we got the work done in time for the church to be readied for the Christmas festival and I have to say that I was humbled to have been involved; thanks Alan.

It certainly made a change from motorbikes, steam engines and all the other things that I get up to and don’t mention in this blog. All of which I wouldn’t be able to indulge in if I was still on the treadmill of full-time employment!

Mrs Dookes was correct. – Everything is alright!

“All right now, baby it’s all right now.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes