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.
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.



Riding, The Best Medicine.

So here we are, the end of one year and the beginning of a new one.

OK, cards on the table straight away. I’m not big on the whole “Happy New Year” circus! Yes, I know that lots of people love it, but it’s never really floated my boat. I suppose the “tradition” when I was young, of being pushed out of the back door with a lump of coal in one hand and a glass of whisky (which I had severe instruction not to even sip!) in the other and then having to wait around in the cold for the clock to strike midnight before the charade of “First Footing” through the front door did it for me as a kid!
I always had to hand over the bloody whisky as well!!!

Looking back on 2015, it certainly has been quite a year, both in my life and in the greater world.

All of it though, has paled into scant insignificance with my mate G’s cancer diagnosis.

G had it really rough just before Christmas, he developed an infection and spent six nights in hospital on I.V. antibiotics for pneumonia. Fortunately the skilled medical staff in Exeter got him sorted and well enough to get home for the big day and quality time with his family.

We popped over to see them last Sunday and after we arrived it took G all of two minutes to arrange a ride out on the bikes on Monday! “Just a small ride to get some fresh air.” He told his long-suffering wife.

The weather over the holiday period in the UK has been awful and whilst Monday wasn’t exactly sunny it was good enough and very warm for the time of year.

We headed East to Bridport on the world-famous “Jurassic Coast” of Dorset. The sea was a muddy brown and quite rough with all the storms we have been having.

We rode the coast road looking down on Chesil Bank, the famous natural shingle structure that stretches for eighteen miles to Portland. The wind blew fiercely off the ocean but was over our right shoulder and of no great consequence. G led the way, his Triumph Tiger flipping effortlessly through the bends as Baby and I rumbled contentedly behind him.

Once through Dorchester we hit the dueled A35 for a few miles and rode side by side, our grins defined by our twinkling eyes. It’s good to ride with your mate you know! We peeled North through Blandford Forum and stopped for lunch at Compton Abbas airfield, one of G’s favourite watering holes, where they do great food, but no flying today to watch over our food.IMG_1024
Suitably refreshed, we toured through Shaftesbury, Sherborne and Yeovil where the roads were coloured by hundreds of yellow daffodils in flower! In December? Who says that the climate is not changing? It bloody well is!!!

We looped round through Taunton, picked up the old A38 and delivered G back home near Tiverton just as it was starting to get dark.

As we said our farewells, G was tired, but very happy. “I needed that mate!” he grinned at me.

I smiled and rode on alone into the dark as the rain began to fall.

By the time I got home I had clocked 280 miles and the weather was filthy.
Mrs Dookes was in the kitchen, “Good ride?” she asked.

“Just a small ride to get some fresh air.” I grinned.

Riding, The Best Medicine.

Have a Happy New Year everyone. . . Oh, “G” – get well soon mate!