Making Hettie Mine.

Hi Gang, sorry I’ve been off air again, but I’m back now and raring to go!

Regular Blogonaughts will probably realise that in many things I tend to be a bit of a stayer, once I find something that I like, I stick with it. Things like a comfy pair of shoes or a favourite pullover will last me for years and I’m just the same with motorcycles too.

My beloved Harls and I have been together for a long time now and over the many years we have evolved in each others company. I’ve added little things to make our ride experiences more refined and more comfortable for me and easier for her too.

Harls

It’s funny, but for some reasonI never really fully “clicked” with Big Blue, perhaps in the back of my mind I knew that she wouldn’t be around with me for long. On the other hand I’m getting along just fine with Hettie, my lovely Heritage Classic, who joined us at Dookes H.Q. in April 2018; in other words nearly two years gone by, where did that go!

The decision to part with Blue and buy Hettie wasn’t hard after I’d test ridden some of the new Harley Davidson Softail range just before their general release, they were stunningly good. It also didn’t take me very long to realise that I was onto a winner once I took delivery of Hettie either! She is one fantastic motorcycle.

Hettie

If you had told me a few years ago that I would purchase a “Heritage” Harley I would have just shook my head and walked away. The old Heritage Softail was to my eye the very typical stereotype caricature of what lots of Non-Harley riders think of when you mention the marque, all chrome and tassels! Definitely, not me. Then along came the new Softails and things were different and to my eye, different in a very good way. Although it’s fair to say that the bikes retain a certain classic period look, it’s understated and functional, but more than that, they are just sublime to ride.

At least Hettie would be, if I ever manage to get out on her!

Once I took delivery of her I quickly racked up 500miles and gave her an oil change. Now I know that Harley Davidson’s have their first service at 1000miles, but I’m an engineer of the old school…. oil is cheap, engines aren’t!

Since that 500mile oil change things slowed up quite a lot, life stuff got in the way, but now I’m starting to play catch up with Hettie, we’ve managed about 2000miles since then; that’s 2000 smile-filled miles, I’m really loving this bike!

As she looses that “new machine stiffness” I have begun to appreciate just how nice these new Softails are. Although Hettie “only” has the 107cubic inch engine, that’s 1745cc in metric, it’s more than ample for the job in hand and the way the power smoothly feeds in when asked for is lovely, there’s no bad habits with this engine.

As I get to know Hettie, I’ve begun to notice what’s missing and to make the little improvements that will make her my motorcycle.

Some things are very small and simple. I like to know the time when I’m riding and although the multifunction display will show me that, I like a real clock, so there’s an analogue clock on the right hand side of her handlebars now. With a matching air temperature gauge on the left.

On the engine bars I now have a pair of what Harley calls “Soft Lowers.” These are simple slip on wind protectors that keep the weather off my lower legs very nicely, yep, I’m getting older and liking my comforts! I have a pair of “highway peg” footrests that I may just mount on those engine bars in due course.

I’ve fitted a sport luggage rack to the sissy bar, it’s reasonably small, but just big enough to take a Givi tank-bag mounting ring like I’ve fitted to Harls. The Givi “Tanklock” system is really designed for adventure bikes and features a docking ring that is screwed around the tank filler, various different size bags can then be simply locked onto the ring as the user wishes. This system is not designed for Harley Davidson’s, but I figured out a way of attaching one of the rings to Harls’ rack and I have found the ability to have a quick release small bag to be invaluable. I’m now going to do the same with Hettie, there’s no point in having engineering skills if you don’t use them! I’ll show you that in a future post.

The latest shiny things to go on have been a pair of Screaming Eagle Street Cannon slip-on exhaust mufflers. These are the first part of what Harley Davidson call a Stage One tuning package and although they give the bike a nice low bass exhaust note, they are not noticeably louder and best of all they are street legal! We followed that with a “Stage One Tuning” engine re-map and a new air cleaner to help her breath easier.

Next up I looked at more luggage options. The original equipment panniers are ok, but Leather Pro make some lovely bags that are stylish, slightly bigger that the OE ones and have a better lock arrangement than Harley’s design, which frankly gets in the way. The Leather Pro’s have been fitted, along with a pair of luggage protector bars.

Finally, for now anyway, I’ve splashed out on a Garmin Zumo 595 Sat Nav and Touratech mount. Yes, shock horror a SatNav!!! Actually I’ve had one on Harles for a couple of years now, they can be very useful dodging the traffic!

I’m now having a think about what else is needed…as opposed to what I’d like to add!

For now, that’s enough to be going on with, other than just enjoying this wonderful addition to my riding life.

“If you start it up
Kick on the starter
Give it all you got”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

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 Abandoned Station of Spies, Gold and Refugees.

I like finding and exploring interesting places and if I can do that by motorbike, then I’m a very happy Dookes.

When I do my trip planning I am always on the look out for places that hold history or fascinating stories. Last year in the Pyrenees a golden opportunity presented itself that was far to good to miss. OK it did entail an additional 50mile diversion, but hey that’s what a riding trip is all about, the ride!

We had a leisurely start; our overnight farm accommodation was basic but comfortable, with the added bonus of stunning views and an outdoor swimming pool!

It’s a dirty job…

Harls and I trundled happily through the low Pyrenean foothills until we reached the valley of the Gave d’Aspe and turned South towards Spain.

It didn’t take me long to pick out the course of the single track railway line that winds up the valley almost parallel to the N134 road. This was the remains of the former Pau to Canfranc Railway.

Down in the Valley

Built by the Chemin de fer du Midi after a French government convention with Spain in 1904 this was intended to be a figurehead infrastructure scheme linking the two nations over a totally undeveloped new route.

The only problem was that the Pyrenees lay in the way.

The construction of the new line gradually wound its way towards the mountains, in July 1912 ground was broken for the excavation of the Somport Tunnel, three years later construction was completed, the tunnel is 7875metre long. Unfortunately the new line had to wait until 1923 before an station was built just over the Spanish border at Canfrnac and a further five years before it was opened!

From the start the route was always going to be difficult to operate, severe gradients added to the cost of construction, whilst the most fundamental problem was that the French and Spanish railways both had different track gauges!

France has the “Standard” gauge of 1435mm, whilst Spain has the “Iberian” gauge of 1668mm, neither country’s trains fitted the other’s track; Canfranc was always going to be an interchange point!

The Spanish were determined to make a bold statement with the new terminus, the main building is 240metres/790ft long, it has 365 windows and 156 doors; in it’s day it was the second largest railway station building in Europe, only Leipzig was bigger.

Although located high in the mountains, it must have been a busy place with the need to transfer all the passengers, baggage, parcels, mail and freight; not to mention all the Customs and other bureaucracy that fed from it!

During World War Two the station entered strange period. Nominally “Neutral” Spain extended it’s operating agreement with France to the Vichy Regime, puppets of the occupying German Nazis. Trains of French grain headed to Canfranc, whilst Spanish tungsten headed North to feed the Nazi war machine. Looted gold was also a noted wartime cargo. The station became the haunt of spies, where secrets were traded and clandestine deals made. Refugees from war torn Europe trickled through, particularly escaping Jews and escaped allied military personal were not uncommon passengers.

By the 1960’s Canfranc’s glory days were long gone, but it’s fate was sealed on 20 March 1970 when a runaway freight train on the French side of the Somport tunnel derailed and demolished one of the largest river bridges. The French Government decided not to rebuild it but to truncate the line some 11km from the border at Bedous.

In Spain, Canfranc Station is still open, if two trains a day formed of a single car can be counted as open!

The main station building after years of neglect and standing derelict is currently under gradual restoration. The local government of Aragon plans to turn it into a hotel and visitor centre and at the same time build a more modern station alongside, because international trains are coming back! On the French side work has started to rebuild the line and with modern “Gauge Changing” technology through trains will now be possible.

In the meantime, Harls and I purred over the Somport Pass, 1632m/5354ft.

Somport Pass

We paused to take in the view and then rolled down the hill to Canfranc, just to see with our own eyes what all the fuss was about.

Canfranc Sation


We weren’t disappointed!

I think I’ll come back for a train ride one day.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

It’s Just a Date on The Calendar!

I’m going to get straight down to it…I hate New Year!

It’s just a date on the calendar.
For example, when was the last time anyone wished you “Happy 28th March” ???

I know, lots of things have happened on the 28th March:

In 1801 the Treaty of Florence ended the war between France and the Kingdom of Naples. – Interesting.
In 1802 the second ever asteroid was discovered, it was named 2 Pallas. – Cool.
In 1910 the first seaplane took off from water. – Also Cool.
In 1942 British Commandos raided St Nazaire and disabled the Normandy Dry Dock. – Legendary.

….but my point is New Year is just another date on the Gregorian calendar and really has no special significance. You can choose any one of the other 365 and find significant things in history, yet for the most part we just ignore them.

Around the world tomorrow, on each local stroke of Midnight things go silly; bells ring, fireworks are let off and people jump into fountains! Then for the next month or so we have to put up with cheery “Happy New Year” from everyone we speak to whether we know them or not!

I even got wished “HNY” today, a full 38 hours before midnight on the 31st/1st!!!

I guess if it makes you happy, go for it.

Me? I’ll be tucked up in bed and asleep, dreaming of Harley days to come….which leads me on to today.

As a bid to take my mind off the impending date change I got the two girls out of the workshop. Hettie needed a wash and polish.

Hettie

Harls just needed checking over and telling how much I love her!

Harls

Once Hettie was beautified, I started them both up and let them warm through before tucking them up safely in the workshop again.

Yes OK, there is a New Year coming and yes I’m looking forward to it, if only to get out and do some Harley miles again!

Catch you soon

Oh yes, I nearly forgot…..Happy New Year!

Dookes

Remembering Teresa, Ellen and John who rode on ahead in 2019.

Time Passing

“Time is but the space between our memories; as soon as we cease to perceive this space, time has disappeared.” – Henri Frederic Amiel

I rather like this quote

It’s a funny thing is time.

In some ways we view it as an abstract, then in other moments it’s the source of stress and pressure.

One thing is for certain, for all of us it is passing by and then one day, on a very personal level it runs out!

Time is the very embodiment of our being and the one central indelible cog of the universe, the fourth dimension.

Time is, as Albert Einstein observed, relative.

When we are young it seems to be infinite; a day, a week a summer holiday…all can seemingly last forever.

Then as we age, time takes on a different face, it becomes urgent; “Time Flies” is the saying and suddenly those same days and weeks are stolen from us like ice melting on a hot day.

We realise that time is indeed infinite, but our time is limited…

I recently enjoyed celebrating a pretty significant birthday.

Over two weekends, yes that’s right two, Mrs Dookes and I were hosted by a gin distillery, dined in one of the UK’s best restaurants, watched a Welsh Rugby International Game(yes we won!) and generally celebrated me getting older by greatly enjoying each other’s company!!!

All was, however, tinged with just a little sadness for loved ones who are no longer with us; their time having previously run out…In fact, whilst at the rugby match I pondered the friends I had attended that particular stadium with previously; one is dead, one paralysed from the neck down, one too ill to attend; I really did feel like the last man standing.

All is not doom and gloom though.

Life is Ok, good even, apart from the inevitable aches and pains from a lifetime of sporting and other activity!

I’m still here and just to celebrate I went out a bought myself a survivor’s present; I bought a watch, so I can keep an eye on all that precious time!

“If I could keep time in a bottle…”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

An Ancient Bridge and Black Wine

Do you ever find yourself reading about a place, or maybe seeing something on T.V. and thinking, “I’ll go there one day?’

Only that day never seems to arrive.

Other things get in the way, maybe more exciting challenges or destinations come along, but that first place is still there in the back of your mind.

It nags at you, always there and maybe every now and then says, “Hey, how about it?”

Sometime on my travels that moment comes when I answer with an emphatic, “Yeah, why not?”

Special places, places I want/need to go are always in my mind.

After arriving in Mazamet, fresh from the Black Mountains I turned my thoughts further North and zeroed in on the ancient city of Cahors.

Cahors has been one of my special “Go To” places for a long time, a very long time.

In many ways the town is very special. It is the capital of the Lot Department and lies on the river of the same name. It’s location is pretty dramatic as it lies on the inside of a sweeping meander/mini-gorge. It’s old, very old, there was a settlement here before the Romans arrived in this part of France around 50BC. The Romans developed the settlement into a thriving city and evidence of them can still be found today in the form of various remains and monuments.

I wanted to visit Cahors for two reasons, an ancient bridge and the region’s wine.

The decision to keep to minor roads was spot on and we were rewarded, having the tarmac pretty much to ourselves. Following a leisurely trundle through delightful countryside, we arrived in Cahors mid-afternoon.

Being an other tourist magnet, though not anywhere near on the scale as Carcassonne, I expected the place to be a bit busy, it was, but nice busy and not affected by awful tatty souvenir stalls; clearly the City elders have much to be thanked for!

We checked into our Hotel, the aptly named Hôtel Terminus, right by the railway station. The place was wonderful, a real piece of 1930’s nostalgia with stained glass windows and wood panelled rooms; the service was right up there too. Add in that my room had a perfect view of the North end of the railway station, it couldn’t get much better; well actually it could as the owner let me put Harls in the garage for the night!

1930’s elegance.


Once sorted it was time to explore, specifically down by the riverside and the bridge I mentioned.

Pont Valentré stands on the Western flank of the city and spans the River Lot. Construction began in June 1308 and the bridge was opened for use in 1350, with the final work being completed in 1378. It has six arches and three square towers. Originally it was fortified at both ends, but sadly today only the Eastern tower survives.

There is a great piece of folklore surrounding the building of the bridge:

It is said that the Engineer in charge of construction was greatly annoyed at the slow progress of the work. To speed things up he made a pact with the Devil to get things moving. The pact said that if the Devil promised to carry out all the Engineer’s orders then the Devil could claim the Engineer’s soul.

Once progress was being made and construction was nearing completion, the Engineer began to regret engaging the Devil. As a last instruction he told the Devil to collect drinking water for all the workers using a sieve; the Devil had been tricked and the Engineers soul was safe.

In revenge for being tricked, it is said that each night the Devil send a demon to loosen the final stone in the central tower to ensure that the bridge is never truly finished and must be repaired everyday.

Between 1867 and 1879 a major restoration was undertaken and the then architect, Paul Gou, had a small Imp carved in stone and set high on the Centre Tower. This ensures that if the Devil should check to see that his instruction has been carried out he will be confused that the stone image is one of his team doing his nefarious work!

Well, it’s a lovely legend.

The Imp is set right up at the very top of the Middle Tower, I couldn’t get a shot of it, but fortunately by the power of Wikipedia I have this image to share; thanks to MathieuMD.

Walking across the bridge was quite magical and reminded me of my visit to Pont du Gard, many years ago. Here was an incredibly old structure still doing the job it had been built for and you can’t ask more than that.

The river was busy, there was a mini maritime festival going on, though it struck me that it seemed more about selling speedboats than anything else! People were having fun though and really that’s what is most important. I loved watching a couple of chaps who were kitted out with water jets and took turns in thrilling people with their gravity defying antics.

On the riverbank I found a lovely collection of model ships and I spent quite some time admiring them and chatting to their builders.

A beautiful model of the old SS France, a ship I remember seeing in my younger days.


Also on the riverbank were grape vines and that nicely brings me onto the famous Cahors Black wines!

Cahors has been a centre of viniculture since medieval times, in fact it was famous for it’s wines long before neighbouring Bordeaux developed it’s wine making industry. The signature wine for the region is the famous “Black Wine” which has its own AOC. The term “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée,” AOC, translates as “Controlled designation of Origin” and was developed as a way of certifying the geographical origin for wine.

Cahors wine must be made from at least 70% Malbec grape and this is usually supplemented with Merlot and Tannat varieties. As is usual with wine, climate, location, geology and that famous French phrase “Terrior” all play a part to make the wine very, very, rich and gives it it’s deep maroon, almost black look.

It is absolutely gorgeous, velvety and full of dark berry flavours, but don’t drink too much if you want a clear head next morning!

“Gotta keep rolling gotta keep riding…”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Off Air – On Air, Still On the Road

OK Dookes, where have you been?

Well, first up many apologies for the blog stopping mid-way through my last trip. Secondly, many thanks for the various messages I received from folks worried that something had happened to either Harls, myself of both.

Fear not dear Blogonaughts, we are both fine!

What we did have though was mega Internet connection problems that have continued even since I returned home. This makes Dookes a very unhappy Hogrider!

The good news is that we are now back on air and I’m going to set about catching up with the blog.

So where was I when I last reported in? Oh, yes Carcassonne.

Carcassonne old city at dusk.


Carcassonne was OK. Just OK.

I know that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, but I have plenty of those back home. Yes I know that millions of people will disagree with me about Carcassonne, but this is my view and my blog and like the Eagles sang, “ You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.” For my part, the best thing about the place was the road out!

And what a road it turned out to be…

When I was doing my route planning, it must’ve been a late night when I did this bit. For some reason I overlooked the bit on the map that said “Montagne Noire”. or in English, The Black Mountains, between Carcassonne and Mazamet on the D118 road.

The Black Mountains from Carcassonne.


I hadn’t slept very well, it had been hot and stuffy and I don’t like the drone or air-drying effect of air-conditioning, so that had stayed off. The morning air was still and heavy and to be honest I really wasn’t in the mood for much motorcycling. That’s the thing about serious road trips though, you may not be in the mood for it, or the weather may be crap, but you just have to suck it up and get on with it; which is what I did.

Eventually the strong breakfast coffee began to hit in and I began to wake up to things a bit more. No actually it was getting cold, quite noticeably cold actually, cool enough for me to pull up and put on another base layer.

The Montagne Noire may not be as high as the Pyrenees, but at over 1200m/3900ft that’s high enough to feel the cold!

The D118 meanders for around 30 miles North from Carcassonne to the busy town of Mazamet, famous for the production of cloth and leather goods. Unfortunately much of the road is in fairly dense forest and only offers very fleeting views of the impressive scenery, but from a motorcycling point of view it was delightful; lovely sweeping bends, smooth tarmac and little traffic. The region is quite off the normal tourist routes and quite charming for it, in other words it’s unspoilt! I made a mental note to return one day and do some more exploring.

We paused high above Mazamet to take in the view and also take off the extra layer, things had started to hot up again; then it was down more sweeping big hairpins into the town below and the usual French town traffic chaos that I love!

Mazamet


From Maz we turned a bit North West and skirted Castres, famous for a pretty good rugby team and headed cross-country on delightful roads to Gaillac.

Gaillac is really the start of serious French wine country; they’ve been producing the local stuff here for over two thousand years. The town has an appellation that carries it’s name and I can confirm that the stuff is very good indeed!

We carried on effortlessly rolling over the back roads towards Caussade and our destination for the night, Cahors.

Bruniquel Château


The ancient town of Cahors is yet another famous wine producing centre, but I’ll tell you more about the place next time, for now it’s just good to be back on air again!

“On the road again,
Goin’ places that I’ve never been.”

Catch you soon

Dookes