Sunnier Days

I’m sitting in our log cabin at Dookes H.Q. and looking out at the world.

The view from the cabin.


All is quiet, still and largely silent, save for the birds singing and the odd noise from sheep in the field.

Our Planet is getting quite a bit different from what it was a few short weeks ago.

Are we managing what is happening, or are we looking at extinction from the wrong end of the telescope?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that thinking of better days helps!

Earlier today I was scanning through some photos taken on my Pyrenees trip last year, they made me smile. Sunny days, people mixing freely, people enjoying themselves.

I spent my first night in the Pyrenees in the small village of Sare, which apart from agriculture and lovely scenery doesn’t have much else except campsites catering for the annual summer influx of visitors.

Just back down the road though at Col de Saint Ignace was the reason for me passing this way and after breakfast I set out to investigate “La Petit Train de la Rhune,” The Little Train of The Rhune.

This is an historic metre gauge rack railway at the Western end of the Pyrenees, which over 4.2km/2.6miles climbs to the summit of the Rhune Mountain.

The plan to build the line was first drawn up around 1908 and local Government law was passed soon afterwards with construction starting in 1912. Opening didn’t happen until 1924 though, World war One got in the way!

The railway climbs 736metres/2415ft from the base station to the summit and for the technically minded is equipped with the Strub rack system, which allows the train to literally pull itself up the mountain by a gear wheel engaging with a rack that is laid between the rails. Normal railways are pretty useless at climbing steep gradients, as the coefficient of friction between steel wheels on a steel rail is not high! The rack and pinion system gets round that problem.

One feature that makes this railway pretty special is that it is powered by three-phase electricity and there are only three others like that in the world! That’s pretty cool for an engineering geek like me!

The Complicated 3 Phase Current Collection Gear.


Services are operated by a four wheeled electric locomotive that pushes two passenger coaches up the mountain, peculiarly each coach has a four wheeled bogie at one end but only a two wheeled axle at the other; I haven’t been able to figure out why!

The railway normally operates from Mid-March until the end of September.


I considered having a quick ride, but the first train of the day was fully booked and I really didn’t feel like hanging around to see if I could get on the next one…but hey I saw it and got a few nice photos!

Just the thing to look back at and raise a smile to sunnier times!

“There is no more new frontier
we have got to make it here”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

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

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

Ring Out Those Bells!

“Now is the Solstice of the year.
Winter is the glad song that you hear.”

As part of my extended birthday celebrations last weekend I had the pleasure of attending The Jethro Tull Christmas Concert in the wonderful Medieval Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral: Photo Rodw


The was a bit of a pilgrimage for me as a long time Tull (and indeed other Prog Rock bands) fan, I had never seen one of their Christmas Concerts. Putting it simply, it was wonderful! To cap it all they performed their seasonal hit “Solstice Bells” and I was accompanied by my oldest mate known in this blog as Vifferman!

Incidentally, 100% of the ticket sales were donated to the upkeep of that wonderful ancient Cathedral.

Now it doesn’t take much to make me happy, which might seem a bit strange for a chap who owns two big Harley Davidson motorbikes, but it’s true. Today, for example, is one of those things that no-one can own, hold or claim; it’s the Winter Solstice and I’m a very happy Dookes as a result!

It’s probably fair to say that this has become my favourite day of the whole year!

In our Northern Hemisphere it is the shortest day, when the Sun barely shows itself above the horizon and then for the briefest possible time! Sunset today was just before 16:00hrs!

Stennes Sones Orkney


The Solstice marks the turn of the seasons when the days begin to grow longer and the warmth of Summer begins its long return journey.

It’s also the real beginning of Winter.

I written before how the relevance of this turning point has become stronger for me as I have grown older; I now understand the ancient people who venerated the turning seasons and the Celestial Calendar.

It appears that since the dawn of time our forbears have found reason to celebrate a festival of light in the depths of the darkest day of the year. So why not have a party to celebrate the ending of one celestial year and the beginning of a new one?

Sounds good to me, but then I am a Welsh Wizard/Dewin Cymreig and a Druid to boot!

Let’s not forget that many other cultures and religions around the world also celebrate festivals at this time of the year and have the rebirth of light firmly as their focus.
The Christian Church has celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ, Christmas, on December 25th since the 4th Century when Pope Julius I chose the date in an effort to replace the Roman Feast of Saturnalia. In several languages, not just English, people have compared the rebirth of the sun to the birth of the son of God.

It’s also interesting to reflect that the origins of many “traditional” Western Christmas decorations such as the Yule Log, Tree and Wreath can trace back to pre-Christian times.

Familiar decorations of green, red and white cast back to the Wiccan traditions and the Druids. The old Pagan Mid-Winter Festival of Yule also included feasting and gift giving, doesn’t it all sound very familiar?!?!

When I was younger we always did the usual Christmas decoration stuff, including a highly non-authentic artificial tree! My late father did little to dress the tree, but had his own take on the whole decoration thing that he insisted on doing himself; every year he would garland the house with boughs of green holly and evergreen, it was only then that I truly used to feel that things were being done properly. I suspect that my Celtic blood has a lot to do with this and I still carry on that tradition today in Dookes H.Q., I adore the house smelling of pine and other evergreens! image

Many Pagan religions had a tradition where it was customary to place holly leaves and branches in and around dwellings during winter. It was believed that the good spirits who inhabited forests could come into their homes and use the holly as shelter against the cold; whilst at the same time malevolent forces and spells would be repelled.

Mrs Dookes enters into the spirit of the season with her splendid handmade evergreen wreaths. This reflects another Celtic tradition, the wreath’s circle has no beginning or end and the evergreen represents life in the depths of winter.

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, The Solstice, Dongzhi, Yalda, Saturnalia, Malkh, any other festival that I may have missed, or just looking forward to having a restful holiday, have a truly wonderful time and maybe spare a thought, or penny, for those less fortunate.

Thanks for joining me for the ride this year, it’s been a ball and I hope you will saddle up with Harls, Hettie and I in 2020 for more two-wheeled adventure and opinion!

“Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

With grateful thanks to Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull for sharing the Solstice over many decades!

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

Houses of the Loire

I’m looking out of the window at the relentless rain. Sometimes our mild wet Atlantic climate gets me down, but then I allow my mind to wander back to better days.

Only a few weeks ago Mrs Dookes and I enjoyed a wonderful break in the Val de la Loire (The Loire Valley). Talk to many people about the Val de la Loire and often two themes spring to mind; wonderful Chateaux and delightful wines.

I’ll get back to the wines in another post, but for now I want to focus on the Chateaux.

The region of the Val de la Loire is located in the middle stretch of the river Loire in Central France and covers around 800 square kilometres. It is often referred to as the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, orchards and fertile arable land.

The architectural heritage in the region is particularly notable, I wrote about the town of Richelieu in a previous post.

There are more than 300 châteaux, these range from simple fortified farmhouses of the 10th century to the splendour of the former country palaces of French Kings. Apparently there are a core of 42 chateaux that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site and these alone attract nearly three and a half million visitors a year!

Now regular blogonauts will probably recall that I don’t really do “visitors,” I like space and I like to be away from the crowds, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and go with the flow….like when Mrs Dookes says, “Let’s go visit a château or two.”

This was no random thing, Mrs D had carefully selected the targets, partly for their proximity and partly for their historical interest. I was happy if she was happy.

First up was Chateau du Rival near the tiny and almost inconsequential village of Lémeré not far South of Chinon.

Chateau du Rival


The castle dates from the early 1300, though over the centuries, as is often the case, it has been extended and modified.

The present owners purchased the property in the early 1990’s and have extensively renovated since. It must be a real labour of love as work on the scale that they have undertaken doesn’t come cheap!

I had mixed feelings about the place, the fabric of the buildings was fascinating, but …. and this is a big but, nearly the whole place had been turned into a cross between a somewhat bizarre art gallery and theme park. Many of the rooms had a weird mix of the sort of period interior décor that one would expect from a property of it’s history and avant garde artworks and piped music that frankly baffled me. At this point I need to confess that I don’t really understand art, I just like some nice pictures, but don’t ask me to explain them!

I thought the recreated medieval kitchen gardens within the Château walls, were fascinating, but the “Fairy Story” themed external gardens left me a tad underwhelmed; the planting could have been spectacular by itself, without the distraction of plastic objects and figures!

The productive medieval garden.


Probably the most notable thing that ever occurred at Chateau du Rival was that in 1429, during the Hundred Years War, it supplied Joan of Arc with horses.

In contrast Château d’Azay le Rideau was much more my thing.

Located bang in the middle of the town of the same name this delightful place is exactly what I feel a “proper” château should be! Built between 1518 and 1527 d’Azay le Rideau is considered one of the finest examples of early French renaissance architecture. The château is built on an island in the Indre river and surely must be one of the most picturesque in the whole of France.

Château d’Azay le Rideau

Internally the chateau still contains much of it’s historic décor and works of art, but for me the highlight was found in the attics, where the hand crafted wooden roof frame work was exposed for inspection.

Roof beam details, just awesome!

There were very informative interpretation panels explaining the techniques and detail of it’s construction. I spent ages in there, just marvelling at the skills needed to make something of not only brilliant functionality, but also to my eye, great beauty. I guess that sort of sums me up, show me a beautiful building and all I want to know about is how it was made and by who!

Life would be boring if we were all the same eh?

Catch you soon,

Dookes

The Cardinal’s Town

Mention the name “Cardinal Richelieu” to many people and probably they will immediately think of him as a villainous figure in André Dumas’ swashbuckling tales of the “Three Musketeers.” I have to admit that I was one of those folk too.

The reality is however somewhat different, so lets have a little history lesson:

He was born, Armand du Plessis in Paris in 1585, the fourth of five children. His father was a soldier and courtier to King Henry III of France who for Du Plessis’ assistance in the Wars of Religion granted the family the Bishopric of Luçon. This not only had religious significance, but also was an important source of income for the family, particularly as du Plessis senior also died in said war!

In an inspired move to protect the important income stream, young du Plessis’ mother decided that one of her sons had to become a priest and in a way Armand drew the short straw, however he embraced the academic side of his new life and enthusiastically threw himself into the role.

In 1607 du Plessis was consecrated Bishop of Luçon and set about implementing a program of church reform. His political career began when in 1614 he was asked by the clergymen of Poitou to be their representative in the Estates General, one of the advisory bodies to King Louis XIII’s of France; du Plessis began to get further noticed and soon entered the service of the King’s wife Anne of Austria.

Du Plessis then began a further upward progression.

The King nominated him as a Cardinal and in 1622 Pope Gregory XV duly approved the appointment. The new Cardinal became a prominent advisor to the King and was appointed to the Royal Council of Ministers in 1624, becoming effective Principal Minister in August of that year and the President of the Council in 1629 when he was also granted the Dukedom of Richelieu and adopted the title “Cardinal Richelieu.”

Richelieu is credited with establishing an authoritative monarchy and effectively dissolving the previous feudal control that had been enjoyed by regional nobility. He ordered all fortified castles, except those needed for national defence to be razed, as a result he became hated by many Princes, Dukes and lesser nobility by removing their strongholds that potentially could have been used against the King in times of rebellion. He did much to cement the basis of France as one cohesive and united nation, a country with with centralised power that was able to spread influence far beyond it’s own borders.

He is remembered for an authoritarian approach; he demonstrated early control of the press, built a network of internal spies and banned public assemblies for the discussion of political matters.

Is legacy was well summed up by Canadian historian John Ralston Paul who referred to Richelieu as “the father of the modern nation state, modern centralised power and modern secret service.” I like that!

So why did the Cardinal adopt the small village of Richelieu, in the South of the Val de Loire, as the seat of his Dukedom?

Well, the young du Plessis spent his youth there, it was, in fact, the village of his ancestors and now he was a Cardinal he could afford to buy the place, pretty cool for a lad that was effectively forced into the priesthood!

The Cardinal didn’t stop there, in fact he was only just getting going….

He engaged Paris architect Jacques Lemercier, who had worked for him on various project in the capital, and together they set about creating a new town from scratch.

One of the town’s gateways.

With the Kings permission they built a walled town on a grid pattern with an adjacent grand palace, the Château de Richelieu.

The whole lot was surrounded by a moat, that was not only decorative but served as an ingenious sewer system taking away the towns effluent.

Remains of the moat, still flowing.

I love that the thoughtful Cardinal had a slightly smaller Château built about three miles away for his mistress; nice one Armand!

Today the grand Château is long gone, but the small town, population 1800, remains and very interesting it is too. I love the place, but as a French friend of mine observed, it’s one of those places that you either love or can’t wait to get out of!

The main square, Place de Cardinal.

The other day Mrs Dookes and I had a very enjoyable couple of hours wandering through the town, visiting the market and discovering part of the grand château’s park.

Richelieu Park


If you are ever in the area it’s definitely worth dropping by, if only for a coffee and to wish the old Cardinal well!

Not looking bad for his age!

Catch you soon.

Dookes