How bad does a weather warning have to get before it justifies cancelling a trip? When you’ve had the leave in the works calendar for weeks, and wrestled with the on-line booking systems of VisitWales, Premier Travel Inn and the Youth Hostel Association in order to put together a sensible itinerary (which also includes a stop in Stoke to catch the speedway), things have to get pretty bad. No-one wants to be a wuss. Or a Fair Weather Biker. And so, when I logged in to the Met Office and the entirety of England and Wales was bright red with “severe weather” in big letters, I thought, can’t get that bad, while digging my all-in-one Belstaff wet weather gear out of the cupboard as a precaution, the Bank Holiday having taught me that water-resistant is not the same as waterproof.
Like the Inuit with their fabled (but apparently fictional) hundred words for snow, I think bikers could describe at least a dozen different kinds of rain, all of which landed on my helmet over the next thousand miles.
On Thursday we had Paradox Rain – when there are no clouds ahead but it still manages to be raining. Paradox Rain is my downfall, I hate riding in waterproofs, so as long as I can see some blue sky I persuade myself it isn’t too bad and refuse to stop to perform the chicken dance which is required to stuff myself into them. Over the mountain between Llangollen and the coast, there were huge raindrops bouncing off my chest in a very painful demonstration of precipitation – but the sky ahead was blue, so I held out …and held out…. refusing to allow soggy jeans, wet gloves, and the unpleasant trickling feeling of the rain sneaking through my boot zips to convince me that yes, it was really quite heavy. In the end reality bent to my will and we broke back through into the sunshine, the air clear and bright and the roads gently steaming as they dried out. North Wales – roads so hot they’re smoking!!
Just before going to sleep in Criccieth I could see the mountains on the far side of the bay, and hear the sweep of the waves on the shingle.
When I woke up, I could see about 20 feet through the low cloud and hear the drumming of the raindrops on the roof – yes, Friday brought Unbroken Downpour. But, like exercising, visiting the dentist, and writing essays, riding in the rain is much grimmer in the anticipation than the performance – especially now that I have lovely heated grips to stave off hypothermia. My plan for the day should have wrapped up the remainder of North Wales and come out via the Wirral and Lancashire for a stop at Ingleston YHA but by the time I crossed the border at 3pm I was done being brave and made a swift descent through being stoical to finish at plain miserable. Giving up in Chester seemed the better part of valour, so a big thank you to the call-handler at Premier Travel Inn who found me a room in the city despite it being the first Friday in the school holidays, and the staff at McDonalds who didn’t mind me leaving large wet patches all over their easy chairs while this was being sorted out.
According to the BBC on the Travel Inn telly, one month’s rain had fallen in the last 12 hours, which presented a bit of an ethical dilemma – I’m a good citizen, am I being irresponsible by continuing to travel? Does the RBR really count as “essential”? It’s essential to me, I decided, so Saturday unfolded as mostly windmills and bridges – and also an RBR treat, with “Another Place” – something I’d read about and been interested it but would never have made the journey to see if it hadn’t been a landmark. Very tempted to put my helmet on the art for the photo but decided it would probably get stuck and then I’d need rescuing, so behaved myself and respected Mr Gormley’s creations instead. Saturday’s rain included False Hope – when it brightens up a bit, I think, blimey, it’s stopped, but am swiftly contradicted by the sight of the impact circles in the nearest puddle. And when there are huge puddles there’s Secondary Soaking – there will always be some muppet who thinks it’s funny to send up a sheet of spray. Thanks.
And Sunday – miracle of all miracles – it stopped raining! So I got to cruise the Peak District in lovely sunshine and make a sneaky detour down Winnat’s Pass before the rain found me again in Leeds. Lots of people out on their bikes to ride the roads round Leek and Buxton despite big yellow signs saying “bikers beware!” beware what? Alien abduction? Bob Geldof? Maybe the powers that be could decide we’re a boost to the tourist economy, not some dreadful plague to be frightened away.
The forecast for Monday was “more of the same” so it was back into the Dri-Biker and take your seats for a trip the entire length of the M1. As Chinese Proverb almost says, the journey of a thousand miles ends with the M1 roadworks – soon I will have to move, if only to get new motorways to filter. One of the flaws of my RBR planning seems to be that, as the year winds on, the landmarks near home get picked off, so later trips start and end with mile-covering mind-numbing motorway slogs. Though if the weather had been better I’d have made a detour down the A5 to Jack Hill’s Cafe at Towcester for a celebratory cheese toastie.
So: landmarks bagged:
Melverley Village Church, small but perfectly formed and definitely not in Wales, according to the lady who lives next door; the bridge over the river at Bangor – one-way only and not in the direction of my approach (an RBR certainty!); big shiny harp in Llangollen which marks the Eisteddfod field, which would have been more helpful if I’d known where the Eisteddfod field actually was; Nefyn Well House (quite wet); St Seriol’s Well (very wet), manned by enthusiastic attendant who tried very hard to persuade me to make better use of my one pound parking fee by going and looking at something else on the site; some ancient stones in Llangernyw churchyard (well-wrapped rambler and I dripped at each other in sympathy); Alleluia Monument, cunningly hiding behind a large herd of cows. Many lighthouses in the Wirral. Another Place (short walk); Charles Gerald Forsberg in Morecambe – also spotted Eric Morecambe’s statue but no extra points on offer for a pair! Rather like Hotel California, you can get into Morecambe any way you like but you can’t leave – the signs to the M6 take you north and then peter out. Didn’t like Prestolee Packhorse Bridge – big thumbs down to landmarks in locations where you can hear the sound of banjos. The Wooden Horse of Nantwich is my favourite of the rally so far but there was no sign of Eric Bana or Brad Pitt hiding in it. The Mermaid is about as far from the sea as I think you can get in the UK; Mytham Bridge Toll Gates appear to be marking bus stop, or at least I can only assume that’s the point the bus driver was trying to make as he took his double decker within a quarter-inch of my exhaust as I was getting my photo. Silkstone Pit Disaster Memorials were terribly sad and also very topical, marking the drowning of children in a flood; Lord Dacre’s Cross was helpfully marked on my map; and Foxton Locks makes a disappointing cup of coffee but at least the sun was shining.
Scores on the doors:
Landmarks in the bag: 19
Miles travelled: 1000
Inches of rain falling on head on Friday: at least five
Seaside landladies thankfully unperturbed by lady guests arriving on motorcycles: one
Number of laps of Prestolee looking for the right road to the bridge: four