Category Archives: camping

Maybe a little too much adventure

There is a well-known joke about a man who owns no clock or wristwatch but does own a trombone.

“How do you find out what time it is,” asks his puzzled house guest.

“Hand it over and I’ll show you,” the man says, and starts to play.

“Who the fuck is playing the trombone at three in the morning?!” comes the cry through the wall.

I have always thought it a bit unrealistic. Until about two am on Sunday.

I know it’s a rally. Sleep isn’t everyone’s priority – there is no ‘eleven o’clock rule’ like the one which keeps the peace at Camping and Caravanning Club meets.  I had forgotten my earplugs so I made sure I got good and drunk the night before to give myself the best chance of oblivion. But I think it is Bad Form for the two-am-chatters to firstly pitch their tents all round mine about six inches away; and then to sit not in between two of their own tents but RIGHT IN FRONT OF MINE.

“It’s two in the fucking morning. Could you shut up?,” I asked politely, sticking my head out of my hemmed-in tent. There was humphing and grumping and a mutter of “Well I suppose it’s time to hit the sack,” and they shut up.

For three hours.

At five am, at least one of the party unzipped his tent and started packing up to go home. Cheerfully, loudly, and having banter with someone else who was up and about at the unholiest of morning hours.

I stuffed my ears with Johnson and Johnson wet wipes. They are good on stains but not great on the noises of pots rattling and a bike being packed. I huffed and puffed a bit in good British fashion.

And then I handed out the insults but hung back from getting out of the tent for fear of inflicting injury.  Hell hath no fury like a hungover woman woken up twice, and like the trombone player’s neighbour I bellowed “It’s five o’clock in the morning – are you having a FUCKING LAUGH?”

In fact I already knew they were having a fucking laugh because that’s one of the noises that woke me up.

Of course then they started trying to pack quietly which is even noisier than someone packing without a care in the world. I rearranged my erzatz earplugs, put my head under the pillow and tried to salvage another hour or so of rest, for at 5am the Jack Daniels would still be in the queue for liver processing.

Apart from my over-loud neighbours it had been a brilliant weekend.  Everyone in the MZ Riders Club says Carrog is the highlight of the rally season and it is in one of my favourite parts of Wales so I’ve had it booked in the calendar for ages. It is only about a hundred miles from my house so I went the long way to bag some Round Britain Rally landmarks on the way. I should have known it was going to be a trying day when I arrived at the first of them, a beautiful rural chapel, to find it was about to host a funeral. It is not easy to discreetly snap a photo on a two-stroke sidecar outfit when the dog likes to sing a little bike-starting song but I did my best.

LM-bagging completed I was peering at my map in the splendidly-named but difficult to pronounce Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain when a helpful Welsh chap talked me through the route I needed. The sat-nav was trying to punt me back onto the A5 up to Carrog, but on a beautiful sunny day with plenty of time in hand that would be dull. I wanted to go over the tops via Bala. All I needed to do was go back through the village, turn right at the pub, and head for Llanfechain, then Llanfillyn, then Llangynog, then Landrillo. No bother.

The sat-nav heard me ask for the quiet back roads and overshot. As we headed up the kind of goat tracks Biker Paul and I used to scare sheep on, I told myself that all was well, Bishop Brennan was coping, and we were fine even though the gap between the hedges was only just big enough for our wheels.

The roads got steeper and muddier, and the second thoughts got louder, and then we came round a corner to a lorry filling the road ahead, and started to slide gracefully back downhill on the mud towards the Landrover filling the road behind.

This was Not The Plan.

I switched the engine off to try and save the clutch and fishtailed to a halt broadside on with the tail of the chair in the hedge. Much like the Henchman in the first Austin Powers movie.

No bother – under the placid gazes of my motor-bound opposition I pointed the bike downhill, stared  the Landrover down until they started reversing, and tucked into a field entry to let them continue their ascent.

Tried again, ended up at the same junction.

Turned round, tried again, saw the same junction ahead and took the only other option, which was another goat track tucked in the folds between farmland.

Slowly the grass strip up the middle faded away, the tarmac got wider, and then we turned a corner and – joy unbounded – white paint down the centre line!  We had picked up the B4391 and it was plain sailing to the campsite.

Two months ago I was riding a bike that wouldn’t go 20 miles without dying. Apart from a brief lack of uphill traction, which was more to do with the mud in the road than anything to do with the bike, thanks to all my fettling it had coped with some really steep ascents, on a blazing hot day, with no bother at all. Forgive me for feeling bloody proud.

And how was the rally? Brilliant. Old friends re-met, twitter friends hugged in real life, and new friends made. And in a moment of splendid randomness, paths crossed with the wonderful Mark McArthur Christie who had set out to view the attractions of North Wales without realising this particular weekend they would include me,  an indomitable red motorcycle and a three-legged dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcoming

It’s Friday evening, about half past 8, in the main hall at the Overland Winter Warmer. Austin Vince has already gone full maths teacher on the two chaps talking at the back of his presentation on trail riding in the Pyrenees. AdventureDog, BikerIan and I are somewhere in the middle of a row towards the front. Austin is explaining how several classes of schoolboys had enormous fun laying out his first Pyrenees road books in the disguise of an IT lesson.

Sotto-voce grumbling starts from the seat next to me. AdventureDog has decided he is bored and is making this known with a low frequency protest

I fear this will not go down well. We have been given dispensation to be in the hall for the presentations provided there are no objections. A hairy dog building up to singing his bacon-charming song is not going to go down well with Mr Vince and our weekend might be over before it has properly started.

I shush him. I jiggle him a bit. Heads start to turn, wondering if this is some strange new biker tourettes. The groans pick up in volume.

In a few minutes there will be an intermission, Austin says, before launching into a new round of outrageous stories.

I curse, quietly. (unlike the dog.) I should have brought treats. I should have brought a sausage. Anything to keep him quiet. People are starting to laugh and at any minute I expect an expertly-aimed piece of chalk to be launched in our direction, for I went to school in that brief window when smacking was banned but throwing things wasn’t.

We’re saved by the lights and the intermission. Austin pretends not to notice a three-legged dog sat on a chair watching intently and we slope off for stew. AdventureDog sits under the table and polishes off spare stew and bread.

I’ve been on the fringes of Overland since Paddy and Nich set it up – I’ve even had a couple of stories in the early editions, and I wear my Overland t-shirt with pride, though only in bed these days as it’s rather on the large side. But I have never been able to go to the Overland Event in the summer because it’s a no-dog venue. So I was super-excited to learn that Chipping Warden was happy not only for dogs to attend but to come into the hall for the sessions, for a small tent in February is no place to park an arthritic hound, even one with a toasty fleece. I am working on a U-boat captain style roll-neck for him but fixing the spokes stopped play with the knitting needles.

By Thursday night I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Was it really such a big deal to be going camping? Yes, it was February so likely to be a bit chilly but did that really justify stomach-churning levels of anticipation?

And then I twigged. Although I camped last year in the Jawa of unhappy memory, that was with non-biking friends. And I went in the Lomax to a biker rally, and got stick for it.

This was going to be my first motorcycle rally on a motorcycle since the Wingman had arrived from Portugal in 2013. Damn right I was excited.

And it was brilliant. From riding down (carefully, in case the wobbly wheel gave up or the newly tightened spokes poked a hole in the inner rube) in the glorious spring sunshine, to arriving to cheery waves from the guys sitting outside the pub with a pint waiting for registration to open, right through to waking up on Sunday morning to find that the tent was frozen solid, it was fantastic from start to finish.

I wasn’t the only solo female rider – two tents along was Emma from the West Country who was rightly feted for making the trip having only passed her test a few days previously, on a very beautiful red Triumph scrambler. But the Wingman was the only sidecar dogge present. He enjoyed having his photo taken by Sam Manicom and being fussed by Birgit, and he made lots of new friends.

Standout moments for me? Steph Jeavons’ presentation on Saturday night, which covered the distinctly non-macho perils of the she-wee, what to do when the border guards hit on you, and how to cope when “you’re not ready for visitors.” Emma and I and the other women in the room were in tears and many of the chaps were just a bit puzzled.  Jocke Selin casually demonstrating how to pick up a GS and shake the water out of the exhaust. Finally meeting @biker_ian in real life, catching up with Robin T, and getting to hang out a little bit with Sam and Birgit. And the bass player in Friday night’s band, who simply could not have been more rock and roll if he tried.

Fantastic weekend. Would recommend. 15/10.

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At six o’clock I shall be serving wine

Last Saturday I stopped at Scourie, on the North Coast 500.  I had planned to catch up with Nathan Millward’s Garbage Run and camp with them, because surely there could be no problem aiming at a (slowly) moving target heading from Applecross to Durness and rendezvousing somewhere around teatime?

Turns out it’s more difficult than you’d think. And after a slightly traumatic day which included the Lomax suddenly turning into a low rider and scraping along the single track about an inch off the ground, I didn’t fancy adding any extra miles to the trip by retracing the route south to where the C90 boys had stopped. Also my camp site had a restaurant and bar. Double win.

So I pitched my tent, and admired the beautiful view, and the Hugh Grant-a-like in the one-man camper van behind me said “If your friend doesn’t make it, at six o’clock I shall be serving wine.”

How is the solo camping lady to respond to such an invitation?

Is it just wine?

Is it wine with a chaser of ‘would you like to see the inside of my camper van?’

Is it the kind of wine that requires you to have a shower and shave beforehand?

I decided to take no chances. A shower it would be. Just in case.  But as I trotted off to the cubicles I overheard Hugh inviting the other solo lady camper on the site to join us. Maybe he was hedging his bets. Maybe the camper van was a lot bigger on the inside than it looked.

Or maybe it really was just a six-o-clock chat among like-minded middle-aged travellers.

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This is what anticipation looks like

It is May.

I have had strep throat for 2 months. (“That’s a bit American. We call it tonsilitis,” said the annoying GP.)  It has seen off two sets of antibiotics, though why the NHS decided to give me the same drugs twice is a puzzle.

So alternate therapies are needed. I am sitting with a turquiose towel wrapped round my throat. I will leave you to work out why with the aid of google. And I am going to the far north. In a turquoise Lomax, which will be helpful for my karma.

Helpfully, it’s not as far north as it used to be, and I can get there in a long weekend instead of 10 days. (Coincidentally, the length of an ineffective course of penicillin.)

It is May, and in May it is traditional for me to ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, though the last time this happened was 2011.  There is a run happening right now, organised by the intrepid Nathan Millward. He probably doesn’t remember but he was brilliantly helpful to me when I was planning my WA ride, so any adventure led by him is likely to be a good one.

Lands End was too far for me to go to join in, so I am sneaking in at Durness on Friday night and doing the final stage. I am wholly inconspicuous so I expect to get away with it.*

 

*This may  be untrue.

 

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#bbbc Day 6: Your favorite motorcycle gadget/gizmo

32605228346_a1648869e8_zI’ve been thinking about this as I trundle back and forth to my new job.

When I underestimated the depth of the puddle I wondered whether the answer was Waterproof Boots. But they don’t exist. And fording dangerous water features makes me feel a bit like a real motorcycle explorer, though with the advantage of being able to dry my boots out on the office radiator.

Then I thought maybe the answer was heated grips. When I got heated grips on my Triumph I was able to extend my riding season massively. Until some scrote ripped the controller off the bike . If anyone has an old-style Oxford heated grips switch please let me know!

And then I decided that my favourite motorcycle gizmo is my coffee maker. When you can make your own coffee by the roadside you are truly free 🙂


This post is part of the February 2017 Brave, Bold Beautiful Blogger Challenge by desert-campingToadmama. Find out more here: Brave, Bold, Blogger Challenge.  I really enjoyed #29in29 and know that I need a kick up the arse to start posting again.

 

 

 

 

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Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!

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Handing over the Relay Ride mascot at Matlock

Two things happen to me at times of stress. I go temporarily blind, and I swell up like one of those killer Japanese sushi fish.

So imagine me, if you like, peering at the screen through the flashing zig zag lines of an ocular migraine, and struggling to reach the keyboard with my T-Rex arms stretching round the enormous bay window of my belly. As it is nearly 9pm at least none of you should be put off your dinner by this vision of blogging glory.

Why so stressed? The Trabant has lost control of its bodily functions and pissed its brake fluid all over the drive. The 2CV’s steering has been destroyed by the professionals I entrusted it to, a fact I discovered while driving 3 hours to a work engagement on Saturday morning.

So if I need to go anywhere on more than 2 wheels in the near future I shall be travelling by Lomax. The Lomax is bodily sound but cost me 400 quid and three days in Norfolk last week to get new kingpins and wheel bearings installed. I persuade myself that I can at least feel 400 quid’s worth of improvement. I can’t fit my beautiful new cycle wings to the Lomax because they are a different shape from the old ones and the brackets need attention with a BFO hammer. At times like this I need the Proprietor of the Northern Rest Home for Distressed Machinery.  He is good with hammers and other blunt instruments. He was going to come for a visit but I was in Norfolk.

I hold this against Norfolk. I also object to the fact it rained solidly from 7pm to 10pm every evening, which meant AdventureDog and I got rather fed up of looking at the inside of the tent.  And the campsite being twinned with The Arse End of Nowhere, I couldn’t even get Planet Rock to divert us from the sound of the rain.

Before Norfolk called, although it wasn’t wholly a bad thing as it meant I could bag three landmarks and have a few beers with camping friends on Saturday night, we had a brief tour of parts north. This was much drier and involved a visit through the looking glass into the world of family domesticity that I lost somewhere along the road.

I was late to my rendezvous on Monday because I was in the Lomax. Like Dolores van Cartier, it is a conspicuous person. I parked it near a canal junction to catch a landmark and caught the attention instead of a pair of New Zealanders on a tour of the Potteries. It seemed an odd place to be touring, but they were having a good time and were off to Glasgow next. I had to dash their hopes that it might stop raining. The hydrologic cycle will not be denied. The rest of Monday was making apple pie and cake, laughing at inappropriate fart jokes and drinking proper northern beer in a proper northern pub while Dog watched the football.   I fear he may have returned to his roots and be supporting Portugal.

Tuesday morning was trying to stay out of the way of the chaos of getting three small people to school and two large ones to their jobs. We had two landmarks to bag and a lunch date at another lovely pub, this one by a river in Yorkshire. And then two other small people needed to be driven noisily, but not too quickly, round their estate in a Lomax because they had never seen one before, before the day’s journey finished at an amazing dog-friendly hotel near Bakewell.

hotelI seem to be spending a lot of time in Bakewell this year. it is the home of the fabled Trabant graveyard, where Wilfred the Traction Engineer and I went on an American Pickers style adventure in June looking for useful parts while fending off the humping guard dog. Cerberus had nothing on this chap. I decided to stop there on Tuesday evening because on Wednesday I was doing a leg of the Relay Ride, a fundraiser for the Blood Bikes.

I was to meet my handover at Stoke on Trent railway station. This would have been easier if the rendezvous hadn’t been at 9am on bin-lorry day, and if the station hadn’t had three car parks. We found each other eventually and headed over to Matlock, self, Dog and Mascot in lead, large Harley Davidson riding shotgun. Landrover and horse trailer in front proceeding with extreme caution down double-white-lined roads. Blood pressure high!

Handover at Matlock safely achieved, my escort said “DId you know you’ve got no brake lights?”

As a question, when you’re just three weeks away from an MOT. that’s about as welcome as “Did I mention that I had genital herpes?”

So my plan for the rest of the day had to get scratched in favour of heading home and getting the multimeter out.

It turned out I had no brake lights because of this ->wire

So I haven’t had any for quite some time.

This is the peril of riding solo. I must get Dog trained up to do pre-flight checks.

PS We found an amazing road across the corner of the moors towards Bakewell. I threw the Lomax through the corners and giggled like a loon in the evening sun. The sat nav didn’t want to lead me to it. I think someone has bribed Garmin to keep the lovely, lonely tarmac a special secret known only to cyclists and sheep.

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There (and back again)

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A long time ago, before Nick Clegg had even troubled the selection committee for the East Midlands European Parliament list, the Liberal Democrats won an election by two votes.

If everyone who claimed to have been ‘One of the Winchester 2’ actually had been, the party wouldn’t have needed to re-fight the election after the loser went to law to have the result overturned.

In 2014 12 Trabants were supplied by Quirky Rides to star in The Man from UNCLE. Cynical observers have noted that every Trabant listed on eBay at the moment seems to have been in the movie. As, in fact, was mine. I believe this, but then, I am easily fooled.

Why did I buy a Trabant? As always, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. In an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly chain of wholly unnecessary consequences, I bought a Trabant because I own a QEK Junior East German caravan. I bought the caravan because my professional life requires me to camp in places unreceptive to tent pegs and my other car is a 2CV. My other car is a 2CV because when I passed my driving test in the late 1980s I couldn’t afford a Mini.

Some people would think that having got the Lomax finally sorted (apart from the seatbelt) I should be spending lovely spring weekends driving it about, not trundling gingerly towards Folkingham in a car variously nicknamed “the escape suitcase’ and ‘the racing paper bag’ for my annual season-opening camping meet, country walk and beer weekend. Such people wouldn’t realise that you appreciate country air much more after 50 miles with a slightly leaky exhaust.

“I think it sounds like a motorbike,” I said, on safe arrival.

“No it doesn’t,” said Clive. “It sounds like a bloody miracle.”

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The search for Red Oktober

P1030428Ever had that feeling that you’ve turned up somewhere on the wrong day? It’s something I worry about, and it got worse after I turned up for a meeting in the Elephant and Castle a week early. Still, it was better than being a week late…

Last Saturday I trundled gently onto Millennium Place in front of the Coventry Transport Museum, towing a caravan, to be greeted by a wide expanse of paving occupied by a young lad doing stunts on a skateboard. A waitress from the café was wiping down the outside tables. No, she hadn’t heard of a meeting of any car clubs here today.

I already felt fairly daft bringing a caravan to a classic car meeting. Now it looked like I hadn’t even done that, I’d brought a caravan to the centre of Coventry for no reason at all.

Thank god for Facebook. In the time it took me to log on and check that ‘You have 1 event today,’ three Ladas hove into view round the corner of the museum.

I grew up in Crewe. Lots of people drove Ladas. They were cheap and got you from A to B. One of my friends drove a hatchback Lada with tinted windows. The tint was stuck on rather than part of the glass, and she was very stern about not peeling it off. Now they are rare and to be marvelled at. This made me feel quite old.

Why was I taking a caravan to a meeting of the Wartburg Trabant IFA Club? Because he is an East German caravan travelling on Trabant wheels and I thought he’d like to meet some friends.

We had a lovely day. On a caravan site Werner (the Wohnwagen) just looks a bit old and sad. At a caravan rally people like to come and look at him because he’s an intriguing oddity. Lined up beside a row of Trabants and Ladas he looked very much at home. A German lady bounced over, said ‘What a lovely QEK!’ and told me a complicated story about a German TV presenter touring the country in one. We were invited to join the SALT tour, which next year is in Yorkshire. This year’s was Norfolk, which would have been rather more suitable, being very much flatter than God’s Own County.

I’ve only seen one Trabant before in real life – I was at an Esso station filling up Hortense when one chugged up to the next row of pumps. The rest were full of stressed people in BMWs and Audis. I think we were having more fun. En masse they are a wonderful sight. Though they do sound exactly like motorcycles, which confused my bike radar.

I have learnt that you pronounce it KEK as in trousers, not KWEK as in quaiche. I have learnt that Millennium Place is a tolerated motorcycle parking zone, which is good to know for the future.

And now I am resisting the temptation to buy a Trabant to have a matching set.

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So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind…

L1060144crop This is what the end of the RBR 2014 looks like.  Strictly speaking there are 9 days left in which to bag landmarks, but I am happy with my 215 points this year. Special Circumstances apply, and it seems to have been a low-scoring year all round. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes you need to rebuild half of your engine before you can move forward.

It looks like a fairy ring but it’s the footprint of a medium-to-large tipi. Conkers being less wild than Low Wray, Shakey and I enjoyed a bedside lamp and a halogen heater. Because I am a bit slow of thinking at the moment, I hadn’t realised that a halogen heater doubles as a lighthouse. Still, it made the Klondike look very pretty – like a pointy Chinese Lantern, but not on fire. It would have been cool to have a mobile of bikers and three-legged dogs chasing landmarks to shadow-dance on the walls.

To the right is the windbreak for our Saturday afternoon Adjudication Barbecue. Those whom Graham decides to have photographed the wrong landmark can console themselves with a Frickadillo or a bratwurst. And a beer. Normally Dave and MommyBear come and do the actual cooking.  This year it was my responsibility and my skills fell sadly short. Thank god for caravans with ovens!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“It’s not the despair… I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

10688102_1507735742804961_2806663445944654780_oSelling a house turns out to be very stressful. I’ve bought three, but never sold one before.

Sadly this doesn’t mean I own several properties – just that I was married when we sold the first one, and ex-hub did the money stuff; and then we were separated when we sold the second one (to a member of a minor Brit-Pop band, who made it slightly more traumatic than it needed to be); and now I’m selling my third home, but the first I’ve owned in my own right.

So this is new territory for me.

People often say that moving is one of the top ten most stressful life events – but that’s a big fat urban myth! The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale puts it right down at number 32, with a measly 20 life change units – that’s not even twice as stressful as Christmas (12 units, but that might just be the number you need to consume over breakfast to get through the festivities).

If you are a control freak, like me, then the passivity of the whole process is difficult to handle. You take the engine parts out of the kitchen, you polish the bathroom, you hide the junk in the attic, and then you sit back and wait.

Some days you get a call that someone wants to view…and you hoover up the dog hair and cut the grass…and they don’t like it because the stairs start in the living room, or because they wanted something “more modern,” or worst of all, “it smells of oil.”

And then you wait for the next call. And wonder how you can make a 1980s house look more modern without spending any money.

So I did what any sensible person does in these circumstances. I packed my tipi, and my stove, and my dog, and the copy of Mondo Enduro which BiviBag Adventure has loaned to me, and a bottle of wine, and went to somewhere with no mobile phone reception and no internet.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.

You already know that I blame Arthur Ransome for my belief that camping is the most fun anyone can have, next to motorcycling. So where else would I go in my hour of need than to Ransome Field, on the shores of Lake Windermere, at the Low Wray National Trust campsite.

And when they say lake shore, they aren’t kidding. Shakey was most disturbed to find himself nose-to-beak with the local ducks.

I dipped my hands in the lake, and wished, and then settled in for three days of doing as little as possible.

We had a lovely walk along the shore, once Shakey had got used to the idea of sheep.

We watched a family of mad Australians swim in the lake. “Do I have to, dad?” “No, son – you don’t have to. We’ll just tease you all night if you don’t.”

We listened to the swans, whose take-off and landing tracks look like audio waves. Someone should try playing them.

We watched the stars come out and the lights come on across the water.

We watched the rain fall.

And on the day I packed up to come home the estate agents called to say someone wanted to buy my house, so my wish must have been granted.

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