EUROPEAN TOUR

It was through a friend, Lex Smit, that we decided to investigate the world of “bike share.” One evening, in May 2006, after having consumed a good few glasses of the red stuff, my wife Lorraine and I decided to do the UK trip-thing. Being avid bikers there was obviously only one way we would do this and that would be on a motor-bike of course. Preferably a BMW GS. A few days later I decided to log onto www.bikeshareworld.com and check out the website. After a little hassle or two I managed to get hold of Tom Burklow (who is the co-founder of bikeshareworld) and he registered me with my code K703. A few days later I simply e-mailed a few members in the UK who had BMW’s, by means of a letter of introduction and enquired if their machines were available. I received two replies from two guys within hours of one another. After a week or so I came to a sound agreement with the one host (Mike) to use his BMW 1150GS for a full month from mid-June to mid-July and I made arrangements with the other party (Gerry) to come to Knysna (as he was planning to visit his brother in Johannesburg) to use one of our two bikes, a 1100GS or Lorraine’s 650GS. Gerry actually came down to George from Joburg within weeks of our first contact and we spent a pleasant four days in the Karoo, camping and off-roading on bikes. Needless to say three things happened. Firstly we suddenly had a stand-by bike (BMW K100) waiting for us in Wimbledon, secondly we had an open invitation to visit Gerry and his wife and thirdly we found a great new biking buddy.

Once Mike and I had sorted out suitable dates etc. we booked our tickets for 12 June 2006. When one decides to take such a step there are an astonishing number of little things to do before you leave. Who is going to feed the cat? What about the gardener? The maid? How much money do we take? How do we take it out? The list goes on and on.

Sleep is difficult to come by on the eve of such a holiday. Such thoughts as: Where are we going to stay? Where do we go? What visas are required? What clothes do we take? What medical cover does one need to have? (there is no medical cover by the way), based on the ordinary system if you purchase your air tickets by credit card which is normally automatic. No cover, that is, if you ride a motor-bike bigger than 125cc. Full cover can be arranged at an extra cost and falls under sporting insurance or something. A Shengan visa we found to our annoyance was not the easiest document to come by either!

The maps were bought, the family visits were diarized, the route was planned, luggage locks were bought and the packing began one day before departure. Our two panniers (which are identical to the ones we were to borrow) were lugged into the house as well as the tank bag and top box. The jeans and t-shirts were rolled into the panniers, warm clothing and rain-suits squashed into the top box and the tank bag left empty (for food and other essentials). The clothes were then unpacked into suitcases and we found to our amazement that we actually required three suitcases. The helmets, boots and riding suits with armour protection take up a hell of a lot of space! There was a tent to contend with too. A tip here is that it is advisable to wear your boots on the plane and stuff the helmets with socks and underwear. Anything to keep that weight down.

We flew out of George Airport on 12 June at 3.00pm, departed Joburg at 7.00pm that evening and arrived in Zurich at 7.00am the following morning. Very pleasant flight with Swissair on a 640 Airbus. Changed planes for Manchester and got there around 9.00am. We had to catch a train to Barnetby a small village not too far from Ulceby where we were to stay. Our host Mike was there to meet us and he and his partner Karen put us up for the night after first taking us out for dinner! Talk about fine hospitality - they were unreal. Salt of the earth people - Bikers.

Camping in England

Mike has done four bike shares in various parts of the world (including SA) but had never lent his bike to anyone so he was somewhat apprehensive when he and Karen waved us farewell the following morning. He mentioned that it was like someone taking his wife away, I chirped that it was surely far worse than that!

The first day took us through Louth (met a SA lady there in a shop called “That South African Shop.” She was selling plenty Biltong and Mrs Ball’s Chutney. We went on to Boston (where we purchased sleeping bags and sleeping mats). Out first night was spent camping at Fenstanton at a place called Crystal Lake. Lovely site and reasonably priced. Next day we moved south through Cambridge (brekkies there was scrambled eggs on toast and tea which set us back R114). The journey then took us on towards London where we took the M25 (ring road) over the Dartford bridge, by-passed the big city and shot off down to pretty Brighton to have lunch with a friend. We thought Brighton was great. It had a lovely atmosphere and magnificent parks. Took an easy ride east towards Dover taking in as many English villages and farm countryside as possible. (Lewes, Hailsham, Battle, Cranbrook etc.) We made a point of staying off the motorways as much as possible. We decided to overnight at Folkestone where we found a fairly shabby hotel (called the Salisbury) for 42 pounds excluding breakfast. (R550) We grabbed some wine and had cheese and biscuits in our room.

Friday 16th June was an interesting day. First trip on a ferry (cost 36 pounds return), first ride on a French road, first time driving on the right with a left-hand drive bike! Drove off the ferry at Dunkirk and carefully moved over to the right hand side onto the A26 and headed for Reims. It probably took a couple of hours to get used to riding on the other side, thereafter there was no real problem. The cathedral at Reims is impressive. Built in the third century, it is an amazing example of architecture. We found a dude who could speak English (seems most of the Froggies can't or don't want to speak English - Probably  never forgotten Waterloo!) who showed us the way to Epernay (about 30 kms away) where we found a pretty decent camp site. I mean lovely setting, however, there were crouch toilets (damned if I know how you do your thing if one has just had a hip op!), no loo paper, no basin plugs and on the one ordinary loo there was no seat!

Semur-en-Auxois - France

The 17th June saw us motor through Troyes, Chatillon, Montbard  and then Semur-en-Auxois (we figured that you pronounce it something like Se more-ag-no swaar!) This village was simply gorgeous. A real must see. Flower boxes everywhere. Had lunch there and headed for Dijon, Dole, Poligny, Champognole, St Laurent, Morez and Ornex, near Geneva) where we were met by cousin Wendy and husband Bruno. We stayed with these great people for three days. My goodness, did they roll out the red-carpet! They took us to Lausanne, Bern, Interlaken and the big surprise was the Shiltzhorn. Nearby stood the Jungfrau, Iger and the Munsk. We took the cable car (there were four stages) right to the summit where we had coffee/drinks inside a revolving restaurant. Apparently a James Bond movie was filmed there some years ago. Came down a few stages to Murren where we had lunch. Then we all proceeded to walk off the lunch by taking the path down to the last stage. The already fabulous day was rounded off by a trip around the edge of Lake Geneva followed by a lovely meal. Again!

The following day Bruno drove us down to Annessy to meet his mom. We all had lunch in the “centre ville” in a restaurant situated on the edge of a canal. We drove all around Lake Annessy and experienced magnificent scenery. There were dozens of camping places and caravan parks. Annessy was very similar to Semur (ag-no-swaar!)

Tears rolled down a number of cheeks when we roared out of the driveway the following morning. It was really sad to say cheers to Wendy, Bruno and lovely little Fiona. We went on to Bourg-en-Bresse and found to our dismay that the top box key had shaken off the ignition key and was lying somewhere in the street of one of dozens of villages we had ridden through. We were up the proverbial creek without a paddle! The top box contained our rain suits, all our toilet goodies and my blood pressure pills! We decided to just carry on and see whether we could find a BMW dealer somewhere and hoped that the blood pressure would not go too high. We chose a route which took us through Macon, Moulins, St Armand, Vatan and Valencay. Camped there the night in a municipal caravan park. Supper was enjoyed in an Italian restaurant.

The morning of the 21st June turned out to be chilly and overcast. Fortunately no rain. We set out for Tours but first to Chenoceaux. (Cher  no sew) This is just one of the many chateauxs in the area and we did the full touristy bit. With an audio guide around your neck you simply walk about the place and listen to a French narrator tell you all about the place. This was all in English of course. Most impressive place but opulence in the extreme. We saw the huge bedrooms where the various King Louis’ shagged the various princesses centuries ago. I suppose that joy continues even today! The beautiful gardens were something to see.

Le Mont St Michael - Northern France

We then went in search of a top box key which was imperative. We had, by the way, purchased new toiletries so that was not the hassle. We travelled all along the Loire river through little villages and arrived in the city of Tours. The BMW dealer was very helpful and through sign language and pointing he understood the problem. He produced 100 odd keys none of which fitted. He produced a complete lock and wanted to drill out the old one but we decided no way, said “ Merci” and hit the road again. We passed many fields of sweetcorn and hay, and went through Le Lude, La Fleche, Sable, Bouessay, St Loup du Dorat and just as the rain started to come down we found a hotel in Meslay-du-Maine. We phoned Mike our host and asked him to post a spare top box key to London as that was where we were headed within the next few days.

The following day saw us move through Laval and Fougeres on the way north towards the coast. Had a fairly boring ride on the motor-way and set our sights on Le Mon St Michael. It is basically a huge church surrounded by buildings on an island. It stands on sort of marsh land in the sea and is connected to the mainland by a causeway. I counted about 60 busses in the parking area so it's pretty touristy - stayed there about an hour and featured in about 1000 photographs mainly taken by Japanese visitors. Talk about “click” happy! After a light lunch we pointed the GS in the direction of CAEN and went on to Honfleur. Had a quick look along the beach front, very smart place. There were huge yachts, huge homes and huge estates. Obviously this is only for the ultra rich. We felt like poor whites and soon hit the road in the direction of ROUEN. Rouen has more or less the same feel as Reims. Same kind of buildings and even the nature of the streets. The faces were even the same! Had a look at the Cathedral for a while and then tried to find accommodation. We eventually found a Formula 1 hotel, had supper and hit the sack.

Lake Annessey - France 

The 23rd June saw us passing through Neuchatel, Abbeville and Estaples where we turned off into Le Touquet on the way to the ferry at Dunkirk. This is a very impressive place, posh in the extreme. There were houses there for sale for 800,000 euro. That’s a cool R6m. The cheapest piece of real estate was a flat for 300,000 euros and this in a very miserable looking block. The ferry trip was uneventful and we got to London at about 4 in the afternoon. The road from Dover to London was hectic as it was a Friday afternoon. The number of trucks on the motorway is a frightening sight to see. Just hundreds and hundreds of the bloody things, each one trying to get to London before the other!

We had a wonderful time in London. Stayed with Gerry (the bikeshare guy who came to visit us in Knysna) and Pat his missus. Our spare keys were waiting for us in the foyer when we arrived. While the two of them were tied up with a previous engagement we set off for Picadilly in the tube. Saw a wonderful show called “Mack and Mabel.” It was a musical about the life story of Mack Sennet, some famous dude from the silent movie days. It was brilliant. The main actor was David Soul from Starskey and Hutch fame. We took the Samuels to dinner on the Saturday evening and enjoyed some Nepalese chow.

Gerry and Pat rode with us out to Boxhill on the Sunday where all the London bikers seem to hang out. We had toasted egg and bacon baps (hambuger roll type of thing) for brekkie, said our farewells and hit the road to Brighton. Camped there in a caravan park for two days. We pulled in at the first pub and watched England play Equador and proceeded to climb into the snacks which were provided free of charge. We visited the Pavillion and called on Lorraine’s friend Sandi in Henfield and set off for Cornwall the following day. The ride saw us cruising through Jane Austin country. Winchester and it’s (what another one? Cathedral and University) Stockbridge onto Salisbury and guess what? Another Cathedral. It is a superb building and like all the others we had seen it was being restored and cleaned. We went through Shaftsbury and Yeoville and saw many farms and lovely countryside. The country roads were busy to say the least. After quite a long day we eventually got to SIDMOUTH after passing through Exeter and Honiton. We found a caravan park in a village called “Newton Poppleford” so typically English old fella! We had phoned our son Brett’s friend, Max Hansford from Brighton and he came to the camp site and took us out to dinner that night. It was a real treat. Max then proceeded to take the following day off work to show us around. He took us through Salcomb, we had breakfast in Oakhamptom, took a drive through Dartmoor National Park, saw Oakhampton Castle, did the Exmouth on sea bit and Otterton. We spent some time in Sidmouth walking around and then went on to Branscombe a fabulous little village on the coast. Had coffee and cheesecake and drove onto Gittisham to meet the Owens. We bid a sad farewell to Max and thanked him for an outstanding day! The Owens rolled out another red carpet. Had Champs with them and their neighbours and then went out to another restaurant at the Bedford Hotel for supper. I think Lorraine was asleep before she hit the bed that night – I was not far behind. It was sad that we could not spend a few more days with these two lovely , hospitable people.

We had to go back to Yeoville the next day to get onto the road for Bath. The Abbey there was most interesting and there were three Mussos playing three xylophones in the church square. The music was amazing - real classical stuff. Apparently Henry X111 closed the Abby as he had a small hassle with the Catholics at that time and sent all the priors away. Elizabeth 1 (his daughter) re-instated the Abbey when she became Queen. Its quite a place. Swindon was just up the road but to get there we passed through Corsham, Hilmarton, Lyneham (RAF base) and Wootton  Basset.  We phoned  Tammy from Swindon central and she came along to direct us to their lovely little duplex. We had a few toots in Bernard’s pub called the “Springbok” and went out for dinner (again!). We were treated to a very tasty braai in a Weber the following evening. This was after a short visit to Oxford which is over-run by students. It’s a lovely University town and not too small either!

White Cliffs of Dover - England

There were more tears when we said our farewells (Bernard is Lorraine’s nephew) and we quietly headed off towards Wales on that Saturday morning. We by-passed Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea and after taking the wrong turn-off we eventually found ourselves in Fishguard. We purchased our ferry tickets and settled ourselves into a pub to watch England play against Portugal. We left for the ferry when the score was nil-nil at full time.

When the captain of the ferry announced that England had lost the penalty shoot-out  some time later there was an almighty cheer from the Irish passengers. Wonder why?

We had an excellent crossing on the Stenaline ferry and arrived at Rosslare. We slept at the Wooden House Hotel after watching France play Brazil. We tasted the real Guinness there for the first time.

We left early the next morning and motored through a good few villages. And I mean villages. Some consisted of just a couple of houses. We visited the Irish Heritage site in Wexford and called in at their famous crystal factory. We pushed along the main road , A something, on to New Ross down to Cork. Called in there for a while and headed off to Kinsale and beyond that to Ballingspittal where we found a lovely camping site. This is the first time where we have seen the usage of tokens to have a shower. Each token lasts for about 6 mins. We visited a lovely pub down the road where they had a one-man band playing good rock music. The place filled up at about 11 pm. We were amazed at the number of old people (80 plus) who arrived at that time. Keep in mind that it is light there until 10.30 or so. They welcomed us from SA and there was one hell of a party. The most tasty sandwiches were handed around at mid-night by the publican.

Feeling pretty jaded, the next morning saw us heading for Timoleague and Clonakilty. We called in for breakfast at the latter place and were informed that the hotel across the road where we were sitting called the O’Donovan Hotel was in fact the last place where Michael Collins had his last meal. He was involved in the Easter Uprising in 1916 and was part of the team to reach a deal with Britain in the division of Ireland. He left there at night and was ambushed just up the road from Clonakilty, killed by his own people I believe. The R71 took us on to Skibbereen and lovely farming country. There were many farm B&B’s along this road. We moved onto Bantry and noticed a huge development taking shape there. Seems there is plenty of money in Ireland these days. Cranes all over the place. I think it was here that we heard about the “ Willy Clancy” week in Miltown Malbay and decided to head that way straight away to experience some Irish music. We first of all had to do the ‘Ring of Beara”  which was a shortish ride around The Bear peninsula. We rode through Glengariff, Castletown, Allyhiss, Kenmare, Killarney, Tralee, Listowel  and Tarbert where we took the ferry across the Shannon river.

Our route took us through  Kilrush,Doonbeg, Creegh and Quilty on to Miltown Malbay.

We got there quite late so first decided to knock up our tent somewhere. We found digs in a field where there were hundreds of tents. We then pub-hopped listening to the various groups of artists. The music was unreal and the people very friendly. We quite honestly should have stayed an extra day here to really appreciate the festival but time was running out now and we had to get on to Dublin.

We grudgingly got up the next morning  and set our sights on Dublin. We passed through Ennis and many little villages which resembled the French ones we had seen. The houses are all pretty shabby from the outside. Seems the Irish and French do not find too much interest in looking after the outside of their homes like we do. I guess the weather is the main reason. We got to Dublin quite a few hours before the ferry was due to leave so we had time to kill. Wondered around a couple of streets and shopping malls and eventually rode onto the ferry. The ferry crossing are very pleasant in the sense that there is time to catch up, time to read, to doze, to reflect and to plan. All of them are beautifully furnished and kitted out. There are gaming machines, shops, pubs and restaurants and the “rookers” are allowed onto the decks. And there are plenty of them too. We drove off the ferry at Holyhead after a very pleasant crossing and made for Bangor. Damned if we could find accommodation – we tried everywhere. At one place some kind person phoned around for us and eventually two tired bikers made it to the hotel. Expensive for a tiny room and shower with breakfast - R720! Two tired bikers then could not find an open restaurant and were saved by a Chinese take-away still open for business at 12 o’clock at night.

On the Bern Freeway  - Switzerland

The next day saw us riding through some of the best countryside we had seen on the entire trip. Bangor in Northern Wales to Wolverhampton. The road snaked between the low foothills and some densely wooded mountains and even open mountains on towards the flatter part of England. When you read these names you may think I have lost my marbles but I can assure you that we rode through BETWS-Y-COED, LLANGOLLEN and some other places which you cannot read, pronounce or even write! The weirdest language around but the most beautiful countryside and villages imaginable. We rode into Shropshire and on through the town of Shrewsbury.

Wolverhampton was a long time coming. Known as the place of rest, gourmet food, sleep, washing and booze all supplied by our fabulous uncle and aunt.  Although we had last been there in 1971 and seen John and Kath on numerous occasions here we felt as if we had always lived there. Always so hospitable and loving. We met Fiona from Ornex again and her sister Laura ( both staying with their grand-parents) who we had not seen for some six years. A great re-union was had by all and three days there was really a magic break from the GS.

There were tears again when we left. We followed John in his car who took us out of the city and pointed out the motorway we had to take. It was fairly quiet because it was a Saturday I guess. We headed north, destination Carlisle, and dropped off the motorway to have lunch with another uncle( George) at a place called Grange-over-Sands. Quaint little place with a beach stretching about 6 kms from the edge of town to the sea! Had a quiet lunch with George who had just lost his wife after a terrible year or so of suffering and unfortunately had to leave him after too short a visit to press on via the Lake District as we were pressed for time. We passed Ambleside on Lake Windermere and various tiny villages and arrived in Carlisle fairly late but just in time to have a light tea with Brian and Les (the new Canon of the Cathedral) and then we walked 30 metres into the Cathedral where we spent the next hour and a half listening to a full orchestra and 100 strong choir playing and singing Mozart. What a magnificent experience. Brian was at Queens with me and Les at GHS in Queenstown way back in 1964 and he was my best man at our wedding in 1971. It was so great to see them again and we left the next day promising to see them within days in Knysna as they were about to visit Brian’s mom in Cape Town. Unfortunately this never happened because Brian’s mom fell two days before their trip up to us so they had to stay behind and see her through an operation.

Village of Brandscomb, Cornwall... in England.

The last day on the bike brought the second bit of rain we had seen on the entire trip. It rained the whole way between Carlisle and York and of course some of the most exciting countryside known as the Yorkshire Dales was covered in mist and drizzle. Be that as it may we really enjoyed this part of England. I think this area is the way most people imagine rural England to look like. York is a lovely Mediaeval town and also has, you guessed right, a Cathedral. One of note. Absolutely beautiful.

The trip across the Humber near Hull was somewhat windy and we had to hold on for dear life. We arrived in Ulceby fairly early and were met by our hosts once again after a full month away. I think Mike was relieved to see his bike all in one piece after 6000 kms. This 1150GS must be one of the most versatile motor-bikes on the road. Brilliant German engineering. We all went out that night and had a lovely meal and a good few toots.

The last day was a sad one. Sad because we had to re-pack all our gear into suitcases ready for the train trip back to Manchester and flight home. It was traumatic saying farewell to two wonderful people and two great new friends. We hope we can do the same for them one day. All Karen needs to do is get her licence and they can do South Africa on two bikes!  Thanks to Mike and Karen and to bike share for a truly wonderful holiday!

Peter and Lorraine Barrett from Knysna, South Africa (Just a story about two people who love biking - August 2006).