Crocodile Hunting

Switzerland; a relatively small land-locked country in Central Europe known for its mountains, wonderful alpine roads, chocolate, watches, Swiss Army knives and . . . railways.

I have mixed feelings about Switzerland.

It can be a strikingly beautiful place, but it gets to me; the countryside is, I feel, often rather too over-manicured and can resemble pictures on a box of chocolates. For alpine motorcycling Switzerland is right up there, wonderfully maintained roads in some of the most magnificent landscape our planet has to offer. So I guess you can’t have it both ways.

It’s also undeniably it is one of the most expensive countries in the world to go shopping, though fuel prices are often reasonable. It’s public transport network is arguably the most efficient, punctual and integrated anywhere and fare-wise actually very reasonable to use. Busses, trams and trains all seamlessly link into each other with the precision of a fine Swiss watch.

The famous Swiss Railway Clock

So, lets look at those railways…

Railway construction in Switzerland got started in the mid 1840’s, by 1850 the famous British railway engineer Robert Stephenson was engaged to construct a network of over 600km of lines and the first true alpine route was opened through the Gotthard Pass in 1882.

In the early days of railways, nearly everything was powered by steam and for the Swiss there lay a problem; Switzerland has no source of coal. The country quickly became reliant on imported energy, which was both expensive and unreliable. The country was and still remains on the cutting edge of Hydroelectric power the Swiss railways became, of necessity, early pioneers of electrification. By 1939 nearly 80% of the network was electrified, whilst other European countries could only manage around 5%!

Most of the trunk and international routes are laid to what is known as “Standard Gauge,” the distance between the rails being 1435mm (4ft 8 1/2in) and many secondary and mountain lines are metre gauge, 1000mm.

Arguably the most famous of the metre gauge systems is the Rhaetian Railway, which operates in the canton of Graubünden in South-Central Switzerland and even extends to Tirano in Northern Italy. Serving the major tourist destinations of Davos, St Moritz and Klosters, the Rhaetian Railway has become known to travellers from around the world.

Rhaetian Railway train in Tirano Italy.

Two lines of the Rhaetian have grown to almost legendary status, the Bernina and the Albula, which are now both recognised as Unesco World Heritage Sites. The Bernina route is renowned for the “Bernina Express” which crosses the Pass of the same name, whilst the Albula is famous for Crocodiles!

At this point you may be forgiven for thinking that yet again Old Dookes has lost the plot, but please stick with me.

The metre gauge Albula line is 38 miles long (61km) and links Thusis with the spa resort of St Moritz, crossing the Albula Pass on the way. The route was opened in 1904 and is one of the most spectacular narrow gauge railways in the world. Originally the line was worked by steam locomotives, but by 1919 electrification work had commenced. For the technically minded, a 11Kv overhead system at 16.7Hz AC was built.

The newly electrified route needed some pretty powerful locomotives to keep the trains moving and therein lay a problem, because back in 1919 electric motors were bigger than we can make them today, a lot bigger!

The solution that the Rhaetian settled on was to use two of the biggest motors available. Then to mount them on the frames of a railway locomotive and link the drive to the wheels via a system of shafts and rods; quite crude, yet brilliantly simple.

The new locomotives weighed 66tonnes, were 43ft long, had a centre cab and long noses at each end.

With that impressive long nose they soon gained the nickname of “Crocodiles.”

For over 50 years the 15 Crocodiles were the sole motive power over the Albula route and each notched up impressive mileage during their working lives. Gradually their numbers began to dwindle, today there are only two left in service on the Rhaetian and then only for special workings. Four others survive as museum exhibits.

Last September when Harls and I were passing through Switzerland I planned that our route would take us over the Albula Pass. I also knew that one of the museum Crocodiles was on display at Bergün railway station which is almost the halfway point of the Albula Railway, so it seemed logical to pop in and have a look.

The road over the Albula Pass is delightful; it would have been even more so if we didn’t have seriously sub-zero temperatures that morning. Thank goodness for heated gloves and jackets! From the South the hairpins start almost as soon as you turn onto the Pass road in the village of La Punt Chamues, but unlike some other passes they don’t go on for long as you are already at serious altitude.

Heading to Albula.

Early snow had given the scenery a delightful dusting of the white stuff and for Northern Hemisphere dwellers a sense that Christmas was coming. Fortunately the road was dry and clear, even if the temperature took my breath away as we climbed to the summit. Poor old Harls was having a tough time of it though, her carburetor was icing up in the thin alpine air and the lack of oxygen saw a serious drop in performance, good job we weren’t in a hurry!
We paused at the Pass, partly to take in the moment and also to let Harls warm up a bit; I know, it seems strange to stop to let the engine warm up, but it’s the way in the mountains.

As we began our decent, I set my sights on Bergün and the elusive Crocodile, but first there was a load more lovely twisty bends to enjoy.

For anyone that hasn’t either ridden a motorbike, or even a pedal cycle, it’s a little difficult to explain just how fantastic it is to ride around sweeping bends as your machine leans into the curve. Get it right and it’s simply magical; get it wrong and it’s, well, not so nice. . . fortunately we mostly get it right!

Pulling into Bergün station car-park, I kicked Harls side-stand down, grabbed my camera and went off in search of the “Croc”. I found it sitting in it’s own protective shed at the North end of he station and duly took a number of photographs.

The preserved “Crocodile.”

It’s quite an impressive beast and I must say that by and large it looked pretty well looked after. I have a bit of a hang-up about any machine that is parked up as a museum piece, yes its great that it has been preserved, but just sitting lifeless and cold it’s like the living breath has been sucked out of it.

Crocodile captured I wandered back towards Harls, but being a railwayman at heart I couldn’t resist a visit to the station platforms just to see what was going on. In short… not a lot! There were no scheduled departures and no-one else about, but wait a minute that signal is showing a “Proceed” aspect; perhaps there’s a freight train about.

Within a few minutes the rails began to sing their distinctive metallic song indicating a train was approaching. I looked to the North, scanning the line eager to spot the approaching train.

My jaw dropped open and I had to look twice; approaching me at speed was a Crocodile on the head of a train of excursion passenger cars!

A living breathing “Crocodile!”

The 78-year-old locomotive, one of only two left in working order, swayed over the point-work and tore through the station, it’s air whistle echoing a shrill warning off the surrounding hills and it’s side rods clanking a happy song as it passed by me.

Yes I was a train spotter again, but hey can you blame me!

I’d come hunting Crocodiles and my word, I’d found one alive and well in it’s native habitat!

“The biggest kick I ever got was doing a thing called The Crocodile Rock.”

Catch you soon.

Crocodile Dookes



The “Beast from The East” blew through Europe this past week bringing sub-zero temperatures and snow on a biting Easterly wind.

Predictably, large parts of the UK ground to a snowy halt as our infrastructure and many citizens failed to cope with the conditions.

Here at Dookes H.Q. we found ourselves nicely snowed in for two days, no drama and no panic. These days we don’t have a 4×4 vehicle; mostly we have no need. We also do not have snow chains or special snow tyres; again largely no need. What we do have is a good stock of firewood, two log burners, central heating with a full tank of fuel oil, plenty of food and an emergency generator if we need it; no worries there then!

The thing is though, as I look back over the years, this small dose of winter weather is exactly what we used to get on a regular basis when I was younger. I don’t know if you can blame it on “Climate Change,” but our weather is definitely different from when I was a child. Now before anyone pipes up that I must be looking back through the rose-tinted view of a child, statistics seem to support me. In the UK our winters are definitely warmer and wetter than they were as recently as fifty years ago. Our recent “Cold-Snap” has lasted about a week, in 1963 the cold spell lasted nearly three months!

Back when I worked in the railway industry we had, and often used, large snow-ploughs that were propelled by hefty diesel locomotives to keep the track clear. Then as winters got shorter, warmer and wetter many of the ploughs fell into redundancy. Over the years many of these ploughs were gradually disposed of, they were not being used and the cost of their maintenance simply did not make sense when balanced against the probability of their use, or so it was said! True, a number of ploughs were retained in Scotland where snow is often guaranteed, but overall the numbers fell.

Snow Ploughs at Blair Atholl, Scotland, 1982.
Photo Steven Duhig

In a way those old snow ploughs represent the situation throughout the United Kingdom in many other organisations and infrastructure; our response to adverse snow and ice is based on the likelihood of it occurring. No surprise that this attitude originates from accountants and bean counters, not from the people who actually get out there and deal with the conditions!

To be fair, here in the UK when we do get some winter rolling in we can generally get by with a dusting of rock-salt on the roads and an extra pullover. I just wish that with our “Everything Now” society that people would just take a moment to accept that some journeys really are not necessary and why not just embrace the conditions and enjoy it?

Outside Dookes H.Q., going nowhere!

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying that I haven’t been out on any motorbikes for a few days… Actually, the thought of a nice 400cc single cylinder scrambler with big knobbly tyres really appeals, but Mrs Dookes just frowned at me with that idea!

In a way, I’m practicing what I preach. I haven’t needed to go anywhere, so why risk it. I have in the past ridden in snow, it’s OK but I really wouldn’t recommend it as a real fun experience. Some years ago I was heading up the North side of the Grimsel Pass in Switzerland. At the start of the climb by Lake Brienz it was raining and raining hard. I was heading for Andermatt and to get there I had to climb the Grimsel, which at 2165m/7103ft is quite a barrier.

Snow and Harls, not great fun!

As “Harls” and I began to climb, the air suddenly became noticeably colder and beyond the village of Innertkirchen the rain gradually turned to sleet, then it began to snow. Bear in mind that this was late June!

Somewhere down there is Innertkirchen.

The snow started to get heavy and I began to question whether I should go on. A pair of headlights came up behind and a van passed, giving me plenty of room on the whitening road. The van was sign-written for a builder from Andermatt, that was good enough for me, I set in to follow. The only problem was that it promptly disappeared into the murk.

My helmet visor was white with sticking snow, as was “Harls” touring screen; worst of all, my glasses were also covered over and I was peering over the top of them. I gritted my teeth and got on with it, I kept the bike in second gear and plugged away at the incline. My feet skimming the surface of the road acting as outriggers, but getting covered in snow! Bends came and went, I really had no idea where I was in relation to the summit of the pass; somewhere near the top I knew there were a couple of lakes, but I couldn’t see anything. I felt the gradient ease and we swung through a gap in the mountain, suddenly the snow turned to sleety rain we were over the top.

Grimsel Pass, South side.
Oh those twisties!

Within a few hundred metres the rain eased to mist and half a mile later we dropped out of the cloud, it had been quite an experience!

The lake on the top of the Grimsel – Nope, never saw it first time round!

Last summer I returned to the Grimsel and smiled to myself as “Harls” and I swept down its magnificent Northern flank. “So this is what it looks like” crossed my mind frequently!

Grimsel Pass North side.
“So this is what it looks like!”

Yes riding a motorcycle in snow is possible, but y’know I can’t really recommend it!

Catch you soon.


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant – Saint David’s Day

Bore da pawb. Heddiw yw Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant, y Diwrnod Cenedlaethol Cymru. Dymuniadau gorau i chi i gyd!

Good morning everyone. Today is Saint David’s Day, the National Day of Wales. Best wishes to you all!

Dewi Sant/St David was born towards the end of the 5th Century in the region of West Wales known as Ceredigion. Whilst alive he built a reputation for his preaching, teaching and simple living amongst the Celtic people. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosin, which became an important early Christian centre. Dewi died on 1st March 589 and was buried in what is now known as St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire where his shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage.

For centuries 1st March has been a national festival in Wales with parades, concerts, poetry readings and of course traditional food all being enjoyed. Around the country not only will you see the flag of Wales, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) being flown, but also the flag of St David, a simple yellow cross on a black field.P1030045

Today is also the time when Welsh exiles around the world remember ‘The Land of My Fathers’ and try to ease the sense of “Hiraeth” that yearning homesickness tinged with grief, nostalgia, wistfulness and pride that we often feel.

The National Flower of Wales is the delightful and cheery daffodil which brightens the hedgerows at this time of year. I hope you like them as much as I do. My late Grandmother always said that when you take daffodils into a house, then you take sunshine into that house; I think she got that pretty much spot on!

In the words of St David:
“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mean bywyd.” “Do ye the little things in life.”

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.

Hwyl Fawr!

Test Riding the New Softail

Motorcycle manufacturers are a funny bunch. By and large they stick to the tried and trusted, at least for those that they view as their dedicated customers.

Every now and then though one of the manufacturers produces something that is either so radical that it’s pure genius, or it leaves you pondering what on earth they were drinking or smoking when the new creation was first committed to paper!

On the “Genius” side a few that sprung to mind and from a quick trawl of the motorcycling Internet, we have:

In 1935, Italian marque Gilera shoehorned a transverse four-cylinder engine into a motorcycle frame, when just about everyone else was making two-cylinder machines.

The following year BMW produced the first telescopic front forks.

1969 saw Honda produced the CB750, basically the first production superbike universally available and the first to have disc brakes and for me a real big step change. – But then I like Honda’s!

1976 saw Yamaha fitting cast alloy wheels to a production road machine for the first time.

In 1980 it was the Kawasaki KZ1000 leading the way with fuel injection.

I’ve tried really hard to come up with big innovations that Harley Davidson has made….

Nope I can’t think of any, but to be fair the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company do one thing very well indeed; they make bikes for specific customers, “Harley Customers.”

OK, I ignored the V-Rod muscle bike, which was made in partnership with Porsche and had a dual-overhead-cam 1131cc water-cooled engine; it didn’t really break any new motorcycle ground, but bear with me!

All of this is probably why when Harley Davidson does change something we all tend to rock on our heels a bit. A few years back H-D introduced the 103cubic inch engine and on Touring models included liquid cooling for engine; to be fair it was only for the exhaust valves, but still a bit radical for some Harley customers as unlike the V-Rod this was an engine in a mainstream bike, not a niche machine.

In 2016 the next new thing was the 107cubic inch “Milwaukee Eight” engine with four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder, oil cooling and fully counterbalanced; only the eighth “Big Twin” engine since 1909, Harley know how to live on the edge!

I had the opportunity to test ride one of the first “Milwaukee Eight” bikes, a Street Glide, back in October 2016, you can read about that here.

First impressions were that I liked the new engine, finding it very smooth and certainly not lacking in power, but it wasn’t really very special sitting in the frame of a big Street Glide!

Fast forward to the end of last summer and we hit the release season for 2018 bikes.

Harley Davidson did something, for them, that was radical, very radical!

When the 2018 models were announced a whole line had been deleted, the much-loved “Dyna” models were no more. In addition the “Softail” range were, well, different; actually they weren’t different; they were a whole new design.

Harley Davidson introduced the Softail frame in 1984 and designed it to look like the retro rigid-frame bikes so beloved of the custom school. The bikes had shock absorbers mounted underneath the gearbox and a clever swing-arm that absorbed bumps in the road.

Riders tend to be a bit polarised about Softails, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em; my beloved “Harls” is a Softail, so you can figure where I stand!

“Harls” all Softail, all motorcycle!

The new Softail line launched with eight models and two engine options, the 107cu Inch and a really beefy 114cu Inch, that’s respectively 1753cc and 1868cc.

I must admit that early last Autumn I took a sly look at the H-D 2018 catalogue, the new models looked interesting and I made a mental note to investigate when I had time.

Then I went to the Motorcycle Live exhibition in Birmingham in late November.

Spinning round in the middle of the Harley Davidson stand was something that caught my eye…another new Softail model – The Sport Glide.

Now for the life of me I can’t figure out why Harley Davidson would, with a big fanfare, introduce a new line and produce all the glossy 2018 model catalogues only for a few weeks later to roll out another model of the line and one that wasn’t in the catalogue?

I’m mighty pleased that they did though!

There’s an old saying in engineering and design, “If something looks right, it probably is right.” To me the Sport Glide certainly ticks that box!

The new 2018 Sport Glide.

There was only one problem, the bike at the show was the only one in the UK and further supplies were not expected until January 2018, plus the total UK allocation was only around 250 bikes, Hmmm. I got in touch with my local Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson and issued strict instructions that when they got their hands on a Sport Glide to let me know!

Now the guys and girls at Plymouth Harley Davidson are a good bunch and sure enough at the end of January I got the call, a Sport Glide fitted with the 107 engine had arrived and was being prepared for the road – would I like to test it? Do Bears poo in the woods? Darn right I wanted to test it!

To add icing to the cake, it was suggested that I also try a different Softail model that was fitted with the 114cubic inch engine, just for comparison.

Those folk at Plymouth Harley Davidson must really like me, because on the day I turned up for my test session on two brand new bikes the weather was filthy, but “Hey, no problem Dookes go ride and enjoy!”

First up was the 114 engine Fat Bob.

2018 Fat Bob

Now this isn’t the sort of bike that I would normally go for, a naked “Street Fighter,” but wow, was I glad that I did!
With it’s brutal lines I suspect that this bike is aimed at the younger end of the Harley market, but in my late fifties I don’t see many Harley riders younger than me; hey ho!
The 114 engine coughed into life and a deep aggressive growl emanated from the twin exhaust pipes, this already was sounding like fun!
The pipes are interesting 2 into one and back to 2, I’ve never seen that before, but the look great.
Up front is an LED headlight that looks straight out of Star Wars, really aggressive yet soo cool!
Throwing my leg over the bike and settling in the saddle it was surprisingly comfortable. I toed the shifter down, selected first gear and pulled away. The bike nimbly responded to the throttle and within a quarter of a mile I was already thinking to myself, “I like this…. a lot!”
I turned onto the nearby A38 trunk road and filtered into the mid-morning traffic. Once I had settled into the feel of the bike it was time to see what this bad boy could do. I gave a slight twist of the throttle and wow, in came the power accompanied by a deep throaty roar from that fancy exhaust system; my smile became a big stupid grin!
Actually the power delivery was, to be honest, a tad too aggressive on the greasy wet road and with no traction control I had to be a bit careful not to have the back-end misbehaving, but hey I guess that is what this bike is all about.
Turning off the trunk road and onto some twisties, I was very pleased to feel how nimble the bike was through corners, even with that big fat front tyre. It’s brakes are
Good, with twin front discs and ABS as standard, it’s shame that they are not linked to the back ones though in my opinion.
Then we get to the ride, oh my, it’s a dream. That new Softail chassis is sublime!

Riding back into the dealership it was time to swap, the Sport Glide was outside waiting for me.

At first glance the difference between the two bikes is like chalk and cheese, but that’s only a veneer. Underneath, apart from the Sport Glide having a 107cubic inch engine they are pretty much the same bike.
The exhaust is a straightforward 2 into 1 and the front wheel has only one brake disk. It’s got a small “bikini” faring and a pair of medium-sized hard panniers, all of which can be quickly detached if wanted. I found the small faring quite adequate at diverting the wind off my chest, but if I ever own one I’d probably swap the standard 1.5” screen for the alternative 5.5” option.
Performance wise it’s another gem, though unlike the 114, the power delivery is much more precise and enjoyable. Which also means that you are not so likely to get stung by the lack of traction control! Now please don’t think that the 107 is lacking in power, oh no not at all, it’s got plenty of grunt but just delivers it in a more refined way.
I do feel that only having a single brake disc on the front wheel is not the greatest idea from Harley Davidson on a bike that weighs in at around 330kg.
Cornering on this little beauty was lovely, even better than the Fat Bob, though with a lean angle of only 27º before the pegs start to hit tarmac, you do have to be a bit careful!
The Sport Glide, like the Fat Bob has a six-speed gearbox. The front suspension is non-adjustable, whilst the rear now has a spring pre-load adjustable shock.
If you are like me, a dedicated touring motorcyclist, you’ll like the new Holdfast detachable latch system that Harley has fitted to this machine. I allows you to easily quickly add a Tour-Pak top box and other touring type accessories.

So there we are, two very different, yet essentially very similar motorcycles.

I really couldn’t tell you which one I liked most; they both have a certain “Wow” factor and both for different reasons.

Looking back on the test ride and with the benefit of a few days to mull it over, I think I’d probably have to go for the Sport Glide.

Why? Well, as sexy and bonkers that the Fat Bob is, I think I’d get fed-up with it after a while. It reminds me of a big black horse I once owned; sure you could ride him all day and have the time of your life, but drop your guard for one second and he’d take over; these days I like things to be a tad more relaxed!

On reflection though, I really believe that Harley Davidson have, at last, produced something different from their norm and will probably reap the benefit for doing that. Could we not have linked brakes and twin front discs right across the range, even as an option please?

With thanks to all at Plymouth Harley Davidson for making the two bikes available and not being too upset when I brought them back absolutely filthy!

“Get you motor runnin’ head out on the highway”

Catch you soon


Taking The Bus

Dookes H.Q. is situated on the edge of Bodmin Moor, an area of high granite moorland covering 80 square miles of North East Cornwall.

There’s only one slight problem, it’s a bit remote. Not exactly “Off Grid” to use a trendy term, but certainly a bit rural, we call it “Out in The Sticks.” Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but occasionally it can be a bit awkward, like today; I had booked my car into the local garage, eight miles away, for a service and Mrs Dookes was working 60 miles away at the other end of the county. Not good planning.

Let me be very clear, I love where we live and I’m not moaning!

I had three options:

1. Borrow a “Courtesy” car from the garage.
2. Book a taxi.
3. Catch the bus.

One thing about living in a rural area like ours is that you can easily slip into a sort of “bubble” existence and traveling everywhere by car only heightens that feeling of isolation; you look out at the world rather than being part of it. Another issue is that us rural dwellers often moan about the lack of services that townsfolk enjoy, like Post Offices and Public Transport. Often though the problem lies in us not using what is provided, the old “Use it or Loose it” conundrum!

Having spent a career running public transport services, on rails, I hang my head in shame to say that in sixteen years of living at Dookes H.Q. I’d never used our local bus. This is a service that is viewed by the good members of Cornwall Council to be of sufficient social necessity to warrant it being subsidised.

So with all things considered, I took the decision that today I would ride the bus!

With three spaniels barking to greet the dawn and eager for their breakfast, most days at Dookes H.Q. start pretty early. It really wasn’t any hardship therefore to drop my car off at the garage just after eight o’clock, which was great as I had time for a leisurely double espresso and perusal of the newspaper before catching the bus outside a local supermarket just after nine.

I found the bus waiting at the pick-up point, it’s engine running and the driver busily mopping the floor. The previous trip had been collecting up school children from the surrounding areas and their muddy shoes left evidence of the rural nature of the catchment area.

Just a little bus!

This morning I was the only person joining the bus at the start of it’s journey.

It turned out that my jolly driver, Julian, was originally from Romania. I more friendly person you couldn’t wish to meet. He explained that he was an economic migrant looking for better opportunities for his family, his wife was a school teacher and they had two children – I found all that out before we had even got moving, it was a glimpse into life on the little bus!

We looped around town to our next pick-up stop; road-works with temporary traffic lights played havoc with Julian’s schedule, but he kept smiling.
“Try driving in Bucharest,” he grinned at me, “A million times worse than this!”

I don’t doubt it.

Leaving the town centre there were just three of us on the bus. Julian, myself and an elderly lady who was travelling to an outlying village to play table tennis!

The three of us happily chatted the miles away, as the morning sun rose higher in the blue winter sky. As the route looped around a number of villages it drove home to me just how many widely splintered communities this little bus served. Small numbers of people joined as the bus made sporadic stops, sometimes in villages, sometimes at scattered farms. The atmosphere on board was like a friendly club; everyone knew each other. Well except for me, I was like the new boy in school and came under friendly scrutiny; this was quite a microcosm of the local society!

It’s tight on these rural lanes!

Sadly my destination point hove into view and Julian slowed the bus to a halt for me to disembark, where had the last hour gone?

I waved farewell to my travelling companions and set off to walk the two miles to Dookes H.Q. where the first Snowdrops are now in bloom, perhaps Spring is just around the corner.


On such a lovely morning it was a joy to meander back to home along the lanes, it gave me time to ponder the service that such buses provide to rural communities.

Near Dookes H.Q.

With the exception of myself and one other chap, everyone else riding this morning was a senior and therefore in receipt of free bus travel. It was clear to see that this little bus not only provided a vital lifeline to the communities that it served, but it enabled people to access amenities that otherwise may be beyond their ability to travel to; it provides a real social need. In addition one little bus this morning kept a dozen cars off the road and that’s good for the environment as well, everyone wins!

The thing is though, these services are audited for the number of people riding and if those numbers fall to far, there is a real risk that the route will be cut or at least severely reduced.

I made a promise to myself to go ride the little bus again and get others to do so too.

“Use it or Loose it!”

Catch you soon.


And Now For Something Completely Different!

A few years ago I took the somewhat, for me, momentous decision to retire early.

Since leaving a high-flying position the railway industry I had been running a grain storage cooperative for a bunch of ingrate farmers and had grown fed up with the job. I had a brilliant working relationship with the Company Secretary, he was fantastic to work with, but the politics of Directorial self-interest, coupled with what I believed to be a general air of Board incompetence which was holding the business back, finally got to me; I’d had enough it was time to move on!

I was fortunate to be in the position of not having to work. My pension plans had worked nicely for me, true Mrs Dookes and I weren’t going to be the next millionaires on the block, but we were OK. Who wants to be the richest corpse in the graveyard anyway?

One of the things about me is that I stew over things, I call it mental processing, but Mrs D calls it worrying! Faced with what was a pretty fundamental life decision I was frankly a bit bewildered. What the hell was I going to do with myself?

Now Mrs Dookes is a wise little bird…
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright,” said Mrs D and she promptly packed me off on a motorcycle trip!

I set out to explore the Größglockner High Alpine Road, Monza Racetrack and other parts of the Alps on Baby Blue. To be honest I was looking for a bit of head-clearing.. Click here to see more of that trip.

On the Grössglockner, sunny but cold.

Part of my planning was buying that brand new Harley Ultra Limited as a retirement present to myself, so I had put some thought into things!

It was whilst I was away, in Pavia just South of Milan if I remember correctly, that I got a call asking me if I was interested in helping out with English Heritage? EH is the organisation that manages the National Heritage Collection of England’s historic buildings and monuments which span more than 5000 years of history.

I had a blank page, so the answer was yes, with conditions. I wasn’t retiring to go back into full-time work. I wanted space to do other things that interested me, plus having more time for family and friends, not to mention riding motorbikes!

As a result I’ve two and a half years of fun playing around a number of amazing historic places and yes time for other interesting things…which leads me to the point of this post!

Just before Christmas I was talking to my good friend Alan, he runs his own stained glass business called Angel Stained Glass; you can get the link here.

New windows designed by Alan.

Alan gets involved in all sorts of interesting projects and by the very nature of stained glass windows much of them are in historic buildings, such as churches.

Poor Alan was a bit under pressure. Christmas was fast approaching. Christian churches as you may know, get very busy at that time of the year with all the carol services and suchlike, the pressure was on to get two projects finished!

Being the sort of chap who both likes a challenge and to help out a mate, I volunteered to give Alan a hand, plus I knew that it would be an interesting thing to do.

Which is how, in the week before Christmas, I found myself basking in winter sunshine, sitting forty feet up in the air on scaffolding outside a church in Cornwall’s County City, Truro. I was happily helping to repair a series of Victorian windows. My job was to check each tiny piece of glass was snugly held by the lead beading; any that were slightly loose needed attention with “lead cement.”

That’s me on the other side!

The name “Lead cement” is a bit misleading, it’s actually a type of black oily putty that is worked between the lead and glass to secure it all together, keep everything watertight and add strength to the panel. Working with the black gloopy stuff is highly satisfying and quite relaxing; well it is to me anyway! As an added bonus, when you are working on site with the windows you are right up close and very personal with the architecture. It’s quite a privilege to be able to touch things that normally you have to crane you neck to even see!

I’ve come to the conclusion that Alan’s line of work consists of three facets:
• Artistic creativity, particularly in the case of new windows.
• Diligent patience and sympathy with the materials.
• Hard, yet careful, physical work when moving the delicate leaded panels.

There is another factor though, that’s absolute total satisfaction and pride in the job when it’s finished; because its going to last another 150 years!

A few days later we were in the small but delightful Cornish village of Quethiock, population 429, with it’s medieval 14th century church dedicated to St Hugh. No sunshine to enjoy this time, but to work in such old and historic surroundings more than compensated.

The windows that we were working on had originally been made in the 1870’s by the then vicar of the parish the Reverend William Willimott. Some of the pieces of glass were medieval fragments that had been reused, whilst the good Reverend stained most of the rest in a wood fired kiln that he built in the Vicarage garden!

A window depicting St Hugh himself in Quethiock church.

“Willy” was by all accounts a pretty gifted chap, because not only did he make stained glass, but he also restored the church almost single-handed. He made wood-carvings, floor tiles and painted ceiling panels and murals whilst also attending to his Parish Duties. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, he was self-taught too!

The ceiling panels painted by Rev Willimott.

It was therefore pretty humbling to know that the last person to have handled the glass that we were refitting was the illustrious Willimott himself; talk about reaching across the years!

Anyway, we got the work done in time for the church to be readied for the Christmas festival and I have to say that I was humbled to have been involved; thanks Alan.

It certainly made a change from motorbikes, steam engines and all the other things that I get up to and don’t mention in this blog. All of which I wouldn’t be able to indulge in if I was still on the treadmill of full-time employment!

Mrs Dookes was correct. – Everything is alright!

“All right now, baby it’s all right now.”

Catch you soon.


“The Riding Season Is Over” – Oh Really?

There are times in my motorcycling life that I find the need to do a little bit of explaining…

The title of this blog is “Hogrider Dookes.”

This is because:
a) I ride Harley Davidson motorcycles.
b) My name is Dookes.

Simple…well yes, so far, but as regular readers, the “Blogonaughts,” may recall, I like to class myself as “A Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s” and not a Harley Rider. There is a big difference.

Back in November I visited the “Motorcycle Live” exhibition in Birmingham, this annual event is the biggest motorcycle show in the UK and goes on for nearly two weeks. All the major manufacturers attend, along with countless aftermarket suppliers and trade stands, it’s a fantastic event for anyone with a passion for motorcycles. I had a super day looking at everything from the latest things on two wheels to clothing, luggage and other accessories. True I did have a sit on one of Harley’s 2018 models, but then I also sat on Honda’s, Ducati’s, KTM’s, Yamaha’s and even a Royal Enfield…eclectic, is probably the best way to describe my taste.

Royal Enfield at Motor Cycle Live.

Then, just before the nonsense of Christmas and New Year, I found myself chatting to one of the Road Captains from our local Harley Owners Group Chapter; the subject of the exhibition came up in our conversation and I enthused about all the different bikes I had seen.

“I’m not interested in other bikes, just Harley’s.” Was the somewhat scornful response. Fair enough, point taken, said individual then went on to tell me that his own bike, an Ultra Limited Low, had been put away for the next few months as “The Riding Season is over until Spring.”

The thing is, he’s not alone. Lots of motorcyclists pack their bikes away in the Autumn and hibernate until the Spring, maybe Harley Riders more than most.

I guess that’s what I mean about being a Motorcyclist who happens to ride Harley’s and not a “Harley Rider.”

You see, I ride all year round and I’m in a silly way I’m bloomin’ proud of that!

True, sometimes a four-hour ride equals eight hours of cleaning and polishing afterwards, but it isn’t half worth it! Take the situation just before Christmas for example.

For a few weeks we had been enduring our usual share of Cornish winter gales; loads of rain, high winds, hail and just a dusting of snow on the high moors. Then the wind dropped, the sun came out and the temperature plummeted.

What better thing to do than to hit the road on two wheels with a motorcycling pal for company?

My artist mate Mark is always up for a ride at the drop of a hat and like me isn’t too bothered by winter weather. Mark rides a solid Honda CB1200, a real no-nonsense bike that suits him down to the ground and if I’m honest a model that I really like too, but which one of my two-wheeled ladies should I take?
Well, I did consider Baby Blue so that I could hide from the cold behind her big faring, but as Harls was already pretty filthy from me riding around in the week before I settled on her. Anyway, my heated jacket and gloves would keep the cold out!

High on Dartmoor and just a little dirty.

For some reason, probably just because we could, we decided on the delights of the high ground of Dartmoor on the border of Cornwall and Devon. Only a few days earlier the moor had been lying under a light blanket of snow, but now the roads were clear if a bit wet from running-off water, the sky blue and the air crisp. This was motorcycling for the purist!

Highway to heaven.

I think that I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Views like this are always better on two wheels.

On the way back we called in on the local Harley Dealership, Plymouth Harley Davidson, ours were the only two bikes in the parking lot.

In the showroom, salesman Kev grinned at me.
“Hi Dookes, I see the 12 month riding season is still open then?”

It certainly is Kev, it certainly is!

“Bleak winter sunset with sky of lavender…”*

Catch you soon.


* Images In a Moment of Time, Ryan Richard Nych