Bridesmaids

Hello Everyone.

It’s been another splendid day for riding motorbikes. Lots of sunshine, a bit of a chill in the air…but best of all, no rain! With all the trials by weather that we have been subjected to, it was the sort of day to savour and do something special and that’s exactly what we did.

Continued apologies for the lack of photographs, hotel WiFi is still being a pain, so I’ll keep this report reasonably brief and save the photos for a longer post in the not to distant future.

Because of the weather issues I’ve rearranged our schedule a bit and dropped some of the lesser Dolomite Passes, actually that’s just an excuse to come back here again….please Mrs Dookes! There were however three passes that I really wanted to bag (that’s slang for riding over them), initially they had been scheduled for our entry to Italy, but yep the weather stuffed that idea. The trouble is that they are all so high that even in the height of summer and precipitation can fall as snow. Over the last week all of them have seen quite a bit of the white stuff and only yesterday snow chains were required on two of them! As you can imagine, there was still a fair bit around today making things look quite superb.

Oh yes, I nearly forget to tell you which passes I’m rambling on about, I’ll give you the German names for them, as we are in the South Tirol after all, in order that we rode them:

Penserjoch 2215m/7267ft
Jaufenpass 2099m/6887ft
Timmelsjoch 2474m/8127ft

I set out with a blank canvas, sure I knew where I wanted to go, but I hadn’t planned a return route. That was good really, because I enjoyed the outward ride so much over the first two that once we had done the Timmelsjoch High Alpine road, I turned around and came back the way we went out! 😎

I’ve got to say that although the Timmelsjoch is supposed to be one of the classic alpine routes, it didn’t do much for me; I much preferred the other two. A case of the bridesmaids out doing the bride!

Yes, I promise I’ll write much more in future about all three routes with, if I say so myself, some really nice photos as well; please stick around for that.

In the meantime, keep the rubber down and the shiny side up!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

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Better Days

The Great Weather Clerk must have been reading my post last week; minor grumbles about the damp, grey misty days were answered with bright blue skies, sunshine and crisp dry air. Oh yes, I almost forgot, freezing temperatures as well.

…and that suits me just fine.

You see I had a few “errands to run,” as my dear late Grandmother was want to say and what better spirit lifting way to do it than on two wheels of course!

First up I needed to take my laptop into the Apple Store for a memory upgrade. I really love my Mac computer, but one thing that bugs me about Apple is the way they bombard users with operating system upgrades. Yeah I know that this includes security improvements, allegedly, but each upgrade inevitably makes the computer run a little bit slower until, eventually, the thing becomes a dithering, if somewhat expensive desk lamp! There are two Apple stores near Dookes H.Q., one in Plymouth, 25 miles, and one in Truro, 45 miles away. Better go to Truro then and take the longer route too!

Truro is the County town of Cornwall, actually it’s a city, though quite small as cities go, with a population of only 18,750 people. It’s also the only city in Cornwall. Until politicians started handing out “city” status to all comers, a City in the UK could only lay claim to the title if it had a Cathedral and Truro has a gem.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or just Truro Cathedral to most people, was built between 1880 and 1910 in the Gothic Revival style. It’s also one of only two Cathedrals in England to possess three spires; the other being Litchfield in Staffordshire. Nestling amongst a rabbit warren of narrow streets it’s quite difficult to get a decent photograph of this delightful building, but the West facade shows itself nicely! image Annoyingly the Christmas lights were being taken down so hence the “cherry picker,” but I don’t think that it spoils the view too much.

Just around the corner from the Cathedral is Coinage Hall Street, still covered in wonderful granite setts, which are a bit tricky on a motorbike especially in the wet, but look lovely!image The Coinage Hall at the end of the square was built as the Cornish Bank in 1848 on the site of the old Coinage Hall where twice yearly tin was brought to be assayed and taxed.

I really like Truro and one day I’ll do a proper post about the city when the sun is a bit higher in the sky, but for now I hope that this little taster will whet your appetite.

As is usual when I have time on my hands I took the even longer way home, after all better days like this are to be savoured and enjoyed. Once back at Dookes H.Q. I even had time to walk the dogs and take in some more of the lovely county in which we live.

Blue sky, crisp clean air and right on my doorstep!

Blue sky, crisp clean air and right on my doorstep!

“These are better days
Better days are shining through”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Blue Monday

Hello everyone!

First up, please accept my apologies for being a tad tardy in making posts over the last few weeks. Mostly my excuse is that I haven’t had much to say, so rather than blithering complete nonsense, as opposed to mostly nonsense I thought it best to shut up!

Life in Dookes World is pretty OK, I’ve been out and about on the bikes quite a bit though only relatively local trips. I am, however, getting totally fed up with the constant need to wash the bikes after each ride… go out on a blue Harley and return on a brown one, such is the level of c**p on our local roads at the moment! – No, don’t worry I’m not publishing a photo of a dirty motorbike!

Which leads me to the title of this post.

Apparently, the third Monday of January, (that’s today!), has been given the name “Blue Monday” and has been identified as the most depressing day of the year for countries in the Northern Hemisphere! There are even statistical equations that purport to back up the claim, though as two completely different versions of the equation exist I doubt that my old Mathematics Professor would be very impressed!

Now quite what this pseudoscience nonsense is all based on I’m not sure…though I’m inclined to suspect that travel companies eager to make bookings in the post-Christmas period have a lot to do with it!

Looking out of the window here at Dookes H.Q. today it’s dark, misty, damp and dreary, the forecast says its going to be this way for about a week… so maybe there is something in it after all!

All is not lost though.

We have been experiencing a very mild winter so far with temperatures around ten degrees celsius above average, it’s certainly saving on heating costs!

Best of all, a wander around the grounds here at H.Q. reveals that Spring is racing its way towards us. There are shoots of all my favourite Spring flowers pushing up from the ground through the last fallen leaves of Autumn. Stars of the show so far are a couple of delightful Primroses that certainly have arrived first!

Primrose, Primula vulgaris. Excuse the poor quality, blame the rain and the light!

Primrose, Primula vulgaris.
Excuse the poor quality, blame the rain and the light!

Now with that little glimpse of Spring I’m of to plan some road trips!

Blue Monday? Nah, not really!

“Monday morning you look so fine,
Friday I got travellin’ on my mind.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

La better kind of blue!

My kind of blue!

Stonehenge

It probably seems that I just ride a pair of big American built motorbikes and yes, in some ways that’s true, but…in reality…I also ride two time machines!

Many countries around the world have ancient monuments, sites of great historic interest and significance. On my travels I like to look in on some of these places, but it’s strange it’s always the ones closest to home that you overlook or put off to “some other day.”

On a gin clear late autumn morning last week, I fired up Baby Blue’s engine, turned East from Dookes H.Q., rode 150 miles on the road and back 5000 years in time.

Our destination: Stonehenge.
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One of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, Stonehenge has been acknowledged by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site of International importance. Archeological research suggests that it was built in several stages: the first monument was an early henge monument, consisting of banks and ditches started about 5,000BC. That’s 2500 years before the Great Pyramid in Egypt! The impressive stone circle that is the quintessential image of Stonehenge was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. Many burial mounds were built nearby in the late Bronze Age, around 800BC, and dot the landscape around the monument to the present day.

Round Barrow Burial Mounds near Stonehenge

Round Barrow Burial Mounds near Stonehenge

Stonehenge lies on Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau in Central Southern England that covers over 300 square miles and is renowned for its rich archeological heritage. Even today it is sparsely populated, a combination of its worth as agricultural land and also use by the military for training purposes. As an aside my Grandfather Charles spent much of his early Army service with the Royal Horse Artillery training on the Plain, before heading off to the horrors of the Western Front in 1915. The Plain is also a special place for wildlife, with two national nature reserves, many rare plants and a haven for wild mammals and birds.image

Now let me be clear, I’m no archeologist, but I do have a massive interest in all things ancient. The reason I am saying this dear reader, is because there are many more detailed explanations that have been written about Stonehenge by far more qualified folk than I! So what follows is my take on the place…if you want more detailed stuff, well it’s out there in all different forms.

A fantastic new visitor centre was built in 2014 and stands about a mile and a half from the stones, where a superb exhibition tells the story of the monument through displays of excavated artefacts, photographs and diagrams. I thought it was very well done.

An example of a burial from 4500 years ago.

An example of a burial from 4500 years ago.

You can park at the visitor centre and catch frequent shuttle buses to the monument or enjoy the walk across the Plain, taking in some of the other surrounding archeology and delightful woodland as I did. Actually after 150 miles of riding I was ready to stretch my legs!image

I first visited the stones as a young lad, many years ago. In those days the public were free to wander amongst the stones and touch them as you tried to make sense of it all. Unfortunately, people then started to chip lumps off as souvenirs and the increased footfall of ever more visitors began to erode the delicate archeology. Since 1977 visitors are no longer able to touch the stones, but are allowed to walk around the monument and through the henge ditch, however on the two Solstice days plus the spring and autumn equinox access is briefly permitted.image

Exactly what function Stonehenge had in ancient times remains a mystery, indeed it may have had several uses. Hypotheses range from ancestor worship, celestial calendar, a place of healing or simply a place of the dead, a funerary monument if you like. The modern thinking on the reason for Stonehenge is that it was first built as a place of burial. Cremated remains of 63 individuals were excavated in 2013 and carbon dated to around 3000BC, it appears that at this time the standing stones that we know today were beginning to be erected and this is where things start to get very interesting.
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There are two types of stone found in the monument; Bluestones and Sarsens.

The first to appear were 80 Bluestones, of which only 43 remain today. These monoliths are about two metres high, about one metre wide and 0.8 metre thick, each one weighs about two tons. Now the really fascinating thing is that this type of stone, a variety of igneous dolerite, is only found 150 miles away in the Preseli Hills of South Wales…So how to goodness did they get to Stonehenge?

About 2000 years after the Bluestones were erected, the ring of 30 Saracens with their lintels resting on top made their appearance. Now these fellas really put things into ever greater perspective! Each stone is around 4.1 metres high, 2.1 metres wide and 1.8 metres deep, oh yes and they weigh about 25 tons!

Part of the Sarsen ring.

Part of the Sarsen ring.

Inside the Sarsen ring stood five trilithons, two large sarsens with a third one set across the top, in a horse shoe shape. imagePutting the all the other stones to shame, these behemoths weigh up to 50 tons each, the largest stood 7.3 metres tall with another 2.4 metres buried in the ground. These stones appear to have been transported from a quarry that was 25 miles to the North of Stonehenge…even so, just consider moving and erecting one of these mammoths with nothing other than manpower!

The whole site and specifically the trilithons and heel stone, which lies outside the main circle, are aligned to the position of the sun on the solstice.

The Heel Stone, on the Midsummer Solstice the sun rises over this point.

The Heel Stone, on the Midsummer Solstice the sun rises over this point.

On the winter solstice the sun sets over the alignment and in the summer the sun rises in line with the stones.
Looking along the Midwinter Solstice line from the Heel Stone.

Looking along the Midwinter Solstice line from the Heel Stone.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around looking at the monument, taking photographs, reading the various interpretation panels, listening to the free audio guide and generally really enjoying myself getting to know the place again. image

I took the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre and enjoyed a very pleasant lunch in the café/restaurant, after a quick look around the impressive souvenir shop.

Soon it was time to head back West towards home. I pointed “Baby” into the setting sun, we hit the road and basked in the freedom that only two wheels can give!

West, into the setting sun.

West, into the setting sun.

The air was certainly beginning to turn cool by the time we got back to Cornwall, but heated gloves, jacket and handlebar grips kept me snug over the miles.

What a simply brilliant day we had!

I’ve got to admit that as I rode back, I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the hilarious lyrics of Spinal Tap…

“No one knows who they were or what they were doing,
but their legacy remains
hewn in the living rock…of Stonehenge”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Admission to the monument, including free shuttle bus and the visitor centre exhibition costs £15.50 for adults and £9.30 for children, with a family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) £40.30. Best value is to buy English Heritage Annual Membership for a family (2 adults and up to 12 children) £92.50 or £52 for an individual adult. Concessions also available. This gives you unlimited access to over 400 historic places for a whole year. For Overseas Visitors EH offer passes that are valid for either 9 or 16 days. Family Overseas Visitors Pass (2 adults and up to 4 children) costs are £57 or £66 respectively. So you don’t need to visit many places before you start saving money and you can keep going back as often as you like!

Equalising the Equinox

There are some days when you just have to get out there and celebrate the sheer joy of life and if you can share that with one of your dearest mates then so much the better.

If that mate is battling cancer…

Well, it’s sort of inspiring and at the same time frankly humbling.

The Autumn Equinox, 22nd September this year, dawned bright and sunny.

I had arranged to meet G in the historic city of Exeter, about 50 miles from Dookes H.Q., just enough miles to warm up both man and machine. At our rendezvous G was on good form and after fueling both riders and machines we set out Eastwards along the beautiful South Devon coast. p1070794

We trundled along in glorious early autumn sunshine; OK I’ll be honest, I trundled along whilst G flicked his Yamaha Super Tenere effortlessly through the corners. These days, knowing what he has been going through, it always makes me smile when G does that with a motorbike; you see I know that underneath his crash helmet will be a big grin and that makes me happy too!

The beautiful County of Devon soon gave way to its equally lovely neighbour, Dorset and the famous world Heritage Site of the “Jurassic Coast.” The area cuts across nearly 190 million years of geological history, covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Fossilised remains found in its rocks testify to the land having changed over the millennia from tropical seas to desert and marshland. The region is a magnet to fossil hunters from around the world whilst the mellow yellow rock is very easy on the eye and the gentle hills a delight to a motorcyclist. There are many interesting features along the coastal landscape with the natural arch of Durdle Door being probably the most famous.

Durdle Door -  Photo by Saffron Blaze

Durdle Door – Photo by Saffron Blaze

Between Abbotsbury and Portland the impressive shingle bank of Chesil Beach extends for 18 miles (29Km). The beach is 200 metres wide and 15 metres high and shelters a broad lagoon known as The Fleet. It is fascinating that the size of the shingle pebbles on the beach varies from West to East; they range from pea size at West Bay to around the size of an orange near Portland.

Chesil Bank

Chesil Beach

We paused high above Chesil, partly for a breather, but also to take in the stunning view and enjoy the gentle sea breeze. When a Westerly gale is blowing here the place changes out of all recognition and takes on a ferocious face as the many shipwrecks that litter the seabed here bear witness.

From Chesil we turned inland and skirted the county town of Dorchester before heading north onto the chalk downlands. At Cerne Abbas it was time for another stop, we needed to discuss the important matter of lunch, but also to grab a cheeky view of the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, a massive fella, (in more ways than one!), carved in the chalk hillside.p1070814

This old chap is a bit of a mystery. Some people believe he is a Celtic fertility symbol and dates from around 10 AD, others say that he is Roman and represents Hercules, whilst a third school of thought is that he dates from the 17th century and is a caricature of Oliver Cromwell. My shot of him shows that he needs a bit of re-chalking so thanks to Pete Harlow for the use of his aerial picture.

Carne Abbas Giant - Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

Carne Abbas Giant – Aerial shot by Pete Harlow

We decided on lunch in Sherborne, a short ride from the Giant and after a gentle stroll around the old castle settled down to a relaxing meal. p1070818

Sherborne Old Castle was built in the 12th century as the fortified palace of the Bishop of Salisbury; it seems a tad strange for a Bishop to live in a castle! p1070824Later the castle was home to Sir Walter Raleigh and following its siege during the English Civil War was left in ruins by General Fairfax of the Parliamentary Army in 1645.p1070848

Today Sir Walter is said to return to his castle each St Michael’s Eve, 29th September, to roam the grounds and check up on his beloved former home. I don’t blame him, it’s a lovely place.

Refueled by our lunch we turned East and soon were crossing the Somerset Levels. This region of around 160,000 acres is an ancient coastal plain and wetland area of tremendously important habitat and biodiversity of international importance, plus rich agricultural land. It has been inhabited since at least 4000BC.
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The levels mostly lie only about 20 feet above mean sea level, but in some places only manage 10-12 feet. With peak spring tides of around 25 feet you can see the area is frequently in trouble from flooding. Drainage and land reclamation has been going on here since the 12th century, but every now and then nature shows who is still really in charge!

I like to think of the levels as our local equivalent of “Big Sky” country, it certainly is a pretty special place.

Burrow Mump is a hill and historic site that lies towards the Western levels. Our road passed the base of the hill and I couldn’t resist squeezing off a quick moody shot looking towards the ruined church on top of the hill.p1070857

Our route to deliver G back home swept over the lovely Blackdown Hills at Whiteball where on sweeping roads we crossed back into Devon. We parted just by G’s house, set in rolling rural loveliness between the Rivers Exe and Creedy.

My friend looked a tad tired as I rode off, tired but happy. I still had another 50 miles to ride, 50 more glorious twisty miles to enjoy my lovely big blue Harley and reflect on special times shared with special friends.

The equinox had been equalised, everything was balanced up nicely.

“It’s easy watchin’ seasons go
As sunshine turns to new-born snow.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

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Taking it Easy With Memories

A couple of days ago, I was sitting on a ferry returning from France. It’s quite a long crossing at the Western end of the English Channel, so over an espresso I sat idly fooling around with my iPad looking at photographs and only half aware of the canned Muzak emanating from a speaker on the ceiling just above me.

It all changed when “Hotel California” by the Eagles began.

The album of the same name was one of the companions of my youth and I still love it now as much as when I first heard it. It’s also become one of my companions when touring on two wheels and today I guess it represents the sense of freedom that motorcycle travel gives me.

Having left the port of Roscoff in Northern Brittany, we were enjoying a glass smooth passage. The various Islets that rise out of the sea off the coast here fascinate me every time I sail by and over the years I’ve passed this way over fifty times now!p1070978

Now we were on the open Sea and the French coast had long disappeared in our wake over the receding horizon. I sat up and looked out at the passing ocean, the sun was rapidly setting. It’s always fun to anticipate the big hiss as it sinks into the water, but that never happens…!

A large container ship was passing through the lengthening golden rays, it’s decks and hold crammed with shipping boxes carrying goodness knows what. For a moment it seemed to pause, silhouetted against the horizon; what a shame it wasn’t one of those classic liners from the past, such as the Queen Mary, Normandie or France. I was fortunate, years ago, to have actually witnessed the last of those graceful ships before the scrapyards claimed most of them, what a memory to have!p1070994

Yes, the old Dookes mind was definitely wandering…

When I’m at sea I find I can have space to think, probably because there’s not much else to do and watching the endless waves go by has a wonderfully calming effect on me.

The Eagles continued as we left the container ship in our wake.

In my mind I was now back on my big two-wheeler, sweeping across the fertile plains of Central France and catching that first breath-taking glimpse of the Alps. I could feel the warmth of the summer sun on my face and the scent of wild flowers as we passed verdant meadows of blooms nodding in gentle summer breezes. The drum of the ship’s engines became the soundtrack of the road, or at least a pretty good substitute.

It’s been lovely to be back in Brittany, if only for a short time. The weather has been kind to us and the early colours of Autumn quite enchanting. For a change I’ve not been chasing the miles and have been quite content to stay in one place, visit some local towns and villages, catch up with friends and of course enjoy the local food and drink.

The season has been relentlessly turning, with the trees slowly fading from verdant greens to gold and brown.p1070960 In the dense forest around our friends château we found sweet chestnuts dropping from the branches of ancient trees, one of natures tasty gifts to be eagerly gathered and enjoyed a long with wild mushrooms and other edible fungi.p1070964 By the pretty village of Huelgoat the glassy lake looked stunning, framed by majestic autumnal colour.dsc_0060

The medieval town of Josselin has a street market that always captivates me and to have the time to stroll amongst its bustling stalls is a real treat. p1040879As with most things French, food takes centre stage. We stocked up with tresses of smoked garlic, air-dried sausages, onions and olives. Mouth-watering aromas hung on the air; there were spit roasting chickens, outsize pans of tartiflette, grilled ham and a host of other tempting goodies all being freshly cooked and available to eat now or later. I let my senses take in the atmosphere and I realised that each passing moment is another precious memory to look back on, enjoy and savour.

The Brest - Nantes Canal at Josselin.

The Brest – Nantes Canal at Josselin.

Yes, memories are wonderful things, though like many people I have some that I’d rather erase, but memories of travel I cherish. It’s really the heartbeat of my life, travel and memories. I guess that I’m just one of those people that is constantly called to keep moving by voices of the road.p1070789

“…and still those voices are calling from far away….”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Glenn Frey, 1948-2016, with thanks for all the music and memories.
– Take it Easy.

A Little Bit of History Repeating

When I’m off on my little motorcycle adventures, there’s nothing I love more than riding new roads. Actually, that’s what its all about, new roads, new vistas, new places and new people.

There are times though when I retrace my steps. Sometimes it’s because of necessity because there is no other practical route and other times it’s just because I want to.

Now I’m not talking not those grand places that call me back, like for example Col du Galibier in the French Alps. No, I mean those back roads that just need to be ridden at a leisurely pace without a care in the world.

A few weeks back, as I trundled across Brittany heading for the ferry home, I had one of those moments. I wasn’t in a hurry and the D764 road to Pontivy just sort of called me to enjoy a steady trundle across the gentle Breton countryside.

I couldn’t resist stopping to try to recreate a photo that I took of “Harls” a couple of years ago on the same road.
Heres the first picture:

Harls in Brittany 2014.

Harls in Brittany 2014.

And here we are with “Baby” in the same spot two years later!

Baby, Brittany 2016.

Baby in Brittany 2016.

Apart from the difference in the weather and the height of the crops in the field behind the bikes, I don’t think too much has changed.

“Harls” looks a bit dirtier than “Baby,” but that’s probably got a lot to do with her being a naked bike and all exposed to the elements, as I am when I’m riding her!

All I know is that it’s a privilege to be able to own, ride and enjoy two lovely machines such as these and take them to the many wonderful places that I do.

It’s what keeps me sane in this crazy world that we live in!

“Yes I’ve seen it before,
just little bits of history repeating.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes