Hitchhiking the Galaxy

Yes I know, old Dookes has been off air for a week or so…but sometimes if you’ve nothing useful to say its best to keep your mouth shut!

Life trundles on here in Cornwall, the first storms of autumn and winter have arrived and it seems like a good excuse to light up the log fire and get snug.

First it was former tropical hurricane “Ophilia” that shook the roof slates and now we are just getting over storm “Brian” who was, I believe, described as a weather bomb! Actually he was a bit disappointing, not quite the vicious beast that the meteorologists and media made him out to be, but hey I wouldn’t have wanted to ride a motorcycle as he blew through!

Before all the wind and rain started with a vengeance I managed to sneak out for a quick 150 miler with my old mate G. What a pair we were too…G with his semi-rebuilt wrists and me with two knackered shoulders. We worked out that he was OK turning right and I could manage left, then we ended up in a gravel covered car-park….!

Do you know that feeling when you get a bit stuck, then can’t help laughing and then you really can’t move? I’m still chuckling thinking about it!!

Our trip took us to the Western end of our County of Cornwall; one of those “Going Nowhere Particular” sort of rides, but just great to be out on two wheels again.

Mounts Bay in West Cornwall, simply beautiful.


Then just as life starts getting back into some sort of routine something happens that sort of puts everything back into perspective and highlights just what is important and what is trivial.

Yesterday evening I was at an informal social event with some friends who like me do a bit of looking after ancient ruins and sites. We were having a great time, a bit of ten-pin bowling and supper. I made the observation that I hadn’t seen one of our number for a while…only to learn that he had passed away a couple of weeks ago after a very short battle with savage cancer!

Now in the light of a beautiful Cornish Autumn day I’m trying to get my head round it.

It’s the fragility of life that’s so haunting; it’s not great that I’m typing this at a desk with a mirror behind it either! Whilst on the inside I’m looking out of what I feel are a 19 year olds eyes, what I see confirms that the rest is considerably older. A few weeks ago Mrs Dookes lost one of her dearest Aunts, yes it was a bit of a shock, but the lady was into her 80’s and as my dear late father used to say, “Had a fair innings.” Chris, on the other hand was around the same age as me, not at all good; no I’m not in my 80’s yet either!

Just for once I’m pleased to have tinnitus today, it’s giving me a sort of curtain to hide behind whilst I process the departure of Chris.

Chris, who had an air about him that was a cross between cultured indifference and barbed cynicism; but whose intellect was as sharp as a razor, yet gentle a silk and observations on life the universe and everything would leave me a helpless wreck convulsed with laughter. The lucky sod still had an amazing full head of blond hair too!

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have spotted my oblique reference to Douglas Adams brilliant book, “The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.” Chris loved that book, as do I and we would frequently trade quotes in greeting to each other. I’m going to miss that.

Farewell Chris; on reflection it’s probably good that I didn’t get to say goodbye face to face, I want to remember you as I knew you.

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

P.S. “Don’t Panic.”

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Red Sky In The Morning.

Sometimes it’s worth getting up the first time the alarm sounds and not hitting the “Snooze” button. Yesterday in Brittany was a case in point.

Surprisingly the evening with Denis didn’t get out of hand and I slept “The sleep of the just,” with only the alarm disturbing me. I got out of bed and threw open the shutters, dawn was breaking in the Eastern sky with rich hues of amber, red and gold; it was too good to miss, so I sat I the window taking in the show that the sun was giving.

In the back of my mind I pondered the old adage,”Red sky in the morning, sailors warning.” Hmm, oh well, we’ve taken pretty much everything that the weather clerk has thrown at us this trip, something else won’t matter. Will it?

Denis was waiting when I wandered downstairs, his smile every bit as warm as the sun.
“Bonjour Gallois, bien dormi, ça va?”
“Oui mon ami ça va et merci, j’ai très bien dormi!”

He broke into a rare bit of stilted English,
“Bacon and eggs? Zee full English?”

He roared with laughter as I shook my head…he knew what I was going to say.

“Merci, non. J’aurai une omelette, comme d’habitude!”

More laughter, Denis knows I always have an omelette for breakfast with him; it’s because they are the best, which I frequently remind him. Anyway he gets fun out of the bacon and eggs routine!

Of course there’s the usual French breakfast fare to go with it; bread, croissants, pain au chocolat and as this is Bretagne, little Madeleine cakes…which just beg to be dipped briefly in your cup of coffee to give sublime breakfast happiness!

Soon, too soon, it was time to hit the road again and in the French way there were hugs and kisses all round. Ann stood on the steps of the Château waving me goodbye, Denis had disappeared off to feed his horses, he doesn’t do the actual departure bit very well.

I turned Harls North West and headed for our ferry port at Roscoff, just over 100 miles away through delightful Breton scenery. True, Brittany isn’t as spectacular as the mountains that we’ve been in for the last fortnight, but to me it has a homely feel. It’s the region of France where I first “got it” about the country and the people, that’s wholly down to Mrs Dookes; she worked here years ago and imparted her love of the place to me. I’ve never really looked back since!

Then there was the weather, what a lovely day it had turned into and stayed that way right to the ferry. Thank you La France, I’ll forgive you the downpours we had to endure previously!

….and so to sea. The ferry link between Brittany and Plymouth is really convenient for me as Dookes H.Q. is only about 25 miles from the port and usually a doddle to cover.

I like travelling with Brittany Ferries, that’s not an advert for them – I’m just a satisfied customer. I always get a cabin, irrespective if it’s a day or night sailing, as it makes a good base to securely dump things whilst I enjoy the facilities of the ship and also because I appreciate getting some sleep. No difference this time either!

Getting near to the U.K.the weather closed in and by the time we docked it was full-on driving rain. Oh joy in the darkness!

Then, just to add to my overflowing cup of happiness on the way home, the highways authority had decided to dig up the road and install diversions…then we ran into fog and still it rained…bear in mind that these are rural roads with no street-lighting, not fun. That blasted red sky!

Grumbling aside, it was good to roll Harls into my workshop, shut the doors, turn on the dehumidifiers, thank her for a job well done and promise in the next couple for days to wash the considerable amount of road grime off her.

2736 miles without missing a beat. “Pas mal,” as Denis says, yes not at all bad for an old lady, the true star of the show!

Incredibly big thanks to Mrs Dookes for the latitude that she gives me to go travelling, whilst she keeps H.Q. ticking over; yeah I know that I’m a lucky chap in so many ways.

There’s more to tell about this trip dear reader, so please pop back again soon when I post more pictures and stories of things we saw along the road.

“Let me be a travelling man, I’m a roadrunner baby, roadrunner.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Hard Miles

Some days the miles seem to fly by, blink and that’s a hundred gone, other days it can seem like you are getting nowhere very slowly. Today had elements of both!

I said “au revoir” to Claudine and Jacques this morning and hit the road. I wanted to fill Harls with fuel and decided that a convenient supermarket on the outskirts of Bourges that I knew would be ideal. For some reason I thought that it would be fun to stick to “normal” roads and avoid the Péage, after all it was only 25 miles away….BIG mistake! That 25 miles took an hour, with road works, heavy traffic and speed limits.

I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t a very happy Dookes. When I started this trip, I resolved to chill and definitely cut down on the swearing…good job I haven’t got a swear box with me then, I was even going at it in Welsh!!!!

Then we got on the N151 and things got a whole lot better.

Normally I avoid “N” roads, or Route National to give them their proper title. These days they are often poor relations to the toll roads and suffer from toll-road-avoiding trucks beating them to pieces.

The 151 is different though.

Enjoying the N151.


First up it’s an old Roman road, so it’s almost dead straight, but occasionally enjoys some wonderful sections of multiple curves. It passes through delightful towns, like Charité sur Loire, Vézelay and Clamecy and crosses from the Val de Loire into Bourgogne – that’s Burgundy to the non-French speakers.

Passing through small town France.

I love Bourgogne, it’s so “me” and like me it seems to burst into life in the autumn, I was an Autumn baby so maybe that’s got something to do with it! The list of wonderful Burgundy produce reads like an encyclopaedia of high quality foodstuff. There’s some of the most delightful (and expensive) wines in the whole of France, nuts by the tonne, grass reared beef, mustard, cheese, Marc de Bourgogne brandy and of course all kinds of game. Its reputation for fine gastronomy is well deserved. Unfortunately, today, we were only passing through, drat!

Then after Avallon we rode onto the A6, Autoroute de Soleil, or to coin Chris Rea, “this is the road to hell!” To be fair, it doesn’t go to hell, but it’s purgatory travelling along it! The A31 and A36 that follow are pretty “merde” as well. These were 150 hard, hard miles, just grit the old teeth and get on with it. No-one can hear you scream in space, or inside a motorcycle helmet.

Finally after Besançon we turned off and began to pass through small towns and villages as we climbed towards the Vosges. Along the way we had crossed the line where water drains towards the Mediterranean Sea rather than the Atlantic and had bridged the river Saône; I always feel sorry for the poor Saône, it’s a mighty river in its own right, but normally it’s just dismissed as a tributary of the Rhône.

Seeing the Vosges Mountains rise up around us, it occurred to me that France is big, really big. Not in the space sense as The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy once said:

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Well, when you live in Cornwall, a county about 70 miles long and only around 40 miles at its widest and where the Sea is only ever 20 minutes away tops, France might just as well be Outer Space!

Then we hit the mountains and the smile returned!

Smile time, mountain roads!


Ok, the Voges isn’t the Alps, but hey after the day we had just endured you gotta cut me some slack! We rode past our B&B for the night and on to Gerardmer to cross off some Cols, just because we could and also because I needed to get the old head straight on a few hairpins!

“Wheels spinnin’ round my brain, driving you insane.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Today’s mileage 329; Trip 691 from Roscoff..

Candles in the Wind

I am sitting watching long grass waving in the brisk, yet warm, South-Westerly breeze. In the sunshine the shimmering meadow looks for all the world like a rippling sea of green and the gentle swishing of the wind through standing stalks could be the music of distant waves.

It’s at times like this that I often get a tad philosophical about life, reflective if you like, as my mind wanders through idle nothingness.

One of the things that bugs me about getting older is the number of my friends that disappear off this mortal coil at a shockingly frequent pace. Often it occurs without much notice, blink and they are gone; no I’m not talking about motorcycle accidents either, it’s just the age thing!

I consider myself lucky to have known and count as friends a bunch of really amazing people.

Fortunately there are tangible things around that often remind me of my lost pals and never fail to raise a smile or lift my heart.

There’s the old big brass whistle that stands by our fireplace, it once graced my steam engine, a gift from dear David who passed away a couple of years back.

Then a couple of months ago I was walking through the grounds of Launceston (that’s pronounced “Lawn-ston”) Castle in East Cornwall, when I came across this splendid horse chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum.

This species is often considered as a native British tree, as it is found throughout the U.K., but it actually originates from the Balkans in South East Europe.

As you can see the tree was in full flower and that made me smile. I stood admiring the display and my mind wandered back across the years to Roger, an old and sadly missed friend.

Roger lived in the New Forest, an area of Central Southern England that is now a National Park, but was once the hunting ground of Kings dating back to before the Norman Conquest in 1066AD.

Roger was a true man of the forest; his chalet stood in a spot that nestled in a clearing deep in the heart of the green silence. His few acres were approached by a gravel track that ended at his front door. He kept a few chickens and his beloved Jersey house cow named Wendy. Apart from his animals and indeed all the creatures and plants of the forest, Roger’s main passion was for vintage agricultural tractors.

I used to spend hours with Roger and his son, sometimes working his land with whichever piece of vintage machinery took our fancy that day; or maybe on an expedition to track down some rare spare parts to repair one of his or indeed my collection. Often though we would just walk deeper into the forest and sit watching deer, foxes or badgers until the sun dipped and the air grew cool.

Roger’s favourite tree was the Horse Chestnut. He loved it’s deep mahogany brown fruits, known as conkers in the UK and beloved of small boys for “conker fights” in Autumn time; best of all though Roger adored the display of white and pink flowers that stand proud on the trees in early summer, he called them “Candles.”

So there I stood watching the “Candles” waving in the breeze and thinking of my dear old chum.

The great thing that Roger taught me is that a true Countryman plants trees not for himself for now, but for future generations. I resolved to return in the autumn, gather some “Conkers” and plant them, then watch new trees grow.

He would have liked that, would Roger.

Catch you soon,

Dookes.

Digging The Past

Living here in Cornwall, at the extreme South West of the UK, I am frequently reminded just how lucky I am to be a resident in one of the most beautiful parts of our country. Actually I go a bit further, just living in our country is pretty OK too..despite Brexit and a host of other things!

You see the thing about Cornwall is that it’s a land of moods and a matter of choosing what you fancy today. If you want rugged cliffs and stunning coastal vistas, then head for the North Coast. High Tors and rolling moorland are on Bodmin Moor, whilst more pastoral scenery nestles on the banks of the River Tamar and the Roseland Peninsular. Not forgetting the sun-kissed miles of golden sand and some of the best surfing in the world at Gwithian and Praa Sands….we’ve got most needs covered!

The other thing that we’ve got in abundance is history, it’s everywhere and again there’s something for everyone’s interest, from the Stone-Age to Twentieth Century stuff via the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution.

So when the opportunity comes up to mix a couple of these points of interest together and throw in a bit of motorcycling, Dookes is always available…! So last Monday I started up Harls and hit the road.

Over on the North Coast, about 20 miles from Dookes H.Q. stands the bastion of Tintagel Castle. Perched on a high cliff-top above the wild Atlantic waves these mysterious and evocative ruins are, legend says, the birthplace of the mythical King Arthur.

Tintagel Castle

The reality is a bit different, in that the remains of the castle we see today were built in the 13th Century by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was brother to King Henry III. On the headland where this medieval castle was constructed evidence exists to show that the area had been inhabited for many hundreds of years previously. The problem is that no-one really knows what was happening here!

You see, apart from the 13th Century castle, the only other remains have been dated from what were once euphemistically referred to as “The Dark Ages.”

At this point I can almost hear the sharp intake of breath from various archaeological friends…these days, apparently, we must say “Early Middle Ages!” All I know is that it was a bloomin’ long time ago, between the 5th to the 10th Centuries to be precise!

One of the reasons that this period gained it’s “Dark” moniker is that following the decline of the Western Roman Empire very little literature or cultural output occurred and few relics have been found, especially in North West Europe; that’ll be here then!

Since the 1930’s Tintagel has been subject of a number of archaeological investigations into its unknown “bits,” that’s the stuff not including Richard’s castle. The view as to what was going on has varied from; Monastery, Trading Port and has now shifted to “possibly a Royal Palace,” delete as applicable and the mood takes you!

This summer staff and volunteers from the Cornwall Archaeology Unit have been undertaking a “Dig” to try to piece together some of the jigsaw. They were building on work that had been started last year, following a new geophysical survey of the headland that had given some interesting pointers where to start digging.

To say what they have found is impressive sort of depends on your viewpoint, but certainly there’s been a lot of hard work put in to uncover another tantalising glimpse into the past. Hence why I popped into to see for myself.

The excavation site lies on the very Southern edge of Tintagel headland, in a sheltered spot under the lee of higher inland cliffs. The view our 6th Century ancestors had can’t have changed very much and must have been as impressive as today.

The dig team have unearthed substantial remains of walls, giving an interesting perspective of what must have been a most impressive structure. What exactly it was, remains to be unearthed, if you’ll excuse the pun, but being positioned on a sloping cliff-side I’m not at all surprised that it’s walls were substantially built!

Amongst the stones they have also found a veritable treasure trove of pottery shards, oyster shells, animal bones, charcoal, fragments of glass and possibly the remains of a metal blade.

Is this a 1600 year old blade?

The media have been quick to enthuse that this “suggests” that “early Cornish Kings” once lived and dined lavishly at this place… only it doesn’t – and that came from one of the archaeologists!

What it really does is add more weight to Tintagel being an important trading point; precious local metals out; wine, oil and spices in.

5th Century Pottery shards from the Mediterranean.

It was fascinating to talk to some of the team and watch them at work. There’s clearly a lot more to be discovered and here’s hoping that they will be back next year to keep digging. I spent a happy couple of hours on site and left with a head more full of questions than answers, but archaeology is like that.

Then it was time to fire up Harls and head home… and take a lot longer route than the 20 mile hop to get to Tintagel!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Tanks a Million!

The rehabilitation of my mate G continues at an almost frightening pace, particularly as he is now able to ride his motorcycle again. By that I don’t mean that he is riding his bike at a frightening pace! The great thing is that he has regained his zest for life again and two wheels are largely responsible for that.

We seem to have slipped into a weekly routine of having a worthwhile ride to somewhere specific and take in some good riding roads along the way.

Last week’s excursion saw us on another great “Boys Day Out” as Mrs Dookes is now calling them. Where previously we visited an aviation museum, this time we kept our feet firmly on the ground and set our destination as The Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset.

The museum traces the history of armoured fighting vehicles and particularly tanks, from their invention over 100 years ago right through to the present day. There are over 300 vehicles on display and it is the largest collection of tanks in the world.

First though we had to get there.

I met G in Exeter at his favourite motorcycle dealership and after a good double espresso we hit the road. I took Baby Blue, partly because she is so comfortable on a transit run, but also because I’m back in love with riding her after some months of mixed emotions, but more of that in another post…

The road east out of Exeter, the A30, is largely fast dual carriageway and although it runs through pleasant enough country it’s pretty boring. At Honiton, once famous for its lace making, we turned onto the A35 and followed it for about 40 miles to Dorchester. Now I always get frustrated with the ’35; it runs through lovely scenery, has enough bends to make it interesting on a bike, but it’s always snarled up with traffic and this morning was situation normal!

On a bike it’s true that you can usually make progress where other vehicles struggle, but even so it becomes hard work and if you are constantly looking for the next overtake opportunity it’s a tad difficult to also look at the scenery!

By Dorchester I was ready for a change and taking a more looping route away from traffic we soon arrived at Bovington.

The museum is located ay Bovington Camp, home of the British Army’s Tank Corps and the place where most tracked vehicle training and repair is carried out by the Army. It’s a busy place and you are just as likely to find a tank scurrying along the surrounding roads as a mail delivery van.

A tank in the car park!

In other words this is big-boys-toys country!

There are seven display halls in the museum. The first, called “The Tank Story Hall,” has a collection of key vehicles displayed in chronological order to show the evolution of tanks through the last 100 years. I found it fascinating and dallied so much that G soon wandered on ahead of me!

“Little Willie” the very first tank.

Incidentally, do you know that the name “Tank” stems from when the British Army were building the first vehicles in 1915? At the time, fearful of espionage, the prefered name of “Armoured Landship” was replaced with “tank” as a subterfuge to explain why vast amounts of boiler plate steel was being built onto track laying chassis….and the name has stuck ever since.

Another hall is dedicated to showing the very first tanks in the context to which they saw action, on the battlefields of France in World War One. This part of the collection struck particular resonance with me after tracing the footsteps and experiences of both my Grandfathers during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. If you missed those posts then please click here to read more. One of the tanks here, which actually saw action during those grim days, is posed in a particularly striking way, as if crossing No-Mans Land and attacking enemy trenches.

Across No-Man’s Land in WW1

As World War 1 tank as seen from the receiving end!

Looking at some of these early tanks, I was struck by their primitive nature and even though they were clad in boiler-plate they were not at all impervious to penetration by anything but the lightest bullet.

Bullet hole in WW1 tank.

They were brave men who took these machines into battle.

I went a bit crazy with my camera, but after a while realised that apart from colour difference one tank begins to look pretty much like any other after a while….I hear sighs from Mrs Dookes in the background! So I resorted to up close and personal stuff, just for entertainment!

Prize exhibit at the museum is Tiger 131, the only original working German Second World War Tiger Tank in the world; incidentally, the majority of the tanks here all still work, how brilliant is that! The added bonus with these being working machines is that they not only look great, but they smell good too…yeah, I know, it’s a bloke thing; axle grease, diesel fuel and gear oil, magic!

Tiger 131, 63tonnes of trouble.

Amongst all this engineering and heavy plant, it’s important not to forget that these are killing machines; they bristle with guns, armour and missiles. Amongst the machismo of ever bigger and more deadly machines there a quiet corners where extraordinary, often tragic tales of bravery and sacrifice are recounted and give the chance for remembrance and contemplation.

Finally, for those of you that are either film or Brad Pitt fans, the tank “Fury” from the 2014 film of the same name is also on display in “as filmed condition, along with some interesting props from the film. The Tiger also appeared in the film unsurprisingly playing the part of one of the bad guys, such is Hollywood!

Fury

Anyway, top marks to the Tank Museum, not only is it a great day out and I highly recommend it, but your admission ticket can be used again as much as you like for up to 12 months; I think that G and I will be back!

Any great day out deserves a great ride home, so once again we struck out to the Jurassic Coast, grabbed an ice-cream in Bridport and just rode the twisties back West. 250miles all in when I got back to Dookes H.Q..

Here’s to the next time.

“I put a Tiger in your tank.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Two Up – Again!

In my last post I said how I’m not wild about having a pillion ride with me on my bikes.

Well, just like waiting for a bus, nothing for ages then two come along almost at once!

First it was G, to go collect his new bike and then last weekend nephew Chris twisted my arm to take him for a ride on Baby Blue. I’ve introduced Chris previously, but if you want to read a bit more about him and his back story then click here.

For the non-riders amongst you let me try to explain…

When I ride a motorcycle solo, it’s just me, the machine and the road.

I suppose it’s a bit elemental, but I definitely get “in tune” with the bike and can “read” the feedback it’s giving me as we progress along our way. Little signals from the bike give me an indication as to how much grip the tyres have, what the road camber is doing as well as how gradients are affecting things. Because I spend so much time riding solo, all this information goes haywire as soon as someone else climbs on the back and the bike feels….weird!

The most obvious thing is the extra weight, even on a big touring bike such as the Harley Davidson Ultra Limited it’s very noticeable. Sometimes there have been pillions trying to ride the bike for me and leaning this way and that, usually at the wrong time. Then there’s that other matter that I call “Wriggle Bum” and that’s basically when the pillion just won’t sit still, particularly at critical moments, such at junctions and intersections; it can quite easily lead to “interesting” domestic conversations!

When I agreed to give Chris a ride, I must admit that lots of thoughts about the above went through my mind.

Chris usually rides a Yamaha 125 on the road and a various trials bikes off it, so he’s well used to the niceties of motorcycling, but this would be his first time as a pillion.

Last Saturday morning we set off from Dookes H.Q. and had a nicely varied ride-out covering around 55 miles of beautiful North Cornwall countryside. We Stopped for petrol and collected some Cornish Pasties for lunch from Aunt Avis at St Kew Highway, before a spirited, though sensible, loop back home.

All smiles, Chris tries out the front seat….
Hands off nephew!


Well I needn’t have worried, Chris was a dream to have sitting on the back!

All the time he sat perfectly still, allowed the motion of the bike to flow under him and basically trusted me to get on with my job of piloting the beast!

Chris, you can ride pillion on Baby Blue anytime!

“I’m cruising fast on a motorcycle down this winding country road.”

Catch you soon

Dookes