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

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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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Riding, The Best Medicine.

So here we are, the end of one year and the beginning of a new one.

OK, cards on the table straight away. I’m not big on the whole “Happy New Year” circus! Yes, I know that lots of people love it, but it’s never really floated my boat. I suppose the “tradition” when I was young, of being pushed out of the back door with a lump of coal in one hand and a glass of whisky (which I had severe instruction not to even sip!) in the other and then having to wait around in the cold for the clock to strike midnight before the charade of “First Footing” through the front door did it for me as a kid!
I always had to hand over the bloody whisky as well!!!

Looking back on 2015, it certainly has been quite a year, both in my life and in the greater world.

All of it though, has paled into scant insignificance with my mate G’s cancer diagnosis.

G had it really rough just before Christmas, he developed an infection and spent six nights in hospital on I.V. antibiotics for pneumonia. Fortunately the skilled medical staff in Exeter got him sorted and well enough to get home for the big day and quality time with his family.

We popped over to see them last Sunday and after we arrived it took G all of two minutes to arrange a ride out on the bikes on Monday! “Just a small ride to get some fresh air.” He told his long-suffering wife.

The weather over the holiday period in the UK has been awful and whilst Monday wasn’t exactly sunny it was good enough and very warm for the time of year.

We headed East to Bridport on the world-famous “Jurassic Coast” of Dorset. The sea was a muddy brown and quite rough with all the storms we have been having.
IMG_1020

We rode the coast road looking down on Chesil Bank, the famous natural shingle structure that stretches for eighteen miles to Portland. The wind blew fiercely off the ocean but was over our right shoulder and of no great consequence. G led the way, his Triumph Tiger flipping effortlessly through the bends as Baby and I rumbled contentedly behind him.

Once through Dorchester we hit the dueled A35 for a few miles and rode side by side, our grins defined by our twinkling eyes. It’s good to ride with your mate you know! We peeled North through Blandford Forum and stopped for lunch at Compton Abbas airfield, one of G’s favourite watering holes, where they do great food, but no flying today to watch over our food.IMG_1024
Suitably refreshed, we toured through Shaftesbury, Sherborne and Yeovil where the roads were coloured by hundreds of yellow daffodils in flower! In December? Who says that the climate is not changing? It bloody well is!!!

We looped round through Taunton, picked up the old A38 and delivered G back home near Tiverton just as it was starting to get dark.

As we said our farewells, G was tired, but very happy. “I needed that mate!” he grinned at me.

I smiled and rode on alone into the dark as the rain began to fall.

By the time I got home I had clocked 280 miles and the weather was filthy.
Mrs Dookes was in the kitchen, “Good ride?” she asked.

“Just a small ride to get some fresh air.” I grinned.

Riding, The Best Medicine.

Have a Happy New Year everyone. . . Oh, “G” – get well soon mate!

Dookes