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

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

Greasy Leather

One great thing about living in Cornwall is the weather…Yes I did really write that!

Someone once said that the UK doesn’t have a climate, we just have weather and that is divided into ten months winter and two months bad weather!

Personally, I tend to take the view that there is no such thing as bad weather, just a bad choice of coat!

Now a confession…I like wearing leather…

…when riding motorbikes!

Sure I have a variety of riding gear and modern synthetic alternatives are extremely good, certainly some of the stuff with Kevlar woven panels perform impressively, however my apparel of choice is good old-fashioned traditional cow skin. Riding clothing has to perform a multitude of tasks, prime of which is protecting the wearer in the event of a tumble, but it also is the first line of defence in keeping you warm, dry and comfortable.

That last one is a prerequisite for me, I have a set of Harley Davidson FXRG leathers that are so comfy to wear and that I’ve had for years.

Like many other things associated with motorbikes, there is a degree of maintenance required to keep your leathers not only looking good, but also to ensure that they don’t let you down when you need them. Leather being a natural material needs “feeding” to keep oils in it’s pores and therefore retain its water-resistant properties.

Last Saturday I took a ride up to Bideford on the beautiful North Devon coast, it’s just over 50 miles from Dookes H.Q. and my mission was to drop in and see my oldest pal “Vifferman.”

“Viff” and I go back a long way, well over half a century, in fact the only living person that I have known longer than him is my Mother…wow that’s scary! “Viff” had recently lost a good friend, in fact he had read the eulogy at his mates funeral only earlier in the week, I had to go see him.

Riding along the wonderful A39, the Atlantic Highway, in the morning was simply fantastic. Traffic was light, weather nice and clear, road dry, what was there not to like!

After spending some time with “Viff,” inspecting his son George’s model railway and enjoying a Devon pasty for lunch it was time to head home…and ride into darkening skies!

The trouble with coastal living is that the weather changes just like in the mountains, at the flip of a coin. We were heading straight into black towering Cumulonimbus storm clouds and true to fashion after ten miles we rode into it, one second it was dry, next, bam, rain!

I settled into a tedious further 40 miles of standing water, driving rain, gusting wind and spray. Lovely, not!

Once back at Dookes H.Q. and after putting Baby away in the workshop I got out of my riding gear and discovered I had…a slightly wet crotch!

OK, I know it I’m getting older, but I’ve not yet lost control of things down there just yet…well I’m pretty sure I haven’t anyway!

Sure enough, close examination revealed that my leather trousers had evidence of a bit of water ingress and this got me thinking; when was the last time I had treated my leathers to some waterproof dressing?

Guiltily, I concluded that it was at least two years ago. Whoops! As the FXRG leathers aren’t made any more, they’ve been replaced by hybrid leather/synthetic, I’d better look after these a bit better!

So yesterday there I was in the workshop with the radio on and leather gear spread out on the workbench. Using a pair of disposable gloves I spent a happy couple of hours thoroughly rubbing leather dressing into the leather. imageBy not using a cloth the warmth of my hands helped the greasy dressing penetrate deep into the leather and after a good going over the jacket and trousers looked a lot better for it as well.
image
I must admit that not wasn’t an unpleasant thing to do, certainly more enjoyable than the wet crotch anyway! I’m just kicking myself that I’d left it so long, but hey at least I wasn’t in the middle of a big trip when I found the leak.

I’ve just thought, there’s another pair of trousers that need doing…better dash and sort those now!

“Hell bent, hell bent for leather.”

Catch you later.

Dookes

Bike Night

Motorcyclists in our part of the world are a lucky bunch; not only do we have stunning scenery, twisty roads and wonderful coastlines, but during the summer months we also enjoy a selection of events known as “Bike Nights.”

The basic principle of a Bike Night is very simple, riders and their machines gather to admire each other’s bikes and socialise with like-minded people. In scale the “Nights” range from small gatherings at a local café to impressive events with live music, bars and shops. (Though having a bar must be of questionable sense for people riding home afterwards!)

At this point I must confess to being only a very occasional visitor to “Bike Nights.” It’s just that if there is a nice evening to enjoy I’d much rather be actually munching the miles on two wheels than talking about it!

A couple of weeks ago I had arranged to hook up for some supper and ride to Bude, on the North Cornwall coast, with my oldest and dearest friend, known on these pages as “Vifferman.”

“Viff” works across the Devon border in Barnstaple and by taking a rather circuitous route on a beautiful afternoon I was able to enjoy just over 100 miles of delightful sunshine before meeting up with him at a convenient service station. We then enjoyed a spirited run to Bude and took on board that food of all British Bikers – Fish and Chips!

On arriving at Bude quay, we were pleasantly surprised to find “Bike Night” in full flow!

Can you spot Baby Blue?

Can you spot Baby Blue?

Bude Bike Night one of the smaller events, centred on a local café and as a result it’s very laid-back and relaxed…which pleased “Viff” as his Honda is well used and sometimes a tad grubby!

We parked up and had a cursory look at some of the bikes before enjoying our fish supper whilst putting the world to rights on a quayside bench.

Summer waning away with the ebbing tide.

Summer waning away with the ebbing tide.

It was a glorious evening with heavenly warm light from the dipping sun. The air was, however, tinged with that peculiar sadness that comes with summer closing fast and the knowledge of long dark nights of winter rapidly heading towards us.

Sunset at Bude.

Sunset at Bude.

Leaving Bude on my big blue Harley, I rode the Atlantic Highway into the setting sun and had time to muse.

Evenings spent with friends like “Viff” are like the light, golden, precious and to be treasured. I’ve known my mate all my life, well over fifty years, we’re the brothers that choose to be brothers and d’ya know, I don’t see enough of him these days…we need to change that!

“Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields.
You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find …
Running into the sun, but I’m running behind.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Soul Mover

I have friends who ride and friends who don’t. 

Someone once wrote that a car moves the body, but only a motorbike can move the soul.

Clearly that person was an officiando of two-wheeled transport and those of us who have been blessed with the motorcycling bug know exactly what they were getting at!

It’s often difficult to convey to a non-rider just what it is that us two-wheelers get from our machines. 

Many folk say it’s all about speed and certainly that rings true for some riders; I’m not going to deny that travelling at 100 and silly mph is one big adrenaline rush!

To others it’s about the fluid motion of the machine through bends and twisty sections of road when you ride it well, whilst to some it’s the “wind in your face” thing. Just ask any dog why they stick their head out of a car window?

I fall into the total package school, for me it’s a bit of everything and with the addition thrill of winning the daily battle against the idiots out there on the road who seem hell-bent on trying to kill you! Oh and of course there’s the noise….!

I must also add that to me riding is such an immersive activity that I really can forget everything else in the world whilst I am out on two wheels. It really does move my soul!

Last Wednesday I was in need of a bit of soul lifting. I was up early, three spaniels generally make sure of that at Dookes H.Q. normally it’s a good sing-song as the sun comes up, but with such things come great benefits. This was a classic early Autumn morning, crisp sunlight breaking through early mists that still hugged the landscape and hedges. image

The urge to ride suddenly became very pressing, I didn’t just want to ride; I needed to ride!

Dogs and breakfast sorted, I got into my riding gear and wandered out to “The Man Cave,” which also passes for my workshop. What a lovely conundrum now faced me, which of my two faithful Harley’s should I take out?
No contest this morning, it had to be Harls, my beloved Centenary Softail. I needed that rawness she possesses, her crisp handling, open to the elements riding position and most of all that staccato exhaust growl! 

I made a pact with myself to keep off the major roads, the day was about riding for pleasure not for working hard, at least that was what I thought….!

We set off East, skirting Launceston and dropped into the valley of the River Tamar, passing into Devon as we crossed the old bridge at Greystone. I decided that the high tors of Dartmoor would be our first target, on such a beautiful morning the scenery there should be spectacular.

Trundling through the ancient Stannary Town of Tavistock we turned right and began our climb towards the high moor.

Wisps of cloud hugged the hillside ahead and the air took on a distinct chill, it looked like things were going to get interesting. We climbed some more and sure enough were soon enveloped by thick wet Dartmoor cloud. So much for the stunning views, I spent the next twenty miles trundling along trying to spot white sheep in dense white fog whilst wiping the enveloping water droplets off my visor every few seconds! So dear blogonaughts my apologies for the lack of wonderful scenery photos, here some in the fog instead.image
One of the biggest problems with riding in fog or mist is the way that the water droplets deposit themselves on helmet visors, it’s a bit like trying to look through wet tissue paper! In rain you never have the same problem as the water droplets are bigger and flow off the visor with the slipstream, but riding sensibly slower in fog there’s less slipstream as well.image
We swung through the small and pretty village of Moretonhamstead before briefly pausing at Okehampton where delightfully we passed back into warm sunshine!

Heading North West now, my heart was lifted by both the warm sun and the contented roar from Harls’ exhaust as we ate up the miles considerably faster than over Dartmoor! 

Our route was following the old railway through the delightfully named village of Halwill Junction and on towards Holsworthy. This was the line over which part of the romantically named “Atlantic Coast Express” once trundled behind gleaming steam locomotives near the end of its 300 mile journey from London.

The old railway line, once the Atlantic Coast Express ran along here.

The old railway line, once the Atlantic Coast Express ran along here.

Now there’s an idea for a future ride…

We stopped to take in the view over the bucolic Devon landscape and then it was time to push on. image

With delightfully quiet roads, it was clear that most of the summer tourists have slipped home with the return of children to school. It’s one of the downsides of living in such a beautiful region, we can hardly move for visitors invading during the peak holiday season of July and August, but like the swallows they fly away at the end of summer and we get the place back to ourselves again!
I stuck to the plan and by the time we returned to Dookes H.Q. after 140 wonderful miles and not one major route had been touched by our tyre rubber.

Life had been refocused and all was good in the world!

“I have seen rings of smoke through the trees and the voices of those who standing looking”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

When the Foxgloves Bloom.

In parts of the the West of England there is an old country saying;

“When the foxglove blooms, summer has arrived!”

It looks to me that those old words of wisdom certainly held true on the beautiful North Cornwall coast today.

Common Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea.


It’s not just foxgloves enjoying the sunshine, the Sea Campion and Thrift are also joining in as well!

…..and if you were in any doubt, I’m enjoying the sunshine too!

“In the summertime when the weather is high

You can stretch right up and touch the sky.”

Catch you all soon.

Dookes

Larking Around

This has been a slightly frustrating week for me.

I’ve had lots of jobs to do around Dookes H.Q. and despite plodding away at them progress has been a tad slow! Actually I guess I’m not being fair to myself, because progress has been made and with some things you have to be patient to do what here in Cornwall is called a “Proper Job.”

As a small reward for my endeavours it seemed only right to get out on one of my two-wheeled friends and enjoy some half decent weather on the Devon/Cornwall county boundary.

Broody skies over North Dartmoor.

Broody skies over North Dartmoor.


I’ve often said before, sometimes I need the total immersion of riding to find some inner peace. On those days I don’t stop much for photos or anything else, except fuel. So please excuse the lack of photographic record and be happy for me that I truly had a very pleasant ride of over 150 miles!

Today, by way of contrast, I found myself back on my beloved North Cornwall coast and today I ended up doing a spot of bird watching!

This time of year the Cornish countryside comes alive with birdsong and non are sweeter than the diminutive Skylark, Alauda arvensis.

The small brown birds sing a beautiful song that trills through the air as the bird often hovers high somewhere overhead. The song is usually the male bird marking out his territory in a performance that often lasts many minutes, before the little chap drops out of the sky and if a female is about often engages in a quite comical little dance!

Photo Daniel Pettersson.

Photo Daniel Pettersson.

In the UK Skylarks have declined by more than 50% over the last 25 years, as a direct result of increased intensive farming methods, so I was thrilled to be surrounded by quite a squadron of them.

Then it just got better! The first Swallows of the summer flew in to join the party!

Hirundo rustica. Photo, Ian F.

Hirundo rustica.
Photo, Ian F.

These little long distance travellers are another of my favourite wild birds and as harbingers of summer are welcome in the skies above my head anytime!

As my own free, yet private, airshow unfolded around me, I realised that there wasn’t anywhere else in the world that I wanted to be at that moment!
It wasn’t a bad place to be at all!image
Have a great weekend!

Catch you all soon.

Dookes