Explaining a Special Place – Col du Galibier

In a post last week I talked about Col du Galibier in the high French Alps and how it is a place that is very special to me.

Then regular commenter on my posts, AGMA, posed the question;

“Why is it special?”

I started to write a reply for AGMA, then paused and thought that probably it would be a good idea to explain “why” to a broader audience.

We have to rewind the clock back about 50 years…

Young Dookes was exploring the darkest parts of his father’s workshop/garage. At the very back, almost hidden from view and next to the engine of an old BSA motorbike, young Dookes found a man’s bicycle. In the eyes of Young Dookes, this was a prize of great beauty for not only did it have racing style drop handlebars, but there on the rear wheel was a set of derailleur gears – a “Racing Bike!”

To be honest, it was also tatty, well used, in need of a complete overhaul and it wasn’t a “Racer,” it was an old Raleigh Trent Sports Tourer with four gears, 26 inch wheels, a Brookes saddle and a Dyno-Hub, but in my young eyes it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen!

There was a fundamental problem though, it was too big for me to ride and I had to wait a few years before I could safely sit on the thing and turn the pedals!

Once that happy day came there was no stopping me; well actually there was, the old tyres soon gave up the struggle to hold air and I was grounded, literally!

At this juncture my father suggested that it was time for the old bike to have a complete strip-down and rebuild, wise words. Actually, it was much more life-changing than that; for here was my first introduction to the engineering principle of taking something apart, fixing it and putting it back together so it was better than before. It stood me in pretty good stead.

So the old bike came apart and I learnt about bearings, Bowden cables, cotter pins, crank arms and gear sets. Looking back the old girl was is pretty rough shape, but with my father’s guiding hand we made a fair job of restoring her back to road-worthy condition, but oh the satisfaction!

All the time that I was, a) growing and b) rebuilding the bike I was avidly reading everything I could lay my hands on about cycling. In due course I discovered that there was a prestigious cycle race called the “Tour de France” that was run annually and took three weeks to circulate around our near European neighbours.

One day my father returned home from work with a copy of The London Evening News and showed me an article about that year’s “Tour” which had just finished and had been won by a rider from Belgium, his name was Eddy Merckx and it was 1969.

Eddy Merckx

Who was this Merckx?

Not only had this fella just won the “Le Tour,” but he had also won the “King of the Mountains” title, which is given to the rider that gains most points for reaching mountain summits first within the greater race.

That year the tenth stage of the race was held in the Alps where Merckx put down a marker with a storming ascent of a place called “Col du Galibier.” Then he had blown away the completion with aggressive attacking over Col d’Aubisque in the Pyrenees and pretty much sealed his victory.

Oh yes, Merckx also won the best Sprinter Green jersey plus the prize for most combative rider and the most individual stages, 6 out of 24. What a rider!

Cycling had got it’s hooks into me and I had a new hero!

In those days though, Le Tour simply wasn’t covered by British television; in fact it wasn’t covered much by the French either. All our information tended to come from newspapers and cycling magazines; it was all a little bit second hand!

…but also where was this place Col du Galibier?

Now in those days not only had the Internet not been invented, but the guy who invented it had only just started Secondary School! So if you wanted to find out anything, it was a case of looking in books, either at school or in the local library.

It was a good job that I also had a big passion for geography.

I discovered that Col du Galibier is a high, 2645m/8678ft, mountain pass lying at the Southern end of the French Dauphiné Alps. Now this in itself was a revelation, as up until that point I had believed that the Alps solely existed in Switzerland…doh! Anyway, the more a learnt about Galibier, the more I wanted to know.

Looking South from Galibier.

I devoured everything I could about the place, it’s geography, geology, flora and fauna and most of all it’s history.

The first passable road over the mountain was built in 1876 and by 1891 a tunnel had been built beneath the crest, things stayed like this until 1970 when a new loop was added to the road, taking it once again over the high summit. Gradients on each side are formidable, with a maximum of 12.1% and height gain of 2058m/4085ft over a distance 8.5km/5.3miles.

Looking North.


I began to dream of visiting this place.

Le Tour returned to Galibier in 1972 and the mountain was conquered by Joop Zoetemelk, though Merckx again won the overall race; as he also did in 1970, 71 and 74.

The urge to visit Galibier started to become a bit of an obsession…then career and life stuff got in the way, but I never forgot about that mythical mountain in the high Alps and my need to climb it.

Many years later, when life had settled down and I started solo motorcycle touring, I soon realised that here was my opportunity to retrace the tracks of my heroes who rode “Le Tour.” It didn’t take me long to put together a few outline itineraries that encompassed some of the mythical climbs: Col de Vars, Izoard, L’Iseran, Lautaret…but most of all Galibier.

The day I finally set out to head towards Le Galibier I was fussing around Harls, getting her ready for the great adventure ahead when my eyes caught that old Raleigh Trent Sports bicycle in the corner of my workshop. I paused, then pushed my way over to her and ran my hand along her substantial steel frame; silently I told her where I was going and how much she still means to me. Dad had been dead for about ten years and in many ways she was my only tangible link to him

In the French Alps a week later, I sat in a café in Briançon; Col de Vars had been topped, Izoard crested and both were delightful, next was Le Galibier!

I banged out a quick email to a couple of friends, walked out into the midday sunshine, put on my helmet and started up Harls.

The ride to Lauteret was a delight; it’s a pretty quick road with a great surface, lovely sweeping bends and hugely impressive views all around.

The road to Lautaret, just look at those sweepers!

Then we turned right and dug in on the climb to Galibier.

Turn here for Col du Galibier.


It took my breath away.

The road starts passively enough then turns sharply to the left and the gradient kicks you in the teeth. Hairpins follow, a blind left with a sheer drop to the right and the relentless climb continues, thank goodness I’ve got an engine! As we gained altitude, runoff water from the last of the winter snow was streaming across the road. Climbing higher the air quickly became cooler and noticeably thinner; Harls with her carburetor and naturally aspirated engine began to run a bit rich and lose power.

Just before the tunnel we turned right onto the summit loop, we are well above the treeline here. More hairpins, more climbing and soon we reach the summit.

I pull over and switch off the engine.

At the summit looking back where we came from, winter snow still lies by the road.


Silence; save for the gentle ticking of an air-cooled Harley engine cooling down.

The views are….heavenly, but then I guess you are almost up there in heaven as wisps of cloud drift by below!

A couple of other riders walked past and a few very brave cyclists trundled by, I didn’t quite have the place to myself.

I stayed sitting on Harls and just let it all sink in; I was here on Col du Galibier, magical, legendary, Galibier and as I am want to do my mind did a bit of wandering.

I remembered that day discovering an old bicycle, of my late father helping me restore it, of a newspaper article about the Tour de France, of Eddie Merckx…I kept my helmet on and let my tear filled eyes weep in private. Crash helmets are useful like that.

You see, Galibier had become something more than just a famous mountain pass in the French Alps…it had become part of me and me of it.

It represents the melange that we all are inside; that mix of hope, experience, light/dark, triumph, tragedy, sorrow, pain, elation and happiness….above all, happiness!

Snow everywhere!


Finally, I took off the crash helmet and sat in the bright sunlight.

I felt truly at home and totally in tune with this incredible place, it’s probably my Celtic blood that gives me a deep love of high places, but this place was and is, very, very special, call it spiritual if you like.

Galibier had called and I had answered, eventually.

“The mountain’s high,
The road ran steep and winding,
The promises so easily made
Unbearable, yet binding.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

For AGMA – I hope this answers your question, Dookes.

PS I return as often as possible!

Playing on the Tracks

It’s a chilly late October afternoon, the temperature has struggled up to 9° Celsius and the sun refuses to burn through the grey covering cloud. Black feathered Rooks are calling from the high trees around the old railway station. The air is still.

This is Autumn in Brittany.

Jean-Claude and his mates are playing Breton Bowls on the ground where the old railway lines once lay. They gather here most Fridays to play their game share a meal in a local café and generally enjoy each other’s company. The cackle of their laughter competes with the cries of the black birds above them, whilst the clunk of stone bowling balls punctuates their conversation.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

“Hey, Gallois come and have a go!” Jean-Caude implores. “Leave the ghosts of the old railway alone.”

The old station fascinates me.
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Mur de Bretagne saw its last train steam out towards Carhaix nearly fifty years ago when the metre gauge Réseau Breton railway system closed down. I only wish I could have enjoyed it before it vanished forever. The network linked many rural communities and it’s closure pushed many small towns into a kind of time warp that they only really came out of after the turn of the 2000’s. Today around Brittany most of the old station buildings remain, the French can’t see the point of demolishing perfectly good structures when alternative uses can be found.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

At Mur the station now serves a local cycling club, the fire brigade and of course the Breton Bowling club, talk about diversification!

I smile.
“Un petit moment, Jean-Claude, je besoin explorer le vielle station.” – “In a minute Jean-Claude, I must explore the old station.”

My friend shrugs his shoulders, he understands my interest in the history of the old railway, but to him it’s just that, history.

He can remember the station when it was open and he stood here the day that the last train departed. To him it’s gone and no end of interest from me will ever bring it back… The bowling is what matters now.

I get it, but my curiosity and passion for old railways wins out.

The station is a wonderful mix of good repair and partial decrepitude. On the side where trains once ran the building is in good repair and well-tended, whilst at the rear there is evidence of slightly less love being endowed on it and that makes it more interesting. It’s just crying out for some monochrome photography.p1070925

In my mind’s eye I can see the busy bustle of the place when it was still served by the Réseau Breton. At least it still lives on serving the local community in other ways. p1070924

I marvel that the old enamel name board still proclaims the town on the gable end. Back in the UK that would have disappeared to a collectors wall years ago!p1070920

The game is progressing and I’ve missed out the chance of looking silly by joining in. Maybe the old station saved me from gentle embarrassment!p1070922

J-C looks at me and winks, he’s winning at the moment!

There’s a strong coffee with a splash of Lambig, the local calvados type firewater, waiting at the end of this game. Then there will be Poitrine Fumé, Haricot Blanc avec ail and tarte-tatin to follow, all washed down with a local rough wine, my kind of heaven!

There’s a hint of wood smoke in the cool air, the clear clean air of Brittany and just at the moment there is nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be.

Catch you later – À bientôt!

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

Dust

Grabbing some nice shots of the morning Autumn mist a couple of days ago was very satisfying. As you would expect, I took far more shots than just the one that I posted in “Soul Mover.”

To start with it was all looking good, but as I was inspecting my handiwork closely I noticed a blemish in one of the photographs. I checked the next frame. Oh no, same blemish and then again in the next shot and the next one. You can see the wretched things just above “Harls” in this shot.image

On even closer inspection, there were at least three small blotches on every picture. Time for a bit of head scratching!

I checked that the lens was clean. Then had a good look to make sure that there was nothing obviously amiss such a scratch on the lens or anything loose inside the camera. A couple of test shots revealed that the problem was unfortunately still there.

If I was dealing with a 35mm film SLR camera it would have been simple to remove the lens, check the shutter gate, clean as required and that would have been it, but compact digital cameras aren’t that simple. No, the things are sealed up like the tomb of King Tut!

The principle of a digital camera is quite simple. In place of film is an image capture sensor on which the picture is projected and converted into a digital information. There’s also small filter between the sensor and the lens. If any dust or foreign body was appearing as marks in my pictures then it had to be in that part of the camera. I suppose at this point that most people would have made a bee-line to the nearest camera shop and put their device in for a service.

Dookes isn’t like most people.

No, it was obviously time to head off towards the “Man-Lab.” In that haven of joy and peace, where much happiness is to be had amongst a multitude of unfinished projects, electrical components, models of trains, cars and aeroplanes, plus the other stuff that Mrs Dookes doesn’t even try to understand; I set to work!

The camera in question is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ22. It is getting on a bit, but I like it. With it’s Leica lens it performs well and being a compact is great for taking on my travels. One day I know I’ll have to replace it, but not yet.

With a large piece of plain paper on the desk, I began by dismantling the outer body of the camera. Next the three ribbon leads connecting the screen to the motherboard were carefully removed, followed by the board’s protective metal plate. Now I was getting into the heart of the camera and things were getting exciting! The sensor mounting assembly screws were carefully removed and it’s electrical connection released. With some trepidation I lifted the sensor out of the camera; I wonder if bomb-disposal feels like this…except of course without the risk of getting blown-up!

Once the sensor was free I carefully examined it under my desk magnifier and sure enough, there were the offending specks of dust. Now all I needed to do was to gently clean the sensor, reassemble the camera and test it. image

This is the camera stripped down, that’s the image capture sensor at the lower left.

How did the dust get in there? Well, like many cameras the Lumix has a retractable lens assembly that powers in and out on start-up and shut-down plus when using the zoom facility. I suspect that this action has over time worked a bit like a pump and simply drawn in airborne dust particles.

I’m very pleased to report that all went well and I am now enjoying dust free photographs once more!

Not a blotch in sight!

Not a blotch in sight, shame about the power-lines!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Photo101:Triumph & Contrast.

OK, yes I know I’m late posting this final assignment to the course, but at the end of last week life seriously got in the way!

Regular Blogonaughts will know of my friend G and his battle with leukaemia. Things have been a bit up and down for him of late, but his mental therapy and release from the cancer treatment has been riding motorbikes. Until last week, when the poor chap was knocked off his bike by a crazy pedestrian.

The lady in question, in her 60’s and lets just say rather large (no lets just say fat!), ran across the road without looking and collided side-on with G and his motorbike. Fortunately G was only travelling at about 10mph and even better was being followed by a Police car whose occupants saw the whole thing happen. Even so he ended up with a broken wrist and bruises all over. G’s pride and joy, his Triumph Bonneville Scrambler, was written off!

Worst of all, he can’t ride for six weeks until his wrist knits back together!

So in tribute to my mate, for whom life just seems to throw even more crap at, here’s a picture of him on his Triumph in happier times. As always, thinking of you mate!

G's Triumph.

G’s Triumph.


Oh yes, the pedestrian? Well, her ample rolls of lard protected her from serious injury, she needs to be grateful that G was not on a bigger bike or a car!

On the assignment front I couldn’t resist playing with monochrome again.

This is a small carving that can be found on the beach at Tintagel on the North Cornwall coast. The lady’s hand gives scale and also adds a stark degree of contrast to the slate rock, especially in black and white. I hope you like it.

Magical contrasts.

Magical contrasts.

Catch you all soon.

Dookes

Photo101: Double & Rotation

OK, I confess I’ve really stretched the interpretation of todays assignment!

To be honest I was lost for inspiration, maybe it was the dead dull, boring, double yellow lines of our course leader’s example that did it for me.

Or perhaps it was the scenery that I was today again surrounded by on the beautiful North Cornwall coast that shut out trivial things of “doubleness!”

As a result dear Blogonaught, I am forcing upon you a slightly obtuse approach; my “Double” is two shots of the same scene but in different formats, which sort of gives a nod to the “Rotation” requirements!

Why give you two of the same?

Well, I just feel that the view is so stunningly beautiful that I wanted to share it with you, twice. After all I was the lucky one perched up on the cliff enjoying it today!P1050635P1050637
Just so I’m not accused of cheating too much, here’s another shot that qualifies as a double, but I think it would look silly if I rotated it!

Two Gulls = Double Trouble!

Two Gulls = Double Trouble!

I hope you like the shots, please let me know what you think of them.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Photo101: Edge & Alignment.

Assignment for today: “Show us an edge – a straight line, a narrow ridge, a precipice.”

Over breakfast I pondered what approach this task needed, this could be another tricky one!

Fortunately the day was shaping up well, with lots of sunshine and even better I was planning to spend most of it on my beloved North Cornwall Coast. An idea began to form in my mind, but as so often happens something else came along and it just sort of seemed better.

So here is my interpretation of edge and alignment.

Barras Nose, where Cornwall meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Barras Nose, where Cornwall meets the Atlantic Ocean.


There’s quite a lot going on in the picture and more than one “Edge.”

Firstly there’s the edge where the land meets the sea; it’s the edge of the ocean and also the edge of the land. Next we have the edge of the cliff and finally the horizon where the sea meets the sky, or in the old times it was the edge of the world!

As you can see, it was really tough spending time in such a spot. . . only joking, it was wonderful!

I hope you like the photograph and as ever I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts.

Catch you soon.

Dookes