Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Round Britain Rally 2011, What Goes Around, Comes Around

Windmills were another collection on the landmark list for this year and Ian and myself visited three different types.

The first one is Stevens Mill in the village of Burwell, Cambridgeshire. At one time, Burwell had four operational windmills, the Stevens’ Windmill being the last on standing. It was operational until the 1950’s but is now in need of repair. As the windmill is a listed building it was saved from demolition and the long task of refurbishing it is in hand. The windmill can be operated with only two sails, these were built in the 1980’s at a cost in the region of £15,000. To put another pair of sails in position today, the price would be doubled!

Situated on the Lincolnshire Fenland, eight miles, as the proverbial crow flies, from the coast, Sibsey is ideally situated for the location of a windmill. Originally built in 1877, Sibsey Trader Windmill is one of a few six sailed windmills remaining in England. Due to a shortage of time, we were unable to have a look around or sample the fayre in their tearoom. This has been added to our ever-expanding ‘To Do’ list.

Many s are only too pleased to have RBRers visiting their location. One landmark was on private property this year, clearly visible from the road. They requested for photographs to be taken from the roadside. This request was observed by all that visited to my knowledge. This leads me on to our third windmill.

In the north of my home county, Nottinghamshire is the village of Tuxford. The windmill, situated near the village was the landmark for this year. The proprietor did not take too kindly to his windmill being used as a landmark and tried to charge entrants for taking a photograph! Needless to say very little money exchanged hands! Many photographs were submitted from the roadside with the windmill in the background. I’m sure his tearoom could have served a few thirsty and/or hungry RBRers, thus helping with the upkeep of the windmill. I can only assume that in this time of wealth and prosperity extra finance was not required. Upon this reasoning, dear reader, you will notice the lack of a link to this enterprise.

There has to be a first for everything. The first man on the moon, first flight, first locomotive, first car and even the first motorcycle. This brings us to a tranquil suburb in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, to locate the first ROUNDABOUT in the UK!

Built circa 1909, we can only imagine the confusion this may have caused. In Portree on the Isle of Skye a few years ago, a mini traffic island was built in the centre of the town. The islanders had not seen anything like it before, thus resulting in a few accidents before it was replaced with a one-way system. I’m not suggesting that this would have been the case in Letchworth, but to come across something so alien…and what sort of traffic flow would there have been in this area in the early part of the last century. Could it have been an experiment to try out before being unleashed in the capital? Whatever the reason it works well as a traffic flow solution, unless you want to get through part of Swindon.

To end, by turning full circle, another roundabout was a featured landmark. This particular example at Thornaby on Tees, Teeside has a Spitfire in the centre. This replica was built in 2007. It seems a little ironic, as the roundabout is located at the junctions of Thornaby Road, Bader Avenue and Trenchard Avenue. Ironic in the sense that Douglas Bader flew in a Hurricane.

The reason for mentioning this unvisited landmark? In all honesty it’s just so that I can finish with this film clip. No matter how many times I watch it I still have a smile on my face.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Round Britain Rally 2011, Planes And Boats And Trains

Well the RBR has finished for another year. The usual ‘adjustments’ having to be made during the course of the event. One landmark was sold and moved piece by piece to another location, another, a Roman Milepost was hit by a car and had to be removed for running repairs (groan). Repair work also was required for a statue of John Perry so we took an exciting picture of his plinth.

As has become the custom, the RBR season kicks off with the ARSE, the Annual Rally Starting Event. This year’s gathering took place at the Ellesmere Port Canal Museum where over 50 entrants met for the obligatory group photo. The object to photograph was the anchor sculpture, situated near the café. Yes, one or two people did snap the wrong anchor.

Doctor Beeching’s axe saw the closure of many rail lines in the UK during the 1960’s, however one line that closed before his hand gripped the shaft was the Southwold to Halesworth line. On this local line, at Whenhaston, Suffolk, a plaque depicting the site of the local station has been erected.

To some extent this phoenix looks set to return, as there is a project to reinstate a small section railway, complete with a heritage centre.

There was one type of railway that Beeching could not get onto his report, the cliff railway. This year’s event saw the inclusion of several of these, two of which we visited on the weekend of our motorcycle club’s rally weekend.

On the way down to the rally site we stopped off at the Lynton and Lynmouth Railway. Lynmouth is on the A39, a road to Devon and Cornwall that is often by passed for the dual carriageway of the A30 and M5 motorway. Built in 1890, this water balanced funicular railway works in contrast to other water operated railways. Often water is released from the lower carriage until it is lighter than the top one, whereas on this railway, water is added to the top carriage from the West River Lyn.

Having stopped for some ‘Traditional’ fish & chips, we got into conversation with a local biker, resulting in a rather longer stay than anticipated. We vowed to return here for a longer stay in the future. Little did we realise that it would be sooner rather than later.

‘This one will be easy to find’, said Ian about the Babbacombe Cliff Railway. ‘We just head for the coast and follow it round’. Reaching the coast and following it round took us all the way around the headland and into a housing estate! When in doubt, ask the local postie, who put us on the right track. The plans for the Babbacombe Railway were put forward by Sir John Newnes MP, the man who built the Lynton and Lynmouth Railway. Sadly they were not approved until after his death. The line was completed in 1926.

The railway took us down to a secluded, almost deserted beach. Well it was mid May so that could have been the reason. The beach bar was deserted and the snack bar did a roaring trade in tea and coffee, with ample choice on where to sit.

Grove, Oxfordshire, was the destination for the ‘plane’ part of this post. And that is where we found this De Havilland Venom. Although Grove was reputedly the busiest airfield in 1944, there remain only a few derelict buildings around the area. This particular aircraft once belonged to the Swiss Air force and then Aces High. Not surprising is the fact that part of the airfield has now been turned into a business park.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Round Britain Rally 2010 (Part 3)

Due to the nature of the Round Britain Rally, landmarks are open to various predicaments. They can be uprooted and moved to another location, removed for repair, damaged by being run in to, or in the next two cases being vandalised!

To the side of the A140 there is a monument dedicated to the pilots who were stationed at RAF Mendlesham as the 34th Heavy Bombardment Group. Although the air force base has long since been returned to farmland and industrial units, with very few of the buildings and runways intact, the memorial reminds us of our history. In its prime the memorial looked like this,

however, by the time we arrived part of it was missing.

The copper plaque had been stolen! Details about the crime can be read here.

This was a memorable landmark for me as I was able to tease Ian about dropping his phone here. The caretaker’s partner found this when she went to inspect the cut grass. How a lime green mobile survived the onslaught of a large mower, I’ll never know, it did return unscathed.

From Suffolk we headed north to the county of Norfolk and the seaside town of Cromer. Here we had to find the bust of Henry Blogg, a man that can be classed as a true hero.

Henry was coxswain to the Cromer lifeboat from 1909 to 1947. During this time the lifeboat was called into service 387 times, saving 873 in the process. For his services, Henry received the George Cross, 3 Gold Medals and a VC and bar of the lifeboat service amongst his honours. How did a person or persons unknown treat this brave man? Like this!

Fortunately Henry was back in situ watching over the sea that he spent many hours of his life fighting.

My final choice is a landmark that took some researching. The clue was listed as “Roman Bridge”, Lyn Ogwen, near Capel Curig. Looking on the usual websites that I use produced no information, however eventually I came across a site that gave the location but no picture. With this information off we went. How many times have we travelled on the A5 in Wales and like thousands of others before us never knew of the bridge’s existence? We cross over the bridge without the motorcycle’s tyres coming into contact with it. How? Take a look.

The bridge is sheltered under a modern structure from the onslaught of today’s traffic. The downside to this is that a strong wind was created passing through and Ian’s rally control card was nearly lost and his helmet almost landed in the water. Does the bridge really date back to the Roman era? The jury is out on that question.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Round Britain Rally 2010 (Part 2)

There appears to be a WWII theme going on at the moment, so I will continue on with the next landmark. Our clue for this landmark was ‘Guinea Pig Club plaque, South Rauceby’. Nothing too difficult here then, ho hum. Having convinced Ian that this was nothing to do with little furry meals for myself, research started. The Guinea Pig Club is a group of servicemen, predominately from the Allied air forces that were treated for burns during WWII. They were the first group of people to be experimented on for plastic surgery, hence the name Guinea Pig. Early research showed that there was a mental hospital situated nearby that was transformed into a burns unit for the war period, however the building had been left to decay and had been set ablaze by various people. It has now been demolished and in its place is a housing estate.

Our journey to the landmark was entertaining as the Guzzi decided to cut out at a set of traffic lights in Grantham. There were several changes of relays and fuses before she fired up again.

Reaching South Rauceby Ian rode through the village, out the other side, turned round and did the same again. He then stopped, switched off the Guzzi’s engine, checked paperwork and tried starting the motor again. Nothing. Once more fuses and relays were exchanged, but to no avail. A slow push up a slight gradient followed, ending outside The Bustard Inn. Across the road there was a public telephone box, from where Ian phoned Carole Nash Insurance for breakdown assistance. There was nothing else to do except grab a bite to eat and a pint until help arrived.

Food ordered and beer poured, Ian enquired about the Guinea Pig Club plaque. A local customer knew exactly where it was and gave us directions. It was still early on in the year’s event and we were the fifth to ask for advice!

When the recovery van arrived, the driver offered to take the stubborn Guzzi to the landmark but Ian declined it. Ian decided to phone a friend, Italia, who would look at the stricken Guzzi between jobs, so off to Lincoln we travel.

At Italia, Steve and Phil tried several things before changing a crank sensor. This appeared to do the trick and the Guzzi was wheeled out of the workshop and onto the street. Ian got ready for a quick test ride. Nothing. Back into the workshop.

‘How did the road test go, Ian?’ asked Phil.

‘It hasn’t’ was the reply.

Eventually the problem was solved. The previous year the oil pipe taking oil from the crankcase to the tappets burst, pumping the engines blood all over the motorcycle. Although Ian had thoroughly washed the motorcycle a small amount had got into an electrical connector, shorting pot the throttle sensor! Phil got some cleaning spray and we had had no problems since. Having never come across a problem like this before, Phil was pleased to have solved it. The time taken? Two and a half hours. Cost? Nothing! When you have a good relationship with a shop, loyalty is repaid in kind and we have had excellent service over the last 16 years.

Returning to South Rauceby, we found the plaque, in the centre of a developing housing estate on the outside of an NHS building.

An eventful day for us but at least the problem was sorted before we went on our travels abroad last year.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Round Britain Rally 2010 (Part 1)

For the Chinese it was 3rd February, the Gregorian / Western / Christian diary it is always 1st January and for the Round Britain Rallyists (RBR) it was the 27th March. What am I rabbiting on about? With apologies to the Chinese, the New Year. RBRers congregated at the 5th Annual Rally Starting Event. As with many peoples’ behinds, the RBR’s ARSE just keeps on getting bigger! It is a social gathering at Landmark 1 on the entry list. Friendships are renewed, photographs taken, certificates and patches that had been pre-ordered are handed out and paid for.

With this year’s event now in full swing, I can belatedly share some of my favourite landmarks visited from last year.

Last year’s ARSE was held in the county of Avon, approximately 5 miles from Bath, at the Claverton Pumping Station.

The station was built in 1813 to pump water from the River Avon up 48 feet into the Kennet and Avon Canal. There was a small admission charge to get into the station’s grounds, which were taken over by many two and three wheeled machines. We were given a guided tour of the stations workings by one of the volunteers, making for an enjoyable event.

After leaving the gathering Ian and myself managed tick off a few more landmarks on the homeward journey, bumping into small groups of rallyists .

Higher Sutton is a small hamlet just off the A54 between Axe Edge and the junction with the A523. The landmark here is the Greenway Cross, also known as a Plague Stone. Originally the stone may have been used as a wayward marker and becoming a Plague Stone in the 17th Century when England succumbed to the disease. There are many similar stones across the country, their purpose being that supplies could be left here and the townsfolk would come, leave payment in a container of water and thus hoping not to spread the plague further.

I selected this landmark, not for the Plague Stone itself but for the view across to the historic town of Macclesfield.

There is a saying within the RBR group that if you want to find a landmark, don’t ask the locals. This could have been proved correct, only in that the person Ian asked was not a local! We were on our way to find the memorial at Hunsdon Airfield. Having ridden around the area, to no avail, Ian noticed a security man on a small industrial area. He tried to give us directions for Gatwick Airport! Eventually, outside the village shop we struck lucky and a local person pointed us in the right direction.

Hunsdon Airfield is private land and has an active microlight club. We proceed up the loose chipped roadway and found the landmark.

There was a group of men around the memorial and we got into conversation with them. Ian gave them a brief rundown on the RBR and they were pleased that their monument had been chosen. It can be a rare event to meet another entrant at a landmark, but to be in the company of the builders…

We were informed how the monument was built, with extra reinforcing given to the engine. This was due to there being a similar style monument somewhere nearby and the engine was not secured, resulting in the engine deing removed, possibly for its scrap value. Details of the construction can be found here.

An enjoyable afternoon was spent in their company talking bikes and the history of the airfield. Slowly we went our separate ways, them back home whilst Ian and myself headed for a motorcycle rally, only after taking another photograph.

Monuments can commemorate many different past events. The Hunsdon memorial represents the bravery of the pilots stationed there in WWII, however the next one I have selected deals with a tragic disaster.

Freckleton is a small town in Lancashire, midway between Preston and Lytham St Anne’s. It’s the type of place that has a by-pass, thus there is usually no need to stop and look around. Indeed by-passes tend to make small towns invisible.

At 10:30 on the morning of 23rd August 1944, two American Liberator heavy bombers took off from nearby Warton. The aircraft were soon in trouble as a vicious storm swept in from the Irish Sea. One of the aircraft was able to head north, however the other flew into the storm.

With the aircraft’s wings almost vertical, its right wing hit the top of a tree and then was ripped off as it impacted against the corner of a building. The remainder of the wing ploughed along the ground and through a hedge. Unfortunately the fuselage continued on its way, partly demolishing three houses and a snack bar used by servicemen. Momentum carried stricken aircraft forward across the road and then it burst into flames. Part of the aircraft hit the infants’ wing of the local school and fuel from the ruptured tanks ignited producing an inferno. The time was 10:17.

In the school, 38 children and 6 adults perished, the snack bar, 14 died and also the crew of 3 on board the stricken aircraft. A horrific day for Freckleton. More information on the disaster can be found here, including an account of the day by one of the surviving children.

For the RBR, we were given three locations and could select any two to find. The two I have chosen, I believe, tell most of the events of the fateful day.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

2007 It Had to Happen Sometime-Smoke Gets In My Eyes!

Up, breakfasted and packed. All we could do now was wait for our taxi to arrive. We spent a little time with the hotel manager, conversing as best we could. Finally it was time for our departure. Farewells exchanged, we loaded up the taxi with panniers, tank and roll bags, motorcycle clothing and leaving just enough room for ourselves.

With no idea where we were headed all we could do was admire the scenery, making a mental note to hopefully return one day. Our chauffeur pointed out several things of interest, including what the French speed cameras look like. They are now on the increase, with as much resentment for them in France as there is in Blighty.

We arrived in Aix-en-Provence, approximately 30kms north of Marseille. The taxi’s sat-nav directed us to a street with no sign of a motorcycle shop. We were all looking a little confused until Guzzisue noticed a small sign pointing down between two works units. With nothing to lose we proceed down the opening. Lo and behold, there was the bike shop, situated in a large open space.

All of our belongings were removed from the taxi and gathered into a pile whilst we found the Guzzi. She was hiding in a throng of motorcycles, along a wall by the side of the workshop entrance. A mechanic approached us and informed us that

“Everything is OK. No parts needed.”

Ian did enquire if electrics are OK, to which we had the same reply.

“Everything is OK. No parts needed.”

We looked around the vast showroom until the paperwork had been completed and the bill settled. All that was left was to bring the Guzzi to the front of the shop

and load up. We are very close to the southern coast of France on a hot Wednesday afternoon with a ferry to catch on Friday morning. All that we can do is start heading north.

We did not want to travel the same route back and so we headed for the A8 to Salon de-Provence, where we continued north on the A7. It was in this area where we had our first flight on the Guzzi. A car cut across three lanes of traffic to exit on a slip road, hitting our left pannier and Guzzisue in the process! The Guzzi was momentarily airborne, landed, shook her handlebars and carried on! We still have the impact mark on the pannier today.

Stopping the night in Valance, we were making good progress, leaving the city of Lyon until the morning when we all would be fresh, having had chance to soak away any aches and pains.

Next morning we awoke with the sun and were on our way. The timing was good and we defeated the traffic in Lyon, hitting the city after the rush hour. Onwards we travelled, stopping at a service station for fuel and food, briefly talking to a girl motorcyclist who was singing the praises of Central France and its scenery. We make a mental note to consider this for the future. It was after leaving the service area that things went rapidly downhill.

We were over 300kms from Calais when the warning light came on again. Ian had no choice but to carry on. I’m sure that “Everything is OK. No parts needed.” Was going through his head at the time. Guzzi electrics have been a standard joke for many years, so why should ours be any different. Ian was just overtaking a couple of lorries when I first smelt something very close burning. Trying to attract Ian’s attention he finally looked down, just after we had passed a slip road for a service area. Quickly pulling onto the hard shoulder he shouted to Guzzisue to get off.

To make things worse a police car pulled up right behind us. They were not helpful as they refused to get their extinguisher out in case it was needed. One of them helpfully poured some water onto the smoke! Ian’s expression says it all!

Here is the damage.

“Everything is OK. No parts needed.” As Jim Royale would say ‘MyArse’

To their credit the police did message for a recovery wagon, however they would not let us push the Guzzi up the slip road so that we could wait in the shade and get something to eat. Away they went leaving us to stew in the sun.

It was over an hour before the recovery wagon appeared, waiting at the top of the slip road from the services! Ian had to then do what the police would not let him do earlier, push the bike back up the slip road!

I was getting a sense of déjà vu here as onto the back of the wagon we go.

Not knowing where we are, we are dropped off at a Moto Guzzi dealer in an industrial area.

The unit is closed for lunch so to pass time we look next door at the Ducatis. Lunch finished and we stroll into the shop. They have very little in the shape of spares, even less for our old Guzzi. Bottom line is that they cannot help us but they do talk to the wonderful Carole Nash help desk. Eventually things are sorted and we are going to be taken, with the Guzzi to another garage.

Guzzisue books the last room available in the local Campanile Hotel, from which a taxi will pick up Ian and Guzzisue in the morning to a car hire company for them to get home.

Me? I decided to stay and keep the Guzzi company.

What did we learn from this?

Ian got so involved in trying to get an injured motorcycle home that forgot how to relax and let things take their path, also to have more faith in the people sorting out repatriation of the ailing motorcycle. Incidentally this was taken to our friends at Italia in Lincoln where a Ducati rectifier was connected and is still in place today.

Having googled Digne looking for links for the last few posts, we could have seen much more of the area just by catching the local train. A fine example of ignoring our own advice!

Guzzisue, due to the nature of her work, finds things difficult when she does not learn about things first hand. She must learn to take the chill pill sometimes.

And me? After my near death experience with the rectifier going up in smoke so close to me, I was humbled after Ian told me when we were reunited, he was asked by the Carole Nash representative:

‘Is there anything of value on the motorcycle?’

‘Yes, a bear, Biker Ted’

‘A toy teddy bear?’

‘No. Biker Ted. He’s our travelling companion!’

‘Are you serious????’


Monday, 2 May 2011

2007 It Had to Happen Sometime-Marooned

Whilst travelling back to our base in Dignes, Ian glanced down at the warning lights console and noticed that the charging light was illuminated. Still 35 miles away from our base we decided to press on. The Guzzi managed to return us to the hotel, but the warning light stayed lit. Ian was concerned about this, in fact he was that concerned that he phoned Carole Nash Insurance stating that he was certain that there was something wrong with the charging system. It was agreed that the Guzzi would be picked up the next day, Sunday, and taken to the local Moto Guzzi dealer to be checked out on Monday.

Sunday and we had to stay at the hotel after breakfast to await the recovery vehicle. Eventually the transporter arrived and Ian helped with the loading.

Watching the Guzzi disappear around the corner, realisation hit us. We were marooned in Dignes! Throughout the following days Ian received phone calls on the Guzzi’s progress. Monday, Ian was informed that the motorcycle shop that the Guzzi was being taken to was closed. Tuesday, the shop had not got any time to look at our motorcycle. Ian informed the insurance representative that we had a ferry booked for Friday morning and could they pass this information on to the repair shop. Later in the day Ian received another call informing us that the motorcycle would be ready for collection on Wednesday.

The above events meant that we had a prolonged stay in Dignes. The manageress of the hotel took pity on us and we were transferred to a larger room for the same price for a couple of nights. We were leaving, then not. Ian was becoming like a bear with a sore head! Guzzisue was getting irate because she was slightly out of the proverbial loop, having to rely on second hand information from Ian. I had the job of keeper of the peace during this period. The holiday must continue.

Monday, Guzzisue and myself decided to leave Ian alone for a few hours and went for a walk in the surrounding area. Selecting a road that gave us a view over Digne.

Without realising we had discovered Saint Benoit Park. This can best be described as a discovery park. We had already passed a Japanese styled pagoda and several water features.

Along the way we had seen an information sign giving detail of the region. Although neither of us could translate much, one name that stood out was Andy Goldsworthy. By chance we stumbled across a couple of his five cairns at the centre.

We had an enjoyable time at the park just walking round and looking at the fossil collection in the museum before heading back to find Ian.

After Ian had received the call from Carole Nash that the Guzzi would be ready for collection on Wednesday his mood lightened enormously. Guzzisue had discovered that a famous French traveller/explorer had lived in Digne for a long period of their life and that their adobe was open to the public for guided tours, she just had to go, towing Ian and myself along.

Alexandra David-Néel was a strong willed woman with a desire to travel, especially to India and Tibet. This was more extraordinary as her adventures took place from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s! Her last walking trip was concluded in early winter of her 82nd year.

During her latter years, Alexandra wrote several books on her travels and adventures. Reaching her century she had her passport renewed ready for when the urge to take off again became too strong. However this remarkable woman died just short of her 101st birthday. Her ashes were scattered on the waters of the Ganges.

Inside her house there are many artefacts from her journeys. Guzzisue was not permitted to photograph anything inside the building. If you happen to be in Digne at any time I can recommend that an afternoon be spent with a guided tour here. There are headsets available, handed out by the guide, at various places where necessary.

Please do have a look at the link on Alexandra’s name to find out more about this amazing woman.

Walking around Digne one last time, down this narrow street

upon a wall is this plaque.

Our prolonged stay in Digne was a little longer than Napoleon’s and tomorrow we will be reunited with the Guzzi. For now the future is looking brighter.