Wild Irish Rovers

Overture and first movement

Fishguard to Wexford

The choice was difficult from the outset. Full waterproofs, or jeans and lightweight oversuit? Ireland’s reputation for rain had preceded the holiday planning and so, on the day, we simply opted for both. Jeans squeezed in the tail pack and waterproofs on the riders. For us, the Oxford Section Ireland Trip was an adventure of an entirely unprecedented scale. 10 days of riding, 5 hotels, close to 2,000 miles, and 2 up. When fully loaded, at trickling pace, our R1200RS was a bit of a ‘handful’ but once underway, with the suspension suitably dialled-in, the bike was still, as ever, a joy to ride.

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Ready for the off

Although some of the Section’s members were meeting near Chippenham, we would have needed such an early start as to render our participation impractical. Instead, we chose a leisurely first day ride to Fishguard on the Sunday. Riding a cross-country route, we passed through Farnham, Basingstoke, and through to Newbury, opting for the A4 instead of a thrash along the motorway. The weather was favourable excepting a couple of small showers and a nagging, blustery wind, that seemed to follow us for most of the holiday.

Our Welsh accommodation, close to the ferry terminal, was comfortable and gave us the opportunity to relax with an enjoyable evening meal and a cheeky G&T at the ‘local’ before the adventure started for real.

Monday 12 June

The ferry sailing was booked for around 13.00 leaving us a morning to explore Fishguard with its Victorian industrial heritage and architecture, and views across the picturesque bay. This was an ideal way to ‘chill’ before Mrs. M faced her nemesis, the Irish Sea with its millpond-like swell.

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Mrs. M’s nemesis, the Irish Sea at full force in the bay at Fishguard

Wending our way down to check-in, we found ourselves close some earlier arrivals and, as with all BMW Club events, we soon got to know each other. George and Ruth, and Tim, on their respective RTs, and Ray on his GS. Following a comparison of bike notes, and the arrival of further members of the Group, we were soon ready for embarkation. This was all new for me with my prior experience only being the melee of loading for the TT. Manx veterans will be familiar the cattle herding process, the vast numbers of bikes, and the loading ramp with its steep, challenging hairpin ramp. I’ve seen too many riders come to grief simply trying to start their TT holidays. In contrast, the ramp onto the Stena Europa was a straight run with a right-hand turn onto an open, if rather greasy, car deck.

 

We were treated like customers instead of an irritation to the deck-hands, with the bikes strapped down with some care. Although windy, the gentle, undulating crossing was made bearable with the usual banter being exchanged, and time for us to get to know the rest of the party.

Disembarking in Rosslare, we headed, en-masse, to our first hotel. First impressions of Ireland as we rode away from the port’s hinterland was both the contrasts and similarities with the UK. The architecture and ‘feel’ was UK and yet, European influences in such things as the road layout and signage were quite marked. The roads were wide and well maintained, with many drivers willingly pulling aside into the yellow marked, peripheral lanes, allowing us to pass.

After negotiating the evening peak traffic, the ‘Mustard Monolith’ that is the Talbot Hotel hove into view. Paul Fitzgerald of WildIrish Motorcycle Tours, agent for tour, had arranged reserved parking in an otherwise limited space, allowing us to check in with the minimum of fuss. The bar proved a strong attraction before enjoying one of the more formal dinners for the now 18 members of the party for the trip.

 

Second Movement

Wexford to Ballyvourney

Tuesday 13 June

Acknowledging the impracticality of not only riding in such numbers, but the varying interests of each member, Tuesday saw us splitting up into various sub-groups, each with its own preferences. Mrs. M and I teamed up with Geoff, Rob, Clive, and Tim for this ride. Our agreed agenda was to make Waterford, with its famous cut-glass crystal factory, our first port of call.

Loosely following the GPX on the satnav, with Geoff taking the lead, the first part of the route took us along the major ‘N’ roads, through the gently rolling, green, countryside, but somehow missing the turning to our destination. This minor error left us to the mercy of a section of toll road, over an impressive, modern suspension bridge, directly to the toll booths, just to turn-off immediately after payment. Vaguely following the signs, we made our way past the contemporary industrial developments to the heart of the City with its associated congestion.

Stop-start, we turned onto the quayside road and, in a controlled wobble on our heavily laden bike, for some distance before the decision was made to make enquiries as to where the factory was. Our slow progress did allow us time to appreciate the varying architecture, some dating from Georgian times, and through to the heritage structures along the, now largely ornamental, quayside. Somehow, 5 of us had managed to ride right past the well signed building without seeing it. Nothing to do but turn around and fight our way back!

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Rob and Geoff debate: Is it possible that 5 people can ride past the Waterford Crystal Factory without seeing it?

Finally parking in the Waterford Factory courtyard, the coffee shop was a welcome sight. Unfortunately, it was the unofficial parking that was our undoing, being asked to move-on just as we finished our refreshments. Let’s face though, we couldn’t practically have bought anything – nowhere to put a piece of lead crystal on the bike, and for another 8 days.

Picking up the GPX route out of town, we soon found ourselves in the stunning Irish countryside, heading for the Copper Coast. This is not only a beautiful area of coastline, but is recognised for its geological importance being a UNESCO Geopark. Following the undulating, curvy, coastal road, not only did we have a superb ride, but saw some spectacular views of inlets and deserted sandy beaches. The historical working of the minerals was further highlighted by abandoned mine buildings.

 

Our original plan had been to head toward the Cobh Heritage centre, last port of call for the ill-fated ships Titanic and Lusitania. This was however, our first education in Irish touring. On the map, without deviations, the route was ‘only’ 157 miles but these are winding, country lanes with many photo stop opportunities and, some time before Cobh was even on the horizon, a comfort break and lunch was called for.

The closer alternative was a break at the Jameson Distillery Visitor Centre, Midleton. The full Distillery tour, it turned out, was too long for our schedule and sampling would be even more inappropriate than buying Waterford Crystal. Lunch in the café however, was very welcome and gave our journey renewed impetus.

Following a car park conference, we headed for a pure tourist spot; Blarney Castle, home of the eponymous Stone. The scenery continued to impress as the afternoon’s ride progressed until we reached the Castle car park where we were able to dismount and get relief from numb bum. The Castle gardens were worth a visit in their own right, but the Castle itself, although swathed in builders’ film, was spectacular.

 

The queue to reach the Stone was disguised by a 600 year-old, spiral staircase, that fortunately, only took us about 20 minutes to negotiate. After a circuit of the Tower parapet, the kissing was a slightly unceremonious process. The guide helps to position you on a mat before being pushed, upside down, through a gap in the tower wall and promptly being pulled back with the ubiquitous photograph ticket being thrust into your hand to exchange, with payment of course, as a memento of you discomfort.

Meandering back through the gardens, Rob suggested it was ice cream time. This was the first time on the trip we saw his prowess at negotiation.

Rob: ‘Do we get volume discount?’

Young lady serving (YLS): ‘Oh, no.’

Rob: ‘Discount for pensioners?’

YLS (with giggle): ‘No, but I’ll give a slightly bigger one.’

Rob disappointed.

We sat under a tree eating until Rob managed to drop the ice cream off the cone.

Rob: ‘5 second rule – it’ll be OK.’

 

Seconds later, he managed to crush his cone, nearly repeating the earlier drop.

Rob: ‘I’m going back to complain.’ (with a cheeky grin)

2 minutes later he returned, not with a new cone but, with a complete new ice cream.

Rob: ‘I’ll never eat all of this.’

Moral: Be careful what you wish for!

Tired from the events of the day, we finally headed off to the Mills Inn Hotel in Ballyvourney.

 

Third Movement

Ballyvourney to Spanish Point.

Wednesday 14 June

Following the procedure from the previous day, we split into our touring parties and headed off. Although breakfast seemed only a blink away, our first stop was the beautiful, natural harbour of Kinsale, in the mouth of the river Bandon. On advice from Wild Irish Tours, we parked in a corner of the local pay and display car park without paying (rebels? BMW Club? Surely not!) before setting off in search of refreshments.

Reinvigorated, we headed for the hills following the now sign-posted Wild Atlantic Way (WAW). The roads were a riders’ delight. Bends, climbs, drops, and a few straights, all against a backdrop of stunning views across the hills, which, at times, were an inappropriate distraction. As we progressed westwards, so the cloud cover increased until we reached another notable natural harbour at Bantry.  The weather was becoming muggy demanding, and finding, another delightful watering hole for lunch.

The promise for the afternoon was the Healy Pass. There wasn’t much detail but the name should have been enough. Setting out from Bantry, we headed north along the N7, along a good wide road with plenty of sweeping curves to keep it interesting. After a series of tighter bends around Glengarriff, we turned onto the R572, a lower class of road. At this stage of the tour, I had no maps or information except what was on the sat nav. That said Healy Pass. It definitely wasn’t!

We had been moving-on at a good pace, overtaking some of the HGVs that had to take this route by necessity, before turning down a narrow country lane and there it was, set out before us. The Healy Pass, climbs 335 metres into the Caha Mountains. This is a road that was originally conceived as part of an initiative to improve the Country’s infrastructure and create paid employment during the 1845 Potato Famine. But, like so many Government initiatives, even to this day, failed to meet its original goals succeeding only through the drive of Cork politician, Timothy Healy. This was a challenging climb with multiple hairpins, adverse cambers, and not a lot of Armco. The view back down the valley from the peak was stunning, and was equalled by the view down ‘the other side’. Sadly, the descending cloud base encouraged us to move on before being fogged in.

Rob lead the ride down from the peak with many more wonderful views and still able to see the coast, to the north, in the distance. Passing the hamlet of Lauragh, Rob followed his satnav (not always a good idea) joining one of the network boreens, the single track, metalled roads, that go on for many kilometres, often without any passing places or turnings. This route was ‘entertaining’, riding 2 up, close to any hedges or brushwood, with grass in the middle, but still definitely enjoyable. After what seemed like 10k, we finally came back to civilisation, heading back to The Mills for a welcoming shower and refreshment.

 

Thursday 15 June

After a post-breakfast, campaign meeting, it was agreed that the famous Ring of Kerry circuit was good, as per the GPX route for the day but in reverse, allowing a visit to the picturesque Gap of Dunloe as the first stop.

Having got away quite early, the car park at Kate Kearny’s Cottage, the entrance to the Gap, was deserted. The local pony ‘wranglers’ were preparing their stock for a day’s trading, (fleecing?) offering tourists pony and trap rides up through the narrow valley in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountains. Rob stepped forwards with his Chief Negotiator hat on. The wrangler had an opening bid of E22, Rob haggled down to E20 but wanted E18 based on 5 passengers sharing but failed and withdrew. (We weren’t bothered about going, saving us E36 altogether.) There was a suggestion of riding up the road on the bikes but were ‘discouraged’ by the ‘wranglers’ who pointed to nicely weasel worded signs that the road was ‘predominantly’ for the use of the ponies and traps. Instead, we walked about ½ mile to the first peak in the road to see deeper into the beautiful, tree covered valley before returning for refreshments.

 

Returning to the bikes, the weather was beginning to deteriorate with a light shower. The roads remained dry for a while but the weather then closed-in, with the blustery winds blowing rain horizontally. This was a popular route and, in addition to the rain, we had coaches, caravans, and cyclists, all making sightseeing difficult.  The clouds finally descended onto the mountains, generally making this a less pleasant part of the expedition. Descending through Cahersiveen, the rain eased and by the time we got to Portmagee for our lunch stop, the sun was starting to peep through the clouds. Portmagee is a small, widely dispersed, fishing community with its pretty, low level houses, set into the gentle, grassed slopes that descend into the Portmagee Channel. To me, this was a picture that almost seemed to be set in a different time and place.

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The view back to Portmagee

After lunch, we continued along the coastal road, through to the Coomanaspic Pass,stopping for a photo opportunity from its peak. Looking to the North was Portmagee and, to the south, the shapes of the bird sanctuaries of Little Skellig and Great Skellig could be made out through the mist, the latter doubling as the home of one Mr Luke Sky Walker from the recent, Star Wars – The Force Awakens, film.

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The Wild Atlantic Way followed the line of the coast, dramatically rising and falling, rounding small coves and bays, giving us a thoroughly enjoyable, if not tiring, ride. Following a brief tea break, we continued, following the WAW back to Kenmare, before picking up the R569 back to the Mills Inn for a very welcome evening of relaxation. The evening was augmented by a live quartet of accordion players entertaining us with traditional Irish music and song, complemented by some Irish dancers. The keener members of our party were charged E15 for entry to the venue, but those of us more leisurely with our repast, walked in a little later unaware of any admission charges. Result!

 

Friday 16 June

Bikes packed for moving on, we set off under low clouds and light drizzle. The scenery however, even under these conditions, was more than adequate compensation. Initially riding past hills and mountains, the landscape gradually gave way to the lower lying, coastal plain. Turning along the coast to Castlemaine Harbour, we followed the road around its periphery to the Dingle Peninsula and to Dingle itself.

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Inch Beach, County Kerry

Although the GPX route allowed for a circular route onwards, to the end of the Peninsula, the rigours of constant riding were taking their toll with the more reserved of us, opting instead, to remain in the town waiting for the return of the hardier riders looking to squeeze every last drop of the Irish roads.

Following advice in an article in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure, we had decided that as a cure for the increasing prevalence of numb bum, we would treat ourselves to a sheepskin seat cover. Dingle, with its shops (and time to look), would surely be able to offer something. We were not disappointed. We found the one. A beautiful colour, generously sized, but a little more expensive than we’d wanted. Even Rob couldn’t negotiate the price down. Hey ho! We are now the proud owners of our own piece of Irish ovine memorabilia, now affectionately known as Dingle. The difference has been significant, especially on longer runs.

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Satisfied customer with sheepskin seat cover aka Dingle

Following lunch, and with the murky weather prevailing, we headed North, towards the Conor Pass. Climbing sharply out of Dingle, despite the wind, we soon found ourselves enveloped in a swirling mist and, the higher we climbed, the more dense the mist became. When we reached the summit, the road curved around to the right, with a sheer drop to our left, shrouded in mist, but at least secured by crash barriers, and a sheer rock face to the right. Visibility was down to about 30 feet as we began to descend. Suddenly, we were confronted by an array of car rear lights littered across the road, and worse, some of them were starting to reverse. On a fully laden bike, down an increasingly steep slope, this was not my idea of fun. I pulled over into a small recess in the rock wall to wait for any cars coming up but it was a complete impasse. Drivers incapable of driving their vehicles were effectively locked together in this surreal, swirling mist.

Rob decided to take the bull by the horns, shoehorning himself through the melee of cars, and out of sight. Eventually moving out from our refuge, the car in front of us began to creep forward preventing us from overtaking but not moving fast enough to allow me to either engage the clutch or get my feet up onto the pegs. I had no option but to control a heavy bike, trying to run away on a steep gradient, on the front brake. Tending to snatch at this speed, the ride was both uncomfortable and disconcerting. Eventually, the car scored 4 faults for a refusal at the next hurdle – an up-coming coach, allowing us to sneak through the space and continue our descent. This was probably one of the most frightening rides I have ever had, particularly given how slowly we were moving.

Re-grouping, we continued our run down, out of the clouds, into bright sunshine. The view across the peninsula from this altitude was both breath-taking and reassuring. We continued our run with only a couple of satnav related glitches, through to the Shannon Ferry.

 

On the crossing, we did catch occasional glimpses of the famous dolphins, but not long enough for any photographs, until we disembarked for the final run to Spanish Point and sanctuary.

Fourth Movement

Spanish Point to Ballina

Saturday 17 June

The early morning cloud at Spanish Point soon burnt off, leaving a beautiful sunny day for our ride up the coast towards Galway Bay.

 

First stop on the satnav was the 700 foot, sheer cliff face, that drops directly into the Atlantic Ocean at The Cliffs of Moher. A popular attraction, this natural phenomenon involves an entry fee and a consequent challenge to Rob’s negotiating skills. Declaring us to all be pensioners, Rob managed a reduction from E12 down to E5, and then a further 50 cents. It emerged that, although Mrs. M, who would never pass as a pensioner, had to close her crash helmet discreetly as we passed the pay booth. It later emerged that the E7 reduction was for BMW Club Membership and only the 50cents was for being pensioners. The views from the cliff top were spectacular.

 

Returning to the bikes, we followed the coast for a short ride to Doolin for coffee, before moving further North, where we found ourselves in the familiar territory from the home counties, a cycle race. The cyclists made riding very challenging on the narrow, undulating, roads when trying to see the magnificent views across to Galway. The precession continued for 6 or 7 miles, through Black Head to Ballyvaughan, with hundreds of participants, each paying little heed to other road users in their quest for the winners’ laurels.

Following the GPX route to the Alliwee Caves and a belated lunch break, we did the tourist bit, and took a guided tour round the caves, finally emerging into the bright sunlight of the afternoon, like mis-guided moles.

 

Having been a follower to this point, I volunteered to lead for the first time with an agreed destination of Father Ted’s House. Programming this into the satnav, set on curvy roads, we went ‘off-piste’ as far as the ‘official’ GPX file was concerned, through some beautiful country lanes, across The Burren National Park with its stunning limestone pavement landscape.

 

Being so far off the route, there were twitching sounds from some of the party, but Mr Garmin came good, delivering us to the site of pilgrimage (if you watched the series – to the rest of us it was an anti-climax).

The noises were now growing for a quick return to Spanish Point. Re-tuning Mr Garmin, we were soon underway, eventually re-joining our route from the morning. Bowling along, nicely, Rob overtook us and in what can only be described as a lapse in concentration, clipped a grass bank, catapulting him and his bike into the air, and down with a horrifying crash. He sustained a gashed nose and broken leg requiring the attention of paramedics and hospitalisation. (I only include this episode because it had an impact on the rest of the trip and that Rob is making good progress, anticipating a full recovery.)  Rob’s attempt at aviation delayed dinner somewhat, not least because Geoff took on the role of administrator, arranging insurance claims, bike collection, and advising Marrion of Rob’s condition. It would be fair to say that it took some of the polish off the trip going forwards.

Sunday 18 June

Loaded up once again, we had another priority besides the GPX today. A visit to Limerick A&E to see our injured mate, Rob. Another warm day, and I have to admit, the shock of the earlier events had hit me, leaving me and some of our other riding buddies, more weary than perhaps we realised.

Having done 4 laps of the new, but poorly signed, Limerick A&E building, we eventually tracked the lad down. Rob was as perky as ever, recounting his chat with the female paramedic,

Rob: Have we got the blue flashing lights on?

Paramedic: Yes

Rob: Have we used the sirens?

Paramedic: Yes

Rob: Cor! I’ve waited 74 years for this.

Reassuring him that everything was in-hand, we left Rob in his upbeat mood, with time for lunch. For those of us who are fathers, this must rank as one of the more memorable Fathers’ Day lunches: Sandwiches and tea in the new A&E Reception of Limerick Hospital. As hospital reception areas go, this one was better than most but…

Returning to the bikes, we headed north towards Ballina, with an intended visit to Galway en-route. This was a disappointment, with heavy Sunday afternoon traffic, we got as far as PC World / Tesco before turning back to the road northwards.

Tim lead, eventually taking a diversion to Pontoon for a brief photo opportunity before hitting Ballina, about 5.30, absolutely exhausted from the day’s ride.

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View across the lough at Pontoon

The hotel and its location gave us quite a lift, with a beautiful post-dinner walk across the River Moy in the evening sunshine, before turning in for a good night’s rest.

 

 

Fifth Movement

Ballina to Wexford and Home

Monday 19 June

Our riding had been quite intensive up this point and the general view was that today’s ride needed to be less demanding. I had identified Lough Melvin, a lesser known tract of water on the border between The Republic and Northern Ireland but slightly off the tourist trail. This was a totally idiosyncratic choice on my part but I was touched that our riding buddies wished to join us.

Setting off northwards at a leisurely pace, we followed the WAW route along the coastal road, once again, being treated to the stunning scenery. Eventually, following the signs, we took a spur to Aughris Head. This was a delightfully deserted beach, with nothing but a few caravans and a charming pub, and a disproportionately large car park indicating its popularity at other times.  This was the traditional Irish pub that we’d all anticipated but not previously found.

 

Tea and tiffin later, we resumed our run along the coast, offering yet more scenic treats. Ballysadare Bay, Sligo Harbour, Strandhill Beach, and through to Mullaghmore Head, a continuing wealth of riches, before following the satnav for the final run across country to Kinlough, on the banks of Lough Melvin.

 

I’m not sure what I’d expected, but this wasn’t it. Although beautiful, this was right off the mainstream trail. It was so quiet that even the cafes closed for lunch – fortunately not all of them. We parked up and wandered along ‘Main Street’, past the pub that also offered undertaking services, until we found Giovani’s Café, cum photographers, cum museum, cum formal meeting facility, where the locals all met for lunch. The food was exceptional, home-made, and reasonably priced. Result!

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Kinlough – do the cafes close for lunch?

Replete, we agreed that with the loops around the bays, this had become a longer ride-out than anticipated and a direct route back was in order. We returned to Ballina around 4 o’clock with time to wander around the town and relax before dinner.

Our group, the ‘Famous Five’, met for dinner in the reception of the Hotel. The view was eating out was the preference, with Tim suggesting The Lantern, Chinese restaurant, one that we had also seen. Geoff let a couple of the others know where we headed, before presenting ourselves as 5, possibly 7, diners.

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Team dinner

Gradually, in dribs and drabs, the rest of the party joined us, swelling our numbers to a total of 15 and having a proper Chinese/Irish hooley. With the Hotel unable to offer Guinness on draft that evening, the hooley then moved to an adjacent pub (cum fishing tackle shop!) where further imbibing took place until all-fall-down, either through tiredness, drink, or both.

Tuesday 20 June

The previous day’s run was ‘only’ 120 miles, but with the final leg of the tour scheduled for Wednesday of 250 miles, and with very few motorways, we really did need to go for a shorter ride-out. Taking the GPX route, we made our first stop at Downpatrick Head with its dramatic sheer cliffs, and offshore stacks. As an author, your supply of superlatives becomes readily exhausted in this stunning countryside, and the vista at Downpatrick Head was another superb example.

 

Our second stop was a visit to Ceide Fields, a preserved, Neolithic, agricultural community site. Preserved under the peat bog for several millennia, this is one of the most extensive sites of this type in world and includes defined field systems, enclosures, and tombs, dating back about 5000 years. The coffee in the imaginatively designed, visitor centre wasn’t bad either.

Following the GPX route again, we traversed the fantastic moorlands around Creagan Beag. This is a virtually uninhabited area, with rolling hills and mountains, stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction, with only a handful of sheep for company. We stopped for a photo opportunity in the sunshine, and all that could be heard was the occasional, inquisitive insect, buzzing past.

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With another group consultation, in order to manage the mileage, we agreed a trip along the nearby Mullet Peninsula to Black Sod, before a return ride to Ballina via Bangor. Black Sod lighthouse, with its extreme westerly location, was used as the weather forecasting station to determine the final decision for launching the D-Day campaign.

 

Today, this area is a sublimely peaceful, headland and quayside, with a few fishing boats bobbing up and down in the natural harbour.  It doesn’t take too much imagination however, to realise that it could be quite hostile in different weather conditions.

The run back to Ballina was yet another treat, arriving in time for a dinner in the restaurant, overlooking the River Moy.

Wednesday 20 June

The cross-country ride back to Wexford was always destined to be a challenge, but our detour to visit Rob, made our journey that little bit longer. The weather was changeable during the ride but, finding yet another excellent café with home-made cakes, kept us going.

Transferred to Croom Orthopaedic Hospital for surgery, Rob was now located a few miles outside Limerick, in a hospital that, with its adequate, free parking, tended gardens, and informal atmosphere, seemed to be locked into a 1960s time-warp. Post-surgery, Rob was still very upbeat and reassured us that things were heading in the right direction. The conversation soon turned to repatriation of both rider and bike with great optimism, although, only time will tell what conditions emerge.

Our final stop en-route was Tiperary, just because it’s a long way, before arriving back in Wexford for dinner and, finally, home on the Thursday morning ferry.

The Finale

Looking back at the whole trip, this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience throughout. As interlopers from The Southern Section, we were made extremely welcome by all of the party and were delighted to be able to participate in the routeing and leading of some of the rides.

The GPX files, created and supplied by Paul Fitzgerald of WildIrish Motorcycle Tours, were very comprehensive and a delight to follow. The overall length of the rides however, were often quite ambitious at times, leaving little time for exploring some of the fascinating places we just passed through. In total, we rode around 2,000 miles in the 12 days, largely without motorways to ease the distance. The scenery was amongst the best we have ever experienced.

The hotels were generally of a good standard although, there were a few concerns expressed about some of them, particularly for those who shared rooms (I’m not referring to Clive’s snoring, Rob).

Our thanks go out to Geoff Clough and Frank Butler for arranging the whole trip and to the Oxford Section for letting us join them.

Bob & Susan Melvin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Winter Mods

It all started with a service, back in November. We were loaned a GS and it was dangerously close to another financial commitment that was only justifiable in the heart. After a narrow ‘escape’, we kept the RS that was the result of a similar affair of the heart just 11 months earlier.

We needed to analyse just what triggered the ‘want’ for the GS, bearing in mind that it was, really, too tall and didn’t offer the same protection as the RS. It was about the riding position. The GS was more upright than the RS and the wide bars being less of a stretch, made the handling just lighter.

Following a bit of research, I found handlebar risers from Motor Works offering a 32mm raise and 25mm closer, and a Givi extended screen. Both the handlebar risers and the screen arrived and are of a good quality with easy fitting. There was no requirements for any modifications to the bike itself and therefore, should I wish, I can revert to standard.

Risers move the 'bars up and back

Risers move the ‘bars up and back

Today saw the modified RS taken for its first test ride. In temperatures just scraping 5degrees, we completed 30 miles during which I didn’t feel the need to pull the chin bar down on my Shark Evo 1 crash helmet to keep the chill off my face. Perhaps more telling, was that we could hold a conversation over the Shark Tooth coms system without the wind roar over the mic drowning the speech.

At 19cm taller than standard, set on the lower setting for the mounting, gives a good compromise between height and protection.

As a comparison against the original, at 19cm taller than standard, set on the lower setting for the mounting, gives a good compromise between height and protection.

The handlebar re-location has moved the riding position to slightly more upright and, on the basis of this short test, seemingly less prone to producing a crick in my neck.

Mods, well-chosen in this case.

Where’s Summer Gone? – Bristol

Our second adventure from the vanishing Summer saw us on a trip to the south west and another National Trust site.

Bristol was a city I’d long wished to visit, particularly Isambard Brunel’s two masterpieces, The Clifton Suspension Bridge and The ss Great Britain steam ship. For various reasons, our holiday plans had gone awry and we decided to cut our losses and just have a mid-week break with the Bristol area coming up trumps.

Everything packed and ready for the ‘off’, the weather forecast wasn’t promising with a severe weather warning posted for rain through the Thames Valley from around 9.00am. Both being early risers, we awoke around 6 and rather than hanging around, took to the road by about 7, beating the rain and even much of the commuter traffic. Our first destination was the National Trust’s Tyntesfield House, a little way the ‘other side’ of Bristol.  Riding motorways most of the route, we made good time on the R1200, arriving before the site was even fully open. As we sat in the early morning sunshine, the staff busied themselves around us preparing for their day, while we took the time to draw breath.

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Tyntesfield House built in the neo -gothic style

Tyntesfield House is a neo-gothic, early Victorian pile, set in beautiful parklands. Its grandeur owes much to the Gibbs family, entrepreneurs in the field of, well, bird poo. In the early Victorian period, agriculture was becoming more intensive as the population moved from the fields to the burgeoning industrial sector, and the consequent booming cities. The demand for more farm produce resulted in a surge in demand for fertilizers and, in particular, the use of phosphates from bird guano. This was sourced by the Gibbs family, principally from South America, and shipped to the UK through the port of Bristol, making the family extremely wealthy in the process.

When Tyntesfield was acquired by the Gibbs’s it was not intended as anything more than a rather grand, but private, family home. Many of the structural alterations were in response to demands of their typically large, Victorian family. The house was only finally vacated by the last remaining member of the family, Richard Gibbs, on his death in 2001, when it was bought with the proceeds of a campaign by The National Trust. The development of the house by the Gibbs family is well documented and makes for a fascinating day trip, particularly as a precursor to exploring other sites in the locale.

We wended our way to our hotel on the outskirts of Bristol with the satnav taking us a direct route from Tyntesfield, through the City, using the aptly named ring road, so called, because you are sent around in rings.  Not liking the distraction of voice directions, and with the afternoon sunshine glaring on the satnav screen, I missed a critical turning going into various, unscheduled parts of the city centre. The occasional glimpses of directions on the sun-splashed screen were probably adding to the confusion rather than helping. We finally arrived at our hotel for an enjoyable stay.

For the second day of our trip, with a bus stop right outside the hotel, we took a city bus into the centre and ‘did the sights’. The ss Great Britain and museum didn’t disappoint and is highly recommended as a worthwhile trip in its own right. The dry dock where the ship is preserved is the dock where her keel was originally laid in 1845. Today, the ship has a glass ‘pool’ ceiling surrounding the hull around the line of the original waterline, giving the appearance of floating from above, but still allowing access to the lower levels of the hull.

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The hull, below the waterline, is accessible. The area is air conditioned to managed the ongoing issue of corrosion of her iron hull.

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For a disconcerting degree of authenticity, live rats live in the ship’s galley!

The Clifton Suspension Bridge still remains an engineering marvel and, with its recently added visitor centre, makes another fascinating outing.

Looking to explore the Clifton area more fully, Mrs. Beamer and I walked back through the delightfully, chic, Clifton Village. The area comprises of an eclectic selection of independent shops and restaurants housed in properties from an equally interesting range of architectural styles. We finally, caught the return bus opposite the BBC in Whiteladies Road.

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Clifton Village Arcade, a centre for artisan shops originally opened in 1870

The following day we opted to head home via Cheddar and the Gorge.  It was a bit chilly for the time of year and, although outside the school holidays, Cheddar was already busy with tourists. We stopped briefly, realising that even motorcycles are ripped off for parking, before deciding to ride the delightful road set between the towering cliffs of the Gorge, and continuing on our journey, heading for the City of Wells with its medieval cathedral.

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Wells’s medieval cathedral

Following another brief stopover, we headed for the warmth of home to find that our return ride had been endured in a temperature actually a degree colder than Christmas Day had been!

As city break, Bristol offers a great location with a wide range of restaurants and drinking houses to compliment the fascinating sights. Having researched how motorcycle friendly Bristol was, we opted to find a hotel with reasonably secure parking. Staying just outside the City, we were able to enjoy Bristol without worrying about parking or having a lunchtime drink.

 

Where’s Summer Gone 1? – Batemans

Where’s the summer gone? I last wrote back in June describing the wonderful weekend in Abergavenny with our friends in the BMW Club and our run through the Brecon Beacons.  It all seems such a while ago now, though. Since then, we have attended the BMW National Rally, also in South Wales, visited Bruges, our first foray beyond the UK on a bike, as well as numerous days out, taking advantage of our National Trust membership.

From a personal perspective, joining the National Trust has proved to be well worthwhile.  Although our membership confirms that, a) We’re disturbingly middle class, and b) we’re getting old, we both agree that the idea of ‘just going for an aimless ride’ has little appeal. We now just click on the NT app and select a new venue to visit that usually involves an interesting ride to a new area.

Our first trip was to Batemans, a beautifully restored, grand house, deep in the East Sussex countryside, developed into its current state by Rudyard Kipling. Until our visit, I hadn’t appreciated how much of a literary superstar Kipling had been in the early part of the 20th Century. Author of such classic books as, The Jungle Book, If, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and Just So Stories, he was also a notable poet with prolific output. His works became so popular that it provided him with a lifestyle that would compete JK Rowling in the celebrity stakes.

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Batemans _ Kipling enjoyed its isolation

The route was planned using the satnav’s curvy route setting. The route successfully skirted Gatwick and Crawley and, without using dual carriage ways, we departed the outskirts of our relative suburbia. We were taken through the beautiful Ashdown Forest, following delightful country lanes, and some lovely, quicker, undulating, tree lined roads.  This wasn’t our expected scenery for a run down to East Sussex. We finally emerged into the centre of Burwash, a pretty village located on the Kent/Sussex borders, before being directed to the house itself, through some more, pretty, back lanes. Having come in from the wrong direction, we parked in a car park which, although smaller than expected, was adequate for our needs. After disrobing and securing the bike, it emerged that we were actually in the staff car park. Still, it would be safe there.

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Batemans is set in beautiful gardens

Kipling, having spent the early part of his life in Colonial India, valued peace and quiet, and in keeping with the celebrity culture of today, wanted to keep the prying eyes of the press and public at bay. He was in a position to maintain his wishes through the purchase of any adjacent farms as they came onto the market preventing any potential overlooking developments. To this day, the house remains in splendid isolation, with rolling farmlands in just about every direction.

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The property oozes atmosphere

The property oozes atmosphere and is maintained, largely, intact. The one disappointment for me was Kipling’s Rolls Royce which is not only set behind glass, but appears to have had its garage built around it preventing it from being driven again, without demolishing the building. (I could be wrong about this, but that’s how it appeared!).

For our return trip, we took a more direct, but still entertaining route, picking up the A272, which winds its way through Sussex/Surrey Weald, completing a delightful day out.

Learning Curves

 

Fear could have easily spread across Abergavenny on Saturday morning, June 11 this year.  It must have looked like some sort of chemical incident as Mr Beamer emerged from his hotel room clad in the all-enveloping, fluorescent yellow, suit. But no, it was just the first outing in this lightweight rain suit, worn in response to the prevailing wet conditions. The approach to the hotel the previous afternoon, with its views of the sweeping moorland hills in the near distance, had given us a foretaste of the delights to come. By the morning however, the weather had started to match more of the drama of the landscape.

Having assembled with fellow members from The BMW Club in the car park of the Plas Derwen Hotel, we left in a convoy of 11 bikes following ride leader, Dave. The initial pace was fairly brisk but well-ordered. Our route along a short stretch of dual carriage way soon gave way to the sort of country roads that would be equally at home in our native Surrey Hills.  The road surfaces were however, somewhat better paved than the over-used used Surrey tarmac, offering better grip, even with the prevailing conditions. Riding with a group of good, competent riders makes this sort of outing so much more fun.

By the time we reached Hay on Wye for our coffee stop, the clouds had lifted to reveal more of the beautiful scenery. I took the opportunity to disrobe, removing the ‘chemical suit’ to find that, with internal condensation, the suit was actually wetter inside than out. This was a new acquisition and the first thing learned was that it ain’t Goretex and it doesn’t breathe.

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Cloud lifted in time for coffee at Hay-on-Way

Coffee over and suit stowed, we set forth again, skirting the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons, covering a significant distance on minor roads. There were no hesitations for route reviews and each junction was navigated decisively, making the ride through to Crossgates very consistent and relaxing.

After a brief lunch stop, Dave lead off again on his GS, this time deeper into the Brecon Beacons National Park. Every road seemed to offer more sweeping bends than the last stretch, ascending and descending through the countryside, together with more varied landscapes, from tree canopied lanes through to the open, desolation of the hill-top moorlands, marked with red, military warning flags advising of live firing. The weather varied with the landscape ranging from bright sunshine through to pouring rain.

We finally arrived back at the Plas Derwen after an amazing ride. Dave had put a lot of planning into making this a superb day’s outing covering 130 miles of some the finest countryside South Wales had to offer.

Lessons learned:

  1. Low budget rain suits don’t breathe.
  2. Welsh countryside can be negotiated without passing through the built-up areas we’re used to in the South East.
  3. Beautiful scenery needs an on-board camera to capture it.

In answer to point 3 and subsequent to our enjoyable weekend, I have looked into the idea of cameras.  The RS is not really designed for a forward facing, bike mounted, camera and I’m no fan of helmet cams. Helmets are designed to be round and smooth so that they minimise the risk of neck and spinal twist injuries in the event of an ‘off’. The ‘it’ll break off if you fall’ doesn’t cut any ice with me, bearing in mind that there have been some suggestions that Michael Schumacher’s brain injury could, sadly, have been caused by a helmet cam puncturing his cranium on impact during his skiing accident.

The alternative is that Mrs Beamer carries a small digital camera in her pocket and takes shots as we’re on the move. Sounds good in theory but in practice, it will need a little refinement.  The matter of operating in a confined, moving space, with gloves and a small shutter button, all made our first trial, erm, interesting but, potentially, viable.

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Camera trials – some development still required!

 

 

 

 

Required – Money Tree Sapling

There are numerous posts on social media advising that, if you want to keep your kids off booze and drugs, get them into biking and they’ll never have the money for the two former vices. Well it’s equally true for their parents.

Having succumbed to the lure of the new RS back in January, we have continued to ‘invest’ in new ‘stuff’ on a seemly continuous basis. Perhaps it’s an age thing.  After all, it’s the very reason that SAGA, (as in Send All Grandads Away) the business group focussing on the (ahem!) grey pound sterling, bought Bennetts, the specialist motorcycle insurance company in 2015.

Reviewing two of the more prominent purchases:

Shark Evo 1 Crash Helmets

With the primary brief being for matching helmets and coms, on a visit to Infinity Motorcycles, Farnborough we tried all sorts before confirming that a pair of the new, Shark Evo 1s fitted with the native Shark Tooth coms system were ideal. My first helmet of 4 years ago was the Shark Evoline 3, bought because of the options of full– or open-face formats and I enjoyed its adaptability throughout, making the Evo1 a natural choice.

The Evo 1, with its swing-over chin bar mechanism, remains relatively heavy but the new model has an interlock designed to lift the visor as the chin bar comes over. Initially, the chin bar cam system has been quite stiff making the transition between modes difficult although, a combination of technique and ‘running in’, seems to be easing this issue. Occasionally, I have experienced a clash of the two. Helpfully, the chin bar wedges right in my line of vision of the road ahead, but a bit of calm pulling and pushing resolves the lack of vision. Just remember to choose your moment to ‘convert’.

For me, the fit is more snug than I remember the Evoline 3 being, even as new. Mrs Beamer advises that the Shark is noisier than her Cabor open face. To me however, the wind noise seems on par with the original Evoline 3, despite claims by the manufacturer to have improved the Evo 1’s aerodynamics. In full face mode, the peripheral vision has been improved with a wider aperture, whilst the vertical periphery has been reduced, making viewing the sat nav slightly more problematic.

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Mrs Beamer modelling her Shark EVO 1 crash helmet with modified mic.

The Shark Tooth system fits snuggly inside the helmets with only a small control binnacle on the side of the helmet. The multi-function button involves mutual pressings to both ‘stations’ to achieve the intercom function and, putting it bluntly, initial contact can be a pain. “Hello, are you there?  Can’t hear you.”  Bizarrely, there seems to be someone local to our home that can pick up our transmissions, advising that he can hear us whilst we were unable to talk to each other!  On the road, the coms work well with constant, two-way open mics, making flowing conversation easy. Wind noise cancellation seems non-existent making wind-roar a constant irritation, especially when both helmets are ‘open’. (Subsequent to the first draft of this article, we are experimenting with a cling film shroud over the mic, as shown in the pic., to reduce wind roar.  Watch for further information.)

Mrs Beamer’s XS helmet had technical issues with Shark Tooth and was returned to Infinity who arranged a complete replacement helmet and system. The new one seems to have overcome some of the initial problems.

On the road, communicating, for us at least, has been a lovely addition to our riding experience, being able to share observations about our environment and general conversation. We are both comfortable with not talking all the time, even in the car, but if your passenger has verbal diarrhoea, this may not be right for you although can turn it off!.

Rev’it Pacific 2 Rain Suit

Mrs Beamer gave me a pair of Resurgence jeans for Christmas and they are extremely comfortable for riding and walking in. They claim to be ‘shower proof’, whatever that means on a bike. Looking at some longer rides, I bought a lightweight, Rev’it Pacific 2 over suit to protect me and my jeans.

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A picture of a fluorescent rainsuit is uninspiring so here’s a gratuitous picture of me on the RS at Cheddar Gorge

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and two things occur on writing this piece:

  1. I hadn’t ridden in the rain in the jeans.
  2. I hadn’t ridden the RS much in the rain (by coincidence, not design).

On a recent trip to Abergavenny with the BMW Club, we rode 450 miles in mixed but muggy weather conditions. Having chosen the jeans for comfort, the Saturday ride out started with drizzle suggesting the suit be wrestled to the ground and fitted for protection.  Although a little garish in fluorescent yellow, it is comfortable on the move. By the morning coffee break however, the weather had improved and the suit was removed finding that it was wetter inside from condensation than the other riders were outside. Needless to say, I rode the rest of the event sans suit finding that, even in quite heavy rain, the RS’s fairing gave more protection than expected.

On our ride home the next day, we encountered quite heavy rain on the motorway and, stopping to suit up, found my jeans were still dry to the touch, whilst my Dainese jacket was running with water. Had we continued, I suspect that the rain from my jacket may have run down onto the jeans making them wet. The suit will probably come more into its own for wet weather, town riding.

The suit will probably join us on future rides but will only be employed when things become dire.

In addition to these items, this year has seen the purchase of new waterproof trousers for Mrs Beamer, new gloves for me, and a pair of Kreiger tail pack bags in anticipation of longer distances. The latter has been used once but, somehow, we’ve managed to reduce the amount of clothing taken on recent tours making the packs seem even more expensive.

Newhaven Fort ride

The weather conditions were promising with a bit of a frost and even the threat of sunshine, but still retaining that early Spring nip in the air.  This was, after all, 10 April and a much anticipated run from Newlands Corner to Newhaven Fort with the BMW Club.  It had been in the diary since its announcement and the weather looked about as good as could be expected for the time of year. We were fortunate in having the run even to the meeting venue, through the Surrey Hills AONB, sweeping through the wood bordered bends and over the hills at Winterfold.

Newlands Corner was, as always, busy with other bikers and, the curse of the area since the 2012 Olympics, the Lyrca clad brigade. After a short social catch-up we were on the road.  This was our first experience of the formalised, ‘drop-off’ riding practice, and we soon took the idea on board, joining in at each junction to ensure the consistency of the ride.  Rider organiser, Godfrey, took the lead throughout using his trusty Tom Tom with ‘Interesting Route’ setting applied. He took us through the beautiful Surrey and Sussex lanes with rarely an error.  Some of the road conditions were a little suspect with everyone, discreetly, acknowledging the occasional jink between tyre and road!

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Newhaven Fort car park and marina

We arrived at Newhaven Fort, parking in the metalled car park without side-stand incident, before negotiating the entrance and fee. Newhaven Fort was constructed, like a lot of the South Coast defences of the mid 19thCentury, in a piecemeal fashion, responding the perceived threats of the period, principally from the French and their allies. Generally too late in the day to have any significance. The battery’s defences were updated in response to the events unfolding during the First World War and, again, for the Second World War.  Latterly, the Fort was ear-marked for a housing development before, fortunately, being saved as a museum.

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Classic early-Victorian military architecture

When we visited, we were treated to excellent catering facilities in a restored, notionally transportable, building, before touring the site. We enjoyed various presentations about the history of the Fort including, a presentation theatre, an air raid experience, and a display of artefacts retrieved from wartime wrecks on the nearby seabed recovered by Tunbridge Wells Sub Aqua Club.  The visit was capped by wartime re-enactors, representing WWII Brits and Germans, including a high ranking German officer strutting around with a distinctly, South London accent. If you think Dads’ Army meets The Eagle Has Landed, that was about it!

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Interesting uniform – shame about the accent.

Mrs Beamer and I separated from the group for a slightly more brisk return journey, still learning to fully appreciate the qualities of our new RS.