You can do one or two things when faced with the onslaught of increasing age, stick your head in the sand and pretend it's not happening or accept the fact and celebrate how lucky you are to make it this far. I prefer latter.
The prospect of turning 50 this year did not overly bother me, but it does make you take stock and look back on what you've achieved so far and also look forward and wonder how much longer you have on this slippery pole. I can't say I feel any different to when I was 30, until I look in the mirror and see a grey haired old man looking back at me.
I'm not the only one turning 50 this year, I've a bunch of chums down in the smoke who also hit half a century this summer. We thought we ought to do something to mark the occasion. We've all been riding bikes from the age of 16, so after some consideration we decided a long weekend on the continent with the bikes would be ideal. The date was set and a B&B was booked in Arromanches, France. So we sat back and waited for summer to arrive. We're still waiting....
|Thursday - The Invasion begins.|
As I live 180miles north of the others, I had to set off a day earlier, Thursday the 12th July in fact. The forecast was for lots of rain on that particular day. I wasn't keen on arriving at my mothers house in Romford soaked with little time to dry out for the next day, but as it happens the weather was reasonable, just a quick shower in Telford and not much else. I thought I'd try and use the A5 as much as possible to avoid the boredom of motorways, I'd go along the M54 and M6 and jump onto the A5 at J18 on the M1. That plan was screwed as soon as I was on the M6 as the signs told be that the M6 was closed at J1. Instead I went north on the M42 and picked up the A5 that way.
Considering that this was a Thursday afternoon, the A5 was absolutely chocker with traffic. I eventually got off near J8 on the M1 straight into a load of roadwork's and then another load on the M25. So lot's of filtering between lanes. I finally arrived at 7pm after setting off just after lunch. A long trip.
The SV in full touring mode. Not sure I needed both the tankbag and the panniers but as they were in the garage, I thought I might as well use them.
|Friday - The Meet - The Journey Starts.|
The plan was to all meet up at the Circus Tavern on the old A13, now called the A1306. The team consisted of Alan 'Tom Tom' Wasmuth, Tony Jamieson 'Capt Mischief', John and Rob Wiz, Ray Castell, his mate Fan and myself. Most of us arrived at the designated time except Ray who was coming from Clacton and arrived last. It was soon apparent that Fan was on the missing list, he was coming from North London. We waited a while and tried his mobile. We assumed he'd missed the A13 turn off from the M25 and gone straight over the QE2 bridge. He knew we were heading for the channel tunnel, so we set off to meet him there.
We tanked up and left the service station and immediately took the wrong exit off the next island, 200 yds and we were already pratting about ;-)
We soon found Fan. He was waiting on the slip road of the M25/M20 junction. Fan's a London black cab driver, so navigation should be second nature to him, we later wondered if it was.
|The trip to the tunnel was fairly uneventful after that. Alan had block booked the tickets but we still went to a manned entry booth for Euro tunnel rather than the automatic machine. We thought it would be easier talking to a human rather than using the machine 7 times over with Al's credit card and so it was. .||
"Who's got the tickets"?
|We parked up and waited for our train. I've never used the tunnel before and was curious to see what it was like. We didn't have long to wait before we went through the security checks (the bikes were checked for explosive residue(seriously)) and then headed to the platform for loading||
"Where's me passport"?
|As usual, we were kept waiting while the car drivers were loaded first, still at least it was dry. Once on board it was just like a narrow car ferry only with far less to look at and do, but that wasn't a problem as the trip only takes 30 minutes.||
Seemed to take ages to get on the train.
|You may be wondering what bikes were being taken along for the trip. Alan was using a 1200 Bandit, Tony a new Fazer 1000, John Wiz a 600 Hornet, Rob Wiz an MV Augusta Brutale, Ray a new SV650S Sport, Fan a CBR600f and you can probably guess what I had||
|Once we arrived in Calais we made straight for the nearest petrol station. I can't remember why as we all had plenty of juice, but it gave us a chance to switch the speedo's to KPH. The weather was fairly murky in France, the cloud base was very low and although it wasn't raining we were expecting the worse. We bravely left off the waterproofs and moved on.||
It's looking murky
|We took the A16 to Boulogne and then the N1 to Abbeville to avoid the tolls and get onto some better biking roads. After an hour of riding we stopped for lunch. The sun was out and it was warming up. We found this nice tavern and we were all grinning ear to ear.|
So far so good. We took
off again and at Abbeville we turned onto the A28 towards Rouen. Shortly after that and took the D928 which runs alongside and was much
more interesting. We had a long stint on this road and planned to turn north off the D928 just before
Rouen and head toward Yvetot on the N29. We turned off near Rouen but had no luck finding the
N29. We were well behind time at this point so we took the A29 toll road straight to Le
Havre. This is where things start to come apart. We hadn't been
paying a lot of attention to the services on the A29. There are lots of
picnic or rest stops but
not all of them have fuel. In fact French signing leaves a lot to be
desired. John Wiz was ahead at this time and spotted a service with fuel and
started to signal right. We all went to follow him, but at the last moment he changed his
mind and pulled back onto the motorway. Now my bike usually hits reserve
around the 140 mile mark, trouble was that all dashboard info was now in Kilometres.
Even so I'd roughly worked out that I must be near reserve. Whilst my mind
was working all this out, the group behind had disappeared. I
pulled up at the next lay-by and waited, no one appeared. Bugger. So I set
off again and caught up with John Wiz, Ray and Fan in another lay-by. I managed
to call Alan on the mobile and turned out that they stopped just after the
services that John W aborted and pushed their bikes back because
Rob was seriously short of juice. Turns out that Rob was so short of juice
that the MV conked out halfway up the slip road. Luckily the station was
close by. Did I mention that the temperature had been soaring and was now in
|So why did John change his mind? Well apparently he noticed that the station was on the other side of the road and I don't recall that there was a linking bridge to get to it. What John didn't know is that there was another station on our side, otherwise Rob would have been in serious trouble. Mind you by this time I was getting worried. I had no idea where the next services were and both John and I were now on the verge of reserve. We pulled together a quick plan. We left Fan and Ray waiting for Alan and Co whilst John Wiz and I set off at a reduced speed to conserve fuel and to try and find the next service station with fuel. We thought it should be possible to make Le Havre and find fuel there. So we rode and rode. We hit the toll booths, paid and asked the attendant in pigeon French about petrol, '35k's' he replied. We pulled over to discuss this. 35k's sounded a lot and I thought that I was going to run out before that bearing in mind that the reserve light came on a few miles back. Some customs officials came over and asked why we had stopped. We explained and they thought services were nearer to 20-25k's, 'take the next exit, number 5' they said. These guys were dressed like police and packing guns too. We took the next exit , it wasn't marked 5, but it took you into Le Havre centre, so the motorway had to finish and there must be fuel, I reasoned. There was, a big sigh of relief. We fuelled up, left a message for the others and headed back the way we came and went over the river Seine on a truly impressive bridge and made our way to Hornfleur, a very pretty town. We expected to find Alan and co waiting for us here, we didn't spot them so we pulled over in a lay-by outside a Renault dealer and got on the phone again. Turned out they were in an Elf station a few hundred yard behind us.|
|Reunited we set off again in blistering heat. The plan was to do the rest of the route on the D513 and D514 coast roads but it soon became apparent that this minor coast road was going to go through dozens of seaside resorts. That's not a problem in itself, most of them were very pretty, but they were also packed with cars and holiday makers and progress was extremely slow not to mention hot. We got lost again at this point and were helped out but a couple on a Harley chopper who led us back to the right road. We were now getting tired and grumpy. Well we are old men! At one point during this phase I thought I'd picked up a puncture. I noticed that the rear tyre was squirming when accelerating. I looked for a nail at the next stop but could find nothing to my relief. I think it was just the heat of the road and the tyres. We decided that we'd had enough at this point it as it was now 6pm and we still had a fair way to go, so we jumped onto the A13 and headed to Caen, took the ring road and carried on to Bayeux, from there Arromanches was signposted and we soon arrived. Our problems were not over though. We could not find the B&B. I tried calling them but they were out. We asked dozens of people and got told conflicting information. Eventually someone mentioned the names of the owners and a French couple twigged which place it was. The husband jumped on his Yamaha cruiser and took us there himself. And yes, it was a few yards from where we first stopped in the town. The owners were out but had left our rooms open. The best bit was that they had a fridge built into the side of the building and it was full of lager. I've never enjoyed a cold beer so much in my life. It was now 7-7:30pm a good 12 hours of travelling since we left.||
Note the fridge under the steps, full of cold lager.
Someone spent a lot of time and money on this sign.
|A quick shower and then a trip into town. Plenty of restaurants to choose from and we hit the red wine too. A quick wander off to a pub called the Marie Celeste (no it wasn't empty) and then we gave in and hit the sack.||
Bracing sea air.
|Saturday - Loose the bikes.|
|It goes without saying that we did not have an early start the next day. This is despite the fact that we were deafened by the bells of the nearby church being rung by Quasimodo on a speed trip. We met the owner and his wife of the B&B, Adrian and Karen, who were both Brits making a new life in France. Visit their website here for more info. Breakfast was a monster affair of the usual fried breakfast and just about anything else you can think of. Adrian was another petrol head and was playing a Goodwood festival of speed DVD on a projector against the far dining room wall. No complaints from us.||
Not the bell that woke us up, just the dinner gong made from an old shell casing.
|Today was Bastille day, so Adrian suggested that we get fuel first thing before all the stations closed. We weren't overly keen on going out on the bikes especially as the weather was looking dicky. I set off up the coast road, missed the the local filling station and ended up a couple of towns up and filled up there. That's when it started to rain. By the time I got back I was a little damp and of course everyone else had found the nearer one.||
Courtyard. Our digs were once an old farm.
locked up the bikes and walked into town. I was impressed with the beauty of
all the little seaside resorts we had passed on the way up and Arromanches
was no different. The main town square has a carousel, as did most of the
towns but instead of the usual pop music blaring we hand some nice French
accordion playing, very French, very tasteful.
Now Arromanches was one
of the D Day landing sites and there's no escaping this fact in
Normandy. There's a whole tourist industry built up around it. So
we thought we'd pop into the Musee du Debarquement. Very good it was too.
Lot's to look at, some very good models of the Mulberry harbour that was
built here and a couple of films to see.
|Time for lunch. Next stop was the headland overlook Arromanches where there was a memorial and a 360degree cinema. You can still see the remains of the Mulberry harbour in the bay. The weather had improved greatly during the day and the drizzle had now given way to sunshine. We finished up here and went back to the B&B to collect the bikes.|
|Our host, Adrian had told us about an air show in Luc Sur Mer and it seemed a shame to miss it. The coast road was fun and once again we got broken into two groups and lost each other as well as getting lost in general. French sign posts have a habit of leading you off in a direction towards a named town and then that name disappears completely after a few miles leaving you wondering if you'd just driven through it or missed a turn off somewhere. The signs also fail to tell you the distances to any place named. We got there eventually watched about an hours worth of the show before heading home and looking for somewhere to eat. There were plenty on places to eat in Arromanches, at least for a weekend trip. Got to bed about 1am.||
Looking down at the beach with the sunken Mulberry's in the distance
Sunday. Musical chairs.
|Another slow start to the day, it's getting on a bit by the time we get up and have breakfast. There was some talk last night about swapping over bikes. I must admit, I did fancy a spin on the MV and Fazer. Ray was also keen to try out my SV, mainly because of the tyres. Fan had already mentioned to me that he had ridden Ray's SV and thought it was a bit reluctant to tip into bends. Not a problem with the Conti's on my bike. So the plan for today was to head off west and drop in to some other towns along the coast. It looked to be another glorious sunny day so off we went. Tony and I swapped, so I got a spin on the Fazer. It felt most peculiar getting onto a naked bike. The Fazer is big but not overly long. You feel perched on it and with minimal clocks there doesn't seem to be anything in front of you, which felt odd. The seat seems quite close to the bars so it feels a bit like you're sitting on the tank. The engine was nice and tractable, and I gave it some beans when I could but we were on narrow B roads with lots of blind corners and short straights. I soon realised that I was barely getting over 4k RPM and it was going some then, god knows what it was like when you gave it full beans, bloody scary I guess. The steering geometry is very quick and probably not much different to the R1. You don't need to put much input into the steering, but it didn't feel twitchy, at least not at the limited speeds I was doing, but you had to pay attention.|
|We arrived a Port en Bessin and stopped for a break and another swap. I'd been told that the US Cemetery was a good place to visit prior to the trip. We'd seen a few signs for this, so it must be somewhere nearby.||
Which shall I ride next?
This time Rob and I swapped, so I got the MV. I haven't ridden any Italian bikes, so this was a first for
me. Once again as a naked the riding position felt similar to the Fazer.
Next big difference was the suspension, I could feel every piece of gravel
in the car park, talk about firm. I mentioned this later to Rob and he
agreed, he'd already put the suspension on the softest setting! Once out of
the town I could use more RPM and once I did the glorious noise from the air
box was wonderful, a lovely low pitched growl. The exhaust was standard and
that just made a pleasant burble. As per the Fazer, the handling was good
and confidence inspiring. The MV is a 750 which most people didn't realise
until later, and they were surprised to hear this, as it felt more like a
1000, although it wasn't as grunty low down in the revs as the Fazer.
It wasn't long before we
found the cemetery. We parked up and disrobed. By this time it was seriously
hot and we were trying to loose as much clothing as possible. The cemetery
was as impressive as I was led to believe. The memorials were grand
but not overdone. Everything was immaculate, neatly clipped grass and
shrubs, no expense had been spared. The graves themselves also made a big
impact. Each headstone looked new, not a trace of algae or mildew. Each was
placed exactly in line with the next. A sad place but also very beautiful.
We looked at the names and ages on the gravestones and discussed what the
landings must have been like for a young man barely in his 20's to have been
put through that experience. Not something I gave a lot of thought too when
I was 20, but I do now. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, get a
copy of the 'Band of Brothers' a superb book and also a great TV series (box
Time to move on again. This time Ray and I swapped. Not much I can say about Ray's SV. Not so different to mine, except that it has the fairing lowers. I can't say the black frame and wheels look as nice as my Silver, but that's personal preference. His brakes confirmed that mine are still not right. His bite right from the lightest touch, whereas mine feel a bit wooden and lack that initial bite. Something to sort out when I get home. We found a roadside cafe and stopped for lunch. Ray arrived and straight away mentioned the tyres, 'so much better than the Dunlops'. By the time we finished it was mid afternoon, so we headed back to the B&B, to lose the bikes and head for a bar. They'd be plenty of riding tomorrow. No swap for me this time. I was quite happy to be on the noisiest bike of the bunch and the bark of the Scorpion through the lanes was wonderful.
A lot of the fuel stations were little affairs like this.
|Once rid of the bikes it was into shorts and t-shirts and straight onto the beach at Arromanches. The tide was out and we could walk right up to the nearest Mulberry and get a closer look. It was still very hot so it was bare feet on the sand and then a quick paddle before hitting the 1664. Ray and Fan were a bit braver and actually went for a proper swim. Time for a bit of souvenir buying. I was tempted to buy a hand grenade for my son James, but I thought it might take some explaining at customs if found (the shops have a lot of old D-Day items found on the beaches for sale). Time for a shower and a change of clothes before hitting the town for more food and beer (It's hard work, but someone has to do it). A good end to a pleasant day.||
A rusting Mulberry
|Monday - Time to leave.|
|We actually managed to get up a bit earlier today. We didn't want to miss the train back, so we discussed the road options. We couldn't take as long to get back as coming down. It was agreed that we'd take the back roads to Caen and then switch to the motorway to take us to Rouen and then back onto the N1/D928 to Boulogne. We should make it back in time with ease and have a decent break for lunch. We said goodbye to Adrian and Karen and headed off.||
Well it started fine. The road to Caen
was okay. The A13 to Rouen was a bit boring but we paid special attention to
the service areas to avoid a repeat of the fuel fiasco. Things did go
slightly wrong though. We needed to get off
at Junction 11 on the A28 but instead we were heading towards J11 on the A13
towards Paris. A quick U Turn and we were heading back towards Rouen. Then we
just kept following signs for Calais and Boulogne and hoped for the best. We
didn't get off at junction 11 though, it was nearer Junction 6 when we finally got
off near Foucarmont. We should have got off earlier when we saw the sign for
the D928 but for some reason Tony decided to switch on the after burners and
flew by all of us just as we were about to turn off. There's always one! At
Fourcarmont we fuelled up again and started to talk about lunch. The sky was
looking very dark and threatening. We got out the rain covers for the
luggage and put them on. We decided to stick to the D928 and push on leaving
lunch for later in case the weather closed in and slowed us up.
Fan looking for his waterproofs
We managed another 20 miles or so before
the rain started to get serious. Full waterproofs were deployed apart from
Fan, who didn't bring any!!! We drove on in a pouring deluge for the next hour
or so. Vision was awful and some of the main streets in the towns we passed
through were turning into rivers. It was deeply unpleasant and we still had
a long way to go. We agreed at this point that the pleasure of using a B
road was outweighed by the dangers. We might just as well jump back on the A16
and head straight for Calais. The big problem with the motorways is the
toll booths. These are a pain in the dry for bikers as you all know. Lots of faffing about pulling off gloves, looking for change, putting on gloves etc.
Up to now we paid the tolls for all 7 in one hit. Alan paid the attendant
and while he was getting ready to ride again the attendant would let the
rest of us through one at a time. Now all this is far worse when you've got
wet hands, gloves and your money is buried under layers of waterproofing.
Getting onto the A16 we had to stop to get a ticket, that was bad enough. We gave
them all to
Alan and he tried to find somewhere dry to put them.
Waiting for the others. The rain finally stopped.
So the next hour or so was spent driving
through the English Channel, or so it felt. The sky was flashing with
lightning, thankfully in the distance, and we ploughed on. Boulogne came and
went and finally the signs for the 'La Manche Tunnel' appeared. At this
point I was wondering what I'd done with the return stub for tunnel
crossing, no idea what I'd done with it when we set off, hopefully I hadn't
lost it. We took the slip
road for the tunnel and parked up before the booths. The rain had finally stopped
too. Time to get the sodden gloves off and empty the boots. It quickly became
apparent that there was only 4 of us. Alan, Ray and Fan should have been
right behind us. It was now 5pm. Our train was scheduled for 6:20pm. We
could have gone though the booths and waited for them in the terminus but we
might have been put on an earlier train and as we had no idea what had
happened to the others, we had no way of knowing when they would show up. A
call to Alan confirmed that he was on the bike as he didn't answer. So not
broken down then. We could only guess that they'd missed the turn off. After
30 mins or so, they turned up. Apparently Fan did the re-heat trick just as
the turnoff came up and shot past Alan and Ray. They then went off after him
to fetch him back. How they laughed.........not. We couldn't get too mad
with Fan, due to the lack of waterproofs, the poor bloke was soaked. His
boots had a gap around the top and they were just filling up like buckets.
They arrive at last
|Time to book in and find a hot drink. I'd given up trying to ride with gloves on in the terminus. The rain wasn't cold and it was impossible to get the gloves on without a fight. We pulled up outside the service area and wandered off looking for food and drink, the last of which was Ray, who had just got his food sorted when it was time to go though security and start boarding. Once again it was raining as we queued at the various booths. The Customs man sat in his warm booth and asked Tony, who was in front of me to remove his helmet to check the passport. I expected the same treatment but my helmet was staying on till the last minute. Considering that I'm wearing a full face helmet and tinted glasses. I could be anyone, but all I got was a quick wave of the hand and I was let through. So the next time the guy in the local petrol station moans about you not removing your helmet, just tell him that it's good enough to be let into the country, so it must okay to buy a few litres of san-aplomb.||
Who ate all the pies
I'd called ahead to my Mum by this time to give her an ETA. The good news is that it was dry on the English side. It was about 6pm when we departed the train. Time for a last petrol top up to get us the last 70 miles to Essex. I had packed a spare pair of dry gloves for the trip, so they went on and off we went. An uneventful journey to Mums and a nice hot meal waiting for me on my arrival. The waterproof covers on the luggage didn't live up to their name. Nothing was soaked but it was damp. So the contents were all taken out to dry. My boots had never been so wet but as I pulled them off the lining came out, so that was left aside to dry.
Last to board again, only this time it was raining.
|Tuesday - On my way home.|
I left my mothers at 9.30 the next
morning. The forecast was for lot's more rain, so I decided that getting
home quicker was more important than using A roads. So I took the M11, A14
and M6 home. There was another deluge at Coventry but the weather was not as
bad as forecast or of that of the previous day. One scary moment was on the
A14. I followed an artic into a lay-by he pulled up behind another truck and
I pulled up behind him. I'd just switched off my engine when his reversing
lights came on. I started paddling backwards in panic but still the truck
was getting closer, so I jumped on the horn. He stopped, thankfully, and I
started the bike and moved to the front of the lay-by where I could be seen
more easily. The truck left, god knows what he was up to.
Despite the occasional poor weather, I had a brilliant
time, good company, good roads, good beer and good food made for some great
memories. Getting lost and nearly running out of petrol is all part of the
adventure. I'm not sure I want to wait another 10 years before I do this again
The bike acquitted itself well too. It was fairly comfortable, although a gel seat would have made it better still. I took a small bottle of spare oil for the Scottoiler which got me there and back again, so no chain maintenance. I covered a total distance of 1,183 so I was glad that I put new tyres on before I left. The only damage sustained to the bike was a bent tax disk holder. It looks like it hit the sub frame after hitting a large pot hole (it's mounted on the swing arm) and the number plate was loose due to the plastic nuts splitting. Not big problems.
So I hope this little tale inspires a few of you to venture onto the continent. Take some basic common sense precautions before you set off such as breakdown and heath insurance and you'll be okay. Also get the bike serviced and checked before you leave.
I'm off again in a few weeks time with the family in the car and I'm looking forward to it, but this time I'll have a real TomTom to guide me.
Look at the angle of the mounting screw. The tops been scrapped too.