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It’s all going south…..

By Jon Newey (retired Architect, Blood Bike rider, Adventure traveler) with Tigger (Triumph Tiger 800 XRX)

Adventure travel, if I may give it that grand title, requires a special state of mind. Oh, sure, there’s a lot of technical stuff to deal with such as visas, vaccinations, spares for the bike, maps, route-planning, funding etc., but once you’ve got all those things under control you have to be able to actually do it. You have to be able to clear space in your diary. Then you have to clear space in your head, adopt a zen-like frame of mind and just let the thing happen. You need to accept that you’ve prepared everything you can, that you do have strategies for dealing with whatever might crop up, and then you must just let it happen.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

It’s a cold wet day as I set off on my next adventure. The weather report says to expect sleet. There’s a major storm heading towards Scotland. Hurricane-force winds are on their way. But hey. I have waterproofs. I have heated hand-grips. I’ve ridden in worse storms before…. So just let it happen!

Last year after a bit of a false start, Tigger and I ended up going as far east as we could before doubling back home to Scotland. This year we’re going south. How far south? Not sure. Morocco, yes. Western Sahara, maybe. Mauritania, big maybe. Dakar, in my dreams, perhaps.

After few hours in the saddle, I’m in Liverpool. This first day’s ride was nothing more than a long motorway slog heading south in gnarly weather conditions. Tonight’s stop is just a Travelodge. There’s a choice of MacDonalds, KFC or Nando’s for dinner. Nando’s gets my vote – they serve beer.

The next morning, I treat myself to a day off in Liverpool. It’s a city I don’t know well so I decide to spend a day getting a feel for the place. The storm hasn’t quite caught up with us here yet so I ride Tigger into the centre of the city and park him on a dedicated motorcycle bay near the Cathedral.

I say ‘the Cathedral’, but in fact there are two cathedrals in Liverpool. Architecturally speaking they make an interesting pair. I visit the Anglican cathedral first. It is a big sandstone edifice, so big that it claims top spot in the list of largest cathedrals in Britain. You probably though that would be Westminster Abbey or York Minster and you would be wrong. It is Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Built between 1904 and 1978 this is a huge, monumental, massive, stone whopper of a building. The organist is tinkling the ivories as I wander round. He is playing on what was at one time the biggest musical instrument anywhere on the planet. This is the fifth biggest cathedral in the world. Truly astonishing.

This behemoth was designed by the architect Giles Gilbert Scott. He was just 22 when he won the design competition. He admitted to the judging panel that he had never designed anything more than a pipe-rack before, but they chose him as the winner anyway and told him to crack on and get it built. This just wouldn’t happen today. Modern procurement practices would expect an Architect to have designed three or four similar buildings in the past five years before said Architect

could even get their name onto the list of potential competitors. I know. I’ve tried…. GGS went on to design many large buildings through his career and some smaller ones including the UK’s iconic red telephone boxes. Much better than a pipe rack.

The Anglican Cathedral looms over one end of Liverpool’s Hope Street. At the other end of the street stands Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral. The story is that when Liverpool’s Catholic community saw the gargantuan size of the new Anglican Cathedral they resolved to build one even bigger. They commissioned the Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to design it (he who also designed the Thiepval memorial at Verdun that I visited in France on last year’s adventure). Lutyens’ design was for a cathedral that would have been the biggest in the known universe, including the biggest free-spanning dome ever built. The design was approved. Work began. They built the crypt…. before the money ran out, requiring something of a re-think.

The war intervened and in 1962 Sire Frederick Gibberd got the job of designing an alternative scheme. Gibberd’s design was radical. Smaller, cheaper and built in just five years. The conical concrete structure goes by the local pet-name of ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’.

The Wigwam is perched on top of the Lutyens-designed crypt. I clamber up the steps and make my way inside. Immediately I’m struck by how much lighter and more colourful the interior is compared to Gilbert Scott’s huge but gloomy building down the road. It’s difficult to image two buildings that have a fundamentally similar purpose but differ so much, architecturally, from each other. I try to decide which one I like best. I’m a child of the 60s and I have a soft-spot for good 60s

architecture (the more controversial the better…) so Freddie Gibberd wins it for me. Other opinions are available, I’m sure. And of course the roof leaks on the 1960s one….

Next I stroll down to the waterfront. The Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building are known as Liverpool’s Three Graces. I spot the statue of the Beatles and the Beatles mural, the various Beatles-related street names, the signs for the Beatles Experience, etc etc. Then I wander round the Albert Dock. Once a hive of industry, warehousing, ocean-going ships and trade but now a cosmopolitan mix of yachts, bistros and artsy-fartsy shops.

By now the promised storm is making its presence felt. I can barely stand up straight as I fight my way back to Tigger and we scuttle back to the Travelodge. Nando’s again for dinner tonight. At least it isn’t pizza.

Next morning I saddle-up and ship out. In a strange way this feels like the first proper day of the trip. The first part of today’s ride is motorway heading south. Then we jink west towards Wales. Before long all the road-signs are in Welsh. I realise that I forgot to fill Tigger up with petrol before we set off so I prod the sat-nav and it offers me directions to the nearest filling station. Pulling off the dual carriageway the sat-nav plunges me immediately onto a narrow twisty Welsh back-road, little more than a goat track and less than 6 feet wide, with high hedges both sides. I trickle along in second gear but despite having all my spidey-senses on full alert I’m still surprised by two cars coming towards me round a blind bend. ABS kicks in on both my brakes and Tigger finds safe refuge in the left-side hedge. Tigger is still upright, so I hold my breath while both cars trundle past with hardly an inch to spare and then continue on my way. I take the positives from it – It’s good to get a proper wake-up call early in the trip. There will be worse roads in Africa!

Tank filled, Tigger and I next approach the Menai bridge which connects Wales to the isle of Anglesey. The wind isn’t any calmer so crossing the bridge is a bit interesting in places, but we’re soon on the road towards Holyhead. That’s our intended destination, because I want to catch the ferry across to Dublin this afternoon. I stop for a bite to eat and check my phone. There’s a message from Irish Ferries to say that my crossing has been delayed by two hours. Drat. I see signs to Beaumaris Castle – I do love a good castle – so I resolve to make that my next detour for the day.

Beaumaris Castle is great. They give 10% discount to Blood Bike riders. Continuing my theme of Britain’s biggest buildings, I discover that Beaumaris is the biggest of the castles that Edward I built in Wales in the 13th Century. It has a concentric arrangement of big, high flat stone walls and tall circular towers. This is the kind of castle that would have been demolished in moments by cannon-fire, but cannons weren’t invented in the 13th century so here it stands to this day. They say the castle was never finished because the towers were supposed to be taller. I sit to do a watercolour sketch but a sudden heavy rain shower brings proceedings to a premature halt. An unfinished sketch of an unfinished castle. That’s serendipity for you.

Back on Tigger we retrace our route to the main road and make our way across the island to the ferry port. Not long after we’re safely on board and heading out across the Irish Sea. The warnings of gales continue and I’m expecting a bumpy crossing but the big ferry takes it all in its stride and I hardly notice a thing. The ferry is heaving with people because it is the last day of school holidays. I eat what is surely the first of many pizzas to come over the next few weeks. I chat to a fellow passenger who is on the ferry because his flight from Brighton to Dublin was cancelled and he’s forced to resort to busses, trains and ferries to get home in time for work. Children run about. There’s nowhere to sit. Chaos.

Four hours later Tigger and I roll off the ferry into Dublin. My Airbnb is just ten minutes away. It turns out to be a top-notch choice, clean, warm, modern and comfortable. There’s a selection of nearby restaurants and shops, a free bus-pass to get me into the centre of Dublin and free Netflix on the TV. My French host is a similar age to me, also retired, and we set the world to rights over a coffee or two before I eventually slope off to bed.

Next morning it is raining (yet again). I use the bus pass to take me into the centre of Dublin. I have a couple of errands to run. First; I need a new sketch pad – easily done at one of Dublin’s many art shops. Second; I need to collect some Euros from the Western Union office. This is an experiment. When in Africa I may need to send myself some local currency somewhere ahead which I can collect as I go. For example, Mauritanian currency isn’t available anywhere outside of Mauritania. Western Union is the way to do this. I sent myself some Euros to Dublin from Wales yesterday and now it’s time to collect them. The process isn’t quite as straightforward as I hoped but it does work and I come away with a wallet full of local currency.

Next I visit Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, the related exhibition and to wander through the college’s famous ‘Long Room’ library. The book and the library are both fascinating. The Book of Kells ‘experience’ sounded like it would be a bit of a tourist trap but I actually enjoyed it a lot.

Back at the Abnb I cook myself my own dinner (Thai curry) and watch a film while biblical rain pours down outside. I’m very glad there’s no need for me to go out this evening…

Next morning I say farewell to my host and set off, once again heading south. I don’t have to go far today, just a hundred miles to Rosslare to be ready for the ferry to Spain. I could do it quickly along the motorway but the sun is out so I plan a route that goes inland and crosses the Wicklow Mountains. Slow traffic through Dublin city centre isn’t a great start but in less than an hour Tigger and I are in open countryside. The road twists and turns across high barren moorlands, crosses rushing streams and passes remote lochans and waterfalls. The wind howls but it stays dry and the day’s ride shows me a part of Ireland that I haven’t seen before. It is fabulous. Only one kamikaze sheep to deal with….

I stop for lunch and then swop down into the Clare Valley. Eventually we pop out onto the Wexford bypass and from there it is just a few minutes into Rosslare.

My Airbnb for tonight is a small cabin just five-minutes ride from the ferry terminal. It’s ideal for the early start I will need in the morning. There is safe parking for Tigger but there is no heating, no hot water, no TV and nowhere to cook my own food. Quite a change from yesterday’s luxury. It doesn’t matter, though. There’s a good chip shop across the road and a supermarket not far away so before long I’m all set. It’s been a good day. I hunker down under the duvet ready for the next part of my journey tomorrow, the ferry to Spain!

Tigger miles in 2023 = 8,024

Tigger miles in 2024 so far = 655


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