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There and back again….

A bit of family history, some Hitchcock, then heading home across the Channel and back to Scotland.

 

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

 

I am in Poissy, a suburb of Paris. It is Tuesday morning. I grab a breakfast of croissants and coffee, pack my bags and carry them down the four flights of stairs to where Tigger is parked outside. It is 8:30 am as we ease out of the car park into the suburban morning traffic. The pale sun is glinting off the river Seine as we edge past. We’re heading north today, towards Belgium. 



Less than an hour later we’ve made it round the Paris ring road and we’re onto the A16. We’re not going directly north because I have a detour planned. Instead, we’re heading north-west, towards the coast. It isn’t actually raining yet but I can tell that it is going to. I stop to fill Tigger with fuel and press on.

 

By lunchtime we’re approaching the coast at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Most people in the UK will think of Boulogne as little more than a ferry port but there’s much more to the town than that. On a hill overlooking the port is Boulogne’s old town, a small walled medieval citadel with cobbled streets, a twelfth century clock tower and a huge Catholic Basilica dominating the skyline. The old defensive walls are mostly intact. You can walk all the way round the top. Charles Dickens lived here for a while in the 1840s and wrote gushingly about the place. There’s a Charles Dickens Street and there are regular Dickens walking tours through the town. It’s all very quaint. I’m not here for that, though. I have a personal reason for wanting to visit Boulogne. My Great Grandfather, George, was born here.

 


Boulogne sur Mer

I ride Tigger through one of the town gates, onto the wet cobbled streets inside the citadel. The cobbles are slippery so I take it slowly – I’ve made that mistake on Edinburgh’s cobbles in the past! I park Tigger beside the Basilica and set off on foot for a stroll. I wish I knew for sure which street and which house my Great Grandfather was born in. There aren’t many to choose from and in less than an hour I have walked along every street. My Great Grandfather wasn’t French, he was British, both his parents being Brits. I wonder what it was that brought his parents to Boulogne from the UK? I feel a bit of a connection with my Great Grandfather George because as an adult he returned to the UK and made a living as a professional artist. I have one of his watercolour paintings hanging on my wall at home. It is dated 1896. As I stroll through the town I see lots of small art galleries and little shops selling art supplies. Maybe George’s parents were artists too, coming to France to be part of the French art scene. My family tree is full of painters, designers and lithographers…. They would have been here in the 1870s, right at the start of the French Impressionist movement, an exciting time for art in France. Or maybe some earlier generation of my family has French roots and perhaps that’s what brought them here? Is it possible that George’s mother had French parents? George’s son, my grandfather, fought in the battle of the Somme in 1914 - I mentioned that in last year’s blog. Perhaps he volunteered to fight in France as much for personal family reasons as for King and Country? I’ll probably never know.

 


Watercolour by Great-grandfather George, 1896. So much detail!!

I stop in a café for a sandwich and a coffee. The rain has started now. I pause a while hoping it will stop but it doesn’t. I trudge back to Tigger and, still taking care on the wet cobbles, we set off heading further north.

 

I stop for petrol again, this time at a small self-service pump in a layby. The only petrol available here is the ‘Super 98 RON’. Looking at the price I assume the word ‘super’ refers to the cost. No choice though so I fill the tank half full, still struggling to get my head round EU prices after so many weeks in Morocco. The rain continues all afternoon. It isn’t heavy rain like the deluge I endured on my ride from Lusignac to Paris. Instead it is a fine drizzle which seeps in through every seam, every seal, every zip and every button hole. We cross the border into Belgium, only evident by a small sign at the side of the road, and by 4pm we’re approaching Bruges.

 

I’ve chosen a hotel, the Van Hals*, right in the centre of the old town. I chose it for one main reason; It is very close to the only dedicated motorcycle parking bay in Bruges. Still taking care on the wet cobbles I ride Tigger slowly up to the parking bay. There’s space there for five motorcycles and all five spaces are already taken. No bother, I squeeze Tigger onto the end of the row. He’s just outside the designated bay but I don’t think it will matter. I’ll come back and move him later if a space becomes free. Then I head to the hotel.

 

I’ve got to be honest, given the price I paid for this one I was expecting better. Again, I’m used to Moroccan prices where I could get a 4-star hotel with a big breakfast and a private garage for Tigger all for 20 Euros. The Van Hals* is five times that price. There’s no breakfast, no parking space and the room is definitely not 4-star. I guess that’s the problem with using a hotel that is so close to the centre of a busy touristy town. But that’s not all. If the hotel was deliberately trying to mimic something from a Hitchcock movie maybe I would be impressed, but I suspect the mimicry is accidental….. In the dingy entrance hall with the creaking door hinges and flickering light bulbs I’m greeted by a young man who has more than a passing resemblance to Norman Bates. He even calls out to his mother in the back room at one point. Eeek. Thank goodness I don’t bear any resemblance to Janet Leigh. Never mind. It will have to do. I’ll keep my room’s door locked when I’m in the shower, though…

 

At least the room has a heater that I can switch on.


Belfry, Bruges

Not because it is cold but because I need to get my kit dry – again. I had three waterproof layers on today and yet my shirt underneath all that is still wet. I turn the heater up full and before long the room is steamy like a sauna. Time to go out and explore the town. I take my painting kit with me but I quickly realise I won’t be using it today. The dark clouds make everything look grey and the drizzle is still seeping into everything. These are not conditions conducive to watercolour sketching! I stroll damply through the streets, explore the belfry and its cloth halls, then I admit defeat and make my way to a restaurant for a Flemish stew and a beer. The stew is good, but it is five time the price of a tasty tagine in Morocco. And don’t even ask about the price of the Belgian beer.

 

Next morning my kit is still damp but bearably wearable. I skedaddle out to where Tigger is parked, load him up and get on the road. I have just a half-day ride today, from Bruges to the Hoek-van-Holland ferry port, where there’s an afternoon ferry across to the UK. The roads out of Bruges take me past canals, windmills and lifting bridges. Round the outskirts of Antwerp the roads become big multi-lane highways passing container ports, factories and power stations. There are tunnels under rivers and nose-to-tail trucks in the inside lane. Picturesque it is not. Crossing into Holland things don’t change much. There are canals and windmills of course, but also multi-lane highways, slip-roads, underpasses and overpasses. I don’t know how I would navigate here without Garmin’s help. A paper map would not be up to the job in north-west Europe today, of that I’m sure.

 

By noon we’re pulling into the Stena-line ferry terminal. The ferry is waiting for us and within thirty minutes I’m riding Tigger up the ramp into the belly of the ship. It’s my fifth ferry crossing of the tour so I know the drill by now. Velcro strap on the brake lever to hold the front brake.  Click into first gear to hold the back wheel stationery.



Pop off the satnav and cameras but leave all the luggage, and don’t leave the keys in the ignition. Five minutes later I’m in the coffee lounge on deck 9 when I hear my name being called over the tannoy. At the information desk they tell me that I have to go down to the car deck and secure Tigger to the floor with the luggage straps provided. Doh. Rookie mistake. Mind you, on all the other ferry crossings on this trip Tigger has been secured in place by the deck hands, not by me. But on this crossing, it seems it’s my job. ‘More than my job’s worth’ says the deck hand when I ask him….

 

The crossing takes eight hours. There’s also a one-hour time-shift from the EU to the UK so it is nearly 9pm and getting dark by the time I’m rolling down the ramp into the ferry port at Harwich. When I parked Tigger on the ferry he was there all on his own, but now he’s surrounded by a herd of Harleys, a big group of Hogs on their way home from a trip to Austria. I notice that one of Tigger’s headlight bulbs has blown. Typical! This is the only time I’ve needed to ride in the dark on the whole tour! When did I last check? I can’t remember. I decide to make do with a single headlight for now (Triumph Tigers have two headlights, thank goodness) and I will fix it with my spare bulb in the morning. I switch Tigger’s dash to read in miles. I change Garmin’s settings to miles too. Passport control and customs are a breeze. Riding out of the ferry port I spend the first few miles whispering to myself ‘Ride on the left. Ride on the left….’

 

Tonight I am staying in a Travelodge in Ipswich, just a short ride from the ferry. Next morning I’m up early, my brain still working in EU time. I fix Tigger’s headlight, lube the chain, check the tyres and top up the engine oil. Hey presto – we’re ready for the ride back up to Scotland.

 

Of course I have detours planned.  From Ipswich I head to Woodbridge to visit the archaeological site at Sutton Hoo. From there I plan to meet an old school friend for lunch but I get a message to say he is unwell and has to cancel. I ride to my Mum’s house – I don’t see her as often as I should. Heading north I call in on other friends who live conveniently close to my route and scrounge a cup of coffee from them. As I reach the north of England I decide to ride through Kielder forest on the 12-mile-long gravelly forest trail. I’ve ridden it before and I found it challenging but today it feels simple. Maybe I’ve learned a thing or two on this trip after all. Before long we’re on the Edinburgh bypass and then, suddenly, we’re home. It is the end of another great adventure.

 


Sutton Hoo longship burial

And yes, I am already thinking about the next one…..

 

Trip summary:


Total miles on this trip: 6,259 miles (10,014 km)


Number of countries visited: 11 (Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Andorra, Fance, Belgium, Netherlands)


Highest altitude:

·        2,406m – Port d’Envalira pass, Andorra.

·        2,339m -  Agoudal, town at the head of the Todra Gorge, Morocco.

·        2,206m – Tizi n’Tichka pass, Morocco.

·        1,993m – Torre summit, Portugal


Number of different currencies: 3 (GBP, EURO, MAD)


Number of ferry crossings: 5


Biggest bridge: Millau Viaduct, France


Coldest temp/hottest temp:

·        0 degrees C at Tizi n’Tichla, Morocco.

·        32 degrees C in Bilbao, Spain.


Camels spotted: About 100


Wolves spotted: 0


Bears spotted: 0


Boars spotted: 1


Tigers spotted: 1 (Tigger – no other Tigers anywhere)


BMW GS1250’s spotted: Too many to count.


Rockets: 1


Problems with Tigger:

·        One blown headlamp.

·        Side stand spring came loose (recurring problem, one spring of a pair)

·        Throttle twistgrip became notchy (Sahara dust. Cleaned it out using WD40)

·        Tigger burnt 500ml engine oil (something to keep a close eye on....)

 



___________________________________

Tigger miles in 2023 = 8,024

Tigger miles in 2024 = 6,259

 

*Hotel’s name changed to avoid lawyers!

 

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