It started off well. I managed to get my holiday extended to include the Friday before the week I’d already booked so instead of heading to Peterborough by train to meet Kevin after work on Friday, I found myself being woken at 04:00 ready for the start of a week of rides. We had packed the night before and the bike was waiting excitedly for us in the garage – no fuel delivery or tyre problems to bug us this time (well not so far) – and the weather was good for silly-o’clock in the morning.
My extra day off meant we were able to attempt an English Saddlesore (SS) 1000 – 1000 miles in 24 hours on English roads only – on our way up to Scotland. For this sort of ride we’d normally start and finish at home and do a circuit which would include popping into Scotland. As we had to stay in England but wanted to finish near Scotland our route was a bit convoluted: west to Sourton Cross then north to near Carlisle, east and south to Newark via Washington services on the A1, then back north and west to finish in a Premier Inn in Carlisle, just shy of the Scottish border. It was never going to be an interesting ride but we were heading for Scotland anyway and it seemed a good idea at the time.
We generally try to avoid going anywhere in England during bank holidays but somehow thought the Friday before the bank holiday wouldn’t be too bad. WRONG! It was OK getting down to Sourton Cross on the A30, even the M25 was running freely, but as soon as we turned north and got onto the M5 and M6 car parks, er, motorways, we were filtering through badly-disciplined traffic for mile after mile after mile. Between junctions 11 and 16 on the M6 the traffic was pretty much at a standstill (checking the SatNav track that was about 45 miles). It was so bad Kevin was even heard to mutter “Give me the M25 any day, at least the drivers there know how to leave space”. I think the majority of the drivers had never seen a motorway, let alone one jammed up, and seemed incapable of thinking about other drivers/riders. Motorcycle lane 2.5 was completely blocked on occasion and we had to resort to 3.5. I think we may even have gone over the top of a car at one point! I don’t like filtering at the best of times and this was Horrible. I don’t even want to think about it anymore.
On the positive side, we did manage to get to 3 Irish Phoker Rally sites (there are sites in England as well as in Ireland). One of them a very captivating sculpture of a Canadian airman in Middleton St. George.
Our estimated arrival time of 22.30 turned into one of 01:00.
That wouldn’t really have mattered except we had another long ride planned the following day – a thousand miles in Scotland. Oh well. We were using this holiday to do some back-to-back rides to see how we coped so just had to grin and bear it and hope the weather was going to be kind.
It wasn’t. Full waterproofs were the order of the day as we woke up to pouring rain and headed to our starting point just over the Scottish border. Our textile gear is waterproof but it takes a while to dry if it gets soaked and we’d decided that if it looked like prolonged rain we would cover up with our waterproofs. It was a decision we patted ourselves on the back for several times during the day. It didn’t rain all day but when it did, boy did it rain. At one point there was a river running down the outside lane of the motorway which was handy really as the car drivers seemed quite wary of it and left the lane to us. On several occasions vehicles coming in the opposite direction shooshed huge waves of water across the road. I’m sure other motorcyclists will know what I’m talking about when I say that it was like having a large hose aimed at us.
It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to go all the way up to Wick during a timed ride as the road is not particularly fast and can cause problems if you are on a tight schedule. We really like that road though so had included it in our route. As we went further north the weather improved, we had many dry miles and enjoyed the ride which was in stark contrast to the motorways of the English SS1000.
We were both quite hungry on the way up and promised ourselves fish and chips in Wick. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any and my attempt at engaging a local couple for help was thwarted by alcohol. She looked ok until I asked her my innocuous question “Do you know if there’s a fish and chip shop nearby?” and got a giggle in response prior to her tottering off. Her partner staggered over and I asked him the same question. He pointed at the club opposite (definitely not a chippy), burped, then lurched off towards his other half. Kevin said he thought I was barking asking them as he could tell they were somewhat worse for wear by the way they were staggering along the street but I’m always optimistic.
We gave up on the idea of food in Wick and I remembered we’d passed a chippy on the way through Golspie, just before Dunrobin castle. If we were lucky we might get there before it closed. As it happened the ‘chippy’ was a ‘Chinese’ and we just made it. I introduced Kevin to Sweet and Sour Chicken and he actually ate something ‘foreign’ and enjoyed it. The IBA expands your horizons in many unexpected ways!
A brief detour near Aberdeen saw us wandering through Hazlehead Park at around 03:00 looking for another Phoker rally location, the Piper Alpha Memorial. Could we find it? No we couldn’t. It was pitch black and the memorial was probably only a few yards away from the light of our torches but we had to give up in the end as we didn’t have the luxury of time.
As we rode round Scotland Kevin was finding himself more tired than usual and we had a couple of extra rest breaks. At one of them he commented he thought he was cold which was not helping. We got some extra layers out for him but he’d said he wouldn’t need his electric jacket when I was packing so that wasn’t with us. In hindsight that wasn’t a good decision, especially as the temperature was unseasonably low, and in future it will be in the top box alongside mine (except mine was wrapped around me!).
Anyway, we ploughed on towards our final stop which was to be in Troon ready to catch the early ferry to Ireland. Despite the extra stops our timing was pretty much spot on as we wanted to arrive at check-in time for the ferry. We got the necessary receipt to end our ride and rode to the port only to be told the ferry had been cancelled as not enough people had booked it. We’d been automatically put onto the next one which would leave 4 hours later from Stranraer, 50 miles away.
Kevin was quite philosophical about it although he thought P and O might have made some effort to contact us to let us know before we’d got there as we could have re-planned the last part of the route. I wasn’t happy at all (snotogram on its way) and, joy of joys, it started to hammer down with even more rain as we left Troon.
The only good thing about the delay and detour was the excellent road-side café we found en route where we had a well-deserved full-Scottish breakfast. Once on the ferry we found the ‘quiet lounge’ and before we knew it we were in Ireland having slept all through the crossing. Result!
When we arrived the weather was lovely. All the rain had been left behind and we were treated to fluffy white clouds and blue sky. We had a short, dry, ride to the hotel where we were to meet Chris McGaffin (IBA Ireland President) for a quick drink that evening, prior to an early night.
We’d originally planned to do our Irish ride the next day but the weather forecast wasn’t good. High winds and torrential rain were promised and unfortunately the weather men got it right. We’d also had enough of Bank Holiday traffic. We had a lazy day instead during which I nursed a cold and sore throat (ready for Kevin to develop into ‘Man throat’ in a few days’ time) and planned to do our Ireland ride the following day.
Another very early start (I was getting used to these by now) had the guys on the desk looking bemused as we wandered out of the hotel but we were pleased to note that, whilst it wasn’t warm, it wasn’t cold either. The forecast was for light showers in places but mostly dry. We decided against full waterproofs as a bit of rain is OK.
Kevin had got some 24 hour petrol station locations from Joe, IBA Ireland, together with a warning that businesses come and go so there were no guarantees (they were a very useful aid to our planning, thanks Joe). We’d selected one as our starting point a few miles down the road from our hotel and rode up to it only to discover it was shut. Now what?
We didn’t have a clue where another one was so rode up the road and saw one that appeared to be open. We rode in and it looked like the pumps were ‘live’ but there didn’t seem to be anyone around and there were no facilities to pay-at-pump. Disappointed we rode out. A bit further on was an ASDA, no petrol though. In desperation we flagged down a white van man who was in the car park and asked him for help. He told us about the one we’d just been in. When we said there was no one there he said there should be as he was about to deliver to him. “Follow me” he said and sure enough there was someone there! He’d been out the back watching the telly when we went in originally.
Having checked it was open 24-hours we logged the location in the SatNav as we needed to visit it twice more before the ride was over. We were off!
Our plan for today was to ride the IBA Ireland Circuit of Ireland and then tack on some extra miles to give us an Ireland Saddlesore 1000. The Circuit ride has set towns – Ballycastle, Letterkenny, Clifton, Killarney, Cork, Wexford – that have to be visited and receipts obtained to prove you were there when you said you were. You can start in whichever of the named towns you wish but it’s a complete circuit so the ending point must be the same as the starting point. Our start point for the SS1000 was Belfast and for the Circuit Ballycastle, about 50 miles north. The world was waking up as we started. It was lovely riding along looking at the sky. For a few minutes I could really see we are enclosed in a sphere; a bit spooky really but very beautiful.
The last 15 miles to Ballycastle are along a twisty road with lots of nice bends. It was a nice road to be riding as dawn broke but I wasn’t sure how good it would be next time we rode it as it would be dark.
As we arrived in Ballycastle we couldn’t believe how much rubbish there was. At first we thought a dustcart had spilled its content but it was the same throughout the town. The numerous men clearing up in the high street made it obvious something had happened the day before. The bank ATM we’d planned to use was out of order but luckily there was another one nearby. As I sorted out the receipt Kevin asked one of the men what had happened and he said it was the annual Lammas fair, the biggest horse fair in Ireland, and that it would be on today as well; apparently 100,000 people had been there. This fair has been going on since the 17th century but for the first time the local council has banned the trading of horses this year following concerns about animal welfare. The presence of the fair had us a bit worried in case we couldn’t get into the town at the end of our ride for our final receipt but we’d cross that bridge if we needed to.
We then rode along the top of Ireland (still didn’t see the Giant’s Causeway) where we were treated to a couple of rainbows. Why are they called rainbows and not sunbows? Probably because they always mean rain and this time was no exception. Luckily it wasn’t too bad and we soon dried out again.
We rode south to the famous Connemara area which was quite busy. Chris had advised us to be careful round here as the roads can be iffy – gravel in odd places etc. – and it’s easy to see how people can come unstuck. The road surface isn’t great, it’s quite narrow and there are lots of sharp bends. The scenery is beautiful but it was quite a shock to be amongst so many people and cars again as we’d practically had the road to ourselves for hours this morning.
We stopped for a break in Killarney at around 15:00, about 500 miles into our ride – petrol, quick bite (I managed to get a plain chicken baguette made at the garage’s delicatessen), trip to the loo, check the tyres. Bloody hell! Look at that tyre! The metal belt of the rear was showing through on the middle of the tyre. It had seemed fine when checked that morning and there was still plenty of tread elsewhere, I wondered if we’d skidded and wiped it out. But no, as we looked it was clear that metal was visible most of the way round the tyre. We wouldn’t be able to finish on that one. To cut a long story short, Kevin contacted the BMW recovery people (for the second time this month) and they found us a tyre at the nearest BMW dealer in Cork, about 60 miles away. They closed at 18:00 but if we could get there in time they would change the tyre for us.
Some discussion ensued…
We rode to Cork. Carefully.
We were hoping for dry weather. It rained, heavily. I spent the whole time obsessively watching the tyre pressure monitor and the miles count-down. I was so relieved when we got there but the tyre didn’t actually look any worse than when we’d left Killarney. The Motorrad manger didn’t know anything about the arrangement and his technicians had gone home. Luckily he was a decent bloke and said he’d be happy to do it for us but warned it might take a bit longer than usual as he’s out of practice. We didn’t care, we just wanted the new tyre. Thank you Des at Kearys BMW in Cork, you saved us from having to start the ride again.
We sat down, waited and looked at the bikes. We were horrified at the cost of a new GSA until we remembered the prices were in Euros.
Finally our new tyre was ready. Des explained that he thought the tyre had been underinflated bearing in mind the ‘luggage and baggage’ being carried (my description not his). Kevin realised that 2.4 Bar hadn’t rung any alarm bells whereas 35 PSI would have. It’s a pity there seems to be no way to change the display. Anyway, we were ready to go. Just as we were leaving another chap turned up with the same problem but I don’t think he was going to be as lucky as it was gone 6 and the place had essentially closed by then.
About an hour later we were in Wexford having a really quick McD’s as we were both hungry but aware the schedule to complete the ride was very tight. Having come so far we really didn’t want to fail.
We called in at the garage in Belfast and the same bloke was on. I don’t think he remembered me from the morning but as I left I said “See you later”.
On leaving the garage we were confronted by a sign telling us the M2 motorway we wanted to go along was closed at York Street. Not knowing where that was we carried on. Guess where we needed to be. Yes, York Street. We drove round the block then took a gamble and headed towards Bangor on the M3. Luckily it was in the right direction and we were soon back on track.
It was an uneventful ride back to Ballycastle where we were relieved to discover we could get into the town. There were lots of drunks outside the pubs and even more rubbish on the streets. I got the receipt and we rode back along the road towards Belfast. We nearly collected a fat lady who was determined to cross the road just where we were. She looked a bit befuddled as she stopped then casually turned round and walked back. I think she must have relatives in Wick.
The rain started as we rode back along the twisty road so I asked Kevin if he wanted his waterproofs. Not at that stage but a few miles later we had to stop as it was bucketing down. So much for the weather forecast which said it should have cleared up by now.
We were now on the last drag – a short hop back to Belfast then down to Drogheda where we would get a receipt and turn round back to Belfast one last time to finish. As we came to Belfast we were trapped once again in the M2 closed bit and ended up going on what we thought was the wrong road – the A1. It turned out to be the correct road. There’s something odd going on in Ireland with their motorways. You can be happily trundling down a lovely motorway then suddenly it closes down to a single carriageway called something completely different. The road definitely looked different when we were heading north but it was correct, as we went into Southern Ireland it became the M1 again. We arrived in Drogheda and approached another ’24 hour’ garage which was in darkness. It really wasn’t our night. We carried on and saw another one, lights on but not very ‘open’ looking. However it did advertise an ATM which would do. We turned round and went in. The ATM was inside but that was OK as there was a chap there who sold me some water and gave me the receipt we needed.
The final leg and we were back in Belfast at ‘our’ garage. It was the same bloke! (Maybe he never goes home). This time he did recognise me as he gave me a very odd look when I turned up again.
Anyway, despite all the efforts of the bike and the weather we managed to complete our ride within the prescribed time. It was tighter than we’d have liked but that’s OK, given the issues we’d had we were happy to finish in time at all.
In case you’re wondering why we did three SS1000s…In April we completed the first Wales SaddleSore 1000 following a discussion on the IBA UK forum as to whether it was feasible to ride an SS1000 in Wales. The discussion resulted in a new ride – the British Isles Saddlesore Insanity (BISSI) which involves riding and having verified a SS1000 in each of the 4 countries – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We’ve now completed that (thanks for verifying them so quickly Ray).
During the rest of the week we did some sightseeing. As a child growing up hearing about the troubles in Northern Ireland I never thought I’d be there on holiday. It’s clear that recently a lot of money has been invested in the tourist industry making the most of their heritage and fantastic natural landscape. We spent half a day at the new (opened in 2012) Titanic centre next door to our hotel in Belfast. This is a very interactive exhibition, with loads of screens that you can tap into to get further information, the usual pictures/words on walls and a ride through a replica of one of the gantries used to build the ships. You have a timed ticket and we were lucky to get in early in the day. As time went on it got busier and busier and it became difficult to read any of the information as there was always some large bloke who had to stand within a foot of the wall.
While leaving Belfast we made a short detour to take a picture of The Rise as part of Grim Rider’s 2012 charity ride, the Sculpture Trail. The Rise is a rather nice piece of art which was completed in September 2011 and stands in the middle of a roundabout. It consists of two white steel globes, one inside the other, and stands 123 feet high. We’d passed this several times during our travels and it’s quite spectacular when lit at night.
We finally got to see the Giant’s Causeway. The visitor centre there is another newly opened attraction which has information about the famous geological spectacle. We were advised to walk down and catch the bus back. Great advice. Earlier that day we’d walked down and back to the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede and baked in our bike gear so the thought of a bus was very welcome.
Last year we snapped Dunluce castle from the road while participating in the Wolfhound Rally and decided we’d like to get a closer look as it was nearby. Unfortunately it was closed but it was still possible to access parts of it. Underneath the castle is a cave from the sea and Kevin went into it to take some pictures. I’m not sure how happy I’d be if I owned the castle and it had such a security risk at its base.
It was a really pleasant day with no rain and lots of sun which we spent mostly ambling along at 30 mph admiring the scenery.
Our last full day in Ireland was another wet one and we decided to just wander about and capture some more Irish Phoker Rally pictures. Our original plan was to visit the Irish/American Folk museum in Omagh which came highly recommended but we decided against this as it was mostly outdoors and the weather was not good; if we’re going to have to wear our waterproofs we might as well be on the bike. We had a lovely day just riding round visiting some interesting places eventually ending up in a Premier Inn at Dublin Airport having taken a photo of the second of Grim’s Sculpture Trail Irish locations, the Spire of Dublin, on the way.
So that was it, our Irish sojourn was over for this year. We had planned another thousand mile ride home but were both thick with cold and Kevin was coughing like he smoked forty a day so we jumped on an early-morning ferry to Holyhead and had a dry ride home from there.
Click here for more photos.