Archive for ‘offas dyke’

Coast to Coast Hike – May 2018

In May 2017 I hiked the Offa’s Dyke route from Prestatyn in north Wales to Chepstow down in the south. It was a hard old slog carrying all my kit and free camping along the way, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the blisters and sore feet and vowed to do another walk in England one day.

So, in May 2018 I flew back to the UK and was lucky to enjoy some bright and sunny weather as I yomped the “Coast to Coast” that stretches from the west coast of the Lake District (St. Bees) to the east coast (Robin Hood’s Bay), crossing the Lakes, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coast_to_Coast_Walk

But first, an adventure, of sorts, before I even started the hike.

This is Rupert & Fanny’s Big Bike Trip blog after all, and so it would be remiss not to include gratuitous pictures of motorcycles. The 1066 London to Hastings Motorcycle Rally and 20,000 assorted motorcycles to be precise

Soon after arriving in England I got together with Nick Dobson and a group of his biking mates and we went for a blast around East Sussex lanes with thousands of other bikers. Nick rode his beautiful 1997 Honda VFR and I rode my KTM 990 SMT (yes,technically mine again).

 

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St.Bees… a walk around the coast and then heading east up into the Lake District

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The only way I can pull a wheelie

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Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports — a proper adventure bike

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Nick and the bikes in Hastings

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I am a fully paid up member of the BLT community…. with HP saucy.

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It would be rude not to

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Cycling around Bexhil and Hastings

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Someone paragliding the cliffs in Bexhill

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Going to the beach – English style

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A cup of tea at the De La Warr Pavilion  https://www.dlwp.com/

After a few days in Bexhill I set out to ride the KTM to my brother’s house in Dorset. Unfortunately, I got no further than 40 miles until the bike broke down, twice.

I managed to bump start the 1000 cc V twin bike after lugging it several times up a hill and then limped it into a motorcycle garage in Haywood’s Heath where it took a day or so to repair the problem (The battery had been well and truly cooked on the trickle charger).

After considerable faffing about that I would prefer to forget, I returned to Haywood’s Heath on the notoriously unreliable Southern Railways and picked up the KTM and was no more than 5 miles further along the A 272 when it came to a grinding halt again.  Of course, in the middle of nowhere with zero mobile phone coverage and so I had to push it for 2 miles and then get the garage to pick it up and repair the damage they caused repairing it in the first place. Grrr!  Later, I would find out that Nick actually had breakdown recovery on the insurance policy. Double Grrr!

Eventually, I got going again and made it to my brother’s house where for a few days we all had a good time.

Unknown to me, the storm clouds were gathering, and the “ayatollah”, a control freak of note, was going out of her way to cause me as much misery as possible and attempt to spoil my holiday… but for now at least I was oblivious.

I had been working for the previous six months non-stop, 24/7, 10-14 hours a day on an investigation for an automotive safety equipment manufacturer and I really needed a rest.

I was thoroughly looking forward to the hike and later a motorcycling trip across Europe with Fanny, who had also been working tirelessly for many months.

I had already bought a Kawasaki 650 ER6F for Fanny and so I collected it from the dealer in Dorset and stored it in my brother’s garage.  We also planned for Simon to drive us up to Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, see our mother, visit some old haunts and pubs, and then drop me off at Stafford train station where I took several trains up to St. Bees, the start of the Coast to Coast hike.

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Fanny’s new bike… Kawasaki ER6F (2015)

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Its a bit ….. green

 

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Looking back at St Bees

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My first camping site — in the garden of the Fox and Hounds Pub at Ennerdale Bridge

Traveling on the slowest train in the world, I arrived in St Bees at about 5 pm, and had 16 miles of hiking ahead of me across farmlands in pleasant evening sunshine to get to my first camp at the Fox and Hounds at Ennerdale Bridge… and the first of several steak and ale pies.

I was using my new Tarptent Moment DW single man tent and a Hyke and Byke Eolus 800 goose down fill sleeping bag I ordered from the USA to keep weight to a minimum. I suffered somewhat on the Offa’s Dyke and I made a concerted effort to reduce backpack weight by 10 Kgs.

Later on when absolutely howling and pretty chilly up in the North Yorkshire Moors I used a silk bag liner for extra warmth, but for now I was comfortable.

Tent –  https://www.tarptent.com/momentdw.html

Sleeping Bag – https://www.hykeandbyke.com/collections/down-sleeping-bags/products/eolus-800-fill-power-0-f-goose-down-sleeping-bag

The next day I was up at 5.00 am, partly because of the time difference between the UK and Hong Kong, and partly because it was already light. By 6.00 am I was packed up, looking east, and heading towards Ennerdale Water.

I planned to walk 23 miles across the hills and valleys to Grasmere… and I did… including an extra 3 miles up and down the roller coaster ridge route, as recommended by a local hiker who told me, “the view is better”.

Possibly.  My feet thought otherwise.

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Early morning at Ennerdale Water

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Walking along the south side of the lake, that included a rather interesting rock scramble!

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Follow the lake shoreline path… but at this part I have scramble up some rocks high above the lake

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Quite a steep bit of rock climbing, but not for very long before the path resumed

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Walking along the lake shore

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Looking back across Ennerdale Water

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Resting up for a while and taking stock of the scenery

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Lots of crystal clear streams and rivers

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I often filtered and drank the water directly from the waterfalls

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And back up again

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Am I to climb up there? — according to the route map, yes

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Day 2

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Still climbing… lots of water … which is why its called the Lake District

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Nearly there

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Down the other side

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A welcome sight … a rest, wash in the river, and a pot of Yorkshire tea.

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That’ll be the path then

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A glimpse of another lake at the end of another valley

 

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A very embarrassed and exhausted man lugging his bicycle up a very remote and boggy mountain.

Although it was the second day, I had been hiking for less than 24 hours and had made about 37 miles when I came across a spartan and remote youth hostel called, “Blacksail”. It was being managed by two young people and I was able to buy a  hot coffee and a piece of shortcake. Just before leaving I double checked on directions ahead as my friend Kieran Hale (former RHKP and keen hiker) said that at this point it was easy to walk off on the wrong trail. (Thanks for all the tips and advise, Kieran).

I took the less obvious left hand path and started a climb, not dissimilar to climbing Sunset Peak on Lantau Island where I live, possibly not as high, perhaps 600-700 meters, and much cooler, with the Hong Kong snakes and kites replaced by English sheep and buzzards.

As I was climbing I bumped into a hardy looking fellow dressed in old style hiking kit with a face that had been exposed to Cumbrian wind and rain, rather than computer monitors and fluorescent lighting. As I approached him he was laughing and cackling and pointing up the hill to a solitary figure that was making hard work of lugging a mountain bike up the steep path.

He couldn’t help himself laughing, but also expressed concern the “idiot” was going to kill himself. ‘Keep an eye on that one… he’s got lost… thinks this is a bridle path’.

I consulted my map, and in fairness it did say “bridle path” further back. I assume the bridle belongs to a mule or a donkey!

he continued,’He is in even more trouble when he gets to the top…its just bog for miles and miles…no way he can ride the bike’.

I caught up with the chap dressed in finest black lycra and lugging the sort of bicycle you would buy in a supermarket, certainly not one of those expensive downhill jobs I see in Mui Wo.

He was in a right state, huffing and puffing, and had obviously rehearsed the, ‘Don’t laugh’, when he greeted me.

I walked with him for a while until we got to the top and really felt sorry for him when it was clear that the top of the mountain was indeed deep and very soggy “bog”.  Bog and nothing but peat bog for miles. Fair play to him, he struggled on, navigating streams and occasionally going knee deep into pools of black peat bog and hauling his machine out covered in mud.

I had been told by the “local” chap earlier on that the valley walk to Grasmere was very wet and that if I had time I should continue along the ridge route, which I did, and which at the end of 20 odd miles of hiking I could have done without. It was like a roller coast, up and down steep climbs, with Grasmere in the distance seemingly getting further and  further away.

Anyway, I eventually reached the end of the ridge in the early evening and scrambled down the steep scree path into Grasmere, which I instantly took a dislike to. Far to touristy for me, but I needed something to eat and headed for a pub for beer and pub nosh.

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Smile or a grimace… pain or joy?

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You take the low road and I’ll take the high

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Lamb shank and a pint of local bitter after a day of hiking…. glorious.

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Aerial shot of Grasmere

After dinner, it started to drizzle and so I hiked out of Grasmere and headed for the hills where I found myself a free campsite next to a sheep hut half way up the mountain.

It rained and howled all night, but by 7.00 am it was blue, sunny, crisp and as I was packing up my tent I could see the first of the B&B hikers with their day packs starting out along the C2C route.

I caught up with a gaggle of hikers and exchanged pleasantries. Surprisingly, there were many Americans and Australians doing the hike. It seems the coast to coast is a lot more famous than the Offa’s Dyke hike. Why? No idea. I can safety say having now completed both that they are superb hikes of pretty much the same length and difficulty. I was, however, better equipped for the coast to coast and carrying about 10 kilograms less kit and that made a difference.

The majority of hikers I encountered were middle aged,  completing just a few sections at a time, or were hopping from Bed & Breakfast to another, with a transport company carrying all their possessions. Like the Offa’s Dyke, some were even transported to the start of the section each day.  Most were taking it very seriously indeed and had planned ahead for many months.

I was walking a lot further than most of my fellow hikers each day, mainly because I started earlier and carried on walking into the evening, whereas most hikers finished about 4 – 5.00 pm at a designated pub or bed & breakfast.

I normally stopped walking about 9.00 pm and pitched my tent on any flat dry grass, although on occasion I stopped earlier if I wanted to pitch the tent in the pub beer garden or adjacent field. I always had two pints of bitter with my evening meal, which was usually pub food, although in the remote areas I cooked up and ate whatever I had in the rucksack, usually noodles or sandwiches, fruit and nuts. I tried to avoid sweets and chocolate this time, as I find it too sweet.

The beer was the best food, surprisingly, as it not only re hydrated me, good real ale is full of vitamins and minerals and helps digestion after a long day.

Whilst drinking and eating in the pubs with the other hikers it was clear to them from my back pack that I was a solo free camper and many would ask where I had started, where I was going, where I came from, what I did for a living, my plans?

Those who know me, know these are not easy questions to answer.

A rambling answer, if I could be bothered and in the mood would include Hong Kong, South Africa, Shanghai, England, Staffordshire, Bournemouth, Royal Hong Kong Police, China, investigation, security, global adventuring, motorcycling, paragliding, etc.  I think most think I am making it all up.

What was abundantly clear to me, though, was that most people I met lead really boring lives. That’s for sure.

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My campsite outside Grasmere

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A sunny, blue and fresh morning after a night of heavy rain and gales.

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A tarn … check your “O” level geography

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mmmm Betty!

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Coffee time

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Sandwiches — the cornerstone of a British diet …

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40 grams of snowflake flavoured lard … best hidden in a cheese and pickle sandwich

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A skinny decaf soya mocha macchiato, Mr Coleman? Sorry its black coffee or black coffee.. made with pond water and ewes urine

Around midday I would normally take a 20-30 minutes break in a picturesque spot with a stream, get a brew on, eat some fruit, nuts, noodles or a village post office sandwich, enjoy all the wildlife and watch the world go by.

The joy of this hike has been the total immersion in “nature”. Birds, insects, wild animals, domestic creatures, and especially butterflies. I loved them all.

Humans? With too few exceptions a big disappointment. My only amusement with my fellow humans is to press their buttons and see how they react. This usually results in them getting extremely pissed off.

The natural beauty of the English countryside is remarkable. All too often I would stumble as I gazed around me at the scenery and wildlife. I was lucky to see fox cubs peering out of their den, lapwings arching and swooping above the moorlands, grayling swimming in a crystal clear steams, and soaring buzzards.

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NH4NO3? A little bit too near Bradfordstan for my liking

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A policy that would go down splendidly in Mui Wo

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I pushed on through to Gelridding and Patterdale and up into the hills again. I was navigating using a dedicated strip map that did not have as much detail as an OS map, but much lighter, and if you concentrate and read it correctly, more than good enough.

The Coast to Coast is not as well sign posted as the Offa’s Dyke that has the “acorn” symbol at nearly every junction and stile. As such, I made mistakes, or perhaps wasn’t paying attention, and doing so led to my biggest diversion off the C2C route, but a diversion I would gladly do again because it led me to a beautiful valley where I pitched my tent in total isolation (except for the werewolves and goblins).

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I walked down the valley, realised it trended north and not east, and had obviously drifted off the path. No problems. I pitched my tent, settled in for the night, and retraced my steps the next day.

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My trusty home… Tarptent DW Moment

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Drying off the night time dew in the morning sun

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My normal breakfast = porridge oats, blueberries, brazil nuts and a mug of tea. Perfect.

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Looking back at my campsite as I retraced my steps back to where drifted off at the top of the mountain. The water in the distance is Ullswater to the north. Not where I should be heading. East.

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Hiking back up the valley

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Back on track and the tarn with an island in the middle clear on my map

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I was thinking that the island in the middle of the tarn would have made a great camping spot

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Stunning scenery. Heading to Haweswater Reservoir and further on to Shap

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Following path down towards Haweswater Reservoir

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Walking 5 miles along the shore of Haweswater

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Refreshing waterfall and pool to cool down in … or at least a 5 minute soak. I will spare you a picture of my feet!

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Shale paths

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Typical boggy wood

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Bluebell woods

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What’s in Thomas’ Honest Box?

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Oh glory be… thankfully the honesty box of goodies and the  5 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were well away from Bradford or Oldham

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The scenery changing as I leave the Lakes and head eastwards towards the Dales

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Crossing many beautiful streams

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open the gate .. close the gate

Having got myself back on track I had a long hike ahead of me across classic Lake District highlands, across valleys, rivers, streams and along the shoreline of lakes towards Shap and Kirkby Steven that marked the end of the Lake District, and the start of the second phase of the coast to coast across the Yorkshire Dales.

The weather was pretty much perfect for hiking. My feet, which always let me down on long distance hikes due to being the wrong shape for a human being, had settled into an almost tolerable level of pain. I got in the habit of taking off my boots at lunch, soaking them in the streams and lakes, and taping up the blisters, or where blisters were starting to form around the toes and heel.

I was delighted to come across “honesty boxes” full of soft drinks, beer, sweets and cakes, that were very welcome.

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3 and a half days to Shap

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Abbey ruins

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Moooo!

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An orchid perhaps

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very green

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Crossing over the M6 motorway

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Nine Standards

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Look back west towards Kirkby Steven and beyond

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After a long evening hike I reached the Nine Standards. Ahead lies deep peat bog

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An evening hike across the top of the moors … using the cairns (carefully arranged piles of stones) to navigate as path was missing

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Lots of deep and soggy bogs to jump across (or land in).

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A run down scout hut in the middle of nowhere. I had to laugh at some graffiti carved in the wood that said,  ‘Wainwright is a c**t’

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Home

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A bizarre farm where I bought a can of lemonade and was served by the caste of “Lord of the Flies”. Apparently, the dozen or so children who live there with their hippy parents were featured on a UK TV show called “Country File”

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Can you work out the route?

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Long stretches of tarmac road .. tough on the feet

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Pretty waterfalls in the Dales

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Bumped into a fellow “free camping” hiker in Keld. He was doing the Pennine Way

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Some yurts that you can rent and stay in near Keld … a very nice location.

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Dales scenery

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Lots of bridges to cross

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Babbling brooks

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Climbing up into the hills

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Steep sides and narrow paths

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Don’t trip

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Some arty agricultural sculpture… and my rucksack

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Stopped for lunch in Reeth and managed to watch Chelsea beat Man U in the FA Cup

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I camped in this field by the River Swale and this ewe and her lambs stayed with me all night… not worried by people. In fact, it seemed quite relaxed with me. Maybe it was hand reared.

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An alien creature

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Not quite half way.

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Free camping next to the River Swale

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Somethings never change … everything stops for the milk lorry

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Yorkshire Dales villages and farm – very pretty

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Bunting out for the Royal Wedding

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Lots of pheasants and ground birds in the fields

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No… I don’t have any milk

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A gate along the C2C path…. better go through it… I am English after all

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A Triumph Stag … not moving of course.

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Into Richmond … more than halfway now

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A Green Z1000 SX

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A black Z1000 SX

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Lovely little dog sitting outside a shop in Richmond

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Odd people

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Odd person

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Odd ladies

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Sunday lunch in a pub in Richmond – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – it was excellent. And the beer of choice for the hike – Timothy Taylor “Landlord”  https://www.timothytaylor.co.uk/beer/landlord/

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River Swale in Richmond

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Leaving Richmond and heading towards Ingleby Arncliffe… 20 odd miles away

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Richmond Castle

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Following the river for many miles through woods and farmland

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England’s wild flowers are always beautiful

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Wild garlic

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Still following the river, and glad to be out of the direct sunshine as I have an afternoon/evening sunburn (set in the west) on back of my legs and arms.

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Rape seed fields

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Crossing bridges and walking through woods

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Some welcome shade from the sun…. can’t believe I said this about England

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Long flat trails through farmland and meadows

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OK, but is it a friendly bull, or should I start running now?

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Passing through Bolton on Swale

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Day 7 – on way to Ingleby

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Stop by Kiplin Hall for tea

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Some lovely homes in Yorkshire … I particularly like the Morris Minor next to the Porche

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Afternoon tea at Kiplin Hall… very welcome.

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Kiplin Hall

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Danby Wiske – a stopping point for some hikers… but not for me… pushing on to Ingleby

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But I do stop for a pint

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A CAMERA pub too…. wonderful bitter

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A normal enough stile to cross over… but it wasn’t!!!  The rats were laughing and talking to me.

The Yorkshire Dales was my favourite part of the Coast to Coast hike. Why? I guess I have traveled all around the world and seen many mountainous places (Tibet, Alps, Himalayas, Pyrenees, US Rockies, Lesotho, Table Mountain, Sunset Peak, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya etc). I have also been to and hiked through the Lake District many times and so, as beautiful as they are, there was nothing really surprising.

The Yorkshire Dales, however were superb. I guess because they are so quintessentially English.  Rolling green hills, secret blue bell woods, butterflies and birds, babbling crystal clear streams, and chocolate box “pretty” villages.  I was also blessed with glorious weather and that made all the difference. It was very enjoyable indeed.

The North Yorkshire Moors? What can I say? Cold, blowy, damp and I wasn’t feeling that great as I developed a chest infection. Visibility was poor, but I did see an amusing red grouse chasing me and making funny noises… and I shall remember that more than anything.

However, there was a big dampener put on the whole hike when I reached Robin Hood’s Bay. I should have been celebrating, but I was presented with an unnecessary logistical headache when I should have been preparing for Croatia and Sicily and getting early medical attention for a chest infection.

I called Fanny on Facetime on my iPhone.  I knew she was super busy with work projects and a bit stressed out, but wanted to let her know I had completed the hike in nine days and my plans for the next few days.

She said, in her nonplussed way (sic), ‘ There is no colour ink in the printer ….. and your brother called me and said Marie (his wife) doesn’t want you to stay at their house any more’ !!!!

Huh?  No ink in the printer?

And what am I supposed to have done now?

During the few days in Dorset I had tiptoed around their house like I was on egg shells, carefully cleaning up after myself, paying for everything, and being on my very best behaviour.

‘You antagonized her, and you can’t stay anymore… I don’t want to get involved…. how come the printer ink is only black and white?’ 

I was seriously perplexed. Antagonized?

‘Apparently you said English women are ugly’, Fanny added

‘ I have said English women are ugly for over 35  years… ‘

This is indeed a universal truth and there can be no arguing, except for Joanna Lumley, Liz Hurley, Rachel Weiss, and Audrey Hepburn (of course). But I have never seen any of these elegant beautiful ladies in real life and maybe they are imaginary and the product of CGI. In fact, where are all the elegant well spoken English ladies…  All I ever see is fat, tattooed unfeminine charmless walrus’s with ugly regional accents, passive aggressive attitudes, poor posture and atrocious grammar. The only reason I am able to shout out that “the emperor is not wearing any clothes” is that I live overseas and have little fear of being headbutted by one.

Fanny continued, ‘ I have to get the visa stuff done, I’ll talk to you later, take care, don’t cause anymore trouble’, and then she hung up.

WTF?

As I was sitting having my celebratory pints of Wainwright ale in the Bay Hotel in Robin Hood’s Bay I was racking my brain to:

1) actually remember saying anything about fat ugly English women; and

2) work out the logistics for retrieving two motorcycles that are sitting in my brother’s garage in Wimborne with all my damp stuff.

All I can think is that my whining about an evening’s viewing of television entertainment consisting entirely of Coronation Street (double bill of depression); Emmerdale Farm (depressing); Eastenders (depressing) and Piers Morgan (annoying) was making me suicidal, and was quite rightly told to “**** off” and watch one of the other nine TVs in the house showing the full range of TV dross.

And then it became clear.

Marie (aka the ayatollah) absolutely hates our mother. The ayatollah and our mother have never got on and been at each others throats for decades, so much so that the ayatollah banned my brother and their children and grandchildren from seeing her.

The back story is that before the hike Simon and I drove up to see our ailing mother and whilst we were visiting the Staffordshire village where we were brought up had a superb time, regaling old stories, drinking and eating in the local pubs, and generally having a great time. No mention was made of my television or female preferences.

As usual, I paid for everything (food, drink, B&B accommodation, fuel, flowers etc).

All was fine, and the next day I was dropped off at Stafford train station and traveled up to the Lake District.

I can only assume when Simon got home he was interrogated by the ayatollah and caved in, ‘ Yes Ma’am, its true, I had a wonderful time, saw my mother, had a few beers, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, don’t hit me’

As the ayatollah has controlled Simon for decades and censors everything he says, thinks, and does she must have panicked that she momentarily lost control. She is well aware, I expect, that the whole of my family have always found her rather common, foul mouthed and unpleasant, but we all tolerate her for the sake of Simon who suffers from chronic “under the thumb” syndrome and an inability to think for himself. As I am in Hong Kong or China or Africa or somewhere in the world it doesn’t normally affect me as her vitriolic unpleasantness is usually directed at my mother and my sisters who live in the UK.

Anyway, having been evicted, with my personal possessions thrown into a damp garage, I now had to spend many hundred pounds and several days recovering all my stuff. Its been a logistical pain in the arse and so I have no intention to write about it or describe further.

Its done, but I could have done without the lecturing, self righteousness, and lying, especially being told Fanny’s bike had been stolen from the garage and the subsequent waste of my time. But all part of the ayatollah’s plan to cause as much inconvenience and annoyance as possible.

Anyway, I have learned my lesson, if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all, and never trust a woman with thin lips.

I digress.

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Enough of the ayatollah ….  its back up into the hills

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Crossing several railways lines

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Heading back to moorland again

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Long trails across moorland

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Reaching Ingleby Arncliffe where I camped in the beer garden of the Blue Bell Pub

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The beginning of North Yorkshire Moors section and my final 2 days of hiking. I camped in the beer garden of the Blue Bell Public House … ate good food and drank very decent beer. It was however quite cold and damp during night in my tent and it starting to rain the next day

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After camping in the beer garden I manage to get a hot breakfast before climbing up into North Yorkshire Moors

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Ahhh!  Not much to see. A white out.

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Miles and miles of this….!

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It is now officially “chilly” and damp. Strong winds.

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Wrapped up in all I have … but quite adequate if all the zips are done up. Not much of a view though

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My only companion — a moor grouse

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I never saw it….

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A truly terrible night in the tent in the garden of the Lion Pub (highest in UK). Although I was warm in my sleeping bag and silk liner the noise of the wind and the tent flapping and thrashing about was unbearable. I also developed a nagging cough that developed into a full blown chest infection that lingered for weeks until I found some antibiotics.

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Its grin and bear it time as I settle in for the last long stretch across windy moors to Robin Hood’s Bay nearly 30 miles away.

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Grouse trying to distract me from the nest

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Down off the moors into the pretty town of Glaisdale and then climbing back up into the moors for the final section

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I stopped here for a sandwich and a brew. Interesting toll sign on this Yorkshire building by the river

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More moors!

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33% incline for 2 miles —-Oh Joy!

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The last section of my map book … nearly the end

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Robin Hood’s Bay in the distance

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Following the coastal path for a few miles between Whitby and RHB

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And I made it. Nine Days.

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A few Wainwright ales in the pub by the sea and then make my way to Whitby where I had booked a B&B for the last night.

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You know you are in Yorkshire when there are whippets in the pub.

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Stand and Deliver – Whitby

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Whitby harbour

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A very welcome hot shower, comfy sleep and delicious poached egg and bacon breakfast at my B&B in Whitby . I now had a long train journey back to Poole to retrieve the motorcycles… one by one and ride them to Bexhill before I head to Sicily.

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Train to Middlesborough-York- Kings cross, London-Waterloo London-Poole.

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Train journey home with Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order

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B&B in Poole… arrived very late and then taxi at the “approved” time to retrieve the KTM .

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Nick and I riding again

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Second trip back to Poole to collect Fanny’s Kawasaki and ride it along the wonderful A272 back to Sussex

So, now all the motorbikes are safely in Bexhill on Sea, where they will be cared for by Nick.

Fanny is arriving in UK in June and we will ride across Europe to Croatia and visit my friend Mike Adlem in Italy and Fanny’s boss at Novartis HQ in Basel, Switzerland (new BBT chapter).

But in the meantime, I am off to ride a Vespa 125 across Sicily.

Ciao!

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Simon, SIMON – GETCHA CHUFFING ARSE IN “ERE and SLOP AOUTTT!!

The Best and Worst Awards

The best and worst awards for our motorcycle expedition across Africa, Europe and Asia.

Whilst the two of us are in agreement, we realize that many may disagree and so we welcome any comments.

MOST ENJOYABLE COUNTRY AWARD

AFRICA – TANZANIA

Tanzania just eclipses Kenya, Namibia and South Africa as our favourite country in Africa. Good infrastructure, decent roads, amazing scenery, friendly people, and abundant wildlife.  

The highlights:

  • the snow capped peaks of Kilimanjaro;
  • the glorious plains and wildlife of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater;
  • spicy and exotic Zanzibar;
  • our second favourite African city, Dar Es Salaam (Cape Town being our first);
  • a thoroughly enjoyable stay in Tanga on the east coast;
  • and our all time favourite camping spot on our whole trip, Lake Charla.

Riding towards Ngorogoro Crater

Snow peaked mountains in Tanzania

Lake Charla … elephants at the water hole

Lake Charla

Taking a ride on a Dhow in Zanzibar

Lake Charla with foothills of Kilimajaro in the background…

 

EUROPE – SCOTLAND (to be more precise West Scotland on a sunny day)

Many people are already aware of the amazing places to see in Turkey, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Greece etc…and we were privileged to do the European grand tour and take in many of the sights.

Italy was absolutely fascinating, superb architecture, rich history, good food and wine,  but not the easiest place to motorcycle in due to local driving conditions. . Good, but not great.

France was our biggest surprise. It is Britain’s next door neighbour and often maligned by Americans for being, well French, and by the English for old rivalries and wars over the centuries. However, we found it to be a stunning country and a motorcycling heaven. The Alps, Provence, the Southern coast, Loire valley, the wine-lands of Burgundy, pretty Brittany, the battle fields of Normandy and the many charming villages and towns we rode through. So much to see and we were treated very well by everyone we met… even by the Gendarmes.

However, taking the best motorcycling country in Europe award is Scotland…. especially western Scotland (see UK revisited chapter).

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

 

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn't always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

 

Its gets even more like Tibet ... mountains and big hairy things in the road.

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains and big hairy things in the road.

 

WORST COUNTRY AWARD 

There were no countries we did not enjoy to one degree or another.

Ethiopia,  undoubtedly rich in history and resplendent in natural beauty is a bit of a tragedy on the human side.

The country, especially the cities seems to have been left to rot and stagnate.  Ethiopians, a handsome lot as people go, appeared to be incredibly needy and nearly always had their hand out stretched begging for money. They often leaped out at us or grabbed our arms whilst shouting… ‘You, You, You…Money, Money, Money’.

It was tiresome, annoying and ever so slightly sad.

Meeting fellow bikers heading south at Ethiopian/ Sudan border

The former and now derelict train station in Addis Ababa

Cute little things .. but they always had their hand outstretched begging for money

Fanny surrounded by little friends in north west Ethiopia

Having been robbed blind by FTI Consulting,  I need to earn a crust somehow… so when in Ethiopia do as the Ethiopians do…

 

 

CHINA is a country on a continental scale and by far the most varied and diverse country we went to.

There were impressive and well planned super cities like Chengdu, Nanchang, Beijing and Shanghai, and prettier tourist towns like Lijiang, Yangshuo and Dali. We also rode through some of the most charming and idyllic countryside I have ever seen. Some rural areas have remained as they have been for centuries, despite the rapid pace of development going on around them.

But in China there are also some of the worst and most polluted places I have ever seen. Environmental plunder, architectural vandalism, motoring misery and pitiful squalour on an unprecedented scale. Quite a shock.

Some of the second and third tier Chinese cities were absolute shockers. Polluted and crowded beyond belief, bad roads and atrocious traffic jams, ridiculously bad urban planning and blighted by hideous buildings as far as the eye could see. Hong Kong and China seem to have a fatal attraction with adorning the outsides of their ugly concrete boxes with cheap toilet tiles.

Whether fascinating or depressing; ugly or stunningly beautiful; our experience riding over 13,000 kilometers through China was hugely rewarding and something we will never forget.

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE AWARD – SUDAN.

Sudan was our biggest surprise and we thoroughly recommend visiting.

It was a complete re-write of everything I had previously thought about its people and their culture. The kindness, politeness and gentleness of many of the people we met was incredible and we are very grateful to the hospitality extended to Fanny and I by many of the people we encountered.

That said, a cold beer in the scorching heat would be nice, as would a bacon sarnie with HP sauce, but I guess you can’t have everything. Treat it as a liver detox!

Kindness and hospitality given to Fanny and I in the middle of the Nubian desert in Sudan. Its strange that those with so little always offered us so much … and the converse!

Long sand roads .. and scorching heat in Sudan

Very friendly people

Replacing the starter relay in the middle of the Nubian desert in 50+ degrees heat.

Our kind host Mohammed and his children on banks of the River Nile in Sudan

Fanny with the guys who helped us repair her bike

Yes… there are pyramids in Sudan too

 

 

 

 

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Pyramids in Sudan

 

 

WORST EXPERIENCES 

We never really had any very bad experiences.

We managed to cross Africa without being eaten by wild animals, without having to pay a bribe, without being infected by deadly diseases, nor kidnapped by pirates or Jihadi nutters.

Our KTM 990 Adventure motorcycles have been superb, a joy to ride and very reliable.

The vast majority of people we encountered on the expedition have been wonderful and treated us very well…  the only exception being a few excitable types in Ethiopia who threw stones at us or lashed out as we were riding by with whips and sticks. Most of the border crossings and tourist locations attracted annoying touts, “shiftas” and fraudsters who were keen to relieve us of the few possessions we had. They were all unsuccessful.

A particular low was early on in the expedition when Fanny lost control of her motorcycle in the Namib Desert and came off at speed.

Fortunately, Fanny and her KTM motorcycle are a tough team and in no time were back together charging through the desert, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises.

In Europe our experience in Switzerland was not great, Fanny got arrested for involvement in an accident that wasn’t her fault, everything always seemed to be closed, everything was expensive, and we could hardly describe the Swiss as the friendliest people we met on our 53,800 kilometer ride around the world.

That said Switzerland is a very pretty country and we enjoyed riding through the Alps and up and down the many meandering passes.

In China/Asia I think the worst experience was just outside Chongqing City when a traffic official threw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was riding on the highway and knocked her off her bike. Anywhere else in the world this would be considered a serious criminal offence and front page news, but in China abuse of power by the authorities is common place and the “people” can’t do much about it. Fanny was injured slightly and very upset by the incident, but she managed to get back on her motorcycle and carry on.

Not being allowed to ride in certain Chinese cities and on most of the Chinese highway network is also pretty annoying and downright unnecessary in modern China on a modern motorcycle.

Apart from these incidents, and of course me getting stopped by the police at every single road block in Tibet, we had a really great adventure in China and had the chance to see places that very few people even know about, let alone visit.

USA?  Its a continent sized and a very well developed country that most non-Americans will know well enough through the ubiquitous TV shows and movies. Big, amazing wilderness, beautiful scenery,  wealthy,  but with a dark and sinister underbelly, especially in the inner cities.

To to be honest we still have a lot of riding to be done and places to see in the USA.

So far we have explored Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado in the west, and New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Ohio in the east. The south and the center remains to be explored.

From what I’ve seen of the rest of world, America sits in the middle ground. Its easy to get around, everything is super convenient, there is not a great deal of culture or history, the roads are far too straight and dull, and its not as “great” as Americans think it is. Nothing really interesting, and nothing really bad, except the food which is on the whole….a mixture of sugar and lard with a sprig of rocket.

I am afraid to so that Fanny doesn’t like America, but then she is a pinko commie!

South America?   That remains an adventure for the future.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials who threw a traffic cone at Fanny and knocked her off her motorcycle. My hands were shaking with rage but I resisted the urge to administer some summary justice and so we got back on our motorcycles and carried on.

 

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind... in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind… in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

 

 

BEST CITY AWARD

AFRICA – DAR ES SALAAM 

When riding a motorcycle through Africa the last places you really want to see are the cities. The joy of riding through Africa is the beautiful countryside, meeting its people, and enjoying the amazing African flora and fauna. However, if pressed to pick an African city I would say Dar Es Salaam because it is a very interesting and lively city, friendly people, good food,  and one of the few cities in Africa I could live in outside South Africa. Traffic is quite bad though, but nothing two bikers from Shanghai can’t handle.

A dhow in Zanzibar

Having a coffee in a street in Zanzibar

Dar es Salem from the ferry

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EUROPE – Istanbul

It is a difficult call to decide on the best city award for Europe. We enjoyed many. Lucca, Rome, Florence and Pompei in Italy;  Saint Lo in France; St. Sebastian in the Basque Country; Barcelona in Spain; Saltzburg and Vienna in Austria; and Old Town Rhodes in Greece. We thoroughly enjoyed them all.

However, if we are pushed to choose one then Istanbul takes the award. Its got it all… great food, wonderful art, kind friendly people, fascinating history, amazing architecture, the east meets west straits between Black Sea and Marmara Sea, and yet its very much a first world city, things work and it feels very welcoming and exciting to be there.

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Fanny wandering along the streets of Taksin in Istanbul… a super city.

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Enjoying the cafes of Istanbul

 

 

 

ASIA/China – LHASA (followed by CHENGDU) 

I am not even going to consult Fanny because she will say Shanghai. It’s like asking a panda what its favourite food is.  I thought our ride through China was absolutely fascinating. There are hundreds of cities in China with populations over a million people… many are over 20 million and therefore bigger than many countries in the world.

Each city is diverse with the richest and poorest, ugliest and prettiest and tastiest and revolting all in one place. Cities to mention are Beijing where I went to university and have a special fondness for, colourful and spicy Chengdu in Sichuan (and prettiest women!), exotic Dali in Yunnan, the amazing “Red City” of  Nanchang in Jiangxi, so called because its the home of the “red” revolution.

However, our ride through Tibet is probably one of the highlights and so therefore Lhasa, its provincial capital stands out as the best city to see in respect to scenery, architecture, history and “never seen before” general interest.

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots... which got looks of admiring looks and comments from the Tibetans.

Me outside the most sacred temple in Lhasa

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Fanny and I high up on the Tibet/Qinghai Plateau… the world’s highest.

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Just outside Lhasa in Tibet

 

An interesting picture on many levels

Fanny and Si Ba (a Lama friend we made on the road) walking down the high street in Lhasa

WORST CITY

Africa – Addis Ababa  … 

We were looking forward to Addis Ababa, a name that conjured up exotic images formed from school days for me. However, when we got there we found it to be a complete karsi. The decrepit and forlorn looking train station from a bygone era pretty much sums up Addis Ababa ‘s decline into squalour and poverty.

Bus station in Addis Ababa

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Again corruption and inability to use a condom are to blame. Aggressive touts, annoying kids, unfriendly and hostile looking soldiers and policeman, and crumbling and decaying infrastructure. Its a big disappointment.

Fortunately we found refuge in a little oasis in the middle of this complete dog nest called “Wim’s Holland House”. Not the greatest backpackers in Africa, but the Dutch owner, Wim runs a decent hostel that serves more than the Ethiopian staple dish of  Tibis and sour pancakes and has a well stocked English pub-like bar that serves draft St.George’s beer.

ASIA – CHINA 

China is basically a large continent and currently going through the biggest phase of development any country has been through…ever,  and so some of its second and third tier cities (or lower) can easily qualify for worst, ugliest, most polluted, most corrupt, most congested, unhealthiest city anywhere on the planet.

Take your pick.

However the human inhabitants have no consideration or care for the environment, and like much of China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, outside their homes and anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing.

Many people in China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, or just outside their homes ….anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing. Hidden industrial pollution is off the scale.

Urban off roading

As with other parts of China, the average worker busts his hump and toils away seven days a week for hours on end for very little compensation. Throughout all of China we saw the poverty and the day to day struggle by many people just to survive and make a living. Putting up with conditions no one in the west would ever put up with.

A lot of China looks like this… a dusty, muddy, grey construction site on the cheap.

Really.... just unlucky ... could happen to anyone

An articulated lorry on its side in a dusty China street… quite normal

 

EUROPE – LUTON Picking a worst city in Europe is a difficult one.

Athens promised so much and delivered so little. We did wander around to see the sights of Ancient Greece, but the modern day city was depressing and the economic gloom palpable.

The city of my birth, London, is a mixed bag. A disappointment on many levels, can no longer be considered “English”,  but still an iconic and interesting city if you focus on the positives such as history, art and culture.

However, if I have to pick a candidate for worst city in Europe then I am going to say Luton or Slough in the United Kingdom.

Sorry Luton and Slough…… someone has to come last …..and you made no effort not to. 

 

WORST FLEAS, TICKS & LICEETHIOPIA

The mangey cats and dogs throughout Ethiopia are covered in them, as are most of the carpets, furniture and bedding. The lush grassland, especially after the rainy season is also home to ticks. As we were camping we had to remove quite a few of these little blood suckers that somehow found their way into various nooks and “fannys”.

“No” Best Flea Award….unsurprisingly!

 

BEST DRIVING STANDARD AWARDS –

Africa …South Africa (Western Cape)

Europe … Germany

China … umm?  Let’s say Hong Kong  … the standard is so incredibly poor.

Asia …  Japan

 

WORST DRIVING AWARDS –

Africa ….Egypt

Europe …. Italy

The World …. everywhere in China, followed very closely by Egypt and Bangkok in Thailand which is dangerous on a bike.

 

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Sri Lanka … driving standard is also pretty ropey … but at least its slow.

Tanzanian bus and truck drivers could take some kind of bad driving award judging by how many we saw overtaking dangerously or wrecked by the side of the road, but Egypt takes the “worst driving” award in Africa by a mile.

They are absolute shockers. Maybe  its because everyone is too busy shouting into their mobile phones all the time, or perhaps because everyone employs millimetre collision avoidance techniques, sometimes with success and sometimes without.  I saw a taxi mount a curb as the driver attempted to tackle a roundabout with one arm twisted around the wheel and the other holding a phone to his ear.

Rather than put his mobile phone down and use both arms to turn the wheel he preferred to carry on talking, veer off the road and mow down some pedestrians.

Me and my KTM at the Great Pyramids

 

Tahrir Square with the building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side

Tahrir Square, in cairo with the government building we had to go to in order to extend our visas at the top left hand side. The Spring revolution was in full swing when we arrived in Cairo and so it was an interesting time.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION –

Africa …..Namibia/Tanzania

We have a difference of opinion due to our different levels of riding experience. Fanny goes for Tanzania for the same reasons (above) as for best country and I go for Namibia, to my mind the most awesome motorcycling country… anywhere.

Challenging, technical in parts, mind blowing scenery and importantly very few people and other vehicles. Its got sand, gravel, rocks, hills, deserts, salt pans, seascape, bush, wild animals, birds and fresh air…. AND no road blocks, no speed bumps, no police and no speed cameras.  I also really liked the Nubian deserts of Sudan. Clean, beautiful and spectacular.

Fanny cruising along the gravel roads in the Namib desert

 

left or right?

Left or right?  Freedom to do whatever.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION _ EUROPE …. Western Scotland (in the sun) followed by France

Scotland was a big surprise. In Jubilee year, 2012 when Fanny and I arrived in the UK we planned to ride to Scotland, but the weather was absolutely atrocious. A year later during what everyone was calling “The Summer of 2013”  the weather was absolutely glorious and western Scotland gave me some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Not to take anything away from Scotland, my KTM 990 Supermoto T I was riding was one of best motorcycles I have ever ridden. I have to say it was an awesome ride and Great Britain was truly “great”.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

West Scotland

 

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden... the

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the

 

ASIA …. Tibet and Cardomom mountains in Cambodia

Who, being given the chance, is not going to vote Tibet as one of the best motorcycling destinations on the planet?  Not me.

Also, Cardomom mountains in Cambodia are very interesting and enjoyable on a bike.

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Namib desert

"Yeah! - Go On... slap me on the arse and see what happens"

Yak 1000 Adventure

 USA – Valley of Gods, Utah

The best adventure motorcycling I have come across so far in the USA is probably the unearthly Valley of Gods in southern Utah. I have ridden all over the USA on various machines over the year, but there is still a lot for me to see and explore and so there may be better places, but the Valley of Gods, although quite small is a superb ride.

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Valley of Gods on Honda Africa Twin (BDR Utah)

 

WORST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION AWARDS

All African and Chinese inner cities (except Cape Town and Windhoek)

Riding through any of the African Capital cities was  tiresome, annoying, stressful and decidedly dangerous… in particular Cairo, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. It was no problem technically for either of us, we come from Shanghai after all where the traffic is atrocious and ride our bicycles everyday, but the appalling driving standards, poor urban planning and ever increasing traffic volume made riding less fun than it should be.

Whilst we rode on appalling roads and surfaces, such as the road from Marsabit to Moyale in north Kenya, they presented the  sort of challenges bikers relish and we confronted and overcame them with a huge sense of 成就感  and enjoyment.

Worst Motorcycling Experience in Europe … again the inner cities of Italy and England spring to mind…. but no where near as bad as China or Egypt.

In England the speed cameras ruin motorcycling and in Italy the narrow medieval roads through the towns, and aggressive and poor driving standard by Italians make riding a bit stressful, but not too bad.

In London, there are feral “non indigenous” teenagers who ride scooters, terrorize people, and steal with impunity because the police do nothing. These thugs also spray acid into people’s faces from squeezy bottles or attack people with hammers and angle grinders ….and get away with it because the ethnic majority have voted for treacherous politicians like Khan and Abbott who support these hooligans because they think the indigenous English deserve it.

The police, courts and authorities are stuck between a rock and a hard place and so they are largely impotent. They stick to arresting soft targets like 1970s DJs, non contentious traffic offences and local middle class people for Orwellian “thoughtcrimes”.

When I was a police officer in London in the 1980s it was urban chaos then, lots of race riots, inner city anomie, and quite dangerous. However, you did your job, your colleagues and bosses supported you, and you got promoted or advanced to more interesting jobs based on merit and ability. Now in politically correct and easily offended Britain its the opposite and so basically the police have given up and much of London is a “no go” ghetto.

By comparison, when we were riding in north Kenya, borders with Somalia, east Ethiopia, central and north Sinai and the western Sahara ISIS were just starting to take hold and there was a real possibility of running into a pickup truck of crazy Islamists. However, there were lots of armed police and army, local Bedouins were friendly and helpful, we were on fast powerful motorcycles, able and allowed to defend and look after ourselves, and so the odds were even.

Our advice is don’t ride into London. Ride around it, or park outside and take public transport into the tourist areas, see the changing of the guard, the museums, art galleries, theaters, cafes and shops and then get out as quick as possible.

In fact, best to avoid all English cities and head to the beautiful Cotswolds, Peak District, Devon and Cornwall, the Jurassic coast, the Fens, the Lake District, Scotland or Wales and a nice rural pub.

 

BEST CAMPSITES:

1. Lake Charla – Tanzania –  What a gem. perfect climate, stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro, hundreds of elephants, Colobus monkeys, unspoiled bush, a spectacular volcanic crater lake, great bar, friendly hosts, and of course the famous roasted goat dinner.

 

2. Makuzi – Malawi. Peaceful paradise on the shores of Lake Malawi.

 

3. Mountain Rock – Kenya.  A lush enjoyable grassy campsite next to a trout filled river on the equator in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

 

Europe ….Scotland   no camp sites in the whole of Europe were on the same scale of the three above in Africa. Camping in Europe, regardless of whether its next to stunning scenery like Mont Blanc or near a historical town like Lucca in Italy has a whiff of concentration camp about it.  France has simple and clean municipal campsites that were great value. Italy had some decent places but they were expensive. Wales was quite good. England just doesn’t have any and the few there are are awful, with a few exceptions. Our worst experience on the whole expedition was at Crystal Palace in London where we were interrogated and abused by gestapo like camp wardens. Hobson’s choice because London is so expensive, in fact the most expensive anywhere, and so camping was the only alternative to paying over 100 pounds for a small room for a night.

Scotland however has no trespass laws and so provided you show respect for the owners property and leave the site in the condition you found it in you can free camp where you like. Its also a gloriously pretty and interesting country and so the best European camping award easily goes to Scotland, followed by France and Wales. 

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North west point of Scotland at 11pm in the evening.

 

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

 

China – Nan Tso (Tibet). 

China is a great country to back pack across (I have done it) and as such has great youth hostels and cheap accommodation in all cities and towns.  As for camping, China is, on the whole, a safe country (apart from driving standards). However, despite its enormous size there is not a great deal of spare land that is not farmed on or developed… until you get into the remote western provinces of Xizang (Tibet), Xinjiang and Qinghai. We were very fortunate to camp in two stunning locations.

One with Lamas on the banks of a river in the Himalayas and another in the middle of Tibet at over 5000 meters next to the shores of Tibet’s most sacred lake, Nam Tso with 7,000 meter + peaks surrounding us.

USA – Needles, Utah

Campsites in the USA are basic by African and European standards. They are clean, tidy, averagely cheap, have friendly elderly attendants, but usually lack ablutions and the facilities you get in continental European campsites and most African lodges.

Apart from free camping, which I did a lot and prefer, the best organised campsite I found was at Needles in Utah, just south of Moab. In other States the campsites are pretty gruesome, far too expensive and generally geared towards caravans and RVs, and so free camping with a tent is the best option, and easy to do.

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Camping with lamas in east Tibet

 

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping on the shores of Nam Tso, Tibet

 

WORST CAMPSITES .

We never stayed at any really bad campsites. To our mind the simpler the better and there should be more like the good ones we saw in Africa.  Whilst Sudan allows free camping,  Egypt is heavily controlled by the military and police and our attempts to free camp were fruitless. We were chased off seemingly remote places in the desert and along the Red Sea by police, army and security people.

Being unable to camp in certain places, we did stay in some rather ropey (because they were cheap) hotels in Sudan and Ethiopia but you get what you pay for and we didn’t pay very much. The Kilpatra hotel in Wadi Halfa had the worst lavatory and shower outside China… a true shocker.

Of course, Europe is the land of the caravan. Rarely seen in Africa or Asia, these boxes on wheels are seen everywhere in western Europe, blocking the country lanes and oblivious or uncaring to the traffic mayhem they cause around them. To a biker they are annoying enough, but we can whizz pass them more often than not. To another car driver stuck behind one on a road in Cornwall I hate to think.

No wonder they are targets of Top Gear persecution and derision. Once they eventually get to their “beauty spot” they position themselves cheek by jowl and then the occupants immediately position themselves outside on deckchairs, guarding their plot with disapproving territorial expressions on their faces.

Actually, these caravan clubers are not a bad bunch when you get to know them and are often passionate about their caravaning lifestyles and can wax lyrical about chemical toilets and lace curtains.

I have to say caravaners, with their impressive tea making facilities and well stocked biscuit tins, who brew up on the hour every hour are always welcome next to our tent.

BEST FOOD AWARD

Africa ….  Egypt

Apart from the Chinese food we had in various places, Egypt probably just surpasses South Africa as the country with the best food in Africa. Fresh seafood, spicy curries, kebabs and falafel, roti, dates, fruit, salads, tasty bread… and good beer.

Lots of great street food in Egypt and Sudan

Back streets of Cairo

Lunch in Hurgharda

The food in Sudan is also pretty good and the Nile fish breakfast in Wadi Halfa is a special treat, especially with Bedouin coffee or tea. Again icy fruit juices are a specialty and very welcome when the temperature is scorching hot.

 

Europe … Turkey 

The best food we ate in Europe was in Turkey.  This was a big surprise as we don’t think either of us have been to a Turkish restaurant in our lives. Whilst in Istanbul and Mersin we were treated to some excellent local feasts by our new Turkish friends. The street food was also cheap and delicious, a bit like in Egypt.

Further along through Europe we had delicious cakes and pastries, especially in Austria, Italy and France, but the classic Italian and French fine cuisine famous throughout the World was not available to us because of the cost. I am sure its delicious, its just we couldn’t afford any.

We were fortunate to be in Italy during Easter and were treated to a delicious traditional Italian lunch with our friends Nick and Paola and her family near Rome. We also had some great home cooking with family and friends while we were in England and Wales.

I know there is good food about in Britain, but can you find it when you are hungry, or afford to eat decently in, say, London? No. Ubiquitous sandwich shops, junk food, petrol station food, and processed food is the tourists’ lot. Best you can get is a good cardiac arrest “fry up” breakfast at a roadside lay-by or fish and chips for dinner.

Even the so called ethnic food we had in the UK, like Indian or Thai was awful. So, unless you are lucky to be invited to eat at a “Master Chef” finalists’ house, have relatives and friends who are good cooks or win the lottery and have the chance to try out a Michelin starred restaurant you are going to be disappointed on the food front in the UK.

We met many tourists, especially Chinese who were on the verge of tour group mutiny in the UK because they disliked the food so much.

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) amongst the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTMshop 。 

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) among the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTM garage。

 

China – overall winner by a long way…..

Nothing beats the food in China for variety, freshness, health, flavour, texture, low cost, accessibility, colour, exoticness, pure joy and of course taste. Spicy Hunan and Sichuan, sweet and sour Shanghainese, salty and savoury Dong Bei, roasted meat from Xinjiang and seafood from Guangdong …..and it goes on with each province and each region within a province having their own specialties and traditions .

We all need food and everywhere we went in the world the people took pride in their local cuisine, but to our mind nothing beats Chinese food.

We and 1.4 billion others think so anyway..

Best Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaXiao Long (Laughing Dragon) – Livingstone, Zambia. On par with the Sichuan and Hunan food we have in China,  but I suspect only if you insist on the genuine stuff… in Mandarin ….and have a Chinese companion who does a thorough inspection of the kitchen, the ingredients and interrogates all the staff.

Worst Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaThe Panda – Mosi, Tanzania (The lovely girl, Cheng Yuan Yuan, who was left in charge of the restaurant while the owner went back to China admitted she couldn’t cook and neither could the chef). In the end one of the Chinese guests went in the kitchen and cooked a few dishes which we shared.

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats) Snacks if you will.

Sichuan street food

I am like a dog in China. I get fed once a day, complete strangers come up and stroke the blonde hairs on my arms, in my presence I get spoken about in the third person, certain hotels wont let me in, and I have no idea what people are saying to me all the time. Woof Woof.

Yunnan food

Chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

Its exotic and specialties appeared on street corners and by the side of fields as we rode across the country . Here chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

WORST FOOD AWARDS

Worst food in Africa – Malawi

The lakeside resorts run by foreignors had pretty good food, but unless you like eating a diet consisting of 99% cassava (which has the nutritional value and taste of a flip flop) you will starve in the rest of the country as indeed a lot of the people are doing.  There is no excuse for this as Malawi has fresh water,  untapped natural resources and shares nearly the same geology and agricultural potential as Tanzania which grows coffee, tea, fruit and vegetables in abundance.

The problem, as with too many places in Africa, lies with the government who are greedy, corrupt and incompetent …and the people who put up with such tyrants who keep them in the stone age.

The other crop that grows pretty freely in Malawi is marijuana , so if you like you can spend your days in Malawi stoned out of your skull in a blue haze, however when you get the munchies don’t expect to see much in the fridge.

Worst food in Europe – the UK. If you have the money, or live with an excellent cook you will eat as well as anywhere in the world.

However for any visitor to the UK the food on the street is pretty dire. The healthy option, if so inclined, is a salad with a bit of meat or fish in a plastic box. Still hungry? .. of course you are … so a tub of lard for pudding. You can tell by the unhealty disposition and obesity of most English people that there is little nutrition in many peoples diet.

In England the day starts off well with a variety of decent breakfasts and then goes downhill thereon.

Worst food in China Tibet. If we are to be picky, a diet that consists of a thousand ways to eat yak and yak’s milk might be pushing the limits… so local Tibetan food, whilst pretty OK, is at bottom of of the list as there is some amazing food to be eaten in every province across China.

All this being said the upside of increasing migration of more Han Chinese into Tibet is that good food from other provinces can be found in the main cities in Tibet. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Its a good thing when you’re hungry.

Also, I have to mention the province of Guangxi and Chinese provinces bordering Laos and Vietnam for their fondness for dog, rat, pangolin, civet cat, and other furry, feathered and scaly creatures and their insides… nope…. not my cup of nai cha, nor Fanny’s.

BEST BEER AWARDS

Africa – Namibia – Windhoek beer.

Windhoek

 

 

Europe – English bitter (in particular Marston’s Pedigree from Burton Upon Trent)

Nice

Marston’s Pedigree – from Burton on Trent

China – Tsingdao beer  青岛啤酒)

tsingdao

Tsing Dao from Qingdao, China

 

WORST BEER AWARDS  – of course there is no worst beer award, but perhaps Sudan should get a mention for not allowing beer at all.  In fact the punishment for any alcohol possession in Sudan is 40 lashes.

Ouch!

BEST GAME PARK  AWARDS

1. Masai Mara (Kenya) (in late August)

We had an awesome time in Masai Mara. Great guides, reasonable entry fees (compared to Tanzania), and when we were there the great wildebeest migration was in residence and stretched across the grassy plains as far as the eye could see. It was true Lion King country and we had a terrific motorcycle ride to get there along cattle tracks and through Masai villages.

2. South Luangwa (Zambia).

South Luangwa National Park is possibly one of the prettiest and diverse game reserves in Africa. Certainly one of my favourite. Unfortunately, while I was there the last rhino had been poached in collusion with corrupt security guards who for their evil part were paid a fraction of what the horns were eventually sold for in Asia.

Whilst the 150 kilometer road from Chipata to the national park was too technical for Fanny at that particular stage of our expedition (not now of course), I had been there on a previous motorcycle trip across Africa and on the way bumped into the Long Way Down TV show motorcycles on their way to Lusaka. They had also decided against going to Luangwa because the road was too tough for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, although easy for Charlie Boorman and the cameraman, Claudio I expect, who turned out to be decent guys and true motorcycle enthusiasts.

With the help of my Zambian cousin I managed to ride right into the game park along a locally used two track sand road and ride right up to many of the African animals and through the stunning bush of the Valley, but trying to keep a decent distance from creatures that might like a KTM sandwich. However, I inadvertently rode into a herd elephants and was mock charged by a young male which was quite exciting. They do not like the sound or sight of motorcycles at all, especially with loud Akropovik exhausts.

 

BEST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Ras Mohammed, Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.

I do not care for diving particularly having been put off  when I did a CT selection course when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police,  but due to putting down roots in Dahab by the beautiful Red Sea I had little to do while Fanny was windsurfing and so I have now completed the PADI open water and advanced scuba course with H2O Divers.

http://www.facebook.com/H2ODiversDahab

Dahab is 90 Kms away from Sharm El Sheikh in the Gulf of  Aqaba (Red Sea) and enjoys amazing marine life and is a very popular destination for kite surfing, wind surfing and diving. As well as scuba diving with an aqua lung, I also learnt to free dive and practised nearly everyday at the famous Blue Hole, or just off the coral reefs at Eel Garden, The Caves or Lighthouse. Amazing places. Fanny on the other hand learnt to windsurf in the lagoon with Planet Windsurf and is now a very competent sailor.

http://www.planetwindsurfholidays.com/resorts/egypt/dahab/

The Red Sea in Egypt, especially along the Sinai peninsular is absolutely spectacular. I have been fortunate to have traveled around most of South East Asia, but the Red Sea is to my mind better. Crystal clear warm waters, amazing tropical fish and coral reefs and pretty decent infrastructure to support it all. The Sinai desert mountains create an awesome backdrop to the coastal towns of Nuweiba, Taba and especially Dahab, and the desert itself is quite possibly the prettiest in the world, especially at sunset and sunrise.  That said, the whole tourism thing could be done so so much better, but then the Egyptian tourist industry is reeling from the Arab Spring revolution, the world economic downturn and the negative effects of blowing up tourists with fire-bombs.

WORST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Any open water in East or South China. Polluted and disgusting.

BEST MOUNTAINS & VALLEYS

Africa – Ethiopia and Lesotho

Whilst we thought Ethiopia was spoiled a bit by some of its annoying stone throwing feral inhabitants and decaying cities, it does have spectacular natural beauty with mountains, rivers, pastures, lakes and valleys that looks a bit like those in Switzerland, Scotland or Austria.  The roads are also for the large part extremely good, although as I have said often crowded with people and animals.

Lesotho, which is bordered completely by South Africa, is also a very mountainous country and is an excellent place to visit, albeit a bit chilly to ride through in winter.

Ethiopia’s proximity to some very dodgy African countries, short visa restrictions and some very wet weather while we were there prevented us from exploring the amazing Danakil depression and Afar region in the east of the country which are said to be spectacular.

Not many regrets on the expedition, but not venturing to this amazing part of the world that features in the January 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine.

We did go to Lalibela to see the rock hewn churches, and they were fairly interesting. But unless you are an archaeologist or Christian pilgrim you’d be better off visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and indeed any Norman church in England as they are older, far more impressive and have less fleas. The ride there was fun though and took us  “off road” for a few hundred kilometers through valleys and across rivers and streams.

Europe – you are probably going the expect me to say The Alps, Pyrenees or the Dolomites, maybe the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia in Wales and indeed they are spectacular, but I am going to have to pick the mountains and valleys I enjoyed riding through the most and so I will say The Highlands of Scotland.

West coast of Scotland

West coast of Scotland

 

China –  is a very mountainous part of the world and along our 13,000 kilometer ride through the middle kingdom we navigated over, around and often through many mountain ranges. Chinese history is steeped in legend about mountains and have been the subject of pilgrimages by emperors and philosophers throughout the ages.  We were lucky to see some of the wuyue 五岳 – sacred five and the Buddhist and Taoist fours. But for me and Fanny seeing (and riding through) the greatest mountain range on the planet with the highest peaks, the Himalayas was one of the highlights of the expedition.

After all the awful roads we get to cruise on the awesome S201 through Guangxi 广西。

Guangxi 广西。

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River ... yellow

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

The Himalayas... what can you say?

The Himalayas… what can you say?

 

BEST BORDER CROSSING –

Africa – South Africa. Quite simply modern, efficient, quick and fair.

Europeall easy

Chinano border crossings.. although riding through the road blocks in Tibet was “interesting”.

WORST BORDER CROSSING 

1st Egypt and 2nd Sudan.

The opposite of modern, efficient, quick, or fair. The further north in Africa we went the worse the border crossings became.

LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Botswana

Europe – Austria

Asia – Singapore (its not going to be China is it?)

MOST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Egypt

Europe – Italy

Asia – China

Most countries we went through in Africa could very fairly be described as corrupt. Some more than others. Unfortunately, there are countries we simply couldn’t risk traveling through because they are so corrupt and dangerous, such as the DRC, Chad, Nigeria etc.. Even the famous Dakar Rally no longer races through the Sahara to Dakar and has moved to Argentina and Chile in South America.

An anecdote from our first day in Egypt:

Having spent considerable time and parted with a huge amount of cash at customs and immigration at the Egyptian border in Aswan, we were stopped 50 meters away at a road block, the first of hundreds, by a policeman with an AK47 variant of assault rifle who looked us up and down and asked, ‘Where you come from?’

Me (clearly thinking this is stupid question at the Egypt/Sudan border) ‘ Sudan’

Policeman ‘What in bag?’

Me ‘ Our things’

Policeman ‘ Open up’

Me ‘OK’…. ‘It’ll take a bit of time… hang on a bit’

As I was getting off my bike to open the panniers the policeman said ‘ Ah.. no need, haha…  anything nice for me?’

Me ‘ I don’t pay bribes’ (eye to eye), and continued,  ‘Actually I used to be a policeman and think policemen like you are an insult to the cloth, you make the job of honest, conscientious policemen more difficult and more dangerous’ rant rant…

Policeman (grinning like an imbecile and waving me on) ‘ haha .. you can go’

Policeman to Fanny ‘Where you come from?’

Fanny ‘China’

Policeman to Fanny ‘ You got present for me?’

I turned around and shouted ‘ HEY! – I TOLD YOU’

Policeman ‘Haha.. OK you go’   and so we went.

On each occasion the authorities even suggested a bribe I stood my ground or played my “I used to be a policeman” trump card and they all gave up.

Some of Fanny’s friends, a Chinese expedition starting from South Africa and riding Jin Chiang motorcycle and side-cars, gave up in Tanzania after running out of money, spirit and heart after paying bribe after bribe and being messed about at every single border crossing.

I guess the Africans thought that Chinese are accustomed to paying bribes. Maybe they are, and maybe they are also as fed up as everyone else.

 

NOISIEST COUNTRY AWARDS  – Sudan followed by China and Egypt.

Sudan is a strictly Islamic country and so requires its Muslim population to pray five times a day among other noisy rituals. The density of mosques and minarets in Sudan is very high and the call to prayers starts at 4-5 am which is rather early and without doubt a very loud wake -up alarm call where ever you are.

I vaguely remember bell ringing on Sunday mornings from the church in the village, Abbots Bromley, I grew up in England, and even that annoyed me after a few peels.

As a Roaming Catholic of the lapsed kind I am a firm believer that anyone can believe in what they like provided it causes no harm to others, but object to people inflicting their superstitions, religion and beliefs on other people.

My helpful suggestion that calls to prayer be made using mobile phones on vibrate mode was not met enthusiastically by anyone I met, nor was the suggestion that  “All Things Bright and Beautiful” might be more cheerful.

China?

There are 1.4 billion Chinese, the streets are crowded, and they absolutely love noise and any excuse to make some is welcomed and encouraged.

Megaphones, public announcements, promotions, advertisements, car horns, traffic, construction noise, warning signals, conversations, music, talking in restaurants etc etc… DO IT LOUDLY!. T

There are four tones in Mandarin and to make sure the other person understands clearly its best to SHOUT. In Cantonese there are nine tones and so the Hong Kongers SHOUT EVEN LOUDER ……..AAAH MAAAA. 噪音太大。!!!!

 

MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY AWARD – Namibia

To the motorcyclists who like a bit of technical off road riding, stunning scenery, quiet roads, good camping sites, African animals and birds, decent petrol and getting close to unspoiled nature then Namibia is the country to go and disturb the peace with your Akropovik or Leo Vince exhausts!

dscn0792

A long way from anywhere…. The Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Pictures at http://www.facebook.com/bigbiketrip

Offa’s Dyke Hike – May 2017

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Hiking along the entire Offa’s Dyke in one go was unfinished business for me. I attempted it from South to North a few years back and was defeated.

As they say in certain circles, proper planning prevents piss poor performance, and I had not planned properly. Poor mental preparation, poor research, and very poor kit, especially my ill-fitting boots and tortuous rucksack. All of which meant I came to an agonising halt no more than half way along.

Offa’s Dyke Path is a 177 mile (285 Km) long walking trail. It is named after, and often follows, the spectacular Dyke King Offa ordered to be constructed in the 8th century, probably to divide his Kingdom of Mercia from rival kingdoms in what is now Wales

The Trail, which was opened in the summer of 1971, links Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow on the banks of the Severn estuary with the coastal town of Prestatyn on the shores of the Irish sea. It passes through no less than eight different counties and crosses the border between England and Wales over 20 times. The Trail explores the tranquil Marches (as the border region is known) and passes through the Brecon Beacons National Park on the spectacular Hatterrall Ridge. In addition it links no less than three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills and the Clwydian Range / Dee Valley.

In May 2017 I returned, but this time started from the north of Wales at Prestatyn.

I had arranged to meet Kevin and Simon, with whom I worked in Arthur Andersen’s Fraud Services Unit in London back in the late 1990s, all of us being former UK policemen, and very keen on hiking and the great outdoors.

Simon was also in my intake at the training school in Wong Chuk Hang when we joined the Royal Hong Kong Police together in February 1987. Later he was my boss at Arthur Andersen where I first met Kevin, and with whom I worked very closely on numerous fraud investigations and assignments.

north of llangollen near worlds end

A memorable section of the Offa’s Dyke

offas-dyke-path-top-TI

Offa’s Dyke – fascinating history and outstanding natural beauty

Simon and Kevin had only planned to walk a section or two, do 7-10 miles each day, carry light day packs and stay in comfortable B&Bs along the way. They planned to leap frog their cars with their luggage between these B&Bs.

I, on the other hand, was determined to yomp the whole 177 + miles, carry 25 kilograms of camping gear and supplies in my backpack, free camp along the way, and attempt between 20 and 30 miles each day.

Since they were all Labour supporting football hooligan grim northerners I was not going to let them forget this southern poof called Rupert was going to do it the “proper” way.  Of course, with all this banter that meant the pressure was on me to actually finish it this time.

As I live in Hong Kong my journey to the start of the hike was a lot longer than theirs, although you wouldn’t have known it given all their northern whining and gnashing of gums about their arduous car rides and the traffic conditions along the roads between North Wales and Derbyshire.

For me, my trip started with a bus ride from Mui Wo to the airport on Lantau Island, an Emirates flight to Heathrow via Dubai, and an underground train ride with the rush hour commuters to Covent Garden tube station in central London, where I knew I could buy a few more camping supplies that I didn’t have or couldn’t carry by air, such as a cooking gas canister, a fleece (I left mine in South Africa), and a waterproof cover for my new Osprey Atmos 65 rucksack that Fanny bought me off Amazon. I had already bought a new pair of North Face Hedgehog hiking boots that proved to be excellent.

After getting the things I needed, I then hiked across London in the rain to Euston train station, where I caught a surprisingly comfortable and remarkably cheap railway ride via Chester to Prestatyn.

As my hiking companions were still “en route” I immediately found a pub in town and started my Welsh beer appreciation survey and some “carb loading”.

Total journey about 40 hours door to door.

The northern boys had booked into a hotel next to the sea, no doubt because Pontins in Rhyll was full, and it was the only the place in town that would allow them to keep their coal in the bath, I am guessing!

Knowing that I would need a shower and a good rest after a long journey I had booked an AirBnB room in a private house located right at the start the hike at 25 quid a night. A very nice room, comfy bed, including a superb hiking breakfast of tea, toast, porridge and honey at 6 am, prepared by my very kind host, Anne.

From then on I was free camping.

As I hadn’t seen Simon and Kevin, nor Kevin’s wife, Denise for many years we had some catching up to do in the beer garden at their hotel. We were joined by a buddy of Simon’s from his Greater Manchester Police days called Andrew who was also a very keen hiker. Andrew also had the only decent OS maps in the group and by the looks of it the best hiking kit. By comparison, Kevin looked like he was popping down to the corner shop in his train spotter’s anorak and was carrying a well used supermarket plastic bag with his sandwiches inside.

I had decided against carrying any maps as the whole Offa’s Dyke requires six large OS maps in total which is far too much paper to lug, especially as the hike is pretty well sign posted. That said I did get lost on a few occasions, with several off piste excursions that added many miles to my already stressed feet. A map wouldn’t have helped anyway because I always think I know better, and rarely refer to one until well after I have got myself well and truly lost.

As is often the case nowadays, given that I have to work for food like everyone else, our evening was disturbed by a long call from one of my clients’ lawyers asking me to “do stuff” and amend documentation for a project I had started in China and France.

No worries, I had prepared myself with an EE network 4G Sim card that I bought when I arrived at Heathrow (EE being the best coverage for the Offa’s Dyke, so I read somewhere) and tethered my iPhone to various devices that I lug about so I can do my work anywhere in the world. Isn’t technology great? Although perhaps not the greatest idea to draft a legal contract after three pints of local brew, but there you are.

The next day I was up before 4.00 a.m., my body clock still tuned to Hong Kong time. I had to wait 6 hours before the cast of the “Last of the Summer Wine” had got their shit together before we set off, and even after that, and no more than 500 yards into the hike Simon had to run back to his car because he forgot something.

Simon has a PhD in “faffing about and forgetting stuff” and I cannot think of a day we have spent together, from leadership training in the wilds of Hong Kong, to investigating Holocaust Victims dormant accounts in Zurich when he has not had to double back on his tracks and retrieve something, contact lenses or an item of clothing being the usual suspects!

I had already collected my de rigeur pebble from the Irish Sea beach that I intended to deposit at Sedbury mud flats on the south coast of Wales, and we trundled off, calling by M&S Food in town to buy the sort of stuff that English and Welsh people shouldn’t eat, unless they burn through 5000 calories a day, which is pretty much what I consumed each day. Even with this high consumption of lard, sugar, crisps, sandwiches and beer I still managed to lose 7 kilograms by the time I completed the hike.

Not long after hiking up the first hill we meet a guy, perhaps a decade younger than any of us, with a seriously professional backpack and he looked absolutely “exhausted”. Covered in sweat, quite tanned, thin and just an hour or so from completing the entire hike in 11 days. I couldn’t help but notice that his backpack looked a lot lighter than mine.

Further along we bumped into a lively middle aged couple heading north and found out they had been walking the Offa’s Dyke over the last couple of weeks, carrying light day packs and staying in pre-booked B&Bs along the way.  They told us about their route, how enjoyable the hike was, and that most of the B&Bs they stayed at also picked them up and dropped them off along the Dyke so they didn’t have to walk further than they needed.

Both of these encounters with fellow “Dykees” caused me to reflect on what I was doing, and for my walking companions to gloat that they were doing this hike the “enjoyable and sensible” way.

We walked together, Andrew stopping every ten minutes or so to consult his map, allow Kevin to catch up, garner collective approval we were heading in the correct direction, and then start walking again.

By mid afternoon, Kevin, Simon and later Andrew peeled off to walk to their bed and breakfast, and I continued to my a very nice camping site at Bodfari where I set up my tent and then wandered off to a very swanky pub called the Dinorben Arms and waited for the others.

Inevitably, and after 2 pints of Old Weasel, I received a message from Simon that they had booked a table at the crowded and very popular pub for dinner at 9 pm.  It was 6 pm! No way I would last that long and so I ate on my own and repaired to my tent, read three lines of my book, and was out for the count.

I got my tent packed up the next day, made my coffee and porridge, and was ready to get going just after dawn. Clearly the “Derby and Joan knitting circle” were all still in their pits and so I left them a message that, just as we had planned, I was setting off on my own and wished them all well.

To make my 20-30 miles a day I had to walk for longer and perhaps slightly quicker and so I was on my todd for the remainder of the hike.  They later told me they pulled the plug on their hike at the end of day 2 and went home. Apparently these retired northerners had other important commitments. Simon’s day pass from the Ayatollah (a.k.a Mrs. B) had expired and he had a Bridge appointment at the weekend! As for Kevin? Who knows?

So, I carried on and eventually completed the hike in 8 days, plus a much needed rest day in the very charming border town, Knighton where I camped in a farmers field next to a river, wandered about, caught up on the grim UK news, sat about in charming tearooms and local pubs, bought new “gel” insoles for my boots, and visited the Offa’s Dyke Centre

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Of course I was not the only person walking along the Offa’s Dyke during those sunny days in May and I encountered various types of hikers along the trail.

There were those who I knew full well would get no further than where they were heading that day; elderly couples who had been ticking off sections of the trail over many years; fresh faced looking B&B hikers with day packs skipping merrily along, grizzled old men like Gandolf the Wizard who seemed to be in no hurry and were taking the hike in their stride; a young chap whose mother was following him in her car, collecting him at night, dropping him off in the morning and feeding him along the way (don’t knock it… at least he was doing something active); and I think a total of eight other nutters like me doing the whole trail with full camping gear and various aches, pains and blisters.

Two of the latter kind I met in a pub near the camp site at Llandegla, and who had broken the back of the hike with only another couple of days to finish. Really funny and amusing guys, and yes you guessed it, former police officers…. from Dorset!! Maybe we former “plods” really do miss walking the beat or something?

It was indeed a very tough and arduous hike, very hilly, my feet went through various levels of pain and torture I could barely tolerate, and worse, as a keen biker I had to endured the engine sounds and joie de vivre of an assortment of motorcycles whizzing along the wonderful Welsh roads. Occasionally I would encounter a group of bikers on their racing machines at various road sections and they would always wave at me, or perhaps they were laughing?

I did of course feel a huge sense of accomplishment in completing the hike and it was a big boost to my mind, body and soul. The Offa’s Dyke passes through stunningly beautiful countryside. It was invigorating to breathe the fresh air, admire the glorious wild flowers and greenery, and amble through fields full of Britain’s best livestock and wildlife. I was lucky with the weather, which for the large part was sunny and fresh. The evenings, mostly spent in the country pubs where I could eat and drink to my heart’s delight and yarn with the locals, were an absolute joy.

So, what next? A hike along the Coast to Coast? The Pennine Way?  Appalachian Trail? Perhaps one day soon. But for now the next adventure on the calendar is back on a motorcycle where I plan to ride across Xizang, Xinjiang, Mongolia and Kazakhstan this autumn.

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Tintern Abbey

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not the mama

Which reminds me… must visit the old dear in Abbots Bromley.

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