Coast to Coast Hike – Lake District – Yorkshire Dales – Yorkshire Moors 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

 

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The start at St.Bees… begins with a walk around the coast and then east up into the Lake District

 

Traveling from London via Carlisle on a very slow train, 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 in the gardens of 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

 

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Looking back at St Bees

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Spring flowers still in bloom

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Setting sun behind me and heading east into the glorious Lake District

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

 

The next day I was up at 5.00 am, partly because of the eight hour 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 detour up and down a 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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Following 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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Back lower down 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, a 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 and looked after by a young couple and I was able to buy a hot drink and a piece of cake. 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).

Following his advise 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 the 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 that the “idiot” was going to kill himself.  Looking up at the struggling figure he said, ‘Keep an eye on that one… he’s got lost… he thinks this is a bridle path’.

I consulted my map, and in fairness it did say “bridle path”. That said I assumed the bridle belonged to a mule or a donkey!

The old Cumbrian 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 that bike’.

I waved goodbye to the hardly hiker and quickly caught up with the hapless cyclist dressed in finest black lycra and lugging the sort of bicycle you would buy in a supermarket like Asda, certainly not one of those expensive downhill jobs I see back home on Lantau Island in Hong Kong.

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 and kept him company as he struggled with his bicycle up the rocky steep trail and when we got to the top felt really sorry for him when it became clear that the plateau was an endless and very soggy “bog”.  Bog and nothing but peat bog for miles. Fair play to him, he struggled on, navigating across fast streams and occasionally going knee deep into pools of deep black peat, and struggling to haul his machine out covered in mud.

I had been told by the “local” chap earlier on that the valley route to Grasmere was very wet and that if I had time I should continue to climb and follow the high 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 no nearer, and if anything, further and further away.

Anyway, I eventually reached the end of the ridge in the early evening and scrambled down the steep scree path and into Grasmere, which I instantly took a dislike to. Its a pretty enough place, but seemed far to touristy and expensive.  I decided I would push on even though it was late, but first I needed some food and hauled myself and hiking kit into a pub for beer and 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 long day of hiking. There is nothing better than really earning your food.

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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 camping spot next to a sheep hut half way up the mountain. As I was setting up my tent the weather deteriorated and really start to rain. Inside my tent it was doing a good job and I was inside my sleeping bag and asleep in no time.

It rained and howled all night, but by sunrise it was blue, sunny, crisp. 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 seemed 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 huge 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 just before it started to get dark and pitched my tent on any flat dry grass, although on a few occasions I stopped earlier if I wanted to pitch the tent in their pub beer garden or in an adjacent field. I always had a couple of pints of local 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  fruit and nuts. I tried to avoid sweets and chocolate this time, as I was trying to cut down on bad carbs just before sleeping.

Strangely enough, the real ale was the best food to have in the evenings as it not only re-hydrated me, but is settling on the stomach after a long day of hiking and proper real ale is full of vitamins and minerals. I’m sticking with this story.

Whilst drinking and eating in the pubs with the other hikers it abundantly clear to them from my back pack and the state of me 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, etc?

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 people I encountered thought I was making it all up.

What was clear to me, though, was that most people I met along my various hikes lead relatively boring lives. Or perhaps I lead a very interesting one.

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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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Pretty in pink …. I think by the Psychedelic Furs from the 80s

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Coffee time by a stream.

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Sandwiches — the cornerstone of a British diet …

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40 grams of snowflake flavoured lard . Where are Walkers salt & vinegar crisps nowadays?  Anyway, best hidden in a cheese and pickle sandwich

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A skinny decaf soya mocha macchiato? Sorry its black coffee or black coffee.. made with pond water and ewes urine. It’ll catch on eventually.

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.

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 Coast to Coast strip map that did not have as much detail as an OS map, but was much lighter, and if you concentrated 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 by several miles. 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 early morning dew in the warm sunshine.

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Breakfast = porridge oats, blueberries (“idiot berries” Fanny and I call them as they are supposed to ward off dementia), brazil nuts (supposed to make you happy) and a mug of tea (really does make me happy).  Perfick

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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 to the north is Ullswater. Not where I should have be heading.

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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. I should have been paying more attention. I start a few miles of jogging in penance.

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I was thinking that the island in the middle of the tarn would have made a great camping spot. Ah well, next time.

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

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Following the trail down towards Haweswater Reservoir. Again I took another wrong turn that routed me over the top of several peaks instead of around them. As I caught up yet again with hikers I had overtaken hours before I tried to pretend that is where I had wanted to go.

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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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Boggy woods

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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. Just saying!

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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. I yet again veered off the real Coast to Coast path and climbed several peaks that I assumed were included in the hike. Only when I came across hikers I had overtaken several hours before did I realise I might be making a tough hike tougher that I should. Still, nice views from the top.

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 discomfort, if not, 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.

As I approached the outskirts of some hamlets 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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I am assured by a fellow hiker, who I would wager is a teacher of some sort, that these are indeed orchids.

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Lovely and green

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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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Looking 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 that I navigate across in the late evening until I find a dry spot to pitch my tent.

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Me

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The light is fading and the ground is very soggy… will push on for another hour.

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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 for the night… quite remote for the UK

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As dry as it gets up here.

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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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A nice easy going route?

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A few long stretches of tarmac road .. tough on the soles of the feet I find

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Pretty waterfalls in the Dales

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Picturesque valleys

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Bumped into a fellow “free camping” hiker in Keld. He was doing the Pennine Way with his little four legged friends. One of the passionate walking types I met along the 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 and a few contour paths on very steep slopes.

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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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Occasionally an encounter with aliens. It does have a very strange face!!!

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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 farms – 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… very aromatic.

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Still following the river, and glad to be out of the direct sunshine as I have an afternoon/evening sunburn (sets in the west…everyday) 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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Tulips …….Stopping by Kiplin Hall for afternoon tea and a carb loading cake

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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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English gardens

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

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But I do stop for a pint

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A CAMERA pub too…. wonderful real ales. I resist temptation and just have a pint … or was it two?

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

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.

 

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No sigh of the Slaughtered Lamb pub high up in the Yorkshire Moors.

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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 the 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.  Even with ear plugs in. I also developed a nagging cough that developed into a full blown chest infection that lingered for weeks afterwards 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 its 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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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 a motorcycle ride across Europe with Fanny and getting early medical attention for an annoying chest infection.

I called Fanny in Hong Kong to let her know I had completed the hike in nine days and what my plans were for the next few days.

She said, in her nonplussed way (sic), ‘ There is no 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?

‘You antagonized her, and you can’t stay anymore… I don’t want to get involved…. how come there is no printer ink?’ 

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… that is why I am with you, my pinko commie 宝贝’

Fanny continued, ‘ 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 (after all its a universal truth and I have nothing more to add); 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.

And then it became clear.

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

The back story is that before the hike my brother and I drove up to Staffordshire where we were brought up to see our ailing mother, and while we were there had a superb time (I thought), meeting school friends, regaling old stories, and drinking and eating in the local pubs. No mention was made of my female preferences and the next day my brother dropped me off at Stafford train station and I traveled up to the Lake District to start the hike.

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, my brother made me do it’

So, having been evicted, with my personal possessions thrown into a damp garage in Dorset, 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, nor describe further.

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.

So, after a marathon relay across the south of England all the motorbikes are now safely in a garage in Bexhill on Sea, where they will be cared for by my friend Nick, who having spent a great deal of his time in Hong Kong, also shares my views on the attractiveness of English women, their tattoos, nose rings and cellulite, but is wise enough not to say anything to one!

What next then?

Well, Fanny is arriving in England in June and we will ride our motorcycles across Europe to visit my friend Mike in Amandola in Italy, and also call by Fanny’s company HQ in Basel, Switzerland (a new BBT chapter).

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

Ciao!

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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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No fish… I blame the French and the EU

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Whitby Harbour

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A very welcome hot shower, comfy sleep and delicious 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 ……. 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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After a very long journey and no where to stay I book into a B&B in Poole… which I arrived at very late and then a taxi at the “approved” time to retrieve the KTM whilst the ayatollah was out having her claws trimmed. I then had to do it all again a day or so later to retrieve Fanny’s Kawasaki.

 

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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 A272 back to east Sussex. Just as well I like trains and riding bikes.

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Hick!

 

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

 .

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)

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Marston’s Pedigree – from Burton on Trent

China – Tsingdao beer  青岛啤酒)

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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!

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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 Offas 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.

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.

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Start of hike with the lads … and 7 kgs heavier than when I finished 10 days later

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Prestatyn and Kevin…. day 1 

north of llangollen near worlds end

A memorable section of the Offa’s Dyke

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Offa’s Dyke – fascinating history and outstanding natural beauty

 

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If you are in a group its much more sociable… but the pace can be frustrating slow. Great to see the guys and chat.

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strange creatures….  a pink human, an alpaca and a huge turkey

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The Offa’s Dyke Path 

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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.

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As the others called it a day I am left with my shadow and all the great outdoors for company

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A brew of tea or coffee along the way

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Following more or less the border between England and Wales 

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Blessed with great weather….late Spring is a perfect time

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The Offa’s Dyke is easy to navigate as its very well sign posted with the “Acorn” marker. England on your left and Wales on your right. 

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Camping in a pub beer garden 

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A welcome stop for tea and cakes … had been a hard section

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Another lovely section and great weather

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One of joys of these British hikes is stopping off at pubs and sampling the ales

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And tea shops … a particularly delicious Damson crumble

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Not a great deal left… and the bowl would have been licked if I wasn’t been observed by the village biddies

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Mountain ponies

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Nearly always followed by bullocks when I crossed their fields … reminds me of my childhood.

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Path always changing … from woods, to hills, river valleys,to pasture

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Half way along … Osprey rucksack doing a good job

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Meadows full of wild flowers 

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Lots of sheep and ponies….and the odd alpaca 

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Canals and rivers 

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Friends

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Lots of magical woods

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Charming border town of Knighton and the Offa’s Dyke Centre

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A discussion with King Offa about the route

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Still on track

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Often on my own

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Canal Aquaduct

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Tintern Abbey

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slight altercation with a bramble bush

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

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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Getting near the end of the 177 mile hike

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Typical camping spot. My North face two man tent a tad heavy and replaced the next year for the Coast to Coast hike with the lighter one man Tarptent Moment

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Made it to Sedbury … 

Chapter 35 – Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka –a tropical island off the south coast of Indian and famous for Ceylon tea, Tamil Tigers and Arthur C Clarke. A lot of people who have visited have been singing its praises, but what’s it like to explore on a motorcycle?

Picking the slightly out of season period of early July, Fanny and I flew on the surprisingly good value Sri Lankan Airlines from Hong Kong to Colombo, and then took a taxi from the airport to a colonial style house that Fanny had booked on the outskirts of the Capital.

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Srilanka

Our motorcycle route… mostly the south west, south and central highlands ….still a few places to visit in the future.

 

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Yasmine’s house on the outskirts of Colombo

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Yep… all to ourselves.

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My new friend … guarding the pool

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Sri Lankan breakfast

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Fanny and our lovely host, Yasmine

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Lush tropical gardens

 

OK…. so enough holiday snaps of Rupert and Fanny idling about and stuffing their faces … for now!

What about the motorcycles?

We searched online and found a place renting out scooters not too far from the airport and we arranged to hire two Honda XR 250 Bajas… an iconic bike and one I have seen being ridden very successfully in remote parts of Africa.

Austin Vince would no doubt approve because its a small 250cc Honda and I can see the logic for having such a bike for a long expedition. I think they look like classic adventure bikes, and I really like the two big headlights and gold wheel rims.

Honda XLR 250R Baja

The Honda XLR 250 Baja … our choice for the Sri Lanka trip

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The actual bikes we hired… the pictures not doing justice to what dogs they really were.

 

I hired a modern Honda XR 250 for a tour of Thailand a few years back and it was in good condition, well looked after, and everything worked. I really liked it.

These bikes were not in good condition, but they were reasonably cheap at US$21 per day. I was assured they were road worthy, although it was obvious that if you actually owned either of them you would have to spend hours in the garage with a full list of repairs and maintenance to do.

Fanny’s bike was slightly lower in the seat than mine, in slightly better condition, but the handlebars had slipped in the triple clamps and were a few degrees out which is something I find incredibly irritating.

Fanny on the other hand didn’t seem to mind…. after all she had ridden across the whole of Africa on a KTM 990 Adventure that had “out of true” handle bars after she crashed her motorcycle spectacularly in the remote deserts of Namibia.

To start the the Baja required a contortionist effort to pull up a broken toggle above the carburetor and engage the “choke”. The bike simply would not start without doing so. With practice I got used to this, but it meant I started the day rolling around on the floor and getting my hands covered in oil and grime. Not a big deal, but annoying nonetheless.

After a good nights rest we took a tut tut scooter taxi from Yasmine’s house all the way up to Negombo in the north where the bike shop was located. It was further than we thought and took a couple of hours, but it did give us a chance to look around and alerted us to the atrocious traffic conditions in and around Colombo, and indeed across Sri Lanka.

 

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I smashed the opaque yellow plastic obscuring the digital display… so I could see the speedo and odometer. It didn’t seem to distract from the overall run down look of the bike. The black bungee held my iPhone in place so I could follow the GPS. It worked “OK”

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Fanny collecting her bike from the shop.

 

We were told by the owner of the shop that we must both get Sri Lankan driving permits and that could take a few days.

Oh?

Or….. we could risk it and deal with the police as and when?

OK, we’ll do that.

We wanted to get on and I was confident I could handle the local rozzers, who seemed to be nice British Colonial types, like I used to be. How hard could it be?

I handed over a deposit and Fanny paid for for 13 days bike hire and we got going along a back lane route I set around the outskirts of Colombo back to Yasmine’s house on the east of the city, in a vain attempt to avoid the heavy traffic.

I was a bit nervous that Fanny had not been riding much over the last year or so, but she quickly got back into it and we both navigated and weaved through the appallingly bad traffic with no problems at all. In fact, the Honda Baja seemed perfect for Fanny.  I had to remind myself that this is a woman who has ridden around the world on every surface and in every condition Planet Earth has to offer.  Fanny is perfectly fine.

I had downloaded an iPhone App called “Sygic” and also the maps for Sri Lanka. This meant that unlike Google or Baidu Maps we could navigate without having to be online. Much like digital cameras put Kodak out of business, these new GPS apps are a free alternative to a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS.

I also bought a Sri Lankan 4G Sim card with internet access for 2 weeks at next to nothing and despite my reservations that there must be a catch, it worked perfectly for the whole trip and the signal coverage was pretty good. I was able to use the online maps as well and tether my phone to Fanny’s iPhone so she had internet access the whole time as well. Isn’t technology great?

The only issue was that the bracket I bought in China to hold the iPhone onto the handlebars?  It was still on the kitchen table in Hong Kong!

Like many occasions on our motorcycle adventures we came up with a work around and I used some bungees and strapped the iPhone onto the dash over the instrument panel that I couldn’t see anyway because the plastic was now opaque yellow.

Fortunately there was a USB power socket that I could power up the iPhone battery … otherwise it would only last a few hours with the bluetooth or GPS activated.  I did have to turn off the headlights as the electrics and battery were a bit dodgy.

Normally you cannot turn off motorcycle headlights, as its a safety feature, but we were in Asia and safety comes second to practicality and so the owners had fitted an on/off switch to save power.

Anyway, bikes and navigation sorted, ready to go.

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Fanny is a really good bike rider and the Honda 250 was perfect for her.

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Blue helmet, blue tinted glasses and headlights on full beam to “try” and scare the locals … all good.

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My Honda Baja had a particularly uncomfortable seat so I bought a seat cover!  A toilet seat cover to be accurate.  Nice.

 

During the trip I carried all the luggage and used my Givi water proof panniers that I had bought in the UK,  and our waterproof North Face day sacks. We were traveling light… just how we like it.  I think we could have gone even lighter, although not much. We wore our light weight motorcycle jackets for protection from sun and because they have a bit of armour inside. Perfect.

After about 50 kilometers in the saddle I came to the indisputable conclusion that my bike had the most uncomfortable seat I have ever sat on. Where was my black sheep skin cover when I needed it? Ah yes….on the kitchen table in Hong Kong with the iPhone bracket. Ta Ma De !

So, I made an emergency purchase (30 UK pence) of a rather lovely toilet seat cover, that whilst not being anywhere near as comfortable as a sheep skin, was Ho Gwoh Mo (better than nothing).

It did mean we had to stop quite often so I could get off the bike and walk about, or stand on the foot pegs for the blood to start flowing into my aging numb bum. Also, it was very hot and quite humid so we needed to stop and take a drink. I have learned from past experience that dehydration creeps up on you quickly on biking expeditions and so water discipline is vital, even if you are not thirsty.

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Bikes parked outside our room at Yasmine’s place in Colombo

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All ready to go …..but first more tea …. my passport says I’m British and it is Ceylon after all!

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Off we go…. a nice anti clockwise trip around southern Sri Lanka

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Not something you see everyday

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And coming to a grinding stop …. less than 50 kilometers into the trip to get carburetor jets cleaned by side of road. And a piece of wood wedged in to stop the plastic panniers melting on the exhaust. See we have done this before!!

 

 

The route out of Colombo and onto the coastal road to Galle, about 170 kilometers away, was like many we had done in third world cities where the locals drive badly and the police don’t care.

Slow and steady wins the race, keep away from nutters, animals and moving lumps of metal, and shout a lot. The shouting is actually pointless, but makes me feel better. Even fanny does it now in various languages.

Our host Yasmine had warned us that the driving could be interesting, and that the arch deacons of terrible driving were the buses.  My goodness, how right she was.

There were two types of bus… a blue one with a man hanging out the door waving his arms and shouting a lot, and a silver one with lots of chrome and lights … but without a man hanging out the door.

They are both awful, but the blue bus particularly so.

I don’t know what the Sinhalese or Tamil is for, ‘get out the friggin’ way… we’re coming through’, but I guess that was what the “hanging out man” was employed to scream at everyone as the bus continually cut everyone up.

It was difficult to get really road raged at Sri Lankan drivers whatever road genocide they seemed to be up to because they were so damned friendly and smiled all the time.

There was quite a lot of Indian style wobbly head, arms waving, and shouting things like ‘What for you kicking my dog calling him fuck off‘ … but in a very friendly and smiley way that immediately dampened any annoyance and made me laugh…even as they attempted to impale us on their front bumpers.

For Fanny?  Nothing unusual… just like a normal day riding in Shanghai. I think she was enjoying it!

About half way down the coastal road my bike stopped and I could see petrol pouring out of the carburetor and dripping straight onto the red hot engine. Holy shit?

After standing well back, scratching my chin and thinking aloud, ‘that’s not good’ over and over again a crowd gathered. After a general consultation with most of Sri Lanka in several languages I didn’t understand, it was opined that the jets were blocked.

We were told that for about 500 Sri Lankan Rupees (a quid or so) any street side mechanic, of which there seemed to be many, could fix it …and that’s what happened. Bike sorted…off we go again.

My bike was not a good specimen of motorcycle. It was 1990s purply blue in colour with those daft graphics they used in those days, and everything was in poor condition. The clutch, the brakes, the engine, the suspension, the bearings, the tyres, every cable, the bodywork, the pegs, the levers, controls, hand grips, ….. everything. I had to keep saying to myself, ‘its still going and its not mine’,  ‘its still going and in 10, 9, 8, etc… days I will never see it again’.

Fanny on the other hand seemed to really like her bike with its non perpendicular handlebars and bent levers.  ‘How’s your bike?’, I would ask her all the time.

‘Fine’, came back the answer every time.

As far as Fanny is concerned, she rarely gets upset by anything… all part of life’s rich tapestry is her mantra. If it goes… all is fine.

I did, however, have to rescue her a few times at traffic intersections when her bike stalled and she couldn’t get it started again.  These Hondas will only start in neutral, not as KTMs and most other bikes will do with the clutch engaged in any gear. The gears were so clunky and stiff to click up and down, and with no green neutral indicator working, it required some serious manual labour and bikers tradecraft to locate neutral and get going again.

The Baja engine is a single piston 250cc, has a simple carburetor,  the frame is quite big in size, and to be honest more than fast enough for everywhere we went to in Sri Lanka. Its just they were both in such a shabby state that I thought mine was going to break down all the time. It also sounded awful…just like a motorcycle about to break down… but it didn’t.

One of the reasons for the noise was that the drive chains were bone dry and hadn’t been oiled, ever.

We were explicitly told not to oil the chains, the reason given that they had ‘O’ rings that would get damaged by oil.  Of course, this was nonsense.

I was unable to tune out the dreadful noise my bike was making as its crunched, screeched  and scraped along and so as soon as I could I put both the bikes and ourselves out of our misery and doused both chains in oil.  Lots of it.

Better.

 

 

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I don’t think elephants or human females should have to wear body covers and masks.  A very bling burka nonetheless.

 

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Sri Lanka … a colourful surprise around every corner

 

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Demonstration ….  “Elephant lives matter”.

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A bit of gravel

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A quid to fix the carburetor and clean the jets

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The Baja is a great bike. Good engine. Some strange quirks, though. For instance the engine oil is poured into a filler in the bike frame near the handle bars… never seen that before.

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Arriving in the Old Fort at Galle on southern coast.

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Street dancing procession… very lively, colourful and loud!

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One of many temples we saw here and there.

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Fanny and her silver XR Baja

 

 

We arrived in Galle by late afternoon and rode around looking at the ancient walled fort, built by the Dutch many centuries ago.

When we got there it was packed with tourists, many from China who were doing the things Chinese seem to do everywhere. Posing for photographs in borrowed traditional clothing, doing ‘V’ signs (??) and repeatedly jumping in the air to get that “joyous jumping in the air” picture to put on Weibo (Chinese Facebook). One person does it… they all do it.

We thought of booking a place in Galle, but the few rooms we saw were a bit grim and expensive and so Fanny found a really nice hotel about 10 kilometers out of town that had a seafood restaurant serving the Sri Lankan specialty of chili mangrove crabs.

A very very happy Fanny indeed.

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Lots of churches

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Galle lighthouse

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Pretty streets and historic buildings in old Galle

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Exploring the walled fort

 

After Galle we headed along the south coast road to Dickwella. Not the greatest name I have ever heard for a place, but as it turned out it was a small coastal town with a beautiful beach in a secluded horseshoe bay. Fanny again did her research magic and booked us into a boutique hotel called “Salt”.

Here we idled about, swam in the sea, read books, Fanny had some body massages, we ambled about on the beach and along trails, ate every hour, and drank continuously.

The rooms at Salt were very tastefully designed with open to the elements bathrooms and semi open bedrooms, in the sense they only had three walls. Quite a few mosquitoes so the fan and mosquito net was really needed.  Sort of luxury camping.

On the top floor was an open plan lounge/bar that served very tasty meals and drinks by very attentive and friendly staff. Simple and stylish. Web link below.

http://www.salthousesrilanka.net/

I am not much of a beach person, nor is Fanny, but we can say this is one of the best beach locations we have ever been to and we will definitely go back for a short break in the future, provided that the commercial developers don’t ruin it.

We discovered the Indian 傻逼 who got me fired from my job in Hong Kong a decade or so ago was building a resort in Dickwella to add to his collection of Monopoly board hotels around the World. Would I like to send him a message, Fanny asked me?  No I friggin’ wouldn’t.

 

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Dickwella…. Horseshoe Bay

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Fanny starts her transition from a light skinned person to a very dark person within 48 hours. I on the other hand went from light pink with red spots to dark pink with red patches.

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For some bizarre reason … the dogs found me and followed me around for the whole stay. To Fanny’s amazement this always happens where ever we go…from China to Asia to Africa.  I had a pack of pugs follow me for 3 days across Sichuan and Yunnan once. Pugs!

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Warm sea, blue skies, the sound of breeze in palm trees, a book, a hammock, shade and beer….  Idling 101.

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Tea, fresh local fruit and buffalo curd… nice

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Breakfast looking at us

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A particularly gormless expression … That’s me .. not the dog.

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Ms Fang enjoying herself

 

 

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Yes… I have barely moved

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Like Thailand 30 years ago

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Tea anyone?

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We ran into a 3 meter snake on the road. I was jumping around  and screaming like a 3 year old girl as it slithered over my flipflops. The snake didn’t seem to care.

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Time to get going again after a relaxing beachy thing and head to Yala…. a large National Park in the south of Sri Lanka

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More elephants…

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South Coast

 

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‘That will be two bananas for guarding the bikes’

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Hello

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Wild coastline near Yala… reminds me of Overberg in South Africa where we have a house

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The pool at our place in Yala

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Going for a drive in Yala Nature Reserve… lots of elephants and a few leopards

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Even on the beach

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Packed his truck for the seaside

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Huts we lived in on beach near Yala

 

 

 

On the way to Yala National Park we ran into a police road block. As we approached a police officer noticed us and he raised his arm, and so thinking on my feet, or my numb bum more accurately, I employed Rupert’s police avoidance technique and waved enthusiastically back at him and smiled inanely.

As we passed the rather astounded and clearly flustered officer I allowed Fanny to pull up along side me and instructed her, ‘Don’t stop’ and we sped up somewhat as I plotted an escape along less obvious roads to Yala.  I never pay bribes.

We found a pretty swanky apartment right on the beach next to the main gate of the national park, again found by Fanny using online accommodation apps like Expedia and Air BnB. Always much cheaper to book online and you can check the reviews.

I did some investigation near the entrance of the game park and found some local boys who would give us a safari tour in a game viewer at a fraction of the cost being offered by the hotel.

Having been to Kafue, South Luangwa,  Chobe, Okavango Delta, Masai Mara, Etoshe, Kruger, Serengeti, Lake Charla, Ngorogoro Crater, Kilimajaro, etc… we were prepared to be a bit underwhelmed, but to our delight the park was really good.

Yala is mainly famous for leopards and Asian elephants. Alas,  we didn’t get close enough to see any leopards, but there were lots of elephants that for some reason in my mind I thought would be more even tempered than their African cousins.

Much to my absolute delight, and I have to say one of the funniest things I have ever seen, we spotted an elephant ambling along on a beautiful beach. This was too much of a photo opportunity to miss and a bus load of Fujian and Zhejiang peasants (Fanny assured me they were from their appearance and accents) rushed up to the elephant and started snapping away and making a lot of noise.

The elephant clearly took exception to these ivory and rhino horn smuggling 傻逼 and let out a roar that would put its African cousins to shame. It then started chasing after the Chinese whose little legs couldn’t move quick enough in the sand.

Cameras and selfie sticks went flying as they ran away in panic to their bus. The local tour guides rushed into action to shoo the elephant away as I was wiping tears from my eyes. This is too good. I couldn’t help myself as I told one group of thuggish looking Fujian “xiang ba lao” dog eaters that it was karma for all the environmental plunder and ivory smuggling they inflicted on the planet.

They looked absolutely crest-fallen…. not least for being laughed at by a Chinese speaking European.

Brilliant…

The safari got even better as the sun started to fade and we saw other animals emerge from the bush and many beautiful indigenous birds. What could be better…. Chinese being chased by elephants and seeing a beautiful green Sri Lankan Bee-eater swooping the skies catching,  bees, I guess.

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Yala beach house

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Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) , perched on twig in forest, Yala West National Park, Sri Lanka

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Visit by a monitor lizard while we were having lunch

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oink oink

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Bit of lunch and time to move on to the mountains

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One of many waterfalls we see as we climb up to over 2000 meters into the central mountains

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Stopping off for coffee in a place called Ella in the hills. It was full of the hippy traveling types that you always encounter in certain parts of Asia. Lots of banana pancakes, lardy pretend effnic food, body piercings, tattoos, Bob Marley on the stereo and more baggy bright hippy uniforms than you can shake a stick at. Not my cup of tea.  Nor fanny’s … so we move on!

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Funny Fanny

 

 

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Not a bad view …Ramboda

 

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View from our hotel room window in Ramboda

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Looks like the Lake District in England.. or Wales perhaps. It is raining after all.

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Long hike up the hill in the rain to the Mackwood tea plantations

 

 

The ride from the hot sunny south coast of Sri Lanka to the cool misty mountainous interior couldn’t have been more dramatic. Within a few hours we rode up nearly 3000 meters, and the temperature dropped from 35 degrees to about 14 degrees….and it started raining. All in 200 kilometers. Some of the time in thick cloud as we rode up and down the twisty roads surrounded by lush green tea plantations.

We stayed at a hotel in Ramboda perched on the hillside with spectacular views of waterfalls and valleys.

The food in the hotel was the usual tourist buffet fodder and so we explored the local villages and ate authentic local dhal, roti, pol sambol, rice noodles, veggies and curries. As usual we had to persuade the waiters and shop owners that we wanted the real deal, not the tourist slop. ‘Are you sure?’, they would always ask. ‘Absolutely… don’t spare the chili and spice and leave the heads on’.

One of our greatest joys traveling around the world is eating local authentic food and its one of the reasons I would struggle living back in Blighty again. I know I always make a fuss about western food being so bad, but with rare exceptions it usually is. The vast majority of my countrymen treat mealtimes like some unpleasant chore and feel guilty for being hungry. They make one concession to healthy eating… the salad.

By contrast, eating in Asia is a joyous occasion and Asians treat food very seriously. With the exception of the Philippines (yes, you know its true), food across the whole of the Asia Pacific is exciting and delicious. I have tried to educate my western friends and relatives about the merits of authentic Asian cuisine but they usually respond with exaggerated theatrics, glaring accusingly at their huang hua yu and yelling, ‘Its looking at me’, or  ‘I ate a chili –I can’t breathe’.

This all said, I would like to point out to my sister Amanda, and her daughter Sally, that my disdain for western food does not apply to cake…. or pudding.  Heaven forbid.

We explored the local tea plantations and at one place called Mackwood we saw how the tea was made and sampled a few cups of rosie leaf, with chocolate cake. There was a flow diagram on the wall of the factory that explained the eight stages of tea production and I am almost sure its the same chart Ms Hingorani, my school teacher at the Holy Rosary Primary School, used in a lesson about tea manufacture some 45 years ago. Maybe there are somethings that never need to change.

We had taken a tut tut scooter taxi up the mountain as it was a fair hike and raining hard, but on the way back we decided to spend the whole afternoon hiking 15 kms back to the hotel through the tea plantations and alongside the waterfalls. Very interesting.

The following day we decided to ride to Kandy in the center of Sri Lanka and have a look  at the temples and Buddhist relics and then ride along the country lanes back to Colombo. Our advise to anyone wanting to do a motorcycle ride in Sri Lanka, or anywhere else for that matter, is to set the route to all the “B” roads or less. This can be done on some GPS navigation programs in the route menu, but its better to plan the route ahead by setting way-points to avoid congested and hectic main roads. You see more and its much more enjoyable.

The bikes were still ticking along OK, although no more comfortable, but they had done the job and so far nothing had crashed into us, despite a few close shaves.  As we took a break I asked Fanny what she wanted to do for the next few days. She said she wanted to return the bikes and go back to Yasmine’s house and relax.

Wow… just what I wanted to do too.

We telephoned Yasmine and she had a couple from Canada in the guest house we had stayed in previously, but she said we could stay in a spare room in the main house…a beautiful room like the rest of her house. Very stylish and tasteful.

The bike shop we hired the Hondas from were less than accommodating and said, ‘a contract is a contract’,  and they would not return the balance of the rental. Really?  Yes, really.  After so many years I should have realized what these types are like. Always friendly when taking your money… not so much if you ask for it back.  Suan le ba?

So, the rest of the few days we had in Sri Lanka we relaxed in the peaceful gardens of Yasmine’s home and explored around Colombo, eating chili crabs and mooching around the shops and back streets.

Sri Lanka is a great place. Very friendly people, some absolute gems of places to see, tropical sunny weather, lots of elephants, cheap and excellent food.

Would we do it on a motorbike again? Perhaps not. But thanks to the British Empire and its talented Victorian engineers if we ever came back to Sri Lanka we will get around like the locals…..  by train.

 

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Nice view from the bog.

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Goodbye Bajas… you made it…just

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My riding partner

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Back at Yasmines with Kumari, our excellent chef. Thanks Kumari.

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Oh go on… another meal!

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Bit of warm rain from the monsoon that was affecting the west of Sri Lanka and India

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I have no idea what Fanny is doing. Sitting on a throne?

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Exploring Colombo

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Buying tea

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Colombo … will not look the same in 5 years for sure.

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Wandering around Colombo

 

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Sundowner in the sky lounge of a hotel in Colombo

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Our last sunset in Sri Lanka … for now

 

 

 

Next Chapter ….. Colorado and Utah BDR on a Honda Africa Twin

 

 

 

 

Chapter 34 – Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin in Wales

With all our KTMs now sold, and perhaps a few expeditions on the horizon, we have been taking a serious look at the new Honda Africa Twin.

Honda Africa Twin

The new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin.

 

Honda Africa Twin

The old Honda XRV 750 Africa Twin

 

 

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A Royal Hong Kong Police Honda CBX 750 leaving Happy Valley Police Station, similar to the one I rode everyday as Senior Inspector Operations Hong Kong Island in mid 1990s.  A truly awful posting as I had no interest handing out traffic tickets, or mopping up blood and guts at accidents… but I did get to play around on a bike all day.

 

 

I briefly had a Honda Africa Twin in the early 1990s when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police, but I have to say I didn’t care for it that much.  It was just too lethargic and dull.

Besides, I already rode a slow and heavy Honda for up to seven hours every day as a traffic cop and didn’t need another one.

In those days I was a bit of a speed freak and so I quickly replaced the Africa Twin with a Yamaha 1200 Vmax upon which I cahooned about Hong Kong as fast as I could.

My attempts to go faster were helped with a Kawasaki ZXR 750,  the ridiculously quick Suzuki GSX 1300 R Hayabusa,  a Honda CBR 900 RR Fireblade, and of course my maddest bike ever, a tuned up “racing spec” Yamaha YZF-R1.

With all these fast racing bikes, leaping off cliffs with my paraglider, insane Mrs Utley, and Yip Kai Foon and his triads all trying to kill me, I am surprised I am still around.

Later when I got into long distance motorcycle expeditions I was fortunate to get hold of a superb KTM 990 Adventure, and stuck with KTM for over a decade, with a few Kawasaki KLRs here and there.

Now, the Honda Africa Twin is back and on paper it ticks all the boxes. It is certainly getting glowing reviews from the increasing band of owners.

http://www.motorcyclenews.com/bike-reviews/honda/crf1000l-africa-twin/2016/

But how good is it really?

The only way to know is a test ride, and the best I know of is the off road course offered by the Honda Adventure Centre in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.

http://hondaadventurecentre.com/the-courses/

I rather optimistically chose to go to the UK in June, hoping that the weather would be kind and that the two sunny days of a British summer would coincide with my visit back to the mother-ship. Also, I planned to go to Florence… but I’ll explain that later.

I flew from Hong Kong to Gatwick via Dubai, and then suffered the dreadfully unreliable and painfully slow Southern Railways train to Bexhill on the south coast where I picked up my KTM 990 SMT. After doing some work (yes, I do some occasionally) I then booked my place on the next available course in Wales, and then after finishing a work report I rode to Merthyr Tydfil.

I brought my tent and sleeping bag as I planned to camp, but as soon as I crossed the Severn River the skys turned grey and it just never stopped raining and so I threw in the towel and checked into the designated hotel where I met some of the other riders who were joining the Honda Adventure course.

 

 

 

There are three levels of off road course offered by the Honda Centre in Wales and each lasts two days and takes place in the forests and trails within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National park.

The new Africa Twin comes in two forms and we got a chance to try both. The most radical version being the DCT  (automatic gearbox with sequential gear changing paddle on the left hand-grip ) and also the more usual 6 speed manual gearbox version with a clutch that purists like myself feel more inclined to ride. All the UK bikes come with ABS and three levels of traction control.

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A flock of Africa Twins lined up outside the Honda Centre in Merthyr Tydfil.

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My bike, #17 for two days. As they say, the best off road vehicle is someone else’s.

 

 

 

 

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Briefings, bikes, rain, chocolate bars and lots of mud

 

 

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Our playground…. Nice.

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I call this “taking a picture of myself and my bike”.

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Yes… I like this bike.

 

 

So how did it handle?  How does it compare with the KTM 990 Adventure R and KTM 1190 Adventure R?

Very simply, I liked the Africa Twin so much I will get one.

In the UK the Africa Twin comes in black/grey; white/red/blue; and red/white/black. All look good and the black/grey actually looks better in the flesh than in the pictures. However, the gold wheels and classic rally look on the white/red/blue probably sway this particular colour scheme for me. 

With 232Kgs and only 94 BHP the Africa twin’s power to weight ratio is not that special, however I found the bike to be very nimble and more than fast enough. In fact, its weight is deceptive and it handled like a much smaller enduro bike off road, and like a good touring bike on the tarmac. Even with a big 21 inch front it corners round the bends extremely well. A lot of R&D has gone into its design, it has a very low center of gravity and is extremely well balanced.

Its also a very comfortable bike, the seat is just right for me and can be adjusted, the handle bars and riding position couldn’t be better. And the exhaust note ? yep…not bad at all given all the EU restrictions on modern motorcycles.

I threw it around in the mud and trails pretty competently after I got the hang of adjusting the traction control and ABS whilst on the hoof. The only time you are aware of the weight is when you are going down steep wet slippy slopes and even then I had no problems. In the mud, water and gravel it charges around like a smaller enduro bike giving the rider bags of confidence. And its a lot of fun.

Could I see myself riding one around the world on every surface Planet Earth has to offer?

Absolutely.

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The red one … with the DCT

 

So, what was the DCT bike like?

At first a bit strange, not least because there is no clutch. The rev and go “Honda 90″ feel quickly disappears when you open up the throttle and it charges off over the rocks and mud pools like a Dakar Rally bike.  Clucking Bell!

Allegedly, the automatic gearbox can change gear more efficiently than Guy Martin or Valentino Rossi and I strained my ears to hear the gears actually change, but all I noticed was the indicator on the display flicking up through the numbers. There are various settings to alter at what engine revs the gears actually change …”sports”  “road” etc.

On the manual version bike I rarely got out of 2nd gear,  occasionally 3rd,  on the Welsh trails, but I noticed that the DCT  bike quickly went through the gears up to 6th. A bit strange to be in 6th at a relatively slow speed off road, but seemed to work.

There is a sequential gear shift paddle like on high performance sports cars if you want to manually change gears. Suffice to say, I got used to it reasonably quickly, and against my initial reservations, I thought it was actually pretty good.  The DCT will certainly improve most people’s riding ability.

 

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Usual layout, although I kept pressing the horn instead of canceling the indicators. Even after two days I was still honking people when I completed a turn.

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Not dropped it yet…but I will later

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That’s what it looks like underneath

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Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

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There is definitely something missing on that bike!

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Waiting in turn to roar up a hill … steeper than it looks.

 

Below are a few videos from Youtube of the very muddy course I was on in Wales.

BTW- I am on Bike #17 with number plate index RX16 KXV – black boots and DPM style Arai Helmet.

Great fun… and many thanks to Steve for taking, editing, narrating  and publishing the video.

 

 

 

 

 

Well all good things come to an end until you start more good things. I really enjoyed the course and made some good friends. Importantly, the Africa Twin was all I hoped it to be and more. I am sure Fanny will love riding it too and we have it penciled in for the next big one, unless the new KTM 800 Adventure steals a lead.

In fact, I will be riding one fairly soon along the BDR in Utah and Colorado with my friend, John Drury, although I am not sure if the US Africa Twins have traction control.  We will see.

http://www.backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com/COBDR

So, what to do now?

Well since I was in Wales and the rain had stopped briefly I decided to go on a ride…a  ride to Touratech in South Wales in fact to have a look at all their toys.

When I arrived at Touratech in a place beginning with a Y and no vowels I asked where the Africa Twin was with all the Touratech add-ons? I was told all their bikes had been taken to the Horizons Unlimited gathering near Hereford and so that’s where I went next.

A great ride as always across Wales and when I arrived at the HUBB meeting I could see the usual swarm of adventure and touring motorcycles, a few stalls and a noticeably middle aged crowd. I had not booked a place, but a very nice lady signed me in at 60 quid for one nights camping in a wet field! Britain, huh?

Oh well, I did manage to meet the Dakar legend, Nick Plumb in the flesh and so it was worth it.

 

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Nice

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Nick Plumb’s BMW Dakar bike…. Amazing

 

 

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Meeting the legendary Dakar rider Nick Plumb.

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A Touratech’ed up Africa Twin … I should coco.

 

I also saw Alex Jackson from Kaapstad tours, and some other commercial motorcycle tour operators who had their stalls set up and were doing their marketing thing.  I expect its a tough old life trying to sell motorcycle tours to independent minded motorcycle adventurers. A bit like selling ice to Eskimos I suppose.

I was bouncing around telling Alex and his “aw wight aw wight inch yaa” business partner I had met Nick Plumb and was waxing lyrical about how he had completed the Dakar ….twice, and featured on the Charlie Boorman “Race to Dakar” TV Series.

He didn’t seem impressed. How can you not be impressed?

To me completing the Dakar on a rally motorcycle is the all time achievement …second only to walking on the moon. I would love to do it myself and have the utmost respect for anyone who has and I was truly honoured to meet Nick Plumb.

Horizons Unlimited is a strange and wonderful gathering of rather odd people. There are a few “Round The World” motorcycling legends sharing their stories, some interesting presentations for budding adventurers, some very nice motorcycles to look at, and most importantly a bar.

For the large part though, its like a village hall lawn bowls committee meeting, except with leather tassels and smelling faintly of damp nylon and exhaust fumes.

 

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My sixty quid a night wet camping patch… really?

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Well.. lets call it “checking my kit” for my Colorado and Utah BDR expedition in September, although I don’t think I need any more practice putting up a tent.

 

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I only went in as I bought some raffles tickets. Did I win anything? An Austin Vince mug? A Sam Manicom book? A Charlie Boorman video? A years supply of teabags? Nope. Zip.

 

This was my last jolly on my KTM 990 SMT as I decided to sell it to my mate, Nick Dobson who has been looking after it in England for the last three years. It is always sad to say goodbye to a bike, and it has been a truly awesome bike.

One of the deciding factors to part company with a UK plated bike was that I lost my temper with Bennetts, the British firm I insure my bike with as I (Nick actually) missed the automatic renewal date by three days and so they said I have to go through the whole rigmarole of getting a new quote ….and pay a premium of a hundred quid (72%) a year more than the previous year despite no accidents or incidents.

The complete moron I spoke to on the telephone from Bennetts said he must ask me all the questions again. ALL OF THEM. And in his annoying regional accent and Millennial grammar.

Again?

Yes again.

I said he must be joking, but he insisted he must ask the questions without interruption,  despite the obvious “jobs worthy” ridiculousness of the whole thing.

He was half way through his, ‘I MUST finish the question….have you had any… blah blah blah?’ when I told him quite descriptively what he could do with his quote … and hung up.

That was annoying, I thought, I will have to sell my bike now.

In actual fact, I had pretty much decided to sell my bike as riding it for just two weeks out of fifty-two really isn’t a good reason to keep a motorcycle in the UK, and I was starting to go through one of my “England’s a real dump” episodes which was bolstered by a combination of the awful weather, the awful traffic jams, the truly awful food, having to look at fat orange people with tattoos and piercings, Nick’s mum scaring the crap out of me … AND …a particularly disturbing and unpleasant visit to Starbucks in Pevensy in East Sussex.

They were all signs from the Soul of the Universe to sell my KTM and move on .

 

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Nick!  Can I borrow your bike?

 

One of the reasons I booked a ticket to England was that Ducati had informed me I was shortlisted to ride their new Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro on a leg of their Globetrotter round the world marketing trip and invited me to go to Florence for a final selection. Therefore, I headed to the UK to pick up my bike as I had planned an interesting ride through Europe to Italy.

Having purchased my air-ticket I was told by Ducati they thought I was too young and handsome to ride their motorcycle and so I was unceremoniously “cut” from the event. A bit harsh I thought, but on reflection the whole thing sounded like a bit of a faff.

I had Sri Lanka and USA biking expeditions coming up, and this Ducati marketing thing was more costly and inconvenient than I initially anticipated and so I wasn’t too disappointed.

I suspect Ducati have messed up a bit. Seven contented adventure riders, and at the same time 4993 really “pissed off” adventure riders who are probably evaluating buying a Honda Africa twin now. Must have learned their marketing skills from KTM!!

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Not a Ducati

 

As I had finished the Honda Africa Twin off road course and had no reason or desire to hang about in the UK I decided to go back home to Hong Kong, but I couldn’t change my ticket without a costly surcharge.

As none of my relatives like me very much and I had nowhere really to go, I had to find a place to stay for a few days.  I had my tent but it was still raining a lot and in England its really difficult to camp as everywhere is private or off limits.  Luckily, I found a  Lapland style wooden hut in the middle of Dorset … in fact in the garden of April Cottage near Harman’s Cross.

http://www.dorsetbedandbreakfasts.co.uk/april-cottage.htm

My sort of place. Run by a super chap called Peter from Switzerland and his lovely wife, Joanna, it was a great place to stay, write up some reports for work, and explore the Purbeck Way and Dorset coastline, even in the rain.

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Sleeping on reindeer skins in a Lapland wooden hut in Dorset.

 

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My sister’s house in Poole.

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My pretty niece Sophia in Poole…

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And my other pretty but slightly bonkers niece, Jessie

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On one of my runs near Swanage

 

I believe Botox works wonders