Riding around Sicily …….on a scooter

So anyway…

Fanny and I spent June riding through France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.  Fanny on her bright green Kawasaki ER6F and me on a KTM 990 SMT.

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Fanny somewhere along the Simplon Pass in Switzerland

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Me on the KTM in Chamonix

But before Fanny flew out from China to join me, I decided to fly out to Sicily and hire a scooter to explore the island.

I had been working really hard over the previous year and was a bit tired after the Coast to Coast yomp across northern England. Also, I had nowhere really to go having been unceremoniously kicked out onto the streets and subjected to unnecessary nonsense and drama by the evil Ayatollah of Wimborne and my 怕老婆小弟弟.

So, Sicily it is.

I booked a cheap and very basic British Airways flight from Gatwick to Catania, together with what seemed to be the entire lower middle middle class of Great Britain (as John Cleese would describe). Common people going to Spain, the lower middle middle class to Sicily, and the upper middle middle class to Cornwall. Or so it seemed.

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A few “tornadoes” to tackle on the scooter in central Sicily.

 

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I rode the east, south and central parts of Sicily and visited most of the tourists spots, like Catania, Siracusa, Etna, Modica, Taormina etc… All lovely, but my favourite by far was central Sicily, and in particular Agira that I found so beautiful and peaceful.

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Breakfast!!    So, the general plan was during the two weeks in Sicily to ride (a bit only), drink copious amounts of coffee, eat gelato or raspberry sorbet, look about at stuff, amuse locals with my three Italian words, ride a bit more… and then stop for a beer or two.  A tad lonely without Fanny, but the locals were very friendly and kind.

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Set a route on Google maps on my Apple telephone and then generally ignore it! I loved the back roads pootling about at 30- 40 kph in the hot sunshine

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Catania… very pleasant.

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The Italians absolutely love parades. It gives them a chance to dress up and prance about. It also gives old people something to do between idling about outside cafes

Honda 125 scooter

The beast… my transport for 2 weeks. Brakes didn’t work very well, oil light was on the whole time (not my engine), but apart from that .. perfect for the job.

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Rode up the twisties to Mount Etna and then an unnecessary 4×4 taxi truck for final leg up to the crater. It was asleep.

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Lots of charming old towns and lanes across all of Sicily

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Very charming, indeed

 

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A beer and a good book, relaxing in a street cafe enjoying perfect weather …. a proper holiday

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Different book and a different drink…. same idling about though

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View from my room in Agari… Mt Etna and a plume of smoke in the far distance. By far the nicest place I stayed. It had a 9.7 rating on the booking.com and trip advisor. I could see why.

 

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Looking down from my room …. very nice. After its been hoovered or what ever they were doing for me I spent a relaxing afternoon reading, drinking and swimming.

 

Link to Facebook videos that I live streamed while riding here and there. Bit boring for everyone else, but a lovely reminder to me… and that’s what matters.

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Morning coffee on my patio roof garden before heading off to explore again on the scooter

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I don’t normally like swimming pools as I always find a discarded Band Aid plaster stuck to my forehead when I get out… but I make an exception with this one. I was the only guest, too!

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I enjoyed the flora and fauna … reminded me a lot of South Africa

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Only two good days with a boat. The day you buy it, and the day you sell it.

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Perhaps if you owned this one, such worries about money don’t apply… just other worries instead.

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A lot of churches and cathedrals in Sicily. This is just one of hundreds I stupidly photographed.  I realised when I got home and flicked through the album that they all look the same.

Links to Facebook videos I live streamed as I mooched about:

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South coast of Sicily … I stayed in a lovely B&B

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Central Sicily … with Mount Etna always somewhere in the background. Hot, dry, nice breeze, smelt awesome.

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Lots of hill towns … all very charming and relaxed … except the rowdy scooter boys of course.

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So, I get tempted by a very pretty Sicilian lady (aren’t they all) to a  selection of cheeses and salamis …with beer of course. If I remember there was donkey salami, goat cheese, Sheep cheese, the local stuff (delicious)

 

Another short clip from Facebook Live …. needs reducing

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Another B&B … all found with booking.com and very reasonable

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Which reminds me —-The Mayor of Sheffield —- what an arse. It pleases me no end that I spend so little time in England.

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The bars in the early evening serve food with your drink….so much so that there is no room for dinner!! In fact, I was told that bars compete with each other to attract customers. Good stuff.. I like a bit of healthy competition and a free bun

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A nice evening setting. Popular with tourists. Food pretty good. Beer excellent.

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I am rather fond of mooching around piazzas

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A uniform so smart it has a PhD from Oxford

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East Sicily — just north of Catania

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It is Italy after all

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Veal … and a surprisingly good orange and onion salad … strange but tasty

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sword fish … not best I’ve had… but OK

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If I am giving the impression all I do is drink beer and idle about … that would be about right.

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Pretty streets … we have these plants in Hong Kong… but no where near as lovely

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Oooh! cakes and pastries

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Nun today and none tomorrow … still keeps the old biddies off the streets

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A visit to the Canadian war cemetery near Agari. Beautifully kept and a poignant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice our ancestors made for our freedom. Sicily was the location of some fierce fighting in WWII and many soldiers on both sides died.  My Great Uncle Jim (Major James Utley) was there, albeit a staff officer like Captain Darling. He later became Papal Ambassador and lived in the Vatican until he was murdered. A book there somewhere.

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Always charming. I like Italy more and more. I revisit a few weeks later with Fanny on our bikes, but the north and east parts. Very lovely.

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A gaggle of original Fiat 500s – “cinquecento”

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woof!

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Bit of an orgy going on there

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This dog was not sure of me at all.

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Some Germans on Harleys … and a Honda scooter!!

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It seems to be a field full of paw paws

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Traveling light … the best way

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All is perfectly fine

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Right … back on the plane and landing at Gatwick at 2.30 am !!! No trains or buses and so quite an adventure to get home.

A really really good trip. I really liked Sicily. Must take Fanny there…. or even buy “that” villa near Agari one day.

 

The Best and Worst Awards

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

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

MOST ENJOYABLE COUNTRY AWARD

AFRICA – TANZANIA

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

The highlights:

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

Riding towards Ngorogoro Crater

Snow peaked mountains in Tanzania

Lake Charla … elephants at the water hole

Lake Charla

Taking a ride on a Dhow in Zanzibar

Lake Charla with foothills of Kilimajaro in the background…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

WORST COUNTRY AWARD 

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

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

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

It was tiresome, annoying and ever so slightly sad.

Meeting fellow bikers heading south at Ethiopian/ Sudan border

The former and now derelict train station in Addis Ababa

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

Fanny surrounded by little friends in north west Ethiopia

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE AWARD – SUDAN.

Sudan was our biggest surprise and we thoroughly recommend visiting.

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

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

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

Long sand roads .. and scorching heat in Sudan

Very friendly people

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

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

Fanny with the guys who helped us repair her bike

Yes… there are pyramids in Sudan too

 

 

 

 

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Pyramids in Sudan

 

 

WORST EXPERIENCES 

We never really had any very bad experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South America?   That remains an adventure for the future.

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

BEST CITY AWARD

AFRICA – DAR ES SALAAM 

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

A dhow in Zanzibar

Having a coffee in a street in Zanzibar

Dar es Salem from the ferry

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EUROPE – Istanbul

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

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

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

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Enjoying the cafes of Istanbul

 

 

 

ASIA/China – LHASA (followed by CHENGDU) 

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

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

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

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

Me outside the most sacred temple in Lhasa

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

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Just outside Lhasa in Tibet

 

An interesting picture on many levels

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

WORST CITY

Africa – Addis Ababa  … 

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

Bus station in Addis Ababa

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

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

ASIA – CHINA 

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

Take your pick.

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

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

Urban off roading

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

WORST FLEAS, TICKS & LICEETHIOPIA

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

“No” Best Flea Award….unsurprisingly!

 

BEST DRIVING STANDARD AWARDS –

Africa …South Africa (Western Cape)

Europe … Germany

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

Asia …  Japan

 

WORST DRIVING AWARDS –

Africa ….Egypt

Europe …. Italy

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

 

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

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

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

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

Me and my KTM at the Great Pyramids

 

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

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

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION –

Africa …..Namibia/Tanzania

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

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

Fanny cruising along the gravel roads in the Namib desert

 

left or right?

Left or right?  Freedom to do whatever.

 

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

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

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

West Scotland

 

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

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

 

ASIA …. Tibet and Cardomom mountains in Cambodia

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

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

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Namib desert

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

Yak 1000 Adventure

 USA – Valley of Gods, Utah

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

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Valley of Gods on Honda Africa Twin (BDR Utah)

 

WORST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION AWARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BEST CAMPSITES:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

2867

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.

img_5780

Camping with lamas in east Tibet

 

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping on the shores of Nam Tso, Tibet

 

WORST CAMPSITES .

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEST FOOD AWARD

Africa ….  Egypt

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

Lots of great street food in Egypt and Sudan

Back streets of Cairo

Lunch in Hurgharda

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

 

Europe … Turkey 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

China – overall winner by a long way…..

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

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

We and 1.4 billion others think so anyway..

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

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

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

Sichuan street food

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

Yunnan food

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

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

WORST FOOD AWARDS

Worst food in Africa – Malawi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its a good thing when you’re hungry.

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

BEST BEER AWARDS

Africa – Namibia – Windhoek beer.

Windhoek

 

 

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

Nice

Marston’s Pedigree – from Burton on Trent

China – Tsingdao beer  青岛啤酒)

tsingdao

Tsing Dao from Qingdao, China

 

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

Ouch!

BEST GAME PARK  AWARDS

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

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

2. South Luangwa (Zambia).

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

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

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

 

BEST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

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

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

http://www.facebook.com/H2ODiversDahab

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

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

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

WORST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

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

BEST MOUNTAINS & VALLEYS

Africa – Ethiopia and Lesotho

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

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

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

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

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

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

West coast of Scotland

West coast of Scotland

 

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

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

Guangxi 广西。

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

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

The Himalayas... what can you say?

The Himalayas… what can you say?

 

BEST BORDER CROSSING –

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

Europeall easy

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

WORST BORDER CROSSING 

1st Egypt and 2nd Sudan.

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

LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Botswana

Europe – Austria

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

MOST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Egypt

Europe – Italy

Asia – China

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

An anecdote from our first day in Egypt:

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

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

Policeman ‘What in bag?’

Me ‘ Our things’

Policeman ‘ Open up’

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

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

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

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

Policeman to Fanny ‘Where you come from?’

Fanny ‘China’

Policeman to Fanny ‘ You got present for me?’

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOISIEST COUNTRY AWARDS  – Sudan followed by China and Egypt.

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

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

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

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

China?

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

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

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

 

MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY AWARD – Namibia

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

dscn0792

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

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

Chapter 28 – The UK revisited – on a KTM 990 SMT

The Summer of 2013

The Brits dominating the world sporting scene with wins in the Tour de France, The Lion’s rugby tour, Wimbledon, AND the Ashes…..  and glorious weather!!

Can it last? Of course not, English sport will settle back to its usual disappointing form, and the weather is bound to change.

But not in the summer of 2013…it could not have been better. The British people were in a good mood, they had pulled themselves out of economic recession and the sun was shining.

I rode three thousand miles across the UK and through as many of Britain’s beautiful national parks as I could on perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden, the KTM 990 SMT.

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.

Modern travel... the superb Emirates Airbus A380.

On the way back to the UK on the superb Emirates’ Airbus A380.  Once I get to the UK I plan to buy a motorcycle. Renting a car is 20-40 pounds a day and to be honest I find driving cars extremely dull. Renting a motorcycle would be much more fun, but extremely expensive at more than 80 pounds a day. Public transport? Ridiculously expensive, unreliable and not very convenient outside the cities. Buying a motorcycle makes perfect sense, provided I can find a good one at a decent price. In actual fact, the overall cost is quite low and its the best way to explore the British Isles if the weather is good. I have reached my half century and so motorcycle insurance is also very cheap and easy to arrange. The question is which motorcycle do I buy?

Arriving back in Blighty ... looking unusually pleasant down there

Coming into land at Heathrow airport and England  looking surprisingly pleasant down there

Was thinking of getting something exotic for the ride.. like this Moto Guzzi cafe racer I saw in Hong Kong

Was thinking of getting something exotic for the ride.. like this Moto Guzzi cafe racer 7 I saw in Hong Kong

However, Fanny decided I should buy this KTM 990 SMT in Red Bull colours which I found on ebay and managed to buy on the spot after successfully negotiating down the price. This bike shares the same DNA (LC 8 engine, WP suspension, ) as my KTM 990 Adventure R. The difference being KTM have customed it to roads and unlike the standard Supermoto, for long distances.

However, Fanny recommended I buy this KTM 990 SMT in Red Bull colours that I found on eBay. This bike shares the same DNA (V- twin 1000 cc LC 8 engine, WP suspension, Brembo brakes etc) as my KTM 990 Adventure R. The difference being KTM have customized it to roads and unlike the standard Supermoto, adapted it for long distant touring.

TECHNICAL DETAILS OF KTM 990 SUPERMOTO T

ENGINE

Design 2-cylinder 4-stroke Otto motor, 75° V arrangement, water-cooled
Displacement 999 cm³ (60.96 cu in)
Bore 101 mm (3.98 in)
Stroke 62.4 mm (2.457 in)
Performance 85 kW (114 hp)
Cold start device Electric starter
Transmission 6-gears, claw-shifted
Engine lubrication Dry sump lubrication system with two rotor pumps
Primary transmission 35:67
Secondary drive ratio 17:41
Cooling Water cooling, permanent circulation of coolant by water pump
Clutch Multidisc clutch in oil bath/hydraulically activated
Ignition system Contactless controlled fully electronic ignition with digital ignition adjustment

CHASSIS

Frame Lattice frame made of chrome molybdenum steel tubing, powder-coated
Fork WP Suspension Up Side Down
Shock absorber WP Suspension Monoshock
Suspension travel Front 160 mm (6.3 in)
Suspension travel Rear 180 mm (7.09 in)
Brake system Front Double disc brake with radially screwed four-piston brake calipers, float-mounted brake discs
Brake system Rear Single disc brake with dual-piston brake caliper, rigid-mounted brake disc
Brake discs – diameter Front 305 mm (12.01 in)
Brake discs – diameter Rear 240 mm (9.45 in)
Chain 5/8 x 5/16” X‑ring
Steering head angle 65.6°
Wheelbase 1,505±15 mm (59.25±0.59 in)
Ground clearance, unloaded 195 mm (7.68 in)
Seat height, unloaded 855 mm (33.66 in)
Total fuel tank capacity, approx. 19 l (5 US gal)
Super unleaded (ROZ 95/RON 95/PON 91)
Weight without fuel, approx. 197 kg (434 lb.)
On arrival I went straight to Crawley to P&H Motorcycles to buy the bike. My friend Nick Dobson had already given it a test ride and inspection and I bought it on the spot, loaded my luggage and then started off on a tour of the UK. However after riding along the south coast of England and across Salisbury Plain to my sisters house in Netheravon, near Stonehenge the bike suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and no amount of tinkering was getting it going. I suspected the fuel pumps had gone...

On arrival at Heathrow I went straight to my bank to withdraw cash, and then to P&H Motorcycles in Crawley to buy this bike that I found on the internet before I left Hong Kong. My friend Nick Dobson had already given the bike a test ride and general inspection and after agreeing a price I bought it on the spot, loaded my luggage on the back and then started off on a tour of the UK …. all within a few hours of arriving in the UK.  It really is that easy.  However after riding along the south coast of England and across Salisbury Plain to my sisters house near Stonehenge the bike suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and no amount of tinkering was able to get it going again. I suspected the fuel pump had gone… The very “bling” Red Bull paint job must have been hiding some “issues” in its four year history.

Staring at the bike and chuntering to myself was not helping and so I wheeled the bike to a nearby farm where a very kind farmer put it in one of his sheds and gave

Staring at a motorbike that didn’t want to start and chuntering to myself was not solving the problem and so I wheeled the bike to a nearby farm where a very kind farmer put it in one of his cow sheds for the night and gave me a lift to Salisbury where I found a pub, drowned my sorrows with a few beers, and called my sister and my niece to come and rescue me. As I had just bought the bike the RAC vehicle recovery service on my insurance policy had not started yet. I could have pretended it broke down the next day, but dishonesty is not in my nature and so I would have to make another plan.

Ta ma de. My bike outside Midwinter's Farm on A30... fortunately the farmer was a top guy. Thank you.

The Red Bull KTM outside Midwinter’s Farm on the A30… Fortunately the farmer was a top guy and was really helpful.  A big “Thank you”.   At the time it “stopped” I thought I was heading to my sisters house in Netheravon. In actual fact I was on the wrong road and heading towards London. No GPS and clearly no sense of direction.   It was obvious that I had broken down by the side of the road but the other bikers, of which there were many that day, just whizzed by without stopping …. Having ridden around the world I can say this is not the attitude in other countries, where the general biking community always looks out for each other. In fact, all the way from South Africa to Turkey and even in China people always asked if we were OK whenever we stopped by the side of the road.  That said,   I am pleased to say things got much more friendlier the further north I went on my UK trip.

After being rescued by my sister and niece and getting fed and watered, I contacted P&H Motorcycles in Crawley and told them the bike that they had sold me

After being rescued by my sister and niece and getting fed and watered, I contacted P&H Motorcycles in Crawley and told them the bike that they had sold me earlier in the day had broken down and would not start and that I was stranded. They could not do anything that evening, but the next day theyvery kindly dispatched one of their recovery vehicles all the way to Wiltshire to pick me and the bike up.

We got back quite late and I am indebted to the driver who recovered the bike some 200 miles away. He was a very nice guy

I am indebted to the P&H Motorcycles’ driver who collected the bike and drove us 200 miles back to their garage in Crawley. He was a very nice guy and as we were chatting on the way back he asked me why on earth anyone would want to go to a foreign country with all the strange food, odd people, hassles and dangers?  I always think  that if you are asked such a question there is absolutely no point trying to explain and so the conversation was restricted to finding a very narrow strip of common ground and making obvious and safe observations …”This van goes nicely doesn’t it?” and “I think I prefer the chunky kitkats to the regular ones, what about you?”… etc etc…

I left the Red Bull KTM at the garage and then took then walked through the town looking for a place to spend the night before returning back to the garage to get the prognosis. Despite Crawley's magnificence and architectural splendour I decided to take the train to Brighton and find a back-packers to stay in.  The next day P&H Motorcycles confirmed that the petrol pump had died and it would take 3-4 days to get a new one and then a day or so to

I left the Red Bull KTM at the garage and then walked through the town looking for a place to spend the night before returning back to the garage the next day to get the prognosis. Despite Crawley’s magnificence and architectural splendour I decided to take the train to Brighton and find a back-packers to stay in. It was a good choice, although in the evening I joined a group of rowdy lesbians in a local pub and drank far too much Harvey’s bitter.  The next day I wandered around the streets of Brighton buying junk from pound shops and eating “festival food”… whatever that is… curry I think.  In the afternoon I took a train back to Crawley and P&H Motorcycles confirmed that the petrol pump had indeed died and it would take 3-4 days to get a new one and then a day or so to fit it. “You mean a week?” I suggested.. unable to hide my irritation. “Ummm .. maybe”, came the reply.  I  asked if I could have a KTM courtesy bike, but was offered a very dull motorcycle to use, the sort that I don’t bother read about and skip past in bike magazines,  AND I would have to return to Crawley in a weeks time to pick up the repaired (or not) KTM.  Given that the plan was to tour the UK, and my time was ticking away this wasn’t an option and so I asked for my money back… which they did …as a cheque.  This of course presented me with a clearing issue and I needed ready cash to buy another bike that day. But no choice, and so I went to the local HSBC bank (First Direct) and they very kindly gave me the cash without waiting for the garage’s cheque to clear… how’s that for service????   With the cash I started out with in the first place back in my pocket I then trawled the internet again and found a few bikes I liked in various parts of the country.  I was quite interested in a Honda Africa Twin (pictured above) which is a classic, but not in the same league as a KTM Supermoto… and the price the garage were asking for a 10 year old bike was way too expensive for what it was. I gave it a test ride, and iconic as it is I couldn’t see me having as much fun on it as a KTM, Triumph or even a Moto Guzzi.

The day was Triumph UK's open day and across the country every Triumph dealership was having a party and allowing test drives of all their models. My friend, Nick Dobson took me to several dealerships and we rode a few good bikes. I really liked the Triumph 800 Tiger, and it would have been a good bike for the UK tour, but there were none available in my price bracket, and I really do not care for the Explorer and the XC 800 is not what I'm after.

The “find another bike” day coincided with Triumph UK’s open day and across the country every Triumph dealership was having a party and allowing test rides on all their models. My friend, Nick Dobson took me in his car to several dealerships in Sussex where we ate all their food (a very nice hog roast) and then rode a few good bikes, including the XC 800 and the 800 Tiger. I really liked the Triumph 800 Tiger and it would have been a great bike for the UK tour.  The sales people seemed quite taken aback that someone actually wanted to buy a bike there and then. “Yes I want to buy a 800 Tiger….now… I have the cash in my pocket and I have insurance cover”.  Sadly, there were none available.  There was a  Triumph Speed Triple for sale and it would have been great fun…for all of about 100 miles until my backside and joints surrendered!!

The Triumph Tiger 800... a superb around bike with one of the best engines that there is on two wheels.

The Triumph Tiger 800… a superb all round bike with one of the best engines there is on two wheels. Sadly, none were available.  I would like to have gone British, but I think I’ll carry on with Austrian. I did ring up a guy who was selling a BMW F800GS and when I asked him why he was selling it, he said he was buying a new KTM 1190 Adventure and seemed very excited about it. Quite right.

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My bike. One of several KTM 990 SMT advertised online that I wanted, but the private seller of this one was overseas when I arrived in the UK.  I was particularly interested in this bike because it was in excellent condition, three years old, low mileage and had lots of extras, including Akropovik exhausts that I also have on my 990 Adventure R and know really make a difference to performance of bike and exhaust note.  Now that my trip was delayed this was now the object of my desire and so I went to the location that it was being sold from, the magnificent town of Slough just west of Greater London.

The view from my bed and breakfast in Slough was better than I was expecting to be.

The view from my bed and breakfast in Slough was better than I was expecting it to be.   I knew that most of the residents in the Slough area were recent immigrants to the UK and the Windsor family who lived in the big castle were no exception… Germans and Greeks I believe.

Take two...

Take Two…  I bought this superb KTM 990 SMT motorcycle in grown up colours from the very accommodating and patient Jon in Slough, all the documentation was sorted, it was loaded up with my things in a North Face dufflebag, and I had a bum friendly sheep skin seat cover over an already comfortable KTM ergo seat. The sun was shining, the birds were singing (well when I left Slough anyway) and so I aimed west towards Wales. Although first I would call in to Bristol and see my daughter Becky for tea.  I then rode over the Severn bridge and into motorcycling heaven. Wales.  The riding was glorious and I did sweeping classic “A” roads and also a fair few stretches of what should be called “Green Laning”.  I tried to follow, to the extent I was able, the Offa’s Dyke route that I hiked along a year ago that separates England from Wales. As I didn’t have a GPS  I relied on memory and that took me on some unsuitable single lane gravel tracks, but the bike handled marvelously all the same.  It really is as capable as a sports bike and I was able to ride as fast as I dare on an R1 or Fireblade… maybe quicker. I am familiar with the v-twin LC8 from my adventure bikes, but what makes this bike so special is the ability to be ridden like a crazy sports bikes scrapping the pegs around the corners and when you want like a placid, comfortable and smooth touring bike.  A gentleman’s hooligan bike or the other way round…. perfect. The Marchesini wheels are the same as those fitted to Ducatis and the tyres were the standard Contis that come with the bike. Sticky enough for sports bike handling and hard enough for touring endurance. Whilst not designed like the 990 Adventures for off road and gravel, the bike is strangely familiar and easy to ride. I only had a few surprises on wet sand and mud near farm entrances when I felt the front slip slightly, but my sand riding experience and growing skill kicked in and any bike will straighten up with good throttle control and looking where you want to go.  Pictured here parked up outside a very comfortable B&B that I stayed in in Hay on Wye (the UK book capital).

meeting

I met another KTM rider, John at a McDonalds in the middle of Wales. McDonalds across the world always has the cheapest and best coffee, you can keep an eye on your bike, and more importantly your luggage outside while you eat, you can use the restrooms to clean up, and they always have free WiFi. The only other places I (and especially Fanny) like to stop at in the UK are the layby mobile cafes for tea and a cardiac arrest breakfast. Fanny was actually online at the time I met John on the WeChat (like WhatsApp, but better) video on my phone and joining in the conversation and looking at his KTM from 8000 miles away. Modern technology, amazing huh?  After coffee we had a closer look at his beautiful KTM 990 Adventure and admired all the extras that he made himself such as fog lights, brackets and GPS mounts. It looked marvelous. John was getting ready to head off on a expedition with some British soldiers to India and so I wish them luck and look forward to hearing about their adventures when they get back.

Crossing the Black Mountains... Paragliders high up above Hye.

Crossing the Black Mountains in Wales… There were paragliders high up above me soaring the thermals at Hay Bluff.  I have also paraglided here and had walked passed this exact spot almost a year ago to the day when I hiked the length of the Offa’s Dyke from the south to the north of Wales. At that time I was in agony as my feet were torn to shreds by very badly fitting boots. This time I couldn’t be happier.  There must be a moral in this story somewhere.

Perfect biking country... high up above Hay on Wye

Perfect biking country and perfect weather… high up in the hills above Hay on Wye in Wales

Akropovik carbon fibre exhausts... very nice

Akropovik titanium and carbon fibre exhausts fitted to my KTM 990 SMT… improves performance, looks awesome and has a glorious exhaust note.

Dropping in for tea to see my daughter, Rebecca

Dropping in for tea in Bristol to see my beautiful daughter, Rebecca

Even though I packed my old adventure kit, the weather was so warm I was able to ride around most of the time in summer kit.

Even though I packed my old adventure kit, the weather was so warm and pleasant that I was able to ride around most of the time in summer jacket and cargo trousers. My waterproof Timberland hiking boots doubled up as excellent motorcycle boots. I had managed to buy a brand new Airoh Adventure helmet (my favourite) for a fraction of the UK price from a shop in Hong Kong and a new pair of gloves from China.

After Wales to Derbyshire to ride High Peak and the Dales. The authorities in the UK have gone mad against speeding. There are speed averaging cameras on many roads and increasingly police are tasked to enforce the Road Traffic Act speeding offences. Senior police officers like the anti hero Richard Brunstrom have earned themselves a chapter in books like Quentin Lett's "50 People Who Buggered Up Britain".  I agree that  speed restrictions should be enforced in built up areas zones and areas near schools etc... in fact even slower, but the practice of tricking motorists by placing cameras in remote places and where speed restrictions change is the epitomy of meallie mouthed -ness. I would not mind if the authorities applied the same rigour to fraudsters and crimes of violence and dishonesty ... but they don't.

After the beautiful biking roads of Wales I went to Derbyshire to ride the High Peak and the Dales. Like Wales nowadays, bikers have to be very careful as the authorities in the UK have gone mad against speeding and have a particular hatred vented towards bikers. There are speed averaging cameras on many roads and increasingly police are tasked to enforce the Road Traffic Act speeding offences .. quite clearly to bolster government coffers than protect life and property. Senior police officers like the anti hero Richard Brunstrom have quite rightly earned themselves a chapter in books like Quentin Lett’s “50 People Who Buggered Up Britain”.  I agree that speed restrictions should be enforced in built up areas and high risk zones near schools and pedestrian areas etc… in fact I recommend even slower.  But the practice of tricking motorists by placing speed cameras and radars in remote places and where speed restrictions suddenly change is the epitomy of mealie mouthed officialdom. I would not mind if the authorities applied the same rigour to fraudsters and crimes of violence and dishonesty … but they don’t. Bankers, politicians and lawyers steal billions from hard working people, fleece their savings and destroy their lives, but ordinarily law abiding citizens in high tech and safe vehicles get slammed daily for speeding and petty driving offences. This famous stretch of road near the Cat and Fiddle is a classic example. Completely unnecessary and ugly speed averaging cameras blight the landscape. Its a very stupid system because the equation …distance divided by time….  can easily be defeated by stopping and having a pee between the cameras and then accelerating back up to warp speed.

Going for a ride in Derbyshire with my  friend (from schooldays) Andrea and her Ducati Monster.

Going for a ride with one of my oldest friends… not that I am saying Andrea is old. far from it, she is exactly the same age as me and therefore a mere whipper snapper.  What I mean is we went to school together in Staffordshire back in the day. Pictured here on a sunny day near her home in Derbyshire on her Ducati Monster.

Derb

Derbyshire countryside.. very lush and green.

"Andrea... when you've finished polishing my bike ... a tea no sugar... oh and a biscuit".... what are friends for??

“Andrea… when you’ve finished polishing my bike I’ll have a tea …no sugar… oh and a biscuit”.  What are friends for, huh?

Spooky... how did they know I was coming.

Spooky… how did they know I was coming.

My goodness ... an Utley Store

My goodness … an Utley Store. Surely we don’t need any more?

Talking of Utleys.. the former Miss Utley ... Rachel and my niece, Jessie. And Bear the cat

Talking of Utleys.. the former Miss Utley, my sister Rachel….. and my niece, Jessie together with Captain Pugwash, which I believe is a sort of cat

Derbyshire into Yorkshire... beautiful roads and stunning scenery.

Derbyshire into Yorkshire… beautiful roads and joyous scenery.

One of many new friends I made on my trip. Riding a Classic Triumph Tiget which he had since new.  (Derbyshire ...High Peak)

One of many new friends I made on my trip. Riding a Classic Triumph Tiger 100 which he had since new. (Derbyshire …High Peak)

The real deal .. even down to the oil leaks

The real deal .. even down to the oil leaks

Arrivin

Arriving in Keswick in Cumbria, the Lake District.  I borrowed a very small one man tent from my friend Andrea so I would not have to stay in B&Bs and could free camp in Scotland. Here it is pitched near one of the many lakes in the area. While I was in Keswick I bumped into one of my Royal Hong Kong Police colleagues (still serving as a Chief Superintendent) who was riding a bicycle from Land’s End in Çornwall (the most south westerly point of the British mainland) to John O’Groats in Scotland (the most n0rth easterly)… about 1000 miles.

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Keswick… starting my hike up to the peak of Skiddaw (931 meters). Here in a small hamlet is an honesty egg stall… one puts money in the box and helps oneself to the eggs one has paid for… doesn’t one? Fanny and I saw such honesty stalls in Bavaria in Germany and I personally think this is indicative of the height of human civilization. When we posted the pictures of our trip in Bavaria on this blog we got comments from South Africa and China stating that in their countries the goods and money would be stolen and the table kicked over. Well quite. As I said……

Keswick from Skiddaw

Looking down at Keswick from the slopes of Skiddaw

Looking West towards the Irish Sea from Skiddaw

Looking West towards the Irish Sea from Skiddaw

Hiking in the Lake District

Hiking in the Lake District

On the way down ... a perfect day hiking in one of the most stunning parts of England.  Not high by Tibetan or even European standards, but clean, fresh, well looked after and thoroughly natural. A joy. Highly recommended.

A perfect day hiking in one of the most stunning parts of England. Not high by Tibetan or even European standards, but clean, fresh, well looked after and thoroughly natural. I had a picnic on the grass , did a spell of fell running and returned back into Keswick for fish and chips… Perfect.

Meeting Steve Wordsworth from Hong Kong in Keswick. Steve and I worked together in Royal Hong Kong police (he still does) and he was riding his bicycle from Land's End to John O'Groats.... which he completed successfully  a week later.

With Steve Wordsworth in Keswick, Cumbria (Lake District).  Steve and I served together in the Royal Hong Kong police (he still does) and he was riding his bicycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats…. which he completed successfully a week later.

From the Lakes I rode to Scotland and passed Glasgow to Loch Lomond

From the Lake District I rode to Scotland and passed Glasgow to Loch Lomond and Ben Arthur (“the Cobbler”)

Sun, warm water and pretty girls... yes its Scotland.

Sun, warm water, and pretty girls… yes it really is Scotland.

The guys I met at Loch Lomond camping by the water and enjoying the summer of 2013.

The guys, Paul, Pauli, Filiz and Taylor, whom I met camping by the water at Loch Lomond and enjoying the summer of 2013. You can’t have everything though, I guess. The water in Loch Lomond was so warm at the time that the champagne wasn’t cooling down enough. Shame. (Paul contacted us in comments)

Heading towards Glen Coe and skirting around the many lochs on the western coast of Scotland

Heading towards Glen Coe and skirting around the many lochs on the western coast of Scotland

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.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautifulness. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see and ride through the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, Guilin karst mountains, the Rift Valley, Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Masai Mara, Ethiopian Highlands,  Qinghai plateau, South Africa’s Cederberg, the Atlas mountains etc etc… but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

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Breathe it in….

Camping in Glen Coe

Camping in the woods near Glen Coe

Glen Coe.... the area where the Skyfall

Glen Coe…. the area where the movie, “Skyfall” was filmed.

Glen Coe ...

Loch Leven near Glen Coe …

Glen Coe

Crossing Loch Leven, Glen Coe

What about bikes?

What about bikes?

Bobby and Willie who took me for a ride around the Ben Nevis area

Bobby and Willie (Yamaha XT 600 and BMW K1000) who took me for a very civilized (i.e. slow) ride around the Ben Nevis area.

Visiting the Bonnie Prince Charlie statue at Glenfinnan

Visiting the Bonnie Prince Charlie statue at Glenfinnan

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

The viaduct bridge shown in the Harry Potter movie near Glenfinnan

The railway viaduct shown in the Harry Potter movie near Glenfinnan

Saying goodbye to my new friends, Bobby and Willie with whom I rode around with for a few hours.

Saying goodbye to my new friends, Bobby and Willie with whom I rode around western Scotland and had a great day.

Making friends in the Highlands of Scotland

Making friends in the Highlands of Scotland

Riding through the Highlands in beautiful sunshine... reminded me of Tibet.

Riding through the Highlands in beautiful sunshine… this bit reminded me very much of Tibet. I rode up the twisty road at some pace and was surprised to be overtaken by a Swiss registered sports bike with a rider in full race leathers. When I got to the top I saw it was a BMW S1000RR…. OK… fair enough.

Taking ferry over to Isle of Skye with the other bikers. This biker from Durham, who lives on Skye introduced to me and gave me a can of  Avon skin cream all the locals use to ward off the scary Scottish midges.... its really does work. thanks..

Taking ferry over to the Isle of Skye with the other bikers. This biker from Durham, who lives on Skye introduced to me and gave me a jar of Avon skin softening cream that all the locals use to ward off the scary Scottish midges….Despite being an odd substance for a hairy biker to rub over his skin it really does work … and added a fresh fragrance to my normal smell of sweat and petrol. Many thanks.

Ferry to Isle of Skye with the other bikers. It seemed with the good weather a lot of international bikers (the Moto Guzzi belonged to a French couple) were touring Scotland. That said as I went further north I saw less and less people.

Ferry to the Isle of Skye with the other bikers. It seemed with the good weather a lot of international bikers (the Moto Guzzi belonged to a French couple) were touring Scotland. That said as I went further north I saw fewer and fewer people.

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

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

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

300 Scottish malts at a pub on Skye... now where do you start. Well, from the beginning is a good place ... hick!!!

300 Scottish malts at a pub on Skye… now where do you start? Well, from the beginning is a good place … hick!!!

I rode many miles along the sea coast and along the many lochs of west Scotland. Passing through picturesque villages and small towns all the way through the Highlands and to the north west point a

I rode many miles zigzagging along the sea coast and along the many lochs of west Scotland. Passing through picturesque villages and pretty towns all the way through the Highlands and to the remote north west point at Cape Wrath. I must say it was some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Very friendly and welcoming people and none of the English/Scottish rivalry we all come to expect. As difficult as it is to explain, Scotland actually seemed more “British” than England does.  In parts looking like Tibet and other times like Ethiopia. I am a big fan although I will still be supporting Ingeerland in the footie… someone has to.

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.

Palm trees in Scotland!   Due to the Gulf Stream that courses up from the tropics to the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland are far milder than one would expect given its proximity to the Arctic Circle. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious as when I was there and can often be decidedly wet and blowy.

The flower of Scotland....I remember as a small boy going on holiday to the Island of Luing off the west coast of Scotland near Oban with my friend, Joe Muriel and his family and some local bully boys grabbed us while we were playing near a small cliff and threatened to throw us into the sea if we didn't sing "Oh Flower O' Scotland".  After about 15 seconds of making up a song about some thistles we gave up and just jumped off the cliff in the sea. After we surfaced and started to swim away we cheerily told the local lads what we thought of their flowers accompanied by some good old fashioned hand gestures that were popular in English play grounds during the early 70s . Oh happy days... !!!

The flower of Scotland….always reminds me of going on holiday to the Island of Luing off the west coast of Scotland near Oban with my best friend and his family when I was a small boy. Whilst playing near a small cliff with a sheer drop down to the sea some local bully boys approached us and threatened to throw us into the sea if we didn’t sing “Oh Flower O’ Scotland”.  After about 10 seconds of making up a song about some thistles we gave up and just jumped off the cliff in the sea below.  After we surfaced and were bobbing about in the waves we cheerily told the local lads who were now high up above us what we thought of their flowers,  accompanied by some hand gestures that were popular with naughty boys during the early 70s.  Oh happy days… !!!

Lots of white sand beaches along the west and north coast of Scotland.

Lots of white sand beaches along the west and north coast of Scotland. The water looked crystal clear, and unlike beaches in China and Hong Kong, not a single item of litter or garbage. I did meet a lot of Chinese tour groups at the usual tourist spots like Glen Coe and Ben Nevis and they remarked how clean everywhere was. I couldn’t help respond in Mandarin that this was because “WE THROW OUR RUBBISH IN THE BIN>>>NOT IN THE LAKE >>>>>AAAAAHH MAAAAAA”

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

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains, valleys, lakes and big hairy things with horns in the road.

Fellow bikers from Canada... They had very nice kit... a BMW F800GS with all the accessories, great tent and good camping gear. Always something to learn from fellow adventurers.

Fellow bikers from Canada… They had a BMW F800GS with all the accessories, great tent and excellent camping gear.  Their navigation and photographic equipment was particularly impressive.  There is always something to learn and admire from fellow adventurers. Whilst chatting with them they suddenly got very excited and burst out, “Hey…you are the couple riding around the world… we read about you on ADV Rider…. where’s Fanny?” (scanning left and right eagerly).  I explained that she had to work and wasn’t with me. Absolute silence. They could hardly disguise their disappointment and turned around and sauntered back to their tent with their heads hung low and banged in a few more tent pegs. Now I know what Charlie Boorman feels like… “I’ll see you in the pub later shall I?”, I shouted over to them, but they mumbled something in French and didn’t look up. I thought of shouting back … can Fanny do a one handed wheelie in the sand? Noooo. But I didn’t .. petulance is an unattractive trait in a human being … even if I can ride better than her… so there.

I am still not entirely sure what these German tourists with a safari tent on top of their Landrover were expecting to see in north west Scotland...

I am still not entirely sure what these German tourists with a safari tent on top of their Land Rover were expecting to see or encounter in the Highlands of Scotland… a ferocious otter or a terrifying haggis. Anyway, they were well prepared.

Perhaps the Loch Ness sheep

Perhaps the fearsome Loch Ness sheep?

A ferry to Skye and a bridge back to the mainland

A ferry to Skye and a bridge back to the mainland. Some people told me they had seen some killer whales (Orca) further up the coast… but I never saw them. Riding along the single track roads required more attention to the road and hedgerows than staring out to sea.

I challenge any biker to show me a better stretch of road. Zero traffic, twisty road, perfect temperature , and glorious scebnery

I challenge any biker to show me a better stretch of road. Zero traffic, twisty road, perfect temperature, and glorious scenery.

Roads and scenery all to myself

Roads and scenery all to myself

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 adventure motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery, meeting friendly people and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the KTM 990 SMT

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In Scotland there are no trespass laws and so provided you respect the countryside and the property of others you can camp where you like. Here I am camped at the most north west part of Scotland, enjoying the fresh air and sea views in complete peace. Earlier I went to a nearby pub for a seafood dinner and a pint of Scottish ale and listened to a folk band. Being so far north in summer it did not get dark until after 11pm. I will definitely have to bring Fanny and my children one day.

I then rode along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly part of mainland Britain, John O'Groats. I then turned south and rode down

I then rode along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly part of mainland Britain, John O’Groats. Funnily enough the rock structure looks like those at Cape Aguilas on the most southerly tip of Africa where Fanny and I started our Big Bike Trip expedition in 2011. After a brew and a Scottish cake  I then turned south and rode down the east coast of Scotland towards Inverness, rode along Loch Ness and then headed in the general direction of Edinburgh, passing through dozens of beautiful towns and villages and across glorious mountain roads.

Yous can take me BMW, but yous no be taking my KTM  ( William Wallace Memorial near Stirling)

“Yous can take ma BMW, but yous no be taking ma KTM” ( William Wallace Memorial near Stirling)

I continued riding through Scotland to the border with England and crossed over into Northumbria. Whilst I was there a British MP suggested that

I continued riding through Scotland to the border with England and crossed over Hadrian’s Wall into majestic Northumbria where the accent abruptly changed from Scottish to Geordie. Whilst I was there I heard the news about an ill informed and rather gormless British MP who suggested that shale oil mining using the controversial “fracking” method should be conducted in the north east of England because its barren and nobody lives there. Having ridden across this lovely part of England and met some wonderful people in Newcastle, Durham, Middleborough etc…and at the Wagon Inn in Westgate on the A696 I can refute this. Who votes for these idiots? Anyway, this picture was taken after I arrived at the Wagon Inn and asked if they knew where I could pitch my tent.     “In our beer garden”, of course” came the reply from the friendly landlord. Fantastic.  So after some beers I retired (staggered) to my garden retreat.

Not something you see everyday ... unless you live in Gateshead.

Not something you see everyday … unless you live in Gateshead. (Angel of the North)

Has to be done .... a road side fry up on road between York and Harrogate.

Has to be done …. a road side fry up (on the road between York and Harrogate). I wanted to see the Viking museum in York and then go to Betty’s in Harrogate for tea and a teacake. So I did.

Harrogate ... outside the famous Spa... or is it a Chinese restaurant... ?

Harrogate … outside the famous Spa… or is it a Chinese restaurant… ?

My KTM 990 SMT's status as best road bike I have ever ridden could be taken by this big boy.... the KTM 1190 Adventure R ... yours for 13250pounds.

My KTM 990 SMT’s status as best road bike I have ever ridden could be taken away by this big boy…. the KTM 1190 Adventure R … yours for 13,250 quid. I mean, who in their right mind would buy a BMW 1200 GS? ( golfers and lao touzi excepted of course)

I continued on the trip all the way through the Yorkshire moors, back to Derbyshire where I

I continued all the way through Northumbria,  the Yorkshire moors, back to Derbyshire High Peak where I did some hiking on Scarfell Pike.  I then continued on to Staffordshire to see my mother in Abbots Bromley where I grew up, then back south through the Black Country to Tewkesbury where the local KTM garage replaced the mirror I smashed in John O’Groats (bike fell over on soft ground while I was having a cuppa), then through the beautiful Coltswolds and to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire where I stayed with my sister. The next day I continued to the South Coast of England through the New Forest and to the fascinating town of Old Hastings where I stayed in a superb Inn called the Jenny Lind (highly recommended). The next day a short ride to Bexhill on Sea (bike pictured outside the interesting art deco De Warr building) and got the bike MOT’d as it was just about to reach its 3rd birthday.  It passed after a 1 pound reflective button was put on the number plate…  Next stop… Hong Kong.

No trains either.... drama on the way to the airport as the train from Bexhill to Gatwick just stopped. Thanks to Nick for rescuing me and ferrying me to Heat

No trains either……..   A bit of drama on the way to the airport as the train from Bexhill to Gatwick just stopped and never moved again. The dozens of staff belonging to ” Southern Rail” in these daft t-shirts wandered about like headless chickens panicking, or lurked out of sight in cafes to hide from irate passengers. Wouldn’t happen if I was in charge.  Investigate what happened, evaluate best options and then clearly communicate plan to staff and passengers. How hard can it be? Anyway, a big thanks to my friend Nick Dobson for rescuing me from Eastbourne train station and ferrying me to Heathrow Airport just in time to catch my flight back to Hong Kong.

Fanny on KTM 690 SM in Hong Kong

Fanny on a KTM 690 Supermoto in Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Chapter 17 – The UK – its alright for ducks

 

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Utleystan in Yorkshire

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Fanny and her KTM 990 Adventure “Stella”

Constant rain, grey skies, mealy mouthed job worthies, stifling political correctness, unhealthy tasteless food, boring non stop reality TV, Kay Burley, speed cameras, stealth taxation, VAT, high crime rates, fat women in leggings, fat women in leggings and shorts, fat women in yoga pants, under performing sports teams, corrupt greedy bankers, a haven for violent radicals, inept and dishonest politicians, and fluorescent green reflective jackets….

HURRAY we finally made it to the mufti effnic kingdom of Blighty. The country I am indigenous to and have a love/hate relationship with … I love to hate it.

But hey! Enough of all that pom bashing stuff.

The reality is of course there are some real gems in good ol’ Blighty, but like diamond mining you have to sift through a lot of shit to find it.

The UK produces the best soldiers in the world; is a leader in innovation, creativity, art and design; has a unique sense of self effacing humour; and most importantly it produces Marstons Pedigree bitter and Marmite (both from Burton Upon Trent near where I grew up ….I might add).

We have some lovely friends and family who for some reason or another still live on “mud island” and they have all made Fanny and I extremely welcome in their homes and tolerated my smelly boots, wet soggy clothes, and my incessant whinging and whining about the food, the weather, Britain’s preoccupation with health and safety, snowflakes being offended at everything and anything, and inflicting diversity on me against my will.

I can’t help it… I like it the way it was… in 1839, probably.

We intended to take the Euro-tunnel from France to England, but the price for a single trip was a minimum of £99 each, and so we took the cheaper ferry option where on board we met some very interesting fellow bikers and shared our stories of daring do and adventures in far flung exotic places.

I have to say I was a bit emotional when I saw the white cliffs of Dover and realized we had actually ridden our bikes more than 35,000 kms from the southern tip of Africa, across the Middle east and Europe and all the way to England, and done so with no back up or support, no Long Way Down style Nissan Pathfinders full of spare parts, medics, security etc., and completely self financed. We had also managed to raise a few bucks for our charities, Autism Research Trust and Half the Sky along the way.

As we drove down the ferry ramp I looked back in my rear view mirror and saw the orange headlight of Fanny’s KTM bringing up the rear, as it had done every day for more than a year, and I felt immensely proud of her. Against all the odds she had done it. A remarkable achievement given that she only had a driving licence for a month before we set off.

And even more remarkable, that she had managed to put up with me the whole time!

I also felt very lucky and privileged as only a very few people ever get the chance to ride a motorcycle around the world, and of those who do, only a few get to do it on the best adventure motorcycle,  and together with their “other half”.

It was late when we cleared (i.e. just drove through) customs at Dover port, we were both very tired, the weather wasn’t very warm, and we had to make a concerted effort to remember to ride on the left hand side of the road for the first time since Kenya.

We were aiming for Bexhill on Sea in East Sussex where my good friend Nick Dobson and his parents live and where we would be staying to celebrate Nick’s 50th birthday and indeed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

As we were riding the twisty roads along the south coast of England I kept wondering whether this would be the end of our big bike trip. Neither of us were ready to stop and so I was constantly mulling over various options to keep going.  We were aiming for Shanghai and between us and east China were a lot of challenges.

It was strange riding in England after so long. We had no problem keeping to the UK speed limits as we had got into the habit of driving quite steadily and slowly for fuel and tyre consumption, but occasionally I would forget we were in the land of speed cameras, the terminally offended, and where the locals might get a tad upset if we did a bit of off roading across their gardens. Just as well we had South African licence plates!

Whilst we had become used to terrible driving conditions in places like Cairo and Addis Ababa, we still had to make a concerted effort to keep well clear of the notoriously “biker unfriendly” car drivers that hog the roads in the UK.

There are actually some very considerate car drivers about, but there are also some extremely inconsiderate and very grumpy ones. What is really disturbing is that there are some car drivers who think its perfectly OK to nudge a bicycle or motorcycle off the road, or deliberately prevent them filtering through spaces that are wide enough for two wheels but not for four. A definite slack jawed character flaw among some of the UK population.

The most dangerous times on UK roads are when the mummies (both male and female) are collecting their little darlings from school in their “Surrey tractors” and a motorcyclist has to be very alert to their erratic manoeuvres, dangerous obstruction and appalling parking techniques.

I can proudly say I was never taken to, or collected from school in a car during my entire school days. As very small children we would of course walk to school with our mothers, and from the age of six or seven onwards we would walk, cycle or take the school bus by ourselves as any kid seen being taken to school by their mummy would be quite justifiably beaten at playtime, even if they didn’t have ginger hair.

In fact, in those days most kids played outside all day, drank from hose pipes, regularly worked on farms, and only lollypop ladies and “The Sweet” wore hi-viz clothing.

Back in the 60s and 70s when I grew up in England the concept of the poor hurt “victim”, being offended at everything, personal injury lawyers and namby pamby health and safety hadn’t invented themselves yet and so there was more joie de vivre and leg room for a kid to kick about and learn about life.

When I look back at my childhood I had a lot of freedom growing up in the countryside in Staffordshire. I was a very independent young child and according to my mother would disappear for hours on end and only reappear at mealtimes.

I would regularly get caned, mostly justifiably, and occasionally unfairly, but more often than not I would get away with my various infractions and deviations from adult social constraints.

I remember an occasion when my brother and I both got thrown off the school bus  (“The Stevenson Rocket”) in the middle of no where for an alleged “fighting incident” and immediately got picked up by a passing truck that subsequently overtook the school bus blaring its air-horn and with us hanging out the window and waving with immense delight at our friends sitting on the bus.

Nowadays I am told its too dangerous for kids to walk or cycle to school. And indeed it well may be… not because there are more pedophiles and pervs trawling the streets for little boys, but because all the mummies are causing driving havoc in their Surrey tractors outside the schools whilst collecting Henry for ballet lessons, or Chesney for his Ritalin prescription ….and of course at the same time texting, tweeting, updating their Facebook status and panicking they are late for Pilates class.

Anyway, I digress as usual.

We continued with our tour of the UK and started by visiting my younger sister, Amanda at her home in Wiltshire, very near to Stonehenge, and then to see my eldest daughter, Becky at her home in Bristol.  My brother, Simon, is a good chap, but suffers from acute online Tourette’s Syndrome and insults everyone.  He interferes in sensitive matters inappropriately, and appropriate matter insensitively, and so for the sake of Fanny I keep her and myself well away. A great shame, but actions have consequences.

Later, we escaped into Wales, which Fanny describes as the nicest part in England!!

We crossed the Severn Bridge into a very wet and rainy South Wales and then across glorious countryside and picturesque valleys all the way to the north to see Alan Jones, an old buddy who lives in Conwy,  and with whom I joined the Metropolitan police in 1981. He has now retired and his many idling activities includes testing eight thousand quid law mowers and motorised wheel barrows, and shouting at the dogs.

After a superb time in Wales, where Alan guided us as we climbed Mount Snowdon and did some impressive hikes in the mountains, we went to see our friend Tony whom we first met in the Sinai when we were staying in Dahab for several months, having been directly caught up in the Egyptian Spring Revolution and all the chaos in Syria. We made the most of it, Fanny learning to windsurf and me getting my diving qualifications in the Red Sea. Tony was my dive master.

He was back in England for a while from sunny Egypt and staying in his home town of Wallasey, near Birkenhead, undergoing yet more medical treatment. As a former UK special forces soldier he had been through a lot and he was now suffering from the punishment he had put his body through in his earlier life serving our Nation in hostile climes.

He lived in a small, but immaculately kept apartment, yet because he lived on his own the local authorities wanted to put him in even smaller accommodation, no doubt so they could use his apartment to provide free housing to some immigrants with dozens of children and extended families.

The injustice of it all is unbearable, but he doesn’t complain, as is the way of these former fighters for our freedoms. He just soldiers on. I think Britain’s former soldiers are treated abysmally and its a disgrace.

Well Liverpool? What an experience!

I hadn’t yet seen the UK TV show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” nor had I any inkling that it was now fashionable for British women of all shapes and sizes to spray paint themselves orange and make a lot of effort to display as much of this orange flesh as possible. Very odd eye brows too!

Why?

I never found out as I never had the nerve to ask one of these fiercesome looking Oompa Lumpa creatures why they do it.  Patches of flesh that weren’t orange were tattooed, something else that never looks good on a woman. Each to their own, I suppose. So long as they don’t make it compulsory, and I don’t have to look at them!

Maori patterns were once popular tattoos (as many forty somethings are reminded each time they take a shower… for ever and ever), but now many men and women have Chinese characters indelibly inked onto their flesh and since I can speak, read and write Chinese quite well I am privy to some real clangers.

 

The Chinese is either badly translated or just poor calligraphy. I guess this is the reverse of the nonsensical English expressions written on T-shirts worn by Asian teenagers (“What’nt Gone Be Nobody’s Cool” and all that).

Or perhaps having the Chinese character for “wardrobe” on your bum has some special meaning bigoted old farts like me don’t appreciate.

Or perhaps its the Emperor’s New Clothes, ‘Hey! Everyone….that woman is orange and has “Lard Arse” tattooed in Chinese’.

And ankle tattoos? Just don’t do it.. its asymmetrical and upsets people with Aspergers like me.

I think I took yet another wrong turn along rant street. 

The high streets of all British towns all look pretty much the same to me. Same shops, same design, same sort of people selling the Big Issue with the same dog, same miserable people milling around.

Generally I don’t like these town centers and shopping malls very much and I make a real effort to avoid them. However, Fanny and I do occasionally have to buy important things from UK shops, like Motorcycle News and lottery tickets and so, if we can, we prefer to go to the out of town retail centers where we can park our bikes safely (Britain is full of bike thieves) and get the miserable experience over and done with as soon as possible.

It is true enough that the UK supermarkets are the best in the world and seem to sell everything, although its quite hard to take in a kilometer long aisle of 1000 different types of breakfast cereal or cat food when you have traveled through countries like Malawi and Ethiopia.

Despite the UK spending 13 billion quid every year on Aid to places like Africa you still can’t buy Vindaloo flavoured shampoo or green Kitkats in Blantyre or Addis Ababa!

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Fanny in Kingston on Thames

 

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Rupert packing up the bikes in sunny Wiltshire

 

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yeah!

Abbots Bromley (home) to Uttoxeter (School) in the 1970s on the Yellow Peril Stevenson Rocket school bus. I think the number of times I got thrown off by the conductor was 42 times!

 

The grey skies of England… and Arundel Castle …also grey…. and family car …  grey.  Nice green fields, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fanny, Paola and Nick in Bexhill

 

 

Who dares mess around with Mr Dobson Senior.

 

A biker chap I met on the Channel ferry who had lived life to the full in some amazing places…

Waiting to board the ferry with the other bikers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuppa tea and cake … must be England. (Actually this is Wales, Fanny’s favourite bit of England).

 

 

Our good friend, Nick celebrating his 50th birthday with his family in Bexhill

 

 

Felpham in Sussex … where I spent childhood holidays

“The Front” in Felpham… fond memories of carefree days.

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Fanny meets Touratech

 

 

 

 

 

 

A high street in the UK.. can’t remember which one as they all look the same

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain, and indeed Europe have beautiful cathedrals and churches… this one in Hitchen has an art gallery inside.   In Hereford I saw a church that had been partly converted into a coffee shop, and had reduced the size of the “praying” area due, I assume, to a greater demand for caffeine and cakes than redemption and salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone rides along the wonderful roads of Derbyshire to Mattlock Bath, has fish and chips and then wanders around looking at other people’s bikes…. a very civilised way to spend the day

“They do better chips in the Cairngorms” – but then according to Gary Corbett “everything is better in the Cairngorms”

Fanny and Andrea with her red Ducati Monster

Horizon’s Unlimited gathering in Ripley…. more BMW GS 1200s than you can shake a stick at.

Camped up… but this time with hundreds of other adventure bikers

It rained hard …as indeed it did nearly every day while we were in the UK in June and July 2012.

The Horizon Unlimited gathering attracted all sorts of people. Some aspiring adventurers and other the “real deal” nomads who have been everywhere on the planet on anything from mopeds, Australian postie bikes, racing bikes and of course the Adventure bikes such as KTM 990 Adventure, BMW GS 800 and 1200, Yamaha XT 500, 600 and 660 and the classic Honda Africa Twin.

The slow ride race which Paul Chapman and I entered and we narrowly missed the finals. Great fun and a great few days with like minded motorcycling enthusiasts.

Paul Chapman (of Adventure Parts and Camel Toe) and Ruprecht the Monkeyboy at the Horizons Unlimited slow riding competition. We KTM riders were well beaten by slower guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If my sister had seen my feet she would never have allowed them in her bubbly bath thing.

 

Fanny and my niece, Sophia relaxing in the kitchen at my sisters house

 

The last time I rode a motorcycle into Thomas Alleynes High School I was punished. I believe it was my Batavus Mk 4S which I got on my 16th birthday when I was in the sixth form.

 

Waiting outside the Headmistress’ office at Oldfield’s School in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Somethings never change.   I got caned and slippered so many times I started to like it… raaaah!

 

Fanny hooliganing around in the KTM shop and disturbing the reserved British types who were clearly unused to so much noise and mayhem coming out of one single human. One of the assistants (of a shop that sells machines that go BRRAAAAP!) asked her to shut up… very funny…only in Britain.

 

Yum Yum … thanks you Pae and Fanny

 

 

Due to the fact that it never stopped raining we gave up the idea of going to the Lake District and Scotland and rode eastwards to the beautiful English county of Derbyshire to see our friends, Andrea and Gary who lived in the Peak District inside a dry house with a larder and two refrigerators full of food.

I can assure Gary and Andrea the great food wasn’t the only reason we visited. Honestly.

Gary and Andrea are also bikers and while we were staying with them we went on a ride together to Mattlock Bath where hundreds of bikers gather on Sundays and drink tea and eat fish and chips.

We then went to Stoke on Trent and spent time with my sister and her family  and were thoroughly spoilt with great food, a very comfy bed and even served “Manhattan Cocktails” by my brother in law, Mark as we wallowed like hippos in their Jacuzzi.

Adventure biking is exciting and there is nothing to stimulate the mind quite like world travel, but after so long living in our tent or occasionally in grotty budget hotels a home cooked meal, a bathroom with clean towels and a comfy dry bed are extremely welcome and so we are very grateful to our friends and family in the UK who looked after us

(Photos in “Our Friends” Page above):  ……..a special mention to The Dobsons in East Sussex; Mandy, Sally and Martin in Wiltshire; Alan & Sue in North Wales; Gary and Andrea in Derbyshire; Rachel and Mark in Staffordshire; David and Pae Lee in Hertfordshire; Andrew and Abigail in Kent; Becky in Bristol; and Rik in Wales. Thank you all very much.

Whilst in Staffordshire I took Fanny to see the schools I went to as a boy.  Oldfield’s Middle School and Thomas Alleynes (Grammar/High) School. We rocked up on our loud KTMs in the evening and I thought the caretaker was going to chase us away, but I explained what we were doing and that it was many years since I was last there as a schoolboy and so he very kindly gave us the grand tour, which brought back many memories for me and gave Fanny an insight into what an English school looks like.

Oldfield Hall is a very nice looking school set in beautiful grounds with playing fields and woods. I had heard on this trip that many school playing fields in the UK are being sold off by the education authorities which to my mind is a crying shame. Sport, physical training and competition is extremely important to a child’s development. Winning and losing is a reality of life and eventually all of us have to come to terms with not getting what we want sooner or later. Its how we deal with defeat and failure that matters.

Later, we also went to the Horizon’s Unlimited Adventure Bike gathering in Ripley. We had a terrific time, met some interesting people and would especially like to thank Sam Manicom, one of the world’s greatest motorcycle adventurers and an all round decent chap who made us very welcome at the HU meeting.

After our tour of the Midlands we had to head back “daan sarf” so our bikes could get yet another service.

We rode to the KTM UK Centre in Hemel Hemstead where Jason and his team did their thing to the bikes, hopefully changed oils and filters, checked all the bearings, and tightened the nuts and bolts and then relieved me of more money than I can really afford + VAT.  No choice though. KTMs like their filters changed and are fussy about the quality of their oil.

While our bikes were being serviced I was kindly loaned a blue KTM 990 and my friend, David Lee looked after us at his home in Hitchen. His wife, Pae is originally from Thailand and so that evening we had a delicious authentic Thai dinner with all the hot chillis and spices, and also polished off some of David’s impressive booze cabinet.

A great evening with good friends.

It so happened that while we were in Hitchen the Queen was visiting as part of her Diamond Jubilee Tour and so we all trooped off to line the route with our plastic Union Flags to see Her Majesty inspect her subjects, including a visiting Pinko Commie RTW motorcyclist, Fanny.

The “Establishment” was well represented and looked as alarmed and uncomfortable among the proletariat as if Millwall football supporters had invaded the Royal enclosure at Ascot.

Lady Farsenby -Smythe and Lord Twistleton-Flange looked particularly uncomfortable as they had to endure mingling with the great unwashed who were being rather common and vulgar with their regional accents and uncouth ways, don’t you know.

Anyway, well done Ma’am (as in Ham) on 60 years of reign and occasional sunshine.

After saying goodbye to David, Pae and their very charming children we went to collect our bikes from KTM in Hemel Hemstead.  The new 990 Adventure which they loaned me was handed back in the condition it was given and then we headed to London on our newly serviced KTMs to sort out visas, passports, air-tickets for Fanny back to China and shipping arrangements for our bikes to where-ever they were going. We were still not sure.

We not only went into London to do all our admin chores, but also did some touring of Kent which is a rather well to do county of England. We particularly enjoyed visiting Chartwell where Winston Churchill lived. A super home, even nicer gardens and in a particularly green and pleasant bit of the country.

One of the few things I do like about London is that it has some of the greatest museums and art galleries in the World and so while we were running around applying for visas we went to the superb British Museum which houses a collection of the finest and most interesting treasures collected during a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.

Of course the museum is now run and operated in the best possible taste so as not to offend any of the tourists from the countries the loot was “half inched” from in the first place.

We stayed at my friend Andrew’s house in Seven-oaks and were very well looked after by him and his wife, Abigail.

Andrew is another motorcycle enthusiast and Abigail probably has me to thank for their garage being full of motorcycles as fifteen years ago or so I rocked up for work in the Stand in London, where we both worked (in the Fraud Services Unit of the now defunct Arthur Andersen Accounting firm) on my Suzuki 1300 GSXR Hayabusa and the seed was sown.

He is a die hard biker now and when we were living in Egypt he came out and we rode to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the KTMs.

I was born in London, but I am sad, and a bit embarrassed to say I do not care for it very much, and according to Fanny, neither does she, a born and bred Shanghanese woman from another continent and totally different culture.

She told me in Chinese that it appeared to be a mess, felt hostile and not very English. I had to agree. People ask me if I would ever go back to live in England. Maybe, but definitely not to London or any of the other English cities.

Nowadays, London is like Karachi on bin day. If I am being totally honest I am rather scared and wary of the menacing young Muslim men who prowl about looking hostile and confrontational in many parts of London, and indeed in British cities such Luton, Birmingham and Bradford.  I am also suspicious of humans who cover their face and engage in superstitious odd rituals, and that includes Moonies, Freemasons, Doggers, and Catholics.

Fortunately, the Holy See in Rome has given up torturing, burning, hanging, mutilating, beheading and generally being nasty to people for apostasy, otherwise I would be in a lot trouble. Islam has not.

I can assure you this is not racism or Islamophobia. For a start Islam isn’t a race, its a superstition, one based on ancient texts penned by frail humans with a poor understanding of science and a fear of the unknown.

Also, its not a phobia as my fear is not irrational. On the contrary, my fear and loathing of all organised religion is extremely rational and based on common sense, a very good understanding of “Strain Theory”, and a decent knowledge of the works of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Powell, Hitchens, Dawkins, Newton, Darwin, and Johnny Rotten.

In actual fact, I enjoy and relish different cultures, that’s why I travel. I couldn’t care less what shade of pink, yellow or brown a human being is, but I am increasingly saddened that I am indigenous to a land that has little culture of its own, and feels compelled to adopt some nasty and unsavoury alien ones.

Strangely, I found Muslims and Christians I encountered in the Middle East and north Africa to be quite friendly, if not a little aloof and conservative. But then, whilst visiting these Islamic countries I went out of my way to be respectful, compliant and courteous to my indigenous hosts.

Anyway, what can you do?  A “belief” to my mind is something private, and not to be inflicted on others. The best one can be is well mannered.

Again I digress. Back to the big bike trip.

Our visit to London wasn’t a particularly successful one because the London passport office had basically closed down and the applicants now had to go online and make an appointment to submit their documents at another office behind Victoria Train Station.

I already had a well used passport, full of visas and entry stamps, but I needed a second passport and used the excuse that the Israelis had stamped my passport and now I couldn’t travel to my favourite country, Yemen anymore.

I could have told them the truth– that its a safety precaution for when I travel to dodgy countries–but then the mealie mouthed jobs worthies at the passport authority wouldn’t have given me a second passport. The UK is getting more like China– everything is banned and so you have to use lateral thinking to get around the ridiculous red tape.

Also, Fanny and I were still undecided about where we were going next and so we didn’t know which visas to apply for, when, and in what sequence.

If we wanted to ride across central and eastern Europe and through the “‘Stans” to China on our KTMs it was entirely possible, but administratively it was a major headache and was far far too expensive.

In the end we decided that Fanny should fly back to China and see if she could secure some support and sponsorship from some Chinese companies and sort out all the administration and permits for places like Tibet, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan and Mongolia on the ground in China.

For instance, as a foreigner, I was not allowed in Tibet without a special permit, I had to have a paid escort whilst riding a motorcycle in China, and visa restrictions would be prohibitive.  (Note: we sorted all this out — as described in subsequent chapters of this blog) 

Fanny had to leave anyway as her UK visa was about the expire. Somalian warlords, Italian mafioso, Saudi arms dealers, Romanian pickpockets and Islamic hate preachers can all stay in the UK and get a council house if they want one. Chinese lawyers cannot. Roll on Brexit.

Anyway, it would not be a good idea for her to overstay as she might want to visit the UK in the future. In the meantime I would stay in England … at least until the first week of August which was a sort of deadline for several reasons.

One of the reasons was the weather, as we cannot ride through places like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Xinjiang or Tibet in the winter as it reaches ridiculously cold temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade in places, even in late autumn. Another was that our funds were now in the red and we would both have to get jobs the following year.

As we had already ridden several hundreds of kilometers that day we had left it too late to ride the bikes a further 150 kilometers to Bexhill where we were going to store Fanny’s bike in Nick’s garage. So we checked out some budget hotels in London and were shocked that there was nothing available under £80.

Crickey!

Fortunately we had researched some campsites and there appeared to be one in Crystal Palace of all places and that is where we headed for.

It was quite fun riding through busy central London at night with all the neon lights and bustling activity, especially so with our South African registered bikes as however hard we tried to comply with the road signs, painted mostly on the road surface to make it even more confusing,  our Garmin GPS was forever causing us to be in the wrong lane at the wrong time, inadvertently causing us to break many provisions of the UK Road Traffic Act.

South African plates, though! We were effectively immune from prosecution in the UK. I felt like a Nigerian diplomat.

Although it was getting late, we took it steady through the busy boroughs of London. This was just as well because we were overtaken by a Triumph Street Triple that was filtering through the gaps and we saw it make the fundamental mistake of not checking vehicles waiting to make a right hand turn through held up traffic, and we watched in horror as  it ploughed right into the side of a white van that turned in front of a waiting bus.

Luckily the rider was wearing decent protective clothing and its seemed only his pride was bruised. Unfortunately his bike was not so lucky as it broadsided into the side of the van. His lovely new Triumph was a real mess and he had no-one else to blame really but himself.

As a fellow rider I did actually feel sorry for him as he picked up the fragments of his pride and joy and examined the holes in his riding gear.

Fanny and I had of course ridden through some of the most congested cities with the worst driving standards on Planet Earth and we had learned to ride with caution and anticipation. Many of the motorcycle riders we saw in Europe clearly hadn’t learned this lesson and their meeting with a wheel chair, or their maker is sadly inevitable.

We pushed on across the River Thames and got to the campsite near the famous radio tower in South London at about 10 p.m.

No-one was around and so I rode around as I had done many many times, in many many campsites around the world, scoping out the ground and looking for the perfect place to park up our motorcycles and pitch our tent.

In England such activity is obviously a heinous antisocial crime and this blatant breach of local etiquette had infuriated the two wardens and the 300 pound security officer who appeared out of nowhere and tore into me in what I can only describe as a “London rant” of obscenities with lots of “YOUR BANG AAAWWWT  OV AAAWWWDAAA” stuff and other Cockney cliches.

Now there is a time to argue and there is a time to put on a gormless posh accent and mumble “I’m terribly sorry old chap”…… like the British paratrooper played by Edward Fox who lands in a greenhouse in the war movie “The Battle of Britain”.

This was the time for the latter and it worked a treat because they did not know what to do and gradually calmed down and reverted to just plain lecturing mode with lots of tutting and head shaking.

In the end, instead of them calling the “Old Bill” to take us off to the Tower they found us a very nice camping spot and in the morning I continued my humble apologetic routine, told them we had had an awful day in the drenching rain, were held up in appalling traffic, and were riding around the world for charity etc etc.” (which is all true).

Surprisingly they had completely changed their tune and kindly informed us that the camping fee was on them. They told me they had also had a shit day, apologised for getting angry at us, and wished us well.

I should never have told this story to Fanny because she then went into a speech I have heard from my mother, teachers, wives, and a multitude of former girlfriends ….. The speech that consists of variations on the theme of being nice:  ‘I told you being nice is better’, ‘You see, you don’t have to start a fight all the time’, ‘People will be nice if you are nice to them’, etc etc..

To which I nodded intently and replied, ‘ Where’s my breakfast, Bitch?’. Which probably accounts for the fact that there is a long list of former females in my life.

In the morning we packed up and rode out of the suburbs of south London, which let’s be honest, is not very nice, and into Surrey, which is very nice.

We followed a lot of the route that was later going to be cycled along during the road event in the London Olympics, and we then cut through charming South Downs villages with cricket greens and duck ponds to a place I saw advertised in Motor Cycle News, called “Cycles Spray” that I hoped could repair and re-paint Fanny’s damaged side panels that had been grazed and gouged when she cart-wheeled her bike along a sand and gravel trail on the way to Soussesvlei Dunes in Namibia.

The scratched and grazed panels did looked the part, and certainly gave the impression that we had indeed ridden across Africa, but it was time to get the bike back into 100% tiptop condition. The KTMs are superb motorcycles and despite where we had been they were in great condition and had been well looked after and serviced.

I unbolted the orange plastic panels, handed them over and said I would collect them in a couple of weeks when they were ready. We were lucky because they were being repaired and painted at a fraction of the cost of replacement plastic panels from KTM or Acerbis, which I have to say are a ridiculously expensive.

Fanny then rode her bike “sort of naked” to Bexhill where we stored it in the Dobson’s garage.  I then took her and her bag on the back of my bike to Gatwick to catch the express bus to Heathrow airport for her flight back to Shanghai.

As she boarded the bus I was suddenly and unexpectedly flushed with enormous sadness.

We had been together every day and every minute for the last year and been through some amazing adventures together. Few people live cheek by jowl as we had, and saying goodbye to a loved one is always tough.

After her bus pulled away and I rode back to Bexhill to get my own things I kept looking in my mirror. No more orange light following me anymore. My 尾巴 had gone. I suddenly felt extremely lost and very lonely.

It took several days not to panic each time I looked in my mirror and couldn’t see her bike. For everyday over the past year or so I had led the way with Fanny following behind.  I paved the way and moderated the way I rode to Fanny’s speed, Fanny’s capability, and made sure there was always enough space and time for both of our bikes to maneuver, get over something, passed something, or overtake.

I was like a lookout Meercat constantly doing a 360 degree scan for danger and risk. Now I only had myself to worry about and it was only a matter of time before I was back to my bad habits, riding around rather more quickly than I should, performing unnecessary wheelies, sliding on bends, and banking steeply around corners.

‘Are you riding safely?’, Fanny would ask me when she called me on the telephone.

‘Oh, yes” I would reply.

So what should I do now? I felt a bit lost.

The first thing I did was to organize all our kit and then take a ride to Arundel where I knew there was a YHA and campsite I could stay at cheaply, think about things and plan the next few weeks.

I really didn’t want to fritter the time away and yet I didn’t want to put unnecessary mileage on my bike.  I also wanted to do things that would have probably bored Fanny a bit.  Old fart activities like visiting military museums, airshows, county fares, bird parks, and castles.

I knew the Farnborough Airshow was coming up and so I headed for there, but on the way I pulled into the former WWII RAF airfield at Tangmere where Hurricanes and Spitfires battled against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. Now a museum, I had a great day looking at all the aircraft and exhibits and chatting with the volunteers who ran the place. These people are represent Britain at its best and I had an amazing time. I would love to have been a RAF pilot, but alas, not to be. A Royal Hong Kong Police officer was not a bad alternative as it turned out.

As I arrived in Farnborough it was pouring with rain. Very heavy, very wet and extremely miserable. I looked around for places to stay, but being unprepared I ended up camping right at the end of the runway, illegally in Army grounds as it happened, and in the morning a military patrol chased me away, but not before I watched some amazing aerobatic displays which put on quite a show despite low cloud and continuing bad weather.

Decidedly wet and soggy,  I pushed on into Wiltshire to see my sister again and perhaps do some skydiving at Netheravon. In the end I just watched the skydivers from Amanda’s garden with a cup of tea and a cake as they tumbled out of the aircraft and spent the remaining time walking her basset hounds (Urgh!), running across Salisbury Plain (good fun), riding bicycles with my sister, and going for rides around Wiltshire on my stripped down KTM.

I decided that if its going to continue to rain I might as be in Wales and so I left my sister’s house and rode back across the border. Whilst cahooning along the many superb motorcycling routes in Wales, and believe me there are many, I stayed at Rik Davis’ bed and breakfast. Rik is a fellow adventure motorcyclist and has ridden around the world on his BMW GS.

His website is www.thebigbiketrip.com and so with a URL like that he is sort of our motorcycle adventure cousin.

We shared stories and adventures late into the night and the next day I rode up to Conwy in North Wales to stay with my friend Alan again. We had provisionally agreed to do some hiking in Wales together and he suggested we hike the entire Offa’s Dyke.

Good idea I thought … how far is it?   177 miles!

Alan is a meticulous planner and also as a former Snowdonian mountain rescue team member owns the best hiking and mountaineering kit money can buy.

I have very little decent kit, and what I do have is all stored in Shanghai.  My last ill prepared climb to the summit of Mount Kenya in borrowed shoes and my motorcycle kit was rather miserable, wet and decidedly cold. I told Alan I would only do it if he lent me some kit which he kindly agreed. The only thing he didn’t have was boots as I take a size 12 2E wide, and as I didn’t have the money to buy anything decent I bought some cheap shoes in a sale.

I assumed if I could climb Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in someone else’s falling apart boots and borrowed kit, I could easily walk across Wales.

Wrong!

We drove down to the start of the hike at Chepstow on the Severn Estuary and had planned a 7-10 days hike to along the Offa’s Dyke trail to Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.

To save costs we were bringing camping gear with us in our rucksacks and against Alan’s recommendation we each brought our own tents. Alan lent me an 30 year old rucksack that felt comfortable enough in his dining room. Little did I know this 90 litre instrument of torture would bring me misery and injury in days to come.

The first day was very pleasant, walking up above the River Wye in unusually brilliant sunshine. All was well, but by 25 miles my ankles and feet were sore as my shoes had no heel and the rucksack was cutting into my shoulders as the waist support no longer worked, nor provided any support, and so the weight was carried 100% on the flimsy shoulder straps.

Alan was also suffering as he got bitten by some insects that became infected and although he wouldn’t admit it, being a “mountain man” and all was probably struggling too.

When we eventually clambered into Monmouth we were both tired and aching for different reasons.  We camped up and had some dinner in a local pub and the next day we were both in an even worse state.

After an unnecessary argument, that was mostly my fault, Alan decided that was that and went home. I think he was secretly relived to escape my yomping pace and Asperger’s ways.  I don’t like civilian style hiking, I like to march as if going into battle. No idea why. I just like the rhythm and pace. I used to like foot drill when I was training as a young Police Inspector in Hong Kong. Everyone else hated it.

The cheap Karimoor shoes I was wearing were not very good for long distance hikes because they had no heel or ankle support. However, I made the mistake of giving them away to a charity shop and buying an even worse pair of hiking boots that became so painful that by the third day of hiking I had no choice but to take them off and wear my flip flops, which in turn I had to take off in the soggy ground, or steep hills and walk bare footed because they were just too slippy to walk in, especially with a heavy backpack.

Crazy stuff.

At Hay on Wye my feet were in an awful state, so much so I barely registered the red welds and blisters on my shoulders from the heavy ill fitting rucksack. I put blister ointment and plasters on my feet and taped them up with silver gaffer tape, but the new boots were just too ill fitting, not worn in, and badly designed that they were agonizing the whole time.

It was a real shame because the weather and scenery was stunning. When the five days of sunshine in Wales was over and it started to rain I decided enough was enough. This was supposed to be for pleasure, not a selection for a counter terrorism unit and I was not having any fun at all.

Although my body was fine, my feet were very blistered and in excruciating agony and so when I got to Knighton I completed the trip back to Conwy by train and considered feeding the boots to Alan’s dogs when I got there. I have some decent boots in China and I have vowed to myself that one day I will do it again and complete it

(Post note —Offa’s Dyke Unfinished Business — May/June 2017–with proper kit!!)

As things between Alan and I weren’t that cordial, all my fault and I apologise, I didn’t hang about to annoy him anymore and so collected my KTM from his garage and rode back into England to see my friend Gary and Andrea in the Derbyshire High Peak again.

The only trouble was they had decided in the weeks since Fanny and I saw them to part company,  which was probably for the best as they seemed to spend their entire time bickering and arguing.

As Andrea had moved out I supervised her moving her stuff into her new home, went for a few motorcycle rides together, and gave moral support in her time of need by drinking most of her wine and eating everything in her refrigerator. What are friends for after all?

I was pleased for Andrea when I later heard she not only got a super new job, a new house, new man, but had eventually been awarded her PhD. We Thomas Alleynes’ Class of 81 don’t hang about.

I then went to Staffordshire to see my Mum again who was looking much better following her stroke a year or so previously.  As she is partially paralyzed she is confined to a chair. Why she doesn’t have a mobility scooter or electric wheel chair is beyond my understanding.

However, I think I know.

She is being held captive by her abusive partner of many decades, the dimwitted village idiot, Tom.  I only see her very rarely, living overseas, and when I do I am allowed only an hour or so a year before the revolting smelly oik returns and causes trouble.

The poor woman stupidly ran off with this oaf when my siblings and I were small children and subsequently she endured a life of domestic abuse, parochial drudgery and missed opportunities. She rightly left my father, who was actually a very well educated gentleman, but (like his eldest son) totally unsuited to marriage and domestic restraint.

A few years back I had a run in with this dullard, when we were trying to relocate our mother to a more suitable disabled friendly bungalow on the south coast of England. A part of the country she loved as a child and young woman, pleaded with me to go to when she was lying in her hospital bed, and where her mother and father retired to by the sea.

Tom, the village cretin, refused and insisted that she remains confined to a chair on the ground floor of a totally unsuitable 16th century cottage in the village that time forgot. She can’t even go out or sit in the garden.  I understand she goes shopping occasionally, when it suits Tom to get her into the car and push her about in a wheelchair.

During a heated debate when I was reiterating my mothers wishes Tom raised his fist to hit me, much like he did to my siblings and I when we were small children, but he suddenly realized that I am no longer eleven years old, nor very small.  In fact, I am an evil fucker of note, love a ruck, and extremely well trained and practiced looking after myself.

For the first time in his life, the village oaf realized he was nano seconds from a sound hiding, and like all bullies he scurried off, in this case to the next door neighbour, an off duty police constable, to come to his rescue, and perhaps arrest me …. as was the constant threat when I was a teenager.

During the 1970s he was prone to dishing out beatings, often threatening to have me locked up, or sent away to a children’s home. Most of the time he was just a typical nasty stepfather. Aggressive, abusive, unsupportive, highly embarrassing, and irritatingly dimwitted.

My teenage years would have been an absolute misery if not for Graham and Jean Whirledge, local farmers, who sort of adopted me and allowed me to work on their dairy farm when I wasn’t at school. I also thank my aunt and uncle, Bill and Gail McCarthy, and my grandmothers, Amanda Utley and Joan Golbourne for allowing me some respite from the misery, and to enjoy a modicum of normality and support from time to time.

My brother, Simon, clearly an undiagnosed dyslexic, was also badly treated and his bolt hole was another dairy farm called Aikenheads, until he escaped and joined the British Army Junior Leaders Regiment at 15 years old, and later the Blues & Royals Household Calvary.

Our schools? In those days teachers didn’t care. We had nothing, got nothing, and got punished and further disadvantaged just for being poor and underprivileged. Plain and simple. I regret that I never learned to play a musical instrument, play rugby, or any other team sport because I didn’t have money for kit, or extra curricular equipment, nor transport to get about. I generally hitch hiked everywhere, which, whilst a common practice at the time, wasn’t particularly reliable for getting anywhere on time.

I did learn to throw a tractor around a muddy field as soon as my feet could touch the pedals, shovel poo, milk a cow, deliver a calf, toss a straw bail high up onto a trailer, and developed a respect for graft and money!  I remember village kids used to smoke cigarettes. I never did, not for health reasons, but because ten No. 6 fags equated to an hour of shoveling shit in my mind, and I had better things to spend my “50 pence an hour” on.

Later in my mid-teens I supported myself with money earned from some other holiday jobs. A memorable and lucrative gig (that my Aunt Gail arranged when I was 15) was with the Long Term Credit Bank of Japan in Lombard Street in the City of London. With cash in my back pocket that I earned all by myself and a 50cc moped to get around, Joy Division, The Stranglers, Bauhaus, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Psychedelic Furs, and Stiff Little Fingers took care of me until I escaped to London to help old ladies cross the road and chase crims in a SD1 Rover.

(Back to Bagot Street, Abbots Bromley, 2012) 

So, to the embarrassment and visible discomfort of the off duty officer, he was educated (or reacquainted) with how UK law should be enforced, should have been enforced 40 years ago, and sensibly slide away back into his house and closed the door. The deflated village oaf was left standing on the street and had no option but to escape in his “Fritzl” van and go off to a nearby cow shed to be consoled by one of his cretinous mates, or one of the revolting farm hags he often shagged.

Alas, the poor old dear remains in her chair and I visit her rarely and far too infrequently. My inability to resolve this issue fills me with frustration and anger. My siblings accept the situation, but I never will. Families, huh!

After saying goodbye to my mother and feeling thoroughly wretched about the situation and somewhat depressed, not least because I hate that fucking village, I received some good news from Fanny.

She had managed to negotiate sponsorship and two brand new motorcycles from a Chinese motorcycle manufacturer called Chun Feng Moto. She also got sponsorship from some adventure kit manufacturers, including The North Face, the adventure clothing and equipment manufacturer. This was super news and I was delighted for Fanny that all her hard work had paid off.

This meant I knew exactly what I had to do now.

Get a new Chinese visa and arrange for both KTMs and myself to get shipped out of the UK.

I had been looking for new Pirelli tyres for both KTMs, but this was now unnecessary as they could more easily be found in South Africa. Every tyre fitting place it seemed in the UK, and even KTM UK had no time to find and fit tyres.

After a wasted trip to KTM in Hemel Hemstead to look for tyres I had to find somewhere to sleep or a place to camp and looked around in vain for a decent priced B&B or a campsite, but there were none to be found.

I remembered I used to paraglide at Dunstable Downs which wasn’t too far away and I also knew there were fields and meadows I could possibly get into on my bike under the cover of darkness and this is what I did.

It was a strange experience because as I was putting up my tent on a grassy bank surrounded by trees about ten cars suddenly drove into a nearby car park and a mighty commotion started. It took me a while to realise what was going on and how far the UK had slide down the slippery slope since I left three decades ago. This was a doggers party and the local “dogs” (if that what you call the participants) had all rocked up and were doing their thing.

For crying out loud.  I was stuck, didn’t want to alert anyone to my presence, and so I waited unseen and unheard only a few hundred meters away until these “sad acts” had finished their evenings entertainment and drove away before I managed to finish pitching my tent, secure my bike and get to sleep.

It must have been about 3 a.m in the morning that I heard roaring and as I roused from my sleep I was confused.  I rubbed my eyes, pricked my ears and listened out. There it was a again, as distinctive as when I had heard that sound before in South Luangwa, the Kruger, Okavango Delta, Swaziland, the Masia Mara and so on.

Its a fucking lion.

I sat bolt upright, considered where I was and then the coin dropped, I was literally 500 meters from Whipsnade Zoo.

The next day I packed up and rode out to a nearby biker gathering to see my friend Alex from Kaapstad Adventure. It was at a Ducati dealers shop and the Long Way Down rider Charlie Boorman was going to be there to support Garmin who were launching a new GPS and were clearly a sponsor of his.

I met a few bikers and I wandered up to Charlie to say Hi. He said, ‘Oh I remember you, are you still riding that heap of scrap’. I tried to think of something witty to retort, but could only think of  “Cheerio”.

As my friend Nick was still in Italy, another friend, Andrew very kindly volunteered to put me up again in his comfortable studio apartment above his house and later take me down to Bexhill to collect Fanny’s bike and store them in his garage until I could ferry both bikes to Anglo Pacific Shippers in London NW10.

We arrived just in time for a famous Dobson’s Sunday lunch. Perfect timing. While both bikes were in Andrew’s garage Paul Chapman of Adventure Parts very kindly fitted them out with “Camel Toe” side stand supports, adventure windscreens and wind vents to direct the air to the radiators to improve cooling and sound dampening.  I really wish we had had those when we were in Africa.

While I was rested up and waiting to leave I also spent some time thinking about what to do for work when the expedition finishes at the end of the year. I had been asked by several companies to get involved in their forensic investigation and risk consulting practices and I had to have a good think whether this was something I wanted to do again. I believe I am very good at my job, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the politics and intrinsic unfairness of large consulting firms.

Over the years I had built up a great network of satisfied clients and good relationships with a number of law firms, and so I decided to set up my own practice, Apollo Advisory, which has been a great success.

I had a year working for a firm called Censere with three other forensic directors, but this was not working out, despite us working on amazing projects and meeting the objectives of our business plan. While I was in hospital recovering from a serious bout of peritonitis that nearly killed me, they decided not to pay any of us for our work, and so we all went our separate ways.

This proved to be a blessing in disguise, despite being owed a lot of money, my company, Apollo Advisory, went onto even better things.  It allows me to work with very talented people, on projects I like and am very good at, earn a few bucks, continue with my pursuit of fluency in Chinese, travel, keep fit, and have sufficient time for more adventures and expeditions.

But all that would come a little later, as the Asian leg of our big bike trip was just around the corner.

Next chapters : China, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, USA.

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Fanny packing up her bike in Wiltshire

 

 

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Bernard, Cathy and Biscuit  …  famous RTW riders at HU meeting

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Rupert & Nick doing some off road riding with Yamaha in Wales

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Stonehenge in Wiltshire (again)

 

 

The orange North Face bag in the holdall en route to Shanghai… bye bye Fanny

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Fanny’s bike all kitted out.. thanks Paul

New windshield and kit

Waiting until sunsets so I can find a free camping spot… England doesn’t do camping very well… not like Wales.

Free camping on Dunstable Downs. I think I have made a tent pitching error somewhere … where’s Fanny when you need her.

 

 

Parked up outside my childhood home in Abbots Bromley for tea with my mum

 

The Offa’s Dyke…. highly recommended, but bring good boots

 

 

 

 

Proof, the sun is shining on the Welsh/English border

Hello cow

 

 

Camped in a small park in Knighton

 

Now barefooted as boots unbearable, and my flip flops, those classic hiking footwear, were unwearable in the wet.

The dogs…..

Putting the evil rucksack down for half an hour for a pint of cider at a small pub in the ruins of a castle. I asked many of the Brits who were out for a drive if they would give me a lift to Hay on Wye as it was still 17 miles away and I was in flip-flops and my feet were finished but none of them would help me and so I had another pint and walked. 杂种的英国人。

 

 

 

Hiking the Offa’s Dyke, very beautiful in the sun

 

Chatting with Colin Lyle, Ex Rhodesian Air Force at RAF Tangmere museum

 

 

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A really enjoyable visit to RAF Tangmere which was one of the famous Battle of Britain airfields. Passionate volunteers who keep everything running smoothly. Highly recommended

 

 

The Queen and I — we have something in common…neither of us has a pension plan.

Rupert looking like a very dodgy character in the crowd

 

The loan bike from KTM UK… no wheelies…must remember it has a UK registration plate and not an untraceable South African one.

 

The KTMs have lived in many lovely garages in the UK

 

A day trip to Chartwell… thoroughly recommended.

Top bloke that Churchill fellow… and nice house

 

Fanny and her bike outside Buckingham Palace just before the police came along in a van and told us to move on.

HP Brown Sauce label with a KTM …and its about to rain, again.

 

So many wonderful things in the British Museum, but this Anglo Saxon helmet is probably my favourite.

 

While in London I tried and failed to get into the Olympic village. This is as far as I got

I did manage to get a ticket for the volleyball at Earl’s Court.

 

 

 

 

The new UK passport office behind Victoria train station.  I am pretty sure I was the only indigenous person from the British Isles in there, and that included all staff. I wonder how long before people like me have to live in a “natives” reserve in Surrey.

 

A ride with Andrea to the Cat and Fiddle which used to be a road in Derbyshire where bikers could give it some beans. But now like most fun in the UK, it is banned and over policed with cameras, helicopters and CCTV.

 

Bumped into this Chinese Rickshaw rider who had ridden to London from China.

 

 

The repaired shiny side panels on Fanny’s bike… looks good as new

 

 

“And there I was with my mate Ewan in the middle of Zambia and this really handsome chap turned up on a much nicer KTM than our piles of scrap”.. bore bore boreman…

Alex and his KTM

 

 

 

 

 

The KTMs at the shippers and heading back home to Cape Town. We on the other hand are off to China for a new adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16 – Turkey to France

The relief of getting ourselves out of Egypt was matched by our excitement about seeing Turkey and eventually crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.  I remained nervous that we had left our precious KTMs in the hands of Egyptian officials in a scruffy and dusty customs warehouse in Alexandria and wondered whether we’d ever see them again. Also, I was still smarting from the unexpected and exorbitant shipping costs and being messed about by Egyptian red tape and having to endure their downright nonsense. But hey… we had managed to cross to a new continent and the European leg of our big bike trip was about to start.

As we left a storm was still raging in Alexandria and our 01.00 am taxi ride to the airport in the middle of seemingly nowhere was uneventful but strangely exciting. We were booked on the 03.00 am flight to Istanbul, and boarded at 04.30 am just to ensure that I could consistently whine about Egyptian tardiness and inefficiency without any contradiction.

Istanbul – where Asia meets Europe

View from our window as we taxied to the terminal in Istanbul… snow!

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We had never been on Turkish Airlines before, but it was clearly a good airline and enjoying the success of a huge marketing campaign that included advertisements featuring the Manchester United football team. In fact the safety announcement featured football players from both FC Barcelona and Manchester United along with some rather stunning looking Turkish flight attendants reminding us not to smoke in the bogs and to smile calmly as you fit the oxygen mask and assume the brace position before you plummet into the ground.  It seemed strange being on a aeroplane again, but perhaps not as strange as eating kebabs at 5 am in the morning when you are stone cold sober.

Sitting in seats 15A and B we covered a distance of 1500 kilometres in little over two hours… and so we arrived in Istanbul just as dawn was breaking. Whilst taxiing on the runway I peered out of the window and everything was frosted white and covered with snow. I love motorcycling for sure, but we both hate being cold and it looked exceptionally so and I was quite pleased we were not on the bikes …at that time of year anyway.

When we got off the cold shuttle bus into the arrivals hall we found it to be modern, efficient, clean and strangely welcoming.  I had to get a Turkish visa and so I handed over 5 Lira at a counter and immediately got a three month stay stamped into my EU passport. No drama. No hassle. No nonsense.

Fanny, having a Chinese passport, had already applied for her Turkish visa in advance in Shanghai  as she more often than not had to do, but it was valid for only 15 days at a time and this caused both of us concern that it would not be be enough to travel to Mersin from Istanbul;  wait for the bikes to arrive (we had been told 10 days voyage); wait for immigration, customs and shipping agents to do their thing; fix my rear suspension; ride along the south coast of Turkey and actually see something; and then get a ferry to Greece? We would see.

The arrivals hall was full of the usual array of coffee shops and so we bought huge cups of Seattle style coffee and even bigger muffins, just to wash down the early morning kebabs.  We asked at the information counter how to get into town and were informed by a polite and fluent English speaking assistant that we could take a shuttle bus from right outside the arrivals hall and straight to Taksin in the centre of the city, and that is what we did.

As I looked out of the luxury coach windows at the snowy landscape of Istanbul I could see impressive mosques and churches, shopping malls, car showrooms, pretty women and smart men going to work, end to end petrol stations selling 100+ octane fuel, law abiding and careful driving, and bill boards in Turkish advertising the same products and services that can be found in New York, Hong Kong or London. Very different from its neighbouring countries, but the realization that the deserts and bush of Africa were behind us hit me hard and I actually felt a bit sad.

We got off the bus with our light luggage (the rest of our possessions were still strapped to the bikes in the Alexandria customs warehouse- or so we hoped), and then we wondered what to do next. Fanny had researched some budget hotels to stay at and we set off on foot in the direction we thought they were. The walk took us through a very beautiful part of Istanbul and along a tramway which ran through the middle of a precinct of shops, restaurants, bars and nice hotels.

Fanny and I arriving at Istanbul airport… we had managed to escape from Egypt and all of Europe was ahead of us.

Istanbul football stadium

Crossing the straits from Europe back to Asia (Istanbul)

Fanny and I crossing the harbour on one off the ferry taxis

Our hotel in the heart of Istanbul .. The Saydam.. Quite luxurious compared to where we had stayed before on our trip.

The area where we stayed in the Taksin district .. looking back from the bridge

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Fanny and I wandering in the main street in Taksin…

Checking out the KTM bicycles at the Istanbul Motorcycle Show

Checking out the KTMs at their very impressive stand. These guys helped me fix my WP shock

Maps, maps and more maps…

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The hotel Fanny had in mind was recommended by a Turkish friend from Shanghai and was down a back alley near the Swedish consulate. After a very well rehearsed sweep operation of the back streets we found it and Fanny went up to check it out and tao jia huan jia (negotiate price) with the owner. At the same time I checked out a couple of other hotels and realized, I supposed given the economic climate, that there were some pretty good deals to be had if you negotiated robustly. In the end we settled on a very comfortable and warm, if not rather small room right in the middle of Taksin.

Although it remained very cold in Istanbul, we decided to brave the weather and do some touristy things.  First we went to Touratech Istanbul and bought some new hand guards. I would swap mine onto Fanny’s bike as they were still like new and I would have a black and white Touratech ones to match my livery.  Did they change my life..? No, but they were pretty.. We then went to the Turkish Motorcycle show and were lucky to meet some motorcycle dealers on the train who gave us some free tickets.  Here we saw many of the latest machines and chatted with the KTM people, including finding out how to repair my damaged rear WP shock absorber. It seemed it could be rebuilt fairly easily if you had the correct tools. Sorted.

Later we visited the Blue Mosque, walked around the Bazaar, took some boat rides, went to the cinema and had a night out in an Irish pub where we enjoyed a very good local band playing Irish folk songs. We had most of our meals in a local restaurant right opposite our hotel. Not only was the food authentic and very cheap, but the owners took a fondness to Fanny and she would often help him in the kitchen much to the astonishment of the local clientèle who probably thought they were employing an illegal Chinese worker.

We would have dearly liked to have stayed in Istanbul longer, its a truly great city with lovely people, but Fanny’s visa time was ticking away and we heard that the MV Napoli, the ship carrying our bikes was due to dock in a few days and so we took an overnight bus to Mersin on the south coast. I had been tracking the movement of this cargo ship using a GPS program on the internet and it was now definitely pointing in the direction of Turkey.  The website for tracking shipping is below:

http://www.marinetraffic.com

Fanny with the head of KTM Turkey … and the latest KTM bikes. Later we would see the protype bikes that would become the KTM 1190 Adventure being ridden around near the KTM factory in Mattighofen in Austria. Pictured here are the KTM 990 Adventure, RC8R Sports bike and one of the enormously fun Dukes

Even though I am a Roaming Catholic of the lapsed kind,  I thoroughly enjoy visiting churches, cathedrals and mosques. Peaceful and beautiful places that give one a time for reflection.

Night cats in the night bars of Istanbul

Exotic dried spices hanging up in the markets

Turkey has lots of very sugary cakes and pastries

Zeki and Fanny cooking in his restaurant in Istanbul

Sometimes….

Custom Adventure bikes from Globe Scout…

Zeki and Fanny preparing our breakfast

Inside the magnificent Blue Mosque

The famous Blue Mosque

Fellow bikers from Istanbul join us for a coffee and chat about “bikes” and “more bikes”

Fanny next to one of the huge columns inside the Blue Mosque.

Mountainous and cold central Turkey

The excellent and good value Baranlar Hotel in Mersin (south coast port town)……..http://baranlarhotel.com/

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The ride through the snow covered interior of Turkey was as comfortable as a 12 hour coach ride can be and we arrived in Mersin as the sun was rising and started looking for somewhere to stay.

We found a good hotel not far from the bus station and Fanny managed to negotiate a very decent room at a very reasonable price at the Baranlar Hotel. Again like in Istanbul everyone was friendly and helpful and we even had a safe garage to park our bikes in. The hotel staff and all the people in the shops in the immediate vicinity seemed absolutely fascinated by Fanny and she was greeted enthusiastically where ever she went.

We got straight to work preparing for the arrival of our bikes with the local China Shipping office and we also got to know the people at KTM in Mersin very well. Like everyone we met in Turkey they were incredibly hospitable and they went out of their way to get my WP rear shock absorber repaired as quickly and cheaply as possible.  The owner of KTM, Metin and his wife, Sylvia, also took us out to a famous local restaurant where we ate delicious traditional local food amongst the citrus groves and Metin and I got slowly “smashed” on the local grog, Raki.

While we were waiting we were joined by another RTW motorcycle expedition from South Africa who were riding to Singapore on Kawasaki KLR 650s and also had shock absorber problems just as they arrived in Europe. The expedition consisted of the Taylor family– father (Mal) with his son (Julian) and daughter (Shannon) — and their friend John. Fortunately,  Metin and his team were also Kawasaki dealers and worked with a great mechanic who managed to fix their bikes in Mersin. Due to being behind schedule they had to load their bikes onto a truck to deliver them at the Iranian border before their visas expired. The KLR is a great bike and we very nearly chose them for our trip and the last time I checked the Taylor family made it all the way to Singapore. Congratulations. 加油加油。

Their expedition is at www.4bikes4singapore.wordpress.com

My shock absorber was removed and sent off to KTM in Istanbul where it was overhauled by changing all the gaskets and adding back the oil and nitrogen that had escaped. This is one of the advantage of the White Power (WP) shock absorbers that are fitted to KTMs but its a procedure that can only be done with the correct equipment and know-how. The shocks that were fitted to the Kawasaki KLRs belonging to the Taylors could also be repaired simply by pumping them up with air, but this is not a permanent repair, but quite a useful quick fix if they fail in remote locations.

After the bikes were fixed we bade yet another farewell to all the new friends we had made and pointed our bikes in a westerly direction and set off along the stunningly beautiful south coast of Turkey towards Adana, Antalya, Oludeniz and finally Marmaris.

Eyes down and looking

A superb meal among the citrus groves near Mersin with our very kind hosts from KTM

The Taylor family expedition and their Kawasaki KLRs in Mersin outside our hotel. Everyone was focused on their bikes and plans for routes ahead and borders to cross over. Fanny and I are sharing her bike as mine was having the shock fixed by KTM.

Taking the Taylors KLRs off a truck in Mersin, Turkey.  The Kawasakis are great adventure bikes and have changed little in two decades. These second hand ones had ridden all the way across Africa just like ours and towards Europe had developed a few suspension problems… just like mine which had taken quite a bit of abuse off roading in Egypt with the setting too hard.  Fanny’s older (2008) KTM 990 Adventure had had no problems at all despite the spectacular crash in Namibia.  I am a big fan of this KLR 650 adventure bike and if I rode around the world on one I would perhaps make a few alterations, such as replacing the exhaust (saves weight and increases power) and swapped the rear suspension for an Ohlins or better after market one. Extra money granted, but definitely well spent

A birthday cake for Fanny from the KTM team in Mersin

Mr Fatih and his team from China Shipping Turkey who really looked after us and helped with all the crazy admin of shipping between Africa and Europe.  Its all part of the experience, but we would loved to have seen Damascus and the rest of Syria. One day.

Out of season paradise in Oludeniz, Turkey. The campsite was very comfortable, as were most of the camp sites in southern Turkey.

Riding along the picturesque coastal road in Southern Turkey and taking in the views.

Fanny cruising along…. enjoying the nice road and amazing scenery .. but not the price of the petrol.

The best fruit juice stall on Planet Earth… South Turkey. Pomegranate, lemon and orange juice mix .. heavenly.

Camping up by the Mediterranean and getting a good fire going. This tent had been our home for nearly a year.

Snow capped mountains in Southern Turkey … quite a sight as you ride along the sunny Mediterranean coast

A stroll around Antalya at night. This is quite a touristy town and many expatriates from northern Europe and UK settle here… and we could see why.

Our pansion (a guest house) in Antalya …. highly recommended

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We camped most of the time right next to the sea and more often than not were the only people. Despite the weather seeming pretty much perfect to us, the official tourist season had not yet begun and a lot of the hotels, restaurants and campsites had yet to open. I have no idea why April in Turkey is so quiet when the weather and scenery is so beautiful, but that’s the way it was. We pretty much had it all to ourselves.

When we got to Marmaris we took a ferry to Rhodes and the immigration officials either did not notice or did not care that Fanny had overstayed her visa by a few days. We did our best to comply with the conditions of her visa but 15 days was not enough to do all the things we had to do and ride along the south coast to catch a ferry to Greece. The reality is that Chinese are subjected to much stricter visa conditions than other nationalities, but then China imposes strict conditions on all foreign visitors and there is no escaping the fact that Chinese make up the greatest number of illegal immigrants in the world. quid pro quo I suppose.

While in Rhodes we explored the Old Town which is a walled city and appeared very well defended and must have been impenetrable in the day when it was the most easterly Christian defence against marauding Muslims, although it fell to the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries later on.

It took some time to actually find a pension (guest house) or place to stay, not least because everything seemed to be closed. Shops, restaurants and hotels remained closed until a cruise ship sailed into town and moored up and then they all suddenly opened. But as soon as the last passenger was back on board the cruise ship every commercial operation in Rhodes was closed again. Annoying. I think its safe to say that whilst Greece was to epicenter of civilization in the day, today they have a much more relaxed approach and their work/life balance is tilted right over to life. Good for the soul…. bad for the economy.

The best orange juice maker in the world making flat stone bobs for our motorcycle sidestands… we love Turkey

Our bikes taking a very pleasant ferry ride from Turkey to Rhodos in Greece.

Another perfect camping site in South Turkey

One of the many stunningly beautiful coastal lookouts in south Turkey

Getting ready to board the ferry to Rhodos in Greece

Arriving in Rhodes

Old Rhodes

Exploring Rhodes Island on our motorcycles… great fun

Bikes parked outside our hotel in Rhodes

Rupert tucking into another Greek salad

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Fanny and a new friend with our bikes parked up outside the Walk Inn Pub in Rhodos next to the hotel where we stayed. A very pretty courtyard and a superb place to stay

Fanny scootering about Rhodes with a new friend

Parked outside a small room we rented. The bikes fit in there very nicely. Whilst most of the two wheeled vehicles navigating the tight and twisty alleyways in Old Rhodes were scooters, our big adventure bikes had few problems getting about, although the combined din from our Akropovik and Leo Vince exhausts felt like they could bring the old city walls down.

And for our next expedition…. pink scooters

The amazing fort walls of Old Rhodes. Fanny and I explored the island on foot and on our bikes.

The bronze deer where the Colossus used to be. I really think they should build a new Colossus that straddles the bay … would look amazing and be good for tourism.

Fanny’s friend

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We settled on a rather run down place for a night but the next day found a super hotel which was not fully open but allowed us to stay and gave us a good discount. Next door to this hotel was a fantastic bar called “The Walk Inn” and when we were not mooching around the back streets (i.e getting lost) we were propped up in the bar next door listening to live bands and tucking into enormous Greek meals.

http://www.walking-rhodes.com/directory/walk-inn-old-rhodes-town-rhodes

From Rhodes we took a much larger ferry to Athens on the mainland of Greece which took all night. We couldn’t afford a cabin but we took out our sleeping mats and sleeping bags and lounged out between the seats in the lounge. Just like camping.

There were a few things that I immediately noticed in Athens. The first was that it was full of motorcycles, especially Transalps and Vstroms which seemed to be everywhere.  The second was that it looked run down and  the economic gloom affecting Greece was very apparent.  We booked into a decent enough hotel in the centre of the city and whilst unpacking our bikes in the street Fanny was approached by a curb crawler who asked her quite blatantly if she was “working”.  Not sure if she was flattered or insulted. The third thing was that Athens appeared quite run down, dirty and sleazy and most of the shops were closed. Not what we expected from one of the cradles of civilization.

We only stayed in Athens for a day and then continued our journey west riding through several ancient and famous cities such as Delphi as we rode to the port of Patras where we did some maintenance work on our bikes at the local KTM garage.  We had not  been able to find air-filters in Africa and so these were replaced, along with the chains and sprockets which were still in pretty good condition after 25,000+ kilometers, but probably prudent to change them while we can.  While we were there we stayed with another KTM rider called John and in the morning took yet another ferry to Bari on the south east of Italy.

From Rhodes to Athens and securing the bikes on a huge ferry. Greece consists of many islands and the ferry system is very advanced, although in these days of economic gloom many were run down and many services had been cancelled.

Who needs a cabin?  Fanny and I get out our sleeping bags, put the ear plugs in and go to sleep. Easy as pie.

One of thousands of Transalps we saw in Athens

Fanny and I do the tourist sites in Athens

Ancient Delphi…. The seat of  civilization and where the aphorism, “Most men are bad.” was written by Bias on the temple walls.  Bias was one of seven sages, a politician and legislator in the 6th century BC Greece.  It seems back then in pre monotheistic dictatorship times many knew democracy and religion were flawed and that the ideals of Marxism and Atheism were superior.  Perhaps one day we will all be as enlightened as Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, but then again Chilon, a Spartan politician back then also said  “You should not desire the impossible.” Hey Ho.

 

An ancient theater in Athens … a sneaky picture as they wanted an entrance fee to go in… I should coco!!

Our bikes being guarded by G4S on the ferry to Italy… quite right

 

Another service stop at KTM, this time in Greece. We had our chains and sprockets changed here and new air filters which had not been changed since we started in Arniston/Cape Town nearly a year previously. The bikes had done very well so far but we were close to 31,000 kilometers and so the chain and sprockets were in need of replacement. We thought we would wait until Italy to get some new Pirelli tyres as they were near the end of their life as they were last changed in Nairobi and had seen some big miles from Kenya to Greece… on some awful roads like the one to Moyale.  The back tyres had done about 15,000 kilometers which isn’t bad for any tyre on the back of a 1000cc adventure bike…  Later our CF Moto TR 650s would do 13,000 kilometers across China and on some rough and crappy roads in Tibet and Qinghai and yet when we arrived in Shanghai the Chinese made tyres looked as good as new. The colourful strips were still there…????  When I remarked how good the tyres were to CF Moto they said why would one put tyres on a motorcycle that couldn’t last for 50,000 kilometers or more.  I did not bother replying as I couldn’t remember the Chinese word for “grip” .. as in “how about grip?”.

Having just arrived in Bari in Italy. We met another KTM 990 Adventure rider from Greece who was off touring southern Italy and Sicily.  Same colour as my previous bike.

The KTM 990 Adventure rider from Greece with our bikes in Bari in south east Italy

Touring southern Italy…. wonderful riding. We loved it.  The south of Italy is very different to the north.

Rest break in a small town southern Italy. Altamura I think.

Fanny and I in the gladiator Stadium in Pompei

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From Bari we rode across the south of the country towards Napoli and some how or another we took a short cut and rode cross country onto a toll highway.  After only a kilometer or so we arrived at a toll booth and caused a traffic jam as we had no tickets. The toll booth official should have just allowed us to ride through the barrier, but he persisted and failed in trying to input a fine of 86 Euros into his computer.

As I suspected the system could not process non EU registration numbers and so in the end he decided to write our details in biro on the ticket. Apparently having no tickets results in the maximum possible toll fee. He took fifteen minutes with this pointless exercise and caused a massive tail-back. After he finally handed over the tickets I noticed that the registration numbers were incorrect anyway and so in full view of Signore Tollbooth both tickets were skilfully launched into his waste basket. And a celebratory wheelie as we accelerated away? Why not.

Anyway we pushed on to Sorrento where we got stuck in terrible traffic jams and we experienced these jams pretty much everywhere we went in Italy. Essentially there are just too many cars in Italy and the roads and city streets are just too narrow. We must have ridden over 600 kilometers that day due to the long evening light and managed to find a super camp site in a place I always wanted to see… Pompei.

We loved Pompei, to my mind the most interesting bit of Italy because the eruption from the volcano, Mount Vesuvius threw out ash, poisonous gas, and lava that preserved the ancient Roman city like a snap shot in time and now you can wander around and see the city almost as it was 2000 odd years ago. Highly recommended.

Mount Vesuvius behind some Pompei vineyards

The ruins of Pompei

Some poor chap who got caught in the ash and preserved for time immemorial

The Romans lived well .. well some people did if you weren’t a slave or a peasant.

Interior decorating

Well there is the proof… a Roman massage was just like a Chinese one. That’s civilization at its zenith.

A very interesting day exploring the ruins in Pompei.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

New Pirelli Tyres in Rome

Rupert riding around Rome…. it’ll be nice when its finished.

Fanny at the  “Ben Hur” chariot race track

Salzburg with Christian Huber and his mum

Rhone valley

Not thinking about those bastards at FTI Consulting in Tuscana, Italy

Making new friends in Germany…. they are a bit stiff though.

Not thinking about double entry book keeping — in Bavaria

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We had a very nice week in Rome with Nick and Paola and spent Easter day itself with Paola’s family at their lovely home in Ferentino, a picturesque and ancient hill town about an hours drive from Rome and enjoyed traditional Italian home cooking.  We fitted new Pirelli tyres in Rome, right next to the Vatican and rode around the city taking in the sights surrounded by seemingly millions of tourists.

Afterwards we explored Pisa, Sienna, Firenze, Lucca and other small towns around the beautiful region of Tuscany. Although it was extremely wet the whole time our tent kept out the rain and we swapped our bikes for buses and joined the great unwashed on public transport. Beautiful cities with fascinating histories, but I feel the real beauty and interest lies in the smaller towns and villages off the beaten track.

We then rode the famous Ducati Multistrada route from Lucca to Bologna where a month later it was rocked by an earthquake. We missed the  earthquake fortunately, but did manage to see the Ducati factory…from a distance. We did see a lot of Ducati motorcycles, especially the glorious Multistrada  which is definitely on my wish list of bikes to own one day. We continued north east to the famous island city of venice where we wandered around the back streets and piazzas. It was far too touristy for my liking although we are both pleased we saw it and had a chance to take in the architecture and art work which is very special.

From Venice we could see the snow capped mountains of the Alps and Dolomites to the north and so we wrapped up in our new Rev’It motorcycle kit and base layers and rode towards north Italy and Austria. This was one of the most exciting rides of our whole trip. A very different landscape and and a motorcycling heaven. Although we rode through snow and in sub zero conditions we were very comfortable in our kit and our KTM 990 Adventures were as comfortable is snowy conditions, as they were in sand, water, or mud indeed on tarmac. They are the ultimate round the world motorcycles and we were later to see far more BMWs than KTMs as we rode through Europe, my bike had not fallen once while moving. The 990 Adventure is balanced, exciting and mechanically superior. Of that I have no doubt.

We rode through stunning valleys and across breath taking mountain passes to Salzburg in Austria where we stayed with another “round the world” motorcyclist called Christian and his kind family. We visited the KTM factory in Mattighofen just north of Salzburg and even saw one of the new adventure bikes for 2013 being test ridden from their R&D factory. We then rode to Bavaria and stayed with our very good friend Winfried whom we had met earlier in Botswana, and now met his lovely wife, Friedl. We were very kindly looked after, taken to the local tourist sites, a jazz festival and even to Bodensee to join in a family celebration.

We rode through the Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps where Fanny experienced a bit of drama by colliding with a BMW motorcycle in a dark one way tunnel near the ski resort of Samnaun and both she and the other rider were detained by the police who took an age to process what was essentially a minor damage only accident (to the BMW bike only).

The German rider was apoplectic with rage and was cursing Fanny very loudly, but calmed down somewhat when she threatened to thump him which rather blind sided the young policemen who suggested it wasn’t a good idea as the paperwork would take days.

Eventually the police asked both Herr Motorrad and Fanny for 700 Euros each for bail which resulted in a me giving them a full and frank appraisal of their criminal justice system and so they settled on 100 US dollars which I paid from my African bribe fund that was, until this encounter with the Swiss, still untouched.  Quite a ridiculously minor incident involving speeds no more than 5 kilometres an hour and I would venture that fault really lies with the Swiss authorities for dangerous road conditions.  I didn’t think much of the Swiss when I investigated one of their banks in Zurich as part of the Volcker Commission 15 years ago and I still don’t think much of them.

Its real ,, Bavaria

Austria…a bikers paradise and home to the best motorcycle in the world

条条大路通罗马。。。 Outside St. Peter’s Cathedral in  Rome

The Swiss police detaining a BMW and KTM rider for hours… they were not so slow about banking for the Nazis 70 years ago.

Snow in Seefeld, Austria

Switzerland/Austria/Italy/ border somewhere… Really beautiful scenery but slightly odd and disapproving people. We don’t think the Swiss like foreigners very much … in fact I am convinced of it. I have been lucky in my life and traveled to nearly every country on the planet and its my firm belief that the Swiss and Singaporeans are the oddest and most xenophobic. I have, to be fair and balanced, met a few very nice people from both countries.. but they are the exception.

Fanny cruising along in Austria

The Alps.. We rode through them, around them and over them in Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland. The Stelvio Pass and Col de LÍseran are something special for motorcycle riders with lots of hairpin turns and amazing views and sheer drops, but we would later ride through Tibet and up and down some passes in the Himalayas and the Qinghai/Tibet Plateau and these would prove who the daddy really is. (see Tibet and China Chapter)

Twisty passes in Alps…. good fun

From Verbier in Switzerland to Chamonix in France

Camping in Chamonix, France. The French owner was not sure if I was British or South African until I handed over my passport. Thereafter, with confirmation that I was indeed a  “Roast Beef”” and Fanny a “commie subversive bed wetting commie” she went into default grumpy mode. But it wasn’t long before the gregarious and engaging Fanny Fang and OTT charming Rupert Utley had Madame Grincheux eating melon seeds out of our hands, bringing us French snacks and giving us the best camping spot. Watch and learn fellow Brits.

Market place, Provence

Lovely view from Joan’s house in Cotignac (my aunt). We stayed here for a week enjoying the spring and early summer in stylish Provence. next door neighbours were no other than Brad Pitt and Angelina Pitt.

Provence, France

Lavender, honey and a bit of rain

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After this drama we continued our journey through the rain, snow, sunshine, and clouds of the Alps — continually going in and out of south Switzerland and north Italy, through the beautiful lakeside towns of Lugano and Locarno towards my old paragliding haunts of Verbier and Chamonix where we camped just under the glacier, Mer de Glace.

Twenty years ago I flew my paraglider from the slopes of Mont Blanc on the lofty perch of Aguile de Midi  at night during a full moon down to Chamonix over the Mer de Glace. A highlight of the many places I have been lucky to fly in. Chamonix is a very pretty ski resort and a tandem paragliding flight is highly recommended if you get a chance. I used to spend a lot of time here and did some epic cross country flights around the various valleys at very high altitudes among the peaks and cliffs.

We then rode through beautiful French mountains and valleys to the Alpine resort of Briancon and then through the stormy lavender fields of the Haute Provence to my aunt and uncle’s stunning home in Cotignac where we had an absolutely super and relaxing time.  Provence was a perfect place to start getting fit again and so my running and training campaign kicked off and my consumption of European lard and booze finished… as much as one can.

We then rode through a very windy southern France to Barcelona in Spain where we explored the back streets, gazed at the amazing architecture and camped on a beach just outside the city. Neither Fanny nor I had been to mainland Spain before and we were amazed at the stunning countryside, especially as we cruised through the foothills of the Pyrenees and teamed up with one of the biggest motorcycle clubs in Europe who were having one of their annual gatherings.

Our target location was San Sebastian in the Basque Country where we stayed with Fanny’s former Gaelic football  team members, Nuria and Jokin,  who have now returned home from China and started a family. While we were there it started raining and continued to do so for days and it took some resolve to leave their warm and cozy home and venture outside and ride northwards back into France.

So began a very unexpected ride through France… unexpected because after so many years of French bashing (as we English are programmed to do), I found I really liked France and the French people. A fabulous country and for a farm boy like me who loves the countryside a real joy.

We rode through the wine lands of Bordeaux and the Loire and to the enchanting woods, rustic buildings and picturesque harbours of Brittany in the north west of France. We then explored the battlefields, memorials, museums and cemeteries which mark the terror, sadness and glories of battles which raged throughout Normandy during the twentieth century.

We continued riding to Calais and then took the ferry over to my motherland, England in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the London Olympics.

It has been an amazing and life changing expedition so far and Fanny and I will never forget our “Big Bike Trip”.

Style in Provence (look at that guys face??)

Foothills of Pyrenees

 
Nuria, Jokin and their daughter, Naia in Zumaia in the Basque Country

Fanny setting a new “cheeky” style in motorcycle kit … Bordeaux, France

Quiet, natural and free… camping by the side of a canal in France