Royal Hong Kong Police Chapter 3 – Emergency Unit, Yip Kai Foon and AK47s

Following a long leave that allowed me to travel around the world, I returned to Hong Kong to start my second tour with the Royal Hong Kong Police and was unsurprised, although a tad disappointed to learn that I had been posted to three months detention at Headquarters’ Command and Control, otherwise known as PolMil.

In reality I was not being unfairly treated as most expatriate officers had to do a short stint in HQCCC at the beginning of their second tour because native English speakers were required to perform a job that mainly involved consolidating various sources of information to prepare the “situation report” for the senior brass each day.

HQCCC was located in the dungeons of Police Headquarters in Wanchai, and RHKP Inspectors were joined in the “Well” (as the windowless and lowered banks of computers, monitors and telephones were called) by British military officers of Major or Warrant Officer rank, and as far as I remember the job involved, in addition to preparing the HQ Situation Report, calling out EOD for bomb threats, deploying various specialists (many I wasn’t aware of such as professional lock pickers) and calling out RAF helicopters for various tasks such as casualty evacuations. One bizarre and pointless job was to monitor Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in nearby China to make sure it hadn’t blown up!

Four Inspectors, all of whom I knew well (Dickie, Gus, Damian and I) covered the three shifts. For reasons I never understood the night shift (“C”) was ten hours long, the afternoon shift shift (“B”) was six hours long and the morning shift (“A”) was eight hours long.

We were supervised, allegedly, by a Chief Inspector who worked 9am-5pm. This position was filled by a newly promoted CIP who we all knew well called Steve who, in addition to becoming a good friend in later life, was responsible for making me levitate one day as I received the biggest “bollocking” of my life, and deservedly so for what I will describe later.

In addition to the official job description, PolMil really involved watching television in a command and control bunker in Police Headquarters, cut and pasting other people’s reports into a “sitrep” (literally with glue and scissors), eating junk food, watching more television, gossiping, sleeping while trying to look awake, making prank phone calls and plotting our escape.

The job was akin to being a couch potato, and sitting in a seat watching television and answering the telephone for ten hours a day was really not all that different to sitting in a seat watching television and answering the telephone for fourteen hours. So, Dickie and I devised a cunning plan to make life more interesting by working each other’s shift for a few days, allowing both of us to have a few days off and join our respective Cathay Pacific wives using their ID90 discount flight scheme to escape the monotony.

First, Dickie went to the Philippines with his wife and while he was away I covered both his shift and mine. On a couple of occasions my boss, Steve asked me where Dickie was and I just palmed him off saying it was my shift and he would be in later.

When Dickie came back from his jaunt to the Philippines he covered my shifts for a couple of days and so I joined my wife, Lilian on one of the flights she was working.

Allegedly, as I was in wandering around the cafes and art galleries of Paris, Steve asked Dickie the same question about where I was and Dickie panicked and said I was ill. Steve then said he would go and visit me and make sure I am OK, to which Dickie blurted out, the infamous and much recounted in bars and messes ever since,

“HE’S IN FRANCE”.

Its difficult to deny the fact, that I am indeed …in France

Oblivious to the fact our little ruse had been rumbled, I enjoyed a very pleasurable flight back to Hong Kong in first class, eating caviar and sipping champagne, but mostly asleep and rocked up for my next shift at HQCCC as fresh as a daisy.

Steve is from Hull, and Yorkshiremen are not known for mincing their words, and when I was intercepted an extremely loud, fruity, imaginative, and thoroughly well deserved “bollocking” ensued that was akin to standing in front of Marshall speakers at an AC/DC concert, except with a lot of swearing and saliva.

I can safely say I kept my head well and truly down and avoided eye contact for days.

I was later to learn that Dickie and my cunning plan to squeeze a short holiday by working each others’ shifts was not well received by the Colonial brass, and I understand the Assistant Commissioner of Operations saved our bacon and decided not to discipline us for going AWAL, which I will freely admit we should have been. Later on in my career I will be disciplined for things I should not have been disciplined for, and so I suppose in the grand scheme of things it balanced out.

For a while, at least.

The story went into RHKP folk legend and Steve, perhaps unfairly, always referred to Dickie thereafter as “Squealer”. Its ironic that several decades later Steve worked for Dickie in the private sector in airport security and probably addressed him as “Squealer, Sir”.

I have already described Gus in Chapter 1 of this RHKP blog, and he was quite a character. Far too intelligent for his own good, an accomplished musician, golfer, light aircraft pilot, mimic, amateur dramatics actor, comedian, linguist and “bullshitter” of note. Gus had a very low boredom threshold, and perhaps like me, this led to many accomplishments in life, but also to getting into trouble a lot.

One “Gus” incident I remember well was that a senior officer telephoned HQCCC and requested that EOD be called out to deal with an IED at the scene of some incident. At that time, Gus, Steve and I were all in the EOD Cadre and all of us should have known what the correct protocols were. Instead, Gus told the senior officer at the scene to get the suspect to dispose his own bomb. As pragmatic as this may seem, it was of course a very daft suggestion and resulted in a moderate amount of shit being directed into Gus’ fan.

It is also during this period of professional idling that Gus and I took up paragliding and we went on to become the founders of the Hong Kong Paragliding Association (www.hkpa.net) together with a Cathay Pacific 747 Captain called Tony. In these pioneering days my first fight was on Gus’ Airwave Black Magic paraglider, with no instruction, no clue and no worries.

I had always wanted to fly and Gus confidently reassured me that all my dreams would come true as he strapped me into his newly purchased paraglider and pushed me off a steep cliff at Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung Country Park.

Neither of us knew what we were doing, and in the strong winds I got seriously twisted up in the lines, was unceremoniously dragged up the hill and luckily hauled into the air before I got blown backwards into the lee side rotor of the hill and down a cliff.

Luckily, and with no help from Gus’ frantic instructions on the walkie talkie, my glider unspun itself and I ended up facing the right way and then enjoyed an idyllic free flight for a brief few minutes before I drifted down to the beach where I landed softly, and I have to say with a good deal of “ground kissing” and euphoria.

I was now addicted, and over subsequent months and years Gus, Tony and I leapt off every single hill and mountain in the territory of Hong Kong, getting better all the time and eventually achieving our goals of soaring and thermaling like eagles.

For the sake of my continued existence on Planet Earth I decided that I better learn how to paraglide properly and over the following years went on various courses. I did my formal qualifications with the British Hang-gliding & Paragliding Association (“BHPA”) schools in the UK and reached Advance Pilot level, Trainee Instructor and gained my Tandem pilot qualification. I also did cross country training in Taiwan, USA, Austria, Switzerland, South Africa and quite often in Chamonix in France. Later I learned to paramotor with an engine and propeller strapped on my back in Sacramento in northern California.

In those pioneering days in the early 1990s I was first to fly off Dragon’s Bank in Sek O and Sunset Peak in Lantau. Gus and Tony were the first to fly all the hills in Sai Kung and the New Territories. We later competed in paragliding cross country competitions around the world (Verbier in Switzerland in 1993 and Kyushu in Japan in 1995), usually coming last, but thoroughly enjoying the experience, especially as the Hong Kong Government sponsored us and gave us time off to represent the Colony.

Over the following years we recruited many of our colleagues into our growing paragliding club, including our boss, Steve, a senior officer called Gerry (who Gus tried to kill), our PTS squad mate, Ben, an SDU officer called Nick and a British Army Major called Chris, whom we worked with at PolMil.

Me flying at Sek O in early 90s

Video of flying at Sek O: https://youtu.be/51IQ8DJd0MM

The Hong Kong Paragliding Association Logo that Tony and I designed in 1990

The three months at HQCCC passed relatively quickly and despite an unequivocal breach of the Police and Civil Service discipline code I was very privileged and very fortunate to be selected to join Emergency Unit Kowloon West, perhaps the best uniform job in the Force, and also in the most interesting and exciting region of the Territory.

Maybe the Assistant Commissioner of Operations after my “Missing in France” escapades thought I was an energetic, innovative and resourceful officer suitable for a top front line job, or maybe he thought I would get shot by triads and be rid of me.

When I came back to Hong Kong from long leave with my new wife, Lilian we moved into a decent sized Government apartment in Mid-Levels. Seniority dictated how nice the apartment you could apply for and by the time I was a Senior Inspector we were living in a 2,000 square foot apartment in Mount Butler with stunning views over the whole of Hong Kong and the Harbour.

Accommodation was definitely a perk of joining the police, especially for expatriates. In recent years many of the government quarters have been sold off to the private sector and now police and other government officers get a rental allowance that they generally use for renting a far more modest apartment, or more sensibly, to buy a place and pay off a mortgage.

Emergency Unit Kowloon West was, and still is based at Mong Kok police station in the heart of Kowloon, where my PTU Company was also based. Emergency Unit is known as Chung Fung Dui (冲锋队)in Chinese and is the first police response unit to “999” calls.

EU is structured similarly to a PTU company, but larger and with far more experienced officers. Each platoon is made up of 50 or so Police Constables, 12 Sergeants, 1 Station Sergeant and commanded by a Senior Inspector. Each Region has four platoons commanded by a Superintendent who is assisted by a Chief Inspector who performs a more administrative role.

In Kowloon West we had 12 Mercedes Benz vans that were equipped with emergency kit and an assortment of weapons. Each car is manned by a Sergeant, an advance driver, a uniform crew member and a plain clothed officer who we could deploy to carry our surveillance or carry out reconnoitre before we executed any raids or preformed other tactical responses.

No 1 Platoon Emergency Unit / Kowloon West on a training day at CQBR

A Daai fei smugglers speed boat with a stolen car aboard … early 1990s
RHKP Anti Smuggling Task Force in pursuit

In Hong Kong during the early nineties the Colony was beset with very violent robberies, organised crime and smuggling. My tour in EU coincided with a period of frequent and very violent goldsmith robberies that were carried out by organised and well armed criminal gangs, some from Hong Kong, but mostly from mainland China.

Just before China resumed Sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, it seemed China was allowing the two centuries of British rule to go out with a bang and so there were frequent gun battles on the streets, grenade attacks and blatant smuggling of stolen luxury cars carried our by armed gangs using “Daai Fei”s (four or five Mercury engine speed boats capable of sixty+ knots).

The gangs were often former military trained and had access to Chinese “People’s Liberation Army” weapons such as the Type 56 (7.62 mm Chinese AK47 assault rifle); Type 54 (7.62 Black Star pistol); Uzi type sub machine guns ( rapid fire lower velocity sub machine guns); and grenades.

Much to my, and many officers’ frustration, we were only armed with .38 Smith & Wesson revolvers loaded with just 6 rounds of ammunition. Later, as an interim measure and due to the frequency and scale of violence used by the armed robbers we were issued an extra 6 rounds which were stored in a “zip lock bag”. Thankfully, this was later replaced with 6 rounds in a speed loader, but not before we encountered several life threatening gun battles in which my officers had to open these wretched little bags whilst under fire and reload their revolvers. Quite ridiculous!

We were also issued with Remington 870 pump action shotguns with birdshot cartridges, later replaced with the very effective “00” buckshot half way through my tour of EU (again thankfully); and a Colt AR15 5.56mm semi automatic assault rifle that we were not allowed to use in the densely packed urban environment due to the rounds being high velocity and according to the “brass” with a risk of collateral damage. In the EU armoury, which I had to check each shift, there were many Sterling Machine guns, but we never used these and I was never told why we hung onto these obsolete weapons.

Emergency Units are perhaps manned by the most capable and experienced officers in the Force. There was no woke bedwetting Human Resources department diversity, inclusion and equal outcome bollocks that we see today. We just had the best and bravest police officers and if they didn’t cut the mustard they were transferred out, quickly and without ceremony.

Policing around the world generally consists of a lot of routine and run of the mill duties to perform, interspersed with moments of chaos, danger and madness. EU in the early 1990s was the opposite. Everyday was absolutely mad and our day at work was filled with life threatening and highly demanding situations.

I have never been in the military, although I think I would probably have faired pretty well if I had, but EU K/W in the early nineties was as close to being at war as it could be. On a daily basis we faced determined and ruthless criminals who were very keen on shooting us.

Individual members of my platoon were fearless and extremely brave, and one of my many grievances with the RHKP hierarchy at that time was that my men didn’t receive fair recognition by way of promotion or commendations for their professionalism and courage. If the standard for the award of a commendation was consistent I would not have been so pissed off, but it wasn’t.

Awards would be given out by senior officers to their rugby pals, freemason brothers, their ma jais (little horses), for quid pro quo favours, or just for turning up at work each day and not making any spelling mistakes.

In a regular unit you have a cross section of ability, qualifications and experience, but in a unit like EU all the police constables are qualified and deserving of being promoted, and the dilemma is that if they were indeed all recommended and did get promoted there would be insufficient candidates of the right stuff to fill the vacancies and provide continuity.

Its a difficult one, but recognising their efforts and courage by way of awards would have gone a long way to maintain morale and encourage continued professionalism. It is also just good manners to say, “Thank You”.

Alas, and to all of our shame, the EU officers did not received the recognition they deserved. Awards, such as Governors’ Commendations, Commissioner’s Commendations and the highest, the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, were surprisingly few despite almost weekly gun battles and arrests of criminals for serious and violent crimes.

As a platoon officer I would have some administrative tasks and paperwork to perform with my one finger tippy tappy typewriter, carbon paper and gallons of Tippex (does it still exist?), but mostly I was out and about on the streets of Kowloon in the command car, “Car five zero”.

The numerous robberies required an instant response that we practiced everyday on the streets and also in the relative safety of the Close Quarter Battle Range where NCO and Inspectors’ leadership and tactical ability could be put to the test and finely honed.

For me as an expatriate I was perhaps blessed by being ignorant of the gossip and distractions, but handicapped by my lack of fluency in Cantonese and so I relied a lot on my Platoon Orderly who was an instant translator and relay of information.

However, when the wheel came off, radio discipline was difficult to maintain and there would be a cacophony of rapid Cantonese as the command and control centre tasked the EU cars and their crews. In reply, the officers gave instant updates and directions as we tightened the net and closed in on the robbery, burglary in progress, gas leak, gang fight, triad chopping, murder, assault, theft, stolen car on the move or whatever.

In the command car I was sometimes with the Platoon Station Sergeant, but more often than not he patrolled in “Car four nine” so we could double up the supervisory and command presence if we had sufficient vehicles and drivers.

The streets of Kowloon are some of the densest on the planet, and let’s not forget with most buildings being over ten stories its also a three dimensional maze to navigate around. Getting to the scene of the emergency was always difficult, frustrating and exciting all at the same time.

I had chased around the streets of London in a Rover SD1 Area Car in the early 1980s and now I was chasing around the streets of Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po in a Mercedes Van in the early 1990s. Occasionally, I would patrol in an old school Land Rover that could really move in the hands of a good driver who knew the streets and all the shortcuts.

Like all officers, I tried to install a sense of Comradery and Esprit de Corp into my team. Whilst I insisted on high standards of discipline and conduct, I understood all too well that policing is a tough occupation and the irony that the harder you worked the more chance you had of getting into trouble. I always thought in policing its tough enough with villains out there trying to get us, without us turning on each other.

I got an opportunity to prove this point when I was called to a case of a firearm being found in a “love hotel” in Kowloon Tong. This is a rather affluent area in central Kowloon, but has several blocks of tacky sex themed hotels that rent out rooms to couples, usually to those who haven’t known each other for very long, nor will.

On arrival at the room in question the cleaning lady pointed out a weapon I knew very well lying on the bed side table. A Smith & Wesson .38 snub nosed revolver, the weapon issued to Royal Hong Kong Police detectives because it has a short 2 inch barrel and can easily be concealed.

My EU officers realised what it was as well and like me correctly guessed a detective had left it by mistake while getting up to mischief. Whether he was on duty or not is a mute point, detectives tend to work very long hours and spend time in dodgy places frequented by informants. That was not the issue, the issue was that “a firearm had been left unattended” and that was a serious breach of the RHKP disciplinary code.

As is often the case, EU are quickly joined at the scene of any incidents by officers from other units and it was clear to me that things were beginning to escalate fast as “sitreps” would be reported to the control room by various officers.

As luck would have it an Inspector from my intake at PTS suddenly appeared. “Henry” was a force entry Inspector and older than most having risen through the ranks of PC and Sergeant. He was looking extremely nervous.

I pulled him aside and asked if it was his revolver, and he sheepishly replied, ‘Yes’. I then told him to say he had been having a shower and had not left the premises. I spoke to the cleaning lady and told her what had happened and she obviously thought playing down the matters was as prudent as I did.

So, as one of the first officers on scene I could “testify” that Henry was indeed in the shower room when I arrived and so technically he never left his revolver unattended.

Not long afterwards, and no doubt due to conflicting reports being given to the Kowloon Regional Command and Control Centre, the divisional commander arrived and questioned Henry, myself and my EU officers about what happened and we all corroborated each other. I suspect he knew exactly what had really happened, but he did not press us further. No doubt at a more appropriate time and place he told Henry to stop shagging prostitutes and look after his gun, or else.

This incident, early on in my EU posting, resulted in several outcomes. Firstly, it protected the career of a good detective and potentially his marriage. Secondly, I knew Henry would never leave his revolver lying around again. Thirdly, I proved to my Hong Kong Chinese team that this new “gwailo bomban” could be relied upon. And lastly, as someone who loses his keys on a daily basis, I vowed never to carry a personal issue firearm.

The haze of time has dimmed a lot of the detail from my days in the Royal Hong Kong Police, but not the drama of armed robberies in progress that are etched vividly in my memory as if they had just happened. Without being overly dramatic, these incidents were against highly armed and extremely violent people who would not hesitate to kill us to get away.

After all, if they did get caught they were looking at life in prison. If they escaped, they would have millions of dollars of cash and valuables.

Between the two outcomes was us.

One of the infamous villains was Yip Kai Foon, a ruthless and daring armed robber who was behind many of the heists of goldsmith shops in the 1990s. In fact he had been arrested in late 1980s and managed to escape by feigning illness, and with assistance from his gang escaped from the hospital to continue to terrorise Hong Kong.

There were many other gangs, and I suppose the 1990s, just before the handover, was a period when these gangs could access Chinese military weapons, sneak into Hong Kong and escape back into China with impunity. China allowed this to happen and turned a blind eye for a while, but later this crime spree came to an end in the mid 1990s when the Chinese authorities started catching these villains and executing them. Whether you agree with Capital punishment or not, one thing is for certain. They don’t do it again.

Yip Kai Foon – Mug shot.
This picture (part of rare video recording) taken during an armed robbery in Nathan Road in which a nurse was shot dead is often identified by the press to be Yip Kai Foon. It is not. It is another gang and this robber didn’t live to see another Chinese New Year.

I genuinely believe very few people during their police careers, anywhere in the world, were at the sharp end of so many violent crimes as Emergency Unit was in the 1990s. My own platoon (No. 1 Platoon EU/KW) definitely having more than its fair share.

The Shui Hing Mahjong School robbery in Mong Kok sticks out as a particularly brutal crime that was a catalyst for change and forced the officers wallahs to do something and respond to our, up until then, rather futile attempts to better arm and better protect front line officers. As I mentioned above, although armed, we were woefully outgunned by this batch of professional armed robbers and the Shui Hing Mahjong School heist was a turning point.

On this particular evening in early 1990 I was actually patrolling Mong Kok in Car 50 when the call came out and responded with my cars from Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, Yaumatei and adjacent districts where we actually cordoned off the vicinity using well rehearsed and practiced tactics honed during training exercises and more often than not in real life.

During the robbery four highly armed robbers stole cash, watches, jewellery and wallets from the occupants of a Mahjong parlour. They entered the building, locked the doors, stole what they could, and tragically shot at blank range two people who resisted or were perhaps hesitant in handing over their cherished gold Rolex watches.

The robbers then piled out of the building firing at us with Type 56 assault rifles, an Uzi style rapid fire machine gun, and pistols. We returned fire with our revolvers and Remington shotguns that had little effect on them as they were wearing military style ballistic helmets, bullet proof vests (“BRVs”), and they basically laid down more fire power than we could.

The driver of the Mong Kong EU car, a more elderly officer nick-named fan siu (meaning Sweet Potato) returned fire from behind the engine block of the van (as per our operational tactics), used up all his six rounds, and fumbled around in the wretched plastic zip lock bag to reload his revolver with a further six rounds while being fired upon by an AK47 and a machine pistol. Brave stuff.

A robber escaping down an alleyway was confronted by one of my officers who was armed with a Remington shotgun with birdshot ammunition, and the robber kept on running, seemingly oblivious to the pellets bouncing off his BRV and helmet.

Our cordon was breached, quite simply because we were out gunned.

The robbers carjacked a bus, and as we pursued them they threw stick grenades out of the windows at us, some going off and some not, being left as dangerous blinds on the streets of Kowloon for the EOD team, later, and with my joint role as an EOD Cadre member as coordinator, to render them safe.

The robbers managed to escape for a while, but were unable to get over to China, and were later arrested by crime units and various stolen goods and weapons were recovered. During one of the subsequent raids by crime units a Detective Inspector was shot in the face during a room entry. Despite the seriousness of the injuries and the bullet passing through his skull the officer managed to recover, but lost his sense of taste and smell and unfortunately passed away too early in life from illness.

As always in these cases there were always a group of mess bar experts giving post event analysis of what we should have done or could have done. I remember an officer many years later pontificating that our account of being fire at by Uzi type weapons was false and that Uzi style weapons were not used.

He is incorrect, as many of the bar experts usually are about matter that they did not witness first hand.

I remember clearly hearing the rapid fire of a machine pistol. Its very distinctive, and indeed my recollection of events is vindicated in the Chinese language documentary below (in which myself and my platoon feature) where the Ballistic Department give a briefing and introduce the various exhibits and weapons recovered, including the Chinese machine pistol.

My EU K/W platoon and I in middle of operation, weapons drawn. (Still at 14.40 taken from above documentary about robberies in Hong Kong in 1990s)
One of the machine pistols we were shot from at the Shui Hing Mahjong School
A look back to those days. Shame there was no 4K video quality in those day, however we did have the 14K!
English language documentary about Yip Kai Foon …. not as good a Cantonese documentary… but OK information

Emergency Units not only responded to robberies, but to all sorts of incidents that require immediate response. That said we were not always the first on scene and divisional uniform patrols and other units occasionally got to the scene before us, or were in the right place at the right time.

For instance, Yip Kai Foon (葉繼歡 – also known a “Dog Tooth’ or “Goosehead”) met his fate at the hands of a regular uniform patrol in the middle of the night while coming ashore from a boat on Hong Kong island in May 1996. He spent many years in Stanley Prison confined in a wheel chair for underestimating the pair of foot patrol officers who chased after and arrested him. Yip was found to be in possession of a machine pistol, a pistol and 1.8 kilograms of explosives.

I remember arriving at the scene of a Down’s Syndrome girl who had fallen from a twenty story apartment building. Due to her obesity and the height of the fall she had literally exploded like a water balloon. I had a “run in” with the local press who were in the habit of publishing grisly photographs of accident victims and dead bodies in their vulgar Chinese newspaper and pushed them away from the gruesome scene.

As an Inspector I had a duty to attend the scene of “sudden deaths” and form an opinion as to whether the death was suspicious or not. During subsequent inquiries into this tragic death I learned the poor girl, who was in her twenties, was never ever allowed out of her parent’s apartment, the reason being, although not explicitly stated by her parents, that they were ashamed of her going out in public.

The seriousness and often violent consequences of “losing face” was one of the cultural issues we expatriate officers had to get to grips with working as police officers in Hong Kong. Losing face was not only the cause of a lot of “revenge” crime, but also for behaviour such as locking away people with disabilities because of perceived “shame”.

Whilst I think Hong Kong Society as a whole is less violent and confrontational than British Society, based upon being a front line police officer is both, when the wheel does come off the violence can be horrific, evidenced by the severed fingers we would often come across responding to “choppings” (attacks with meat cleavers and butcher’s choppers).

A Triad settlement talk (a dispute resolution meeting), often in a restaurant or club could gravitate into an all out medieval style war between the two factions with whatever comes to hand, such as stools, chairs, knives, choppers, sticks, iron bars, etc., being used as weapons. Unlike in all the popular Hong Kong police and triad movies, firearms were rarely used in the gang fights.

However in the goldsmith robberies of the 1990s they were.

There were many robberies, and I have no idea why our platoon had more than our fair share to deal with. It was suggested by several of my police colleagues that the gangs knew the EU shift patterns and preferred to carry out their armed robberies when the gormless “gwailo” was on duty!

In another case, a goldsmith robbery in Sham Shui Po resulted in over fifty high velocity AK47 rounds going straight through one of our EU cars. This was because the crew of the SSPo EU car pulled up to set up a road block cordon right next to the “tai sui jai” (the lookout) and immediately came under fire. When I arrived shortly afterwards the crew were very shaken, but were fortunately uninjured, except some minors grazes and curs from some glass shards as the bullets passed right through the van.

There is a picture of Brian Heard of Ballistics Unit peering through a bullet hole.

A day at the office…. Story reads for itself
Chinese stick grenades, kidnapping, firearms. I recognise my former EOD boss, John R, dealing with some stick grenades.

The English press report of the Shui Hing Mahjong robbery, May 1992
The press being cordoned off, often took pictures of hard targeting tactics as we evacuated people from buildings before we raid them. EU would normally conduct the raids and be sweeping the buildings and PTU and Uniform manning the inner and outer cordons.
The Nathan Road robbery in January 1993. What was for the RHKP a well practiced response, appeared to the press for their headlines as a “wild chase”.
Picture of me in local press doing something or another after a robbery.
1) Holding a plastic toy grenade in the top picture.

Being in the EOD Cadre meant I could save EOD a lot of wasted time being called out for “nonsense” calls. In this case some idiot woman inspector cordoned off the whole of Kowloon City causing absolute chaos because a kid’s plastic toy was found on the street.

On arrival in Car 50 I quickly examined the plastic toy grenade, immediately recognised it for what it was, picked it up and told Woman Inspection Mo Lan Yung to stand down the cordon and get the traffic moving again.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, the Woman Inspector complained to her DVC (the divisional boss) about me and both were put back in their box by the SBDO of EOD and the ACP Ops who said I did the correct thing. In fact, the SBDO said if they had got called out they would have been extremely annoyed, especially so as they have one of their EOD trained Cadre members patrolling the Kowloon streets in Emergency Unit.

The Woman Inspector was soon back to making the tea and giving the DVC his daily back rubs as she should have been doing in the first place.

2) Lower picture receiving some plaques and silver plates from local community leaders and goldsmith shop companies. I recognise next to me Craig M, who was a very decent CIP EU
Newspapers in early 1990s full of stories of robberies. I have many cuttings.
More bullet holes in our cars
Local press clipping of the Hung Hom armed robbery case. I am ringed searching the ferry pier
Me cutting the roasted suckling pig at a Bai Kwan Daai” ceremony in EU/KW Daai Fong following an open fire case

Typical Kwan Daai Alter with offerings of fruit, drink and joss sticks. Commanders would light three joss sticks, bow three times and place joss sticks before alter before every shift. Not something that I was required to do in the Met!

After every open fire case we would have a “Bai Kwan Daai” ceremony at an auspicious time to thank the “Soul of the Universe” for our continued existence on Planet Earth in which we would invite other officers to a buffet that included suckling pig, goose, chicken and duck.

Myself and other commanders would cut the roasted suckling pig and light joss sticks in a ceremony in front of the “Kwan Daai” statue, an alter that always had pride of place in every police station, unit or daai fong.

In the evenings after a Bai Kwan Daai we would have a “daai sik wooi” (big eating party) where Mahjong, gambling, drinking and a huge Chinese feast would take place at some closed off restaurant in Kowloon. It would be required that all my officers toast me with a “yam sing” over and over again until my eyes bled.

To be honest I have very few recollections of later events as I would get well and truly hammered, as required by tradition. That said, my officers would always ensure I got home, often tucking me up in the foetal position in my bed under the supervision of a grumpy, but understanding Mrs Utley who would tell me later the next day what an awful state I was in and how caring my boys were.

She had no need to remind me as my headache was usually a good indicator of my alcohol consumption. All that said, a few pints of water, a Gatorade and a long run along Bowen Road would have me revived and ready for the next day’s battle with the Hong Kong underworld.

I am often asked if we shot anyone and whether any of my unit got injured or killed. I suppose I can say the score was five-nil and how my boys never got seriously injured or worse is something I count as a blessing.

The case when 50 rounds of 7.62 mm were fired at point blank range into the SSPo EU car is like the “Divine Intervention” Scene in from the movie Pulp Fiction. As the rounds were fired the boys all hit the floor and apart from a few glass splinters and tattered nerves everyone was OK.

One of the later robberies in which we dispatched the robbers to their maker happened after we had been issued with “00” buckshot for our Remington shotguns. After robbing a goldsmith shop with high powered weapons the robbers fled in two directions in carjacked taxis and we caught them all in two separate locations, both incidents going into EU folklore.

One taxi with two armed robbers escaped towards To Kwa Wan area and it was intercepted at a roadblock where a exchange of fire took place. During that gun battle one my PCs got shot at with a Blackstar Pistol with one round going between his legs, just a few inches from his manhood, passing through the cloth of his uniform trouser legs and another round grazing the shoulder of his bullet proof vest.

I remember during the post shooting debriefs telling him it was mandatory for him to see the “trick cyclist”, as we referred to the Force Psychologist. He refused, laughing it off with typical bravado and police dark humour, but he later told me that three days later he woke up bolt upright in bed after suffering a panic attack. It was clear he had post traumatic stress, although the term PTSD hadn’t been used in those days, and so he did make the appointment with the psychologist in the end.

The second carjacked taxi with robbers onboard was intercepted on the flyover into the Lion Rock tunnel by several of my EU cars and what followed was one of the craziest incidents in EU history, witnessed by many officers from various perspectives. One of my officers who confronted the robbers is called Raymond Liu, and dare I say Raymond was one of my favourites (we are not supposed to have favourite children or subordinates are we?).

A very violent gun battle ensued in which one of the robbers opened fire with an AK47 rifle at the officers manning the road blocks and those behind the taxi in pursuit. At the time a Senior Superintendent who commanded Traffic Kowloon West was on his police motorcycle under the flyover and reported seeing spent AK47 cartridge cases raining off the flyover where the gun battle was occurring and scattering around him.

Raymond, bravely, professionally and I presume as calm as anyone being fired upon by an automatic assault weapon, returned fire with the Remington loaded with newly issued “00” buckshot and reported afterwards, words to the effect, that the robber literally stopped firing, lifted off the ground and fell backwards, spread-eagled on the road. The other robber was also shot, but lived to have his day in court.

Quite a haul that day.

I arrived at the Lion Rock Tunnel flyover scene very shortly afterwards and assessed the carnage and was obviously delighted my team were safe, and I have to say already drafting in my head the report to my seniors of how effective the new “00” buckshot is.

Post shooting crime scenes are complicated as evidence must be preserved for various forensic specialists and detectives to deal with. Also, ambulance and the fire brigade are often in attendance dealing with the injured. Not only that, but multitudes of senior officers feel compelled to be seen doing something, and EU and CID commanders often have to diplomatically tell their bosses to keep out of the cordon and stop trampling through the evidence. Also, as evidenced by all the news paper clipping above, dozens, if not hundreds of the Press turn up and its an effort to preserve the crime scene and ensure evidence isn’t contaminated.

On this occasion I had two crime scenes to manage and it was my job to make sure the first response was managed properly and efficiently, to preserve the scene, secure any evidence and hand it over to the forensic and criminal investigation units. On this occasion I had a lot of officers who had either been shot at or who had discharged firearms and there would inevitably be a huge mountain of paperwork to attend to.

I am glad to say that my job, which is why I liked it, involved minimal paperwork because it was our job to be on the streets, not behind a typewriter with Tippex, carbon paper, and two tappy fingers (no word processors or printers in those days).

Unfortunately the trail of mayhem we left on the streets of Kowloon were transferred to others, and one officer, Frank, was Chief Inspector of a Regional or Headquarters’ administration unit with the unenviable task of writing up, not only the open fire reports, but also prepare a report of every single time we drew our weapons.

Given we often had our weapons drawn “in readiness” as per tactical training, this mammoth of an admin task was multiplied into a constant stampede of marauding mammoths. I remember bumping into Frank many years later and him berating me (jokingly, I hope) for making his early 1990s a period of never ending work and headache.

In fact, one of my friends, Ian (“Shagger”) was in Traffic Kowloon West at the same time and was also based at Mong Kok Police Station. He often reminisces with me about the traffic chaos and mayhem “Mad Max” (my nickname) and his team caused in Kowloon. I often remind Ian that he was probably more in harms way than us as he often rode into the gun battles on his police motorcycle with a bright fluorescent “shoot me here” biker jacket.

I later wrote up Raymond’s recommendation for a commendation, along with many other recommendation that were unfairly (to my mind) turned down by the Brass, and was delighted and extremely proud that he was awarded a Governor’s Commendation, evidenced by him wearing a red lanyard instead of a black one around the shoulder of his uniform.

In fact, many years later, long after I had left the police, I was walking along Johnston Road on Hong Kong side and I saw a PTU Sergeant patrolling with some of his PCs and I noticed he had a “red lanyard” and while I was wondering what he had done to earn such a great honour the Sergeant ran up to me, gave me a bear hug, and said, “Its me Daai Lo, Raymond, how are you?” His PCs were as shocked as I was, and I have to say it brought a tear to my eye, because it is very unlike Hong Kong Chinese to express such emotion, especially in public.

As an Emergency Unit Platoon Commander patrolling the whole of Kowloon West Region each day it was less likely I would be first at the scene of an emergency, but I would get there eventually, and as quickly as I could, take command, direct actions, and always lead the raids into building and premises in pursuit of criminals who were either escaping or had run to ground. This happened often. Some were false calls, some were too late, and some were successful and we arrested the robbers or gangs.

Some video clips from the Canadian TV Series “To Serve & protect”.

However, on one occasion I was in the right place at the right time, so to speak. I had been patrolling around the Tsim Sha Tsui area in Car 50 when a call came up on the radio that there was a goldsmith robbery in progress in Mong Kok. Shortly afterwards was frenetic commentary as various EU cars honed in on the chase and it seemed the get away car was heading our way.

Several other EU Cars from the south of the region together with Car 50, crewed by myself, Fan Siu (driver) and Lung Jai (my orderly) blocked off escape routes around the Hung Hom ferry pier area.

As we listened into the radio commentary of the pursuit I watched in half disbelief as the get away car came screeching into the carpark of Hung Hom ferry pier with Car 8 from Mong Kok in hot pursuit.

Having realized their escape had been foiled, the robbers in the getaway car skidded violently to a halt, frantically selected reverse gear in a cloud of blue tyre smoke and rammed at high speed into the ferry pier bus stop, injuring several people and one women severely.

Platoon orderly, Lung Jai, and I were out of Car 50 in short order, revolvers drawn, and joining our colleagues as we chased down the three armed robbers who were now running away in different directions. Car 1 and Car 8 crews quickly caught and restrained two robbers, and Lung Jai and I chased after the third who was running into the ferry pier buildings.

I have chased down running villains before, especially during my time in the Metropolitan police, and of course many times during tactical training exercises when it can feel like the real thing, or perhaps the real thing feels like a training exercise. Anyway, I was not overly concerned about the potential dangers, just concerned that he might get away and we would have failed in our job. I have to admit that it is very exciting and as I look back I must have been feeling extremely confident and sure of myself.

I am, or was particularly so then, a good runner, but the robber was darting about and I briefly lost sight of him as he ran around a corner. I was not too sure about the layout of Hung Hom Ferry Pier, but logically the hard stuff must end and the sea begin and so I “assumed” he would eventually be trapped, especially with the arrival of other units who would join in on the chase and have the ferry pier tightly cordoned off.

I remember running towards the corner of a structure and our tactical training kicked in and I stopped, lowered myself (bringing my head down lower than one would expect) and then tactically from cover raised my revolver into the firing position and peered around the corner.

Fuck Me!

There he was standing just 5 meters away pointing a firearm directly at me and I exploded into a “GING CHAT MO YUK” (Police! Stop!) and was starting to squeeze the trigger for the “FAU JAT HOI CHEUNG” (otherwise I open fire) when he dropped the gun, swung around, legged it and leapt off the concourse into the sea.

A little shocked by what happened I ran up to the end of the ferry concourse and could see him down in the water, about 3 meters lower than me and he was starting to swim away.

I had my weapon trained on him and was shouting for him to stop. I was quickly joined by Lung Jai who was giving a “sitrep” on the radio in one hand and weapon trained on a flailing wet robber with the other.

It was now, no more than 15 seconds after the initial encounter that I was going over in my head the Police General Orders for justification in opening fire.

Serious and Violent Crime? “Yes” Affect the arrest? “Yes”. All justified.

Life threatening? Umm? Perhaps not any more.

After all he dropped his pistol when I did my Cantonese bit and the firearm was now lying on the concrete floor of the concourse where it would be cordoned off, photographed, examined by Ballistic Department for fingerprints, forensically test fired and matched to databases, and eventually bagged and tagged as an exhibit for court.

As Lung Jai and I were peering down, the robber then started to swim away. Shit! Now should I shoot? He is getting away, slowly I will admit, but he is getting away. It would take a while for Marine police to respond and he may come ashore on the other side of the harbour and escape our cordon.

Jumping in after him would be a bad option, but I noticed a small Sanpan (small traditional Chinese boat) with an elderly lady dressed in Tankwa black cloths and wide brimmed veiled hat a few meters away and we called and beckoned her over.

Eventually she responded, expertly turned her boat around, drew alongside the pier and we jumped aboard.

With “chase that man” instructions she took up the pursuit, albeit at a rather put put leisurely pace. I took up position on the bow of the boat with my revolver trained on the black mop of hair above a bobbing body and Lung Jai kept up the radio commentary.

There is a picture somewhere that appeared in the English language newspapers of me standing on the bow of the Sanpan with my weapon trained towards the swimming robber. I can’t find the picture among my stuff, but it would be nice to find it someday.

It was clear the robber was flagging in the water, and I think he was becoming resigned to the fact he was not going to get away. As we drew up along side him I asked Lung Jai for his handcuffs (as Inspectors did not carry them, or at least I did not) and leaned out over the Sanpan, grabbed one of his outstretched flailing arms and cuffed it. Instead of hauling him out of the sea I decided to just hold the other end of the cuffs and drag him along, occasionally dunking him into the water that seemed to keep him subdued.

Lung Jai instructed the old dear to drive the Sanpan to the other side of the small harbour in Hung Hom, now no longer there as the area has been reclaimed and developed, but at the time it was a small bay with a beach and a spur of sand.

I was pleased to see the crew of one of our EU cars positioned on the shore to receive us.

As we got nearer to where the EU crew reception party was waiting, the old dear said she couldn’t drive the Sanpan closer because of the shallow depth and so myself and Lung Jai jumped over board, got soaking wet, grappled with the robber who was flailing about, and in doing so my revolver fell out of its flimsy “cross draw” Calvary style holster and fell into the water. Fortunately in those days the revolver was tied to our Sam Browns (military style belts) with a lanyard and so I hauled it back up, gave it a few shakes to get water out of the barrel and then dragged the robber to the beach where we laid him out flat to search him.

CRIKEY!!

In his pockets was a second pistol, a pocket full of various sizes of ammunition, and a knife. As the dripping robber was relieved of his arsenal of weapons and was hauled into the EU car Lung Jai and I looked at each other, and he said, ‘I really thought you were going to shoot him, Sir, your knuckles were white on the trigger’. We both reflected on the fact that our tactics saved our life and resulted in the arrest of a very violent and dangerous criminal.

I heard on the radio that all the other robbers had been arrested, but sadly, that a pedestrian had been seriously injured when the get away car reversed into the bus stop outside the ferry pier.

As I was looking at the hapless robber cuffed and laid out on the floor of the EU car one of my Sergeants suggested I give “my arrest” to one of his car crew PCs, and so I did, not realising that doing so would erase my involvement and all chronology and history of me ever being involved. He later got a Commissioner’s Commendation for my efforts and a different coloured lanyard to prove so. I got nothing except some pithy remarks in the Officers’ Mess one evening that I should have shot the robber. I guess leadership comes in all shapes and sizes

I had had nearly three years of commanding one of the best police units up at the front line during one of Hong Kong’s most violent periods and was reaching nearly six years of service in the Royal Hong Kong Police. Given I had an outstanding record of service with several recommendations for various Commendations, had been early advanced in rank to Senior Inspectors on passing my Standard III Inspectors examinations, had been awarded Baton of Honour at PTS, Best Platoon at PTU, had a good record in the EOD Cadre and had passed my Intermediate Cantonese Course it wasn’t unreasonable to think I was a good contender to be promoted to Chief Inspector, earlier rather than later.

Little did I know that everything was going to come crashing down.

It all started because of a minor administration glitch and like all disasters was a result of bad luck, bad timing and bad intent on behalf of some bad eggs. At that time I was consumed everyday in leading an emergency unit team during a time many people wanted to kill us and doing it as professionally as I could.

In the 1990s an Inspector in Emergency Unit Kowloon West would work on average six days a week according to a shift pattern that could have you working nine days in a row. Each shift was at least nine and a half hours long and overtime was not paid to uniform Inspectors such as me. If we were involved in an arrest or had to work longer we didn’t get paid extra or get time off in lieu like British police, and indeed officers within RHKP Marine and CID.

The shift pattern for four platoons covered the three shifts of the day. One day a month was assigned a “training day” where we usually went up to the CQBR in the New Territories to practice room entries and tactics, or perhaps attended lectures or get involved in sporting events.

When I arrived at EUK/W the company administration PC would ask me each month which day I would like to book as a “floating rest” day and I would usually chose a day that joined another rest day to stretch out a day into two. This day would be covered by the Station Sergeant, and he in turn would chose a floating rest day when I was on duty.

As I worked a shift pattern I would sometimes go paragliding before or after work or on my rest days, especially if my wife, who was a Cathay Pacific flight attendant, was out of Hong Kong. The reality was I rarely saw Lilian as we were often working at different times and I have to say life was more like being single than married. I couldn’t say our relationship was particularly strained, because we rarely saw each other, but it wasn’t that close.

I suppose subconsciously my work was stressful with all the craziness going on and horrible things I would see everyday, but in those days I relished the challenge and was up for anything. One would never mention being stressed anyway for fear of being thought incapable of doing one’s job. However, I suppose all those dead bodies, violence, gang fights, shooting, grenades, blood, dishonesty, human evilness, close shaves and hassles at work does work on one’s mind. Leaping off cliffs, as my colleagues described paragliding back then, was a way to destress, as was trail running which I did a lot of.

As a spouse of a flight attendant I was entitled to several free flights a year and 90% discount on other Cathay Pacific flights. If I had sufficient leave, which wasn’t often, I could join Lilian on one of her local Asian flights, stay at her hotel for one or two nights, and come back to Hong Kong and continue my work. It was important for us to spend “some” time together. It was also great to just escape from the claustrophobia of Hong Kong now and again, even just for a day or two.

On one occasion Lilian invited me to join her on a two night flight to Penang in Malaysia. I checked the EU duty roster and I had two rest days joined together plus a “floating” rest day making a total of three days off and so I told her I could join her, even though I really wanted to spend the time with my friend and former Metropolitan Police colleague, called Iain Black (PC 673XD) who was staying at our apartment and perhaps go paragliding at Sek O or Ma On Shan.

Iain was an extremely talented SD1 Rover Advanced Driver and we had many adventures together in “X-Ray 2” Area Car in the early 1980s throughout West London. Iain was now working undercover as a surveillance officer with a focus on the Yardie gangs in London and had been going through a bit of a rough stretch with one thing or another and had taken a period of unpaid leave to travel the world and get his life back in balance.

At this time I had a very experienced, calm, loyal and kind Station Sergeant called Wong as my right hand man, and a smart and streetwise Platoon Orderly to watch my back, translate and keep me informed. Things went smoothly and I felt I was part of a tight knit team, just as I did in PTU.

However, Station Sergeant Wong eventually got transferred out and a Station Sergeant called Tsui took his place who, at least in the early days, I was never very sure about. Wong and a couple of my boys warned me to be wary of him. He was clearly a “I’m really in charge gwailos don’t know what they’re doing” type of NCO. Fair enough… it was sometimes true.

Also, my trusted and talented Platoon Orderly was rotated out to give another officer a stint and allow him to go on and perform other EU duties and broaden his experience. My new Orderly turned out to be a very loyal and trustworthy support to me and the Platoon. However, in hindsight, I realise too many things were in flux and I should have been more attentive to the “small stuff”.

In those Colonial days police officers were required to inform “Police Headquarter” that they were leaving “The Colony” and most never did. My local colleagues were always going to and from China to see relatives, stay at their ancestral homes or see their mistresses. Few, if any, bothered with this archaic requirement unless it was for a longer period of time.

I also did not like to let people know what I was doing in my private life. I controlled carefully what people knew about me, and was not unaccustomed to employing the “Bureau of Disinformation” as a smoke screen to keep things private. I did nothing wrong or illegal, but I did not want others to know what I was doing in my private life, or that I was privileged to fly around with my Cathay Pacific wife for nothing. Of course, for long leave I would submit the necessary notifications with my application for leave, but for the large part I believed my private life was my private life, not least for the good reason that several people wanted to kill me at that time.

Little did I foresee that by doing so I inadvertently, unintentionally and with no malice aforethought ruined my career in the Royal Hong Kong Police and all my hard fought professional reputation.

I flew to Penang with Lilian using her on her ID90 discount flight scheme on day one and flew back to Hong Kong on day three ready to start work again for my next shift as per the duty roster I had signed off at the beginning of the month.

However, on arrival back at Kai Tak airport I saw the Chief Inspector of EUK/W called Biggins, a bulging steroid popping rugby type from Bunterfract in England who effectively arrested me at the luggage claim carousel and hauled me back in a van to EUK/W base where it was alleged I had gone Absent without Leave (AWAL). A ridiculous trumped up charge that he said was substantiated by a fabricated allegation that my monthly “floating rest” day had not been recorded in the duty register.

To say I was in a state of shock is an understatement. I had never been arrested before and in retrospect the whole “arresting me at the airport” scam was just intended to humiliate me. Steroid Biggins kept justifying the arrest by saying the whole force was worried about me. He went on to say they thought I had gone paragliding, crashed and lay dead in the jungle. He said he went to my apartment and found a long haired hippy policeman who in typical “Metropolitan Police” style denied everything, which allegedly compounded their concern and justified their ridiculous and over the top response.

When I arrived at Mong Kok Police Station I tried to find my boss, Sean, who was a decent sort and he was nowhere to be found. I later found out the arrest at the airport was Steroid Biggins’ idea and of course, was illegal, although they later claimed I was not arrested but invited to escort him in a police van to Mong Kok police station report room. In fact, nothing happened at the police station, I wasn’t charged, I wasn’t interviewed, nothing.

Biggins had his fun and disappeared. I hung around needlessly, but eventually made my way home to a very worried wife and an uncertain future.

The next day I reported for work, as per the duty roster I had agreed to and signed off at the beginning of the month and was intercepted by S/Sgt Tsui who said it was a “fit up” and he had nothing to do with it. I immediately went in search of the duty roster kept by the EU administrative PC and on the version he had there was no “floating rest day” recorded for me for that month and it was not signed, although, tellingly, there was a floating rest day recorded earlier in the month for S/Sgt Tsui. I checked the duty rosters of all the other EU platoons and the “floating rest days” were all recorded for the respective platoon commanders and platoon Station Sergeants and signed off. Only mine was absent.

All very fishy.

Not long afterwards I saw my new Platoon Orderly, Lung Jai and he was contrite with shame and apologetic, blaming himself and saying, “Sorry, Ah Sir, it was all a mistake”. He was clearly very upset and I told the Station Sergeant and my Orderly that there must be an administration error and it will all get cleared up in the light of day. Let’s get back to work and forget about it.

I later had an interview with my boss, Sean, who commanded EU K/W and he also reassured me it must be a mistake, but later that day he called me back to his office and solemnly told me the bad news that it was decided from upon high that I was going to be defaulted, i.e. formal discipline procedures.

This was devastating news to me.

I had indeed left the Colony without notification and I suppose given my escapades in France three years previously when I was at HQCCC I was now viewed by the top brass to be a recidivist escaper.

I was now being made an example of even though my colleagues continued to go to China most months to see family, relatives and more often than you would think, their mistresses, and never ever notified anyone of their absence from the Colony. The reality was it was a classic case of “just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right”.

I fully intended to fight the AWAL allegation that was patently unfair and clearly made up. Back then I was not the most cross the “T”s and dot the “I”s aficionado in the Force, but I definitely booked the “floating rest” day that month just as I had done for every other month over the previous three years. When asked by the Admin PC which day I wanted to take I always tagged my “floating rest” day next to the adjoining two rest days between the long stretch of night shifts and the beginning of the nine days of mornings and afternoon shifts. If there was a mistake it wasn’t mine.

The ridiculousness and spitefulness of Biggins arresting me at the airport for something that isn’t even an “arrestable” offence and could easily have been dealt with by a “come and see me in my office” the next day played on my mind.

As I look back it was clear Biggins had a beef with me.

I first came across him when he was PTU Staff. He wasn’t a serious man. I always thought, despite his artificial steroid bulk he was a bit of a “run with the herd lightweight” and a coward.

He was always playing tricks on me, winding me up, making prank phone calls, and giving me a dig whenever he could. I remember he got a woman to ring me up and pretend to be infatuated after my picture appeared in the English newspapers. I told Biggins and his Wanchai hooker to “fuck off” and this did not go down well and he pulled rank on me for insubordination, despite continually being unprofessional himself by messing me about. I guess the AWAL scam was a chance for him to humiliate me and given I had indeed left the Colony without giving notification he was going to turn the knife.

I will freely admit that in those days I was an arrogant type and didn’t suffer fools. I had no time for the little cliques, ma jaais, weak bullying types nor petty office politics and I will concede I probably rubbed some people up the wrong way. This was proved by the amount of “Holier than Thou” and exaggerated Officers’ Mess versions of these events, then and annoyingly in years to come. None more so when my PTS Squad mate, Guy, with unrestrained delight, scathingly remarked in his Brummie accent, ‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen’.

Defaulter proceedings were initiated, which means that I was named as the the defendant in an internal disciplinary “trial”. My fear, anxiety and panic turned into full scale depression.

The only thing I really had in my life was the police force. I had risked my life on numerous occasions, given one hundred percent, gone above and beyond the call of duty and now they had turned on me and were repeatedly kicking me in the solar plexus whilst on the floor. Schadenfreude, gossip and joyous amusement at my misfortune was in spades, not to mention the hypocrisy, double standards and blatant unfairness of it all. The true nature of human beings laid out bare.

The prosecutor, a quite nice and amiable Superintendent called Hugh, arranged a pre trial meeting with me and encouraged me to plead guilty to the AWAL charge, explaining “certain people in Police HQ were angry with me and they would make sure, one way or the other, that they got their pound of flesh “. He continued that if I did plead guilty I would just get a verbal reprimand without an entry in my record of service.

I thought through the fact that, yes, I had left the Colony without notification, just as nearly everyone else did in every unit I worked in, but I was adamant that I had not gone absent without leave. I had booked the same “floating rest day” I did every previous month.

Extremely distressed by the whole “scam” I discussed with my boss, Sean, whom I respected and admired at that time, about what to do and he said I should take the deal, explaining that in the circumstances it was the best option for me, my family and my career.

Like a man to the gallows I attended the defaulter hearing in full uniform and stood in a dock in a court room setting without anyone representing me in defence, heard the charge, pleaded guilty, and as promised I was awarded a “suspended verbal reprimand without record of service entry”.

Two days later I got called to Steroid Biggins’ office and he gleefully informed me that Police Headquarters thought the punishment was too lenient and had overturned the sentence, raising the award by two notches to Severe Reprimand with Record of Service Entry.

I had been well and truly fucked over.

What this meant in reality was that I was no longer eligible for promotion to Chief Inspector, at least for many years, had a Governors’ Commendation recommendation and two Commissioners’ Commendation recommendations cancelled, was hauled out of Emergency Unit in disgrace, and I was sentenced to the depressing housing estates of Tze Wan San Police Station in the back end of beyond.

That was the moment I fell out of love with Royal Hong Kong Police. From now on it was just a job.

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.

IMG_7165

Fanny somewhere along the Simplon Pass in Switzerland

IMG_7078

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.

IMG_6608

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

 

large-map-of-sicily

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.

IMG_6419

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.

IMG_6606

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

IMG_6425

Catania… very pleasant.

IMG_6468

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.

IMG_6502

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.

IMG_6561

Lots of charming old towns and lanes across all of Sicily

IMG_6615

Very charming, indeed

 

IMG_6623

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

IMG_6868

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

IMG_6814

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.

 

IMG_6813

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.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fposts%2F10156565786583103&width=500

IMG_6714

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

IMG_6829

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!

IMG_6668

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

IMG_6631

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156558008028103%2F&show_text=1&width=267

IMG_6572

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

IMG_6570

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

IMG_6421

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:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156557938953103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6641

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

IMG_6749

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

IMG_6680

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

IMG_6696

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

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156557944523103%2F&show_text=1&width=267

IMG_6639

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

IMG_6646

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

IMG_6649

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

IMG_6549

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

IMG_6551

I am rather fond of mooching around piazzas

IMG_6590

A uniform so smart it has a PhD from Oxford

IMG_6936

East Sicily — just north of Catania

IMG_6553

It is Italy after all

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156569074518103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6627

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

IMG_6470

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

IMG_6847

IMG_6585

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

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156561323983103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6597

IMG_6604

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

IMG_6416

Oooh! cakes and pastries

IMG_6457

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

CKGD4804

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.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156569001328103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6691

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.

IMG_6619

A gaggle of original Fiat 500s – “cinquecento”

IMG_6533

woof!

IMG_6434

Bit of an orgy going on there

IMG_6656

This dog was not sure of me at all.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156557928828103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6942

Some Germans on Harleys … and a Honda scooter!!

IMG_6750

It seems to be a field full of paw paws

IMG_6777

Enter a caption

IMG_6912

Traveling light … the best way

IMG_7204

All is perfectly fine

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frupertpaulutley%2Fvideos%2F10156558008028103%2F&show_text=0&width=267

IMG_6397

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.

 

Coast to Coast Hike – Lake District – Yorkshire Dales – Yorkshire Moors 2018

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

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

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

 

IMG_5681

IMG_5641

IMG_5649

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_5648

IMG_5647

Looking back at St Bees

IMG_5761

Spring flowers still in bloom

IMG_5665

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

IMG_5669

IMG_5668

IMG_5670

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

 

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

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

Possibly.  My feet thought otherwise.

IMG_5696

Early morning at Ennerdale Water

IMG_5691

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

IMG_5699

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

IMG_5700

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

IMG_5682

Back lower down walking along the lake shore

IMG_5709

Looking back across Ennerdale Water

IMG_5774

Resting up for a while and taking stock of the scenery

IMG_5719

Lots of crystal clear streams and rivers

IMG_5720

I often filtered and drank the water directly from the waterfalls

IMG_5732

And back up again

IMG_5728

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

IMG_5782

Day 2

IMG_5769

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

IMG_5735

Nearly there

IMG_5766

Down the other side

IMG_5755

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

IMG_5812

That’ll be the path then

IMG_5813

A glimpse of another lake at the end of another valley

 

IMG_5791

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had been told by the “local” chap earlier on that the valley route to Grasmere was very wet and that if I had time I should continue to climb and follow the high ridge route, which I did, and which at the end of 20 odd miles of hiking I could have done without. It was like a roller coast, up and down steep climbs, with Grasmere in the distance seemingly getting no nearer, and if anything, further and further away.

Anyway, I eventually reached the end of the ridge in the early evening and scrambled down the steep scree path and into Grasmere, which I instantly took a dislike to. Its a pretty enough place, but seemed far to touristy and expensive.  I decided I would push on even though it was late, but first I needed some food and hauled myself and hiking kit into a pub for beer and nosh.

IMG_5894

Smile or a grimace… pain or joy?

IMG_5889

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

IMG_5847

Lamb shank and a pint of local bitter after a long day of hiking. There is nothing better than really earning your food.

grasmere-aerial

Aerial shot of Grasmere

After dinner, it started to drizzle and so I hiked out of Grasmere and headed for the hills where I found myself a free camping spot next to a sheep hut half way up the mountain. As I was setting up my tent the weather deteriorated and really start to rain. Inside my tent it was doing a good job and I was inside my sleeping bag and asleep in no time.

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

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

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

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

I normally stopped walking about 9.00 pm just before it started to get dark and pitched my tent on any flat dry grass, although on a few occasions I stopped earlier if I wanted to pitch the tent in their pub beer garden or in an adjacent field. I always had a couple of pints of local bitter with my evening meal, which was usually pub food, although in the remote areas I cooked up and ate whatever I had in the rucksack, usually noodles or  fruit and nuts. I tried to avoid sweets and chocolate this time, as I was trying to cut down on bad carbs just before sleeping.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5800

My campsite outside Grasmere

IMG_5801

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

IMG_5819

A tarn … check your “O” level geography

IMG_5828

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

IMG_5832

Coffee time by a stream.

IMG_5959

Sandwiches — the cornerstone of a British diet …

IMG_5957

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

IMG_5831

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

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

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

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

IMG_5900

IMG_5842

IMG_5951

NH4NO3? A little bit too near Bradfordstan for my liking

IMG_5917

A policy that would go down splendidly in Mui Wo

IMG_5851

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

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

IMG_5865

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

IMG_5870

My trusty home… Tarptent DW Moment

IMG_5866

IMG_5871

Drying off the early morning dew in the warm sunshine.

IMG_5872

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

IMG_5876

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

IMG_5878

Hiking back up the valley

IMG_5881

Back on track and the tarn with an island in the middle clear on my map. I should have been paying more attention. I start a few miles of jogging in penance.

IMG_5882

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

IMG_5893

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

IMG_5902

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

IMG_5907

Walking 5 miles along the shore of Haweswater

IMG_5909

IMG_5905

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

IMG_5906

Shale paths

IMG_5916

Boggy woods

IMG_5910

Bluebell woods

IMG_5912

What’s in Thomas’ Honest Box?

IMG_5914

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

IMG_5926

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

IMG_5927

Crossing many beautiful streams

IMG_5930

open the gate .. close the gate

Having got myself back on track I had a long hike ahead of me across classic Lake District highlands, across valleys, rivers, streams and along the shoreline of lakes towards Shap and Kirkby Steven that marked the end of the Lake District, and the start of the second phase of the coast to coast across the Yorkshire Dales. I yet again veered off the real Coast to Coast path and climbed several peaks that I assumed were included in the hike. Only when I came across hikers I had overtaken several hours before did I realise I might be making a tough hike tougher that I should. Still, nice views from the top.

The weather was pretty much perfect for hiking. My feet, which always let me down on long distance hikes due to being the wrong shape for a human being, had settled into an almost tolerable level of discomfort, if not, pain. I got in the habit of taking off my boots at lunch, soaking them in the streams and lakes, and taping up the blisters, or where blisters were starting to form around the toes and heel.

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

IMG_5940

3 and a half days to Shap

IMG_5934

Abbey ruins

IMG_5932

Moooo!

IMG_5953

An orchid perhaps

IMG_5954

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

IMG_5961

Lovely and green

IMG_5835

IMG_5933

Very green

IMG_5948

IMG_5946

Crossing over the M6 motorway

IMG_5978

Nine Standards

IMG_5979

Looking back west towards Kirkby Steven and beyond

IMG_5993

After a long evening hike I reached the Nine Standards. Ahead lies deep peat bog that I navigate across in the late evening until I find a dry spot to pitch my tent.

IMG_5991

Me

IMG_5993

IMG_5988

IMG_5997

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

IMG_5998

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

IMG_5999

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

IMG_6002

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

IMG_6006

Home for the night… quite remote for the UK

IMG_6010

As dry as it gets up here.

IMG_6011

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

IMG_6013

A nice easy going route?

IMG_6036

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

IMG_6040

Pretty waterfalls in the Dales

IMG_6051

Picturesque valleys

IMG_6050

Bumped into a fellow “free camping” hiker in Keld. He was doing the Pennine Way with his little four legged friends. One of the passionate walking types I met along the way.

IMG_6041

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

IMG_6042

Dales scenery

IMG_6044

Lots of bridges to cross

IMG_6048

Babbling brooks

IMG_6059

Climbing up into the hills and a few contour paths on very steep slopes.

IMG_6060

Steep sides and narrow paths

IMG_6062

Don’t trip

IMG_6053

Some arty agricultural sculpture… and my rucksack

IMG_6074

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

IMG_6082

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

IMG_5977

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

IMG_5975

Not quite half way.

IMG_6076

Free camping next to the River Swale

IMG_6088

Somethings never change … everything stops for the milk lorry

IMG_6090

Yorkshire Dales villages and farms – very pretty

IMG_6092

Bunting out for the Royal Wedding

IMG_6094

Lots of pheasants and ground birds in the fields

IMG_6097

No… I don’t have any milk

IMG_6101

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

IMG_6103

A Triumph Stag … not moving of course.

IMG_6108

Into Richmond … more than halfway now

IMG_6109

IMG_6110

A Green Z1000 SX

IMG_6111

A black Z1000 SX

IMG_6119

Lovely little dog sitting outside a shop in Richmond

IMG_6122

Odd people

IMG_6123

Odd person

IMG_6124

Odd ladies

IMG_6126

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

IMG_6133

River Swale in Richmond

IMG_6134

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

IMG_6138

Richmond Castle

IMG_6139

Following the river for many miles through woods and farmland

IMG_6142

England’s wild flowers are always beautiful

IMG_6144

Wild garlic… very aromatic.

IMG_6145

IMG_6147

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

IMG_6151

Rape seed fields

IMG_6152

Crossing bridges and walking through woods

IMG_6141

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

IMG_6154

Long flat trails through farmland and meadows

IMG_6155

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

IMG_6156

Passing through Bolton on Swale

IMG_6158

Day 7 – on way to Ingleby

IMG_6160

Tulips …….Stopping by Kiplin Hall for afternoon tea and a carb loading cake

IMG_6159

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

IMG_6167

Afternoon tea at Kiplin Hall… very welcome.

IMG_6171

Kiplin Hall

IMG_6168

English gardens

IMG_6173

IMG_6174

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

IMG_6175

But I do stop for a pint

IMG_6176

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

IMG_6177

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

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

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

 

IMG_6213

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

IMG_6180

Crossing several railways lines

IMG_6214

Heading back to moorland again

IMG_6215

Long trails across moorland

IMG_6183

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

IMG_6188

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

IMG_6186

IMG_6185

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

IMG_6189

Ahhh!  Not much to see. A white out.

IMG_6190

Miles and miles of this….!

IMG_6194

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

IMG_6193

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

IMG_6196

My only companion — a moor grouse

IMG_6195

I never saw it….

IMG_6203

IMG_6204

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

IMG_6208

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

IMG_6199

Grouse trying to distract me from its nest

IMG_6216

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

IMG_6218

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

IMG_6236

More moors!

IMG_6227

33% incline for 2 miles —-Oh Joy!

IMG_6232

The last section of my map book … nearly the end

IMG_6242

Robin Hood’s Bay in the distance

IMG_6245

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

IMG_6243

And I made it. Nine Days.

IMG_6253

The North Yorkshire Moors? What can I say?

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

However, there was a big dampener put on the whole hike when I reached Robin Hood’s Bay.

I should have been celebrating, but I was presented with an unnecessary logistical headache when I should have been preparing for a motorcycle ride across Europe with Fanny and getting early medical attention for an annoying chest infection.

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

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

Huh?  No ink in the printer?

And what am I supposed to have done now?

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

I was seriously perplexed. Antagonized?

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

‘I have said English women are ugly for over 35 years… that is why I am with you, my pinko commie 宝贝’

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

WTF?

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

1) actually remember saying anything about fat ugly English women (after all its a universal truth and I have nothing more to add); and

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

And then it became clear.

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

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

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

So, having been evicted, with my personal possessions thrown into a damp garage in Dorset, I now had to spend many hundred pounds and several days recovering all my “stuff”. Its been a logistical pain in the arse and so I have no intention to write about it, nor describe further.

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

I digress.

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

What next then?

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

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

Ciao!

IMG_6251

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

IMG_6249

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

IMG_6263

Stand and Deliver – Whitby

IMG_6260

No fish… I blame the French and the EU

IMG_6259

Whitby Harbour

IMG_6255

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

IMG_6271

Train ……. Middlesborough-York- Kings Cross London-Waterloo London-Poole.

IMG_6273

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

IMG_6275

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

 

IMG_6322

Nick and I riding again

IMG_6327

Second trip back to Poole to collect Fanny’s Kawasaki and ride it along the A272 back to east Sussex. Just as well I like trains and riding bikes.

IMG_7204

Hick!

 

The Best and Worst Awards

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

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

MOST ENJOYABLE COUNTRY AWARD

AFRICA – TANZANIA

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

The highlights:

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

Riding towards Ngorogoro Crater

Snow peaked mountains in Tanzania

Lake Charla … elephants at the water hole

Lake Charla

Taking a ride on a Dhow in Zanzibar

Lake Charla with foothills of Kilimajaro in the background…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

WORST COUNTRY AWARD 

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

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

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

It was tiresome, annoying and ever so slightly sad.

Meeting fellow bikers heading south at Ethiopian/ Sudan border

The former and now derelict train station in Addis Ababa

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

Fanny surrounded by little friends in north west Ethiopia

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE AWARD – SUDAN.

Sudan was our biggest surprise and we thoroughly recommend visiting.

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

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

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

Long sand roads .. and scorching heat in Sudan

Very friendly people

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

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

Fanny with the guys who helped us repair her bike

Yes… there are pyramids in Sudan too

 

 

 

 

P1030026

Pyramids in Sudan

 

 

WORST EXPERIENCES 

We never really had any very bad experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South America?   That remains an adventure for the future.

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

BEST CITY AWARD

AFRICA – DAR ES SALAAM 

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

A dhow in Zanzibar

Having a coffee in a street in Zanzibar

Dar es Salem from the ferry

 .

EUROPE – Istanbul

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

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

P1060199

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

425104_10150597640337877_1410789803_n

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

IMG_8642

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

P1110428

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

.

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.

 

IMG_5712

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.

dscn0807

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.

img_7042

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

Offa’s Dyke Hike – May 2017

IMG_0543[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0841[1]

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

IMG_0250[1]

Prestatyn and Kevin…. day 1 

north of llangollen near worlds end

A memorable section of the Offa’s Dyke

offas-dyke-path-top-TI

Offa’s Dyke – fascinating history and outstanding natural beauty

 

IMG_0298[1]

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

IMG_0283[1]

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

IMG_0300[1]

The Offa’s Dyke Path 

IMG_0352[1]

IMG_0499[1]

 

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

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

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

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

Total journey about 40 hours door to door.

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

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

From then on I was free camping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0632[1]

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

IMG_5832

A brew of tea or coffee along the way

IMG_0385[1]

Following more or less the border between England and Wales 

 

IMG_0629[1]

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

IMG_0568[1]

IMG_0686[1]

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

IMG_0461[1]

Camping in a pub beer garden 

IMG_0334[1]

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

IMG_0596[1]

Another lovely section and great weather

NPUM3921[1]

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

IMG_0549[1]

And tea shops … a particularly delicious Damson crumble

IMG_0548[1]

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

IMG_0471[1]

IMG_0622[1]

Mountain ponies

IMG_0628[1]

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

IMG_0606[1]IMG_0417

IMG_0481[1]

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

IMG_0515[1]

Half way along … Osprey rucksack doing a good job

IMG_0556[1]

Meadows full of wild flowers 

IMG_0451[1]

Lots of sheep and ponies….and the odd alpaca 

XFVK1689[1]

IMG_0475[1]

IMG_0683[1]

Canals and rivers 

IMG_0508[1]

Friends

IMG_0655[1]

Lots of magical woods

IMG_0559[1]

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

IMG_0542[1]

A discussion with King Offa about the route

IMG_0473[1]

Still on track

IMG_0634[1]

Often on my own

IMG_0418[1]

Canal Aquaduct

DSC00879

Tintern Abbey

IMG_0572[1]

slight altercation with a bramble bush

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0631[1]

IMG_0635[1]

IMG_0701[1]

IMG_0687[1]

IMG_0466[1]

 

IMG_0666[1]

Getting near the end of the 177 mile hike

IMG_0698[1]

IMG_0529[1]

IMG_0508[1]

IMG_0406[1]

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

IMG_0483[1]

IMG_0727[1]

IMG_0734[1]

Made it to Sedbury … 

Chapter 1 – How it all started … Africa 2007

1923389_6503423102_3692_n

……” In the middle of the Zambian bush I ran into Obe Wan Kanobe and his convoy of motorcycles. As we passed and waved at each other it took me a while to realise this was the “Long Way Down” TV expedition and so I turned around and caught up with them. After a brief exchange of pleasantries Ewan McGregor and his wife carried on riding towards Lusaka, but Charlie Boorman and Claudio Planta stayed behind, chatting by the side of a road in the middle of African bush about the “stuff ” bikers usually chat about“……

Chapter 1

At the start of the new Millennia I was working in the fraud investigation practice of one of the worlds largest consulting firms based in Hong Kong. I did challenging and occasionally rewarding work, usually got paid each month, and on the face of it life was pretty OK.

I lived in what can best be described as an “illegal hut” right next to a popular beach in the village of Sek O on the rural south side of Hong Kong Island. Various females, none of whom I liked particularly much (except for a cat), came and went.

I swam in the sea all year round, regularly ran along the mountain trails, kept myself extremely fit, rode to work at warp speed on a racing specification Yamaha YZF R1, and I could fly my paraglider up above Dragon’s Back Ridge, and land back down again right next to my hut.

However, I was becoming increasingly restless. Whilst I am very good at what I do, the pettiness and unpleasantness of the corporate world, office politics, an unplayable nutty “ex missus”, and the Hong Kong Knitting Circle was really beginning to irritate and annoy me

Time to clean out the sock drawer

Not being someone to do anything by half measures, I decided to press the reset button, resign from my job and chart a different course by enrolling as a mature student at one of the best universities in China. My plan was to differentiate myself from my peers by being able to speak, read and write Mandarin fluently, immerse myself in all things Chinese, and run my own practice.

As it turned out, a good plan.

As my first semester on the Mandarin language course at Tsinghua University (清華大學)in Beijing did not start until September 2007, some six months away, I had some time on my hands, and so I decided to challenge myself by riding a motorcycle across Africa.

I was allowed to resign almost immediately having completed all my projects as I am quite sure the painfully dull consultants I worked with were glad to see the back of me. I sold my cherished Yamaha R1 to an Italian chap, handed over my “hut” in Sek O to some French hippies, gave away the remainder of my few possessions, threw some t-shirts in a suitcase, and flew out to South Africa.

I had done some long distance motorcycle rides in Asia and Europe, but had never done any true “adventure riding”.

At the time legendary motorcycle riders like Ted Simons of “Jupiter’s Travels“, Sam Manicom of “Distant Suns“, and Nick Sanders of “Journey Beyond Reason: Fastest Man Around the World” had been riding all over the world and writing fascinating accounts about their adventures.

Also, like many other people at the time, I was captivated by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s  Long Way Round motorcycle expedition that had taken place a few years before, and vaguely aware they were completing yet another expedition in the continent I was planning to go to.

There was not a great deal of information about adventure riding on the internet, but there were a few decent “how to” books on planning, preparations and kit that I bought and digested. In particular, Chris Scott’s “Adventure Motorcycling Handbook” that I have to say was very informative.

I had virtually no motorcycle maintenance skills, and most of the bikes I had tinkered with over the years had been thoroughly wrecked by my complete incompetence.

No real “off road” riding experience either,  other than collecting cows on an old Matchless 350 cc motorcycle from down the meadows on the farm I worked on as a young kid, and of course hooliganing around country lanes and fields on my 50 cc moped … as all we 16 year old lads who were brought up in the English countryside were prone to do.

Given my time and available resources, I planned to ride for about five months and up through the Cederberg and Karoo of South Africa from my home in Arniston on the southern tip of Africa. I then planned to cross into Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania (if I can get in without carne de passage), Mozambique, and back into South Africa and through the Kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, and perhaps see the Wild Coast, again.

A few year earlier I had yomped for several months down this spectacular coastline, sleeping under the stars or in a bunk in a backpackers hut, swimming and paddling across shark infested rivers, walking alongside whales and dolphins, and occasionally evading shiftas who were ambushing hikers and relieving them of their possessions! It was a truly amazing experience and I definitely wanted to see it again, but this time on a motorcycle.

ruperts-r1
My Yamaha YZF 1000cc R1 motorcycle outside the hut in Sek O
screenshot-8
Southern Africa route through South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and back to South Africa … about 15,000 kms.
IMG_3256
My home in Arniston, on Southern Tip of Africa.
dscn0686
Running everyday along the beaches near my home in Arniston, South Africa to get fit for the expedition
8-20-2007-1214
KTM 990 Adventure (2007) ….just after I bought it… in my garden in Arniston.
my-ktm-990-adv
My KTM 990 Adventure on the day I sold it in 2011….four years and several expeditions later…spotless.
8-20-2007-1216
Clueless

So, to the planning and preparation.

I had read enough to know that the biggest dilemma when planning a long distance motorcycle expedition is the balance between carrying all the kit (you think) you might need and keeping weight to the bare minimum. I also didn’t have a great deal of cash to spend as I was paying alimony and also had to budget ahead for at least two years of self funded study with no income, and an uncertain future.

Even back in 2007 there were some decent bits of kit around that would have been useful, like GPS and satellite telephones. I didn’t have any of those. What I could muster together for navigation purposes were some basic tourist maps; a basic guide book on Namibia; a paragliding compass and altimeter; and sufficient lack of knowledge not to worry too much.

Anyway, I threw myself into the project and used my house in Arniston near the southern most tip of Africa as a base to get things ready.

But what bike?  This is the biggest decision and the choice really comes down to budget, riding ability and more often than not … just personal preference.

In recent times adventure motorcyclists have circumvented the globe on nearly everything on two wheels: 105 cc Australian “Postie” bikes; 50 cc mopeds and scooters; classic adventurers like the Honda Africa Twin and Yamaha XT 500; and of course the BMW GS Adventure series bikes used by Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor on their Long Way Round and Long Way Down television productions.

As a fairly experienced rider of sports motorcycles, like the Yamaha R1 and Honda Fireblade, I had come to expect a bit of speed and excitement and so I narrowed down my choice to the big powerful bikes, not knowing any better, and so my choice was between the BMW F1200GS Adventure, Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere, Honda XRV750T Africa Twin, and the KTM 990 or 950 Adventure.

I couldn’t find a decent second hand Africa Twin, and would probably have bought one if I had found one, the Yamaha was a distant fourth choice, and so it came down to the BMW or the KTM?

One of my first tasks on arriving in South Africa was to test ride the bikes and so I went to BMW Motorrad in Cape Town who I found to be extremely helpful and professional. However on the day they didn’t have a decent second hand bike and so I tested a new BMW F 1200 GS and found I really liked it. But it was very expensive, especially so with all the extra kit needed for the trip.

So off to KTM Cape Town who just happened to have a 1 year old low mileage black and grey KTM 990 Adventure with some of the kit I needed already fitted, and so I took it for a blast.

The KTM handled beautifully, was fast, powerful, reliable, balanced, looked the part and with the beautiful titanium Akropovik exhausts sounded absolutely glorious. Of course KTM were dominating (and have continued to do so) all the motorcycle rally competitions around the world, including the famous Dakar Rally and so my decision was an easy one.

A motorcycle is of course the most obvious thing you have to buy and probably the most expensive single item.  I also needed a decent helmet, protective boots, gloves, motorcycle adventure trousers and jacket, panniers, a duffel bag, camping gear, cooking gear, and perhaps some oil and maintenance tools! All these things add up.

KTM Cape Town (who happen to have relieved me of a lot of money over the years, sometimes for things I haven’t even bought !), sold me some Thor Blitz boots (half length boots that remain my favourites to this day), an Arai adventure helmet (a very good helmet that I never liked much, and many years later my other half, Fanny used it to ride around the world on her KTM), and very very expensive Touratech aluminium panniers … no other choice in South Africa at the time … and so