4 September 2005

Kent Charity Pet Food Run - September 4th 2005

Pet Food Run 2005, originally uploaded by pauldevall.

The run this time was to the animal sanctuary at Marsh Farm near Pluck's Guter in Kent. As you have to cross the river Stour, the sanctuary is on the Isle of Thanet.

This run was in two parts, one section leaving the Oakdene and us more local types heading in from the Railway Cafe by Hythe light railway.

In the end we raised a good amount of money and a load of pet food was delivered.

1 September 2005

Week in Fitou - August 2005 - Aftermath - Part Two

Day 5 - Dali Day

Well, it was supposed to be Dali Day. We got up relatively early and breakfasted and then the battle of the GPS' started with both of us trying to make sure our GPS had the best route and could find the centre of Figueres!

I led (as usual!) and we opted for a motorway run down into Spain, have the usual coffee break and then go into the Dali Museum. Part 1 accomplished but part two... err never happened. So for the second time we saw the outside and didn't get in.
Last time back in 2001 it was closed for lunch, this time the queue to get in was about 300 yards and moving at about a yard every five minutes. It was over 90 degrees of Fahrenheit and the queue wasn't in the shade at all... Dali Museum & Theatre (N42.16096 E2.57587)

So after a drink outside a bar we buggered off on the next leg of the trip that would take us to Rosas/Roses for lunch and then the coast road back to France and then home. The GPS was set and off we went, managing to get out of Figueres was easier than getting in and finding a parking space...
It was just as hot at Roses and luckily we had plenty of empty luggage space to pack the jackets and lock the helmets on to the bike with a cable (as we always do on holiday!) and wander about in jeans - remember these mutha's are Draggin or Hood and VERY hot to wear - and bike boots.

Lunch was okay, not brilliant at a restaurant on the seafront overlooking the beach and then it was time to "walk it off"... Paddling and sitting in the sun.

From Roses we planned a coastal trip back to France via Portbou, fill up with vastly cheaper Spanish petrol before the border crossing into France.

All went well until Colera (sounds pretty disgusting) where I took a right as Doris said and we went into some small town, I kept following her instructions and lost S&B. Their tom-tom or tom for short, had sent them 2nd right onto the main road that from a distance looked like road works (!), and so they were ahead of us. Doris bravely soldiered on and "off route recalculating" took us deeper and deeper into the hills behind the village until in a repeat of the previous days trip we arrived at a dirt track heading into the mountains, Doris still claiming that in 1.2 ms (or whatever) we should turn "second right"... In UK all turns are variations of left, and in Europe she changes to variations of right! Sixth right is quite off putting.

We re-traced out steps after I re-programmed Doris to take us to Portbou again and in the end we made the right or correct right turn and were off along the coast. We passed S&B re-fuelling in Portbou and we headed for the petrol station a few yards from the French border high above the town. Luckily it was open and there wasn't much of a queue!

From then on much of the coast road to Port Vendres is mainly downhill and very twisty. I opted for the (ill advised?) tactic of picking the cars off one at a time to get down a little quicker. All went well and I forgot that S&B were behind us. We had one "moment" when I looked ahead and the road was empty coming towards us for may be 300 yards, I tipped it ion on the outside of an arsehole in a mini-motor home who looked at me alongside him and who then drifted out to push we wider. If I had stopped him at the next pull off for one of the vineyards I'd have punched his lights out. It was deliberate, no two ways about it. The look on his face was etched into my head for hours afterwards, the smirk. Luckily I was able to get back in and ahead of him before the next bend. Okay I might have surprised the **** but he had no need to try and kill us.

At Banyuls the traffic was held up and I didn't do so much overtaking, as there was a gendarmerie car in the line. S&B didn't catch us as I crawled to the junction for Collioure and they still hadn't come into view.

I took it. And we had a calming session over a menthe a l'eau and milkshake in Collioure and I texted Steve to tell him where we were.

From Collioure we set off for the apartment via Perpignan. And this is were I learned another lesson about Doris and "Vias". If you plan a route from A to B and include some place en-route or "vias" then she'll plot a wonderful route for you. I was still on shortest rather than quickest calculation of routes, and Perpignan as a "via" seemed a good idea. What's that noise they used on "Family Fortunes" when some berk couldn't guess the answer the 100 idiots they asked a question has come up with - well that should be part of Doris' repertoire!

Everything was fine until we hit Perpignan, we stopped and got some bread and cakes at a local bakery, then she took us through some of the smallest back streets in the Arab quarter you could wish never to go. Doris doggedly tried to get us to go to wherever the waypoint is for Perpignan! In the end after about ten minutes of little alleys we found a signpost to the centre and were saved from the perpetual Groundhog Day circulation of the same streets. Hallelujah.

I quickly tickled Doris' buttons and she led us from that misery back to Fitou. Still, we saw some places the tourists never go!

Day 6 - Do Nothing Much Day

Spent the day hanging about locally with a visit to Narbonne to do some shopping and then a visit to Port La Nouvelle. Not the most exciting of starts with a rather horrible port area leading to a very nice but windy seafront. Time for an ice cream.

Day 7 - Towards Canigou

The idea was to see if we could get up Canigou. The start was across country towards Estagel once again, and again we stopped in the same petrol station before a bank stop to get some cash.

In the end we decided to stop for a bite of lunch. But, this was before my newly acquired interest in fords! Estagel has a quite magnificent "Irish bridge" type ford. We crossed it in both directions, and in summer there is hardly any water in the river. Sadly, I didn't take a pic of it to share with

Lunch was taken at the Le Commerce bar and restaurant. And it is more than that; it's the local betting shop as well.

We were joined by an unusual diner as we started the coffee course. A young magpie flew down to an adjoining table to do battle with a piece of a cornetto wrapper! No doubt it was attracted to the shiny paper. I gave it a small pack of sugar cubes and it set about ripping the paper off to get to the sugar. Then a noisy little kid from another table came and frightened it off... if anyone needed a slap across the legs!!

In the end we never got to the top of Canigou on the route I had planned. Partly as it was off-road and even more importantly that the road was closed to motors.

So in surrender we returned to the apartment and got our swim gear and went to the beach for a last swim in the Med for the year.

Day 8 - Homeward bound?

The next day was home time for the four of us. Although we had planned in the various GPS' a route to take us the the hotel in Saint Nectaire in the Auvergne, we of course were separated within a few miles and Steve did his own thing. S&B eventually arrived about 25 minutes after we did after going a totally different route.

We got to ride over the famous Millau bridge, but as we were suffering the first rain since the Carcassonne day, it was almost impossible to see.

Once the rain relented we did stop and have a look at this marvel - the Gustave Eifel designed Viaduc du Garabit -(http://www.garabit.com/). We had a drink and a tidy up and managed to get the waterproof overtrousers off. Claire's new ones had leaked badly and her Darggin' Jeans were soaked. My new nes had fared better and I wasn't as wet although I have had a trickle doen the back of my neck that had wet my sirt and jumper underneath.

As it was clearing up we made our way to the Hotel de la Paix (http://www.hotel-delapaix.net/). The hotel is excellent for bikers and the hosts, a Dutch couple and their family make motorcyclists very welcome.

The restaurant is very good and the food on the night we ate in was excellent.

The hotel is situated in Haut St Nectaire, although it is a very short walk to the lower part of town where there are some fine hotels and spa hotels.

St Nectaire is also well placed for anyone wanting a base in the Auvergne to visit the volcanoes and the lakes that abound in the area.

We have earmarked it for another trip and we'll stop at the same hotel as we enjoyed it so much.

It was quite cold at night though, this must have been due to the difference between the Med and Massif Central.

Day 9 - To Paris

After breakfast we packed up and set the GPS systems for Paris. It was inevitable that we would take different routes and I had got used to not looking in the mirrors to see where Steve had got to.
We had a non-motorway ride across country to meet the A75 to the north of Clermont Ferand joining it just afterwards in fact. The ride to Paris was uneventful and relatively traffic free for the most part. The GPS location that Steve had got was pretty accurate to a few feet.

Sadly, the narrow streets and tall buildings meant that Doris kept losing the satellites and we seemed to go around in circles, crossing the same junctions time and time agaon, but like a slap stick film from different directions! Finally we arrived at the Kyriad Paris IX Montmartre (kyriadmontmartre09@wanadoo.fr). Not badly sighted; right in the centre of the porn zone and less than a quarter of a mile from the Moulin Rouge.

By the time I had worked out how to get around the block to the parking garage at the lower end of the street and walked back, S&B had arrived at the hotel and were just unloading. I did a "backy" and Steve parked up as well. It's not that I don't trust the darling Frenchies, but the pavements around the area looked seedy and filthy... God alone knows what with.

Whilst we were having a shower and get changed, S&B set off and although they went toa local bar, we didn't see them. Over the next few hours we wandered about up to the Sacre Coeur and back along the Pigalle and had dinner at a pub with 100's of different beers.

Working in London as I do means I have often walked through Soho and have seen the sex shops and the genre, but it never really bothered me. In fact, some of the shops along the Blvd de Clichy were a bit of a bore, seen one 12" long black dildo, seen 'em all. Old hat even in 1970 when in Amsterdam on a footie tour!!

Day 10 - The last day

We were still in bed when we heard Steve's bike outside and by the time I had got some clothes on and the window open they were zooming off up the road. With an extra night away they were off coastwards.

We had all day to make the 190 mile run back to the Shuttle.

31 August 2005

Week in Fitou - August 2005 - Aftermath - Part One

Day 1 - Motorail

Despite scare stories that P&O were charging a supplement on anyone arriving for the wrong boat, either early or late, we had no problems getting an earlier crossing with Steve and Bobby.

The mini-group for this tour was Claire and myself on the GS, and Steve and Bobby (S&B) on the FJR1300.

Although a Yamaha (!), I have read quite a bit on how this bike is a perfect tourer having luggage capacity as well as the means to get a shift on with its R1 derived engine. Steve has added a Melvyn seat and has changed the OEM panniers for larger Kappa items fitted with a QD kit to let him take it all off the bike, frames as well. Plus a PDA with Tom-Tom GPS software and their intercom.

As for our side of things, I had the usual three box BMW luggage and Touratech tank bag. My only new toy was the Quest GPS I bought in June and that I was still getting to terms with. We had nicknamed her "Doris", but the voice she emits is more Joanna Lumley than Barbara Windsor, so Doris may be doing it/her a dis-service. As I had only used Doris a few times and in the car I also had Michelin map 527 with me - the orange one!

I had planned a few trips out from Fitou on the Mapsource software on the PC at home and saved all the places I might want to go as "My Locations". This needed a bit of refining once I had a proper co-ord for the apartment in Fitou!

After lunch in Calais at the Café de Paris we made our way to the shops to buy dinner and then off to load. As if it was a parting gift it started to rain. Right up until we loaded the bikes on the train. As we were early enough we got on first, right at the front of the Narbonne carriages.

As things go the motorail saves riding down and gets you to within 40 miles of the Spanish border overnight. Although a touring motorcyclist, I have never done that sort of distance voluntarily and don't want to. As for the claims that it is cheaper than driving/rising? May be if you have a Roller or other gas guzzler.

We spent the evening eating our dinner as we sped southwards and then after a few beers in the cattle truck of a bar we settled down to kip.

Day 2 - Narbonne to Fitou

The train arrived a little later than scheduled and we were shepherded quite efficiently onto the buses to take us from Narbonne station to the Motorail depot about a mile away.

The bikes had been loaded first and the unloaders had unloaded them for us to get access to the many cars that were behind us. It saved us missing our breakfast in any case.

The apartment in Fitou is only 24 miles from the station and as it was barely 11am and we couldn't be in until 4pm we had to think of something to do. We decided to go to Fitou anyway and have a look where it was and on the off chance see if we could get in early. 

There have to be some perks knowing the owners. Sadly that had no effect and we had to go again and come back later! Not even drop the luggage into the apartment or garage. 

We made our way to the beachside at Leucate Plage for lunch. It was very windy. It turned out that this was the "tramontana" off shore winds, and the reason for the numerous wind farms all across the region. It was a bit irritating as eating outside was more difficult with everything being bolted down to avoid fighting through a meal!

Lunch stop
We then had a walk up the beach, in all our biking finery, before letting the GPS take us back to the door of the apartment.

Most evenings we ate in and so we needed to get some provisions and the local Intermarché provided us with all we could need.

Day 3 - Carcassonne Day

Although on holiday together as two couples it is sometimes a good idea to do your own thing, and this happened as we left for Carcassonne, purely by accident.

I misread the GPS and turned right and then onto a bumpy road, okay for the GS, but Steve was more apprehensive of taking his race-tourer on it. By the time we had found somewhere wide enough to turn to get back on the right route we had lost them. We decided to let Doris, as we had named the Quest, guide us to Carcassonne the shortest way across the Corbières whilst Steve's Tom-Tom went the motorway.

Our trip was on small roads and through villages yet to be touched by the incomers from the UK and other places turning them into little bits of England in the sun. We popped out onto the N113 about 20 miles east of the city.

The cross country route was through Treilles on the D50 to Fraissé des Corbières, Villesqué and onto the D611 to Thézan and across to Ferrals les Corbières.

There was a medieval festival on in the Cité and the place was packed and roads closed, but the police let bikes through. There is a bike park right outside the old city gates but it only holds about 6 bikes. In the end we parked across the road in the entrance to the bone yard. Amazingly as I was navigating backwards off the pavement, S&B arrived in the opposite direction.

The cité is on one side of the river and the modern city growing up from the 13th Century is across the river.

We did a couple of laps of the cité centre with obligatory stops firstly for lunch, and then for a drink before we set off home.

As we started to leave we got into a huge traffic jam of people by the gate where we came in. The people coming in all over the place and those of us trying to get out wedged in with them. Then a guy tried to drive his car out.... Finally, like a cork from a bottle we were out... Pop!

It started to drizzle and Claire tried her brand new waterproofs and so did I. As I use the bike more, I had a new pair of Swift unlined trousers but has left the braces at home. As she had her Draggin Jeans on she wanted a lighter pair, unnamed! We togged up and took the motorway back to Fitou. As it was Sunday and the last day of the holidays for many people the roads were quite busy.

Day 4 - Cathar Castles Day

I had read in the Michelin Green Guide about the Cathar Castles and the history of the Cathar people.  Two of the local castles were in easy riding distance and up in the mountainous area to the north-west of where we were staying.

S&B decided to go further afield to some villages to the north that are built on a curious system much like a Catherine wheel with the square in the centre... We decided to give that a miss and I programmed "Doris" to take us to Quéribus and Peyrepertuse.

We set off a little late after breakfast on the terrace and it was another warm day, but the wind was up again as we made our way up through Fitou and out into the hilly terrain behind. The tramontana is a semi-permanent wind and to take advantage of it there are wind farms everywhere. And as a tourist they don't look too bad. However, I might have other ideas if they stuck one near my house.. NIMBY? Moi?

We head in a different route to the Carcassonne day and the D9 to Opoule-Périllos was single track for much of it. Once again we went through small villages where tourist have yet to blight the area with their villas and bright blue swimming pools! Staying on the D9 was quite confusing as Doris became a little distracted by the sheer number of turns in the village, but once we navigated past the sleeping dog stretched across the road we were back on track.

At Vingrau we earmarked this for "another day" as it looked a nice place to have lunch. Of course, "another day" didn't happen on this trip. Doris took us down the D59 to Tautaval where there is a museum of prehistory (cavemen to us) that we glided past as the coaches in the parking put us off a little. Into Estagel, "off-route recalculating" Doris kept piping to us as we side tracked to fill the almost empty petrol tank.

Here the N117 is quite scenic and green lined on the Michelin Map and we followed it to Maury before making a right turn towards Cucugnan on the D19. Then simply follow the signs as the Chateau du Quéribus is clearly signposted and then clearly visible perched high on a mountain top.

The road up is twisty and the edges are rough and gravelly, and to my dismay there was a coach wedged in the entrance to the sloping car park. I parked up near the rear side of it and we untogged a lot of the bike gear intending to walk up to the castle. We had arrived at a popular time and the people climbing the path looked like ants and plenty of them so we decided to wait.

The wind was up and as we stood on the end of the car park overlooking the valley below the sudden gusts nearly had me over the edge and Claire almost suffered a similar fate as the wind caught her jacket and she nearly became a human kite!

Chateau du Quéribus
The coach party finally came together and from the cafe/visitor centre we watched it reverse and set off. Not really expecting to see the Italians again.. but....

After a coffee we decided to get some lunch and started back down the road towards the Peyrepertuse some 10 miles away. As we arrived in Duilhac sous Peyrepertuse we passed the coach stopped at the side of the road at a small diner, as we hairpinned up the slope we saw another one on the left and I pulled in. This one almost empty. And we had lunch.

As we sat under the trees the coach went past so we knew that they would be ahead of us a Peyrepertuse itself. I was in no hurry to get up there as a result, but off we went.

The guidebook doesn't mention how hard a climb it is to get to the castle once you have parked and paid your €5 each.

In the UK they would have banned the public from going in. The castle is built on what looks like a giant lower jaw of some immense animal, lion or wolf... It is hardly distinguishable from the rock as it is made out of the same grey rock itself!

Once parked you set off to the right and then climb up the path through the trees. Although they are building a new permanent visitor centre, the current one is a portakabin. For €4 you can hire an audio set that gives you a commentary as you climb and climb and climb....

As you climb the first section you have no idea that in fact you climb over the ridge to the other side and then walk up and down along the paths for about half a mile before you get to the entrance to the castle. In this distance you perhaps go up and down about 100 metres altitude.

The climb is worth it. You do need to have sensible footwear, and yes we did see flip-flops and shoes with heels. In fact bike boots were not that clever despite ankle protection, they aren't designed for the climbing.

Once up there the views are stunning and if you can avoid a heart attack, so much the better. The walk back was along the same route and the down bits were as tricky as they had been when the were up bits!

Once back in the car-park about 2 hours after we set off we enjoyed a drink before setting off for the third stop of the day, except this was not a castle but a Gorge - The Gorges de Galamus.

It was hot and sticky back inside the jackets, the Hood and Draggin jeans we were wearing are an alternative to leathers but not any cooler in this climate but at least look like you are in civvies...

Exiting Duilhac we had a hairy moment when the car in front stopped and the driver flung his door open, it missed my knee by about an inch. I stopped and gave him some Anglo-Saxon for his troubles, all the could do was shrug!

We continued on the D14 along another green lined section of road. From this side the chateau is clearly visible along the top of the "jaw". The road wound it's way through vineyards to Soulatgé where we encountered a load more sleeping dogs in the road and hanging off the pavement and where Doris said to turn left. Which we did, sailing past a house and a bemused old man in his garden.

A few metres on the road stopped in a vineyard. Perhaps I had turned left too early. Back up the road, past the man and then back to the top where really the road doglegged, not really a left in the real sense.... And off to Cubières and the left turn that takes you to the Gorges.

As the road is so narrow and overhung with rock, there are no buses and no RV's allowed on this section. Plus they are traffic light controlled to make the centre section, and the narrowest, one-way.

In summer, they don't trust the visitors and they provide and escort in each direction for you to follow and have marshal's at each end to ensure the drivers stop at the red light!

I was a bit slow off the mark after being ushered to the front by the marshal and a couple of frogs got past us to ruin the photos!

At the end of the narrow bit and beyond the next lights, the valley opens up wider to allow space for a car-park. As you look back up the gorge you can see the refuge for walkers clinging to the rock.

We had a quick drink and as it was getting late we decided to head back to Fitou and call in at a supermarket on the way...

End of Part One

26 March 2005

Picardy Blockhouse Day - March 26th 2005

After the success of the first Blockhouse Run in October last year everyone I asked wanted to have another trip across. As most of the Centre regulars were available, I picked Easter Saturday.

A £19 recce trip in February (booked through www.driveline.co.uk/postcard) was to make sure I could lead the group, and hopefully a large group, to both the blockhouses and to the lunch venue without anyone getting lost! It worked.

The day dawned foggy in Kent and I set off for the Shuttle expecting to meet a load of Suzuki owners. In fact in our group there was only one Suzuki, the B12 belonging to Centre Sec Paul Bratton. The rest of the group were: Garry & Marie Page on his new Blackbird, Bernie and his grandson Jay on a BMW K series, Bob and Barbara on a Guzzi, Simon on a BMW F650 and finally me on the GS.

Frogside, the fog was thicker and our route to Ardres to meet the Sussex Centre was across country via Guines. In the end we only had one problem; Paul B's marvelous French that led to a massive over order of coffees when we stopped as usual for petrol and breakfast in the ELF Station on the exit from the Shuttle terminal.

At Ardres the Sussex mob increased the party by a further 4 bikes (all Suzukis) and six people. I led us to St Omer on the N43 and then on to La Coupole by following the road signs.

The huge concrete dome was built to house final assembly areas and firing places for the V2 "reprisal weapon", and is set in a natural quarry, but isn't hidden from the air. It relied on 5m thick concrete for defence. There weren't enough of us for a group discount but they do a reduced rate combined ticket for 13 euros to visit the V2 site at Eperlecques as well, luckily our afternoon visit. You are given a headset to hear the commentary in your own language, and this works well in the main.

You enter along a long tunnel and in one side chamber is a monument with the names of the 85000 French civilians that were sent to the concentration camps. This is some 10000 more than the number of French Jews that went with them on the trains. The V2 rockets were built by this slave labour at the Nordhausen-Dora concentration camp. The death rate worked out at about 4 slaves per rocket built.

In two small cinemas you can see films about the German occupation of France, and another on the development of the space race culminating in man landing on the moon and the influence the development of the V2 had in that timeline.

On leaving I led the group into St Omer for lunch. The Kent group lunched in Les Trois Caves in Place Marechal Foch. The Sussex party did their own thing in the town centre. When we arrived I had a pigeon-franglais chat with a copper who was in the square as they cleared up after the morning market. He called the cleaning team over and they tidied the area for us to park up.

After lunch the majority of us set off for Eperlecques. As we turned in the entrance the small entrance hall and shops doesn't prepare you for what is to come. This blockhouse is built in the woods and is immense. We sent Jay over the moat to show its size in the pics.
Luckily this site never became operational as the Normandy invasion and heavy bombing rendered it useless. The Germans changed tactics and invented the mobile launchers that the Yanks and Soviets used for their ICBM's.

We came out about 5pm as it was closing and someone suggested having a ride out as we had two hours to the Shuttle home. Somehow Bergues became the destination, and I led by using the rapidly disappearing sun as a navigation aid.

NB. Maps and GPS are far better. We eventually arrived in time for a coffee and decided we would come back...

The day ended with us back on the train, the fog coming back and an hour late due to hold-ups caused by a broken down Shuttle train earlier in the day.

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