14 September 2015

Biker's Loft

This has been an annual event on The Meldrews (and before them the Kent Centre SOC) calender for a few years and although it is one of the most popular and well supported I have never been before.

This year I will get a chance to see what all the fuss is about!  

I only decided to go last week. One of the others had to drop out and there are no refunds. Instead the Meldrews decided to take a donation towards our charity for the year, the Kent Air Ambulance.

Luckily Cal our Ferry Leader was able to get the ferry booking into my name and for the Rocket.

The ferry goes at about 4.30pm on Friday. Returning on the Sunday afternoon.

Next thing is to work out where it is and get it into TomTom.

13 September 2015

France September - Troisième Jour

As it is Sunday a bit of a lie in and then when Claire was getting ready I took the boy out for his morning ablutions.

Today there was a very autumnal chill in the air and a heavy dew. My trainers are definitely not waterproof, seeming to have the water resistance of cardboard.

Still after breakfast and checkout it was dry for the 35 miles or so to Desplanque Farm and the cemetery.

The track off the main road is worse than ever. Bumpy and not suitable for most cars. The Corsa coped okay. At least it was dry.

Desplanque Farm

Charles is one of four graves in Row D alongside the standard cross. Already there was a cross from a school and a laminated sheet of remembrance left last year by my brother, Neill.

Family Remembrance 

It's a little muddied and tatty but still readable. I put our cross on the front of the headstone.

The headstone and poppy cross

It's a very sobering place and time for reflection.

Cross of Sacrifice

Next to him is one T O'Reilly, also of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.  I wonder if his family have ever made the trip across. He was killed on the same day.


From here we decided to try and find the Guards Cemetery near Cuinchy to see the war grave of her Granny's brother Timothy O'Leary.

TomTom decided it was going to be magical mystery tour time and we had no idea where we were going. In the end I stopped and reset it. It immediately had us do a 180 and head miles past where had already been! I turned on route recording on the TomTom a bit earlier to see where the heck we were.

In the end we gave up on Cuinchy and dialled in Cassel.  One high spot was that the route TomTom chose was through Fromelles.

Later on checking the TomTom I could see that we had been going in completely the opposite direction and then looped back to where Cuinchy actually is!  We gave up when only about 10 miles away!!!

TomTom did take us through a village called Fromelles.

This is the site of Pheasant Wood, where only in 2008 they discovered mass graves containing over 250 Australian and British dead. 

The battle here was fought over two terrible days on 19/20 July 1916. Australian casualties were over 5500 killed along with a further 1500 plus British dead.

A massive DNA search in Australia has resulted, according to the display boards, in only one left unnamed.  The headstones haven't yet caught up as there are many just with "An Australian soldier of the Great War" on them still.

Fromelles erntrance

Cross of Sacrifice

Cemetery from the right side

Further right!

The wooden building is the museum. We didn't have time visit but will plan to do so another time.

Read more at:

We arrived to find Cassel, high on its "mont" packed with cars taking up most spaces. In the end we parked in Place Van Damme. Not named after the actor but a Napoleonic General - http://www.napoleonguide.com/soldiers_vandamm.htm

Cassel was Marshal Foch's HQ during the early part of WW1. There is a statue of him on horseback looking towards the east where the German lines were.

We ascended and then descended the Mont from car park to town centre and decided to have lunch at the Sainte Cecile Café as they had a snack menu and outside seating.

No sooner had we ordered coffee and a Croque Monsieur each than the rain started. We went inside. This cafe is also a betting shop, bingo and lottery establishment! But it allows dogs inside and is out of the rain. It was okay but nothing of note!

The walk back up and over the Mont? Not so dry! In fact we got soaked.

Once in the car I set TomTom for home and the fastest route and by 4pm we were queuing to get through the pet passport check with Reggie. The drive-through section was closed! Luckily the rain had stopped so no one got too wet in the queue. 

All our paperwork, thanks to Anthony at Barrow Hill vets, was in order and we joined the next queue to get through UK Border controls. As we were an hour early and also due to delays with intruders once again in the tunnel, things looked a bit packed. 

In the end Eurotunnel put on extra trains and we were hustled through 40 minutes ahead of the booked train. Result.

And that's it. All over for this trip. 

France September - Deuxième Jour

We were up reasonably early to make sure that Reggie was watered both ends and had his breakfast. The special food he has from the vet to try and cure his bad belly is not to this liking. He eventually ate it at about 4pm.

The "plan", such as it was, was to head along the coast towards Veurne in Belgium before turning down to Armentières.

I set TomTom to avoid motorways and we set off along the back roads before joining the old N1, now designated D940,  near Fort Mardyke. Not all that scenic so far. Ignoring the instructions we headed into Dunkerque and parked near the old harbour. The three of us walked to a café for coffee, dogs allowed inside.

On the way we passed a succession of historic ships in the harbour.

The former light ship that guarded the sands in the channel.
Duchesse Anne
The "Duchesse Anne" is a German 3-masted sail-training ship and given to France after WW2 as reparations for war damage, and rescued and restored by the city of Dunkerque in 1980.

Princess Elizabeth
The paddle steamer "Princess Elizabeth" took part in the Dunkerque evacuation in 1940. 

The cafe was decked out with American flags as from time to time they have classic car events.

La Pataterie
It is also decorated with old photos of the town and people.

Wall decor
Wall decor
Once finished we walked back to the car after deciding to look for the beach where the 338000 troops had been taken off from. It is actually in the neighbouring coastal town of Malo les Bains.

Firstly we stopped at a bakery for lunch. Or rather picked up a baguette, pastry and drink to take with us.

Croq' Baguette
After a few missed turns we made it to the beach and the memorial to the French troops and their allies, that would be the British Expeditionary Force, that were evacuated.

The mémorial des Alliés

The mémorial des Alliés

The mémorial des Alliés

The mémorial des Alliés
The mémorial des Alliés

The beach itself is obviously a holiday beach and since June 2014 dogs are banned.

There are special fences erected to stop it blowing away.

Panorama of the beach
After lunch was eaten on a bench we had a walk along the promenade to the seaside town but. Very sad as September is obviously out of season!

The next part of the plan was to head for Armentières and the hotel there. The off-motorway route took us into Belgium and past Poperinge, so we took a turn into the town, down past Talbot House (http://www.talbothouse.be/en/museum/home) and into the square. 

With Reggie out of the car we headed across to the Hotel Amfora for coffee. Why? They had the best looking awning as it looked like rain was imminent.

It was. We had a second coffee.

Here we decided to change hotels. With rubbish weather we didn't want to be wandering about looking for a restaurant so cancelled Hotel Joly and booked another Campanile. This one near Dunkerque with attached restaurant.

The hotel is near a couple of lakes. Once we had checked in and had a rest, the weather brightened up and we went for a walk around them, hoping Reggie might go to the loo. He didn't.

The walk was a little over two miles. By the time we got back we hoped he'd eat his dinner. He didn't. 

We went to get our dinner whilst he stayed in the room watching a programme about Ferrari's on the TV. Anything to stop him barking and growling at anyone passing by the window.

Of course. Once we got back to the room he decided to eat then. Plans for a loo walk curtailed.

Tomorrow, we will drive down to Armentières and visit Charles and pay our respects.

11 September 2015

France September - Premier Jour

Not really jour un but après-midi un. Claire got off work a little early and we set off for the Tunnel. There was hardly anyone checking in and the parking was almost empty. But the train before our scheduled departure was full. I bet!

It gave us time to get a coffee and take Reggie to the dog exercise area. We had about 25 minutes there and he had a ball to chase. 

Pet exercise area

Pet exercise area
The plastic grass makes accidents (poops) easier to clean up. Reggie abstained.

Once underway he settled down and seemed unaware that he was on a train at all!

Some 50 minutes later Tomtom delivered us to the Hotel Campanile. Not bad. Fenced and locked car-park in a residential area. Reggie stayed in the room and we went and had dinner and a beer.

Reggie settles in
There are quite a few British cars here plus a couple of Harley's plus other European visitors.

The hour difference between GMT and CET means we have lost an hour, but we wil get it back on Sunday!!

Bit blurred night shot
Tomorrow we have about seventy miles to go, but we'll go the long way round to Armentières.

6 September 2015

First World Problems...

How to keep the decking clean?

Where we live on the edge of a marsh the damp climate and preponderance of clay soil seems to be a breeding ground for algae and other green slime. 

Not too bad in the dry but the deck becomes lethal in the wet. 

So as it was a sunny day I got out the new toy and cleaned it all off. I have no idea how much water I used but a clean deck is worth it.

Sadly, it means a nice sunny day has passed and the Rocket has stayed in the garage. Life is a trade off.

Karcher K2 Compact

4 September 2015

Charles Devall Memorial Ride - 100 Years

The ride has become a drive! Claire coming with me and we will take Reggie for a trip abroad.  He's done glamping already!

As a result of the Insignia being off the road for longer journeys, I had to change the car on the Eurotunnel booking to Claire's Corsa and whilst I was at it, I changed the time of the crossing to an hour earlier.

This means that we will get to the Campanile Hotel an hour earlier whilst the restaurant is still open. If the dinner is as good there as it has been on the countless other Campaniles we have stayed in over the last thirty years or so, then we will be happy.

Reggie sadly will have to the guard the bedroom. He'll be okay with his bone and a couple of beds to jump on.

Charles is buried in the cemetery near La Chapelle Armentières and the journey is only about 60 miles from the Eurotunnel exit and about 59 miles from the hotel. 

Deplanques CWGC Cemetery from Google Maps

Saturday is the 12th, and actually my Mum's birthday. As we saw where she is butied a few weeks ago I doubt she'll worry. 

Charles was killed on the 13th and so our trip there will be that day. On the Saturday I plan to take a scenic drive, fingers crossed for decent weather, along the Channel coast from France into Belgium, then loop back to end the day at the second hotel in Armentières for the night. I need to check how dog friendly they are too!

I have a British Legion Poppy Cross to leave with Charles to show that we care and remember his sacrifice. 

Once my brother and I have gone, who will there be to Remember?


Car poorly!

The Insignia suffered a little damage when I dropped off the edge of a Scottish narrow road. The front left mudflap hit the ground at the bottom and the upward force pulled the inner wing off its mounts and the tyre wore a hole in it. Even though I pushed it all back the damage was done. 

I pulled the flap off and whilst it seemed okay it needed fixing properly. I booked it in to the Vauxhall dealers yesterday and they checked it out. Not too bad. No serious damage.

Then they gave it a test ride and checked the rear brakes. They showed them to me and I saw the pads are a bit close to being worn out, so I said do them at the same time. Then we noticed that one of the rear springs was broken!  The strut is okay but the spring is actually broken. To be honest I never noticed any handling problems. It needs replacing too.

So it is booked in for the 18th September to be done.  £££££££!

I can drive it for local journeys where there are no big bumps that might cause it to fail completely, but is does mean that next weekend for the "Charles Devall Centenary Trip" we can't take it to France.

We'll have to go in Claire's Corsa!

3 September 2015

Scotland the Brave - Report 5

Heading south.

We didn't exactly hurry. We didn't have far to go as we were going to overnight in Selkirk, still in the border region of Scotland. Packing the car and cleaning up a little took a while.  We had opted for small bags rather than cases and had loads to cram into the car.

Reggie went in early and was asleep when we eventually returned the key and set off. Once again we had to navigate through Inverness, but the traffic wasn't too bad this time.  The A9 was also relatively heavy and we headed southwards past Aviemore stopping at the Ralia Cafe for a break.  It was here that Reggie to exception to some cyclists. They weren't that close but he barked at them and was really angry.

Then again southwards towards Edinburgh. Another stop for Reggie to have his breakfast, anther day it had gone uneaten, and us to have lunch at a Subway near Perth.

Another surprise was that the Forth Road Bridge was free.....

Forth Road Bridge

Forth Road Bridge - the rail bridge in the background

From Edinburgh we stuck on the A7 all the way arriving in Selkirk just as the weather looked up.... yes it had been raining again.

The County Hotel is dog friendly in the rooms but not in the public area. Luckily the room they gave us was huge with massive bed and a sitting area.  By some fluke it was stuck out on a limb and three sides had no adjoining rooms so if Reggie got a bit barky no one would be disturbed.

Big Bed

Sekirk is where Sir Walter Scott, author of such epics as "Rob Roy" and "Heart of Midlothian" and where he was the Sheriff,  The courtroom was closed when we arrived and so we had a walk around the local (and very hilly) park.

Walter Scott's Courtroom

We had dinner in the restaurant, and it was good. In fact the whole experience was lovely.

Back to England

We were up early enough and breakfasted and packed to leave about 9.30am and headed off on a TomTom magical mystery tour through the borders and on the A7 south and then into the wilderness of the Kielder Forest and eventually arriving at the Roman Fort at Housesteads.

It was raining. 

Once again we had a coffee and then took the wet half mile walk up to the fort, cleverly built on a hilltop by the Romans. This time we had waterproof trousers as well. 

The fort is the best preserved site in the country.

It continued to rain as we packed Reggie into the car and headed off for the road south and that's where the wheels came off. The traffic once on the A1 was terrible, too much traffic and associated roadworks.  
Using the map and TomTom we tried to avoid as much as we could but it was gone 8.45pm before we arrived at the hotel in the midlands.

We had planned to visit Claire's cousin locally for dinner but as time went on we got later and later we almost aborted. Instead we checked in and then went over to them later. They have a new puppy, a black Labrador, and Reggie and her got on well until he stole a toy and she tried to get it back.

Another day over.

Scotland the Brave - Report 4

Our last full day in the Highlands started off pretty much like many of the other days. Breakfast and then we set off for a day of sightseeing, with no great plans. Just after leaving the glamping we took the left turn on to the A833 heading towards Beauly.

Beauly is a small town to the north of Inverness. I found a parking place in the centre and we took Reggie across to a small cafe - The Corner on the Square. Most of our tourist trips involve starting with a coffee whilst we think of where we are going next. Of course we sat outside in what was a rarity on this trip - the sun.

In Beauly just along the high street is the ruins of an old Priory. We had a walk over there and then down to the river, or as close as we could get to it. It was mostly fenced, so once again no paddling for Reggie.

Once we had exhausted the high spots of the town we set off towards Inverness.  Whilst we were here I thought it a good idea to visit my Mum rather than leave it to the next day when we could be going back home. The story of how my Mum came to rest here is in The Ashes Tour blog.

The weather was good and despite not having the TomTom location plumbed in we easily found the Rothiemurchus estate and the car-park where we had left the bikes.

Reggie was enjoying the woodlands and the special dog exercising area. Sadly we needed the loos but they were out of order and we had to wait for portaloos to be delivered.  We went along the lake and found the spot where we had put her ashes.  It was quite sad standing there and looking up to the undergrowth and trees. After some minutes of reflection we set off back to the car and headed out.

Loch An Eilein

Mum in in there somehere.

Mum's view of the lake and castle ruin

The plan was to find somewhere to have lunch in Aviemore.  In the end we went into Tesco and bought some sandwiches to have a picnic.

As with all unplanned things, sometimes they don't work out and we struggled to find a picnic spot or something similar. In the end we turned off the A9 and stopped at a few picnic tables in Carrbridge.

The remainder of the day was taken up with getting back to the glampsite and another stop at the co-op to buy dinner.

The weather had held up today and we were very lucky. Tomorrow we set off for home.