Malta - Devizes
ugh … Awake at 6.30am … waft of freshly percolated coffee and freshly baked bread and croissants pervades my room … yum. Try to ignore it and go back to sleep, but salivating keeps me awake. Tossing and turning and just too, too tantalised, get up and quickly perform the minimum of ritual morning sanitation. Re-clothe self and set forth from room 422 to find the source of the appetising aromas.
Bearing the mark of guilty shame, scuttle back to room, having besmirched the well behaved, Grey-Haired-Englishmen-Gentleman-Motorcyclist-abroad-at-breakfast manner and reputation of all well behaved, Grey-Haired-Englishmen-Gentleman-Motorcyclist-abroad-at-breakfast-Good-&-True.
After all of that strong black coffee, re-visit sanitary facilities.
Almost ready to leave, then remember to take documentary shot of the hotel room for you lot.
What’dya reckon, eh, Room 422 of the Grand Hotel , Troyes. Grand’ish in an understated, low-key kind of way?
Lug luggage to lift, which creaks and groans and grumbles under load, all the way down to where it spits me out into the bright French morning on the other side of the road from where hustle-bustle French commuters are gathering at Troyes railway station to then set off to who knows where.
900 remains safely secured to No Parking sign.
900 engine on and warming up in existential preparation for the philosophical rigors of the days journey ahead, traversing the rest of the French heartland towards Pas de Calais.
Out of Troyes, northbound on the D677, discover the Michelin map book printers’ wee jest across the centre-fold, the road becoming the D977.
Ah! Motorcycling along the sort of open, undulating French road that all French roads should be, first thing on a fine summer morning in July, complete with big, colourful bug splattt impacts necessitating only the occasional stop for the restoration of un-tinted visor vision.
Find the connection to the A26, negotiate another seemingly back to front continental roundabout with diffident signage that kind of indicates where’ish one might want to be going. But Oh! Signage obscuring reefer necessitates circulating twice to spot the slot to swerve through to the slip-road acceleration onto the autoroute … as we increase speed, 900 receives another affectionate and appreciative knees squeeze.
Odometer 69934. 1603 miles from Floriana. €5.10 toll-fee passing by Reims.
One practical benefit of flat France is the distant visual forewarning of approaching wet weather.
Clear blue sky ahead gradually changes to cloudier, all over gloomy greyness, as steady progress takes me further north. Daringly carry on un-waterproofed suited. Teasing the rain God(desses)s within the ever closer encroaching heart of darkness to fling their clearly visible summer storm downpour at me … glide 900 to a halt under a bridge as the black heavens open and piss torrents down about me. Wriggle into protective Weiss two-piece just in time to avoid a splashing drenching from a passing tautliner. Wah-hey!
Dry, sealed inside my suit, back in motion, 900 and I carry on along the wet A26, splashing through puddles, riding through the rain … what a glorious feelin', I'm happy again, I'm laughing at clouds, so dark up above, the sun's in my heart an’ I'm ready for 100 and above. Let the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place … c’mon with the rain I've a smile on my face. I whizzz along the autoroute lane singing a happy refrain, I'm singing and riding through the rain … Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo, Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo, Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo, Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo ... Just singin' and ridin' in the rain … and wouldn’t ya know it, before the dampness has had time to permeate and get my gloves soggy, the deluge diminishes, then abruptly ceases as the dark clouds roll away eastward to reveal the sun, the heat of which promptly starts the roads to steaming and I’m overheating so have to stop to remove the Weiss two-piece … Phewww - bone dry to monsoon to hot and sunny again in just under fifteen minutes.
Carry on carrying on.
Rolling along over the flat farmland. Autoroute efficient enough alright, but after stormy excitement, getting a tad’s tedious.
Heat and motorway monotony dulling the senses.
Attention wandering away from the riding and the keeping of a sharp look-out ahead for the road-side cameras.
Failing to maintain the eagle-eye on the mirror for early warning of those V.Fast motorists approaching from the rear.
Time to stop and stretch legs, re-fuel 900 and top myself up with another can of Red Bull.
Odometer 69995. 1664 miles from Floriana. 16.8L of fuel - €23.00c.
Getting ever closer to Calais. Naturally, the ex-pat eye noticing increasing numbers of Uk reg cars and caravans and motorcycles heading the same way.
Odometer 70090. 1759 miles from Floriana. €11.80 last toll-fee on the approach to Calais.
Do my usual pull off the blasting away from the barrier drag-strip and over onto the hard shoulder to put everything back in order after going through the toll-booth queuing paying procedure. There, the voices suggest it’s about time for a machine inspection …
I’m compliant, and get down to a good close look … hmmmn, time to add a tads more oil ?
Then … Up roars a Super Motard Pilot -
“Ayez-vous un problème, savez-vous ce qui ne va pas? Avez-vous besoin de l'aide ?”
“Non. Je suis OK. Thanks for stopping. Merci beaucoup!”
Super Motard Pilot nods and snicks his red thing into first.
Just as he’s about to release the clutch and roar away, I motion for him to stay, and he poses for this pic, then roars away.
Thank You! Monsieur Anonymous Frenchman, for your much appreciated, comradely concern.
Hmmmn. Chef, if you are reading this Can you suggest why, on a hot summer day, your compatriot was wearing a balaclava under his helmet? I mean to say, I know I’ve acclimatised somewhat since going to live upon the island in the middle sea. Will even admit to have become a wee bit of a southern, motorcycling softie, spoilt by the sunshine and warmth of latitude 35” 53’ North. But even I was feeling a tads hot and bothered at the final toll before Calais on the A26 near Setques, latitude 50” 43’ North. So, what yer man was doing within the identity preserving balaclava ... who can say.
Return the camera to the tank bag. Remove the can of well-cling-film-wrapped-top-up-oil. It’s getting easier to peel apart the layers of cling-film and open the can. Also remains annoyingly easy for me to spill some of the expensive oil.
It’s not just me, is it?
Finish topping and wiping up. Prepare to carry on.
Calais docks come into view and I begin to feel odd about actually getting on a ferry and going back to England, for the first proper visit to Blighty in seventeen years … I wonder, will they let me back in?
Of my own volition enter the system and patiently await the command to Start Loading for the 16.55 sailing.
Odometer 70115.8. 1784.8 road miles from Floriana. Stationary. Waiting.
Herself messages back … seems to be having a whale of a time while I’m away, chiseling the surplus to artistic requirements off of a portion of tree trunk that she’s gonna transform into a torso …
... maybe a wee bit like this one that Ms.B. prepared earlier.
Artists, eh. Who can fathom 'em. You are welcome to see what you make of this'un - www.isabelleborg.com
Meanwhile, the command comes through to us impatiently waiting motorcyclists to start our engines and proceed towards the ferry.
900 lashed securely. I’m the one who’s wobbly, with a too slow for hand held shutter speed.
900 aboard with a Hyabusa for company.
Of course, I commence to wonder, ‘will this Modern Oh Wow Motorcycle Hyabusa and its owner still be trundling about Europe together after twenty-five years?
Indeed. Could there be a budding entrepreneur somewhere out there destined to become the Mr.WhiteWheels of the Hyabusa’s venerability?’
Gawd. Bugger philosophy. I’m starvin’.
First one off the car deck is me, beetling up the steps to the bow cafeteria level. Ascending the stairway to fast food heaven and some hot English nosh.
Choose Roast chicken, choose chips, choose mushy peas, choose a big blob of mayonnaise …
Choose to wash nosh down with a big mug of strong brown tea.
A grateful to P&O catering, heartfelt, sincere Burp.
Just time for a post-prandial snooze, then a quick visit to inspect the shipboard facilities for relieving travellers of their crap and then the shipboard facilities for relieving travellers of their cash in exchange for crap. Wherein I discover a green labelled bottle of amber, Tullamore Dew. Am compelled to save the poor thing from an uncertain future of shuttling ceaselessly back and forth between Dover and Calais … Accompany me on an adventure to Devizes, litre bottle. Look. You can rest safely in this commodious Tank-Bag that I happen to have with me … We will speak no more of the ransom fee demanded by these P&O Pirates for your freedom. I’m certain that a smooth Irish spirit, such as yourself, will prove to be well worth every English penny spent upon your rescue.
So, away with me now, for soon we dock at Dover, and there are lashings to be released, restraining the 900 from bearing us further.
Cross channel motion ceases.
Bow doors slowly open.
Impatient engines belching fumes …
900 unshackled and started and soon away down the ramp into England, filtering between the stop go lines of cars and camper vans and more cars and trucks and a rather fetching vintage, open top MG roadster.
Wow. Dover. Left from here just over a year ago, now the 900 and I have returned, retracing our tracks as far as Coate.
Weave through the jostle of traffic attempting to exit the port … easy-peasie. No-where near as fast and furious as riding in amongst The Sicilians. So nonchalant am I that I forget all about topping up the fuel-tank, ride out of town and away past the first services on the motorway before I think of depleted fuel levels. The gauge indicates well under a quarter full that should be enough to get to the next services … surely?
Just in case, tuck in behind a Big Red bobtail that sucks the 900 and I along behind it, saving 10 thousand revs in maintaining a steady sixty mph. The truck driver can just about see me in his mirrors and must have guessed what and why I am right up his arse. He trundles steadily on, mile after mile. Next services signposted as Trucks & Derv Only. Bugger. Next petrol services for regular folk, another twenty or so miles … oh double bugger. Fortunately Red Tractor carries steadily on with me right behind him, still within the slipstream, being fuel savingly sucked along (of course this is all a fictional, dramatic storytelling device and you kids are under no circumstances to actually try this sort of stupid stunt on your roads back home d’ya hear me, Ronson).
Almost all of the rest of the motorway traffic is rushing past at speeds that must be above seventy mph. Everybody is flying past me.
Big Red carries steadily on to the next services, where he indicates off and leads me up the slip road to the petrol and diesel pumps.
Odometer 70157. 121 road miles from Floriana. 16.52L - £17.33p
Thank the truck driver for the tow. “No Problem Mate. You’ll be Ok now.”
‘I will indeed, thank you.’
Top myself up with some more water and yet another can of Red Bull.
Voices suggest a check. All of the 900 looks in order. Oil level A.Ok.
Catch sight of my reflection Yikes! I look decidedly Dodgy and well out of order compared with the majority of civilised looking Englishmen and Englishwomen wafting about the service station.
Carry on, then.
Back onto the M20, accelerate to the legal limit, and still almost everybody but everybody is flying past me … not even decreasing velocity over those tediously frequent speed camera marks on the surface of the motorway!
Start to wonder if I have missed news of some recent development in English motoring life … ?
Has the 70mph limit been abolished? Nah, nah, nah - don’t be silly. The Uk has become far too, too PC Nanny State for that.
Upwardly mobile-bling-mobiles continue to blast past with flagrant disregard for any sense of good taste, functional design or style. Trendily clothed occupants are all seemingly engaged in hand on ear shouting at the unfortunate other at the other end of the microwave link.
Hell on wheels.
How about this ... maybe the privatised speed camera monitor and speeding ticket issuer folk are all on strike? … and so, English motorway motorists are making the most of the Industrial Action while they can! … Nah - That can’t be right either, or the tyrannical Nanny State would have the police and army out in force to quell the speeding masses. Anarchic speeding motorists targets for Squaddies target practice !
Maybe the cops are all out on strike … and now that I come to think of it, I ain’t seen a single rozzer since I’ve been back in the ‘auld country!
Odometer 70279. 1948 road miles from Floriana. 12.16L fuel - £13.00.
With the ‘ol Bill out of the picture, that would just leave only the armed forces to impose some sort of motoring-martial-law, yikes, you’d have no chance of spotting a camouflaged, weapon wielding, speed limit enforcing Squaddie, blending into the vegetation alongside this stretch of the M4 !
M4 Junction 15. Turn off to the left.
A346. A road festooned with safety graffiti, so distracting to the eye, surely many motorists dazed and confused, narrowly avoiding collision. Any spare dosh to invest? Stick it in road signs.
Stop in Marlborough for some cash. Locals look horrified at the sight of the travelled-many-road-miles-motorcycle-mounted-me pulling up outside their Lloyds TSB. Bet they’d be applauding Our Brave Boys if suddenly some of 'em from the Cavalry were dealing with me.
ATM ain’t at all flustered at my appearance, it only deals in numbers, and I have some of the right ones. Fresh English cash in hand, I bugger off westwards into the sunset, leave the Marlborough classes to their own internal struggles.
Approach ancient Silbury Hill, the mound looking particularly brooding in the twilight gloom. But then, I suppose I would be brooding too, if I knew that, come the dawn would bring yet another day of being clambered about all over by wackos. I can ride on by.
This stretch of road I know from the past to be jolly good fun. But if The Boys in Blue are absenting themselves, replaced by the modern army, there’d be No Chance of avoiding being pulled by one of those crazy, khaki clad, low flying military helicopter types, well equipped with a night sight and heat seeking susans, zealously military policing the home turf.
Arrive into Devizes, do my own seeking and find the Rugby Club campsite easily enough. No sign thereabouts of any heat, or life, or any Craig D either.
Drive up and down the road outside the campsite looking for the recommended hotel. Can’t see it. What I can see is a long row of respectable houses opposite the darkened Wilshire Police HQ. Ride towards town, see signs of local life in some pubs, and a Chinese, and a Pizza place. There are a few pedestrians too. I stop and politely ask a couple the way to the Travel Lodge? Get a stupefied look of incomprehension in return. Blimey. Didn’t realise I’d need to purchase an English / Devizes phrase book for conversing with the locals when asking for directions.
It’s 10pm’ish, and I know from bitter experience that there is absolutely no point whatsoever phoning The GpzZone HQ after 5pm. But, from outside the Chinese, I optimisticaly try it anyway. And of course, I get no reply.
Still nobody about who can tell me where the Devizes Travel Lodge might be.
Only option then, to ride out to Coate, and there humbly abase myself at the entrance to White Wheels Towers. Hope that the more-than-my-jobsworth-to-bother-The-Master-at-this-time-of-night staff have all been dismissed early for the evening and that He deigns to answer the security gate intercom Himself or better still, his charming wife Caroline answers my plea for directional assistance.
Cut to 10 minutes later in Coate - My footsteps crunch gravel as I climb the sloping drive …
Persistent progress north through Sicily, Italy, France and the Home Counties, after four days brings me 1,988 miles to Coate by 10:30pm Thursday.
In the gloom, knock, knock, knock upon the great oaken door of White Wheels Towers ...
"I Say in there ... Could one lend a helping hand to a tired old OC Member who has travelled far to be here in time for the 25th anniversary bash?"
Quote - Originally Posted by Craig
“At which point he was told to piss off and given directions to the Travel Lodge !“
Finally, after 464 road miles travelled this day, I find a warm welcome and safe haven for £47 for the night at The Devizes Travel Lodge.
900 unloaded, secured and alarmed, under the watchful electronic eye of the Travel Lodge security cctv.
Me, settling down very nicely thank you in room 221, with my new pal, Tullamore Dew, to get acquainted with and talk to.
Now so. Just incase any of you get the inkling of an impression from the quoted postings above that our warm hearted, generous, altruistic, Mr.D is completely heartless, I must tell you that no, in truth he is not completely heartless for when I totally unexpectedly turned up on his doorstep that night, both he and the charming Mrs.D were genuinely surprised and pleased to see me, gave me a warm welcome and invited me in to stay for the night. It was I, road weary and focused on Destination Devizes, who declined their generous offer of accommodation within the inner sanctum ( cos I’d previously checked on google earth, seen that the enlarging of the White Wheels Towers guest wing remained an in progress project … which, remembering Mr.D’s military background, might mean me spending a night in the grounds in a hammock, taking defensive pot-shots at the feral night-life). Once Mr.D had explained exactly where the Travel Lodge was (set back from the main road and masked by the trees), it was I who insisted that I should be allowed to go and check in at the Travel Lodge where the the other OC members would be.
Your respectful of Mr.WW, OC Member