France Trip part 5

Friday 7th July 2006

Well, my gauntlets are still damp this morning, but at least the map has dried out, it’s a little wrinkled, but readable, and tha pages aren’t all stuck together this morning. It’s a realtivel early start, I want to take things easy today what with the state of the chain. Anyway, my train isn’t due to depart Calais until 22:30, so I’ve got loads of time. I phoned Suzy last night to see if she could find a guest houst or B&B somewhere near New Romney, so I’ll have to make sure that I phone her about lunchtime to find out if she’s booked anything yet.

I planned my route last night, and decided that I would definately avoid Paris – I don’t want to get caught up there again. so I head off towards Chartres on the N20 and N154. I spot the signs to Le Mans, but resist the temptation of going to visit, and carry on towards Dreux, Evreux and Rouen keeping to the N roads.

I’m getting overly obsessed with the noise that the chain is making now – it was so much nicer being unaware of it yesterday, but then again I’m probably overreacting. I have had a chain snap on me before though on my old CB250 – coming onto a roundabout the chain snapped, wrapped itself round the back axle, locked the back wheel, and I had to lay the bike down, ending up wih both the wheels touching the middle of the roudabout. Fortunately it was the roudabout at Llangurig, and not very busy, so I was able to pick the bike up and get out of the way before anyone else came to run me over. Anyway – I get onto the A28 at Rouen, Calais is already signposted, which is one of the first times I’ve seen a signpost for a large town this far away – I’d already memorised Abbeville, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, and now I don’t need to remember those.

I follow the A16 all the way to Calais, and end up at the terminal a few hours too early – it’s 13:53 when I check in and get the hanger ticket, and I am offered the next departure – at this rate I’ll be back in Blighty by 14:00 (with the hour back).
There’s a reasonable amount of bikes around now, and I chat to a few of them as we queue. I meet a couple who have been down to Venice – it was too hot or them down there, and they came back and stayed with friends in France. It appears for a few minutes that only 3 out of the waiting 6 bikes are going to be allowed onto the train, but they manage to squeeze us all on.

Back in England – rememebr to drive on the left – I stop at the services and meet the same guys we shared the train with. Fortunately, when I phoned Suzy at lunch she hadn’t booked anything, so I’m heading to her parents in Bristol to spend the night. It takes an age to fight my way round the M25 – it’s so different to the clear motorways in France, and I remember that it’s Friday night and it looks like the whole of London is leaving the city on the way to their weekend houses in the Cotswolds, as the M4 is not much better than the M25.

I make it to Bristol about 17:30 – checking the mileage I’ve done exactly 2000 miles since 9:30 Monday morning, and boy does my bum know about it – my shoulders are also aching, too long stuck in one position. The bed feels good and I sleep well.

France Trip part 4

Thursday 6th July 2006

Carcassonne – reputedly the best preserved medieval walled city in the world. A UNESCO world heritage site. 2006france/DSC_1268.jpg I’m looking around at 7:30 in the morning, before the sun gets too high in the sky – it’s been really hot the last few days, and I wan to get a few miles under me before it gets too hot to ride. The camera takes a couple of photos, before the exposeures start going mad, so I’m on the road again.

The A61 to Toulouse is payage, so instead I decide to take the N113, and I’m riding through fields of sunfllowers. The camera is now completely dead, but I remember my mobile phone, knowing that Ben would be fascinated I snap off a photo of the sunflowers 2006france/DSC00011.jpg. The sun is up, but there’s a lot of mist around, and there’s a wonderful atmosphere to the landscapes shrouded in mist.

I join the motorway to skirt round Toulouse, and spot off to the left an Ariane rocket! My thoughts return to work, as it reminds me of Beagle 2, but I’m on the motorway, past it and into the toll booths on the A62 north to Montauban. The weather is somewhat overcast and every so often we get a light shower – not enough to need the waterproofs yet, but I take the opportunity to stop at a couple of rest areas take a drink, and let the bike cool off at bit as I climb up into the Pyrenees. Later into the morning I meet a group of four or five British bikers who have been down to Nice and they spent a few days on the beach down there, and were on their way back to Dieppe, but their ferry wasn’t due until Monday, so they can take it easy on the way back north. I’ve got to be in Orleans tonight to be in with a chance of catching my train back to the UK on time.

The miles roll past on the A20 through Brive-la-Galliarde, Limoges, Chateauroux, and before I know it I’m in Vierzon and I choose to take the N20 to Orleans – it’s been raining quite heavily for an hour or so now, and I can keep my own pace on the N road. The pace is slow, and at some points I simply have to stop – the rain is so heavy that I can feel it hitting me through the leathers and the waterproofs, and I can only see about twenty to thirty meters in front of me – thank goodness for laybays to be able to stop and let the cars pass me, and take shelter while the lightning strikes within half a mile.
The few miles up the N20 seem to take hours, but the rain finally eases shortly before Orleans, and as I stop to fill up with petrol, and get another litre of oil for the engine, the rain has all but stopped. I keep the waterproofs on for the last few miles, and manage to navigate myself to la Chapelle-St-Mesmin in the west siide of Orleans, and after a little while of randomly wandering around an industrial estate I find my way to the Formule 1. The gentleman on thhe desk is the first member of staff there that speaks passable english, although by now I’m starting to get used to hearing and speaking French.

I peel off my soggy gloves and waterproofs, note the mileage at 63153 – over 500 miles today. My fingers and toes are stained blue from the colouring in the gloves and boots – I really need the shower, and hang everything out to dry, including the map – I wasn’t quick enough with the tank bag cover a couple of times today. I’ve got to plan a route for tomorrow – I still haven’t forgotten my Paris experience, and I want to avoid that at all costs. The chain on the bike is looking a bit ropey, I take the last bit of adjustment up but it’s still lookser than I would have liked – I’ll have to take it gently tomorrow – see about a new chain in the UK.

France Trip part 3

Wednesday 5th July 2006

Day 3 is the day where I am supposed to get to look around, but I’m a little worried about the overheating yesterday. I had done a route plan before I left wiih lots of detail including cost of tolls on the motorways – but I’ve already ditched most of that… the only thing I’ve really stuck to have been the overnight hotel stops, which are pre-booked.

So I leave Montlucon about 8:30 and head off towards Clermont Ferrand on the N144 – saving more money by avoiding the payage, and seeing a little more of the country. Somewhere along the way near Menat, I spot a chateau sitting on the hillside across the valley, so I pull in at a convenient viewing point at a layby and take the camera out. 2006france/DSC_1215.jpg
It turns out to be 2006france/DSC_1210.jpg Chateau Rocher.

I arrive in Clemont Ferrand, and make my way onto the A75 – it has been built with European Objective One funding to open up the Massif Central, and has really made it more accessible, but as such cannot be a toll road, so it’s now clear driving down to the Viaduct de Millau. There is a good service area at Severac-le-Chateau shortly before the viaduct, and I stop off there for lunch – I buy what turns out to be a cheese dog – it looked like a cheese salad baguette to me, but when the girl put it in the microwave my suspicions started to be raised. It tasted ok, but I knew that I’d pay for it in the next day or two.
I also managed to pick up a DVD documentary about the building of the viaduct, and as I looked out of the back of the resturant I saw another walled town on top of a hill, it appears that they’re all over the place here 2006france/DSC_1219.jpg

A few miles down the road and the toll plaza comes into view – the viaduct itself has a toll – so I pay that and then turn off immediately into the viaduct viewing area. There is still a lot of construction here, but I get a good view of what I’ve ridden a thousand miles to see 2006france/DSC_1242.jpg It’s two and a half kilometers long, and high enough that the Eiffel tower could almost fit beneath the road deck. The design of the viewing area is interesting, as both the Northbound and Southbound traffic are able to get off here, but the two roadways are separated by an area of earth (no grass has grown yet) so that if you enter Northbound then you cannot turn round and leave Southbound.
I take several photos, but the camera is really starting to play up now, a lot are badly exposed, and I make sure to switch to a different memory card, just in case it’s a problem with one of the cards. With any luck, I think, one of the cards will turn out OK. It turns out later to be a fatal problem with the camera, so I manage to get all of the photos, but the badly exposed ones are of course still badly exposed.

I cross the viaduct about 15:30, and coninue along the A75 towards Montepellier, stopping to have a drink, as the weather is starting to warm up again as I approach the edge of the Massif, the service area is newly built by a church on a hill 2006france/DSC_1253.jpg.

I start down off the plateau, and the road gets a little steep 2006france/DSC_1255.jpg having just come through one of the tunnels on the picture, the road continues down the 7.5% slope that it has had for the last kilometer or so for another two and a half, with some quite tight turns along the way. The Aire Belvedere de l’Escalette is one of the most basic that I have seen, only having parking and a telephone, but it has one of the most stunning views. 2006france/DSC_1259.jpg

Getting down onto the coastal strip the temperature soars again, and I follow the N113 along to Beziers and then to Carcassonne for the overnight stop. I have checked the directions to tonight’s stop a number of times, and manage to find tonight’s hotel without any outside help – it also helps that it’s on the road that I am taking into Carcassonne, and right next to a vineyard 2006france/DSC_1266.jpg

I’ve now done a thousand miles since leaving Aberystwyth, and have started heading back North, and it feels different to be heading home now – I’ve settled into a routine with the bike, and am now getting used to some of it’s regular noises – there appear to be some noises that I don’t recognise – were they there before, or am I just noticing them now as I’m ignoring some of the other regular ones. I’m as far from home as I’m going to be, and know that I’ve got another thousand miles to do, and boy does my bum know that I’ve done so many miles so far. If I ever do this again, I will have to break the journey after this sort of time and distance and have a couple of days. I can’t though – I have to be on the road again early in the morning, to make it to Orleans tomorrow – I’ll have an hour or two to take some photos around Carcassonne in the morning though…

France Trip part 2

Tuesday 4th July 2006

Early start – breakfast at 6:30, bike packed and on the road about 7:15 and onto the N43 towards Bethune, the D937 to Arras, then some difficulty with reading signs and end up a the road to Amiens. Arriving in Amiens I spot a Carrefour, and decide to fill up with cheap petrol, buy some food and flip-flops, as walking around the hotel in the bike boots is not very practical. I checked the oil before leaving in the morning, and I need to find a some engine oil, and there appears to be a Halfords type store next to Carrefour called Norauto, so I buy a litre of oil and some bungees (you never know when you’ll need them), and top the engine oil up. It’s about 10:45 when I get back on the road again. I take the N1 towards Paris through Beauvais, taking it easy on the N1, and arrive in St-Denis.

Now, I don’t know Paris very well, I have been here a couple of times, but never driven in the city. It’s getting to lunchtime, and starting to get quite hot, but I know I want to go pretty much straight out the other side toards Orleans. I’m looking for signs for anywhere that I recognise – nothing…

I spot signs for Gare du Nord, but end up in the wrong lane and end up heading off down the boulevards towards the Arc de Triomphe, but getting nowehere at all fast, as the traffic is pretty much stationary. It’s now getting very hot, as is the bike, and starting to smell a bit oily, so I decide to stop for a while, when I can find somewhere and try to ascertain where I am and let the bike cool off a bit.

I stop in the centre of a Boulevard, just outside Anvers Metro station – it’s about 12:30pm 2006france/DSC_1204.jpg – I think that I know where I’ve gone wrong, and I need to head back towards Gare du Nord.
A couple walk past, and she takes an interest in the bike – doesn’t say anything, just looks a lot, especially at the speedo, and seems impressed by the maximum indication on there, I make polite conversation, but they don’t appear to speak English, and my French is minimal. They wander off, with him swigging from his can of lager. A couple of minutes later he comes back, and starts to talk earnestly in French at me – I understand very little, but he is definately trying to indicate something about his wife, and I start to feel that this is not a conversation that I want to have any part of – I’ve been propositioned by women before, but this is something different again… He eventually gives up for a while, but I get the impression that he may be back soon, so I decide to move on…

Look back at the last photo, and the relative position of the bike and the large hoarding… now consider that I want to go forwards a few feet and then turn left… the panniers are held on by a relatively thin piece of metal when compared to that poster display, and now the left hand one is on the ground. I said eariler that you never know when you’ll need bungees, well I am so glad that I bought them a few hours ago, as I work out how to use the two largest bungees to re-attach the pannier to the sde rails.

I head back off down the boulevards, eventually finding myself outside the back of the Pompidou Centre with the bike again getting very hot, and I’m overheating somewhat as well – I need to stop, so pull the bike onto the pavement outside a patisserie on the Rue du Renard, buy a couple of pastries, and pull a can out of the tank bag. 2006france/DSC_1207.jpg
Time goes by, and the bike cools, it’s now about 3pm and there have been a couple of spots of rain and a few cracks of thunder. the traffic appears to be moving a little quicker now and I have examined the map in some detail – straight down here, a jink to the right, and I should be crossing the Seine, then follow straight down towards Porte d’Orleans, and I’ll deal with getting to Orleans from there I’ve still got a lot of riding today, as I’m booked in Montlucon tonight. I just want to get out of Paris – more slow moving traffic – I attempt some filtering, but forget how wide I am with panniers on, and rub a little against the corner of a car. We stop, no damage, just a rub with my glove removes the deposited dirt, but we’re attracted the attention of a police woman who tells us to get moving.

Thunder and lightning accompany me for the rest of the evening down to Orleans and Bourges on the N20 but it has cleared slightly when I take the A71 and then the N144 to Montlucon. When I arrive in Montlucon, I get to the town centre square, and ask some local teenagers sitting on the steps for directions – they point me in the general direction, and I head off, only to return 2 minutes later, as the roads are all dug up, the way I want to go is completely closed, and the diversion signs are no help at all.
They very kindly offer to escort me in their cars to the hotel, which turns out to be on an industrial estate. One car goes off one way, and the other car goes another – I follow one, who lead me through the diversion back to the main road, so I then head off following the directions they gave me earlier. The directions lead me to an industrial estate, with no indications of a hotel, I keep following my nose, and spot the other car – they beat me here they wave, and I wave back, still a little confused, but round a corner, and there is the big F1 sign. It’s 20:47, 10 minutes before closing, and I’ve been on the road over 12 hours, and the mileage reads 62400 – almost 400 miles and very stressful some of those miles were in Paris – I swear that I will never go through the city again, even if it means a 50 mile diversion. Boy will I sleep well tonight.

France Trip Part 1

So to write up the trip last week…I’m altering the timestamps so that they appear on the day that they refer to rather than when I wrote them.

Monday 3rd July 2006

I left Aberystwyth at about 9:30 (Mileage 61620), heading for Follkestone – I was due to check in on the Eurotunnel at 18:03, and I knew that most of the route was straightforward – taking my normmal route over the Brecon Beacons on the A470 down to the M4 at Cardiff, then along the M4 to the M25, M26 and M20 to Folkestone. I arrived at 16:28 at the check-in lanes, and was offered an earlier train, so took the offer, and a quick stop in the departure lounge and duty free shops to pick up some last minute essentials (Ibuprofen and a spare bulb set) and then out to tthe departure lanes to wait in the baking hot sunshine for the train.
Loading was strightforward, and soon we were on our way to France. 2006france/DSC_1182.jpg

A few careful miles from Calais to my first stop in Arques, near St. Omer, I avoided the motorway, and stuck to the N43 to St. Omer. I am not at all familiar with the French addresses, and I drive into the middle of St. Omer looking for my overnight hotel.
Finally, I stop and ask for directions from a couple of teenagers, who point me in the direction of Arques, telling me to ask again when I get there for detailed directions to the hotel. When I arrive in Arques, I follow the main route through, and stop and ask, and find that I am already on the correct road, so follow the road for a mile or so, and spot the hotel on the left.
It’s 9:30, so I use the automatic check-in and the mileage is 62016, and I shower and sleep well, although there was a lot of traffic on the road about 4am, which woke me.

Scrapheap Challenge Roadshow

We got back last night very tired from the filming of the Scrapheap Challenge Roadshow down a Beaulieu.
We all had a really great weekend, thanks to all the Scrapheapers down there – there was a really good atmosphere, and we got to meet some really nice people.
There are a number of galleries of photos uploading at the moment, some may be of interest to some people. I will write a longer article (or get Clairey to) as we have to write something for the newsletter later, but for now you’ll have to make to with pictures of all the wacky vehicles that were there.

Robert Llewellyn was really friendly, even though he appeared to be besieged by autograph hunters all day, Edd China was great, showing a lot of interest in all the vehicles as part of his judging duties. I didn’t get to meet Lisa Rogers, but she looked blooming – if you don’t know what I mean you’ll have to watch the show.

Bike photos

I’ve been riding the bike for a few days now, since I got the MOT and tax, and fiinally got some photos of it the other day, then forgot to put a link to them here. 20060606Bike/DSC_0753.jpg This is one of them, the other 2 are in the same album. These were taken whilst we were doing the road tests for the Scrapheap entry, so I didn’t get a much of a chance to set them up properly, but they don’t look too bad – I just need to polish it a bit, and repair the couple of scrapes now.

Scrapheap Roadshow

Well I spent most of the weekend building the Scrapheap vehicle, and tonight we took it out for it’s first real road test, which was competely successful.
We did break a couple of bits, but far better to break them now and be able to repair and strengthen them before the Sofa Speedway next Sunday down at Beaulieu Palace.

It’s been a somewhat tiring few days, and we’re all looking forward to being down there on Sunday, but are not really relishing the drive down there towing an unusual vehicle on a trailer.

Of course there are some photos – do you know what it is yet? 20060606Scrapheap/DSC_0751.jpg


My car failed its MOT today – little things, but they have to order in the parts, so it’s got to go back in next week for the repairs. The bike is back running again, after I found the problem – I went by the old adage “If you think it’s electrical, check the electrics. If you think it’s fuel, check the electrics.” I checked the electrics, cleaned and gapped the plugs, but still nothing. Turned the petcock from auto to prime, and she fired up :-D.
I’ve just got to reconnect the vacuum hose to the right place on the carbs, and then book that in for the MOT and get her taxed, and it’s on the road for the summer :-D. Then it’s just deciding where to go first. I really fancy the Viaduct De Millau, but maybe I’ll start with somewhere closer to home.
It’s nearly a year since I was out of the country, and I’m getting the wanderlust again – still hoping for that trip to India over the summer, but if nothing else a few days on the bike might help, and I need to start planning so I’ve got something to look forward to.