Nine Weeks on the Road
OR How I Fell in Love with “Bertha”. (Part 2)
By Michael Wilson
For those readers who were able to partake of the last edition you will recall that I survived an abortive Singapore take-off to arrive in the UK in one piece for my formal introduction to “Bertha”. For those who were not present last edition “Bertha”, an XLV R Honda 750, had dents on both sides of her tank, a crunchy (no, not like a chocolate milkshake) shift between first and second gear, more snatch in her clutch than you would expect to find at The Daily Planet, and was incontinent of oil that persisted in leaking through a bolt on the front rocker cover. It was certainly not love at first sight. Part One of my story detailed my initial adventures with “Bertha” in south–east England, and my subsequent bonding with the big girl during four weeks on the road in France.
For my first few days back in England I did nothing but rest. My next destination was to be the International V-Twin Owners Rally which is held in the village of Shaftsbury in Dorset. Prior to setting off I had to try and curb the gluttonous approach to fuel consumption that “Bertha” had developed in France. So thirsty was the girl that my French friends had referred to her as ‘le cochon de l’essence’ which literally means ‘petrol pig’.
A full tune up and clean out of the carbies worked wonders. And just as well, with English fuel costing about $2.30 a litre. From Kent, where I was staying, to Dorset is about 300 kilometres in a straight line. One has two choices, take the motorway and get there quickly but bored, or take the provincial road system, see picturesque and quaint English villages and countryside, and experience numerous encounters with apparently brain dead English drivers. I chose the latter.
Friday morning. As I strapped the tent to “Bertha” it started to rain. It rained all the way to Shaftsbury. Highlight of the trip was passing through the village of Piltdown where the welcoming sign allowed for a priceless photo opportunity given the nature of the weather. Thank you kiwis.
Shaftsbury is a small semi-walled town straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel. It is literally taken over by bikes during the three days of the rally. The UK Guzzi Owners Club organises the event. This was the 28th year of the rally. About a 1000 bikes were in attendance. A number of the village sporting fields are converted into official camping grounds for the invading hordes. While it is true that non V-Twin bikes attend the event they are not allowed to weaken the V-Twin gene pool by parking in any of the official areas. While “Bertha” and I clearly qualified for admission, and I was given the discounted ‘overseas’ entry fee of five pounds, the rule of stopping non V-Twins from entering the camping ground was clearly enforced. “Ya canna bring that beastie in here, laddie”, said the kilted Scots Guzzi Club member to the rider of the Japanese multi behind me at the gate. It was true, he could unpack his gear and camp in the area but had to park his bike off site.
Once I had set up camp I set off to explore the rich untainted V-Twin blood lines. Guzzis and Ducatis, of course, and also Japanese Vees and lots of Harleys. An elderly BSA, and a handsomely restored Brough were also among my neighbours. Everybody was very friendly and a true sense of biker’s camaraderie was evident. Why, we even talked to the non-V Twin owners.
On my first night there I sought out Guzzi officialdom, introduced myself as a Queensland member and gave them a copy of our Club Newsletter. They had set themselves up in the clubrooms of a local rugby club (whose sporting field I was camped on) and even had a band organised for the evening. It is true, Scots members were present in considerable numbers.
At times the dance floor appeared to be packed with the entire cast of extras from Brave Heart. Fierce looking, bearded and kilted. Mind you, some of the lassies were bonny enough.
Multiple pints of ale were consumed and the Guzzi perspective, from varying nationalities, exchanged.
Saturday morning dawns bright and clear. More so than my head, in any case. The rain has departed. At 2pm the official proceedings commence with a massed ride around the village ring road. Local villagers line the streets, waving and cheering, as if we were triumphant crusaders returning from battle. All bikes then assemble in front of the old village gates before the Mayor, Town Crier and other town officials, all of whom are suitably ceremonially attired.
“My Lord Mayor”’ the Town Crier begins. “These noble knights of the road seek access to our fair village”. “Are they of noble character?” , requests the mayor. “YESSSSS”, comes the response from all of us assembled. “Will they contribute to the coffers of the village?”, again requests the Mayor. A similar affirmative reply is issued from those assembled including, I think, many who have already commenced contributing to village coffers from around pub opening time. Following some short, well staged, ceremonial deliberation the Town Crier announces that those of us assembled have been presented with the keys of the village.
To celebrate, the Mayor is escorted to a waiting sidecar (in this instance, a Cagiva kneeler) and leads the noble knights of the road in a further lap of the village ring road, much to the delight of the cheering locals. The entire event was extremely well organised and a lot of fun.
“Bertha” relaxed at V-Twin headquarters while I explored various local licensed establishments for the rest of the day. By nightfall, the rain had returned. At some stage I stumbled off to my tent and slept the sleep of the vanquishing conqueror. “Bertha”, was indeed, my noble stead. The rain had really set in as the next morning dawned grey and dismal. As everything was already wet I loaded “Bertha” up, had a hearty cooked English breakfast in one of the local cafes, and headed off home. This time I took the motorway. I arrived back in Kent drenched but full of good cheer from a great weekend.
Tunbridge Wells, where I was based, is a Royal town. The Wells were frequented by reigning monarchs for many centuries. Although I chose not to pay the admission fee to enter I did explore the quaint area known as the Pantiles that surrounds the wells. Genuine Tudor buildings and tiny cobbled lanes give a flavour of ‘ye olde’ England. Lots of interesting old pubs too, of course. Tunbridge Wells is about 80 kilometres from London. The train is the most efficient way to make the journey however, just once, I chose to take my big girl friend with me for a day on the town. “Bertha” was polite and well mannered in the heavy traffic and we arrived in Central London without fuss. We even managed to stop at Greenwich and explore the Cutty Sark on the way in.
Motor cycle parking areas abound in Central London but by mid –morning they were packed to capacity. Commuters had wedged their bikes into every square inch of every parking bay. Finally, I chose to cram “Bertha” into a micro-space at the end of a parking bay just behind Piccadilly Circus. Although the big girl was mostly inside the bay some of her cleavage jutted out across the white line. The result? On my return I discovered that I was left with a 50 pound infringement notice. “Bertha”, it appeared, had been loitering a little too far outside of the safe zone. Needless to say I was not impressed and tossed the notice into the bottom of my pack, hoping to forget about it for all time. Would it come back to haunt me?
Later in the week the sun had returned and, as it was now the first week in September, people were talking of an Indian summer. My next destination was Devon, and then onto Ireland. The day that I left Kent was a warm 23 degrees with golden sunshine highlighting the first autumn leaves of the changing seasons. My long time mate John lives in the tiny Village of Capton near Dartmouth. He is a born and bred British Biker and years ago used to carry the nickname of Ogri. He is a little bit more respectable these days, trying to live the life of the gentleman farmer. He owns a magnificent 750 Norton Fastback Commando, just to remind him of his roots.
I arrived in Devon mid-afternoon. At Exeter I could turn south to head direct to Dartmouth or turn north to detour across Dartmoor. Dartmoor is a much mythologised location, bleak and desolate. Home of the legendary Hound of the Baskervilles and, until recently, a maximum security prison. It is rumoured that wanderers upon the Moors still disappear without explanation and that strange, wild beasts roam the dark deserted meadows. Possessing such knowledge it was only natural that my girl and I decided to see the place for ourselves.
Dartmoor is now a national park. They say that it is normally so bleak and cold that the livestock that inhabit the park will often sit on the asphalt road as it is the only location that will store what little heat the day may provide.
A sign at the entrance of the park warns visitors of this potential danger. Alas, all my gloomy views of Dartmoor were dispelled as the rich autumnal sunlight stayed with us as we rode the twisting hairpins to the peak of the park. The pub at the top of the pass must be one of the few establishments in England not to have electricity. Everything is generator driven. While appreciating a pint of Devenish ale I surveyed the Moors. Wonderful muted colours of orange and green, stunted windswept trees, sparse mountain grasses and, everywhere, heather and gorse. Not what I had expected. On returning my glass to the bar the publican informed me that such days were extremely rare. “Bertha” and I completed our tour of Dartmoor and arrived at John’s house just in time for supper. By the time I arrived there I realised I had been privileged to see the fairer side of Dartmoor.
I stayed with John for a week and the Indian summer persisted. I spent four days helping to bail and store hay for the coming winter. Of course, being creative motorcyclists we used creative methods to gather the hay. We visited many fine country pubs during the evenings and went for the occasional run on “Bertha” and the Norton. I left Capton early in the morning and rode the 300kms to Pembroke in Southern Wales to catch the 11am ferry to Ireland.