Nine Weeks on the Road

Nine Weeks on the Road

OR How I Fell in Love with “Bertha”. (Part 3)

By Michael Wilson


To summarise what occurred previously:  bikeless lad from the colonies returns to Mother England.  Meets most unattractive Honda XLV R. Relationship grows during three weeks in France and blossoms during travels around England. Attendance at international v-twin owners rally further cements bonding of man and machine. To continue….

I have had along time love affair with all things Irish. I had been once before, many years ago, but this was my first opportunity to ride the Emerald Isle. Even “Bertha” was excited as we rode onto the ferry for our four hour crossing. The Irish sea was smooth and forgiving and our crossing uneventful. Upon arrival in Rosslare I rode south towards Waterford where I spent my first night in the land of the leprechauns. As an introductory statement “Bertha” and I met many wonderful and friendly people during our ten days in old Erin. No matter where one goes the people are friendly and welcoming (having assured themselves that you are not English), and everyone seems to have a cousin of a brother somewhere in Australia. On my first night I met a host of wonderful characters at the bed and breakfast I stayed in and at the Waterford Crystal Factory Working Mans Club. Exactly how I found myself in such a watering hole is the subject of, perhaps, another story.

The next morning demonstrated why the land of fogs and bogs is known as such. I rode south to Cork and then detoured to the village of Blarney. At times I could barely see ten metres ahead. The Indian summer had come to an end. The Blarney Stone bestows the gift of eloquence upon all those who kiss it. To smooch the blessed stone one has to climb to the top of the castle and lean backwards over a gap in the battlements. You then pucker up and plant one on the stone, which is really a part of the castle wall, while all the time hoping that herpes is not transferable via a block of granite. A thirty metre drop below reminds the kisser to hold on tightly. A large number of the ineloquent were in attendance when I arrived, and progress to the stone was slow. When eventually, my turn arrived, I leant over backwards with my tongue firmly locked inside of my mouth, and kissed away. With eloquence officially bestowed I returned to “Bertha” just as it started to rain.

I left Blarney the next morning. Killarney, in the west of Ireland, was my destination. Well known for its republican history Killarney is a picturesque but busy town on the shores of Lough Leanne. It is also home to some of the best traditional music in Ireland. I spent two days and nights playing the tourist. The following day I set off for the world famous Ring of Kerry. This is a circular route that takes in some of the finest rugged coastline that Ireland has to offer. It is an approximately 130 kilometre round journey from Killarney. Initially heading south I crossed Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range thought still to be the home of leprechauns. “Bertha” waited for me on several occasions while I dismounted and ventured into the forest hoping to catch one of the little fellows and his pot of gold. I continued on to the coast at Kenmare and followed Ireland’s Great Ocean Road around the Kerry Peninsula. Although it rained on and off it did not detract from the spectacular scenery on view.

I did not return to Killarney, deciding instead to head north to the mighty Shannon River, Ireland’s greatest. I passed through the village of Castlemaine. This was the birthplace of the wild colonial boy (Jack Duggan was his name, you know). I celebrated this Australian connection with, yet another, pint of Guiness. As I caught the barge across the river, from Kerry into Claire, the rain arrived with a determination I had not previously seen. I arrived in Kilkee, soaking wet and cold, just prior to dusk. Kilkee is a small town set directly on the Atlantic coast and off the main tourist track. I found a bed and breakfast with an uninterrupted view of the sea and lock up undercover lodgings for “Bertha”. As the weather continued to deteriorate I glimpsed the setting sun appear briefly below the black clouds of the horizon and sink into the western ocean. The eerie twilight created by this event was suddenly replaced by nightfall and the rattling of my bedroom window from the strengthening westerly wind.

I spent three days in Kilkee. Reading, walking in the rain, chatting with the locals in any of the three pubs that the village possessed. The sea was wild and the wind gale force. I would have been very reluctant to ride anywhere in such conditions. When I did leave the rain had reduced to drizzle and the wind dropped to a tolerable level. It was a special experience, my three days in Kilkee and again, perhaps, the subject of another story.

I continued to ride north. My destination was Enniskillen in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. This was, as they say, the home of my ancestors. I was eager to do a little research into family history. I had never been to Northern Ireland before and I had envisaged a large British military presence at the border crossing. Such is the stuff of fiction for I hardly knew when I had crossed into the province. The only real difference is that Sterling currency is used in Northern Ireland rather than the Euros that are used south of the border.

The highlight of my first night in Enniskillen occurred after several pints in a busy, inner city bar when a large brawny chap, by the name of Lawrence, asked me if I was Catholic or Protestant. Exactly how I found myself to be in that situation is, well you know, another story. However, I can tell you that it involved a local blonde woman, a BMW R1100, and a slur upon “Bertha’s” heritage. (Poor girl was referred to as a chook chaser!!). Exiting from the above dilemma unscathed, I spent the rest of my time in my ancestral home in pursuit of more studious activities.

My second last night in Ireland was spent in the university town of Carlow. On my last full day “Bertha” and I toured the back roads and trails of the Wicklow Mountains. Wicklow is timeless and remote. Traditions abound. At the intersections of small country lanes one does not “give way”, one “yields” . Getting off the bike at each intersection was a real drag (see photo). Oh, those Irish and their traditions.

Once again, I called upon the big girl to wait by the roadside as I ventured on foot into the forest to find myself a leprechaun. Daring only to hope, I can report that I nearly had the misfortune to find one. I was walking beside a fast running stream, through an area of heavy forest, about 100 metres in from the road. Ahead, I could see a small clearing with what appeared to be an earthen mound. I kept walking towards the clearing while my brain slowly analysed the image that my eyes were transmitting. Loose tree branches were woven into several wicker pyramids scattered throughout the clearing. Timber stakes crowned with animal skulls lined the perimeter. Camp fire embers were still alive and a large rug was half drawn across an opening in the mound. The skull of a moose, complete with antlers, sat atop of the mound. Gipsies, pikies, poteen bootleggers, Druids, IRA terrorsists or leprechauns. I did not wait to find out. A bit too much of the old Blair Witch for my liking. “Bertha” and I skedaddled, heading for the safety of the coast, a night in a comfortable hotel and the morning ferry.

My return passage across the Irish Sea was head on into a force seven gale. The old girl had to be trussed down and tied up with lashings of rope. We survived the crossing and rode back through South Wales into England and home to Kent. The Severn Bridge, which connects these two countries, is definitely not the place to be on a seriously windy day. However, after nearly nine weeks on the road together “Bertha” and I tried our hand at riding across the windswept structure. With snatching clutch and gritted teeth we succeeded, but not without a couple of scary moments.

Autumn was well and truly the season by this stage. Golden leaves, cool to cold breezes and shortening days. Time to return to sunny down under. All relationships, including those that reach heights of passion and commitment, must eventually end. It was a wet and sorry Saturday afternoon when I returned my ungainly lass to the friend of a friend that I had purchased her from. He was happy to buy her back as he could see that neither her spirit, nor anything else, had been broken. I farewelled my girl knowing that her character and fortitude would reward anyone who could look beyond her cosmetic blemishes and heavy dependence on unleaded fuel. Thank you, “Bertha”.

About six weeks after returning home I received an urgent e-mail from Jean-Claude, my friend in Tunbridge Wells. It seems that “Bertha” had found herself another good man but early bonding attempts were being frustrated by the arrival of a 100 pound outstanding parking fine. You see, to confess, I never really made an honest woman out of “Bertha” and changed her name into mine. Unfortunately, the friend of my friend, whose name the girl had remained under, forwarded the document in question to her new suitor. Confusing? Yes. Did I pay? Yes. I figured that I owed “Bertha” every opportunity for happiness and that having had such a great experience, I may well wish to do it again.