It was a good ride down from Yorkshire to Maidstone we managed to dodge around the rain showers all the way down the M1 onto the M25, riding right round to the 3 o’clock position before catching sight of it, minutes later we were on it. The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, 150,000 cars a day cross it as part of the London M25 orbital road, it arched high over the River Thames though here it was more like a mini sea it was so wide, the bridge span is just short of 500 yards. The real sea is only a couple of miles away to my left so here we should call the river an estuary. To my right in the far distance I could see Canary Warf and the faint grey blocks that was the city of London. The bridge is commonly called the Dartford bridge and is free for bikers thanks to a large bike demo by the local M.A.G who showed the authorities the error of their ways when the bridge first opened. A thousand or more bikers turned up on Monday morning dressed for winter kit with a fiver in a wallet buried deep in their clothing, the ensuing hold up made the authorities rethink their pricing policy!
We turned off after a couple of miles onto the M20. I took the lead today Barry was at the back for a change, also with us was Tom and Michelle from Keighley on their black 1800. Newcomers Mark and Jeanette joined us half way down at a tea stop on the A1 on their 1500 Panther trike, It was this little group that head directly into the thunderstorm just 5 miles from our hotel! I’d decided to wear my waterproofs all the way down “just in case” I’m so bloody glad I did because in no time Barry had wet bollix and Tina had a dripping tush!! Tom and Michelle were just as soaked as were the “newbies”! I couldn’t help chuckling to myself as Julie and I sat in relative dryness. I commented on this to the others…it didn’t go down well with the “wet-ones”which just made me chuckle even more! We pulled into the hotel moments later, everyone had to change their trousers socks and knickers shirt tie and wooly tank tops except me so I was first into the bar! We saw that some Wanderers were here already.
Russ and Elaine ogled us from their bedroom window, Elaine has been slimming for a while which produced some spectacular results, keep your eyes on us blokes Russ, she looks even more beautiful now mate! Quickly they joined us on the veranda of the pub, we watched other old Appy Wanderers arrive over the next few hours. It was a good feeling seeing the old gits as well as the new people.
Julie and I had been here recently on tour with the Royal British Legion Riders Branch. The Premier Inn was one of four in Maidstone and had an excellent pub/resteraunt built onto the side, this is why I suggested we stopped here for our overnighter. The “chunnel” was only 45 minutes away down the motorway.
The evening meal was as good as the last time and the place equally as busy, the night passed quickly, folk caught with each other and the new guys were made very welcome, before long 23.30 hrs beckoned us to our beds, an early start awaited us in the morning. We were up in good time unfortunately the chef wasn’t as eager as us to get going. The number of folk staying here had grown and as the tour hadn’t started yet so Barry and I hadn’t started to keep an eye on things yet and so consequently only a couple got breakfast before we had to move off. The “chunnel” waits for man nor beast. A swift blast down the M20 saw us arrive at the terminal with 15 minutes to spare. “Jeez here we go already” I thought to myself as old David buggered about switching lanes, this being his first visit to the terminal. I pulled abreast of the impatient Range Rover and waved him back with a smile to let David and Barbara get orientated.
A grand total of 13 Honda Goldwing trikes and motorbikes rode into the gaping hole in the side of the last carriage at the end of the train, once aboard we had to slowly ride the length of the train to the other end and park as though we were parking on an uneven roadside, with front wheel into the curb and lock into first gear as requested by the train staff. There is a pavement for people to stand or sit the length of the train on either side with the vehicle track/road down the middle from one end to other, the journey takes only 30 minutes or so. That’s enough time to say hello properly and brief people again on what lays ahead for the day. At Calais we left the train then the terminal and rode south east after a bit of a glitch as the sat-nav on Barry’s bike took a minute to get her bearings before he pointing the convoy in the right direction. Oh my god we are doing a “Zeebrugge” I thought as we took a slip road to a roundabout, going all the way round and back up again.

Barry led the way with the trikes behind him followed by the lonely 1500 of Janet and Brian then the faster longer legged 1800s of the rest of the group then me sweeping up at the back in my usual place on these trips as “Back Door Man”.
We took the motorway south passing Boulogne, Abberville and Dieppe, it became a main road as we had to take in the outskirts of Rouen before rejoining the E402 just the other side of the city, we touched the edge of Normandy pushing past Lisieux. Before they built this motorway the best way to and from the channel posts was to angle through Normandy via Chatres..Dreux..Eveux and Lisieux on the back roads and were by far the prettiest, shortest and safest route. The M-ways going North/South (I’ll call them Auto-routes now) all take in the French capitol, you explorers out there will have ridden on the x-rated Paris ring road just the once and will agree with me when I say it’s a right bastard and to be avoided be at all costs!
Alencon and Le Mans came and went as the sign for Tours came up and we left the auto-route for the last time today. Barry slowed down to a trickle as we entered the busy city in the Saturday late afternoon traffic, going slow also to let sat nav do her bit and take us straight to the hotel. Barry and I are fairly used to the sat nav capabilities and know that going slowly through a town or city is the best way forward as she struggles terribly with French place names and streets, I’m passing information from the back to Barry up ahead about the traffic lights, whose stopped and whose moving, some of the group have CB’s too and are listening intently as we take this turn and the next. We pull up outside the hotel in no time and the ladies climb off to book in, meanwhile we men get instructions on where the car park is and drive round the back and down underground to the hotel car park, which seems to be directly underneath the hotel.
The first day went well really. We were on French and not German auto-routes so the learning curve wasn’t so harsh today I’m happy to say. The first day is always the hardest to do though on this tour we had just three or four new couples, the rest had been on tour with us at one time or another before but still needed to brush up on European auto route skills. All in all an enjoyable day hacking down through northern France, we were now just north of the Loire Valley and it was good to chuck the bike keys on the bed in the corner of the room. Have a shower and head out into town. Today we had done approx 360 miles. Well done to all of us!
The old“Splinter Group” are now so old they have become “The Flat-liners” I stood outside the hotel waiting for Barry and the others as the saga six mooched off in search of the old part of Tours and a quiet dinner. Jane darling, your not old but a slip of a girl it’s just that your just married to old Steve! All the rest of us on the other hand didn’t wander that far after seeing the glowing lights of “Le Hippo” We felt this was the place to eat. We were ushered upstairs into the glass roofed attic out of the way, it was nice and airy and so our excited English chatter wouldn’t disturb the rest of the house!
The was France so I was expecting the food to be top notch, which it was, the lager came in jugs and went straight into English bellies, oh my god that tasted sooo nice! It was here that Mark and I found out we both frequented the same pubs in Wakefied back in the 1970’s describing and reminiscing old haunts. A few weeks after the tour on a visit to Mark and Jeanette’s home she showed me a photo of Mark with long hair, I looked and though hmmm he does look familiar, then Mark said he worked in a paint and wallpaper shop and the manager was gay. A door in my distant past was flung open at this statement. I had worked there just two or three days but left because the manager was a poof and I didn’t feel comfy in his presence! How spooky was that? I know it’s a small world and we keep telling ourselves that but it’s still a smack in the face with a wet fish when something like this happens.The poofter has since died as has the cleaning lady.
The following morning we encountered our first continental breakfast, bread of all shapes and sizes, jams meats and cheese to go with it and strong French coffee, tea is pretty much an afterthought here in France as boxes of flowery tea bags stayed mainly full. The bikes were waking up down in the car park as the men went and said hello and cleaned windscreens. Overnight bags were packed back into the bikes. Barry and Tina left first, it was a steep curve up out of the hole. Ride to the outside of the curve then gun it was the way to do it. Unsure riders sweated a bit already at this move, it was an unusual piece of road I admit it’s just that some are more confidant that others. Julie manned the electric barrier until we all left, I would always be the last man out wherever we were, this was my usual job on tours and Sunday ride outs back home too
We formed up outside, a quick last minute check on everyone, then Fatha decides he wants to have a little walk and say hello to folk. He did this more than once on tour and was always encouraged to get back on his bloody bike! Off we go then, Barry had the Garmin on and took us slowly out of town towards the open spaces. We rode a south east direction through the region of Vienne towards the auto route less than an hour away, we saw the “real” France now as we rode along the E62 passing through several sleepy villages.I know it was Sunday morning but every time I ride through French villages they always appear “sleepy” whatever time of whatever day! Outside one such hamlet we fuelled up at the local supermarche and the ladies visited the one ladies loo so a stop of thirty minute or more was forced by the bladder.
We head for Limoges and the E9 auto route south passing Brive and the haunted town of Rocamadour.
Lots of dark deeds happened here during WWII and the civilians suffered violently at the hands of the Germans with many being murdered. The place purposely reflects this as a reminder of war.
The weather yesterday was very cloudy and not too warm however today it improved greatly, the clouds had all but gone and the temperature was as warm as Steve and Jane’s back brake, back in Tours earlier that morning they had gone several miles with the handbrake on and smoked the bikes behind causing some consternation, the airwaves bubbled with “Smoke! I can smell bloody smoke! summats on fire!” I went through the group on the open road and checked each one out, as Steve grabbed their hand brake putting it in the off position, Aha that’s the problem! They had gone about two miles with the hand brake on, looking down Steve saw no flames and Jane thought the trike felt fine so elected to bang on, everyone was awake now as we turned onto the auto route.
It was another long day with close to 380 miles to do, a day we call a transit day. We had to juggle the positions around with the trikes as large gaps were appearing, large enough for trucks to slip into and generally bugger things up for us. Basically we ride staggered with the two second gap, Its everyone’s responsibility to keep up and try not to let a large gap form, if a car, van, truck gets between, then the gap will increase hugely as the vehicle sits happily behind slow traffic. You become unsighted and the next junction we turn off at or garage we pull in at you will miss and will pull the rest of the group with you. “Fucked” is a word that springs to mind! If everyone had CB and listened it would not be such a problem but they don’t, they don’t come cheap and so it can problematic. In the first few days some folk are concerned and reluctant at going over 75/80mph when playing catch up because someone has done what I’ve just said, folk where having to go really REALY fast for half a mile or more to back with the group. Folk are given the opportunity to travel down on their own or in groups they have maps hotel ref numbers etc and are adults. Travelling in a group can be lots of fun but you can’t dawdle and you must keep together and in sight. This happens at the beginning of EVERY tour it’s just a learning curve for a day or so. We try to explain these things at the pre tour meeting but don’t ram it down throats with do’s and don’ts for fear of putting people off and being draconian. The first day of continental riding on auto routes is always enough to get people in the right frame of mind.
Further south we rode with stops every ninety minutes-ish for petrol, pee and tea. Mantauban was the next provincial city we passed before hitting the ring road of Toulouse, being Sunday it was quite a peaceful days driving, the land had turned quite brown now as the temperature rose to the late twenty five degree mark.
We had seen many of Mother Nature’s aviators namely the Buzzard, they lounge about on fence posts and other roadside furniture like bored teenagers but unlike bored teenagers they had a purpose, and that was to clear up the roads of squashed rabbits and such like. If you see one quickly enough ahead on a post you can see they have wonderful markings, a huge yellow ripping beak and hands like shovels..erm I mean feet! They have deep set dark eyes that see better than a ships radar. The Kite is here in large numbers too, and easy to spot in the air due to their sharper outline and deep tail fork, the Buzzard in contrast is more solid looking and quite dishevelled in the air with splayed feathers like long fingers, a few time I have seen them hover, they angle themselves in the wind just enough to keep airborne and flap their wide wings slowly whilst widening their tail using it to catch the uplift.
Carcassonne is the next large city we pass, I shout Barry and Tina ahead to keep an eye out for the wonderful castle that would come into view on our left soon. Meanwhile I was looking to our right at the far off mountains of Andorra, about 30 miles away, Julie waved at a waving motorist as he peeled off in that direction, he had Andorran number plates.
This was the region of Aude and is dotted with interesting places and holds stories of bygone races. The Moors mainly as they crept up through Spain from North Africa. Following them came religious European types, a particular group called Cathars became a thorn in the established Christian races of mainstream France. They were not mainstream Christian but a different sect with different elements of Christianity incorporated. Hence this region is known now as Pays Cathare. The term Pays Cathare, is French and means “Cathar Country” it’s used to highlight the Cathar heritage and history of the region where Catharism was traditionally strongest. This area is centred around the fortresses such as Montségur and Carcassonne. These areas have ancient ruins from the wars between the various Christina sects and came from as far away as the lands now known as Germany. Why does everyone cry out there is only one god and want to kill anyone who says different? It strikes me that they are similar to some silly motorbike club I know! Sounds also a bit like Rome from back then and Iraq recently, also like the “Mad as Hatters” Moslem extremists that are allowed to run around breeding discontent and murder. The many ruins are still visible today. We would visit some of them on our “Castles rideout” later in the week. The last Cathars by the way were persecuted and killed off in the Crusades of the late 12 century.
Anyway I digress! The famed Carcassonne castle loomed into view to our left. Not everyone had CB so Barry’s pointing to the left hollering “Carcassonne castle to the left everybody!” was lost in the warm wind. I had been down here with Julie a couple of years ago and knew we were nearly at our journeys end for the day, the sea was in sight now and we had reached the south coast of France it was warm just like the brochure said! The auto route dropped us off on the outskirts of the old town, it being Sunday made finding the hotel here in Narbonne easy. Cruising down to sat nav speed let Mistress Garmin lead Barry and the rest of us right to the doorstep. The huge old wooden garage doors were opened and we rode inside. We filled one garage and part of the second. It was perfect! The day manager was a biker too, his dusty old Japanese 650 sat in the near corner. He was happy to have us “own” the garage for the week.
Our room was small with a great view of a brick wall just ten metres away and there was nowhere to put our kit so it stayed in the bags on the floor, there was a dresser and a TV, shower room and “le crapper” It was clean but basic. We didn’t really mind, it was just a bedroom after all, the bikes were all indoors which for this week was the most important thing I think. We swarmed in and out of other Wanderers rooms and saw raised toilets, balconies, some looking over the traffic lights, Lynne even saw Michelle in the shower as she dashed in looking at their room and without realising Michelle was in there drew back the curtain to shrieks and giggles!! Look out folks the Appy Wanderers were in town! Mark and Jeanette pointed across the huge crossroads and said “Pub” Aha..my kind of word! In a shot we followed them, Tom and Michelle were hot on our heels. It had been a long hot day with another 360 miles notched up, time to celebrate, everyone had made it without a hint of drama and we were to be congratulated.
We piled into the small bar eager for drinks, the young girl was a bit in awe as we pointed at the two lager pumps, I pointed at the solitary dusty pint glass, we eventually took it in turns to use it, the rest of us made do with the half pint things, we used the plastic table that was under the red yellow and green neon of the traffic light, this would be cool when it gets dark! I was pestered by the only drunken Algerian trampess in Narbonne and she understood what Feck off meant! It sounds unkind I know but she only wanted to indulge me in conversation in the hopes that I might buy her a drink and give her money but I was in no mood the bar girl managed to get shut of her bless! Mick and Ann soon joined us pulling another table under the traffic light. Sandra and David came along with Barry Tina and some of the others, they didn’t stay, instead they pushed on into the old part in search of something to eat, we on the other hand had the bit between our teeth and were celebrating and keeping the lass busy re-filling the little glasses and the one pint glass. Cheers m’dears!
We said Monday would be a day off the bike, we had done rather a lot of miles in two days and had a way to go yet so I for one didn’t want to turn it into “La Moto Enduro” and wanted to try and get the balance right. My pal Martin owns a biker hotel just up the road in the village of Coursan, he is originally from Oxford he is ex RAF and a solid biker and seasoned traveller, spending years in the U.S as a self employed real life cowboy, he got married whilst there and now has a son who is currently serving in the US Marines out in that troublesome desert, you can gather from this that our Martin is a really interesting and friendly guy. Julie and I now see him as a friend, having robbed his fridge of beer on several visits. We really wanted to visit him during the tour, it would have been extremely rude not to! So on the Monday we took Barry, Tom and the girls with us. Meanwhile the rest of The Appy Wanderers spent the day wandering around Narbonne at leasure.
Martin was on the pavement as we pulled up tooting and shouting greetings and the beer was right where I said! I pulled some out and passed them around, one small can each. Id threatened on Facebook to empty his fridge since last year! This is his B+B website in case your interested http://www.st-georges-fr.com/ He has a great place with room in the garage for about eight wings, please have a look it might well be of interest to you! It was really nice to see him again since last years holiday in September. I introduced him to everyone and visa versa. An Englishman was here too messing with his bike, Barry helped in fix whatever it was that he was fixing, I wasn’t interested to be honest I was here to see my old mate Martin. I wanted to show Barry around with a view to maybe using the place for some future biking holiday but he was more interested in the bike outside! We stayed an hour or so before saying goodbye for now and carried onto the beach another few miles on.
Barry had smelt the mountains and got all excited and wanted to go right now! But this was a rest day for me at least and I had to remind him! There was all week and I had planned a route or two in that direction, we would be going into “Montagne Noir” tommorow (The Black Mountains) So I went to the beach followed by two other wings though one seemed a bit reluctant! The afternoon by the beach was nice as we explored Narbonne plage. Barry and I rolled up our trousers and took a dip in the Med, then congratulated each other on a job well done so far. It was a nice feeling. Tina came into the sea for a photo, ah this was the life. Barry settled and agreed this was a good afternoon after all. I knew it would and took them back to Narbonne through the hilly dunes along great little back roads. The road from Narbonne to Coursan is on the old Roman road from Italy to Espania in fact part of the original road is on show in Narbonne, how cool it was to actually stand on it again that evening as we explored the square in search of good food.
Tuesday morning at breakfast we began to get to grips with the hotel coffee machine, it gurgled, spluttered, bleeped and winked its blue light. If it doesn’t work straight away keep prodding the bloody button we thought. It’s impatient I know but I think it’s a human thing if it doesn’t do as its told straight away then beat it to death. The machine had a link to the receptionist I’m sure because after a couple of prods one of the staff came out to tell the perpetrator off! “ Zut Allors, vouz presse ze button only wance” they insisted, I copped for a “telling off” on the first morning.
So after a hearty breakfast of bread jam, cheese and coffee we sorted ourselves out in the garage and decided to leave individually to the garage a mile up the road due to the fact that the 7 roads of the roundabout with multi traffic lights just five yards away was actually like joining Death Race 2000! It’s here that we also got to grips with card only payment for fuel, this is still an alien thing for most English. My local supermarket now has this facility at their garage but not many use it so I get filled up quickly every time.
Barry has my route in his sat nav and we head North through Montagne Noir towards the world famous Millau Bridge, it was a two hundred mile rideout, I have ridden the mountains before with Julie before and know what the group have in store for them and know exactly what their reactions are going to be, especially my mountain road mad mate Barry.
Everyone was struck at the beauty of these clean and new roads into the hills, Barry was loud and happy on the CB! People were enjoying the first rideout very much, Telford began to explore the road at speed, the corners were so open and wide, his body suggested he was getting “into the zone” and was leaning into the corner’s he’s driving a trike so this was funny to see. We powered on and eased off constantly taking the views and enjoying the roads in turn.
We are heading towards St Affrique about a hundred miles away through lots of “sleepy” villages sitting between dozens of green clad hills, we rise high to look back at the sea in the distance, it’s a hot day again and Appys jackets are removed and locked away in the top boxes, it’s a great ride and folk are riding these roads for the first time, they are privileged bikers and will no doubt recount their feeling when they get home and chat to fellow bikers on many a weekend to follow. We stopped at St Pons for half an hour break to buy bottles of water.
Setting off again in good time we soon had the bridge in site, the cloud came as we crested the hills and jackets were pulled out for a while. The bridge was visible from miles away. It didn’t hit home how big it was until we dropped into the valley and crossed beneath it, the main supports seemed to go on for miles into the sky to the auto route way above us. Personally I have never seen anything so vast and I felt like a gnat! Deryck had told me months ago of a café with a panoramic view that a friend had told him about and sounded ideal, I “Googled” it and found it it quickly, it was still there and looked OK so I put it into the route.
Just after the bridge Barry started to look for the right turn in question. It was a bit “Stelvio ish” in that it was a zig zag up the hill side but the surface was not in great condition, we carried on slowly and made cautious progress. On one of the switchbacks Russ and Elaine had got it a bit wrong and crashed. From the back I saw their wing roll back down the hill backwards after messing up a corner Their bike shunted hard into the barrier bounced forward and flopped to one side, several bikes had stopped on the uneven road, Wanderers were round them in a flash and were helping the two of them and getting the bike up. I couldn’t help so I passed them to make my way to the top and pass on what had happened to the rest at the top. A trike went back down to bring Elaine up and with some help the bike came up too. The bike didn’t look to badly damaged save for the usual scratch marks on one pannier the crash bars had scuff marks but had done their job, Russ was a bit bruised as was Elaine and were both a bit shook up, it was a cuddle time and with plenty of hugs for Elaine and words of support for Russ and a gentle pat on the back. After all that trouble the bloody café was shut and looked like it had been all summer, would you believe it! Nobody could have known this but it was still a bummer, we stood and looked at the great view of the bridge in its entirety, getting some Belgian bikers to take the group photograph, we had to turn round and go back down the twisting road, Russ and Elaine took it easy with me fifty metres in front ansFatha and M in support just behind them, the rest of the group waited at the bottom, when we were one again we set off and looked for the Macdonald’s in Millau village. On retrospect the accident was rider error on an extreme road, and the fact that the café was closed was nobody’s fault.
The staff at the Macdonald’s probably wish they were shut too as twenty six bikers wanted feeding altogether, Lynn played crafty and ran up the hill to get their meals first, but they had to sit about for ages until we at the back got our food and took the rest earned. Feeding us in such places always causes a bit of a panic to the staff, but really we are only like a coach party…a very much younger coach party!
We began to move out eventually and Mark had trouble starting the trike but luckily we were on a hill so a quick old fashion jump start sorted it out. It was really hot now as the mid afternoon sun cooked the land and we were in a wind-less valley! We fuelled up in the town ready to make our ride south to Narbonne on the famous bridge, half rode out of the garage to wait just up the road when Mark stalled the trike again only this time it was as flat as a pancake. My CB began to play up too and it was getting hotter by the minute! Tom and I tried to push the trike but it still wouldn’t start and we didn’t have a slope of any kind at hand. After some more determination and a litre or two of sweat we got the bike breathing again! By now some were really getting hot and bothered and tempers frayed a little, well it’s to be expected we are only humans after all!
A difficult ride and hot ride followed as we rode through the congested town centre, we made our way to the bridge slip road high above us. I was at the back as usual urging folk to act a bit more like bikers and wiggle their way through the traffic instead of just sitting in line with the cars, I was very happy to start climbing up and out of the town, clear of traffic, pedestrians, traffic lights and bloody pet dogs! Wearing silly bike kit and helmets instead of speedo’s and sunglasses wasn’t helping one little bit either!
I forget how much the bridge toll was but it was lovely to be on it and so high in the cooler air AND moving at a faster pace. An eagle was spotted by several Wanderers and photographed by a couple of the lucky ones. We were on a fantastic bit of auto-route that ran steadily down and through the mountains, I’d pulled out and began going past the guys informing Barry that his “back door man” was about to pass him and go for a five minute blast, “See you 10 miles or so down the road byeeee” It is one of those moments you know will become a good memory, Fatha and M had pulled free with me and we chased each other for a while. The E-11 twisted and turned in and out of the brown jagged mountains, we had come up this way last year so this box was ticked as done in less than 12 months! A French biker latched onto us as we lost altitude at speed Fatha and I switched once or twice before slowing down to a crawl to wait for the group to catch up, the French guy was waving and grinning like crazy as he passed us, he had probably never before chased but lost two Honda Goldwing 1800cc motorbikes far ahead of him! Barry and the group where back again in no time and normality returned. Miles down the road a glitch was had as Barry and most of the group peeled off the auto-route and head North towards Montpellier instead of staying on the E-11. I said “See you guys lateronthen at the hotel”
I rode with two bikes behind me in the correct direction towards Narbonne. We came off the auto-route to ride along the old road down the coast, we pulled over at Coursan to our old supermarche for fuel and drinks, the six of us sat on the wall drinking a while before mounting up to ride the short few miles into town and the hotel. Not fifteen minutes later the rest of the gang turned up. We had done about 200 miles today though some did an extra 40 miles or so! They hadn’t gone the wrong way we are on holiday so they just went a different way instead! Folk washed and changed and went in search of a good meal in the centre, small groups formed, it would have really impractical to all go to the same place every time.
Wednesday was a day in Carcassonne just forty miles away, the city has a huge reconstructed castle wall around the top with period houses all inside. Some went there on the bikes whilst the older “Flat-liners” elected to go on the train.
It’s said that the Romans first built fortifications on the hill top around 100 B.C At some point when the Visigoths arrived and the importance of the city as it overlooked old French Spanish borders grew and grew. Much later in 1659 a treaty was signed and the border region became French and so the border itself moved back beyond the hills making Carcassonne less important as a thriving border post.
The fortified city itself consists essentially of a concentric design with two outer walls with towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is different from the medieval walls with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th Century and is still known as “The Inquisition Tower”. Today there is a museum “Musée de la Torture”, which shows some of the original torture equipment employed by the Catholic Church was struck off the roster of official fortifications under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. It was completley restored in after many years of hard work in 1853, its this structure that we saw today. It’s well worth a day to visit and wonder around its tiny tourist filled streets, this was our second visit and we still found bits that we missed the first time around.
We agreed to meet in the car park about four and went into the mountains again on rather an unplanned rideout, it’s just so inviting it has to be done as often as you can. Mazamet was the place we headed towards on some devine roads and with some help from some truckers we road in ecstasy! A Spanish trucker in particular was very helpful and stopped us when it wasn’t safe then indicated when it was safer to pass him, Gracias Senior!! A view point was found and we gathered on the wall overlooking Mazamet for a group shot as the Spaniard roared by hand firmly on his truck horn blasting and waving, we replied in kind. That few miles had been really good, the green trees and jagged boulders and rock formations were split in two by the smooth grey tarmac, Telford had the bit between his teeth again and he was hunched over and leaning again! I shouted “Spacings Telford” on the CB and he came back to reality and backed off from the slower grey trike of Mick and Anne. It was late afternoon and hot again, we would need drinks again soon so I suggested that Barry head for St Pons along an A road that cut up the valley floor in between the green wooded hills. There are plenty of villages around her but I found before that many didn’t have any shops, garages etc, so St Pons was picked because it was larger and would have the things we needed.
We turned south to Narbonne from here climbing up the valley and over the tops, the view from left to right and all the way down the coast was vast, a drifting Buzzard or two showed to be the only sign of life. Once again we coasted into Narbonne finding our hotel with ease, a couple of the girls opened the old wooden doors and we rode inside, it was a late return so a very quick change and out we went again to the square and a table here and there was found. The nights were all very enjoyable the food was great as far as I was concerned; The girls experimented with the various sweets, usually taking the soft option of ice cream! One night the waiter gave Julie a sweet with Vodka in it, she joked with the waiter about the remaining bottle of Vodka, he gave it to Julie to take home! I gave it to Barry not being a vodka lover unlike wife Tina.
Breakfast was a bit louder this morning as the riding tales were recounted to the Wanderers who had gone into Carcassonne by train. The receptionist looked on as people got to grips with the gurgling coffee machine, nobody dared to bang the bugger now!
Today we would ride in a different direction, I called it “The Castles Run” Everyone made their way into the huge garage next door after breakfast and got their bikes ready. Mick had a bungy cord holding his rear break in a fixed position in an effort to make it work to his liking, it wasn’t a problem to him it was more like a niggle, Mark had put his trike on charge at night determine not to have a flat battery like the other day, he was nearly positive now that he had left his lights on but putting the charger on was not a bad thing I suppose and a good remainder that he doesn’t do it again! The girls loaded the top boxes with things needed for the day, a cardi…just in case a few bottles of water an apple a few sweets and camera, suntan oil factor 50 and some Kleenex, one by one folk rode out into the morning sun and went up the road to the self service garage half a mile away, waiting at the hotel was not a good idea as it was on the corner and French wrecks zipped round like nobody’s business!
We were force fed the continental way of serving petrol yourself after inserting a credit card and following the prompts. These things have been around for years in France but are still quite new back home, after helping each other for the first time we had all soon got the hang of it, hey we were turning into seasoned explorers already!
A short hop up the main road to Lezignan-Corbiers then we turned left onto the dreamy yellow roads that meant good views and little traffic, when using the excellent Michelin maps if you used the minor roads (narrow yellow routes) you were in for great day and would see the real country rather than sticking to major (red routes) or auto routes (thick red and yellow routes) We went like this for an hour or so before pulling over at Lagrasse for a drink break and a little wanderaround on foot. We turned south now and rode our first pass of the day “Col de Villerouge” not huge at all but nice and twisty as it climbed high over the ridge line and back down the other side, the sun was not as hot today which I was thankful for, we were only about an hour from the border with Spain. This was the region of Aude and the land of the Cathars
The term Pays Cathare, French meaning “Cathar Country” is used to highlight the Cathar heritage and history of the region where Catharism was traditionally strongest. This area is centred around fortresses such as Montségur and Carcassonne also the French département of the Aude uses the title Pays Cathare in tourist brochures. These areas have ruins from the wars against the Cathars which are still visible today. We would throughout the day see a lot of ruins from those days.
We were now riding towards Mouthoumet before spending a little time at one such castle ruin, it was just past the village of Auriac, we parked where we could on the summit road and had a little wander, some actually climbed the ruins and took photographs of the plains below and behind us, it’s always fascinating to look back at where you have just come don’t you think?
Down the hillside we rode on a very narrow gravillion filled road. Le gravillions, poxy paint bashing stone chippings..bastard shingles..call them what you want but they put the grimace on the face of the most seasoned biker. In France it seems they don’t use much tar to make the damn stuff stick, they leave it to the following vehicles to tamper down the new surface, now and again we hit newly laid gravillions and had to take it really slow, the underside of the bikes were getting stone blasted and billions more spun round the inside of mud guards making the most fearful racket. I’ll never moan at my local council ever again!
Everyone physically relaxed when these areas were passed. We came across a strange sight ahead of us, they looked like the modern day Mary and Joseph complete with donkey, the woman even had a bairn wrapped in a cloth and was knotted around her shoulders, by the time I passed from the back the woman had had enough of being photographed and was shouting and waving me on, her man leading the donkey caught my eye and threw his eyes skyward, I nodded at him and throttled away.
A mile or so ahead we came across a fantastic sight that was the Gorges de Galamus, a long gorge with the road chiseled out of one side of the rock, it was all very grey and narrow, so narrow in fact that a “hoolie” of a gale was rushing through it.A viewing spot was at the end and we all pulled over to gaze back up the way, “Wow” was shouted several times, especially when one saw the little house right down there. We could see a cross on the roof and a little CCTV monitor! Deryck was gazing up one rock face to watch some climbers messing about with ropes on the sheer rock face. It’s something he used to do in bygone days so probably knew exactly what they were doing. I thought they were just plain bonkers.
Time to go Barry said and off we went down the hillside into the flat sandy coloured open spaces below. We stopped at the next village about thirty minutes away called St-Paul. As usual 24 mature English (and two Scottish) bikers overwhelmed the sleepy café and parked the bikes anywhere and everywhere, the one or two locals who were sat here drank up and made themselves scarce, the two lads tried their best and eventually got us all sorted, another young lad was dispatched to get more bread because they had run out! I chilled out and watched the Wanderers gel together over jam cheese and coffee, I remember being so excited on my first Wanderers tour it made me smile, seeing Mr Jones AKA “Fatha” swap Cumbrian insults with new friends. Lynne took over her table and force fed old John some coffee, Brian did as he was told around Janet who always had a quiet air of authority about her broken only by a squeeze and cuddle. My god what a family I have! Just then Tina aimed then squeezed a huge dollop of tomato sauce, missing Barry’s plate it splodged onto the table for me and Barry to dip our chips in she sat down giggling. By now folk had eaten and were paying up, l took my place in line with Tina to pay our due’s The bikes woke again and with whirring and purring they negotiated the uneven tarmac and stones to turn around and head out of the village going south even more. We collected ourselves just down the road and looked for the village of Maury and our furthest village south today, it was here that we turned towards the rising road away to the left. We had to find our little back road behind the village negotiating some really narrow fiat sized streets the kerb and house steps passed just really close to our feet, a little girl skipped across my path waving and shouting as we went by, her yellow pullover had a big hole in the elbow.
The twisting road ran up the Grau de Maury, I asked Barry to let me go up first and find somewhere suitable to photograph everyone coming up, I remembered from last time the backdrop looking over to Spain, it was fantastic. Today thought the cooler air meant a thin covering of cloud and a poorer view than I was expecting. I took the photos everyone waved as they went by but today the back drop was a disappointment, I remembered how lovely it looked the last time I was here.
At the top sat Chat de Queribus a mystical looking single structure with a view to die for…no doubt many did! We negotiated the shingly zig zag track up to it and took photos. A couple of bikes stayed at the bottom of the shingly spattered road opting for a quiet break on flat ground instead. We soon joined them and carried on our 180 mile round trip, another four castles were spotted in the next few miles, Aguilan being the largest. More villages came and went without a murmur, I had stopped being puzzled wandering where the people where, It was familiar sight in both France and Spain.
Another gorge came next, the road began to drop below the rocks when we were joined by a group of BMW’s trailie types I think they were Belgians. They sat happily on our tails for ages, the leader began to push through, it didn’t last though as their road weet different to us, a fleeting glance and wave was exchanged. This was another pass, this time called Col d’ Extreme, it really wasn’t though, not when you have done the likes of the Stelvio, I’m not bragging it’s just true. Lots of passes or Cols to give them their correct name over here are in fact roads chiselled deep into the rock side to follow the river that has over millions of years warn the softer rock away, so yes it is a pass in the true sense but not a high Alpine one that Barry and I love so much.
Through another village we collected a rasping 125 with two youngsters clung to it, the passenger was looking at us as Pierre Le Elbow on the front wrung the life out of the bike in an effort to stay in the group, blue smoke blew out of the short stubby exhaust, they turned off and watched us glide by never to be seen again.
We saw the blue signs for the auto-route north soon and knew Narbonne wasn’t far away, we joined a red road for the final ten miles the auto-route E-15 looked busy, this carried traffic south into Spain towards Barcelona. It lay first to our left then right as the road switched a couple of times. We had entered town from this road before and knew exactly where the hotel was now and so arrived pretty much as a group, no mean feat in town traffic. The usual wash and quick change before meeting people at the bar outside, only this time we used an Irish bar devouring nuts and drinks for an hour before hunting down a decent dinner table in the square for the evening. Chalk up a good day with a tidy 180 miles in the bag.
Today is Friday and a short ride to the beach at Narbonne-Plage was in store for everyone mainly because tomorrow was a long transit day to our second hotel 200+ miles away in Lourdes awaited us on Saturday.
I took the lead today and head out towards Coursan, the sun had returned as was slowly heating up everything and everyone, it would reach the high twenties before long! Barry took the back door for a change today, this was a novelty for both of us and not something we usually do. The road to the beach from Coursan is beautiful I’d shown Barry and Tom on Monday and now wanted to show everyone else. We cruised by Martin’s place honking and hollering as we went by caught Martins attention and he popped his head over the fence, He was mouthing something like..“Keep going please for Gods sake the fridge is empty!”
Coursan is a small village that sits on the remains of the old Roman road from Italy to Spain, its importance as a major truck artery still seems to be evident today, the roadside buildings have the characteristic coating of road dust and most of the wooden window shutter stay shut. There is a new motorway now, I mean auto-route! The is the E-15/80 which should take the bulk of the traffic, but it still seems heavy today and the houses are still encrusted in the dry brown stuff.
It’s a scenic ride to the beach I was saying over the CB when I spotted the bloody bastard Gravillions sign in front of us. Oh no, not here not today I groaned. I had to slow down as we trundled through the damn chippings, it made a fearful racket as they bounced up and into the fairing and bounced around front and rear mudguards. Lynne and John became concerned at the racket so much so that they asked me to pull over, finding a place for us all down this country road was easier said than done but we did eventually. They were right to be concerned at the noise, what was probably stone chipping caught in the brakes or something turned into something more. Barry escorted them back to the hotel ten miles away and began to find help with some phone contacts because the problem was a wheel bearing that had chosen this day to fail!
The rest of us continued to Narbonne Plage for the day, it made sense, there was no point in all returning, knowing Lynne and John they would have wanted nothing else. Unfortunately something like this happened a couple of years ago and they insisted the group carried on regardless. So Narbonne Plage it was with a customary shrug of the shoulders from me, I was “fekked of” with what had happened but these things happen and could happen to any of us at any stage of the tour, this is why we all have individual recovery insurance, I personally agree with John and Lynne’s philosophy. The day at the beach was a welcome break to riding.
I was attacked by a dog, or would have been if the lady hadn’t kept a hold of the bastard thing! I was just strolling by on my way to “Le bog” and the damn thing went into one! Jesus Christ I jumped a mile, I never even saw it! You can’t blame the swishing tails on the bike this time, no it deffo is me they want! From bloody Bulgaria to the Yorkshire Dales and now in the South of France they all hated me and wanted a part of me. They must have heard on the “dog grapevine” how I used to deliver meat as a butcher boy on my push-bike on Saturdays as a teenager and that my old dad got me some steel toe capped pit boots to kick the little bastards as I ventured on my delivery rounds especially down the old pit villages where the Jack Russell dominated. It’s funny how the tables are turned these days.
Telford began to flex his authority as he was asked to don an orange jacket on account that my CB was playing up somewhat and it was down to him halfway down the group to let Barry know what we were doing. Mick was having some trouble with his brakes over these past few days when Telford wondered up to the trike and mentioned his concern this as he depressed the rear foot lever of the trike. Mick and myself began to chuckle at Telford and our shoulders heaved together, finally Mick interrupted, “You idiot that’s not my trike, mine is over THERE!” It has to said Telford looked a right English plonker in those rubber 10 to 2 sandels with black ankle sock pulled up so high they reached his knees and shorts so low that only about one inch of white shin was showing a blue Sam Kydd hat and dark glasses, the huge man bag draped around his body finished him off, He looked so much like one of those 1970’s “Mr Gumby” characters from Monty Python, he made me laugh.
By the early afternoon folk had gathered back at the bikes and I led the way back inland to Narbonne, we went through some really scenic coastline and managed to pass by the resurfacing work on a converging road to meet the original road just metres from the newly laid tar less chippings, I really hate the Gravillions!
That night we heard the bad news about the purple trike and John and Lynne’s bad luck streak struck again. They would have to make their way to a garage in another town and wait a few days for the new part to arrive then for it to be fitted, it wasn’t a happy moment but there was nothing that could be done, they should be able to join us in a few days hopefully when it was fixed. Everyone made their way into town for dinner in their respective groups for the last time here in Narbonne. An early start lay in store for us on the morrow.
Bills were paid the previous night so it was just a matter of consuming bread jam cheese and coffee, saying thank you to the hotel staff, Wanderers went off on singles to the petrol station up the road, saying goodbye to Lynne and John, I didn’t want to linger around for long it was not a nice thing to say goodbye in such circumstances.
We had two routes planed for the transit day, to the next hotel at Lourdes, a wet run (Auto-route) and a dry run (side roads) we had looked at the weather and opted for the dry route. Russ, Elaine, David and Barbara opted for the auto-route and peeled off on the outskirts of Narbonne west onto the E-80. They would probably land first. It was about two hundred miles and would take us about six hours on the scenic route.
We rode towards Limoux for an hour or more in fine weather then up into the wooded hills and hit rain! Our speed dropped right off as we rode into the clouds, a brief stop at the village for coffee and patissiere brightened the mood somewhat, though it was becoming a “wet ride through gritted teeth marathon” rather than a comfy ride through nice countryside. We droned on towards Mirepoix the rain still persisted as did the fog like conditions as low cloud hit us as well some folk even complained of having cold fingers! A quick discussion and a recalculation was done, OK we would head towards the low ground out of the murk and rain. The town of Pamiers became our new destination.
Sometimes life is as basic as a choice of two and sometimes the roll of the dice is wrong! Today we would have been better taking the auto route with Russ and David along the low plains in the dry, but hey, that as they say is the roll of the dice and nobody is to blame! We looked for a fuel stop and ended up somewhere we didn’t want to really be and that was up a hill on a small tractor track seemingly on the road to nowhere! We realised this road was undesirable for Honda Gold Wings. Sat Nav was trying perhaps to take us the shortest route up this steep piddling broken track that just got extremely narrow! We decided to turn around at a farm, no mean feat in the wet damp conditions. Not many Wingers practice doing this back home, to turn around on a narrow pitted road on a hill side but hey this is the adventure part of our tours! People helped and supported bikes in turning around we all managed to shuffle round and got back down the hillside. I had a chat with the old curious farmer who poked his head out from the farmhouse. I got enough information from him in animated form and lots of pointing as to which direction we had to go to get petrol. Within a few minutes heading north it picked up the garage old Pierre the farmer mentioned, it was the same garage but this time it took us up the auto route, if we had searched for it before we left the auto route earlier we would had found it 15miles ahead of us….another roll of the dice I guess.
To be fair though It did looked like the next junction on the auto-route would be out of reach for the 1500’s amongst us, hence Barry and I agreed to leave it at this point to look for a garage in the next village or two before unfortunately heading into “Them Thar Hills” The next junction was in reach after all and so minutes later we piled into MacDonald’s after fuelling up and devoured dinner. It’s surprising how much better folk feel after a warm meal and in minutes everybody felt good to carry on.
We cleared the poor conditions after riding through a couple of villages and dried out quickly as we sped westward following the route of Russ and David towards Lourdes, on the auto route the weather was a lot warmer dryer and sunnier the blue sky returned as did the feel good factor. We stopped again for a break and shed wet weather kit. Lourdes wasn’t far away now, dampened spirits rose to the normal level, the Wanderers smiled again.
The junction for Lourdes came quickly and the first garage was our first port of call now. We waited for “Fatha” as the lady in the little hut ran out of till roll! His dour looks and comments probably rattled her somewhat. It had been a long day today and full of moments to remember, but not at the moment as we rolled into town and searched out the hotel, we went slow to allow Sat nav to direct us, I called out the halts and traffic lights, we were gelling well now though and nipped through lights and round standing traffic to keep together, allowing Barry to concentrate on following directions to the hotel.
We crossed the bridge over the river to reach our destination right in front of us. It was quite a large hotel with seven floors. The girls got us booked in, the hotel manager was on the ball and was there to greet us and direct us to the garage for the bikes. It was a capacious lock up, less than a hundred yards away and more than big enough for all our bikes, perfect! The view from the bedroom balcony was really nice too, the wide river ran gently through the town coming down from the high Pyrenees in the distance over to the right. Today was about 200 miles of wet and sunny weather. In little groups people head into the town to find dinner, several of us called at the bar next door for a few swift drinks, this process we followed every night here in Lourdes some wingers joined us on some nights whilst others did not and opted for dinner and a glass of wine such was the diversity of the group.
Today was Sunday and a visit to the a mountain railway was planned, we downed the morning breakfast of jam coffee bread and cheese before walking over the bridge to the garage. We formed up outside, yesterdays ride here was long forgotten. Barry sorted and I sorted ourselves out at the front and rear, Fatha strolled up and down the group chatting to anyone and everyone, “OI get on your bike Fatha!” People joined in the chorus. It was getting a regular stroll for him and became an amusing delay to the ride outs. We rode along part of the auto route before turning off and began climbing up high, the sun was back with us it was turning into another spanking day, the ride began to take on an Austrian “feel” the clear blue sky topped off the mountains to our left and right, it wasn’t quite as high or as rugged but one or two certainly had snow on the tops. After the village of Aucun we saw a local biking club on the move, mainly mature guys in spandex with one fat bloke with the biggest builders bum on show! Oh dear that must have spoilt the dream for the girls! Aucun village was left behind along with the bike crew, the road turned and climbed making its way up along the ridges taking us up higher we crested this wonderful ridge at 1475 metres at Col de Soulor.The car park was nice and empty for us and we piled in to park up wherever we liked, it was only about ten thirty so not many vehicles were up in the mountains, it was Sunday the roads would get busier later no doubt.
Months ago in the planning stage Barry and I had planned a short rideout to the train then have most of the day on top of the mountain range on a mini train, a chillaxing day out doing something really different. We had to book a particular time to take the cable cars up to the train which was also booked due to the size of the group, we had only two slots to choose from because the round trip on the train is a couple of hours long. We thought a quick ride would see us there in plenty of time.
Meanwhile back on the Col we took in the most breathtaking views, some of us had done this quite a few times but enjoyed it just as much as the new guys only the new guys were stunned into silence for a while. There was some kind of avian concern here too with statues and posters about the eagles, standing about waiting for a stroke stood several ponies and horses, I don’t know what the hell they were doing up here or who they belonged to but we spotted them throughout the day perhaps these guys were the Pyrenees version of our Dartmoor Ponies? After a good look at the first of today’s mountains we moved on. Everybody should go up the mountains of mainland Europe on a motorbike at least once before departing Mother Earth, it’s so good for the soul and puts our little lives into prospective.
Small grey stone chippings in England are laid over worn out road surfaces and are stuck in place by a carpet of tarmac substance, there is often a channel of loose stuff down the middle and a bit more down the edges right? Well over here when they repair the roads they just seem to lay the shingles without any sticky compound and leave it to the vehicles to press them down and the heat of the day to make them stick. I suppose it’s not a huge problem until you come across it on a motorbike then your slipping and sliding and staring at the road, picking your way through the heavy patches that always seem to be on the line you want to take. Now and then it’s poured into a pothole but you can’t really tell and if you are on any kind of lean the front just slews to the side as if riding on sand. It’s a test of nerves believe me, especially on mountain roads! So far it’s only France where I have come across this. Time was now conspiring against us as we slowed.
We saw triangle warning signs for ATTENTION Sur la GRAVILLIONS! “OH shit not up here too” I said. We had the stuff on the straight and level back in Narbonne and that was bad enough. Even with the sunshine, clear blue sky and fantastic scenery it wasn’t a pleasant ride for the next ten miles or so. I was at the back with two wings that were going quite slow and with good reason, Russ and Elaine had fallen off a few days earlier and were still feeling the physical effects and their confidence wasn’t 100% which in the circumstances was understandable. David and Barbara as the oldest couple were struggling a slightly. David had already decided to trike his wing before the tour because it was too big for him. They never fell off but gave me a scare once or twice. We made slow progress to catch up the main group who were going slow when the gravillions appeared in large numbers! Barry had to pull over to let us catch up. The time taken so far now became a concern
A few miles further on Barry stopped again at a village, he was troubled and thought we would miss our time slot for the train and chair lift ride. The gravillions and twitchy riders kept our speed really low this morning.
It wasn’t going to plan and Barry got a bit out of sorts, he went on ahead alone to see if he could get our time slot altered, I said it wasn’t the end of the world if we missed it, the road conditions don’t allow for us to make time up, best to forget it and just enjoy the day everyone was happy to be out and about. But no, it was the devil that got the better of Barry again and he rode off to the chair lift office, I felt this was pointless. “Fatha” took over the vacant lead position and promptly led us up a cul-de-sac on a hillside! We were obliged to perform a mass U turn on difficult ground! I got off to assist David and Barbara as he struggled and got his turn all wrong nearly riding into the bloody storm drain, I was holding him level as he tottered round urging him to use more power and accelerate away from the drain, which he did and wrenched my arm as I was still struggling to stop him toppling over. Nobody saw this, even David and Barbara were oblivious to my yelping! The funny this is he knew hills were going to be a problem months ago as he struggled on a cobbled short cut to Barry’s house for the pre tour briefing. Again I was there to rescue him and rode the bike up the cobbles, my first time on a bike on this road too.
“Fatha” got his bearing with Mistress Garmin and we sorted ourselves out back in the village setting off again this time in the right direction. We joined a major road now going south into Spain. We had left the cursed “gravillions” way back there now and biking speeds returned to normal. We came across a dam with cat paws in red climbing from bottom to top. Julie and I had seen this before but had approached it from PAU instead a couple of years ago on our own Pyrenees holiday. We twisted and climbed up and to the right of the dam wall, the road stretched out again and we were off again gaining speed oh yes I remember it now! At the other end of the dam we came to a large dusty car park area were Barry was waiting. Indeed we had missed our spot on the cable car and train. Nobody really cared, after a short break taking photos and just looking at what we would do, we decided to continue riding on this road into the mountains I knew it was a fantastic road with fantastic views and we could go to the border for a tea stop. Stephen and Jane had been this way on their trike too and agreed with us that it was worth going up the road.
With that sorted we got ready to move and bugger the train ride we had missed it but we didn’t really care we were going on our own pleasure ride under our own steam! The D934 began to climb as it pointed to the border ten miles away. People were encouraged to go on their own up to the border and enjoy it for themselves, some would race up others would poodle, the choice was theirs. I hung back with Barry and “Fatha” I said I would go up ahead and find a good corner to photograph them on their blast up the hill. It’s a bit difficult on “twisties” to park up somewhere flat and keep safe from the traffic. That said I managed it and was getting set up when a white van turned onto the grass in front on the corner then a car then followed it. It was too late to move elsewhere Barry and “Fatha” were making haste towards me and I did the best I could in the circumstance, Barry saw me and leaned a bit further gunning the engine, I got a couple of good shots but the van spoilt the image I was after.Never mind mate by the time we get to retirement age I’m sure I will have got the perfect shot on another mountain!
We got back on and sped after them twisting up around the spiralling tarmac as it made its way up the summit. We came across buildings and people, up ahead we saw glinting in the car park and people milling around the “Tat” shops. On the left I saw all the Wanderers had parked up together uniform like, whilst I as usual parked elsewhere in the car park. This spotwas known as the Pic du Midi d’Ossau and beautiful it was too. The shape of some of the tops looked like dried chocolate cake mix with a sprinkling of Thyme, some had a dusting of sugar near the tops.It certainly was not as high and rugged in these parts, granted there was spodges of snow on the very tops but you could see the vegetation spread nearly to the tops. It’s still fantastic and humbling all the same. We ambled the short walk to the border and had lunch out in the sunshine.
Deryck meanwhile took a ride on the back of Barry, he thought he’s lost part of his sat nav or camera I can’t remember which. Barry took him on a fats blast back down the mountain to the dam car park and back….where he found the missing bit……stuck in his clothing!
At our table as we ate lunch “Fatha” and I had the pleasure of a yapping dog in the back of the nearby pick-up truck, the little man was barking for no good reason I think he just liked to hear his own voice! After lunch, photographs and the purchasing of trinkets we made our way back down the way we came and would meet up at the dusty car park by the dam. Again I went ahead to try and set up a good spot to photograph everyone coming back down, I have to keep lookingbehind to see what the back drop was like before eventually choosing and finding somewhere to park up the wing that’s out of the way of the traffic. Julie counted everyone back, I deleted most except a couple of decent photographs That done we had a few minutes peace then mounted up and rolled slowly down the hill after the group.
A couple of bikes had pulled over and were staring across the valley maybe 150 metres away, as we came closer we saw vultures circling high up then loose altitude fast extending their legs and opening as much wing as possible to slow for a vertical landing, impressive indeed! We stopped to watch this spectacle vulture after vulture appeared from nowhere to spiral quickly down and land near the other up ahead. In all the years of spotting eagles, vultures and the like on our mountain rides we have never seen what we were seeing now. I rolled forward to catch up with the three or four bikes they were off and photographing the vultures on the ground.
We joined them and saw twenty of more vultures they had just about devoured a dead sheep.More were still spiralling down from high above, a couple were sat still less than a hundred metres away behind a few low boulders and were peering over the top at the feasting birds another rambler In a bright yellow shirt was moving closer to them and they began hopping away in that ungainly way they do when on the ground. Have you guys ever seen that animated football match that had those two vultures carrying the stretcher in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”? Well they were just like that. Tom said the whole sheep was bouncing as dozens of them ripped into it quickly consuming it. I guess nobody feeds these guys and they eat when they can. It would be a bad thing to crash and lay still for too long on this road!
The vultures hopped and skipped away as the yellow man tried to get closer and closer, the sheep looked more like a bloody rug now so we saddled up and rode the last few miles down to the dam and met up with the others, Russ and David had decided to go the more direct way back to the hotel the rest of us voted to carry on back the way we came in-spite of the ten miles of gravillions that lay before us. Though it’s awful to ride on its good practice and will make everyone that bit better a rider.The ride was much easier coming back, at least that’s what I thought!
Dave and Sandra slipped about a bit on the loose shale saying it felt like being on a bloody jet ski, He turned into “Fishman” for the remainder of the holiday. To be precise he became one of THE enemy fishmen from “Stingray” complete with the “wobblewobble” voice, many of us old farts remembered this and spoke like this to him, to the bemusement of locals!
Telford had got the bit between his teeth again and hugged over the bars making his trike go! He was really enjoying it in spite of the gravillions I couldn’t understand his style of parking though, the front wheel of the trike always seemed to find some grass to languish on, hence Telford became “The Lawnmower Man” We were getting quick off the mark when had a senior moment and were getting quite wicked towards each other! Even Mark made the headlines as he overtook a car and hit the coming bend a bit hard and managed to get the trike up on two wheels, much the consternation of Jeanette gripping the rear seat limpet like! I’m sure we all did the same or similar when first learning how to ride two or three wheels. Safe to say he got chastised and wouldn’t do that again so soon!
We pulled over for the last tea stop of the rideout at Col d’Aubisque, once again the car park had horses roaming around some with foals, I watched one such foal nibbling the rear spoiler of a flashy car. I looked on open mouthed, the sound alone was making me wince. Julie commented that’s what they do all the time they are just exploring it with their teeth and lips, all I can say is I’m glad it’s not my bloody car and went and stood near the bike.
It was late afternoon now as we poured from the car park leaving the horses to their nibbles, it was still bright and sunny with not a cloud in the sky, what a great day it had been in spite of the glitch earlier in the day. We rode back down the mountains to rejoin the auto-route for the short run back into Lourdes. We tucked the bikes away in the lock up and walked back over the river to the hotel the guys who left earlier to come back the quick route were up there on the balcony and toasting our return. A drink will go down nicely I thought as we tramped back to the hotel in our bike kit, the bar at the side of the hotel would see us there in an hour or so. We had all enjoyed the days rideout very much today.
So to the bar and some drinks with whoever was there, usually Tom and Michelle would be the first there followed by myself and Julie close behind came Mark and Jeanette, we got on really well and repeated this jolly event on most nights, practically the whole group came for a pint one night and we took over the outside area for an hour or so, the staff were more than happy to accommodate, on other nights it was just a few of us several times we were joined early doors by the likes of Barry and Tina Mark and Ann before they took themselves into town for a meal, we on the other hand laid down our hats in this bar and were quite happy to use the excellent menu in the eatery part on several nights just downstairs, we did make our way into town to explore the other eating houses but preferred to go later than most of the group, going into the bar for a couple of hours most evenings was not everybody’s cup of tea, we revellers had gelled way back in Narbonne on chairs surrounding that bloody neon traffic light and had continued until the end of the holiday!
Monday was going to be a rest day. I wanted the day to have a look around the town of Lourdes. Others wanted to go out on the bikes again so Barry took a group off into the mountains, another small group went their own way for the day with Steve and Jane, I think. These guys had been down here before so knew a few places to have a look at. I remember talking with Barry ages ago as to why we like doing APPY WANDERERS tours and it is to show folk what it’s like on the continent and to encourage them to ride their bikes and go explore. This was now happening often I’m glad to say. We joined the group as they sorted themselves out with maps, sat nav’, gloves, bottled water and other pararafinalia for the days ride out. Barry was soon ready and waited for everyone to climb aboard and wave to him that they were ready, they all did so after a few minutes and slowly pulled away, the Appy Wanderers music train was on its way for another day in the mountains only this time without me and Julie. After they had left we returned to the hotel and collected our bits for our ramble around this famous town.
Lourdes had the obvious man made attraction or should I say “myth” perhaps? Following the reports in 1853 that Our Lady of Lourdes had appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on a total of eighteen occasions, Lourdes had developed into a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of alleged miraculous healings. The 150th Jubilee of the first apparition took place on 11 February 2008 with an outdoor mass attended by approximately 45,000 pilgrims. Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000 but is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris.
There are so many shop selling tons of paraphernalia relating to “Our Lady” I’m not sure if I should refer to them as souvenir shops it was quite serious, the atmosphere wasn’t the same as a seaside or touristy place it was a lot quieter. We walked around quite gobsmacked at the spectacle I’m a bit of a cynic I know but I was amazed at the wall to wall shops all selling the same stuff and all full of grown adults buying. I don’t intend to insult the Roman Catholic faith but as an outsider it really did look like “tat” Almost every shop had small empty plastic bottles of various sizes, some even had 2.5 litre containers more used to holding cleaning fluids, these were for collecting holy water and taking back home. One glaring contradiction was a shop selling all the above yet had a counter selling Tazer guns flick knives and mace!
I guess it’s all down to belief and I just don’t have it, in fact my belief went out of the window when sat in R.I class as a twelve year old to be told by Ms Schoefield my fanatical R.I teacher about some bloke being turned into a pillar of salt, and the feeding of the five thousand, with some fish and a bit of bread. I just couldn’t get my young head around it and when I asked I got a bloody chalk filled board rubber across the back of my head for my ignorance. If that was religion you can fucking shove it I thought. Forty years on and I’m still of the same mind!
We soon wandered down to the centre of the attraction we only went into the grounds to take a closer look at the Basilica and take some photo’s because it was an awesome looking building. Yearly from March to October this Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a place of mass pilgrimage from Europe and other parts of the world. I saw one cross with the words LEEDS written on it.Today there seemed to a lot of folk from Spain here. It’s written that an estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860. At the time of the apparitions the grotto was on common land which was used by the villagers variously for pasturing animals, collecting firewood and as a garbage dump, it possessed a reputation for being an unpleasant place, it’s amazing what a bit of spin can do isn’t it?
We got there as dozens and dozens of wheel chair bound folk were moving to the shrine nurses and young helpers were pushing them, these poor souls looked in quite an awful state with more than just a twisted ankle or a bad back. Following them dozens of bath chair type wheel chairs with the small wheel at the front with a steering bar on it, the occupant lain prone inside, bags and drips where visible, some looked to be at the end of their days. Again nurses and young helpers pushed and pulled them, these people looked even worse than the first bunch. Perhaps they were all going to be blessed? I didn’t know nor did I want to impose and ask one where they were going but I could understand now how such folk wanted to believe. Words like despair and hope came to mind for these helpless chair bound people I have to admit that even though I didn’t believe, it was a bit of a moving moment. We spent about an hour around here looking and watching, at the grotto huge lines of people fell in line to walk past the spot where the apparition showed itself and touch the wall, the wall was quite black with grease from so many hands I watched one old lady rub a handkerchief along the wall before swiftly secreting it in plastic bag it then into her handbag, many guides stood around controlling the area, if anyone actually stood at the wall they were quickly ushered along. People bought candles they ranged in size from little ordinary household one’s to huge three foot monsters they handed them to these guides who placed them in special little booths and lit them. I thought the small ones might burn out by the end of the day but not the huge ones so what happened to them overnight I wonder? A couple of us where commenting about this when one of the guides looked at us and motioned that we should “Shush” Hmmmm, very suspicious indeed and so I drew my own conclusion of what was going off here. That night at the bar we talked about it with other Wanderers back from their day out. But to be honest I still don’t get the religious thing and after seeing it with my own eyes I decided it was all a sham and thought honest folk where being exploited.
After breakfast the next day I stood outside with Barry and looked up at the slight drizzle and cloud, unfortunately in Lourdes you can’t see the sky very far because of the surrounding mountains, we pondered a little and thought it would get better as we rode out of the valley, well we would find out and got ready for the days ride. The best rideout of the tour was in store for me today and I didn’t know it! We had looked at the route earlier and decided to change it due the heavy presence of Le Gravillions around these parts especially on those spanking little twisting mountain roads that Barry and I love so much, sadly though some nerves and riding ability was being stretched a bit much to be considered comfortable. We were on holiday after all and not participating in the 2011 version of Death Race 2000! I told myself there will always be another summer and smiled. Bossost and the exquisite squiggly mountain road would have to wait until next time as will the mountain top train ride.
We left Lourdes at around ten in the morning and rode a different way after filling up with fuel at the self service station by the supermarche, we were all pretty expert with this method now and sailed through with no fumbling or fretting. We took a pretty road east through the lowland country side and ran parallel to the Pyrenees. The weather picked up considerably as we cleared the valley, today I took Jeanette on the back for her first ride on a 1800 whilst Julie took a ride on the Panther 1500 trike with Mark. Ahead suddenly we saw cloud, dark grey ones that had water in them, I looked intently as Barry shouted up about the stuff perhaps I had spoken too soon! We were about fifteen minutes away from it and closing, an odd thing happened next and the sun burst out bathing us in warm air, the haze was now on our right and we missed it completely! Back home in England the opposite would have happened for sure! In a car it just wouldn’t have had the same impact. A comment heard years ago came to mind again. “Driving in a car in beautiful scenery is like watching a movie but riding on a bike is like being IN a movie”
We now turned south into the mountains heading up a main trunk road up the Vallee Daure A supermarche at the village of Arreau showed itself to us almost bang on request! It was a parody to that old Monty Python sketch about the bicycle repair man (John Cleese) who just happens to be there every time when Micheal Pailen had a puncture as he rode around the countryside. It was a sleepy shop until the Appy Wanderers poured in and bought food and drink for the mountain top picnic, with after thought somebody should have bought a fekkin cattle prod, more about that later! The toilet was well visited, some lingered at the cold shelf to sneak a bit of cool breeze, its true I saw them loitering with jackets open.
We rode back down the road and turned left onto D918 a yellow road on the map with green borders denotes scenic routes and the fact that it looked like a sidewinder snake meant it was a mountain road, the most perfect combination as far as I was concerned, I just hoped the accursed Gravillions hadn’t reached these parts.I shot off in front of everyone to find a good photo position, glancing behind on the bends to see the view required for my photograph. I stopped a few times but wasn’t quite satisfied of the view or the parking of the bike. I persevered because it would have been a crime not to try and get some brilliant shots of Wingers in such beautiful surroundings. Eventually I found a spot that looked great and was safe enough to park, I lodged myself in some rocks just after the corner and waited for the stars to arrive meanwhile Julie sat further along and took in the air.
All too soon the peace was fractured by the smooth distinct loud whirr of the first of the Wanderers, it’s not the meatiest bike sound but the comfort pleases me more these days. I clicked away as they blew past me, everyone smiled and waved. Julie counted them by and we mounted up again to catch up it was a good twenty minute climb up the green trees, the road found its way round some hills and assaulted others head on with a series if zigs and zags, not severe by any means to people who had ridden the Alps which most here had done, the road surface stayed old warm and sticky smooth.
Lynne and John meanwhile were still on the south coast waiting for their trike to be repaired. The wheel bearing was still waiting to be replaced, in fact they were going to have both rear wheels done it made sense after all. Janet kept in touch with Lynne and passed on their progress, they felt sure they would be ready to join us at the overnighter on our return up through France to the “Chunnel” They had hired a car and where making the best of things down there on the south coast.
We were soon at the top and pulled onto the shale car park, we looked back down the way we had come. It was a great panoramic view to behold, green topped hills in the near and middle distance far off one could see higher lumps, the colours had gone a softer purple haze they were so far away but you could just see snow caps here and there. The road we had come up could be seen twisting down and round the mountains. In fact this was part of the Tour de France route and due to start in just a couple of weeks, I do hope they have better luck with the bleeding gravillions that we did, I imagined the horrific rash they would incur when they fell off. There would be more skin on the road than a dead cat for gawds sake! For you Tour de France followers this was the Col d Aspin. The pass has been part of the Tour de France 66 times and is 1489 metres in height.
The girls pulled picnics out of top boxes and side panniers and groups of us sat on the grass and began to chill and munch, oh what a great spot for a picnic, Then came Daisy “La Femme Fatelle” Of all the cows in the world…all 1.3 billion of them we had to meet Daisy!
At the other side of the road stood and sat herd of cows all basking in shyte and sunshine, except for Daisy that is, we had plonked ourselves down on her patch of grass without realising it, naturally she ambled over for a bite with us and waved her sharp horns happily as she got closer, people got up and moved further up the hill out of her way some sat and thought they could “Shoo” her away but Daisy wasn’t having any of it she was hungry and came right up to people. The adverts portray doe eyed cows with the most perfect eye makeup as gentle soft things but forget to impress they weigh and average of 1200lb, whereas an average man weighs a mere 180 lbs. So you’d get out of the way right? It’s not rocket science is it
With this firmly blotted from “Fatha” he tried to stand his ground between Daisy and his wife and picnic. He tried to push her away but without a cattle prod or a twelve bore shotgun quite frankly he stood no fekkin chance in hell as Daisy gave him a hefty nudge leaving him with a wicked bruise on his belly from one or her horns. It was Barry’s turn now, He decided to grab Daisy by the horns and wrestle with her! God only knows what was going through both their heads as Daisy made short work treating Barry like some annoying shit-fly flicking away his hands with a swish of her head, thankfully she didn’t stick him with her horns. Tell me again mate what size are then nice shoes of yours? Finally everyone gave Daisy a wide berth until she realised our food wasn’t exactly what she had in mind and turned to wander off back towards the others. It wasn’t a funny moment to be honest and could have seen somebody injured. There were some clenched sphincters’ I can tell you! Speaking of which, did you know that the sum total of the world cattle population is responsible for 18% of planet Earths greenhouse gases and in fifty years at the rate of expansion it’s going to double?
We had the rest of our lunch in peace and took photographs before collecting ourselves and our rubbish back onto the bikes for the next leg of the ride. We decided to ride down as single bikes to the bottom the solo ride was spectacular, a few played with each other passing and re-passing each other. I pulled away quickly to find a spot and take photos again, I stopped by a post with sign stating what the road was, it was significant as part of the Tour de France. I thought I got some good shots, again we were last to meet up with everyone at the bottom. Wow! That was a good blast and judging by their faces The Wanderers had enjoyed the exciting blast down the mountains too.
I waved and called to Barry indicating we set off again, we would now be going up again so agreed to make our way up to the next stop at the village of La Mongie. We were getting higher than before now as the Pic du Midi de Bigorre showed itself high to our right, this was a mountain of 2782 metres. It really was a day of going up and down with spectacular views at the end of each summit climb. I stood on the village plinth and took more photos of Wings arriving to park up in the square behind me and with the usual beaming smiles got off and stood around looking up at the mountains. Some of us had a browse in the shops until someone shouted that the bikes were sinking into the tarmac! Some of our side stands were sinking into sort tarmac, it wasn’t that hot to make us wary of the soft tarmac, maybe it was substandard stuff? Luckily someone noticed the sinking side stands and averted a small catastrophe…..Thank you Brian and Janet!
We had another summit to ride up and so I set off to look for another great backdrop and ready myself to photograph the group as they came up. Julie and I soon got settled, she was sat watching a helicopter ferry equipment from the summit top to about half a mile away down the valley, it looked like pieces of pylon.Meanwhile I was in a ditch lying flat out pointing the camera down the valley hoping to get some worms’ eye shots as The Wanderers cruised by just five minutes later. Following on we rejoinedthe group at the very top of our last summit of the day. This was the The Col du Tourmalet and is one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France. It has been included more than any other pass, starting in 1910 when the Pyrenees were introduced. The first rider over was Octave Lapize who went on to claim the yellow jersey in Paris. Since 1947 the Tour has crossed this summit 47 times. Since 1980 it has been ranked as exceptional. At the col is a memorial to Jacques Goddet director of the Tour de France from 1936 to 1987, and a large silver statue of Octave Lapize gasping for air as he struggles to make the climb. I saw a group of breathless but very happy Japanese bikers gather under the statue with their lightweight bikes and take snapshots of each other. Bloody long way up on a pushbike I thought to myself.The view ahead was fantastic we could see the road slowly twist its way down the mountainside like a single grey thread, one could see it all the way down to the tea hut on the valley floor and our next stop, this break was just for photographs and a “look-see” A warm breeze swept up over the ridge and white winged finches played on the wing as they darted between folk grabbing tit bits. One by one we set of down, gently tipping the bikes into the first decent, this time Julie and I took a gentle stroll down and took in the whole scene, part way down I saw Tom and Michelle had stopped and were capturing scenes with their video camera. I turned off the engine and free wheeled the quarter of a mile to them on a corner, rolling slowly past them shouting “Brum brum!” I hope that scene comes out Tom. The café at the bottom was quiet until we arrived the waitress became busy as folk ordered tea and snacks, I sat a way down the road taking it all in quietly and went to look at a rebuilt stone farm dwelling, between the building you could catch glimpses back up the valley, what a great place to live!It was late afternoon and soon time to push on back to Lourdes now, we rode off down the valley. We rejoined the short D821 auto-route back to Lourdes, the garage and our hotel and the inevitable bar on the corner! What a brilliant day’s riding it had been, and then it started to drizzle slightly but we got back before we got wet. The bar was next again for an hour or two later in the evening as we had dinner in town thunder and lightning was getting closer and after a short walk we hurried back to our bar as the first rain drops fell. Gods symphony arrived to the first deep drum roll and loud crash bangs! The lightshow light up the town and whip cracked around us with piercing notes, we got settled into chairs to watch the show, an exciting end to an exciting day….My round is it? It was now Thursday and the drizzle was still here, the cloud was low and heavy, Barry and I studied the grey sky and decided to call it a rest day. I don’t mind being caught in rain on a ride-out but I didn’t relish setting off in rain for a ride-out and didn’t think anyone else would either so a rest day in Lourdes it was.
After breakfast we drifted off into town some of us took the road train trip around town, how crap that was! It showed us where the bloody car parks where and not much else, still it passed half an hour. We explored the Basillica and this time we went inside. Once again I was amazed at the amount of people who had so much faith in it all. The church was a fantastic building just to look at as are most churches and in spite seeming a soulless heathen I quite enjoy looking round them. We of course looked in at and the magic fountain and stood bemused by the constant stream of people wanting just to be there and touch that very spot.
We made our way up to the castle and had a nosey inside, Julie and I tried to visit previously but the arse on the door waved me away briskly saying “Closed closed go away now” Today we got the timing right and had a interesting couple of hours, it seems most of The Wanderers had the same idea and we saw nearly everybody during the afternoon visit!
Besieged in 778 by Charlemagne it became the residence of the Counts of Bigorre in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the 13th century, it passed into the possession of the Counts of Champagne part of the kingdom of Navarre before coming under the crown of France under Philippe le Bel It was ceded to the English by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, before returning to France at the start of the 15th century after two sieges. In the 17th century, the castle became a royal prison and a state prison ( I can’t get away from work can I?) After the French Revolution continuing in this role until the start of the 20th century when it became the Pyrenean Museum which it remains. It is the largest museum of popular arts and traditions in the Pyrenees. We settled into a different eating house for the evening before drifting back to the hotel and our bar hoping that Friday might be a bit dryer.
A new day dawned and the piggin drizzle and low cloud was still with us, Barry went off to find some information after talking to Steve and Jane who mentioned some underground caves nearby that were worth a visit. A coach was due to go if enough folk would book, enter The Appy Wanderers and the trip was on! We might be on a bleeding bus (Where is my schnapps Barry?) but at least we were still going out and about exploring.
It was a short ride into the discovered about 1810, strangely it was first explored by English people living in the nearby city of Pau, eventually it was opened up, made safer and was open to the general public in 1903. It’s the biggest deepest cave complex I have ever been into, we walked down deeper and down further, the stalactites and stalagmites’ have formed over millions of years and are huge in size, some have dripped into odd shapes and are lit for all to admire, in fact they are forming even now, the drip drip dripping of the seeping water is never ending, the caves were very deep and long. It was a long visit with plenty to goggle at, I had spent over ten years underground as a coal miner but had never seen anything like this and was suitably impressed, I think everyone was and of the day was success in spite of the damned weather!
We had our special Appy Wanderers prize giving dinner to look forward to tonight and a special rendition of the tour log so far…it would be the special unadulterated version and no the one you reading right now! Dinner was organised by Barry at our hotel.
After the cave tour Barry and Tina had gone out to buy special gifts for the winners of category. I had also been shopping and had a surprise for Barry. It was all meant to be a bit of fun and to give everyone a laugh at the end of a good holiday. So we all gathered for dinner in the dining hall, just a small group from Spain sat eating in the other hall so we could be as loud as we normally are! We sat together for the first and only time of the tour. I stood and took photos as Barry rattled of his speech about the tour and how it had gone.I agreed wholeheartedly with what he said about the tour but would like to add that it was a great deal of hard work too hence my need for days off the bike and days away from folk! Thinking back now it was a great adventure and not just a holiday in the sun. I think this every time but always a week or two after the event. Then another piece of paper appeared and the awards were launched! I’m not going into it in detail because it will ruin it for you future Wanderers who go on tour, let’s just say there was much laughing, jeering and cheering as the rise was taken in typical fashion, we all knew each other fairly well and it was taken in good spirits. Dave Roberts aka “Fishman” take another bow my man you were nearly as entertaining as Telford on his lawnmower on the roads!
Saturday morning was going to be busy for everyone as we were moving out and heading back up country on our first leg homeward bound. In fact most of us were ferrying bags from the hotel to the bikes that late afternoon before the dinner pre-empting the frantic rush in the morning and most everyone paid their bills on the Friday evening too, making the morning as simplistic and smooth as possible.
Breakfast was the usual coffee, bread jam, meats etc. Its funny what you can soon get used to. The weather had come clean and the sun was out which meant the flippin drizzle and damp clouds was gone, we waived Lourdes goodbye then hit a roundabout to come back into town and exit on the correct road, we waved goodbye again then pointed ourselves towards Pau and the main road north towards Bordeaux.
Julie and I came this way two years ago and travelled on a minor road along miles and miles of forest I remembered that it seemed to go on forever, this was the region of Landes with Bordeaux at the top of it and Biarritz at its southern tip. A dotted line showed a new motorway under construction, the Garmin started to play up and insisted we did a U turn constantly for the next few minutes. Barry was having the same trouble up at the front, we had a chat on the CB and eventually decided that we must have ridden onto the new northbound motorway, every now and again I saw the old road going parallel convinced we were heading in the correct direction for Bordeaux we turned off the Garmin’s until we got a bit closer. The new road was so new that there wasn’t any stones or gravel, bits of rubber on the fresh paint on the tarmac, no residue at all from the traffic speaking of which, hardly a car was spotted for the whole run up to Bordeaux. We pulled over at a service station to top up our tanks, everything looked brand spanking new so new in fact that they hadn’t put signs up to direct traffic back onto the auto route, we had a little ride around until something made sense. Dave commented that if we carried on like this he would have to fuel up again, I began laughing and thought “You shouldn’t have said that right now mate” Barry’s short Saxon reply was, well it was expected as he and Tina struggled to find our way out of this tarmac and bollard maze. I have to admit I was laughing at Dave’s silence and could imagine his shock at being told what to do, I’m giggling now as I type this. I know my mate quite well and just KNEW what he was going to say in reply, that’s what made it all the more hilarious at the time!

The Garmin readjusted itself as we rejoined the auto-route and pressed on towards the busy bustling city of Bordeaux. We soon joined the ring road and had to follow it halfway around the city to rejoin the northern auto route. It was really busy with trucks in particular we tried to keep in the centre lane, the heat from the trucks blasted us as we negotiated our way forward, some vehicles passed through us as they switched lanes, we had ridden as a group for two weeks now and were used to each other and of riding in a group so the run around Bordeaux went without any problems, emerging onto the E606 was a relief all the same, the traffic eased considerably as did a few bums.
I thought the hard part was over now and it was a case of riding with the flow towards Angouleme, the road switched from auto route to main road a few times but we hardly noticed any difference, Poitiers was the next waypoint, the auto route switched to main road as we rode through the industrial edge of the city, we soon saw the centre over to our left but were too busy with a dozen or more roundabouts to take a long look, the traffic was behaving and we were doing just fine we sometimes got split at the lights and so a quick shout up to Barry had him slow the lead bikes enough for us to catch up before the second set of lights could drive a wedge between us and cause problems, we got it just right and made it through as one group even when a little car tried to mate with me! She waved sorry as she got back into her lane.
I knew some didn’t have CB’s so couldn’t hear tips and prompts from either Barry or myself. I didn’t want them going off on a different road due to gaps. I know everyone had maps and the location of the hotel but I was eager nobody went astray all the same. Sometime I had to sound my horn to get people’s attention and for them to to see me indicating right. But mostly Id kept vehicles away from our rear. I started this two weeks ago when a Discovery tried to cut in front of David and Barbara as they slowly weaved their way round the terminal at Folkestone, I pulled up at the side of the car and motioned with a smile that he should refrain.
Meanwhile up at the front Barry and Tina had their hands full finding their way forward spotting signs whilst listening to the Garmin and trying to make sure the lead trikes kept in touch behind. He often offered words of encouragement to keep together
The auto route morphed, growing from the main road as we cleared Poitiers and up the speed went as we pushed on to our hotel in the next city, today we had ridden about 350 miles to our hotel in Tours again. Several more fuel and tea stops were made, it wasn’t a race but we intended getting there before six, we were on the world’s finest touring machine so it would be easy peasy lemon sqeezy!
Meanwhile word had got to us that Lynne and John where actually in Tours now and awaiting our arrival, they would get the code and open the barrier for the underground car park.
It was sometime after four in the afternoon when we landed at the barrier behind the Tour’s hotel, sure enough the two strays were there and had the barrier raised, we all swooped down the hole like giant bats returning from a food raid. The hotel wasn’t manned up when we poured out of the lift from downstairs, she came rushing from other duties and booked us all in, they agreed to open up the breakfast bar early for us in the morning, a dash to the chunnel was not something advisable so time was built into the last leg and we needed to eat earlier than the hotel served breakfast, they agreed to facilitate us and word was passed to the Wanderers as they flitted around the foyer later waiting for each other before strolling out for dinner.
I teamed up with Tom, Mark and the girls for another evening of fun. We made our way into the old part of town stopping off at the first watering hole for a drink. We joined other Wanderers all ready there for a drink or two before strolling off in search of good food. I fancied a place on the outside layout with the live group in the square, they sounded good and so sat down to listen, we got a menu and drinks then ordered food, today we took the plunge and ordered horse meat. Horses not only look good but tasted wonderful! It was a really nice last night in France, later we spotted another large group of Wanderers enjoying themselves in the square but in the opposite corner. We made our way back not too late or too full. Another early start was on the cards in the morning and missing our allocated train back to England was not going to happen!
The breakfast bar was buzzing at seven as coffee tea bread meats and jam were purloined we all sat around eating and chatting. it was a busy hour as folk ate purposely, some were down at the bikes early packing away the last shoe and wash bag. Barry and Tina were up quite early and were now outside at the form up point. I made sure everyone was present and made sure nobody had any problems, as the last bike left I had a quick walk around to make sure nobody had left anything on the floor, satisfied I rode out of the garage and joined the end of the group by the road side. Barry was talking to the triker people as I joined for a quick chat, as I walked down the group a blue Gold Wing slowly toppled over!
Within a blink of an eye several of us rushed to Jan as she lay on the pavement, Deryck was quick onto his feet and his bike was righted with no damage, we lifted Jan up and dusted her down, It’s a bit of a face looser when one drops a bike like this and for no apparent reason, no fuss was made we just made sure both were ok and looked over the bike quickly. Honda Goldwings are heavy lumbering beasts to paddle round at 0 mph, these minor “fall offs” happen infrequently, transferring the whole of the bikes weight from the side stand to ones own feet is something we do every time we get on the bike, and if the camber is not level, or there is some stones underfoot or one gets distracted or the passenger shuffles about at the wrong moment then the whole lot goes over I’m afraid!
So with the blue bike sorted we set off out of Tours on an early Saturday morning. Tours and the hotel was a good choice and I was glad we stopped here for the halfway hotel in both directions. We rode through the city traffic lights no problem. At this time of the morning there weren’t many cars or buses to look out for either
It was still early as we followed Barry down the spiral ramp onto the E502 settling for a good ride on an empty road, It was a lovely sunny morning too. The fields were turning golden as the summer sun did its work on the crops to our left and right, there still wasn’t much traffic yet so cruising along at 140…please take note J.B I’m talking about kilometres and not mph before reporting me like you tried last time just stick to bullying and lying your good at that.
Julie called out when a huge bird came into view sat on one of the many road side posts, mostly these were brown speckled chaps with hooked beak, feet encased in shiny yellows boots and keen dark eyes, they are beautiful looking creatures that deserve to be called something a bit grander than a Buzzard! The thermals were not sufficient yet and they just sat there saving their energy and waited for something to be killed on the tarmac on their behalf.
This went on for a while until we rode into the northern region of Normandy, the landscape changed to hills, trees and hedges and a good deal more human habitat, we rode past the famous old town of Alencon and the ancient city of Rouen, the cathedral is well worth a visit here and you can park up right next to it if I remembered correctly, today though we followed “toute directions” round the edge of the city to rejoin the auto route again, this time on the E 402,we got through Rouen quite easy with no drama, now we headed for Abberville, Boulogne and finally Calais. We had made good time and had a long stop for lunch, we had made so much time that we thought about having a break on the nearby Normandy coast, Barry and I both believed in “Sods Law” so we decided against it.
Riding across a new white bridge that curved and climbed across to the hill top across the valley, at the top if you looked to the left you could spot the coast. Then it hit us. Bloody fog, where the hell had this come from? Somebody shouted up “Have we arrived in Lancashire already?” We were in some thick stuff and slowed down to about 40 mph then 20mph everyone locked onto the tail lights of the bike in front. We had plenty of time and this time the roll of the dice was good! The fog cleared then returned several times before the Garmin told us the turn off was just a few miles away, thankfully the fog cleared finally and the signs for the tunnel terminal began to appear. This was on the southern side of Calais so no town to negotiate and we would arrive in such time that we got an earlier train
We filed into a couple of rows to punch in our ticket details, punch being the operative word, the screens were so worn out that several Wingers had to really bang the screens. We passed through more check points and customs showing passports and smiles.In another line a dozen Harley riders from the Medway Chapter chugged by, they said they had been touring to Brugge for a week. Brugge was just 75 miles from the tunnel and they all lived in the Folkestone area so probably hadn’t done more that a 150 miles from home to Brugge. They asked where we had been and replied “South of France and the Pyrenees for two weeks” knowing how little distance they had covered I couldn’t resist adding “Only about 3000 miles.”
We were directed onto the empty train through the last carriage where a twenty foot section of the side door had rolled up into the roof, we rode on and slowly rode the entire length to park up with front wheel nudged into the walkway, on the side stand and left in gear. No straps are needed, it really is that smooth. we took photos and said goodbye to some who were going in a different direction Mick and Anne Brade for example where were to peel off left heading to Hampshire. Barry and Tina had elected to make the last leg to Keighley when the train docked, it was only 280 miles and late Saturday afternoon, they would probably be home well midnight. I on the other hand elected to stay over at the same hotel in Maidstone that we had used on the way down. We got there in about thirty minutes to find that Russ and Elaine and booked tables for the evening meal bless! These two along with Mark and Jeanette got through customs a bit quicker than the rest of us and took an earlier train. As we sat in the bar an hour later we saw a fair few others had the same idea and one by one pulled into the car park, Aha it wasn’t going to be a quiet evening after all. C’mon you “Flat-liners”!
To be fair we didn’t go mad with the drinks because we still had the last leg to do in the morning, it still didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves though. Breakfast was had by everyone unlike two weeks earlier! It was nice to have a greasy heart attack breakfast after two weeks of coffee, bread, cheese meats and jams! Mark and Tom planned to come up from their digs in Folkestone shortly after breakfast for the run up home. We were just loading up the bike when they arrived.
We said our goodbyes to this year’s Appy Wanderers tour members, some we would see again in a few weeks, the rest we will see later in the year probably. It was a hot sunny morning as Tom, Mark and I pointed our bikes onto the M20 and head towards London, it was Sunday morning the roads would be empty, at least they were until we came to the toll booths at the Dartford Tunnel, the lines of traffic went on for miles, we sat for a while and watched the temperature gauge slowly creep up. Mark on the trike suggested Tom and I wiggle on through the traffic, hopefully we would meet up once clear of the M25. There had been a bad accident near the booths and several seemed to be closed, I saw a yellow jacket on the far right stood at a booth and made my way to him. Tom stuck to me and followed. The man shouted something about being in the wrong lane, I played dumb and kept saying sorry but I didn’t know (which of course I new full well) He shook his head and stuck his key in the barrier box which lifted and we both passed through shouting our thanks. Tom said somebody else on a bike tried to follow but the yellow jacket wouldn’t let them, what a bloody arse! We rode around the empty M25 on to the M11, we rode up to the first service station for fuel and drinks, I wondered how Mark and Jeanette were doing when they arrived! I don’t think they were more than 15 minutes behind us. With full tanks and cool drinks inside us we set off again. Up the M11 we rode and joined the A1, we were getting on for mid morning now and the traffic was beginning to grow in number. About two hrs later we neared the junction for the A614 Bawtry Road we slowed to let them pass and waved goodbye. Mark was heading a bit further on towards Wakefield whilst Tom and Michelle had a bit further onto the M62 before getting home to Keighley.
We pulled into our drive the lawn was overgrown, the jungle was taking over! A bonfire of junk mail and bills cluttered the foyer and the cat wanted feeding! I switched the engine off saying that’s that then it’s over.
The 2011 tour was hard work in places and I was fairly worn out as I always am after our tours. It was a great adventure exploring new places and for Julie and I we in particular enjoyed visiting our pal Martin and his beer fridge in Coursan. Barry and I had put in a vast amount of time, eaten a lot of bacon and consumed a lot of Tina’s biscuits. I have spent so much time at the clubhouse I’m thinking about having my name added to the house deeds! All the weeks of planning had been successful the roads great, the scenery fantastic, all the visits worked well except for the saga of the gravillions and the few days of rain. It’s simply a roll of the dice.

Tillateronthen
The Wanderers Scribe.
P.S
I’d like to thank The French Tourist Board (underground cave shots) and several of the Wanderers for letting me reproduce some of their images for the write up.