e2e slowly 2013 - mission accomplished
We all assembled at the Land’s End Youth Hostel near St Just on the evening of the 5th. Jack and Kieran had ridden down slowly there as part of their extended motorcycling holiday. Phil rode all the way from Liverpool in one go. I had met up with Pete at the Exeter M5 services. Hume and his C90 had been trailered down from Woking by his wife.
After bangers and mash at the hostel we turned in for an early start. My snoring did not help my companions to get a good night’s sleep. We set off before 7.00 a.m. in glorious early sunshine and went down to the signpost at Land’s End for the obligatory photographs. Our route north took us on minor roads via Truro and Bodmin on the A30 over Bodmin Moor (where a Mr Holt from the LE Velocette Club chased us down on his speedier 500 Triumph twin to give us a cheque for £20) and then on the old A30 to Exeter, up the Exe valley via Tiverton to Taunton and the across the Somerset levels via Wells and between Bristol and Bath onto the A46. We then dropped down the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, rode round Gloucester, through Newent to Leominster and thence up the A49 to grab very late fish and chips at Craven Arms. Along the way we encountered my cousin Anthony who had come out to meet us on his Honda scooter. We then found our way up to Wilderhope Manor YHA by about 10.00 p.m.. This is a truly amazing 16th century manor house and opened in 1936 as one of the first Youth Hostels. On arrival it was impressed on the warden that my snoring was a real problem, and so I was given a separate room from the others at the other end of the top floor.
We got up early. Hume had decided that, because his little Honda was quite a bit slower than our bikes (mine as the next slowest), he would rather do the trip in his own time and at a more relaxed pace. So the four of us (Phil had peeled off to go home to overnight in Liverpool) set off up the A49 to stop at the Lynn’s Raven Cafe (biggest motorcycle café on the planet) where we were met by a Phillip Thwaites, another MZ 150 enthusiast, plus his riding pal. I had the obligatory fried breakfast and the owners of the café also gave us £20. The rest of the journey up the A49 through the west Lancashire towns was a bit hot and tiresome but we reunited with Phil near Standish and pressed on to stop for lunch at Milnethorpe. The ride via Kendal up over Shap on the old A6 was spectacular. We stopped for some staged action shots of ourselves powering (!) up the hill. Later I stopped and changed my HT cap (the 34 year old original was dud) which made my bike start and go a whole lot better for the rest of the trip. We carried on via Penrith and Carlisle (where Phil’s pannier mounts broke just as we entered a complex one way system.) We found our way back to him and bodged a repair. It was then north via Longtown and Gretna to the minor road which runs beside the M74 until we reached Abington, where after re-fuelling, we did the last 16 miles to New Lanark YHA. This was set in the workers’ housing in the famous early 19th century Robert Owen model village. We were too late for hostel food so Phil, Pete and I dined in a posh hotel down near the river.
The next day (day three, Wednesday) saw Pete, Kieran, Jack and I off early. Phil was starting later and was determined to get his pannier frame welded. We made our way north to Polmont and had to do some clever back doubles near Grangemouth to enable us to get over the Clackmananshire Bridge without having to go on a motorway (because of the Jack Ellis L plate!). We stopped in a superior coffee shop for breakfast at Yetts O Muckhart and the made our way north via a scenic minor road near Dunning to join the A9. Then it was A9 all the way through the Cairngorms to stop at Tore services north of Inverness for chicken broth and to re-fuel. (Throughout the trip Pete recorded mileages and fuel consumed on all six machines.) By then Phil had caught us up, having found a welder who had only charged him a tenner for a good repair. He had had a nasty wind induced speed wobble however up on the A9 after passing a slow truck.
We then set off on the final slog up to John O Groats, stopping in Golspie to meet up with Kim and Steph Allen who had come over specially from their home in Orkney on their very splendidly prepared Norton 850 Commando. Kim, who is chairman of the Vintage Motorcycle Club (Britain’s largest motorcycle club with over 17,000 members) kindly guided us to the finish and took photos and I gave everyone a medal. We then rode the last few miles to the Castletown Hotel where Kim and Steph had made reservations for us. He very kindly gave us a cheque from the VMCC for £100. After a hearty meal, much fairly reasonable beer and much telling of tales, I had to call it day and retire to bed.
The next day, Thursday, saw us up at a more reasonable time, breakfasting well and setting off south by 10.30 a.m. I had a really great ride down the Caithness coast, spectacular - especially since the sun was out. Phil, Pete and I kept passing each other as we made stops for fuel, photos etc. After chicken soup again with Pete at Tore services, I rode on down the A9 where Phil and I met Hume coming up the other way full of the joys of the trip. (I gave him his medal as a further incentive to finish!)
Mission successfully accomplished. We reached John O Groats at 7.00 p.m. on Wednesday 8th May as planned. Our goal had been to ride small motorcycles the length of the British mainland, unsupported, not using motorways and to raise funds for the Red Cross. Besides myself on a 34 year old MZ 150 2 stroke, the other riders were: Phil Speakman, General Secretary of the MZ Riders’ Club and owner of the on-line MZ Shop also on an (older and classier) MZ 150 ; Hume Fairholme, one time BBC cameraman riding a Honda C90 step-through; Pete Henshaw, freelance journalist and ex-editor of Motorcycle Sport and Leisure riding a diesel powered Royal Enfield (capable of nearly 200 mpg!); and Kieran Whitrow and Jack Ellis who run Jacks instrument services in Manchester making and repairing electric guitars. Kieran was riding his one and only bike, a trusty MZ TS 250 and Jack (still on learner plates) was riding Kieran’s old Yamaha 80 Townmate (a slightly time worn but truly amazing little machine.) A motley crew, known to each other initially only via the Internet, we eventually bonded into quite a close knit team.
Click the image above for a slide show of the trip