The Yorkshire Wolds Sept 2019 (In double pants)

Why do they put themselves through this every year? Is it the sense of achievement ? The dopamine rush after tough physical exercise, or is it the figure hugging lycra and beer ? I know – but I’m sworn to secrecy.

So, this year it’s a circular (ish) tour of the Yorkshire Wolds. About 150 miles in total, completed in around two days, not bad going for a bunch of old geezers.

This year I just hope they stick to the planned route without getting lost – ha! fat chance of that !! Well at the very least I hope the weather holds..

Day One Friday 6th September

Stage One : Thixendale to Kirkham Priory

After the drive from home to Thixendale, it was not a well boded start (is boded even a word?). Our old friend the wet stuff was pouring from an angry sky as we left the little “curtain twitching” hamlet of Thixendale. Nothing much to say about it – very quiet and with an aura of “are you local” about it (possibly just my prejudice).

Kirkham Priory

After a mainly downhill ride into Kirkham, happily the sun burst through. For which I’m sure the riders were very glad. It’s never nice to start off wet. So what’s Kirkham Priory like? Well, Tynemouth has nothing to worry about in the Priory stakes – the one in Kirkham is, for the most part, a decidedly sad looking pile of rubble – good work by Henry VIII.  

Kirkham

Stage Two : Kirkham Priory to Settrington

Lunch was intended to be taken in Kirkham (sorry boys my corned beef and onion sarnies really do stink). And it would have been if they’d bothered to turn up. Of course they did their normal, and got lost. Is this a record, to get lost on only the second stop ?

At least we discovered that there was a phone signal in these parts, so Mike could ring me and confirm they’d gone off-piste and were carrying on to the next planned stop at Settrington.

Settrington looked like a nice quiet village – until all of the HGVs started running through. It must be on some satnav shortcut, and must be hell to live with.

Settrington Rest Stop

But that aside, the riders eventually found the route and arrived after several unintended detours. Sarnies were taken, as were (very old) jelly babies and other (semi) legal stimulants. The first mentions of Sorus Arsus were made by Mike – more of which was to follow. This being day one, with the time taken to drive to the start, meant that there was only one more stage left today.

Peaceful – beware HGVs

Stage Three : Settrington to Weaverthorpe

Refreshed and fed, off they set to Weaverthorpe, which was to be our first nights stay.

The plan was for this to be the end of day one, but as the weather was now so unaccountably good, they ruminated on an extension and to ride an extra section. This would of course depend on them not getting lost – so who knows.

Beers at Weaverthorpe

The drive down (up ? across ?) to Weaverthorpe showed some of the nicest aspects of the Yorkshire Wolds thus far, either very flat or gently undulating countryside, with patchwork quilting of fields, enough to swell Sir G Boycotts heart to twice its size (not his head though, as that would cause a significant danger to aircraft).

Outside The Blue Bell

Weaverthorpe The Blue Bell Inn

Weaverthorpe is not too inspiring – but at least it doesn’t have dozens of HGVs roaring through every minute. The Blue Bell is the best thing in the village. I was struck by the pungent aroma of excrement in the air, and supposed it to be from the farms all around. That was until I saw most of the houses had septic tanks, and so had to wonder at just how good their sealing arrangements might be……

By the time the riders arrived, any idea of an extension (ooh matron!) had been completely abandoned.

Weaverthorpe

Therefore several pints of Landlord were taken for the refreshing of mind if not body so much. Then a pretty good dinner of scallops and grouse, accompanied by various red wines to finish the day off well.

One slight hiccup however – the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. Steve insisted it was my phone alarm – however the volume was painfully high, rattling the windows, and it turned out to be a real alarm. Like all good safety conscious citizens we did nothing at all and just lay in bed while Mike patrolled the corridor in his hi-vis tabard and wardens clipboard (well he would have loved to if he’d had them). Eventually it stopped – and as we couldn’t smell a fire, went back to sleep. It turned out that someone had been making toast in their room (how?) at two in the morning (why?). The rest of the night was peaceful – apart of course from Steve’s impression of a walrus being beaten to death. If ever there’s a world snoring championship – he’s a sure gold medal winner. Thank god for my ear plugs.

Day Two Saturday 7th September

Stage One : Weaverthorpe to Humanby

A Good full english was taken to try and put everyone right, however the grouse and copious red wines were playing havoc with my innards. It was lucky for them that I was alone in the car…

Mike revealed his cunning plan to alleviate his sore withers – two pairs of padded pants. Hope it helps.

A breather near Brid

The route to Hunmanby was uneventful and it turned out to be a very nice little town. There was a Co-op , a paper shop (which sold The Guardian!), a wine shop, a butchers and a bakery. What more could you want? Also on four occasions I was wished a good morning – very nice people. Coffees were then drunk at a nice pub – someone must train Mike that a cappuccino is not the same as a latte!. After they left I bought very nice looking fresh sandwiches and pasties from the bakery for lunch later.

Hunmanby Church

Stage Two : Hunmanby to Bridlington

Not a great section for me – nothing to see from the A-road, I just hoped their off-road experience was better. The weather was now perfect – cool, sunny and dry. It had looked a bit doubtful this morning, and there had been a brief downpour at Hunmanby too – but all good now.

The Wolds

The Bridlington stop was chosen to be on the outskirts, away from traffic. This proved to be a bit disappointing, as we had to go along a track that was home to “travelers” and it was really very badly in need of cleaning up. Anyway the lunch bought back in Hunmanby was excellent and my colon was behaving itself. Mike also reported that his double-pant strategy was working well.

Roger was managing to hold on well, despite having come to the ride almost straight from the Andes – and bearing the “Inca lung” cough, which we hoped wasn’t contagious.

The Lobster Pot

Stage Three : Bridlington to Lowthorpe

Lowthorpe is a pretty, small village with no sign of life – one of those places time forgot – until that is the local witches coven opens for cocktails at 5 (larks blood martini anyone?). But I’m looking forward to Hutton Cranswick – what a great name , just hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Jumping time in Lowthorpe

I shouldn’t have tempted fate, as Roger decided he’d had enough for the day and retired to the car – can’t say I blame him.

Stage Four : Lowthorpe to Hutton Cranswick and Flamborough Head

Lovely Hutton Cranswick

Hutton Cranswick in all of its charmingly named glory…..is a dump. The pub we met at was a rough local dive. Complete with screaming kids (in a pub??!!), and loads of violent looking ruffians (well they were compared to our metrosexual elite sensibilities). So we left there quickly – not even a single pint – that’s a measure of its awfulness – and drove on up to Flamborough Head for a look. Loads of sea, loads of gulls, loads of wind. But a nice view and a nice looking lighthouse. However the cafe/pub was also full of noisy kids eating chips – so again we decided excretion was the bitter part of valor – or something like that – and drove back to Bridlington and to The Lobster Pot, our accommodation for the night.

Flamborough Head

Drive : Flamborough Head to Bridlington

Flamborough Lighthouse

The Lobster Pot is a very new Premiere Inn type place – full of kids again (do you see a pattern here of my predjudices?). But the rooms are big, clean and comfy. Let’s hope the food and wine are OK

And they were fine – steaks a bit dry, but everything else was fine.

Day Three Sunday 8th September

The night before wasn’t particularly abstemious (finishing with some rather nice port – thanks Roger), but everyone seemed more bushy tailed than the day before, and Roger was fit for the final stages.

The drive back to Hutton Cranswick (or Ugly Bogshed) was uneventful and we reached the depart for 10:15. Off they set for Cherry Burton, another nice sounding place, just hoping it looks nice too….

Stage One : Hutton Cranswick to Cherry Burton

….and it did. Very pretty village with a rather nice church (St. Michael And All The Angels). There’s obviously plenty of money here – big houses and big cars – and just as I was remarking on this to myself, a TVR owners club paraded through – very appropriate.

Cherry Burton

I must say it became very noticeable that most of these villages sported an unusual number of union flags (don’t call them union jacks as pedants will beat you soundly), is this anything to do with the dreaded “B” word?….

Next stop North Newbold.

Stage Two : Cherry Burton to North Newbold

The weather was beautiful as I sat with a coffee waiting for them outside the Tiger Inn. Facing me was a very nice village green, with no HGV’s taking short-cuts. There were another 30 miles of planned route still to go today, a lot of it uphill.

North Newbold

Over the last couple of days they managed not to get “really” lost. However, they made up for it in spades this time. The section should have taken 45 minutes to an hour at most, however two and a half hour later they dragged themselves to our rendezvous. It turned out that they’d managed to end up in Hull ! I reminded them of how stupid pigeons are, but that even they know how to get somewhere. As they trailed in looking shattered they agreed as one “done – no more – finish” especially with the promise of a cold pint and a bag of crisps.

North Newbold

So that’s how it ended, as TS Elliot said “not with a bang, but with a whimper”.

However it needs to be emphasized that a great time was still had by all, regardless of where we finished.

The End

On the drive home we discussed next year’s ride, so they haven’t been put off any more punishments just yet. Scotland? Lincolnshire ? Who knows……..

Bloody But Unbowed in Bellingham – September 2018

The ride that very nearly didn’t happen really. Two out of three of the riders had suffered great physical misfortune and could therefore be excused from the normal gruelling trial. So rather than not do anything at all, it was decided to have a slightly more leisurely adventure.

Day One : Kielder Dam / Kielder Castle / Leaplish / Bellingham

We set off from Wylam and drove up to Kielder (Why do we always call going North “up”?) . This was uneventful, other than listening to the blood-curdling tales of Roger’s bike crash hospitalisation, plus calls from Steve of “I’ve had a bad back you know”.

Arriving at Kielder Dam and unloading the bikes revealed that Roger had broken his own puncturing record already, as he’d somehow managed to get a puncture while the bike was still on the car roof. So the first thing was to delay the “Depart” while he replaced his inner tube.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once ready, loins were girded etc. and off they set for a half circuit of the lake, with a planned meeting at Kielder Castle at The Angler’s Arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They all arrived at The Angler’s without incident. Well, what could go wrong ?, other than someone riding into the lake – which, given our history, I wouldn’t put past any of them. No punctures or additional physical injuries either – all very tame stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let me try to describe The Angler’s Arms. Cinematic references can often be helpful here. So, if you imagine The Slaughtered Lamb pub from “An American Werewolf In London” (stop thinking of Jenny Agutter in the shower right now), crossed with just about anywhere/anybody from “Deliverance”, you’re on the right track. Is it something in the water ? If there’d been a piano player, he’d have stopped as we walked in, that’s for sure. Anyway the sarnies and beer were fine and prepared the riders for their next leg down the other side of the lake to Leaplish.

No problems again and all three arrived at Leaplish. Even after such low levels of rainfall Kielder still looks great, but it was clear that the level was lower than I’d ever seen it. At this point, Steve sensibly decided not to ride any further and risk his back deteriorating. He was worried that he’d not be fit to fly to Rhodes the next week, but mostly he knew that Lalage would have killed him if he’d not been fit to go.

 

 

 

 

 

So the final leg of the day was for Roger and Mike to ride back to Kielder Dam, which they did without incident. We then checked into the Riverdale Hall at Bellingham – an oft frequented haunt now.

Once showered etc. we took a stroll into the jumping metropolis that is Bellingham on a Friday. The first pub was shut. The next pub was plastered all over in St. George’s cross flags, either left over from the last World Cup, or else because it was run by the EDL. By the look of the clientele, I’d guess the latter. So after a very quick pint (no real ales at all – obviously too “foreign” looking for them), we used the excuse of being besieged by wasps to make our escape – The Slaughtered Lamb again came to mind. Back to the hotel, and after a rest it was into the bar for very nice beers, wine and an excellent dinner. The food and wine are always great here, with a very nice Californian Pinot Noir standing out for me. Even though the place looks ready to succumb to creeping disintegration at any time, it’s still comfortable and nicely remote from the land of the living dead back in Bellingham.

 

Day 2 : Rothbury / Darden / Elsdon / West Woodburn / Bellingham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve was brave enough to tempt fate (and Lalage’s wrath) by joining in this quite short ride. So after releasing them at the edge of Rothbury I agreed to meet them at West Woodburn. The scenery on the way is so attractive – in a tough and almost bleak way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met up, again without incident (what no punctures Roger??) at The Bay Horse in West Woodburn, just on the A68.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While a definite improvement on the last two pubs we’d been in, it was still rather dilapidated, and for a Saturday afternoon, pretty deserted too. However, the beer was good and thanks to the hefty full-english breakfasts no one wanted lunch. We did discover a possible alternative accommodation for another time, just to the side of the pub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve reckoned it looked a bit too plush for us though.

Last leg, a short ride back to the hotel – all without incident.

After a wash and brush up, we decided to end the day with a walk to take the strain off Mike’s backside, reduce the risk of Steve annoying his back and let Roger’s ribs heal a bit more before tomorrow. So we drove to Otterburn and did the 5 mile “Otterburn’s Battlefields walk”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s an interesting walk up and down a hillside north of Otterburn, and was the site of Harry Hotspur’s English army getting it’s glutious maximus well and truly kicked by the Scots (hooray for our-side – well my side anyway).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the walk was through MOD artillery shooting range land, but luckily nothing was being detonated that day. One odd thing was that on the route we passed several warning signs that said “slow children were crossing” – it must be the after effects of all that ordinance. Over the whole route we didn’t see a single soul, just plenty of sheep and some angry looking cows with their calves that we gave a wide berth to.

So, back to the hotel, where they had warmed up the sauna for our return – very nice of them. It was just what was needed, Steve however never made it, after falling asleep on his bed. So two sauna sessions and a few lengths of the pool set us up for another very nice dinner, and some more excellent wines.

 

Day 3 : Chollerford / Corbridge / Wylam

 

Steve made the decision not to risk his back again, and so after breakfasts of full-englishes all round, only Mike and Roger kitted up for the (truncated) ride home. To reduce the distance we all drove to Chollerford and they started the final ride from there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve and I drove to Corbridge, had decent coffees, read the papers, and then we all met up for the last leg. To save time I took Steve straight home to Ponteland, while Mike and Roger rode on down to Wylam. Again it all went off without incident – boring no ?     I think I enjoyed the days of punctures and getting lost on previous rides better. There also wasn’t a spot of rain all weekend, which spoiled it for me somewhat – there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching three exhausted, soaked riders approaching, while you sit warm and dry in the car.

All-in-all another very enjoyable weekend in good company. Even with the enforced shorter rides, it was still great fun, and we all look forward to next year – hopefully injury free, and as we say every year SOMEWHERE FLAT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biggar Than What?

Another year, another attempt to scale the heights, ford the streams, defy the elements – and get lost repeatedly when only 10 miles have been travelled on simple roads. But hey, that’s how we get our kicks man (that means fun to us young hep cats Roger).

This year it’s Biggar to Berwick via Melrose, a much shorter jaunt than in previous years. However you won’t be surprised to find that the “athletes” are already getting their excuses in early, “it’s very hilly”, “ooo, I hope it doesn’t rain” etc. Where would we be if Sir Edmund Hillary had said, “ ooo, that big mountain looks a bit high….. “

Day one Biggar To Melrose

A new member of the team surveys the route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well who’d have guessed – IT’S NOT RAINING – that’s got to be a first!
Set off from Biggar CO-OP in lovely sunshine and had a very nice drive to The Botanical Gardens at Dawyck. Very lovely countryside all around – and did I mention the lack of precipitation?

Entrance to the gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, I’ll need to check my blogs, but I think this may be the first time they’ve got lost on the very first stop. Luckily there we actually had a phone signal, and so we were able to agree to carry on, and make the next stop Caledonian Road, just outside of Peebles centre.

Look ! Sun !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peebles is really lovely, I’d forgotten just how nice it is. However the rendezvous proved not to be as easy as it should have been. Misunderstandings and map errors (by them!!) meant another late stop, but they got there in the end. Lunch was taken among some very nice houses.

Peebles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d planned to meet in the car park across the road, but due to a Highland music festival, everywhere was absolutely packed with be-kilted bagpipe merchants (HOOTS! etc.). Interestingly (well to me anyway), the toilets in the car park have the most ridiculous system of entry and exit. Once you’ve paid your 30p (my God it was 2p only 5 minutes ago), you then have to go through numerous button presses, red and blue flashing lights and warning buzzers. All to take a pee!! I know who’s taking the p***.

Taking on water and other semi-legal substances at Craigmyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, after lunch we packed up for the next section to Craigmyle Park. Now, you know how Hollywood stages it that people to drop incriminating evidence when they pull something out of their bag? Well, ask Michael’s why a pair of latex proctology gloves fell out of his bag at this point…… I have nothing to say on the matter (unless asked).

The Tweed valley is really easy on the eye

 

 

 

 

Perfect weather


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next 10 miles to Melrose were really beautiful, meandering up the Tweed valley. No one managed to get lost and the impeccable domestique (me) had cold pints waiting for the riders as they arrived at Burt’s Hotel. We didn’t see Burt , but the very nice reception lady was very helpful and the rooms were more than adequate. Dinner consisted of G&Ts, great gulps of red wines, port and, oh yes, food. The food was actually really very good, and a nice night was had by all.

Day Two – Melrose to Berwick

Melrose Depart

Excellent Full Scottish breakfasts provided good ballast laid down for the upcoming exertions, well that steering wheel doesn’t turn itself you know.

The buzzing metropolis of Makerstoun

 

 

 

 

Makerstoun Town Hall and Juke Joint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First stop of the day was Makerstoun. My route from Melrose was mainly on boring A roads, but even then the beauty of the local area was clear. Makerstoun proved to be 10 red sandstone cottages and an old red GPO phone box. A very pretty and sleepy little village that time seems to have forgotten – lucky for Makerstoun.

….and still no rain….

Ednam War Memorial

Shhhh, don’t wake the spiders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop Ednam. Another quiet village, with only a dilapidated bus shelter and a war memorial to note. There were 12 WW2 dead recorded on the monument, makes you understand how devastated such a small community must have been at the time.
No problems thus far today, but something tells me it can’t last.

On to Upsettlington. Well named, as there was something really unsettling about the place. Really immaculate cottages and a big manor house, but not a single person to be seen. The local coven must have been on a day out to Peebles.

Spooky Upsettlington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last leg Upsettlington to Berwick. We decided not to actually go into Berwick and instead to meet at a nondescript A1 junction.

 

 

 

 

The end of the road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds like a little bit of a anticlimax especially as there were no crowds stewing our path with rose petals. But the riders still appeared to be pleased to get here.

Well done men!

It had been another really good time for us all. And next year is already at the planning stage. Now where’s my map of Machu Picchu??…..

 

The Wrath of God (or Bellingham in the rain)

Kielder 2016

Day One

Stage One
Wooler to Alnham 16 miles

The start of this needs to be very mock-profound and very silly, but I can’t think of anything right now, as we’re all feeling deeply gloomy and thoroughly ashamed of the voting behaviour of our nation and it’s small minded xenophobic tendencies.  Maybe I’ll think of something more light hearted before publication.

A nice day in Wooler

A nice day in Wooler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biblical conditions on arrival in Wooler. Torrential rain,with thunder and lightening prevented us from even getting out of the car. I suppose it could have been worse, at least there’s no sign of a  plague of locusts or frogs etc.

The rain brought back worrying memories of Mike’s fetishistic rubber cape ensemble from last year, but thankfully he didn’t have it with him this time. His reason being that it “chafed around the neck” – hmmmm just hoping that was  only experienced during cycling.

The beginning

The beginning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the thunderstorm abated the cyclists braved the clearing conditions and set off for Alnham.

Lovely countryside on the way,

Grey skies near Alnham

Grey skies near Alnham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Altham turned out to consist of nothing more than a rather smelly farm, with the usually “friendly” farmer staring at a non-local like me and sharpening his scythe meaningfully. This was off-set by watching the sheep dogs “surfing” around the corners on the back of the shepherd’s quad bikes, looked like great fun (for the dogs).

Alnham farm

Alnham farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The athletes appeared a bit late and struggled up a rather steep climb.

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It was clear on arrival that Steve was really keen to get amongst his drug stash already.

Roger is a hard line Jelly Baby user and shuns all of Steve’s illicit gear.

Sharing Steve's lunch

Sharing Steve’s lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point Steve also revealed his packed lunch (oo err matron!), which consisted of a large carrier bag full of sandwiches, pies, crisps and chocolate bars. Just as well, as all the other two had between them was a small Chinese take-away box half filled with nuts and raisins.

Stage Two

Altham to Elsdon 15 miles.

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Dry and warm now, if a bit heavy with the promise of another deluge. Fear not, gentle reader, I’ll be fine in the car, and after all who cares about the bikers?

Thus spake the oracle, for not 5 minutes out of Altham the heavens split asunder (anyone sick of the Biblical slant yet?) and I was smitten by an incredible deluge. After almost getting stuck in a couple of floods and then coming up against a closed road, I did the  decent thing and turned around to rescue them. After various life threatening adventures that I’m far too modest to mention, I found them two miles out of Alnham hiding, (sorry sheltering), under some trees looking miserable (what else is new?). We drove on through torrential downpours, during which, at one point, I swear I saw a Charlton Heston look-alike with a white beard and a big stick, who seemed to be  trying the part the waters for a bunch of scruffy urchins to pass through.

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Drove on to Elsdon.

Stage Three

Elsdon (ish) to Bellingham 16 miles.

Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful sunshine encouraged them to get back on their bikes (the vampire Lord Tebbit would have been proud), and I left them to it and headed on to the lovely Riverdale Hotel. When I checked in I found I had a really nice room with a balcony and nice views. It’s just a pity the shower was like being gently breathed on by someone with slightly damp breath.

Within minutes of arriving the skies darkened and the rained erupted in another deluge. I thought fleetingly of a rescue mission, but not knowing exactly where they were, I soon did the sensible thing and stayed put, well after all they decided to go bike riding in a British summer.

The riders arrived eventually and were absolutely soaked (again) and looked cold and miserable (some may say their natural mien).

However an excellent dinner of fillet steak with copious bottles of red did it’s best to make up for a fairly miserable day.

It seems pertinent to point out at this point, that this was the first event of this kind to which we had invited the WAGs. Is it purely a coincidence that the occasion was then slightly marred by the wrath of God ? I refuse to comment further.

Day Two

Circuit of Kielder Reservoir.  Around 27 Miles (and a lot less than they will tell you I bet).

After a great “full-english”, the riders set off for their day at the lake. I was given the day off, so I’ve no idea what they got up to, or how often they managed to get lost (they say never – believe that if you will). Meanwhile the WAGs went for a walk around the Lake, while the angered Rain Gods did their best to show their displeasure.

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I then had a nice (dry) time on the Kielder ferry (The Osprey) chugging around the lake in more torrential rain. The Captain was an interesting specimen. Long blonde mullet (going bald on top), diamond earrings, tight trousers and a shirt unbuttoned  to the waist, obviously what passes in these parts for a Lady’s Man.

Kielder Ferry

Kielder Ferry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The riders got back to the hotel early, the WAGs trailing in sometime later looking damp. So after we all had drinks another grand meal was heartily demolished. One or two “cold drinks” were also imbibed, leading to some slurred speech and staggering (on the part of the WAGs of course, we men being made of hardy stuff – well apart from Mike obviously – remember the big girl soft gloves?).

Day Three

Bellingham to Ponteland. 28 Miles.

While the cyclists headed for home, the WAGs and I went off for a nice 6 or so miles walk. This turned out to be mostly through a (very wet) peat bog, but did I complain (yes).

The cyclists had a nicely uneventful ride,  arriving back in Ponteland to beautiful weather, and we all celebrated with glasses of cold fizz in Steve and Lalige’s back garden.

All in all a grand weekend was had by all, despite the various downpours.

The fact that the total mileage was a little less than they had previously done in a day is nothing to do with their advancing years or lack of enthusiasm (honest).

As for next year, Spain has been mooted, sounds good to me (NO RAIN)!!

Old Men Reivers

Old Men Reivers

…..and the annual sweat-fest is with us again. Bums have (hopefully) been hardened, toned and oiled. Roger will no doubt (almost) silently slide through without a problem. Mike will have outlandish clothing to explain away, and Steve will be the tour’s Keith Richard, replete with “substances”.

Day 1

Kirkcudbright to Gretna

Day 1 begins with a car journey to Kirkcudbright to start the grueling Reivers route, it’s not beginning too well, as we drive through heavy rain, looking fairly bleak for the start of the ride.

DSC_1028DSC_1022Arrival in Kirkcudbright safe and sound and ready for the first section.

First stop is Castle Douglas. Can’t see a castle, and anyone could be a Douglas (even the females). Fairly grotty, not helped by incessant rain. Most uplifting aspect is that Mike has immediately unveiled this year’s embarrassing clothing statement.

His bizarre black plastic poncho making him look like a fetishistic gaucho. What larks!

DSC_1024Second stop is Milton. I believe the poet of that name was blind. Just as well if he lived here. The dreek mizzle continues unabated. I’ve hardly ventured out of the car in case I get wet – yes, I know, poor me.

No one ever takes my suffering into consideration. Riders, riders, riders, that’s all anyone’s interested in.

Next stop is the exotic landmark of a Tesco Extra car park on the edge of Dumfries. Wow, I think I’m having a spiritual experience, there’s a strange alien yellow glow in the sky…..oh yes, I forgot that’s sunshine – who knew?

 

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Next we pause at Ruthwell, a rather pretty village on an old single track road. Very quiet and pleasant. Helped enormously by the fact that the sun has squeezed out a bit more welcome warmth and the rain has abated somewhat.

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I need to note at this point that before they started all of the riders put on snazzy overshoes to keep their little tootsies dry. Steve had to go one better and produced a neoprene cover for his hat, intended to keep out the rain. As he said, “there’s nothing quite like nicely tight fitting black rubber stretched over the end of your helmet”. (fnar! fnar!).

The quaintness of Ruthwell is enhanced by the fact that it is home to a tourist attraction that you really couldn’t make up. “The Savings Bank Museum”. No, really. Unfortunately (fortunately?), it was shut, or I could have regaled you with tales from the wild edge of accountancy, double entry book keeping and franking machines.

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Next stop Annan. Which is quite a nice town, with a nice bridge. Right on the bridge is the Blue Bell public house, and for the sake of furthering scientific investigation we had a pint of Boon Doggo.

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Well, those who drink proper beer did, while Roger and Michael had lager !! They need to be trained in the finer things of life.

 

Now on to the final stage to the Gretna Hall Hotel in Gretna Green. The rain holds off for the entire stage, and we even get more sun. By the time we reach the hotel the weather is perfect. The hotel looks nice from the outside, set in good grounds and on a hillside. Inside is a bit different, very reminiscent of a cross between Acorn Antiques and The Crossroads Motel.

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A bit run down with a very eccentric layout, and weirdly uneven floors – death traps to those who need a bottle of Merlot with dinner – oh yes, that’s us. The other guests seem to be almost entirely over 75, thus making Roger feel at home. The dinner was very good and the 4 bottles of Merlot were just what was needed, especially when it turned out they only charged us for 3.

Day 2

Gretna to Bellingham

Lovely morning for the depart, sunny, with no wind and most importantly, no rain. After a good breakfast (including Haggis; and I know someone who knows what haggis is in French !!), a nice drive through lovely countryside to the first stop at Catlowdy – luckily not a cat in sight. I was particularly glad to have a stop, so that I could find the source of the smell wafting through the car all morning. I couldn’t find the rotting corpse that it smelled like, but eventually discovered the source to be from a wet and very stinky pair of Mike’s trainers, that he’d thoughtfully secreted under my seat. Just stopped short of binning them, but threw them out of the window to allow the sun to kill off a few bugs. This action was almost a disaster, as I drove off leaving them in the road. Once I’d realised, I quickly drove back to the spot, but unfortunately they were still there.

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And this is where it all goes wrong of course. Regular readers of this log of (mis)adventures will be wondering why there has been no mention of either party getting lost. Well that’s because everything had gone like clockwork, with every meeting being kept exactly as planned. Therefore, it was bound to go mammary glands to the vertical. I freely(ish) admit it was (mostly) all my fault, as we hadn’t checked through the itinerary for the day before the off. This meant that I was expecting them to travel via a different route to the one they were actually following. Which in turn basically meant we were separated for 4 hours, without any phone signals and with no idea of where either of us were.

Old fashioned technology helped, as there was a public phone box in Newcastleton, on which I was able to call Mike’s mobile and leave a message for him to meet there. This they eventually did, and three dehydrated and starving riders pounced on their crisps, sarnies and water.

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Overall, the drive this day was really beautiful and the section down to the lakeside of Keilder at the Leaplish Centre is no exception – very nice views of the lake and a very peaceful place. It’s funny but the water in the reservoir doesn’t really look Chinese to my untrained eye.

 

But then the vertical mammary situation returns. Roger’s svelte, lightweight bike can’t cope with the very rough terrain they encountered and he punctures twice. As we’re still not able to communicate, while Roger and Mike walk, Steve is volunteered to ride ahead alone and find me in the car park at Leapish. Having done so, he then sets off with the bike pump on his back to rescue Roger. The true spirit of Stanley lives on! Why is there no mobile signal in these wild parts? How do people live like this ? It really accentuates just how dependent we have become on technology in our lives. The situation risks eating into our much looked forward to sauna and swimming time at the hotel, and all because of O2 and Vodaphone. I think to try and persuade them to take a lift and cheat a bit, ensuring a prompt arrival at the hotel – but I know they’re just too principled and upstanding to agree to that – me, I’m just much more pragmatic (corrupt?).

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Once we got Roger sorted everything went fine, and we even had time to stop off for a pint on the way to the Riverdale Hall Hotel in Bellingham.

The pub we chose was great, really nice atmosphere and great beer. And even better, it lent itself to much scurrilous badinage, due to it’s name – “The Black Cock” – now, now quiet at the back, you smutty people!

Arrived at last at Bellingham, to find a nice hotel with it’s promised leisure facilities. So, after a swim and a sauna, it’s off to the bar for a swift pint, before dinner. The good beer was followed by a really excellent meal, with one of the best quality fillet steaks I’ve had. Everyone agreed that it was well worth the very reasonable rate, and well worth a return visit too.

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Day 3

Bellingham to Tynemouth

A good start to the last section of the route, with a very nice breakfast, and a bit of an earlier depart. The riders looking over the maps and not liking what they saw – climbing, and lots of it – all the way to Ponteland.

 

It’s raining again, but that didn’t persuaded Mike to get out the perverts poncho…. Thankfully. However, all the available rubber wear was being donned – allegedly to keep out the water.

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First meeting point was planned as the Colt Crag Reservoir – providing I could find it….Well, I had to travel on single track sheep-only roads, but I got there.

Rather scary and almost off road, but bleakly beautiful at the top.

DSC_1066Next stop Matfen; where the riders had just finished the heaviest climbing and will therefore need a rest and a drink – they really are delicate flowers you know.

Well the friendly landlord at the pub in Matfen quickly saw through me as not being “local”, or as some kind of ruffian, and swiftly saw me out of his car park. “It’s Sunday, we don’t open until 12” (it was 10 to). So I found the village coffee shop and had a pretty awful decaff, no make that really vile decaff. Matfen is quite picturesque, but there’s a definite feel of “local things for local people” about it. I’m taking bets there’s rampant witchcraft and sacrificial offerings in the evenings – after all there’s not much else to do. The riders arrived in good time and were grateful for the rest and a (less than vile) coffee, after the climbing and damp conditions. Apparently that’s the last of the climbs, and so no more moaning. Now on to Ponteland.

Meeting in the car park of Waitrose is typical of our social standing of course, and a nice lunch of Waitrose produce underlines that fact. Not sure what the great and good of Ponteland thought about our scruffy, unshaven, smelly bunch having a picnic in the Waitrose car park, but our natural poise and air of superiority came through.

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Next meeting point Backworth. Not much to write home about, an old pit village, looking a bit run-down. But the riders were looking remarkably chipper considering their fatigue, this was likely due to the knowledge that the next stop, is the last stop. On to Tynemouth.

Tynemouth – The End.

No last stage dramas, everyone arrived on schedule and in one piece. After a photo call under Collingwood’s column (ooh matron), a nice pint in The Head of Steam, a few philosophical remarks on life, the universe and sore bums. Then off home.

It’s been another enjoyable trip, albeit with a couple of dramas, but then, that’s what adds spice to the dish anyway.

Discussions underway of where to go next year, but one thing’s for sure, wherever it ends up, It’ll be a laugh.

 

 

Way of The Roses – Or Bridlington by Bike

Day One
….and so it begins, 2014’s challenge, riding from coast to coast, beginning in Morcambe Lancashire, ending in Bridlington Yorkshire. Don’t they look happy ?

Poor fools, they were unaware of what fate awaited them (and particularly to their rear ends).

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The starting point, Morecambe, so good they named it once…. well actually it would have been better not to, sorry but it’s a bit of a dump, even though it looks OK in the picture. Viewed in a postmodern way, one could revel ironically in the crap chip vendors, the run down bingo and the very sad amusements…….. But I just can’t ; loads of v obese children being taken there by v obese parents, so they can smack them in public.

Anyhow, soon away and on to our first rendezvous on Le Tour de Rose Rouge et Blanc.
Those who have read the previous descriptions of these little jaunts, will be aware of the former history the Riders have with their sense of direction and geography in general. At the first meeting point, which was meant to be Hornby, everything went mammary glands to the vertical (work it out). They got lost almost immediately (predictable if nothing else).

However, this time they did it in style by being almost on the correct road, but heading in completely the opposite direction. The walkie-talkies purchased especially for such eventualities, proved to be useless when hills are involved, and after much driving back and forth and one handed mobile phone use (sorry officer), we eventually made a new meeting point at Wray.

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Pub Car Park At Wray

Wray has, or more correctly had, one pub. This was closed down and semi derelict, but still had a notice warning of parking misdemeanors.

However they did at least find it. Next stop Clapham , (no junction to be seen), but a nice little place, where beers were imbibed in the glorious weather.

There’s obviously money around here, nice cars and a lot of nice yummy mummies collecting their little precious from school in the four wheel drives.

A nice pot of Earle grey too.

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Clapham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Final section for the day was to Giggleswick. No problems encounter, even though the hotel was a little out of the way.

First into Giggleswick - Roger

First into Giggleswick – Roger

Followed by Mike and Steve

… followed by Mike and Steve

The Craven Arms was a nice little hotel / pub, with very good beer.

By chance it turned out to be quite a gastro pub, and the food was really excellent. Scotch Eggs with Chorizo for starters, followed by Pork Three Ways.

All helped down by four bottles of a Tempranillo recommended by Roger – which was excellent.

Ah beer at last – The Craven Arms

Miles covered – 40 (ish)

Day Two

A very tasty full English breakfast to start, and out on the road for 9:30. This time I got lost immediately – but of course it wasn’t my fault at all – ridiculous road signs etc. (ahem). Their first big challenge was the biggest climb of the tour, up to the top of Malham Fell . A really daunting sight it was too.

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View of the morning climb

I caught up quickly and stayed near them on the way to the top, in case of breakdown, injury or exploding buttocks – though being such toned athletes they didn’t need it.

Really hot and sunny all the way, showing the beautiful countryside off to great effect. A couple of quick stops before a nice sarnie-based lunch in the park at Pateley Bridge, where we watched the crown green bowling while the riders cooled their heels for a bit.

Thanks to the climbing and the heat, the riders were starting to look tired, and bumus ouchus disease was setting in. Michael had apparently been too ashamed to use his BAM Nutall fleece he’d brought especially as a buttock insulator, probably after the criticism he faced for last year’s Noddy gloves.

More climbing - and no padding

More climbing – and no padding

Next stop Fountains Abbey, well the car park at least – never got to see the Abbey itself, which is very nice I’m told. While waiting for their arrival, I eavesdropped on a conversation via the walkie talkies, between a crane crew lifting heavy weights, but I bit my lip and didn’t sabotage things.

Still very hot, so made sure they kept up the fluids.

Next stop was the Lamb and Flag in Bishop Monkton – another very pretty, well to do village. The locals treated me with quite a bit of suspicion as I wandered about in my Sun Records T-Shirt with my camera – obviously they were sure I was casing the joint for nefarious reasons – lots of curtain twitching and just plain overt staring, and me so innocent. As it turned out the pub was closed anyway, so we carried on to the next village, whose name escapes me (too much sun on the bald pate you know).

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A View

Yet another lovely village and again very well to do. The four customers sitting at the outside table when I arrived consisted of two fancy dress dummies and two locals, it was difficult to tell them apart. Very good beer again – pint of Lanlord I seem to remember.

The pub had the most un-PC men’s toilet I’ve seen for years. It was amply decorate throughout with pictures cut from Penthouse and Playboy (naughty magazines I’m told, of which I know nothing). The drinks went down particuarly well with the hot and sweaty athletes.

Can you see the curtains twitching?
Can you see the curtains twitching?

 On to Great Ouseburn. Another very quiet and picturesque village with a lovely church and another closed down pub. As I waited for their arrival, the owner of the house I’d parked outside of, actually came out and stood and stared at me for several minutes. Why are these people so xenophobic ? They must really hate Sun Records.

The last leg of the day was on to York. I was pre-warned there would be problems with the hotel parking, as they were refurbishing. This meant unloading the entire car out front on my own (ahh poor me), dragging it all up to the rooms, and then back out to park the car in a council car park down the road. The extra hassle was made worse by the fact the hotel charged £5 for the privilege ! However this was offset by a very pretty, helpful girl on reception who did her best to make it easier.

The riders finally arrived late around 8:00 pm and they all looked knackered – unsurprisingly having ridden for the best part of ten hours and covering more than 70 miles, a lot of it up steep climbs (I was tired too you know, those bags were heavy – especially Steve’s, it being full of his drugs stash of jelly drinks and exotic unguents).

This was all forgotten when we went around the corner to a very good Indian restaurant (The Viceroy 4.5 on Tripadvisor) that I’d seen on the way in. Authentic Yorkshire Indian Shikh Kebab and Chicken Nawabi Khana – very good indeed. Plenty of Cobra to refresh and re-hydrate too.

Steve and I’s room unfortunately turned out to be sited over Hades as it was boiling hot all night. I did at least find a good use for the Gideons Bible – wedging the window open. This made barely any difference, and as a result I hardly slept (please, no sympathy). Steve was so knackered he was out like a light, which meant he didn’t hear the weird clicking sounds in the night that had me convinced there was something nasty somewhere about.

Day Three

Good big breakfasts all round (well I needed to keep my strength up), and out on the road by 8:30. Still quite humid and warm, but very overcast with a promise of rain to come – which it did, leaving mud on the roads, most of which seemed to end up on Steve’s back.

I hope It's just mud

I hope It’s just mud

 

At this point the stops all seemed to merge into one, especially as the terrain was flat and actually quite boring – but good for riding I suppose.

All three athletes were now complaining of tired limbs and backsides, but they kept manfully on, fuelled by Jelly Babies and the rest of Steve’s drug supplies – dodgy looking “energy” things – I blame his wife the marathon runner, a bad influence if you ask me.

The most welcome thing in Pocklington

The most welcome thing in Pocklington

 

So Stamford Bridge, Pocklington, Kirkburn and Burton Agnes all swam past, until at last they rode into that jewel of the east coast that is Bridlington.

 

 

Wow another dead English seaside resort, chock-a-block with chips and bingo, but very few people about on the streets. However all the car parks were full, so God only knows where they all were – inside the bingo halls and pubs would be my guess.

 

A jumping English seaside resort

A jumping English seaside resort 

 

Congratulations to the riders, a big achievement and a total of around 180 miles in three days over difficult terrain. Well done men!

Journey's End

Journey’s End

As we didn’t fancy the pubs in Brid, just a quick photo of the end point and then off out of it.

So “where to in 2015” I ask, “somewhere flat” scream the riders.

 

The Blues Trail 2014

…so the time has come at last. After much anticipation we depart for Ny’orlins, via London and Dallas tomorrow (Wednesday). I’ll try and update this blog from time to time, (unless we get kidnapped by banjo-playing madmen : dang-a-lang-lang-lang etc. etc.). deliverance I’d recommend you read Mike’s blog for more sober, factual impressions, as mine are almost inevitably going to be flippant and almost entirely unlike the truth. But, only time will tell.

Day One (23/04/14)

Flight from Newcastle to Heathrow on time. Bags checked through to Dallas, making things a little easier.Terminal 5 Heathrow was quite pleasant, and not too busy.Flight to Dallas looked like it was going to be hard work when we saw our rather cramped seats – the middle 2 of a row of 4. I was worried about 9.5 hours in that space. However, it was actually OK, thanks in part to watching movies. This is obviously why Peter Jackson makes such ridiculously long films, 3 hours of Hobbit II helped pass the time no end. Not sure why BA subjected us to the task of assembling our own cream tea, not easy juggling cartons and plastic knives with your elbows in your ears. Arriving in Dallas with 1.5 hours to next flight seemed fine, until we entered the machine that is USA customs and security. With 30 mins to go to take off we were still stuck in the system. Huge queues with no one in any hurry. I’ll never complain about immigration at Newcastle airport again. Eventually after palm prints and facial scans we made it to the gate just nicely on time for the nice short hop to New Orleans. The young guy next to me seemed to be a student as he was watching a lecture on his laptop during the flight. However I can’t imagine what his subject was as it was presented by David Putnam and include a pie chart relating to testicular cancer…?? New Orleans airport not too big and So quickly got out for a cab. This was quite entertaining as our cabbie was a rather large black lady with a very thick nyawlins accent. Mike struggled a bit to understand, but all was fine and she was really nice.

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Hotel Bienville House

Arrived at Bienville House Hotel, Decatur St. Around 7 pm, after 18 hours travelling. Very nice Art Deco style hotel right in the middle of the French Quarter. Immediately found our “local” – Evangeline’s, just across the street. Had brilliant prawns wrapped in smoked bacon, washed down by several really nice beers from their specialist menu. Finished with a Maker’s Mark bourbon and thence to bed.

Day Two (24/04/14) New Orleans

First morning strolled down to the French Market after breakfast. Market a bit like the quayside on a Sunday, if it was designed by Dr. John.

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Evangeline’s

Lots of good stuff amongst the tat, including fake voodoo stuff. So after imbibing powdered mojo hands for strength, we carried on. Just beyond the market we had our first glimpse of the Mississippi. Huge and brown, with a pleasant breeze in the 80+ degree heat. Then on to a nice place on Bournbon St. for Po-Boys (just big sarnies) and beer. After eats, walked to Louis Armstrong Park and sat watching the same birds as we’d see in Paddy Freeman’s (as far as I could tell anyway). This was followed by the best caramel milk shake ever, purely medicinal of course, as I was melting. Back to hotel for a shower and rest. Then out to seek beer and food. Ended up on Bourbon St. Again. This time it was very busy if a bit tacky. Lots of loud bars and ladies advertising their wears, and what a pair of wears one had. Couldn’t imagine how she’d manage to give a massage without putting your eye out. Ate in Cajun style at a fish restaurant. Then back to Evangeline’s for a nightcap (no massage honest).

First sight of The Mississippi

First sight of The Mississippi

Day Three (25/04/14) New Orleans.

This morning walked to the museum district. First stop the WWII museum. Here we learned that UK wasn’t in the war, just them and “The Allies”, and that the Americans won it. They also have an RAF spitfire in perfect nick hanging from the ceiling. On my return I’m starting a campaign to get it returned. Then to a civil war museum that actually didn’t discuss the war at all, but was just a repository for Louisiana military bits and bobs – very interesting anyway.

The Rising Sun

The Rising Sun

Walked to Basin Street and found the famous brothel that had employed many of the early jazz men, which was supposed to have been the subject of “House of The Rising Sun”. Don’t worry its now a small convenience store. A pitty that the rest of the street lived up to the famous “Basin St. Blues” song, as it was very underwhelming. Heat really sucking the life out of me, so we had beers and burgers (our first), very nice too. Found excellent music store specialising in local musics, where I was forced to buy a couple of CDs. Back to hotel via the banks of the Mississippi – really hot now.

Riverboat on The Mississippi

Riverboat on The Mississippi

Evening stroll began at Evangeline’s, where we tried their specialty – a ginger and mint julep. So delicious we had a couple. Walked to Bourbon street which, thanks to the cocktails, looked more attractive. Found a jazz club and watched a really good tradish band (and more juleps). Then on to a Cajun club to see an excellent Zydeco band. By now the juleps plus bourbons had us both a bit squiffy, so back to hotel at midnight and slept like a rock.

Day Four (26/04/14) Lafayette

After a quiet breakfast (ahem), an easy drive to Lafayette. We started with a detour through some of the aftermath of Katrina, which still hasn’t been rebuilt (the richest country in the world can leave areas like this ??). Very flat, very wet country all the way. Lafayette not looking too inviting, but The Hilton looking fine. Downtown to discover we were in the middle of a music festival. The town itself was otherwise empty, but there were tens of thousands of people spread around three stages set up in the centre.

Lafayette Festival

Lafayette Festival

All styles of music were being played to big audiences . Hundreds of food and crafts stalls, like a giant version of the Newcastle green festival! Too too hot, and so exhausted back to hotel for clean ups. Walked across the road to a (very basic) surf ‘n turf diner. Hush puppies, crawfish gumbo and rib eye steak. All v cheap and v tasty. Drink in hotel bar where we were the only 2 in a massive disco with banging dance music blaring away to no one. Left after one drink.

Days Five (27/04/14) Natchez

Great drive following the Mississippi through national parkland. REAL backwater southland. Lots of tumbledown shacks. Mike spotting lots of birds he didn’t recognise (some massive spuggies mind you). Really atmospheric, and the best scenery yet. Arrived in Natchez to find a VERY sleepy small town. Empty streets and silence.

Main St. Natchez

Main St. Natchez

Strange mix of boarded up shops, next door to fancy antique dealers. Popped in to Fat Mama’s for a lunchtime snack. More of a shack than a restaurant, but again tasty stuff. In town found a lovely little bookshop where Mike bought a book to ID all of the birds he’d been noticing. Even though it was Sunday, we were surprised how deserted it all was. Weirder yet,we came across a little funfair with empty rides turning away riderless. Really hot again, car said 92C, but great view of the Mississippi stretching away. We discovered that a fairly large area of town is very well to do with really nice houses. The legacy of its prosperous past. That prosperity being built to a large extent on slavery – which they admit. We stopped and looked around the area where the last slave auctions were held in 1863.

Slave Auction Site

Slave Auction Site

It’s still very hard to believe it really happened so recently. Hot again, so back to the hotel to recover and do some washing!! After recovery, back out for dinner. Biscuits ‘n Blues restaurant was supposed to have live music at weekends, but there was nothing on today. Did have ludicrously HUGE servings of crawfish natchos with deep fried jalepanos, and catfish with oysters and massive prawns. Couldn’t manage more than half of it. All delicious.

Day Six (28/04/14) Natchez

Nice brekkie (always nicer when free), the TV news on in the lobby was warning of hurricanes – already big damage in Arkansas (who’d notice?). Then we drove 4 miles to the remains of the last Natchez Indian settlement, from before the French almost eliminated them, and then ran those left out of Mississippi entirely – well at least it wasn’t The British for once.

Remembering the Natchez

Remembering the Natchez

The park consisted of three grassy mounds and a mocked up mud house. Very pleasant non the less. Both of us were paying careful attention to the BEWARE VENIMOUS SNAKES warnings. I nearly filled my (sweaty) pants when I stood on a twig. Next stop the Old House Winery. The winery was a Ramshackle shed run by a nice guy called Scott Galbraith, who was so proud of his Scottish ancestry he even had a table mat with Stirling castle on it as proof. His wine is made from an indigenous grape they call muscadine. Quite earthy fungal aroma, but OK taste. Bought a red and a white, which we had to force down later that day. Lunch in The Natchez Coffee Company. At last a sensible portion size by buying half a sarnie.

Antebellum House

Antebellum House

Then we walked around the really nice, elegant antebellum housing areas. Some very attractive 1830’s buildings. Next a quick drive to Natchez Under The Hill,  and a cold beer in the tavern right on the banks of the Mississippi river, next to a riverboat casino.

Natchez Under The Hill

Natchez Under The Hill

Going to walk back tonight to eat and imbibe. Pitty , but returning to Under The Hill was a disappointment, as everything was closed, except the bar, and we’d walked there in what was threatening to be rain. The next place we could find on foot was called Jugheads. It was just what the name implied – the smallest most basic and shack-like yet. Food OK and the only other 2 people in there were a couple of young British guys from Hampshire who were driving from NYC to New Orleans.

Day Seven (29/04/14) Jackson

Nice drive through beautiful forests – mainly Homocheeto Forrest – obviously named after a camp Mexican card sharp. Many tiny settlements all with their own baptist church, lots of the shacks literally falling apart, but the churches were all immaculate…..hmmmm wonder why. Arrived in Jackson and it is a BIG city, the capital of Mississippi. Mike’s had one too many gumbos, so we’ve warned the coastguard, unfortunately I’d not thought to pack a nuclear standard gas mask. THE BOOK recommended a trip to one of the most important streets in the development of blues, Farish Street. Wow, very surprised at the state of it. Almost all the buildings were boarded up and extremely dilapidated. There as nothing left to see at all , and not the sort of place to get out of the car, or even stop, or even look at anyone…. Great Shame. Nothing of note to visit nearby so went for a Chinese meal at Mr. Chow’s, and then an early night.

Day Eight (30/04/14) Clarksdale (Mike’s Birthday)

Drive to Clarksdale pleasant in cooler weather. Made several stops at important sites. Firstly we stopped at Robert Johnson’s first grave ( yes he has two) in Morgan City.

Robert Johnson's first grave

Robert Johnson’s first grave

Then at the second in Quito just a mile or two away. Neither is signposted etc., and both are in very small backwoods graveyards in the middle of nowhere, with small gravestones only raised in modern times – and this for possibly the most pivotal musician in popular music….

It’s becoming seemingly clear how little the US in general cares about its black musical heritage. Then on to Morehead to see the railway crossroads called Yellow Dog where WC Handy apparently “discovered” the blues. Very quiet small town, but with a nice atmosphere, where we sat and ate the fruit we’d picked up at breakfast. Next on to Indianola, the birth place of BB King.

Robert Johnson's second grave

Robert Johnson’s second grave

His foot and hand prints are impressed on the pavement, but hardly a monument to someone so celebrated (even though though not a favorite of mine). Another quiet small town. Charley Patton is considered to be one of the key originator’s of the music, and again his gave was in a tiny unmarked cemetery in Holly Ridge, the rest of which consisted of three houses. We couldn’t even find the actual grave itself. Final destination for the day was to Dockery Plantation, where scholars say blues was invented by Charley Patton and others, who all worked there picking and processing cotton.

Dockery Farm cotton plantation

Dockery Farm cotton plantation

Originally it was almost a town in itself, with its own currency. The entire cotton industry collapsed in the thirties thanks to a little beetle called the bole weevil which came to the plantations from Mexico. More of an attempt had been made to preserve this site, but we noticed that more than half of the names in the visitors book were European. Final leg to Clarksadale painless, but not a great hotel at the end – only one night stay though, but not boding well. 6:00 and out to a recommended blues bar – Ground Zero Blues Club. Really great atmospheric place, pessimism prods me to say especially created for tourists??. Who cares, it was ideal.

Ground Zero Blues Club

Ground Zero Blues Club

Three sets of live electric blues by the 82 year old Leo ‘Bud’ Welch. His John Lee Hooker rhythms and effecting vocals were worth the visit. Hot wings and a Big Jake Burger with seasoned fries – very welcome, as were the several bottles of Southern Hop’itality local brewed beer (very like my favorite Bitter ‘n Twisted).

THE Crossroads

THE Crossroads

Local blues artist Steve Kolbus chatted with us, and I got his CD for Mike’s birthday, which he signed. At closing time we were given a free ride home in a stretch limo by the young bar maid! All of which made Clarksdale an excellent place to visit after all.

Day Nine (01/05/14) Memphis

Before leaving for Memphis, we visited the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. This was really excellent, and well worth the 7 dollar entry. Some great photos and memorabilia, really well presented. Nice to see that Clarksdale celebrates its blues heritage. From there a 10 min drive to THE CROSSROADS – well at least where they’ve decided to mark it, at the junction of Highways 49 & 161 (bought the T-shirt). We didn’t go “down on our knees” as the song suggests, and there was no sign of the devil to do any soul selling (and mine was on special offer too), but we agreed we could have spent another day or more here in Clarksdale, as there were so many places of interest. Easy drive on to Memphis.

Highway 61 - built by Romans?

Highway 61 – built by Romans?

Typical flat open landscape all the way. On arrival Memphis looked huge, with mile after mile of glaring malls and , for some reason, LOADS of self storage facilities – what the hell do they keep in them – best not to know (John Wayne Gacey etc.). On arriving at our suite (oooh), I discovered that Mr. Thicko (moi) had apparently left his toilet bag on the bed in Clarksdale!! Probably the last I’ll see of it. Once settled, we then drove over to see Bishop Al Green’s church in a pleasant middle class area. Unfortunately he didn’t happen to be outside singing “Let’s Stay Together”, but at least we can say we’ve been. On the way there we passed Gracelands. Wow, it’s clear that the Elvis industry goes on massively unabated. Lines of shops selling tat, and even saw a couple of Japanese Elvis’s wandering by. Japanese food tonight! (added later – now I know why I’m not keen on it, could have done with a pizza afterwards!!, and it would have been nice if the damned fish had stopped flopping about when I was trying to eat them).

Day Ten (02/05/14) Memphis

Yeah! Found toilet bag on floor, it had fallen out with shoes. This is what comes of living out of a suitcase. Great museum day. Firstly to Stax Records – brilliantly told story of Stax soul music’s birth & growth in the city (Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker-T etc.) Lots of memorabilia and very well told and presented.

Hi Records

Hi Records The Royal Studio

Then strolled the renowned Beal Street – famous as being the site where blues was really fully born. Several live bands were playing along the street, and we stopped and I had a grilled polony sandwich with coleslaw, fries and cheese. Chatted to “Mr. C” in the street, who asked us if we were with the Princes?? Apparently some royal people are here too…. Perhaps I should have known as I’m paying for their trip in addition to my own? Then on to the museum of rock and soul, housed in part of the Gibson buildings (as in guitars for the uninitiated), for more interactive displays, dealing particularly with the growth of rock and roll, from its blues meets country roots. Again, really well done. It is actually really effecting to be so close to these things that are really important to me, which previously had only been known second hand in books or possibly on TV. Mike then got passing strangers to take his picture next to Jerry Lee Lewis’s Cadillac, which was parked outside his bar – what a tourist!! I am of course above such things. We noticed that in all three museums of black musical heritage, there were no black people visiting – just those working there – discuss….. We then bought tickets for the music festival that starts today and continues tomorrow and Sunday. It’s a three day event that happens to coincide with our stay. Big names like Patti LaBelle, Snoop Dog, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joan Jett, Buddy Guy, Bootsy Collins…. Should be good. Meal tonight won’t be Japanese! Meal tonight wasn’t Japanese! Best meal so far – certainly for me. Italian grille restaurant, called Carrabbas. Delicious char grilled chicken with mushrooms and a side salad (healthy or what?). The Peroni beers and bottle of Montepulciano were also particularly good.

Day Eleven (03/05/14) Memphis

The last day in Memphis began with a trip to the Sun Records studio. Very small place that had a massive influence on popular music. Not just Presley started here but the first record credited as rock and roll was recorded here

Sun Studios

Sun Studios

(Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner). Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and many more, all got their first recording experience here. It now functions as a recording studio again after being shut for many years. U2, Tom Petty, Jack White and many more have all recorded here, looking for that analogue warm sound. Very well worth the visit. Then on to the Hi Records studios founded and run by Willie Mitchell, and famous for Al Green and Anne Peebles output, among many others. The building remains, but there’s nothing left inside, and no tours etc. Quite a sad, rough area. The next stopping point was the Lorraine Hotel.

Dr. King's Assassination

The Lorraine Hotel Balcony

The site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It has been preserved just as it was, and is now the centre of the US Civil Rights Museum. Very atmospheric place, and a lot of young white kids visiting. The evening brought the Beal Street Music Festival. It i

sn’t actually held in Beal St. itself, but in a very large park that runs along the banks of the Mississippi at the bottom end of Beal St.. Still very hot and humid, we made our way first to see Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis. He can’t be long for the planet, and it was a shame that he’d been pulled out to perform. His voice is practically gone, as is his pitch and piano playing. Quite a sad sight. Next up, Buddy Guy. Great blues guitarist, he played and sang really well for 45 mins, before his showmanship got the better of him, but still well worth watching. Then we went to see Chick Corea. Absolutely excellent. Wonderful musicians really enjoying themselves, and the best jazz I’ve seen this year. A major part in it being played by saxophonist Tim Garland. It was a long way to come to see a man who lives in Whitley Bay !!!! No food tonight, too late and too shattered.

Day Twelve (04/05/14) Nashville

As we’d not eaten the night before, I pigged out on the free breakfast in Memphis! Omelette, sausage, pancakes etc. Yum! Set off for Nashville, probably our least looked forward to destination, as neither of us are country music fans. Yeee Hawww (etc. etc.) Pleasant drive through mostly forestry, no other towns really all the way, apart from Jackson. This Jackson (TN), rather than our previous (MS), is the place referred to in the famous song. As far as I’m concerned, the fame attaches itself to the fact that Paddy McAloon misheard the lyrics, and thus gave the name to the wonderful Prefab Sprout       (” …hotter than a PEPPER sprout…”)

On arrival we wandered to a bar for a cold one, which had live country music being performed, and they were actually playing “Jackson”, how apt. It was called Cooter’s Place, but not sure of what, or who a cooter is, sounds a bit parasitic to me. Music fairly painless. Next door was a great tacky tat shop – The Willie Nelson & Family Gift Shop – really rubbish & all the greater for it. Later, and out to eat at The Cracker Barrel Store. A bit weird, very red neck, all gingham and wood. After being seated we discovered they didn’t sell alcohol – oh no!!!! Good food though, biscuits, fried steak in breadcrumbs, sweet corn, jacket spud and coleslaw. Then, dying for a drink, we went next door to The Carey Fork River Valley Grille. A bar that was a bit like a red neck Cheers really, but with a restaurant attached. Several large Jack Daniels went down a treat!

Day Thirteen (05/05/14) Nashville

Most important day so far, as I went to the mall for my boots and cowboy shirt! Got both in a big western shop, and they were just what I wanted, so watch out Queen Vic! I don’t think Faye or Lucy will be seen with me in the shirt, it’s a bit insane! Although the mall was all stocked with big name outlets, there was one glaring omission – no Gregg’s. There a clear opening here for the world best corned beef pasty I’m sure. Then downtown for a wander around Broadway where all the music bars are. Cold beer while watching the Premiership highlights on telly, which was being rudely interrupted by a country duo (who were ok really), and after all, ” when in Rome”…… There are only two record shops on the entire street, one was closed, and other very poorly stocked, even though it was recommended in “The Book”, ah well. I did at least buy a chilli dog on the street – lovely.

Our No.1 Export

Our No.1 Export

The presence of Brown Ale in most places is quite useful in explaining where we’re from.

This town is obviously all about country music with little else to see or do, and so it was a bit difficult for us non-country lovers, but I’d say it’s quite nice for a quick visit. We sat for a bit on the banks of the Cumberland River that flows through Nashville, really nice. Next, we stopped at a liquor store – or “offie” in English.

A bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon was purchased, purely for medicinal reasons of course. It’s restaurant critique time!! Dinner at Suk Ha (that’s not an order, just the name of the restaurant). The Thai food was nice, by the end we agreed it was the best meal so far. A good Chardonnay very reasonably priced, lovely spring rolls too. My main was ” Angry Pork”, so named to imply it’s hotness. It was more like a fairly narked pork really, but delicious anyway. Then back to red neck cheers for more bourbons!

Day Fourteen (06/05/14) Cape Girardeau

Before leaving Nashville we thought we’d best visit the country music Nirvana that is The Grand Ol’ Opry.

The Grand Ol' Opry

The Grand Ol’ Opry

Nice park setting (with massive shopping mall next door), but the Opry building itself is very dull. Quite a new concrete box affair. The only interest being two giant guitars at the entrance. I tried not to look impressed in case someone mistook me for a worshiper. Lots of muscle-bound squirrels running around with no fear of us. More spuggies for Mike to wonder at too, as well as more mocking birds mocking us. Off to Cape Girardeau : Another pleasant drive, and another 86 degrees day. Cape Girardeau is in the middle of nowhere as far as we can see, and there’s not much to look at near the hotel, so we’re treating it as a rest day. We have only one sight to see tomorrow on the way out, which will come later. In terms of distance we’re about two third of the total now, having covered almost 1500 miles so far, and it feels easy, coasting along quiet freeways 99% of the time. Big shout out to the TomTom satnav which has been indispensable, getting us through complex interchanges and finding tiny cemeteries in the middle of nowhere – full marks. Actually I think we’re both starting to fancy the satnav lady….. Cape Girardeau is right on the Mississippi.

Mississippi - still massive

Mississippi – still massive

One section of the flood defence wall has been decorated with portraits of the great and the good(ish). Mildly diverting anyway. Otherwise, another very quiet place, with an amazing number of antique shops for such a small town.

Illustrated flood wall

Illustrated flood wall

One nights stay enough. A couple of bourbons in the room, then out we go. Ears open gastronomes : El Acapulco was a Mexican restaurant (cantina), and although it looked like one of a chain, it was really nice none the less. Even by sharing we still ended up with much to much food. No chance of any music here.

Day Fifteen (07/05/14) St. Louis

Broke up the drive to St. Louis by stopping at Sainte Genevieve. An attractive old town, a bit like Corbridge. Went to a nice tea room in an old fire station, that had really nice coconut cream pie ! Then the reat of a quiet drive into St. Louis. Looks like a really big city, many sky scrapers etc. Immediately we found a sports bar across the road with draft Leffe Blonde, dead nice. As was the serving wench that Mike took quite a shine to (understandably so). After several Leffes we were both starving, and (who says there’s no god?) found an INDIAN RESTAURANT, yes that’s right, 4 lagers and an Indian, how exotic are we. After the final shovel of lamb vindaloo I was as satisfied as a full bed tick.

Day Sixteen (08/05/14) St. Louis

Took our lives in our hands and bought day tickets on the Metro. Apart from the mad woman bellowing and calling everyone “mellon farmers” (or something that sounded like that), it was fine.

The Arch

The Arch

Got off at The Arch, a stunning, massive stainless steel arch set next to the Mississippi in parkland. It is constructed from hundred of stainless steel sheets. I took some pictures of the welding to show George at work, to prove that other people have worse welding than Siemens. Down town St. Louis is a bit soulless, so we got the metro to the St. Louis walk of fame. This is where they have Hollywood style bronze stars set along the pavements, celebrating authors, musicians and film stars from the area. We found Miles Davis and T S Elliot OK, but there must be some kind of oversight, as The Wurzles and Pam Ayers were no where to be seen.

Miles' Star

Miles’ Star

One of the best finds so far was Vintage Vinyl, a massive record shop on the walk of fame. I bought 3 CDs but haven’t got room for any vinyl LPs! Across the road was a sculpture of Chuck Berry, born here in St. Louis. A thoroughly unpleasant person by all accounts, but a cracking songwriter. The area the hotel is in is quite yuppie. Which means smaller portions (yeah!), but bigger bills (boo!). There’s several medical schools and a nursing academy nearby, which means quite a lot of people wandering around in their scrubs – surely not a good idea, cross infections etc.? I’ll have to check with Dr. McCorry. Spent a cooling hour in Joe’s Bar after we got back from The Arch, and the redheaded bar maid was particularly soothing on the eye.

Chuck Berry?

Chuck Berry? or Jimmy Crankie?

Then out for a nice (but pricey) Italian meal. We tried in vain to find local live music, but none was to be found. The only local venue had nothing on tonight except DJ sets. It’s becoming clear that the music we revere is not felt to be precious enough to Americans in general for it to be preserved and even added to. Ho hum. It has also become more apparent as time goes on that Mike is developing a lust for american muscle cars, especially the Ford Mustang. So don’t be surprised if he turns up in one after we get back!! I must admit to feeling a bit the same way, but don’t tell the Jag or she’ll get upset.

Day Seventeen (09/05/14) Fort Madison

We had time to spare and so detoured to Hannibal. A small town with lots of car repair shops, that looked a bit like Blyth at first. We then found the old Town center, which had a nice little street where Samuel Clemens lived (no need to check Wikki, that’s Mark Twain to you), so everything was called “The Mark Twain….” Very nice ice cream and a decent cup of tea. What has also become clear is that it only takes one find to rescue one’s opinion of a place. As evident here in Fort Madison.

Bouncing town centre

Bouncing town centre Ft. Madison

...keeps on rolling along...

…keeps on rolling along…

Beer sampling

Lost Duck beer sampling

After a look at what passes for down town, we felt quite depressed.

And then, boom!, The Lost Duck Brewery. By pure chance we found a newishly refurbished place with a micro brewery out the back. The best beer since we got to the US, unfortunately too far from the hotel to walk!! Must ask if the Queen Vic can get some in. Food scoffed in diner near hotel, great burger – only my second honest. Chatted with some locals about whether The Who or Zeppelin were best, during which I had to remind them who invented the language, when they said we were on vacation not on holiday. Makers Mark finished the evening.

Day Eighteen (10/05/14) Davenport

As it was quite an easy drive we spent the morning down by the Mississippi at the reconstructed fort. The reenactment people dress up as pioneer types and live on gruel, while using a wooden bucket as a “rest room”. But I noticed there was a sneaky air con unit in one of the “cells”. The big lady who ran the gift shop was delighted we were English, forgetting we had encouraged the native Indians to fight the early Americans, as she was keen we signed her visitors book. DSCN0141She was also particularly keen on trying to sell Mike a peace pipe / axe replica….. would have been handy for a Wednesday night. Nearby was the railway which had massively loaded trains crossing the river at what they claim is the worlds biggest swing bridge (OK a lot bigger than ours, but not as attractive).

Birdies ahoy!

Birdies ahoy!

I counted 89 cars being pulled on one train. Half way to Davenport we detoured to the Port Louisa Nature Reserve on the Mississippi. Turned out it was a twitchers nirvana, absolutely wick with spuggies. Mike was in his element. I was even impressed that the birds weren’t all brown. Apparently they have 278 species (is that a lot?). Many are very colourful, as if asking to be shot, and I’m sure the locals oblige. Well worth the visit, and a very pretty place. For some reason it seems the Fort Madison region is quite obsessed with ” the right to life “. There were many roadside hoardings exhorting us to “love life”, and to “put god back into government”. There were even pamphlets in the hotel room on the evils of abortion. I really started to find it was quite unpleasant, and a bit creepy. On to Davenport. Bigger than we expected, spreading both sides of the Mississippi, and with a large island in the middle called Rock Island, which has a railway running next to it (Lonnie D perhaps?). Drove downtown and parked up to find the river was in flood,

Mississippi in flood

Mississippi in flood

to the extent that the water had been across the car park recently. One of Mike’s original wishes came true (sadly not the one involving Cameron Diaz and the sponge bath), as three pelicans floated past on the very wide, and very fast flowing Mississippi. Although quite large, the city has very little high rise, and as a consequence has a much nicer feel to it. Then had beers in an Irish bar (our first – Irish that is – not bar), although I’ve no idea what was meant to be Irish about it, other than the count down clock for St. Patrick’s day. Excellent steaks in the hotel’s own restaurant later, with a good bottle of Merlot. I know I shouldn’t carp, but sometimes the service is just too ecstatic – the very young waitress was squeaking in delight at out every choice or comment, but perhaps that was just our animal magnetism coming across.

Day Nineteen (11/05/14) Chicago

Wow Chicargeee already.

The Bean

The Bean

Chicago skyline

Chicago skyline

Trump Tower

Trump Tower

Berghoff's Cafe

Berghoff’s Cafe

An uninspiring, but easy drive here, until we hit the town traffic. Very busy, even though it’s Sunday. Took the car back to Avis soon after check in, and discovered we’ve driven a total of : 2,040 miles !!! It’s really hard to believe, as it’s not been at all arduous. I think I’ll wait until after I get back for an overall reflection of the trip, but it’s been great so far for sure. Nice view of lake Michigan from our hotel suite. We were given a free upgrade as they’d originally given us only one bed!!! Went for a wander, and settled into a bar for drinks. Nice wheat beers too (Blue Moon). Then on to a Chicago deep pan pizza restaurant. The pizza was very tasty, but a bit more like a quiche than a pizza. Our first proper rain at last, with an impressive lightening display over lake Michigan.

Day Twenty (12/05/14) Chicago

Very hot and humid even after yesterday’s bit of rain. First off a trip to the lakeside park, a walk along the lakeside path and a good look at Anesh Kapoor’s sculpture Cloud Gate, or as Chicagoans call it The Bean. A huge highly polished bean shaped metallic mass, that shows surprising reflections as you walk around and under it. Personally I’m intrigued at the method of production as much as anything. It’s obviously made of stainless steel, but there’s no sign of joints anywhere. Very alien. Nice to see a British artist being so well feted over here. Back to reality with a trip to Reckless Records (more bargains!), and then on to Macy’s – a temple of consumerism – but still great. After a snack, we boarded a sightseeing bus for a long tour of the city. Amazing buildings, but not a lot of history in the commentary. Well worth it, especially as we weren’t charged ! After the tour we found an amazing old German Jewish eatery called Berghoff’s. What a great find. As well as brewing their own beer, which is very good, the food was really great, and as far away from any American diner you care to mention. Spent the evening at Buddy Guy’s Legends, just around the corner. He set it up himself in 1985 and it remains one of the few platforms for blues In the city. What a great night! It was Jam session night, hosted by the house band lead “Brother John”. A really good band with impressive multi-instrument capabilities ; the sax player was also a great singer and blues harp player, and the keyboard guy also played trumpet on the New Orleans tunes. After their set, a couple of a dozen singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers and keyboard players all got up and played. This included a pretty good Japanese guitarist who was given a good (and slightly patronising) round of applause, and several great vocalists. One of whom, a massive black lady called Holle Thee Maxwell, scared me into buying her CD !!! A young guy turned in a great example of blue rock, a fantastic talent with effortless solos. Best not to mention the slightly “odd” washboard player who was called up for a couple of numbers, as I’d probably say something very un-PC. (Hint: he bore a striking resemblance to the banjo player pictured at the start of this blog). Beginning at 9 PM, it was almost non-stop music until 12:30. However, the biggest surprise of the night came in the first half, when a spritely well dressed guy ambled on stage, it was the man himself – Buddy Guy! We’d seen him at the festival in Memphis, and been told he’d been playing in South America after that, but here he was yards away, singing in his own club, maybe only one song, but making it a perfect night.

Day Twenty One (13/05/2014) Chicago

After a late lie-in, a late breakfast, and a bit more shopping. Then walked to the South Side of Chicago to find firstly VJ records, another legendary but long gone studio and label. The building is unmarked and boarded up, very sad. Further down the street we found another landmark for blues and rock and roll – The Chess Studios.

The Chess Records studios

The Chess Records studios

This is now The Willie Dixon Blues Heaven. Rather than a museum, it’s an educational foundation for young black kids. There is a small tour around the legendary studio and some memorabilia to look through, all well worth the visit. This really was a key place for electric blues and rock and roll. Many, many amazing classics were recorded in the room we sat in, watching a film of its history. Another important destination completed, and sadly our last, as we leave tomorrow. The evening was spent eating at Berghoff’s again, and then on to The Jazz Showcase. Very nice place and every inch the archetype of a Jazz Club. Unfortunately the gig wasn’t as good as the surroundings. A female vocalist with a “pleasant” voice, singing mostly the well-worn show tunes. A very good trio backing her, which would probably been better on their own. Never mind, they did do a pretty interesting version of The Who’s “Love Rain O’er Me”.

Day Twenty Two (14/05/2014) Chicago

After check-out, walked by the lake again and then visited the The Art Institute of Chicago. Fantastic collection of masterpieces. Many very well known works by Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh etc. etc. It’s shows the wealth that was / is in this city – most pieces were privately owned and loaned to the museum. They also have a fantastic collection of modern art  – Pollock, Motherwell, de Kooning etc.

Weird!

Weird!

A good way of burning up time before gooing to the airport. Flight to Heathrow on time, but unfortunately a three hour delay to fly to Newcastle – thanks French air traffic control.

Closing remarks

A really great, once-in-a-lifetime trip. Nothing bad to say at all. The America we saw, and the Americans we met, were both to our expectations, and defied our expectations. It was a joy to see the places that had been so crucial to the development of the music that matters most to me. It would have been good if those people and those times were more generally appreciated by those around today, but it’s probably understandable, as most young Americans no doubt see it as uncool, boring and for old people. But that didn’t put a dent in our enjoyment at all.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night….

….. stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds (Herodotus).

Not content with trailblazing a route from Newcastle to Edinburgh in 2012, our intrepid band have now decided to forge a course from the West to East coasts, beginning in Ravenglass and ending in South Shields. Along the way they will be visiting such fleshpots as Silloth and Prudhoe (all without a gum shield or a Kevlar vest in sight).

(And as for snow, rain etc., I’m sure they’ll hide in the back of the support vehicle at the merest hint of precipitation.)

However, training is already at an advanced stage, as is equipment fine tuning. This has largely consisted of working on our tolerance to alcohol, and Steve actually fitting some brakes and tyres to his machine – that should prove to be quite a novelty. The journey is to be undertaken without the aid of oxygen or Kendal Mint Cake (that’s a measure of just how tough we are), and as a large proportion of the route is in The Land That Time Forgot (Cumbria), we are also training to survive on Cumbrian bush-tucker (i.e. pies, crisps and mars bars).

Friday 28th of June – Day 1.

The 3-day event began with a fairly uneventful drive to Ravenglass in southern Cumbria. Mind you, any drive with Michael at the wheel isn’t exactly dull – unless you’re used to driving alongside a Norwegian rally driver.

Fresh faced, and ready to go.

Fresh faced, and ready to go.

Ravenglass to Sellafield:

Awful weather and fairly oppressive surroundings. Getting to the Sellafield railway station for the rendezvous was a bit of an eye-opener : razor wire everywhere and security very tight all around, reminded me of the old East Berlin. Cancelled my idea of stealing some plutonium to play with. The Athletes arrived in the car park dripping wet and not happy (no change there then).

Wet in Whitehaven

Wet in Whitehaven

Sellafield to Whitehaven:

This part of Cumbria isn’t exactly pretty – unless you’re drawn to closed industrial sites, run-down council houses and dead fish. Wet all the way, but at least it let up in Whitehaven. We met in the marina area for lunch. The riders arrived cold, wet and a bit miserable, but a hot cup of coffee cheered them a little. People actually come here on holiday you know! The American couple in the pub (half of Peroni so I could use the facilities), had come to Whitehaven instead of going to The Lakes – well done, what a good choice.

Raining for a change

Raining for a change

Whitehaven to Maryport:

It didn’t rain for a bit! While waiting I had a walk around the Maryport marina and soon felt my soul dropping into a slough of despond. Crumbling relics of a fishing industry gone for good. The bikers had double insulated themselves for this section and were glad they had. We then had a bizarre conversation with the marina’s own jobsworth.

A Thriving Port

A Thriving Port

We were told to leave the car park because it was for members only and they have problems getting to their boats because of people like us. There were 3 other cars in the pretty large car park and about 6 boats in the marina – go figure.

 

Michael decided to reveal his secret weapon (ooh matron!), The Andy Pandy Gloves. Bright yellow chamois leather and fleece lined (who said big jessie?).

The Andy Pandy Debut
The Andy Pandy Debut

 Maryport to Silloth:

The best section yet by far. Great views across the Solway Firth AND the sun even came out for a bit. Easy to spot the riders from a long way off thanks to the aforementioned gloves. Arriving in Silloth, The Golf Hotel was much better than I had expected – sorry Silloth for my negative expectations. Quite a nice little place, especially if you like cobbles, with a park in front of the hotel. No doubting the direction of the prevailing wind – I’d not really realised that trees could grow horizontally. The bikers seemed to enjoy our first pints of the tour, well except Roger who stuck to his shandy – which as we know is impossible to enjoy. A Nice bottle of Malbec with a very good dinner too.

The Golf Hotel - No golf In Sight

The Golf Hotel – No golf In Sight

End of day 1. Miles Covered Today : 53 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2. 

Leaving Silloth

Leaving Silloth

Silloth to Angerton:

Very good breakfast, but the haggis was off (as in not on the menu, rather than rancid). Most importantly, it wasn’t raining! Very nice route along the coast of the Solway Firth – loads of birds. An ideal area for those of a bird bothering persuasion (Hi Chris and Mike!). Michael had a puncture, which was to be expected, as he’d had about 12 on the previous tour. Mind you, how Steve didn’t puncture is anybody’s guess, what with his totally bald tyres (think Yul Brynner after a run-in with a particularly sharp Gillette GII).

The Solway Firth

The Solway Firth

Angerton to Burgh-By-Sands:

More of the same, very flat and quite bleak, but in a nice way. Angerton quite a pleasant little village, but with a bit of a weird atmosphere – the big wicker man with the screaming policeman inside didn’t help. It also had a pub that was really dropping to bits, reminded me of the “Slaughtered Lamb” pub in “An American Werewolf in London”.

I was just pleased no one was around to see The Andy Pandy Gloves, things might have got ugly.

Birds Everywhere (but hiding)

Birds Everywhere (but hiding)

Burgh-By-Sands to Warwick Bridge:

Nice stop in a lay-by for deli-made sarnies (thank-you Ian), a drink and a wee in a farmers field. Steve reports a very shore knee and Michael a shore rear. Request from Steve for Ibuprofen, paracetamol and amyl nitrate – where does he think we are, Blyth? Michael remains stoical, refusing all artificial aids.

A Quick One

A Quick One

I detoured to Brampton to buy drugs for “Lance” Brown.

Warwick Bridge to Lanercost Priory:

Even while driving I noted a lot of climbing, but I persevered and made it through OK. Of course the riders had a good moan about it. Steve now taking handfuls of various drugs – including the pain killers, jelly tots and some weird über-caffine dextrose jellies. This is what comes of working in psychiatry for so long (“I’ll have a pink one and a red one, washed down with my methadone”).

Lanercost Priory

Lanercost Priory

Lanercost Priory would have been very picturesque if the weather hadn’t been so heavily overcast – but the threatened deluge didn’t happen

 

 

Lanercost Priory to Greenhead:

Toughest climbing yet. The riders were tired but staying with it. Steve’s drug habit is getting him and his knee through. Michael’s gloves still providing light entertainment. You may notice that Roger doesn’t really come in for abuse – he’s a solicitor, and I’ve heard of the libel laws.

Greenhead to Vindolanda:

Sun poking through while crossing impressive Roman Wall country.

On The Wall

On The Wall

But £6:50 for a ticket into Vindolanda is daylight robbery, no matter how big the site now is (“ahh look another pile of stones”). They’re careful to make sure the toilets are on the other side of the ticket office, and for use by ticket holders only. The most expensive wee I’ve had in a while, certainly since the episode with the llama and the toasting fork.

I Love Stones Me

I Love Stones Me

Vindolanda to Fourstones:

Great road over the tops, running parallel to the wall. But of course all the climbing wasn’t what the riders really wanted (you just can’t please some people – maybe Netherlands next time?). Steve’s knee much improved, but Michael still refusing to join the drug culture, even though his arse was like the map on Bonanza.

 

Fourstones to Wall:

DSC_0256

A Pint At The Hadrian

More long straight Roman roads, and  the end of a very long day. The final hill climb up from Chollerford was a bit of an unexpected killer I gather. They all agreed that it was nice to get to Wall and the Hadrian hotel, even if The Hadrian was a bit shabby. Excellent beer and a very nice dinner. The four bottles of Malbec went down particularly well – I could get used to this alcohol stuff, if I really stick in and train for it.

There endeth day 2. Miles Covered Today : 86 , Total Miles : 139 

Day 3. 

Goodbye To The Hadrian

Goodbye To The Hadrian

Wall to Corbridge:

Another good brekkie, the haggis was on this time. Weather a bit gloomy, but at least no proper rain. While stiffness and chafing continue to niggle , they still set off on time, heading for Corbridge. Michael taking a devil-may-care attitude and discarding his Andy Pandy’s. It feels like we’re almost home; well actually that’s because we are. Roger in particular could smell the coffee in his kitchen from here. Corbridge was it’s usual twee self (but very nice) and quite busy for so early in the day – probably church-goers – a foreign land to brazen heathens like me.

Corbridge to Newburn:

Weather better –  warm and dry. I think the section was a bit further than they expected, but it ended with a welcome coffee at the Keelman.

Steve’s drugs wearing off – ouch, But Michael feeling good now.

Coffee at The Keelman

Coffee at The Keelman

Newburn to South Shields ferry:

The flat, paved and tarmac’ed paths spoil them. No rain and really warm too. Bit of a break for the riders on the ferry, while I sit in the blazing sun having a half of Hobgoblin (it’s a tough job etc.).

The Ferry Arrives in Shields

The Ferry Arrives in Shields

Back on Dry Land

Back on Dry Land

South Shields ferry to The Sundial :

We’d planned to go to the Sand Dancer pub but I messed up and was waiting here for them. Bit of a dump. The pub stinks of cheap larger and burnt lard – but some unpleasant aromas as well. Michael’s car door gets a scrape in the car park – the only damage inflicted over the three days, thanks no doubt to some knuckle-dragging chava (what judgemental? Moi?). Bit of an anti-climax on the whole.

The entire tour finished at 14:00 Suday afternoon.Miles Covered Today : 35

Total Miles for the Tour : 174 

 Well done the riders. 

And for next year….. Ijmuiden to Groningen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edinburgh or Bust.

A tour diary by the support driver and Domestique

Day One – Friday 20th July

Newcastle to Tynemouth:
No hitches and Tynemouth looked great. Better weather than we’d expected too.

Tynemouth to Blyth :
Spending an hour contemplating the architectural delights of ASDA’s car park is not recommended. The riders had initiated what was to become a frequent occurrence and got lost, or as they preferred “changed their route”. So we went on to Bedlington Station to meet up. Other than the place being a total dump (sorry Bedlington-ites), no other problems.

Bedlington Station to Druridge Bay Country Park:
Another “improvised” route. We were meant to meet in Lynemouth. However this was a much nicer place, and we had a welcome picnic in the park, with a view over the Lake and a nice cuppa.

Druridge Bay to Boulmer:
Boulmer was shut. All of it. No, really. So we went on to Longhoughton, which while being Chava-central, at least had an open pub. A beer, some nuts and on again.

Longhoughton to Dunstan:
Noting off-piste this time. The Cottage Inn being a welcome sight. A couple of beers and a decent meal soon refreshed our intrepid combatants.

End of day one, no casualties : Total miles 61

Day Two – Saturday 21th July

Dunstan to Glororum:
More route improvisations. While I enjoyed Glororum, with it’s nice views of Dunstanburgh Castle, the team went their own way, at which point my notes become a bit hazy, as the next stop I’ve recorded is Beal. But there was a stop next to the North Coast Main Line where high speed trains screamed past us – but not sure where that was….

Glororum (or somewhere) to Beal:
Met up in a fairly unattractive pub car park in Beal, just off the A1. Very quick refreshments (only water), and on again.

Beal to Berwick-on-Tweed:
Nice to drop down the hill and across the old stone bridge, stopping on the way to buy provisions for the hungry “athletes”. While waiting for their arrival I found an very nice pub – The Barrels Alehouse – a lovely pint of Rivet Catcher in very quirky surroundings. Although Steve had coveted by Cornish pasty at Duridge, he failed to eat the ASDA one I’d bought for him – obviously too much for the highly honed physique to take. We agreed Berwick was much nicer than we’d remembered, and well worth a repeat visit.

Berwick to Ayton Castle:
Closed (a pattern’s emerging here). Again. So after water and an unasked for look at Michael’s toe, quickly on….

Ayton to Coldingham:
Well, it was meant to be Huxton, but that seems to exist only on the map and not in the real world. Coldingham was a bit bleak, unless you like wind turbines, but at least the grass was long enough for sanitary purposes.

Coldingham to Torness:
After only a slight mishap in the exact detail of the meeting place, which necessitated a daunting u-turn on the main A1, a quick stop-over in the shadow of the power station. Felt a bit like Quatermass.

Torness to Dunbar:
No more improvisation on the route, and it was nice to roll into a very nice seaside town. The Rocks Hotel was comfortable, had great sea views and excellent food. It was also packed with locals, all dressed up to eat out, in what must be the best restaurant in the area.

End of day two, : Total miles 136

Day three – Sunday 22nd July

Dunbar to Haddington:
Quite a nice little town, a bit Corbridge-ish. A lot of old coaching inns etc., showing it’s past use as a staging post to Edinburgh.

Haddington to Prestonpans:
Back to the off-piste version of the route, with the riders missing out on Cockenzie. We met up in the car park of The Goth pub (no sign of any Bauhaus or Cure fans though). A pretty bleak place, but with at least some kind of sea view raising it just above Bedlington Station in the grot stakes.

Prestonpans to Arthur’s Seat:
We suffer our first casualty – me. I fell down in the mud (not that I got any sympathy), and the camera and I got covered. After an improvised bath in the car park using bottled water and tissues, and a change of clothes (not easily done in the back of a car), the athletes decided not to turn up (again). We planned to meet in the centre of Edinburgh, but I discovered that almost all the roads into the area were closed (thank you the town planning dept. of Edinburgh), and the ones that weren’t were jammed. Therefore..

Arthur’s Seat to Edinburgh Castle:
The cyclist took their lives in their hands and pressed on to the castle without their trusty support driver. This they did without a problem. (Some would say they could have managed the whole thing….). The nearest I got to the centre was back in Holyrood Park, where we all had a 99 (not a euphemism – a nice Mr. Whippy ice cream), and we saluted their success.

End of day three : Total miles 170

A fun (for me anyway) long weekend, with good company, plenty of laughs and some good scenery. And so, where to next year??