Riding The Western Front: Day 15 – Monday 9th July
Today I got up with a fuzzy head. My brother was also leaving for home at Lascours in the south of France and so he needed an early start for the long drive. We said our goodbyes and I then packed the Lambretta and then said goodbye to my nephew Benoit and his girlfriend Eva. They were to carry on their European tour (which was to end up taking nine months). Now it was time for the ride back. I originally planned further stops in Belgium but I was faced with some personal dilemmas. I made the hard decision to head back to Dunkerque for the boat to England, but not without stopping along the way at Bethune Cemetery to get a photograph of a friends relative who is buried there.
As per every other day, the sun continued to shine, but as I headed northward, the temperature dropped a few degrees. It was still very hot, but the slight change was enough to ease the discomfort a bit. The ride for the ferry was uneventful and feeling low didn’t help matters. I got to Dunkerque and was wrongly directed by the Sat Nav. I ended up on a closed down road the went to a dead end.
Turning back round and seemingly heading the right way, but I ended up the wrong side of the check-in point and had staff waving frantically to stop me. By now I thought my head was going to explode. Checking in a day early meant I had more to pay for the privilege.
I had an hour to wait before boarding the boat and this time, I wasn’t so keen to converse with my fellow Two Wheelers as I normally am. An hour later I was on the boat having a beer. As with my boat journey from Belfast to Birkenhead, I lost my keys on the boat and had to get a crew member to escort me to my Lambretta to check. This time they weren’t in the ignition, they were on the deck of the boat. Before too long, the boat was soon docking back in Dover. I felt indifferent. Glad to be another step closer to home, but I was already calling on memories of the trip, even the hard parts. I felt I was missing it already.
As with the trip south, I hadn’t planned a stopover point on my way back up north. I wasn’t too worried, the boat would dock at three and I Felt I’d have plenty of time to sort something. I wanted to see if I could get passed Oxford and book the nearest hotel room or B&B.
Some of the roads after Canterbury, Tonbridge, Redhill were in bad shape and some really deep grooves carved in the road gave me the wobbles a couple of times and so I wasn’t rushing. I was tired anyway. I passed through Canterbury, Challock, Charing, (twice because I was lost), Pluckley and when I reached Tonbridge. I made a few wrong turns. I then decided I’d better start looking for somewhere to stay for the night.
As I rode on, I would stop now and again trying to locate somewhere. I was using the local directories on Google Maps and Airbnb. Every place I called was booked, some even overbooked! I rode on and at the next stop, I’d try again. I came to the decision that if I wasn’t going to find anywhere, then I’d just ride on until I reached Birkenhead or wherever I could get my head down for the night. The sun was just starting to dip and when I rode through a small wood which had trees overhanging the road, it got dark. At this point, my plans were up in the air. The luggage on my front rack was blocking the headlight and so no light was shining on the road. I pulled over at the next stop and tried to see if I could rearrange my luggage. I also made one last try to find somewhere to sleep. By this time I was at Woking.
Now with no hope of getting a room. I was now trying to figure out whereabouts I could sleep out in the open. Towns were out of the question. Countryside seemed the best option, maybe a track off the road. Even my old friend Andy Vass put out a call for my assistance. The light of the sun was now diminishing and I was just onto the A322 dual carriageway coming alongside Bagshot. Up ahead of me I saw a layby with a couple of lorries parked up. I pulled over and accepted this was my spot for the night. After adding a couple of layers of clothing from my luggage I looked around the grass bank that was free from shrubs stank of piss. For the rest of the night, I sat on the Lambretta. Around midnight I was getting cold and I wished for the hot night at Verdun when it was too hot to sleep. Cars and lorries continually along the carriageway kept me from nodding off. I wasn’t keen on falling asleep anyway. I didn’t fancy the idea of being woke by a mugging.
Total miles Covered: 1,733
Thought for the day: Stick to the plan!
Riding The Western Front: Day 16 – Tuesday 10th July
By 4.45 a.m. I was beginning to see light, by 5.00 a.m. I could wait no more. I got ready and rode off. I was on my way. I’m not sure how well received I was riding through quaint country villages this early in the morning with the exhaust blasting out maximum decibels. I had a hard time riding while shaking and stiff with the cold. When I got to Moreton-in-Marsh, I found a petrol station where I could get some hot coffee and try to warm up a bit. I was aching all over and a bit fed up.
After a couple of coffee’s and a bar of chocolate for breakfast, I was off. The rest of the journey was sometimes scenic, but uneventful I rode up through Worcester, Kidderminster, then cutting across to ride through Shrewsbury. By now I was warmed up and now riding into Wales. I rode up past Wrexham on the A483. Now I was getting a bit nervous. It’s the bit where you’ve done so much travelling and then breakdown near the finishing line. But breakdown I didn’t and by early afternoon, I reached the ferry port at Birkenhead.
I had many hours to wait until the boat was to set sail for Belfast, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I had no sleep the previous night and so I took the opportunity to get some rest.
From silence to mayhem. An hour before checking in a coach load of kids arrived. I made my exit for fresh air and when it came to checking in, I got to the front and went on through to the next stage before boarding. A few bikers from Hull turned up and had a chat for a while before being moved on to boarding the ferry. After a few beers I was getting tired., The lounge cleared, but for a handful of Irish lorry drivers who wanted to drink on through the night. Even to the point of trying to get the crew staff to keep the bar open! I got my head down for a sleep, but could hear them chattering away until at least 3.00 a.m.
Total miles Covered: 2,025
Thought for the day: Too old to sleep rough
Riding The Western Front: Day 17 – Wednesday 11th July
The boat docks in Belfast and for the first time in 17 days, I’m going to experience rain for the short ride home. It’s an uninspiring ride with the depressing reality of Belfast with riot police on the streets early in the morning, but I was glad to be home and you can’t beat your own bed!
Total miles covered for the trip was 2,032