Here’s the second entry in our writing competition! This piece comes from Fred Holmes and is entitled ‘It’s Not So Grim Up North!’.
As I stood outside my local Triumph dealer proudly posing for the customary photo in front of my shiny Phantom black Tiger 800 my head was full of dreams of the great adventures that lay ahead, Southern France, the Gobi desert, maybe even the Urals? After 7 years on a Harley I wanted a bike I could actually ride as I saw myself leaning into corners before blasting my way out like a bat out of hell, but so far the best my Sportster could muster was a slight kink in the road on the way to Costa.
My wife wouldn’t allow me to leave the country on the grounds that up until now I had been unable to fry an egg without assistance so might well starve to death, but she did however concede to a 5 day excursion up north provided I promised to be in bed by ten.
It was late March and time for me to leave the leafy suburbs of Surrey for the untamed wilderness of the Lake District. The weather forecast was good so I set off at 5.30am with the belief that aside from good looks, skill, and a few million quid, Ewan Macgregor had nothing on me. By 6am I was beginning to believe that he might well have had better kit as well. It was so cold the brass monkeys were advertising for welders and I was cursing my decision to forego the heated grips in favour of some show-off black anodised aluminium levers, but it hadn’t been that cold in the showroom! I ended up pulling into a petrol station and donning a pair of polythene gloves beneath my ‘winter’ ones in order to delay the cold from freezing my fingers to the handle bars a little while longer.
2 hours later though the sun was rising over Manchester and I was starting to believe I may well survive without losing any digits to frost bite after all, and those shiny short levers didn’t look so bad after all. By eleven I was bathed in sunshine and in such a good mood I rode straight up the M6 to Penrith for lunch. I dismounted my new steed with nothing more than tingling fingers and only a hint of backache and numb bum as I headed for the nearest café. Suitably refreshed I headed to a hill to take in the view of the town below before I left. I saw a good spot and turned sharp left and parked on a camber facing up hill. The view duly observed I jumped back on and started to back pedal down the hill turning the bike as I went. Half a second later the bike was lying on its side and I was lying next to it only a little farther down the hill. When I first considered buying a Triumph this was not the image I was looking to achieve as I pondered my options on the showroom floor. It was pretty obvious that having just undergone two hip replacements I was going to have to confess my faux pas to at least one person in order to get riding again. Fortunately no spectators witnessed my fall from grace which, whilst easier on the ego, was not so good for getting the bike up. I walked down the hill until I saw some burly young Northern farmer type doing macho stuff on a tractor and reckoned he would like nothing more than to pick up a bike for a fat soft southern ninny like me with only a hint of a smile on his face. I was right. The status quo suitably restored and little damage done thanks to the panniers, I was soon on my way to Ashness Bridge near Keswick whereupon I intended to lick my wounds of pride in total solitude.
Along the A66 to Keswick I diverted off to Castlerigg Stone Circle and by the time I’d parked the bike and walked into the field and was completely alone amongst these ancient stones and outstanding views. I don’t think I’d ever been to the lakes before in such marvellous weather and it certainly added to the natural beauty of the hills and mountains that engulf this ancient monument. It was a truly magical and enchanting experience to be surrounded by one of God’s masterly paintings, and to hear nothing but the all too rare sound of silence.
The ascent to Ashness Bridge is not for the faint-hearted, and certainly not for novice bikers such is the steep incline and narrow twists and I would only attempt it on a bike in the finest of conditions, but the pay-off is more than worth it for those who do, and fortunately today was such a day. The views back down to Derwentwater are amongst the finest in all of England, and it is here that you can start to appreciate why the poets so loved the outstanding rocky grandeur of the lakes.
A little further up the aged single-track lies the quaint hamlet of Watendlath, a hamlet in possession of a unique ethereal quality that I find quite eerily tranquil. There is little here except a few small holdings; a tea shop that only sits you outside and is closed in the winter, and a pretty stone bridge over a babbling brook. I crossed the bridge and was greeted by the wonderful sight of Watendlath Tarn with the surrounding mountains so perfectly reflected in the perfect stillness of the water. For a time all was calm and I figured the broken indicator housing acquired in Penrith would be a simple fix and I could live with the scuffing on the pannier as my reasons for coming were being realised.
I used the A66 to get to my accommodation near Carnforth and the late afternoon sunshine and lack of traffic proved a nice environment to go through the gears on the Tiger. After coming off a throbbing V twin any bike is going to feel smooth but the Triumph proved more than smooth as it effortlessly moved through the ratios and powered up to speed in the most reassuring and comfortable way despite my early dumping of the rubber foot pegs to give my wide plates of meat more room. The bike can be a little twitchy around town and forks are prone to diving if pushed, but once up to speed and allowed to motor, the Tiger is in its element and a joy to ride. Yes, you do have to work the gears a bit, but for me that is half the fun of riding. I want a gritty visceral experience of pushing a bike to get the best out of it and the Triumph certainly gives me that. After a hearty breakfast I was soon venturing back into the lakes in eager anticipation of long bendy roads peppered with uninterrupted views of the Lakes and Dales. The sun was up, the roads were clear and the views didn’t disappoint. First stop was atop of the Wrynose Pass, a road I had previously mistaken as reference to a certain well known African mammal but I kept that little misunderstanding to myself.
By mid-afternoon and after 70 miles of sweeping bends and stunning scenery I was starting to feel a little tired so headed back to my room at a leisurely pace and was generally feeling good about life as my mind processed all the wonderful scenery and fresh air I’d taken in.
The next day found me walking on the very pretty cobbled streets of Dent. I love this village as it has made little or no concession to tourism; two pubs, a couple of tea shops and a post office. It seems to be saying ‘This is a Yorkshire town, built the Yorkshire way, by Yorkshire men, and if you don’t like it then you can sod off!’ 20 minutes later my eyes were resting on the visually impressive Ribblehead viaduct set within the rocky limestone pavement of Cumbria, a truly outdoor experience bereft of trees or other such distractions as street lights or buildings. Lunch was taken with many other bikers at the famous three arched Devils Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale that dates back to the 13th Century. In summer you can get hundreds of bikers meeting here for a burger and a coffee but I was more interested in walking through St Mary’s churchyard to take in Ruskin’s View, which on a sunny day would even put a smile on a Yamaha owners face! It didn’t disappoint and neither did a walk through this quintessentially English town replete with market cross and log fires in ‘t’pubs and bakeries. I must confess though to being somewhat bemused by what I can only assume was a cost cutting exercise when they placed the two clock faces on the tower of St Mary’s church. It seems the horologist simply got to the nearest place he could fit a clock and drilled a hole through the wall and stuck it half in front of a stained glass window; mystifying!
I thought I would set off home via the Yorkshire Dales. Now, ‘God’s own country’ is not quite as dramatic as the Lake District, choosing a more gentle approach to riding, with dry stone walls aplenty and some of the most pleasing to the eye villages in England. It made sense to take it all a bit easy after so many days in the saddle and I was more than happy to just enjoy a sunny meander through the Dales riding on ‘The Bright Side of the Road.’ I pulled over for a picnic at Wain Wath falls near Keld and soaked up the rugged scenery one last time before heading back home. After such a rewarding trip I was almost feeling positive about the 4 hour motorway trek home when the staff at the tea room informed me there was a petrol strike on and no fuel was to be found in the vicinity! Maybe I’ll just have to stay a while longer! – Fred Holmes
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