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A Day at the Races

Around about this time of year, I usually try to get away for a biking holiday of some sort or other. For the last 12 years, I’ve usually met up with the Euro-Compuserve group I first got to know back in ’95 when I first got online and joined Compuserve to find they had a motorcycle forum.

Sadly, CIS got taken over by AOL and promptly run down, then the whole idea of a pay to access service (on top of dial-up charges) became a bit of a relic in face of free-to-use forums like Visordown.com and broadband. I finally cancelled my $10 a month subscription at the end of last year.

Predictably, the people from all over the world that I had chatted with and then ridden with drifted away too. There was a small meet in ’05 down near the Pyrenees, but it really was the last few “hardcore” only and the club atmosphere had gone.

So, I was casting around for a ride this year, and the idea of the Bol d’Or popped up. Now, I used to go to the Paul Ricard for the Bol regularly – I must have been down there 7 0r 8 times in the 80s and early 90s. I loved the ride, loved the atmosphere, loved the circuit. Somehow, a weekend in the warm sun “closed out” the summer and prepared me for the winter months ahead.

But somehow Magny-Cours just doesn’t appeal. There’s not a lot of logic behind that as I’ve never been to the circuit and it’s still a 24 hour race, but the area roundabout I have visited several times and to be truthful, I found it as dull as ditchwater and to be traversed on the way to the real riding in the higher ground to the south.

Still, Keith was keen, so it went on the planning list some weeks back.

Unfortunately, Keith’s job meant little time off and last minute planning. Still, I don’t mind that, it was the sort of thing that I used to be able to do with my long-term riding buddy Andy, where it was often a case of “fancy the Bol tomorrow?”… “yeah, why not?” over a pint after work the night before we left. So it wasn’t till Wednesday we finally made the decision to go. The idea of the channel tunnel operating like a bus where you turn up, buy a ticket and catch the next train, has long since fallen by the wayside. It’s booking ahead only now. And a quick look online revealed that we could get out of the UK on Friday afternoon, but any attempt at getting back on Sunday night was a no-hoper. Ditto the ferries which no longer pack bikes on and fill up the spaces they can’t get a car into but have proper tie-down locations on the deck.

After a hurried e-mail exchange where I revealed the bad news (earliest crossing back was about 5am Monday), Keith decided he couldn’t manage that as he had to be back in work.

So, alternative plans…

Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough appeared to be about the only alternative race meet that weekend, so that became our destination. It didn’t take long to find a B&B up in the Whitby area (more on that in a moment), so that was booked. As I’d been expecting Keith to come down from Oxford to Kent, I’d booked some work for the morning and couldn’t get away to meet at his end early enough for a ride up Friday evening, our plan became a Saturday AM ride up from Oxford, catch the afternoon races on the Saturday, head off to the B&B and then a bit of scenic riding on the North York Moors, back for the afternoon races then back to Oxford in time for supper.

In the event, there was one more quick change as my brother returned unexpectedly from the USA, so we went out for beer and a meal Friday evening, and thus I ended up meeting Keith mid-morning Saturday in Bedford and riding up together from there.

We took a reasonably scenic route via the B660 to Peterborough and thence across the Marches, through the Lincolnshire Wolds and over the Humber bridge. Amazingly, I got tracked down by a former trainee, Julian Earl (hi, Hawker!) in Market Rasen – he spotted the bike whilst we were looking for a spot of lunch and followed us till we stopped! Nice to catch up, Julian.

By this time, it was becoming obvious we weren’t going to make Oliver’s Mount at any reasonable time, so we continued meandering our way across Yorkshire towards Whitby, following the “nose” of the GPS, which was occasionally centred on small towns in roughly the right direction.

The neat thing about the GPS is you can follow it… or ignore it on a whim, whereupon it’ll route you back on track. Much of the time, I just took the indicated route as a suggestion and turned down likely looking minor roads. There was a moment’s slight concern when the road disappeared from the screen altogether. I’d ignored it at a crossroads and selected the straight-ahead option, unaware that my choice was actually a green lane. Still it was tarmac, and a couple of miles later, we were back on real roads!

We made an unscheduled stop at Wharram Percy, a deserted medieval village and spent forty five minutes walking down to the site and wandering round the remains before heading the last few miles up to our stopover at Leaholme. Particularly spectacular was the ride over the moors in the late evening sun, looking down on the spectacular gorge cut by ice-melt through which the steam railway winds.

Next morning, we wandered over the moors upto Saltburn, along the coast to Whitby and on via Robin Hood’s Bay to Scarborough. North of Scarborough is one of the few areas of the UK I’d not visited before, and it didn’t disappoint – the scenery was gorgeous.

I’d forgotten quite how narrow Oliver’s Mount is, and the mainstream racers mostly give it a miss these days, although that means we do get to enjoy the appearance of Ryan Farquar and a couple of the Dunlop clan on the mainland.

I’ve immense respect for these guys who race on circuits like this – it scares me just watching. The speeds have gone up quite dramatically since my last visit and the wheelies over Jeffries Jump are absolutely terrifying.

We managed to get away a bit sharpish when the feature race was stopped after 9 laps and headed south again, aiming to follow main roads and get as far south as possible before night fell and the forecast rain caught us up.

And that’s really when it all fell apart and I remember why I sometimes get frustrated riding in the UK.

The B1249 south to Driffield is an obvious route from the coast to the Humber bridge and the motorways beyond. So it was clogged with a combination of caravans, coaches and bikes all heading south on Sunday evening. The sheer volume of traffic made it difficult to pick off overtakes against the vehicles coming the other way. Even riding in a straight line was an effort as the wind had picked up to gale force and blew the bike sideways every time we passed a gap.

At Driffield we changed direction and took the A614, but this only put us on the route of the same mix of traffic but headed for Leeds/Bradford/Huddersfield.

My patience snapped about 30 seconds later, and I programmed the GPS with a few villages off the main roads and as soon as we could, we headed “off-piste” and onto the minor roads in a roundabout route to Goole. At least they were clear, even if they were fairly twisty and a bit narrow in places, and we made decent time, probably better than if we’d stuck to the main road.

At Goole, we picked up the M18 and headed across towards the M1. And as it got dark, so the rain started to fall and the sidewind turned into a buffeting headwind. Frustratingly, we were often on dry or nearly dry roads and could see clear sunset to the west, but riding through falling rain.

The sheer volume of traffic on the M1 at 8 in the evening amazed me. Just a few years back, you’d only see a few trucks on a Sunday night, and so the road would flow reasonably well unless there was an accident. But now, there were convoys of the damn things, often overtaking one another, and taking two or three miles to do it. And so all the car traffic was now trying to filter through the single outside lane.

And so frustration levels go up all round, which manifests itself in stupid manoeuvres like tailgating (as if that’ll get anyone anywhere faster), lane chopping and overtaking at high speed up the inside.

You can get rain and wind anywhere, but to be honest, the concentration needed to deal with the combination of dark, rain, wind, proximity of traffic and aggression made this about the most exhausting journey I’ve done for years.

There was something of a respite as we turned off the M1 onto the M69 to cut across to the M40, both of which were a bit quieter, but by the time we rolled up Keith’s drive at around 9:45, I was shattered and felt like I’d ridden three times as far as the 200-odd we’d actually covered.

Which of course would have been most of the way to the old Paul Ricard.

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