Family Exploring

Having been separated from family and friends in Europe for over two and a half years, we have wanted to spend time with them catching up as well as exploring familiar and new locations. Having sampled champagne, refreshed our riding skills and confirmed that the Eiffel Tower has not rusted away, it was time to explore some of what the south of England has to offer with family.

We had planned to go to Yorkshire to go down memory’s lane with Anne’s mother, but the weather forecast promised 3 days of heavy rain.  Quick change of plan and we decide to explore more of Kent instead.  Choosing a coastal destination in Kent gives one a plethora of options. From estuarine towns the Medway around to the White cliffs of Dover the choice varied, each with a long history and variety of attractions.

Our first trip was to Broadstairs, a town of which we had never been to before. It is located in an area called the Isle of Thanet. When I first cane across this name, I naively thought was there an island off the Kent coast of which I was unaware. In one sense, I was right. The area referred to  as Isle of Thanet, now a contiguous part of Kent, was in fact an island with, at one time, the Wantsum channel some 2,000 ft/ 600m wide separating it from the rest of Kent. This channel gradually silted up with the last recorded ship sailing through in 1672. Today the isle is firmly part of Kent, although rising sea levels could at some time in the future restore its island status.

Looking across the beach at Viking Bay, Broadstairs.

For those with a literary bent and interested in Charles Dickens, the English author visited Broadstairs frequently over a 20 year period from 1837. He wrote his book “David Copperfield” there. An annual Charles Dickens festival is held in Broadstairs every year in June.

Criminals can be found in all shapes and sizes.

Tenterden is a pretty town in mid Kent and of interest to me as one end of the Kent and East Sussex heritage railway. While not the reason for a visit this time, I am sure that the town benefits from such a tourist attraction. 

M’my and Anne enjoying the Main Street in Tenterden

I was interested to note that the Lemon Tree Restaurant in addition to providing good meals and service also looked to source as much of their food, including wine, as possible from local suppliers, not the cheapest conglomerate. We had hoped to visit a Kent winery and sample the reported excellent wines now coming out of Kent and Sussex, but “Road Closed” thwarted us. Another time.  

While travelling westwards towards Dorset to see my sister, lunchtime beckoned and we pulled into the car park of “The Selsey Arms” at Coolham which appeared from the outside to be just another english pub. Upon entering the pub, we are transported to another era. The walls are decorated with memorabilia including uniforms covering the short history and operation of RAF Coolham, a former Royal Air Force Advanced Landing Ground. RAF Coolham was built as part of Operation Overlord and was only operational from April 1944 to January 1945.   Units based there included 306 and 315 Polish squadrons which is reflected in many of the photographs and paintings. A fascinating slice of history, and the involvement of Polish flyers in WW2. The pub also has a gluten free fryer!

English village pub in Coolham
Interior of “The Selsey Arms” Coolham.

Refreshed and educated, we travel on to my sister’s in Verwood where a Aussie decorated welcome awaited us in case we were feeling a little homesick. I am not sure I like the inflatable shark circling above my head.  As long no “Jaws” movie music starts playing, I will be fine.

An Australian welcome in Dorset, watch of the Shark!

The weather for the past few weeks has been warm and sunny and provides an excellent opportunity to walk to along Hengistbury Head which provides good exercise and a fantastic view  of the Needles, a rock formation on the western end of Isle of Wight. For those who walk all the way to the beach beyond Hengistbury Head, a variety of food stalls will provide sustenance.   

Tansy, John and Anthony near Hengistbury Head, Dorset.
Hengistbury Head

Sunday morning saw a country drive for coffee at Compton Abbas airfield. An interesting name made up of  Saxon word “cumb-ton” meaning village in a narrow valley and  “abbas” meaning land owned by an abbess of an Abbey, Shaftsbury in this case.

A regular stream of two or four seater aircraft both landed and took off, joyrides, visitors and club members I presume, enjoying the beautiful weather and the fantastic views of the Dorset Downs. The location is a local stopping point for motorcyclists and car enthusiasts out for a Sunday drive with a well stocked coffee shop to refresh them before a homeward journey. Unusual aircraft include an Auster, Harvard and I believe a Boeing Stearman, my guess based mostly on the blue/yellow colour scheme.

Boeing Stearman taking off from Compton Abbas.

I was wondering what was the largest aircraft that this undulating grass airstrip could handle when right on cue in came a Pilatus PC-12, which is a single engined turboprop seating 6-8 passengers with a range of some 1500ml/2400km.   After landing, a single passenger disembarked with his briefcase and the plane then departed showing its excellent short take off capability.  An impressive sales advertisement for the PC-12.  An examination of the flightradar24 website showed the plane had come from Cannes to Bournemouth, customs and immigration I presume, then flown on to Compton Abbas some 25ml./ 40km away from Bournemouth Airport, presumably due to a dearth of taxis at Bournemouth Airport?

Only US$4 million for your own executive plane.

A wonderful couple of days with my sister and her family in Dorset comes to an end with a meal with some of her friends who have been aware of our motorcycle travels since the beginning. 

Now we we must prepare for re uniting Streak and Storm.

– Anthony

When I am looking for additional information on a place or event for this blog, My search often leads to Wikipedia to enhance my scribing.  I must thank all those who contribute to Wikipedia, for taking the time and effort to document a small piece of history or knowledge that otherwise may be inaccessible to many or worse lost. This makes our world a richer place for the authors efforts.

Reims

Packed and ready to go to France. For all our skills as experienced global travellers hah hah!, we had not foreseen that our trip to Paris was on the first day of the British Summer holidays! As we snaked for the second time in the multiple lanes of Eurostar passengers at London St Pancras (we found out we queued too early and had to leave the queue and go to the back again) we had concerns that we would not make our train to Paris.  We should not have worried: while the initial organisation was confusing, the processing moved forward at a pace, although my nine and a half year old UK passport again failed to work with the passport reading technology.  Have I really aged that much? I guess the technology is saying yes! I do now have a French stamp in my UK passport curtesy of BREXIT, no more whisking through the EU members channel. The French immigration officer was observant and while perusing my passport asked where I lived, probably due to all the South and Central American entry and exit stamps from our first RTW journey.

A short walk between Gare de Nord and Gare de l’Est allowed Anne to indulge in that great French tradition of coffee and a plate of anchovies in olive oil, really? Not my kind of snack but everyone to their own.

A quick snack of anchovies and bread at a Paris Café

After a short delay to replace our broken train, we are off snaking our way out of Paris. While travelling through France by train, I am struck by the dearth of locomotive hauled trains.  As we pass rail yards, the occasional tired looking diesel or electric loco, BB and CC classes, sit forlornly amongst the weeds. I missed the demise of the steam locomotive era due to youth, but this must be similar with newer Diesel multiple units (DMUs) and Electrical multiple units (EMUs) replacing locomotive hauled trains.  I always enjoyed seeing a locomotive being attached to its rake of coaches in a station and considered it a part of the journey. Another era is passing.

Modern French trains at Gare du L’est.

Reims is in the heart of champagne country where we have gone to spend time with our niece Marion.  We arrive at 6:30pm and the sun is still  high in the sky. We are treated by Marion on arrival to Champagne from the Co-operative where she works.

An excellent bottle of chilled Prestige Des Sacres Champagne

As we walk to a nearby local favourite restaurant of Marion’s, people are eating, talking and laughing outside, music is playing and it reminds me how much I enjoy the long summer evenings that are absent back in Brisbane. Oh for daylight saving… 

Anne and Marion

Marion facilitated a tour of the countryside finishing where she works for a Champagne co-operative. This Co-operative was founded in the early 1960’s by René Lamblot and other winegrowers from road Janvry who wished to promote champagne produced from the western slopes of the Montagne de Reims. They have successfully done so since that time.

Marions workplace near Janvry

Surrounded by grape vines we enjoy being out in the countryside which seems so quiet and peaceful, which will change as soon as the harvest starts in a few weeks, earlier than usual due to the recent heatwave.

A view across the Champagne vineyards near Hautvillers

Driving back towards Reims I was surprised to see dilapidated and abandoned motor racing pits on one side of the road and a similar looking grandstand on the other. Had we inadvertently driven onto a race track?  In a sense we had.  We were on the start finish straight of the Reims-Gueux road circuit that hosted the French Grand Prix during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The circuit had some of the longest straights in Europe in its time. 

I noticed that the front of the pits had a long continuous wall separating the track from the mechanics areas. Could this be were the term “Pit wall” came from?  Today in modern circuits no such barrier exists.  Was it for safety?  Anne remembers the racing car makers and petrol brands, long past, from her childhood.

Anne walking on the old track at Reims- Gueux
Time Keepers Building at Reims-Gueux racetrack.

As we try to imagine how it must have been when races were run here, a rumbling behind me makes me turn to see a black Porsche coming up to us.  I have to give it a starting flag flourish, and it accelerates away, obviously keeping to the speed limit, and we get a little taste of what must have been. Ah nostalgia.  

All too quickly, our time here has past and we are waved off by Marion as we depart Reims. Thank you Marion for your wonderful hospitality, till next time “au revoir”.

As I write this, Anne is furiously adding photos and commentary on facebook which makes me wonder if my tapping away on my ipad to craft this muse is adding any value, apart from having a long term record of our travels.  Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook amongst others provide a much faster and more succinct way of communicating.  Will the blog eventually fade for use? But for now it is my way of communicating so onward we will go.

– Anthony

The First Week

It was recently drawn to my attention that we should be providing “REGULAR” blogs to keep our loyal follower(s) appraised of our travel activities.  I must admit that I have been somewhat remiss in this regard. I guess a combination of lack of practice and some apathy on my part have led to this sorry state of affairs.  A case in point is the complete lack of any record of our April/May 2022 visit to Tasmania.  In my defence, this visit was to look at the possibility of living in the state and not a normal travel event.  Having been suitably chastised in CAPITALS, I have vowed to “do better” in future, as my teachers fervently hoped without any appreciable success, in my school years.

We had planned to visit family and friends in Europe at the end of March 2022 and had booked flights accordingly.  A trip around Europe with Streak and Storm was envisaged and I was pouring over maps when an email from Cathay Pacific dropped into my in-box cancelling our flight, courtesy of the Chinese governments approach to limiting the spread of COVID-19 in their country.

This spanner works led to a reappraisal of the timing of our first post COVID-19 trip from Australia and a rescheduled departure via Singapore as the risk of travelling via Hong Kong or China with repeated COVID-19 lockdowns was too high.

Now with a mid July departure, the grand European motorcycle tour was off the table for 2022, but while the primary reason for our visit to Europe is too see family and friends, whom we have not seen in person since 2019, Streak and Storm will, assuming they still want to work with us after this period of abandonment, have a brief outing scheduled in early August.

Our Taxi driver asked “Qantas or Virgin?” assuming we were taking a domestic flight from Brisbane. While domestic air travel numbers have rebounded, there was a two hour gap either side of our flights departure to Singapore.  This is due to international travel from Australia only operating at about 35% which made check-in, security and immigration a breeze.

We are on our way to Europe!

It did seem a little strange to be on such a large plane after more than two and a half years and I did have a little trepidation at what sort of “Gluten Free” meal might be served.  Travelling with Coeliac Disease for the first time, what sort of tasteless mush would I be served?

I was however pleasantly surprised. Most of my gluten free meals have been as good as I remember airline food and as an added bonus we get served first. The soups, noodles and other gluten free goodies we had packed in anticipation were not needed.

Gluten Free meal on Singapore Airlines

Our second leg from Singapore to London took us over some of the places that formed part of our first RTW in 2014.  As we gazed down at the lights of the towns and cities when had visited, memories came flooding back of people, places and experiences that make travelling such a joy for us.  

Life goes on below us, memories, memories.

The approach into London Heathrow in a clear morning gave us a magnificent view of the Thames, north Kent coast and parts of London.  As we touched down on Heathrow’s 27L runway, we were back.

Coming into London.

Neither my 9 year old British passport or Anne’s new British passport worked on the automatic gates at immigration. Many others had the same problem and since the electronic gates have been around for a number of years, they should work better.

Piles of suitcases abounded as we walked through Terminal 2 to the luggage reclaim area reminding us that there are still a few wrinkles in the travel process to be ironed out.  While I waited for our last bag to arrive, a quick look at the location of our newly acquired Apple Airtags showed that the recalcitrant bag was halfway between our arrival gate and the baggage hall. I think the Apple AirTags could prove to be a worthwhile investment at this time given the sometimes chaotic scenes involving bags at airports we all see on television.

Anne’s sister Diane was waiting for us and a joyful reunion took place. We also were able to finally remove our face-masks that had been an almost permanent feature, apart from meat times,  for over 30 hours. I can sympathise with those who have to wear them day in and day out as part of their job.

Back together in the UK after two and a half years.

The first couple of days had us recovering from jet-lag and making sure we had not picked up COVID-19 en-route that we could pass on to family members. We visited the outdoor historic  dockyard at Chatham, formally HMS Chatham, where we could wander outdoors and be exposed to lots of bright sunlight to aid our bodies’ timezone change.

Anne recovering from jet lag. Perhaps it could replace airline seats?

We were able to experience the UK’s hottest day ever, 40.3 degrees Celsius, on July 19th, warm even by our Brisbane standards and spent a pleasant few days in Canterbury catching up with Anne’s mum, enjoying her hospitality.

Anne and her mum in Canterbury.
View from our hotel room in Canterbury.

While staying at our hotel, the Thomas Ingoldsby in Canterbury, we had noticed that the pictures on the walls were done by local school children based on the Ingoldsby Legends – a collection of  myths, legends and ghost stories based in part  Kentish folklore written by Richard Harris Barham in the 1830’s under name of Thomas Ingoldsby. 

Drawing from Ingoldsby Legends “The Smugglers Leap” artist aged 10 commissioned by Wetherspoons.

We then noticed “The art beneath your feet” which explained that the carpets in the hotel were based on the illustrations from the books. I liked the fact that a large pub and hotel chain, Wetherspoons, can weave, pun intended,  local history into something so unnoticed as carpets. 

Even a carpet can be artwork.

Our first week is over, what will week 2 bring?

– Anthony

Getting back in the saddle

Well, after an absence of some six months from blogging, it seems that our handful of followers are looking for more.  We thank them for their dedication and positive comments.  Perhaps a short road trip to get the writing juices flowing again?

Anne has diligently packed the motorbike panniers over the last few days and we are ready for our first road trip in 2022. Little steps and with Easter approaching, we want to be back before the bulk of the holiday makers are out and about. Coffee at Boonah over Cunningham’s Gap and into the Granite Belt as the area is called, known for its fruit, national parks and wine.  Yes, we produce wine in Queensland.  It’s not all beaches and palm trees.

Boy that looks good. Suttons Juice Factory at Thulimbah.

As we approach Stanthorpe  I am struck by the golden colour of the leaves of the deciduous trees. For some reason I always think of April as the start of Autumn but it is in fact March I am reliably informed.   Without such trees around us in Manly, I am always about a month out on the seasons’ change each year.

Autumnal Tints near Stanthorpe.

Day 2: My iPhone’s weather app shows cloudy skies all morning but no rain. This is confirmed by the bureau of meteorology’s radar map but unfortunately this is in conflict with the sound of rain on the roof of the mostly waterproof tent. So much for relying on technology. I had used the weather forecasts before we left to determine what we brought with us, and rain gear was noticeably absent!   Jeans are not that waterproof but it is what we have.

Water has entered the tent overnight, puddles Anne calls them, but from my side of the tent just wet patches.  It is all in the perspective. Seems the waterproofing has not significantly improved since the last trip.  This is why from time to time, equipment needs replacing, but I, Anthony, do not like to throw anything out that has given good service which is why we still have tents going back to 1975!  I have been reliably informed on this trip that this tent will not be making the next motorcycle trip in Queensland. A replacement needs to be sought and this tent retired and donated as “dry weather only” tent for kids.

Camping near Storm King Dam near Stanthorpe.

Up and off to Stanthorpe in light rain heading for the Commercial Cafe, which we hear does great coffee, to meet up with a lovely couple we met the day before at a petrol/gas station where their young son got to sit on both our motorcycles. We really enjoy meeting locals and get their perspective on life and living. Breakfast at a non-gluten free establishment, in spite of their best efforts, does not treat me kindly later in the day. I will need to be more careful in future.

Stanthorpe Fire Station mural.
Another Stanthorpe Mural, go see them all.

A clearing sky tempts us to ride the 36 kilometres to Girraween National Park, a place we have loved to visit during our time in Queensland but have not been to for a dozen years or more. A brief rain shower tests our resolve and our jeans’ lack of waterproofing, but we push on and are able to hike partway up the Pyramid, a famous rock formation in the park. It is really good to be out in the country again.

On top of the world at Pyramid Rock, Giraween.
The water is flowing in Girraween National Park.

While having dinner, a cup of soup and a biscuit back at the campsite, we meet a group of families from Brisbane who were all originally from Kerala in India but only met when they moved to Australia. They invited us to join them for dinner with a range of mouthwatering curries on offer, but I realised I had to decline because of Coeliac Disease. What future culinary delights will I be denied?  Oh well, life goes on with nice dried biscuits. 

Our third day is still grey but with the promise of sunshine further west: we are headed for Texas, a small town of 900 people on the banks of the Dumaresq river which also forms the border between Queensland and New South Wales. Anne proposes we go via the Bruxner Highway so south we go, crossing a state border for the first time on our motorbikes in more than two years without fear of quarantine rules being suddenly changed.

The Bruxner highway from Tenterfield to Texas was a joy to ride: undulations, twists and turns great views and little traffic. Stopping at a river crossing, we enjoy a leisurely break on the banks of the Dumaresq river, which had been in flood only days earlier as evidenced by damage to trees and bushes along the riverbank.

On the banks of the Dumaresq River
Please hold onto the handrail while crossing the bridge.
Texas, a small part of Queensland.

The Texas Railway Museum is our third night’s camping spot. Located just  outside Texas Queensland, not the US TX, a band of intrepid volunteers are working to restore part of what was a 54km branch line to  sleeper by sleeper.

We get to meet Dave, a railway museum volunteer, who comes to check on us  after a concerned resident seeing a couple of dangerous looking bikers just ride up to the station and setup camp calls him! We explain that we are expecting Robert and Kelvin to turn up for the week end.  Dave shows us around the facilities and it is impressive what they have achieved. Worth a visit if you are in the area.

Looking West in Texas on the rail line to Inglewood.
Station Camping in Texas
Intrepid Volunteers Robert and Kelvin, not me, at the Texas Railway museum.
The name says it all.

At Millmerran, we stop for coffee and I am finding that most Gluten free pastries I have eaten so far seem to be a combination of concrete for strength and cardboard for taste. I need to loose my taste memory of tasty flakey pastry.  I am starting to think that gluten free pastry will not form part of my ongoing food consumption. Anyone found an edible version?

Our direct route to our overnight destination of Dalby is closed due to the effects of the recent flooding locals inform us. The damage to bridges and other infrastructure will take some time to repair. 

The Bunya Mountains is the last stop on this little adventure. The mountains rise from the surrounding plain and are visible from Dalby some 50km away.  Crossing the farmland and floodplain crossings as we travel north, the mountains always seem far away. We enjoy seeing deep blue skies finally.  As we start to climb, farmland gives way to scattered temperate forest, then, suddenly it seems, we are enveloped by massive bunya and hoop pines touching above our heads as we enter the real forest. The area was heavily logged.  We are just too late for the Bunya nut season and can only see the remnants on the forest floor, however not a bad thing since the nuts are the size of small pineapples – being hit by one could be very painful.  

While we are still camping, there is a fine restaurant and even finer whiskey/whisky bar with a large section of Scottish and other work. The hearty meal and accompanying drinks are balanced by a couple of brisk walks exploring parts of this unique landscape. 

Last night in the leaky tent in the Bunya Mountains campsite
Fungi in Bunya Mountains National Park.
Bunya pines standing tall
Local wildlife in Bunya Mountains National Park.
Anne sampling the Whisky from the wrong side of the bar.

Back via the Exchange Hotel in Kilkoy, a favourite stop of ours on northern motorcycle loops from Brisbane, for a steak lunch and then after six days and 1158km, we are safely back in Manly.

The only dirt section on the entire trip

While many of our blog entries are from far flung places, for us anyway, there is much to be seen locally everywhere, So while we are all looking at testing our travel wings, why not start with a local trip first?

– Anthony

PS. Storm has a new front (fully round) wheel and has passed the MOT. Ready for the road later this year.