Monday, 9 June 2008

Early Days Revisited I am. I've just had lunch in Old Amersham and have arrived at Lowndes Park in the centre of Chesham. The only reason I have come here is because I have quite vivid memories of learning to ride my first bicycle here. The feeling of propelling yourself in a straight line without the aid of stabilisers for the first time is something you don't forget that easily! I can remember arriving here at Water Meadow car park in one of my parents first cars which was an Austin A40 along with my bike and a bag full of bread to feed the ducks. Up until then we had been used to travelling in a sidecar attached to my dad's Norton 500*.An Austin A40...ours was a bit bigger than this obviously.

This isn't a photo of our 'actual' bike and sidecar but it's very similar to the one we had. Can you imagine two adults and two children travelling down to Devon to visit my grandmother on this?...we did it several times. We caught fire once but that's another story...

*I am corrected by my mother who tells me that although my dad did indeed have a Norton 500, the bike he had when I was born was a BSA 500 and this was the bike which had a sidecar attached to it. So, for the record, here's a BSA A7 500cc bike...hopefully not too far off the one we had in 1961!
This is my dad on his Norton 500, year unknown but I guess at some point in the early 50's.

What a great looking bike! Strangely enough, I found myself parked next to a BSA C15 250cc just the other day here in Bath. The C15 was the first ever motorcycle I had which I bought in about 1979. It was blue like the one below but I decided to paint it black. I loved that bike but it did break down a lot.

My current bike, the Honda VFR 750 parked next to the BSA C15 in Bath.

Thursday, 5 June 2008


I set off just after 11am and soon find myself on the A40 heading east. As I passed Gloucester I saw a sign saying 'Freshly cut Asparagus' so I stopped and bought some. This was consumed a couple of days later with lashings of butter and black pepper...delicious. Much better than that pale green stuff you get in supermarkets that's been grown in Thailand or somewhere.

Back on the bike and I stay with the A40 all the way past Oxford and High Wycombe and then turn off towards Amersham and Chesham. It feels strange going back to the place where I was born and haven't been back to since I left in the late 60's. It's about 40 years since I was in this part of the country last and I'm keen to see if there is anything I can actually remember from that long ago.

Seeing a sign for 'Amersham Old Town' I take a left turn and find myself in a very picturesque old town centre...which I don't recognise at all. I'd like to say I did but I didn't!
It all looks very posh and very English and doesn't tie up at all with any of the memories I have from my early childhood. After a few laps of the centre I decide to have some lunch and think about where I'm going to visit next.


I'm awake early and the sun is shining...a clear blue sky infact so the good old Met Office has got it wrong again. Not that I'm complaining. After a very good 'full' English breakfast I decide to have a quick wander into Hereford city centre before checking out.
It literally was a walk through the main pedestrian shopping area and a quick look at the outside of the cathedral before I had to get going but I wouldn't mind coming back for a longer stay some time. I didn't get to see the Mappa Mundi either.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

To Hay and Back

I find the B&B easily, it's just across the river from the Cathedral and a short walk from the centre of Hereford. I'm shown to my quarters which is a cosy attic room. Nice. I dump most of my luggage and go straight back out to continue the journey to Hay-on-Wye where I have been invited to a book-signing and award ceremony given by Red House as part of the Hay Literary Festival.I decide to take the scenic route to Hay via Abergavenny and Brecon as I remember the roads being great to ride on a bike and I still have plenty of time to get there.

It was a fast road to Abergavenny and I soon found myself riding on a twisting road on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. I'd like to come back and ride through the Beacons when I have more time at a later date. I've driven in a car over the Beacons before years ago and it was quite spectacular, it would be great on a bike.
I miss my turning to Talgarth and end up in Brecon which wasn't planned but I need petrol so I fill up and then pick up the road to Hay, arriving there with about an hour before the book signing.
I had a quick pint at the Kilvert's Hotel, sitting in exactly the same spot that I sat in two years ago before collecting my own Red House Children's Book Award for illustrating 'Pigs Might Fly' written by Jonathan Emmett. Time flies let alone pigs...
Literally, (or should that be literary?) as I arrive at the Hay Festival site it's starts to rain...not hard but it's the first time I'd seen rain today. Riding into the site area it was obvious that Hay had seen rather a lot of rain that week. It took me a good 15 minutes to find somewhere to park the bike that wasn't too boggy and so it wouldn't disappear into the mud.I'm 15 minutes late for the book signing and find myself sat next to the illustrator Petr Horacek as a line of children and the occasional adult file past asking us to sign anything from autograph books to books we've actually illustrated, commemorative carrier bags, fans, bookmarks etc. A small boy knocks over my glass of lemonade which soaks the table and adds to the fun...and dampness. The heavens opened at this point and you could barely hear yourself speak as the rain lashed down onto the marquee we were in.
After the book-signing we were all shown to our particular 'named' tables (I was on Harry Potter). A meal of bangers & mash followed by speeches and the award ceremony itself. In short Derek Landy's 'Skullduggery Pleasant' published by Harper Collins was the overall winner. You can read a bit more about it here if you like.

Yes, I should have gone to the party afterwards but as it had just stopped raining I decided to take my chances and headed off back to Hereford whilst it was still dry and light.

Just time to go out for something to eat and a couple of pints in Hereford before turning in. A fairly early start tomorrow and I'm already looking forward to the ride to Amersham.

The Trip To Hereford

After some last minute hand-wringing about whether to actually go or not due to having been glued to the weather forecast (rain, rain and more rain) all week I decide I'm going to chance it as it's actually sunny on Friday morning. I have a B&B booked in Hereford for Friday night and if it looks like the weather is going to stay fairly dry I can continue my route and hope to find somewhere else to stay on Saturday night.

With bike loaded up, I set off around midday and head off up the A46 to the M4 which I follow east to the old Severn Bridge near Chepstow. Delighted to discover that motorcycles can cross the bridge for free where as car drivers have to stump up £5.30 at the toll to get into Wales. I smile smugly at the car driver next to me as my barrier lifts and I speed off leaving him struggling to find change in his glove compartment. From Chepstow I take the A466 which takes me along the picturesque winding road through the Wye Valley.

Two miles up the A466 I meet my first annoyance. As I round a bend a fully-laden car transporter pulls out in front of me. Once again 'The five second law' confounds me. The five second law is my theory that at any given time on a journey, a slow moving vehicle will lie in wait to delay your progress. To annoy you it will always pull out in front of you a few seconds ahead. If you had only been another five seconds ahead on your journey it would have pulled out behind you. This normally takes place when there is no visible traffic ahead of you or even behind you thus emphasising the sheer annoyance factor that it has singled you out deliberately to slow your journey.

Anyway, it's not easy trying to pass a slow-moving car transporter on a windy road, particularly when it is driving in the middle to avoid the trees either side but I finally squeeze past on one of the few straight stretches and feel sorry for the poor sods in their cars still behind it who are going to be stuck there for some considerable amount of time.

This is more like it, lovely winding road through the Wye Valley, it feels great to be out on the bike again after not having ridden it for months. I pass Tintern Abbey...I would have photographed it but it's predictably swathed in green netting and scaffolding (Another of my pet gripes...travelling to places to visit famous landmarks only to find them covered in scafolding, it seems to happen a lot).

In fact taking photos is not that easy when travelling on a bike which is why I don't have loads of scenic shots of my trip. By the time you have stopped, taken off helmet and gloves, located camera, changed camera battery because it dies on you, taken photo, put away camera, put gloves and helmet back on etc. you will have added at least ten minutes to your journey.'s somebody else's photo of the Abbey taken from Devil's Pulpit...and that's the A466 and the river Wye next to it.
I arrived at Monmouth about 50 minutes after leaving Bath which isn't bad considering the car transporter and I haven't been caning it. From Monmouth it's a fairly short trip of about 25 minutes to Hereford and I arrive at the B&B I am staying at 1 hour and 20 minutes from leaving home. Mmmn...not bad.