A wet week in motorcycle heaven

Published: 03 July 2007

It was a combination of events which inspired me to take a week off work and head for England in June 2007. I had recently purchased a 1989 FZ750 Yamaha, paying 800 euros for a stunning example with 48,000km on the clock. With a new chain and sprockets fitted I could not fault it mechanically (I am a trained motorcycle mechanic). This combined with the Donington round of MotoGP on the horizon and a Norwegian girlfriend as keen to see some of England as I was to show her, became an irrisistable force, and so tickets booked and paid for, luggage purchased and a skeleton route planned, insurance Green Card confirmed, I dreamed of the roads I would soon be riding... roads with bends and corners, hills and dips, roads as different from those here in the environs of Amsterdam as it is possible to get.

The frst 350km was from the Dam to Calais, we left at 11am and headed for Utrecht, Antwerp, Brugge, Dunkirk, Calais, arriving at 3.30pm after one coffee/fuel stop easily in time for our 4.30 sailing to Dover. The weather was cloudy but dry on arrival in Dover so we headed down the south coast, spending Thurday night in Bexhill. Unable to find a place to eat that was open after 10pm we had an early night.

Friday saw us at Beachy head then on into Brighton for a spot of lunch. We then took the A272 to Winchester which was a nice little ride which gave me a chance to get to know the characteristics of the bike. We stayed in Romsey outside Southampton on Friday night when rain threw a damper on things.

Saturday and the weather was not much better so we left the luggage in a barn and headed off to Salisbury on the A36, a very pleasant ride. On the return run we hooked off on to the A32 - nice, but so many speed restrictions it took the flow away.

Loading up and heading north in the rain we picked up the A34 as far as Oxford where we joined the M40 as far as Warwick leaving on the A46 to Stratford-upon-Avon. Unable to find a campsite that would allow tents we were treated to the amazing sight of a Lotus Elise power sliding around the roundabout a few times before shooting off up the hill. A couple of minutes later I looked up from my map to see it come back down the hill, do another couple of tyre smoking curcuits and scoot off into town, fantastic.

We were directed to the horse race track out past Anne Hathaway's house where we were welcome to pitch our tent in the rain. My growing rain-induced misery was lifted by the fact that also on site was the BSA Goldstar owners club rally. I have never seen so many DBD34s in one place before ,and it would not stretch credibility too far to suppose that these were the first and only owners; lovely guys with that air of obbsession about them.

After breakfast and a shower we set off for Donington Park, the weather again played its part, but once those 800s roared past the hair on on my neck stood up and a grin a mile wide spread across my face. Looking at my GP rookie passenger it was a relief to see that she obviously felt the same. After a great race we had a wander round infield in the mud, a much better set-up than Assen it has to be said, watch the 125s and the start of the KTM Superduke race and then head off to find the bike.

After filtering out from the track we joined the A50 and hammered towards Stoke-on-Trent and the M6. Heading north with one fuel stop for the bike and one for us we leave at junction 35 on to the A6 join the A590 and head west, turn on to the 595 at Greenodd. As the rain clouds bring a premature dusk we turn off and head up the Duddon Valley past Ulpha and on to the best campsite in the lakes (those who know it know what I mean). It was tent up, walk through the woods to the pub, a couple of bone-warming whiskeys, and then to a cold damp sleep.

Morning came with little promise of a break in the weather but with a hot shower and the waterproofs on we headed for the biggest test for all of us... Hardknott Pass. Unless you have ridden this slim ribbon of rippled tarmac as it clambers over the mountains to the coast you cannot hope to comprehend the sharpness or the steepness of the twists and turns. I paused at the summit to see how my passenger was bearing up and to point out the panoramic views, as well as the way down. She was ecstatic and amazed and couldn't wait for the ride down, so off we went.

We hooked north on to the 595 after Eskdale Green and had breakfast in Egremont, the town the world forgot, at a small cafe where I had two revelations: one was the fact that when I suggested an easier coastal route on the return run this was greeted with such dismay I could only agree to retrace our steps, the second was black pudding with sugar - gorgeous!

Then it was back over Hardknott to pack up the tent, then off back up and right at the head of the valley and the more sedate climb over Wrynose Pass and into the next valley with Coniston water nestling in the bottom. Cutting through Coniston village and heading for Hawkshead on the west of Lake Windermere and then on to catch the ferry across we were thwarted by the weather. Strong winds had forced the suspension of the ferry service so we headed down the east side of the lake past Lakeside to Newby Bridge and then on to one of my all time favorite stretches of road the 592 to Bowness and Windermere. Great sweeping bends that flow one into the next, through woods and high walled sections into crests that open up the road in front allowing you to overtake slower traffic, through dips and drops into high cambered corners that spit you out onto high-speed sections allowing lovely views over the lake at slower speeds.

Through Bowness and Windermere we turned right on to the 591 heading for Kendal, stating on it to bypass the gateway to the lakes and then an accident on the road ahead meant a detour over the tops into the Lythe valley and our next stopover, Levens.

Tuesday saw us up and ready to go as late as 10.30, the weather was a little better so leaving everything but the tankbag we headed off on the 591 past Kendal, Windermere, Ambleside, on up to Grassmere and finally Keswick, where we found a laundrette and spent the day drinking unfeasibly large cups of coffee and eating everything in sight.

We returned to Levens to change and then headed down the A590 to Barrow-in-Furness for dinner with family, leaving at Ulverston to ride the coast road, a great piece of tarmac which contains everything that makes riding a bike such a buzz.

Back to Levens at midnight and a good night's sleep in the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. Wednsday started late and lazy; we were hassled out of our digs at around 11 due to some funeral or other and set out on the A65 fully loaded for a cup of tea at Devil's Bridge and then on to Skipton. The cloud boiling over the top of the Pennines looked ominous so I turned tail and headed for Preston on the A59, joining the M6 at junction 31 and barrelling down to the M1 as far as Northampton, the 428 to Bedford then on to Cambridge. A combination of the cold, rain and an incomprehensible one-way system found us at a Waitrose supermarket on the edge of town having a brew and getting directions to a campsite where we arrived to the apparent amazement of the owner, who let us on and then locked the gate behind us. Another cold damp night under canvas was alleviated by bright sunshine the following morning, Thursday, and so we aired out as much as we could, showered, had breakfast, packed up and hit the road

We took the M11 down to the M25, the Dartford crossing and then on to the M20 where I thought it appropriate to do a quick try at all the 2s, and on a downhill section and fully loaded (the bike not me) we managed to brush against 222kph briefly before arriving in a bright and breezy Dover in time for our ferry back to Calais.

With only the 350km back to Amsterdam and the rain holding off we literally got our heads down and got back 7 days, 12 hours and 3057km later.

After a night's sleep I took stock, the FZ had averaged 250km to a tank before going on to reserve, had blown a rear bulb twice and consumed a litre of oil. I was thinking of only holding on to her for the summer and then maybe getting something a bit newer, but now I am not so sure. It would have to be a great bike and a great deal to make me want to see her go; my only criticism is the razor blade of a seat. Boy that takes some getting used to, but hey...