YHA February: Hartington Hall Part Three – Doris Strikes

I was greeted at 8.30 by my comrades knocking on the door to call me to breakfast, and sprang out of bed feeling completely refreshed and looking forward to the day ahead. The itinerary was simple; Breakfast, leather up, ride to Matlock, meet the others, ride back to the Manifold Inn, natter, eat, natter more, ride back to Hartington to drink more.

Breakfast was lovely – Tinned grapefruit and peaches, toast, more fruit, gentle chatter and looking forward to the day ahead. A few more of the forum had checked in on Skype as being on their way, but a few more had cancelled for the weather.

We unlocked the bikes – My borrowed VanVan, a 1400 Intruder and a Kawasaki ZZR, and set out towards Matlock. By the time we’d got more than a few miles, I knew I wouldn’t make it out there, the wind was just far too strong, knocking me all over the road. I pulled over, explained the problem, and returned to the hostel as they headed on to Matlock, twenty-odd miles away to meet the rest, planning to meet them later at the Manifold.

I got back to Hartington, stopping once on the way to offer my phone to a stranded motorist (“A Geordie biker? Of course you stopped. Geordies are helpful, bikers are helpful, you must practically have had to take an oath…”) and settled in for a couple of hours of lacemaking in the lounge before going back out. The weather seemed to ease, so when one o clock rolled around I got back into my full kit and set off.

Here the problems began.

Firstly, I went the wrong way which was the start of my problems. I got a long way up the a515 before I realised, so pulled into the gate of a camping and caravan site in Pomeroy. Wherein my battery died. Remember that dead battery? I knew it would come back to haunt me. The wind was picking up a little, so I ventured across the cattle grid where I was met by a border collie, who insistently herded me down to the farmhouse, where a woman was both unsurprised to see me and knew right away what to do. “My husband is around. He’s a biker. He’ll help.” Minutes later he came out with a baler and a 10mm spanner, we took the saddle off, jumped the battery off the baler’s enormous industrial battery, and got it running.

“I’ve always liked these.” he said thoughtfully – he rode a BMW touring machine – “What’re they like?”

The only sensible response was to step down and offer to let him spin it around the yard. He did so, and upon his return I think I saw his smile before I saw the headlamp. The VanVan really is a bike that loves mud, and puddles, and fields, and just generally it makes people smile. He was very happy, and very helpful – Blocked the traffic with the baler to let me out onto the main road, where I set off back towards Hartington.

Here, the problems got worse. The a515 is a high, exposed road, with the winds of what became Storm Doris howling across it west-to-east. I was on a bike which, with me on it, still weighed less than 150kg, and was running flat-out, carefully picking a tacked line to stay upright and leaning hard in a hell of a wind, on a downhill. Clearly, nobody sane would get within spitting distance of this vehicle, understanding that I was currently a very vulnerable road user through no fault of my own, and I had no way to stop to fix this problem.

Unfortunately, Silver Fiesta Driver did not think this. Silver Fiesta Cunt was so important that, even though I was already at the speed limit for this road, he would wait until I was sufficiently tucked-in to the side of the road, then race to overtake me. He overtook me so close, in fact, that he just slammed hard into my rear right indicator.

I consider it a testament of my skill and machine sympathy that I managed to arrange a soft landing for both myself and the bike in the ditch at the side of the road, but this is how me, and the VanVan ended up upside-down in six inches of water in a ditch. I extracted myself from under it, and that’s where things get blurry.

I remember taking my gloves off and flinging them at the bike and screaming.

I remember a woman in a blue estate stopping on the far side of the road for a second, asking “Are you all right?” and when I shakily answered an honest, concussed “I don’t know. I got hit.” replied with “Oh you’re fine, you look fine” and driving off at high speed.

I remember a car stopping, an arm around my shoulders to hold me up, and someone saying very slowly “Have you been hit?” and then “Sit in my car whilst I run this up to the pub for you.”

I remember sitting in a car and wanting to get out to apologise to the man who was now pushing my bike up the road to the pub, since the dead battery meant that it wouldn’t restart.

I remember him returning, driving me up to the pub, and saying that he’d put money behind the bar so that I could get a coffee, and that he’d be back after picking his son up to check that I was all right.

I remember the landlady getting me the phone so that I could phone the Manifold to see where the bikers were, and the landlord of the Manifold saying that the bikers had just left to find one of their wives who was in some trouble up on the a-road.

I remember staring at my coffee and not being sure how much sugar to put in it, and thinking that this was a very nice medieval pub.

I remember Intruder-rider checking me over for obvious head injuries, whilst one of his friends checked my helmet for cracks.

And then time seemed to return to its normal flow, and the five of us were sat at a table eating a whole Sunday dinner by a crackling fire, surrounded by suits of armour and ageing taxidermy. And, you know, it was a really nice afternoon.

Getting the bike back to Hartington was a nightmare. The same winds that had basically unhorsed and unmanned me earlier were still howling. I did not want to get on the bike. The bike refused to start, repeatedly, until three of the others gave it a good old hoick around the car park to bump it. And then I was back on. Triumph America rode in front, then Intruder, then ZZR, Bonneville having had to get home to get his kids to bed.

We had to stop a good few times, with pep talks and wailing at every step, but eventually I just went visor-down, timed it between the gusts, and ripped out ahead of the pack to get back as fast as I could. Having the trail of four friendly vehicles behind me made it a thousand times easier.

Back at Hartington I dropped the bike in its spot, got inside, and immediately got a gin gimlet, the first of many. Using the dead battery as a figleaf, I phoned for breakdown recovery, and arranged it for 10am the next day. The rest of the night, the three of us sat and chatted, unbothered by incomers, I still working on and off on my lace, the others uploading photos of the day, all of us having a couple of quiet, calming pints. We said our goodbyes that evening, knowing that in the morning we all had different schedules to keep.

The next morning, they were both gone long before I woke up, but my bike had been un-bent and was spotless. The courier arrived at 10 exactly – A fellow biker, who’d toured the Sahara, Canada, the States and most of Europe and Asia, ridden the length and breadth of the UK on a push bike, and who was cheerfully un-patronising as we sat in the van listening to Black Sabbath and getting the bike home safely.

The VanVan was returned to its rightful place next to its brother, I flopped into the house completely exhausted, but overall despite all the bad luck, it was still a really good weekend full of scenery and bikes and good people. Two successes so far!

YHA February: Hartington Hall Part 2 – At the sign of the prancing autobai

The VanVan is utterly bananas to ride. I don’t know quite who or what it was made for, but haring across the hills and between the old mill towns on either side of the Pennines at a steady 50mph is probably about right. By the time I reached Huddersfield I was in love with this impossibly-light, responsive, lively bike. It didn’t have power – It’s 0-60 time is “It’ll do 0-60… No, that’s it, it will do 0-60 eventually” but it had character. It’s so short and narrow that it filters through gaps that even my beloved GZ would have found challenging.

Rising up through the winding paths into the Peaks, heading for Glossop In The High Peak over the famous-for-good-reasons Snake Pass, I was completely blown over by the scenery; Heather moors wilder than anything I’d seen south of the border, the high mass of Kinder Scout, the violent twists of the high road which still, somehow, HGVs thought they could traverse. It was beautiful. I passed through Glossop, which looks like something out of a steampunk novella, all high temples to industry, two beautiful viaducts joined in a Y over the road, the water running in a mill-race alongside the road. It felt like a self-contained, cold, lonely world even though logically I know it can’t be far outside of Manchester.

After Glossop the air got colder still, the terrain more wild and ragged – The road ran alongside the water in the bottom of a valley, leading to a tight bridge over a reservoir near Crowden. After this, exhaustion seemed to hit. On a bigger, more comfortable bike, and in better weather, it would have been a beautiful run. On the VanVan in the cold, with the dark descending and the rain whipping across in the howling wind, it was cruel and unusual punishment. By the time I reached the last road down to Hartington, passing the quarries where the trucks seemed to howl past every couple of seconds, I was so tired that I was counting every junction.

At this point, an HGV from the quarry decided to “help” by tailgating me.

You may know when you’re on a bike of the dual “splish-splish” sound, of the front and then back wheel going through puddles. I was getting “Splish-splish-splishROAR”because the HGV was literally so close that it was about the distance from my tail as my front wheel was from my back. Larger vehicles do this to bikes in the hope of making us speed up, not realising that a bike as small as the VanVan, at 60mph, is giving it basically all that it can. On the uphills, stretching the speed limit a little, I pulled ground away from it, and then on the downhills it caught back up, desperate to scare me, to prove his driver was manlier, or more aggressive, or more skilful.

We were in the rain. In the dark. On an unfamiliar road. The stopping distance of an HGV is lacking at the best of times. I saw my turn-off, and, this HGV being so close, I couldn’t slow down to take it. Instead, I took a left into a layby a hundred yards down the road, after gaining as much ground as I could. The driver honked his horn as he went past, clearly feeling like a big tough guy.

I wish I had the courage to harry someone on a 125cc bike. It must take real guts when you’re only driving a forty tonne quarry truck.

I turned around on the now empty road, and made my way down the last stretch into Hartington.

Hartington Hall is beautiful. I don’t know if I can accurately convey it, but imagine if you will; You’re cold, you’re sore, you’re angry at HGV drivers, you’re wet through and have been riding for nearly four hours. You have a dislocated shoulder and can’t feel your hands, or anything below your knees. You see a hall, a beautiful stately home with sweeping lawns atop a hill. You realise that is, in fact, your destination. You park your bike and half-dismount, half-fall-off, and crawl up to the great heavy oak door, and unlatch it, falling in in a mess, your skin grey all over, shaking and exhausted.

Two helpful bikers – Your friends, whom you’ve only met once before – help you down into a chaise. Your boots come off. Your helmet and gloves are stowed for you, as one of them goes to collect your pack and bring the bike up to the collective parking. Your eyes focus a bit. There are candles in every alcove, a roaring log fire in the huge medieval inglenook, low tables and settees and thick rugs on the floor so you can walk around barefoot. You’re warm. You’re comfortable. Someone has got your morphine out of your pack, so in a minute or two you won’t be in pain either. Dinner is ready for you, and it’s good. A set of keys are pressed into your hand – That’s for your bunk, which is just upstairs and you can go and sleep in it right now if you want. A pint of really rather nourishing porter is placed in front of you, as soon as you’re warm enough to drink it without spilling.

Hartington Hall is magic.

Once I’d warmed up and proof-of-like had been posted to the forum (Though some still maintain that the photo is just one of my compatriots holding up my dead body) we had a fantastic evening. Conversation flowed like we’d known each other forever.

Around midnight, we were joined by someone who I’ll call Middleclass Man. Middleclass Man seemed pleasant enough. He came from the bar and asked, pleasantly, if we minded having him join us for a last drink before bed. We assented, shuffled up the settee, and made room for him. Unfortunately, this was Middleclass Man, so no room was enough room. Our conversation, which had been about everything under the sun, mostly wildlife and crafting things and our previous adventures, was about Bikers. What did Bikers think about Easy Rider? Were One Percenters really a big thing? Did we really have to pay our respects to them? He had an MX5 once, you know, he’d always wanted a bike.. What kind of Bike should he get? He thought he’d suit something classic and sporty and Italian but… What do you all Ride?Ooh crashes, have you been in crashes? What do you think of that? Oh wow, your leg is such a mess? Can I touch it? Can I feel that bit? Can YOU feel that bit? Wow wow wow so braaave. How do you cope, knowing this can just happen to any of you? Money won’t make you happy, surely, this is what you need to make you happy (I quickly shut him up on that at least, pointing out that it’s nice to be able to not worry about where your next meal is coming from when you’re also looking at a hefty bill for new carbs) and did we all know, he wasn’t ashamed, he smoked a joint now and then and he thought it would cure all the world’s ills…

He told us all that what we really needed was a heads-up-display in our visors for when we were lost. I produced my trusty record cards with the directions on, another of us explained sat-nav-to-earpiece, a third just checked out of the conversation. He was insistent. Could not understand that a half-second of overlay would result in being totally disoriented, or that somehow the bikers may know better about riding than he did.

All the while, he kept getting up to go to the bar to get more drinks for himself. The bar, which had been closed for several hours. I was amazed and horrified by the sense of sheer entitlement that would lend someone to take over someone else’s conversation and then steal from the inn that we were all staying in. He seemed to think he was Very Naughty. I assume that by next morning, his story to his travelling companions would have been that he was up late drinking with the Hell’s Angels.

Honestly though, he was fun. Perverse fun, but fun.

I got back to my dorm (ten to a room) at around 2am, to find a fight already in progress. All I heard of it was “It’s you that’s being a bitch! Stop tutting at me!” “But it’s hard to sleep with you flashing a light around!” and then one person storming off to sleep downstairs, after stage-whispering to me that it was impossible to sleep up here with so many bitches.

I waited half a second, then said “Right, since we’re all awake, can I have a light on to find my bunk?”

This of course started another round of vociferous argument which strangely fell into deadly hushed silence when I dropped my two metre chain lock off the top bunk onto the floor, creating a noise that said in no uncertain terms “THE BIKER is sleepy now. Go to sleep.”

I slept actually pretty blissfully after that.

YHA February: Hartington Hall Part One – The knacker’s yard.

February brought my second YHA trip, this time with my bike forum buddies – We’d arranged to meet up in Matlock to pass Marvin the Monkey to his next host, I was due a youth hostel visit, and there was one right next to where we needed to stay.

Now, to clarify matters – On the 1st of February, I passed my full bike test. After a year of complete devotion to working on this and driving myself to exhaustion, this was a big thing for me. So after passing the Mod 2 on the first try (Oh how I will miss the Gladius! Sweet, nippy, powerful little machine that will sit up and dance with barely more than a thought!) and saying a somewhat tearful goodbye to my instructor, I was elated and excited to get the EN500 out on the road. I rode home on the GZ, and in jealous protest at feeling like it was being replaced in my affections, it threw its brake light, putting itself out of action for the duration.

My first tasks as a fully-fledged Idiot were banal ones; Getting The EN to the garage for a brake service (The front caliper was bent and the hoses were pissing brake fluid), and taking Dearest’s VanVan up for an MOT. So both bikes went out, and both bikes came back, and I went over to Best Friend’s house on the trike as a pillion.

The EN is a very different beast to the Gladius, and clearly not even the same species as the docile, breathless GZ. Bringing it home from the bike office, it bucked and fishtailed and screamed, threatening to drop me on my feet or skip up the exhausts of the cars in front. After the first hundred miles on it though, I felt like it was mine-and-me, as a good bike should, somewhere between a deep friendship and being a limb. It’s strong, it accelerates inexorably with a gentle whirr of liquid-coolant and a hum of high-revving parallel-twin goodness, it’s comfortable and sturdy and gentle, now that I understand how to talk to it, with that reserve of high power sitting always a hair’s breadth away, ready to pull me out of danger or to let me relax a little when cruising at seventy instead of constantly shepherding an engine that’s right on its redline. I fell in love, all over again, excited to learn where the new machine would take me. So I took it for a real ride – Washburn, Summerbridge, Greenhowe, Skipton. Thankfully I had Best Friend with me on the trike as a support vehicle, since the problems appeared almost as soon as I went out. Eight miles out, I had a little power loss and then a sudden uncontrollable acceleration. I pulled over intoa pub car park, explained the problem, and then kept on going. A hundred yards outside of the pub, it ground to a complete halt. I flagged down a passing tourer, who raced ahead to catch up to the trike, and pointed him back up the hill to where I was, just out of sight.

Trike returned, and together we shepherded the EN into a sleepy housing estate. A few roadside diagnostics (Are the carbs drawing properly? Is the air filter intact and clean? Rev up and drop through the gears to check for stalling or racing, poddle around the estate a few times to see if it does it again) and we were satisfied to ride on thinking it was just a one-off incident. We rode up to The Sun at Washburn, for a delicious plate of chips and microshandy, and a lovely chat with all the other local dog owners and bikers, including a handful of One Percenters who were all delighted to see a pair of mad old vintage machines on the road enjoying the weather (The EN500 is 27, The Trike is 20, one is an icon and the other is increasingly scarce and cult). At this point, we deliberated; Do we carry on, or do we call it a day and go on. I looked out at the glorious cold sunlight with the hint of spring in the air and the smell of fresh grass and sheep, weighed up the chances of running into trouble, and said; “Yeah, let’s ride on”.

The leg of the journey up to Summerbridge was so fast and clear, it was like a dream. It was why we ride. Broad, twisty roads, golden-green fields full of young lambs springing into life, red kites hanging in the still air under a blue sky, every other machine on the road seeming to be a bike or a classic car, all driven impeccably. The bike lost power once, but then started up again with no real issue, so we agreed to turn in to the next pub (Our planned next rest point) to sort things out. We stopped at a pub on Greenhowe Hill, where I encountered another biker from the Homeland; An older gent on a 1200 Sportster who had lived most of his life half a mile from where I grew up. In the words of Best Friend; “It was lovely to see, that spark of recognition from both of you… Then the Geordie accents got thicker and thicker and faster and faster until all I could tell was that you were both happy and nostalgic. But I couldn’t understand a word.” For my part, I was so happy to have felt that kind of kinship again. I feel very much like a stranger in my own homeland a lot of the time, so it’s good to see that other Geordies still see the Tyne in my blood.

It was on the way out of the second pub that things got unfortunate. Passing Bedlam, there were a few more sudden accelerate-then-grind-to-a-halt moments, including on a steep downhill. And then they got more frequent. At each stop, I was increasingly morose, exhuasted, sore and demoralised, and without Best Friend’s help, I’d have almost certainly just dropped her and phoned for breakdown recovery. By the time we were back in the City, we couldn’t risk the ring-road because at every traffic light, every junction, every couple of seconds, the bike was stalling and refusing to restart, even with her enrichment circuit fully on, as if she was dead cold. In the end, I was having to launch her hard on the back wheel from every stop, since letting her revs drop meant she’d die on the spot and probably not restart. I locked her in for the night, climbed onto the pillion of the trike, and went back to Best Friend’s house for a carb clinic. We knew where the problem was going to sit, we just had to hash it out.

The next day, I want home, and the EN was collected in the garage’s van, which took her away with all the solemnity and urgency of an ambulance. A day later, they phoned back – Problem solved, her carb boots were loose and they’d put them back on. I came out, picked her up, got her back as far as the bottom of the valley, and the problem started again. I shepherded her home, the garage apologised, collected her again, and she’s remained there ever since.

The night before heading off to Hartington, I charged up the GZ’s battery and replaced his rear bulb. In the morning, ready to leave, I discovered that even with the battery allegedly charged, he wasn’t going anywhere. So, Dearest being Dearest, offered me the VanVan for the weekend, a bike that I adore and have always wanted to ride for more than just the odd pop to the garage. And I had, after all, MOTed it the week before, I had earnt the right to take it out over the Peaks and really violate it.

The VanVan got as far as the garage before the battery died. A quick perk with the jump leads from Best Friend’s car, and I was on my way South…

YHA January: Boggle Hole

So, this is the year where I have decided to go to one youth hostel a month. I love the YHA, they’ve got the perfect level of comfort and communality for me since I prefer to travel alone, and they’re in interesting places. There’s also dozens of them within a day’s ride of me, and they range from about £10 to £20 a night for a bed in a dorm. Ideal.


My first trip out was to Boggle Hole, which is a tiny, modern hostel on the beach near Whitby. I’d intended to go on the Friday afternoon, spend a day on the beach on the Saturday, then ride home again on the Sunday. Upon trying to set out on the Friday morning however, I found that the Marauders’ battery was dead. Not flat – DEAD. So, given a bit of help from my friends, I got to Halfords, bought a battery, charged it up overnight and set off a day late.


The ride was fantastic. Out to Pickering, then along the high roads over the moors (Including taking that legendary bend at the Saltersgate Inn) before finally dropping down into Whitby from the north just as the sun was setting. I got a little lost on the farm tracks and tiny cliffside villages, but made it into the youth hostel just as it got dark. My bunk was up in the Annexe, a ferociously modern building high up on the cliffside, which took me a painfully long time to reach in the first place, so I dropped off my things then returned to the beach for a spot of beachcombing, and then dinner in the cafe. My haul that evening was a coupe of crinoid stems, an interesting coral, and a lone gryphea. As I sat in the dining room, I reflected that this might be my last cross-country trip on the GZ, since I’d just passed my Mod 1 and had my Mod 2 booked in for  matter of days’ time. It was a good, solid little bike, it had carried me up and down the frankly extravagant hills of Whitby (Parts of Blue Bell and the coast roads were signed as 1:33. The GZ did them cheerfully, if slowly, without a hint of tipping or being buffeted).


After tea, I went back up to my bunk, and since it was already about nine, I settled in to read for a few hours. My roommates (four to a dorm) seemed fine – I had a nice chat with one who was doing about the same as I was, taking odd nights out at regular intervals, and who loved the beach – and by about midnight all of us were asleep without issue, despite a lot of admittance that this was all our first night in dorms since we were teenagers.


The next morning I was awake before sunrise, so slipped out of the dorm as quietly as possible and down onto the beach to watch the sun come up. Watching the sun rise, slowly, from a red glow to a great yellow slick across the sky and the water, punctuated with dark grey clouds, to finally a cold high blue which made the yellow cliffs look all the brighter, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the day. After filling up a little bag of more crinoid stems, two rather lovely ammonites, and a couple of just plain pretty quartzites and smooth green mudstones, I headed back to the hostel for breakfast and checkout.


On the way out of the hostel, I got to the top of the slope and found that a second bike was parked up next to mine, a Kawasaki W, the newer, sparklier Kawasaki which looks so much like a Triumph that I almost did a double take. A brief chat with its owner, who had also just popped into the hostel for the night, and then I was off on my way. I quickly popped up to the Abbey, just to say that I’d been, then turned around and headed back up past Blue Bell to go home.


And then the weather turned. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a proper sea fret, but it’s not something to be trifled with. As I crossed the high moors, visibility was literally so low that I couldn’t see my own front wheel, and my bar ends were distinctly fading into the fog. The whole thing glowed (Above it, the sun was clearly shining its heart out) so it was like being blindfolded with three or four layers of silk chiffon, whilst standing outside on a bright summer day. I carried on, a happy synergy of man and machine, comfortable and content that the bike would keep me safe and grip the road, even as the occasional cager gave up and rolled off into a layby to wait for it to pass. After the first ten minutes or so, I was the only person on the road, and that was absolutely perfect. The strange, cold, glowing silence, with the only hints of movement being the bright drops of water forming on my visor and in my eyelashes as the fog condensed, was mine and mine alone.


The ride home, after getting down into civilisation and below the treeline, was uneventful and fast, other than a brief moment where I was literally the only person on a major stretch of dual carriageway for about five miles, so I thought the world might have ended, and I was home again before most people even considered the day to be starting.


All in all, a short but successful first YHA trip of the year.