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Our third ferry journey of the day loomed, 5.5 hours from Lerwick in the Shetland Islands to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.

We had plenty of time before departure, so took a detour which led us alongside a runway at one point – I’m sure any airplanes would appreciate the fact that it was a tad more level than the road!

Checking in was a little chaotic as Lerwick is not the largest of towns and the ferry port is in the town itself. There were some minor traffic management issues, but eventually we got through and onto the ferry.

There was the added complication of the staff needing to load all vehicles that were disembarking at Kirkwall in the correct place so that we wouldn’t be blocked by those continuing on to Aberdeen, just to add to the logistics. Hats off to these folk – they really know their business (which is reassuring when you think about it!).

Bikes secured, we grabbed the picnic we had bought before boarding, and headed for the upper decks. We munched on a few supplies on the rear deck while we watched the Shetland Islands gradually recede, whilst keeping a hopeful eye out for whales, but the only sea life we spotted was a seal in the harbour and a few birds.

We did at least espy our first Northern puffin, who kept nice and still so Tony could capture a photo.

Eventually we gave up on the whale watching and strolled through the main deck past shops and cafe, looking for a place to sit. Just before reaching the forward bar, who should we see but the Estonian barman from Saxa Vord, who had left for a visit home the day before us. He had a table to himself, so we ensconced ourselves, bought a round of drinks, and settled in for a chat.

We had an excellent view of Fair Isle as we went past, but still no whale or non-stationary puffin sightings…

After a lesson in just where Estonia is and a good old natter about life and travelling, we left our friend to continue on to Aberdeen and his long journey home, and headed back to the bikes for our arrival in Kirkwall.

We were due to dock at 11pm, so had pre-booked a night in a Bed & Breakfast. We didn’t relish the thought of trying to find somewhere to stay at that time of night, nor of setting up camp.

It was only a few miles to the B&B, and still light enough even at that time to make it easy to find our way. We parked up and found the door open and a nice note from the owner with our keys, as he had gone out for the evening. How lovely to be in a place where folk can still leave doors open without fearing for their safety.

We unloaded as quietly as we could as we didn’t want to wake our fellow guests at this late hour, and settled into our cosy room with a can of cider each to celebrate our arrival.

Welcome to Orkney! :-)

After the rally we headed even further north to Unst, the most northerly populated island in the British Isles. We were going to get used to lots of “Most Northerly” monikers over the next few days!

The rally was near Vidlin in the North-East of the main island, so the journey to Unst involved two ferry crossings with a ride along the length of Yell in between.

We’d booked to stay in the hostel at Saxa Vord for a few days, which seemed highly appropriate as it was the old Sergents’ Mess of the RAF base on the island.

Bathroom and kitchen facilities were shared as for most hostels, but this was sheer luxury for us after a few days camping. We took full advantage of the hot water supply with a good soak in the bath, utter bliss.

We self-catered for most of our stay, which enabled us to meet some of our fellow hostelers over the kitchen table. They were an interesting bunch, mostly enthusiastic bird watchers from an assortment of backgrounds and countries.

It was great to bump into one of our fellow rally goers at the most northerly Post Office whilst buying post cards.

Shopping for supplies gave us an insight into what it’s like to live somewhere this remote: “No bread till tomorrow, milk should be in Wednesday!”.

The Summer Solstice and our first Wedding Anniversary fell on the Tuesday after the rally.

We enjoyed a lovely ride around the island, and were pleased to find a couple of standing stones to the South of the island.

The second of these at Bordastubble had amazing acoustic properties, which started to echo my voice as I was walking towards it whilst chatting to Tony.

Muness Castle was well worth the visit, as were the remains of a Viking house at Underhoull, and the beach at Lund.

On our way back we dropped in to the most northerly pub at the Baltasound Hotel.

We enjoyed some banter with the locals and owner, who broke into the supplies of cider that he’d ordered in for an upcoming festival, just for us. We were so bowled over by how friendly everyone was that we booked to have dinner in the restaurant in a couple of days time.

Heading back to Saxa Vord, we had just enough time for a quick wash and spruce up before our celebratory dinner in the restaurant at the resort.

The lovely folk at Saxa Vord really spoilt us with a complimentary bottle of wine and our own special anniversary dessert, both completely unexpected and very gratefully received.

Later that night we enjoyed a spectacular sunset before the twilight of the simmer dim.

Over the next few days we quite spectacularly failed to get to the Hermaness National Nature Reserve, which was the daily destination of many of our twitcher co-habitees.

Luckily for us (if not for them) we didn’t miss out too much, as no puffins were sighted during the length of our stay.

We did manage to spot a good number of the islands bird species on our travels though, including being dive-bombed by the fearless Great Skuas, locally known as Bonxies, on our ride up to the Radar Station at the top of the hill.

We’d hoped to get on a boat trip out past the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse (if only because it’s such a great name), but sadly this was also not to be.

This was not wholly unexpected after a chat to a lovely chap in the bar on our first evening at Saxa Vord. He’d been coming to Unst for four years, and had only just managed to do the boat trip the day before we arrived, as that was the first time that the weather had been favourable.

I’m guessing that the people who run the trips have an alternative source of income!

No visit to Unst would be complete without a visit to the famous Unst Bus Shelter, whose story is told most eloquently on its official website here. The guest book is now sporting a rather spiffing Wed-n-Fled sticker.

We were sad to leave Unst, but the Orkney Islands were calling, well, that and our booking for the ferry.

We packed up, said our goodbyes to staff and guests at Saxa Vord, and headed back across Unst and Yell to Lerwick on the main island.

Joy of joys – after keeping our eyes peeled for all the time we’d been in Shetland we finally saw a sea otter, who I swear gave us a little wave when we spotted him in the harbour just as we rode off the Yell ferry!

He back-flipped away into the bay, and I bounced in my seat all the way to Lerwick, with the biggest grin on my face :-)

So what is the simmer dim, anyway? And why would anyone name a bike rally after it?

Firstly it’s worth remembering just how far North the Shetland Islands are. If you’re anything like me you’ll have mostly seen them shown in a little box just off the cost of north of Scotland. This is about as true to life as the topological London Underground map, and in reality the islands are at a latitude not dissimilar to Bergen, Norway and mid Hudson Bay, Canada.

Whilst this means that they are not quite in the lands of the midnight sun, it does mean that at midsummer, it never gets completely dark. The sun dips below the horizon for around 5 hours, and the time in between is a surreal twilight known in Shetland as the “simmer dim”.

Bike rallies are often named after the events that inspire them, and as the rally is held over the closest weekend to the Summer Solstice at the time of the simmer dim, I guess the name seemed self-evident.

After the gloomy start to the Thursday of the rally, the weather improved considerably, gifting us with a beautifully clear night. One of our new friends, Stenton, had nipped out to go to the loo at around 1am, then came back in and grabbed us both to drag us outside. “You’ve got to see this” he shouted, and pointed across the field of tents to the simply stunning sight of the full moon hovering over the horizon in the simmer dim sky.

The next day was rather amazingly warm and sunny, so we took advantage and went for exploratory ride with Stenton. The scenery was stunning, with a strange kind of bleak beauty. We didn’t cover many miles as we stopped so often to take in the views, along with a ramble through the lovely little Tangwick Haa Museum that we stumbled upon just off the road to Eshaness.

After enjoying the cliffs at Eshaness lighthouse, we rode back through the wonderfully named Mavis Grind to Brae, where we scoffed a lovely fish and chip supper at the UK’s most Northerly Chippy.

I had wondered when I packed for the trip north if I was being a little optimistic including the sun cream, but was pleasantly surprised when the sun decided to keep us company for the majority of our time on Shetland – thank you weather gods!

Other highlights of the rally included a visit by local Jarl Squads, who serenaded us with such surreal Country and Western delights as “Coward of the County”, and the rather more appropriate “Bring Me Sunshine” of Morecombe and Wise fame.

It was nice to see them again at the Lerwick Carnival on Saturday afternoon, though without the singing this time.

Back on the motorcycles for a mini-fled at last! In June we returned to Aberdeen for the 4th time in 4 months, this time on our trusty Moto Guzzi V7s. We had bought tickets for the Simmer Dim Rally on the Shetland Islands, which is held every year over the closest weekend to the Summer Solstice, our wedding anniversary.

We saw a bit of it from the road!The first days ride was lovely – both of us were happy to be back on the road again. We broke the journey at Stirling, staying at a hotel right next to the Wallace Monument.

Sadly our schedule didn’t allow us time to actually visit the monument as we had a 50th Birthday party to get to, so it will have to wait until another time. After a decent nights sleep we packed the bikes up and set off for our second days riding, just as it started to rain.

Gone was the warmth of the previous day – as the rain started to soak through our “waterproofs”, we found ourselves getting colder and colder. I was so very grateful for my heated grips, which I had used on a number of occasions in the past. Tony doesn’t feel the cold as much as I do, so had never used his before. Unfortunately as he tried to turn them on, the control knob broke off in his hand. Bugger.

We were staying with friends about 20 miles North of Aberdeen. Luckily as fellow bikers they anticipated the depth of cold we would be feeling, and greeted us with hot drinks, towels, and a roaring log burner, all of which were very welcome! Once we had defrosted a little we headed over to the 50th party for a few drinks before coming back for a fairly early night.

The following Wednesday we rode back to Aberdeen to catch the ferry to Shetland. It is an overnight crossing so we had treated ourselves to a cabin, as we knew it would be a good idea to stock up on our sleep before the rally.

The ferry port was flooded with motorcycles, all heading to the rally – the lady at the gate said there were only a handful of cars booked for the ferry – I should imagine they were feeling a tad outnumbered!

We settled into our cabins before heading for the bar. Tony commented on how surprisingly quiet it was, considering the ship was full of bikers…

Cue a strolling bunch of biker “minstrels”: a couple of guitar players accompanied by several kazoos. Unusual to say the least, especially as they were playing “Ring of Fire” which is not generally known as a biker favourite. A jolly night of singing ensued before we retired to our cabin for some sleep.

The next morning we awoke bright and early to leave the ferry on arrival in Lerwick, Shetland. The rally site was only about 20 miles from the ferry terminal, which meant that we were there, had the tent up, and were finishing our breakfast by 9.30am.

Now normally we arrive at rallies on Friday afternoon or evening, so once the tent is set up we start socializing over a pint or three, but 9.30 on the Thursday morning was a tad early even for us. The weather was dark and drizzly, so we retreated back to the tent with warming cups of tea and coffee.

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Wallace Monument photo credit: Son of Groucho via photopin cc

Well actually, the sequence was Automobile, Plane and Train…

Not long after our return to the UK Tony’s father David was admitted to hospital. They confirmed the diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia, and unfortunately his condition continued to deteriorate. After some time the consultant recommended that he be moved to a residential care home.

We discussed options with David, who decided that he would like to spend some time with his grandchildren in Scotland. Tony’s sister managed to find a wonderful home near Aberdeen where he could stay.

It took a bit of organisation to get David to Scotland. Firstly we hired a van and drove with some of David’s personal effects up to the care home, a distance of over 400 miles each way.

We knew that such a long drive would be too much for David, so arranged to fly with him up to Aberdeen airport the following week. We were impressed with the help that we had at both airports, where they provided a wheelchair at either end, and a lift to get on and off the aircraft.

Tony’s sister and her husband met us at the airport, and drove us to the home where we helped him to settle in.

It was an extraordinarily emotional time for us all.

In May 2011 we received a late night call from Scotland as David had been admitted to hospital suddenly. The prognosis was not good, so we decided to get ourselves there as quickly as possible.

There were no seats available for the early morning flight, so we let the train take the strain. It turned out the choice was a good one, as that morning was the second time that flights were grounded due to the Icelandic ash cloud – luck was on our side on this at least!

Tony’s father passed away peacefully the following day with his family by his side.

I joined the Better Blogging group at the beginning of February, a pilot scheme run by the very lovely and inspiring Judith Morgan and Marion Ryan. It’s just what I needed to kickstart me into getting the Wed’n'Fled blog back on track, and it is a joy to be a part of an abundant and varied group of people. Inspired by my fabulous fellow bloggers, here’s a little fun post to let you know a little more about me.

1. I was kicked out of my first country when I was nearly 5 years old. My Father was in the RAF, and we were stationed in Malta when Mintoff decided that the country was going to be neutral. The Maltese Government issued an ultimatum to the British Government, ordering all British personnel to leave the Island.

I vaguely remember the flight home, and being sad that I wouldn’t be starting school there – I had been really looking forward to playing on the big adventure playground in the school playing fields, which I used to see on the way to pick my brother up. How simple things are to a child!

2. I nearly drowned myself in my early years in Malta. I was swimming in the sea, and my Mum had turned away for a few moments to chat to a friend. When she looked back, I had pulled my armbands off and was merrily paddling along, but with my head almost completely underwater. She hauled me out and pumped the water out of me, and apparently the first thing I said when I’d recovered was, “That was fun, can we do it again?”!

Me and the Katana

3. Growing up around planes I wanted to be a a fast jet pilot – I am an adrenaline junky after all. This was pre-Top Gun, too!

Unfortunately I was unable to join the RAF as they didn’t have any female pilots back in the day, indeed the only way a woman could become  air crew was as a Load Master, which held no appeal for me.

So it was something that I’d always wanted to do, but had been caught in the time versus money conundrum, where you have plenty of one but not enough of the other. Learning to fly is a costly business when you’re funding it yourself.

Finally I found myself in the situation of having both, after been made redundant in January 2002. “Great”, I thought, “I’ll learn to fly”. A couple of months later I was struggling to find a new job, as the IT bubble had well and truly burst. I started to wonder if it was such a good idea to be shelling out so much dosh from a rapidly diminishing pot. I um-ed and ah-ed about continuing, but decided to go ahead – after all it was one of the few positives in my life at that time, and I didn’t want to waste the money I had already shelled out.

I was very proud to gain my Private Pilots Licence in August that year.

They call us Boat Monkeys, I can't think why!

4. I sailed across the Atlantic as part of a crew of 6 on a 46′ yacht called Southern Barracuda. We sailed from Gran Canaria to St Lucia, via an overnight stop at the Cape Verde islands to restock on loo paper.

The crossing was very slow as the Tradewinds decided not to blow that year, and it wasn’t just that we were crap sailors (honest guv!) – we were in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), and came in 69th out of around 120 boats, taking 21 days instead of the more usual 10-14. We had days when we were totally becalmed, and only managed 4 miles due to the current – it is a strange thing to be in the middle of the ocean, and to be able to swim faster than the boat is moving!

We navigated by sextant as the SatNav system that the skipper had bought for the trip turned out to be only of use in the Mediterranean. I’m actually rather proud of this (the navigating by sextant, not the dodgy SatNav!).

Other highlights included a humpback whale circling the boat for a good half an hour, which was absolutely magical.

5. I have had 30 different jobs over the years, including a many and varied selection from my globetrotting days. I won’t bore you with the whole list, but they include such gems as Lifeguard, Barmaid, Computer Programmer, Flotilla Hostess (in Yugoslavia, the year before the war), Hammock Shop Manager (the chap from the Italian Gelatiria opposite always came in for an hours snooze at lunchtime), Demonstration sales (“Easy Iron Ironing Board Cover” – I can still remember the demo if anyone wants to see it), and Grape Picker (in Australia, where I also learnt how to drive a tractor, and heard one of the worse chat up lines ever, “So, how many buckets of grapes are you getting to the vine?”).

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Malta photo credit: Zé Pinho via photopin cc
Grapevine photo credit: gtall1 via photopin cc

I had a big ah-ha moment on Friday when I realised that I was resisting blogging about coming home because I was so reluctant to come home. Then I ended up getting out of bed at 1.30am to write the darned thing… and then I left it another couple of days before I could bring myself to tackle my late night ramblings and make them a little more coherent… So here goes:

It was a bittersweet homecoming indeed. Whilst it was wonderful to see so many of our friends at the rally and to be greeted with a wealth of warmth and hugs, it was sad to know that we were nearing the premature end to this first chapter of our travels.

We were asked the first of many questions along the lines of, “Hey, it’s great to see you, but what are you doing back here? We thought you were going away for years!”.

This was something we were to get used to hearing a lot over the next few months.

The rally itself was great fun, but also not without its ups and downs. As so often happens in early October, the weather was surprisingly warm and sunny. It was also seasonably windy, very windy, which meant that the huge bonfire that was usually lit at around midnight on the Saturday could not be – the club running the rally made the sensible decision not to light it as the wind would have blown hot embers straight over the tents in the camping field, which would have been less than ideal.

It was a great shame as one of the joys of this rally in the past had been to enjoy a good old sing song around the campfire with friends. The upside was that we had a slightly earlier night than we would have had otherwise, so every windy cloud has a silver lining.

We were slow to pack up on the Sunday (that reluctance was manifesting itself again), and we ended up with the last tent still standing. The club were busy with clearing and cleaning the site, and a couple of them stopped by for a last natter.

Finally we dragged ourselves away and headed for home.

We had been away for 2 months, had ridden 3,354 miles through 5 countries and 2 principalities, enjoyed countless twisty turny roads, and more ups and downs than you can shake a stick at.

Our trip may have been temporarily delayed, but boy, what a ride so far!

Photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

Despite the disappointment of having our trip curtailed, we had at least managed to time things so that we could go home via a bike rally, “Ye Gert Busturds”, run by the Moonrakers MCC in deepest darkest Wiltshire. For those of you that haven’t heard of bike rallies, they are nothing at all to do with racing. They are basically biker parties, held in pubs, halls and marquees across the land. Mostly people camp, and there is often live music, the imbibing of the odd alcoholic beverage, and usually a lot of laughing and silliness. Oh and hugs, lots of hugs – bikers might look like a scary bunch en masse, but really they’re mostly a bunch of teddy bears who hardly ever bite the heads off chickens any more ;-)

We’d arrived in Portsmouth on a Thursday and the rally wasn’t starting until Friday, so we’d arranged to stay with a friend who lived 30 miles away. Lucky it wasn’t too far to ride, given how green around the gills I was feeling! Navigating by the skin of our teeth and the occasional aid of Google maps on my iPhone, as our SatNav (Mip) was still completely dead, we headed off down some lovely country lanes in search of somewhere to stop for a late brunch.

The road we had taken off the M27 was devoid of any habitation other than the odd farm dotted here and there, so eventually we took a single-lane road to the left, as a pub was signposted to be within hailing distance. What felt like 10 miles later but was probably a lot less we finally found the place, only to find they’d stopped serving food about 20 minutes before. D’oh! Luckily we had lots of directions from the locals, who came out in force to gawp at these two pasty looking strangers on loaded up motorbikes, and eventually we found the village they’d mentioned. We pulled into the car park of the White Horse Inn, attracted by the sign outside that said “Food available all day” – huzzah!

The pub was indeed serving food all day, and had a choice of a full Indian menu or a more traditional English pub grub menu. As someone who would happily eat curry for breakfast, lunch and tea Tony was in his element. I was still feeling rather delicate, so went for the more classic gammon and chips. It was just what the doctor ordered, and after washing the meal and a couple of paracetamol down with lashings of orange juice and lemonade, we went on our way feeling much refreshed.

That evening we had a good catch up with our friend whilst watching him sort through his belongings, as he was moving out the following weekend. I wimped out early and left the two boys talking late into the night, so was feeling considerably better the next day. Well fed and watered we left for the rally, after promising to return the following weekend to help with the move.

Our last day in Spain dawned fine and bright. We packed the bikes up for the ferry back to Portsmouth, and headed off to a local supermarket to buy supplies for the trip. After stocking up with as much wine as we could carry (not  a lot!) and some food to sustain us, we took our last Continental ride of the trip.

The ferry was easy to see as the dock is right in the middle of town, but getting to it was a little more tricky. Luckily it only took us two attempts to find the right entry, and then lo and behold, we were stopped and asked for our passports for the first time since leaving home! How ironic that it should be as we attempted to return. Checked through security, we were directed to join the rest of the motorcycle riders by the ferry offices, and proceeded to check each other’s bikes out whilst having a good old natter.

The weather Gods were with us once again, as sun was now hidden behind clouds but the rain held off until just as we started boarding, phew. After the nice chaps from Brittany Ferries had strapped the bikes down securely we grabbed our overnight bags and victuals, and headed off to find our cabin. We settled ourselves in before heading off for a look around the boat, and surprise surprise, ended up in the bar! It was only because we had such a lovely view through the big picture window of Santander receding behind us, honest guv. That and the fact that they sold draught Strongbow, so we enjoyed our first pints since leaving England :-)

It’s a 24 hour crossing from Santander to Portsmouth, so we had to find our entertainment where we could. Having checked out the film schedule to find nothing that interested us, and munched our way through some supplies in the cabin, we returned to our seats-with-a-view in the piano bar.

Of all the bars in all the world...

There was a full-sized grand piano, complete with suited chap tickling the ivories to give us some old classics, which we thought terribly civilised. In keeping with the mood we switched to cocktails, which had nothing to do with the realisation that we could sup generous Long Island Iced Teas for only 10 pence more than a pint of cider. These things always seem such a good idea at the time…

Later there was a quiz, by which time we’d acquired an extra team member in the form of one of the other bikers we’d been chatting to at the ferry port. Now neither of us are usually great at quizzes, but somehow we managed to win this one – perhaps it was the extra help that did it!

Later that same night, I went to the bar to buy a round of drinks, only to be accosted by a couple of gentlemen who were propping the bar up and getting happily pickled. They insisted on buying me a drink, despite my protestations that my husband was waiting for me. After a little while he came down to see what was holding me up, and they insisted on buying one for him, too. You can see where this is going, can’t you…? Eventually the bar closed on the handful of us left still standing, and we staggered off back to our cabin, somewhat the worse for wear.

Luckily the rolling of our gait was cancelled out by the rolling of the ship. I think that’s what I remember, anyway.

Of course these things never seem quite like such a good idea the next day. I’m lucky enough not to get hangovers very often, but this one was a humdinger. Tony managed to get some breakfast down, but I completely wimped out and just did my best to re-hydrate a little. We struggled out of the cabin once the call came to vacate, and headed down to the bikes. Before we knew it, we’d docked and were off and away, back on to British soil.

Still very fuzzy around the edges, after two months on the Continent our mantra was, “Ride on the left, ride on the left!”.

The lazy way to ride home

Forgive us blog readers, for we have sinned – it’s been 14 months since our last blog post…

What on Earth have we been up to, I hear you cry!

Here we are, back in Blighty, and enjoying (!) another Winter… but why?

If you’ve been with us up until now, you’ll know that we chose to return to the UK due to the deteriorating health of Tony’s Father. Things got progressively worse, and he passed away peacefully in May 2011. There was a huge amount of stuff to sort out, practically, mentally and emotionally. We found ourselves falling further and further behind with the blog, and the longer we left it, the harder it seemed to start it up again. We went through the embarrassment stage and out the other side… well actually, I’m still in the embarrassment stage, truth be told!

But life moves on, things are gradually getting sorted, we finally have most of our affairs in order, probate granted, and the house sale agreed. It’s time to pick up the blog and update you on our journey of the last year, because after all, life’s still a journey, isn’t it, even if you stay in one place? Not that we’ve been entirely static in the months that have passed, but that is another blog post…

It’s time to get back in the saddle!

So read, on dear reader, whilst we bring you up-to-date with all, or at least some, of what we’ve been up to over the past months.

We hope you enjoy the journey! :-)