Saturday 23 June 2012

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 6

Waking in the early morning as it was very cold; I decided to get back on the road. After discovering the shower block to be locked, I warmed up some water in my Jetboil and had a wash beside the tent, packed up and was on the road by 07.30. There was still nobody in sight to I got away with a free night! Not that I got much, no facilities and the pitches were actually for camper vans so no grass but a rock hard dirt surface that has left my tent filthy!

The ride via the A9 to Perth was uneventful although cold and blustery, about five miles from the town, the rain started in earnest, and it also coincided with the fuel light coming on. From previous travels this way I knew that if I took the road into town there was a McDonalds and an Asda petrol station right next to each other, so I headed that way as breakfast was long overdue.

In the McDonalds there were a bunch of cyclists on a Lands End to John O'Groats ride. I overheard them say that that day's destination was Newtonmore about 60 miles north. It certainly put things into perspective as I had only passed the place an hour previously!

I took the opportunity to use their free wifi and check the weather report.... not looking good!

After breakfast and struggling into every waterproof layer I possessed, I fuelled up next door and headed out onto the M90 to head for Edinburgh, before hitting the Forth Road Bridge, the traffic ground to a halt and stayed this way for several miles to the bridge, across it and all the way round the Edinburgh bypass. Filtering between the stationary traffic with my rather wide panniers dropped my speed down to only about 15mph.  The roads were awash with water and the next day I heard on the radio this stretch was impassable due to flooding, it looks like I got out just in time.

I soon turned off for the 5 minute detour to Rosslyn Chapel. This has long been on my to do list and of course if you believe Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code, tied up in Grail myth. Of course this is not the case and even his references to the Masonic imagery in the chapel are largely false (some were made of wood and stuck in place for the film)! Although many images carved into the stone are interpreted as being evidence of connection to the Knights Templar (which gives more Grail/Masonic connections.... allegedly). What the chapel is a fantastic example of the 15th Century Stone Masons art, truly fascinating. At £9 it's not cheap to enter but the cost of maintaining this amazing piece of history must be immense, it was derelict for years until the Victorians rebuilt the roof and sadly caused a lot of problems with their attempts at "restoration". For fourteen years it had a steel roof supported by scaffolding over the top to allow the stonework to dry out, it was only removed in 2010 and work still continues on restoration.

The Da Vinci Code was responsible for the new visitors centre being built next door, prior to the book the Chapel received 30,000 visitors a year (it has been a tourist attraction for over 300 years), after the Da Vinci Code that went up to 175,000 a year!!!

And as the guide said, they only had one toilet! It has also proven to have other problems as the book claims the apprentices' pillar is hollow, unfortunately this led to one "disturbed" German visitor attacking it with an axe! And of course if you believe the internet, the sealed vault below the chapel contains everything from the Holy Grail, a UFO and Elvis Presley to the Knights Templar Treasure and the original Crown Jewels of Scotland!

After an enjoyable visit throughout which I noticed the rain had stopped, I got back on the bike and it promptly started raining again. And this time it didn't stop again until I got to Sheffield.

The next stage down to Holy Island was truly miserable with high winds blowing in off the North Sea, thick fog, torrential rain and freezing cold. It was at this stage I decided I was going to keep riding and see how far I could get that day.

Holy Island was ticked off; I arrived at 1.20pm, only an hour and a half before the causeway closed. So even if I had missed Rosslyn (I spent an hour there) without the extra two and a half hours I had ridden the night before I would have been highly unlikely to make it in time.

The next long section down the single carriageway A1 was equally miserable and again I hit near stationary traffic riding round Newcastle. A lunch stop shortly afterwards gave me some time to dry out but by now my waterproofs were loosing the fight to keep the rain out... soggy crotch syndrome was back!!!

Durham Cathedral came soon after:

The descent back down the hill on cobbled streets in pouring rain was.... interesting!

Now I was into survival mode and hit the A1(M) then the M1 to Wakefield in appalling spray and ever heavier traffic. I knew from others on the forum that Wakefield was near impossible to get near so as soon as I got a decent view of the steeple, I pulled up on double yellow lines and grabbed a photo. Then it was straight back on the bike and back to the M1 and off to Sheffield.

This was easier as I had once been to an award ceremony at the Cutlers Hall directly opposite the Cathedral so knew where I was headed. One advantage of it being late in the evening and had been raining all day was that there was no one around to see me riding across the pavement!

With only one location left to go, it was a ride out through parts of Sheffield that I recognised from previous visits to friends in the City and down the A61 towards Chesterfield. I eventually arrived in Derby at around eight o'clock and grabbed my last photo.


It was then a matter of getting back to the M1 and heading home, the weather didn't improve, it again rained the whole way back, I eventually rolled onto my drive at 10.15, after a 570 mile day, having ridden in one day further than I had planned to ride in two!

Mission complete, all 31 Grail locations ticked off.

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 5

The day dawned bright and sunny over the Lakes, as I was now half a day up on my schedule and I was up early, I decided to make the most of the good weather.

After a quick shower and striking camp I headed north past Ullswater (stopping for a few photos of course) and then on to Carlisle.

After getting my photos and wandering into the town centre a few hundred yards away to buy some breakfast I enjoyed eating it whilst sitting on a bench in the sun outside the Cathedral. All around me preparations were being made for the Olympic Torch Relay, due in town that afternoon.

After fuelling up (again)! I headed north to the Scottish border (big proper Welcome to Scotland sign here) I shunned the M74 for the B9707, (a recent tip from the ABR Forum). What a brilliant road! Long sweeping bends, virtually no traffic and a great surface, well worth the couple of 30mph villages you have to ride through.

I then got onto the A73 which in hindsight I might have been better staying on the B roads as although it too was great, I did end up having to schlep through Lanark, Carluke and Wishaw before heading into Glasgow and the High Kirk of Glasgow.

After grabbing a couple of photos, my intention was to head through the city to the A82 and a stop for a cuppa with a fellow ABR member in Western Glasgow. Like a numpty I just assumed my GPS would know my intentions! Of course it didn't and before I realised it I was heading East on the M80 in the opposite direction.

I soon realised it had selected the A9 as the obvious route to the three Grail locations around Inverness, something I was keen to avoid as it's not the most interesting route and I was planning to come back that way. So I followed the motorway up to Sterling then took the A84 and A85 to rejoin the A82 at Crianlarich. On the way I narrowly escaped getting stopped for speeding; rolling into a village with a 30 limit at about 35/40 I spotted three coppers at the side of the road, one of whom was just raising the speed gun towards me! I chopped the throttle immediately and was pleased to see the copper drop the gun again and give me a grin and a nod as if to say "you got away with that one".

I also stopped to fix my video camera on the bike before heading into the Highlands. Unfortunately when I went to download the footage later, I discovered I had forgotten to put the micro SD card into the camera! In fact I had left it at home.

I stopped at the excellent Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum for lunch then tackled the route over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe; fantastic biking roads (shame about the video). I stopped for some photos on the way.

Now on a roll, I continued to Fort William, a quick stop for fuel and then on to Spean Bridge where I stopped at the Commando Memorial.

It was rather mobbed with tourists but I took a while to walk round the nearby memorial area, whilst it was empty. Here there was an area for personal tributes and memorials. The ground was scattered with plaques and engraved stones, many to the original commandos of WWII but a significant number to those who have lost their lives more recently in Afghanistan.

Amongst the professionally made memorials was one that caught my eye. A simple plain piece of rock with crudely scratched onto its surface the simple message "GAV (40 Commando) RIP". I don't know the back story but it was clear that Gav was someone's mate and this crude memorial was their tribute, as it was the sort of thing you might expect from a fellow Marine rather than the majority, which were clearly family tributes. To my mind it was the most poignant of them all.

Getting back on the roads, I travelled up to Fort Augustus and then on up the northern side of Loch Ness, near Drumnadrochit it started to rain but it didn't last long. I had intended to head up to Dornoch as the furthest north but getting a bit tired, I decided to bag Inverness first as I was going to ride through there anyway.

That done, I stopped for a bar of chocolate and a drink to pick myself up, then headed the 40 odd miles up to Dornoch a great ride on empty roads over the Kessock Bridge and a couple of great causeways over Cromarty Firth and Dornoch Firth, a bit breezy though!

I made the decision to get a decent meal inside me here and then head to the campsite in town. I chose the Eagle Inn on the High Street and had an excellent dinner and not too pricy either.

Whilst sitting eating dinner, I decided to check the distances I had to do now that I was well ahead of schedule. It dawned on me that I was not going to be able to make Holy Island the next day before the tide cut off the causeway. I had always intended to visit Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh but even if I bypassed that it just wasn't going to happen unless I got up at 4.00 in the morning. I also checked the weather forecast on my phone and it looked like Scotland was going to get a deluge of biblical proportions tomorrow so hanging around for an extra day and going back to my original schedule wasn't really an option either.

Feeling refreshed after dinner, I decided to crack on, and so back on the bike I retraced my route to Inverness and then headed out on the A96 towards Elgin. Near to Nairn it started to rain again with a vengeance, so I stopped at a bus stop and using the cover of the shelter climbed into both overtrousers and one piece waterproofs (I was taking no chances) and continued into Elgin. Finding the cathedral quickly, I grabbed my photos and was on my way again in three minutes.

I had expected the GPS to steer me down through the Glen of Rothes on the A9412 and then along the A95 through Strath Spey to pick up the A9. Instead it took me back west along the A96 towards Nairn and Inverness. However at Forres, it directed me south on the A940, then after the village of Logie told me to turn right onto the B9007. This was one of those "what down there? You must be joking" moments as I descended a twisty bumpy, damp and gravel strewn single track road through a deep forest. At least by now the rain had stopped.

It soon opened out a bit and threw me through a couple of spectacular hairpins and then opened out a bit, winding through farmland and pine forests. Then as I exited one forest I passed snow gates and emerged out into a complete wilderness of upland moor. This was so remote I stopped to grab some photos; the GPS was showing "turn right A938 in 17 miles".

As I rolled across the wilderness, at least the road was easy to follow as it was lined with snow poles that indicated the route ahead. Soon mountains came into view ahead with patches of snow on the peaks. I knew these had to be the Cairngorms, so it would not be too far to Aviemore where I intended to stop for the night. Indeed I eventually reached the A938 and rode the few miles into town.

Arriving at about 10.15 a campsite seemed the only option and I turned into one just off the main street at the southern end of the high street. This was all shut up for the night with no evidence of anyone about, so I just picked a spot and put my tent up for the night.

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 4

Waking to blue skies and sunshine streaming through the windows of the B&B was a welcome change from yesterday's interminable rain. With most of my gear now dry the decision not to camp was justified and soon after sitting down to a huge "Fry" as a cooked breakfast is called in Ireland, definitely justified my decision.

Outside the B&B Tuesday morning

Getting on the road, I followed the A2 round the coast through Annalong and on to Kilkeen a great road clinging to the cliffside in places and great views out across Dundrum Bay. In Kilkeen I missed a right turn in the town to stay on the A2 and found myself on some great little roads closer to Carlingford Lough, a turn right when I saw a sign to Rostrevor, my next destination soon had me back on course rejoining the A2 shortly after.

Continuing through Rostrevor and Warrenpoint, I was soon in Newry, crossing the canal and heading south at last. I picked up the A1 towards Dublin. Crossing the border was another non event, I passed a raised parking area beside the dual carriageway with a sign saying "Police Vehicles Only", a couple of miles down the road, I passed another but this time the sign said "Garda Only" oh was that it then?

Soon after a road sign with distances in Kilometres appeared and before joining the M1 motorway I turned off into Dundalk for fuel and to convert my speedo to kilometres again. Looking at the map and the time, I decided that the motorway was most probably the safe bet to get to Dublin and then on to Dun Laoghaire in time for my ferry, which also explains the lack of photos for this section. So I just headed south paying the princely sum of 1 euro on the toll section south of Drogheda.

Rolling into Dublin, still bathed in glorious sunshine I narrowly avoided the toll tunnel that wanted 3 Euro for a bike! As I have no Irish maps on my GPS, I was navigating by my 4.7 miles to the inch road atlas, not a lot of help in a city the size of Dublin, up until now it had been a simple matter of following the signs "To the Cathedral" in the much smaller cities. I had taken the precaution of printing a map from Google Earth of the city centre and knew I had to be south of the River Liffey so after crossing a bridge I pulled up to consult the map. It turned out I was just round the corner to Christ Church Cathedral. After riding past, I did a quick circuit round the block to get in a good position and grabbed a quick photo as time was getting a bit tight for the Ferry.

Getting out of the City Centre was fun, being choked with buses, taxis and hordes of jay walking tourists! My past experience as a London dispatch rider back in the eighties came to the fore and aided by the Arrow Race pipe that certainly got the attention of the tourists making them scatter from my path on more than one occasion.

I eventually got out of the centre of town and just missed a partially overgrown sign to the ferry port, doing a U turn I headed off into the residential suburbs of Dublin. After a few wrong turns I eventually found my way to the ferry but Dun Laoghaire, which certainly goes down in my book as "The Ferry port most hard to find".

After a very pleasant two hour crossing on the HSS Stena Explorer, I rolled into Holyhead and straight onto the A55. What a difference to last time I was on Anglesey when you had to use the single carriageway A5 and that invariably meant a long queue, this time I was on the mainland 15 minutes later.

Not long after I was outside Bangor Cathedral...

Once on my way the GPS found me a great little route back to the A55. Up the hill past the cathedral, turn right and then first left up a winding narrow hill between old buildings and them immediately into a single track country lane than climbed up to a fantastic view across to Snowdonia then plunged down a steep hillside to a shallow but very fast flowing ford to eventually pop out on the A5 and then soon after rejoined the A55.

A quick blast along the coast saw me at St Asaph less than half hour later.

Now according to my original plan, I should have been looking for a campsite but as it was only just gone four o'clock and the sun was shining, so I decided to press on.

Well the sun didn't last and stopping near Holywell for fuel I took the opportunity to put waterproofs on as it started to rain. Luckily it didn't last and I continued up the Wirral and through the Birkenhead Tunnel to Liverpool Cathedral.

Now Liverpool is not exactly the place to find a campsite, so I decided to take advantage of the fact that the sun was out again and headed north. An hour on the M6 saw me in the Lake District and a fantastic ride over a deserted Kirkstone Pass. Deserted that was apart from the idiot who decided to stop so his girlfriend/wife could look at the cute lambs on the road, only he chose to stop on the wrong side of the road? Luckily I saw him in time and was able to avoid both him and his stupid girlfriend who was hanging out the open passenger door trying to attract the two lambs that were providing yet another obstruction in the road!!!

I arrived at the Sykeside Campsite at the Brothers Water Arms at just after 7.30, booked in for the night and enjoyed a great meal in the pub and a couple of pints whilst the rest of the place watched some football match going on in Ukraine???

Friday 22 June 2012

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 3

The day started OK and went downhill from there!

It was dry in the morning, so I was awake about six so wandered over to the shower block only to find that a shower would cost a euro. But worse than that you had to buy a token for a euro from the shop…. That didn’t open until nine!

So after a quick wash in the sink as I wasn’t prepared to wait three hours I packed up and just as I went to leave, the rain drops started to fall, I already had my overtrousers over the top of my BMW Rallye suit as unlike the jacket I didn’t have the waterproof liners in (because I’ve put on weight and they won’t fit if I do). As I headed north towards Sligo the rain just got heavier but as my jacket was soon soggy and wet on the outside it didn’t seem to make much sense to stop to put my one piece oversuit on over the top.

As I followed the coast past the Dartry Mountains, the fantastic sight of Benbulbin came into view. This mountain has an incredible set of overhanging crags below the summit plateau that many compare to a huge breaking wave. Today it also had an impressive cap of cloud. The best view of this is from west but there were precious few places to stop on the road for a photo and one occasion when I could have the cloud had dropped, spoiling the view. I eventually found a place to stop but by now was to the north of the mountain and much further away so not really giving the same impression.

The road continued northwards and despite the rain gave excellent riding. It eventually stopped raining although it was clear from the dark skies that this was unlikely to last long so as my jacket had dried out I decided to stop and put my one piece waterproof on. The place I picked was a parking area near the top of the pass of The Barnesmore Gap, I stepped off the bike into what I can only describe as a midge storm! I would have moved on but was desperate for a pee, a dangerous proposition I can assure you dear reader! After doing the necessary I decided to put my oversuit on but made the mistake of taking my overtrousers off, because I wouldn’t need them would I?

The top of the pass had a large stone memorial to John O'Donovan the first surveyor of Donegal, OK you might not be impressed but as a Geographer, I find it interesting!

From then on the rain just got heavier and heavier and I got wetter and wetter, the rain was getting down my neck, soaking into my cuffs but worse of all, the leak that in Wales had lead to the classic bikers “soggy crotch” was not a one off and had returned with a vengeance! On the basis that skin is waterproof, I carried on.

I arrived at the UK border at Strabane which was a total non-event not even a “welcome to Northern Island” sign. The only visible indication was that the sign on the Irish side was how many kilometres to “Derry”, on the UK side it was repeated as how many miles to “Londonderry”. I stopped at the side of the road to convert my speedo back to miles and then rode the fifteen very soggy miles to Londonderry in quite heavy traffic.

Crossing the bridge to the West Bank and therefore back to Derry as it is the Catholic, Republican side of the city, bedecked with Irish tricolours for Euro 2012 just as the whole of the republic had been, I rode up the hill and soon found St Columb’s Cathedral and grabbed a quick photo.

Returning back down the hill to cross back to the Protestant, Loyalist side of the city (still bedecked with Union flags for the Jubilee), I passed a roundabout with a new sculpture of two stainless steel figures standing on their own walls but reaching across the gap and shaking hands, one of many such symbols of reconciliation I saw in the North but nearby was a sign of the continuing divide, that unique artform of the province, a wall mural, this one in stark black and white stating “West Bank Loyalists, still under Siege!”

Riding in the continuing rain to Portrush, I sought refuge in a Tescos on the edge of town, parking up under their convenient overhanging roof. Sadly they didn’t have a cafĂ© so I bought myself some stuff for lunch, the wander round the store helping to dry me out, then eating it beside my bike before putting my overtrousers and then my one piece suit! At least now I shouldn't get any wetter underneath.

The plan had been to ride the coastal road to the Giant’s Causeway but given the conditions and the fact I was running way behind schedule, I rode straight there. After a protracted search to find my National Trust card under the many layers of clothing, to avoid paying two pounds to park my bike, which was a surprise as usually the NT don’t charge for bikes, I parked up and went to play Tourist.

Removing my tank bag and carrying my helmet, I followed the signs to the causeway only to discover it’s a walk of over a mile, not great in motorbike gear and two layers of waterproofing!!! The walk down was OK put the walk back was uphill most of the way, the body heat helped dry me out but the resulting sweat didn't!

The stones themselves were quite impressive although not as extensive as I imagined.

After this I decided to just kill some miles and headed for Belfast by the most direct route only to hit it in rush hour but to be honest it was nothing like back home and I was through in no time and as an added bonus it stopped raining. Heading south towards Downpatrick the heavens opened again although by the time I got there it had stopped again. Finding the Cathedral was simple as it appears on the hill right in front of you as you descend the hill towards the City. From the first roundabout it is clearly signposted and you are there in minutes, the road not only taking you straight there but takes you right round it too.

I parked up and got in conversation with the caretaker who lives in a cottage next door and ended up getting an impromptu tour of the Cathedral, three hours after it closed to the public and whilst the organist was practicing which made it even more special. I also got the tour of St Patrick’s grave and he took my photo for me, a smashing guy.

Leaving the cathedral I needed some sterling as I still had a pocket full of euros, the only cash machine I could find in Downpatrick was out of order, so headed on to the next town, the seaside resort of Newcastle. It once again started pouring so I decided to go for a B&B, especially as campsites were conspicuous by their absence. After getting some cash, I decided to stop at the first B&B I came to, unfortunately it was in town and looked rather seedy so I carried on and found another along the coast. A great find as the owner is a biker and let me put the bike in his garage.

Luckily I had stopped for dinner on the way out of Belfast, as once again I had found accomodation in the middle of nowhere, the last thing I wanted to do was get back on the bike!

This sadly also meant that for the third night running there was no pub in walking distance, so once again I had to forgoe the pint of Guiness I had promised myself and this was my last night on the other side of the Irish Sea. Oh well it's a good excuse to go back again.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 2

Day 2 started well with the weather looking much better than Wales. Awakening to bright sunshine was a bonus and it did give me a chance to get all my gear (sort of) dried out. I was soon on the road and although it soon clouded over most of the day remained dry and warm.

I headed off west and discovered I was making excellent progress on the very nice main roads (shame about the back roads).  A stop for fuel was a nice surprise as at  about 1 euro 60 per litre it was costing me about the same to fill the tank in euros as it normally does in pounds. Being Sunday a lot of places were closed (many permanently a sign of the Euro crisis I should think) but supermarkets were open so I stopped at a Tescos for a coffee at Clonmel.

Next stop would be Tipperary, which unlike the song wasn't a long, long way!

Actually it turned out to be a longer way to Tipperary than I thought. I was riding on the N24 towards the town when I saw a sign for the Glen of Aherlow Scenic Route. Checking the map this seemed to be the R663 which I could follow for 9km and then turn north on to the R664 which would take me up to Tipperary.

A fantastic twisty and bumpy little route along the northern edge of the Galty Mountains was great fun but after about 15km I was wondering where the turning to Tipperary was? I passed a sign on the right to Lisvarrinane, which I had expected to be on my route. Another look at the map and I twigged I wasn't on the R663 at all but a smaller "L" Road to the south, so I headed up the road and reached the R663 to the west of Lisvarrinane, doubling back through the village I found a great stop for a photo of my bike with the Galty Mountains behind.

The only downside was the ever present power cables that seem to get in the way all the time!

I never did find the turning onto the R664 so after another fun ride, spoilt a bit by stretches of over enthusiastic top dressing (just like back home then)!

reaching the N24 again, I turned left to Tipperary and was once again glad of my error as this stretch had some fantastic sweeping bends on immaculate tarmac.

A fairly uneventful ride through pleasant but not exactly great countryside took me to Limerick where I took advantage of the new bypass and toll tunnel (1 euro for a bike) under the River Shannon. I then broke my own rule and hit the brand new M18 up to Gort, on the basis that I couldn't easily work the non motorway route? this was only 35km after all.  Another short stretch of N Road took me to Galway and after a frustrating ride round the city centre a few times where i could see the dome of the cathedral but couldn't find my way to it!

I eventually worked out which way to go and grabbed a photo...

Leaving Galway, I avoided the obvious direct route north to my next stop, Ballina and instead headed north west into the mountains of Connemara. This was some fantastic riding on twisty, bumpy but very scenic and very challenging roads...

After reaching Leenane, I turned Northg East and more fantastic roads and scenery, running between the Partry Mountains to my right and the Sheefry Hills to my left. Sadly this signalled the start of some heavy rain, so after a quick stop to don waterproofs, I headed up to Westport and then along the N5 to Castlebar, as I left the town I could see blue skies to my left and dark black clouds ahead. Luckily I soon turned left onto the N58 and towards Ballina and sunshine!

I found my next location, the Cathedral of St Muredach in Ballina and grabbed the obligatory photo...

It was now six in the evening, so I needed to find somewhere to eat and a campsite. The road atlas showed two nearby caravan sites (campsites being very rare in Ireland), so I decided to head for one on the coast at Inishcrone. Sadly this turned out to be a huge static caravan park in a fairly typical seaside resort, so I stopped at a fish and chip shop for dinner, well it seemed like the right thing to do at the sea side.

I used my phone to google "campsites near Ballina" and after rejecting those near Ballina in Australia, I found the correct city, only to discover I should have headed for the other "caravan" site at a village called Belleck. After returning the 9km back down the road to the junction with N59 back into Ballina, I spotted the rain cover from my tank bag sitting in the middle of the road: I hadn't even realised I had lost it! Obviously when getting my camera out at the cathedral I had taken the cover off but can't remember what I had done with it. I must have stuck it on the back of the seat, so good luck that I was forced to return that way.

It turned out that Belleck was only five minutes out of the City and discovered a pleasant little site that allowed camping on the caravan pitches

Saturday 16 June 2012

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 1

Up at 05.00 and on the road by 06.10 the weather didn't look too bad so I headed down the A1(M) only to meet my first rain at Hatfield. I dived into the Hatfield Tunnel only to find it wasn't raining on the other side.... result!

I had given myself four hours to get to Brecon but the GPS was saying I would do it in 3 hours 20 via the A40, so who was I to argue. The roads were empty at that time of the morning so I made really good time, arriving in Oxford in only an hour, the wind was a bit of a problem though but at least it was staying dry.

At Gloucester it was starting to get a bit drizzly, so I stopped at a MacDonalds for a coffee. Upon leaving the GPS was now saying an ETA of 10.00, so I was still ahead of my original schedule. However soon after the heavens opened and my pace dropped as a result, luckily I had stuck my one piece waterproof oversuit on before leaving Gloucester, so at least I was staying dry (for the time being).

Instead of taking the loop north on the A40 via Ross on Wye, the GPS led me down the A4151 and A4136 across the Forest of Dean to meet the A40 at Monmouth. This was a cracking route until somewhere near Staunton I came round a left hand bend to find the road surface a technicolour hue with the distinctive smell of diesel. I picked the bike up and rolled off the throttle, causing me to run wide over the white line, where at least the road was oil free and thankfully I could see far enough ahead to see the road was clear. I was able to cross back over the oil slick and could just about avoid it by hugging the kerb. The oil was about five foot wide and continuous for the next four or five miles making progress distinctly slow. It eventually swung off the road and straight into the service bay of a Nissan garage! I breathed a sigh of relief and resumed the pace.

The fuel light came on as I passed a sign saying Brecon 29 miles and the dash display said 29 miles to go. No problem I thought as I knew there was a Morrisons fuel station just as you enter the town. As it was the GPS took me down a cracking little short cut avoiding Abergavenny, across a narrow little stone bridge over a very angry looking and raging River Usk. As a result I was in Brecon after only 18 miles (and the dash was saying I still had 26 miles of fuel left..... go figure?).

I fuelled up and drove to the cathedral to nab number twelve...

A largely uneventful ride along the A40 followed despite the rain now reaching monsoon like proportions and the wind getting pretty nasty at times. I stopped at Newgale for a photo opportunity overlooking the cracking beach.

Two hours later I was rolling into St David's to grab Grail Location number thirteen, the only downside being a slightly soggy crutch as the storm flap over the zip of my waterproofs hadn't been done up properly leading the zip to leak a bit. After a bit of searching I found a good spot for a photo...

A 20 quick minute blast up the coast to Fishguard got me to the ferry in good time for my largely uneventful three and a half hour crossing to Rosslare. There were a few green faces around as the swell was a bit too much for some but it never bothered me, i've certainly sailed through worse.

On arrival in Ireland I was pleased to see it was breezy but dry so despite having had thoughts of finding a B&B, I decided to camp, so headed 15 minutes out from Rosslare to St Margarets Beach camp site for the night. I had hoped to get a decent meal and a pint of the black stuff in a local pub but there was none in walking distance, so I had to settle for a Wayfarer boil in the bag Chicken Casserole and a cup of hot chocolate, I certainly know how to live it up!