Getting holiday has been a bit tricky this year as i'm not allowed any time off during the Olympics and Paralympics and work has been a bit manic for both Anne and I lately.
I was able to book a couple of weeks off in June but Anne could only get the second week, so what should I do? I came up with an idea and Anne gave me a whole eight day pass to go and play.
As a member of the Adventure Bike Rider (ABR) Magazine Forum earlier this year I decided to participate in the forum's annual rally, last year it centred around visiting all the National Parks but this year in a slightly different format is based (loosely) around the Holy Grail.
So what exactly is it? The aim is to ride to 31 different "Grail" locations around the UK and Ireland and get a photo of you or your bike in front of them to prove you have been there. There are no prizes but it's a good excuse to ride to places you wouldn't have otherwise gone too.
The locations are chosen for a variety of reasons, which might be a conection with Grail legend itself, whether by association with King Arthur, the Knights Templar, or even the Da Vinci Code, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or they were locations used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail! Most are therefore Cathedrals, Abbeys or Priories and are spread all over from Truro in the South West to Dornoch in Scotland, Galway in the West of Ireland to Cantebury in Kent.
In keeping with the knights of the round table connection, various "virtual awards" are made. After visiting ten locations you awarded the title of "Page". After twenty you become a "Squire" and if you get all thirty one you become a "Knight". Only then is the location of the "Grail" revealed to you for you to complete the quest with one last journey.
As I said it's just a bit of fun but a good excuse to go for a ride. At present I'm lying joint fourth in the league table with eleven locations visited so far. So thought i'd do something about that but first how did I get there?
My first ride was in fact my first ever ride after my accident when I decided a jaunt of about an hour would be a good try out, so I headed off to my old home town of Bury St Edmunds and St Edmundsbury Cathedral, so that was one under my belt...
My next trip coincided with a ride to the Ace Cafe for their Overland and Adventure Bike day, so early on a Sunday morning I headed off into Central London to bag St Pauls and Westminster Abbey, the early hour meant traffic was light and parking up for a photo was no problem although I hadn't accounted for a number of road closures as they were filming the new Bond film "Skyfall" around Westminster that morning. As you can see I took the CCM that day.
Now I was on three, these two pictures even got featured in ABR Magazine!
Another day trip took me to Canterbury, definitely the hardest to photograph as it is completely walled off in the centre of pedestrian only streets. But nobody said it was going to be easy and I eventually found a spot, although the low sun didn't help much but my count was up to four.
I then had a weekend away working as an official at a mountain bike race in Somerset so used the opportunity to go a day early and pick up a few more locations. First Salisbury Cathedral to make five....
Followed by Glastonbury Abbey (six) another tricky one to photograph but there's a clue (see the sign stating "Abbey" in the corner).
Exeter Cathedral (seven), I had to ride through a pedestrian precinct to get this one!
And finally an afternoon blast down to Chichester Cathedral to make it eleven in total....
This actually put me at the top of the league table for a short while but I was soon overtaken, As I had pretty much done all the easily accessible locations from home so started to plan some longer trips. These seemed to break down to either 1) a loop round Wales, 2) a loop round Ireland including Wales on the way out and back or 3) a loop round Scotland.
Then I came up with the slightly crazy idea of combining routes 2 and 3 and collecting all twenty one remaining locations in one major trip. So here I am with one day to go before setting out on my marathon trip round Britain and Ireland.
The Planned route is to head west via Brecon (12) and St David's (13) Cathedrals and then to Fishguard for the Ferry to Rosslare. A trip right across Ireland to Galway Cathedral (14) then up the west coast to Saint Muredach's Cathedral in Ballina (15), over the border to Saint Columb's Cathedral in Londonderry (16), then round the Antrim coast visiting the Giant's Causeway en route, through Belfast to the Cathédrale de la Sainte-Trinité de Down at Downpatrick (17) and then Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin (18).
From here it's a short hop to Dun Laoghaire and a trip on the High Speed Catamaran to Holyhead, a quick blast across Anglesey, over the Menai Straits and on to Bangor Cathedral (19). A short hop to St Asaph Cathedral (20) then on to Liverpool Cathedral (21), that's the older Anglican one not "Paddy's Wigwam".
Then it's a left turn and head north to pick up Carlisle Cathedral (22) and into Scotland to the High Kirk of Scotland in Glasgow (23). The route then takes me over to the North East with three locations around Inverness but depending on time I may take the A82 north and then up to Applecross via the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle) one of the roads on my "must do list".
Then across to Dornoch Cathedral (24), St Andrew's Cathedral in Inverness (25) and Elgin Cathedral (26). On the way south I want to visit Rosslyn Chapel (another on my "to do" list) which also has Grail connections (at least according to the Da Vinci Code) but isn't one of the Rally locations.
Then it's back into England and over to Holy Island to visit Lindisfarne Priory (27), so I'll have to keep an eye on the tide tables as the causeway is flooded at high tide. Then it's a trip back down the eastern side of England via Durham Cathedral (28), Wakefield Cathedral (29), Sheffield Cathedral (30) and finally Derby Cathedral to give me my full 31 locations.
In all the trip will take eight days, cover 2100 miles (an average of 262 per day), visit five Countries and use two Ferries, let's just hope the weather is kind to me (it doesn't look that way at the moment)!