Bikes – The Early Years

I’ve always had a bike (sometimes more than one). I started with push bikes and got used to them as everyday transport as I had to cycle the 3 miles to school each day in all weathers. But what I wanted was a motorbike…

In 1978 I left school after A levels, borrowed £300 from my Dad and bought my first bike – a 1974 Yamaha RD250. Looking back it is quite atonishing to realise that you could apply for a provisional license, stick on some L plates and hit the road on a 100 mph bike. No training, no tests, no qualifications necessary. You were limited to 250cc but all the main manufacturers offered bikes to suit the demand. I bought the RD off a school friend (Peter Cook), who was upgrading to a Honda 400/4. We did a few rides together but he had no fear and was much faster than me. We crept in to the by-then disused Longridge motor racing circuit and did a few laps – I can see from the photos that my personal protective equipment extended to a helmet and leather gloves accompanied by jeans, denim jacket and trainers!

Longridge Circuit

Jumping on a bike like this with no experience was of course a recipe for disaster and I did fall off a few times – but no serious injuries. I fell off one night and couldn’t get the bike to start and ended up calling out the parents who duly arrived – probably just glad to see I was OK. We eventually got the bike going and discovered that during the off one of the carburettor slides had got jammed wide open. My worst crash was in the car park at our halls of residence in Leyland where there was a workshop for students to use. Having done some tweaks to the timing I went to try the bike around the car park – and fell off skidding across the tarmac in only a T-shirt – Ouch !

The bike was very senstive to ignition timing which had to be set up using a dial gauge down the plug hole to find TDC. This needed adjusting on an almost weekly basis to keep it running crisply – I eventually installed a transistorised Boyer Bransden ignition which was a huge improvement.

I was sponsored through University by Leyland Vehicles, which meant a “gap year” working for them before going to University – and then back working for them in the summer holidays. As Leyland was not far from my parents the RD250 was an ideal form of transport on these short journeys. However, I was due to start University in Durham in September and would need to be able to get there and back which required a bigger bike. So having passed my (very simple) bike test and with another loan from Dad I bought a Honda 550 F1 – a four cylinder four stroke.

Honda 550 F1

Strangely I don’t have many memories of this bike – it was a reliable workhorse for the Durham trips, but rather unremarkable. As usual with my bikes I did make some modifications, fitting a Dunstall exhaust, lower handlebars and rearset footrests. In common with all Japanese bikes of the era the front disc brake didn’t work in the wet but at least it had a reliable rear drum brake. The previous owner had fitted a luggage rack and panniers (useful for load carrying) and also upgraded the normal spoked wheels to alloys – a pretty unusual thing to do in those days, but they did look cool. One of the wheel bearings worked loose but I managed to refit it using Loctite bearing fit. I also swapped the Boyer Bransden ignition over to this bike but it was much less sensitive to adjustment and had plenty of performance anyway. Why the 550 ? Well I was looking for a 400/4 but this came up for sale in the local paper – no Internet or Auto Trader in those days…

Modified bike

Having been a little bit underwhelmed by the 550 I looked for a bike to upgrade to and the obvious choice was to go for the 750 version of the same bike, which promised 120 mph performance. I rang round the local dealers and struck lucky with one who had just got a special version of the 750 in part exchange – this was a 750 F2 Phil Read Replica… This started a trend that continues to this day of buying transport that is a little bit “different”.
Phil Read raced for the Honda Britain team and won the Isle of Man TT on a modified 750 in the late seventies. To celebrate the event and help to shift some more bikes, Honda commissioned Colin Seeley to modify the standard 750 to make a road going “race replica”. It came with a five-gallon alloy works replica hand made petrol tank with a custom made filler cap. Rear sets, ace bars, single race saddle, full fairing, twin Cibie headlights, a hand made works exhaust (which is music to the ears) and little one-off parts to complete the package. Only 150 were made and there are alleged to be only 35 remaining.

Honda Phil Read Replica

This was a great bike (for the time) – had a good riding position, great looks and super roadholding thanks to the Dunlop Red Arrow tyres. I didn’t feel any need to make modifications to the bike, apart from changing the exhaust to a Piper 4 into 1 when the old one rusted through. The fairing was great for when doing the long trips up to Durham and the bigger tank helped the fuel range. It was almost a single seater but there was just about room to squeeze my girlfriend on the back – for short journeys anyway. The suspension was set up for a single rider but even so it was possible to scrape the pegs through corners – mainly thanks to the grip from the tyres. Two-up getting round any corner at speed usually resulted in sparks flying.

I managed to avoid any accidents of my own making, despite the enthusiastic cornering, but I did have one significant off. Riding through the centre of Durham when a car pulled out in front of me – I grabbed the brakes, locked the front wheel, came off and slid into the car sideways. I had slowed enough so the impact was minor and I was unhurt, but the off had damaged the bikes ignition which is on the end of the crankshaft so it wouldn’t run. I was rather cross and made the poor lady driving the car write out and sign a confession on the spot! There was some other minor damage but the insurance paid out and I managed to fix it myself. The forks were bent but I took them into the engineering lab in Durham and managed to get them straight again.

Being a sponsored student and having a job during the holidays meant that I was relatively well off (for a student) so I was looking for an upgrade from the Honda. I had my eyes on Italian bikes which had a reputation for better brakes and handling than the Japanese equivalents – the Ducati 900SS and Laverda Jota were top of my list. But the reality of pre-Internet bike searching is limited to scanning the local paper or ringing bike dealers. I came across an ad for a Honda CBX1000 – this was not on my list but was the fastest bike you could buy in 1982…

Honda CBX

An in-line six cylinder engine with double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder – 24 valves, 6 carburettors and 105 bhp. This particular bike also had the benefit of a Marshall 6 into 1 exhaust which sounded amazing. It also came with a hefty set of crash bars to protect the very wide engine.

Looking back it seems quite astonishing that a 22 year- old student could be running around on a bike like this, but I was ! But for all the “fastest bike” and six cylinder hype it wasn’t a great bike. The performance, sound and smoothness were perfect. The weight, handling and fuel consumption were less so. In a foolish attempt to reduce the weight I removed “non essential” parts like the centre stand and crash bars. But on the way into lectures one morning, going round one of my favourite roundabouts I reached the limit of the tyres grip and the bike slid sideways – no thanks to me they regained grip and didn’t throw me off – thank you Pirelli Phantoms. On parking the bike I noticed that some of the lower engine bolts had gained a new chamfer – it had been leant over so far the engine had touched the ground ! I was a bit more careful after that…

After graduating from Durham in the summer of 1982 I needed to find alternative transport to get me down to Shoreham-by-Sea to start work at Ricardo. So I sold the CBX and bought a car – my first car, but I’ll save that story for another post…

Durham 79-82

I studied Engineering Science at Durham University from 1979-82 and was a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society. Durham operates a collegiate system but unlike the other colleges with large halls of residence to accomodate the students Cuths has only a small number of residential students and the rest “live out”. I spent my first year in residence in the South Bailey – at the end of the peninsular formed by the river Wear. But for my second and third years I lived out at the Shafto Arms in Langley Moor. This was a pub that had been converted into student accommodation in a small mining village a few miles outside Durham.

My fellow “Cuths Engineers” who also lived at Shafto were :
Simon HAYE
John KIDD (Pongo)
The main picture above was taken on Palace Green after our graduation ceremony in 1982.

Living out meant that we needed our own transport and being engineers we managed to run and maintain a motley collection of sometimes working vehicles.

My memory is a little hazy but I think Simon had a Honda 400/4 that he rode up from Reading each term but after a cam chain problem and dropping oil all over the Cuths courtyard he upgraded to a Yamaha XS750 with a very loud Marving pipe. I can remember Tim having a Ford Escort van and Pongo had a very new yellow Mini. Steve had a Honda 550/4 (I had an identical one) and then an Escort van (identical to Tim’s) and finally a VW Scirocco. I started with the Honda 550/4, then a Honda 750 Phil Read Replica and finally a Honda CBX 1000.

Lots of stories I could tell if I could remember them but at least I have managed to unearth some old photographs as memoroy joggers…

Shafto Arms
Simon on his XS750 – parked between two Escort vans?
Yours truly..
Doing the head bearings on Steve’s 550 – my identical bike in the background
Just changed the wheel bearings on mine…
Down the pub after graduation…

Morocco or Bust #3

See these previous posts if you need more background on what this is all about:

The Plan

To leave Hauts Du Brel at the end of January, head down through Spain to Portugal to spend a few days with Tim and Helen and then on to Morocco. We had to be back by 24 Feb, which gave us over 3 weeks to play with but nothing booked apart from the first leg to Alvor in the Algarve.

The Team

Alexander and I (with a lot of help from Google, and AirBnB when we could get an Internet connection…)
Georgina was flying down to Faro to meet up for the Portugal stay and then she was flying off to Australia. Susan was hoping to join but was struck down with Flu after the Egypt trip.

The Vehicle

Suffice to say that we did the trip in my Land Rover and lived to tell the tale… Although we felt this was sure to be a more reliable option than the Renault 4 we originally had in mind there was the small issue that the Land Rover had done 300,000 miles was making a few funny noises and had recently had a misfire problem.. Oh yes, and the timing belt was overdue for a change.

The Gear

I took masses of tools and didn’t need them (apart from some duct tape).
We took loads of books to read and never looked at them.
We took fishing gear and didn’t fish.
We took tennis stuff and… you get the picture..
I bought a dash cam to protect against errant donkey carts and the general melee that is driving in Morocco, but this turned out to be of dubious legality so was not used much – they confiscate drones and are paranoid about security.

The Route

Although little of this was planned in advance, this was the route we took, highlighting the main places we stayed.

The Route

This is the running order and is followed in the rest of this post.

San Sebastien
Alvor – visiting Tim and Helen
Ferry crossing
Lixus Roman City
Volubilis Roman City
Ferry Crossing
Circuit Catalunya – F1 winter testing

San Sebastien

I had booked a place in the old part of San Sebastien with parking, which was a bit surprising as there is not much parking available around there. The road outside the accommodation was being dug up so we couldn’t even get near it in the car so went on foot. The owner then explained that there was parking – but it was in an (expensive) underground car park nearby – and that would be extra ! I asked if there was any free parking and he pointed out a street on the map about 20 minutes walk away, which I recognised as we parked in the same place when I was here with Susan in October. So we set off and parked the car in this quiet street and walked back in to the town.

Cloudy San Sebastien
Walking to the Old Town

Visited a few pintxos bars and then headed back for the night. In the morning we had a 20 minute walk to get the car so we stopped for breakfast in a local cafe – first taste of toast with olive oil and tomatoes.

Then we went to get the car – only to find IT WASN’T THERE !

Car was parked here…

First reaction was – “We’ve got the wrong street” and “Maybe we parked a bit further along”, but then Alexander recognised the van parked a few cars back and spotted some broken car window glass in the gutter…
Panic starting to get a grip “Someone has stolen the car!”. And then it sinks in – we’re in a foreign country where we can’t speak the language, all we have is our overnight bags as everything else was in the car. Minor point but we have some accomodation booked for tonight that is a 6 hour drive away and were hoping for an early start and it’s a non refundable booking.
Thought of calling the Police but :
a. Don’t know the number and
b. Can’t speak the language
Decide to phone the owner of the accommodation (who told us to park here) to see if he can help and agree to head back to his place..

On the long walk back to his place lots of thoughts going through my mind – in addition to the obvious one of what the f&#k do we do now. My car is a 13 year old 300,000 mile Land Rover – who the hell would want to steal it ?

Get back to the place and things start to fall into place – the owner has phoned the police and they have the car. We just need to get over there and fill in some paperwork to get it back…

It turns out that someone smashed the window, then someone else called the police and they turned up and decided to tow it away rather than leave it like that.
Were they trying to get in to steal stuff – we did foolishly leave some things on the back seat – and were disturbed before they could get in ? Fortunatey nothing was stolen, but it did take a while to fill in forms and make statements to the Police before we could get the car back – then a long drive to do – and we had to fix the window.

Good as new !


For the trip down we were planning on 5-6 hours driving per day and simple overnight stops, but today was my birthday – one to remember with the car incident – so I had booked a Parador, which was the best place we stayed in on the whole trip.

Parador in an old convent
Black rice tapas
Cheers from the Birthday Boy !


The next leg took us further down through Spain, across into Portugal and on to Alvor, where Tim and Helen spend six months of the year and have recently bought an apartment. We were staying in an apartment on the beach for four days.

Love on the beach at Alvor
Alvor harbour in the morning light
Morning walk on Alvor beach
Hot enough for ice cream
Harbour at dusk
Special fish dinner – ordered in advance (that lady’s face says it all)
Black Pork challenge at the Chicken Tavern – eat all that and you can have a pud !
So they did !
From T&H apartment
Tim and Helen – excellent hosts
George made friends with a Goat on the way to Horta Restaurant – it followed us so we gave it to the restaurant owner.


Dropped Georgina off at Faro airport and then went on for an overnight stop in Seville, giving us an easy drive to catch the ferry at Algeciras the next day – very unsure about how long the formalities would take for the car.

Tapas for lunch
Inside the enormous cathedral
Giralda tower and oranges in Feb
So many great tapas bars

Algeciras Ferry

We were a little concerned about the crossing – we had no ticket and had read a lot of stories on line about long delays when trying to bring in a car and problems with ticket touts. In the event it all went smoothly as they seem to have streamlined the whole process and tightened security. The car was X-rayed before being allowed into Morocco – don’t know what they were looking for. 1.5 hour crossing.


Photo opportunities everywhere..
The gate to the Kasbah
Myriad of tiny streets
Live music in the restaurant..
Enormous and very sweet strawberries
More-than-you-can-eat breakfast


After a few days in Tangier we went south to Rabat (capital of Morocco) but stopped off at a few places on the way. Assillah is a picturesque seaside town with a very arty flavour.


Went to see the Roman site of Lixus and begin to understand more about the history of Morocco and Mediterranean trade. A huge site but with only low walls remaining. Here was the largest fish salting facility in the empire..


Lixus overlooks the modern town of Larache which is an active fishing port.

Back street kids
Colours of the market


Rabat Medina from the harbour
Rabat archeology museum
Rabat modern art museum
This anonymous hole-in-the-wall sells alcohol – it’s against the Muslim religion and therefore very hard to track down.
Dinner – Harira soup, boiled egg, dates and sweet biscuit things.


We had considered heading further south to Marrakech (which was the original plan) but we had been there before and there were other places to explore in the North of Morocco so we headed East to Meknes, which turned out to be a small version of Marrakech and the most “Moroccan” of the places we visited.

Made it ! But not in this Renault 4.
The entrance to our Riad down a dark and dingy alley
Much nicer inside..
Sweet treat with nuts and honey
Riad breakfast
Royal stables – room for 12,000 horses
Royal granary


Our second Roman city – this one built on the grain and olive oil farmed in the area. Unlike Lixus, many of the mosaics were still in place and more of the structures were still standing.


Really pretty “blue city”.

Mint tea in the square – like you do…


Stayed in a “proper” hotel in Tetouan as we needed a bit of comfort and to get some washing done..

Tetouan Medina – The White Dove
Tetouan archeological museum – where the Mosaics from Lixus ended up.
Another huge breakfast…


We had looked at driving to Ceuta which is a Spanish city on Moroccan soil, but had read stories about long delays at the border. In the end we decided to take the same crossing to get back to Spain.
The queue for X-raying the car (again) was very long so we had sniffer dogs and a search instead. Fortunately Alexander had resisted all the offers of “weed” that we had received during our stay – Chefchouen is a major producer apparently.


Stayed the night in Garnada and did have in mind to visit the Alhambra palace – but it was booked up weeks in advance even in February…

Razor clams for lunch
The Alhambra palace


Big yachts in Barcelona harbour
Sagrada Familia – due to be completed in 2026
Black rice paella

Catalunya Circuit

We spotted that F1 winter testing was taking place this week near Barcelona so had to call in to take a look…
The Mercedes look like they might be hard to beat.


The objective was to be away from the Quercy during Jan/Feb to avoid the cold, miserable weather so it was nice to come home to warmth and blue skies and to see the almond in blossom.

And despite being “stolen” and making a few funny noises and having covered an extra 3,500 miles on this trip the Land Rover worked perfectly…

The end – until next time..

Egypt – Jan 2020

For those that missed it our first trip to Egypt is here :

This was another visit to Hurghada on the Red Sea (arranged by Georgina) and this time we had Alexander and Susan joining us.

Non stop sunshine the whole week (it never rains) so plenty of time for reading and sun bathing. No kite surfing this time but we did a couple of trips – one in a submarine boat and a snorkelling trip to a secret coral reef.

Apologies for the large number of pictures of the reef, but I started with an infinite number and have done well to cut it down this much – the rich colours and amazing diversity have to be seen to be believed.

Hotel pool area at night.
Loads of food !
All-inclusive cocktails too…
Colourful fish in Hurghada market..
Next to the biggest Mosque in the world..
Inside the submarine boat.
Alexander snorkelling.
Is it a mermaid ? No it’s Georgina..
Amazing underwater world on the coral reef.

Happy Christmas – 2019

Welcome to my Christmas blog post – which is a sort-of substitute for sending Christmas cards and provides an opportunity to look back on 2019 and highlight some of the things that happened…

New Year at Ravenside

I spent New Year with Chris and Corinne on their small holding near Newcastle. No major projects this year (like barn building) but lots of other jobs to be getting on with.

January 1st 2019 – Barn Door Moving
New Gates
Aperitifs 3rd Jan – Chiminea


On my way back to France (driving in the Land Rover this trip) I stopped off to see Nanna and went out to lunch with Lucy and Bella…



Back home in early January to glorious sunshine…


In January I flew to Alvor in the Algarve to visit Tim and Helen who now spend the winter there. First I had to take Hebe up to Limoges for Alexander and Laurena to dog sit. This invariably involves a visit to the Brasserie Michard, but I see from this photograph that we went somewhere else on this occasion..

Cheers from the Churchill ?

Back home, then off to Toulouse for the flight to Faro…

Alvor Beach with Tim and Helen
Pork and Clams
Sunset from T&H apartment
Keep calm and…

Back home and off to Limoges again to collect Hebe…

Still not Michard…
28 Jan Driving Back From Limoges


In February I bought a new motorbike, having sold the other two…
Blog post here :

Zoe & Oli’s Wedding

Back to the UK for my niece’s wedding (sister Sara’s eldest daughter)…

Zoe and Oli

Blog post here :


In late February Alexander, Georgina and I went off to Morocco for a week. The previous year we had spent a week in Agadir but were looking for a bit more excitement and we certainly found it in Marrakech…

Blog post here :

Sunday Trail Ride

Out trail riding with some of the guys from the “Lot of Bikes” crew..

Blog Post :

Sport Adventure Dodogne

My first experience of one of the Chris Evans sport adventure trips was in the Normandie mud in November 2018. Trails riding in the Dordogne proved to be a lot less slippery, and much faster…

Blog post :

Keeping Up With The Boys

Just when I was starting to think I was getting the hang of the new bike and having successfully completed the 3 day navigation enduro in the Dordogne, I went out for a ride with some of the young lads from Lot of Bikes…

Blog post :

Montesa Cota 4RT

Decided I needed another trials bike to develop my skills, having fallen off the KTM a few times…

Read more :

Paris With Lucy

Long weekend in Paris with Lucy…

Golden Gnome Treasure Hunt

Organised by John from Lot of Bikes, this was a team event involving navigation (with map and compass!), trail riding to obscure locations and solving tricky clues – the last one being attached to a buoy floating in Montcuq lake !

Specialized Sirrus X

Another new acquistion…

Sirrus X above Cahors

Summer Parties

I don’t get time for quite so many adventures in the summer time as I have to pretend to do a bit of work selling shade sails. But there are plenty of fetes and events to fill the evenings and you never know who you might meet…

Rando de Courbiac

Rando Courbiac

More ..

Morocco Or Bust ?

The trip to Marrakech earlier in the year gave us the idea of doing a road trip to Morocco in Jan/Feb 2020. Having seen the huge number of Renault 4s in Marrakech at the end of the 4L trophy we thought it could be a great adventure…

The Vince

Doug, Mark and myself “The Old School” signed up to do a motorbike navigation event in the Pyrenees called The Vince. It is run by a rather eccentric guy called Austin VINCE who has done lots of round the world tours and now regularly runs adventure holidays.

The 2019 event is restricted to the use of maps and compasses only – no GPS allowed. Austin and his team have placed a series of small metal tags on objects scattered around the Pyrenees – typically on trees/posts/electric pylons. He has then supplied a very small scale map and guide book to tell you exactly where each tag is located. The event is held over two days and you are allowed exactly 12 hours each day to navigate your way around the objects collecting the information on the tags. Different tags score different amounts of points. The winner is the team with the most points at the end of day 2.

Holiday Visitors

Plenty of visitors this year including Chris and Corinne (their first holiday for 10 years). My sister Sara is a regular and loves to get her dose of sunshine…

Golden Gnome Challenge Trophy

Another event run by John based at his house north of Montcuq. This is an annual competition and involves trials, motocross and enduro…

San Sebastien

A wonderful week in San Sebastien with Susan…

Charity Run

5Km charity run in Cahors to raise money for breast cancer research (ladies only)…

Quatrelle Farewell

What happened, what went wrong, have we missed the epic adventure of men and machine battling against all the odds to get to Morocco or Bust ?

Sport Adventure – Morvan

Read more…


Another fabulous week away with Susan, visiting Marrakech and Essaouira…


A week in Hurghada with Georgina…


Well it’s not the end of the year yet…
Georgina, Alexander and Laurena should be here for Christmas, then I’m flying to the UK for a tour of the UK to visit the family. Back here early January to start the adventures again – trip to Alvor and Morocco at end of January…