Friday, 15 February 2019

Big Vern Goes to Shetland 3: Liverpool, rain and pie

Day two:

We had a stroll around Chester, which was very pleasant and has ancient shops on galleries with two levels and Roman Walls and amphitheatres and stuff...

Potatoes and added ruins

...and had nutrition free breakfasts and returned to collect the bikes from the NCP. 

The Bonneville had been a little incontinent in the oil department, though nothing excessive, while the Kawasaki had managed to burn its way through a quantity of semi-synthetic, so I donated a half a litre of Castrol GP I’d picked up at an autojumble, and we set off and immediately got lost. 

We had intended to grit our teeth and belt up the M6 to Preston, but a check of the map suggested an alternative. Why not go through the Mersey tunnel and skirt the coast, head up to Southport and rejoin the A6 further north? The first part of this brilliant plan went well. When we got out of the tunnel at the other side we found ourselves being directed by friendly waving policemen, who had obviously been told of our arrival,  and ended up at Liverpool docks, having been mistaken for being sports bike fans on the way to the Isle of Man TT. 

Extricating ourselves from the city through Liverpool’s old docklands was interesting – I have a thing for derelict industrial wastelands, and this was just that. 

Onwards we rode through Mersey's fat suburbs and it suddenly all went to heck. 
For some reason, that part of the country is infested with aggressive and stupid Audi drivers, possibly overpaid football stars or something, all of whom seemed to be intent on running one off the road at every opportunity. 
It also seems to have a set of traffic lights every three hundred yards, all of them at red. All of which was a bit of a bind for a Triumph Bonneville with a stiff clutch and a Kawasaki that belched black smoke at every acceleration point. 
The dreadfully dull Crosby and Formby, their gyms, tanning parlours and takeaways passed by in a tiresome, unattractive and clunky hack, and a trip to the beach where Antony Gormley’s cast iron sculptures gaze out to sea had to be aborted because there was a 30 car one-hour queue to get into the car park, and a ridiculous National Trust parking charge too. So we headed for Southport. I’d been to Southport as a very small child and had fond memories of it, and my Dad had told me magical tales of being evacuated there during WW2 so this looked promising. 
Stalag Luft Pontins

First of all, we took a wrong turning and ended up on a bleak beach, girded by a Pontins holiday camp that had barbed wire on the walls. Whether to keep people out or keep them in was moot point. There was a derelict hotel too, which looked as if it was something from League of Gentlemen, and this added to its charm. 

After we  blatted up and down the esplanade for a bit and passed a nightmarish Fun Park made to look like an Arab fort which looked as if it had been attacked by a drone strike we made it into Southport for lunch, at our second Wetherspoons.
Southport. How lovely

Southport, we felt, was doing its best, but had some truly ugly features. A couple of psychotic motorists in Range Rovers attempted to kill us by driving stupidly – surely not everyone round there plays for Everton or Liverpool? Or is a coke dealer? 
Anticipating a clearer run from there on we headed on, and found Preston to be almost as ghastly as Crosby, but we chugged our way through it and made Lancaster just in time for another gridlocked rush hour. We fought our way through, stopping afterwards at an actual proper truckstop near Carnforth, and took a look at the map. 
Our destination in Westmorland wasn’t that far away, and we decided that having endured a series of horrid runs, we’d try and have some fun, so decided to go into the Lake District, head over the Kirkstone Pass, down past Ullswater and on to our destination on the other side of Penrith. There was a light drizzle as we left the truckstop, but we felt this was sure to change, and sure enough it did, becoming a torrential downpour as we made it into Windermere and we began to climb the Kirkstone Pass. The rain got even heavier until we found cloudbase and not only could we now not see where we were going, but were still soaked, while passing signs indicating that half the accidents on the Pass involved motorcycles. 
We kept climbing with about 15 yards of vision before getting caught behind a lorry carrying flammable gas. So far, so Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The lorry chugged along at 20, stopping occasionally for hairpins and eventually pulled over. 

This is the Kirkstone Pass. Pretty, isn't it? That's not what it looked like in May

To be honest the road was so treacherous I hadn’t minded going so slowly, and the subsequent steep drop over the pass to Ullswater put a strain on the Bonneville’s single disc. I’d gone onto reserve as we made it down to lake level but reckoned that with just 10 miles to go to Penrith, all would be well. It wasn’t and I rolled silently to a halt in the middle of nowhere. 
We checked phones and miraculously we found that not only was there a signal, but there was a filling station not half a mile distant. Even more serendipitously there was a discarded plastic cyclists water bottle by the roadside. All we had to do, drenched and tired as we were, was get half a pint of fuel from the Kawasaki’s tank and pour it into the Bonnie. Removing the filler cap it became clear however that there was some fuel in the Bonneville’s tank. So I laid it over to the right and some sloshed over to the working tap, just enough to get me coughing and spluttering to the filling station. We wrung what rainwater we could out of our gloves. The black dye on Sean's brand new and very expensive summer weight gloves had sent his hands completely black and despite copious scrubbing remained like that for days. My own sopping wet Richa wax cotton jacket had failed in its task of keeping the rain out, but I'd been too damp to extricate my nylon overjacket from its hiding place. And thus, squelching slightly, we began the final ride on to the Shepherds Inn, Langwathby. 
Visit this pub
We arrived 20 minutes late for dinner, dripping dirty water on the carpet and looking dishevelled. The landlord, the kind of grumpy looking chap who you only find running rural pubs, took pity upon us and rustled up one of the finest shepherds pies I’ve ever eaten. 

great joy it was in this evening to be alive

In return, we partook of many of his ales and had a long conversation with a local whose tales of mysterious barns full of classic motorcycles in the area were very probably too good to be true…