The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride featuring Mental Health Motorbike

The events documented in Are We Doing the Stelvio Today? seem a distant memory given the worldwide events that have happened since. The months that followed that trip were taken up with writing the book and then bringing it to publication. Then the pandemic placed almost everything on pause. But not everything. I was about to embark on a journey with Mental Health Motorbike.

With expectations of book shop signings I was looking to tin rattle for a mental health charity. It was by chance that I saw what was probably the first social media post by Mental Health Motorbike. In early March 2020 following a meeting with my publisher I met up with founder Paul Oxborough.

A global pandemic

We all had one eye on the news from the end of 2019. Reports of people getting sick. Reports that continually got closer to home. Then on the 23rd March 2020 came that fateful announcement from Boris, “You must stay at home”.

The activities of Mental Health Motorbike were forced online. The anxiety of the pandemic and the depression through isolation and uncertainty meant the service was never needed more. We all pitched in through peer support and activities such as virtual rideouts. Additionally I was helping out with some strategic planning and promotion.

Postponed to 2022

With a certain misplaced optimism a plan was formed for a baton relay ride. This would be 3000 miles around the UK promoting the creation of a network of trained mental health first aiders. As lockdown followed lockdown and 2020 rolled over to 2021 we realised that it was too soon to fully realise our ambition for the ride. Hey, this was my first global pandemic! We all seemed to be making it up along the way.

An optimistic release from Covid restriction

The Mental Health Motorbike Baton Relay had been postponed but we still has some business to conduct. We had partnered with DocBike who provide first responder vehicles, emergency road side care, and training to prevent accidents. Though this relationship, we had also been invited to take part in the Bournemouth to Poole Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

The route strung a few cafes together. This would provide respite and the opportunity to meet up with some of our supporters along the way.

Final preparations

This was the first multiple day outing on the GSA since I’d taken deliver in September 2019. Travel restrictions due to Covid had shelved so many trips. But now, with bags packed, I was ready to roll. I had agonised over packing my bags given that I was now dealing with a new luggage configuration. I also had to contend with the repurposed right pannier that had turned into a mobile kitchen. Aspirations of camping had me collect stoves, chairs, and other camping paraphernalia that was finding a place on the bike. Up to now I’ve made a cuppa and a roadside bacon buttie. Other than that it was just storage capacity taken up.

My first job was to try and remove everything I didn’t need for this trip. Despite this the bike initially felt heavy but I told myself that the weight was no more than a pillion. It soon became unnoticeable.

Onwards to Bournemouth

Forming a motorcycle katamari I picked up Nick and Paul along the route heading South. We reached H Cafe just outside of Oxford around lunchtime. With our arrival expected a number of people gravitated towards us to introduce themselves. It was a strange process as many of us had yet to work out the protocols of being let out again. It was a odd dance of elbows, fist bumps, nods and the occasional cheeky handshake. Actual physical contact… although there was no hugging.

Sammy Miller is a motorcycling legend, 11 times British Champion, winner of over 1400 events and still winning competitions more than 50 years after his first victory. His motorcycle museum was our next stop. His museum was one of the post DGR ride destinations. In addition to dropping off some leaflets in advance we had arranged to meet a representative of IAM RoadSmart.

The museum was closed when we arrived but we were able to get a drink from the cafe. We conducted our business within the courtyard of the museum building. Around us they were locking up so we soon made tracks towards our evening accommodation. Just before we left the man himself emerged from his workshop to say hello while on his rounds.

The Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride

The following morning’s packing had bee rehearsed in advance. Away went the adventure suit to be replaced with my finest dapper gear. A blue cotton shirt, a waistcoat with handkerchief and pocket watch, finished off with a postboy cap. For riding I had bought a vintage style open face helmet, goggles and a pair of tan riding gloves. Despite not being on a vintage style bike, this rider certainly looked the part.

There was a threat of rain in the air, but it was a fine morning at the DGR start. Despite being breezy the sun was peeking through but the organisers knew that inclement weather was forecast and were keen to get the show on the road, literally. Not long after arrival we were invited to line up in the first departing wave.

With horns blasting we set off along the predetermined route between Bournemouth and Poole. It was around midway that I felt the first rain drops on my bare forearms. Luckily it was only light and I proceeded to follow the dapper snake of riders and motorcycles towards Sandbanks. I was disappointed not to see Harry and Sandra out clapping us down Sandbanks. Do they still live there? Perhaps it was too early and Sandra was only just preparing the bacon for Harry.

Ride concluded

The endpoint was soon reached and with no ‘official’ end the group fizzled out. Everyone headed off towards one of the half dozen nominated locations. In our case it was The Churchill Arms, one of the furthest out locations. Despite being a twenty minute ride out it was a pub run by Tanya, a supporter of Mental Health Motorbike and DocBike. It largely was down to her efforts that we had ended up in the DGR mix.

I stayed in dapper character while at the pub and enjoyed some much needed refreshment. Our early departure on the DGR ride meant that we were quite premature at the pub and had a wait for other participants to catch us up. It was nearly midday when the DocBikes rolled up.

There’s over £150,000 of motorcycle in this one pic

The BMW GS Mental Health Motorbikes were rolled up alongside the impressively kitted out BMW RTs for a photo opportunity. I had changed back into my adventure suit but had also put the wet weather gear on. We were joined by Brian who would be with us for the rest of the trip. The weather was holding but storms were on the way.

Onwards to Plymouth

As expected the rain hit hard. There was no point trying to find any scenic route so I tapped Plymouth by the quickest possible means into the NAV. It was also unlikely given the weather that anyone would be waiting at Cap’n Jaspers so we headed straight for the accommodation. At least we tried as literally three minutes from our destination the traffic came to a standstill.

Filtering up to the front we came across the obstruction. A car had aquaplaned and hit, of all things, an ambulance, before hitting the central reservation. The front of the car was looking quite poorly given its sudden deceleration. A second ambulance had arrived before us and while they looked after the shaken driver another paramedic guarded the car waiting for the arrival of the police. Despite there being room for our bikes to sail past there was a possibility of a fuel leak so we were asked to hang back. It was not long before all the emergency services arrived in force. This included one officer that took particular interest in the bikes having a BMW K himself. With assessments concluded we were given preferential treatment and released from the stationary traffic.

I can almost see our exit junction

Castles, ferries, and the island’s end

The following mornings weather promised more of the same. We headed out early to St Mawes with the intention of picking up a breakfast. On arrival the sun was fighting its way through the clouds and we sought out our morning feast with some optimism.

A simple thing is the sausage. Despite its apparent simplicity there is a world of sausage out there. Every world cuisine has its own version. And many have a range of different sausages, as we do in the UK. It should also be said that regardless of the many varieties you will also find good and bad. I had ordered the full English and among the black pudding, bacon, egg and mushrooms was one of the finest sausages I have had in a while. I have never made any secret of my love of sausages and before I document our departure from St Mawes I felt this should have an honourable mention.

We left via the St Mawes Castle, an artillery fort heading for the King Henry Ferry. The castle constructed by Henry VIII near Falmouth, Cornwall, between 1540 and 1542 formed part of the King’s Device programme to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Crossing the River Fal

The King Harry Ferry is a vehicular chain ferry which crosses the Carrick Roads reach of the estuary of the River Fal in Cornwall. The ferry was going to save us a huge amount of time with what would otherwise be a long round trip.

I had allowed for a 30 minute crossing but as we lined up the ferry was about to head our way. The cars offloaded briskly and the dozen or so cars in front of us started to board. Again taking two wheeled privilege we were ushered to the front. The boarding gates were soon closed and the heavy chain kicked into action drawing us slowly towards the other side.

Life on the water… on a ferry, on a bike

I was still sat on the bike as we reached the opposite slipway. The gates were barely cracked open as we were waved off, departing on the road the first snaked around with a hairpin and then off up the hillside.

We were making good time and were heading for a coastal route that would take us past St Michael’s Mount and then on to Land’s End. We were starting to ride through banks of rain again but it wasn’t hindering progress. It was just tedious.

Unexpected events

The satnav instructed me to turn left onto a single track. This is not uncommon with the route planning I do and certainly nothing that would worry an adventure bike. In days gone by on the sports bike I would be cursing such a road where the pace and lack of speed would cause additional pressure on my wrists.

The weather had been poor for a number of weeks and what would normally be a narrow but perfectly navigable track was littered with loose gravel and other deposits. As we came around what would have been the final bend before rejoining the A road a large deposit of mud lay across the track. The left side looked more favourable to the right but I’d made the decision too late. The tyres caught the mud and the bike kicked out in protest and lack of traction before immediately kicking the opposite way and over. As the crash bars touched down the whole bike pirouetted almost on the spot. I was underneath the bike as it wedged into the mud embankment with the rear wheel up in the air.

Held captive by a GS Adventure

Despite the urgency of the others to come to my aid I lay unharmed and oddly comfortable, albeit trapped, under the weight of a fully laden GS Adventure. As they hurriedly approached I informed them that I was OK and they tried to lift the bike as the SOS feature activated and was counting down on the dash. I felt the weight lift and my left arm was released. I tried to move from under the bike just as they realised it was too heavy and let go. The bike dropped with the bars pinning on my newly released and repositioned wrist. Now that hurt!

I bit my lip said nothing and waited for the pressure to be released with second lift. Realising that much of the weight was in the luggage they decided to remove the panniers. I calmly reminded them that the keys that they would need were in my pocket, in my pants, the pants trapped under the bike. Changing the tone slightly I suggested that they should “just lift the heavy thing enough so I can GET OUT FROM UNDER THIS F**KING BIKE!!!”. That worked, with a little extra effort I was released and able to roll out. I was covered in mud but, wrist aside, unharmed.

Captive released

The bike was still on its side and by this time the SOS had fully activated and was talking to us. We informed the Motorrad operator that the bike was down but the rider was Ok, no ambulance required. A crane may have been handy though. I could now get to my key and we stripped off as much weight as possible before managing to get the bike back on its wheels and down the muddy embankment. Visibly the bike had fared well. Nothing visibly bent, snapped or missing. We could see that the contact areas were the lower left crash bar that was full of soil and grass, and the lower right edge of the pannier.

The bike started without any issue and the luggage was returned back in place. I remember thinking that my travelling companions had got off lightly. If the bike had any damage I would have been in a foul mood for the rest of the trip. Luckily my plan of using myself as a cushion between the bike and the road paid off… as if it was intentional.

Ignoring the planned route we went in search of a service station with a jet wash to not only spray the mud off the bike but also the rider. Apart from the initial impact I had been rolling around in the mud that had caused the spill in the first place. Once rinsed off we were informed of a place where we could get coffee and reflect on the events a few yards down the road.

As coffee was ordered my first thoughts were about the BMW Connected app on my phone. I bet that would be showing an impressive lean angle! Yes, 82º. Even better than Marquez!

Unplanned detours

Relinquishing the lead meant that the navigation was down to old school initiative, something I like to call ‘going the wrong bloody way’. Ignoring my objections we were led on a mystery tour towards Lizard Point. Taking back control I guided us back to the junction I had indicated we should have been turning at some forty minutes earlier.

I’m not getting off. We aren’t staying…

With the spill, the extra coffee stop and the ‘scenic detour’ having delayed us I pulled up the trip on the NAV and skipped all waypoints up to Land’s End. Thinking further ahead I knew that I could make time the following day so deferred the planned trip to Tintagel.

Land’s End

A few years earlier while on the North Coast 500 I had visited John O’Groats and the visit to Land’s End was mostly a box ticking exercise. The contrast between the too places was huge with the only similarities being the signpost that adorns each location.

Back then I had approached John O’Groats on a grey and wet day. Beyond the carpark was a tourist hut and a few cafes. The visitors taking turns to pose for a photo at the sign before moving on. Approaching Land’s End was more like turning up at a theme park. It was commercialisation in the extreme with cafes, gift shops, cinemas, sweet shops, and more. Even entrance to the car park came at a price.

The sign, so freely accessible at the other end of the British Isles, was at this end transformed into a money making scheme. Cordoned off behind barriers, should you want to have a pic you paid the price. Still we had come to the end of this land so it would be pointless not to make that extra effort. But then, they know that.

Windy is an understatement

Who are you? David Bailey?

We paid the cameraman in his little white hit and lined up at the sign while he waved his SLR at us. He then took our phones and took more pictures to the extent that I began to think the SLR was a prop. I was happy with the photo on the phone. Incidentally the photo taken on the SLR was horribly over exposed and blurred.

One taken on the phone

Despite the wild wind, that made any form of photo posing a problem but for anyone with short hair or a cap, the sun was out and the clouds had blown away. Returning to the bikes and checked our progress. We were behind schedule due to earlier events and the tedious going in poor weather had left us tired and fatigued. The decision was made to ditch the coastal path and take a direct route to the evenings accommodation. At least we could just enjoy a simple ride in the sunshine. We stowed the rain gear and left.

Spiritual enlightenment

The following morning was bright but the forecast suggested this would only be the case until around midday. I took my chances and started out with just the adventure suit, always with one eye to the sky. The first stop being the trip to Tintagel which had rolled over from the previous day’s agenda.

Tintagel Castle is a medieval fortification located on the peninsula of Tintagel Island adjacent to the village of Tintagel. The castle has a long association with legends related to King Arthur. This was first recorded in the 12th century when Geoffrey of Monmouth described Tintagel as the place of Arthur’s conception in his mythological account of British history, Historia Regum Britanniae. Geoffrey told the story that Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon, was disguised by Merlin’s sorcery to look like Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the husband of Igraine, Arthur’s mother.

The castle itself was closed but we were able to take the steep walk down. This was followed by a sturdy uphill trek to the bridge that had been built a couple of years earlier to replace the original stone access way that lead to the fortification .

The new bridge and below the older, slightly treacherous path

If the walk to the castle hadn’t took enough out of us fully suited and booted, the walk back would finish us off. Luckily there was an abundance of cafes back at Tintagel village to provide refreshment and recovery. Next stop, Glastonbury Tor. The day was going to be one of spiritual adventure.

Glastonbury Tor

The route had a waypoint I had placed for Glastonbury Tor. I didn’t recall any focal point on Google Maps so as we approached I was happy to follow the brown signs showing its direction. They seemed to agree with what was happening on my NAV screen. The ratio of traveller and hippy types increased as we got closer. Then, from a country lane, Glastonbury Tor revealed itself. A stone structure on a hill. I must admit to not knowing anything about the history of the structure. Given the lack of focal point such as a car park or visitors centre had us reaching for phones and Google for more information.

I’m not bloody walking up there

Glastonbury Tor is a hill near Glastonbury in the English county of Somerset, topped by the roofless St Michael’s Tower. The Tor is mentioned in Celtic mythology, particularly in myths linked to King Arthur, and has several other enduring mythological and spiritual associations. I wasn’t feeling anything other than the rain. Unimpressed (personally) and spiritually unfulfilled we left.

Heading back in northerly direction

The remaining ride to Poole was wet. Very wet. Relentless and heavy rain meant all we could do was get set in behind our windscreens and press on. I had miscalculated how heavy the rain would be and had just put the rain jacket on. On arrival at Poole I found another pool sloshing around in my undercrackers. We hastily checked in with intentions of seeking out warm radiators to dry our sodden garments.

Day five had promise. I was up early and had loaded the bike by 6am. The morning was fresh but the sun was out and the clouds had dispersed. Todays destination was Abergavenny via Stonehenge as we started our homeward leg and headed north.

That infamous Novichok place

Salisbury had not featured on the route other than to circumvent it on the way to Stonehenge but as we approached we were in need of a break and refreshment. I broke off the planned route and headed for the centre of town. Finding an acceptable parking spot we headed off on foot. It would be remiss of us not to adopt comedy Russian accents so comrades Alexei, Sergei, Dimitri, and Boris headed off to find cathedral with impressive spire.

Despite appearances, these men are not Russian tourists

After much hilarity involving spires, bin dipping for perfume and the comedy Russian accents and comedy names we grabbed a coffee and moved on.

Stonehenge (and combine HARVESTERS)

Stonehenge was only twenty minutes away and we were soon pulling into the expansive carpark that sat in front of the large visitors centre. Expecting a Blackpool Tower moment (first to spot it) I was a little disappointed not to see a glimpse of any stone structure on arrival. With entrance fee paid we funnelled into the exhibition within the building. A typical video wall made attempts to get you into the mood before you navigated the displays. These were typical museum style glass cases of artefacts and historical references to the henges construction and purpose. Still no stones to be seen as we peeked through the exit doors.

We emerged into the sunshine to a replica fibreglass stone on wood rollers. Beyond was a mock up straw hut village.

A pointing man advised us that it was a ‘short’ twenty-five minute stroll across fields and woodland to get to the stones. While there was a bus option we felt we might be waiting over twenty-five minutes so took the walking option despite being over dressed for the occasion. I’d have built the visitors centre a bit closer… or moved the stones.

After what felt longer than the promised twenty-five minutes we were nearly there. The walk probably felt longer because my hiking companion was singing “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester” on repeat. Soon though we rounded another field and could see the stone circle in the distance.

Finally found the stones

As we got closer we wondered if they did intend to build the structure in this place or had just got fed up with walking. I mean, they shifting bloody big rocks. We were done with the walk alone. For the first time I think I actually got a bit of a spiritual tingle. Either that or it was my under crackers that had been riding up with all the walking and warm weather.

We followed the procession of tourists around the stones taking as many pictures and selfies as we could. Why wouldn’t you? Unlike Land’s End these ones were free. We finally settled at the closest accessible point to the stones, not far from where we started our trek of the perimeter.

A very nice and enthusiastic local historian named Matt Pike, told us tales that set the scene of how the Stonehenge was used and its purpose before telling us some more interesting facts about what colour the lichen goes when you piss on it. With that glowing endorsement you should check him at Time Zone Productions.

Conscious of the time I was already eyeing up the bus that would whisk us back to the visitors centre. We were soon back to the building where we had started our journey and fighting off the urge to buy a tea towel from the gift shop returned to the bikes.

We left at a pace and in excellent riding conditions. Other than a stop for lunch outside a village pub, to the echos of tank fire on the Salisbury Plain, we made haste and were soon over the 5,128m of the Prince of Wales Bridge and into Wales.

The last leg

The cakes at Honey Cafe are not to be missed

It was our last day. It was a gentle ride up through Wales taking in the A483 from Builth Wells. In hindsight I should have taken us slightly out of our way and also done the stretch from Llandovery which is probably better than the run to Newtown. There were no complaints though. The pace was fast and only brief bike friendly stops at Honey Cafe and Crossgates Cafe stood between us and our final stop at the once named Lynn’s Raven Cafe, now just the Raven. While still a popular meeting spot the actual cafe is less popular since the departure of Lynn.

It was a bit early for the usual crowds at the Raven and a few bikes came and went as we distributed our remaining promotional materials. We finished our business and departed each going our own separate ways.

Mental Health Motorbike’s first outing

With the exception of the atrocious weather I think we could say that the tour was a success. We met with some people who had only previously been an onscreen face in a Zoom meeting. We got the word out for Mental Health Motorbike and set the foundations for the future UK baton relay tour.

If you have yet to discover Mental Health Motorbike you can find out more on the website. Soon to be a registered charity the organisation exists to create meaningful opportunities so that together we grow the wellbeing of the motorbike community. Our aim is to reduce the suicide rates amongst bikers in the UK.

We are building a strong and diverse network of supporters and ambassadors as well as a network with trained Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA England trained by Mental Health Motorbike) in every town and city across the UK.

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