Sculpture Trail Ride
When you have the choice between
i) a round trip through the UK and Ireland to pick (almost) all locations of Grim’s “Sculpture Trail Ride“ enjoying cool temperatures and British weather
ii) an attempt to do the extreme Four Corners Ride and/or a Bun Burner Gold (1500 miles in 24 h) in Germany under perfect summer conditions (> 30 deg.)
you go for….option 1!
Well, this might seem obvious for British riders, for others it is not. I found out that I should have checked the ferry prices again before starting the booking . But whatever, everything was on track.
What is it all about? Every year Rob Roalfe, the Grim Rider, organizes a charity ride in Britain. I simply refer to his web page: “The aim of this motorcycle ride is simply for you to visit some of the important public sculptures of Britain within a calendar year (i.e. from January to December). The sculptures may be visited at any time of the year and in any order. You do not need to visit more than one on any particular day or trip. You do need to visit a specific place at each sculpture, and provide proof of your visit by photographing your ride placard and your motorcycle at that place.”
I had visited one location (Lincoln) before the Brit Butt Rally this year, more were not possible as my BMW had broken down and I couldn’t visit four more points in the south east after the rally. So I had decided to do most of the locations except Edinburgh and Harwich. In both cases the stop would have been too far away to do the whole trip in only two days. When planning the route, I became aware that the critical ‘leg’ was from Hull to Cairnryan in Scotland. The time between the arrival of the ferry and the departure of the speedboat to Northern Ireland was only 6 hours. The route planner indicated a driving time of five hours. One hour extra time should be enough, shouldn’t it? Well, I wanted to visit 4 sculpture locations, one of them at a remote place in Scotland, the weather forecast wasn’t too good and maybe I needed to pull some petrol as the distance was almost 500 km.
I left on Thursday noon and reached Oostende early in the afternoon. Enough time to stop at the beach for a Tempelier and a coffee. I filled up the BMW’s main and auxiliary tank to the top right before the harbour before checking in. I took the ferry to Hull and moved right away into my little cabin. In the little shop on board I bought some paperback books on sale for entertainment as the passage was 13 hours and the only highlight was the diner in the restaurant. The reading in the first book (Jeremy Clarkson: Round the bend) became more and more unpleasant and with every page I got more and more annoyed. Only occasionally funny, often very rude, offensive and blunt. And the worst thing is: he has no clue of cars! And even admits that he is all thumbs… Well, ’nuff said.
The next morning the ferry arrived on time, but….the unloading took longer than expected. I chose the continental approach: jump the queue! The border official startled when a big yellow bike with a big guy in a bright yellow rainsuit with a yellow fluorescent helmet appeared in front of him. Whoa! Nevertheless, I passed the border control at 8:30, half an hour later than expected. Ooops, only 30 min left. From now on, rain was my permanent companion. I went north to York and further to Middlesbrough where I took a wrong turn that costed me 5 minutes that I regained before. Argh. I arrived at the first sculpture, made my picture and headed for the next one in XXX. It took me a while to find it as the modernistic, nondescript concrete complex is easily overlooked. I could make my picture from the road so I didn’t have to shuffle to the builing losing even more time. I quickly continued my way to the the next location: the iconic “Angel of the North“.
Unfortunately, there was no time to view this enormous monument from various angles: Only 20 minutes left! And most of my way to Cairnryan was still in front of me! The constant drizzle didn’t play in my favour either. I headed westwards on the A69 to Carlisle to ride the only 5 miles on the motorway on that day. When exiting again, I entered Scotland. What a surprise: the weather did not change (rain). I headed westwards on the A75 and after Dumfries the Sat Nav told me to turn right for the last location in Scotland: the “King and Queen” sculpture somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The roads got smaller and smaller and suddenly the road was completely flooded! Well, there was no way around it! Carefully I drove through this big lake…aaargh! A big hole! I could avoid to fall in the water. When I had passed this critical passage I realized that the Sat Nav wanted to send to a different direction and I had missed the correct turn. This meant I had to cross the flooding again! Same story (“Wuaaaah!”). The road became a single track and the sheep on the road slowed me down even more. The rain had stopped but the landscape got a bit spooky with the low hanging clouds over the hills. Finally I reached the right spot, the sculpture was about 300 yards from the small road. At least my camera had a zoom lens so I didn’t have to walk up the hill where the sculpture was overlooking the Glenkiln reservoir.
It wasn’t very easy to take the picture with the tiny sculpture in the background and the placard in the front, but I managed after some fruitless attempts. I was curiously watched by some sheep. The setting in this misty landscape was somewhat mystical, but I had no time for a quick rest: I had only twelve minutes of my time buffer left, I was on a single track road in Scotland and I still had 70 miles to go! Mentally I switched to “competition mode” and I rode what I thought was still responsible under these conditions. My horn and the humming of the BMW chased hundreds of sheep off the track. Soon I reached a junction and I was surprised that the Sat Nav told me that the next turn would be in 20 miles? I had expected that I would return quickly to the A75… OK, this road had two lanes but was obviously a B road with many bends. In principle, the road was scenic, but this was not the right moment. I got the impression that my rear suspension was broken, the BMW seemed to bounce like a camel in this sporty riding style. Later it turned out that the suspension was completely open, in the highest comfort mode. No wonder I felt like riding on a cannon ball. My time buffer faded like the sand in a sand clock. Eleven minutes, ten minutes, nine minutes. It was impossible to keep the estimated pace calculated by the Sat Nav. Maybe without the luggage, without the auxiliary tank and with a working suspension, but not like this. At the next turn, I expected to be back at the A75, but…no! Another 25 miles on another B road were ahead of me. Scenic, indeed. But the clock was ticking. Eight minutes, seven minutes, five minutes of buffer left. My whole plan depended on this speed ferry to Northern Ireland! If I’d miss it, I couldn’t get to the booked night ferry in Dublin on time and my whole trip would fall apart. Four minutes, three minutes. When only two minutes of buffer were left, I reached again the A75. Another problem was that I ran low on petrol and I couldn’t afford to stop. I simply had to put everything on one card. On this road with few traffic I could catch up some of the lost time and even the sun came back and I was granted with a scenic ride between Stranrear and Cairnryan where I reached the ferry at 14:10, just five minutes before the official closure of the check-in time. As the place is very small, I could have arrived later as the ferry had some delay. But I had no choice but to be on time.
My rally mode style had saved me and in the end I was waiting at the pier in the sunshine. I was one of the first to enter and I directly proceeded to the bar where I could buy some food and drinks and had a first relaxed rest stop. As I had forgotten to put on some comfy boxer shorts, I bought some with the famous Guinness Toucan in the board shop. After one hour, the boat arrived at the port of Larne in Northern Ireland. In principle, I had enough time to visit both locations on the island so I could switch to a more relaxed attitude.
The first task was to find an existing petrol station, avoiding the ones that only existed in the imagination of the Sat Nav. The first sculpture was right above the motorway in Belfast, a big hollow ball. I crossed the border to the Republic of Ireland in the evening sun and headed for Dublin.
Here’s a little video recorded in the centre of Dublin: http://img248.imageshack.us/img248/9802/3r6lbujelmwixzixrxqnty.mp4/
I knew I had enough time to visit the last sculpture of today: the Spire of Dublin, a long pin stuck into the city centre in O’Connell Street, next to the historic Post Office, probably the most republican spot to put a sculpture in Ireland. Unfortunately there was no time to have a pint of Guinness in a pub. Instead, I filled up again the BMW, so I would not have to look for petrol the next morning. In the harbor, I had to wait quite a while to board the ferry which was basically a Ro-Ro ferry for trucks where also some non-truckers were admitted. The the boat was pretty sober, but the diner buffet was for free. At least I could get a Guinness here, although not from the tap. Later in the cabin, an elderly trucker showed up and we had a chat before I used my ear plugs as he had announced to snore that night.
The next morning I left the boat at 5 a.m. in Liverpool. Light rain. The first sculpture was only a couple of minutes away. As I had checked in internet at home, I would arrive at low tide. At sunrise I had a great view on the whole installation “Another Place”.
Dozens of bronze statues were spread over the coast at Crosby Beach, looking at the sea. At high tide, they’d be covered by water so the time was just right. I walked to the nearest statue but was stopped by some nasty mud, so I chose another one. I managed to attach the placard to take my picture. This “another” place had a very special atmosphere, especially at this hour between night and day. My next stop was supposed to be located near Sutton Manor. I enjoyed riding so early – there was nobody on the road on this Saturday morning. The Sat Nav navigated me closer and closer to the point….and told me to stop on the M6 and to walk half a mile to the location??
Another typical case of blind fellowship. I took the next exit and I took me a while to get to the closest point accessible by bike. The signs made it very clear that motorbikes were absolutely not permitted to the area on a hill. OK, so let’s have a walk to the sculpture, it won’t be that far. Well, it was a half mile walk until I reached the top where I was puzzled by the iconic sculpture “Dream”. It gives a holographic impression of a dreaming lady. Amazing. The next location was the sculpture “The Quantum Leap” in Shrewsbury where I had to take a picture of a twisted spiral that looked like a mix between a DNA helix and a dinosaur spine, representing very well the work of Charles Darwin.
My next stop was not a sculpture, but the house of John Young, one of England’s most fierce followers of Triumph motorcycles. To say it with the advertisement of a known Pastis: “Un Triumph, s’il vous plaît – si non, rien!”. According to his text message, his home was difficult to find, but this cannot stop a LD rider J. I was warmly welcomed and invited for a breakfast made by Sonia. We hadn’t met since my tragic DNF at the Brit Butt Rally so we had a lot to chat about.
After the refueling breakfast I was invited to inspect John’s motorbike collection. Well, there was this big, dark garage with 6-8 bikes, among them the notorious Trident T150 of 1969 that had completed the Iron Butt Rally in the US last year. Very nice, indeed. John led me to another building and unlocked the door and much to my surprise I entered a Triumph museum. About 10 old Triumph bikes in impeccable condition were waiting for their next ride, decorated by a lot of Triumph devotionalia. Impressive. John explained me that two of them where famous classic English racing bikes that had won races in the 60’s and 70’s.
He even had a small collection of mopeds in a separate shed. After one hour I felt the pressure to move on, because I needed to catch the tunnel train the same night and there were still some 600 miles to go in Britain. One hour later I reached the next stop where I had to take a picture of some sort of twisted paper clip. I was interrogated by a young couple about my whereabouts and they were very impressed by my route in the last 24 hrs. Of course I kept some understatement and didn’t mention that I still had 700 miles in front of me on that day. The next sculpture was far away and situated in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Heavy weekend traffic on the M4 slowed me down and after more than 2 hours I took the exit to Cardiff centre in the sunshine. The Sat Nav was getting slower and slower and despite little traffic in the centre, I had problems to get to the pedestrian zone where the sculpture “Alliance” was located. I urgently needed a break now, low on petrol, hungry and thirsty and with a full bladder.
All my needs were satisfied at the next petrol station on the way back to England. For the next two hours in was riding through the south-west of England, passing picturesque cities such as Bath. The route led me over rolling hills, river valleys and small forests. Finally I had to in the middle of a forest. According to the Sat Nav, the next sculpture was not situated next to the road, so I had to walk. The setting was quite nice, but the walk was much longer than I had expected. I was a bit nervous because I had left the ignition key in its slot. After a half mile I stepped out of the forest and I had a great view. A circle of menhirs gave this place a mystic feel and the target sculpture; a large stone ring formed a contrast to this ancient stones. Another picture taken. It was already four o’clock in the evening and I still had to go to Portsmouth, London and Kent. It was obvious that the sculpture in Harwich was impossible to visit today. Some additional two to three hours were simply not possible. So if I could visit all sculptures but Edinburgh and Harwich, this would still be an achievement. The next place to visit was Winchester Cathedral which was only one hour away, but the sculpture, a cross made by Mondrian, took a while to find in the garden.
I was down in the South already and the next stop was only 30 min away, but first I had to get cross Portsmouth to get to the beach were the sculpture was surrounded by a wedding party. I needed to reflect now if I could still visit London today and it seemed that it was doable. I thought it was a good idea to give it a try. About one hour later I entered the greater London area, but I knew I had to cross London from west to east to visit both sculpture locations.
As it was Saturday evening, traffic went quite fluid and I after another hour I stopped at the place where the next sculpture was supposed to be.
It was called “The Traffic Light Tree” and should look like a big tree with a lot of traffic lights attached to it. It took me about 20 minutes and many circles to realize that this Tree was simply not there! I asked a guard at a gate of a building where this “artwork” would be located. Oh no, he replied, in the context of brushing up the city before the Olympic Games the whole square was revamped and the sculpture was removed.
Well, probably it looked not posh enough.
I rode eastwards to East London to visit the “Olympic Tower”, the much controverse “Orbit” sponsored by Arcor Mittal. Maybe they needed to get rid of some scrap metal? With the help of my Sat Nav I could get close enough to take a reasonable picture. OK, so there was only one sculpture left in Ramsgate in southwest Kent.
I left London on the A2 with the setting sun in the back and I had to pull petrol somewhere in Kent. I took a break and when I left the station again, it was already dark. Why was it suddenly so dark? Something was wrong with my lights and it took me a while to realize that my dipped head light was not working anymore. Well, at least I had an auxiliary flooder left, this should work until home. Finally I got to Ramsgate, but there it took me quite a while to find the right spot. I thought the sculpture was located near the sea (and it was) but it turned out that this was high above the road in an esplanade.
It was pitch dark now and the sculpture was nowhere to find. Finally I drove criss-cross ON the esplanade until I spotted the sculpture “Molecule” in the dark. OK, that was it, all sculptures were visited and I only had to get home now. It was a quarter to ten already and the question was to take ferry or the tunnel to Calais. Well, I want to get home soon so I opted for the train. In Folkestone, the lady at the counter asked some ridiculous 79 GBP from me, at this time of the night! But this was only the begin of the drama. While waiting for the boarding, I got suspicious why nothing moved after a while and I approached the only official looking guy that was around. The poor man had to take all the blame when it turned out that there was a huge delay and there was nobody else to give the travelers any useful information. With one hour of delay, we started boarding. In my wagon, no ventilation was working, so the temperature soon reached tropical heights. And all the toilets on the lower deck were out of order. Only another hour later, the train would finally move. Despite the high temperature, my mood was at a freezing point. I was on my feet for 20 hours now and had half of the island on that day. I laid down on the floor and tried to have at least alittle nap. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a car train without any explanation. Finally the train reached Calais at 2 a.m. continental time. My mood still needed to recover from this incident so I only needed 2 hours to get back home for the remaining 250 km. The trip finally ended at 4 a.m. in the morning.
It was a bit weird trip, but I really enjoyed it. The motto of the ride was very interesting and it was basically a quick trip to Britain and Ireland in a rally mode/mood. Thanks, Grim!