The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

I packed my scooter and headed off over the Forth Bridge, and down to Newcastle. The trip down through Border country was pleasant in warm, cruise at a steady 80 kph. One thing you get on a bike, scooter or motorcycle, is the smells around you and today the air was thick with oilseed rape, golden yellow, ripening in fields along the way.

Newcastle Ferry Terminal and the ferry awaited my arrival, I joined a flock of bikers from the Netherlands and Germany climbing the ramp and into the belly of the beast, all butterflies from early morning excitement had by now long gone, I was on my way and in the holiday mood.

King Seaways was a splendid ship boasting 12 decks I spent the evening down in the Navigator Bar sipping my John Smith’s, at these prices, very slowly. I was enjoying the live entertainment very much and joining in with some of the old standards, penned by greats such as Denver, Holly and Holland, Dylan and the likes, by now the singer was floating, singing his heart out. He sang of Memphis, New York and LA, songs of places that he’s possibly never visited, then when he sings his songs he is already there. I watched from the large picture windows the summer sky turn first to twilight then dusk, a sight so familiar to me, sitting at the helm of my old folk boat Maggie.

The cabin was on deck 9 complete with bunk, shower, toilet and me its sole benefactor, comfortable and warm, snug under my duvet I passed the night sailing on a flat calm sea with only the slightest of swell, just enough to give the sensation of being on board a ship, “Oh for a soft and gentle wind” I heard a fair one cry. I slept like the preverbal log as the ship ploughed on into the night.

One other group I met up onboard, were three old lads from Newcastle, their bicycles were of various shapes sizes and generation. Seems they visit Holland regularly and cycle all over, sometimes visiting the outlying islands, been doing it for years. I reeled off some of the places I hoped to visit. I told them I was hoping to stay in Jorplace (sort of youth hostel) and if the weather is fine maybe a spot of camping. They, in turn, would be staying with a Dutch phenomenon “Friends of the Bicycle”. We talked about cycling and when they found out that I had been a keen cyclist, they suggested I come on board, join them on one of their adventures.

Jorplace and Stayokay are great but you have to be a bit open-minded for they are mixed bedrooms and most of your roommates will be in there late teens and mostly under thirty so a bit bolsters, having just been ejected from college or university and having past their exams they are now out to enjoy what life has to offer them. All Jorplace have what is best described as a students union bar attached with live music most nights. I adore Dutch live music, a sort of improvised music, mixing jazz, blues. You are listening to a classic such as Rolling Stones, then in will creep, Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf Oscar Peterson may join in too. I have only heard this in Holland in France they have a totally different style of Rock with a Jazz fugue.

My first night was spent in Alkmaar, this was a nostalgic trip for me, when I was stationed in Germany with the RAF I cycled a lot in Holland, it was a natural choice since my camp was right on the border with Holland. If you make the trip to Holland, do not miss a visit to the cathedral of Alkmaar and see (and if possible hear) is a great organ. I listened to my friend play Bach on this great organ, the first notes struck filled the cathedral and brought the whole building to life, I still hear that Toccata and Fugue in my head even today. I now have Bach’s works on CD but nothing will come close to such an experience. It had been a long day of travel and sightseeing so I was glad to pitch my tent Droom Park Molengoet at 20.15 Euro.

Amsterdam

I spent a morning mostly shopping for groceries, I picnic a lot, crusty bread filled with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and more cheese, after a week cheese becomes a bad word, and my camping stove provides me with endless cups of tea, although I am very fond of Dutch-made coffee, it could easily become habit-forming. I found an internet café and sent an e-mail to my sister to tell her I was on an open-ended tour of Holland, well she may be wondering where I am, anyway I didn’t want to see my photo splashed across the billboards, “Have you seen this man” or have Interpol track me down.

Den Haag

Where I hired a bicycle and set off for the Carnegie Peace Hall. I left my message ribbon on the Wishing Tree at the entrance, and spent the remainder of the day trailing up and down the small narrow streets full of shops selling bric-a-brac, old wooden clogs and tie on ice skates might look good as design objects I suppose, in my home stour collectors.

Delft

It was only a hop skip and a jump over to Delft where I was booked into a Jorplace found online at the internet café, I cycled back to Den Haag returned the bicycle and collected my scooter, the day again had been a long one and tiring.

I love the attitude of the Dutch, if you don’t like an EU mandate well, adopt, but only in spirit, like smoking in the bar, when I said I was surprised that so many young people were smoking, the barman said it’s a Dutch thing if the majority of those in tonight wish to smoke and the bar staff are happy with that then we turn a blind eye. The bar at the jorplace was heaving all enjoying a group of musicians, none of whom played in a band or regularly together, it was a jamming session of and although it did take time for them to blend, it soon became clear these were top-notch musicians.

I packed it in at midnight, old age does not come alone, but the youngsters partied on. Delft, of course, gives its name to a certain type of pottery, now the tourist shops are full of the stuff all I’m sure straight from a container that morning with Chinese writing along its length, so I bought two, one for each of my sisters as souvenirs, well it did say “Hand painted in Delft” and a bargain at three for five Euro, well you never know when you may need another mug, I use it as a pen holder.

Next morning I trailed around the city, museums and street market that was going full pelt, not only in the market place but up and down the canal sides. Late afternoon and I had enough of towns and cities so headed out to Scheveningen. The Jorplace there recommended by the manager of the one in Delft, who sold it to me with a promise that I would get a discount by telling them I had stayed in the one at Delft the night before, turned out the discount was a free beer, but why do they only fill the glass three-quarters full?

For anyone who loves, sun, sea and sand, this is the place for you, sand, miles of the stuff and if you are into surfing or wish to learn you could not find a better spot. Jor Benefits they tell you are free WIFI and internet, including sheets, lounge, bar, terrace and pool table, free lockers, outside fireplace, and best of all “No Curfew”. All this for a price of 19 Euro, I did use the bar but mostly just soaked up the rays.

Bugger

The next day it was the long run down to Bugger, with some beautiful traditional Dutch building. My Jorplace tonight was once an old cinema and if this were in the UK the Health and Safety man would have a field day before closing it down. Certainly, none of these building would pass the House of Multiple Occupancy law in the UK. This one has a very American theme with the walls coved in licence plates from most ever American state. Old gas pumps, motorcycles and endless American movie posters of a bygone era. If they ever get into financial difficulties they can sell the walls. The likelihood of that ever happening is a long way off, if the number of young people gathered inside and spilling all the way out into the street was any indication of its popularity. It is great to see young people enjoying themselves, not constantly playing with smartphones and deaf to the world with plugs in their ears listening to their music. I shared the room with six others, bunks are normally two tears high, I did not see mu roommates when I turned in at around one o’clock that morning. Next morning I was up for breakfast at around eight and the room looked as if there had been an explosion in a Chinese laundry, clothes scattered to the four winds, clearly neat and tidy is something only Dutch mums know about. The bunks were full, heaps of white duvet with the odd arm or leg protruding for them, which along with the mess in the room led me to believe all were male, young ladies would not live in such a mess, would they? Breakfast is as ever Continental and DIY. Most mornings I would plunk for toast, layered thick with butter and chocolate spread, or for a change possibly jam or marmalade, this is washed down with numerous cups of delicious coffee, sometimes life is just that good.

Boulogne

My time was drawing to a close, holiday time for me is relevant to my savings at that time and mine were depleting fast. However no trip to the continent would be possible without a visit to my grandfather’s war grave at Boulogne (he died at the Somme).

The suns shining now on this green field in France,

The soft winds blow gently and the red poppies dance,

The trenches have vanished long under the plough,

No gas, no barbed wire no guns firing now,

But here in this graveyard, it’s still no man’s land,

The countless white crosses in mute witness stand,

To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,

And a whole generation that was butchered and dammed.

No man’s land by Eric Bogle.

Homeward

The trip home turned into a marathon, I had boarded a late afternoon ferry at Calais arriving in Dover at around seven in the evening. The first part of my plan was too travelled up the M20 onto the M25 – M11 – and pick up the A1 just north of Cambridge. The first part of my plan worked to perfection. Part two, book into a Travel Lodge for the night, I, like Mary before me, found no room at the inn. I must have tried half a dozen up the A1 all to no avail; I had little option but to keep on heading north. By around ten o’clock I was finding it hard to concentrate and when I pulled in for fuel I could have happily flopped down next to my machine and happily would have gone off to sleep.

I bought a large Costa coffee from the machine and a cookie which seemed to do the trick, the shot of caffeine revived my flailing body. The carrot I dangled in front of me was breakfast at the big service station just before Newcastle. On arrival there, I found it a shadow of its formal self, showing its age and badly in need of repair. The franchise too had changed no big fry up on offer. I chose an egg and mushroom muffin that they take away and heat, possibly in a microwave oven, and a large pot of tea. Hungers good kitchen I suppose but it tasted Okay and the tea helped it on its way. I spotted a large leather settee with big soft cushions and as soon as my bum got planted in it I fell fast asleep. I woke to the sound of a clattering tea tray and headed back over the bridge to my stead, it was around 4 am and the light was creeping into the sky, a sky that turned pink then red as the morning broke, another fine day in the making. I would make it home in the dry. Once back over the bridge the familiar roads simply slipped bye under my wheels and an unsteady rider dismounted and dragged his machine onto its stand in Elie, where I left it to its own devices and without many sermons flopped into bed at around 08.00hours.  

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