Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood

Following on our new taste of foraging mushroom last year, plan for this year includes a visit to Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood. Travel to the site takes about an hour and a half from Liverpool. In order to have a glimpse of a full blossom of blue bells, we made an early visit at the beginning of May which also falls in the May Bank Holiday here.

We set off at 7:30 a.m., due to the weekend holiday traffic, there was hardly any volume of traffic on the road. What a refreshing change! Including a comfort break at the service station along M6 motorway, we were well ahead of our schedule.

Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood is managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust. It is made up of three separate areas of woodland: High Wood, Dorothy Farrer’s Spring Wood and Beddard’s Wood.  It is said that these three areas have been managed as coppice woodland in the past. Timber from the coppicing was used for bobbins, swill baskets and charcoal. Although we didn’t see much evidence of charcoal production, lots of lodges stored in the nature reserve areas.

Spring is supposed to be a great time to visit when bluebells carpet much of the woodland floor, and you can see patches of wild garlic, early purple orchids and the scarcer herb paris. Walking in the woodland certainly noticed birds were alive and kicking, well singing.

The entrance of the wood is by the side of a narrow country lane. After passing through the gate, we saw some blue bells but not as many as we hoped for. Walking towards the woodland area, there were indeed a lot more wild garlic leaves with some patches of blue bell. Talking to a local resident confirmed our suspicion: early summer in the UK was still too cold for their full blossom. We admired him that such a wonderful nature was right at the back of his garden, in fact, the whole woodland was his back garden. Alongside to his house, he had a manual machine to trim wood and make some wood crafts. Last year the whole area was fully covered with bluebells and it was a spectacular scene. We learnt it from the web and decided it would be our first destination this year. We also learnt that if we were 30 minutes earlier, we would have seen a wild deer, that would be a real treat. I only came across one when I was travelling on a motorcycle between the boarder of France and Switzerland near sunrise few years ago. The wild deer stood only three meters away from me and stared at the motorcycle (or me?).

We decided to take some photos and had a good walk about the woodland. Just before we left, we also picked some wild garlic leaves which were extremely crunchy, full of flavour and very, very fresh indeed. We only picked a few as we learnt that we should only pick modestly and ethically so that other visitors could enjoy the environment as much as we do. By the time we were leaving, it started to rain, lucky us.

Were we disappointed, of course not. We understand it is a part of nature: flowers and plants come in season, they are not set up at a specific time for public view. Sometimes we might miss, that just adds on the expectation and eventual excitement when we do see them. If you have a chance to go outdoor and close to the nature, do it, and enjoy it!

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A blast to Skye

Isle of Skye has been a place that I wanted to visit since 1997 when I read about it from a motorcycle magazine.  Although I am lucky enough to travel to many places outside UK,  I never managed to come to Isle of Skye.

Last year I picked up a book called ‘Bikers’ Britain: Great Motorbike Rides’ by Simon Weir which listed over 70 good biking routes in the UK. With only three days and a limited budget, I decided to follow some of the recommended routes in the book and have a blast to Isle of Skye.

Preparation for the trip included some more camping gears as I decided to camp instead of B & B. I only ever camped once before (last year, one night in North Wales), so the experience would still be very new to me.

The route is about 440 miles, I aimed to reach there in one go as I did manage to ride more than that mileage before. Choice of bike is only one: Honda Fireblade CBR900RRV as my beloved Yammy had been sold as a contributing to my study fee next year. I only ever managed to ride the Fireblade for no more than 200 miles a day, so there would be another challenge.

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Set off from home just before 7 so that I can go ahead of the morning traffic. Before lunch I had already covered more than half of the journey. The real joy of the ride started after Glasgow following A82 towards Ballachulish. It’s been described as ‘A Scottish Classic’ – from Tarbet onwards with lots of tight and bumpy turns. After taking a quick pic by the Loch Lomond, I was looking forward to the fun ahead.

I made a wrong turn to A83 and I rode along Loch Fyne instead of following A82. By the time I noticed my mistake, it was too late to turn back, I must carry on and find my way towards Ford William. I turned to A816 and rode along West coast of Scotland and aimed at Oban. Since I turned to A83, the roads were almost deserted, I hardly came across any traffic and my pace was good. I was very annoyed by my own mistake as I ended up traveling more than 80 miles extra! My piece of comfort was that the roads and the scenery long the route was as good as the original route. After all, I was supposed to be on holiday.

What it also meant was that I would only reach to the camp site much later than planned.  Choosing the most northern part of the Isle didn’t help much neither. Fortunately the weather had been great, sunny, dry and very hot.

By the time I got back to A82 towards Ford William, I started feeling tired. I was surprised that I had no arching yet.From Invergarry onwards along A87 the route was spectacularly scenic, it had a mix of majestic heather-clad mountains and glens. There’s the impressive Eilean Donan castle (the castle from the film Highlander). I finally saw the Skye Bridge knowing I wasn’t too far from the destination. As soon as you stepped on the island, it gave you a magical feeling perhaps it was because Skye itself ‘was the wildest, most inspiringly beautiful part of Scotland.’

Another hour ride,  I finally reached the camp site, it had been almost 12 hours since I left home.

The camp site was located at Dunvegan (west coast of the island). It was well equipped and clean. But all I really wanted was to cook and had a shower after such a long sweaty ride. Setting up the camp and get things ready weren’t too bad, however the midges had another idea though: they decided to attack me in a full assault and I was swamped by them. I had anti insect spray, using it on top of my sweaty skin wasn’t a good idea but I had no choice but doing it as counter attack. I did managed to cook but the attack from the midges had a better of me. I declared defeated and retreated to the camp after a quick shower.

The sleep was OK, what I didn’t know was the midges had another plan. When I was on my way to brush my teeth in the morning, I was ambushed. It was so bad that I decided to ride away from the camp right away! After such a long ride yesterday, I planned to spend some time casually riding around the island. The scenery was breath taking, the view from one corner after another was simply awesome. Although there were a lot of tourists, everywhere was very quiet. Road condition varies, as the book suggested: Don’t rush it – take time to savour the view.

When I reached the pier at Uig, I needed food and intelligent to ensure my second night in the camp site wouldn’t be a nightmare. A lovely Scottish lady told me everything about the midges: how they move and strike.

I also splashed my budget to seek help from NATO: I bought a mosquito net which claimed to be used by NATO. I would have my revenge tonight. After the meal, I wondered around the pier and continued by ride up the northern coast of the island along A855 towards Portree before turning right back to the campsite. I aimed to take the day easy but I still managed to ride just under 100 miles. When I returned to the campsite,  I moved away from the water, got my dinner organised so that I would washed and well covered before sun set. Wearing the mosquito net does make you look odd, well, with more than 15 bites of my face,  I’m already elephant man anyway.

Tonight plan was simple: walk to the nearest pub and have a meal. Back to the camp and sit tight. There were some shops nearby the campsite including a baker that claimed to be the oldest on the island. I passed a big house playing with some traditional Scottish music. Three Scottish gentleman wearing kilt stood by the doorway. I asked: ‘What’s happening here my friends?’

‘We are all from the Clan MacLeod. Every four years our people across the world came back to the island and celebrate our long tradition. Tonight is our finale and that’s why we had music, drinks and food inside the hall here.’ One of them said with a smile and a sense of proud.

I replied, ‘That’s fantastic. I happened to know something about MacLeod too.’

‘What do you know then?’

‘I watched all Highlander films and I knew “There can be only One!”.’

We all burst out laughing. I wished them all the best and made my way to search for food. I could hear one of them said while I was leaving, ‘He is funny, isn’t he?’

When I reached the pub, I saw two Belgian couple from the camp site walking away from it. I asked them anything wrong, they politely suggested that they were not comfortable with the amount of locals there. Contrary to their fear, I thought it must be a good place to hang out. Inside the pub was full of local men, as I learned afterwards, they came to the pub and have a big meeting. The pub served fresh mussels and scallops. I chose to have an Angus beef steak and a beer. A chat with a man who was also a visitor of the island and watch a bit of the Commonwealth Games on TV rounded up my second night here.

The night in the camp was initially peaceful until later on, more itch and pain had made me more determined to leave at the first light. I planned my move well: pack as much as I could inside the camp; pack the actual camp and take the mosquito next the very last moment just before putting my helmet on. The move was very slick and I hardly made any noise to disturb other campers. When I started my engine and felt really pleased to my plan, the midges came through the gap between my visor. The attack was so bad that I had to stop and tried to fend them off before I could carry on my way out of the camp site gate which was only 200 yards away.

Luckily once back on the road, the nightmare was over, at least I thought it was all over. I focused back on the empty road in the early morning, the temperature was a bit lower than yesterday, and both these elements gave a sense of freshness that encouraged me to ride a swifter pace. I followed the same route back out of the island and this time I made sure I went to A82 after A87. From Glencoe onwards to Crianlarich was the route that I missed last time, lots of fast flowing corners and some flat straight road with excellent visibility. The traffic only got busier when I was close to Tarbet where I saw a Ducati owner club was out in full.

Got a bit lost in Glasgow and once I was back on M74, it was just straight forward route back to Northwest of England. During the pit stops, er fuel stops, the bites went really bad. I could see people faces when I took the helmet off, I sensed it too because it got very painful. My only wish at the time: go home and rest as soon as possible. By 3 p.m. I was back home in Liverpool. The journey back took about 9 hours including stops.

There is a story about what happened about the bites but it will be another story. The blast to Skye was mostly enjoyable. The scenery along the route was breath taking. The Scottish people that I spoke to were very friendly. Isle of Skye also lived up to its reputation of being one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. There were only two downsides: mobile signal on the island was very poor and the midges, yes, damn midges. Don’t let them put you off though.

A week later laying on the hospital bed did make me wonder if the adventure had been worthwhile. I could have spend my days somewhere else knowing I was well looked after, but the joy of fulfilling your dream is priceless. A bit of a drawback in an adventure always make it memorable. I won’t be put off visiting Scotland in summer again. In fact I have already started planning for my next trip.

N.B.: This is the dish that I aimed to cook at the campsite but I never had the chance (mood) to do so: Smoked Haddock in Spaghetti. You can use one ring burner and cook it in 10 mins.

Smoked Haddock spaghetti

Smoked Haddock spaghetti

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Life of a drifer

 

Looking at the sun set in Faro, Portugal

Looking at the sun set in Faro, Portugal

The following is from ‘Life of a Drifter’:

“I live for the journey, not the destination.

I see an end is a new beginning – a time to reflect on the ongoing adventure.

I’ve become a product of the environment I seek: the lessons I learned and the people I met.

Sometimes I live on the edge, the boundaries I know are the ones I pushed, the limits I reached and the goals I’ve achieved.

I only discover what’s possible by attempting the impossible.

I know nothing happen unless you make it happen.

I’ve done things the hard way and I often go the long way, but it’s always been my way.

I don’t live by routine or schedule. I go by feel and cross bridges when I get to them.

It teaches me to have faith, to trust my instincts and follow my nose.

If there’s no way then I’ll look for a way.

If there’s no path then I’ll try and make one.

It’s because on this path I find like-minded people. People who inspire me, guide me and bring out the best of me. And people become my friends.

I only respect for respectful people and judge no one by their assets.

If wealth is a measure of success, then I’m yet to succeed.

But money can’t buy determination nor can it be deposited into a memory bank.

I have a wealthy memory bank.

I’m built chasing dreams, revelling in the moment and living life as a drifter, a two-wheeled drifter.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Happiness

Happiness is how you perceive it.

Happiness is how you perceive it.

Exactly forty-five years ago from today, I came to this world and became part of a six members family. When I was young, our family couldn’t afford a birthday bash for each of their children as such, however my mum would always ensure that evening meal would be special with added dishes and we would even have a small cake to celebrate. I also remember she would give me a whole cooked chicken thigh as birthday present. (In old days, having the chicken thigh in traditionally during celebratory Chinese occasions  symbolises as a gift of health and wealth.)

Looking back in times, even though we hardly had any pocket money, I never complain about the lack of materials in my childhood. My mum didn’t give me a name at my birth to wish me happy; she gave her children more than she could afford for herself. Her love devoted to the family is greater than her own life.

My childhood, just like many other similar families, had our ups and downs. During those down times, I might feel unhappy at the times but these experiences and moments never affect me in my adulthood. On the contrary, they made me a stronger person: such saddest moments actually made me cherish when good moments came. I would always regard my childhood with my family is one of happiest moments of my life.

Today I feel grateful as ever and I appreciate for what I was given: a happy life in a healthy body. Instead of making any wishes, I would like to mark the day to remind myself how lucky I am, in particularly of what my mum gave me.

Thanks to you all. Thanks mum.

 

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2012 Europe Ride: Day Five

Setting off at 6:15 a.m. to avoid work traffic was a good idea if you had a long way to go. The plan for the day was to go to Tassullo, Merano, Silandro and reach Stelvio Pass by midday. The afternoon ride would take me through Switzerland to Saint- Louis in France where my overnight stay was. It was cheaper to stay on the French side. The following day I would travel to Baden-Baden in Germany.

The early morning ride through the Italian villages saw kids walking to school. A scene is so rare in towns and cities in the UK. These days all you see is big four-by-four and family saloon cars dropping their kids off. The route also took me through some farms and vine yards. The air was still fresh and cool. Looking down from the higher ground to the valley was breath-taking.

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The bike used a lot of oil as I knew there was a design issue with this engine running long distance on motorway. I did notice the engine sound a lot louder though. As long as I watched the oil level and topped it up, it should be fine. What could go wrong?

Looking up to the mountain ahead at the valley, I finally arrived at one of the most famous biking routes in Europe and I was ready to tackle the hairpins ahead.

As I was climbing up to the pass, the engine started cutting out. I was sure that there was enough fuel in the tank, what could that be? Would it be something that I did wrong when I serviced the bike? I decided to stop, let the bike cool down and hope it would be OK. During this 30 minutes wait, lots of scenarios went through my mind: should I return down to the valley and forget about going up? What should I do if the problem was a serious mechanical issue? I didn’t have any breakdown cover. How would I go home?

Firstly I told myself to stop thinking as I didn’t know what the actual problem was. Secondly there was no way I would give it up. If I could toddle along in 10 mph, I would still be getting to the top of the pass. Engine fired up, no sign of problem. When it started moving, I noticed that the engine couldn’t pull higher than second gear at 15 mph. It was still better than stranded though. The hairpins were very tight, keeping the bike upright through them without knowing when the power might cut out was terrifying. After seemingly like an eternity, I reached the top, we made it all the way to the top! Hooray!

It’s time to take a photo to celebrate. The bike was parked with its side stand at an angle. When I opened the tank bag, my brand new action camera leaped out like a frog. It was like in super high definition slow motion replay when it went straight to the sharpest point of a rock. The video camera was fully protected by impact absorbable plastic but one small area: the lens. Guess which of the part hit the rock, the lens! Devastation was an understatement. I thought that the best thing to do was to have a cup of coffee as I didn’t want to cry.

After a hot cup of coffee, I spent some time to look around the stores, took some photos before putting myself back together for the downhill ride. That should be easier as I didn’t need much power from the engine.

On my way down, I stopped twice to take more snapshots. First I met two Swiss bikers, one of them spoke English. He told me that he liked my bike as that was his first bike. At the second stop, I offered another lone biker for taking some photos for him. This biker was a Brit and he just finished his ride from Turkey. While we were talking our journey so far, I mentioned about my engine problem. He assured me that it was OK, there was nothing wrong with it, and the problem was due to thin air at high altitude. That’s a massive relief. At least I knew that as long as I avoid roads at high ground, It’d be fine.

From there onward, I rode toward Bormio, Teola and passing Lago di Livigno towards the border of Switzerland. The dam Lago di Livigno was specular but the one-way tunnel (Munt la Schera) afterwards was equally amazing. It is only wide enough for a single vehicle and it stretched just over 2 miles long.

Obviously I couldn’t make a video, here is the one from Youtube:

According to the GPS, the rest of the route should be straight forward. Another mistake: always carry a map and know well how to use your GPS. I was directed to turn right at Chaschinas to a tunnel. The tunnel (Vereina Tunnel) was not for vehicle going through: it was a tunnel for trains carrying vehicles. I had no idea where it was going to and how long it would take. Only one person spoke broken English. As I found out later the journey took 18 minutes. At 19.058m it is the longest metre gauge railway tunnel in the world. As we were aboard, there was no strap to secure the bike. Trying to balance the bike with my short legs on a moving train had to be one of the most petrifying experiences.

Here is a video showing what’s like going on the train. You can see when here how the train helps cars passing this area in winter.

After such an ordeal, the journey via the busy traffic in Zurich and Basel was relatively easy. When I arrived at the F1 hotel at Saint Louis and settled in, I reflected of the journey so far and looked ahead of the rest of the trip. The long haul ride had made my Achilles tendon very painful. The pain reoccurred during my stay in the youth hostel. The engine was getting louder and louder. Trying to ride to Baden-Baden, Nurburgring and back to Liverpool in two days would be very challenging under these circumstances. Even if I made it, I would not enjoy the actual ride there as my body was getting tired. I had some great experiences from this adventure so far, maybe it’s time to head home. Let’s get my bike fixed; there would always be another bite at the cherry. And yet, riding all the way from there to Liverpool in one day would still be challenging enough. My mind was made up and it’s time to go home.

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2012 Europe Ride: Day Four

Plan for the day was the most relax so far. Ride up to Lake Garda and avoid main roads. Stop for the night was a youth hostel in Trento. I set off after breakfast at 9 a.m. The smell from the plant along the country lane was amazing.

I arrived at the lake about midday. Toddling along, I met a family from Manchester. They were grandparents, mum and a child. They were on a vacation while the child was off school. He told me that he didn’t like being there as he missed his friends back home. I did miss my family and friends too.

I returned to my bike and had my lunch by the lake. It’s time to enjoy the view and my packed lunch: fresh salad and my last melon.

After lunch I continued riding along the lake on SR249 and going towards Sarche and then Trento. Along the shore line of the Lake, there were many beautiful beaches (and women). Temperature was near 30 degrees, it would be a shame not to have a taste of them (beaches). So I found one beach that had a parking space close by, stripped off my biking gear, put on my swimming trucks and dived into the cold lake water. After the initial shock of coldness, my body started adopting the water temperature; it was a joy to see the scene from there. Just wish you were there too.

The rest of the journey towards Trento was equally good. Looking back, now I understand why that day was good: I wasn’t in a rush to get to the next destination and I was relaxed.

By the time I checked in the youth hostel, I still had time to wonder around the town and grabbed some buns for my dinner, of course, couple bottles of beer too. The youth hostel was centrally located in town and close to transport stations and shops. It’s clean and cheap too. It was ideally for a lone traveler like me. As usual, an early lie-down to make sure I was full of energy for the ride to Stelvio Pass tomorrow.

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2012 Europe Ride: Day Three

Day three:

Waking up early and a cup of black coffee later, I was ready to go to the Ducati factory. A group of Chinese tourist also stayed in the same hotel, I was surrounded by a group of seven men at the car park area as they wanted to know things about my bike and my journey. Usually I would be more than happy to chat, not today, I travelled this far to this factory tour, and nothing could stop me going. Politely I put my helmet on, shut my visor and went off.

Since my luck has been so great, I put extra 30 mins into my journey in case something would happen, of course, it would. The GPS took me to a farm instead of the HQ of Ducati! Tourism signage in Italy wasn’t very good. When I eventually found my way, I was told that I couldn’t park at the entrance; the space was exclusive for Ducati only. Still I wouldn’t complain as I was only too happy to be there.

The factory and museum tour was great. I also met a couple from Australia, Pat had two Ducati and not only knowledgeable about the history, but he also knew in depth experience of working on the mechanics of the bikes. It happened that both of them would come to Liverpool before setting off to Ireland. Being with him, I learned a lot more, even the tour guide admitted that she couldn’t match his wealth of experience and knowledge about the stable.

At the museum, there were lots of group visit. I was delighted to see so many young Italian teenage there, especially young girls that showed interests to the bikes. There is no way the same thing will happen at the factory of Triumph in the UK. It is because our youngsters are just too busy either playing with their gadgets or sitting in front of the computers.

With an afternoon to spare, I traveled to Modena and tried to reach the newly opened Enzo Ferrari Museum. The weather was gorgeously sunny and hot. I enjoyed every scene along the open fields and small towns. Traveling on the bike and wearing on the helmet, I sniffed some grilled nearby. It was from a food van parked by the side of the road. I had no ideas what it was, with the smell so good, I couldn’t care less. Ordering the food initiated lots of hand gestures. It was like a kebab with an Italian sausage, green pepper and aubergine. It was freshly cooked before you and very tasty. It was a bargain at 4.5 euro.

After the roadside pit stop, another 30 mins later, I arrived at Modena. My GPS had no record of such museum as it was only opened in March, I had to ask for direction. I ended up popping in a hotel as they would more likely speak English. The gentleman gave me a simple city map and direction to the museum, it turned out that he was the owner of the hotel. He then asked me to follow him to the back of the restaurant, when the double doors opened, there was a Ferrari sitting inside there. Obviously he was very proud of this Italian stallion and he even offered me to sit inside the car for a photo. Before I left, he reminded me that I should stay there next time when I visited the area again. What a bloke!

My impression of the location of the museum from this hotel was within walking distance, so I decided to park my bike up and walk. How wrong I was! No sign of the building after 15 mins walking, it’s time to ask again. At a photocopy shop, a young Italian woman stood outside having a cigarette. I asked her first but her response in Italian suggested that I should ask people inside. When I put the question to them, it turned into a complex discussion which involved 3 other people. I had no idea what they were talking about. Maybe I should leave now. One of the three turned out to be able to speak English, she explained to me that the Italian woman standing outside would be on her way home. The route would pass the museum and I should follow her. I was also advised that walking over would give me a chance to admire the local landmarks. I kindly accepted the offer.

While we were walking to the museum, this Italian woman was pushing a pram and I found it hard to keep up her pace. No wonder they said the Italian drivers were fast! At certain points, she stopped & pointed at some buildings. I then realised she was trying to explain to me what they were. Although I didn’t understand what she said, I was just too pleased with her friendless and kindness. Half an hour later, I was outside the museum. Whoever designed the building must know how to photograph vehicle, all the displayed car were on a platform, lots of nature light going inside the building. With the red colour against the white walls, it looked fabulous.

On my return trip, I even stopped at the local bike shops and did a bit window shopping. Menu for dinner, melon, salad and beers! What a day so far!

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