A British Bikers Holiday (Branch Secretary)

Alan’s account of his European adventure, first meeting friends in Belgium on route to the Austrian NOC British Bike Rally and then the French NOC International Rally.

Friday 24th May 2013 – My 1971 Norton Commando 750 all loaded and ready for an adventure. Left home 05:45 as planned, it was rather cold at 5ºC with light patchy rain. I was heading for Dover to catch the 08:25 P&O ferry to Calais. I boarded with no problem and was quick enough lashing the bike down to be first in the breakfast queue. Lucky for me (I don’t travel well on water) it was a calm crossing. The ‘D’ road route I’d planned went for a burton straight away when the first road I wanted out of Calais was closed. I followed the diversion signs, only to be led up onto the motorway I was hoping to avoid. I decided to sit on the main highway all the way to Belgium and wouldn’t leave till I saw a sign with a name on I recognised. “LEPER” the sign jumped out at me, especially as that’s where I was heading. Didn’t expect it to be signposted from the motorway but that was good, I rode straight to the campsite without even looking at a map, even better seeing it had been drizzling all the way. The camp ground is situated just outside the town defences. Many of the Mayflower Club were already there, some had been there a few days. I quickly set up camp and took the nice walk through the nature reserve to get into town with a couple of friends. I was surprised to see a gathering of Brough Superiors parked in the town square. Apparently the BSOC were camped about 4 miles out of town, they’d parked up for lunch after a morning ride. There was even a beautiful Brough Superior Car parked nearby, one of 18 in existence, this one built 1936. The rest of the day was spent in different bars sampling the gorgeous Belgian beers.

25th May – Walked again into town to visit the Flandersfield Museum in the centre of Ypers (Leper). This I found very informative about WW1 and how Ypers was effected. Actually it was almost flattened to the ground then rebuilt after the war to replicate the ancient fortress town.
My friend Rob and I climbed the spiral steps of the Tower to the Belfry and then the roof, a fantastic view from the top.
Afterwards we walked around the town market and ended up in a small bar which had its own private WW1 museum. I just had to sample their own “Peace Beer”, very nice, their museum was worth a look too.
A few of us went for evening dinner in a recommended restaurant which was as excellent as we’d been told. Afterwards we joined the crowds at the Menin Gate to hear the Last Post ceremony. Lots of wreaths were being laid by many different regiments, there was also a Scottish choir which sang quite beautifully. The whole ceremony was very moving.
“Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom during WW1. As such, every evening at 20:00, buglers from the local fire brigade sound the Last Post.”

26th May – I planned to visit the Hooge Crater Museum today, when some other Mayflower Club members heard they asked to join me so I led a small group of 6 bikes, only a few miles to the Museum.
The Hooge Crater was created when British soldiers tunnelled under the German lines and exploded 2 tons of explosives beneath the German trenches killing an estimated 500 troops. A huge crater was left, but by the end of the war in 1918 the crater became refilled by the continue bombardment that it received. It is now built over.
Nearby a lake which was formed by 4 other similar tunnel craters still exists, around which some trenches have been built as examples of how the landscape looked. The actual museum itself was well arranged and had lots of artefacts from the Great War.
The evening was spent touring the bars sampling more great Belgium beer.

Monday 27th May – Up and packed nice and early. I said my goodbyes and left Ypers at 09:00 I decided to use motorways to head east through Belgium and into Germany. The moment I left the motorway I met diversions, I was then detoured much further south than I wanted, ending up in a town called Prüm. Even though I was heading “off beam” the roads were the European twisty wide roads that I love to ride on, so I was frustrated but happy at the same time. After feeling I’d had enough I spotted a campsite sign and followed it to a farm. What a great spot, I was the only person camping. The family were very friendly even delivering a couple of garden chairs by tractor, one to sit on, one as a table, this I was indicated by the farmers hand gestures, “no speaker das English” he said, my German no better either. I had use of all the facilities and it only cost €5 (£4.50) a night.
I’d been told about a private Vincent Motorcycle collection in Germany I should visit, owned by Kurt Schupp, just south of Wetzlar. I had his details with me, knew I’d have time tomorrow to visit so gave him a phone call. “Yes” he said “please come”, great I thought.
After cooking myself a meal I went for a walk around the village, Rommersheim. Nothing much except for a nice old church with a very fancy, well kept cemetery. In the corner a walled off area containing war graves from WW2 (very plain in contrast to the rest of the cemetery. I had to look, rows of concrete cross shape headstones, each with two names on each side (4 names on every cross) about 50 head stones therefore about 200 German soldiers buried here. I felt very sad seeing the dates, all so similar, mostly born 1925 and all died 1945, 20yrs old, so young.
I got back to my tent before dark, opened a beer, sat back in the garden chair looking up at the stars, enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of my surroundings. I had Horses, Sheep and Alpacas looking over the fence at me, and thought to myself “HOW GOOD IS THIS, HOW LUCKY AM I”

Tuesday 28th May – I awoke with the feeling of warm sunshine on the tent, knowing it would be a good day when I looked out to see bright blue sky. I had breakfast, packed and loaded the Norton and was away by 09:45, not as early as I wanted. To make up time I used the Autobahn, hoping to get to Kurt Schupp’s home/museum at the arranged time of 12 noon. Just like the UK the road was full of roadwork’s and contra-flows slowing my progress. On the back roads I did get a little lost but arrived at the village about 12:10. I had no idea how to find the right street so asked a gentleman walking his dog (I actually showed him the paper a had with the address on) He started directing me in German, when he noticed the puzzled look on my face he just said “wait here, I’ll get my car” in German but I understood by his gestures. He disappeared into a house three doors down, got his car out of the garage and indicated for me to follow. I did, he led me to a building with a huge old wooden door, the sort you’d find on a barn but this was in a high stone wall. He disappeared through a normal size door within the huge door, calling “Kurt, Kurt” I parked up and followed. Inside was a large courtyard with very old buildings all around. An elderly gentleman was limping down some wooden stairs and looked at me “Alan” he asked? I replied yes, we shook hands. I thanked the dog walker for his kind help as he left. Kurt led me to his living room where he questioned me about my travels, where I lived, where I was heading etc. It was clear he spoke enough English to get by. “So let us begin the tour” he said. The original buildings where older than 16th century. The first museum building we entered had bikes on three floors. Mostly NSU’s dating from 1927 to the last models they produced. Kurt told me he had over 130 bikes. I noticed one racing NSU had John Surtees signature on the fairing. Kurt told me he took the bike to the I.O.M. as an exhibit where John signed it. Kurt explained that during his racing career he loved his time as a sidecar passenger most of all, showing me a photo of him hanging right out on a bend. It was a BMW outfit taken in the late 50’s (we had a few language difficulties so I may have miss-understood). I did understand him when he said he loves bikes that are very noisy and very fast so doesn’t know what possessed him to start such a vast collection of NSU Quickly’s. Saying if he’d known how many different model versions were built he’d never have started the collection. He saved the best to last, the Vincent rooms and his restorations workshop. The Vincent’s were superb and immaculate. There’s even a room replicating the Vincent Drawing office. At the end of the tour Kurt showed me the last bike he rode saying he’d given up riding last year because of his bad leg. It was a 250cc V4 Honda import. Kurt explained it revs to 20K and handles like a dream and fitted his short stature perfectly (it looked to me to be a real race bike). I told him I must be on my way and he said he must hear my Norton. As we walked towards the huge door he explained it costs much money to look after the collection plus I must remember he likes a “Guinness”. I took the hint and handed him 10 euros which he thanked me for.
I rode off and soon found my way onto the Autobahn in the direction of Frankfurt. I stopped to check my map and calculated I could be in Marxzell (south of Karlsruhe) by 18:00, so continued on, in the hope I’d find a campsite near my next destination, the Marxzell Museum of Transport. Roadwork’s and rush hour traffic near big cities meant my timing went haywire. My planned exit off the Autobahn was blocked off by yet more roadwork’s. I was forced to take the next exit and rode cross country to Marxzell. I arrived there at 18:50 and saw no signs for camping. Getting concerned about the late hour I went into a bar to ask where a camp site might be found. I was directed 6km further down the road to a campground. The reception was closed when I arrived but was opened up so that I could pay for a plot. The sky was black with storm clouds so I erected my tent in record time and threw all my gear inside just as the heavens opened. I quickly got out of my leathers and into normal clothes and ran to the site restaurant/bar as I’d been told they where closing for food soon. I was starving and thirsty not having eaten since breakfast. The first ½ litre of beer barely touched the sides but the dinner was eaten slowly for maximum pleasure. The rain was still pouring down when I retired to the tent.

Wednesday 29th May – It rained all night and was still coming down when I awoke. I decided to sleep in this morning. I next awoke at 09:00 and all was quiet so went for a shower when the heavens opened again. Great joy. I booked for a second night’s camp and readied myself to leave for the museum thinking I could spend all day there out of the rain. I parked up, outside the museum entrance, only to find the door locked. I walked around the side towards the car park where I saw a man leaning into a car. I asked “is the museum open” He replied “not till 14:00” I looked at my watch, the time was 11:00. He asked “you’re English?” “Yes” I replied, “I’ll come back at 2” I said. “But where will you go in this rain till then?” he enquired. I didn’t know. “You may come in for a look now, but be careful of wet paint” so he led me inside a back door explaining they are painting up some bits in readiness for a grand reopening this Sunday with new exhibits on the upper gallery. He led me to a bench where I could lay out my wet gear to dry. I had a slow walk round the place but many areas were in darkness so couldn’t see everything. After about an hour and a half I returned to my gear thinking I’d seen all I can. An older gent came over to me introducing himself as the museum owner saying he will now show me what I haven’t seen. He explained his father started the museum many years ago, now he and his son (who let me in) now run it. He led me to the cellar steps asking me to wait while he turns on the lights, he disappeared down into the darkness. Once he found the switches a complete new level was revealed below ground level. He led me round pointing out special exhibits explaining what makes them rare or unique even showing me how the whole museum is powered by the river, via a water wheel turning a belt driven generator. I’d heard the noise of running water and had presumed it was the rain. We moved upstairs where he continued pointing out special things. As we walked past an old Royal Enfield he noticed a sidecar fitting sticking out and started to see if he could remove it. He said he needed it for an Ariel Square Four he was preparing in his workshop. He collected tools and I helped him remove the special fitting from the frame. We then went to his workshop so he could show me the Ariel. It was very nice and was sitting with chair only half joined. He explained it was to feature in the new exhibits area for this coming Sundays special day. After looking round the top floor where they were busy painting I asked to pay for my entry. I was told “not necessary” but insisted and handed over 5 Euros thanking them for their hospitality. I left at 13:50 just ten minutes before opening. I rode off into the rain thinking to myself I’m so lucky to meet such nice people. The rain did stop briefly for me to do some food shopping and I decided to go for a quick walk while the sun was out to get some photos of the raging river I can hear constantly. I was standing by the road wondering which direction to take when a bus pulled up. I moved away as I didn’t want the driver to think I was waiting for the bus. He got out his cab and started to shout at me in German. I turned and apologised saying I don’t speak German. He answered in his best British ‘posh’ accent “That’s funny neither do I” I had to laugh. We had a chat, his English perfect, he was a biker but was stuck driving busses for a living. He even offered to give me a free lift, but I declined. I ended up spending the evening chatting in the camp site bar. It seemed the locals in the bar that night wanted to practice their English language on me, all very friendly. One gent saying he’d not had the chance to speak English for 30 years, he was pleased he still could.

Thursday 30th May – Up nice and early because of the sunshine so was packed up and on the road by 08:45. The route was hard to follow with road-works and diversions but for a change I could use the sun to check if I was heading in the right direction. Eventually I arrived on the main road, again it was the brilliant smooth, twisty tarmac I long to ride on, plus it came with wonderful scenery. After an hour of dry road the sky turned black and down came the rain spoiling my fun. I decided to turn east to get the journey done quicker and to pick up the motorway heading straight to my destination, Füssen near the border of Austria. There was lots of flooded stretches making me feel I was lucky to keep missing the heavier downpours. I passed plenty of bikers sheltering under bridges (I didn’t think you were allowed to do that). I got totally lost in Füssen but I could see why it’s such an attraction, lots of spectacular medieval looking buildings. Eventually I was on the right road, I did get a glimpse of what I was heading for Hohenschwangau Castle but Neuschwanstein Castle was not to be seen, either it was on the other side of the mountain or was hidden by the low level cloud and rain. There seemed little point in stopping here in these conditions so I disappointingly soldiered on. I headed for a camp ground marked on my map, riding right past the area with no sign of any camp site. My map indicated another about 10 miles off route so I headed for it but that didn’t appear to exist either. I’d passed a Guest House with a “zimmer frei” sign a couple of miles back so feeling wet and miserable and with the evening coming on I decided to go for it. B&B with evening meal, just what I needed, I even got the Norton parked safely in the barn for the night. I was the only guest that night so was well looked after, with plenty of refreshing German beer and a delicious meal. It rained all evening, I went to bed with my fingers crossed hoping it’ll stop by morning.

Friday 30th May – I awoke to the sound of rain, straight away thinking I’m so glad I didn’t find either of those camp sites. I went down for breakfast to find one single place laid out with rolls, cold meats, cheese and a large glass of Orange juice. I stuffed myself with food, loaded up the Norton inside the barn, said “Auf Wiedersehen“ and rode out into the rain at 09:20, early enough to get a few miles done. My planned cross-country route I’d written out last night was scrapped in favour of the motorway due to the pouring rain. The journey wasn’t too bad due to the light traffic, meaning minimal dreaded road spray from cars and lorries. The miles soon disappeared and I stopped at the Austrian border to buy a “vignette” (Austrian motorway road tax). The officer behind the desk made some sort of comment about not good weather for motorcycling, while I was dripping all over the floor and struggling to remove my soaked through gloves.
I continued on just wanting to get to my destination, the Austrian Norton Owners British Bike Rally. It was a good feeling leaving the motorway for A roads as I knew I was getting close. I arrived in the mountain village of Laussa expecting to see a “Norton Rally” sign, but saw nothing. Was I in the wrong place? Not a soul about to ask, unlike me everyone’s sensibly keeping out of the rain. I rode on for a couple of miles hoping to see a sign, but still nothing. I turned round and returned to the village and saw two Norton Commandos parking up in the village centre. I recognised the bikes straight away, it was Davie and Brian from Scotland. I pulled in to greet them, just as we discussed a plan of action a lady walked by with a dog. I showed her the written address where the rally was and she kindly directed us 5+km out of the village (just a little further than where I’d just turned around). We found “Gasthof Forellenhof” but when I pulled in, it looked deserted. Just as I turned to Davie and Brian to suggest we’re in the wrong place out popped Roland from a doorway to greet us in the Austrian way, loud shouting and bear hugs. Roland is the main organiser of the Austrian Norton Owners Club who I’ve met several times before, a great guy. He was just as pleased to see us as we were to see him. He explained that because of the atrocious weather he’d not put out signs yet and apologised. We were the first UK bikers to show up. It felt so good to have arrived and be so warmly welcomed, inside the bar we drank a celebration beer and relaxed while outside it continued to rain. Roland showed us around explaining the camp field’s waterlogged so we can sleep in the barn. The three of us set up benches to sleep on in a changing room, draughty, but nice and dry. The evening was spent greeting others as they arrived and drinking/chatting in the bar.

Saturday 1st June – The rain had stopped this morning and the time was spent fixing/repairing/maintaining and comparing Norton’s. The rain started again by afternoon but with the bikes parked inside a nice dry barn it didn’t seem to matter. A party was set up in another barn with a DJ playing rock’n’roll and a film screen showing old black & white IOM TT footage of Manx Norton’s etc. Many people from the village came to see the bikes and join the party filling the barn and help making it a great atmosphere. The seven who had arrived from the UK were awarded each an Austria NOC branch T shirt as a thank you for braving the weather. The party went on till the early hours. I was told in the morning that at 04:00 two of the Norton’s were started up and revved loudly to fill the valley with the great sound of Norton. It didn’t wake me though.

Sunday 2nd June – The usual bike runs were abandoned because of the rain. Today we were taken by mini bus to Bad Hall, Kremsmünster, famous for its natural hot spring once used by Romans, now a well established tourist attraction. It was nice to relax in the warm water while the cold rain was coming down. On route back to the rally the road was closed due to flooding and a land slip, a detour took us the long way back. The bad conditions in Austria had been today reported on the BBC world news suggesting worse was still to come. The UK group decided to stay an extra day rather than leave in the morning during heavy rain. The evening was spent chatting in the bar.

Monday 3rd June – The Austrians took us in their cars to visit Mark Upham at his home. He owns the Brough Superior name, plus a British bike parts business called “British Only” from here mail order parts are sent all over the world, but he does have a counter service as well. His personal collection of bikes was fabulous, like a small museum. He said that most of the bikes can be for sale “at the right price”. He then took us into his back rooms where the Broughs were kept. Very nice bikes and he builds new ones to order. A few of the group bought some spares, then we left for lunch in Steyr the main city of the area. The restaurant had been serving food for over 300 years, the building dated at 1691. I chose a traditional dish “lung and dumplings” not sure I’d want it again! After lunch we walked to the place where the two main rivers meet, they both were at full flow. There were visible tide marks from the day before half way up some of the building along side the river. The fire/rescue services were still pumping out some of the flooded homes next to where we were standing. On route back to the rally we stopped at a Honda dealers, someone wanted chain lube. I took the opportunity to buy some new waterproof leggings as mine were clearly not anymore. Back at the rally there was only nine rallyists still there. The bar closes on Mondays, so the owners invited us to have dinner in their home. Another traditional dish, Bratwurst, onion and potatoes fried up in a large pan and served with Sauerkraut. All home made, it was really tasty. The rest of the evening was spent looking at maps and route planning to the next destination, the Norton Owners Club International Rally in France, to start on Thursday, allowing three days to travel there.

Tuesday 4th June – Everyone was up nice and early to pack and load bikes. Davie, Brian and I tidied up our sleeping area, putting everything back as we originally had found it. We all went into the family house for breakfast where we heard the news how rivers across south Germany, Austria and Czech Republic had burst banks causing flooding and many road closures including motorways. Davie, Brian and Simon decided to make their own ways to France. Chris, Tim and Linda and I would stick together and head northwest into Germany. Choosing a route to get away from the mountains and the worst weather. Then down through the Black Forest heading for the Norton Owners Club International Rally in France. We said goodbye to our hosts and left. The rain actually stopped today and wearing all the waterproofs all day seemed to prevent it coming back. Evidence of the flooding was everywhere, with several detours on route. After a couple of hundred miles Chris came along side me in traffic shouting he thinks he’s a problem with his bike. I could hear a loud clattering from his engine, when I looked down I saw his exhaust retaining nut slowly vibrating down the pipe towards the silencer. I shouted back to him “I can see what’s wrong”. We pulled into a side road along side a ragging river. People were stopping to take photos so it was obviously unusual to be flowing so fast and at such a high level. Once the exhaust was tightened we started looking for a Guesthouse. We asked at several and they were all telling us “full” it started to make me think they don’t want bikers. Eventually a small hotel was found in Rain (of all place names!) with two rooms available. But the Hotelier was not happy about two men sharing a double bed and insisted on blowing up a temporary air bed for one to sleep on (actually it was very comfy, yes, I picked the short straw). We found a nice restaurant and had a great relaxing meal. It turned out the hotelier was a nice guy he was a biker too, he cleared an area at the hotel rear so we could park our bikes undercover.

Wednesday 5th June – After a nice breakfast which was included with the rooms we all were ready to leave when the hotelier handed me a bag of rolls, cold meats and fruit, suggesting this can be our lunch today. I thanked him kindly and left. Luckily at lunch time we found a lay-by with picnic tables so really enjoyed our free lunch. The roads today had been very busy with lorries but once in the Black Forest the scenery was fantastic. No camp grounds could be found, so I asked in a Tourist Information office in Münstertal, I was directed to one only 4km away. Very nice it was to, with indoor and outdoor pools and superior shower/ toilet facilities. The weather today had been nice all day but just as we finished erecting the tents the sky turned black and it started to rain. We all decided the best thing to do was go for a swim in the outdoor pool, where it didn’t matter about the rain. It soon stopped and we laid there relaxing in the pool while watching the lightning over the surrounding mountains, so picturesque. We later enjoyed our last German meal, an excellent meal in the campsite restaurant.
Thursday 6th June – I’d noticed my clutch dragging the day before and could see signs of oil seepage from the primary case so guessed I’d got oil in my normally dry clutch, getting on the plates, causing them to drag. I found a dozen size egg box in the bin and placed it under the primary cover while undoing the centre fixing screw to see what comes out. I was astounded, so much engine oil flowed out, the egg box overflowed all over the tarmac. This means my crankshaft seal has failed allowing oil into the primary drive. I guessed I’d have no problem so long as I drained it each day. We left the campsite soon after 10:00 (after I’d cleaned up the oil spillage) and chose to get some miles done on the motorway. It was a long 190 mile boring ride, made worse because my clutch was now slipping at higher speeds, especially when going uphill. At least the weather now was hot and sunny. There was about 50 miles of back roads to get to the rally (in the Bourgogne region of France, about 40 miles west of Dijon). Within 10 miles of Lake Les Settons the first rally direction sign was spotted. These were easy to follow and lead us straight there. I was the only one of the four of us who was camping (Tim, Linda and Chris had accommodation) so I booked in, then rode round to the tent area where I was greeted by other Essex NOC branch members who’d arrived from home earlier in the day. The camp ground was along side the lake shore, lovely scenery and spacious. Once my tent was up and after a couple of very welcome cold beers, I was informed dinner wasn’t till 21:00 so guessed I’d have time to dismantle my clutch and wash the plates clean of oil, to stop the clutch slipping. I was just refitting the diaphragm spring retaining clip when I was told dinner had been brought forward to 20:15. I’d got 30mins to finish the job and get showered and changed, I’d a rush on now.
The dining marquee was huge and full of Norton owners from all over Europe, plenty of greetings going on between friends of different nationalities who only meet occasionally at these gatherings. A wonderful atmosphere of friendliness hanging in the air. The evening chatter and drinking went on till very late, I retired at 01:30.

Friday 7th June – A warm sunny day, breakfast at 08:00, three organised ride outs today in half hour intervals, I joined the 09:30. What a great ride, brilliant twisty roads with fantastic scenery. We arrived at Vézelay Abbey known as “Basilique Ste-Madeleine” (Basilica Church of St. Mary Magdalene, built early 12th century) “the largest Romanesque church in France and only 10 yards shorter than the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. As it claimed to guard the relics of St. Mary Magdalen, Vézelay was a major medieval pilgrimage destination. It also saw the launch of the Second and Third Crusades.”
We spent a short time visiting before setting off for Noyers-sur-Serein (another spectacular medieval town) for lunch and wine tasting. We had three courses sitting outside, nicely shaded under table brollies. This was the best French meal so far, the wine was good too. I left here with the first group but lost them when I stopped for fuel. I then tagged on to a group of German Norton riders which I presumed would be heading back. This ride was much more exiting, these guys were enjoying themselves and I was so pleased my clutch had stopped slipping or I’d never kept up with them. More greetings when I got back as Roger and Paul plus more Essex NOC branch members and friends had arrived.
The evening meal was interesting, this time served by the French NOC members, the last course served at nearly midnight. The live band was playing really good music so many were up on the dance floor enjoying themselves till the early hours.

Saturday 8th June – The organised ride today was again split into groups and led to “Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune”. As well as an impressive Château, it’s now also a museum with over 250 motorcycles dating from 1902 to 1960. Plus about 80 fighter aircraft sitting in the grounds of the castle, there was plenty to see. As a bonus to the general public all the Norton’s from the rally parked within the grounds were making their own attraction. When leaving here I joined a group who appeared to not know where they were going so I left them foolishly thinking I’d find my own way. I got to the village where the lunch was to be, but could find no sign of where to go. While riding round I caught a glimpse of some Norton heading up a road so chased after them to catch up. A little way from the village we climbed up a very uneven gravel track leading to the “Nantoux open quarry” for a lunch organized by the ” Fondus Bourguignons”. Tables were all laid out and a musical trio sat nearby playing nice background music. Main course was a local speciality dish of poached eggs in wine, delicious. From here we were invited to display the Norton’s in the town square of Beaune, another historic town only a few miles away. After a look around the town and an ice-cream a few of us prepared to leave, I heard Benny from Holland had fallen off his Commando on the gravel leaving the quarry lunch site. He’d broken off his foot-peg, I’d got a spare, so handed it to him as we left. He was about to bodge something but now could fix it properly. Off we set heading back to the rally site but Mick on his ES2 ran out of fuel. Luckily a Norton/Wasp outfit following behind had a small can with him so Mick was soon going again.
The rally dinner tonight was accompanied by a “one-man” band. Eleven members of the Essex branch sat together with friends, filling just one of the many long tables. The rain started heavily just after everyone was seated, causing problems for some when it ran through between the two marquees. The meal was served by members of the French NOC again, better food tonight, but still there were differences of opinion as to what we were eating! Benny handed me a new foot-peg that he’d bought from a spares stall at the rally, saying he’d also bought himself a spare one to carry from now on, and thanked me again. Plenty of wine was consumed and once the prize presentations were over the party really started to get going. Just like he’d done the night before, Arno from Austria rode his Manx Norton into marquee, revving it up and parking it on the dance floor. The party went on till late, as did the drinking, I eventually returned to my tent at 03:00.

Sunday 9th June – A dry morning so many were checking over their Norton’s and carrying out necessary maintenance ready for the journey home. Quite a lot of people leaving for home during the day. I had my name down for a free boat trip around the lake, leaving from a jetty about 3Km away at 16:30. Most were planning to walk to the boat, lucky for me, Peter from Tyne Tees was riding there and offered to give me a lift on pillion. He’d also wanted me to listen to his engine miss-fire for my opinion of what the problem could be. The boat trip was interesting, the Captain told us the lake was actually a reservoir, dammed around 1850 so that the river could be navigated to shift timber from the forest. The rain started again so we all got wet returning to the rally. There wasn’t so many people left for the last dinner, but there was a generous amount of wine on the tables, so a merry evening was had by most. I’d been given left over “beer tickets” by people when they left for home during the day and some as they retired for the night, so when the bar eventually closed I handed over all I had in exchange for some bottles of red wine. I left for my tent ‘worse for ware’ and can remember being sick during my hunt for my tent which reminded me why you shouldn’t mix ‘grape and grain’.

Monday 10th June – Oh my head! I now had to pack up to leave, with the most dreadful hangover. Linda kindly cooked a nice breakfast so I was soon starting to feel better. Packed and loaded we were ready to leave by 10:00 Tim and Linda on a 1993 Rotary Commander, Derek on a 1958 Dommie (with a later 650cc engine) and me on my 1971 750cc Commando. Roger had left earlier but we arranged to meet him at a campsite over 200 miles away. We were getting along fine and stopped at a roadside bar for lunch. We had the “Plats de jour” (dish of the day) it turned out to be a huge meal, far too much for sitting on a motorcycle. We continued on, at about 170 miles Derek’s bike started to die. It happened every time he braked, I suggested the brake light was dropping the voltage causing loss of engines sparks, suspicion was a flat battery. A quick test with a meter showed 4 volts with very little rise when engine running. Tim had spotted a camping direction sign so we decided to opt for it and try to fix the ailing Dommie instead of continuing. Once tents were erected Derek found a bad alternator connection so now we had a reading of 6.8 volts with engine running so it was looking more hopeful (but not brilliant) of charging the battery. He also set up his battery charger in the toilet block for the night, so to start with a fully charged battery in the morning. I loosened my primary cover to drain an alarming amount of oil out. My oil tank level was getting low but I hoped it would be OK to get me home. I’d already put in the entire one litre of top-up oil I’d carried from the start of the trip.

Tuesday 11th June – I awoke early so walked into town to buy fresh bread and croissants for breakfast, I found a bakers and they were open. I arrived back at camp just as the others were getting up at about 07:30, so was pleased to announce that I’ve got our breakfast. Derek said his battery and his spare battery were both fully charged so we were good to go. The roads were good and the route easy to follow, at about 90 miles we stopped for fuel, Derek’s bike wouldn’t restart, flat battery again! More wiring checks and battery swapped, all seemed OK but with about 110 miles to get to the Channel Tunnel it wasn’t looking good. Time was getting tight to make it to the train on time, so we decided to get on the motorway. It’s surprising how quickly you cover the miles on the motorway and we soon arrived, in fact we got on an earlier train. By coincidence Roger was sitting waiting for the same earlier train too.
England greeted us with mist and drizzle but it was good to be home.

The French Norton Owners Club who held the International Rally reported that no less that 405 people on more than 350 machines attended the rally, declaring it a huge success.
My Commando didn’t miss a beat during the trip it was only the crankshaft seal failure which caused minor clutch problems and engine oil loss. My Norton travelled 2,550 miles on this trip and averaged a pleasant 66mpg. Within a few days of getting home I gave her a full service and a new primary drive belt, plus of course, a new crankshaft oil seal. Now the bike’s all ready for our next adventure.