Harley to the Fringe: Day 1

Harley 1.jpg

The Hatfield tunnel on the A1 provided momentary respite from the wind, drizzle and spray. Despite the conditions, I was cheerful enough; at least I was on my bike, free from the day-to-day business of business, heading north to the Edinburgh Fringe. Although today’s weather is a bit wild, the forecast for the rest of the week is pretty spectacular and I’m looking forward to sublime riding conditions on wonderful roads.

The tunnel ends and we hit the weather, a north-easterly gust veers the bike to the left, I get it back on course. The drizzle is harder, not quite full on rain; even so at 80mph it feels like a stinging tickle; a million needles softly pecking away at the exposed parts of my face. I prefer open face helmets, full-face visors offer more protection, but feel claustrophobic, shutting me away from the environment; I may as well be in a car. Wrap around shades provide eye protection, a thermal neck protector covers my mouth and chin, leaving just my nose, cheek bones and forehead exposed.

Today’s task is to get to the B&B near Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park, avoiding any diesel spills and sleepy motorists. I place my trust in the bike’s headlamp and a fluorescent waterproof jacket. It’s not particularly cold, but it’s not warm either, and I’m resigned to spending all day in second hand rain spewed up from truck tyres, those dense artificial clouds sometimes impenetrable to the eye; blind faith gets me through them, even more water drips down my face.

A1, A1, A1, A1. The interminable monotony interrupted by the occasional roundabout, gingerly negotiated as increasingly stiff limbs take longer to react and become less sensitive. Stomping on the rear brake pedal really wouldn’t be a good idea. Another feature of this major road are the minor side turns from which tractors and sales reps pull out with gay abandon; one such years ago nearly doing for a chum of mine.

Both bike and I need more fuel, so I pull into a service station. Petrol is petrol, but food varies greatly in quality and this place looked pretty ropey. But I risk it and the warmth of the caff soon has me relaxing, wrapping hands around a mug of milky cappuccino. The omelette breakfast turns out to be pretty good, at least it’s very welcome.

Back on the road. No improvement in the weather. I have to take avoiding action as some tosser in a BMW 5 series pulls out and takes his time to get going. I start to run out of space as I approach a truck, I want to pull out, indicating right, but in the mirror an approaching overtaking car seems to slow down on my starboard quarter, shutting down an opportunity for me to pull out. I have to ease off the throttle, the car is next to me, not budging an inch, what the hell does this imbecile think he’s playing at? The car is full of young guys, the front seat passenger has a camera and he’s taking a picture of me. Flattering I’m sure, but I’d far rather they got out of my way. No road craft. No consideration.

Junction 49 and I turn off. The incessant rain for the last 4 hours has stopped, the sun has poked out from behind the clouds, the road has dried out and I could whoop for joy! I’m into Thursk much sooner than expected and thread my way through the local and holiday traffic, looking for the exit that takes me to Helmsley.

I pick it up easily enough, but am slightly concerned by a sign that says “No Caravans in 5 miles. 25% gradient. 232 obstructions caused by lorries in 3 years". Blimey! What have I let myself in for? Mind you, a road that bans caravans can’t be all that bad… can it?

Dark, dark Mordor skies; just how wet am I going to get? Descend a 1:10, loop left, right, left again, a rivulet of traffic follows a Transit van, which struggles with the gradient. The road takes a sudden, sharp, swing up to the left, a corkscrew turn, gradient steepens to 25%, traffic slows almost to a halt. Well it’s steep, but not as steep as Succumbs Hill on the North Downs. An artic descends and I have to stay tucked in behind the other vehicles; mist thickens as we ascend.

Temperature drops. Condensation forms on my sunglasses, further reducing viz. I’m glad of the fluorescent jacket as everything else loses it’s colour and becomes a dark black blob, shrouded by mist which is dense enough at times to be fog. Sound is eaten up, just the beating heart of the Harley and the wind noise in my helmet penetrates to my protected ears. I’m aware of the dark shapes of trees either side, a sea of black stillness that shortly fades to the white nothing of fog.

Then we’re descending, descending, dropping quite quickly and speeding up as visibility improves, and sweep over the bridge into Helmsley, a stone-built market town, full of tourists and colour, a relief to the eyes that had been straining to penetrate through deathly cloud only moments before. As I circle the car park, I hear a young boy ask his Dad “Is that a Harley Davidson?” and I reflect on brand awareness, as I sip a too-hot plastic tasting coffee out of a polystyrene cup, sat on the steps of a Victorian Gothic memorial.

The B&B is on the B1257, a bit of a mecca for bikers, it being a challenging stretch of tarmac; but my concern is just to arrive. Two bikes are already there, a BMW and a Buell, a second cousin first removed of my Dyna Wide Glyde. Laskills Farm is a gorgeous farmhouse offering quality accommodation in wonderful setting.

The two other bikers, Barry and Bob, are on holiday and had had a worse day than I’d had, having been stuck in the fog all day. Very testing. We walked to the local Inn in Hawnby, a long 2 miles, and enjoyed a fine dinner, the Lamb Shank being most appreciated. We couldn’t face the walk back so slipped the chef a few quid in exchange for an after dinner taxi service.

Now that’s what I call an excellent choice, Sir!