Thursday, May 21, 2015

North West 200 2015

The saying "four wheels moves the body, two wheels moves the soul", could not be more true than at the annual North West 200 in Portrush, Northern Ireland, where we were lucky enough to spend this weekend.

Bikes have become an increasing passion of mine over the last few years and after achieving my full motorbike license last year I have been keen to plan more bike adventures. Following a chance encounter with some fellow bike lovers about a month ago, when Karl and I were visiting Lake Windermere, we were fortunate to be invited across to Portrush to witness one of the most spectacular road races in the world. 

The North West 200 is a triangular race course running between Portrush, Coleraine and Portstewart and our new found friends own a holiday home in Portrush right by the race track and kindly invited us to come and stay with them.

We joined a convoy of bikers at the Birkenhead ferry terminal and sailed overnight to the port in Belfast; it was a special feeling disembarking the ferry as part of a huge group of roaring motorbikes all revving their engines in tribute to the races ahead (naturally the Monster was the most impressive!)

After leaving the ferry terminal and as the sun came up across the shores of Belfast we headed straight to the famous Causeway Coastal Road. The route runs from Belfast to Londonderry and is said to be one of the most scenic journeys in the world. With a dramatic coastline, imposing cliffs, winding roads and dazzling scenery this does not surprise me in the slightest! Making our way to Larne, the gateway to the Nine Glens of Antrim, we took in the breathtaking landscapes and stopped for a few photos.  

We met our new friends just north of Larne in the village of Glenarm and spent the rest of the afternoon cruising along the coast road and taking in the incredible landscapes of the causeway. You absolutely must add the causeway coastal road to your bucket list of places to go! 

Just as the skies opened we made it to Portrush and got ourselves settled in the house before heading out to check out the race course and paddock. They have added quite a few chicanes to the course to increase safety but despite this it still looked pretty daunting to me as a newbie biker. I have a new found appreciation for this sport after passing my test last year and have no idea how  bikers manage to reach speeds of over 180mph on these roads! Whilst there are some long, straight parts to the course there are some incredibly tight bends and roundabouts that present a huge challenge to the riders. As first timers to an event like this we were both excited to see the bikes in actions... here we are posing like champions on the podium! 

In true Irish style our first night in Portrush ended with some great 'craic' in The Harbour Bar with plenty of Guinness and one of the most impressive gin bars I've ever seen. My new favourite drink of the moment is Monkey 37 gin with grapefruit.... served in a wine bowl! (Pictured below) 

The following morning was race day and despite our hangovers we were up nice and early to get to our pitch before they closed the coast roast. Our friends have been coming to the races every year for about 15years and have the PERFECT spot to watch the action right at the finish line. It was an impeccable set up with camper vans, camping chairs, a gas BBQ and plenty of Guinness, burgers and beer to keep everyone going for the day. 

We spent the day soaking up the atmosphere of the races, enjoying the company of our new friends, having the odd nap to sleep off the previous night's hangover (!) and arguing over who was going to win the sweep stake for each race! 

For those of you who watched the races on TV or read about it in the news a couple of the races were red flagged  due to the high winds and a couple of nasty accidents. Thankfully those who were hurt in these collisions are now making a good recovery! You can see in my videos below the intense speeds that these bikes manage to reach... it's amazing to watch! 

Being a bit of a novice at super bike races I did my best to follow what was happening but one thing that was clear was that Alastair Seeley is one to watch after triumphantly clinching two wins at the event. The supersport race was particularly tense to watch as Seeley, Irwin and Johnston fought it out to claim victory. 

I spent a lot of time looking out for Guy Martin as Karl and I are both fans (especially after watching Our Guy in India.. a documentary about his 1000 mile journey across India.) So Guy-spotting at the event was great fun! 

The final race of the day was called off because of the high winds so naturally we made the most of the time by hitting the marquee for a drink or two (or three..or four....!) 

The following morning we bid farewell to our wonderful new friends and hit the road once more to go and visit The Giant's Causeway. This is a world famous UNESCO attraction and there was no way we could come all the way to the Causeway Coast and not go and see it! 

The Giant's Causeway is a mysterious natural phenomenon shrouded in myths and legends. It is famously known for its polygonal columns of layered basalt which supposedly formed after a volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago. Legend has it that the columns were carved by a giant called Finn McCool who apparently challenged his Scottish rival, another giant named Benandonner, to a fight. Finn McCool is said to have built a causeway of gigantic stepping stones across the sea to Scotland so he could go and meet his foe. On the Scottish Isle of Staffa you can find similar basalt columns in Fingal's cave, giving more weight to the legend of the giants. 

Beautiful, mystical, dramatic are all words that I would use to describe The Giant's Causeway. It was an exceptionally impressive place to visit and I feel lucky to have been able to go there this weekend. 

Our weekend at the North West 200 was brilliant and we felt incredibly privileged to have been invited to attend this event. It's amazing what a chance encounter and an open mind can lead to and I can safely say that you'd be hard pushed to beat the Irish hospitality. The Irish are all about the 'craic' and we have never been made to feel more welcome. Thank you to our new friends for your overwhelmingly kind hospitality! 

Time to plan the next adventure...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

It's Not The Destination, It's The Journey

I passed my motorcycle test! 

This blog should have been published before Christmas but I never got round to it so please turn your minds back to October last year and have a read about my journey to passing my bike test:  

As many of you will know getting my motorbike license has been on the agenda for a little while now and it has taken me two years to pull my finger out and get it done. I have finally done it and am so excited! 

I started my lessons last year and at the point of booking my test, for no reason whatsoever, I lost all my confidence with it and metaphorically parked my dream of riding the big bikes. Spurred on by Karl who has been zooming around for the last two years on the Ducati and motivated by the fact he upgraded to a newer model a few months ago I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.

Unfortunately I failed my Mod 1 test first time after hitting a cone on literally the last second of the test (during the swerve) so was pretty disappointed. Undeterred I re-booked and managed to nail it second time round with just a few minors! The trembling feeling of sitting that test is something I am glad I will never have to do again, it's incredibly nerve wracking. 

Feeling fairly optimistic after passing Mod 1 I actually sold my little 125 (in the background in the photo above). It was sad to say goodbye but with the big bike within touching distance it felt like the right time. 

My Mod 2 exam was last Thursday and thankfully I managed to overcome my nerves and it went really well! My instructor told me "if you act like a learner then you will stay a learner", so I did my best to ignore the fact that there was an examiner following me on another motorcycle  scrutinising my every move and just tried to ride for myself and pretend I was a pro...and it worked!  

As you can see from the above photo I was clearly very happy with the result and it's another thing to tick off the list before the milestone of turning 30

I am now riding around the streets of Manchester on a Ducati Monster 796 and my commute to work is amazing! If anyone in the Tameside/ Glossop area is looking to learn to ride then I really recommend 1st Choice Motorcycle Training- Morris is a great (and very patient!) instructor. 

I'm excited to plan some trips on the Monster and will hopefully be taking the bike across on the ferry to the North West 200! I think the infographic below sums up how I feel about this new found hobby: 

Let the motorbike adventures commence! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Captain Karl

May I proudly introduce Captain Karl! 

Since returning from our amazing Medsailors trip to Greece (which you can read about here) Karl has been working tirelessly to become a qualified skipper so that he can charter a boat and take us all sailing in Croatia next year. 

When Karl puts his mind to something there is absolutely no stopping him and last weekend he completed the course with North West Power and Sail and is now officially a Day Skipper. Congratulations Captain!

The course started with the off-shore, classroom-based theory with Cheshire Training & Leisure where Karl learned all about basic seamanship, navigation, tides, buoys, safety and suchlike. There were five full days of tuition combined with quite a few evenings and weekends of hardcore studying! Being the committed student he is Karl even studied in between making pizzas:

And drinking a few beers to help him along the way:

After passing the theory tests the next step was to spend 5 full days sailing around Anglesey in North Wales practicing being a skipper and experiencing being in charge of the yacht. 

The first morning was spent navigating the locks in Port Denorwic before sailing through The Swellies in the afternoon. The Swellies are apparently notoriously complicated to navigate and you have to make sure you sail through at the right times because the drag from the tidal stream around the Menai Bridge is so powerful, once you commit there's no turning back! 

For the next four days Karl and the rest of the crew continued their quest to become qualified day skippers and learned about a multitude of seafaring responsibilities including: the 'rules of the road'; handling emergency situations (man over-board!); yacht handling under power and sail and night cruising to name but a few. Here they all are on board the yacht preparing to set sail:

As you can probably imagine a crucial part of becoming a day skipper is learning to be confident with sea navigation and how to read the GPS accurately, after all, none of us ever want to end up lost at sea! Below you can see the boat is positioned to the west of Holyhead next to Holy Island; apparently this is where most accidents around Anglesey occur due to the strong tidal currents so learning to effectively navigate through these tides is an absolute must. 

This was the crew looking west towards the Menai Suspension Bridge:

Even though the course itself involved long hours and a lot of hard work there was still definitely time to relax and enjoy a few beers! Here is Karl docked up in Caernarfon in his 'awesome' sailing attire... 

Even though it was a 'Day Skipper' course, night-sailing is a fundamental skill for any skipper as you need to be prepared for any eventuality, so this was naturally the next part of the course. The art of successful night-sailing is in the skipper's ability to navigate using the buoys. It was a little difficult for Karl to get any snaps of the night-sailing so here is the boat docked up in Holyhead Marina the morning after the night-sail. 


The next day the voyage continued past Puffin Island and the crew entered the Menai Straits from the East. Puffin Island is famous for its huge colony of Great Cormorants as well as lots of other birds. It's name comes from the fact that many years ago over 2000 puffins used to inhabit the island until sadly the brown rat was accidentally introduced to the island and now the puffins are few and far between (a little geeky North Wales fact for you)! 

The afternoon was spent sailing around Bangor and enjoying the spectacular views; Cilla Black and Patrick Moore are known to have flats overlooking the water (see picture below)! 


Frank (the course director) only knows two people (including himself) who would navigate the Swellies at low water and this is exactly what the crew did as they sailed back down the Menai Straits homeward-bound. 

They were incredibly lucky with the weather and you can see how still the water was in the morning. I remember from sailing in Greece that there really is nothing quite like waking up in the morning on a yacht, looking out to sea, the still water and drinking a nice hot brew, heaven! Karl is someone who very fortunately has a fairly strong constitution and does not tend to suffer from sea-sickness (unlike me...) and although it did hit him for a couple of hours on one of the days, on the whole he was sea-sickness free. 

Karl and Pete both successfully completed the course and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed it. Intense, fun, new friendships, stunning scenery are all words that sum up Karl's 5 days away on the course. He seems to have made a good sailing buddy in Pete and they are hoping to plan a short sailing trip to either North Wales or Largs later this year to get more practice in. Below is their survivors photo! 

With a lot more to learn, some hardcore practice needed and a trip to Croatia to plan I think it's safe to say that Karl has found a hobby for life. He's feeling extremely excited about next years trip and can't wait to take us all away. 

A'hoy there maties, bring on next year! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sail Away With Me

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Paradise. The only word to describe the beautiful islands we visited on our Medsailors trip to Greece. Stunning, deep-blue water, rugged coast lines, island adventures, secluded bays, good friends and lots of fun. A week of absolute delights! Can you tell I enjoyed it?!

Our journey started when we set sail from Athens and crossed the idyllic eastern shores of Aegina to the small fishing village of Perdika. This was where we spent our first night on the yacht after enjoying a beautifully traditional Greek supper in one of the local tavernas: Greek Salad, olives, potatoes, lamb, fish, calamari, the list goes on! Naturally the evening involved plenty of wine and other such beverages, there's nothing quite like an ice cold glass of wine on the first night of your holiday.

Ermioni was the next stop on our voyage, a small fishing port with beautifully traditional architecture absolutely oozing with character and charm. We enjoyed a stunning meal overlooking the harbour before exploring the local nightlife. The bars were literally a few feet away from our yacht which made stumbling back in the early hours not too bad at all (if you don't mind walking the plank onto the yacht when you are half cut!) 

We couldn't believe our luck when we were joined by a pod of dolphins as we made our way to Spetses on the third day. They swam next to the yacht and were so close we could almost touch them. 

Spetses was definitely one of my favourite islands and we spent the day exploring on motorbikes and relaxing in the most gorgeously secluded little beach bar. I won't lie...I could get used to island life! The night ended in a rather raucous way involving skinny-dipping and shooting stars...

The next stop was without a doubt my favourite of the whole trip: the island of Hydra. En route we all decided to don our pirate costumes and run riot around the yacht, walking the plank, hoisting the sails and tacking (a sailing manoeuvre where you switch between the starboard and port tack...see?! I did learn how to sail!). 

Wheeled vehicles are banned from this island and donkeys and water taxis are the main forms of transport making this island incredibly special and atmospheric. As we sailed into the harbour I tried my best to capture just how beautiful it is, this is one my favourite photos from the holiday:

After docking up and partaking in some cliff-jumping (!) Karl and I left the group sunbathing and snorkelling in the stunning bay and went scuba-diving for the afternoon. I had high hopes for the dive given the dolphins we had seen the day before, but unfortunately the area we went to was massively over-fished and we saw little more than a few teeny tiny fish and a crab (definitely a stark contrast to the Red Sea when we went there last year). Despite the lack of fish it was still great fun and always good to get a dive in whenever you can.

In the evening we enjoyed some frozen cocktails and then went to a restaurant famed for it's views of the spectacular sunset, known to be one of the best in the world. I have to agree, it was definitely one of the best I've seen.

Feeling a little worse for wear the next morning we made our way to the tiny Greek island of Poros, famous for its water-sports and lemon trees. Some of the group headed off to enjoy the ringos and I spent the afternoon sleeping on the beach, there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon mid-week.

We went to a lovely taverna in the harbour for dinner later on that evening before heading out into Poros for some cocktails. We were actually lucky enough to be invited onto a huge catamaran by a Ukrainian businessman where we had a fabulous time posing for pictures pretending to be one of the rich and famous!

On our final night we moored up in Agistri where we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, messing around on the paddle board and polishing off a few beverages on the yacht. Medsailors organised a toga night for us which of course, we all naturally got fully involved with. The evening was spent eating more traditional Greek food and joining in with some traditional Greek dancing.

The next morning we set sail back to Athens and endured a rather rocky voyage back to the capital which would have turned the strongest of stomachs (especially if you are hungover and fall asleep below deck!) 

It was a fantastic trip and excellent introduction to the world of sailing, and another thing I can tick off my list of things to do before I'm 30! Andy, our skipper, was brilliant and taught us all how to hoist the sails, drop the anchor and steer the yacht; we even took part in sailing regatta against the other Medsailors yachts. Karl absolutely fell in love with the sailing world and is actually completing his day skipper course as I type this!

We will be looking to book a sailing trip to Croatia next summer with Captain Karl at the helm, who's in?!!!