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!