More motorcycle diaries

I have been neglecting this blog. ¬†The weather has been unusually good, flaming June has given Northumberland a taste of Tuscany or, should that be North-umbria. These images, which have all appeared on Blip, explain the neglect – there will be plenty of time to sit at the keyboard over the winter months ūüė¶ ¬†– frost and snow are not conducive to bikes or golf:

Green Rigg

… to Carter Bar via Carlisle and Hawick – 134 miles

The Monster – clean and at rest

Press start for instant exhilaration

Skid risk … actually a certainty with steep gradients and hairpins.

To Vindolanda under hot Northumbrian skies

Distant relatives

It has taken time but, with the persistence of an unreformed trainspotter, I have concluded that this motorcycle is a Triumph 494cc Model P.  Standing proudly in front of the sidecar is my mother aged about four while Mrs Kipper sits, queen-like, on her mobile throne.  The motorcycle was introduced  at the 1924 Motor Cycle Show and fits perfectly with family chronology Рthis photograph was probably taken by my grandfather around 1926-27 and I would guess the machine is nearly new, just possibly on its maiden voyage.

Motorcycle diaries

The tell-tale signs are the shape and markings on the fuel tank, the forks and the size and shape of the guards which distinguish it from the Triumph Ricardo.  All of the minor details match images of other Model Ps. The number plate indicates it was registered in Portsmouth, an invigorating fifty mile ride from Andover.

According to Bonhams, the Model P was a landmark machine in the development of the motorcycle in Britain.  A no-frills, sidevalve-engined model, the newcomer was priced at £42 17s 6d, at which level it undercut every other 500cc machine then on sale in the UK. The first batch manufactured was not without its faults, but once these had been sorted the Model P was a runaway success. Output from Triumph’s Priory Street works was soon running at an astonishing 1,000 machines per week, and the Model P’s arrival undoubtedly hastened the demise of many a minor manufacturer.  At auction, a restored Model P will now sell for around £9000.

As the owner of a Triumph Scrambler, I now know there is a distant connection with my maternal grandfather’s choice of machinery, at a time when there were many more manufacturers to choose from. My Scrambler is an 865 cc, air-cooled, DOHC, parallel-twin. ¬†You can trace the origin of this machine back through the 1959 T120 Bonneville, the 1953 Tiger T110, the 1950 Thunderbird and the 1938 Triumph Speed Twin. ¬†My bike and that of my grandfather’s are not so distantly related as might be imagined.

The Scrambler, back at Crindledykes on new rubber – Michelin Anakees



Going back

When I want to go back, I head for the sea.  For all our modern advances, our relationship with sand and water is unchanged in my lifetime.  These images could have been taken any time in the last sixty years. There is a quality of light in the sky as you approach the sea which is apparent long before you arrive at the coast. It is this I remember from long ago summer holidays, summers when the sands were too hot to walk on barefoot. I am still drawn by that light:

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

Alnmouth beach

Alnmouth beach

Alnmouth beach

Behind the dunes is the wonderful Alnmouth Village Golf Course, the oldest 9-hole course in England. On this day the fairways were brown and hard meaning the ball would run forever.  By comparison, the greens were islands of lush green.  I was frustrated not to be playing Рin my head, sand sea and golf are inseparable.

Alnmouth Village golf course

George William MacKay

It was early morning, 12th April 1912.  The house was slowly coming to life and George was wide awake, in his excitement he had hardly slept. Some last tearful farewells to the early morning maids, a final check that his tickets were secure in his pocket and quietly he slipped the safe moorings of 11 Queens Gate, Kensington and his life as a footman.  Emerging from the collonaded porch, he touched the iron railings one last time, turned left and then right onto Prince Consort Road, heading for Waterloo and the 07:45 train to Southampton.  He was dressed in his Sunday best suit and wearing a Sunday smile, he did not look back.  The city was already bustling with the clatter of hooves and the too familiar smell of horse manure, soon to be replaced by the salt sea air he had known as a boy.

The young George had only just turned twenty but already he had travelled far from his humble beginnings on a croft near Tongue, in Sutherland.  One of twelve children to William and Christina MacKay, he was determined to better himself.  Too often he had heard tales of regret, of lives half lived in the bitter north. George, the Heilam Ferryman, spoke of nothing else, his plans as a young man to travel to Canada and how he was persuaded to stay by the Duke of Sutherland Рthis George would not make the same mistake.

The third class boat train from Waterloo pulled into Southampton Docks at 09:30, stopping at 43/44 berth. Clutching a small brown suitcase and ticket 42795, George alighted into the Dockside sheds, crossed the road, controlled by a man with a red flag and momentarily stood awe-struck by the sheer overwhelming size of the ship Рit was beyond anything he could have imagined.  Nothing like this was ever seen in the Kyle.

As a third class passenger George had a simple berth, shared with six other passengers.  Keen to escape the claustrophobia of steerage and the company of strangers, many of whom could not speak English, he quickly found his way to the open decks.  He was there when the ship cast off and was towed into the River Test by tugboats, there for the near collision with USMS New York, there when Cherbourg appeared on the French coast and there when the ship set sail for Cobh in the dim light of an April evening.

All the while he grasped ticket 42795.  It had cost £7 11s, all his savings, but he was bound for Rochester and a new life in Detroit.  Of one thing he was certain, he was never going back.

… the memorial at Torrisdale Cemetery, Skerray, Tongue


George’s body was never found.

This imagined story is based on information kindly supplied by my friend and researcher Gillean Ford.  The details are gleaned from various sources including, (National Museums Northern Ireland), and РThird Class Life on the Titanic.

Orkney Light

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light”¬†– George Mackay Brown – 1921-1996

The Ring of Brodgar with incoming snow

Standing Stones of Stenness

.Across the Loch of Stenness

Across the Loch of Stenness

The Ring of Brodgar, one day later

Oil rigs on Scapa Flow

Skara Brae

The Orkney imagination is haunted by time – George Mackay Brown

Postcards from the edge

We have seen much weather this last 48 hours. ¬†The cold Arctic front has duly arrived, bringing snow to Netherbutton, Orkney. ¬†We are marooned, at least for the next few hours – there is much to be said for the Internet under such conditions. ¬†It makes you wonder how the Scandinavians manage to put up with it but, perhaps they don’t. ¬†The Finns have a word for it – Kaamos – drifting around with the browser, as you do on such days, I found this:

Thousands and thousands of Finns suffer from kaamos depression, or depressio hiemalis as the fancy Latin of doctors terms it. Depression, anxiety, exhaustion, restlessness ‚ÄĒ it‚Äôs all mostly because of the lack of light. How are you supposed to wake up and keep moving when it‚Äôs dark outside when you go to work, and dark again when you get out? It‚Äôs as if the cold colorless world outside settled into your bones ‚ÄĒ unfeeling, unmotivated, a dull ache, a hunger that can‚Äôt be satisfied, a sleepiness that can‚Äôt be shaken ‚ÄĒ all in all, not a nice thing at all.

This is just a small extract from an entertaining post at Masks of Eris.

… snow at Netherbutton, Orkney

… blockship at Churchill Barrier No. 3 – between Burray and Glimps Holm

… Netherbutton at the top of the hill – from the track down to the shore

… South Ronaldsay

… Longhouse at Dam of Hoxa, South Ronaldsay

… St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

… Roeberry, South Ronaldsay, Orkney

The cottages at Netherbutton overlook Scapa Flow, a body of water with a remarkable history. It might be expected that in peaceful times there would be little activity in this remote place but, far from it Рthere are currently two oil rigs in for maintenance, a supply ship and three tankers.  At night they light up like Christmas trees on dark waters.

Despite the harsh winters and the classic ingredients for kaamos, we have found everyone delightfully friendly and approachable РOrcadians are in the top ten of happiest people in the UK and enjoy the best quality of life of any rural area.  It was not always so, at least if you believe the serviceman who penned this while stationed here in the war:

Bloody Orkney
This bloody town’s a bloody cuss
No bloody trains, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody roads are bloody bad,
The bloody folks are bloody mad,
They’d make the brightest bloody sad,
In bloody Orkney.

All bloody clouds, and bloody rains,
No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains,
The Council’s got no bloody brains,
In bloody Orkney.

Everything’s so bloody dear,
A bloody bob, for bloody beer,
And is it good? – no bloody fear,
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody ‘flicks’ are bloody old,
The bloody seats are bloody cold,
You can’t get in for bloody gold
In bloody Orkney.

The bloody dances make you smile,
The bloody band is bloody vile,
It only cramps your bloody style,
In bloody Orkney.

No bloody sport, no bloody games,
No bloody fun, the bloody dames
Won’t even give their bloody names
In bloody Orkney.

Best bloody place is bloody bed,
With bloody ice on bloody head,
You might as well be bloody dead,
In bloody Orkney.

Don’t believe a word of it, it’s a great place which can only get better once it stops snowing ūüôā

And as fer me,’ Sam said, ‘don’t fret.
The sky’s took a turn since this morning;
I think it’ll brighten up yet.

Three Ha’pence a Foot – Marriott Edgar

The Ferry House …

… a return to Ard Neakie. ¬†There are no ‘Keep Out’ signs nor are there indications of rights of way. ¬†We are in the homeland of ‘right to roam’. ¬†No signs would have stopped us, I have been hankering to get back here since I wrote the previous Ard Neakie¬†post in mid-March.

It is much as I remember except there is now no trace of the¬†quarry workers‚Äô lodgings.¬†The final approach sits between the shingle, north and south; the Ferry House a design in symmetry; the pier still solid where no boats call; the lime kilns with their cavernous openings sensibly fenced; the convenient limestone quarry, just a wheelbarrow’s walk from the kiln tops; the climb, higher still, such that¬†Portnancon can be seen across the loch – the departure point for the Heilam Ferry.

The skies are clear, the sun intermittently shines but there is a strong Arctic wind blowing in from the north. As we make to leave between the shingle shores, a gust of wind opens the front door to the Ferry House. It seems like an invitation, an invitation that we are too polite to refuse.  Alec Mackay has summoned us into his family home:

It is not the sound of the wind we hear blowing through the rafters and ill-fitting windows, it is the sound of distant voices.