A road trip over mainland Europe is an essential requirement within my Chelsea and Fulham H.O.G chapter’s
Precious Metal Rockers © scheme as a qualifier towards our silver award. With European road trips off the table due to Covid19 the chapter kindly set up an alternative one-off national based challenge that could stand in place of a continental trip. The aim of the challenge was to visit a number of castles, light houses and lifeboat stations. Of course a challenge is a challenge and to achieve the qualifier a minimum of 6 locations and 500 miles had to be completed as a continuous journey. Ideally the start date had to be Saturday 22nd August and the whole trip had a 2 week window in which to be completed. As I’m still (thankfully) working through this crisis I had no option but to condense my ride into a single weekend.
NB: Apologies for the time-stamping on the photos but this was required as proof 😉
So I set off from London on Saturday morning….. I would have liked to write here that this was at the crack of dawn when even the birds had yet to sing, but in reality I’m just not a morning person so read this as more like 11 am after a leisurely breakfast. Also my route wasn’t planned as such – I simply loaded up the bike with a few overnight essentials and set off using Apple Maps to select my next destination once I’d reached the first.
My first stop was Guildford castle, build shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066 to secure an important route between London, the south coast and the west of England. Like most of the castles on my trip they were unfortunately closed to the public for obvious reasons. It looked like the trust were using lockdown as an opportunity to do some structural work.
Lunch was at The Mill, residing over the River Wey between Guildford and Farham. The Mill still has the wheel mechanism inside and during the late 18th Century was used to make the braiding on military uniforms. While I was there a single stormy cloud passed over and dramatically dumped its load!
The 12th Century Wolvesey Castle/Bishops Palace in Winchester was unfortunately a no go as access to the castle was again off limits. It’s also walled all around which seriously limited photo opportunities. The closest I could get was a brief glimpse though the gates at the Bishop of Winchester Office (itself a lovely building). As a consolation I took a nice shot of Winchester Cathedral.
Through the stunning tree tunnel of the Straight Mile in the New Forest National park (Hampshire). Yes I saw lots of ponies! At the National Park Visitor Center I bumped into a number of riders from the New Forrest H.O.G who mentioned that I was minutes from the Southampton Harley Dealer and should definitely pay a visit. This I did and big shout out to Paddy and Lloyd who made me feel very welcome, made me a much needed coffee and gave my bike a quick look over 🙂
My next stop killed two birds with one stone and took in New Point Lighthouse and Hurst Castle; an artillery fort built by Henry VIII in 1544 . This was as close as I could get by road but what a view. Very breezy and the bay seemed to be popular with kite surfers. My bike seemed to attract a fair bit of attention (mainly from BMW trailie riders) and all of it along the lines of despair at what the salt will do to my bike! Strangely none of them had heard of FS365.
A short trip along the coast east of Hurst Spit is the town of Highcliffe, home to the Gothic revival 19th Century Highcliffe Castle built by Charles Stuart, 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay. The gardens were open and well worth a stroll round.
My next stop shows what happens when you blindly pick a castle on a navigation app and assume it will be trust owned. Well Longford castle isn’t and is in fact privately owned and the seat of William Pleydell-Bouverie, 9th Earl of Radnor. So all i got to see was a row of grounds cottages and a set of wrought iron gates 😦
A quick photo stop at Salisbury and its famous spired cathedral.
The A36 to Bath is a lovely road that passes through the Cranborne Chase ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and is even featured within the H.O.G. best routes of Europe map. Along the way yet another castle popped into existence as I was riding along: this one was Bath Lodge Castle built in the 19th century and is now a hotel overlooking the Longleat estates and safari park.
At this point I booked a hotel. There wasn’t much available (well at a reasonable price that is) so I broadened my search to just over the other side of the River Severn. Newport seemed ideal and this pretty much decided the next part of my journey. By this point the light had gone and my brief journey via the M4 over the Prince of Wales Bridge was in the dark 😦
Next morning the weather was a little gloomy but soon picked up. After the obligatory ‘I was here’ photo outside the hotel I rode through Newport along the River Usk. Having grown up in the North East of England I am very familiar with the Tees Transporter Bridge. Newport has its very own transporter bridge so I had to stop and pay it a visit. The bridge and its little visitor experience hut were both open. Apparently, although a similar size to the Tees bridge, Newport’s bridge incorporates tension cables as part of it’s structure. This makes it more delicate looking and it is consequently over 1000 tonnes less in weight. Delicate looking it may be but its been standing and operating since 1906!
Staying along the coastal B road (B4265) I next rode to Nash Point. Turing off the already narrow B-roads, the single track lane through Marcross seemed to me to be that kind of road that ends up as a muddy farmyard. It actually ends at a lovely clifftop site complete with parking, coffee shop and a spectacular footpath that takes you to the two lighthouses, the visitor experience (sadly closed) and the unique compressed air fog horns. The benches outside the cliff top cafe had a great view from which to enjoy a coffee. I did also have a bacon sandwich and almost lost it in the strong breeze while trying to take a photo. I caught the roll but missed the bag; this was grabbed by a dog being walked behind me. I’m sure it was not impressed when it found out the bag was empty!
Staying with the coast I aimed for Porthcrawl and it’s RNLI station, mini lighthouse and rocky beach complete with rock pools. The destination is popular with local bikers and my solitary bike was soon joined by lots of others. Being a biologist I couldn’t help but be drawn to the rock pools and soon found some interesting crustaceans to keep me amused.
I chose the scenic route through Brecon Beacons National Park. More of those ‘farmyard’ style roads complete with amused glances from those BMW trailies again! The Garwnant Visitor Center was a welcome stop for a much needed coffee and chocolate bar. There were some fantastic views of the surround forest and Llwyn-on reservoir. Also the work of a locally commissioned ‘chainsaw’ artist could be seen dotted around the center. The reservoir itself has a castle-like valve tower complete with slit windows and battlements – I’m choosing to count that as another castle on my tally 😉
Heading east out of Brecon Beacons park I arrived next at Abergavenny. The 11th Century Abergavenny castle tower is accessed via a narrow single tracked road that runs along the later 12th Century wall. So narrow in fact that to get both my bike and the tower in the same shot I had to more or less lie down underneath my bike!
I can can highly recommend the B4521 through Monmouthshire and into Herefordshire. Recently resurfaced, great bends and lovely scenery. My last castle was the 11th Century keep at Skenfrith. This castle was open so I was able to stretch my legs a bit as I explored the ruins. Together with nearby Grosmont and White Castle, Skenfrith formed the ‘Three Castles’ trio that defended the English-held region from the Welsh.
Just across the Welsh boarder and I soon came across a familier English icon in the village of Upton Bishop, Herefordshire. No longer connected to the phone network, the village had repurposed their red phone box as a library 🙂
With the light failing and work the next day it was time to head east back towards London. To stave off motorways as long a season possible I joined the A48 into Gloucester to cross over the River Severn at its source, before dropping back down and inevitably having to join the M4.
So to conclude, I managed to pack into 36 hours some 15 locations and cover 545 miles. Lots of photos, a few fridge magnets and a nice dusting a sea salt will hopefully have been sufficient to pass the challenge!