As mentioned in the previous post, this year’s motorcycle adventures have included a trip to the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.  The initial incentive was to play wild golf on its one and only golf course, but the travel by motorcycle turned the journey into something special and memorable.  Some many days later, I have finally finished the video of the trip.

The Isle of Barra Golf Club has been built on rough and rocky terrain. It is not suitable for the plough and even less so the mower, instead, the course relies on grazing cattle who lack the necessary close-cutting skills of sheep. Unlike the ovine, the bovine are untidy eaters. They also take relief across the course, forcing the golfer to do similar. At least, when we played, they kept to the high ground where they surveyed our every move from atop Cnoc an Fhithich.

Would I honestly recommend going to Barra to play golf, maybe not. Instead, go to Barra for Barra, it is a wonderful destination with scenery as remarkable as anywhere else in the world … oh, and while you are there, don’t miss the opportunity to have a unique golfing experience.

The full golfing story will be told in the next edition of Golf Quarterly.

Another Baby Austin

In my unending quest to make connections with my past, I came across this magnificent machine at Mike Barry’s Motorcycle Museum, Scaleby, near Carlisle, Cumbria.  Any time I take a ride out for a chat with Mike is never wasted:

1931 Austin 7

The attraction of this vehicle is that it was probably manufactured around the same time as the one proudly displayed by my paternal grandparents and featured in an earlier post:

Mummy Daddy and Baby

My dad will have sat in a passenger seat very similar to this although, judging by his lack of interest in all things mechanical (an industrial chemist by profession), I doubt he spent much time looking under the bonnet:

Austin 7 – the interior

Austin 7 – the engine

Mike has attached the following to the windscreen:  This car has been donated to the museum by Dougie Hargreaves from Carlisle and I will restore it when time allows.  The engine has been rebuilt and running.  I have fitted a new windscreen and the lights and brakes are now working.  I have a new clutch to fit and then it will be roadworthy!  The car is an Austin 7 – 1931 – 750cc – three speed.

Among the documentation for the car is a 1940 Ration Book for the months of August, September and October 1940.  The coupons in this book authorise the furnishing and acquisition of the number of units of motor spirit specified on the coupons subject to the conditions appearing thereon.  The issue of the Ration Book does not guarantee the holder any minimum quantity of motor spirit and the book may be cancelled at any time without notice.  Any person furnishing or acquiring motor spirit otherwise than in accordance with the conditions on which these coupons are issued will be liable to prosecution … Private Walker, take note.

And for those wondering what else can be found in this ultimate man cave, an image of just part of Mike’s private collection:

Motorcycle Museum – part of the collection

Carter Bar

According to Wiki: Carter Bar forms a popular point for tourists to stop and take photographs on the Anglo-Scottish border. There are two marker stones on either side of the A68 for this purpose, the original stone created by local Borders stonemason, Edy Laub. Upper Redesdale, the Scottish Borders (including Tweeddale) and to the east, the Cheviot hills are all visible from Carter Bar. However, its altitude means snow is possible even in late spring and early autumn, and the Carter Bar pass can be subject to frequent snow-related closures during the winter.

Perhaps I should have read this before setting off on the Yamaha.  A hint of warmth in the air around Hexham convinced me this was just the day for a round trip to Scotland along the A68.  Everything was fine until Byrness village when the already biting wind chill bit harder, snow appeared in the verges and a persistent layer of ice was visible at the northern end of Catcleugh Reservoir.

By the time I had climbed the 418 metres (1,371 ft) to Carter Bar, the landscape was mostly white.  Fortunately, the roads remained clear and ice free.  Pulling into the viewpoint lay-by I was hoping to see The Borderer mobile snack bar but they had sensibly upped sticks for the winter.  There was nothing to do but extract the camera, take some quick shots, try to get some heat into my fingertips and head back south (I really do need heated grips).  Not the most comfortable ride but a thoroughly energising 77 miles.  Next task, wash off the salt and muck from the bike … and me:

The lay-by heading north

The A68 looking south into Northumberland

The lay-by heading south


I passed my driving test a long long time ago and in all the years since, I have stuck rigidly to four wheels on road and track, but things have changed.  I have a history of compulsive, serial ‘investment’ in fast cars but I have belatedly realised the possibilities of acquiring even quicker exotic machinery at a fraction of the cost; the road to complete ruin can be delayed by taking to two wheels.  After a one hour introductory motorcycle session I returned to complete the full eight hour Compulsory Basic Training and now I can be let loose on the Queen’s Highway – Toad like, I have my sights set on the far horizon and the freedom of the Open Road.  I blame my maternal grandfather Fred, it is in the blood.

This is an almost unique picture from our family history because it shows Fred and May posing together.  There is a ring on Fred’s third finger left hand, so I guess this was taken after their wedding but before my mother was born, which places them roughly in the year 1922. It is conceivable that my mother, born in 1923, has already started her journey into life; it is certain that I am directly connected to this picture by a string of entirely random and unpredictable events.

Perhaps a Sunday morning, they have all thought about the day and dressed for the occasion.  Fred is standing on the far right looking unusually dapper with tie and evidently fashionable, too short trousers.  A cigarette in hand but not May’s hand in his, she is inclining towards her slightly mad brother Charlie.  May’s mother, the lovely Emily, stands next to Charlie and her father, William, sits nervously upright in the side car.  Flat capped and woollen gloved against the bare trees and cold winter light, another of May’s brothers sits astride the motorcycle, either Albert or Frederick.  It is reasonable to assume that the absent brother is taking the picture, the slightly low angle being a symptom of the view camera where the image is inspected for focus on a ground glass screen from above.  It could be the same camera that Fred was holding in the picture at the Sphinx (see earlier post – July 23rd 2012), considerately brought along for the day; he is still trying to impress the in-laws. There they stand, forever trapped in time, carrying memories and experiences up to this Sunday morning, blissfully unaware of personal and world events which will shape their future and their ends.

There is no family story about how Fred and May met so allow me to make some wild assumptions.  Fred had a passion for any motorised vehicle and was known to compete in motorcycle trials, so is the bike the connection?  Did Fred know the brothers before he met May, was he ultimately entrapped by a faulty carburettor or a dodgy clutch – can you pop over at the weekend and have a look Fred?  Was this how May got her man and eventually conceived her only child, my mother.  She did well; eligible men were in short supply in the bleak years following the Great War.  Did she stop with that one child, mission accomplished.  I can almost hear her words: “We will have no more of that nonsense Fred“.

Perhaps that is it, I owe my existence to a motorcycle and my motorised obsessions to Fred, who with the Territorial Army, then the Royal Flying Corps, travelled the world with a passion for machines.  He drove cars, lorries, buses, ambulances, fire engines, no doubt took to the air in the RFC even as a mechanic and of course he rode motorcycles.

Brian Fagan writing in Beyond the Blue Horizon finds his best explanation for compulsive voyages of discovery in the old Viking term aefintyrrestless curiosity.  A simple short word it seems to explain everything about Fred and my own erratic journey through life, including my latest diversion, climbing on a motorcycle.

I would welcome any suggestions regarding the make and model of the motorbike and sidecar in the picture.