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1st June 2004


A Vincent Black Shadow Abroad

Fifty years ago, a young man and his Black Shadow could do anything and go anywhere. Well, almost, as Denis from Essex discovered...

The year was 1953. It was while visiting a friend in Haringey, London that I saw the machine of my dreams in a local showroom. It was a 1000cc Vincent Black Shadow. At the time I owned a 500cc BSA. I was told by the dealer that if I could find 300 in a part exchange deal then the bike would be mine.

This was way beyond me but my grandmother, God rest her soul, proved to be my saviour.

With the purchase of the Vincent the world would be my oyster. Like so many other young lads of my generation who had completed their conscription service abroad, I had a yearning for the wide open spaces. In the Fifties it was a rare thing to holiday abroad. I contacted an army friend who lived in West London at the time and we decided to travel to the South of France to tour the Riviera.

The journey down was uneventful as we used the fast main roads to reach our destination. It gave me the opportunity to really open up the throttle.

After spending a week on this beautiful coast we decided to avoid the main roads going home and travel the B-roads and enjoy the better scenery.

Well, you wanted scenery...

Heading north on this particular road we began to climb steeply and ahead of us we saw the snowline appear. At the same time road began to narrow. This was not good news. Glancing at my petrol gauge, I realised there would be no turning back. We had almost reached the highest point when, turning a sharp bend, to our horror we saw that the entire road was covered in a blanket of snow which descended into the valley below.

There was no way we could go on.

The Black Shadow had to be abandoned. We began to walk and by now we were extremely cold, tired and hungry. We trod carefully, keeping to what we assumed and hoped was the right path. A signpost informed us we were 20km from Barcellonette. So, after walking all night, we arrived in the early morning in this sleepy little village nestling in the French Alps.

The local police expressed their surprise at our arrival as apparently this particular road is snowbound for most of the year. It would be one full week before the snow gangs would be clearing the road. We just about had enough money to afford a cheap hotel -- and a French dictionary as obviously we hadn't planned for this.

When eventually we went up the mountain road with the snow gang I was thrilled that my dream machine started again with the minimum of fuss. We took leave of the friends we had made and travelled home considerably wiser.

The good news that it's downhill all the way from here...

Snowbound?


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