7th December 2007
Paul Wood takes a pair of classic motorcycles on tour, and discovers Belgium and beyond by BSA Bantam...
Our plans were completed earlier in the year. We would be touring the Ardennes, partly in Belgium, Luxembourg, and partly in Germany on my 1956 250cc BSA. I was travelling with Charlie; we'd been friends for years. Charlie had owned most makes of motorcycles but he loved his BMWs, so this time he was planning to go on his 1960's BMW R60. The date set for our departure was October 2007, so we sat back and waited, getting quite excited as the day got nearer.
However, the best laid plans can come to an abrupt end, as I was to find out two weeks before departure. My friend Charlie had a massive heart attack, and never made it to the local NHS workshops!
I was in a quandary. For reasons of hotel and ferry bookings, I had to make a decision quickly. I believed Charlie would have wanted me to continue and go ahead so I rang another friend, Brian, who I met in the GPO 50 years ago. Yes -- he would come with me but wanted to ride his lightweight 100cc Kawasaki. I could change my bike to one of my restored, ex-Telegram Boy's BSA Bantams of 175cc. We both thought that near on 300 miles on European trunk roads was asking too much of ourselves and these classic bikes. So WUE, my Morris Minor GPO mail van was 'volunteered'. Plan B fell into place…
The ferry company, Norfolk Lines, could not have been more sympathetic and under-standing; two bikes were soon changed to a Morris Minor van towing a motorcycle trailer.
I must admit my ignorance about Luxembourg. To a dinosaur like myself, Luxembourg represented the first commercial radio station broadcasting on the medium wave band on 208 metres, where us teenagers could listen to pop music. I never knew about the small but beautiful country which surrounds Luxembourg City.
Our destination was the most beautiful village of Vianden. We had our route but a newly-purchased Tom-Tom SatNav backed up our human attempts. We left London at 5am and by 11am French time we were on the E42 heading towards Lille -- where we soon learned about the French a terrible road surfaces…
Fortunately as it was Sunday the French and Belgian trunk roads were virtually empty of HGVs, as only trucks carrying perishables are allowed on them at the weekend. Further down into Belgium the roads became virtually traffic-free. After Namur the road to Bastogne started undulating. Halfway down a steep descent I could give it some throttle which carried me over the top of the next ascent, still in top gear. This went for kilometre after kilometre.
You may have read of Bastogne, the town that was surrounded by the German Army at Christmas 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. The Commanding Officer of the US Paratroopers defending the town replied to the Germans' request for him to surrender rather rudely…
From Bastogne onwards you enter the Ardennes countryside, true Battle of the Bulge country. Without harping on about WW2, and one does wonder how the armies of 1944 could get armour and equipment through dense forests and across so many rivers!
We were booked into the Hotel Oranienburg run and owned by the Hoffman family, worth a visit if you have the chance to stay. The 'Battle of the Bulge' will take on a new meaning, with four courses for the evening meal capped by five courses on our last night's stay.
Next morning all 31 riders were up for an early continental breakfast. Stepping outside we were confronted with the Luxembourg chilly but sunny morning. Soon I discovered that my Bantam was reluctant to start. My particular grade of two-stroke oil did not mix well with the Luxembourg petrol. You can't fill cans at petrol stations here (perhaps because petrol is only 60p a litre and this stops folk coming over from neighbouring countries to take home full jerry cans), but it prevented me mixing the oil and petrol together outside the bike's tank.
That day I met up with RC reader, Campbell Thomson, a native Scot who now lives in Luxembourg City. It was a pleasure to meet Campbell that evening and enjoy his bottle of wine. Thanks Campbell.
The next day was my favourite. We tried to sort the starting problems on the Bantam -- she ran beautifully but there was always that initial question mark over the engine bursting into life. Our destination that morning was just over the border into a German-speaking district of Belgium. It was a lovely sunny day but even in early afternoon the frost still laid on the ground under the fir trees. The Bantam ran like a dream. Brian's Kawasaki and my BSA were soon competing along the billiard-table smooth country roads.
However, at the fuel stop my Bantam came to a halt and we were unable to re-start her. I don't think Luxembourg authorities would have approved of a Kawasaki KC100 towing a BSA Bantam up the hilly main High Street - but approved or not, we completed the trip!
The last evening meal at the Hotel Oranienburg was a glutton's heaven; five courses of tummy-filling food. We had taken the opportunity to load our 2 bikes, before we tucked in, and it was just as well because we couldn't have moved after.
The next morning we said our sad goodbyes to beautiful Vianden; it had come around far too soon our departure. We all made it safely to Dunkirk, then we had a 1940-type experience; the French had laid down a new road system to the port but had not changed the road signs! Then we had to kick our heels for two hours at the port to fit the Moggie on a ferry. But that gave time for the ferry crew to take some photos of the van! A Morris LCV can be such a show off…
Thanks from Paul Wood and Brian Giles to organiser Alan Abrahams for a thoroughly enjoyable adventure
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