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12th October 2011

A Velocette Adventure
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You don't need a modern motorcycle to travel big distances. Ian Jones take the Long Way Round (the UK) on a 1958 Velo Venom...

So why am I here at 7am on 8th September 2011, getting my bike gear on, with the Velo Venom well loaded with top box and panniers? Good question, especially as the weather forecast for the next few days is not too good. We've already put off the start day by two days because of winds and rain. But today is the start of something I've been planning for around a year.

I retired in June 2011 and wanted to mark the occasion by doing something out of the ordinary (for me anyway). First thought was to do a Land's End / John o'Groats run on the Venom but when I looked at routes it meant either doing the same roads going North and South, or taking what seemed to be artificial routes. Then visiting the farthest North, South, East and West points on the British mainland came to mind. From where I live in Cumbria I decided to go clockwise, so Ardnamurchan Point, Dunnet Head, Lowestoft Ness and The Lizard. Then decided to add in John o'Groats and Land's End because they aren't far off the route.

Destination points fixed - now the route. This needed to be a compromise between attractive, good motorcycling roads and getting there in a reasonable time. Eventually I came up with a route of A- and B-roads but using the motorway to get around Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester. It came to 2200 miles in total and by using Google maps this was split into daily rides of between 4 and 6 hours.

  • Day 1: Beckermet to Balachulish - 242 miles
  • Day 2: Balachulish to Drunadrochit via Ardnamurchan Point - 176 miles
  • Day 3: Drunadrochit to Wick via Dunnet Head and John o'Groats - 169 miles
  • Day 4: Wick to Pitlochry - 187 miles
  • Day 5: Pitlochry to Corbridge - 180 miles
  • Day 6: Corbridge to Lincoln - 165 miles
  • Day 7: Lincoln to Bury St Edmonds via Lowestoft Ness - 192 miles
  • Day 8: Bury St Edmonds to Radnage - 98 miles
  • Day 9: Day off staying with a friend in Radnage - chance for some maintenance
  • Day 10: Radnage to Tavistock - 199 miles
  • Day 11: Tavistock to Bodmin via Lizard and Land's End - 173 miles
  • Day 12: Bodmin to Leominster - 207 miles
  • Day 13: Leominster to Beckermet - 212 miles

    Don't they look so young and innocent... Ian (left) and Brian about to set off.

    We decided only to book accommodation a day in advance just in case of problems. This allowed us to stay in Pitlochry for two nights to allow the tail-end of Hurricane Katya to blow through. If all the accommodation had been pre-booked we would have felt under more pressure to ride through the wind which I think would have been a mistake. The wind made the ride to Corbridge the following day probably the least pleasurable of all the days, and the wind had died down considerably by then.

    Now he can't even face the camera... Slightly damp on the Corran Ferry

    We had a couple of B&B numbers in each area, mostly from one of the many 'motorcycle friendly accommodation' websites, and rang ahead each evening so we knew exactly where we were aiming for when we set off each day. We were surprised by just how many B&B were booked up considering it was late September.

    Are we having fun yet?... A very wet Ardnamurchan - farthest West
    Velocettes on Right Now......

    When planning first started I was intending to do the run alone, but Brian, a friend of 30 years, said he would like to come along - an offer I readily accepted. The combination of a 1958 Venom which I've had for a while and have confidence in; a 1979 Bonneville which was more of an unknown quantity, Brian having only bought it earlier in the year, and two riders without any real experience of riding for more than a day at a time was perhaps not the best recipe for success, but it was what we had.

    Note the lack of blue skies in these pictures... Not the end of our journey - not even half way

    Bearing in mind the likelihood of some sort of problem we packed the usual spares; cables, generator belt for the Venom, CB points, tubes, odd nuts/bolts, wire, cable ties etc. We needed none of them! Neither bike missed a beat for the 2232 miles we covered. The only problems were the loss of a pannier lid (never found!) from the Bonneville, the Bonneville having a failed indicator bulb, the Venom having a loose but not leaking petrol connection and finding five spokes broken in the Venom's rear wheel in Lincoln. This could easily have been the end of the run but it simply showed how helpful people can be.

    Are we there yet?... Farthest North - spot the lighthouse in the murk

    Mick, the owner of the Loudor Hotel in Lincoln, took me to Wrightway Motorcycles who couldn't themselves help but knew a man who could. They contacted Colin East for help. Somewhat miraculously, he had the spokes in stock. Mick took my wheel to Colin who rebuilt it and delivered it back to the hotel in time for us to continue on the run on the same day. None of these people needed to help but they did and for that they have my thanks.

    Hold this picture up to your ear and you'll hear the sea... Farthest East - note the bungee cord restraining the remaining pannier lid

    Other memories of the trip? The road to Ardnamurchan Point being closed for 30 minute periods while tarmac was tipped and rolled (and newly laid tarmac being peeled off my front tyre by the mudguard as I dug a trench); herds of cows and flocks of sheep; wind when crossing the Erskine, Kincardine, Humber and Severn Bridges; the Australian tourist asking what the speed limit was in Glen Coe (he'd been passed at speed by several bikes); the traffic policeman looking for bin-liners to replace a pannier lid; rain on all but two of the days; hot toddies from the B&B owner in Drumnadrochit (I think he was seriously concerned about how cold we were); seeing a rotary Norton ridden by someone with a large beard coming the other way near Okehampton (readers of RealClassic will recognise the description!); a bit of disappointment that the weather hid a lot of spectacular scenery, but overall enjoyment and a sense of achievement.

    Just step back a bit. A bit further. One more step... Slightly worried looking at the farthest South

    The statistics: 2232 miles covered. The Venom returned 58mpg; the Bonneville was around 5% more economical. The Venom used just over a pint of oil; the Bonneville just over 2 pints. The cheapest fuel was 1.33/litre the dearest 1.55/litre.

    Ian and Brian risk sunburn after removing their helmets. Not... All points complete - just got to get home now.

    Would I do the same again? Not the same route, but another long ride in the future - definitely.

    Are we there yet? Yes!... Back home 2232 miles later.


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