Streeterville ScramblersThat Chicagoland Motorcycle Club

Irish Scramble

July 6, 2015
Royal Oak Hotel

Royal Oak Hotel in Welshpool

The Irish Scramble began unlike any other Scrambler trip.  Of course, the flight went as expected and we all arrived at our hotel, The Royal Oak, in Welshpool without incident. 

That evening and the next day held both pleasurable and disturbing elements for our group. 

It was later that day that our trip officially began with a private dinner that was better than any a restaurant could provide.  

Welshstock

Welshstock - Fantastic feast at the Howard farm

Thanks to the hospitality of Jason and Nil, this Scramblers group were treated to an al fresco dinner, in the field behind their 500 year old home, a former malthouse.  Martha Stewart, or maybe it should be Jaime Oliver, would have been proud.  Under a huge white tent, we sat on hay bales arranged at a table decorated with jars of beautiful flowers.  Down the middle of the table were slate roof tiles covered with charcuterie selections.  Nil’s delicious bread and a wine selection that Jason had obtained from the local wine shop were the beginnings of a fabulous meal that included the best salmon in the world.  We later learned that Nil’s sister is a chef and, together, they made an amazing team.  Before the evening was over, one of their friends, Simon, talked about his life as a mountain climber—very motivating and entertaining!  The memories linger of the warm welcome and the great conversation with new acquaintances.   Thank you, Jason and Nil!

The story of that first day would not be complete without mention of the van.  There are those of us who remember the van well—with discomfort, yes, but very well.  We were all staying at the Royal Oak, in Welshpool, a good 2-3 miles from the malthouse.  The bikes, or most of them, were still at the malthouse with the plan to pick them up the following morning as we began the ride.  This meant that we needed a way to get to the malthouse, and the van was it.  There was room for three in front and the rest of us were faced with riding in back.  In back, without seats, without light (that is, for most of the trip) and without windows.  It was a true test of balance and fortitude and we all passed!  We did get a sense, on a very small scale, of what it might be like to cross the border with a mule.

The next morning, we were eager to begin riding, so we headed back to the malthouse.  Jason and Nil have the best security system in the world.  Part of their property is bordered by a stream and the rest is bordered by a set of high speed rail tracks.  To access the house by the road, it is first necessary to stop, get out of the car or off the bike, access a railway phone to call and ask if it is okay to cross the tracks!  Only with an affirmative answer, are you allowed to manually open the gate and cross over the tracks to approach the house.  It took a while to get the bikes ready and head out, but the roads were great and Wales was beautiful!

Cat & Fiddle

Cat and Fiddle Inn - 200 year country pub and popular biker hangout near Macclesfield

The direct route to our next hotel, the Staden Grange, in Buxton, the heart of the Peak District, was fairly short.  So, in true Scrambler style, we all looked for routes that were a bit, or a lot, more circuitous and would get us warmed up.  Many of the roads were narrow and lined by stone walls and bushes, giving us a glimpse of the challenging riding that would be the norm on this trip.  David and Linda, John and Kathy, and Rit and Anna stopped at Bala in Gwynedd, where, according to Wikipedia, 78.5% of the population can speak Welsh fluently, with the highest percentage in the 5-9 age group.  A full afternoon of great riding, ending on the famous Cat and the Fiddle, led most of the group to Buxton.

Another group of riders, Barry and Ann, Derek and GB, and Howard and Sue also had a fabulous day of riding the beautiful roads of Wales.  Unfortunately, on one of the last curves of the day, Howard lost his bike, which landed over a stone wall, hung up in some barbed wire.  After checking on him, Ann headed further down the road to notify the Scramblers and to send help.  Derrek had a near miss accident in his zeal to assist, and fortunately was uninjured.  With the gracious assistance of passersby, Barry and Jason were able to get Howard’s bike out of field and into the van.  At the same time, Howard was on his way to Accident and Emergency in Buxton, and from there on to the hospital in Macclesfield, courtesy of Jason, where it was confirmed that he had a broken scapula.  Thank you, Jason!  It was the end of riding for Howard.

Set in six acres of farm, woodland, and gardens with Peak District views to all sides, Staden Grange is two miles from Buxton center.  The innkeeper, Alastair, was gracious to everyone in the group, but Howard was a special recipient of his attention and care.  After Sue and Jason headed to Manchester to turn in Sue’s bike and rent a car, and after the riding Scramblers took off down the road to Northumberland, and after Marge and John drove off in the van, Howard stayed back in the common room of the inn, totally pampered by Alastair.  Thanks, Alastair.

Elegant comfort awaited us at Slaley Hall in Hexham, Northumberland.  This country house golf resort was absolutely beautiful with an enormous brick paved entrance and rich, wood-paneled interior.  It is extremely remote, surrounded by forest and moorland.  One of the many amenities was a great bar for gathering and a large table for all of the Scramblers to enjoy dinner as a group.  Derek and GB shared the world’s biggest meat plate.  Argh, argh, argh.

The next day some set off for York and others went looking for Hadrian’s Wall.  Linda was one Scrambler who headed to York’s cathedral where she climbed 275 stairs!  She would later say that her thighs were very sore, not because of the stairs, but because of all the riding that had come before.  She and Ann also went to Durham where they saw all the sights:  a castle, another cathedral and Hadrian’s Wall.  Howard and Sue spend all morning looking for Hadrian’s Wall, even using the GPS to help in this search.  It’s a frustrating when most of the wall is no longer visible.  Riding motorcycles anywhere in Europe is enjoyable, because the car drivers move over and let you pass.  You can split lanes without incurring rancor and most roads, having been horse trails at some time and then paved, are much curvier. 

That day, the Scramblers traveled from Northumberland in northeast England to the Lake District, in the west of England.  Our lodgings for the night were at the Queens Hotel in Keswick, situated on the busy street that forms the center of the town and great for walking.  Built in 1825, the Queens Hotel had a spacious bar area, just off the lobby, which was a natural meeting place for our group.  Just down the street was a favorite landmark of ours, the John Young and Son antique store.  Impossible not to use it as a photo opportunity!  Kathy, Howard, and Sue made it to the Cumberland Pencil Museum with just enough time to persuade them to let us do a quick self-guided tour.  Home to the first pencil, the museum was more interesting than you would think.  One of our favorite displays described how pencils were used to send messages to soldiers in war camps during WWII.

Home to the longest and deepest lakes in England, Wastwater and Windemere, the Lake District has roads just made for riding.  David, Barry, Ann and Rit traveled around the lake and back to Keswick, enjoying the views in spite of the wet weather.  They ate lunch at the Giggling Goose in Ambleside and took advantage of Lake District hospitality.  The people there were very nice, even bringing towels for the sopping wet riders.  At one point in this area, David almost hit a pheasant that had flown in front of his bike.  This is definitely a region for a return visit.  Barry found it somewhat interesting that the country that invented the toilet, England, has toilets that hardly flush the first, second, or third time.  Interesting indeed.

Blackpool Football Club

Blackpool Football Club - The birthplace of soccer

So many memories are made on Scrambler trips!  The variety of interesting hotels is one source of these memories.  The next night, the Scramblers relaxed at the Blackpool FC (Football Club) Hotel in Blackpool, a six-minute walk from the Atlantic shore.  This hotel is actually part of the Blackpool FC complex and enjoys all of its amenities.  Modern and sleek, the dining room overlooks the soccer pitch; unfortunately, there was no game scheduled during our stay.  Following dinner, rumor has it that Jason, GB, and Derek met a beguiling young lady in a nearly establishment.  There was laughter and perhaps some embarrassment the following morning, while stories were being shared.  Most Scramblers got a fairly early start on the next leg of the trip.  Not David and Linda, though.  It seems that the hotel employees had to go in search of the key that would allow them to get their bike out of the garage area they’d used. 

Caernarfon Castle - King Edward I created what is surely one of the most impressive of Wales’s castles

Caernarfon Castle - King Edward I created what is surely one of the most impressive of Wales’s castles

Scramblers traveled several roads to the next stopping point in Snowdonia National Park in Llanberis.  Rit and Ann, and John and Marge took a detour to Liverpool to revel in everything to do with the Beatles.  Howard and Sue stopped off at a couple of castles, the first of the trip for them, in Caerfaenon and  Conwy.  Arriving in Snowdonia, we were surrounded by the rugged beauty that can only be seen in Wales.  Wales is exceptionally beautiful with real mountains, twisty roads and smoother pavement than Ireland.  Many visited the slate caverns.  Poor David and Linda took the tour with one other couple and a very smelly scout troop who’d been camping and hadn’t showered in days.   They followed this uncomfortable visit with a trip to the Italian Village of Portmeirion and a lovely dinner by the silver mine.

Our lodgings for two nights were at the Royal Victoria Hotel.  I think all of us can remember three things:  sitting outside on the picnic tables with a cold brew, how really hot it was, especially in our rooms (Seriously the only window and the only outlet for the fan was around the corner from the bed!), and the train ride up to Mt. Snowdon.  That train ride was beautiful, even though Mt. Snowden isn’t tall by U.S. standards, the view was breathtaking.  Upon reaching the summit, disappointment set in with the fog.  It ended up a quick turn-around trip for all of us.

Llanfairpg

Longest city name in Europe - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Along the way to the ferry, we all want to remember the town of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch, or, the second longest one-word name for a town in the world.  It means Church of St. Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and church of St. Tysilio with a red cave. Ask John Young, he will say the name for you.  Our time in Wales had come to an end and we made a quick, and wet, direct trip to Holyhead, where we would catch the ferry to Ireland.  Did I say ferry?  More like a cruise ship, really. 

Our first stopping point on the Emerald Isle was a two-night stay at the Hotel Kilkenny in Kilkenny. In Ireland the ground floor is called 1 not 0 as in Europe.  This is a castle town with a vibrant downtown area with music, pubs, castles, and restaurants.  There was a wedding at the hotel when we arrived and hen parties, or bachelorette parties, everywhere we went.  Kittlers Pub was a great place to stop for great Irish music!  On the non-traveling day, everyone did whatever they wanted.  Some rode down to the southern coast; others stopped at the Waterford store, attached to the factory, and shopped for the beautiful Irish crystal.  Ireland has houses and roads that are very similar to the US ones in size and and layout. 

Traveling from Kilkenny to the Ring of Kerry brought some more rain along the way.  Somewhere in this leg,  John and Kathy spilled the bike on one of the circles.  John was sore for a few days and Kathy tore her rainsuit—not a great place to have a ripped rainsuit.  (Roundabouts, in general, make for much more courteous and safe drivers as they must learn to merge smoothly, safely, and share the road with other traffic.) Many stopped at Blarney Castle and the Jameson Experience (Barry especially noted that he will enjoy some Jameson going forward).  Did the intake of Irish whiskey lead us to kiss the stone or was it the thrill of the trip?  Finally, everyone made it to the Gleneagle Hotel in Kerry, on the edge of the Ring of Kerry, a huge hotel with many, many, many bus tours.  Bus tours would be a big part of our experience for the trip along the west coast of Ireland.

Gap of Dunloe

Gap of Dunloe

The big draw in this area is the Ring of Kerry, but bikers need to get an early start and be prepared to deal with the thousands of tour buses on the tight curves and narrow roads.  The fog and rain were ubiquitous, but, by this point of the trip, one hardly noticed.  The highlight of the Ring of Kerry was the Gap of Dunloe, only reached through the Black Valley.  Some Scramblers sought out the Dingle Peninsula to the north, as a way of avoiding the buses.  Not sure that worked for them.  Apparently, Sherry Fitzgerald is the woman to see if you’re looking for property in Ireland.

As we moved north along the western coast of Ireland, more beauty awaited.  We took a ferry across a river on our way to the Cliffs of Mohr.  The lucky ones took a long ride through the Connemara National Park before or after reaching the crowds at the cliffs.  The area has many bogs and it was interesting to see how the peat bricks were harvested from the spongey ground.

Flannery’s Hotel in Galway was the next stop for the Scramblers.  In this area, there are three types of salmon fishing:  natural, farm-raised, and net-caught from the shoreline.  Some ventured into the center of town, but there was a lot going on there and it was crazy busy.  Galway is known for its music, which is kept alive in the many pubs in the area.  Ann stopped at a smokehouse and bought salmon for the group dinner yet to come.

Our time in Ireland was drawing to an end, but there was beauty yet to be seen.  We were bound for the Yeats Country Hotel in Sligo.  Kathy and Linda decided not to ride on the off-day, preferring to explore the area around Rosses Point.  An Irish woman named Edna, took them across the bay to an island.  They wandered and took in the sights, eating green M&M’s for lunch.  Others took off to see the rugged beauty of the Slieve League Mountains, which many feel were the highlight of the trip.  Absolutely gorgeous cliffs and some of the most challenging roads to get there.  Loved it!  All Scramblers returned to the Yeats for the customary group dinner.

Final Feast

Final Feast

We ended the trip as we began…dining al fresco.  The final meal was peasant-style on the porch of the Yeats Hotel.  Smoked mackerel, wine, cheese, salmon, and more.  Pictures were taken, stories told, and memories made.

The next day was a blast to Dublin in order to catch the ferry.  Those of us who got up extra early were able to squeeze in a tour of the Guinness factory before queueing up to board the boat.  Time was of the essence, as is usual at the end of a trip.  Sue and Howard headed straight to Manchester and the Bewley’s Hotel at the airport.  Those who were still riding had a much longer trip, making the mad dash from Holyhead to Welshpool.  They needed to exit the A5 because of a crash, and, as luck would have it, found one of the best roads of the trip, taking a detour at Betws-Y-Coed that was recommended by some bicyclists.  After leaving the bikes at the malthouse and saying good-bye to Jason and Nil, they loaded the van and finally reached the airport hotel about 11:00 p.m.  Sleeping on the plane the next day was no problem!

What a great trip!  Thank you to our fellow Scramblers for special memories with great friends.  We’ll be back!


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