A Little Star of a Village in Wicklow.

Mrs Rambler and I visit Grangecon, with some friends. A little village with a big heart.

Grangecon is a little village with a big heart.

Wicklow is a great county for scenery and mountain walks just south of Dublin city. It’s top notch tooSONY DSC for scenic roads and tracks for motorcycle adventures. We discovered a gem of a village, with a population of about 200 recently when Mrs. Rambler booked us and friends into Moore’s oSONY DSCf Grangecon. Grangecon (Irish: Gráinseach Choinn / meaning Granary of the Hound), is just a couple of miles from Baltinglass. Moore’s is a traditional old time pub and grocery store and also a Tapas Restaurant with accommodation. It’s a very old business that’s been in the Moore family for generations. When we arrived we inspected our accommodation and it was two perfect  little offerings in the courtyard of the restaurant. They were quaintly painted up and sign written to be a post office and a shop. Both were equally well laid out inside with a double and single bed, en-suite bathroom and all the nice little touches that make the difference.

We ventured out on the street and the street was very busy. I don’t think we have seen so many sandwiches, currant buns and large vats of tea in one place for a very long time. There was a SONY DSCtractor run taking place and there was much excitement involved in the proceedings. I don’t know if tractor runs are a uniquely Irish thing but they seem to be very popular here. Young children in particular seemed to love it, some sporting their favourite tractor manufacturers peaked hats and overalls. There were people gathered around the sandwiches and tea emporium, which was a few tables set out close to one another on the street, with the ladies of the tea and sandwich committee making sure nobody was hungry. There were also some people blowing the froth of a few cold ones in the seating area outside the front of Moore’s. SONY DSCYes, I know it’s April in Ireland but it was a warm day and it looked comfortable there. We left Grangecon and headed off into the Wicklow hills for a walk out in the fresh mountain air to work up an appetite. The choice of places to visit is endless in Wicklow. Lugnaquilla, the highest peak in Leinster is not far away, Laragh,  Sally gap and Glendalough are a bit over the hill. Stately homes such as Russborough House and Avondale House are close. There are too many attractions to list. After a walk in the hills we paid a quick visit to Baltinglass.

When we got back to Grangecon, the party was in full swing. The intrepid tractor drivers and their groupies were ensconced in position, holding up the bar in Moore’s, discussing the merits SONY DSCof tractors, vintage and new. Horses, winners and losers at recent races were also a topic being mulled over. There was a great deal of discussion relating to mysterious farm equipment and tractor diff-locks, whatever they are. One guy was giving a full blown commentary on a race he had seen. He was holding his binoculars, which were actually two empty pint glasses, to his eyes, following the action on the track and informing his audience of the progress of the runners and riders. Another guy was pretending to be one of the more successful steeds and was galloping in front of the man with the binoculars. There was a man SONY DSC“playing the spoons” and we also spied an old metal drinks tray that we were told doubled as a bodhrán, a drum to beat. The make-shift band is apparently referred to as “Christy and the Quare Ones” in jest, or so we were told. A couple of girls were telling us of their mishaps that day. One had driven a truck containing horses to an event in a neighbouring county and on the way back had been told of a complaint of her driving. “Sure the size of the thing on them country roads”. Her friend told us of her mishap with a Honda 70 or 90. She had got a spin on it and managed to wheelie it into a garden hedge, with a passenger in tow, I think. Anyway, it was all exceptionally good humoured and everyone chatted away to us as if we were long time friends. Salt of the earth people who loved any excuse to get together and have a party and a chat with old friends or new.

The food we had in the Casa Tapas Restaurant was fantastic even if my companions didn’t share my conviction that we should get one of everything on the menu. It was probablySONY DSC a good thing because there was a lot of food, of the very tasty variety, in what was brought out to us. Calamari, pulled pork, sweet potato fries, chicken wings, patatas bravas and prawn dishes, to give you an idea of what we did sample. SONY DSCThe Desserts on offer were top class too. The breakfast the next morning was very tasty and there was plenty of it. I’d advise anyone who finds their mouth watering at the food, as well as the location, to book early. Apparently they are often booked out many weekends in advance. As well as the obvious reasons that I have described, the proximity of Rathsallagh, which is a popular golf  and wedding venue, means that it is not always available. If you get a booking and go there I think that you will find that Paul and Karen  are great hosts, and like me you will definitely want to pay compliments to the Chef.

Suzie in the sunshine.

When it’s sunny in Ireland you have to get your bike out. The V-Strom was a joy to ride today.

Weather in the high teens means bike time in Ireland.

Today was a beauty so I decided to take the V-Strom out for a spin. I haven’t being biking lately because I’ve had to take it easy recently after a quick pit-stop in hospital for an oil change and service. It was an over-due bit of maintenance on me, rather than the motorcycle for a change, but I am well on the road to recovery. It’s like when you get new tyres you’ll be told to take it handy until they’re worn in a little bit. In Ireland if you see that yellow thing up in the sky, well then it’s time to get out and about and enjoy it because it could be back to dampness again without too much of a delay. Not to worry, it’ll change again before you get a chance to get accustomed to the new weather situation.

I met up with my brother-in-law, Declan who wanted to knock the cob-webs off his Triumph AmericaIMG_0162, a cool little cruiser, that has been well behaved since a few incidents I described in an earlier post (http://wp.me/p7IHqF-wo). Yes, it’s the same Triumph America that I “push started” more times than I care to remember in France a few years ago. All is forgiven now and Declan and I met up and went out to enjoy the sunshine. 18ºC is a positive heatwave in April in Ireland and it was not to be wasted. Since I’m not fully back to fitness,  and Joan the Weather Lady on the national TV channel had advised of the possibility of sea fog near the coast, we decided to go to one of myIMG_0160 nearest and dearest destinations, the little inland city of Kilkenny. It didn’t disappoint. Thronged with other people out enjoying the sunshine, it is always a pleasure to visit. The castle is a complete gem and definitely not to be missed on a sunny day. Already Kilkenny is bursting at the seams with visitors and tours from overseas. Rather than making it feel overcrowded, it gives Kilkenny that cosmopolitan air to it. It makes you feel you are where it’s all happening, in a relaxed sort of way. People are strolling around enjoying what there is to see or just chilling in the beautiful castle gardens.

One of my favourite spots to visit in Kilkenny is Sullivan’s Brewing Company where they have DSC05369their own beer and their own wood-fired pizzas. Declan and I had a gorgeous pizza each and a pint of their award winning Maltings Red Ale, sitting in the sun-trap that is their beer and pizza garden. That’s the good life for sure. We enjoyed that little piece of heaven, sitting in the sunshine, but reality intrudes and before long it was time to go about our business. We walked up High Street and I showed Declan a motorcycle shop up beside Rothe House in one of the laneways off High Street. Brodericks is run by Enda Carrigan. Enda was busy with a customer so we just checked out his stock of motorcycles and as usual he had a nice selection of bikes to look at. Shortly after that we parted ways and when I got home I was satisfied that I had got a spin on the V-Strom and it was as enjoyable as expected. I have to be fully fit for my big European trip on Suzie in May and it won’t be long now until I have to get all my gear onto the V-Strom for the first time. Maybe a little practice run might help. You’d never know.

 

Adventure Biking to Laconia Bike Week.

Adventurous bikers travel to Laconia on every type of bike from just about every where.

Adventurous bikers come in many different guises.

Someone recently put up this post on a Facebook page I follow called “Adventure Bike Riders”:

This page is exactly what Facebook should be about!
I’m taken by how many people are on here from every walk of life and from every corner of the globe, all joined by one thing with 2 wheels.
No negativeness (usually) and all the nice comments and mutual respect, regardless of who we are or what we choose to ride.
It’s bloody marvellous isn’t it!
Keep it going folks, life is too short X

It’s fair comment in my opinion and it’s what motorcycling is all about. I am really looking forward to this year’s big trip in Europe. I will be taking the ferry from Ireland to Cherbourg in Northern France in about six weeks time and travelling down to the Alps, but enjoying everything in between. Last year I went to Boston and travelled up to Laconia Bike week in New Hampshire and the most important impression I took from it was how overwhelmingly friendly everyone was and how everyone respected their fellow bikers. It didn’t matter if you were into adventure style bikes or cruisers, everyone we met wanted to talk to us and ask where we came from. I saw KTMs and Africa Twins and 250cc scramblers on Weirs Beach Boulevard as well as lots of custom bikes and of course the big cruisers like Harley Davidson and Indians. We met people there from every State in America and from other countries as  well. One guy had ridden his big cruiser from Alaska to New Hampshire. The first part of his journey had been all snow and ice and poor driving conditions. It took him three weeks to get to Bike Week. He may not have been on a BMW GS1200, but that is adventure biking at it’s finest.

I was travelling with Matt, a friend of mine, riding a 2013 Harley Electra Glide I had hired at MOMS Motorcycles in Foxboro, and initially I had found it very heavy and unwieldy, especially as we were hitting some seriously challenging roads. I am not normally a cruiser rider and the roads we had been riding on would be really great for enduro or adventure style bikes, but not for the Lincoln Town Car, as I had christened the Harley. I have to acknowledge though that this bike was definitely growing on me. In fact it didn’t put a foot wrong, and even when the conditions became demanding, I was getting a kick out of leaning it into the corners and it behaved absolutely impeccably no matter what I or the roads threw at it. It had great weather protection and even when it rained, hardly a drop got by the big fairing.

One of the “must do” activities when you are at Laconia Bike Week is to visit Mount Washington and the Mount Washington State Park. It is the highest mountain in the North Eastern U.S. at 6,288 feet (1917 m.) and has a very erratic and dangerous climate. The highest wind speed ever recorded, other than in a cyclone, at 231 mph (372 km/h) makes this a place to be taken seriously if you want to make a bike trip. In fact there is a visitors centre on the way up on the Mount Washington Auto Road and when conditions are bad you are not permitted to go beyond the visitors centre. When we arrived up there we were disappointed to learn that the road to the summit was closed. It had snowed about three inches earlier with wind speed recorded at over 100 mph. The snow ploughs were out even though it was June, and it wasn’t going to be possible to ride to the top. The parking lot would usually be packed at this time but because the road was closed with temperatures at the summit between 15 and 34 Fahrenheit ( -9 to +1 Celsius), taking the wind chill into consideration, and winds too high, there were just a few visitors in the souvenir shop and the restaurant. Mount Washington would have to wait for my next visit. So we went and rode the “Kanc” which is another of the famous attractions for bikers in the Laconia area. The two major highways in the area go North/South and the Kancamagus highway, or Kancamagus Scenic Byway, connects these roads East to West. It is open most of the year, except for during really heavy snow, unlike some other roads in the area. It is a 32 mile or 52 km stretch through the White Mountains, connecting the towns of Lincoln and Conway, that is a favourite with bikers because it is a winding mountain road, that seems to go from one left hand to right hand sweeping bend, interspersed with hairpins and continuous inclines or declines. It you travel east from Lincoln, you enter the White Mountain National Forest following a branch of the Pemigewasset River, ascending until you reach the summit at Kancamagus Pass where there is a viewing point. bridgeThen you start down by the Swift river, all the while enjoying some great riding because of the sweeping bends which sometimes tighten into hairpins. Eventually the terrain begins to flatten until you find yourself on the Main Street in Conway. I cannot emphasise enough how beautiful this whole area is with fantastic viewing points to pull over, rest the weary bodies and enjoy the spectacular forest, mountain and valley views. Quaint small towns, river crossings with covered bridges and many other quintessentially American attractions abound.

Back at Weirs Bridge the highlight for me was Keith Sayers freestyle motocross show. There was a crowd of people watching the show of top class motorbike aerial acrobatics, where Keith Sayers, with Todd Potter and James Carter wowed the crowd, jumping from very steep ramps and doing amazing somersaults and other aerobatics. The show started off with one bike in the air, and culminated with all three bikes spinning through the air at the same time. Before we left we had a look at the fantastic custom bikes at the Infocus Mobile Audio Stand and let me tell you they were so impressive. These custom bikes have massive speakers built in behind the fairing and in the side boxes. The sound systems are integrated so seamlessly that they enhance the appearance of the bikes. I have included some images at the end so you can admire their work.

That was my visit to Laconia Bike Week and hopefully I will visit there again, maybe for the 100th Bike Week. Warmth and friendliness was a common theme throughout the whole visit. Everyone we met on the trip was so friendly and just a note to demonstrate that: on one occasion that we pulled over to enjoy the view of the White Mountains I had parked the Lincoln Town Car in a depression of the ground on a hill. Matt said he would give me a hand to push it backwards out of the depression (as I couldn’t go forward because of a big rock just in front of the front wheel). As he was just about to push, a guy stopped his truck, jumped out, and asked were we in trouble and did we need help. He was probably a biker as that is “the biker code”, but he may have been just a random passer-by. Either way it is indicative of the easy, friendly and helpful attitude we met as a constant on this trip. A great trip and I am looking forward to this year’s adventure in Europe.