A Bridge Too Far.

Something a little different to my usual mountain biking posts. I’ve been away for 6 days on an epic adventure on my 30 year old Vespa scooter. On day one we rode from Lancashire to Hull on the east coast, a distance of around 128 miles

Here we are at our meeting point a few miles from home and my scooter at home, ready to go. Things started off well and we got past the “Clitheroe Triangle”. It’s rather like the Bermuda Triangle but instead of killing ships it kills scooters. With that worry over we stopped for fuel at Harrogate. At our stop we had not one but two punctures so spare wheels had to be fitted. We then went on to York. Unfortunately Ming (I’ll use our nicknames. I just get called Kirky) didn’t make it. His clutch had given up so he rode pillion for the rest of the trip on Norman’s (who’s actual name is Steve) Vespa GTS 300, which is a modern automatic scooter. 11 scooters left out of the 12 which started and the drama wasn’t over. Beechy’s Vespa was cutting out. Fortunately Midge applied his 46 years of experience and found a wiring problem which was soon fixed.

We arrived at the port and called in a pub before going on board. It’s a massive ship with 12 decks.DSCF6756.JPG

We had a few welcome beers and an all you can eat meal in the restaurant. We certainly got our money’s worth! We watched a band perform and got to bed far too late at around 1.30 European time.

We landed in Holland in the morning with 105 miles to ride to Waterloo in Belgium. First though John had a rear wheel puncture. His tyres are tubeless so needed a plug to be inserted. It took a while. It seemed to take forever and we didn’t arrive until nearly 3pm. One of the problems with 12 people is that fuel stops take an age. Not only putting the petrol in tanks but the inevitable long conversations we have. Arriving in town we soon found our hotel. Kieron was using sat. nav. and it’s a lot easier than reading a map. It’s almost cheating.

We had planned to see the monument and museum before the evening but the beer called us. I like a beer but starting drinking at 3 o’clock is only ever going to mean one thing. We dined on burgers, which were good and found some nice bars. It was a good,  slightly drunken evening with a bit of singing. It sounds good when 12 men harmonise as well as we were doing though a video might give the lie to that statement! It was around this time that John got his new nickname of Johnny Mathis due to his enthusiastic crooning.

We visited the Waterloo monument and museum in the morning which commemorate the battle of 1815 when Napoleon was defeated. You’ll have heard about this in the well known song by ABBA.

The rotunda with a 360 degree painting of the battlefield in the round building to the left is very impressive. The mound has around 240 steps so is quite a climb but gives a fantastic view of the battle area. The area is about a square mile and cost the armies around 47,000 lives, 25,000 of which were French.

The next day we had 115 miles to ride but it ended at more like 130 miles, a long way at a maximum of 43 mph. There had been a change from flat to rolling country around the Brussels area along with a change of language from Flemish to French. As we reached the Ardennes the country became much hillier and more picturesque. Before reaching our overnight stop at Bastogne we had a mission to commemorate 61 Lancashire parachutists who died in the defence of the tiny village of Bure. We laid a wreath and held a minutes silence.

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The roads here were great, twisting and swooping through the scenery. It made a welcome change from the tedious highways.

We reached Bastogne and were delighted to find that our hotel was in Place de General McAuliffe, surrounded by bars and restaurants. Bastogne was one of the main points in the Battle of the Bulge fought in December 1944 to January 1945. It was a German counteroffensive which tried to split the allied advance. Hitler thought that this would allow him to sue for peace. The tactic failed after which the German defences crumbled. It did, however, cost 60,000 American lives, the most of any World War 2 battle. The Lancashire Paras we had paid tribute to had been sent to support what was mainly an American fight.

We went out to the town filled with optimism only to find that on a Monday Bastogne is basically closed. After a long search we found one hotel with a small bar. The owner was rather old. We bought so many bottles of beer that he’s probably now been able to retire on the proceeds. We were joined by a British couple and had some laughs with plenty of singing. Wonderwall by Oasis had become a particular favourite.

Our longest days riding was to follow from Bastogne to Nijmegen. First we visited Jack’s Wood or Bois Jaques where the US army fought from foxholes. At night the temperatures were as low as -28 celcius! Some perished just through the cold. We stopped at a Battle of the Bulge museum in La Gleize. An excellent choice except that it was closed on a Tuesday. We did get the chance to see the German Tiger tank parked outside. It had been bought from the Americans by a local for a bottle of cognac!

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I had a petrol leak on the way which took a while to fix. Then Midges scooter wouldn’t start and carried on running really rough, it did however improve after we got going again. On the country road Micky managed to run into a rain gutter on a very twisty section approaching the town of Vise. He stood no chance and fell off. Not too much damage. A scuffed knee and a little damage to the leg shield. Onwards we went, only arriving at the hotel at 8pm. Nijmegen is a very attractive city and the bars were open! Norman bought the first round and paid 30 Euros. Subsequent very similar rounds cost the rest of us 22 Euros. Norman was still enlightening us with the details of this fraud on the ferry going back home. The sooner we leave the European Union, the better, I think. Liverpool FC were playing Barcelona in the Champions League semi final. They were trailing 3-0 after the first leg in Spain but won 4-0 at home. Surely one of the best football matches ever. The celebrations went on long into the night and I didn’t feel too bright the next morning.

We were riding up to Arnhem to see the bridge which had been fought over but not won by British and Polish forces in September 1944. The aim had been to capture the major river crossings to end the war by Christmas but the plan failed due to a catalogue of communications and logistics failures and an underestimation of the remaining German strength. First though my petrol was still leaking. The pipe had become so old and hardened that we had to replace it, taking over an hour. On the bright side it allowed us time to recover from the night before.

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Above is the actual bridge in Arnhem that was fought over and used to film the movie “A Bridge Too Far”. We visited an excellent museum at Hartenstein. It was a hotel which had been used by the Germans as a headquarters. When the first airborne British troops landed the German general, Walter Model thought that it was just an attempt to kidnap him. He and his troops fled leaving food on the table from their last meal. General Roy Urquhart used the hotel as his headquarters for the next 9 days until the battle was lost and he was forced to retreat. Below is a Sherman tank at the museum which had been used by the British in the assault. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airborne_Museum_%27Hartenstein%27

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We also visited the cemetery at Oosterbeek with around 1750 allied graves.

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Onwards we went to the ferry with no more reliability problems. It was a massive relief to be back onboard. More singing and drinking followed, of course but we got to bed a little earlier due to chronic exhaustion. We split into different groups for the run home choosing different routes. King Bigot (a nickname I’ll not provide any explanation for) had a puncture 15 miles from home and got back by van. I got just over half way home and my scooter gave up. There was no spark. Probably not a massive problem but enough to mean that I had to be rescued by a recovery service. It really had been A Bridge Too Far. Roll on our trip in 2020. The dog, Freddie, was glad to see me.DSCF6805

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