1970 - First time on two wheels

This trip was a re-run of the previous year but undertaken on a motorbike instead of in Andys van. I bought a brand new 1970 Yamaha YDS6 250cc bike in April and we probably went some time in July or August. My best friend from school, Stuart (Jack) Holding, went along as pillion.

I had actually wanted the older model YDS5 but none could be had new.

Luggage provisions were primitive. Our stuff was wrapped in a large groundsheet and tied onto a back rack with washing line. It gave us plenty of problems the whole trip because the rope had no stretch and kept coming loose.


True to form we wanted to get as much time away as possible so left London on a Friday afternoon and took the cross channel ferry probably from Dover to Calais. The idea was always to drive through the night and it was such a big thrill for a northern European to see the dawn break somewhere in the middle to south of France with a colorful landscape, different sights, smells and sounds and best of all, warm.


My choice of clothing was also naive and I decided to wear my one piece unlined leather suit and I remember suffering from the cold that first night. Cruising speed two up was about 60 mph and we could get about 60 mpg at that speed. At a pinch, we could probably hit 80 mph on the flat and a little faster downhill. The brakes and suspension were definitely not up to the weight.

The bike also had a single spotlight on a home made crash bar and a klaxon hooter on the other side. I remember the brakes fading badly as we descended some steep hills the next day.

We continued riding all the next day in the warmth and probably ended up somewhere in the Pyrenean foothills


Food and accommodation are not in my memory at this time. It is possible that we took some food with us and we had Stuart ' s tent. This was a totally old fashioned thing with no fly sheet, no ground sheet and no zip door. It was the reason I bought my long lasting Vango tent the following year, which became a staple for all our trips. We definitely could not afford hotels and could barely afford campsites.


Our plan was to follow the coast of Spain from the Costa Brava in the north right down to Algeciras in the south. We drove by night after the sun had gone down and slept at the side of the road or in a field from when we got totally exhausted until the sun came up and made us too warm. We then drove until we found a suitable beach and sun bathed and slept until it was time to move on again. Coffee, coca - cola, sandwiches and chips would have been our diet.


There were several memorable moments driving into a dawn and coming down from a Spanish sierra into a misty town on a plain, still quiet from the night. I also remember putting on my unlined leathers over a sunburned body, a painful experience.


The drive along the coast was incredibly tough with a lot of hills and winding roads and quite slow going. We used the AA five star travel service, which provided us with maps and a printed itinerary for the trip. It was all in a bright yellow vinyl binder.


We made it to Algeciras and got the ferry to Ceuta in Spanish Morocco. There was a big thing going on about hippies at the time and long haired tourists were being turned away at the Moroccan border. I preferred very short hair at the time so had my crash helmet off but Stuart had long hair so kept his on to get through. We stayed in the Miramonte campsite in Tangier as I had the previous year with Andy.


I remember the smells of Morocco being quite different from Spain because people commonly cooked with charcoal. We explored Tangier quite thoroughly in our short time there but again spent most of the time sunbathing. I bought a stinky sheepskin as a souvenir. Souvenirs and post cards were a big deal so you could have plenty of bragging rights once you got home. Photos became very important as well except I only had a very cheap Kodak Instamatic camera. Some of the more memorable photos from this trip such as the bike overloaded are missing.


The downside of this trip was that I had my glasses stolen on the beach. We tried to get a spare pair sent to the campsite but eventually had to drive back without them. Stuart had brought a spare pair and could see better than me anyway so I ended up taping both his pairs together.


The journey back sent us through the middle of Spain, which I remember as hot, dry and lots of ants. One night we camped in a field in the Jumilla or Val de Penas wine district. Stuart went off to get milk and wine in the local town but dropped the milk on the way back. We camped on top of a rubbish dump outside Biaritz and in France finally got caught in rain. Some people photographed us from the back of a van and we photographed them back. Eventually, back in the ferry port of Boulogne I managed to drive up a railway track into a station, thinking it was tram tracks in the road. Luckily, we were able to turn round before a train came.


On the way back to London we stopped in a transport cafe for a rest. Our chain was making a noise and we asked a local rocker for advice , really just wanting to say that we had been to Morocco and back in two weeks on a much derided Japanese motorbike.

I remember talking to Stuart in the campsite in Tangier discussing the next year s trip. We decided upon two motorcycles, two girls as pillion and some music to listen to but not where to go.


See Corfu 1971.

John Clarke

February 18, 2007




After recovering from the trauma of the precious winter van trip John and I started planning a two wheel trip for the summer of 1970. As a student, money hadn't allowed me an upgrade from my previous Lambretta scooter but John had just bought a new 250cc Yamaha YDS6 and this promised many miles of trouble free riding. We started looking at a biking and camping trip through France and Spain to Tangier in Morocco... We even had a camera loaded with new fangled colour film!




















I can't quite remember where this photograph was taken but I think it was in a Spanish campsite during the outward leg. The big tent behind the bike was someone else's. Ours is the small green one two photographs down!


After a childhood spent in various parts of the UK the summer heat of southern Europe came as a shock. I'd never experienced this before and soon after we arrived at a campsite in Tarragona (50miles south of Barcelona) I went down with mild heatstroke caused by dehydration.


These days oral rehydration treatment is an almost instant fix for this but then neither of us had ever heard of this and with just water alone it took nearly two days of keeping out of the sun before I felt well enough to climb back onto the bike. A lesson learnt.
























The route



Looking at things now from the other end of the telescope I can appreciate how other family members felt when we disappeared over the horizon, not knowing whether they'd ever see us again.


If it was bad for our families, who at least had some appreciation of our competence, how much more difficult must it have been for the parents of the various female pillion passengers that appear over the following years who hardly knew us at all. To them a belated but heartfelt thanks for trusting us. At least we all made it back safely even if the relationships frequently didn't.

Southern Spain in 1970 was a considerably poorer area than it is now and it came as quite a shock to see people living in hobbit style caves dug into hillsides south of Granada. I recently recounted this observation to someone to be told that these dwellings are now highly sought after and expensive!


More culture shock followed our entry into Morocco. During a stopover in Tetouan we visited a local cinema showing one of the Godzilla movies dubbed into French. Every time the monster appeared on the screen a barrage of cans and bottles erupted from the audience and during the periods without the monster nobody had any interest in the film.


We were trying to reach Camping Miramonte in Tangier, a campsite John knew about. Finding it wasn't easy though. The response to asking anyone for directions was an attempt to sell us drugs, something that has not changed in the area up to my last visit a few years ago. The photograph on the left is the view from the balcony of the restaurant at the campsite.


Venturing into the centre of Tangier on foot from the campsite left us wide open to attention from the touts and hustlers and the next few days were quite stressful. Eventually though they recognise you and leave you alone.



A quick ferry trip to Boulogne and we were heading south, trying to avoid Paris. Our map-on-the-floor planning had broken the route down into 70 - 80 miles sections and we had some route planning guides from the AA - spiral bound A5 size books detailing main routes in France and Spain. For eurotouring virgins these were really helpful but they must have been really expensive to keep up to date. They were progressively cheapened during the rest of the decade and then withdrawn. A pity, as I used them extensively. Surprisingly, I can't find any reference to them on the AA website or even find them secondhand on ebay.




































This picture is of me sitting on the low wall in the campsite writing a postcard home. No email etc in those days, just the post or bankruptingly expensive phone calls.


In recent years when my own son has started travelling independantly we're fortunate to be able to keep in touch by phone, text, email, blog (or even by postcard!) etc but then an occasional postcard was about as much as friends / family could expect to receive once they'd waved you off. Sending them could be difficult at times though. Even if you could correctly identify the postbox and not put the cards in a rubbish bin by mistake, the service could be so slow that you'd beat the cards back. At least their eventual arrival was proof that we'd tried.


















Just to prove how selective memories can be I asked John if he could write up the trip as well. Below is how he remembers it.







 They start them young in Tangier. Being constantly hustled just seems like part of the charm of Morocco when I'm at home in the UK but a pain in the backside when you're there.


On subsequent visits to the area I've bowed to the inevitable and hired one hustler to keep the others away. It does work but you have to be aware of their commission driven agenda - visits to "uncle's" carpet shop, "brother's" restaurent etc. "Just to look" you understand!


It can be enjoyable if you don't take it too seriously or it can seem threatening and overwhelming and have you heading for the boat to Spain as fast as possible. At least the apprentice hustlers in the photograph were't too threatening but constant demands for money or "cadeaux" can be wearing. John doesn't look too happy with them!


Strangely, just about every guide I've met in Morocco has told me of his time living in the UK - usually it's been somewhere near where I live. I never see any of them over here though!





































My first sight of a traditional waterseller. It took a while before the penny dropped and I worked out what he was selling, mainly because we were surviving on Coca Cola and hadn't much need of water. ( Coca Cola were the first arabic words I ever learnt to read.)


We never did risk buying water from him or any of his competitors although it seems from the photograph that others weren't so reticent. His water container reminded me of a set of bagpipes but in reality it was probably some part of a sheep's interior.


Bottled water from a fridge is more readily available these days but it does lack a certain "exploring for the empire" romantic nostalgia that you get with the waterseller. On the up side though they also lack most of the bacteria and other micro-organisms that makes buying in the street such a chancy proposition.























Not much of a picture, but one day while we were wandering around Tangier we came across this wedding party musically celebrating the newlyweds. I had no idea whether this was normal practice (still don't for that matter) but it looked exotic enough to justify a photo. We were however too embarassed to take it from the front!








































The first time I'd ever seen camels outside of a zoo! Of course I knew that everyone used them in the desert and compared to Essex the Tangiers area looked like the desert but even so I was amazed to see these two at the side of the road as we were leaving on the return leg.


This was really exotic - the sort of thing we'd come to Morocco to see so we stopped to take a picture. The owner however sensed an opportunity and demanded money to allow us to take the photo. We probably had less than he did so refused and rode off. However we turned round 100yds down the road and took the picture while we were riding back past.


Within seconds we were under siege from a barage of stones thrown by the enraged owner. Fortunately they all missed.
























A day relaxing on the beach near Tangier had potentially serious consequences when John had his glasses stolen.


After spending an hour or so trying to report the theft to the police with a combination of half a dozen words of French (and this after five years each of French at school) and coordinated mime we had to work out what we were going to do. I could ride the bike but wasn't insured. John was legal but couldn't see properly. Eventually we worked out that taping both of my pairs of glasses together got us close enough to John's prescription for him to feel happy.


We rode the 2000 miles back to the UK like this.



















In total the trip was around 4500 miles over two weeks. We were doing around 350 - 400 miles each day, mostly on single carriageway roads.

We had no mechanical problems with the bike and apart from the glasses incident only had to contend with heatstroke, sunburn and "intestinal problems" !


Total cost was a little over 22.00 each - yes, twenty two pounds! Even allowing for inflation that's still not a lot of money but it probably explains why we spent nights sleeping on rubbish tips, lulled to sleep by the sound of rats scratching at the tent walls.



These days bike touring is common enough that nobody gives you a second glance but in 1970 we were a rare sight.


Riding back through France we were surprised to see the back door of the van in front swing open and someone start photographing us. It continued long enough for us to be able to find our camera and take this picture.