1973 - Blue Remembered Hills

As mentioned earlier, the Triumph Trident was a dog from the very beginning. I picked it up from Pride and Clarke's from where I had bought the Yamaha and problems started right away. On the way home the bike overheated and the clutch juddered badly. Worse was to come when I got home and did a more thorough inspection. Parts were miss aligned or fitted badly all over the bike. It was indicative of the poor quality workmanship and work ethic of the unions at the time. To cut a long story short the bike went back to the Triumph factory at Meriden for repair and immediately got caught up in the prolonged strike. I was unable to get it back in time for the trip to Corfu so Pride and Clarke were obligated to give me a loaner.


Despite my pleadings for a Honda, I was given a two year old, oil in the frame Triumph 650 Bonneville. My Craven panniers for the Trident were hastily fitted and the bike was, at least on the surface, ready for the trip. Stuart was due to accompany me with his new Yamaha XS-2 650 twin and new girlfriend, Sally. Corfu was our intended destination but this time we were going to use the inland route through Yugoslavia. We decided upon a Saturday morning start in respect for the girls not having to ride pillion through the night.


I picked up my friend Selma (who had never been on a motorbike before) and spent some time trying to talk her out of wearing a long Afghan coat to no avail. Her luggage was strapped on and we set off. In my opinion, the ride through Belgium and Germany that day was not too bad but that night, when we set up tent Selma said she had had enough and wanted to go home. I was devastated and my plans for a romantic two weeks on Corfu were shattered. I took her to Munich airport and off she went.


Worse was to come later that day when Stuart discovered that he had lost his money (and Sally's as well I think). They had managed to leave it at a rest stop. We decided to press on using my money for everyone hoping that we could get some more money wired out to us as soon as we got to our destination (wherever that happened to be on Corfu).


The journey through inland Yugoslavia was an eye opener. It was much different from the coast, which was very picturesque, the towns and cities being gray and run down. The so called motorway was little more than a busy, bumpy main road but the traffic lessened as we got further south and turned off onto smaller roads.


A few hours after entering Greece, we were traveling apart and I encountered a detour off the main road. Somehow, I missed the turning back on and found myself going deeper and deeper into the mountains. The road, which had been dirt from the detour, got narrower and narrower until it was literally a goat track little more than two or three feet wide. Following the presumption that it must go somewhere I pressed on. I was beginning to get the hang of riding in the dirt and enjoying it reaching speeds of 40 mph. The constant pounding though was causing the Triumph to disintegrate. First the luggage came loose, then the chain guard snapped off, then the front mudguard, then the ignition switch, which was mounted on the left side panel fell inside it key and all and I lost bolts holding the silencers on.


Finally, I spotted a few houses ahead and roared into a small square of a tiny hamlet of no more than eight or ten houses. An old Greek man in the obligatory dark gray suit jacket, baggy trousers and flat hat sat outside one of the houses. I yelled ĺ─˙Ioaninnaĺ─¨ (a large town vaguely in the direction I needed to go) and he pointed to a gap between two houses and I shot off again along another goat track. Soon it improved to a dirt road and I was beginning to feel more optimistic since I had been in the mountains at least two hours. However, I was soon stopped by an army patrol carrying rifles. They asked for my passport, said ĺ─˙Britishĺ─¨ and let me go as if a Triumph Bonneville emerging from scarcely inhabited mountains with a dusty 22 year old rider was quite natural providing the rider was British. However, just down the road was what looked like a border crossing. The guards made me get off the bike and push it through a long bath of disinfectant before letting me go. Apparently, my long ĺ─˙detourĺ─¨ had taken me very close to the border with Albania, a rabidly communist, secretive, poor and closed to outsiders country. That is why I was stopped by the army, I suppose.


I caught up with Stuart and Sally, having got back on the right road, waiting for me at a roadside restaurant. They must have been very glad to see me, covered in dust or not and several hours late seeing as they were stuck in northern Greece with no money. We got to Corfu without further incident and spent the next ten days or so sunning ourselves and exploring different locations each day. It was not too much fun for me being the odd one out and I missed Selma's company. However, Stuart and Sally were very good about it all. Their money was eventually wired to a bank in Corfu and we had enough to get home. I got the Triumph parts welded back on in Corfu town which worked well but ruined the paint.


We decided to travel back through Italy for a change in scenery and got the boat from Corfu to the heel of Italy. It was there we decided to split up and make our own way home as I was fed up with the trip and wanted to get home as soon as possible. I traveled the whole length of Italy in one day, hammering the Bonneville at high speed on the autostradas and only stopping for fuel. Almost totally exhausted, I spent the night under a bridge but the noise from the road made sleeping almost impossible. The next day I determined to get to the ferry port to England and be home that night. Again, I drove at high speed through Austria and Germany stopping only for fuel. Half way through Germany, the Bonneville engine had started to sound bad and it seemed like a bearing was going. I pressed on hoping for the best.


In Belgium my luck ran out and it started to rain and get cold. Soon I was soaked through and the rain was relentless and I was having trouble seeing. I took a wrong turn on an autobahn interchange and found myself heading the wrong way. I stopped and could see the correct road below, at the bottom of a steep embankment. Totally fed up, I determined I was not going to drive any more miles than necessary in the dreadful weather. I eased the bike through a gap in the guardrail and slid sideways down a 50 ft embankment arriving at the bottom with me and the bike covered in mud but unharmed.

I got home that night exhausted, cold, soaked, cursing the weather, cursing Bonnevilles and still sad about Selma.


What could have been a great trip had turned into a disaster. In retrospect however, Selma had a lucky escape.

I saw her a few more times but by then she was romantically involved with the owner of the house she was renting. They eventually married and she had a kid but by then I had met my wife to be, Julie. The Bonneville expired a few weeks after I got back and I returned it to Pride and Clarke's in the back of my Dad's van. I had put 7,500 miles on the thing in 2 months. Sheepishly I asked for another bike and surprisingly was rewarded with a 350 Honda.


I got the Trident back minus half the engine and Pride and Clarke rebuilt it for me. It proved relatively reliable engine wise and I managed a few trips the next spring taking Julie to Devon in the spring of 1974, and going on the Dragon rally in February with Stuart. Flushed with enthusiasm and with a new girlfriend I planned a really big trip that summer. Head east young man. I was off to communist Europe to see what the Black Sea looked like. Stuart didn't have a decent enough bike and he had broken up with Sally so he elected to go to France or Italy on his own. I think he was driving an MZ-250 at the time.




This trip saw the first return visits. After stopping off at Corfu on the '71 trip we'd decided to return again but this time rather than catching the ferry from Italy we'd use some of the previous year's Yugoslav experience but then continue on to northern Greece, skirting the communist bastion of Albania en route. We'd then pick up the road to Igoumenitsa and the Corfu ferry.


Our companions were going to be Selma and Sally. John had known Selma for a number of years and she had been with us on a number of van trips including the previous year's Yugoslav visit. Sally was travelling with me and had been on a couple of short van trips in the UK. Neither of them had been on a long bike trip before ...





















It's a pity that so few of the photographs from this trip have survived. Each year we'd upgraded our photographic equipment and taken more photographs but it was still a minor part of the planning and not taken that seriously.

In addition, many of them seemed to have sucummed during the following years as there are many blank spaces in the album where the originals are stored. If only I'd known then what I know now...


Talking of upgrades, we'd upgraded the bikes yet again but our best laid plans had fallen foul of industrial strife. John had replaced the Yamaha with a Triumph Trident T150 but the bike had developed a number of faults and had gone back to the factory for repairs. Industrial relations being what they were in the early 70's, it was then stuck inside the factory during a workers sit-in. Fortunately the supplying dealer came up with a Triumph Bonneville as a loan bike so the trip was still on. The Bonnie started off as a low mileage pristine example but unfortunately the rigours of overlanding ensured it didn't stay that way for long. The picture opposite gives some idea of the state of the bike at mid trip. This wasn't down to not caring about someone else's bike, it was purely the bike not being up to the roads we'd taken.


A quick look at the photograph shows no front mudguard (it's lying on the ground in front) and leaking fork oil seals The mudguard mounting stays had all snapped. From memory at this stage there was also a problem with the choke cable breaking (leaving it permanently on) and the fuel tank central mounting bracket breaking leaving the fuel tank loose. Bungie straps fixed both of the problems until we returned, but many of the broken bits were returned to the dealer in carrier bags!
























The route



The trip didn't start well. Hoverlloyd got us across the channel ok but seemingly endless cold showery hours overnight on the Belgian and German motorways saw us near Frankfurt the following morning with morale close to rock bottom and eyes propped open with matchsticks. Why didn't we do the obvious and stop somewhere overnight? Money, or rather lack of, ruled out hotels but mainly a desire just to get somehere warmer quickly. We took a chance that one cold night would soon be forgotten. By next morning we were wondering what happened to the promise of warm sunny days on the beach or drifting effortlessly through pine scented forests? Well, they would come but not soon enough for Selma who decided to call it a day at Frankfurt and return by plane.







































The three of us decided to continue but later on the effect of a night without sleep made itself felt. Somewhere in Germany Sally and I managed to loose the bulk of our money - either the bag fell off the back of the bike or we left it somewhere. Ever optimistic though we decided to continue and spent a couple of (thankfully) uneventful days riding down through Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia. Normally the two bikes would keep together but somehow, south of Belgrade, we managed to lose each other. Eventually finding that the usual responses in these circumstances - backtrack a bit, wait at a spot that would be easy to find etc didn't work, Sally and I decided to continue on the agreed route hoping that we'd meet up again. We were both heading to the ferry in Igoumenitsa so it shouldn't be that difficult - should it?


We did indeed eventually find each other but John looked like he'd come via the Sahara. A map reading error had sent him down long stretches of dirt roads near the Albanian border - too close at one point, leading to an "interview" by the slightly jumpy border police and consequent delay. The Triumph hadn't been very happy with the roads and John arrived with the front mudguard on top of the luggage and both front fork oil seals leaking oil. Trying to add more oil to the forks led to the picture opposite, with a spanner borrowed from a shipyard as Triumph hadn't included anything suitable in the toolkit.


















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







We eventually took the short ferry trip to Corfu and found a campsite at Kontokali, a resort a few miles north of Corfu town. The picture opposite shows everything set up and the process of cleaning, mending etc underway. That's me on the left and Sally standing by the tent. Now we've got here, time for the long days on the beach and evenings in the tavernas, right?


Well, there were some of those but there were also cloudy, overcast days where the beach looked more like Cleethorpes than Corfu and days of torrential thunderstorm downpours where huddling together in the tent trying to wait it out was the best we could do. To say I felt slightly cheated by the weather on this trip would be an understatement. I just knew the summer months in the Med were always wall to wall sunshine and that's what I was expecting to get!!





































The next photograph was taken just after one of the thunderstorms ended. Only a few times since have I experienced thunderstorms having such an effect on a camping holiday, the worst by far being on a trip to the Ardeche region of France in 2004 when we had to be rescued from a canoe trip on the Ardeche river, spending the night in an evacuation centre. The campsite was completely flooded, with trees split by lightning less than 25m from our tent. The children thought it the best holiday ever!


Over the next 10 days or so we travelled all over the island but eventually we had to deal with the money issue. Sally and I had organised our documents, money etc into two packs. A small one containing all the stuff we needed for immediate use - some money, passports, insurance documents etc and a larger one containing all the stuff we'd need for the return trip - the bulk of our money, ferry tickets, maps etc. It was this one we'd lost on the autobahn but had managed to continue by pooling what we had left with John.


This was a serious problem - no borrow it from a credit card in those days. We were (kind of) insured but we had to get back to the UK to put in a claim. Even with the money John had it wasn't enough. The only option was a phone call to Sally's parents, a request to lend us some money for the return trip and a 10 day delay until it turned up in a bank in Corfu town. Of course the pounds we'd been sent came out of the bank as drachma. We bought a ferry ticket to Italy but on arrival had to convert it all into lire. We did consider just converting some but thought it might be more difficult to convert drachma than lire to Dm in Germany - and so it turned out We had a small amount of drachma left over and the German banks wouldn't touch them. Once in Germany we had, for the only time on the trip, more money than we needed. We blew some of it a night in a good hotel and a decent meal - much needed as by this time as a bug Sally picked up in Greece was making the journey feel like it was never ending.


More conversions in Belgium and France saw us arriving back in the UK having lost about a quarter of the money to currency transactions of various types. These days I'm a fervent supporter of the Euro.























Of course the money had to be recovered and repaid so we put in an insurance claim. In those days Britain was in the midst of a financial crisis (sounds familiar!) and there was government limit of £50 per person imposed on holiday spending money leaving the country. We'd ignored that (we'd never have got there if we hadn't) but the insurance industry didn't so £50 each, less whatever the policy excess was, was as much as we got - about £400 in depreciated 2010 currency. I do remember thinking afterwards that even after the insurance payout I still owed Sally's parents a lot of money and with no job where was I going to get it from? The mists of time have closed over subsequent events but if I still owe you money please give me a call. The guilt isn't worth the amount involved!









































Anyone who's been on holiday to Corfu or even looked through a travel brochure must have seen a photograph of Pontikonisi on the left. It's as much an icon of the island as the Eiffel tower is for Paris. All of the photographs I'd seen seem to have been taken from one spot and I was determined this time to find out where it was, as despite my best efforts I'd not been able to do this two years previously. Persistance paid off though and eventually we found the balcony that everyone else apart from me seemed to know about. At the time I was really pleased with the photograph - anything the pros can do etc.

 Here is a more recent version of the same view. Compared to 1973 the shore area is much more developed but otherwise its much the same.

























Once we got back it was a case of trying to sort out the wreckage from the trip in all senses.

John's Triumph went back to the dealer in a van with some of the bits in carrier bags. My Yamaha however had survived fairly well, the major casualty being a missing side panel. It had vibrated loose and fallen in the road near Belgrade on the way down. I went back to pick it up but just before I got there a following truck driver swerved deliberately and ran it over.


Our relationships felt like they'd been run over by a truck as well. John and Selma went their separate ways fairly quickly and within a few months so did Sally and I. The effect of that proved to be a major turning point in my life, with aftershocks of varying magnitude rumbling on even to the present. Even all these decades later fallout continues to accumulate.



















































Click Gallery (below) for a few more photographs from this trip