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The Yorkshire Moors

It was time to head back to the UK, as I had an appointment in Germany at the Vee-Strom Meet on the coming weekend.

Larne was again the chosen embarkation port, and I spent the 2 hours of the crossing, as well as the waiting time in the queue, chatting with a biker chap, and I must confess to have not asked his name, after all that time chatting!!! Funny how we bikers just start chatting without actually knowing who we are chatting with, isn't it?

below: the view coming into the bay, with Cairnryan on the left and Stranraaer, the more popular port, on the right, both in the distance, of course.

I rode on into Scotland until it was almost dark, before trying to find somewhere to stay for the night. Eventually, after several disappointments with hotels claiming to have no vacancies although the carparks were empty [although it may have been too early in the season for them to be fully open and accepting guests] I came upon a great little hotel with motel-type rooms out the back, at a pleasing £30, including a ginormous full cooked breakfast the next morning! Definitely great value for money, at the Royal Stewart Hotel in Gretna. Yes, that Gretna, still with its little marriage houses, loudly proclaiming to be the "first one" just across the border from England, a leftover of days past when Scotland had more relaxed laws on marriage than did England.

Rather than again enduring the long drag down the M6 motorway and across to the chunnel train embarkation point at Folkestone, in the southeast, I decided to take the far more scenic route, some of which I had navigated during the BritButt Rally the previous weekend. I had a taste for it now, and wanted more of the stunning scenery, the sweeping fells and moors, the rocky outcrops, the close-in forests forming canopies over the road, the shaggy sheep and the wildlife, in particular a suicidal grey squirrel, who survived to try again, after scampering out onto the road in front of me, just missing the wheels.

And a rather intriguing novelty surprise - gypsies! The gypsies were inveigling tourists [not this one, though!] to take rides in their pony carts, trotting along the narrow roads, blocking the traffic in a lot of places. But the tourists must have enjoyed it, as there were heaps of them taking advantage in the very pleasant sunshine. Of course, I ride my bike in the centre, or just to the right of the centre, of the lane. Guess where all the horse poop was!! Yep, right where I normally ride. The constant aroma was a bit "off" after a while. And there was plenty of it, too, what with all the lush grass available on which they could pig out, so we dodged our way along the poop strewn country roads, until coming into a town.

The wagon below was holding up the traffic, but I managed to squeeze past after some time, and got sufficiently far enough in advance to stop and prepare to take some photos. The guy driving the horse seems to be giving me the evil eye, and he probably was, as the gypsies are not the best loved people in the area, by any means. I'm guessing the smaller of the two horses was a youngster in training to be a wagon horse, as it was just tied beside the older, more quiet horse which trundled along in a dream.

Some of the wagons are really intricate and beautifully decorated, as I discovered not far past this town, when I came upon an enormous encampment of gypsies. Hundreds upon hundreds of wagons, caravans, motorhomes, and even a couple of tents were crowded onto an open area of moors, presumably public land. People were wandering everywhere, all over the road, with traffic forced to crawl slowly between all the people, dogs, horses and the several police cars in attendance, for a couple of km.

Shortly before I'd reached the town where I took the above photos, I'd seen something lying on the road in my lane. Thinking it was only more horse poop or a stick or something, at the very last moment before I rode over it, comprehension dawned - it was a pistol, or handgun!! Fortunately, it didn't explode when the bike went over it! I thought it a rather strange item to be lying on the road, but thought nothing more of it until I saw all the police in the gypsy camp. Were they looking for it, I wonder? Was there a reason to be looking for it?

Possibly so, which became more evident later, after passing quite a few more encampments of various sizes, although nothing as large as the first one. On the A66, a large main road onto which I'd turned south, the police had barricaded the end of a layby, and were herding all the travelling gypsies into the layby, off the highway. Police cars, forward command vehicles, paddy wagons and several bikes were present, and they seemed to be having a fine old time searching all the caravans and vehicles squashed into the layby. Further along the highway, I noticed there were police cars, and a bike in one, waiting in side roads, ready to descend on any more gypsies passing by.

I must say that I was appalled at the bedraggled condition of a number of the horses and foals either tethered or wandering loose in the camps - all skin and ribs, mats of long hair hanging from the bellies of many, invariably most animals never having seen a grooming brush in their life. The RSPCA would have had a field day, I'm certain, had they been aware of the condition of these animals. But the kids were not much better, either. Very scraggy clothing, an unwashed, dirty look about them, yet brazen in their attitudes. A number of pre-teen girls - all long brown legs, short skirts, long hair - sauntering suggestively with hips swinging down the middle of the road, casting surruptitious glances through their hair at passing vehicles awkwardly manoevering to get around them. Do these kids go to school? Do they get an education at all? What are the hygiene facilities in the camps? Where do they get their water from? The welfare payments bill for those in the encampments must be huge, judging by some of the flash caravans and big 4WDs in evidence. Or are they paid for some other way? The mind boggles ...

Ye Olde Plough Inn, near Brentwood, where I'd spent my first night in England, was again the chosen spot for the night's rest, as it was only an hour or so from the chunnel. It is a delightful motel, with old world charm; deep, burgundy leather chesterfield couches and chairs in the bar area, and the staff are very pleasant. I could have done a lot worse, and only £35, or £43 with a full breakfast.

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