My first defeat was fast approaching. Clear of the stream we were faced with a slope which I would have been happy about, had I been riding the trials bike. But this narrow, muddy, steep bank, which was only around four metres high, did not look inviting. Again Roger went first. Halfway up there was a steadily increasing shower of mud from the rear tyre as traction was reduced. Both feet down, bumping up and down and the seat and pushing forward kept some of his momentum and somehow he struggled to the top and "parked." I was next but halfway up lost all forward momentum and try as I might, I could not stop the machine sliding back down he slope, let alone climb the bank. I retired to the bottom, now wishing I had not brought my winter riding gear, and longing for a cool pint in some not-too-distant pub. Ken gave a valiant attempt but similarly the slope won.
We could not go back, we had to go on, so this time I rode the GS up the slope and both Roger and Ken grabbed the machine as it lost traction. A combined action of me riding, bouncing up and down to give the rear tyre some bite, and Ken and Roger pulling and pushing, saw the GS to the top of the slope. A similar manoeuvre also saw Ken's GS reach the top of the slope. Did I say I wanted a pint? Make that several, all round!
We continued over another metalled road and onto the next section of the "street." This section got steadily steeper and slippery and it was not long before the sweat was running out of the three of us and the bikes came to a halt. The hill had won and whilst Roger had got considerably farther up than Ken and I had, we all decided there was no point in spoiling what had been a good run up until then.
We retraced out tracks to the last proper road we had crossed and quickly discarded the waterproofs and opened the lunch boxes and flasks. Goodness knows what any passers-by would have thought with three mud-covered bikes sitting by the road and three partially clothed men sitting on a bridge parapet in the middle of nowhere, eating filled rolls and drinking coffee.
You will probably have seen some racing bicycles with solid wheels i.e. no spokes just a carbon fibre disc. Well my GS looked just like that, except substitute mud for carbon fibre.
Ken consulted his OS maps and, using his local knowledge, informed us we could by pass this section of Dere Street using proper roads. We did this and rejoined Dere Street a few miles farther south. By this time we were in the middle of nowhere but on the top of a hill, still on a proper road. A quick consultation and scan of the map showed we wanted to head south, so once again we took off down a tractor track.
We kept getting farther away from "civilisation" and the views, through the light mists on the hilltops, were inspiring. There we were on an old Roman road, somewhere in the Borders, just north of Englandshire with not another person to be seen.
Onward and upward as the saying goes. This track soon petered out and ended in a sheep track. The countryside became a bit boggy in places and care had to be taken to inspect the route ahead. Passing the sites of a few Roman camps I wondered what the Romans would have thought if they had seen us. Three natives riding metal beasts across the hills towards them? Would the famous saying have been rewritten… "I came, I saw, I decided to go home as the natives were totally mad and not worth conquering?"
The "street" then overlapped metalled road and this time our river crossing was a proper ford with a concrete base. Time for a quick two or three runs through the water to clean off the bikes.
From this point Ken indicated Dere Street was no longer shown on his office map as belonging to the local roads authority and the land ahead was private. We were literally just over a mile from Englandshire but time was marching on. Our cross-border trek would have to remain until another (summer's) day.
We continued along the roads and I was satisfied we had achieved some off-road work and the "beast" had acquitted itself on all accounts. However not daunted, Ken informed us he had looked at his maps and had found another Roman road which would take us from the valley we were in, over the hills towards The Cheviot, but allowing us to cut back north in the next valley, before reaching The Cheviot.
The "road" started in a farmyard and within a few metres was only a grass track heading up a hill. We set off and there was little or no traction. Time and again the bikes tried to turn 180 degrees on us but slowly we were climbing this hill. The track, which was probably used by the farmer in his 4WD, disappeared and left us following what was probably a sheep trail. Around the side of one hill, across a couple of fields, up another track until we reached a slight slope in the grass and ferns, with no signs of track at all. Well, Roger had the right idea. You have to know where you are going and to do that you have to see. To see you have to have height. So… There was nothing left but to point the bikes up the hill and start climbing. Have you seen the brochure which shows the GS being ridden up a hill on a track, with the rider out of the saddle, partially standing? Well there we were except we had no sun and blue sky, no track and no works back-up with photographic team. Anyway from our higher position we checked out where the next valley and, if lucky, the proper road was, and set off. There was no track and we just aimed for a point and kept going. It was quite alarming at times and the long-travel GS and G/S suspension worked well - it needed to.
We finally reached another farmyard and joined the farm road which led to the proper road and headed north. The roads were deserted and as soon as the muck was clear from the tyres and some sort of grip was restored, we set off north in search of a hot cup of coffee as light started to fade. The trials bike is good fun but 25 m.p.h. (ish) top speed pales into insignificance compared with the progress available to the "beast." Kelso was reached at a somewhat rapid pace over the remaining miles and after a quick cuppa Roger and I said our goodbyes to Ken and headed back to Fife.
At the ends of the day we had tackled both road and off-road on our bikes, we were all thoroughly bushed and yet the bikes sat ticking over quietly, apparently still raring to go. The appetite was altogether wetted, notwithstanding our physical appearance, and we looked forward to similar forays in the months to come.
This article was originally written by me,
for and published in, "the Motorcyclist," Summer 1992 edition.
Photo's by Ken, Roger, and Rennie. (pre-digital camera and when pages were written for small computers screens and low res' images)
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