Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sent to Coventry

"Being sent to Coventry" - It's an English phrase meaning being ignored or treated coldly. I wonder, though, whether it's used in Canada/USA or elsewhere? Anyway, Coventry is only about 5 miles from where I live so I went on a day trip...

Coventry, population of 300,000, 95 miles (153 km) north west of London and further from the coast than any other city in Britain. Not, perhaps, the first place you would head for if on holiday in the UK but it has a fascinating history and is, I would argue, worthy of a day trip. (You can escape from the hoards of tourists swamping nearby Stratford-upon-Avon (home of Shakespeare) and Warwick Castle.) On the face of it Coventry is a regular modern British city. Surrounded by a ring-road, the centre is full of the ubiquitous shops that make it hard to distinguish one British town from another. Mainly constructed in the 1960s (I'll explain why later) Coventry once boasted Europe's first large pedestrianised shopping precinct. It now looks dated, tired and dreary.

1960s urban vandalism

These two pictures were taken from the same spot facing in opposte directions. Coventry messes with your head!

Originally a 15th Century Prior building

Coventry is steeped in history. There has been a settlement here since the bronze age (that's a long long time ago my North American friends :)) The Romans and Saxons built settlements here and the Danish King Canute attacked the place in 1016. (again for the benefit of anyone living in North America – that's a date NOT a time) Lady Godiva (of Peeping Tom fame) built a Benedictine Monastery in Coventry in 1043. In the middle ages Coventry was one of Britain's largest and most important cities. The city was a stronghold of the Parliamentarians (Cromwell's side) during the 16th century English Civil War and this is, perhaps, the origin of the phrase “being sent to Coventry” as captured Royalist troops were housed in the parish church of St. John the baptist in Coventry and the local population were so hostile to them that the army coined the phrase – allegedly. 

St. John's - used as a prison in the 17th century

During the Industrial Revolution Coventry was a centre for watch and clock manufacturing. When that moved to Switzerland the skilled workers of Coventry turned their hand to bicycle manufacturing which in its turn developed into the motor industry. By the early 20th century, Coventry was home to Rover and Jaguar. Of more interest to readers of a blog which is supposed to be about motorbike travel, Coventry was home to the Singer Motorcycle company.

In 1904 they developed a range of more conventional motorcycles which included 346cc two stroke and, from 1911, side-valve models of 299cc and 535cc. In 1913 they offered an open-frame ladies model. In 1909 Singer built a series of racers and roadsters and entered several bikes in races, including the Isle of Man Senior TT in 1914. In 1912 a Singer becoming the first ever motorcycle to cover over 60miles (97 km) in an hour. Singer stopped building motorcycles at the outbreak of the First World War. (And I thought they just made sewing machines.)

So, with all that motor history it's no surprise that Coventry boasts a Motor Museum....

1920  - 500cc Rover motorcycle

Thrust 2 - world landspeed record 633 mph 1983

Thrust SSC first vehicle to break sound barrier - 763 mph

Lots of classic bikes

But most importantly the Coventry Motor Museum is home to this...

1927  500 cc Rudge - cost £60!

In 1928 Stanley Glanfield embarked on a world tour on this bike and side car. 18,000 miles in 8 months passing through 16 countries and 4 continents. Now that's adventure motorcycle travel.

And if that wasn't enough I also knew that Peter and Kay Foward's Harley was resting up for the winter in Coventry. I'd been lucky enough to hear Peter talk about his RTW trip and it truely has been a staggering achievement. For over 10 years now they have been travelling the world and have taken this bike to every country. I believe that he recently had a new engine put in but had kept the old one "in case any new countries were created". Looks like he's going to have to put that engine back in and head to South Sudan!

This Harley has been to EVERY country in the world

Did you notice the Sinclair C5 in the background. A RTW trip on a C5 , I wonder......

But without doubt Coventry is most famous for what happened on the night of 14th November 1940. That night the Nazi Luftwaffe bombed the city centre. Much of the city was destroyed, including all but the outer walls and spire of St Michael’s Cathedral (built in the 14th century). In just ten hours of unrelenting bombardment, 500 German aircraft dropped more than 500 tons of explosives and nearly 900 incendiary bombs on the city. In total, over 4000 homes were destroyed, along with one quarter of the city’s factories. Approximately 550 people were killed, and a further 800 injured. The 14th  November attack was later seen as the single most concentrated attack on any British city during the war.
The outer wall and Spire

"Inside" the Cathedral

Rubbish weather but you get the idea

Coventry - city of peace and reconciliation

There is some controversy over the bombing of Coventry. Some historians claim that the UK Government (and Churchill in particular) knew that the city was going to be bombed (because they had de-cyphered coded messages with their Enigma machine) but didn't/couldn't do anything as it would alert the Germans to the fact that the British had cracked the code. I'm not sure how true this is, but it certainly raises an interesting point.

Coventry was the world's first 'twin city' when it formed a twinning relationship with the Russian city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) during the war. The relationship developed through ordinary people in Coventry who wanted to show their support for the Soviet Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. This developed after the war as Coventry took the unprecedented and brave decision to seek reconciliation not retribution over what had happened. The city twinned with Dresden and 26 other cities around the world and has since developed an international reputation as one of Europe's major cities of peace and reconciliation, centred around its cathedral.

Coventry is a much maligned place. It has a fascinating, rich and important history but I bet you hardly anyone living in Britain has been there. And if all of that isn't enough for you. Coventry football stadium will be hosting some of the Olympic games' football matches in the summer of 2012 – so book your holidays now! (You're welcome to stay at my place.)

In other news, I've been busy getting ready for Africa. I've got my carnet de passage which I've checked and double checked. Malaria tablets are packed and ready to go (I've gone for Doxycycline – one a day but you can scuba dive with them, unlike Larium). I've updated my travel insurance - £130 for 6 months through Navigator Travel. I'm covered for motorbike travel, repatriation and all the other extras you'd expect. I've booked in to do 3 weeks voluntary teaching in a township in Cape Town. I start on Monday 7th March. I've even booked the bike in for a service at BMW Atlantic in Cape Town. I've bought myself a new tent and cooker (I left my old ones with the turtle people in Baja) and I've got my sleeping bag and mat which I posted back home from Baja.

I also bought a filter water bottle. I managed to travel from Alaska to Panama without once getting sick and I'd like that to continue. Other things I've picked up include a new pair of motorbike winter gloves. I don't expect it to get cold in Southern Africa (except in Lesotho) but I didn't want to only have one pair of very light summer gloves.

I guess that's it for now. I shall try to update my blog weekly (or should that be weakly) when I'm in Africa but I'm guessing broadband won't be so easy to come by so there may be fewer photos than before. I fly to Dubai on Tuesday and will add something there and then it's on to Cape Town.....

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Half time

I've been back in the UK for nearly three weeks and it's about time updated my blog. So, what's been going on.

Well first of all I had to adjust to being back home. It was all a little weird to start with. On the one hand it was nice to be back. After 6 months of travelling around and finding food and accommodation every night it was reassuringly nice to be back home and not have to worry about that sort of thing. However, on the other hand I very much felt that my trip wasn't over yet and I wanted to get back to it. I've missed riding my bike and being on the open road.

I suppose it's all good practice for when the whole trip does end. Very few people who plan a big trip put much thought into what they are going to do when it's over. There's the potential for a huge anti-climax as you get home with fantastic tales of your adventures to find that friends and family are only marginally interested. ( They've probably dipped in and out of your blog so are aware of what you've been doing so have fewer questions.) And anyway, however interested they are they just can't relate to what you've been up to. When in the middle of a big trip, everyone you come across is interested in what you are doing. You meet fellow travellers to whom you can relate and at times the whole thing can take on a life of its own. When you get home you're just an ordinary guy with a few interesting stories and way to many photos. It can also be difficult to relate back to people at home who have there own issues and problems which, to you, can seem very mundane and trivial.

And perhaps, for me, it's doubly weird as I haven't even finished my trip yet. I've got this long half time interval. I've come into the dressing room, have changed my wet and muddy kit, eaten my half time orange and am raring to get out there for the second half.

Don't know why but thought you might like to see a picture of my garden.

On a more positive note I do now actually have an ETA for the bike in Cape Town. I'd waited two weeks to get this information, thinking that I wouldn't actually book my flight to South Africa, or the voluntary work I want to do in Cape Town until I have an ETA. But after two weeks of waiting and being fobbed off by the company I'd shipped with in Panama, this Monday I decided I just had to go ahead and book. So I booked a flight to Cape Town (return from Nairobi). I fly out on March 1st. And I've booked three weeks of voluntary work,as a teacher, in a township in Cape Town starting on March 7th. I picked those dates as I'd been told it could take 65 days for the bike to turn up – which would be March 24th. Then, 30 minutes later I get an email informing me that the bike is due on March 5th. So the bike will, hopefully, arrive the day before I do. That's great as it gives me a couple of weeks to clear customs, get it service and ride it around Cape Town before heading off for Namibia. (Two hours after posting this I got an email telling me the ship my bike was supposed to go on was stuck in South Africa because of bad weather. I'm now on a new ship with a new ETA - March 10th. Oh the joys of shipping by sea.)

I've also just got my “Carnet de Passages en Douane". Now this is an important document and can be one of the biggest headaches for overlanders, especially if they don't know anything about it! I did a talk, last summer, at the Horizons meeting in the UK and was amazed at how many people who were seriously considering doing a trip hadn't heard of the “Carnet”. Let me clarify...

If you are travelling overland anywhere in Africa or Asia you have to have a carnet for your vehicle. It works as a passport for the bike. (In north, central and south America you do NOT need a carnet) At every border it gets stamped and filled in and again when you leave the country. It is a guarantee, backed in the UK by the RAC, that the vehicle will be taken out of the country. It's to stop people taking a vehicle into a country and selling it. To get the guarantee from the RAC I obviously have to pay for it. The actually carnet cost me £195 for a 25 page booklet. But I also have to leave a deposit. Every country is graded (by the insurance company the RAC uses) by a %. For example, to take my bike into Namibia I have to leave a deposit of 100% of the value of the bike. I've given the RAC a list of all the countries I'm going to and they take the value of the HIGHEST country. That happens to be Kenya at 200%. So, as my bike is valued at £5000 I have had to leave a deposit of £10,000 with the RAC. When I import my bike into the UK I will get the full £10,000 back.

The problem arises when you have to leave a deposit higher than £10,000. This is the maximum the RAC will accept as a cash deposit. If it is higher you have to take insurance with the company the RAC uses. As I haven't done this I'm not totally sure how it happens but it's something like, you pay £2000 and get half of it back. It all depends how much your total is. And some countries are graded higher than 200%. Unbelievably Egypt is 800%, and I think Iran, Pakistan and India are 400%. So you can see why I'm not going to Egypt! In fact, as it stands, very few Brits will be doing the classic Cape to Cairo route at the moment for this very reason.

One final point – this is based on being British and using the RAC. Other countries have different percentages. I know that many Canadians ARE riding through Egypt as it's less than 100% for them. Anyway, I hope I explained that clearly. It's actually quite simple, and Paul, the guy at the RAC you talk too is extremely helpful.
If you read my blog when I was in North America you may remember that although I loved it I did bemoan the lack of history (I am after all a History teacher.) And I did get a little excited about a small fort/castle in Guatemala. Now that I'm back in the UK let me introduce you to the best castle that England has to offer. Not two miles from my house we have..

Not great weather - but it is February

Built in the 13th century, it has hosted royalty through the ages, including Edward II, Henry III and Henry V - who moved in fresh from victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt.
But it is most associated with Queen Elizabeth I, who stayed in 1575 when she was famously romanced by the dashing Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. With spectacular pageantry, plays, music and dancing, Dudley lavishly wooed the ‘Virgin Queen’ within the walls and extensive grounds of Kenilworth Castle. It is rumoured that Elizabeth tasted her first potato at Kenilworth and disliked it so much she threw it out of the window -only for it to take root and grow. (Rubbish, I know, but it makes a good story)

So, two more weeks until I head off to South Africa (via Dubai).

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Back in the UK

I'm safely back in the UK - all a little weird at the moment. Having a bit of trouble getting information on where my bike is which is a little worrying. Thanks to everyone who's emailed me and congratulated me on making it this far. I will update my blog in more detail early next week.