I’ve been home for about 40 hours now, and little by little my body is readjusting to the eight-hour time lag between Ireland and the west coast of Canada. Before my thoughts on my trip recede too much into the distorting waters of memory and forgetting, I thought I’d dash off a few observations in postscript, and post a few more pictures from some of the places I visited.

The bike

Whe I first started planning my trip, I had intended to ship my own motorcycle across to Europe. The more I looked into this, though, the more I realized that it made more sense to hire a bike that was already there. This was mainly about cost-benefit. The relatively short length of my time overseas meant the total cost of renting a brand new bike wasn’t much greater than the cost of shipping my own. When I included the various fees and taxes, insurance costs, and what I would need to do with my bike to get it ready for the trip, it was more or less a wash. My wife pointed out that I was less likely to have  expensive and frustrating mechanical issues with a brand new bike than with my ageing warhorse, and since the chances of finding a qualified BMW mechanic in remote areas of the Highlands didn’t seem good, and since the hire bike included roadside assistance in the cost of the rental, I decided she was right (as is often the case).

My hire bike: a 2018 Triumph Tiger 800 XRT.

I’m glad I made that choice. The Triumph Tiger 800 is a fantastic bike, and while I don’t like it better than my old R1150GS, certain features definitely came in handy. I’m quite sure that cruise control, for example, helped save me from speeding tickets, especially in Scotland, where speed cameras are ubiquitous. Over time I got used to working with – and more often around – the ridiculous number of controls on the left handlebar, although I’d still suggest Triumph take a look at how this is all arranged. I suspect that something like BMW’s thumb wheel would be easier to use, and help prevent unwanted selections (like inadvertently switching on the heated seats when turning on the fog lamps).

In retrospect, I should have inquired more carefully about luggage capacity. I packed an appropriate amount for the cases I have on my bike, which are admittedly enormous. The aftermarket bags on my GS – Happy Trails side cases (35 and 40 litres), and a Givi top box (52 litres) – can comfortably hold more than enough for a three to four week trip. The much smaller OEM bags on the Triumph are better suited to one week. It’s my own fault for not enquiring. If I ever hire a bike again, I’ll do so.

I would also strongly recommend bringing your own riding gear, or at the very least, your own helmet. The gear I was provided with was mostly high enough quality (I’d even consider buying some RST gear if I could find it here), but it took nearly the full length of the trip for me to remember to put motorcycle pants (or ‘jeans’ as they call them over there, since ‘pants’ means underwear to them) first, then boots. My own gear has nearly full-length side zips, so I can (and usually do) put my boots on first.

The helmet was more of an issue. It fit a little snugger than my helmet, didn’t have a flip up chin bar (which meant I had to remove my glasses every time I wanted to put the helmet on or take it off) or a sun shade (so that I had to decide whether to wear my sunglasses or my regular glasses, something that can’t be changed on the fly). It also didn’t come with internal speakers, so I couldn’t get audio instructions from the GPS and had to look away from the road more often than I would have liked.

The GPS (or sat nav, over there) was an excellent thing to have, and worked well when using Google Maps (or other apps) on my phone wouldn’t have. Even though I had to look at it more than I would have liked, it was much easier to do so quickly than would have been the case on a paper map.

SIM cards

One of the best decisions I made was getting an Irish SIM card, rather than using a ‘travel plan’ from my Canadian provider. The travel plan would have cost me $150, and not even provided me with the meagre amount of data I normally have access to at home. The SIM card (which I got from 3 mobile) gave me “all you can eat” data (60GB!) in Ireland, and 6GB of roaming data for the UK, for €30 (less than a third of the cost of the Canadian travel plan). I ended up using about 17GB total, including 4.5GB in the UK. If you’re a Canadian travelling abroad for any length time, you should seriously consider getting a local SIM card when you arrive. The only downside is how ripped off you’re going to feel you are when you’re at home and paying more than twice the rate for about a tenth of the data you get in Europe.


Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It’s ridiculous how pretty it is, nearly everywhere.

A typical view in the Irish countryside. This was near the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The Irish people, especially in the Republic, are friendly and welcoming. Dublin is an incredibly cosmopolitan place, with people from all over Europe – and around the world – working and attending university and visiting there. The whole of Ireland is an incredible blend of the new and old. History is on display everywhere, and yet it’s very forward looking as well, especially in cities like Galway and Dublin.

Thoor Ballylee, near Gort in Co. Galway, is the tower that Yeats lived in with his family. Irish literary history is rightly celebrated throughout Ireland.

Ireland has punched well above its weight in literature for more than a century, producing such important writers as Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey, Louis MacNeice, and Seamus Heaney, to name just a few.

Musically, too, Ireland has provided the world with more than its fair share of artists, especially in rock and pop music. Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore, The Boomtown Rats, U2, Sinnead O’Connor, The Pogues, Rory Gallagher, and many others have made a huge impact on popular music over the past 50 years.

A statue of Phil Lynott, the bassist and lead singer of Thin Lizzy, stands near Grafton Street in the centre of Dublin. In the 1970s, Thin Lizzy paved the way for many other Irish bands, like the Boomtown Rats and U2.


Scotland has a different kind of beauty than Ireland. More rugged, less lush, but equally stunning. It’s astonishing just how much the landscape changes as you travel through Scotland. There is as much variation in geology and flora as there is in the many styles of whisky produced there.

The road from Applecross to Shieldaig in the Scottish Highlands.

I would like to have spent more than the week I had in Scotland. It is too vast to really see much of it. What I did see, I loved. From Loch Lomond to Inverness, Moffat to Shieldaig, Elgin to Edinburgh. The beers are different from those in Ireland, and of course single malt whisky is very different from Irish whiskey (which is almost always blended). As was the case in Ireland, many of the road signs, at least in the Highlands, are in both English and Gaelic (although Scots Gaelic isn’t exactly the same as Irish).

In fact, a person could easily spend a week or more just in the Highlands. Or just in Edinburgh. And, I’m sure, the same would go for Glasgow, which I sadly didn’t get to this time around. I hope Adele and I will visit Scotland in the future, so I can see more of it.

A lane in Edinburgh’s Dean Park neighbourhood.

England and Wales

I didn’t spend much time in England or Wales. A couple of nights each. The highlight of that was the time I was in the tiny village of Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas lived and is buried. For such a small place, it packs a lot of beauty and history into it. It would be worth a second visit, if I’m ever down that way again.

The ruins of the castle at Laugharne, on the south coast of Wales.

Midlife non-crisis

All in all, it was a fantastic journey, and an excellent, adventurous way to celebrate being 50. If I were doing it again, I’m not sure what I’d change. Add more time, maybe, if I could, and have Adele accompany me for at least part of it. Traveling alone for that length of time was a very different experience for me. I’m glad I did it, but I think I prefer having someone to share the experience with.

I don’t really have a lot more to say. I do, though, have many more pictures. Here is a sampling from them.

Farms in the Dingle peninsula.
Cliffs of Moher
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
The road to Applecross, or Bealach na Ba, Scottish Highlands
Highland cattle
Sculpture near the National Gallery in Edinburgh
Washback stills (the tall ones) and spirit stills at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Scotland
Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
Scarborough Castle, Scarborough, England
Waiting for the tide to come in. Laugharne, Wales.
Lake District, England.
Sandycove, Dublin, Ireland.

Bath time

Today’s ride was really just about endurance. A seven hour motorway slog from Scarborough to Bath. Or close to Bath. I’m actually staying in a little cottage in the little – I’m not sure it even qualifies as a village – outside Bath, called Limpley Stoke. I’m currently waiting for the local pub to open. Happily, it’s no more than a 10 minute walk to said pub, The Seven Stars, which is in the adjacent (and actual) village of Winsley. The pub closes each day between 3 and 6. I’m told it’s a good pub with excellent food.

So… So far nothing much has happened today, except for the Tiger hungrily eating up miles, just under 300 of them. It felt like more. Still does.

So… As nothing much has happened yet today, I’ll begin with last night.

Scarborough is the kind of place that’s pretty without being beautiful. Filled with Victorian architecture, and crouched along a picturesque coastline, which it tries it’s best to spoil with arcades and small casinos, a beachfront fairground modelled on Coney Island, it feels…. faded. As if it hasn’t quite found a way to live up to its potential.

It does have an old, partially ruined castle, and large church, in whose churchyard Anne Bronte is buried.

(Admission: I don’t know how she ranks in relation to her sisters, as I haven’t read anything by any of the Brontes. Or Jane Austin, for that matter. The earliest woman novelist I’ve read was Virginia Woolf. Come to think of it, I don’t read enough novels by women of any period. I read some Atwood in university, and I’ve read some of Louise Erdrich’s books, and Nancy Huston. Alice Monroe, for short fiction. I should probably try to rectify that gap in my reading.)

Anyway, I wasn’t really looking for much from Scarborough. A place to sleep, a pub, dinner, maybe a a laundrette. I did well enough on every count except dinner. That was a bust.

I made it an early night. After Edinburgh, my liver needed a break! My hotel room was small, and a steep climb up three flights of stairs, but it was comfortable enough, and quiet, too. I ended up falling asleep to the sound of the waves.

Now I’m in this quiet little village in southern England. Tomorrow I’m heading a short distance to Bath proper, and to Solsbury Hill nearby, where Peter Gabriel had the epiphany that led him to quit Genesis. Afterward, I’ll be on my way to Wales. Laugharne, in particular, to visit the grave of Dylan Thomas.

I think the pub’s about to open, so that’s all for now.

Back to school

Tonight I’m starting bass guitar lessons again, with a new teacher. The last one, a  good musician but only a fair instructor, was frequently late, occasionally a no-show, and almost always smelled bad. Here’s hoping tonight’s is better.

My goals, having fumbled around with my chosen instrument for a few years now, are somewhat different than they were then. My main objectives are:

  • Improve my right-hand technique
  • Learn some useful exercises
  • Begin to understand theory in a less theoretical fashion – mainly by learning about the construction of the songs I want to play

As for songs, the ones I’d like to learn – my ineptitude notwithstanding – are almost uniformly old (like me!) but covering a range of styles. Some bluesy rock (Cream, Led Zeppelin), some post-punky pop (Joe Jackson, The Police, The Talking Heads), some old-school hard rock (Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath).

Maybe, someday, I’ll feel confident enough to add prog rock (Yes, Rush), early metal (Iron Maiden) or jazz (Marcus Miller). Maybe, but I’m not counting on it.

Of course, my new instructor may have other plans, and if they seem reasonable I’ll follow them instead.

Strings attached 

They say you shouldn’t go to the grocery store hungry. The same apparently  goes for music shops. Especially if they’re having a big ‘everything must go’ sale. I know this because, on the very same day I wrote about wanting to chuck everything & hit the road, I bought a guitar.

Now, it’s important to note that I don’t actually play the guitar. Yet. Lessons are in my future. But even though I don’t know how to play it, it seemed to speak to me. The finish, the feel, the sound… it wanted to be mine.

So… hopefully by the year’s end I’ll be able to crank out some simpler rock & blues songs. If not, watch for a good deal on a used Telecaster.

Lend me your ears…

Nietzsche once wrote that “without music, life would be a mistake.” Some people likely think that was an example of hyperbole (which Nietzsche was prone to). I am not one of those people.

Since I was a baby, there has been music. My father loved jazz, gospel, calypso, country and western, and bagpipe music. An eclectic mix, to say the least. On long drives to visit family on Vancouver Island, I recall hearing Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, and Johnny Cash coming from the 8-track deck mounted under the dash. Every Christmas, he played Mahalia Jackson’s renditions of “O, Holy Night” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

One of the things I’ve inherited from my father is a varied taste in music, and a near obsessive need to have my hours filled with it. Jazz, Classical, Folk, Rock, Blues, Ska, Funk. The genre almost doesn’t matter. (Although, I mostly don’t like radio songs or club music, or anything that seems to lack originality.)

Even within a genre like “Rock”, there is a wide variety styles I like. Classic Rock, old Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, New Wave, Punk, et cetera. I expect most of my playlists would leave others confused.

There are favourites, of course. Music I listen to more frequently, more repeatedly, and this tends to change over time. I used to listen to Beethoven obsessively, but now, when I listen to classical music, it is more likely be Bach or Arvo Part. In jazz, I have become more attuned to Coletrane and Sonny Rollins of late, though I still listen to a lot of Miles. In rock, there’s no one I listen to more than Rush these days, especially the remixed Vapour Trails. Although, Peter Gabriel is a close second, and my appreciation of the Rolling Stones has been increasing.

I can’t imagine not being able to listen to music for any length of time. When I was a child, I would sing to myself if I didn’t have a radio or record player handy. I still do this when I’m riding my motorcycle. (It’s a good thing others don’t have to hear what goes on inside my helmet!)

For this reason, I think hearing is the sense I’d have the hardest time living without. Although, I can hear whole symphonies in my head, in the way others can picture a beach. So maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world to be without hearing, since I’d still have music. If that were to go, though, I think Nietzsche is right: life would be a mistake.