Grottes de Ardenne, Belgium

1st-3rd June 2018

After Manos arrived at the rail terminal without a full tank of fuel on Friday morning, he was tasked with writing the ride report. Luckily for us And Manos, Jo Diamond, has kindly stepped up and produced a great write-up.

Thank you to everyone who made the trip so special. Take it away Jo...


Well, where to begin... We gathered at a gem of a little pub in Sandgate called The Ship which was a perfect way to start the Chelsea & Fulham invasion of Belgium the next morning. After a slap up feed and copious flagons of appropriately obscure tincture, new friendships were forged and the scene was set. Alarm clocks rattled through the fog of a (very!) early start and 25 fine examples of Milwaukee hardware found themselves and their 32 intrepid jockeys at the front of the queue to board the ‘European Experiment’s’ most ambitious feat of engineering ‘sous la Manche’.

We hit the fragrant tarmac of northern France with characteristically broad grins and bountiful optimism - “of course the weather will be fine! Damn those BBC weather girls, what do they know...!?” Um, apparently everything... and oh how we found out. I am not a frequent quoter of biblical aphorisms, but “Lo it came to pass that the vengeance of the Lord came upon us and we were sore afraid - the land became sea and the sea engulfed us” seems particularly appropriate... Yep, it was hideous. Everything that had landed upon London’s handsome spires only a week before had apparently taken up residence on the other side of the Channel and had had some offspring in the process... big, fat babies FULL of water. Stevie Ray Vaughan sang his achingly tragic and iconic blues ballad and told us that “the sky is crying”. OUR sky was positively having a major tantrum, drumming its heels on the sodden carpet and creating a whole new water table ABOVE the ground... OMG, as ‘youf’ would put it...!

Grottes de Ardenne, Belgium

However, Flight Lieutenant Steve Graham, our intrepid and cartographically expert leader stuck doggedly to his well reconnoitred route, despite the disturbing quantities of mud that had been deposited onto the roads in places. A steep learning curve for all... We huddled beneath sagging awnings in some hapless village, queuing for a damp, but nonetheless well earned baguette, before heading out into the conflagration for a second bite of the metaphorical cherry. Like we really needed that! However we sped (well crawled, actually) towards our final destination and our base for the weekend, the picturesque Belgian village of Marche-en-Famenne. A brief coffee/squeeze-the-water-out-of-our-gloves stop and amazingly, the rain subsided and morale sky-rocketed to hitherto unknown levels! We arrived a whole heap happier than we thought possible, bedded down the bikes and headed for the two most important components of life - gin and more gin! Dinner was a sumptuous affair with vast piles of local delicacies heaped on our plates and that was just the first course - life was good again! After dinner, it became clear that some of the company felt compelled to research the capabilities of Pablo the barman, who managed to keep pace with whatever was asked of him... you know who you are...!

The morning arrived all too soon, but Squadron Leader Graham took pity on the barely dried out souls in his care (albeit NOT in a ‘Tour Guide’ capacity... lol) and we eased off towards the famous ‘Grottes’. What a ride it was - a wonderful contrast to the satanic drenching of the day before... dammit, we could actually see the road! What joy! Beautiful, voluptuous curves (and that was just the roads - we hadn’t met our distinctly flirtatious ‘Guide des Grottes’ at that point...). The views were magnificent and sun made a welcome appearance on more than one occasion! Ecstasy indeed...

The Grotte was a magnificent cavern, brought to life by ’Flopsy La Petite Belgique’ who pronounced that her country was infact “ahsome”, despite all indications to the contrary. Although it must be said that the Belgian countryside did indeed inspire some of the “ah” to which she alluded. That and the cooking - it is a little known fact, at least in France (sorry Cathy!), that the Belgians are in fact masters of the kitchen, NOT the French who seemingly pilfered all the best ideas of les Belgiques and proceeded to award themselves lots of Michelin stars. Tut tut, very un-European.

Grottes de Ardenne, Belgium

Lunch was enjoyed in the pretty village of Durbuy (NOT Dubai, as a certain Captain of the Road would have it!) - plenty of frites were had by all and a convivial atmosphere was enjoyed, despite an unseemly dash to avoid a fast approaching, but somewhat impotent rain cloud - just a tease!

That evening, back at the ranch, another feast of romanesque proportions was enjoyed and the crew retired to the bar for some light entertainment... what they actual got can only be described as, well, ‘surprising’... A fully grown man engaging in what is apparently “all the rage”, as granny would say... Mark, the snake-hipped God of all that rocks was... Flossing...! FLOSSING!!!! You had to be there... there is footage for those that wish to see (well done Zorba The Greek!)... Triple X rated...

After several ‘Jacks’ too many, the final day of our glorious expedition had arrived and we were treated to the best of all, despite a mild throb to the temple... The sun was positively overflowing with fiery over-excitement - whenever we stopped the side stands started sinking into the road - what a stark contrast to the first day...! It was pure, unmitigated bliss, riding through the most beautiful of landscape, sun beating down on our burnished faces, all with the soundtrack of throbbing V twin engines... It was the stuff of life itself!

Sadly, like all good things, it had to come to an end... and we boarded our respective trains to return to Blighty, exhausted but happy!

It only goes to thank Group Captain Steve Graham DSO WTF OMG (and Bar) for producing such a magnificent trip and to have been such a gallant ‘tour guide’ in the face of such adversity... “Never in the field of Harley ride-outs, has so much water been taken onboard by so much leather etc”. A rousing hurrah also, for the brave tail-end Charlie, Ray ‘Paratrooper’ Campbell who did a splendid job keeping a beady eye on our rear ends. Special mention must go to Sarah Howard Smith who bravely stuck it out when her iron horse got a little ‘colic’ on the first day, only to return to the fray the next day, full of smiles (and gin!) and raring to go!

Thanks to one and all who made the trip such a pleasure! A great team effort - Hurrah for C&F!

Pip pip

Jo Diamond - C&F Member