So having dashed off a few lines about riding before, I wondered how hard it could be to write something to capture the happenings on the recent TVAM trip to Mullenborn – named after our past late Chairman David Jacobi who started it all back in 2009.
The thing about Germany is it’s a long way away. This means to get there in a single day you either have to leave home very early or stay down in Kent near the Eurotunnel terminal. Being an older chap, used to a comfortable life and afternoon naps, I chose the latter and booked into what I thought was the Holiday Inn at North Ashford. I’d stayed there many times before and it’s got good rooms, secure parking under CCTV cameras and, most importantly, a bar and food. In the car park is a ‘pub’ owned by the hotel which serves an alternative menu.
Only on checking my booking on the morning of departure did I see I’d actually reserved a room at the totally different Ashford International Hotel. Apart from being a bit more expensive and a lot bigger, it delivered the sleep package I was looking for. It did have the advantage of being next door to a Sainsbury’s Superstore, which serves probably the cheapest petrol in Kent, right on Junction 9 of the M20 if you’re passing.
So come the Friday morning arriving at the tunnel terminal was a steady stream of TVAMers all kitted out with top boxes, panniers and strap-on luggage, eager and excited about the long weekend ahead. Those of us with weather apps though were more excited about the biblical weather forecast for northern France that awaited us. Embarking went smoothly and all 40 bikes managed to get to France on the train without incident.
The run from the tunnel to the hotel is not a short affair as it necessitates crossing France and Belgium before descending into Germany so, rather than have a peloton of 40 bikes in convoy, we split into three groups of around 12 – 15 bikes each. Now, despite the harmonisation of Europe, speed limits in each country are different. In France the motorways are 130kph unless raining when they reduce to 110kph. Over most of the country the speed limit on rural roads is just 80kph. In Belgium the motorways are 120kph regardless of conditions (like the UK) and rural roads are 90kph. In Germany though sense prevails and the motorway limit is 130kph with rural roads being 100kph. They also have very few speed cameras – unlike Luxembourg – but more of that later!
Sure enough the heavens delivered on their promise and within an hour of leaving the tunnel our waterproofs were being tested as only the manufacturers could have dreamed of. Through France the 110kph limit seemed sensible with the spray and so speeding up to 120kph in Belgium was probably not a wise move. Of course our group of 15 bikers soldiered bravely on and once in Germany the clouds were touching the hills either side of the road. Even a downhill motorway section with a slight bend seemed testing at 80kph (that’s 50mph for any Brexiteers).
Two of the three groups chose the the motorway all-the-way route, which though bum-numbing and boring got us to the hotel in time for an early bath and beer well before dinner. One brave group though went for the wiggly half-and-half route and arrived some time after the others, somewhat drowned and thankful no doubt for a hot shower and dinner.
As always Frau Maria, owner of the Landhaus Mullenborn hotel, did us proud on the meal front. Feeding 40+ bikers at one time takes some skill but we sat down to a hearty three course meal with main courses to suit all tastes and food persuasions. My argument that beef is really a vegetarian dish as they only eat grass won few votes but there was still plenty to go round for everyone. Dessert was a selection of cheese cake on sponge (a change from a biscuit base) and other colourful choices. And so it was every evening including the excellent BBQ cooked on the terrace on Sunday evening.
Saturday dawned bright and beautiful and with wet weather gear stowed a number of runs set off to explore the area. Immediately noticeable were the wonderful road surfaces, all black, smooth, and curvy. The Germans still invest heavily in their road network, as a few found out by the number of road closures we came across as they re-laid thick tarmac over large sections. Why try the infamous Nurburgring when for free you can ride roads like this?
Sunday was a repeat of Saturday only most people trying a different route from the day before. With 6 different choices it was a hard decision which to go on. My group decided to do the North Loop route which promised coffee and cakes as well as river views. Sure enough we arrived at the Luxembourg border in good shape to storm across the bridge and into the river-side cafe where a huge selection of cakes and pastries awaited. The diet was on hold (again). As this cafe also has a fuel station we were able to also replenish our bike’s thirst for fuel and then head-off back into Germany for more twisty roads. A stop at the ‘Ring’ was inevitable so at Adenau we stopped for afternoon refreshments and a bit of spectating. Unfortunately an incident had closed the track so apart from seeing two cars and motorcycle exiting on the back of flatbed trucks there was little action to see.
Monday was a day for going off-piste. A small number of us set off to reconnoitre a possible new route for next year. Taking a slightly different route down some really fast (ahem) twisty roads back to the Luxembourg border for morning coffee and cakes (again!). Then it was new stuff and with Garmin twisty routes selected we set off towards Belgium and to the town of Bastogne. Here they commemorate the WWII Battle of the Bulge which took place in the hills around the town. Sure enough there were a couple of 2nd World War jeeps there as their drivers did their own road trip and of course the Sherman tank which is parked proudly on the edge of the square to remind everyone, complete with battle scars.
Unfortunately our trip had taken us across to Luxembourg whose police had kindly placed a few speed cameras along our test route. And yes, some of our number tried them out, they do work and what’s more they are very efficient at getting the letters out!
Tuesday was the return trip to Blighty. An early breakfast was followed by the mass photo and then the three groups started to wind their way home. A group of four decided to go independently and take the half and half route to the tunnel but having been thwarted by yet more road closures and diversions reverted to the motorways and actually beat the first motorway group to the tunnel! Not sure how that happened – hopefully not more letters in the post!
First published in Slipstream September 2019