When I retired a few years ago I unexpectedly found myself homeless. The old cottage I had renovated in preparation for my dotage down on the Welsh Border went out of my life along with a lot of other things I had taken for granted.
The stream at the bottom of our garden with ducks and the rumour of otters under our bridge —
the sweet aroma from the plane trees on the lawn —
memories – I had loads of them —
Like many people my partner and I had been through the Foot & Mouth debacle. With her at the sharp end organising killing and destroying the carcasses on open fires —
While I – ‘gave support Ma’am’ – at least that’s what I told the Queen when she asked me what I had done during the Foot & Mouth crisis.
Her warm smile and twinkling eyes must captivate everyone who meets her – they certainly impressed me when she stopped to speak to me at a garden party held to thank those who had been involved.
But it wasn’t enough – a few years at the sharp end in a series of farming health scares including Hen Flu – Swine Fever – Foot & Mouth and the ever present Bovine Tuberciloses whether caused by badgers or not could wear down all but the strongest relationship.
No worries! Sh*t happens – but subsequent events did leave me scarred and feeling unsettled for a long time. A fortnight on a hot beach in Jamaica with honeymooners and families for company proved no help at all for a newly single chap.
So – after spending half my working life either in England or overseas I thought I would retire to the country of my birth –
Back to bonnie Scotland.
But where in Scotland? My home county of Aberdeenshire appealed – but it had changed with the oil boom. One thing that hadn’t changed – in fact soft southern living had made it’s effects even harder to bare – was the ever-present cold wind from the North Sea that would skin you.
The Black Isle to MacDuff coastal stretch has always been a favourite of mine and was worth a closer look – but – there’s a lot of attractive country between the Border and that part of Scotland and I have worked or lived in most of it at some stage of my life.
Time to go back and check it out.
I bought a caravan as a temporary home. Not just any old caravan I may add – but an almost new Eriba Troll direct from the importer. Not the roomiest of places for a big guy but it did have a permanent double bed which fitted if I slept corner to corner with handy storage below for my bicycle – in pieces.
Even though expensive at the time the Eriba brand did have a reputation for holding their value and that proved to be the case when I sold her on to a nice couple from Waterford in Southern Ireland after three years of happy camping.
The Troll was built in Holland using aircraft technology incorporating a lightweight metal frame clad in alloy panels. The split screen and pop-top were obviously borrowed from the old VW and the up-market alloy wheels and quality interior trim added to the well-built feel. I could go on at some length about my Eriba Troll – I managed it’s limited space well on my own and really did fall in love with it.
I had turned left after crossing the English Border to visit Portpatrick and found many things I liked about south-west Scotland. In fact I eventually put down roots there – for a while.
It was all very nice in most respects but when my water system froze in early December I popped along to Thomas Cook in Castle Douglas and booked a long stay break in Tunisia with my camel for not-a-lot of dosh. I think the fact that the hotel had no roof and I had to milk my own goat had something to do with the low price for my twelve week winter warmer.
Not only did it take me away from the Scottish winter but it gave me a taste for a sunnier lifestyle. There was nothing else for it when I arrived back in Scotland in early March but to hook my Dodge to the Troll and head for Croatia. It had to be warmer there.Brrrr!
Not much if the truth be told –
Not in early March – in fact their season hadn’t even begun. I had been down that way the previous summer motorcycle racing at the old Grobnik GP circuit near Rijeka.
On that occasion I stayed in the original ‘home of racing’ in Croatia – Opatija – but the caravan site on the coast was yet to open.
In fact it all looked rather sad and didn’t look as if it would be open anytime soon.
The northern Adriatic coast isn’t exactly cold in early spring but it doesn’t get warm kisses from the Gulf Stream either.
When Easter is late – site opening dates can be a lottery.
Then I had a whisper from a fellow wanderer that there might be a caravan site open over the mountains in Istria.
So – I hauled the Troll up the mountain and through the big new toll tunnel to a different world! Istria could be Italy – only much quieter – and indeed it had been part of Italy for many years until the Croats took it back – but not before the Italian’s left their mark on it.
Istria felt as big as Wales but probably Yorkshire would make a better comparison.
The picturesque Limski Kanal – it’s actually a Fjord and I was to cycle the dirt roads and track the wild goats in the scrub oak and thorn bushes there on many occasions that summer. Tracking wild goats is easy – you can smell the big Billy from a mile away – he’s ripe!
I hit the coast by Porec and looked for a caravan site open for business. The first one I found north of Porec was open alright – but for nudists and it was still a bit on the parky side even for this ruffty-tuffty Scotsman to bare all so I carried on looking. Oops! I mean I closed my eyes and carried on! Doh!
A few miles south of Porec I came across Zelena Laguna. It would be hard to miss with it’s a massive sports & leisure complex dotted throughout the rocky outcrops – flowering meadows and pine woods bang on the coast. There were more luxury hotels and modern holiday apartment blocks than I could shake a stick at with all sorts of sports catered for. Best of all their caravan site was open and the man in charge was a fellow XJR rider – my new bro’ —
And what a site!
Top notch facilities for about ten thousand people in high season on terraces stepped down to the Adriatic with views to the nearby islands.
Croatia is the Land of a Thousand Islands.
I was told at reception which facility blocks were in use and to choose my own pitch. It wasn’t till next morning I found that someone else had claimed it as well!
When I opened my curtains and peered out the window by my bed there was a beady eye looking back at me!
Another new friend – I dubbed him Jake the Peg – cos he only had one leg!
We looked for one another every morning after that and became good mates.
He didn’t ask for much – just a few crusts and polite manner and it wasn’t long before he would hop right up to me and feed by my feet – or – if I got too engrossed in my book he would have a tug at my shoelaces.
The caravan site was about three miles over a headland and through the woods from Porec. It was a pleasant walk or cycle on the many trails through the pines and it kept me active and at least gave me enough exercise to work off my morning latte from the cafe beside the boats in Porec harbour.
It had been quite an easy tow from Scotland to Croatia with one stop in Robin Hood Forest north of Nottingham plus a night with my daughter and family near London before heading for the channel ferry. A daft idea to take a shortcut off the Brussels version of the M25 resulted in an unplanned visit to some shady down-town streets. I don’t mean tree type shady either – not at ten o’clock at night! It wasn’t the sort of place you were expected to be with a caravan on tow but somehow I found my way back to the outer ring unscathed and breathed more easily. That will teach me to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to cut straight across the city when I thought I had chosen the wrong way round the outer ring road!
Zelena Laguna – the perfect place to stay after a long drive down through Europe with a caravan on tow. I learned to appreciate the laid back lifestyle with the Italian influence in Istria – in fact I was tempted to stay – if only for the sunsets over the Adriatic on my doorstep —
And stay I did – for all of eight months. When Zelena Laguna got too hot and busy for my taste in the summer months I moved to the hills where I rented a top floor apartment – with a breeze —
and a view
where I worked on my fitness
When the ICGP Series for Grand Prix bikes from the seventies came back to race at Grobnik —
I went over the mountain and tied up with Bill & Ian again and helped sip the winner’s champagne.
I was to visit Grobnik a few times in the coming months and spent time with my old mate Cobra – pronounced Zobra – a Zagreb hotshot who ruled the Classic Racing scene with his 750cc Norton. He wanted me to come ride for Zagreb Racing. I could have a cottage in his home village next to his mum and have a young lady housekeeper to teach me Serbo-Croat.
Looking back I can’t believe I turned his offer down!
But my head had been turned by a counter-offer from one of the BigTeams from Northern Italy.
With them I could have all the pasta I could eat from the big communal pot – washed down with a few bottles of their finest red —
All I had to do was sign on the dotted line with my new manager and I would be riding the latest Ducati 848 —
and once again tasting the Winner’s Champagne —
Yes I almost put down roots there in Istria where motorcycling and motorcyclists in every shape and form are very popular but to stumble across this next chap standing proudly with his ancient moto-guzzi where most homes would put their television was a big surprise,
I had been eyeing up this smart old jeep – fitted with rifle and logging axe in the hill-top town of Motovun when he came over – probably worried that I might run off with his baby. I was sorly tempted —
Guzzi Man was also responsible for the restoration of the Triumph Spitfire just over the road.
It transpired that his real love affair was with the old guzzi 500cc single motors that he collected and built into his own chopper style frames out back of his house in the shed —
I was honoured to be allowed inside with my camera .
The chopper scene wasn’t my thing back then but I did recognise and admire the care and good workmanship lavished on his creations in those basic surroundings —
Another friend – the janitor at the local school in Motovun and he is into bikes too.
Don’t be put off by the unsmiling viage – it’s a Croation thing – only tourists smile for the camera. Here he is with his home brewed Honda Special – built out of an American import 900cc Honda.
I was equally impressed with his wine cellar complete with three monster wooden barrels of the season’s vintage where he kept the big Honda – but even an invite to join the party for the late October truffle hunting season at the hilltop town of Motovun wasn’t enough.
For despite making friends there and enjoying the lifestyle – by the time Autumn came round —
I had stupidly listened to one too many hard luck story from northern europeans who had gone to Croatia with similar dreams to my own and lost everything.
You guessed it –
I bade Jake-the-Peg goodbye —
and moved gixxer —
and caravan —
back across Europe to the UK where for some daft reason I had undertaken to do a Round Britain Charity Ride.
Leaving behind another of the haunting – ‘what if’s’ – we’ve all had at some point in our lives.