A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

Home Travel Stories

A Bolton Christmas Anti-Extravaganza

Ride Date 25 December 2020

By Ren Withnell

You'd have to be living on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri to not know this has been a "different" year here on Earth. As such Christmas day so far has been different too. I've just covered around 100 miles in the car in an effort to transport myself and my son to see mother/grandma in as safe a setting as we can muster. Social distances (mostly) kept, windows open, muffled voices behind masks, you know the script.

After all this the day is almost done. There's barely an hour of daylight left for a Christmas ride out plus it's cool and damp outside. I'm not feeling it this year, I'm not pensive to be out on the bike at all. 

But I decide to at least make an effort, even if it is but a small, insignificant effort. I muster myself with Facebook style mantras like "you only get out what you put in" and "don't give up, never give up". I have a pet hate of these sayings. They've always struck me as the words of people clinging to the wreckage of perceived once glorious pasts or regurgitated life guru nonsense. And here am I, doing just that...

When you can't really be "bovverd" the best machine is logically the Honda CBF125. I depart in search of new worlds and hidden gems, in Bolton, in the centre of the borough I've lived for 20 years. Oh yes, indeed, truly I am pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone to the MAX today am I not. It's been a "meh" kind of year, this will be a "meh" kind of Christmas ride too. 

My recalcitrant attitude soon lightens. It's not as cold as I thought. There is time. I do still enjoy riding motorcycles and the 125 is perfect for this kind of journey. It is refreshing to have these roads mostly to myself. Yes, yeah, actually this might be OK. This might only be a short ride to a place I know but I'm out, I'm riding a motorcycle and I'm not working. 

If you fell out of an aircraft and landed in Bolton save for the odd sign you could be in any town in the UK. It has the same shops and street furniture and shopping malls and supermarkets and architecture as anywhere else. The town centre and high street is in decline, but then aren't they all? Once vibrant hubs of retail and nightlife are giving way to out-of-town retail parks, internet services and cheap supermarket booze. Covid-19 will only hasten their demise as we all realise the world can come to our door, we don't have to go out to get it any more.

Drab concrete buildings from the 60s and the common or garden shops of bolton
Shops, like countless other shops in the UK and the world.

Bolton does have a gem or two though. Le Mans Crescent and the Town Hall hail from an era when "Britain ruled the waves" or "we used our industrial revolution power to invade everywhere". It speaks of grandeur and wealth, of Victoriana and of imposing power. I find it both impressive and yet repressive. I guess that's why it is oft used as a backdrop for films and TV series.

Grand Victorian architecture of Le Mans Crescent Bolton
Russia? London? Rome? Bolton offers everything, except the weather.
Bolton Town hall with grand stairs, clock tower and colonnades
Impressive architecture built on the wealth of a chequered history.

Beyond this the old ESB motorcycle shop has gone, replaced with some on-trend startup businesses trying to make the now dysfunctional building useful. Modern apartment blocks with crisp brickwork look misplaced beside crumbling buildings, there's no money or reason to fix them but they're historic so can't be altered or knocked down. Patches of half concreted land behind railings are overgrown eyesores while greenfields are built upon. 

A modern 7 story block of shops and apartments and an old run down pub
Old and new. 
Metal railing and overgrown wasteland where buildings once stood
Wasteland is, well, a waste of land.

In these grey skies it's equally fascinating and saddening. I feel sorry for Bolton, but it's not just Bolton, Bolton isn't a bad place. Change is a fact of life, change is leaving our town centres behind. Maybe another change will come and town centres will become something new and useful once more. 

Another ordinary block of apartments. I notice a touch, a small, unimportant touch that shows just there merest hint of hope. Steel panels protect the parking area, grey and lifeless save for some subtle, simple, cheap artwork. Just a few monochrome images from Bolton's industrial past subtly added. They're not life changing, impressive or transformational. They do suggest that a designer or an architect somewhere cares, maybe there is hope.

Dull drab metal panels, with a simple green print of a Victorian mill worker
It's not much, but it matters.

The retail parks are empty save for a learner car driver, stuttering, stalling, bouncing in the wide open area. I can't think of a better place and a better day to get to grips with clutches and gears and steering and brakes. 

As I return home in the darkness I am glad I made the effort. Save for a phone call to father and the chance of an as yet unseen film on TV that's another Christmas over and done with, mercifully. Back to tier whatever-we-are, as you were gentlefolk, as you were.

Contact [email protected]

Reader's Comments

Bogger said :-
Well that was mildly depressing LOL. For years I and a small group of us, have had a new years eve ride out. This is the first year in about fourteen that we've not been out and about. But, what with the weather (not that the weather has stopped us before) and this lockdown Covid stuff. We didn't bother. Now I feel guilty about not going.
Knowing my luck I'd of been pulled over and fined.

Bogger....Ever the optimist
11/01/2021 15:13:22 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Ed, glad you got out on the dog, I managed a walk but as an habitual winter bike parker upperer, it wasn't coming out on Christmas Day. Although I did always look forward to my Boxing Day ride at work when you would always end up at SCFC or PVFC.
I've never been to Bolton but I am no stranger to Lancashire with trips to see friends and relatives in Oldham, Ecclestone, Blackburn and Rossendale etc.
I think Bolton reminds me a lot of Newcastle upon the Tyne, a mix of grandeur, new, old and downtrodden.
Good on ya ar Ed.
Enjoyed that......
11/01/2021 16:32:50 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
You don't need to go looking for trouble Bogger. I think if a group, even a small group of riders mounted on diminutive velocipedes were spotted "givin' it large at 30mph" on New Year's Eve then the rozzers would have wanted a word in your respective shell-likes. The cost of the fines would be more than the value of the machines as like as not.

SCFC, PVFC, I had to google that Upt'. Stoke City FC and Port Vale FC, presumably from your previous life in the north midlands. I can only imagine the fun of dealing with many thousand turkey stuffed fans. Eccleston (no "e" on the end)? Is that the Eccleston near Chorley, the Eccleston near St Helens or the Great Eccleston near Blackpool? If it's the one near Chorley that's where mother dearest lives and I spent many an hour as a teenager there trying and failing to make advances on young ladies.
11/01/2021 17:16:54 UTC
Bogger said :-
Upt. Are you from Stoke me Duck'

11/01/2021 17:21:27 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Eccleston near Chorley Ed.
11/01/2021 17:37:47 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Technically North Staffordshire rather than The City, but yes.
11/01/2021 17:38:40 UTC
Bogger said :-
I'm originally from Penkhull. Till I got married.

11/01/2021 19:54:05 UTC
Upt'North said :-
At the aforementioned duties we'd parade occasionally at Thistley Hough.
I was dragged up at Talke Pits, hence not the City because it was Newcastle Borough, never lived in the City but spent 25 years at Meir Heath (Stafford Borough) before moving to Scotland and then Northumberland. Small world bud.
11/01/2021 23:24:14 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Upt' - it is a small world. My mother lives in the Eccleston where your friends/rellies live. And also Sharon and I have a friend who lives on Audley Rd, Talke Pits.

Bogger - that'll teach you to get married.
12/01/2021 09:01:46 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Ed, spooky or wat.
My Gran lived down Audley Road before moving into an old folks bungalow in the village. You'd turn down between the Queens and St.Martins church and after about half a mile there was a row of terraced houses. I think they would have been miners houses at one time. The area was known as Venice, but I haven't got a clue why. Note to self......research required.
She was in the first block and I'm thinking maybe No.15 but I'm probably wrong. I still remember the outside toilet, you'd never forget that smell.
These must literally be amongst my first memories of life, she moved probably when I was around 5.
My extended family are still regulars in the Queens, they've kept it going for years, pandemic allowing.
12/01/2021 13:21:17 UTC
nab301 said :-
Excellent write up and some interesting history Ren , after reading about your last years trip I had intended doing something something similar in my part of the world but I felt the need to clock miles instead and thought I might do similar on new years day but ended up stuck with a 5KM travel limit which put paid to that.
12/01/2021 19:33:33 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I'm pleased to see my Christmas excursions have motivated you to ride nab301. I'm also pleased you sent me the report of your ride. I just hope, selfishly, this virus can rapidly disappear so we can all get out there on two wheels.

I'm dreaming of nothing more to start with than a weekend away in Wales, that would be smashing. Then perhaps a week in Scotland, oh my, mmmmmm, mountains. I'm merely hopeful but not at all convinced that Europe may be accessible too this year but right now I'd be happy with a brew in a cafe with some friends.
14/01/2021 12:51:40 UTC
Bogger said :-
Thistley hough was my high-school. Small world indeed.

16/01/2021 23:05:24 UTC
Bogger said :-
Actually did my Cbt there as well. Cripes.

16/01/2021 23:06:39 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Got me thinkin, never did a CBT but I still remember my bike test. It was at Cobridge test centre, probably 1978, probably Autumn. For those that don't know North Staffordshire this is in the heart of The City.
It was a damn awful day and I walked into the test centre in full waterproofs and drippin from every nook and cranny. It was a joint centre for cars and bikes and the examiner wasn't best pleased to be doing a bike test. He didn't have to ride, they just walked around a small area of backstreets and the attendee did as they were told. Which in my case was turn right 4 times and I'd be back at the front door.
Somewhere on that 400 yard ride I was instructed that said examiner with bright orange umbrella would signal me to do an emergency stop. "But don't brake too hard, it's wet". Well there was no need to brake hard because he gave me 100 yards to stop whilst travelling at about 15 mph.
He ran passed me shouting he'd see me back at the ranch.
I completed the course in about another 30 seconds, ringa dinging away on my beautiful GT250A. What a bike, went like stink.
I walked in the centre (converted terraced house) and was not allowed to proceed further than the door, the cleaning lady with mop in hand took one look at me and said,"it was you was it duck"!
The examiner asked if I'd read the highway code and I assured him I had done nothing else for days, which was probably a bit of a fib, I was seventeen after all, beer was cheap and girls liked motorbikes.
I was handed my already completed pass certificate and told to, "get out, drippin everywhere".
I promptly went out and bought a RD400 but wished I'd kept the Ringa Dinga.
Happy sweet, innocent days. Well fairly innocent.
17/01/2021 13:15:26 UTC
Upt'North said :-
If you're thinkin I never turned left on the bike, you're right, probably never leant it over more than 5 degrees.
Can't think why lots of young riders bit the dust?
17/01/2021 13:19:53 UTC
nab301 said :-
Interesting memories on the bike test , although I'm in a different jurisdiction, we had the same sort of test, I also had to go righthand in although I was failed first time , I arrived back a week later ( managed to get a cancellation) and was given a pass certificate .... I managed to pass my car test first time a year later aged 17 .
I remember working a couple of weekend shifts in a local petrol station as a schoolboy and a regular had an RD 400 which he eventually "upgraded " to an XS500 . The XS sounded fantastic and the owner mentioned how smooth it was and how good on fuel it was compared to the RD . As an avid reader of motorcycle mechanics magazine at the time I rattled on about how the balance shafts in the motor helped with this although I don't think the owner appreciated my words of wisdom! Old copies of UMG class the XS as rubbish and the RD400 as an excellent bike with more torque than many other strokers. Care to elaborate on the RD? !!

17/01/2021 13:54:32 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
My bike test was in December 1972. Although I'd been riding for a while I'd never bothered with the test, having a mighty Francis Barnett for commuting in the late 1960s then ditching it for a car for a few years. Extreme poverty and a terminally rusty Ford Anglia 105E forced me into going for a 1948 Norton 16H sidecar combination - in those days you could ride an outfit on L plates and even take an unqualified passenger. But I wanted to unleash the nighty 500cc side valve as a solo so went for the test.

It was snowing heavily when I arrived at the test centre in eastern Birmingham. Like Upt' I was told to just keep turning left. Those unfamiliar with sidecars will not be aware that left turns especially with an unladen chair can be quite tricky, and in fact it hadn't been that long since I'd partially mastered the art. Anyway off I set in the driving snow looking for the examiner to pop out with his clipboard. I almost ran him over when he popped out from behind a parked car, the Norton brakes not being brilliant at the best of times and virtually useless in the packed snow.

By some miracle I managed to avoid him and returned rather shaken to the test centre expecting to have failed. I don't recall being asked any questions but was very pleased to be granted the "pass" certificate so I could set to removing the sidecar. Sadly it didn't go much faster as a solo and the brakes were just as bad. But it did give me invaluable experience in the finer points of "classic" maintenance....
17/01/2021 14:33:09 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Nigel, I will.
But first the merits of the GT250A, it just did everything right and with minimal maintenance just kept going. It was plenty quick enough too and like most 250's of the day could get up to 85'ish without too much trouble, any more would involve trying to place your upper torso behind the clocks.
Now ya RD400, ya know, I think I expected it to be so much quicker, more fun, to handle better; but no it felt pretty much the same and you seemed to sit on top of it more.
After diligently running it in, remember that (?), I was riding north on the M6 towards Sandbach at normal'ish speeds when it decided to eat a piston, in one gulp.
Then I seemed to lose faith in it and after it threw me off whilst trying to flex itself in half it was promptly swapped for a blue CB550f2.
But I wouldn't have swapped it for an XS500.

17/01/2021 15:37:57 UTC
nab301 said :-
Thanks and ouch !
17/01/2021 16:09:22 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
When I wur a lad there were 2 parts to the test. There was a VERY simple version of the modern Mod 1(cones, emergency stop etc). I turned up at a school playground and did a couple of figure 8s and got a certificate. The second part was similar to today, an on road ride with radio comms and a few highway codey questions afterwards. Apparently I missed the old "left left left left around the block" test by a couple of years.
18/01/2021 12:36:05 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Ed, you look older than that.

18/01/2021 13:27:42 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
He's had a hard life. Or so he keeps telling us.
18/01/2021 14:26:37 UTC
Pedro said :-
My test was 1973, at Bilston, West Mids. I borrowed a mates BSA Starfire for the test as my Yamaha 100 twin was a bit rough. I could see the examiner hiding at various points, in a shop doorway, and in a phone box. When it came to the emergency stop the bike backfired and cut out, and refused to start again. The examiner said, leave it where it is and walk back to the test centre, as he was about to ask me to return to the test centre anyway. Back at the test centre, a few questions, and I was awarded a pass.
I had a couple of GT250'S in the 70's. Very nice bikes, handled well, and lively performance. I also had a GT550, which was a nice bike to ride, but fuel consumption was ridiculous. I think my favourite bike during the 70's was a 650 Bonneville. It sounded very nice with a pair of Dunstall megaphone silencers. It never let me down, and it didn't leak oil! Wish I had it now.
18/01/2021 15:35:01 UTC
Upt'North said :-
If that Bonnie wasn't leaking oil Pedro it must have run dry!
Can't remember what the GT 250 did mpg wise, I'm guessing 40'ish.
18/01/2021 16:06:38 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I had a very large paper round on a mountain in Scotland. I was living in Blackburn at the time. Eeee times wur 'ard but we wur 'appy.

These tales of the old test do make me laugh. They come from halcyon days when you could leave your front door open (because no-one had anything worth stealing) and life was cheap (because life was miserable).

And yeah, if that Bonnie wasn't leaking Pedro...
19/01/2021 09:52:42 UTC
Kerry said :-
My test was 2001. Here in ireland you couldn't get a test on an automatic scooter back then. So you had to get a provisional licence which was only valid for a year and could only be renewed on proof of having applied (and paid for) a full test......that you couldn't do... fairly frustrating to someone like myself who liked to pick up a scoot from time to time. Nothing for it but do the full proper bike test. Especially as CBT etc was looming . I purchased a suitable bike , a naked 1990 Japanese import Honda cb1 400. Turned up at the test centre half hour before lunchtime drowned wet (common theme). Cranky instructor initially called off due to weather (lazy sod he was going to be in a car), then called after me and sent me ro do laps of a housing estate plus an emergency stop and lastly a u turn (honestly a U turn....Is there a more dangerous manouvre) back to the centre 5 questions in the yard as I was too soaked to be let in. Passed . Happy days. Sold my beautiful 400/4 for fear of lampooning myself. Big mistake it was a beauty plus 58 bhp gem of a motor. Love your site and travel blogs. We have a camper and am always studying routes that we might do like your Scottish 500. I totally agree with your sentiments on campsites. The tent people are almost always placed farthest away from the facilities.


27/01/2021 14:45:59 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
When did the CBT come into play in Ireland Kerry? I was teaching CBTs here in England in 1995 or thereabouts so I'm guessing it must have been later.

I had a CB400 Super Four which shared a great deal with the CB1 400. There is indeed something quite special about these bikes. They seemed to fall right into a sweet spot, smooth 4 cylinder even at low revs, access to good power higher up, small and manageable without being tiny and cramped. Damn reliable too if my own experience was anything to go by.

Enjoy your camper travels Kerry (Tony), if you've got any good recommendations yourself let us know.
28/01/2021 08:56:11 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Funny isn't it? I really didn't get on with the super 4. I found it gutless below about 6K with a tendency to bog down, cramped and uncomfortable. It was OK when I got it on the cam but wailing about at 10K + all day just isn't natural to me. And reliable? Possibly once I'd sorted various problems out (the intermittent open circuit on a plug cap had me foxed for a while but I suppose that's down to NGK not Honda).

Good job we don't all like the same things though isn't it?
28/01/2021 10:46:29 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I think the CB400 Super Four would be a little small for a tall chap like yourself Ian. It's a Japanese home market model and, at risk of being branded racist, generally the Japanese were smaller in stature in the mid 90s. For myself the dimensions were fine.

A 400c four cylinder engine is never going to punchy at the lower end. What I found though is the power low down was smooth, calm, relaxing and easy to live with. I was instructing back then and the lack of neck-wrenching acceleration was welcome after a day of stop-starts, u-turns, frightening customers and heavy weather. Then when the mood and conditions were right it could be pretty rapid if wound up. I had only one reggy reccy fail in 2.5 years and around 50,000 miles.
28/01/2021 15:12:18 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Racial stereotyping, let's not go there.
28/01/2021 15:46:05 UTC
Kerry said :-
Over here it's called IBT and it came in back 2010. Note we don't mot test motorcycles here yet. Ian being 5/5 sort of solves any cramped up issues on most bikes. If memory serves me right you are correct on the power delivery in the lower revs but it was easy enough to complete the slow speed manoeuvres of the test. Of course with power all things relative and at the time I was only used to small 2 stroke scooters. It was the only Honda bike I've owned but have a friend who has put 100k miles on a 2000 vfr 750 with only consumables plus an exhaust system. Ren will hopefully get camping later in the year and will happily pass on any recommendations. Your good self passed through my home town Listowel on your Ireland trip so small world
28/01/2021 15:56:43 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Ahh yes! I've just been and re-read the page where I pass through Listowel. My goodness that was 5 years back, time flies it seems. Listowel is a very different place to my home town of Bolton, I wish I could come a visit once more. Right now I'd be happy with a trip to Southport.
28/01/2021 19:43:45 UTC
Kerry said :-
Ren. Crazy times. But as ever this storm will pass. If you are through my way again you can camp at our place. There is a unique French designed monorail in listowel and one of those ferries you like only 8 miles away. Apologies for using screenshots. Tony
Posted Image
28/01/2021 22:36:33 UTC
said :-

Posted Image
28/01/2021 23:49:17 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Oh you're selling it to me Kerry! Sharon ain't been that way yet and I think there's still a lot I ain't seen. Camp at your place? Do you run a campsite or have you a big garden?
30/01/2021 14:09:37 UTC
Kerry said :-
Nope i wish.Regular bungalow just outside town. Plenty space for a tent. Throw it up in the shed if too wet.
30/01/2021 14:21:33 UTC
nab301 said :-
First time I've heard of the monorail! I feel day trip coming on when permitted..
30/01/2021 16:10:50 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I always kick myself that I never went on the maglev train that used to run between Birmingham Airport and International railway station. No idea why not. Yet another one of those things that I would have liked to have done.

Interesting that the Japanese managed to make a reliable version.
30/01/2021 16:25:56 UTC

Post Your Comment Posts/Links Rules



Add a RELEVANT link (not required)

Upload an image (not required)

No uploaded image
Real Person Number
Please enter the above number below

Home Travel Stories

Admin -- -- Service Records Ren's Nerding Blog