Alright, I'll admit it… I watched Downton Abbey. All of it. Every episode from every season. And I liked it. Yea, that's right. British melodrama at its finest ¬– pompous class structure, upstairs and downstairs, where Victorian meets Edwardian in a bit of BBC television that only the most masochistic of us men can endure. Six seasons of the stuff. And I loved every minute of it. To preface, my mother was once an importer and distributor of British goods into the United States. The company that she and her ex-husband owned, Christopher Brookes Distinctive Foods, brought you British jams and jellies, teas and cookies, Paddington Bear and a really bad energy drink called Irn-Bru. So to say I was subjected to English culture from an early age would be an understatement. We had house exchange programs in England, and the offspring of our exporters lived with us in the States at various times. Jonathan, Nieves,

South Wales ride
South Wales, along the water, is a rich combination of colors met almost suddenly by the sea.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Ogmore-by-Sea
A long pause was in order when we arrived at Ogmore-by-Sea.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

Paul, Christopher, Kevin and Gale to name a few. I still have the cricket bat (?) and ball one of them gave me. So when we hatched this plan to circumnavigate England on our Royal Enfield Continental GT and Bullet 500, one of the few places I felt we must visit was Highclere Castle, a traditional English countryside castle and the fictional home of Lord Grantham and his family – Downton Abbey as I knew it. What I didn't know was that the real Lord of this estate, George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (now deceased), was the gentleman who funded the excavation of King Tutankhamen's tomb. And that the basement of this magnificent home was full of ancient Egyptian artifacts, to include the gold mask that was found adorning the face of the young king when his sarcophagus was unearthed. How the hell could I have overlooked that fact!?

More English sheep
Fields full of sheep, guarded from their inevitable fate by a simple stone wall, edged cliffs along the coast.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Bridgend, England
While our ride to South Wales was mostly on the motorway, our time in and around Bridgend was beautiful.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Royal Enfield Continental GT
The Continental GT sang its glorious single-cylinder song for hours, as we made our way from Chester to Bridgend.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

Prior to our arrival at Highclere, however, we had to ride across Wales. Which is no short task. We had stayed in Chester the night before, a small English village on the border between North Wales and Great Britain. The ride to Chester was a wet one (click here to read about that in Part Six) so our eagerness to ride an even greater distance the next day had diminished. But! A friend had emailed – an illustrator who had created something for a short children's surfing story we worked on years ago – and he wanted us to visit him in South Wales. His name is Iolo Edger – "Yolo" is how you pronounce the first part, and what a fitting name for a man like this!

We had planned to ride into Wales. To take the small, slower roads and make our way to Bridgend where we were to meet our friend and finish off the evening with pints and foul play. But a Google maps rerouting sent us onto the ‘M’ motorway and whisked us briskly along the border, south, for what felt like forever. The kind of miles that make you question your objective. Our arrival to Bridgend, however, was about as warm as one can imagine. Iolo had sorted us a place to stay, walking distance from the pub where we were to meet him. We’ve never met this man, not in person. An online acquaintance that had kept in touch since our previously mentioned art project. Fans of his work and eager to meet someone new and seemingly likeminded, we were greeted at the door of The Coach pub by a robust boisterous man wearing a small cap, big beard and even larger smile. His shirt was buttoned to the top and he wore a blue blazer. “Iolo I am!” he exclaimed. Then he hugged me. Friends came forward and were introduced to us. “These guys are riding around on their motorbikes and have come all the way to Bridgend to see me.” True story.

Roman Bathhouse
Seen one church seen them all? I think not! This amazing piece of architecture sat in the center of Bath, a town known for, yes, its Roman Bathhouse.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

We might have consumed a bit too much booze that night. And then Indian food. And more booze. Cobra and Kingfisher was followed up by San Miguel, a Filipino beer that we wouldn’t recommend to even our worst enemies. It was a wonderful night, albeit blurry.

Bird on head in England
We’re pretty sure this guy was appalled at the idea Kyra didn’t want a bird to sit on her head for a photo.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle, home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, and made famous by the BBC television program, Downton Abbey.Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Castle doors in England
There are doors, and then there are doors! This mighty piece of wood and metal has been keeping people out since the 17th century.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

The next morning, er, afternoon, we packed up our things and hit the road, headed full speed for Highclere Castle. But before we were to leave Wales, Iolo insisted we visit the coastline just south of the city. Good thing we did. A slow two-lane road took us to the sea. We wandered west, then south along the shoulder, with bright blue ocean on one side and rolling hills with sheep filled fields on the other. Classic. “They study the rock formations along this coastline in order to better understand how the earth was formed,” Iolo had told me the night before.

The one and only Iolo Edger
The one, the only… Iolo Edger!Photo: Justin W. Coffey
Royal Enfield Bullet 500
Kyra, admiring the coast of South Wales from the seat of her Royal Enfield Bullet 500.Photo: Justin W. Coffey

The ride to Highclere was pretty cut and dry – we spent much of the day on a motorway marked with an 'A,' short for 'A lot less fun.' But our arrival at this ancient abode was both highly anticipated and wholly gratifying simultaneously. The opening scene of Downton Abbey has Lord Grantham climbing a hill, his estate in the distance, looming, beautiful. And it was just so when we saw it. A manor house as they call it. Massive, ancient and most impressive. We wandered about the grounds, took a few photos and then stepped inside to see their collection of art and antiquities, the latter of which includes, as I mentioned, an incredible selection from the former Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter's efforts in Egypt. Our Enfields were watched over by a pair of security guards who couldn't help but tells us stories about friends and family members who, like us, had ridden Royal Enfield motorcycles. This was something that had happened to us often. Addressed in the street or from the window of a car standing at a light next to us. These bikes, like the castle that we came to see, were a point-of-interest that drew like-minded people together.