26 November 1999

Retired MD keeps up to speed with

two-wheel tours

You wont find him in

the greenhouse or on

the golf course. No,

you are more likely to find

retired estate manager

Graeme Hector bombing

along the autobahn.

Jeremy Hunt reports

SITTING astride 1100cc of BMW technology costing over £10,000, travelling at 115 mph along the German autobahn, with a state-of-the- art global positioning system poised on the dashboard and plugged into an electric body vest sounds like a real adrenaline rush.

But its probably not the most relaxing way to spend your retirement. While more leisurely pursuits fill the lives of most 66-year-old men, particularly those who have been at the top of their profession, that was certainly never going to be the case for Graeme Hector.

Recently retired as managing director and farms director of the Lowther Estate in Cumbria, Mr Hector is widely known and respected following his 37 years running Lord Lonsdales 1416ha (3500 acres). A prominent member of the Royal Smithfield Club – he served on council and has been a sheep-ring steward at the show for 20 years – this congenial Scot epitomises the image of estate management.

But in retirement dont expect to find him pottering in the greenhouse or putting on the golf course. When he isnt off-piste skiing – yes, thats his other passion – hes planning his next motorcycling expedition.

And it wont just be a jaunt around the nearby Lake District or even a quick whiz down the M6. Youre far more likely to hear Mr Hector recalling his visit to the Arctic Circle or the time he became pally with the locals in the depths of the Hungarian countryside. This man is the Michael Palin the BBC forgot to call.

The Hector family has always loved motorcycles. Graeme Hector owned his first in 1949 and a spell in the Territorial Army gave him the chance to show off his skills in competition riding. But the demands of his career meant that two-wheeled travel had to take a back seat when he joined Lowther Estates in 1961.

&#42 Rekindled interest

Married to Jean and with two sons both involved in farming – Richard is working with a dairy herd in Northamptonshire and John is a ranch manager in Venezuela – it was only when he retired that Mr Hector promised he would rekindle his interest in touring motorcycles.

"Ive always liked outdoor pursuits. I enjoy mountain walking, Ive done some sailing on Lake Ullswater and Ive been a keen skier all my life but Ive always wanted to get back onto a motorcycle."

But clearly not just any motorcycle. Glistening in the autumn sunshine, the silver-grey bodywork and aerodynamic lines of his BMW RT 1100cc machine look a far cry from anything the Two Fat Ladies might have considered. This is a big boys toy costing more than a few weeks pocket money.

&#42 20,000 miles

"As soon as I saw it I knew it was the one for me," he says. Already the partnership has notched up 20,000 miles across Europe and there are even more ambitious tours planned.

With the very latest in touring motorcycle technology beneath him – including moveable windscreen, heated handlebars not to mention engine power capable of comfortable cruising at 155mph – Mr Hector covers up to 500 miles a day during his annual forays into Europe.

Apart from its power and handling ability, the bikes luggage capacity means he can carry ample clothing and equipment for a two-week tour. "Its sheer luxury. I can be on the motorcycle all day and then climb out of my protective gear, remove the inner-bags from the panniers and walk into a hotel. No one would guess Id just ridden 500 miles on two wheels."

But he is not a speed junkie. "Its more challenging than driving a car. Youre continually reading the road and thinking ahead. Yes, you are exposed but its wonderful being so much closer to nature and the environment that surrounds you."

And its not only the sights and sounds that make motorcycling his passion. "The smell of farming in different countries – barley fields in Hungary, new mown hay in France, cabbages being harvested in Eastern Austria – really brings you close to day to day life in these rural areas. Thats something you dont get from car travel."

A computerised global positioning system is the latest piece of hi-tech gadgetry to accompany Mr Hector on his travels. "Its got maps of the whole world in it so if I arrive on the outskirts of Milan and want to go through the city I can use the GPS to guide me through on the shortest route and tell me how long it will take."

Each tour involves around three months planning in meticulous detail. The first trip took in Germany, through Austria to the Slovenian border and the Dolomites, on to the Black Forest and the Nuremberg Ring, to France and Switzerland and back to Holland.

"I called that my grand tour of Europe – a total of 2,800 miles in two weeks." Since then there has been a visit to Sweden, over the Arctic Circle and into Norway and more recently the trip to East Germany and Hungary. Next on the list are the Pyrenees.

And what does his wife Jean think about all this solo adventuring? "Youre only here once. We have some great holidays together but this is something that Graeme has always wanted to do and I think its wonderful that hes achieving it."