My story….

Castles and Coastlines 2020 (beyond the limit)

by Meridian Chapter rider

Konrad Markwardt 

For most of us the outbreak of Covid 19 changed our lives and brought many challenges. All the Chapter ride outs have been cancelled including the highly anticipated trip to Portoroz, and my riding future did not look that good. As I have been working from home since early March, I decided to swap our cosy flat in Woolwich for my in laws house in Poland.

So, at the end of June I have jumped on my beloved Sportster and rode from SE London all the way to NE Poland… Then the management announced that the Castles and Coastlines are back, and I was really looking forward to taking part in this challenge for the third time. Unfortunately, the rules stated that the riding should only be in the UK, meaning that me riding in Poland would be against the rules.

Nevertheless, rules are to be broken from time to time and as the old Harley Davidson motto says “Screw it, let`s ride” I decided to make my own trip in Poland regardless of the rules. As usual, I have carefully planned my route and listed the castles I would like to visit, making sure that the route would be fun for riding and the castles would have a significant meaning historically. So, after registering my mileage with Shaun I was ready to take my freshly “Polished” Sportster for the third edition of Castles and Coastlines. 

Starting mileage 26th August 2020

“Polished” Sportster

I could not start my trip without visiting the Royal Castle in Warsaw which has a great meaning for most Poles as it was a residence of Polish kings since around 1596 and was completely destroyed by the Nazis in 1944. In 1980, rebuilding of the Royal Castle was completed and together with the Old Town registered as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Castle Nr 1 Warsaw

Royal Castle in Warsaw castle after WWII and below the current state

The second castle on my list was the Castle of the Masovian Dukes in Plock founded in 1194, this Gothic castle is located on the hillside and offers fantastic panoramic view of the river Vistula (the biggest river in Poland).

Castle Nr 2 Plock

The final castle of the day was the Royal Castle in Lublin (my parents’ hometown) one of the oldest preserved Royal residencies in Poland. The hill it is on was first fortified with a woodreinforced earthen wall in the 12th century.

Legend says that in 1637 corrupt judges gave unfair ruling against a poor widow in favour of a rich nobleman. The widow cursed the court and the retrial was made the same night by the court made of devils with Satan being the Chairman. The previous ruling was overturned and the Chairman of the devil court, in memory of his appearance, put his hand on the table and burned its imprint on the surface. This table can be seen in the castle museum and serves as reminder to all judges.

During the Second World War the castle served as a prison where between 40,000 and 80,000 inmates passed through and just before withdrawing in 1944, the Nazis massacred its remaining 300 prisoners. Until 1954 about 35,000 Poles opposing Soviet occupation of their country rule passed through it, of whom 333 lost their lives. During the WWII the city of Lublin was a home of a concentration camp called Majdanek, where estimated 78,000 people lost their lives. I have visited the museum twice when I was a kid…one of the most terrifying experiences in my life...

Castle Nr 3 Lublin 

Day one was coming to an end and I had about 35 miles to cover until I reached my mum`s place to stay overnight. Of course, it would not be a proper biking adventure without any rain…so the remaining 35 miles was in the rain which soaked me through… Oh, and I dropped my bike on my mum`s muddy driveway (luckily no damage).

So, day one I have finished by clocking 385 miles, on went my mum’s oven and some strange old school devices designed to dry clothes and boots, and I was able to start the next day of my trip in dry clothes (mums are great aren`t they).

Day two was planned to be long day and involved some lovely twisties, therefore I have left very early, looking forward to riding in the south of Poland. My dry clothes were only dry for about 10 minutes after my departure… The low and grey cloud had no mercy and soaked me from top to bottom (not sure what IP rating has my riding gear…very little I would say).

The first castle visited on day two was Łańcut Castle one of Poland's official national Historic Monuments. Erected in 1642, nowadays Łańcut Castle is one the most famous aristocratic residences in Poland. It continues to fascinate with its impressive architecture, magnificent interiors, and rich art collections. Surrounded with a spacious and enchanting park, it is a place transformed into a museum, which most fully shows the royal splendour of aristocratic households, the charm of the world which in Poland was ended by the Second World War and its political outcome.

Castle Nr 4 Łańcut

From there I rode to Rzeszow where I have visited the castle of the House of Lubomirski. The castle had high military significance due to many battles with Cossacks and Tatars attempting to invade this part of Poland.

Castle Nr 5 Rzeszow

Next on my list was Tarnow Castle built in the years of 1328–1331. Unfortunately, the Castle has not survived to modern times, only relicts of ground parts are visible. Nevertheless, the panoramic view of the city below is great and a nearby restaurant serves great local food, so overall it was a decent stop.

Castle Nr 6 Tarnow

My next destination was Dębno Castle where late Gothic complex, built in 1470 to 1480 was renovated towards the end of the last century and now is a home to a local museum.

Castle Nr 7 Dębno

Next on the list was a castle in Wiśnicz located on a forested hill and this was a brilliant ride through a hilly forest with some great twisty roads. The castle was built in 1397 in the Baroque architectural style with Renaissance elements. One of the previous owners of the castle Stanislaw Lubomirski owed 18 towns, over three hundred villages and 163 farms…just shows how wealthy some people were in the old days…

Castle Nr 8 Wiśnicz

On to my favourite Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, the UNESCO World Heritage Site which constitute the most historically and culturally important site in Poland. For centuries, the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, the Castle is now one of the country’s premier art museums. The castle is also a burial place of most Polish monarchs, greatest national heroes and in 2010 President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria were buried there after tragically losing their lives in an air disaster. The castle had its own dragon with the lair being in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill on the bank of the Vistula River. The dragon terrorised local people and was slayed by a clever but poor cobbler who received half of the kingdom and a princess as his wife as a reward for his effort. 

Castle Nr 9 Krakow

By the time I left Krakow it was dark, and I had about 30 miles to my accommodation, which turned out to be a hotel housed in a stylish building modelled after the 16th-century beautiful Myszkowskich Castle. Really cosy accommodation which added a little extra to my trip as the décor was very medieval but otherwise the bed very comfortable. I have travelled just under 300 miles that day, but the rain, head wind and the twisties really took a lot out of me, I was tired and could not care if there were ghosts in the castle I was staying in…I was simply out.

Castle Nr 10 (hotel in Ksiaz Wielki)

Day three began with a very short ride to Mirów Castle in Książ Wielki, the castle was founded on the initiative of the Bishop of Krakow in the years 1585-95. Today, the castle functions as a High School and as the School of Agriculture.

Castle Nr 11 Książ Wielki

Leaving the south of Poland, I took a scenic route north towards the middle of Poland, this was a lovely stretch of tarmac through forests and countryside…and oh dear…I nearly hit a deer…the thing came out of nowhere and run across my path…Throttle down and I headed to visit the Royal Castle in Chęciny. This medieval castle was built around 13th- 14th-century and played significant part for many years as it is located on a direct route from Krakow to Warsaw. The castle was built on a hill which is 360m above the sea level and it took me a while to climb this hill fully clothed in my biking gear. It was worth it, as the view from the top of the hill is quite breath-taking (including being breath-taking from all that walk I did).

Castle Nr 12 Chęciny

Off I went, travelling further north to 15th-century Szydlowiec Castle named after then prominent and noble Szydlowiecki family. The castle survived to our times in the form of a renaissance, magnate residence with a readable medieval layout. It now houses the Museum of Popular Musical Instruments.

Castle Nr 13 Szydlowiec

The next castle I have visited was the 14th-century Castle of the Masovian Dukes, a Gothic castle located in Czersk (20 miles south of Warsaw).

Castle Nr 14 Czersk

I rode further north and visited another Castle of the Masovian Dukes in a city of Ciechanow. This lovely 14th-century castle was the centre of administrative and judicial powers, it also served as a refuge providing shelter for residents of the city.

Castle Nr 15 Ciechanow

Little further north I have entered a part of Poland which for many years was occupied by the Teutonic Order, religious order that played a major role in eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages. The Teutonic Knights built one of their castles in Nidzica, and this 14th-century Gothic castle was one of the major strategic points in the defence system of the Teutonic state. The castle is very much alive today and hosts many events as well as a hotel and a restaurant. I had my hearty lunch there which set me up nicely for my further journey.

Castle Nr 16 Nidzica 

Lunch at Castle Nidzica 

Being in this historic part of Poland I have adjusted my plan a little to visit an old battleground from 1410, where the armies of Poland, Lithuania and their allies have fought one of the biggest medieval battles in the world against the Teutonic Order and its allies, the Battle of Grunwald (15th July 1410). Just to give a little perspective on that very day over 60 thousand soldiers battled in the heat of mid-July, in comparison the number of soldiers who took part in the Battle of Hastings is estimated at 20 thousand.

Battle of Grunwald 

From there I had about 100 miles to go up north to a wonderful city of Gdansk, to visit another old castle founded by the Teutonic Order. This castle was built around 1340-1343 and was an important administrative and military complex. Today only a small fragment of the zwinger wall with a battlement and an external wall of a rectangular tower have been preserved from the castle.

Castle Nr 17 Gdansk

So, on day three of my trip I have travelled from the south to the north of Poland, clocking nearly 430 miles, this was a long day (12 hours or so) and as I have reached the seaside I decided to have some delicious seafood for dinner. One pint of local lager and I was out…

Gdansk is the birthplace of Solidarność, the Trade Union founded as a result of worker protests who fought against the communist regime in Poland and Eastern Europe. It is also a place where the WWII started when on the 1st of September 1939, Deutschland-class battleship SchleswigHolstein fired the first shots at a Polish base in Westerplatte. The ship was later destroyed by RAF bombers in a nearby port of Gdynia. As I have never visited Westerplatte I decided to ride there first thing in the morning of day four of my trip, so I could pay my respect to the victims of that vicious attack. This was the 29th of August so only a few days before another anniversary.

Gdansk- Westerplatte

From Gdansk I rode south east to a city of Malbork home of The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork, the largest castle in the world measured by land area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This impressive and intimidating medieval fortress remains the largest brick complex in Europe. I am not sure if words can describe the magnitude of this castle, you have to be there to experience this.

Castle Nr 18 Malbork

From Malbork I went via the scenic route and went past the lowest point in Poland located 1.8m (6ft) below the sea level…quite depressing place and I rode further to Morag, to visit another castle build by Teutonic Order (A.D 1280). This was quite a disappointment as only two heavily rebuilt and lowered castle wings have survived to this day.

Castle Nr 19 Morag

Not everything was lost though, I was in the middle of Warmia and Mazury region, which is famous for its lakes and forests (and of course castles), the roads were empty, winding and quite dry, so I was able to open the throttle a little and enjoy the ride. 19 I went to Olsztyn the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, the city has its own castle built by the Teutonic Order and officially known as the Warmian Bishops' Castle. The most wellknown administrator caretaker was Nicolaus Copernicus, who resided here between 1516 and 1521 (the astronomer that placed the Sun rather than Earth at the centre of the universe).

Castle Nr 20 Olsztyn

After a coffee and a couple of doughnuts in the Old Town, I have decided to add another castle to my list as Google search showed another castle just down the roads (10 miles or so) in a small town of Barczewo. Here, I have visited the ruins of a castle which burned down in 1798 and now is incorporated in a local church.

Castle Nr 21 Barczewo 

Onwards to the last castle on my list, the Ryn Castle, a late fortress built by the Teutonic Order around 1377. This Gothic castle is located between two lakes, Ołów and Ryńskie and now is in a very good condition as it has been converted into a posh hotel.

Castle Nr 22 Ryn

From there I had only about 70 miles home and I could tell that I was tired. By then I have travelled just over 200 miles and in total for the four days I was clocking just over 1300 miles. The long days on the bike, at times in the rain and with head on wind were quite demanding. Nevertheless, I have done what I always dreamed of, which was giving it a go in Poland where I never rode a motorcycle (apart from my test many years ago).

Overall, my trip was brilliant, my total mileage was 1384 (s)miles, I have burned 114 litres (25 gallons) of petrol, seen some brilliant scenery and met some interesting people. What was pleasantly surprising was how well mannered were the car drivers. I had no problems whatsoever and most would either get out the way leaving me plenty of space to pass, or would hold back on the motorway, allowing me to change the lanes and complete my manoeuvres. This was certainly not something what I was expecting, especially in a country where motorbiking is rather seasonal (due to often harsh winters).

Loved every minute,

Loved every mile.

Will remember this trip for a while… 

End mileage                               Total mileage 

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