Day 9 – Aviemore to Aviemore (via Grantown-on-Spey) – 67 miles

We wandered around the stalls this morning, looking at various bike related (some very tenuously) merchandise, and bought a few unnecessaries. We found a Latvian flag, and a couple of pirate flags to adorn our bikes for todays ride, but no South African flags, unfortunately. The highlight of today is the mass ride-out, a police and marshal led ride for any rally participant who wanted to join in.

We inspected the lead bikes – a few VIPs had a set of brand new bikes, followed by the Dunedin Chapter crew (they are the rally organisers) with a load bikes sporting a variety of flags, and some beautiful custom bikes.

We then went back to our room to go through the pre-flight routine of gearing up, then got on the bikes, and joined the queue. I don’t know how many bikes rode today, but there were many hundreds, if not a thousand or more. Everyone queued patiently around the resort – the ride started at 1200, and it was 14 minutes before we were even able to move.

We joined the long snake of two rows of bikers as we made our way around the complex, and then headed down the hill towards the town. While the size of the riding crew was huge, I wasn’t expecting the reception we got from the town. Aviemore is a sleepy little hamlet in the Cairngorms, and the sound and sight of many hundred of bikes – mainly Harleys – rolling through their town brought them out in throngs. There were several thousand people lining the road through the town, all cheering, waving and photographing the passing snake.

It was quite a rush to take part in the ride, seeing so many supporters and spectators, and being a part of such a special event. The ride was very well organised, with police closing roads, and marshalls guiding the ride and holding traffic where necessary. We rode a very lovely route (see above) of around 50 miles. It took us through some pretty towns, a high moor, alongside Lochindorb, through Grantown-on-Spey and around again, ending up back in Grantown.

The high street had been closed, and there were hundreds more cheering the riders as we arrived. The marshals directed us to park along both sides of the road. We dismounted, had a wander around (and a much-needed wee), and then got some nice fish and chips. A further patrol along the bikes to admire some more custom pieces and browse some of the shops, and then we mounted up and headed back to the hotel – a direct route of about 16 miles.

Now we are chilling in the room, football on TV, and planning to go to the party this evening. There are a a couple of rock bands on at the main arena, and a blues band in one of the smaller venues, so we have some choices to make.

Day 10 – Aviemore to Aviemore (via Speyside Distillery) – 33 miles

Slow start to the day. We pottered and showered and generally took it easy, and breakfast was a bacon buttie from one of the stalls at the rally. We had a bit of a stroll, then went back to our room to get ready for todays guided ride.

About 25-30 bikes met at the identified point, and waited until everyone was present. There were a number of rally VIP’s (sponsors, Harley Davidson bigwigs and the like) who rode pillion with some of the organisers, and it took a while to get them all helmets, so we were a bit delayed in setting off. We had a briefing (boiled down to “ride safely, don’t be an eejit”), and then we set off.

True to form, we set off as the rain started up again. It drizzled for much of the way, and indeed continued for most of the visit. A pretty ride of about 12 miles or so to Kingussie, where we turned off the main roads, and completed the journey on smaller tracks. We passed a ruined structure, the Ruthven Barracks, which had been destroyed by the Jacobites the day after Culodden, but still stands in decent condition to this day.

A mile past the barracks, we turned into the grounds of the distillery. It is a small, privately owned distillery, and considers itself to be a boutique producer. The family who own the distillery are the Harvey family, who have been in the whisky business one way or another for 250 years. Their name is best known on Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, and they bought this place four and a half years ago.

The owner was very welcoming, and has sponsored tours from the rally for the past few years, so he had built a good relationship with the rally organisers. The distillery do not do many public tours, so it was a privilege to be shown around this beautiful location, and given access to their full production facility.

An interesting tour with the owner, master distiller and Managing Director was followed by an informal gathering to chat, and lovely tea/coffee and sandwiches were provided. They recognised that most of the attendees were riders who did not want to taste a wee dram while riding, so they gave us each a small sample bottle of one of their creations, Beinn Dubh (black mountain) – a dark whisky which I will sample shortly and report back on.

We rode back in heavy rain, and retired to our rooms to rest, have hot baths, and make ourselves pretty for the final nights party.

Day 11 – Aviemore to Dunvegan (Isle of Skye) – 161 miles

Pretty usual start to the day in our hotel room. We decided not go get breakfast in the hotel, but rather pack up and hit the road, planning to stop a bit later on for our first meal of the day. We were delighted to find dry weather when we packed the bikes, and we rode all of about half a mile to find a local outdoor store – Lena needed some inner gloves and a neck/ear/head warmer thingy.

We decided to eat in Aviemore as well, and had a good bacon and egg sarnie with a cup of tea. When we got back to the bikes, something rather unfamiliar greeted us. We had trouble seeing, and were rather uncomfortable in our multiple layers of clothing and protection – yes, children, the sun was out, in force. We saddled up, and wisely decided to kep the layers and weather protection on, because it soon reverted to form, and got pretty cool pretty fast.

We rode up to Inverness, and then turned south down the west side of Loch Ness.We rode half an hour or so down the very pretty lochside, and just after Drumnadrochit stopped at Castle Urquhart to explore. Many hundred of years old, parts of the building are still in decent shape, and we clambered about, at the same time getting stunning views of Loch Ness (no views of Nessie though).

Setting off again, we rode along southbound for another ten miles and then turned west towards the coast. We road along quiet, windy roads, that led us through pretty forests and alongside wild rivers and some pretty lochs. Loch Cluanie grabbed our attention for a few pictures.

Reaching Loch Duibh, we filled up and then had a marvelous lunch at a small inn. The rain had re-established itself by then, so a lunch-break helped us dry out a bit. Another 5 miles along the road and we reach Eilean Donan, a picturesque castle on the Kyle of Lochalsh. Apparently in Scotland more biscuit tins carry this castle on them than any other scene.


A few quick photos later and we were rolling once more. A few more miles, and we reached the Skye Bridge, which took us off the mainland and on to the fabled isle. The views were lovely in all directions. We rode due north, and stopped after a few miles to photograph more of the scenery and a pretty waterfall. We could stop every ten minutes here on our tour, and capture beautiful views.

Another 30 miles of pretty road and lots of sheep brought us near to Dunvegan, our final stop. We stooped again to take in the views of Loch Harport and then Loch Caroy (a favourite), before we arrived at our little B&B for the night. A welcoming but slightly uptight landlady greeted us, and she and her congenial husband gave us a half-hour tour of what was an en-suite bedroom and a shared lounge.

Showered and changed, Donda, the local (and very rushed) cabbie, picked us up and took us to the old school, a lovely little restaurant nearby. Built as a school in the 1870’s, the family who now own it have run it as a restaurant since 1985.It was busy, and had a good menu and decent wine and whisky list.

We were pretty tired after a long days ride (longest day/most miles in Scotland. After a lovely meal, Donda collected us and brought us back to the B&B in time for us to blog our daily report before hitting the sack and preparing to ride another day. See you later, McAlligator.

Day 12 – Dunvegan (Isle of Skye) to Fort William – 140 miles

So I did not write anything about the midges yesterday. We had heard about the scourge of the Highlands and the Scottish summer beasties, but had so far avoided the bloodthirsty swarms of midges. We encountered a few yesterday when we stopped to take pictures of the waterfall on Skye, but that had been the most significant encounter to date. However, when we reached the B&B last night, we were literally mobbed by the little suckers. They are tiny, and bite without invitation, and were landing on us in their hundreds in the few minutes it took to unload the bikes and get in to the B&B. We got bitten on the face and hands, and a few bites have come up like traditional itchy bites. Midges are horrible things.

Anyway, enough of that digression. We woke up this morning without an alarm (well, Lena woke up early and was watching the clock) and when 8am passed and my promised alarm didn’t go off, she started the first gentle naggings of the day. Once up, she had a pronouncement: “Good news and bad news – the good news is that there will be no midges today, but the bad news is that it is blowing a gale, and the rain is coming in sideways”. Thus began the wettest day of our tour to date.

Shower, lovely breakfast and a good chat with our lovely hosts, and we were packing up once more. The weather and tides meant that we received a text from the ferry company warning of likely cancellations for the day, We had a ferry booked from Armadale, in the bottom corner of Skye, to Mallaig on the mainland. Given the wild weather and the likely attendant rough crossing if the ferry did actually manage to sail, we allowed discretion to play the better part of valour and opted to return to the mainland via the Skye Bridge. We had planned to stop at the renowned Fairy Pools on Skye, and even have a wild swim if the weather was clement, and despite the obvious indications that the weather was otherwise set for the day, we decided to head off in the direction of the Fairy Pools and investigate.

We rode the 20ish miles to the car park, which included about 4 miles of single track road that had a lot of traffic on it, and discovered that we were not the only fools who had decided to check out the location. It is about half an hour walk to the first pools from the car park, with a steep down and then up the other side, and so off we trudged, in full bike gear and helmets (the wind and rain were so strong that we felt it necessary to keep the protection we had). There were lots of others doing the same (sans biker gear), and so we trudged in droves to see what the fairies had to offer.

The rain was still coming in sideways. My visor and glasses steamed up if I closed the visor, and the rain came straight in if I had it even slightly open, so my choice was between not seeing, and not seeing. I chose the former, and could vaguely follow the path. I have to say that the walk was worthwhile – the waterfalls, stream and pools were spectacular and reminded me a lot of the pools we had swum in the South African Drakensberg during my teens and twenties with my Dad and Dave – best friend from school.

We walked back to the car park, by now wet through in our gloves, but also sweating from the activity and so wet inside our layers, too. The remainder of the days ride did not improve our humidity.

Off the island we drove, still in lashing rain, and re-traced our steps of the previous day. Kyle of Lochalsh and then Eilean Donan, where we stopped for lunch – just to get something warm in our tummies. By now I was wet through my boots, pants, gloves and torso, as well as inside my helmet. It was quite cold with so much of the gear wet, and so stopping for some warmth was most welcome.

We rode past Loch Cluanie once more, though it was not much visible in the mist and rain, then turned south-ish, and passed a number of other lovely Lochs. I say lovely, because we didn’t see much of them due to the weather and steaming inside my helmet and glasses, but the odd glimpse I did get was spectacular. Loch Loyne, then a great viewpoint over Glengarry was followed by Lochs Garry, Oich, Lochy, Eil and Linnhe as we come in to Fort William.

Cold, wet and somewhat miserable, we checked in to our hotel. There was a newly lit fire in the lounge, and they turned on the heating for the drying cupboard so that we could hang all our gear. In our room, we both found that some of our stuff inside our bags was wet as well, which added to the joy, but a hot shower, dry clothes and an alcoholic beverage by the now roaring fire seemed to banish the miseries of the day to distant memory.

It is amazing the perspective that comfort provides. The day had been long (we were on the road for 7 and a half hours, either travelling, walking, refuelling or for one food stop). It had entailed some pretty tough riding – it is hard to enjoy when you can’t see much, there is a lot of spray, and you worry about cars getting impatient and getting too close while the wind buffets you about, and all the while you are cold and wet through. And yet the sense of achievement and satisfaction once we were warmed and dry and had food in us was great, and justified the hardship of the day.

We had not expected summer in Scotland to be so harsh – it was about 12 degrees centigrade maximum, and rained hard the whole day, with attendant strong winds. However the experience has not diminished our trip, rather enhanced it.

Hoping for a better weather day tomorrow, though.

Day 13 – Fort William to Pitlochry – 107 miles

1346 biker miles since leaving London on Friday 17th August.

Today was pretty much the opposite of yesterday. We woke to sunshine, which was a good start. Nice breakfast, a few photos on the sunny deck outside, and then we walked in to the lovely little town of Fort William for an errand.

Lena purchased a metal cut-out of a highland cows head at the rally in Aviemore. It was too big to fit in any of the bags we have, so it had been strapped to the outside of her luggage for a few days. We were finally in a place with an open Post Office, and though computers were down and collection days were not aligned, we managed to wrap and post the cow to London, and we will collect on the other side.

Back in our room, much of our stuff – other than boots and gloves – was dry. We packed, loaded up, then put the final bits of wet gear on, and saddled up for the day. It was a bit of a mix of rain and sun for a while, but the weather improved throughout the day.

Southward along Loch Linnhe, then through Glencoe and up the great glen towards Rannoch moor. Wild, beautiful nature at its finest. W had various photo stops along the way, and lunch at the bridge of Orchy.

We had been retracing our steps for part of the route, and rode through Tyndrum and alongside Loch Tay, which was as stunningly attractive as our first pass. Through the wooded roads towards Aberfeldy we then headed, and made a stop at Grandtully, to visit the Highland Chocolatier – apparently the best chocolates in Scotland.

A quirky shop, selling beautifully made chocolates, as well as a cafe selling various of their wares, tasting menus and more. We had a drink and some delicious choccy, then rode the last ten miles to Pitlochry in glorious summer sun. It was almost as if the rain didn’t happen (except that my boots are still damp inside).

My old mate Gus, who lives in Edinburgh, had ridden up to meet us. We checked in to our nice B&B, then had a walk with Gus down to the river. A nice stroll led us to a good steakhouse, and we three proceeded to eat fare fit for a king.

Gus had to get back to his B&B, so he left us for the evening, and we are now readying for sleep. We will meet Gus again in the morning, and head with him back to Portobello in Edinburgh for our last night in Scotland. A lovely, satisfying day.

Day 14 – Pitlochry to Edinburgh – 121 miles

Greetings from Edinburgh, on our last full day in Scotland for this tour. Mixed feelings as we take the final steps back home to London – but for now, let’s focus on today.

We woke up to a nice, sunny day. Showered and packed before breakfast, after which I walked in to town to get supplies from the pharmacy – Lena had woken up with a cold. Back to load up the bikes, and we rode to the Festival theatre about a half mile away to meet Gus. We sat on a bench looking over the Tay, and enjoyed the sunshine til he arrived.

We had a cup of tea and planned a route for the day, then set off. We rode on a fabulous road away from civilisation, across countryside towards a place called the Bridge of Cally. The road was great to ride, and the scenery matched. Through Blairgowrie and other small towns til we got to Dundee, then over the Tay road bridge to the other side. By 1245 we were parked up in St Andrews.

The home of golf, a great university and many years of tradition, St Andrews is a super little town. We had a spot of lunch, then had a wander about, taking in the old Cathedral, Castle, harbour and other sites.

Southbound through Fife we rode, following the route that Sally Satnav had set, until about 20 miles from Edinburgh when Gus took over navigation. We rode over the Forth road bridge, and finally hit the first bit of real traffic that we experienced for ages. Crawled through and between Edinburgh traffic for about 45 minutes, and arrived in Portobello at the home of Gus and Heather, friends I have known for over 20 years.

A lovely late afternoon was spent drinking tea and chatting, then we spruced up and walked to dinner at a great little cafe on the Portobello promenade.

A wonderful evening enjoying good food and great company, and we are now back, tucked up in bed and ready to sleep the sleep of the just. Good night all y’all.

Day 15 – Edinburgh to Halifax – 251 miles

Longest day in mileage terms today. We slept at the lower part of a bunk bed (a double sized lower), and woke with the alarm. Lena still suffering from her cold, she was slow to get started. I showered, did a bit of bike faffing, and when Lena was ready then her, Gus and I walked down Portobello High Street to the Bagel shop for breakfast.

An enterprise run by a friend of Gus and Heathers daughter, the bagel shop is apparently doing well in its first few months, and I can see why. Breakfast was great – I had a smoked salmon, cream-cheese, onion and caper bagel which was delicious, and the coffee was not too bad either. We walked back to finish our packing and say our goodbyes, and set of about 1030.

Portobello is right at the top of the A1, and so we were quickly on the route south. Motorway riding is boring, so today was mostly about eating up miles as quickly as we could. No major sightseeing or scenery to describe, though the sun was shining, the sky was blue and all was good in the world.

We got to Halifax late afternoon, and stopped first at Sandra and Richard for a cup of tea and a catch up. This was followed by a visit to Bens new place, a shared house right on the river in Sowerby Bridge – I am sure he will be happy there. Last stop was Span and Priya, our destination for the night. We changed and then walked down to a family favourite restaurant, Temujin, where Ben and Jemima joined Span, Priya and ourselves, for a nice meal and good family times.

This is our last night on the road – tomorrow we saddle up and head home, to get back to Jessica and the cats, our apartment and work. We will have plenty of time to reflect on this trip, but it has been bloody marvellous thus far.

Day 16 – Halifax to London – 224 miles

Last and final. We are back home, washing is on, bags are unpacked, cats are purring and Jessica has to think about how loud her TV is for the first time in 2 weeks.

We had a pretty easy run down the A1 today. It was another glorious day, pretty warm, and a nice day to be out on the bikes. We had some of our bagels that we had brought from Edinburgh for breakfast with Span and Priya, and then did our final load-up.  We found a car wash and had the bikes hand-washed this morning before we left Halifax, then filled up and got on the road.

It was a good ride today, and got warmer as we went on. I took off a couple of layers and we switched to summer gloves. It was too warm by the time we hit London and had to queue to go through the blackwall tunnel. We got home around 3:45 pm, and were quite good (Lena more than me) about tackling the post-holiday chores so that we could put things away and settle in to a tidy-ish house.

This has been a fab holiday. I have massively enjoyed the trip – seeing Lena learn the ropes as a long-trip rider has been very satisfying; the roads and views we found were spectacular, we found new parts of Scotland to return to, and ate and drank our way around this beautiful country in style.

Thanks for sticking with us if you have been reading this on the way. As always I have enjoyed chronicling the trip, and will return to these memories often.

Before I go, here are some final statistics for you – actual recorded miles:

From To Miles Km Rank
Day 1 Home Halifax 227 365 2
Day 2 Halifax Castle Douglas 194 312 4
Day 3 Castle Douglas Loch Lomond 119 192 8
Day 4 Loch Lomond Lochgilphead 84 135 11
Day 5 Lochgilphead Port Ellen – Islay 20 32 16
Day 6 Port Ellen – Islay Oban 23 37 15
Day 7 Oban Kinloch Rannoch 90 145 10
Day 8 Kinloch Rannoch Aviemore 81 130 12
Day 9 Aviemore Aviemore 67 108 13
Day 10 Aviemore Aviemore 33 53 14
Day 11 Aviemore Skye 161 259 5
Day 12 Skye Fort WIlliam 140 225 6
Day 13 Fort WIlliam Pitlochry 107 172 9
Day 14 Pitlochry Edinburgh 121 195 7
Day 15 Edinburgh Halifax 251 404 1
Day 16 Halifax Home 224 360 3
TOTAL 1942 3125
Average miles/day 121