- This was the home page for our tour of Scotland 2018
A new year, a new tour, and a major change to our biking profile. Earlier this year, Lena decided that she wanted to get her own bike.This meant getting her license, and getting a bike. She started learning in April, and by early June had passed her various tests, giving her a full motorbike license. She did extremely well, and passed her driving test first go, though the phase one test (off-road handling test for manoeuvres such as U-turns, figure 8’s and so on) needed a second attempt. We also bought her a bike – a Kawasaki Vulcan cruiser – and now we are a two-bike family!
We decided to take a two week break in August and do a grand tour of Scotland. I have done quite a few bike trips there, on my own, with friends, and once I did a great ‘boys trip’ where me and Ben spent a week on the bike, visiting various castles and battlefields. Lena has been to Edinburgh a couple of times, but never on the bike, and she has not had the extreme pleasure of visiting Scotland outside of Edinburgh. It is such a pretty country, and touring the islands, highlands, glens and lochs is something we have long yearned for.
So we have been planning routes, stops and accommodations, and have an exciting trip forming on the maps and spreadsheets that I am accustomed to using when planning my tours. All these years as a project manager means that I have good (obsessive) control of many elements and factors, but even though we will have all accommodation booked ahead of time, the routes and activities still flex right up to the time we are on the road, and often make improvised changes on the day.
My old (figuratively and literally) friend Gus and his son-in-law Cal may join us for some or more of the trip – we are waiting to hear from them, but we have plans forming for 16 day trip to take in as much of the sights, sounds, food and whisky as we can. I will update from time to time as we make progress, and will, of course, faithfully journal our trip as per my usual manner. See you soon.
Destination Planned miles Day 1 Halifax 219 Day 2 Castle Douglas 194 Day 3 Luss, Loch Lomond 116 Day 4 Lochgilphead 65 Day 5 Port Ellen, Islay 54 Day 6 Oban 73 Day 7 Kinloch Rannoch 87 Day 8 Aviemore 54 Day 9 Aviemore 0 Day 10 Aviemore 0 Day 11 Skye 188 Day 12 Fort William 124 Day 13 Pitlochry 104 Day 14 Edinburgh 76 Day 15 Halifax 231 Day 16 Home 221 Total 1806
- T minus 1 and countingHello all, from a very excited Greenwich. We are mostly packed up and ready to head out on our big new adventure tomorrow morning. This is an exciting time, because there are a bunch of firsts accompanying the trip – along with the anticipation of two weeks on the road. Those of you who have been paying attention know that Lena passed her bike test a couple of months ago, got herself a brand new bike, and is ready to ride alongside me on our first big two-bike trip. Also, although Lena has been to Scotland, it has only been to spend time in Edinburgh, so she has all the rest of bonnie Scotland to explore. The lochs, coast, islands, highlands and mountains await us. Our trip plan is on the front page of the blog, we are spending a total of 16 days on the road. Aside from 3 nights in Aviemore at a bike rally, we are not staying in the same place for more than one night, so we will be moving a lot, and hoping to see much of the beauty that Scotland has to offer. Unfortunately we have been checking the weather forecast, and it is promising to be cold and wet for the duration of our trip. However, the weather forecast has been wrong before, and I am hoping that we find some bits of sunshine under the rainbow. Tomorrow is a work day, so we are going to load up, head to our respective offices where we will park up the bikes and do an honest days work without losing focus or being too excited. Late afternoon I will head up to UCL to collect JellyBean, and we will hit the road just in time to mingle with the Friday night rush of traffic out of London. We are heading to Halifax, to see the new home of Span and Priya, which I am looking forward to. I aim to keep this blog updated every day, as is my wont with these types of trips. Keep coming back to track our progress, read hilarious tales of the road, and watch us bumble around Scotland.
- Day 1 – London to Halifax – 227 milesGreetings from a grey and overcast West Yorkshire. We are lying in a cosy bed, provided by my daughter and her partner. They moved in to their new home a few weeks ago, and this is our first visit to see them in their lovely house. We got up today full of excitement, ready to finally start our bike trip. We have been planning for months, acquired new bikes (and a bike license), been practising riding in convoy, and were fully ready to roll. We packed everything for the road, went down to the garage where we keep our bikes, and readied them. Unfortunately, we had to work today – no easy start to our holiday, so we rode in to central London in the glorious sunshine, and I accompanied Lena to her work before riding down to the Aldwych to park up next to my office. The day passed slowly as I tried to finish off all of my final tasks while doing my best to keep focussed, rather than re-checking my trip plans, routes, accommodation bookings, weather forecasts, tidal charts, wildlife guides, language tutorials, ferry timetables and more. I did the best I could under trying circumstances, and finally, just after 4pm, I closed my laptop, and headed out the door. Lena’s work is only about 8 minutes from mine, and when I got there she was all ready to ride, so I selected the day 1 route on the TomTom Satnav, and we were finally rolling. Leaving London via the road on a Friday night in summer as the rush-hour begins is not the smartest move one could make, but hey-ho. We weaved, crawled, filtered and dodged our way through the suburbs heading north, and actually got to the origin of the M1 motorway in a decent time. From here, it was motorway all the way. There were various patches of bad traffic, and a bunch of roadworks to keep us slowed. It felt like a long ride, and got dark (as much due to the thick cloud cover as to the setting of the sun) before 8. Lena is still pretty inexperienced as a rider, and the unlit motorway was a bit daunting at times, so she felt more comfortable going at lower speeds. I am sure the 2000 something miles we will do on this trip will help her confidence, but it got quite cold as well, which we weren’t ready for. We stopped for supper near Leicester, and raided our bags for various layers, and I also got my winter gloves out. An unsurprisingly mediocre motorway dinner later, we were back on the road. A combination of full tummies, tea and more clothing layers made the journey a bit easier, and we zoomed along the last 90 minutes of the trip pretty well, arriving in a very familiar part of Yorkshire around 10:40 pm. We rode past our old house and local pub – the Vol in Copley – before arriving at Span and Priya. Lena was pretty exhausted from the days work, the adrenalin of a long night ride and the nerves of a relatively new rider, so she retired immediately. I had a lovely catch-up with the girls, and had a tour of the new home, which I love. They booked yesterday (along with number 2 daughter) to join Lena and I in South Africa at the end of the year on our holiday there, so we did some more planning around that as well. Finally, around 01:00 am I made the sensible decision to go to bed. G’night all, see you later.
- Day 2 – Halifax to Castle Douglas – 194 milesMotorway days are not a bikers favourite kind of day. Long, straight and boring – but at least we were on the bikes and making progress. We woke up and had breakfast and chat with Span and Priya, and then went about the business of packing up our gear. On a road trip, it takes a couple of days to get into the packing routine, everything finds its own place in the bag or on the bike somewhere, and you fall into a familiar practise. It was overcast as we left Halifax, and stayed that way for most of the day. the motorway heads west towards Manchester, and after 25 miles ish another starts to lead north. within an hour we were on the M6, the main western artery running north-south (approximately) for much of England. North of Lancaster the motorway gets a bit less boring, as it rises and falls towards the hills at Shap, and offers a few more curves and slow bends. We stopped at one of the better-catered motorway services, Tebay in Cumbria. It was very busy, but had good food and coffee. We had a light lunch, in anticipation of an early dinner at our destination. It started raining a bit, so I put the waterproof covers over the bags, and zipped the waterproof liner into my jacket. Fortunately the rain didn’t really set in, and though we had the odd drizzle, it remained mostly dry for the rest of our day. We finally passed through the last bit of England, and entered Scotland in the early afternoon. A few more motorway miles led us to Gretna Green, and here we left the motorway, and began our next phase of this trip, which will pretty much leave us motorway free for the next ten days. Pretty countryside, and lots of forests led us along the road west from Gretna, and took us to our first Scottish home, Castle Douglas. A small town with a seemingly very ageing population, it nevertheless is know as a good food spot – which is why I chose this destination. We took a walk and bought a thermal underlayer each – I had been aware of the weather forecast, but somehow had packed as if I was heading tot he north of Italy, as we had done last year when the temperature hardly dipped below 30 degrees. It is somewhat cooler here (about 17 degrees as a high yesterday), so a good base layer will be welcome. After the successful purchase we returned to our lovely little B&B, Douglas House, and got ready for dinner. The lovely Carlo’s Italian restaurant hosted us, and it put on a great meal. We ate ourselves into a coma, accompanied by a fine bottle of Barolo, and then staggered back to the accommodation to collapse into bed and have an early night. See you in the morning
- Day 3 – Castle Douglas to Loch Lomond – 119 milesIt rained a lot overnight. I was oblivious though, as I fell asleep pretty much as soon as we got back from dinner. I slept the sleep of the righteous, and we woke to an overcast by dry day. Good breakfast in the B&B, and we then went through the packing routine to get the bike ready. The B&B owners, Linda and John came out to chat and inspect the bikes, and make the kind of small talk that makes the biker world go round. We left at about 10 am. We followed a pretty route towards Ayr. The roads were mostly empty, and wound through small villages and forests on our way. The odd loch appeared to, and even though it drizzled from time to time, the ride was very pretty as we headed northwest and then turned more directly north near Ayr. We dropped off our route just south of the Clyde for a small detour, near Bishopton, and rode to a small coffee shop, where we met our friend Brian. We had a coffee and a sandwich, and chatted for an hour or two, then got back on the road. We crossed over the Clyde on the Erskine bridge, and stopped soon thereafter for petrol. The traffic between Glasgow and Loch Lomond is always pretty busy, and today was no exception. In spite of the grim weather, the Scottish were out in force. It did not take long to meet Loch Lomond, which reflected the odd bit of sky and sunlight to our right as we wound along the shore, passing the small villages alongside this famous loch. Soon enough we came to the sign for Luss, and turned right onto the loch-side, where we found our nights accommodation – the Loch Lomond Arms hotel. Still dry, we unloaded, and checked in to our room. A few quick logistical activities later, we set off for a stroll along the shore. We passed by some pretty houses, and few gift shops. Lena had an ice-cream, and we popped into the smoke house, where we bought some cheese and mussels. Back at the hotel we had a couple of pints, and sat outside as the sun had appeared. We ate our smoked things, drank beer, and felt wonderful. We are now back in our room resting in preparation for dinner in half an hour. Who knows what culinary delights await us……
- Day 4 – Loch Lomond to Lochgilphead – 84 milesBy yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes, where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond. The bonnie bonnie banks awaited us this morning, and boy, were they bonnie. We woke up without an alarm, packed up and then had our locally smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast. We walked the 5 minutes back down to the loch, and waited for our vessel to come collect us from the pier. The boat pulled up just before 10, and about 8 folk went on board – it was built for probably 40-50 folk, but it was the first sailing of the day, and a Monday morning, so we were not surprised to have a small tour. We sailed for 90 minutes between some very pretty islands – we left Luss in a southerly direction, sailed as far as an Island called Inchcailloch where half the tour left to go for a walk and a picnic, to be collected later by the boat on a future trip. We continued our tour, and learned a lot of interesting facts about the loch. One of the islands is successfully inhabited by wallabies. Yes, you read that right – the bouncy Australian marsupial. Much of the area has been owned by the Colquhoun for centuries – they built Luss as a workers town for people employed by the Laird. Pronounced Cahoon, they have owned much of the lands around Loch Lomond since the early 1300’s. One of the ladies of the clan visited Australia in the 1940’s, and brought back some wallabies, which were released on Inchconachan, one of the islands on the loch, and they have bred successfully since. So successfully, in fact, that they have to be culled from time to time to control the population. We sailed past Balmaha, a small town very important to Scotlands identity. Balmaha marks the divide between the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland, and thus is forever noted as a key marker. We also were lucky enough to see an Osprey flying and landing near its nest. Duly delivered back to Luss on the Lomond shore after an hour and a half, we walked back to the hotel to collect our belongings, ready the bikes and ourselves, and set off at midday for our next stage. We were heading for Lochgilphead today, but took a slightly longer route than necessary, because we had the time, and wanted to ride some pretty roads. And pretty roads were indeed ridden. We hugged the side of Loch Lomond heading north. The sun came and went, and there was a fair amount of traffic, but that didn’t diminish the joy of riding right alongside the water, along lovely forested, curving roads that are a motorbikers dream. We passed the northernmost end of the loch, and went through more pretty roads to Crianlarich. We stopped at Tyndrum, at a roadhouse that I have frequented before. The Green Welly cafe is well known in the area, and we had lunch here today. Parking up, I pulled in next to a nicely customised Harley Switchback, a bike with which I was not familiar. It had a number of custom frills added to it, and looked great. We met the owner as we went into the cafe, and had a quick chat. Lunch was soup and a meat pie (Cullen Skink, a smoked fish soup for Lena, and a veg soup for me). Suitably full, we set off again, riding towards Oban, but then turned left to ride down the side of Loch Awe towards our final stop of the day. A wonderful bikers road ran parallel with the lochside, and we stopped to get lovely views of a ruined castle on the loch – Castle Kilchurn. Off again, we rode about 15 miles to Loch Fyne, and stopped the little town of Inverary on the loch, I have visited a few times before, and even been into the jail – now a museum – with Ben on our tour about 7 or 8 years ago. It is a very pretty town, and we parked the bikes on the waterside where we found a whole bunch of bikers, including the folk we met at the Green Welly. We had a coffee and an ice cream, and then rode our last leg of about 20 miles or so to Lochgilphead. Another great biking road, I got a bit excited by the corners and left Lena a bit behind. I do encourage her not to ride beyond her comfort zone, she has to learn to ride safely, but I have a lot more experience and so I did open the throttle in a few places and ate up some delicious corners. We got to our B&B just after 4:15 pm. Jim, our lovely host, welcomed us, showed us where to park our bikes and then gave us a quick briefing. We are just blogging up the day, and then are going to go for a walk and a bite to eat. Another really wonderful day on the bikes, no rain, some sun, great roads, spectacular views, and pistachio ice cream. See you tomorrow.
- Day 5 – Lochgilphead to Port Ellen – 20 milesWe had a fair curry last night at the local Chinese/Indian restaurant, and then I watched Liverpool beat Crystal Palace while my beautiful bride snored quietly alongside me. 2-0 is a decent result, and I fell asleep a happy man. We woke up before the alarm, and followed the daily routine. Breakfast served by Jim and Ele, our B&B hosts, and then we attended to bikes and baggage in the usual format. Drizzle accompanied the routine, but it stopped soon after we set off. Today was planned as a 54 mile day, but the Satnav planner had taken into account the sea miles. In fact, we rode only 20 miles today, by far the shortest ride so far this trip. Hugging Loch Gilp as we headed south, the road was sweet and slightly damp. An uneventful half hour passed until we found ourselves facing the small ferry port at Kennacraig, just south of Tarbert. We were checked in, and queued up to load onto the ferry. It was much larger than I was expecting, and in all probably 60-80 vehicles loaded up, including a number of large lorries, motorhomes, caravans and bunch of cars – plus 2 motorcycles (us). The crossing was uneventful, and offered us views of Gigha and then Islay as we neared. We passed the time drinking coffee and reading and web’ing, and a couple of hours later got the call to return to our vehicles for disembarkation. We were one of the first to leave, and rode all of about 2 minutes to our next hotel, on Charlotte Street in Port Ellen. We dropped the bags, arranged a cab and a whisky tour, and then went to the local equivalent of a deli to grab a sandwich for lunch before our tour. Carols Cabs collected us from the hotel, and we wended our way north, along the high road, for about half an hour. We arrived at Caol Ila distillery around 1335, and our tour was set to start at 1400. A lot of you know that I am a fan of single malt scotch whiskies, and many of you know that I am a lover of Islay malts. Some of you even know that my favourite is Caol Ila, so I was rather excited for this visit. We had a “cask whisky” tour booked, and our guide took me, Lena, 2 Swiss chaps and bloke from Los Angeles on a private tour of the distillery. It was fascinating, and I walked the hallowed halls of the origin of my favourite tipple with significant awe and respect. The tour concluded in a small room, filled with barrels and a few tables, plus a few traditional accoutrements from the whisky world – some half-made casks, some barrel furniture and stencils, a number of weird instruments and more. There was a table with 5 glasses on it, and we were seated to listen to our guide explain the different whiskies we were about to taste. We had 6 cask strength whiskies, all the product of Caol Ila. They started from an un-peated 15 year old, which was light and quite un-flavoured, and then worked our way through a succession of more flavoured whiskies until we peaked. The next was a young 6 year old, light, sharp and quite immature. The 12 year old was more in line with what I am used to, but it had a 61% alcohol content, and really warmed you on the way down. The peated 15 was heavenly, and the last of the whiskies that are commercially available and made in US bourbon casks. The last 2 we tried were in European casks, the first from Jerez. This was a dark colour, sweeter and smoother than any of the others. At 22 years old, it was selected from near the peak of its taste range – I loved it. The final whisky was a 30 year old from a Spanish cask – quite complex and a bit dry for my taste – but after 5 other whiskies, I was very happy. Visiting Caol Ila is a big bucket-list tick. I shall be content with any other distillery tour I do (and we already have a Speyside distillery tour booked), but I think I have peaked. The cab collected us – we were in a rather well-oiled state – and brought us back to the hotel to prepare for a local dinner, at the Sea Salt restaurant. I will possibly check in later, if not, see you tomorrow when we head back to the mainland – we have a ferry to Oban at lunchtime.
- Day 6 – Port Ellen (Islay) to Oban – 23 milesPeople in the city where I grew up say that you can have all 4 seasons in one day there. Well, on Islay, you can all 4 seasons in an hour. We woke around 7ish, and saw rain, wind, sunshine, calm, warmth, cold and the odd polar bear come and go. Well – maybe not the bears, but definitely everything else. The view from our room was lovely – straight over the bay – and some of the sunny views were stunning. We had breakfast, and then slowly got ready – no rush, as the 4 seasons were favouring the winter/rain cycle. We had all of 22 miles to ride, from Port Ellen, which sits on the south of Islay, to Port Askaig, on the northeast side of the island. We finally set off about 1015, and stopped at Bowmore along the way to admire the sea and the small town centre. The rain came and went, and we were a bit damp by the time we got to the ferry port. The crew set us to the front of the line to wait for the ferry to arrive, and when it did we were first to load. The crew let us go upstairs to settle in, while they strapped down the bikes. As you can imagine, bikes on a rolling ship could be unstable and potentially fall over, so they are strapped to anchor points in the floor to prevent such disaster. After inspection, we chose seats on the upper observation deck, and settled in for the 4 hour trip. Shortly after we set off, we passed the Caol Ila distillery that we had visited yesterday, and it was lovely to get a couple of pictures from the sea. After that, the journey was pretty uneventful, and we had a nice lunch from the ships canteen along the way. I watched some Netflix and then an episode Dragons Den while Lena read her book. Arriving in Oban in what almost could be classed as sunshine, we rolled off the ferry and sped all of about half a mile to our hotel. Parked up behind the hotel, we checked in, and went for a wander to explore and purchase a few supplies. On the way back, we walked up a steep set of roads and paths to visit the McCaig Tower that sits above the small town. McCaig was a banker who wanted to memorialise his name, and so he designed and then had built this tower which resembles the Coliseum. Completed in 1902, the year of his death, it was also a project intended to give the local stonemasons work through the winters, which was a fallow time for them. Anyway, it is a large folly, and dominates the views from the town. The tower provided some nice views across the bay and to other islands, and we made the right noises, took some photos and then walked back down the hill. On the way down we passed a house which had numerous practical art installations (mostly seating and walls that were covered in mosaics. There were also 2 interesting pieces of pairs of legs sticking out of the ground, with brightly coloured stockings and wellies on the feet. Odd. We dropped our goods back at the hotel, and then had a walk which lead us to a local hostelry, the Oban Inn. We had a good pub meal (Salmon fillet for the fairer one, and a steak and ale pie for the less dainty one). A pint and a wee dram of Islays finest, and we find ourselves back at the hotel bloggifying for the delight of our thousands of followers. G’night all.
- Day 7 – Oban to Kinloch Rannoch – 90 milesNot the longest day in mileage terms, but by far the most technical of our biking days thus far. Beautiful views accompanied a significant share of small country roads – never un-tarred, but often not far off. We woke up in Oban to a wet drizzle. I went off to find a pharmacy for my insect bite – my right forefinger has a rather spectacular purple knuckle on top of the first knuckle on the finger. It is itchy and uncomfortable – probably a midge bite, but possibly a spider or even a tiger – hard to tell. Anyway, having purchased the recommended ointment, I returned, and we had breakfast as usual. Loaded and rolling in a sight drizzle, we encountered a lot of traffic as we tried to leave Oban. We had chosen a route which took us the same way that 80% of Scotland was using to attend the Argyllshire Gathering, the Oban annual Highland games. We crawled along until we finally escaped the kilted throngs, and then headed up into the hills. I had selected “Thrills” as the setting on the SatNav when creating this route, and it did not disappoint. We took tiny, almost farm roads, through a beautiful valley. There was almost no traffic, and we oooh’d and aaah’d our way along, stopping regularly for photo’s or to catch our breath – the riding was low speed, but sometimes challenging as the roads were wet, steep, gravelled and sometimes pot-holed. Our style of bikes – cruisers – are not the most nimble or elegant for this type of traverse, but we managed pretty well, without incident. We stopped to say hi to some Heelan Coo’s, which made Lena very happy. After an hour of windy wendy roads, passed along the west side of Loch Awe. We had been here a few days ago, on the opposite shore as we rode to Lochgilphead via Inverary. Not long after, we got onto the main road alongside the river Lochy. We had ridden in the opposite direction on this route, and stopped to skim stones on the river only on Monday, but it felt like weeks had passed. The rain never quite set in as we rode. It threatened to get serious from time to time, but never broke out in full splendour – which we were grateful for. We stopped in Crianlarich for a decent pub lunch, and soon thereafter Sally SatNav took us off the main “A” road and back into the land of sheep tracks and woods. We road high above Loch Tay, under Ben Lawer, and it was magical. The scenery continued to take our breath away, the road wound along enjoyably, and we biked away happily. We reach Loch Rannoch after 3pm. We were both in need of a tankful of petrol, and the satnav took us to a local mechanics garage. He was not a friendly or helpful fellow, and was not selling petrol anyway, so we will hve to find something tomorrow, as we were only a mile from our hotel and the nearest petrol is apparently 20miles away. The hotel is in a splendid location, with views across the loch. It is a rather under-populated area, so pretty wild in all directions. The hotel itself was probably grand 80 years ago, but has long since past its glory, and is now slightly faded. I think they would like to welcome onluy those of the gentry or old money, but have to put up with hairy biker oiks like us. We had a little walk down to the loch – it was pretty wild and windy, and threatened to rain, but we made it there and back pretty unscathed. I am now sat in the grand lounge, awaiting our call to dinner and sipping a drop of Scotlands finest. I will catch you later….
- Day 8 – Kinloch Rannoch to Aviemore – 81 milesAnother day of very changeable weather. We have been most fortunate that weather has not brought sustained rain with it. Throughout our trip we have had patches of drizzle, and the odd shower, but have so far managed to avoid riding in sustained showers. Today was no different. Breakfast at the once grand hotel was good and nourishing (a bacon and egg roll contain all the food-groups you will need). Breakfast was taken before showering, which is against my normal and natural pattern. I am not given to having a fast metabolism (or much of any metabolism at all), and usually shower as part of my waking up routine to get my body engine firing on at least 2 cylinders. The activity and the invigorating water help to get things moving, so I tend to shower before my day gets going. Today, we slept a bit later than usual. This was because I had been up for a couple of hours in the night. A couple of nights ago I had received an innocuous insect bite on the first knuckle of my right index finger. It swelled a bit and started turning purple and I had bought some ointment in Oban to smear on it. It continued to swell and purple, and in the night I woke from a very uncomfortable hand. It was quite uncomfortable and itchy as anything, and I ended up taking painkillers to try calm it down and get back to sleep. I did fall asleep, but was more tired than usual this morning and so slept in. After breakfast and the usual logistics of bike-readying, we set a course for Pitlochry. We had ridden for 3 days without needing fuel, but now a refill was necessary, and I also wanted to find a pharmacy to get further advice on my sore finger. We rode due east alongside the beautiful Loch Tummel, on a pretty quiet road, and stopped a couple of times for pictures. The view from a spot called the Queens View was well justified. We refuelled at Pitlochry, then went to see the local pharmacist. She took one look at the finger, and sent me off to the local NHS minor injuries clinic. Trish, the local nurse, poked and prodded my knuckle, and then sent me of with a box of antibiotics. Apparently, I will live, and Lena’s concern for my survival was unnecessary. Coming in to Pitlochry, we started to encounter groups of bikers. There are 3000 people due at the rally we are attending, and we were part of the flock migrating northward towards Aviemore. On the road, the heavens opened up and treated us to a heavy downpour. We decided to stop at Dalwhinnie for lunch (Fish and Chips for me, Soup and Garlic Mushrooms for Mrs), and as soon as we stopped and went in to the cafe the rains stopped, and the sun came out to play. Having eaten and dried off a bit, we mounted up to ride the final 26 miles to Aviemore. Of course, as we set off, the heavens opened up and drenched us once more. However, the clouds soon scattered and the last 10 miles we rode were dry, and doing 60 mph gave us a chance to mostly dry out. We are now tucked up in bed in our hotel, surrounded by campers, campervans and fellow hoteliers – all here for the rally. There is a complex of 3 hotels, an arena, some open spaces for camping, food stalls, shops and show merchandise and more. We are looking forward to a weekend of biker fun (if we can hack the pace).
- Day 9 – Aviemore to Aviemore (via Grantown-on-Spey) – 67 milesWe 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 milesSlow 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 milesPretty 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 milesSo 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 miles1346 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 milesGreetings 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 milesLongest 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 milesLast 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