Scotland, Bonnie Scotland - 2007
For many years, my trips to Scotland, have just been travelling to some specific mountain area to climb etc and the result is that I had forgotten just how wonderfully picturesque Scotland is, particularly the west coast.
When we two [Pete+Iain] set off we had intended to pick up Bernhard [from Norway] in Dumfries but he was somewhere on the high seas on ship trials.
To get tedious bit over [the tedious bit is of course England] we swept up to Towcester and followed the A5 to Drift then the took the A1M/A1/M18/A1/A1M all the way to Scotch Corner and at this point Pete's cunning plan took over, we now started a [recommended] North West diagonal route. Now we ride along the A66 and up to Barnard Castle on the B6227 with lunch in Middleton in Teesdale. Still on the B6227 all the way to Alston, Brampton and then to Longtown and over the A74 at Gretna, heading west on the A75 to Dumfries. We followed the A76 and the River Nith up Nithdale, [quiet and lovely with good roads] until we turned off towards Ayr, how it has changed, I got lost in the one way system, went round in a circle but with logic I found the correct route and into Prestwick and our really good overnight B&B.
It turned out that both of us had the same idea, to continue the ritual that Bernhard had started the previous year, this involved a bottle of spirits a container and a toast, to this or that. It turned out that we both had a bottle [Single Malts] and we had to have a drink from each bottle and the toast that night and every night was 'to Bernhard'. That night the evening meal was a bit expensive but very good in a very smart up market pub, Elliot's. A walk down to the sea, dip my toe in the water look up at the fading blue of the Scottish sky and so to bed.
Next day's breakfast was with 'everything' including square sausage and a strange cinnamon tasting black pudding. All too much for me but Pete scoffed the lot.
Now the Holiday Really Started, in good weather, up the coast road by the Firth of Clyde past the island of Great Cumbrae to Gourock to catch the ferry to Dunoon, £7.50. A lovely calm crossing over the Firth of Clyde and we have bypassed the drag through Glasgow.
Almost no traffic now and great roads, hills, mountains and lochs, onward up the side of Holy Loch, Loch Eck and through to Loch Fyne. We followed the route all the way round the top of Loch Fyne to Inveraray. Just before this I had been thinking about lunch and there beside 'Loch Fyne Oysters' was a tented Food Fair, my Scottish RoastBoar butty was so good as was Pete's soup and a roll. There was a stall with cheese tasting and one cheese was mouth meltingly marvellous, Mature Cheddar with Single Malt Whisky. I bought one and Pete gave in and did the same, probably the best ever.
From Inveraray it was due north up Glen Aray to Loch Awe and following the A85 west past the Cruachan Pump Storage Generating Station, down through the Pass of Brander and then alongside Loch Etive and over Connel Bridge to head north on the A828 around Loch Creran and eventually along the outer part of Loch Linnhe.
After passing the narrows at the Corran Ferry we followed the inner Loch Linnhe to Fort William and into the car park to review our strategy to get accommodation for the night. It was so difficult, we had to walk out the car park, cross the road and ask the first B&B we saw, all of 100yds. Ideal place, only minutes from the High Street and after a quick clean and brush up and a toast or two to Bernhard we hit the town. Visit to Nevis Sport but no joy in finding a guidebook for my climbing trip to Austria in July, although I could order a German Language version. Their cafe was still open, [Roy does not know this one] and one cup of coffee later we visited the mountain bike shop, looked at lots bottles of whisky in lots of windows, checked out the menu's and settled on a pub made to look old and shabby, [the name escapes me, must be the whisky] and had a very good meal with real ale.
It had been a wonderful day, the roads, the mountains, and the lochs. This part of the trip could easily be extended by going south from Dunoon to Lochgilphead and up the coast road to Oban and Connel Bridge or even further south to Campbeltown and then up the coast road to Lochgilphead, with views of Islay [six distilleries] and Jura [one distillery].
Monday morning arrived fine but cloudy, after another good breakfast we were ready again with the promise of another cracking day on the road. On leaving the B&B we were met by a police patrol car, parked almost across the back door. Were they checking the bikes? Had the neighbours complained about the noise during the night (much snoring in stereo after several beers and some of the local brew the night before) – well possibly, but the reason they were there was the radar trap at the exit from the B&B. We passed the officers from behind, holier than thou– their speed meter was facing the wrong way and in any event 10 mph probably didn’t register. I smiled sweetly at the young lady in the day-glow jacket – she craned her neck in the opposite direction – shame that! Probably the rest of the day was equally as bad for her – hope so!
North up the A82 for a short way, another tank of petrol (getting monotonously expensive this), past the Spean Bridge memorial and Loch Lochy to Laggan and Glengarry. From Glengarry we joined the A87, the road to the isles. We had originally considered crossing to Skye and heading for Portree however if we had done so it looked unlikely that we would make our nights destination of Ullapool at a reasonable hour, so instead we decided to turn north from the A87 just before reaching Kyle of Lochalsh, the crossing point for Skye.
The A87 west goes through wonderful country, past Loch Garry and Loch Cluanie and through the five sisters range – this road should be on every highland tour and it is better to do it out of main season if possible! Fortunately there are many similar gems in the region – oh well, we will just have to go back again. A cup of coffee for lunch and onwards ever onwards. By and large the traffic was light and presented little difficulty to such accomplished bikers as Iain and myself.
There were quite a few other bikes about, ridden mostly by similarly sad cases as ourselves. At one point a phalanx of about six German riders appeared from behind whilst we were stopped and taking the view. They were friendly enough – not at all hostile – they left the viewpoint just ahead of us and we soon caught them up. Now it is well known that our German cousins are a very disciplined race and like to follow the rules at all times (ve have vays und means!). This group had an obvious leader; he was at the front and probably had a small moustache beneath his chinstrap. As overtaking became necessary he would wait until there was space for all six of his “flug” to fly past as one –in a perfect straight line of course. The only problem with this superb arrangement is that the potential for impeding two old Pacemaker gits at the back was considerable. BUT - no problem, drop a peg or two, open the throttle and fly past out of the sun in free formation.
We got all six bikes (BMW’s of course) and several other miscellaneous vehicles before they could get a single cannon pointing in the right direction. We never saw then again – they obviously know who vun der var!
Onwards down the A87, with the master race in hot pursuit, through Glen Shiel, Shiel bridge and Dornie –scene of the relatively recent “Highlander” film – what a wonderful castle – seat of the McClouds. A quick check in the mirrors – not a coal scuttle helmet in sight so a quick right turn onto the A890 north and we have escaped-free. We must have lost them in the clouds!
The next part of our journey towards Ullapool was in my opinion the jewel in the crown – going back is a must. North to the tip of Loch Carron then bear left around the Loch onto the A890 and then the A896. The road goes on rising forever, we past a real bunch of cycling heroes peddling for all they were worth and strung out over what appeared to be miles. My heart went out to them as I opened the Beemer up even more, so as not to exacerbate my comfortable feelings of guilt and not prolong my feelings of anguish unnecessarily – I am at heart a caring person!
Just north of Loch Lishorn the road reaches the coast again, at this point there is a minor road that travels through the “Bealach na Ba” to Applecross. Oh fellow bikers – put this on your list it is truly a wonder to behold – I kid you not! This narrow road with passing places rises and rises through a series of extremely sharp “U” bends all carefully located on extreme gradients. Great caution is required especially if those in four wheeled boxes are also in the vicinity. The road rises eventually over a great Scottish moor – in our case it was sleeting upon us on the summit so we did not linger. It then falls down the western side of the moor to Applecross. From here it follows the coast with continuous and fantastic views of the north east coast of Skye and Loch Torridon eventually rejoining A896 at Shielraig.
Continuing on this road and passing through Torridon to Kinlochewe to Achnasheen and Garve we join the A835 and turn north again for Ullapool our destination that night. The entire length of this route follows an endless succession of Lochs, Glens and Hills, by this time gluttony was taking its toll and well deserved appreciation of our surroundings was alas lacking. It also chucked it down for the last part of our journey this day and probably missed some really good bits however the day hade been so good to this point it really didn’t matter at all. This was a day of days!
North again, Up the A835, still the same road as yesterday but it was now narrower and smaller with the odd glimpse of the sea. I had told Pete that I knew this little road, which went all the way to Lochinver, I remember it from 30? years ago, almost continuous up, down, left and right for miles and miles and it is still the same and still as varied and picturesque.
Dropping down into Lochinver, it was time for a fuel and a coffee stop, filling station, if no-one is there ring the bell and someone will come from the shop over the road, £1.06 per litre, bargain, after all there is nowhere else. Coffee shop along the road and in the shop, all those pies, all sorts, so we could we resist......... and had a yummy fruit pie each. They should be good, on the wall was a plaque to say that they had won the BBC Radio Four, Food and Farming award for Best Food Producer in 2004, but so many pies in such a small village, everyone must buy them. After this, in the car park, we met two on a BMW who had been on the bike that I had passed in the rain on the way to Ullapool, I noticed that they then speeded up followed us all the way. I found out that this was on the basis that 'there was some one who knows the road well’; I've not been along that road for at least 30 years. During our chat they mentioned that they had paid £1.999 per litre of petrol, something to look out for.
Onward, another little road that I knew, this little road is a bigger little road and has a number, B869, with plenty of views out to sea, with lots of bays and lots of bends and lots of hills in the last half. Now we joined up with the main road, A894, still not a very big road and would stay like this for many miles but a great route up this very rugged North West Coast. More and more bays and sea lochs, through Laxford Bridge, a well-known road junction, marked on maps and it has.........a telephone box. Some showers about but nothing to affect us, still heading north and eventually along the side of Kyle of Durness and into Durness itself and now we were on the North Coast. Very shortly we were heading south to get round Loch Eriboll with black clouds and rain ahead but all we found was wet roads and the rain moving off into the hills to the south and that was the end of any sign of rain that day. Up here it is a much bleaker landscape with few trees but with lots of yellow gorse in bloom.
There are few villages along this north coast, little clusters of houses etc. and only large town is Thurso, almost the end of the A9, but we are still going on and on to the most northerly point of mainland Britain at Dunnet Head.
This is a lonely point with a few visitors, a lighthouse and the remains of buildings from the last war and an old trig point, about 400 feet above the sea. Great views around, Hoy was due north and we could see the Old Man of Hoy sticking up and slightly east was South Ronaldsy with the sea between, one of the ways into Scapa Flow. Off to the east, not far, was John O'Groats. It didn't take long to get to this starting/ finishing point for End to Enders, who judging by the photographs do it by every means possible.
Time was now pressing, we had to find somewhere to stay the night so we headed south on the A99, to Wick, not much of town, a bit grey and sad looking, we had seen no signs for B&B but found a small hotel on the far side of town and its last twin room [or so they said]. It was ok and after the usual toasts to Bernhard and a shower we were off to town and it was still grey with little sign of life or food, until we rounded a corner, lights, music, action, it was a Wetherspoons. They had taken over a large building and done it up, what a contrast to the rest of the town. We were in there like rats up a drainpipe, two pints of Abbott, £3.80, things are looking up, menu, Tuesday night is grill night and steak, mushroom, peas, tomato, chips and in this case a pint of Abbot----£6.49, it gets better and better and the steak was really good. Having saved all this money, we had another pint……….. and so to bed.
Now that we are heading south there is the realization the holiday is half over, in fact it’s more than halfway but hey, we are still in Scotland, it’s still good.
Out of Wick on the A9 heading down the coast with many views out to sea. As you look out to sea it is obvious that you are often well above sea level and if you went right down to the edge you would find that it is very rugged with many fine cliffs and little fishing villages [not so much fishing now]. Today it is a bit windy with it coming in from the sea on our left but not too bad.
Down the A9 it was a fairly uneventful run, past Helmsdale and Golspie, over the bridge at Loch Fleet and down to the long bridge over the Dornoch Firth to Tain. Not much further and we were over the Cromarty Firth and then over the bridge that lies between the Beauly Firth and Moray Firth. Straight through Inverness and now we could get off the A9 and headed East on the A96 to Nairn and then towards the Cairngorm area to the south, down the A903 and A939 to Grantown on Spey where we stopped and chatted to a couple of local bikers who let us know the best place for a snack/cup of coffee, only 50 yds away.
From here it is a touch of the A95 before heading out on that famous road that always becomes blocked with snow in the winter, the Cock Bridge to Tomintoul road. As you can guess it is a high road where you pass the Ski Lodge of the Lecht and cross the watershed and border between Inverness Shire and Aberdeen Shire down to a left turn at the A939. We did turn off of this road to take a small B 976 down to the A93. I have to say that this is now on the tourist route and you will find coaches on this narrow road because you are now in Royal Deeside with Balmoral Castle and Braemar not far along our route. This was a stop off point for another cup of coffee and an opportunity to buy some presents.
From Braemar it’s due south still on the A93 with hills and mountains all around then through Spittal of Glenshee, down Glen Shee till the turn off on the B950 to join the A924 all the way to our overnight stop in Pitlochry. The town is on the A9 and is now a well known tourist orientated town so plenty of places to eat and drink. Our B&B is a little bit run down but very pleasant with good views over the tow to the hills to the west, although our room in the attic is rather small and the on-suite does have a fairly transparent top half to the door. The meal and the beer that night in a very spacious bar was excellent.
Up and about in our little quaint room and down to breakfast, you can tell that this B&B is genteel because it has radio three playing softly in the background. This was, I believe, the best breakfast in the whole trip. With a discussion about the route that I was going to take from Pitlochry still fresh in our minds, we were off down the A9 towards the first turning to the west.
The road is quite busy and remember that it is well known for unmarked police cars, with Pete ahead and myself a few vehicles between as we came up to the turning, the A827 for Aberfeldy, Pete sailed past it, even though I was trying to place myself where he could see me signalling. I was still reluctant to speed to catch him up but eventually after some miles he did pull over, ”am I going the wrong way” he asked, DOH! Back up the A9, turn west to Aberfeldy and eventually down the north side of Loch Tay with Ben Lawers on our right, one of the big mountains in Scotland at about 4000 feet.
Past the end of Loch Tay and eventually left on to the A85 and then right on to the A84 at Lochearnhead now we are in the Trossachs, down the side of Loch Lubnaig to Callander. At this point we took off over the hills via the A81 and the B822 and left on the A873 and rejoined the A84 and somewhere around here we stopped for fuel and coffee. We could have carried on over the Fintry hills via B roads but it would have been too messy and built up at the end and would waste time. So we were going to use motorway and main roads to get through central Scotland. M9, A80, M73 and M74 and as this is my old home area, I knew some better roads and turned off at Junction 7 on to the A72.
This leads down into the old Clydeside fruit growing area, many are now garden centres and we took the opportunity for an other cup of coffee, all very pretty, then past the turning to Tillytudlum Castle and eventually up the hill and right on to the A73 into Lanark [county town of Lanarkshire]. I had had hoped to show Pete the Statue of Robert the Bruce above the church door right in the centre of the High Street but the complete route was blocked off. A diversion with one/some of the most dopey drivers ever and it took us out over Lanark Moor heading for Edinburgh but soon I had us back on to the A73 and over Hyndford Bridge till eventually the A72 and the A702 into Bigger.
At this point we are now heading into the Southern Uplands of Scotland and I could see we were going to be up into the cloud. More little roads that I knew, B7016 over to Broughton and south on the A701 to small singletrack road over the hills to Tala Linfoot and Megget reservoirs and then left on to the A708 to the Gordon Arms Hotel cross roads. That’s it, nothing else there and it’s marked on maps as such. Very welcoming after this recent damp and drizzle section in the clouds and a late lunch was enjoyed to the full. More B roads to ride, the B709, B7009, and B711 to the A7 and then into Hawick. All this last section was very empty and quiet but we did see other motorcyclists on tour, both of us surprised to find others on these out of the way roads. If you do follow this on the map you will see that this not a direct route but follows a zigzag line but it is good.
We left Hawick and onto the A698 then the A6088 then the B6357 for miles and miles until a small turn off for Kielder Water and over the Scottish Border into England and as Kielder Water is a man made lake all the roads are new and good even though it looks like a very small minor road on the map. Into the visitor centre for a cup of coffee, we almost had the place to ourselves but as there lots of attractions all around here I expect it gets very busy in the summer, particularly at weekends. Now, onward to Otterburn our stop for the night, just follow the signs. The B&B was fine but the hotel nearby and the evening meal and the beer, all very poor, [I'ts an English thing] we will not be back there!
Our final day - South and back to reality. The weather report held little promise of joy and considerable suggestion for sorrow: Showers through Northern England (what else!) and high cross winds. In the event we were lucky with the showers but the wind was no joke. Otterburn sits on the A696 but a short local diversion took us onto the A68. The road was virtually deserted until we crossed the A69 – the Newcastle /Carlisle road. We steamed along very nicely for many miles – but a cautious word – its has many miles of blind switch-back. Watch out, you have been warned. Continuing south on the A68 we pass from Northumberland through Consett into Durham, this road is a good one for bikers and embodies those important attributes of character and interest. You can also make good progress even though there may be other traffic about. We joined the A1M approaching Darlington and shortly joined the old A1 past Leeming.
Our original plan had been to stick to the A1M all the way south to Bedford then cut west, but it became obvious that this was not such a good idea. The volume of traffic increased exponentially as we approached the new section of A1M north of Leeds and we were reduced to filtering for quite a few miles. The number of caravans was quite remarkable – I suppose that dragging along your house behind you at 40/50 mph is absolutely mind numbing on a motorway, on the A1 and A1M at least you have the satisfaction of seeing p***ed-off bikers getting held back along with the rest of the motoring public! During all of this run down the A1 and A1M the side winds were getting fierce and it became a very good idea to drop the speed a little – the alternative was counter steering to go in a straight line!
Approaching Doncaster I made a corporate decision (being ahead at this point) that there had to be a better way and we swung left onto the M18 heading for Sheffield and the M1 south – it was a good move. Fortunately Iain was paying attention and we managed to stay together – now there’s a first! Both motorways were busy enough but nothing like the roads we had abandoned. At Rugby radio station we left the M1, cut across to the A5 then south to Towcester and thence home via Aylesbury.
What a great week!
Preliminary reservation list will soon be opened for the next Northern tour!
Iain Wallace [Yamaha FJR1300] and Peter Goddard [BMW R1150R].
Article written by www.inter-bike.co.uk contributors - Iain Wallace & Peter Goddard.
Photos by www.inter-bike.co.uk contributors- Iain Wallace & Peter Goddard.