Scottish Eden

My journey to Achiltibuie, was jaw dropping.

On the way South to Ullapool, even if you do not intend to stay in the area, take a right turn, off the A835, towards Drumrunie and onwards to Alchiltibuie. 

You will discover the most scenic picture postcard views and a rugged landscape unscathed by modernism.

A single track road with passing places runs alongside Lochs Lurgainn and Osgaig. Don’t fight the temptation to stop at any of the passing places you get to. Take a deep breath and just admire the view. Have a coffee break or get your picnic hamper out. 

I don’t understand riders who just pass by, with just a cursory glance at the all embracing natural beauty of nature. As I said, stop and stay a while.

When you reach the public toilets just before Achiltibuie, turn right towards Polbain and again park by the beach front, to your left. Breathe in the fresh salted sea air and gape at the amazing view overlooking the islands of Tanera Mor and Beg.

I stayed with Ian at Polbain Tigh na Tilleadh, my Airbnb host. What a great individual. 

He will not feed you, so shop before you arrive, but his kitchen is at your disposal if you wished to cook something for yourself and in the morning he will stock up the breakfast table with enough cereals, jams, bread, tea, coffee etc, to send you on your way. 

Ian is an Economist and I found his intellect very challenging and refreshing. His home was perfectly suited to my needs and he was another perfect host, very attentive to my requirements and reinforced the commitment of Airbnb to providing you with the best value for money accommodation. I will definitely return.

My way back to the A835 in the early hours of the morning, was as enchanting.

Onwards to John O’Groats

It was love at first sight. Just kidding! Or am I? 

I was crossing the Dornoch Firth Bridge, on my way to Thurso, when I spotted her. She had stopped and what looked like a possible damsel in distress. Being the chivalrous biker type, I pulled over to offer my assistance. Not needed. She was fine and had only stopped for a cig break. I asked and she offered me one. To be frank, I don’t smoke, but occasionally yearn for the odd roll-up. We chatted and I fancied her straightaway. It helped that she was also tall, slim and gorgeous.

We agreed to ride together for a bit. She too was going to John O’Groats, but stopping in Golspie. We therefore planned to have a coffee & cake there. 

Then she was gone! Seriously, we set off together, but I soon realized that she was a faster rider than I, as she quickly reached the dizzy speeds of 80-85 mph. I tried to keep up with her, but I only lasted about 10 minutes. I gave up. Too easily maybe? What does that say about me? I don’t really know. To be outridden by a biker chick! It’s just as well, I don’t have a bloated ego. The last I saw of her was when she quickly, but safely, overtook 4-6 cars, before an upcoming left bend and then she was gone. 

I cruised slowly through Golspie in the hope of seeing her, but didn’t.

Where are you Sheila?

In 2014, I accidentally came across Café Linda’s in Brora, run by two charming ladies, Janette and Angie (Angie is from Halifax) and decided to revisit this great little spot for a coffee and cake. They were still there. They remembered me and I would absolutely recommend any bikers to please stop and take time for a coffee break al fresco. They probably have the best stretch of road in Scotland, as the town recently had its High Street resurfaced with the smoothest bit of tarmac. 

I reached John O’Groats in good time and once again, the people I met there didn’t disappoint.

Firstly, the 60+ lady, Rita Davis, with Autism, who was walking to Land’s End. It will take her 3 months to complete the trip! At some point I think I’ll join her for a bit. 

Check her out on Just Giving. ‘Rita’s Wondering Gypsy Walk’ She is also walking for the British Biker Relief Foundation, which supports all motorcyclists and families, after serious life changing road traffic accidents across the UK.

And, what about John Ireson & Vicky Cook, who had ridden from Land’s End on their Classic 1989 Yamaha 79cc motorbikes, both loaded up with camping gear and all. Amazing.

Hey Ho!

There was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was the girlie on the bike! Well, bugger me with a big leak until it really hurts! We embraced and were genuinely pleased to see each other. I accused her of leaving me (all in jest of course) and we made up over coffee and scones. She was staying in Thurso and I, in Gills Bay. End of romance. Of course I’m being infantile. And why not?

We parted once more. Maybe we’ll see each other again, but if you’re riding in Scotland and are overtaken by a lady biker in black leathers riding a Triumph 1100, it’s probably her. The fastest lady biker I know. 

Gills Bay

My stay at my Airbnb hosts was amazing and it’s on the NC500 route. 

Jackie and Barry were so welcoming, it felt as if I was part of their family. They were about to have supper and I was invited to join and break bread with them. We later watched the match between England and Colombia. 

Of course we wanted England to win and roared right across to John O’Groats, but we knew then that we would not win the World Cup, especially after the selection of that waste of space, Raheem Sterling. Why was he chosen above Defoe who should have been selected and why did Gareth not play Vardy and Rashford right from the off? Anyway, that debate is to be had again in 4 years. 

Returning to my stay in Canisbay with Jackie and Barry and family. It was great to be with real people and I had the most fulfilling night’s rest. The pièce de resistance was when I showered in the morning. It was the most advanced and sophisticated household gadget I have ever experienced. It was controlled by a remote from the outside and in the shower itself, you could turn on the radio for a bit of music, whilst being jetted from all angles by the many shower heads at your disposal. I felt invigorated and the journey to my next destination was all the more pleasant for it.

Lastly, a comment about the NC500 which has been made famous by bikers. Dare I say that it’s fast acquiring an ‘infamous’ tag and we, bikers, no longer have the sole privilege of its enjoyment. 

The petrol-heads have also discovered it and race about it in their Maseratis, Porsches, Subarus, Ferraris etc, cutting corners and endangering the safety of bikers. So, next time, you’re on it, beware. Keep to your line, unless you can clearly see the exit point.

 

Loch Insh

Coming out of Dunfermline, I was overtaken by a pack of bikers heading towards Perth. They were already in full flight and a mutual nod and a wave meant that it would be fine to join them. I was already at that point doing 70 mph. They were edging towards 85 mph. I needed a distraction from my solitary ride and kept up with them for about 10 miles or so. I eventually pulled up and got back down to 60/65 mph. 

I don’t know about how you seasoned bikers feel, but racing at a constant speed above 80 mph demands a lot more concentration and effort. For me it takes the pleasure out of my outings. The buzz is great and I often, just for a few minutes, I push myself to the limits of my competence, but on a normal day out, an average of 60 mph will do. 

I detoured to make a much needed toilet stop in Pitlochry (too much information? Ok) and walked around the Dam. If you happen to be en route to Aviemore, do stop. It’s a busy and charming village and well worth a visit. Many pubs and bistros, cafés etc for a bite to eat too.  

Loch Insh is effectively a Canoeing and Sailing Club in Kingussie, the Cairngorm. I chose to stay there as it offered spectacular views over the loch and would have attracted a mixed bunch of visitors from the world over. I wasn’t disappointed. 

My room was situated in a log/wooden structure, secure, clean and comfortable. I know this will be a recurring theme of mine, but the added value of a shower and a proper toilet, was to become paramount to my journey. The many people I met there were your friendly variety of sports and outdoor enthusiasts. 

By the time I reached Loch Insh, I was wise to the habits of the midges and as an additional measure of spraying my exposed parts with Avon spray, I also wore my trusty mosquito head net. Made me look silly, but who cares...

Breakfast was the buffet type, but was well presented and appetizing.

On the way to Loch Insh, I stopped at the Newtonmore Café in Kincraig. Very understated establishment, but what a pleasant surprise. The food was simple and tasty. I had their locally produced meat & potato pie with beans and chips.

A local resident and a very distinguished old gentleman donated £5.  Totally unexpected. I also got chatting to a group of 4 senior bikers from London who had done the NC500. True Grit. They too donated £10. 

My weakened intestinals had calmed down and I was able to relax. Go stay, even if you’re not into sailing.

DAY 1

I'm aware that people's attention span is not what it used to be, when we read proper books and newspapers. Now we are limiting ourselves to quick scans on our smartphones. So, I decided to post this account of my ride in instalments. Pick and choose what you'd like to read and I hope you enjoy this 'off the cuff' recall. I'm also conscious that I may not be too politically correct in my choice of words, but I reserve my rights to 'free speech'. Charlie Hebdo lives on. 

Part 1

(Midges v/s Biker’s Gear)

This year we’ve suffered badly from an infestation of midges and contrary to popular belief, the males don’t bite. The females are the aggressors. Maybe that tells us something about the female species! Who knows. They also attack at dusk & dawn.

Pour revenir à nos moutons and in the context of my ride, I may have discovered something that may well be a proven scientific fact, but all I can go by were my own battles with the little putas.

I’ve previously worn my yellow Hi-Viz jacket without any issues. However, this year, given the midge pestilence overrunning our shores, it was the wrong choice for me to make, because my yellow jacket acted as a magnet for their attacks. 

When I turned up in Castleford at the start of my journey, I was set upon by hordes of the bloody things. They dived onto my jacket and were so fearsome that I had to divest myself of it and chuck it away. Still the buggers clung on to it. 

I was reminded of the Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds’, except that in this case, it was a Castle’s directed movie ‘Attack of the Yorkshire Midges’ which played out to an audience of one (Alan) and I, the victim. We tried to see the funny side of it, but just couldn’t. My yellow jacket had become their favourite colour of choice. 

Prior to leaving on this trip, I’d read up about the most effective antidotes to midges and mosquitoes and it turned out that ‘Avon Skin So Soft’ was the leading contender. I ordered 2 x 150 ml spray cans of the stuff and fervently hoped that they would protect me. 

Call it an accidental discovery, but before gearing up again at Castle’s, I experimentally soaked my jacket with my ‘Avon Spray’ in the hope that it might succeed in repelling and minimise a renewed attack from the bastards and I believed it worked. 

Except for a particularly virulent episode in Cannock (I’ll come to that later) for the whole duration of my trip, I averted being bitten by the little buggers and they also left my jacket alone. 

The manufacturers of Hi-Viz biker wear may therefore investigate and consider adding some form of repellent chemical into their fabric.

In any case, my advice, to all of you, who perhaps like me, favour visibility, when out for an extended ride this summer, stick to standard black or get yourself the ‘Avon Spray’ repellent that will work both on you and your Hi-Viz gear, if u chose to wear one.

DAY 1 

Part 2

The group thing.

I had hoped that more local bikers would have joined me on my first leg, but it wasn’t the case. Due to a lack of communication, I failed to meet up with my mates Graham and Dave from Normanton, but I’m sure we’ll have occasions to ride together before this summer is over.

My ride to Whitby with Alan was great and when we parted company, I carried up North to Dunfermline. Our treat on the way, was stopping for some real dairy ice cream in Goathland.

 Running out of petrol. 

I remember being critical of Jack Richards who seemed to frequently run out of fuel. I’m sorry Jack. I shouldn’t have been so judgemental, because it happened to me!

Coincidentally, that mishap, served to re-established my faith in human kindness and admiration of the Scots. 

I had filled up in Whitby and although I knew that it wouldn’t quite get me to Dunfermline, I forgot to check my mileometer! My tank is limited to 145 miles max, before having to operate the reserve which gives me another 10 miles. 

When the engine started having an attack of fuel deprivation half way up the A1, I switched over to  the reserve. When it started to develop a dry cough again, I was nowhere near a fuel station and came to an abrupt stop. Bugger. 

I’d already decided to slow down to 30 mph on reserve and the traffic behind me quickly turned into a queue of irritated drivers who were glad when I finally halted and pulled over. 

What to do? The thought of having to push the bike to the next petrol station, which my phone app indicated was 10 miles to Dunbar, filled me with dread. This could not be happening on my first day! 

Fortunately I was not quite in the wilds of Scotland. I was in Berwick. I decided to knock on one of the very few houses on the other side of the road and ask for help.

I was initially greeted with some consternation. Who was this man wearing a black balaclava and bright yellow clothing doing at our door? After I’d explained my predicament, I was welcomed in for a cup of tea and biscuits while we discussed my options Dave, the male of the house, thought he probably had some residual amount of petrol in his long forgotten jerry-can stored in his garage, and luckily turned out to be the case. The litre or so which he poured out of it, got me to the Asda automatic fuel pump in Dunbar.

What can I say. Thank you Dave and his wife Margaret McCran for saving my life and ‘och aye the noo’ to you both. 

I promised you a couple of Prostate Cancer T-shirts and they are on the way.

My arrival at Dunfermline was a welcomed stop. 

I stayed at the Adamson Hotel and loved it. Clean. Double bed. TV. The receptionist was lovely and even made an exception in my case, by allowing me to order for room service. She must have taken pity on my neglected and tired soul. Or, maybe my charm won her over.

I had their best ‘BIG YIN’ double juicy Burger! c/w fresh coleslaw and wonderful chips. 

I must straightaway rescind on one of my live postings and do a Trump volte-face. I blamed the burger for giving me the shits the next day. I’m now quite sure that it was more likely something I drank or foolishly consumed on the way. 

At any rate, my race to Aviemore and to the next and to the next and the next service station was hilarious. I wonder if the staff at those respective places noted my obvious distress, as I jumped off my bike and rushed to the toilets!

You will be able to read an anecdotal account of my journey soon.

It was as interesting, challenging, frustrating, rewarding and saddening a ride as I had envisaged.

I left Yorkshire on the 1st and returned home on the 14th July.

It's too early to say if there will be another trip in the future. Time and a reassessment of the reaction received from this trip will determine my resolve.

Meanwhile, I would like to thank Castle Motorcycles and BSB Motors for the sponsorships and support without which I would not have safely concluded this pilgrimage.

Thank you to all those who donated to the cause and whose welcoming acceptance of my mission is firmly recognised.

 

justgiving