Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Biker Down, hopefully not!

I have done a lot of first aid training over the years, St John's, Red Cross, Diver Medic, Life Support Tech.  Outside of basic first aid I had never thought about dealing with a motorcycle casualty, so I though I better look into it a bit more.  The best medical training I ever had was the diver medic course as it was given by Paramedics and hyperbaric specialists, in other words people who put the theory into practice every day.
Biker Down is delivered by the local Fire Service and the presenters are all riders themselves.  So, like the diver medic training, who better to deliver specific training than the people who pick up the pieces for a living.
Meeting at the RNLI station at South Queensferry the half day course starts in the classroom with introductions, a brief history Biker Down and the aims of the day.  The slide show then provides prompts for further discussion about dealing with motorcycle casualties.  Presentations around what to do on discovering an accident, managing the scene, dealing with casualties and basic first aid for everyone involved in the incident.  These presentations are a two way street and the presenters are always looking to get the audience involved, not difficult when there is passion for the subject on both sides.  Not only was accident management covered, but sessions on accident avoidance and strategies for staying out of trouble were informative and thought provoking.  Towards the end of the first half of the morning, one of the presenters recounted a low speed incident that her husband and herself had been involved in and the following months of recovery.  One practical thing that came from this was if the pillion footpegs are down on a crashed bike, chances are there will be a passenger somewhere in the vicinity...
After the theory, things move on to more practical things - basic CPR and how to remove a crash helmet.
Three Resusci Annie mannequins await us on the floor of the lifeboat shed ready to run through basic airway management, chest compressions and rescue breaths.  Everyone had a chance to have a go and I recommend you do, it is harder work than you think!
After failing to save any of the mannequins, we then try to do better with helmet removal.  After a brief talk about helmet and buckle types a 'casualty' has their helmet removed along with full commentary on how to go about it.  How to move the casualty, if required, into a position to remove the helmet and how to stabilise the casualty after removing the helmet was also covered.  The concept of a snatch rescue of a casualty in a position of imminent danger naturally followed helmet removal.  As I said at the start of this piece, the course is delivered by firefighters and as they deal with the subject matter in the real world on a regular basis the training is more pragmatic than a first aid course.  I came away feeling more confident in my ability to help at the scene of a motorcycle incident.
Combined with a good first aid course, Bike Down should equip most riders with the skills to help their fellow riders and I would recommend Biker Down to anyone who rides.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Outer Hebrides

Our extended NC500 tour ended on Sunday in Ullapool, as I was catching the ferry to Stornoway on Monday morning and Andy was heading home for work on Tuesday.  The rain had been on and off all night and when I dragged myself out of my tent I found Andy almost packed and wrestling a wet tent into its bag.  Well he did have a few hundred more miles than me to cover today!  As Andy rode off south, I started to pack up a soaking wet tent as best as I could to try and keep the inside dry, I still had at least 4 more camping nights to go, or so I thought!  Packed away I rode down to the ferry and checked in and with an hour to kill, tracked down breakfast.  At least the rain had gone off and I enjoyed a roll and a coffee on the sea front.

The road to the Isles!

As boarding time came closer the sky was beginning to clear and the fresh breeze had dropped to no more than a gentle waft.  After the bike was securely tied down by the helpful Calmac staff, I made my way to the passenger decks of the MV Loch Seaforth to enjoy the crossing.  Armed with a huge coffee I picked a seat with a superb view from the fully glazed observation lounge positioned in the bow of the boat.

A great view, calm seas and a blue sky

Leaving Ullapool and then the Summer Isles behind, I settled down for the couple of hours at sea until we sailed into Stornoway.  The sea remained flat calm for the whole crossing reflecting the few white clouds that still hung in the pure blue sky.  I started to read a book, but my eyes were constantly drawn to the sea and I found myself just looking out over the sea for most of the crossing.
All too soon the ferry was alongside in Stornoway and we were rolling into the town. Lost motorists fresh from the ferry were competing with the locals to negotiate the narrow roads around the terminal.  As the sky was still blue and the air warm I decided to avoid the chaos and head for the campsite and put the tent up to try and dry it out.
I found a corner of the gently sloping Laxdale holiday park and put up the soggy tent.  Fortunately I had managed to keep the inside of the tent almost dry and I was sure the rest would be dry by the time I got back.

The gently sloping Laxdale holiday park

After checking out the campsite facilities I decided to head north to Point of Ness and the Butt of Lewis lighthouse.  I picked the A857 to cross to the west of the island and the village of Barvas.  The road is almost dead straight as it crosses the moors.  Long straight roads I was not expecting.  As the sea comes into view the road turns right and then follows the coast north.  Again the road is fairly straight and from a biking point of view, boring.  The views over the moorland to the right and sea stretching out to the horizon on the left are far from boring though.  Pressing north on the superbly surfaced road I passed through several small settlement where the buildings are strung out along the road, rather than expanding away from the road to form a village.  One benefit is the speed limit is 40mph rather than the 30mph we have on the mainland.  Approaching Point of Ness the road drops down to single track, but again it is well maintained.  After 5 minutes of single track the beach and harbour at Point of Ness comes into view.  After a quick photo stop, another 5 minutes of single track got me to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse.

Harbour and beach at Point of Ness

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
After a photo stop and a wee wander around at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse the rain decided it wanted to join in on the fun again.  The return journey was on the same roads as the way up, as there is only one way in.
Returning to Stornoway I tracked down fuel for the bike and a Co-Op to fuel me.
Back at the campsite the rain came and went all evening.  I whipped up a quick meatball curry and washed it down with a couple of beers.  Sitting in the tent in the rain, I planned a hopefully dry route for tomorrow.

I slept like a log and woke up on Tuesday morning contorted in to a ball in the bottom corner of the tent, the curse of  the sloping campsite!  After untangling myself from the sleeping arrangements, I opened the tent to a clear blue sky only haunted by some far off clouds well out over the sea.  Could I get a dry day at last?
After a breakfast of coffee and porridge it was off to the first target for the day, the standing stones at Callanish.  I took the same straight road over the moors to the west coast, but at Barvas turned left heading south along the coast to Callanish.  The well surfaced A858 is similar to the road I travelled north on yesterday.  The well surfaced road sweeps south over the moorland and through strung out settlements dotted along the way.  The visibility is great and there are few surprises to catch you out, it is a great riding road.  The sign for the stones guides you along a single track road by the shore to the visitor centre.  The best thing about an early start is I had the place to myself!
I walked up to the stones, reading some of the history laid out on plaques along the way.  Like Skara Brae in Orkney, these folks knew how to pick a location!  I had a good half hour of peace and quite wandering around the stones and taking in the views.  The only spoiler was 30 seconds of rain as a dark bank of clouds rolled through.

A quick shower passing through at Callanish.

Leaving the Callanish stones I headed back over the island to the east coast to join the road all the way south to Leverburgh.  Continuing south west  A858 over the moors to the east coast once again surprised me by continuing to be well surfaced with long open corners and bleak, but beautiful views over peat fields and small lochs.  Turning south onto the A859 the excellent fast sweeping road continues over moorland, through craggy cuttings and small villages.
As the road dives down to the shores of Loch Shiphoirt and the mountains of southern Harris come in to view the road suddenly becomes a lot more involving.  Two long sweeping uphill hairpins signal the start of the climb over the mountains to Tarbert.  The climb up the north side is a combination of fast flowing corners, hidden dips and first gear hairpins.  The road is a mix of brand new tarmac and worn out surface dressing on both single and normal carriageway.  All the while passing through rugged, stark scenery, more like the highlands than the islands.  Once over the summit the road dives down the southern side of the mountains through fast and very long curves.  Again the road surface is almost perfect.
Grinning like a Cheshire cat I pulled into the small roadside petrol station at Ardhasaig to fuel up and admire the view of the hills I had just ridden over.

You don't often get views like this when fuelling up.  Ardhasaig petrol station.
Back on the bike I meandered along the shore to Tarbert.  South of Tarbert the road changes to single track and was quite busy as I made my way west to the beaches of Western Harris.  As the road hit the west coast I realised I had made a mistake with my campsite.  Horgabost is where I should have been camped up!

Horgabost campsite, just behind the dunes.  Why was my tent no in there?

The mix of single track and normal road continues south with the stunning blue sea on the right lapping on pristine sand beaches.  No words just photos!

Since I was this far south I decided to check out where the ferry terminal was, to save time tomorrow.  Also the theory being I could enjoy the mountain pass a bit more without worrying about any grief at the ferry!
I found the ferry terminal and had a late snack lunch at the Leverburgh Co-Op.  Heading north again past the west coast beaches I decided to head down the single track road and check out Hushinish beach.
This is along 13 miles of the B887 single track road and I did think twice about it.  I had had enough of single track on the NC500 and another 26 miles of it was not high on my list!
Of I went anyway, past what looks like an old whaling station on the shore.  Immediately the road climbs, but it follows the coast all the way giving stunning views for the whole 13 miles.  The road is nothing special but the views are amazing, especially looking towards the mountains, over the sea and the beach at the end of the road itself.

On the road to Hushinish
Hushinish beach
The 13 miles back to the 'main' road was a drag, but I still had the rollercoaster over the mountains to look forward to.  It was so good I turned round and rode a section of it twice on the way back!
Unfortunately there is only one road back to Stornoway, so getting back was the reverse of going out.
Soon enough I was back in Stornoway and the Co-Op provided the makings of a tuna pasta tea and some munchies, all washed down with a couple of beers.
After a shower and tidying up, I checked the weather forecast.  Thursday night and Friday were always looking like the worst days, but 70 mph gusts were now forecast for Thursday night.  A quick call to the hotel where I was booked in to for Friday could take me as well on Thursday, but I would have to move rooms.  Still better than camping in rain driven by a gale!

Despite heavy clouds the rain had stayed off and Wednesday dawned dry if a bit cloudy and noticeably colder.  Fortified with coffee and porridge I packed up a dry tent, loaded the bike and headed for the ferry.  Once again the climb over the mountains to Tarbert proved to be a highlight.  I was on a late ferry so I had plenty of time to enjoy the roads once again.
Once on the ferry the crossing from Leverburgh to Berneray is the marine equivalent of riding the Bealach-na-Ba as the ferry weaves it's way through the islands and shallows marked by the navigation buoys.


Unfortunately as I was wedged in on the ferry I was last off.  From the ferry it is all single track road so I decided to find a nice spot to park up and chill out for a wee while.  Barely a mile south of the ferry terminal I was enjoying the tranquillity of solitude and a coffee overlooking white sand beaches.

Solitude and coffee, my first views of North Uist
After a quick loop of North Uist I headed for  Shell Bay campsite, my base for tonight.  It was a novelty putting up a dry tent for a change!
As it was getting late I decided to leave exploring for tomorrow.  Food, a shower and a relaxing evening were on the cards.

The most scenic supermarket in the world, probably...

RT Enjoying a well earned rest at Shell Bay campsite
The rain woke me up at about 3am on Thursday morning, but I quickly fell back asleep after putting in a set of earplugs.  When I finally woke up at 10:00, long lie or what, the wind had picked up quite a bit and it was a stiff breeze by the time I got out of the tent.  The wind and rain had arrived earlier than forecast.  After the usual coffee and porridge to set me up for the day, I set about getting the tent away.  Rolling around on the ground with my Vango flag, a camper driver took pity and used his van as a windbreak for me.  Top bloke and I'll never say a bad word about camper vans again....maybe.
I headed back to North Uist first, planning to do a clockwise loop and then locate Lochmaddy ferry terminal as I had to be there at 5:45 on Saturday morning.  The slate grey sky over the beaches and sea on the west coast looked foreboding and I could hear the sea breaking beyond the dunes protecting the beaches and lagoons.  The wind was also now whistling through the fences.  I pressed on as the views were still awe inspiring and I imagined them as blue and calm as yesterdays coffee stop beach.

Still stunning, but blue skies would be better

A rare break in the Thursday rain, it was overcast or raining all day
After locating Lochmaddy ferry terminal the rain came back on, real rain, hairy chested man sized rain almost horizontal in the wind.
I decided to make the most of it, even though it was starting to look grim.  I headed south onto the A865 heading for Eriskay over Benbecula and South Uist.  With the wind driving the rain into the right hand side of the bike the dead straight single track road was a real challenge and if I'm honest not very enjoyable in the rain and wind.
As I arrived at Eriskay causeway the the rain eased off and the twisty sweeping road over the island to the ferry terminal was good fun after the past 20 miles of ruler straight single track.  Arriving at the ferry terminal, the sea was suggesting to me that Barra on Friday may not be a good idea if the weather continued to deteriorate.

Welcome shelter in a bay on Eriskay
Once again it was one way in and one way out so in the rain I rode back up the Islands only planning to  stop at the Lady of the Isles statue for a quick photo.

By the now the rain was back on full time and the winds were slowly picking up.  I continued north, looking for fuel.  After fuelling up the bike I moved it before paying as I was seriously worried that it would get blown over on the exposed forecourt.  Now the bike was fuelled, I stopped at the Isle of Benbecula Hotel for a soup and a coffee.  The staff were more than helpful making sure a soaking wet biker was made very welcome!
After a final loop around Benbecula airport I headed for the Temple View Hotel, where I would be shacked up for the next two nights.
After checking in I spread my gear around the room to dry and then moved the bike behind a wall for a bit of shelter from the wind.  Hopefully she would still be upright in the morning.

RT Hiding from the weather, the wind would turn 180 degrees and gust to 70 mph during the night

The wind and rain got worse through the night.  I was so glad I had booked in to hotel, a night under canvas would have been hellish.
Friday morning dawned little better.  The wind had moderated slightly through the night and the rain was coming in as heavy showers that blew through in 2 or 3 minutes.  Barra was the goal for today and after breakfast I debated if I should even try it today.  Common sense lost the battle and I headed out, 10 minutes later I was back in the car park.  The cyclist getting blown off their bike and across the road just outside of Carinish, 1 mile from the hotel, should have been enough of a warning but I pressed on.  The wind had me banking the bike to the right to compensate for the wind and the wet cattle grid was never going to be pretty.  Hitting the wet steel grate the front wheel, swiftly followed by the rear slid out from under me to the left.  The kick when the tyres got a grip on tarmac had me out of the seat and my inside foot off the peg.  This really was not a sensible idea.  Finding a bit of shelter I turned the bike around and headed back to the hotel.  By the time I got back the staff had moved all my stuff to my new room.
The rest of the day was spent reading, planning future trips, watching TV and talking to other grounded travellers before a tasty dinner.

Nothing worse than a windy & rainy Friday in a hotel
The wind and rain started to easy off late in the afternoon and by about 6pm the last of the rain showers had passed through and the wind had dropped to about 30mph...

After packing and loading most of my gear on the bike I turned in early, disappointed at having missed getting to Barra but happy the bike had survived the wind and the cattle grid moment.  I had a 5am alarm set on Saturday morning to get to the ferry, so an early night was always on the cards anyway.

The change on Saturday morning was incredible.  As I left the Hotel at 5:15 the air was completely still and the sun, still under the horizon, was turning the sky a deep smoky blue.  The stars, bright points of light in the sky as I swept up the dark, empty, flowing road to Lochmaddy and the ferry that would take me off the island and deliver me to Skye.

Waiting to board at a flat calm Lochmaddy, a complete change from 24 hours ago.
The 2 hour crossing to Uig on Skye was flat calm and once again I found myself looking out over the sea while sipping a coffee.
I'll leave the run home until another day as I am planning to 'do' Skye at some point.

The outer Hebrides were amazing.  I thought Lewis and Harris were the best for motorcycle touring.  The immaculate roads lead to stunning beaches and carve over breathtaking mountain roads.  The Uists & Benbecula have their attractions as well and I think the weather put a bit of a downer on it for me.  There are more single track roads, but lots of corners still hide breathtaking views.
Missing Barra was a big disappointment for me, but I will be back eventually.  I will probably do a return trip from Oban.  I want to see a plane landing at the beach airport, or I may take a return flight and land at the beach airport!

Laxdale holiday park had great facilities mainly loads of hot, clean showers.  The only downside was the sloping field.  If it was quieter you could get a flat pitch at the bottom of the field.
Shell Bay campsite was basic but clean and tidy and the pitches are flat.  Enough showers but low on flow and my personal hate, shower curtains!  Washing facilities again were basic but adequate.
Temple View Hotel was clean, warm and spacious.  Even the single room had a bath and shower.  Breakfast was good and the staff very helpful, they even offered me a packed lunch as I wouldn't be having breakfast the morning I left early.  The evening menu had a good selection and food was delicious, if a little expensive.  I would stay here again.



Friday, 25 August 2017

North Coast 500

I've lost count the number of times I have done the various bits of the North Coast 500 over the years, but I have never done the whole official route.  I came close once, doing it anticlockwise, but I missed the Lochinver & Clachtoll loop.  The guys I ride with started talking about a long weekend away and the NC500 seemed to keep bubbling to the surface, so a date was set.

 On the run up to departure date the weather had been frankly, shite.  Amazingly on the Friday of departure the weather was dry and bright as I headed to Stirling to meet Andy.  Colin had to pull out as all leave had been cancelled at his work due to the chaos caused by the Edinburgh festival.
Fuelled up we left Stirling heading for our first stop at Fort William, with the compulsory stop at the Green Welly.

Heading north through Callander the sky was growing darker by the mile and by Lix Toll the rain had started to appear on the visor.  By the time we reached the Green Welly it was well and truly on, with pools of surface water loitering on bends ready to pounce.

A muddy Green Welly car park

It was tourist central at the Green Welly, it was heaving.  The carpark was a muddy mess, so we just stopped where we could.  After a quick comfort break it was back on the road for Fort William.
Climbing away from Tyndrum on the A82 the rain slowly began to ease off, the hills on the right of the road looked angry and foreboding in the dull light struggling to shine through the heavy cloud and shroud of mist.  Making the most of the dry spell we made good progress through Bridge of Orchy passing the tourist traffic, bus tours and lorries and onto Ranoch moor before the rain came back on again.  This time it was on for real and it would stay with us until Fort William.  Nipping past a gaggle of Rabbies tour buses at the Meeting of the Waters Viewpoint the traction control reminded me how wet it was!
The rest of the run to Fort William was wet and uneventful.  The only fly in the ointment was the traffic from Corran to Fort William was unusually busy as Corran ferry had run aground!
Arriving in the rain and hungry we tracked down some shelter at the side of Morrison's.  Half an hour off the bike and a Morrison's sandwich we were ready to go.  The rain was also ready and accompanied us to Inverness, all the way up the side of Loch Lochy & Loch Ness.  Despite it's best efforts the rain did little to spoil the A82 along the sides of the lochs.  There was a lot of tourist traffic but the road is ideal for getting past the camper vans and buses.  The long sweeping right handers are ideal for lining up a pass and it was easy to keep a good speed up without having to behave like a loon!  The only nasty section was at Alltsigh, when the rain became biblical and there was more standing water than road and the rain looked like it was falling on a pond.
Inverness was heaving as we tired to negotiate our way to a petrol station.  The big RT is good for about 280is miles to reserve, but Andy's tiger want a drink after about 180.
Fuelled up we picked up the NC500 for real and headed for Achnasheen.  Once we got off the main roads and onto the A832 the rain started to ease up and finally went off, for a wee while.  It was nice to finally get some clear roads and barrelling through the seeping curves of the A832 was just what was needed after 4 hours of constant rain.  Soon we passed through Achnasheen and were heading for Lochcarron along the A890, again another sweeping road with great views ahead and awash with sweeping curves.  Passing through Lochcarron the rain, once again, made its return.  My thoughts were now turning to the Bealach-na-Ba in the rain, wind and mist then camping in the rain at Applecross.
Andy wanted to stop at the Bealach-na-Ba sign to set up his video camera.  I had a smirk to myself as I watched him trying to get it all ready in the pouring rain, with his helmet still on and visor down.  Yes, the rain was that bad.

Setting up the Drift in the pouring rain

Andy made me go first as he wanted video of a bike going up the Bealach-na-Ba.  So, off we went in the pouring rain.  As we carved our way up through the hairpins and passing places the wind began to pick up.  Soon a rolling mist joined the party, but no matter how bad the weather is the rugged beauty of the Bealach-na-Ba never fails to take my breath away.  By the time we got to the top all you could see was the road.

The mist rolling over the summit of the Bealach-na-Ba
Nothing to see here - the summit of the Bealach-na-Ba
Leaving the viewpoint we started to ride down the other side towards Applecross and amazingly the sun started to poke through the clouds.  The clouds continued to clear as we rode down towards Applcross.  Finally the clouds cleared and the view over the water to Raasay and a blue sky made all the rain worth while.
Unfortunately the camp site was a we bit 'swampy' but we managed to find a couple of dryish pitches and put the tents up in warm sunshine.  By the time we had the tents up and the rest of the gear unpacked the sun had dried the bikes and bike gear off completely.  Result, no spending the night in the tent with soggy bike gear!  It was high time for a well deserved pint, or two, and a meal in the Applecross Inn.

The sun came out in Applecross!
Saturday dawned dry and bright, despite a couple of rain showers during the night.  By the time we were ready to start packing up the sun was well up in the sky and had dried the tents out.  After packing up and having a quick breakfast we trundled down to the self service fuel pump by the shore.  Fuelled up we took to the coastal route to Shieldaig.  5 minutes out of Applecross there was a better camp site, wild camping on the shore with a view over the sea to the hills of Skye in the distance.  Next time I am up this way I know where I will be pitching up.
The single track road gently climbs up and down, more or less following the coast.  Sometimes sweeping inland for a few miles, but always with a view over to Rassay, Rona and the mountains of Skye above them in the distance.
After passing Shieldaig we picked up the A896 for Kinlochewe and the scenery starts to become more rugged as we headed into the mountains.  This is one of my favourite stretches of road in the UK.  The stark mountains rise on either side of the glen as the fast flowing road sweeps along past streams and small lochs.  Much of the road is single track, but the forward visibility is good and the road surface is excellent.  Far to soon we take a left at Kinlochewe and head for the coast past loch Maree on the right with the impressive Slioch on the far side of the loch.
A scenic car park at Charlestown helped make the decision that  it was time for a quick pit stop.

Charlestown pit stop
These chaps on Monkey bikes left Applecross before us in the morning, so they must have stopped somewhere along the way.  They were still making great progress!  The were already camped up at Durness when we arrived.

Monkey madness on the NC500!!

Back on the bikes we pressed on for Ullapool.  The excellent A832 sweeps down to the shore at Gairloch and climbs inland heading for Poolewe.  The road sinuously climbs, dives and twists its way past the beaches at Laid and the oddly named First and Second coasts.  Once Little Loch Broom appears on the left the road calms down for a few miles and follows the smooth shoreline of the loch.  As the loch fades away in the mirrors the road starts to twist its way alternately through the tree lined valleys then wide open moor until you end up on the main A835 and the scenic run down into Ullapool.
Ullapool was tourist central, again.  Eventually we got the bikes parked and we wandered down to the front and I had a very tasty venison burger in the Frigate Cafe.
Amazingly the rain had stayed off so far and it was really starting to warm up.  After fuelling up the bikes it was a pleasure to get moving again, cutting through the cool sea air.  The weather stayed with us and unfortunately, so did the tourists.  The A835 & A837 weas heaving with campers and caravans.  Thankfully the road has plenty of passing opportunities as it carves through the ever changing bleak moor and eroded rugged mountains of Assynt.  The road finally got quieter as we passed Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt as a the slower traffic turned off to avoid the hilly and twisty single track after Lochinver.  The run down to lochinver was a high speed dash along a well surfaced road lined with streams, small lochs and low lying hills.  Just as well we made the most of it as the single track B869 was about to throw the twistiest, hilliest 22 miles of road I can ever remember riding.
Progress was slow along this stunningly rugged piece of road.  It is full of blind corners, blind summits, massively step gradients along with a smattering of suicidal wildlife and sheep.  It was a great bit of road to ride, testing you all the way, but around every corner there were sights like this to greet and distract you...


After a quick stop for a photo at Clashnessie we finished off the rollercoaster B869 before crossing the Kylesku bridge and heading north for Durness.  The tourist traffic had once again joined us and the run over the bleak, but strangely beautiful moor, was a bit of a chore.
Arriving at Durness, the Sango Sands camp site was heaving.  After a couple of tours of the site we found a couple of pitches and got the tents up, amazingly once again in the sun!
Still full of Venison burger a quick trip the the local store for snacks & supplies saw me through what became a cold evening!

Sango Sand at Durness, surely one of Scotland's most scenic camp sites...
Sunday started soggy after a few longer showers during the night.  I managed to knock the worst of the water off the tent before I packed it away, so at least I would have one more dry night.
Andy headed for fuel at the self service pump at the Spar, I would wait until Wick as the big RT returns about 300 miles to the tank when touring.
No sooner were we out of Durness and we were stopped in our tracks by the stunning Ceannabeinne Beach...

Dragging ourselves away from the blue skies, white sand and crystal clear sea and continued east.  As soon as we were on our way again Loch Eriboll block our way and we followed the single track road around the flat calm crystal clear sea loch.  As we were climbing away from the loch after the novelty of having a single track road to ourselves for a dozen or so miles Andy got a fly in his eye, we had to stop.  I have to say, he can pick the places...

Not a bad view when your mate is picking dead fly out of his eye

Turning east again the A838 sweeps along over moorland with glimpses of Ben Hope far away on the right.  We caught up with some traffic as we crossed the causeway at Tongue, any excuse for another photo.  Although I don't think this area is as awe inspiring as Torridon, is is certainly photogenic!

Ben Hope from the Tongue causeway
 We decided to head for Thurso for lunch on the A836.  The road is a mix of twisty single track and normal carriageway road until you get to Reay.  It is still good enough to let you pass the slower traffic and still enjoy the smooth curves as the road carves along the coast.  Occasional a stunning beach appears between the shore and sea on your left.  Soon we were pulling into Thurso and a quick carry out lunch from Lidl filled a hole.
As we were this for north we decided that a quick detour off the NC500 route to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK, was in order.
Just before the turn off for Dunnet head, the Dunnet beach is hidden from view by large dunes.  It is worth having a look at the beach and if you are lucky, the kite surfers.
Turning off the main road it was back to single track again for the 10 minutes to Dunnet Head and the lighthouse.

That's as far north as you are going on the mainland

Then a quick blast to an absolutely heaving John O' Groats...

No, I don't know who the blue head is...
By this point we both needed fuel so we headed for Wick down the A99, an uninspiring but fast piece of road.
After fuelling up it was onto the A9 and down the east coast for a stop at Alness for a coffee.  Folk moan about this bit of road as being boring and it is, after you have just ridden up the west coast and along the north coast.  On its day though with the sun shining on the North Sea on your left and the road twisting is way through parts like the Berridale braes and the hairpins further south, I like it.  There are some nice villages to pass through as well.  It is also a fast road and it's easy to make 'progress' and passing is easy, even through the long well surfaced curves.  Crossing the Dornoch Firth the smell of the Glenmorangie distillery filled the air as we passed through Tain.
Pulling into the Skiach services for a coffee our old friend, rain, greeted us.
After coffee and cake, the rain was well and truly back with us.  The run to Ullapool was not going to be pretty.
Leaving Skiach the sky was now slate grey, the rain was getting heavier.  The sky over where we were heading looked even more foreboding.  We peeled off the A9 heading for Dingwall, Garve and eventually Ullapool where we would be camping that evening.  By the time we passed through Dingwall the rain was bouncing of the road.  Thankfully the A835 is fast and flowing and most of it has been recently resurfaced.  The next 40 miles were just a dash through the driving rain passing everything in sight.  As we started to ride down the side of Loch Broom the rain finally started to ease off.  Thankfully, by the time we pulled into the camp site the rain had gone off.  The sky suggested that this wouldn't be the case for long though.
After a mad dash getting the tents up in the dry we wandered down to the front to get dinner.  Fish and chips were the order of the day, along with more rain.  Back at the camp site the midges joined the party, so we retired to the tents.
I spent the evening with the Outer Hebrides maps, as I am heading there tomorrow, while Andy is heading home...

The North Coast 500 is well worth 'doing'.  A lot of folk have been complaining about traffic, prices and camper vans!  I didn't think it was that bad.  Yes it was busier than a few years back, but we always got pitches for the tents.  There were no big convoys so the slower traffic must have been letting others pass, if you are on a motorbike that isn't a problem anyway.  The roads were in better condition than I though they would be, again because folks have been saying that they are not up to the volumes of traffic.  Prices have always been higher up there, but I don't think it is any more expensive than any other tourist destination.
I don't know if I will do the whole NC500 again, but I will certainly continue to visit all the roads on it...

Andy's Tiger and my RT

Saturday, 29 July 2017

That is not Skye or the highlands...

At the end of the last blog post I said that Skye and the central highlands were on the cards for June, well something got in the way.  I changed my bike...

Carbon Black Metallic RT SE - it is blue & stunning
There I was innocently buying some oil & antifreeze at my dealer of choice, when out of the blue I was suddenly looking at a new bike.  It was never my intention to change the bike right now but when the salesman ran through the figures, plus a wee cash incentive I was getting from BMW somewhere in the swirling mass that is my brain it made sense.  I set the guys at Parks Motorrad a fairly stiff challenge, I was happy to keep my existing bike, but if they could come up with the bike I wanted then they had the sale.  Demand for the RT I wanted, well all RT models actually, is outstripping supply right now.  However the guy's at Parks (Scott & Allan) came through and I collected my new R1200RT SE in Carbon Black Metallic from Scott on Friday 30th of June.  It is not black at all it is a very, very dark metallic blue and it is stunning!
Parks rekeyed the top box from my existing bike and I was ready to go, I booked the bike in for it's first service on Monday, so 2 1/2 days to rack up a gentle 600 miles.

I decided to get a head start on the running in, the normal the 35 miles dash home from the dealer became a 115 mile trip around the Trossachs.  This meant running the bike along the motorways of Glasgow to get to the good bits.  Stuck in the inside lane while speeding up, slowing down and blipping up and down the gearbox to keep the engine revs changing was a bit of a chore - especially with the cruise control calling me!
Soon enough though I was at Balloch and the decent roads were starting.  The hilly sweeping corners from Balloch to Aberfoyle are ideal for running in a new engine and the long straights of the A81 allow you to pass without loading the engine up to much.
Leaving Aberfoyle I picked up the superbly twist Dukes Pass.  Ideal for scrubbing in new tyres.... or it would have been if the constant rain had not left gravel streams across every corner!  Never mind, a bit of caution still made for a great ride getting the bike further over as the corners swept by.  The scenery is pretty stunning as well....

Carbon Black RT on a gravel strewn Dukes Pass
Callander was heaving, as usual, and the run back home finished the day on 115 miles...

Saturday dawned bright and breezy but soon deteriorated to the by now normal, blowing a gale and pissing down.  I met Andy at Stirling and we headed for Inveraray, we would decide where to go from there.  We ended up in Oban, where the weather could be measured on the Richter scale.   Cold and wet from the waist down, we headed for coffee and food.  Wetherspoons was full of equally wet and miserable people serving food to match, the coffee was good though.  Somehow I had managed to catch the bottom of my jacket in my trousers when we left Inveraray inadvertently creating a direct route to my crotch for the run off from my jacket.  At least it wasn't as bad as the other thought that had crossed my mind as warm moistness slowly spread over my nether regions!
The ride back home was equally miserable.  If you need to ask why there are no pictures from this wee sortie, go and stand in the shower for 7 hours and think about it...
The bike mileage is now up to 426 miles.

When I woke up on Sunday, I was scared to look out of the window.  Amazingly it was dry and just a little breezy.  Lets get on with it then.  I had no plan for today so I asked the satnav to take me to Aberfeldy asking for twisty roads.  According to the BMW nav VI twist roads includes dirt tracks.  Not the best habitat for an RT, but I suppose it would be fine mounted on a GS.  After a 12 point turn to get back to real roads I was directed through Crieff and then on up through the  Sma' Glen past Amulree.  I'm am starting to like this wee bit of road (A822 & A826) more and more.  The corners are long and sweeping, there is plenty of visibility and very few surprises to catch you out.  It is easy to make very rapid, flowing progress on roads like these.  Crossing the Tay in Kenmore it was time to track down a coffee.

Coffee time at Kenmore
After a quick coffee it was back on the road and amazingly it was still dry.  Hammering down the side of Loch Tay, I reigned it in a little as I had a close call a couple of times with branches that had been displaced with the recent wind and rain.
Unfortunately as I crossed the bridge over the spectacular rain swollen Falls of Dochart, the rain once again made it's return.
At Lix Toll I picked up a police car that would accompany me through the ridiculous 50mph speed limit over Glen Ogle all the way down to Lochearnhead.  The police stopped in Lochearnhead as I pressed on for Callander.
I picked up the M9 at Stirling and headed for Linlithgow, for the first time enjoying the pleasure of cruise control on a bike.  That is going to take a bit of time to get used to!
As I pulled into the drive the bike was showing 550 miles, so 35 or 40 miles to Parks on Monday will be close enough to 600 miles for me.

The 2017 model RT is much smoother than the 2014.  Maybe it is because it is new and not as worn as the old one.  The gearbox is smoother with less grinding between gears.  There is still a knock as you change gear, but it is noticeably smoother.  The suspension feels plusher, but that could be down to wear on the old bike.  It could also be down to the fact that the EAS make adjusting the suspension easier, so you will set the suspension up correctly.  Anyway, it's a better bike!