Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Go west young man, or east then west

I had booked a night in Boat of Garten in February knowing I was going to have a long haul at work from the middle of February through to the end of April and I needed something to look forward to!
At the time I didn't have a route planned or any idea of where to go, I just knew I would need a wee break.  So, I spent a night with the maps and came up with a route to visit the easterly & westerly most points of Scotland.  There is a bit of reasoning to this.  In August I will be doing the NC500 with a mate and we will be taking in the most northern point (Dunnet head), so that will leave a day ride out to the Mull of Galloway to complete the cardinal points of Scotland this year.  If I can find an agreement on where it is, I will also try to get to the central point of Scotland as well!

Watching the weather all week, the outlook was grim with thunder storms forecast for the Saturday and rain on the Sunday.  However, the met office had been unable to forecast the previous week correctly so I decided to ignore them and go anyway.  As expected, they were wrong and the weather was great!
Saturday morning started with a slow crawl through the roadworks over the Forth bridge and onto the M90 to get to Perth and onto the A93.  If you are heading north avoid the A9, this is the road to take.  The scenery is better and the road from Blairgowrie all the way to Braemar is fast and flowing the complete antithesis of the now sterile A9.

The A93, use this not the A9
I had the road to myself all the way to the Ski centre at Glenshee when I encountered a group of cyclist going down the far side.  They were harder to pass than some cars as they topped out at close to 60mph!  Once I had dealt with the pushbikes I had the road to myself as the road sweeps along the valley floor next to the Clunie Water.  All to soon I was passing through Braemar and by the time I got to Crathie it was time for a water break and a stretch of the legs along the banks of the river Dee.
Getting back on the bike the sun had broken through and the temperature was heading for the high 20s.  With all the vents open on the bike jacket and trousers, the RT screen all the way down and a wet buff around my neck I was managing to keep myself cool enough.
To avoid Aberdeen I headed for Iverurie and Oldmeldrum, roads I have never been on before.  Sure all the wee villages and towns slow things down, but the roads are an absolute dream.  They are all well surfaced, wide and with good visibility.  The only downside, as with all agricultural roads, is mud and cow shit.  Thankfully there was not much of it on the corners.  Sooner than I though it would, Peterhead appeared on the horizon.  The bike and myself needed refreshments and as the temperature was continuing to rise the first order of business was to find a petrol station.

Even Peterhead looked good in the afternoon sun!
With the bike fueled up with unleaded and me with a sandwich and a litre of water it was time to head for Keith Inch.  The most easterly point in Scotland is located in an industrial estate in Peterhead.
Following the sat nav into Peterhead I was soon approaching the bridge over the inner harbour entrance and only 200 meters from my first goal.  Bollocks, the bridge has been removed for work on the sea walls and the installation of a new bridge.  Not to be beat I headed north and came back down along the sea wall to try and get to my goal.  Beaten again more works.  Dismayed I rode back into Peterhead.  Checking the positions on the sat nav and my maps I had came with 20 meters of the easterly longitude, close enough and I'm claiming that one!

Where is the bridge?  I got within 20 metres of my goal so I am claiming it!
With the first goal of the trip taken care off as best as it was going to be, I headed out of Peterhead and picked out the road for McDuff and Banff.  It must have been farmer rush hour.  The 40 miles to MacDuff was a real slog.  Seemingly constant tractors towing various pieces of farming plant.  Dealing with them, the mud on the road they they were dropping and yet more cow shit made this hour of riding a real drag.  Bumbling through McDuff and Banff brought back better memories of the Tarlair music festival many years ago.  Highlights were John Martin, even though he stormed off in a huff because of the rain and then Runrig closing the day.
Back to the road, I decided get onto the A95.  Another amazing Aberdeenshire road, fast and flowing with the kind of curves the big RT loves.  Using all the road we made great progress and at Cornhill I had a quick stop for a drink, a wee wander around to stretch the legs and clean the bugs off the visor.
The final push for Boat of Garten showed the A95 in a great light once again, the flowing grey strip of tarmac cutting through the green countryside made for fantastic fast and smooth riding.
Pulling up at the Boat House B&B in Boat of Garten I was please to find off road parking for the bike, always a bonus.  The staff were friendly and the room, while being small, was adequate even with bike gear.  The en suite bathroom was clean, the shower hot with plenty of toiletries and clean towels.  After 8 hours on a bike is that not all you want?  Apart from a beer, obviously...  Refreshed after a good nights sleep the huge cooked breakfast should be enough to keep you going all day!
If you are planning to stay in Boat of Garten, make sure you book somewhere to eat.  I struggled to get food anywhere and at one point I though I was going to have to bike it down to Aviemore.

The following morning I was back on the road by 9:30, 10 minutes later I was questioning whether the big breakfast had been the wisest decision!  The forecast thunder storm had come to nothing, but the rain had been lashing down during the night for a few hours.  I was a little concerned about this as I had about 90 miles of twisty single track to negotiate today and there was sure to be lots of gravel run-off to look forward to.
I had prepared myself for 20 miles of the A9 to get to Newtonmore.  I had not bargained on 12 miles of it being 40mph restricted roadworks complete with average speed cameras, I hate this road.

The A9 roadworks were worth it for the scenery on the A86 Laggan road
The A86 from Newtonmore to Spean Bridge is one of the best 40 miles of road you will find in Scotland.  The surface is great, most of it having been replaced over the past few years.  The surface has plenty of grip and it is easy to use the whole road to get the full picture of the fluid corners.  It is the scenery that is more likely to break your flow than the few other road users you will see.  This is the kind road where the RT is at home, we were make serious progress and by the time I got to Spean Bridge I ready for turning round and doing it all again.  Only the though of the slow and time consuming single track roads ahead kept me going forward!

Keep your eyes on the road...
Suddenly, after turning south at Spean Bridge I was surrounded by traffic.  This was truly bank holiday weekend tourist traffic.  I had been spoiled, the roads so far had been surprising quite, apart from the John Deer fest outside McDuff.  I stopped for fuel just before turning west on to the A839 Mallaig road.  The road all the way to Gelnfinnan was absolute chaos, slow drivers, lost tourists, 20 year old campers vans, tourist buses - the road had the lot.  The area around Glenfinnan itself has turned into a car park.  It either just the beauty and history of the place, or Harry Potter has a lot to answer for!
Once past Glenfinnan the road quietened down again and I made the most of the remaining 25 miles of two lane road I would see for the next 80 miles.  The single track road starts at Salen but the previous 25 miles follows the coast most of the way down before cutting back across the peninsula to Salen.  The scenery every bit as pleasing as the road and I just meandered my way down enjoying the cool sea breeze and getting ready for the single track hell ahead.
The single tack road from Salen to Ardnamurchan is a tight and twisty affair, think 2nd and 3rd gear 80% of the way.  The scenery again is stunning alternating between the sea on your left and mountains and forest on your right.  As suspected a fair amount of gravel has been washed from farm tracks across the road, not a problem but just another thing to bear in mind.  I only passed a handful of cars on the way west, but a couple of them misjudged the width of the RT and I had to take to grass as they seemed to be unconcerned about the use of passing places.  Slow and steady would be the best way to describe progress to Ardnamurchan while negotiating the added hazards of cattle grids and livestock.

Made it to Ardnamurchan point
After a quick wander around it was back on the bike and negotiate my way east again.  Unfortunately there is only one way in so it is the same way out....  25 miles back to Salen.
Unfortunately another 10 miles of single track await from Salen to Strontain.  This time however the road more or less hugs contours of the Loch Sunart shore.  This make it faster with flowing bends and good forward visibility, but best of all it has bee resurfaced!  After Strontain the road suddenly opens up and the road sweeps through low hills down to the coast and onto the Corran ferry at Ardgour.  Never has 10 miles of road been so appreciated!  As an added bonus the ferry had just started boarding and I rode straight on! 

The view north from the Corran ferry
Riding off the ferry and heading for Glen Coe the traffic was once again in full bank holiday mode.  Glen Coe was stunning in the afternoon sun and even having to negotiate the holiday traffic could not degrade the pleasure of riding through this stunning landscape.  Bridge of Orchy came and went and I was going to stop at the Green Welly, but when I got there I would have been lucky to get a space for the bike.
The road from Tyndrum to Callander was nose to tail with tourist traffic and some seemingly suicidal bike riders.  A GSXR two up with the back wheel in the air trying to slow down for a gap is quite the sight.  Just outside Strathyre a bike didn't quite make it and kissed the back of a car with it's front wheel, no damage done...this time.  I like to make progress, but some of this riding was insane!

A weekend that started out looking like a washout, turned into a fantastic 585 miles over a couple of days on some stunning roads.  I have been to Ardnamurchan twice now, once in the car and once on the bike.  I will not be back, unless I am choppered in, I'm not going through all that single track again!

Next up Skye & the Central highlands in June...