Saturday, 20 July 2019

As north as possibe, a Euro warm-up

With a 2500 mile Euro tour planned in August, Audrey decided that we (she) should get a wee warm up tour in first.  A good idea since she has never been on the bike for more than 3 days in a row and only covering about 250 miles in those 3 days.  Audrey had wanted to try out Sleeperzzz as I have stayed there a few times and she liked the look of it.  The carriages were all booked out, but they did have the old waiting room available, so we booked up for two nights in the station building.  A quick search found us a hotel in Newtonmore for the first night that accepted the vouchers we had for a free stay.
Just for a change the rain was lashing down when we left home.  We decided to head for Fort William going up through Glencoe.  The ride was a bit of a chore with the constant rain and cold winds so we pulled into the Green Welly, a mandatory stop on this road, to grab a coffee and warm up.
After drip drying for half and hour over a coffee and a steak roll, we headed back into the rain.  By this time the rain had teamed with with low cloud and mist as we climbed over Rannoch Moor to make Glencoe instantly forgettable, on this occasion.  Stopping at Fort William in the unrelenting rain we decided not to hang around and press on for Newtonmore and our first stop.
As we sat down to a set menu, warm beer and wine surrounded by bus loads of tourists we realised why it was so cheap!  Still the food was OK...

Friday brought blue skies, at last!  After breakfast we headed over to the A9 to get up to Inverness before heading for Ullapool.  Once past Inverness on the A835 we stopped at Rogie Falls for a look.

Rogie Falls, well worth a visit

The sky was still blue as we left Rogie Falls and continued towards Ullapool.  After passing through Garve and Gorstan the A835 becomes a fast inviting road that urges you to press on, even two up on a loaded bike.  It is one of my favourite roads on the RT, it suits the RT down to the ground.  The road surface is smooth and grippy and the bend are fast and flowing with few few surprises to catch you out as you take in the scenery, especially over Loch Glascarnoch to the hills beyond.  Loch Broom appearing on the left means that Ullapool and lunch are close and soon enough we are parked up in Ullapool outside The Frigate and ready for lunch.

Sunny Ullapool
After a very filling Cullen Skink and a wander around Ullapool to try and settle lunch we fuelled up the bike and headed north.  No sooner are you out of Ullapool and you are at Ardmair and it's pebble beach.

Ardmair point
Audrey and RT at Ardmair
As we left Ardmair the rain began to drizzle again and the further north we went the worse it got.  A few more snaps were in order before the rain came on for real.

The rain was now back on for real so we decided to head to Sleeperzzz as quickly as we could.  At Ledmore we picked up the A837 and headed for Lairg.  The rain rain slowly eased off again and by the time we were on the banks of Loch Borralan the roads were dry.  The A837 is a great wee single track road, the surface is fine and it is easy to see well ahead making it an unusually fast single track road.  Lairg came and went and we arrived at Rogart just in time to get some supplies before the local Spar closed then nipped over to the Pittentrail Inn for dinner and a couple of drinks.

RT Shacked up on nice new concrete at Sleeperzzz, the new gravel was another story!
The old waiting room at Sleeperzzz, a cracking wee bedsit for two.
The view from our window from the Old Waiting Room at Sleeperzzz
Remarkably, Saturday was dry!  We set out for Tongue again along some stunning single track roads.  We headed up past Altnaharra first on the A836 from Lairg, I knew this road was good as I had rode it when I visited Altnaharra last year.  After passing Altnaharra it started to get a wee bit cloudy, but at least it stayed dry.

The clouds joining us again, no rain though
Pressing on north, the clouds enveloped up a few times and progress became slow on the sinuous single track road, but as we dropped down into Tongue we also dropped down out of the clouds and the views of the scenery returned to normal.

Audrey and RT on the Tongue causeway
Low dark clouds and mist over the hills west of Tongue
Audrey decided that she wanted to go to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland.  We retraced our route back through Tongue and headed east on the A836.  Another photo opportunity came into view as we approached Bettyhill.

Bettyhill beaches
More Bettyhill
I like the road from Bettyhill to Thurso and lunch was calling so we set of for Thurso without intending to stop again.  A couple of comments from the back along the lines of 'are you forgetting I'm on the bike' reeled things in a bit!  Parking up in Thurso we headed into the town to find a cafe.

Tea & cake in Thurso
On the road to Dunnet Head from Thurso there is a beach I have passed a few times and always wanted to have a look at.  On the maps it is called Dunnet Beach.

Dunnet beach under cloudy skies, it would be stunning under a blue sky
RT Hiding in the dunes at Dunnet beach
Another 10 minutes on the bike and we were at Dunnet Head.  The wee single track road upto the lighthouse is crying out for some wild camping beside some of the wee lochans close to the twisting single track road.

Audrey at Dunnet Head
...and just to prove it really was Dunnet Head.
As we were up here anyway it would have been rude not to!
After a wander around the harbour and leaving John O Groats the bike needed fuel and we needed more supplies for the digs, so we headed for Wick.  The bike got fuel and we got supplies and a coffee from Tesco.
I know I moan about the A9, but the stretch from Latheron down to Golspie is spectacular, both for the views and for the riding.  The hills around Berriedale then the fast and flowing curves that follow taking you to Helmsdale.  All this with the North Sea off to your left as the road dips and dives to and from the coast make for some great riding.  The ride back down to Sleeperzzz was great, Audrey was really getting into the swing of things and cornering before me!
We were both done when we got back so we whipped up a pasta dinner in the digs and just chilled out at Sleeperzzz with wine and beer.

On Sunday we were planning to ride home down through Braemar and Glenshee but the weather had taken a turn for the worse and the rain was back.  The forecast for the Glenshee area was biblical, so the decision was made to endure the A9 and just get home.  It was a wise choice, we hit some rain, but over to our left over the Cairngorms the rain was sheeting down and the sky as dark as I have ever seen.  We had a quick stop at Ralia for coffee, but that was the highlight of the run home.

The Ralia coo
What we did

Friday, 5 July 2019

NC500 kicks off the biking year, in June!

My motorcycle year didn't start well.  There was way to much work for our wee team, staff shortages and a major job running way over put paid to any major motorcycle shenanigans.
I was looking forward to a few days in Wales in early June, but once again the weather had other ideas and Wales was called off.... again.
The bike continued to play up and the ongoing fight with BMW to get it replaced rumbled on.  See the story here, for the final straw.  Eventually we came to an amicable agreement and I am now the proud (we will see) owner of a new R1250RT...

The new R1250RT at the Kyles of Tongue
To continue the theme of whistle stop touring that the Wee Touring Club seems to be cultivating after Normandy last year, we lined up the NC500 over 3 nights.  Since booking the digs Stuart & Colin had both become new dads, so the team was reduced to 3.
On Friday morning we met up at Kinross services, grabbed a quick coffee and headed north.  A quick blast up the M90 to Perth saw the back of the motorway for this trip.  Avoiding the A9 we headed for Blairgowrie and picked the the way more impressive A93 cutting through the Perthshire hills through Glenshee to Braemar.  Turning off the A93 at Crathie and heading for Cock Bridge on the A939, stop sniggering at the back, the grey line of the road cuts through the purple and green mountain scenery.  The guys were enjoying the road so much we didn't stop for any pictures.  Scot's Multistrada is a thirsty bugger and we needed to make an emergency pit stop for petrol in Granton-on-Spey.  A quick jump back onto the A9 for 20 minutes and we were crossing the Kessock bridge over the Morray Firth.  More fuel at Alness, the smell of Glen Morangie at Tain and suddenly we were at Rogart and our digs for the night at Sleeperzzz.  After unpacking and grabbing some supplies from the local shop we hit the Pittentrail Inn for food and a couple of pints.

Scot's Multistrada and my RT at Sleeperzz

It was nice to get some decent weather at last

After a great nights sleep and throwing down a quick breakfast of coffee and breakfast biscuits we packed the bikes and headed back onto the A9 and north once again.  This far north the A9 is a better road.  The road hugs the coast passing through east coast villages and towns and actually gets really good once you are past Helmsdale.  The road twists and turns, dives down and then climbs up the Berridale Braes, all this with the sun glinting on the mirror smooth North Sea.  We turned off the A9 at Latheron and continued up the coast to Wick.  Fuelling up at Tesco we headed to the cafe for coffee and snack.

"Colonel" Colin and Stuart joined us at Wick as well!

Continuing to sweep up the coast on the A99 we set our sights on John o' Groats and soon enough we were there.  It seems a lot livelier that it has been when I have visited in the past.

'Wee' made it to John o' Groats
After a few snaps and a wander around we decided to head for Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in the UK.  The A836 along the north coast east of Thurso is flat and uninspiring after the twist and turns of the east coast.  This along with the single track road to Dunnet Head being strewn with gravel caused by weeks of rain running off the fields dragged us back to reality.  Pulling into the car park at Dunnet Head I felt Orkney tugging at my heartstrings as it appeared in the distance over the Pentland Firth!

My RT, Scot's Multistrada and Andy's Tiger at Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head lighthouse and Orkney in the distance
Negotiating the gravel and sheep shit on the single track roads we got back on the main road and headed for Thurso.  We stopped in Thurso for a quick drink and to take in the views over Thurso bay to Orkney in the distance.
We then made good progress along the north coast, slowing down to take in the views over the beaches at Bettyhill.  As we got to Tongue Andy took a wrong turn and Scot and I got eaten alive by midges while Andy tried to turn his bike on a steep and narrow single track road.  Back on track we stopped on the A838 causeway at Tongue for a rare few photos.

I really like this bit of the A838 from Tongue to Loch Eriboll.  The road cuts through the bleak moorland with the mountains rising on the left.  The road is fast and there and next to no nasty bits to catch you out.  Rounding Loch Eriboll the roads become single track and the surface was quite cut up, add gravel run off and camper vans and this bit of the road was the worst so far.  It's all forgotten though, as you turn west and this view opens up in front of you...

Ceanabeinne Beach
After a photo stop, 10 minutes later we were at the Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse.  A home made dinner and a handful of beers signalled an early night for me.

After a disturbed nights sleep in a dorm of 8 I gave up trying to get packed and get into my bike gear without waking up the other 7 people in the dorm.  It is just not possible!  After the traditional coffee and breakfast biscuits the bike was packed and once again we were on the road.
The A838 heading south from Durness once again cuts through the bleak moorland with the mountains rising all round you.  Even though this is single track it is a fast road thanks to great visibility along the road ahead and the long sweeping corners and, thankfully, decent road surface.  The fast flowing riding came to an abrupt end as we turned onto the B869 to loop around past Clashnessie bay and its stunning beach.  The road is a 28 mile roller coaster of a single track road until you get back to the Lochinver turn off.  Going was slow, not helped by a complete knob in a camper doing 10 miles per hour, not realising that passing places are for overtaking as well.  Thankfully this was the only real traffic pain we had on this trip.  We called surrender at Clashnessie beach and got of the bikes for a wander and a few snaps.

Peace at Clashnessie beach
After getting back onto decent roads we made the most of the empty road and hammered down past Loch Assynt and the ruins of Ardvreck castle.  Turning onto the A835 we regrouped before a gentle run down to Ullapool for lunch.  Fortified with brioche French toast and bacon for me and unleaded for the RT we headed south on the incredibly fast A835 heading south from Ullpool.  So fast in fact Scot missed the turn off for Poolewe, Andy and I had a 10 minute wait for Scot to return.  The run around the coast through Poolewe and Gairloch to Kinlochewe was a bit more sedate as we took in the coastal views as the road hugs the coast.

RT and Gruinard beach
Gruinard beach from A832
It clouded over as we started down through Glen Torridon, but thankfully the rain stayed off.  We caught up with another group of riders.  We let them go after witnessing some seriously dodgy overtakes.  Just after Shieldaig we turned off onto the single track coast road to Applecross.  We pressed on again enjoying the good road surface enjoying the views over Rona and Raasay to Skye.  To avoid any camping we had booked a camping hut at the Applecross campsite.  The keys were in the door waiting for us.  After settling in we wandered down to the Applecross Inn for food and beer.  As it was my turn to pay the other two had Steak and Langoustine.  I have never had a bad meal here.

Applecross digs

The next morning the forecast rain hadn't shown up and the sun was warm as we left Applecross.  The last time I was over the Bealach na Ba, you couldn't more than the width of the road.  This time it was much better!

Mist free, but hazy, view from the top of Bealach na Ba over Raasay to Skye

Andy and I stopped for snaps, Scot was enjoying it to much and was off!
More Bealach na Ba
Spot the sticker!
The rain did show up at Lochcarron and it stayed with us for the next 100 miles.  The fast run through the pouring rain from Eilean Donan through Glen Shiel and along the side of Loch Cluanie was actually a great half hours ride.  This all changed as we rode along the side of Loch Garry, there was Diesel everywhere, you could even smell it in the air.  Not just a localised spill, there was about 8 miles of diesel spilled on the already rain soaked road surface.  I lost the front end at one point but thankfully it gripped again and I managed to stay upright.  I was going so slowly that I to pull over to let a truck pass that I had passed miles earlier.  A Fiesta driver that passed me wasn't as lucky.  He braked after he passed me for a corner and just went straight on and into a tree.  The car was dented but running and the driver had a nasty cut at the base of his thumb where he broke in on the steering wheel.  Turning right at the downhill junction onto the A82 at Invergarry there was as much Diesel as water running down the hill.  The next 20 miles to Fort William was the most nervous I have ever had on a motorcycle, just waiting for a spill around the next corner.
After re-grouping and drying out over a McDonalds in Fort William the rain began slowly easing.  By the time we got to Glencoe the rain had stopped, it was still cold and damp though and I was glad I put my thermals on before we left Fort William.  We just pressed on for home, at least the rain stayed off. 

All the pictures from the trip are here