SCOTLAND SPRING 2016
Two thousand, two hundred and thirty fun miles in 12 days with great company and stunning scenery - how lucky am I!
As always it started with the BMW Hotel Weekend and as I rode up over Yettington Common at 0630 Mitzy flashed zero....so who stole spring? We've had the bright flowers and chocolate season is over but instead of warmth there was a deep white frost sparkling in its beauty. Up the M5 to Sedgemoor to meet with friends and then J9 to meet the rest of my travelling companions to Gretna. The laughs began with John confessing he had his thermals on the wrong way round - dressing in the dark was not an acceptable excuse - was he too tight to put on the light on or did he not want to wake his good lady???
Up through Broadway with its yellow Cotswold stone, Mickleton so pretty and the Fosse Way bright with yellow fields and the smell of bluebells. Past Lecis and to Appleby Magna for a break in McDonalds..... up to this point we had 3 McD Virgins in our group who were pretty reluctant to change their status but as the options were limited we persuaded them the coffee was ok and they would be fine. Then Asbourne, Buxton and rain and snow in the Derbyshire Dales, Glossop and a tea stop at Rhodeswood Resevoir. Then we managed to get split up and I ended up leading a small pack through Halifax in the rush hour. Filtering is never my favourite game but sometimes necessary - as leader you want to make safe progress and being mindful of my huge panniers I headed gingerly between the cars. Snow and hail followed but we all made it safely to Giggleswick, via Keighley and Settle within 2 minutes of each other.
Friday looked bright and sunny but within minutes it had turned to a blizzard. Up through Ingleton where the Tour de Yorkshire was heading that afternoon - bbbrrrr - much too cold for lycra. Windermere for coffee then Ambleside and Grasmere to be faced with a road closure sign. Plan B and our leader took us up The Struggle to The Kirkstone Pass.... he did stop and ask what we thought of his decision halfway up and was not impressed by my response but hey, we laughed and carried on. I think it was my eyelashes freezing together with the snow that made me think a different option might have been more sensible. Earlier in the day the pass had been closed but now it was open with deep snow either side of the road which luckily was ice free and clear. Am sure it all looked beautiful if you could see it! Down past Ullswater, Carlisle and to Gretna where a warm welcome awaited.
Saturday brought lots of choices and some of us joined the Scottish Section Ride hosted by Nigel and Drew - The Dumfries Loop. Annan, Bankend, past Caerlaverock Castle and the Solway Coast, Castle Douglas, Loch Ken, Ayr and New Galloway for coffee. We did 80 miles without a single car to overtake - and this wasn't cos we were going slow! Moniaive, Thornhill and AE for tea before back to power wash the bikes. Apart from all the salt en route somewhere between coffee and tea our leader took us up a dirt track..... this was very steep with mud, rocks. scree, potholes and grass. Fortunately nobody had a sense of humour failure or a tumble as we manoeuvred our bikes around and went back down... All landed safe back at the hotel and one lovely lady said how privileged she felt to be a member of our club - how grand was that!
The Ceilidh provided excellent entertainment and was a great spectator sport - so much laughter the tears nearly ran down my leg..... you had to be there to appreciate it. Jill and Nick, friends who didn't book early enough, were at another local hotel where they were subjected to an Elvis tribute night.... think they went to bed v early!
The forecast for Sunday was not good so we decided to have a walk and checkout the local shopping mall....there were lots of happy lady members and some v bored looking chaps who mainly took refuge in Costa! Tea in the Chapel was interesting and then I felt the urge for a ride so a couple of us nipped to the coast and around to Ecclefechan (just cos I love that name) for a little fix. Then there was Bill's Quiz to entertain us during the evening..... he really needs to make his questions easier!
Monday there were fond farewells and thanks to our hosts and Sally, Brian, Graham and Rob who had organised the first part of our adventure and John and I set off with Jill, Nick, Dave, John, Mike x2, Harry and Chris further north.
Fort William was our destination so we took the A75 and A76 in sunshine with dry twisties. Past New Cumnock, coffee at Mauchine, around Kilmarnock, Largs and the Gourock Ferry to Hunters Quay. Up past Loch Fyne and Inverary for lunch. Timing is everything and as we came round a bend we were greeted with a car that had just spun with debris all over the road - a few seconds earlier and he could have taken us out....A beautiful rainbow greeted us at the Onich Hotel on Loch Linnhe and we enjoyed stunning views over dinner of gentle waves on the shore and distant mountains. The roads were busy with bikes partaking in the ISSDT with the smell of R in the air - cracking! Harry shared his funny story of the day - he'd texted his good lady in the morning and was surprised he'd not had a response...... on checking he found he had sent Hello Sweet Pea....etc etc to his tenant...whoops!
Tues and after breakfast looking at snow capped mountains we headed off to Skye. The road from Fort William to Mallaig is truly great with wonderful scenery and fast twisties. Tickets bought and warnings of a rough crossing but all was fine - phew! Armadale, north to Sconser for lunch in the whisky lodge and a loop via Dunvegan and down to Portree for our overnight stop with time for a walk and ices on the harbour.
Wednesday brought ferocious winds and we needed our porridge for strength to hang on very tight. Over the bridge to the Kyle of Lochaish, A890 past Loch Carron, Balnacra, Achnasheen , A382 to Kinlochewe, past Beinn Eighe to Gairloch where the lady in the fuel stop had a fantastic view from her office window over the loch. Poolewe , Aultbea, past Little Loch Broom and lunch at Camusnagaul and on to Ullapool. We had Goats, sheep, potholes, scary winds but it was all worth it for the beautiful scenery - sea, lochs, hills, mountains, The yellow gorse smelt lovely and there must be some keen bikers in the transport department up there as there were signs asking road users to let the bikes pass safely.
Our accommodation here was a motel which was perfect - bike right outside your door. An early morning walk along the river footpath then on to Strathcanaird, passing Ardvreck Castle, Elphin, Inchnadamph overlooking Loch Assynt, Scourie and to Durness to the famous chocolate shop. The scenery was stunning but the wind a huge challenge and we had to prise our fingers from the bars. Taking pride in staying the correct side of the road I was taken across just the once and luckily the roads were quiet. The cafe was worth it - v yumi hot chocolate and chocolate croissant! Thoroughly recommended. Around Loch Eriboll, past Tongue, Armadale and Dounreay to Thurso for a two night stop. There is so little traffic and so much fantastic scenery you could take a photo at every corner - we are so lucky in this country to have such accessible beauty. The temperature even rose to 15 and I turned my heated grips off! We walked round town and visited the Dounreay Exhibition in the museum - decommissioning being the major task now.
There was much debate about routes due to the forecast and when I commented that taking risks could mean that if anything untoward happens we become someone else's problem the answer was 'we are each others problem' - so true and the delight of riding in a gang is that you look out for each other and enjoy the camaraderie. We chanced the windy route to get the very best of the scenery and it was oh so worth it.
Friday and time for Orkney. An early start and down to Scrabster for the ferry to Stromness. Here I was awarded the Pratt de Jour as I managed to get lost on the Quay and nearly ended up back in town instead of on the ship.... I had to blag our way (yes someone came with me!!!) back in and get to the front of the queue...the ferry loader thought it funny luckily and the guys tied Mitzy down gently. We were so lucky as the sea was like a lake, big blue skies with bright sunshine. Out past Dunnet Head and the Old man of Hoy. Skara Brae fist stop then Kirkwall for the poppies - The Weeping Window- at the Cathedral. The Italian Chapel and Churchills Causeway learning about the Scapa Flow and the Tomb of the Eagles. Time to go and down to St Margarets Hope for the ferry to Gills Bay and a quick visit to John O'Groats and Dunnet Head (where I was seen with the turkey baster extracting petrol from one tank for another - well I was a Girl Guide and always prepared for petrol station closures). The Dunnet Head Campsite looked stunning in the evening sun with the happy campers enjoying a glorious sunset. The Dirty Stop Out Gang returned at 1945 - just in time to be on the noisy table again for dinner.
Saturday and 9 out of the 10 of us set off together for Helmsdale along a single track logging road then we split again for Brora, Golspie, Dunrobin Castle and more single tracks (and dual carriageways with grass up the middle) to Rogart and lunch at The Pier Cafe in Lairg. Then a v wiggly route to Bonar Bridge and Cromarty where sadly the dolphins and seals were awol. We stopped the ice cream man from reading his girlie magazine - am almost sure it was the Womans Weekly - and a stroll in the bracing air before heading to Inverness.
Sunday and down through the Cairngorms to Tomintoul, over the Lecht Summit, Cock Bridge and Ballater. Lovely empty roads. Strachan, Bridge of Dye, Cairn o' Mount and Clatterin Bridge for lunch followed by a play up and down the Glen Esk Valley. A short spurt on the A90 and the Glendoick Garden Centre before more off roading with wiggly hairpins and gravel to Perth. Here we had v secure parking in the rear yard of the hotel..... but panniers had to come off to get in!
Monday saw 5 of us head south to the Kelpies - if you haven't seen them you really should - and to Biggar to visit Juliet and Gordon and admire their lambs and classic bikes over lunch in their beautiful sunny garden. Gretna again then Carlisle, Penrith, and Ullswater and the Kirkstone Pass in the evening light - magnificent. After a long days play I was ecstatic to find my room had a Jacuzzi bath! Windermere was our last night so a presentation to Chris for sorting all the accommodation and Tues saw us splitting into small groups to head home.
Thank you all for your company and to those that planned routes and despatched tlc along the way - much appreciated.