I actually wrote this for the Scottish Ducati Club
that ran the event but thought I'd post this up in case its of interest to anyone wanting to head North...
To say I was pretty excited about returning to Scotland once again, after the excellent Midgie Masher event, last year, was an understatement. The only letdown being that the Highland Fling event was taking out three of my four shift rest days and I had to be back at work on the very next day after getting home.
My poor old ST4s has only had a chain changed and an MOT so far this year. Topping up of oil, screen alterations and the fitting of the SatNav mount, hardly count as 'maintenance' really but it’s all the bike needed, apart from basic checks.
I do believe it’s an old adage that you shouldn't change a good routine that works. So why I chose to try a new to the bike SatNav, with a relatively new phone and brand new helmet headset, is beyond me but there again another saying applies:
A change is a good as a rest (or should that be arrest!).
Friday morning dawned with high winds and higher rainfall, so it was textiles, full rain gear and tip-toeing about familiarising myself with slippery conditions for the first time this year, surprisingly. Gloomy skies became worse North of Durham and the winds were even blowing me and the heavily-laden Ducati around, a recycle bin blown in the road had to be avoided on the A68 but thankfully, a huge full Scottish breakfast was still available at 'Fletchers' cafe in Selkirk to keep this windswept traveller going.
The rained stopped as I headed toward Stirling services on the M9, in the hope of meeting up with other riders going to the event but, slow traffic on the only section of motorway put paid to that idea but the group did hold on for some time, leaving just 20 mins before I managed to arrive. At last the sun was shining and the roads now dry so that waterproofs could be packed away for the rest of the time 'Up North'. A taste of the weekend was about to come next in the form of good roads and breath taking scenery from Callander on the A84 into the Trossachs National park and beyond to the A85, west and then the A82, North to Fort William, Fort Augustus and a final turn away from Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit. Isnt it good how tiredness on the bike always seems to melt away when good roads can be ridden quickly!
Previous gentle readers will not be surprised that I was probably the last motorcyclist to arrive at the hostel on the Friday evening but, being met by Mary and lots of familiar faces, with a few bottles ready too, made up for the long journey.
The hostel is a good venue, with a combination of communal meeting area and kitchens near to the road, a large bunk house nearby where all the bikes could be kept close together away from traffic and various outhouses, one of which was occupied by most of the ladies of the group. The only slight disadvantage was soon covered by dispatching Walter in the van to get a huge bulk order of fish and chips! Damn good they were too.
Next main business was sorting a route out for the next day of riding. Mary had a few Google maps printed out already for what must have been a fun collaboration on the trip to be used. But thanks to the 'Men with a Van' bringing ample supplies of bottles and riders bringing their own concoctions we were able to enjoy a few drink while plans were finalised via the expert brains of Doug, Derek and Geoff.
Despite being on the top bunk in our sleeping quarters, the bed turned out to be surprisingly comfy and warm, or maybe that was just the whisky helping out. The following morning dawned bright and hopeful to match the 18 degree forecast for later in the day. Hairy Bikers, Robbie and Bob did a ‘cracking’ job in the kitchen getting egg and bacon cooked up to fuel everyone present that morning, or so it seemed. Then it was riding gear on and time to fuel the bikes for the day at nearby Beauly, before a fast run through canopies of trees which, with the mild weather reminded me of riding in France!
The Glen Ord Distillary looked interesting but very industrial as we all swept out of the Muir of Ord. I couldn’t resist stopping for the first of many photo sessions shortly after on the side of Loch Glascarnoch for a quick panorama check. I’m not going to comment too much on the scenery because all of the views simply ranged from breathtaking to awe-inspiring and stunning to isolated beauty. Such as our next planned stop at the Corrieshalloch gorge, answering the call of nature prevented me from seeing the deepest gorge in Western Europe but it was worth seeing, apparently.
We had left the main road to Ullapool now and were heading west towards the coast, mile after mile of verdant hills and valleys with the downside being that we were shaded from the warming sun and I started to feel the cold as we ventured closer to the sea. Our furthest point North West took us to within view of Gruinard Island and some of the most desolate cottages and communities I think I’ve even seen, it being so easy to imagine how hard it must get during inclement weather. Just after the aptly named ‘first’ and ‘second coast’ my hastily changed tinted visor decided to detach itself and took so long to sort out that I waved the whole group of riders on by the time I was ready to ride again.
At Laide we followed the road toward the South, skirting Loch Ewe before reaching our most westerly point at Gairloch. Then our ‘A’ road decided to have a personality complex and decide it was actually a single carriageway, so narrow that passing places were needed and I was left wondering if I hadn’t missed a turning somewhere but knew in my mind the route had been designed to be easily circular, thankfully by Slatterdale the road was proper ‘A’ designation once more and ‘progress’ could be made.
My fuel reserve light had been on for sometime so I was glad when a punch of a few buttons told me that Kinlochewe service station was just a few miles on, in the shadow of an impressive cluster of brooding mountains. We got to swing around the base of these as it was time to leave the A832 in favour of the A896, there was an option to short-cut here back towards base but, I don’t believe many took it, probably with the lunch stop being ahead! Not much help to me in fact as I’d completely forgot where the actual location of the lunch stop was, and the road had closed down again to single track but very well surfaced pavement, almost race-track quality!
It felt a privilege and so special to be riding on a day such as this with a combination of outstanding roads and views. I did feel a pang of guilt at neglecting the scenery when enjoying the roads so much near Torridon, I stopped, shut the bike down and just took the place in for a while. All I could hear was the wind and oddly, a cuckoo in the distance, wonderful.
Sadly the watch makers clock kept on ticking and the feeling that I would miss the lunch stop, at Lochcarron, where I believed it to be, turned out to be true as after riding the full length of the resort there was no sign of any other bikers.
But, two gents from the Netherlands in their amazing sidecar outfits provided a welcome distraction and were happy to chat of their adventures on their Zeus machines. Opposite, was the Waterside café where a tea and a bowl of delicious tomato soup were very welcome.
The roads were first class, thankfully right the way to Loch Luichart and back to the main road we first rode that morning where, at the Muir of Ord I saw a few of the groups Ducati’s in a pub car park. Just as I had a mind to get back to the hostel for a shower a phone call came in over my headset, my buddy Norrie had decided to ride up as the weather was so good to put a few more miles on his new Panigale. Being only a few miles from base it seemed easier to go and collect him from the nearby town and show the way to the hostel but, it cost him an ice-cream.
With the arrival of Norrie-San, the original five ‘Wild ducs’ that travelled to Italy last year were back together again and better still, a bed and space at the evening meal were both sorted, so a few more festivities could begin. A few bottles always help ease the dust from a riders throat, so I’m told, not sure then that the beer and the liqueur coffees were really needed but, one for the road eh?
Some more Whisky seemed to appear from nowhere and I wish I could forget about Robbie’s homemade ‘firewater’ but I think its etched into my memory forever, the chillies especially – it was …..
1am was the most I could last until and I did sleep really well until 8am when it seemed it was time to wake….
"Team Lineup from Saturday"
With not many ingredients left for the Hairy Bikers to work with, it had already been decided to zap down to Fort Augustus where there is a good café, next to a car park and petrol station, an ideal combination for breakfast. I’d been quizzing Geoff the night before about a route down towards Glasgow to drop Norrie off, as Geoff has an encyclopaedic knowledge, from what I can gather, of all of Scotland!
Geoff certainly did not disappoint, after a good breakfast we continued down the A82 to Fort William before turning West on the A830, I soon lost count of the number of Loch’s we saw while following along the railway line. At Lochailort we turned South onto the A861, which I was a little saddened by as we were literally riding at the water’s edge with superb views of the islands in the distance but soon enough we were riding the coast once again for many miles until turning South just before Glenuig, enjoying fast roads until near the ‘seven men of Moidart’ where the single carriage roads returned to slow our pace, a little…
"A typical landscape - A prize everytime"
Lunch was at the tiny place of Loch Shiel and I was becoming concerned at the time getting on, so the pace was ‘upped’ on the way to Strontian and all the way East to Corran for the ferry.
"Norrie - Veronica - Geoff, enjoy the Ferry"
Back on the A82 once again we rode two bridges before getting to the happening town of Oban, I once heard this described as a big Whitby with a proper port. On and on the miles continued with stunning roads and views but no chance of short cutting the route at all. A coffee and soup stop were very welcome (thank you, Veronica) before a final refuel as a group, as I punched in ‘home’ on the Satnav and was staggered to be told arrival time would be 9:50pm!
I waved my goodbyes and was on my own just after Lochgilphead and really needed to get my head down and neglect the views once more. For all the blasting towards home that I did, I only made up and extra 20 minutes and arrived home at 9:30pm, 474 miles completed for the day and 1072 miles for the weekend.
Thanks to everyone involved, especially the big yin upstairs for the superb weather.
"Riding Shotgun to Norrie"
"Early Morning Glory"
How could I of forgot though about Derek playing some mean harmonica for us on Saturday night, his rendition of the the Old Grey Whistle test tune was so good that I'll think of (say it quietly) 'whispering' Bob Harris everytime I see Derek now!
A few quick calcs after looking at my empty bank account...
£130 on gas, roughly 20 gallons = an average 51mpg!
Not bad for an old girl.