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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Having had a change in circumstances which meant I got an extra two months in the sunny UK, as well as being unable to sell my bike for (what I determined to be) a reasonable price, I decided to reward myself with a ride from London up through Wales and around Scotland. As I'd never been before, it also seemed a good idea and a better option than struggling with them Frenchies and Swiss on the passes.

Leaving London in a blaze of sunshine I was convinced this would be the best week to go, having rationally ignored both the weather forecast and the legions of Scots who advised late July was a very wet time to visit. "What do they know?", I thought to myself as I motored out on the M4 in bright-ish sunshine to my overnight campground near Bath. Clearly I knew even less as I managed to run out of petrol while overtaking a truck at about 75mph, so I elegantly wrestled with the reserve tap while aiming for the hard shoulder and keeping a desperate eye on the truck driver I had just passed. Thankfully I managed to get it all going again and ended up undertaking aforementioned truck driver on the hard shoulder before showing him a clean Metzler Tourance as I took off into the distance.

The Newton Mill Campground was reached without any further complications and I was delighted to discover that I'd managed to not forget anything important and found a decent pitch. Not the greatest area, but the campground itself was nice enough with a sort of restaurant bar thing that did poor burgers, but served cold cider. The average was, well, average.

The next morning I rose early and set off into some slightly ominous weather. Despite my ridiculous level of self confidence that the weather would indeed be sunny, I'd hedged my bets and bought some Hein Gericke gore-tex trousers and was suddenly quite glad that I had. I was aiming for Bristol and the SS Great Britain

Due to my early rising, I managed to get there an hour and a half before the exhibition opened, so I ended up sitting around waiting for it. Not that there was anything to do to alleviate my boredom, so I literally just sat there and watched...well, nothing, because there's nothing to watch in Bristol harbour. If I ever needed a reason to not wake up early again, this was it. Nonetheless, my patient nothing watching was eventually rewarded and the exhibition opened on time.

The SSGB is indeed a magnificent ship and it was definitely worth waiting to go round. The ship was originally built in 1843 and was the largest iron hulled ship at the time. It was originally designed as a paddle steamer, but when Brunel (the designer) saw the SS Archimedes in Bristol harbour with it’s then revolutionary propeller, he convinced the owners to let him redesign it with a propeller. What this all meant is that when the ship was launched as a luxury liner, it was the most modern ship afloat. Problems soon surfaced with the propeller design – it was too efficient, with the result that the iron forging techniques of the time were unable to handle the stresses that went through it and it lost a couple of blades. Later on this was replaced with a less efficient propeller. The rudder was also unique in being the first balanced rudder in the world – the surface area in front of the pivot point is the same as that behind it meaning it was a lot easier to steer than comparable ships.

The liner phase only lasted until 1846, when after a navigational error the ship was stranded. It was refloated and then turned into an emigrant clipper doing the run to Australia (voluntary emigrants, I believe). At this time the masts were replaced and it also had a retractable propeller fitted. Very flash, which meant it was able to do the run to Australia from the UK in around 70 days, which was super fast at the time. Following on from this, the ship was converted into a bulk carrier, moving coal to San Francisco from the UK and bringing back wheat. By the turn of the century its time was approaching the end, and it served out the remainder of its days in the Falkland Islands as both floating storage and a quarantine vessel. It was sunk here in the 1930’s or so, and there remained until it was refloated in 1969 and brought back to Bristol for restoration. It has been restored to it’s original, liner state. Quite an amazing ship that had huge consequences and effects on shipbuilding and design.


Clearly you would want to travel 1st class….



From here I crossed the Severn Bridge where I was delighted to discover that there is no toll for motorbikes, but to ensure the average was kept, it started to rain. I headed off the motorway and up the A479 to the A470 and on to the A483. I stopped for lunch in Llandrindod Wells and immediately wished I hadn’t. No offence to anyone who lives there, but I couldn’t get out soon enough once the OAP’s in the café started talking about how excited they were to be going to one of their grand daughters hen party and what they were planning on doing to the male stripper…I’d come this way to ride the A483 to Newtown, and what an inspired decision that turned out to be. The rain even held off! The road was awesome – wide, sweeping bends, good tar, fast straights, no traffic and the odd tight corner to keep you honest. Magnificent riding, and judging by the number of bikes going the other way, I wasn’t the only one privy to the secret. I was aiming for Ellesmere to spend the night with friends and after a quick stop in Whittington to admire the castle, which was started in the 1200’s, I made it with a definite spring in my step.


The next day dawned relatively sunny-ish, which simply added to my already over inflated confidence about my ability to predict the weather, so I headed off to see the Pontycyllte aqueduct confident that I wouldn’t be needing my rain jacket that day. The aqueduct is quite a magnificent feat of engineering, although I must admit it must be fairly hair raising to sit on the edge of the narrow boat as you go over…




From here the plan was to hit the M6 as soon as possible and get to Loch Lomond for the night. Unfortunately there was nothing to listen to on the radio, nor could I get reception on my phone. Seems Wales is something of a technology black spot. The further north I went the worse the weather became so by the time I got to the Lake District in the early afternoon, it was raining. Nothing unpleasant, just mildly irritating. Nonetheless, the Lake District is certainly a lovely part of the country with super green, rolling hills, small stone walls, and generally the typical English countryside that you read about as a kid (growing up elsewhere).


I headed for Kendal where I had been told I “must try” some Kendal mint cake. I’m not sure which made which famous, but Kendal mint cake seems to be little more than crystallised sugar. That tastes like mint. Not really to my liking. A quick lunch was had and then off back into the growing gloom. I was told at the tourist office that the A591 to Keswick would take in the best of the Lake District. She couldn’t be far wrong – the road was sensational, through valleys and small villages, across some of the most picturesque countryside I have seen in the UK.


The enjoyment of this was marred only by the rain, which was increasing in intensity. My ever present weather predicting confidence meant I wasn’t wearing my rain jacket, convinced that the weather would turn just now. I rejoined the M6 and very soon regretted my decision. The heavens absolutely opened up and I quickly became very scared. There’s not a lot of joy to be had on the motorway with a bag strapped to the back of your bike and rain pelting down while wearing non-waterproof clothing and trying to pass trucks doing 70. At least my pants and boots were dry, although this small consolation did little for my mood. I eventually pulled over just south of Glasgow and threw my toys out the cot. There was no way I was going to camp in this weather so I arranged some accommodation in Loch Lomond through a tourist office. I was unable to sign the forms, or fill them out for that matter, due to the fact I was wetter than if I’d showered under a fire hydrant, and I had neglected to bring waterproof gloves. School boy error. I set off in a slightly better frame of mind knowing that I had a warm B&B lined up that night. I arrived in Balloch some time later and unpacked into the B&B where I was somewhat perturbed to discover a broken spoke on my rear wheel.



A quick call to the old man put my mind at ease and I decided to carry on. While searching for somewhere to eat, I came across this rather abandoned looking building. Wonderful example of typically imperial architecture, I thought. The empire truly was everywhere.


The next day dawned gloomily and for the first time I felt the nagging doubts tugging at my previously bullet proof confidence. Perhaps this weather wasn’t going to clear up? Deciding once again to hedge my bets (and because my gloves still hadn’t dried out) I ventured into the nearest “town” and tried on some waterproof gloves. I explained my desire to purchase gloves, whatever the cost, that would keep my hands warm and dry to the dude behind the counter. Eventually I settled on kangaroo leather gore-tex other fantastic stuff gloves and the man was nice enough to give me a discount with the words “I can’t help but feel sorry for any man who came up the M6 yesterday in that weather”.




I’ll take pity, sympathy, anything for a discount! With my newfound dry hands I set off up the A82 to ride the length of Loch Lomond. Despite the weather and large amount of trucks and caravans, the ride itself was wonderful. This is a relatively good road through some stunning scenery – clouds roiling over the hills, dark and heavy vegetation encroaching on the road, a rather gloomy, almost mystical feeling, especially in the weather I was having.









I headed up the A82 through Tyndrum (and the Green Welly café) and through Glen Coe. This is truly a stunning area. As much as I have seen the photos of this area, its beauty has to be seen in the flesh to be believed. It is an awe inspiring area with deep valleys, isolated hills and mountains hidden behind clouds that constantly threaten to hide them completely from your view. Truly impressive. As the weather was so crummy I didn’t stop to take as many photos as I should have. Still, very enjoyable.







I bustled from here to Fort William and then on to the A830 to Mallaig. By now it was raining quite heavily again, but since I’m smart like a monkey I’d learnt my lesson from the previous day and was wearing all my waterproof clothing. Unfortunately it turns out “waterproof” is a relative term. Nonetheless, the A830 is a sensational road, made all the more sensational by the EU money that made it better. I’m glad that the tax I pay is helping the government help the EU help the Scots build better biking roads. This is a road with long, sweeping corners, little traffic, gentle rises and super fast descents. And very few of those tight corners that make one wake up. I arrived in Mallaig and again threw my toys. I’d missed the ferry to Skye by about 10 mins and was once again super wet (although my hands were nicely dry) so had an hour and a half to spend in this one ferry town. I get the impression that if not for the ferry, there would be very little reason for Mallaig to exist as even the fishing boats seemed past their prime.









By the time I’d eaten, warmed up and got less damp, the sun had started to come out and the ride to Skye was completed without jacket and with a lighter heart.




Once on Skye, the weather improved even more and I was able to blast along some more fantastic roads, past little isolated houses, and to a drier evening.






I decided to push on to Applecross for the night and so knuckled down and headed off across the A896 to Lochcarron. Again, some more fantastic roads that wouldn’t be out of place in Italy – a narrow, single track road clinging to the hillside and in seeming constant danger of being swept into the loch below.


A quick petrol stop in Lochcarron itself and off I went again.




I was aiming to take the Bealach na Ba to Applecross – this is apparently the highest road in Britain at 2,053 feet. Again, this is a road that has come straight out of the Alps – a ridiculous gradient, switchbacks, narrow and spectacular.







The blast down the other side was sensational – you can see the road quite clearly as it is laid out before you, and as there was no traffic on the way up I was able to hit it hard. I arrived in Applecross and pitched my tent in a very good mood. Having supper at the hotel I watched the sunset change colours and the clouds chase one another across the peaks on Skye in the distance. Very peaceful and beautiful.




The next morning I was again up early and set off for Shieldaig on an unrated road. Again, spectacular.


I found it odd that in this very sparsely populated part of a crowded island, the people who are here choose to build their houses quite a distance from one another so you end up with these very isolated houses.


A quick breakfast was had and then off again from Shieldaig on the A896.


Just outside Kinlochewe, it started to rain again.

I was aiming for Ullapool for lunch and got there having braved a few more rain showers. I’d been hoping to get here for so long that the town itself seemed to have taken on an almost mythical significance to me, I’d built it up so much as a place to get to that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself once I got there. So I had a quick look around and lunch.




From here I needed to get a wriggle on as I needed to make it to Thurso for the evening so I put my head down into the rain and headed for the A836. A sensational road with no one on it, I was able to pin it pretty much all the way.


I’d stopped caring about the fact it was single lane and just hoped no one was coming the other way. Eventually the stupidness faded and I pulled through Bettyhill where I was very surprised to discover sandy beaches on what was a rather cold summer evening.


A quick stop at Strathy Point and I headed off along yet another super road to Thurso.


When I arrived I took an executive decision to not camp, having had a look at the very exposed campsite and taken note of the heavy wind that was blowing, so booked into the rather inaccurately named Royal Hotel. I can’t imagine what sort of royalty would pass through that place. Thurso seemed a rather depressing town with very little claim to fame other than being the northernmost town on the mainland. I was informed by the waitress at the bar I was in that 16-18 counts as a warm day, and anything over 20 is hot. Madness to live there, I thought.



The following morning dawned bright and sunny with a calm breeze and the promise of even better to follow. I headed for Dunnet Head, the northernmost point on the mainland and was there in beautiful sunshine.




After looking around and soaking up the sun, I headed for John O’Groats where I was rather disappointed at the tacky nature of the place. Very tourist orientated and very keen to cash in on….well, I couldn’t see what as it’s not a great place nor is it the most northerly point. The famous sign, it turns out, it also privately owned but for the very reasonable fee of £10 I could get a professional photo taken of it with me. Or the other way round. I respectfully declined and stood as close as I could to it and got someone else to take a photo.



 

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Some decent pics, especially considering the weather.
 

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Woohoo!!!
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Discussion Starter #3
I left the tourists behind and headed for Duncansby Head, getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way.






From here, it was downhill all the way, so I set course for home and pinned my ears back. The scenery up this far is incredibly different from the west coast, being low rolling hills covered in heather with no trees, or not a lot of trees. It really reminds me of the West Coast back home, especially with the wind blowing. I took the A9 down


and aimed for Loch Ness and the A82. The A82 along Loch Ness is phenomenal, a wonderful road just built for bikes.



Unfortunately the caravanners weren’t aware of this and were doing their utmost to ruin it for me, but I pressed on idiotically overtaking in ridiculous spots in order to not have the run ruined.



I passed the Commando Memorial just before Spean Bridge.





It amazes me the bravery of these guys in WWII, and looking around it’s hard to imagine men younger than myself learning the arts of death and destruction in such beautiful surroundings.

From here I took the A86 to Laggan. This road was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip – no traffic, no speed cops, sweeping bends, fantastic countryside. It was visor down, knee down, throttle open territory. Truly a fabulous ride.


The night was spent in Perth, and the next day I headed off across the Firth of Forth bridge.





and then aimed south along the motorway. From here it took another 2 days to get home, having covered nearly 2,000 miles in all. A fantastic trip through some amazing scenery. Surely all of the great scenic roads in Europe can be found in Scotland – forests, desolation, great roads, rain, phenomenal passes. Awesome trip.

 

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RetroPhrenologist
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Nice report Scooter - you were in my home stead around Shieldaig / Kinlochewe - no better bike for them roads than an @ I reckon...
 

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great report.. glad the sun came out.. eventually :thumbup:

mind you some of the best view of the mountains are in bad weather..:cool:
 

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Great read Scooter pity about the weather !!!! by the way used to live just outside Kendal and i think the mint cakes bloody orrible:D
Phil
 

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Woohoo!!!
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Discussion Starter #8
Good report, shame we couldnt have got more organised and done the tour together - I did a similar trip at the same time on my own.

Looks like you were always a couple of days behind me - left on the 17th July from Runcorn and pretty much did a similar route. http://www.xrv.org.uk/forums/ride-reports-pictures/48434-scotland-tour-july-2010-a.html
Read your story, quite jealous of the free camping, looks awesome! Except the midges, of course....As I pulled into Ullapool there was a black AT at the Shell garage with some other bikes. That wasn't you, was it? I didn't stop there as I'd just filled up.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Great read Scooter pity about the weather !!!! by the way used to live just outside Kendal and i think the mint cakes bloody orrible:D
Phil
Cheers! At least the bad weather made me appreciate the good weather more! Still, the scenery was really amazing with low cloud.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Nice report Scooter - you were in my home stead around Shieldaig / Kinlochewe - no better bike for them roads than an @ I reckon...
Very jealous, great part of the world you live in. Respectfully, I must disagree with the AT being perfect! Need something with a bit more poke on those roads, and better handling. Perhaps it's time for something Orange.... :D
 

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it's about an hour......
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Read your story, quite jealous of the free camping, looks awesome! Except the midges, of course....As I pulled into Ullapool there was a black AT at the Shell garage with some other bikes. That wasn't you, was it? I didn't stop there as I'd just filled up.
Nope, wasnt me, I stopped in Ullapool briefly, quick pint and then Scallop and chips from the chippy!! Pee'd it down whilst I was there. Only saw 1 other @ on my trip and that was at Morrisons on Fort William.
 

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Good read, Scooter, and some fine pics :thumbup:
 

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Great read and pics, thanks for the effort of posting them all, gives a much better feel of your adventure.
:thumbleft:
 

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Very nicely written Scooter :thumbleft: Great images too :thumbright:

Love Scotland but its the Alps for me this year :D
 
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