Fort William is a small town with plenty of character. There is one main street with a variety of local shops, plus a couple of the usual high street chains. Beside the sea and at the foot of the Nevis range of mountains, its setting is a blend of sparkling sunshine on water very quickly followed by cloud shadows which create an effect that wouldn’t look out of place in an Edgar Allan Poe plot.
We arrive in good weather but the night-time downpour is more monsoon than British rain. Luckily the tent holds up, but the bikes get a good soaking. This hasn’t always been a bad thing, as we’ve been able to get the worst of the road grime off and give them a bit of a clean as we go along.
The sun makes an appearance on the next day and we ride over to Glenfinnan to see the viaduct that features in ALL of the Harry Potter films. But the weather is as changeable as my daughter buying shoes, and rain comes down again. Still we brave the muddy walk to get some atmospheric pictures of the viaduct en route to a cafe in a railway carriage a couple of miles away. We get wet, but hey, it goes with the territory.
Our biker gear drips into the aisle of the carriage while we steam dry with a cup of tea and scone before walking back, to only get wet again.
It’s not usual, but it happens today, I get back to the bikes long before Verd does. He senses an opportunity for photographing the famous steam train over the viaduct due to the slowly gathering crowd on the hill-side. Meanwhile, I’m reunited with the bike, fielding many tourist questions, like:
“Is this the path to the train …..?” There is always a stumble for the right word and then a fail.
Viaduct isn’t a word many tourists have learned.
“How long does it take?”
I give good advice. I’ve been up there, I know where the best spot is for a great photo to send back to your family in Japan, friends in China or bestie Harry Potter fan.
When I’m asked if this is the bus stop, I realise why it is that I’ve become such a local authority. I’m in biker gear with hi-viz. I remember my landlord’s first reaction when he saw me. He thought I was a police officer. My ego feels temporarily self-important, but I decided it’s time to ditch the hi-viz between rides – I could get accused of impersonating an officer.
That night, our last intended night, we have another monsoon style downpour. We hole up with a good book in the cosiness of the sleep area, but are disturbed by a ‘knock’ on the door.
I’m told the headlamp is on full bright on the bike.
Now, I’m very careful about switching off the bike and putting it in full lock, so am quite perturbed by this news. I go outside, the bike is fully locked, but all the electrics are on. I manage to switch it off again, but it takes a couple of attempts.
I go back to my book.
A while later, when Verd goes out, I ask him to check the bike.
The electrics are fully on, but this time I can’t turn it off. I try starting the bike, to see if it’ll reset itself. It starts fine, and the bike switches off, but like a scene out of a ghost story, it lights itself up again.
You’re getting the eerie setting? Dark looming clouds over an oversized rock called Ben Nevis, casting its own shadow over a ‘normal’ campsite. Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have portrayed the ghostly goings on better.
Now I’m worried about a battery drain, and we’ve planned to move on the next day. We consider disconnecting the battery, but the manual warns of all kinds of damage we might do if we try to disconnect with the ignition switch on.
We call break-down services.
Our bikes are under two year warranty and have a breakdown service plan included. BMW services send a local guy to take a look. He does, but can’t do anything but disconnect the battery (we note that he does this even though the ignition is still on).
The next morning another local guy comes to examine the bike, load it into a van and takes it off to a BMW dealer in Inverness, back where we came from. We decide to make the most of it, we’ve been nowhere near Ben Nevis, so we start small and take the cable car up Aonach Mor, Ben Nevis’ little sister.
We’d been given the impression you could walk from there to the summit. Don’t believe any Scottish gentleman with a white beard, strong accent and definite mischievous sparkle in his eye who tells you this. You cannot walk to the summit of Ben Nevis from Aonach Mor. However, if you’re a mountain biker, you have your pick of dangerous rides back down again.
We walk to the two viewing points and take a chair lift a little higher. The quiet (and cold) of this journey is startling. There isn’t even the sound of bird song, just the breeze through the moors.
While we’re doing things the lazy way, our camping neighbours, a family of three plus son’s best friend since nursery, have picked the best day of the week to actually scale the summit. Armed with a map they don’t need, they follow everyone else up the path. They did have a scary moment when they got near the top and the fog became so thick they couldn’t see anything in front of them. They rode it out by having lunch and an hour later the mountain cleared again.
It did make them realise how quickly you could get into trouble up there. There’s a 24 hour coastguard helicopter on alert. We heard and saw it many times, wondering the circumstances behind their patrol.
I mention our neighbours as I find them inspiring. Alise dropped out of school early with no more ambition than to have a family. She had two children, a girl and boy. When pregnant with her son, she decided to turn around her life. She took up education with a babe on her knee and later, at 18 stones in weight decided to lose some. She discovered the great outdoors and with her husband (who boasts a hearty smoker’s cough), son and son’s best friend since nursery are scaling the highest peaks in Britain and in between go geo-caching.
It’s been a good day all round. Having become emotionally involved in the personal challenges of the family next door, I’m relieved they make it back safely. The weather turns and we all duck for cover in our tents.
Later, I get a call from BMW saying they’re unsure when my bike will get fixed as they have two motorcycle technicians, but one is having an operation and the other is on holiday, do I want a courtesy car instead?
Nice offer, but if you’ve been following for any length of time at all, you’ll know I don’t drive. Verd does, but that’s beside the point, he can’t ride a bike and drive a car at the same time.
We decline, and decide to stay put in Fort William, unsure of how long it will take before I can be reunited with The Destrier.
The next day I get a call saying that one of the car technicians has looked at The Destrier and it needs a new starter, which should arrive the next day. Not only that, it will be installed and I will be able to pick up the bike in person. It’s 65 miles away.
I can’t pillion on The Beast as the passenger seat is taken over by Dennis. So Verd goes on his bike with my riding gear, and I go by bus. We get to the garage just before it closes. The bike works, but later we discover the shortcomings of a car, rather than bike technician. The battery isn’t fully connected, and a head lamp bulb has also blown. Fortunately we’ve subsequently fixed both issues and The Destrier is good as new.
Now we’re on Kintyre, but that’s a whole other story….