A former A-level teacher of the social sciences, I have embarked on a future dedicated to more regenerative living based on permaculture principles. Currently a volunteer at workdays on community projects based in West Yorkshire and creator of hand knits in natural yarns. As you can see, I love being behind the camera, but not so happy in front of it.
I immediately relax, and for some strange reason begin to give myself riding instructions.
We’re on familiar roads and some of them are part of the test centre routes we encountered when this journey began.
It’s a timely reminder of how far I’ve come as a biker, from being a very nervous granny on a 125cc and feeling like everyone believed I was seriously deluded that I would ever pass my test and ride around Scotland’s roads on a 800cc.
We’re back in town for logistical reasons.
Verd’s particular model of bike has been recalled due to a front suspension problem that has occurred in rough terrain conditions. Our first stop is close to the dealership to make the early morning appointment.
We stay on Baildon Moor about 1.5 miles from the dealership. It’s an unusual site, with a large number of permanent residents, including humans, peacocks, ducks with pompoms on their heads, bantams, turkeys and chickens. We’re able to choose our pitch and as it’s in a very windswept location, we opt for tree shelter. After a walk across the moor into the town, the wind makes my hair stand upright. We’ve made a good decision about location.
During the night we discover it isn’t so great. A large family gathering becomes noisy as large quantities of drink are consumed and we’re entertained by a 3 am family row. Our second night is similar, but things quieten down a little earlier, but we make a quick getaway and set up camp at our old favourite – the Cock O’ the North, you know the one, the one mile adventure we had leaving home? We’re a day early, but it works out well, as my brother and partner arrive from Shropshire a day early too. They’re already settled complete with caravan and awning, with a bag of ingredients, and I’m given instructions to make nachos for everyone like I did the last time they visited. We join the campsite owners, Sue and Robin for a drink in the bar. They are regular campers in north Spain and they give us lots of tips about the best sites and things not to miss. They also intend to go this autumn, so we swap details to arrange a meet-up.
The bike recall isn’t so successful, BMW seem to be unable to provide the new part, due to a backlog of demands, however, testing reveals that Verd’s bike is fine, though he’d worn a tyre down so much he’s only got 300 miles left before The Beast is road illegal. Coupled with 100% wear on the brakes, it’s a good job the bike was recalled! I expect mine to be as bad, so also have a health check. All good, but brakes have 70% wear. We replace all worn parts for peace of mind.
We say goodbye to the Cock O’ the North, and cross the Pennines to Derbyshire. The next few weeks are going to be spent with family members and we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to finalise our research, ensure our paperwork is in order, lighten the load, Skype and do those things you can’t do when on the road.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a map of the Scottish leg of the journey, omitting any day trips and ride-outs.
And if you’d like to take a closer look at the route and the stopping points, you can do a street view here:
We leave Moffat and make our way south for the final leg of our holiday.
Destination? Keswick in the Lake District (not Scotland).
Having spent some of my childhood close to prehistoric structures of note and early adult life working in a neolithic tomb, I have a predisposition to be drawn to neolithic mysteries. Keswick is sited near two stone circles, Long Meg and Her Daughters and Castlerigg. There’s a campsite close to Castlerigg, so the SatNav is set for there.
We set up camp and as the sun sets, we take a walk to the stone.
You’ll see from the pics, the circle is in an elevated setting that has recently experienced a great deal of rain. This describes our stay – hills and sudden, short bursts of heavy rain interspersed with sunny spells. I’ve been in the area many times, it’s popular with fell runners and walkers, having something for all ability levels. Every visit has entailed trudging in waterproofs and Gortex boots in the inevitable rain.
You’ll also notice the purple tones. Something we’ve enjoyed observing is the heather coming to life on the hills. The hues are constantly changing with the shifting weather patterns and seasonality of the vegetation.
Insect life is also changing. Midgies are less of a problem than the first couple of weeks of our travel, but now the wasps investigate the witch’s brew I call dinner.
There’s something in my bones: see hill – must climb.
Late afternoon, the next day, I suggest a stroll in the area behind the campsite. Another BMW biker, George is familiar with path, and it inspires a hike. We walk up a slow, steady incline. We pass a family on their way down.
“Are those Altbergs?” Asks the guy, pointing at Verd’s boots.
We get into a conversation. It’s a way of stalling when you’re out of breath. Their daughter is extremely patient and seems a very self-sufficient girl, happy in her own company while the adults talk.
Breath back, we continue the walk and as we seem to get to the top, Verd says he’s going to round the bend to see the other side, but then he’s going back.
On the other side, I see a bump on the hill and a very busy trail leading a path to it. My bones call out:
I say it’s ok if he wants to go back, but I think it’ll only take about an hour to scale it and begin my walk towards it. Reluctantly he follows.
After about 1/2 hour we climb a purple nipple opposite the peak I really want to do, but I point out the rain clouds that are moving quickly our way. I ask someone who’s going up how long he thinks it’ll take him to get up there. He says 15 minutes. He’s a young fit thing, so I double the time for us.
Despite the looming black clouds, Verd says he’s come this far, he’s going up. Of course I do too.
We get wet, but it’s not hypothermic conditions and the cooling effect is refreshing. We appreciate the 360° panorama before descending again.
Back at the pit stop, the stoves are burning and we’re getting ready to replace lost energy.
The ground around our tent is the wettest we’ve experienced since Kilvrecht Camping, our first stop in Scotland. Concerned about the bike, I put an extra stone under the stand to ensure it doesn’t sink into the oozing mud. We’re under trees, which offer great protection and despite the downpours, the bikes remain relatively dry. However, the tent is in the tree line and those drops sound like bullets as they bounce off the canvas.
It’s been nearly two months on the road, with just 4 nights off, and that tent has held up against the elements we’ve encountered.
We stay for three more nights before reluctantly making our way back to where we started.
If you’ve followed for a while, you’ll have read many references to Verd and The Beast. Verdant objects to me calling his mule of a bike ‘The Beast’, but if you stand next to it when it’s lying on the ground and have to help pick it up, you’ll know it’s a beast. When he rides it with full lights on, it looks terrifying. It does help keep other road users out of our path. Who’d want to get in the way of The Beast?
We’re developing a cooperative blog/website, but we’ve not quite decided its main purpose and function. I think that will shape up once we’ve found our ‘place’ and begin our project. In the meantime, we’re introducing “Verdant’s Corner”, and from time to time, you’ll be offered a different perspective on our journey!
Having eaten breakfast to the accompaniment of bad news, I realise it’s time to immerse in the positive again. It’s so much healthier. This is a very refreshing perspective on the positive role refugees can play in host countries, as opposed to treating them as a burden and problem.
The ferry from Campbeltown to Androssen leaves early in the morning and we’re on the quays checking in the bikes and ourselves for the 3 hour journey. Our two bikes are ushered on first. I fear a possible slip on the wet metal of the ferry floor and directions are poor. I like a lot of time to plan my riding – even when it is only 2 miles an hour. I finally understand where they want me to go and the staff get to work, fastening the bike to the floor. Verd follows, but is ushered to the other side. When he’s asked to put the bike on the centre stand, he tells them they can if they want to, but he’s not able to with the heavy load he’s carrying.
We go to a lounge upstairs and take it easy until the crossing becomes more choppy. We go outside for some fresh air and look out for wild life. We don’t see any porpoises, seals or dolphins, but plenty of sea-birds follow the boat. The fresh air reminds us we haven’t had breakfast, so seek to rectify the empty feeling in our stomachs.
It’s not long before we called to our vehicles. We arrange with the staff to allow us to disembark last. It takes the pressure off getting the bikes out of their parking places and any potential embarrassing mishaps before a queue of impatient drivers.
I may have said before that the thought of doing something new on the bikes is worse than the actual doing of it. On dry land we wonder what we were worried about.
Unusually, I follow Verd on the bike, instead of the other way round. It’s interesting watching another biker in front and it’s difficult not to follow their lines on the road. When I realise that his lines aren’t great, I try to ride my own ride. However, we come to a newly created roundabout that I struggle to read. It has a white centre like a mini roundabout, but is surrounded by red surface, like an additional lane. I’m unsure if it is actually part of the roundabout or the road and there are no lines to help. Confused, I follow the bike in front.
Verd and the Beast ignore the fact there is a roundabout at all and ride straight across the red section. Assuming it is a lane, I follow suit, to discover it is actually part of the roundabout. Long analysis short, I hit the curb on the other side and come off the bike. No harm done, except I have a pannier now permanently locked to the bike, unless I get someone who calls herself a bike tech to force it off.
I’m a little shook up, and am now leading. I see a supermarket car park and opt to take a break there.
Now this carpark is huge and has about 6 cars parked in it. I park where I can easily ride out again, with no cars to my left, and one space to my right. Verd pulls in to the one space. Not all the other many spaces in the carpark, but the one that is right next to someone else’s car.
He drops the bike.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
While he’s talking insurance claims and other inconveniences, someone has run over and single-handedly picked up the bike for him. They take a look at the car, and there’s not a scratch on it, only the wing mirror had closed on impact.
Perhaps we should worry more about somethings? But I’ve found worry only makes you ride the bike badly. Lesson for the day: Keep to your own lines.
Our destination today is a little different. Dennis the Hopper’s creator, Mark, from Scunthorpe had told us about a bike friendly hotel in a town we’d never heard of called Moffat. It’s run by a family from Zimbabwe who are keen motorcycle enthusiasts. They are good friends of Mark’s, so we honour our promise to go meet them and stay a couple of nights at the Buccleuch Arms Hotel.
We are met with incredible hospitality from all the staff. Dave, who owns the hotel, makes a special effort to greet as many customers as possible, either helping them with their journeys or sharing some of the intriguing history of the hotel. Many archived photos and documents relating to the hotel and the local town and community feature as decoration throughout the hotel: snippets of pipe bands, feudal contracts, people shopping in the street, the first car owned in the town. These adorn the tables in the bar and restaurant. The wallpaper is custom printed enlargements of some of these photos and documents. There’s quite a 1930’s feel to place. It’s a remarkable achievement. The family came to Scotland with just two suitcases, having been forced from their home in Zimbabwe. Despite a great deal of rejection, they found a means to renovate a dilapidated building and turn it into a thriving business.
The hotel is extremely popular, not least as it offers a hugely varied menu and to Verd’s delight a choice of ten gluten free desserts. He’s in heaven. For bikers, it offers a garage and help-yourself-shed for ensuring you don’t have to leave with a bike in the state you might have brought it in.
Despite how busy the family are, they take time to chat and help us with their route planner website, ‘MotoGoLoco’, they’ve created and instructions for how to download directions on to a SatNav. Many bikers contribute, so you have suggested routes, with a short review to help you find a bike-friendly road to run around. For me, it’s a revelation and I can’t wait to start planning the route I want to do, rather than the one my SatNav wants to do.
Moffat itself is a picturesque town, with many old buildings that are well-maintained. It is situated near an old lead and gold mining centre, so it is no coincidence that we arrive just when the World Gold Panning Championships are being hosted in the town. Curious, we take our cameras and set out to find out what’s involved in Gold Panning.
We arrive in time for the family finals. Units of four people occupy a pit and bring four buckets of mud with gold dust in them and a panning pan. They empty their individual buckets of mud into the water and then swirl it around aiming to catch as much gold as possible before the next family member takes over with their bucket of mud.
It’s obviously far more sophisticated than I’ve described it, and we do identify a couple of slightly different techniques employed by the contestants when catching their gold.
It’s impossible as a spectator to have any idea of who might be winning, as they bring little vials of gold to the weighing area, and await an announcement of the winning teams later.
As wonderful and extremely memorable time we had in the Buccleuch Arms, after three nights, we are itching for the road and our au plein air life. The Smiths see us off and ensure we’re safely on the road, following a quieter route than the one we’d originally planned, on their recommendation.
I’m glad of it, as I after my crisis of confidence, this is a great journey for getting back into the saddle again.
I’m about to take a turn and Verd curses in my ear. It always makes me think the worst when he does that, but I try to stop my heart from racing as he asks me to stop when I can. Luckily there is a lay-by just after the turn and I pull in. He’s discovered that he hadn’t shut one of his bags properly and he’s lost a dry bag with the thermal liners for his bike suit in.
We think about all the various places it could have been lost, but (given we’ve been quite lucky on our travels), I suggest he rings the hotel to see if it was lost close to the start of the journey.
The good spirited Dave, not only looks near the hotel, but gets in his car and tries to retrace our journey to see if he can find the missing bag. We’re out of luck today, but I feel astounded by the kindness and feel good when we arrive in the Lake District for a return to camping.
Carradale is a small village on the south-eastern coast of the Kintyre peninsula. If you look at a map, it’s not hard to notice that it looks like a limp phallus. From the Cock O’ the North to the Kintyre Cock?!
We are greeted by the sound of mewling buzzards and the warmth of sunshine radiating through the fabric of the tent. I poke my head of the tent door and put the kettle on the stove. The buzzards seem to have a plentiful food supply in the neighbouring field, recently cut for hay. Other birds take off, demurring to the more powerful birds of prey. It’s a much nicer setting than it seemed in the torrential rain of the evening before.
Last night, I’d announced I didn’t want to stay here. Being suitably dramatic, after the trials of the day before, I felt trapped in a village with only two ‘death roads’ out of it. We’d travelled one of them, which although not as bad as the ‘Farm Track”, was a technically difficult ride. The other, going north, had been the site of a motorcycle accident the day before – a head on collision with a car, the motorcyclist had to be airlifted out with suspected spinal injuries. The news hadn’t improved my mood or the perception I had of our visit to Kintyre.
With the change in weather, my mood and perception changed. We’re on the coast, in Carradale, a village in two halves. The western half boasts a hotel, post office, police station, fire station and amazingly for us, a garage which was able to supply me with a replacement bulb for my headlamp. The eastern half has a small grocery shop and cafe. The road ends at very small, but busy harbour. We explore both halves and climb back up the hill to the west. We visit the hotel for a drink and light meal, talking to a local couple at the bar.
Verd does most of the talking, he’s excited about what we’re doing, and loves others’ enthusiasm in return. When he gets to permaculture and the state of the world, I notice how many times people remark about how great it is to have an interesting conversation like this. I observe that small spark of awakening.
We listen to their own story. The woman has a few health problems and I pick up that he drinks a lot. There are some hints that their story hasn’t always been a happy one.
During the evening, we both note how tranquil Kintyre is. Even with the sound of a mechanic in the garage when we rested outside the Post Office and the continuous sound of buzzard squawks, there is something extremely calm and peaceful about the whole peninsula. In the village, locals stroll with their dogs, deep in conversation. Nothing is hurried. We follow suit. During an unhurried evening walk along the beach, we agree that the sand is compacted enough to run along in the morning.
Even when hard, sand running is difficult. It feels like I’m running uphill all the way and find just two miles (normally an easy, recovery run for us now), hard to complete. Later, needing some provisions, we amuse ourselves by taking the bus to Campbeltown, leaving the bikes behind.
The driver’s accent is noticably un-Scottish and on asking where he’s from, it turns out he hails from Keighley, a place not far from the home we left. After paying the fare, we’re immediately greeted with a friendly hello. It is the woman we’d met at the bar the day before. We sit in front of her to chat and I jokingly observe: “You’re leaving himself behind today?”
I’m not ready for her response. It’s a yes, I’m leaving him behind. He’d been physically aggressive after getting home from the bar and she isn’t putting up with it anymore. Her journey is to her daughter’s. A phone call later, we get the gist she isn’t free of him yet, as he’s being uncooperative about taking care of their dogs. Their story isn’t a happy one.
There is plenty of interest in Campbeltown. We watch mackerel fishing on the pier. A woman has a good catch and immediately guts and fillets in situ, throwing the waste to eager seals.
The main attraction is 14th Century Cross, ornately decorated in celtic knots.
The town itself reminds us of those of our youth, with many independent specialist shops and a noticeable absence of any chain stores.
Verd visits an extremely professional barber who uses a traditional strop razor for the finishing touches. There’s no blood, I’m relieved to report.
We visit the tourist information centre and book both a night at a hotel and ferry tickets from the port to Ardrossan on the mainland for later in the week. We’re served by a young woman who laughs when she hears where Verd had his head shaved, her father owns the shop.
Most in the office are booking tickets for boat tours in the hope of seeing whales and dolphins. We learn though that no whales have been seen yet this season, but there is a possibility of porpoises. Outside a young couple play the pipes, raising funds for the coast guard.
We return to the pit stop armed with groceries, but disappoint a cyclist who’d hoped we’d got them in Carradale. I make us a meal, and go to the cyclist’s tent to see if he’d like some, but he’s not at home. Pity, as it’s a cooler evening, and the spicy meal is warming. We’ve no trouble finishing it off.
Our biorhythms are synched with the natural rise and fall of the sun. We’re often in bed early and wake early. Most nights I sleep soundly. Our tent is keeping us dry, the sleep system is warm and comfortable.
We wake to another warm day and go for a forest walk, stopping off at the small ‘Network Cafe’ with a varied and interesting menu and more importantly free wi-fi. I get the opportunity to catch up with the blog and update some of the picture-less posts with photos.
We arrive back at camp early to see our neighbour’s tent has half-collapsed. They are a friendly, happy family, but have gone fishing for the day. We take a look to see if we can erect it again. However, the joints between the poles have split, and to do anything could make the situation worse. Their belongings inside are well-covered and we keep an eye on things, in case it rains and textiles become exposed.
They arrive not long after and remain uncommonly chirpy when they discover their plight. They take out their belongings and dismantle the tent immediately. They hope to be able to get a night in one of static caravans or chalets, but the campsite is full. The warden tells them that the local forecast is good for the night, and they adapt with a combination of car and outdoor sleeping. Despite this, they share mackerel fillets with us and we have a wonderful fish risotto for supper.
I am absolutely grateful and appreciative for the kindness that we’ve met on the road. From help with dropped bikes, to offerings of washing liquid when I’d run out, a free hotel night (more on that in a later post) and some folk just dropping by the tent for a chat, it’s made our trip extremely rewarding and pleasurable.