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:
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.
From Fort William, with a bike that now has an ignition that works, but is minus a low headlamp bulb, we follow the coast road south. It’s a straightforward A road that shouldn’t present too many difficulties, except when we have to leave it in the last 5 miles or so for the next pit stop.
The ride, as planned, is smooth, but it rains heavily. Despite missing a bulb, I still have a light that helps with visibility. Verd compensates with his heavy duty in your face lights. The Beast makes it known she’s coming.
Oban is a good place for taking a break from a sore bum and numb fingers. There’s quite a lot of traffic, but we find a place to park the bikes at the edge of the town. We opt for a little cafe called ‘The Little Potting Shed”. It specialises in vegetarian dishes and happily caters for gluten free. We discover we’re lucky to get a table – it’s a popular eatery and people begin to queue to be seated. It’s raining again, so I select the soup of the day, and Verd makes an early booking for the last remaining slice of almond and raspberry cake.
Leaving Oban is more of a problem. We need to reverse the bikes out of their parking place into a long, slow stream of oncoming traffic.
Sometimes it pays to be bolshy. We’re bolshy, and the cars simply pull over out of the way – after all – they probably don’t want a fully loaded, heavy bike falling into them.
We’re on our way, and follow the coast road down the Kintyre peninsula. It’s pretty, but the rain is extremely heavy, making visibility more difficult and the ride more trying. We pass a campsite and I ask Verd if we should check it out. I get no reply, so I comment that it does look a bit bleak and carry on.
Later we pass another smaller, and prettier looking campsite, and suggest we look at this one, but still no reply. By now, our communication system has water affecting our ability to talk to each other. The connection keeps cutting in and out. I carry on.
We finally see signs to the campsite we’d planned to go to in a place called Southend. It’s not far from the famous Mull of Kintyre. But to our dismay, it’s not quite what we expected.
It’s static caravans only.
It’s evening time and it has been a long ride in very heavy rain. I’m cold as the rain is starting to creep through the tourshell jackets. I try to make light of it, but Verd isn’t impressed. I go to a quick plan B.
On the way into the site, I’d noticed a sign to a “holiday park’. We go back and follow the sign to it, but it seems to be a false destination. We find a similarly named farm, but it definitely isn’t accessible for the kind of vehicles you’d expect at a campsite. We follow the road as there’s no way to turn round, so we keep going, experiencing more trepidation as the road continues to narrow and looks less and less like a road and more and more like a farm track.
We are relieved to see a sign for Kintyre’s main town. I suggest we make our way there, as it would be an easy ride from there to the second of the two campsites we’d dismissed. Seems like a good idea, but the road isn’t a convincing route to a main town. It’s single track, and if we meet oncoming traffic, there are no passing places, it’s rough, grassy and very tight, twisty and steep.
It is times like this, I realise that we’re not such bad riders, given we only started a year ago. I also realise that The Destrier is a very forgiving bike, and has helped me to get out of many a tight spot I don’t think either of my training bikes would have coped with.
We keep going, we’re both tense, but make it to Campbeltown where we can take a break and decide what to do next. Luckily, the phone signal is good (it hasn’t always been on this trip) and I’m able to ring a couple of places to see if we can book in for the night. We find a vacancy, on the proviso we make the journey straight away, and we’ve 25 minutes to get there before he closes.
It’s another twisty, windy, steep, but not so narrow road, and it takes us 40 minutes to get there. But he’d waited for us, knowing that on such wet roads, we can’t hurry. The worst part of the journey is the last 1/2 mile of muddy track through a verdant forest to the site itself. My back wheel slides from side to side, and I’m sure I’m going to arrive at destination looking like I’ve been in a mud fight. But we both stay upright and are relieved that the warden has waited for us and allocates a spot for our humble home.
Despite the fatigue of the journey, I’m eagerly cooking us something up out of the rain, and it isn’t long before we’re both sleeping away the wears of the day.
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….
You know how authors of novels sometimes write a novelette as an aside? This is a kind of aside post about a trip we took before leaving Durness and making our way to Fort William.
Today, we’re unsure of what we want to do, so we look at the map for a possible ride-out on the bikes, but I feel I need a walk.
We set off with no particular destination in mind. Verd suggests we go towards the ferry for Cape Wrath. I say “ok’, remembering that it’s only about 2 miles to get there. When we arrive we join the ferry queue. There’s a small dinghy by the pier and metal hull of something you could call a boat about 10m out.
The metal boat is a ferry that takes about 10 people at a time across the loch to a somewhat uninhabited peninsula the other side. The 10 people then wait for another 6 to join them and get on a rickety mini-bus that travels a very slow, bumpy road to the most north-westerly tip of Scotland. It takes about an hour to travel 11 miles, but Paul, our driver, keeps us entertained with anecdotes about the region and points out features we are otherwise likely to miss.
Most of the land is owned by the military and is used for tactical practice. We learn that as the terrain is very like that of the Falklands, it was used for practice before troops were dispatched during the Falklands War. He warned us against picking up any debris, as they did once have a visitor who decided to bring a live mortar shell onto the bus, much to the dismay of its travellers.
We pass a ruin that was once a school and Paul has had the honour of meeting one of its former pupils, who used to walk about 5 miles alone at the age of five, with a big stick to remove the adders from the track. There were only about six pupils. Paul later shows us her former house, to illustrate the extent of her journey. It’s a desolate place and I think everyone empathised with her former plight.
Paul points out vehicles parked on a hillside, saying that they are used by the military for target practice. School children had painted one of them pink and had attached party balloons to it. The military apparently saw the funny side, and when they later accidentally damaged one of the 11 mile stones along the route to the most north-westerly point in Scotland, the school was asked to design a new milestone, which they did with a simple picture of a puffin, a favourite visitor to the north-western coastline.
We continue bumping along the road until we finally stop in front of a lighthouse. The lighthouse has one occupant, John who has to have provisions ferried in to him. It’s isolated and one winter, his deceased wife, went shopping for Christmas, but got stranded due to snow and ice, and they spent a bleak Christmas separated.
We have an hour to explore this most north-westerly tip of the country, and for the first time in my life experience a fear of heights as I near the edge of one of the cliffs.
We then make the bumpy ride back to the ferry, and Paul still has a few more tales in store for us.
The area is often used as a bombing site for aircraft. He points out some of the craters, but notes that the moors are quite resilient and quickly restore themselves. In one such practice, the target was an island off the coast, and the people monitoring the practice didn’t obtain a reading of a successful bombing, despite the claim of one pilot to have successfully deployed. It turned out that he’d bombed the wrong island!
We arrive back at the ferry port and as the sun comes out, decide, much against Verd’s wishes, to take the coastal path. He doesn’t trust my navigation skills much. When we run into some hefty cows blocking the path, we scramble up a cliff and subsequently lose the trail. I trust that following the coast would get us back to base, and it eventually did, but it was more than double the length of the road version of the route.
I’m going to sound like an advert now, but there is one purchase I’m exceptionally pleased with. We went to a small company in North Yorkshire, Alt-berg, that specialises in making walking boots, including custom sizes. The owner, is also an avid motorcyclist, and also specialised in motorcycle boots also. We invested in “dual-purpose” boots. They are designed for motorcycle riding, but also for walking too. I have to admit I was sceptical, but they’ve now taken me up and down mountains, not only on the bike, but on foot and are extraordinarily comfortable to walk in for an armoured boot.
Have to say, all this fresh air, exercise and exhilaration from being exposed to the elements on the bike, dun ‘arf give you an appetite!