Words and pictures courtesy of Colin Stanfield

Well after the ‘beast from the east’ and the prolonged cold spring we were ready for anything that Scotland could throw at us in early May. As it turned out the weather, while changeable, was relatively benign for Scotland so we set off from Clitheroe in good spirits taking the scenic route to the Border with a big loop through the Dales in all their spring glory. Really, on a good spring day you can’t beat the UK for riding!

Nine bikes of assorted types (plus two pillions) made superb progress to our first stop at Orton, like a well-oiled machine with little need to ‘drop off’ but good use of the system when needed.

The M6 saw us rapidly to our turn off for Longtown and onwards to Gretna, shadowing the motorway for some distance until our next stop at Moffatt. The southern uplands are full of superb riding and we carved our way along mile after mile of sweeping bends before arriving at the central belt and the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Crossing the new QE2 Bridge was a highlight of the day and took us on towards the still, snow lined, mountains of the Highlands.

The Green Welly stop at Tyndrum was buzzing with bikers enjoying the Bank Holiday sunshine.

Now for the final awesome stretch to the Bridge of Orchy, across Rannoch Moor, past the Shepherd of the Moors, that huge monolith of a mountain (the Buchaille Etive Mor) that guards the eastern entrance of Glen Coe, and down into the stunningly impressive Glen itself before emerging out to Loch Linne and our destination at Fort William, which despite its iconic setting isn’t the most inspiring town you’ve ever come across. But tomorrow was Skye so no one’s complaining!

By the way, roundabouts in Fort William have some useful ‘warning’ names!

Now the coast road to Skye via Mallaig is such an icon of Scotland it should be included in any Tour but our Tour organiser (cheers Pino – nice one ) had intel’ that the ferry from Mallaig only takes 6 bikes at a time so we took the more northerly route to the Kyle of Lochalsh through Glen Garry, Glen Cluanie, and Kintail. Well, what a road! Simply amazing and in many ways more European than British with exquisite bends of consistent angle followed by long open stretches, relatively little traffic (just enough overtaking to be fun rather than frustrating) all surrounded by stunning Scottish scenery. Today was even a bit of a safari, with Red Deer, Buzzards, a Golden Eagle, and feral Goats to see and negotiate – the Goats that is!

So, ‘over the sea (or Bridge) to Skye’ and it’s weird geology and landscapes, from the huge bulk of the Red Cuillin to the spikey ridge of the Black Cuillin and the ‘Tolkeinesque’ rock formation of Stor and the Quirang.

Stretches of single track A roads (yes A roads) and the ubiquitous camper vans made for some slow going but gave time to soak up the scenery. Road surfaces were generally good though, as with any roads, there were potholes and sloughs of gravel to catch the unwary.

In all we did over 100 miles just on Skye itself and got a great sense of the island as a whole with its outlying fishing villages, crofts, inlets, and views across to the outer islands.

Stopping at the iconic Eilean Donan castle on the way back to ‘Fort Bill’ gave us classic photo opportunities before the joys of the Glen Cluanie road again.

 

Sorry – it just had to be done!

‘Go west young man’, was the order of the next day as we set off to Ardnamurchan point and its lighthouse, the most westerly point on the UK mainland. Setting off on the Mallaig road to Skye allowed us to sample at least some of the beauty of this classic road as it follows the Skye rail track alongside the Glenfinnan ‘Harry Potter viaduct’ and the numerous white sandy inlets and beaches.

Now the Moidart peninsula extends many miles out into the north channel and the narrow, often single track, roads made for slow progress, especially given the surprising number of oncoming vehicles, even a Dust Cart at one point. What an amazing area to provide such services to.

Given its coastal location and height we spent a lot of time in light rain and the hills were wreathed in mist but the route was nonetheless spectacular as was the rocky coastal outline as we finally arrived at the lighthouse.

Retracing our steps east we crossed Loch Linne at the Corran Ferry and took the scenic tour around Loch Leven to the ‘Ice Factor’ climbing centre at Kinlochleven, and enjoyed a welcome respite from the now somewhat heavier rain.

The next day was a big expedition north west to Wester Ross (yes, it is a real place and not just the area you all know from Game of Thrones), and then East and back via Loch Ness.

This gave us a chance to ‘play’ on the Glen Garry and Cluanie Roads again on the way to the Loch Carron.

Riding scenery doesn’t get much better than this!

However, my good deed for the day almost threw a spanner (literally) in the works. As TEC, I stopped to help a damsel in distress. Well actually a lady with two young children desperately jumping on the wheel brace trying to change wheels after a flat on her rather ageing Audi. No AA / RAC and no phone reception. I’ll soon fix that thinks I and catch up with the group – no problem. In good SLAM style Pete Cole, next in the line of bikers was keeping an eye on his TEC and also stopped to help. Offending wheel soon removed but then the rot set in. The disk and hub on the car were out of line which made locating the spare on the bolts a major two man task. Overcoming that problem, we then lowered the brand new spare tyre down onto the ground only to find that it too was flat, and no foot pump! There was nothing more that we could do. Taking her phone number I said I’d leave her details at the next shop / garage, whatever. Of course in this part of the world that was another 25 miles! Postscript – she texted me later in the day to say the Police had come to her rescue.

The group reunited we headed into Loch Carron to fuel up, which, with 9 bikes, takes quite some time, especially when other pump users don’t move their vehicles while they spend time on the phone, in the shop, or whatever else they are doing when they should be moving out of the way.

From Loch Carron it was a short but superb ride to Torridon and a stop at Sheildaig. Now for those of you who know the area this is where the famous (infamous?) Belach na Baa road can be found as it rises to 2500ft over the mountains to Applecross.

Pre tour intel’ had said that the road was closed for repair but as we passed the turning there were no signs suggesting closure, only those warning that, ‘ in winter conditions this road is always impassable’ – hey that sounds like my kind of road. Stopping at Sheildaig a couple of us decided to forgo a Latte and headed off anti-clockwise along the stunning coastal road to Applecross. Despite the very strong cross wind (Andy Hall’s panniers on his GS acting like a sail gave me ample warning of particularly strong gusts!) the road was fast and flowy and in surprisingly good condition. If you have ever ridden the Nochalmstrasse in Austria it’s like a single track version of that!

From Applecross the Bealach na Baa rears up ahead of you and today it looked dark and foreboding with an ever increasing cross wind. Rising from sea level (on the West side) to 2500ft it is a challenging but exciting route (despite the oncoming vehicles – there are numerous passing places) and is a must for anyone who likes this kind of riding. From the summit the road plunges East, down a series of Alpine like hairpins until the gradient lessens and the route becomes fast and flowy again.

The Bealach na Baa - Go do it now!

From Torridon we road east to Loch Ness where, despite the collective observational power of nine advanced riders, not a single siting of Nessy was to be had!

The roads to, along, and around Loch Ness and through the Great Glen were superb and, as is his way, Pino managed to link them all with quieter, twistier and even more scenic routes.

We arrived back at Fort William after a 270 mile day buzzing with the fun of it all. Could it get any better……………..read on!

Today was the ‘snow roads’ day and having been climbing in the Cairngorms just 4 weeks earlier I knew that these roads had recently lived up to their name.

Essentially we circumnavigated the Cairngorms National Park but that would be to underplay the whole day which consisted of much faster, flowing roads, often linking passes between mountain ranges. The classic Cockbridge to Tomintoul road, past the Lecht ski centre, was a highlight as it rises high along fast open roads with great visibility, and then drops steeply down towards the Dee valley and the Balmoral Estate. A favourite of car groups as well as bikers you’ll often see lines of classic and vintage cars on this road, or groups of Porsches and other classic marques enjoying the delights of this route.

A classic stretch on the ‘snow road’

Refreshed after a stop at Braemar we carved our way up the Glen Shee pass and on to Pitlochry. While today was our best day weather wise it had turned much colder as evidenced by the fresh dusting of snow on some of the higher tops and the occasional beat of hail on the visor.

Our route back to Fort Bill was becoming familiar now and bends which earlier in the week had been new to us could be taken with a little more pace.

All great things must come to an end someone once said, but I don’t know why! Anyway, our last day saw us take the Argyle Coastal route south west. This was unfamiliar territory to me so what better way to explore these classic roads than by bike. As we progressed south the roads became busier which presented the need for more care with overtakes. As TEC it’s interesting to see the ‘imagination’ that some people put into these manoeuvres. Take care up front I think to myself, we have a lot more miles to go yet.

The busy Dunnoon Ferry was a pleasant way to cross to Gouroch and allowed us to make good progress into the lush farmland of Dumfries and Galloway with a stop at Gretna to refresh for the final push home to sunny Lancashire.

Picking up the M6 we could up the pace to Penrith where the final highlight of the tour was the good old A6 Shap road – always an awesome stretch to ride.

So after 6 days and 2000 miles we all said our farewells and left with memories (and in my case an urgent need for a new rear tyre!) of the epic Scottish Highlands.

Thanks must go to Pino and to Jane for taking time out to organise such a fantastic trip. These things don’t just happen and inevitably as a tour lead, there is some added pressure on top of the normal need to ride well, safely and to enjoy the trip. So cheers Pino, nice one!

The "runners" and "Riders" were:

Pino and Jane Guarino - Yamaha Tenere
Pete Cole - Kawasaki
Ken Chute - Ducati Multi  Strada
Andy Hall - GS1200
John and Kath Know - GS1200
Martin Robinson - BMW 1000
Deborah Robinson - BMW 1000
Jane Dowbiggin - Honda  Crossrunner
Author and photographer - Yamaha Tracer 900

 

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