I may have retired, but I refuse to lay down and expire. It seems I am also lucky enough to be attractive to the opposite sex. A young lady recently called me a bit of a looker – well voyeur was the actual word she used – but close enough for me. I do coffee most days with a long-standing mate of mine – we both use it as an excuse to get on the bikes every day.
“Let’s do the Highland 500 says Symptom-Ian.” It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s so easy to say yes when you are quite relaxed and halfway down a medium-skinny-wet-latte (two sugars) with sod-all else to do.
Symptom Ian (large cappuccino, no chocolate sprinkles but also two sugars) seemed to have it all worked out in his mind, so I went along with it as you do, thinking it would be one of those things discussed but never actioned, but bugger me – we did it.
Ian is rarely without symptoms of some sort – he boasts 17 ailments, several of which appear to make him grumpy on any given day. So, picture June of 2019 – (this is before the current unpleasantness) Ian’s ailments were either on holiday, slightly better, not aching, not leaking, not running, not as bruised - or he has a pill for it. It is in the light of this sudden rush of normal health that he decided he was almost well enough to spend a couple of weeks away with me to experience the “Scottish 500”
Following the success of our tour of the middle-United States, “Symptom” Ian and myself set off again for further adventure to the Scottish Highlands.
This is Scotland’s version of Route-66 and arguably one of the world’s best coastal routes. As I write this memoir the Scottish first minister (Jimmy Cranky) has still not managed to spoil it with drive-in self-vaccination clinics, so we decided to jump in and get a good view of it before she nationalises it and charges Sassenachs for going to look at it.
We were going to use A-roads to get there – avoiding any use of Motorways, thus allowing us to enjoy the route up there, sights such as the Wye Valley, Herefordshire, Derby Dales, Morecambe Bay, the Lake District, an overnight stop with a booking for a couple of rooms in Penrith.
Next day – we planned to go through Gretna Green, Lockerbie, shadow part of the M6 where there are wonderful sights as we approach Glasgow and then on to circumnavigate Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. At this point we enter the highlands, over the Bridge of Orchy, down to sea-level at Glencoe and on to Fort William for night two.
Sticking to just A-roads proved to be two long days – but the route was spectacular – and frankly we had plenty of time – we were both retired and did not have to rush back (in fact my wife insisted on us not rushing back – odd that?). I have driven to Fort William previously in the car, door to door in 9 hours – we had 2 days.
Accommodation is interesting. We checked out hotels and guest houses on the route – and prices are spectacular. A Bed and Breakfast in some of these places is upwards of £150 per night each. It is for this reason that I introduced Symptom Ian to AirBnB. I only discovered it myself last year when I went to Harrogate. It is a sort of B&B for chavs. Pretty much just a spare room in someone’s family home, often with no breakfast – but it is cheaper than other places. The disadvantage is that often only one room is available – which means Ian and I were normally staying at separate houses. We have however come to suspect that spending all day together may mean that we will very much value a couple of hours at the end of every day to do our own thing and relax without having to worry about each other.
We thought we will probably spend about 7 days doing the “500” and enjoying the road, the mountains, the views, and the food.
When I was but a wee lad, I spent 7 days in the Brecon Beacons with the cubs. We slept in a tent and wore pretty much the same thing for 7 days. If maturity teaches you nothing else it teaches you to wear clean underwear every day, especially if you are going to be on a motorcycle all day. Apparently nurses frown on dirty underpinnings and nobody wants to upset a nurse.
I now had to spend about a week working out how little I need for about 13 days away, and how I am going to fit this on to the back of my bike. I did spend a few hours looking for disposable underwear on the worldly-wise interspace and had to delete my browsing history pretty darn quickly.
I also decided to make a few notes by way of diarising the vacation to provide an old farts guide to the Scottish 500 with all its wrinkles and joys. Most of these notes got damp and were not readable by the time I got home, so my memory has had to suffice in most cases.
I assembled various valuable travel aids and clothes and started to strap it to my trusty steed using the power of bungee straps in a manner handed down from father to son. A man of few words my old dad – but he knew one end of a bungee from another – I remember he told me so. (I was 25 before I realised both ends are the same!!)
I suppose I should tell you what I was riding? Looking back on it, not my greatest moment, but at the time I was happy. It was a Suzuki 650 – so far so good – what’s the problem I hear you cry. It was a Burgman. Pretty much the biggest, heaviest, and most powerful motor scooter you could buy.
Having bought it I never was sure if I liked it from a “chaps” perspective. “Easy rider” it is not. In its favour however, it was like riding on an armchair, it was bloody fast, very low fuel consumption (75mpg) and lots of electric toys. Space under the seat for a passenger, or lots of luggage, and for a long trip to, round, and back from Scotland – it was the most comfortable thing on two wheels I could have chosen at the time. It would sit at 80mph all day long and not make you feel like you were cramped up or uncomfortable. It had little cubbyholes for as many cubbys as anyone could possibly own, everything was electric, heated seats and grips and I got bored I used to move the screen up or down using the little “are you bored yet?” electric button. (Yes – I am easily pleased)
As I say, from an image point of view – perhaps not the best – but I do miss it sometimes!
I digress. I do that sometimes. Where was I?
“Let’s do the Highland 500 says Symptom-Ian.
What makes it more surprising is that Ian (as the vintage rider, he has been riding on 2 wheels for about 50 years), he has always omitted one thing – he has never bothered to pass his driving test. Ian has single-handedly kept a small family run business in South Wales (the one that makes L-plates) in business all that time. The trip to and from the highlands was destined therefore to be sans-motorway, A roads and B roads all the way. I have decided though not to complain about that because it turned out to be a particularly good shout in the end – the scenery is so much better when you get off the M6.
We were much closer to a lot of the scenery. Being this close however does beg the question, why are farmers so smelly? Also – they all smell the same – do they buy the same aftershave. As you ride past the farms the smell is awful and made worse by tractors spreading their unused aftershave all over the grass out of huge tanks. I wonder if farmers wives have a sense of smell, or is it bred out of them?
Another small catch. 500 miles does not sound that far – but in the end it was 600 to the start point – 700 miles back from the end point (we got lost coming home) and about 900 in-between messing about around the extreme northern coast of Scotland.
Also, there is the weather you see - I know we did not expect sunshine and golden sands - but it's wet. Very wet. Billy Connolly once said, there is no such thing as bad weather – simply wrong clothes.
I am on a roll, there is something else. Quite important too. After two days up there talking to people, and I still had no bloody idea what they are saying to me. I kept nodding – it seemed polite. I would offer the occasional "Yes I know" or "OK then" but it's all double Dutch.
Let’s discuss the myths right away. “Angry red-headed Scotsmen in kilts.” Well, having been there for 10 days I can confirm they are not all angry, not all red-heads, and some of the frocks are quite nice.
Again – I digress.
Symptom Ian and I discussed the plans during the lovely June 2019 nice weather, we left for Scotland on 13th June – in the rain. I had splashed out on a new top-box for the bike – as well as new panniers. As previously mentioned, I had no clue what to pack, and neither did Symptom-Ian – but we managed to start the ride with well loaded bikes, a cheerful demeanour, too many clothes and quite poor maps.
It was not long before things a went a little pear-shaped at Bird-lip in Gloucestershire as we met the end of a 7-mile traffic jam queuing to get to the Air-Balloon pub. This was going to cramp our style more than some-what so I suggested to Ian that google maps find a way round for us – which it did without delay.
Hindsight being what it is, perhaps I should have been a tad more specific and told Messrs Google that we were on loaded bikes and wanted to avoid open fields, farmland, and cow pats. We ended up on a very muddy single-track road between farms. There was absolutely no room to turn around and our only option was to go forwards. At one stage I nearly dropped the bike. Luckily, this was prevented by catching the bottom of the bike between the ground and my foot (my big toe on my left foot if you are looking for medical specifics). The bike was fine – by toe was black for a week and my big toa-nail fell off 6 months later. Next time I will wait at the end of the traffic jam.
It took 10 minutes to un-hitch, un-tie, un-hook, undo and unload all the panniers etc from the bikes as well as remove the waterproof covers. Was this an early indication that we had brought too much luggage. I say bikes – they were in fact both scooters, mine being the aforementioned 650 Burgman, Symptom meanwhile had his trusty Yamaha 125cc scooter, something that let us face it, is not built with international touring in mind.
Not being too sure about the native Penrithianists we padlocked our rides to each other, set proximity mines and even chained them to the pillars by the reception door. Ian wandered off to his room in the annexe while I luxuriated in my room just behind reception. We were knackered but impressed with our initial day.
Day two dawned dry but threatening. It took under an hour to load the bikes, mainly because I could not find my gloves. Non-riders will not know that gloves are an important part of the uniform (see Village People YMCA video for proof) – but also safety, as the first thing you put down to save yourself when (sorry – if) you fall off a bike is your hands. They will become messed up and well sandpapered (a-la Australian seam bowlers) unless you have them safely ensconced on a reasonably tough pair of leather gloves. Despite looking everywhere, mine were not to be seen and so I had to resort to my spare pair (I bought two pairs in case one pair got wet and could not be dried in time to be worn comfortably again). Planning that is, planning.
290 miles to go to Fort William, our first stop in the Highlands and the real start of our adventure.
We wanted to leave promptly and aimed to be there for about 2:45am. Glove delays did not help of course, and the time had already slipped to nearer a 3:15 ETA. Those non-naval people out there – ETA means early timing attempt – it is rarely correct and ends up meaning eventual tardy appearance.
The B7076 also had better ideas. It runs parallel to the M6 and M74 and it is simply wonderful. You pick it up at Gretna Green and stay on it until a place called Elvanfoot
and then it takes you to Strathclyde Country Park on the edge of Glasgow. It shadows the M6 and the M74 all the way. On no accounts use the motorway as this road is unmissable!!!
However – in this instance it stopped being wonderful after a long straight 5-mile climb when we were 17 miles from the previous junction, and we found the road was closed for re-surfacing. We tried to get around the closed bit for 10 miles of back roads and failed. We had no choice but to go back 17 miles to go a different way. This cost an awful lot of time, our ETA (extremely tired arses) complained but there was nothing that could be done. On the way back to the last junction we saw an elderly guy (who looked at least 60 years old) on a bicycle just starting the 5-mile climb – he looked very tired indeed. Obviously, we needed to tell him not to bother because of the road closure. He already looked pretty peed off and so we decided not to add to his troubles with worse news. Poor chap.
We got back to the junction and headed to Edinburgh instead of Glasgow – ETA (Edinburgh Trip Also) was now 18:00 hrs. Shops would be shut and no chance of buying new gloves then!
Those that have ever done the run to Fort William (officially the wettest place in Great Britain – and it did not disappoint) know that we go past Loch Lomond (stunning – you really should try the Trossachs). Ultimately this leads to the absolute best part of the A82 with views that are joyful and almost life-changing for a person on 2 wheels.
The road improves even more once you have gone past the famous Green Welly Stop at Tyndrum. The top of a valley at a place called the Meeting of Three Waters is probably the most spectacular part of this road – and without doubt the reason that you should include the A82 as part of your return route and experience it in both directions. Even if you don’t actually go there – have a peek on google street view.
I am quite relieved to say that Fort William happened just in time before it became difficult to remember any more superlatives. I was left wondering if any roads could beat this one in the next few days. They did.
Fort William, apart from being the wettest place in Great Britain as I mentioned was also the home of William Lord, the Archbishop of the Western Highlands from 1633 was born in Broad Street, Fort William, (where W.H. Smith stands), which is evidenced by the Lord family crest of crossed pen and pencil set ardent, topped by readers' wives rampant.
Modern Fort William is famously home to the Kenwood Mixer, named after its inventor...Ken Woodmixer.
Our accommodation for much of this trip was our first serious venture into the use of AirBnB. Scottish hotels are expensive, traditional B&B’s are also costly, so we decided to dip our toes into this hosted accommodation experience. Ian’s AirBnB in fort William, and my own were about a mile north of town and were hard to find, but we managed. My one had a garage in which to put the bike to bed, Ian’s bike however was out on the street in what can only be described as an “iffy” housing estate. Ian was a bit concerned, but as I pointed out – it was not all bad news, after all, mine was in a garage.
Ian was staying with some polish people who had Scottish as a second language and not a lot of English. My choice was entirely devoted to staying guests, and the owner lived next door, so I was in blissful peace.
Day three dawned, it was wet, a condition which became usual. We had planned to go to Skye, and then on to a place called Plockton to see a very dear friend of mine.
Sadly, Carol Kirkwood (a fine figure of a woman) explained that the weather on the West coast was going to be crap and that central and eastern highlands were the place to be.
This proved to be the case, so we changed our plans and for the day at least we headed east to drive up the northern shores of Loch Ness and then head to Aviemore for lunch before deciding to traverse the southern side of Loch Ness from Inverness to Fort Augustus. It was on the side of this world-famous Loch that I tried to turn the bike around on a very very steep and very very narrow road and nearly put it down. This time it was my third finger of my right hand that saved the bike (my toe was still black and refused to join in on this occasion) – and it bloody hurt. Resplendent with throbbing finger we retired to Fort William for the second night, after visiting Morrisons for petrol and a sandwich.
All of this was before I had discovered the wonders of TVAM, so handling a bike was not yet second nature – and on reflection I had a mountain to climb to improve just about everything to do with safe and rewarding bike ownership.
If I could change one thing about the trip it would be to learn about cornering, limit points and safe bike control from Mick Goodall before going in the first place – it would have doubled the pleasure I could have got from the wonderful roads.
Important point! When in the highlands of Scotland, top up your tanks on every occasion, it can be a long way between garages, despite what your sat-nav tells you – you should remember that they need to be ones that are actually open!
Where was I? – Oh yes – returning to Fort William from Loch Ness with a sore finger.
I removed my helmet in the car park of Morrisons at Fort William only to discover that the visor was hanging off on the right-hand side. My helmet had a flip-top visor, and the arrangement required a secure screw (or bolt – depending on your preference) on each side on which the visor will hinge. I had two sides and only one screw – this proved to be an unfortunate but vital deficit. Remembering a suitable screw before I left home was not on my holiday list (insert joke here). One had obviously worked loose and dropped out. This had happened once before, and I was left cursing because I had not checked it before leaving home.
Toe. Finger. Helmet. I was not happy. I told Ian we had to get back to our respective digs before it rained and I was not going to lose time putting wet weather gear on, so off we went, and naturally within 90 seconds of joining the main road there was a biblical downpour - 5 minutes later when we were back at our digs, we had the appearance of drowned rats. Note to self – if you have wet weather gear – use it!
It took an hour to calm down. I rung out my spare gloves over the sink. My jacket was too heavy to ring out, I removed the lining and attacked it with the hair dryer while trying to dream up new swear words.
Having said we should not put wet weather gear on I felt somewhat responsible and told Ian to come and find my digs and I would dry his gear with the hair dryer. It took hours but it worked. I was still miffed, and wondering if my finger was broken, even now I am not sure if it was.
So, next job was new gloves and a repair to the helmet. I hit the worldly-wide interbook and tried to locate the nearest motorbike dealer. There was one and believe it or not – it was in Inverness, the next stop on our tour with a hotel already booked for the following night. A slight hitch was that the next day was Sunday – so they would be closed, but they appeared to open on Monday morning at 8.00am. This was “the” Motorbike dealer in the highlands – it was this or nothing else.
The plan for Sunday was to drive the tourist route up Loch Ness to Inverness. We would stop at Fort Augustus (they had no Fort?) and Drumnadrochit (they had no Drum). It was on the way into Fort Augustus that I noticed a bicycle repair shop, and it was open. I knew I needed an M5 screw for my helmet (it’s a man thing OK!) and so I went in and showed them the problem and asked if they had something suitably sized to help repair my visor.
Jock (we shall call him Jock because he was Scottish and I thought they were all called Jock), mumbled something that sounded vaguely Celtic and sloped off into a back room. I knew nothing at this point – he could be on the way to get his gun or something, but no, he returned with a Tupperware (very 1980’s) container full of “bits”. Jock offered me the container, waved at it, then at my crash helmet and wandered off to contemplate his haggis, sew the hem on his pretty frock, fiddle with his bagpipes, make some whiskey or whatever it is Scotsmen do. I proceeded to rifle through his odds and ends and came up with a screw that was too long, which had an Allen-key head, and to which I had to attach four washers to get it to be functional.
It worked! Genius, that's me - pure genius. Guy Martin is a beginner. Northern tart.
Where was I – Oh yes, in Jock’s bicycle repair shop. I returned his box with thanks and a couple of quid and continued to Inverness, resplendent in my functioning crash helmet. It was now 3pm and we realised something odd. It had not rained yet today – who had told God to turn the taps off we wondered. The roads were clear – but coffee caught up with Ian and we needed a rest break. I have to say that I was fed up with hearing “Can you hold my helmet while I have a pee?”
Now – I shall spare the more delicate reader some of the details at this point – but suffice to say the look on Ian’s face as he relieved his bladder at the side of the road was one which probably only his dear late wife Anne would have ever seen. You see – dear reader - Ian had proceeded to wee onto an electric fence. I am told you only do this once.
Just as we decided that the holiday had begun. Hotel life came at us from the blind-side.
We had booked two rooms at the Travelodge in Inverness. We got there early – after all Fort William to Inverness is only about 66 miles and no amount of staring out into the water hoping to see Nessie was going to make it a long day in the saddle. Even at a slow bimble – we ended up arriving at the hotel at 2pm.
I say bimble. Some say pootle. That is always a bit of a challenge – what is the difference between bimbling about on the bike and pootling about on the bike?
I checked with a dictionary.
…what of tootle I know you are saying?
I find these on-line dictionaries somewhat lacking. It is, or it should be, well known that the difference between a bimble and a pootle is directly relative to the amount of faff and dither that is introduced to the equation.
Faff comes first. Faff needs to be delivered gently and with good intention, without any sort of embarrassment and well before the addition of a reasonably generous amount of dither. I believe this is well known by all, but if you are in any sort of doubt, I hope you are paying attention.
Any road up – I wanted something that looks less scooter-ish and more motorbike-ish.
Bimble, or tootle – this depends on a faff or dither.
Where was I – oh yes – the Travelodge in Inverness – and we were early.
“It’s a hotel”, I said. “They have trained ninja-style housekeepers who blitz the rooms in no time at all, so we should be OK to check in”. In we went, and we buzzed the buzzer that said buzz the buzzer if reception was empty – which it was – and a rather “nice” looking blonde, nicely primped man (if you catch my drift) came out from a back office looking very distressed at being buzzed with the buzzer that said buzz the buzzer. He put a false smile on his face which shouted that this was the epitome of false smiles and said, “How may I be of service” and proceeded to stare pointedly at the buzzer – seeming to be working out how to disconnect it.
Can we check in please? I enquired – pleasantly.”
His smile changed – from being a false smile which was there to cover his annoyance, to a proper smile which was there to indicate real and very honest pleasure. “Sorry no sir” – he responded with obvious delight, now in full and certain knowledge that he was in a position of power. “Check in is from 4pm and not a moment sooner – I am so sorry sir”. No, he was not the little bugger – he was about as sorry as a person living in Not Sorry Mansions, Not-at-all Sorry Street, Not SorryVille, Scotland. He was loving it. How dare you buzz my buzzer when I am sleeping on duty.
We sloped off and decided to waste the start of our 2 hours wait in the garden centre next door. Wrong! £3.30p for a soft drink and surrounded by pensioners with walking frames – little yapping dogs the size of rats and an air of waiting for God to say “Next!”.
To stop ourselves slitting our wrists in despair we opted instead to go and find the motorcycle dealership we were due to visit first thing tomorrow morning so at least we knew where it was. We did, we found it, and using only our eyes by peering through the windows we determined that they had a building full of crash helmets, motorcycle gloves and motorcycles. It looked promising for the following morning. Feeling better, we returned to the hotel at about ten minutes to four and saw Mr Buzzer checking in a very leggy blonde, so we knew we had him. We’ll give him “not a second before”. Bastard.
We waited patiently while the leggy blonde completed the formalities, signed, picked up his bags and trolled off to find his room (he seemed like a nice chap) and then we booked in. Our rooms were not close together, not even in the same postcode area. Ian was just behind reception on the ground floor – I was close to Glasgow on the third floor. Bastard.
Day four found us at the dealership and I had made a discovery. I was fiddling with my waterproof covers to my panniers when my lost gloves fell out. They had obviously got tangled up and lived there for two days. So at least I could save myself the £80 I was due to spend on new ones. Happy days.
Sadly, not so good on the screw front. I saw a guy in the showroom and explained my issue. He was a salesman and pointed to service reception, this being populated by a tall and young brunette girl apparently called Bella who oversaw that department. “Ask her for a screw” was his suggestion. Frankly, I thought my chances would be incredibly low indeed, but I have never been one to shirk good advice – but I opted to perhaps re-phrase the question.
I pointed to the offending Frankenstein-Monster-looking bolt attached to the side of my crash helmet – explained my dilemma and asked if she had anything to cure my ills. Sadly not. Oh well, at least I had found my gloves.
While getting ready to leave in the car park we got talking to a couple of foreign guys who had just been with the lovely Bella getting a radio fitted to one of their helmets. “What part of Germany are you from” I asked – detecting the accent – I am particularly good at accents, it’s years of practice. “Holland!” he said. I suspected he did not understand the question and therefore decided to leave it. 😊
We were free to go and find our next stop which was Wick. This was to be a reasonable drive of about up the East Coast of about 110 miles. We were without breakfast and so we decided to have lunch on the way, and stopped at a place called Helmsdale, and found a little takeaway Fish & Chip shop called La Mirage. Another one to add to your list of places to visit – especially if you are at all hungry. We simply asked for 2 x Fish and Chip meals and proceeded to wait. We waited a little longer – and then we waited. After waiting some more, we finally got our meals. The meal consisted of about a week’s worth of chips, and these were hidden underneath the remains of two porpoises.
Did I say “Each”.
The meals were huge – and tasted wonderful. There was no way we could finish them, but boy – what a feast. At this point we were now at a point where it was difficult to move, but despite this we bravely managed to climb aboard and find the rest of our way to Wick.
I was due to spend the evening at the house of someone called Rose at the Wick Cottage in the Harbour. Despite eating the outpourings of a small country at lunchtime we were early, I sent Rose message asking if I could check in early and she was very accommodating, so we found the house so that we both knew where I was in case of emergency and told Rose we were off to find Ian’s overnight stay.
Symptom was staying with Evan in the High Street. I emailed Evan and asked if Ian cold check in early. “By all means” replied Evan, just come to check in at the Camps Bar in the High Street.
The Camps bar was a little tired, and when we met Evan, who seemed like a nice chap, we guessed where the name of the bar came from. There was nowhere for Ian to park his bike (again – insert joke here) so he padlocked it firmly to the metal fence on the harbour wall. I helped Ian carry his bags round the back of the pub and up some very questionable steps and left him to settle in. At this juncture I legged it and set off to find Rose again.
As previously described, Rose was lovely. She was truly short in stature (a long way under 5 foot) – but boldly built, I think that is a polite way of putting it, and you should remember that I am also short and boldly built – albeit 5’6”. Rose was shorter – struggling to make the lofty heights of 5 feet even on short steps.
Would you like help with your bags? She offered, at which point I pulled myself up to my full height and sucked in one of my stomachs “I’m fine” I said. “The stairs are rather steep” she said, but I ignored this sage advice and suggested that I would do my luggage in two short journeys.
I shouldered arms and followed Rose to the foot of the stairs. “I’ll lead the way” she uttered as we approached the aforementioned obstacle. Let me say immediately they were *not* steep. I have seen steep, and there were not it. Steep was not a word that was invented to describe these stairs. They were just like the ones I had at home.
We attained the first floor without issues and started up the second flight. I was on top form, and wishing she would hurry up, but Rose was not to be rushed. We turned the corner and made it to the landing.
“This is a 200-year-old cottage” she told me, therefore some of it will catch you out if you are not careful. With this, she opened a door. I peered inside expecting to find a period, (and very tastefully decorated) room, perhaps with a nice little fireplace and sit-down windowsill.
Nope. “One more flight” she offered.
Dear reader, what I saw is best described as a ladder. The stairway was certainly not much wider than a ladder – but it was about as steep. Rose set off, and I followed, struggling to fit inside the space and carry two paniers. As I ascended the age of the house appeared to try to prove itself, because someone kept turning the lights out.
It was during one of these blackouts that I realised I was following Rose a bit too closely.
She was a big girl.
It ended well I am pleased to say, after finding the room, opening the window, and taking a few lungs-full of sea-air-scented oxygen, I recovered.
“I’ll get my son to bring the rest of your luggage up” said Yvonne, and I did not have the chance – nor the breath in my body, to argue. The day was not improved by me stubbing my very black big toe on the bed three times that evening!!
To be fair – apart from the altitude the room was lovely and was bettered by a wonderful breakfast the following day. Rose was also lovely.
Ian was not so happy; his rather tired digs were not as impressive, and he was incredibly happy to move on from a sleepless night in Camps Bar.
Lairg was next on the menu – via John O’Groats, Dunnet Head, and the most northerly part of the North coast. We rode into John O’Groats in the rain, took the obligatory picture and headed out of town without delay. Dunnet head – 11 miles away was the actual most northern point, and a lot more picturesque.
Doonreay was very military and reminded us of nasty things, we hurried past. The A836, apart from this – was lovely. We covered 137 miles – much of it on the coastline and loved every yard of it.
Nothing funny happened – sorry. Although there were some interesting place names. Brawl, Swordly, Farr, BettyHill (she went to our school), Coldbackie, Tongue, Tongue Burn. You could put any one of those into your own sentence, I’ll wait until you are done.
OK – ready – here we go again.
We arrived in Lairg and decided that it was a noticeably quiet town. Both of us were due to dwell overnight in farms, me at the top of a valley – and overlooking Ian’s domicile at the bottom of the hill. We opted to go to the chip shop for tea – we arrived at 7.05pm to find they closed at 7.00! Well why would you want a chip shop open in the evening anyway?
The Falls of Shin followed in the morning, along with a wonderful trip to Ullapool – which proved to be a reasonable stay – this even though Ian was staying in a house that backed on to Tesco, whereas I was staying in a house that looked like it came out of a showroom – it was a dream.
Dingwall, next stop – was not so dreamy. It is a dead town with one huge supermarket – the ever-popular Tesco. All the shops which sold items that were also sold in Tesco were shut and boarded up.
What a crying shame.
Dingwall was to be the town which signalled the end of the highlands for us for several reasons.
Firstly – we were still a bit damp.
Secondly – we were old and had covered more than 1600 miles in 9 days.
Thirdly – and this was important – every day when we woke up, we obviously wanted clean clothes. I was fine – I still had enough of everything for another 4 days. Symptom Ian on the other hand had taken a small stock check the previous day. Clean clothes amounted to the following: 11 spare pairs of socks, enough underwear for 2 days, 4 clean pyjama tops and no clean shirts – this man cannot count!
So where were we to stay in Dingwall? Ian was with Margaret. Margaret lived on the side of a mountain. I however was due to spend the evening with stars.
One or two of you may be old enough to remember – in black and white days – a Sunday lunchtime radio program called Round the Horne and perhaps wonder how they got away with it on a Sunday lunchtime radio program?
Different days huh!
Each week Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick played two ex-performing “luvvies” who get little or no work and spend their lives trying to make ends meet. Their famous catchphrase was “Ooh Ello Mr Orne – My Name’s Julian and this is my friend Sandy”. Go onto you tube and search for “Julian & Sandy - Keep Britain Bona” – you will catch my drift about the names.
On our final leg eve in Dingwall – I was due to stay with two lovely guys who shared their lives together – fair enough I have absolutely no issue with that and why should I – but how do I expect to keep a straight face when I find out what their names are – when I am of a certain age and remember Round the Horne. One was called Julian – and the other was called Sandy – their bungalow was called “Sand Jools”.
I had a pleasant night in their spotlessly clean and beautifully decorated pied a terre, (the bed was the absolute best I had slept in all week and much better than the one I have at home!!) and slipped out in the morning before they stirred – I needed to meet Ian for a very early breakfast.
Ian’s evening was interesting. As well as parking on 1-in-3 slope in the driveway (if you stood on the pavement, you looked down over the roof of the house) – it was a tiny drive which proved a challenge when he came to turn his bike around. More interesting than that was what Ian described as the tiniest bathroom he has ever seen. He had to close the door of his En-suite before he could sit on the loo, and there were so many doors and cupboards he wasn’t sure what was what.
Ian was sharing the B&B with another couple who were also due to stay overnight. He heard them arrive and chat to the owner – apparently the walls were paper-thin.
Ian heard every word as he sat quietly in his luxury en-suite on the “throne” trying to be as quiet as possible as he “took his ease” – (refer to comment about paper thin walls and how sound carried). Actually – it was not the paper-thin walls and sound carrying that turned out to be the problem, the issue was the door which suddenly opened from the other couple’s bedroom directly into the bathroom where Ian was concentrating on the job in hand.
Double takes were duly taken – they looked at each other in surprise – Ian covered up and drew his legs close together – the woman went bright red, and as they say in the best circles, made her excuses and left.
Ian did say it put him off the job he was half-way through! 😊
And so, it ended. We rode back in two days – stopping in Erskine Bridge at a hotel that had a lift that was slower than coastal erosion and invaded by a Japanese coach party – perhaps I will detail this another time.
We rode home from there in one day – a mistake as it happens – but we did it anyway and reached home at 3.15am after almost 19 hours in the saddle and a blown headlamp bulb as we rode through the night. Like I said – perhaps another time.
Equally – I could expand on two bald guys in an Austin 7 who popped up several times on our tour, Billy Donelly (yes – that is really what he called himself) – an author we discovered at a roadside stop on the way down Loch Lomond, Billy then started to follow us.
Outside of that though – two old gits – one with L-plates – did the Highland 500 and made it home afterwards. 2,332 miles.
Not too shabby.