After spending years on my bucket list, this year I finally got a chance to go to Scotland. A friend from the US, my dad and myself made plans and on Sunday Aug 28 it was finally time to gear up and go. First order of the day was get ourselves and our bikes to IJmuiden for the ferry to Newcastle.
After a few hours waiting, we could finally board the ferry (why do bikes go in last??) and strap the bikes down. This required a bit of trial and error with no regular forks to pull down into its suspension travel and lots of plastics we donít want to damage.
Having the bikes strapped down, it was time to find our cabin, change into more comfortable clothes and find the bar. After all that hard work, it was time for a beer, a smoke and some relax time on deck while we waiting for the ferry to set sail out of port and to our destination.
Weather at this point in time was beautiful, and after the ferry left port, we got treated on some nice typical Dutch skies over the sea back to shore. A few hours later, the skies would show less than perfect weather, but we didnít care. As long as we would have some nice weather on the other side! It did give us a very pretty double rainbow to watch though.
The rest of the trip was pretty much uneventful. A late dinner on board, which was ok (but not more than that), some drinks and chatting. At the end of the evening, we headed back to the cabin to crash for the night.
After a not so good night sleep - the bunks are too narrow and too short and the cabins too hot - we got up, packed up and got ready for breakfast before we got to port. Weather was nice in England, and as soon as we unloaded from the ferry, we hit the road to get on our way. The trip finally started for real!
Getting out of Newcastle was painless, and we headed North. After riding for not too long, we came up to Warkworth Castle in (surprise) Warkworth, which provided a nice view from the road. So we pulled over to take some pictures. Not wanting to stop too long, we were soon on our way again to swing by Alnwick Castle, known for some of the Harry Potter movies.
After seeing the ticket prices, we left it at swinging by and taking a few shots from the main entrance.
Now it was time to head inland and find our way across the moors into Northumberland National Park and see if we could find the ruins of the Roman fort at Hadrians wall.
But letís not get ahead of ourselves. The ride inland was absolutely stunning, with beautiful views and nice curvy roads. Unfortunately, there werenít a lot of places to stop and I didnít have my video camera mounted, so you will have to take my word for it.
Around noon, we stopped for gas and some lunch in a little tea room before heading of again for what turned out to be just a couple of miles to the fort. It was very impressive. Of course there isnít much more to see than some foundations, but walking through the museum and seeing how everything worked and the technology they put into these places was amazing. Things like floor heating, running water and all were all common things and nothing special. It is amazing to see how long it took for the world to think of all the Roman technology as common again after the collapse of the Empire.
Roman Fort @ Hadrian's Wall
But, at this point we are still in England and our goal was to make tour through Scotland we we better hurry up and get there. The ride through Northumberland was stunning and coming up a hill, finally we got to the Scottish border. A border including piper and Japanese tourists, who clearly had never seen a bunch of big BMW bikes. Their focus shifted quickly from the border to our bikes, taking lots of pictures from the bikes, from us, posing next to us and all that crap. We indulged them and then headed off again for a little more riding and to find a place to stay for our first night in Scotland.
We found a nice little town with a nice hotel and stopped for the night. I have no idea anymore of what the town was called, but it had a pretty church. The only problem with the church was that it was pretty much in ruins. That made for a nice opportunity to take some photos though and some experiments with handheld HDR photography, which I would keep doing the entire trip due to the very difficult lighting conditions.
After a good night sleep and a good breakfast we headed out again in the direction of Edinburgh. My dad wanted to visit Roslyn Chapel, so that is what we did. It is a very pretty little church, made famous by ďThe DaVinci CodeĒ from Dan Brown. Before the novel, the chapel received maybe 100-200 visitors a day in the holiday season, now they can get 10x that many visitors a day. Fortunately, it was pretty quiet when we were there or else you wouldn't be able to see much of anything with that many people. Taking pictures was not allowed unfortunately.
Next up was a visit to the Fallkirk Wheel. Those that have no idea what it is, itís a very ingenious way to move boats over a more than 30m height difference with just a single lock.
A very English way of solving a problem. And very impressive to actually see in operation. Apparently the whole contraption is so balanced, they only need a motor with a few hundred Watts of power (a couple of light bulbs) to make it work.
Rotating the wheel
After watching the wheel, we head back out on the road for a few miles to Stirling Castle. This was the seat of the kings of Scotland. It is a beautiful place, but unfortunately we didnít get to go inside. Admission prices are 13 pounds per person, and while that is not too bad, knowing you only have time to walk the outside and not take a tour inside makes it a bit of a waste. Maybe there will be a next time to really make a visit to the castle.
Trying to make up some time, we pushed on. We made it to Blairgowrie by the end of the day. This was not so bad. Not that the town is so special, it isnít, but a colleague of mine specifically recommended a restaurant there. We followed the recommendation, and it was absolutely fantastic. If you are ever in the area, do make sure you stop and have dinner at Cargills Bistro in Blairgowrie. Absolutely great food, decent prices and very friendly service. I really canít say enough good things about them.
A good nights rest later, we found ourselves enjoying the Eastern Highlands where the Scots go to ski in winter. Getting close to Nairn and Inverness, we passed Kilravock Castle and decided to have a look. Itís a pretty little castle, and this time we also had a look inside. Unfortunately, again no photographs allowed inside. It was very nice though and the family that owns it for generations is still living there. We found that to be not uncommon in Scotland.
Another thing to see with this castle, are its gardens. Beautiful flowers blooming, hedges arranged in patterns, absolutely stunning. A real treat.
Continuing our route brought us into Inverness and onto the shoreline route on the south side of Loch Ness towards Fort Augustus. The south route is very quiet, hilly and shielded with trees for large sections. Due to this, it is less touristy than the north route, but it is very pretty with nice views over Loch Ness popping into view. We searched for Nessie, but I guess she was busy fooling tourists elsewhere.
Searching Loch Ness for the Monster
Pulling into Fort Augustus (major tourist trap), we immediately continued onto the north shore of Loch Ness, back into the direction of Inverness. At about halfway between Fort Augustus and Urquhart Castle, we pulled in to a little hotel at the side of the road for the night.
After yet another good night sleep, we pulled out again and made a quick stop at Urquhart Castle for a few pics. It was still closed, so no entering which wasnít so bad since we were eager to make some miles.
We made some good progress, and before we knew it we were on the A9 north towards John OíGroats.
The A9 is really a great road. It is quiet, perfect surface, sweeping and with beautiful views along the coast line. With not a lot of traffic to slow us down, we made good progress and at around 16:00 we hit John OíGroats. Not much to see there as we knew in advance, but yet another checkbox checked. Been there, done that.
A9, somewhere along the coast towards John O'Groats
John OíGroats is not actually the most northern part of Scotland. That honor is bestowed on Dunnet Head, a few miles up the coast. North of Dunnet Head are a few islands, but other than that there is not a whole lot of land to be found anymore until it gets really icy and cold year round.
Both my bikes at Dunnet Head
On the move again, we passed through Thurso. Since it was getting to be the late afternoon, we discussed staying or pushing on a little more. We decided to continue a little further into the Western Highlands and press on till the town of Tongue. The weather had been dry so far, but as we went on the skies really opened up for some truly amazing views over the highlands. Getting up to Betty Hill, it was a real WOW! Experience.
Western Highlands vista
We arrived in Tongue just in time though. Just after we checked in, it started to rain. I guess it is true what they say: ďif you donít like the weather, wait five minutes!Ē. After having a fun evening and dinner in the local pub, we crashed for the night so we could keep on going fresh in the morning again.
The next morning, the rain had left and we woke to sunshine coming in the windows. As we continued, we could see dark clouds, but it stayed dry and the clouds eventually got less threatening in appearance. The roads however got smaller and smaller. From a wide two lane secondary road, to a narrow single track goat trail. That did not make the scenery any less beautiful though, quite the opposite it seemed. Beautiful views over the highlands, over the coast line. Amazing cloudy skies. Really jawdropping beautiful and very hard to describe. It seemed that with every turn, the scenery that was revealed was better than before. Not unlike the experiences I had in Norway.
View over one of the lochs
Turn your head and be prepared to be blown away
And it never bores
Eventually we pulled into Lochcarron, having skipped Applecross due to reports of not being able to get accommodations until Lochcarron due to some events taken place. This sucked to be honest, as I was really looking forward riding the pass from Applecross, but it just wasnít in the cards this time.
Again, just after checking into the hotel, the flood gates opened and a big heavy rain started. This didnít clear up most of the evening and unfortunately, the next morning things didnít look much better. While it was pretty much dry loading the bikes, we had to put on rain gear for the first time in the trip before we even left.
Riding in rain in Scotland pretty much sucks. I donít really mind riding in the rain, especially not on roads as grippy and clean as they are in Scotland, but it seems that with the rain, the clouds come down from the skies and prevent you to see anything at all except a grey mist. As it happened, we only had a short distance to go to Portree on the Isle of Skye, but we didnít see much of anything getting there. Just rain and missed. When we got to Portree though, things cleared up and by the time we freshened up and dumped our stuff in the hotel it started to look a whole lot better. It is a nice little city with colorful houses. Very touristy though.
Overlooking the port of Portree
After doing a tour around town, we decided to get a cab to the Talisker Distillery. Afterall, you cannot visit Scotland and visit at least one distillery.
Visiting the distillery was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. The tour was fun and well explained. The whiskey tasted very good.
Having arrived on the island the previous day in pissing rain and mist, leaving again couldn't have been better. The sun out in force, making it nice and warm and beautiful cloud formations to enhance the already stunning scenery even more.
Isle of Skye vista
Bikes on Skye
And since we didnít get to see anything coming on to the island, we soaked it up even more.
We took the bridge again to get from the island to the mainland and headed further south.
Bridge to/from Skye
Just a little further south, you pass by Eilean Donan Castle. A pretty little thing I seem to remember from somewhere, but still canít put my finger on where.
Eilean Donan Castle
After having taken the time to take some photos it was time to move on though as we wanted to make it to the Isle of Mull.
Before we would get there, there would be a lot more to see as we would find out.
Amazing and fun roads, gorgeous views over lochs, and loads more. However beautiful the east coast was, the west coast was proving to be so much more.
Loch vista at the coast
We also passed by the Glennfinnan Viaduct. In case this doesnít mean anything to you, this is the train viaduct you can also see in the Harry Potter movies.
Eventually by the end of the day and a few single track goat trails, we ended up at Lochaline where we got to watch the ferry to Mull pull out just while we got to the ramp. Bummer. But, we noticed there was a hotel nearby so we decided to take the ferry in the morning and call it quits for the day.
In the morning, it was over to Mull and visit Duart Castle. This castle was featured in the movie ďEntrapmentĒ with Sean Connery and Catherina Zeta-Jones. Very nice place to visit (again, no photos inside) and some stunning views over the lochs surrounding it.
View from the castle
Center court from above
When we tried to take the ferry we booked to Oban, we were told the ferry had broken down due to technical problems and it was unknown when service would be resumed. This was a bummer, as it mean we either had to wait for the ferry to be repaired without knowing when, or backtrack about 100km for an alternate route. We eventually decided to backtrack to Fort William and take the A82 to Glencoe and Glasgow and pick up the route from there. This proved not to be a bad choice as the A82 south out of Glencoe is simply amazing. Unfortunately, I missed the best place to take photos so I didnít take any.
Somewhere at Loch Lomond, we found a pretty looking hotel and we thought we would indulge ourselves. Big mistake. It looks like quite something impressive from the outside, but it turned out to be a hotel where coaches dump loads of elderly tourists for the night. This is reflected the food; factory work and not even nearly enough for any healthy human being under the age of 70. Weíll quickly forget this little disaster. Then again, every trip has a lesser experience like this, and I have had worse.
Impressive from the outside, not so much from the inside
Passing Glasgow was crowded but uneventful and we passed through Galloway National Park on a single track road. Weather was dry, but cold and near the end of the road (and the park) there was this little B&B that looked very inviting for lunch.
Galloway National Park
In fact, it was so inviting and so friendly we decided to stay there for the night, despite it being only 13:00.
It was a good choice, as the food was great, staff and clientele super-friendly and weather in the afternoon turned pretty ugly.
So, we basically had a nice relaxing afternoon with a few beers, some chats and some food. It was nice not to have to ride all day for once and to just stop and mingle with the locals. And this place near Newton-Stewart was not a bad place to do so. Not bad at all.
The next day we headed towards Dumfries and Carlisle to get us to the Lake District. Weather had cleared up by now, and as we were riding it got better and sunnier, despite somewhat depressing forecasts.
However, by the time we got to Keswick it had started to rain. Someone was looking over us so far. Just one morning of rain and all other rain only came after we had checked in to a hotel.
The next day however, whomever was watching over our weather had taken a break. It didnít look pretty, and though we rode away dry it would not stay like that.
Morning view from the hotel room
Just minutes after this photo at the lake was taken, it started to rain and it didnít stop until well in the afternoon. Unfortunately, this also meant we didnít get to see all that much from the Lake District.
But that wasnít the worst. That privilege was reserved for Hardknott Pass. Recommended by lots of UK motorcyclists, I honestly fail to see the fun of it. The road is about 6 feet wide, there are barely any passing places, incline/decline is +30% at places and some of the steepest places you cannot see if there is traffic coming your way. Now, I happen to love tight and technical roads in the mountains, but a road one car wide, with little to no overview and with coaches coming your way in pissing rain and fog is not my idea of fun. Dangerous would be a better word. I might be a little more mild in my judgement had it been beautiful weather, but as it is I would not recommend Hardknott to anyone. On the decent, my dad encountered a car coming up and without a passing zone and nowhere to go, he had to stop in a turn on a 30% section. A recipe for disaster, and so he dropped his bike. Lots of (cosmetic) damage and some serious pain due to a rock being jammed in his side, meant a not so much fun ending of this little road.
Coming down further, we all of a sudden get stopped by a girl telling us a horde of cattle has broken loose so we canít travel further for now. This happened to be at a little hotel, so we went in for coffee. After waiting for the cattle to be rounded up and looking at the weather, we decided to stay and try again next day. This turned out to be another great little place where we hooked up with two other bikers Paul (on a VFR1200) and his dad John (Transalp) who were on a trip together. We had drinks and dinner together and a really good time. If you ever get to see this: thanks guys, it was great meeting you!
The next day started as the day before, fog and rain and plenty of it so I decided to keep us of the goat trails and stick to the main roads to get us through and out of the Lake District. By now it was time to find the direction to Newcastle again to be in time for the ferry home.
The further east we went, the better it got. First the rain stopped and later the fog started to clear. By the time we reached the North York Moors, all the bad weather was forgotten.
The North York Moors are a beautiful place to be and while we were taking a break to shoot some photos and have a smoke, a local on a K100 stopped and asked if everything was ok and if we knew where we were going, since he wasnít used to seeing foreigners on these roads. This gave me a chuckle, as with GPS you can always find your way home if you need to.
Coming into North York Moors
Our last night in the UK was spend in Helmsley, which is a really nice little town. It seems to attract lots of people from the surrounding areas to spend their weekend.
Monument in Helmsley
North York Moors
The next day was unfortunately another grey one with a lot of mist. It was still very nice to drive through the moors though and after a quest to find an ancient Roman road, following signs for more than an hour and never finding it, we stopped in a tiny little village for coffee. After these refreshments, it was time for the last little dab north to Newcastle and the ferry docks. After a few hours of waiting to board and chatting with the other bikers waiting, it strapped down the bikes on the ferry again and were on our way home.
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