Motorcycle Trip Around Scotland - September (2017)
Tomorrow I depart on an epic journey around the north of Scotland on a motorcycle that’s older than my kids, and one of them starts Uni next year. And yet, it’s the original muscle bike, the hooligan machine of its generation. It’s also the third of its kind that I’ve owned and I’m comfortable with its brash 1200cc demeanour, especially as it’s tuned to the bollocks.
I’m joining up with a mate that I’ve known for 30 years and three of his pals from Glasgow for the five day trip.
What could possibly go wrong?
Tonight, with some trepidation, I washed the bike. Despite passing its MOT with flying colours, I was a little worried that three years of benign neglect and the resultant accumulation of muck were actually holding the machine together. But it survived intact. She stands proud and squat, if a little rusty.
Meeting up in Tyndrum we’ll then head for Fort William and beyond on the first day and Google maps tells me it’s going to take an hour and forty minutes to get to the meet. It also says that it’s going to take the same amount of time from the south side of Glasgow where the rest of them reside. But wait, they’re only allowing an hour and 15 minutes and they have the Loch Lomond twisties and a fucking Harley to contend with.
My mate’s trying to explain by saying, “It’s OK, he drives a Fireblade normally.”
And that’s all very well but the ‘Blade’s getting left in the garage and half a ton of grossly underpowered bling is taking its place. It might pull vacuous birds by the score but it still can’t pull the skin off a rice pudding. The last one I rode was 1700cc, 450kg and 69 horsepower. It substituted noise for acceleration and when prodded persistently and with increasingly frustrated malice, vibrated like a witch’s sex toy and handled like a greased hoglet on black ice.
But what the fuck do I know?
Maybe I’ll have a lie in.
Maybe I’ll leave on time and take a book.
Maybe, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Bruce asked me to be in Tyndrum for 10:15 so I checked Google maps and it reckoned an hour and forty from where I live. I figured more like an hour and fifteen on a bike so I split the difference and left at 08:45 and got there for 10.
I had time for a coffee and a chat with another biker before Bruce arrived at 10:30 on his 1000cc Fazer. As he parked, a Harley blew past. Turns out that’s the Harley I was worried about. Five minutes later the Harley comes back, driven by Mike who’s realised he’s gone too far (don’t we all). Graham has turned up in the meantime on a CBF 1000 and another five minutes is enough time for the BMW to arrive – 10 minutes behind the Harley.
We did the whole meet and greet thing. I’ve known Bruce for 30 years but Graham and Mike are new to me and I’ve only met Dave, the Beemer driver, once.
We rode off up the A82, heading for Glencoe and Fort William and I was sitting 20 yards behind Bruce when he poked his head out to the side of the truck we were all stuck behind and nearly got decapitated by a caravan hurtling in the opposite direction well over the white line. I reckon there was 2 inches in it at a closing speed of around 120. Bet that puckered his arsehole.
It puckered mine.
We shot through Bridge of Orchy and up the squiggly road to Rannoch Moor. A more bleak and desolate place you won’t find this side of the Lord of the Rings. It makes my skin crawl, that place. All shallow lochs, boulders and bracken. It has a uniquely unpleasant atmosphere but I’d ride through hell itself to get where we’re going.
Glencoe is quite possibly the most heart-stoppingly beautiful place on the planet if you are lucky enough to go through it when you can see more than 30 yards in front of you. Once or twice a year, the mists will clear, the persistent horizontal drizzle will dry up and the sun will burn off the black clouds over God’s country and allow the spectacular view to resolve itself. By an almost miraculous twist of fate, we arrived on that very day, traversed the pass at that very hour and we were in awe.
It comes as no surprise to me that Scotland has been voted the most beautiful country on the planet by the readers of Rough Guides.
Right there, right then, on my scabby old 1200cc bike (which was already well on the way to giving me a numb butt), surrounded by those ancient mountains, I wouldn’t have swapped that moment for anything.
You see, we bikers, we know a thing or two. We know that Scotland really is God’s country. Have you seen our roads? They were made for motorcycles and north of Stirling, Scotland’s scenery is jaw-dropping. It’s as if He sat there after sculpting the rest of the world and said to Himself, “Now, if I had a sorted Harley, where would I want to ride? Where would I put the twisties, the straights? What would I want to see at the side of the road?”
And as he pondered, out of the mists of creation rose Scotland.
But there were too many fucking tourists and after a moment’s thought, He smiled to Himself. And the wind picked up and the rain lashed down and any form of natural shelter was beset by voracious bastarding midgies and lo, it quietened right down.
If God is on Earth, then he’s here, walking the mountains and glens, dipping his feet in the lochs and burns. I feel Him in this land, a presence beside me as I ride, hollering along with me at the sheer joy of it.
Which is odd because I’m an agnostic.
The road unfolded along a loch-side so pretty it should apologise to the rest of the country for embarrassing it in comparison.
There is balance in everything, I’m told, and therefore where there’s beauty, there must also be ugliness. As I cogitated on this fundamental truth, I found it proved by the presence of Fort William. Squatting beneath the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, like a toad beneath a rock. It excels at looking unpleasant.
We stopped for lunch. My pea and ham soup tasted vaguely of fish but the sandwich was edible and the easy company made up for it.
Launching ourselves once more onto the road, we headed north and west, working ever deeper into the Highlands, embracing the twists and the turns, falling into a merry rhythm, the thunder of our engines reverberating up the glens, the scenery forming our auditorium.
“Plockton.” Someone had said at lunch. I think it was Graham. “Plockton’s nice, let’s stop in on the way.”
On a shitty little single track road, up the arse end of nowhere, heading for Plockton, I saw the gravel at the same time as Dave. It lurked on the 90 degree corner immediately in front of us, right in the riding line.
I cringed as his front wheel slid out while he was canted over for the corner. The ABS on his big, shiny Beemer caught the slide but straightened the bike. Even still, Dave almost caught it.
In slow motion, the K1300S clipped the soft verge and no ABS on the planet was going to save it. Rider and bike parted ways as they hit the tarmac and slid down the road. Dave’s helmet took the blow that would have cracked his skull and the rest of his gear soaked up the gravel rash. He hurt his shoulder, hip and rattled his brains a bit but was otherwise intact when we picked him up.
It was the bike we were worried about.
From three and a half decades of riding motorcycles I can tell you the first words past any biker’s lips having fallen off and ending up either largely unharmed, broken yet mobile, woken up after being knocked unconscious or surfacing from a coma is, “My bike! Fuck, get my bike up!”
And so we did, dreading to see the damage to the fully faired and eye-wateringly expensive BMW. Big bikes can weigh a lot. Enough to wear through a fairing and an engine casing on a slide down the road, even a short one and as a result can bleed their oil out and signal the end of whatever fun you were planning to have. On top of this, the cost to replace a fairing, pegs, casings, bars, levers and other shiny bits damaged in whatever pratfall you’ve just experienced can run well into the thousands.
This didn’t happen.
Fucked crash bung, immaculate bike.
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. It must have saved him thousands.
As I reached for my helmet, a cloud of midgies shot out of a bush at head height and mugged me. I wasn’t quick enough getting the helmet on and visor down and ended up with several bites, one of them large enough to embolden my riding partners to comment on. “Neck lumps? I thought they went out of fashion with Billy Connelly?”
I had been unprotected for two minutes, maximum. Savage little bastards!
Plockton was closed.
We headed, slightly more ponderously than usual, to our lodgings for the night, the Lochcarron Hotel.
Good food, decent company, nice rooms, some view!
1. All images mine unless otherwise credited.
2. I don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. You’re probably reading a work of fiction. In which case any names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Honest.
3. Even if there was the remotest sliver of truth in anything you read here, which is unlikely in the extreme, I will have changed some or all names and identifying details to protect the privacy of individuals.
4. For fuck’s sake don’t try this at home. I can’t believe I even have to tell you that.