The plan was for Aidan, Faithir and I to ride up to Ferg's in Thurso. We'd stay the night there before heading to Applecross for a night, then a night on the south of Skye then on to Strontian. We had booked wigwams and cabins for our accommodation so the tents would be left behind. All we needed to bring was our sleeping bags.
As I have said, Aidan was super keen to get away so he headed off first thing on the Monday morning. I had been on a late shift the night before so I headed off around mid day with Faithir leaving a few hours after me to get some sleep in after a night shift.
My route took me over Glenshee and the Lecht before re joining the shite A9 at Carrbridge. At the risk of sounding like a broken record if you're heading north from the Edinburgh area, or anywhere else in the south of Scotland, avoid the A9. Its shit, boring, busy, there's average speed cameras and it's shit. The other option is the A82 through Glencoe, a stunning road scenically but often clogged up with caravans, tour buses and trucks. If you get over the Forth Road Bridge and batter up the dual carriageway to Perth you can follow the A93/A939, Blairgowrie/Glenshee/Lecht/Tomintoul road to Carrbridge. It might add a wee bit extra time on to you're journey but it's far more enjoyable than sitting on the hell hole that is the Perth to Inverness stretch of the A9. From Carrbridge its just a short batter up to Inverness and then following the A9 to Golspie where it becomes a great fun section of road, following the coast up to Caithness.
I had an easy run up to Perth, confident in my highly optimistic weather prediction I had given to the rest of the guys. I was mostly right. The sun shone down on me as I headed north with only the occasional greasy patch under the trees. The temperature gauge started to drop as I headed into the hills where I had the road mostly to myself as I battered on through Glenshee and up the Lecht, Scotland's highest road. I was toasty and warm but I stopped off at the cafe at the Lecht for a bowl of soup. We have established that the Lecht is pretty high up and Scotland's changeable weather is pretty famous, so you can expect the odd rain shower. These points seemed to have been lost on the poor American guy that I met in the cafe. He'd hired a cruiser of some sort and was riding south to Cupar. The only problem was all he had as far as warm kit went was a thin leather jacket and a pair of trainers. To say he was cold was an understatement. I suggested he tried using newspaper or something to insulate himself and try the feet in plastic bags trick, but he looked at me like I was insane. I even offered the guy my jumper. I was too hot with my thermals on! The shivering hipster left, ignoring my advice to get some hot food in his guts. By the sound of things the rain had followed him all the way down from Thurso, I told him it was warm and sunny down the road, warm might be an optimistic use of the word by American standards but I figured it was better to give him something to look forwards to as he chattered his way down the road.
A wee bit chilly for a wet hipster dude.
I filled myself up with soup, cakes and coffee and carried on north. The sun reappeared I had a great run to Thurso. I know I am always saying how shite the A9 is, but its only really the bit between Perth and Inverness that's bad. It's OK after Inverness and good fun after Golspie. The shellgripped corners of the Berriedale braes were attacked properly, even in the wet there's loads of grip to be found there. At Latheron I followed the A9 along the Cassiemire to Thurso as the sun started setting. This is a seriously fast road with great views over Caithness. I rolled into Ferg's just as it was beginning to get dark. A great days run.
Ferg showed Aidan and I his various projects and Ferg's better half Lynne cooked curry while we waited for Faithir to turn up. We were joind by Ferg's parents, Ferg's Dad Beeg Bob would be joining us on the trip along with Ferg's mate, Badass Harley Riding Bob. There's lots of Bobs.
Eventually Faithir found his way to Ferg's and we all fired in to Lynne's awesome curry and a few beers.Bob and Bob (this is going to get confusing) joined us the next day for a load of bacon and eggs. Ferg's Dad Bob was riding his 1200GS and Bob, who had left the Harley at home, was riding his old R80RT. So at least we looked less like the GS owners club. Over breakfast we planned our route. We'd head along the north coast to Tongue before heading down the middle of the country through Altnaharra to Lairg and on to Ullapool where we'd get lunch. From there we'd follow the coast round to Gairloch through Kilochewe and Torridon then over the Bealach Na Ba to Applecross. We tend not to ride as one big group due to folk wanting to ride at different paces or stop for photos and tea/coffee at different times. This time was no different. I ended up riding with Ferg's Dad Bob after stopping for a photo at Melvich. We were flying along the north coast road when suddenly Bob pulled over. His side panel had came loose and had snapped off when the wind had caught it. Shite. It was quickly evident that we wouldn't be able to fix it. Bob bungeed the damaged panel on to his bike and we set off once more. We met the rest of the guys fueling up at Bettyhill and all rode together to Tongue where we stopped at the cafe to drain out all the coffee we'd drank at breakfast. Ferg, Bob and Bob decided to refill themselves with fluids while Aidan, Faither and I opted to carry on.
Bob (Ferg's Dad), Bob (Badass Harley Rider) and Faither discuss the new Africa Twin.
It was a cracking day and I was looking forwards to getting some photos. This was my first time on the A836. What a cracker of a road it is, singletrack but really fast with great visibility. We hopscotched each other down the side of Loch Loyal and through Altnaharra to Lairg. i stopped that often for photos I ended up being a bit behind everyone and was the last one to roll into Ullapool where we stopped for chips.
Chips eaten and bikes refueled we set off for Applecross following the awesome A832 through Gairloch, along the side of Loch Maree to Kinlochewe where we turned onto the mostly single track A896 to Torridon. By this stage the group had split up again. I was riding with Aidan and Faither with Ferg, Bob and Bob somewhere behind us. The sun was low in the sky and if I hadn't had the flip down sun visor on my lid I would have been fucked as we rode west to Torridon then down to Tornapress for a nice spin up and over the Bealach Na Ba to Applecross. It had been a long, but great day on the bike. The icing on the cake for me came just after the switch backs on the Bealach Na Ba. I rounded a corner to find myself pretty much in the middle of a heard of deer. There was one in the middle of the road which I rode right up to. It didn't move until I shouted at it to get off the road and then it was just a wee trot away as a huge stag kept an eye on things. When we got to Applecross I went to the pub to sort a table out for that evening's meal and got a quick pint in with Faithir before heading up to the Wigwam where Aidan was chilling out.
We chatted away over a couple of beers we'd picked up in Gairloch while we waited for the other guys to turn up. Once the sun was away the plummeting temperature reminded us it was October, quite a contrast to that day's summer like climate. We started to get concerned when I had got completely dark and we we're still missing Ferg, Bob and Bob. There's no mobile phone signal in Applecross so we couldn't phone or leave a message to find out how they were doing. In Ullapool Bob (Ferg's Dad) had been saying he was having ongoing problems with the ABS on his bike. Had he broken down?
We opened more beers and waited some more.
bbbaaaaaaaaaw baaaaaaaaw baaw baaaaaaaw bbaaaaaAAAAAAW
I heard the familiar sound of the 1150's pipe,
"That has to be Ferg."
Sure enough in rolled Ferg complete with both Bob's. It turns out they had taken a "slight detour" to Redpoint just after Gairloch. Ferg's Dad Bob bike's brake problem had gotten worse. With the light going after their wee visit to Redpoint they had opted to go round the coast road rather than over the Bealach. Probably a sensible idea, I wouldn't fancy discovering I suddenly had no brakes while heading down some of the steeper sections of the road at the same time dodging all the deer jumping about the place.
With everyone accounted for we headed off down to the Applecross Inn for some food. A great end to a great day.
The following day there was another culinary delight in store. We got the bikes packed up and headed back over the Bealach na Ba as a group, keeping an eye on Bob to make sure he didn't have catastrophic brake failure. Once over the hill its a wee blast along the coast to the Waterside Cafe in Lochcarron, home to the challenge breakfast. Some people will recognise this place from my other posts, it's a regular stop for the 'Massif. Bob, Bob, Ferg and I took on the challenge. As we powered through the calories we (well, Ferg and me) decided we needed to address the amount of Bobs we have in the group by way of "cool" nicknames. Since Bob was a badass Harley rider with about 20 bikes we came up with "Snake". Ferg decided since his Dad was getting on a bit and liked old stuff "Vic" would be his new handle. Snake and Vic were over the moon with their cool nicknames. Honestly they were.
All four challenges were conquered and we said our goodbyes to Snake, he was heading home to Caithness while the rest of us were heading to the south of Skye, a shortish ride away.
An old Ariel a guy on Applecross Campsite had.
The Challenge Breakfast at the Waterside Cafe, Lochcarron.
You get a certificate for finishing.
Ferg's got a few of these.
If you look closely it even says "Snake" on his certificate.
An easy run from Lochcarron to fuel up in Kyle of Lochalsh was follower by a beer and food stop in Broadford on Skye before heading down to Armadale. Just beside the ferry terminal is Skye Forest Garden where Aidan, Faither and I would be staying in the "Forresters Bothy" and Ferg and Vic were in the "Seagull Sanctuary." Skye Forest Garden is a real back to nature eco style place and there were a few worried faces among the group when I told them about the composting toilets, especially from Aidan who doesn't have the best reputation for keeping his underpants shit free. The accomodation is basic but I loved it. Our Forrester's Bothy was hut that looked like it was made from reclaimed bits and bobs. It had a woodburner in it and a firepit outside. Ferg's smaller Seagull Sanctuary was equally nice but with bunk beds at the end. We got a wee fire going and had a look around the place. There's a pub ten minutes walk away where we decided we'd go for our meal that evening. Till then all we had to do was chill out.
The Forrester's Bothy.
This wee Robin would eat out my hand.
We had a good look around Skye Forest Garden the next day. There are walks through the forest with some great views over to Mallaig and Knoydart. There's a wildlife hide where you can see otters at well, although with us crashing about the place they were all hiding that day.
Ferg and Vic were heading home and Faithir, Aidan and I were getting the ferry over to Mallaig and heading down the road to Tim's place at Strontian. Vic was going out that evening so had set off earlier. The rest of us got a bacon roll and a coffee at the wee place beside the ferry terminal before saying cheerio to Ferg and getting on the boat.
Faither enjoys the composting toilet. All was fine when they realised it was pretty much the same as a normal toilet.
Bye Skye. I'll definitely be back to Skye Forest Garden.
A familiar run along the A861 led Aidan, Faither and myself along single track roads and old forest to Strontian, a favorite stop for us. We had hired Tim's big hut which comes complete with its own shower, toilet and cooking facilities. We got some burgers and sausages for tea and discussed our plans. Originally we were thinking about spending two nights on Strontian but with our wallets taking a pounding and the amazing weather forecast to change we decided to head home the following day. Ben had planned to meet up with us on the Friday so I gave him a bell to tell him we wouldn't be staying the extra night. Instead he jumped on his GS for a quick spin up the road. We had a burger waiting for him arriving.
A few pint were had in the pub before we headed home along the A82 which was busy with bikes and speed traps. I just took it easy and remembered that awesome run we'd had a few days earlier from Thurso to Applecross and of course, we stopped for a juice in the Winton before going our separate ways. Once home and the bike was put away all there was left to do was to do a quick beer run on the C90. After all I still had the weekend off.
Strontian has a pretty scenic petrol station.