A blast around the mountains (avoiding sheep)
Touring & travel
05 September 2011 09:16
What do you do if you’re 21 and you’ve been riding your first ever 600 for only five months? Go to Scotland with some petrolheads! I’ve been riding motorbikes for five years but only five months on anything above 125cc. This March I bought a 2008 Yamaha FZ6-S2 so my mate asked me if I wanted to go to Scotland. Ok then.
The day before we set off, in true style, my friend’s bike wasn’t ready - however credit is due here as he did re-build it completely over the previous few months whilst studying a degree. The bike is a Motto Guzzi Le Mans Mk II and at 5am the next morning (the day we were supposed to set off) we are still up, intricately painting the many Guzzi badges with Hammerite. One of the only things I could possibly help with.
July 9th. Five of us set off from Leeds and I broke the record for the quickest man to get lost on a trip, about 20 minutes after we set off. It was a long haul up the A1M and M6 to Glasgow then an interesting blast to Fort William round the lochs. They blew my mind.
It was by far the longest I had ridden in a day but the FZ6 made the ride comfortable and I only had minor aches for about five minutes after arriving; which is five times longer than it took us to offload our gear in the room and get sat down with a pint. We met up with about 20 of our guys in the bar.
I got next to no sleep that night because of the old guys' epic snoring battle. It was funny actually except I GOT NO SLEEP! This was a hostel so we were in a room with five bunks and about six guys snoring. It was like heavy-metal-Tinnitus.
We rode about 100 miles north to Pittentrail in Rogart. The scenery was amazing and so were the roads, twisty-windy but not slow. Being Scotland it rained of course and quite a bit. We past a lorry coming the other way which hit what we thought was a shallow puddle which turned out to be a pond across the road, it was like a tidal wave.
Unfortunately my mate had his visor up and it wasn’t clear Scottish spring water neither. We planned to stop in Rogart for three nights in cosy little converted railway carriages called Rogart Sleeperz. The pub that wouldn’t usually open on a Sunday did because he was informed that over 20 Yorkshire folk were staying; that man has enough to buy the moon from the U.S. now. Hector was the landlord and what a great character he was.
The train was surprisingly comfortable but I’m crap for getting up so I quickly got a name for being generally slack. My mate said I “work in slow-motion”. That day we did a run down some crazy single track roads east of Lairg. Great mix of sweeping bends and windy passes. The road surface was unbelievably good on a few stretches and felt like a lost circuit lying around the almost deserted countryside.
Livestock, as you would expect, is common to find on and around those types of roads. Predictably, being the newbie, I was the one to have the close shaves with the animals. We could see the sheep in the road so we slowed to a sensible speed except I was following two Guzzis. This obviously scared the crap out of the sheep and when the noisy V-twins past, it decided to join its mates at the other side of the road... right in front of me, typical.
We enjoyed a laugh in the pub that night at my expense.
Let’s go to John O’ Groats! There were some excellent sweeping bends going north which tightened near the coast eventually turning into crazy first gear hairpins whilst climbing.
The FZ handled well on these tight corners as it is “short and stumpy” and I found it had plenty of torque, contrary to some reviews, even in low revs to get up steep climbs easily.
What I found surprising about the John O’ Groats sign is that a man owns it, not the council. You have to ask this guy if you can take a photo with it and when he goes home he takes the bloody thing down.
On the way back was my next animal encounter. This time a pair of birds, the flying kind, thought they would impress their mates by seeing how close they could fly past my head. Unfortunately when we got back to Rogart one of our guys decided to head home due to neck problems.
What a long day that was! We eventually rode from Rogart to Applecross via Ullapool. Even the A-roads were a treat to ride on. Midway through the afternoon of caning it round the cost and various lochs, my friend's bike (the rebuilt Guzzi) decided to pack in. After a session of elimination most causes the actual fault seems to be avoiding showing itself.
The executive decision to call the AA was made so we then had two hours to kill in the middle of nowhere. We clambered down a difficult slope to the beach we could see from the road. The beach was amazing and didn’t feel like it belonged in Scotland, more like Hawaii.
The sand was the best I had ever walked on, so soft and white. The Guzzi ended up on its way home in the back of a van with an electrical component problem, so nothing my mate actually did in the rebuild. He was gutted but decided to stay. We eventually arrived in Applecross at 9pm after getting lost down the craziest, windiest road I’ve ever been on that turned out to be a dead end after what felt like 20 demanding miles.
Although being absolutely knackered after being on the road all day we hit a section of road which could have possibly been my favourite; some long straights and bends which tightened slightly into the mountains as we closed in on Applecross.
To actually get to Applecross from the north, you had to negotiate the tightest and steepest bends in the history of putting tar on a hill-side. I mean slipping first gear and leaning like a b**ch. That night we got a bit pissed in the campsite and annoyed a local who, in a slightly stereotypical Scottish manner, told us to be quiet.
No riding that day. Louis’ Guzzi might have a second take but only gave the poor bloke half a day of false hope. Another rider from our group, Johnny, had to go home. I had a very tasty steak in the pub, got shit-faced and found a few new favourite whiskeys in the process. It was ridiculously funny, I think, trying to clamber up the steep muddy path back to the campsite.
I was too hung over to ride that morning so Louis rode my bike and I went pillion with Stuart on the Trident. It was uncomfortable as hell but still fun. The plan was to go all the way home but I nearly fell off the back several times on the pass from Applecross to the A896 alone, sorry Stuart, so we made another stop near Ben Nevis.
All the way home. Over 400 miles as pillion on an old Triumph Trident and I now have the back-side of a supermodel. We did just over 1400 epic miles in total that week.
I found it difficult to understand how a group of seemingly unfit, middle-aged characters from Yorkshire could be so quick on a bike, and I was with a group that didn’t consider themselves to be fast... the modest buggers. What a brilliant week and what an experience that I would definitely do again. Hopefully in the future I, and other young riders, can be as modest.