MCN Fleet: The F800GS and the Scottish spectacular (Part 2)

The first thing I did when I got the F800GS in March was take it to a trip to the Scottish Highlands. The trouble was, with only a long weekend, I didn't get to see as much of this vast and beautiful landscape as I had wanted. I vowed to return before my year on the GS  year was out, and that’s exactly what I did for a week of wild camping. And it was absolutely incredible.

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Glencoe led me through to the Isle of Skye, continuing north on the A82 before peeling off to the equally incredible A87 as it snakes alongside Lochs Duich and Alsh. I stopped at a café for some lunch where I caught up with a group of bikers that had ridden up from my native North Devon. One of the chaps rode an F800GS Adventure, making me instantly jealous of his 26-litre tank as opposed to my smaller 16-litre offering.

I’ve commented on it before but I really do find the tank on the standard GS a little small. Though I can get a theoretical 170-miles from a tank, with the near 18,000-miles I’ve done on the GS this year I have found myself constantly wanting to cover more distance between fuel stops, it was especially prevalent when faced with long stints between petrol stations in some if Scotland’s more remote areas and though I never really struggled for fuel, it was always on my mind that I would be needing to fill up before too long.


When I last visited Skye it was my first time on the island, I was surprised at just how large it was and had to turn back to go back to my base before I had a chance to explore it. Not this time. I headed as far North as I could on the A87 before hitting the single track A855 at Uig and looping back to Portree.

Time was getting on and if I wanted to find anywhere to sleep before nightfall I was going to have to start looking. I had considered stopping at the Sligachan Campsite just off the A87, but with a heavy presence of campers I decided better of it and stayed true to my wild camping objective, finding a small trail that led off of the main road a couple of miles away on the A863 overlooking the mountains.

It was the epitome of tranquillity. There was just the hooting of an owl in the nearby woods that would occasionally make its presence known and the odd passing car. Under a clear sky and a blanket of stars I shacked up for the night and even after having ridden all day, felt mentally tired but not physically thanks to the comfortable riding position offered by the GS.

My mission the next day was Applecross, taking in the stunning A890 and A896 on the way before being left in awe of its size while I marvelled as the GS was dwarfed by this treacherously beautiful single track.

An obligatory stop off at the famous Applecross Inn saw me ponder on where to go next, do I head up the coast path or have some more fun on the Pass through which I had just come. I decided to do a bit of both and followed the coast road up for a while before turning back to camp by the sea overlooking Skye. It may not have been the most miles I’ve ever covered in a day but it had brought with a sense of a real mini adventure as I navigated past the wild highland cattle and sheep that dared to jump in my direction as I rode by.

Sleep didn’t come too easy that night, with wild stags calling literally metres from my tent, my night was a little less than filled with the sweet dreams I was hoping for, but what an experience.

The following day I was greeted with another stunning sunrise with views of Skye and its mountains in the distance. It was two days now that I had woken up to Skye and I decided that I would push further north and see what else was on offer.

The morning was spent charging as fast as I dared back over the treacherous Applecross Pass before filling up again and taking the A832 coast road to Ullapool. The GS gave me a real laugh here, as the roads were tight and technical meaning that I wasn’t able to ever really open the bike up and meet the limitations of the engine, it was perfect.

Ullapool was the only place I had really set out to get to and ended up being the scene of my lunch stop, where I again bumped into the guys from North Devon who had just ridden the North Coast 500 route south from John O’Groats.

That meant I still had the rest of the afternoon to ride so I decided to continue north and go as far as I could before setting up camp once again.

I hit the A835 and found myself riding further into the wilderness. The roads opened up again as they wound past the mountains and had very little traffic, I found myself riding the GS at its limit once again, this time I found myself again wanting the bike to just have a little bit more. As I tried hooking up past 6th gear for what seemed the umpteenth time, I had to question if the 85bhp that the parallel twin delivers is enough.

While fine on the open expanses too, the 21-inch front wheel started to make me wish for a smaller front wheel for more feel, it is on trips such as this that the R1200GS holds merit over the slightly more off-road focussed 800, with its smaller 19-inch front and gruntier 1170cc giving just that bit more.

I followed the road until I saw a turning for a coastal route that piqued my interest. Turning off I discovered another single track that led further north and deeper into the wilderness, with cattle and sheep becoming an increasing hazard awaiting me in my peripheral vision. 

The roads became narrower and less well maintained as loose gravel began to appear more frequently along with large potholes and even patches of grass, I entered a world away from modern influence and mobile phone signal. The GS was back in its element, with the bike switched to Enduro mode to allow for small slips and less ABS interference I pressed on happy in the knowledge that the bike wasn’t going to go mental if the back wheel slipped a little.

In situations such as this the Enduro mode makes perfect sense, it leaves enough in reserve to help you out should things get really hairy but also allows for a bit more fun than the intrusive Road mode, which I now only generally use when it’s wet or on slippery roads.

Read about the first part of the trip here.


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James Archibald

By James Archibald

Former MCN Junior Web Producer