Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017
Sleeperzzz In The Rain
By Ren Withnell
Yes, yes the wind was quite strong last night but nowhere near as strong as the forecast predicted. It rained on and off all night but we haven't been washed into the sea. It wasn't an agreeable night but as I stretch out from the tent it looks as if everyone else has survived. We've just had some weather that's all
Packing a wet tent in the intermittent rain is quite disagreeable. However it must be done and the promise of a proper bed tonight at Sleeperzzz makes the task a little more tolerable. The forecast promises nothing but rain. Timing is everything though, we've only got around 70 miles to cover and somewhere dry to sleep at the end of the day. I think we're going to be just fine, if a little damp.
Stuffing wet gear onto the bike while tourists board the ferry to The Orkneys.
The Highlands have gone. If I were to be riding through anywhere else I'd be happy with the rural countryside but just as The Alps spoiled the rest of France for us in 2013 (France 2013) then The Highlands have spoiled the rest of Scotland. Never ever enjoy yourself, witness great beauty or find true contentment because everything else seems pointless afterwards. This is why I'm in training to become a true curmudgeon, if I'm really really miserable then being a bit miserable will be an improvement.
It's not exactly ugly is it. Just wet today.
Tesco in Wick for petrol. Rain. The next 35 miles to Helmsdale runs across open moors and undulating farm land. Rain. Watching Marina on her Yamaha 125 scoot is an impressive sight, it can move that thing! Rain. The only time she drops below the national speed limit is on a steep incline and she doesn't mess around with the bends either. Rain. Watching Dom enjoy his new Triumph is heartwarming, despite the rain.
Perfectly proportioned and ideal for riding the North Coast 500. Marina's 125.
In Helmsdale there is a cafe, "Thyme And Plaice". I'm told the owner is on the "Ride The Noo" facebook group and was hoping to do the ride with us. However life, work and the cafe put paid to that. It is en-route so calling in for a decent breakfast is the only sensible option, we can all drip on his floor and show him just what he's missing. It is but a small cafe and with 15 or 20 very wet bikers filling all but a handful of seats the atmosphere is cosy if perhaps a little claustrophobic. No matter, a belly full of bacon, sausages, beans and the like is just what's required on a dricht day like this.
A handful of us take a walk to the harbour. This isn't a has been harbour, this is a small working harbour. Fishing boats and pleasure craft line the jetties amidst buoys and pots and ropes and boxes filled with unknown maritime items. The rain pours and we all "shfft shffft" as we walk in our waterproofs. The weather's awful, our spirits are intact, we're alright, even smiling occasionally.
Nick show us just how wet it really is.
Martin hails from Aberdeen so he's fairly familiar with this area. He suggests the next stop for our little party (I have no idea where the rest have got to) is to be Dornoch. This is actually past the turning for Rogart where we'll be spending the night but the day is young and time is very much on our side. Sharon and I get separated due to traffic, not to worry Martin's told me just to follow this signs which I do. We find them once more in the town centre sheltering under a tree.
Dornoch Cathedral isn't actually a cathedral? I don't really understand but it was then the rules changed or someone moved, oh I don't know. As far as cathedral's go it's not a big one but it's smart and easy on the eye. A gentle man catches our conversation and joins in, he's filled with knowledge and information regarding the history and present situation of the cathed...church. I get to thinking he's the vicar, rector, dean, oh I don't know. Whoever and whatever he is he is graceful, calm and likeable. For his time and information we're all happy to put our change in the collection box. Do take a moment to observe the stain glass windows.
Dornoch Church, Cathedral, whatever.
Sharon's been sent to jail. It's about blooming time and I'll get some peace.
The Carnegie Courthouse on the other hand brings forth another round of tea although it's rather crowded with tourists escaping the rain.
Sleeperzzz at Rogart classes itself as a hostel with a difference. The accommodation is within 2 old train carriages. Sharon and I are in "Strathisla" which comprises one half of a whole carriage. We have twin beds (not a double), our own little sitting room, our own little kitchen and our own little bathroom and toilet. After the deluge of the day it is perfectly wonderful. There's even crockery and enough supplies to make a brew without having to dig all my stuff out of the bags.
Somebody's got her pose on! Steady boyz.
For example this little compartment is our sitting room.
The rest of the riders have equally well appointed arrangements although they have to share a little bunkroom.
We settle in, entertaining David from London for a while in our sitting room before making a "add hot water" pasta meal. Everyone else is dining in the nearby pub so we join them for afters then a final evening in the bar. There is much pool played very badly as the drink flows and the voices rise. This will be the last evening we're all together on this trip so I stay as long as my sleepy head will allow. Eventually the warm, dry bed is calling and we retire for the evening. Sharon doesn't allow me to go straight to sleep though.
Got an interesting new motorcycle related product? Maybe we could feature it here on Bikes and Tavels. Drop Ren a line - firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Coast 500 2017 Prologue
Ren looks at the wheres, whys and hows of this year's trip to the North of Scotland. This time they're with a group, kind of, sort of, maybe.
Panicking, Boredom and Pleasure
After the pre-departure concerns and a dull stretch of motorway things improve as Sharon and Ren head north on the first leg of their adventure.
Letting Sleeping Sad Sacks Lie
It's Sharon's turn to tell her version of the first day's events for this trip. After recently having surgery to remove a tumour is she even fit enough for the forthcoming journey?
The Best Of The Worst
Heading into the Highlands brings forth both rain and midges for our travellers. Fear not though as they are both prepared and fortuitous (ready and lucky).
Twisty roads and Twisted Friends
Sharon discovers the joy of riding Highland roads is more than enough to blow away the blues even in the rain. Nothing can stop her now.
Muggles at Bealach Na Ba
With improving weather and impressive surroundings Sharon has to make a major life changing decision. Will she...won't she...can she...should she...?
A Day Full Of Mystery And Magic
Sharon's journey into The Highlands is a mixture of magic, fear, delight, beauty and sheer survival. Can she remain shiny side up over The Applecross Pass?
While the weather takes a turn for the worst it's not nearly enough to put the dampeners on a group ride. Follow our trekkers along the Highland coastline and into Ren's favourite town, Ullapool.
There's a lot of emotions flowing through Sharon today but they all lead to one conclusion. Life is for living because tomorrow is not a certainty. The Highlands is an excellent space to make the most of life today.
Priceless Scenery And Pies
The next part of the NC500 adventure is arguably the most beautiful part. Will the weather hold out and just how expensive can 2 pies be? All this and more besides.
Friends Come In All Shades Of Blue
Fabulous scenery along fabulous road put a big smile on Sharon's face. There's friends old and new and some of the new friends are wearing blue. But why?
Riding across the very top of the country is always a pleasure even if it's raining. However Ren's day is ruined due to Sharon's fame.
Envy Attracts Envy And Fame
Sharon is revelling in the wonders of The Highlands, the delights of meeting fellow travellers and in upsetting Ren by being famous.
Sleeperzzz In The Rain
It's a soaking wet day riding from John O'Groats back south. There's the promise of a hearty meal and a proper bed at the end of the day to keep the riders going.
Fairly Dry And Rather Bracing
In spite of the awful weather Sharon's making the most of the last day riding the North Coast 500. At least she gets spoiled at the end of the day.
Failure and Reality
There is nothing left any more, nothing to look forward to now the adventure is complete. Ren just wants to get home but is that just a little too much to expect?
Thrills And Spills
There's a whole heap of miles to be covered for Sharon on her way home. How many can she cover, can she enjoy or endure them and will she survive?
North Coast 500 2017 Epilogue
Ren sums up the experience of riding the NC500. It's all about the people, the route just speaks for itself.
The End Of The Story Leaves Me Speechless
Sharon rounds off the NC500 adventure with the wrong breakfast, the wrong weather and the wrong traffic. Luckily these are just tiny hiccups on what was a most excellent adventure.
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Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017