Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017
Friends Come In All Shades Of Blue
By Sharon Parker
Scotland NC500 day 5. Ullapool to Durness 100 miles.
The morning is dry but the clouds do not instil hope of a dry day so after we have packed up waterproofs are put on. Everyone is ready pretty much at the same time so we all depart the campsite on mass.
As usual I like to go at the back so I can do my own thing if I want. In front of us is Marina. Marina is on a 125cc Yamaha Scooter, she is also on L plates. Despite this the girl can shift along at a cracking pace. I am mightily impressed. So if anyone tells you that they can not do long distance travel because they are on a little bike or L plates then here lies the proof that this is simply not true. Both Ren and I have proved this on numerous occasions on our own adventures on our 125cc bikes and here in front of me today is Marina blazing the 125cc trail. The only time her scooter slows down is up the steeper hills but other than that the scooter and her are doing amazing. I feel my own Kawasaki Z250SL begin to work a bit on some of the hills but as yet it's keeping pace fine with no loss of speed. I really do love this bike.
We are once again treated to nature showing off her best handy work. The road weaves its way through remote villages that are incredibly picture box perfect. We pass one I find particularly charming. It is far from anywhere, nestled next to a Loch but still manage to posses its own school. I try to imagine what it would be like to be a child growing up here. I imagine it be be far superior from the rough inner city school I had to endure as a child. I imagine a playground full of happy children and relaxed teachers. Of course this is pure romanticism but I do suspect in reality this school is far superior than my own was.
The road wanders its way through more sleepy villages and forests and we are also treated to views of the ocean. I can not help but continue to squeal in delight as I ride along. This is what we ride for. This is why I never gave up learning to ride despite being no natural. It was all so I could be out on a twisty road surrounded by beauty and having my spirits treated to the best therapy there is. On a motorbike you get to smell the earth, feel the heat of the sun and the cool of the shadows. It puts you inside of nature rather than outside. Being in a car you travel through the landscape while on a bike you travel within it. You become one with nature and it is that feeling of belonging and home that makes biking so special. They say a strong expression of the Zen culture is to become one with whatever one does is a true realisation of the way. I feel at this moment completely at one with my bike and all that surrounds me.
If only we knew we were strolling into the most expensive pie shop in the world we would not have been smiling so much. Image courtesy of Nick Sykes
Up ahead I see everyone is pulling into the side of the road next to a cafe. Must be time for lunch. The cafe sells pies. Savoury and sweet pies but just pies. Oh well er I guess I will having a pie then. The pies are around £5.55 each. Ouch that is a bit steep for a pie but hell we are here now. Everyone else is ordering their pies so never mind. I order two pies and two teas. I roughly calculate it will be around £13 . The young girl takes my order than informs me it will be £22.50. I think I must have misheard and ask her to repeat it. Nope this strange child says the same thing £22.50.How can that be? My brain can not compute this staggering amount . I ask her to explain her amazing price and she explains a little terse now that its like £9 a pie. I am confused. I point to the pie on display with a label sticking out of it that says £5.35, where does it say £9. She rolls her eyes. If I looked on the menu I would have seen that the price for eating in is different. The price on display is for take out. What the actual hell.
Ok lets just freeze time here for a moment while I collect my thoughts. £22.50 for 2 pies and 2 teas is a ridiculously high price. Would I have asked for them if I had known the price before hand? No way. Do I want to pay this price? No way.
I recall a similar situation a few years back, again in Scotland. I had ordered two scones and 2 teas and then was floored b the price being over £9. I swore to myself after that day that if was ever in a similar situation again I would not just meekly pay a extortionate price but tell them to cancel.
Ok unfreeze time...I take a deep breath. Pull myself up to my full height of 5 feet and say "I am not paying that cancel the order." I am shocked I actually was brave enough to say this but very very pleased I did so. Go me. I do not believe I am tight . I believe these prices are simply ridiculous. If people pay then why not charge to the max? I however choose not to pay and encourage such silly prices. I am sure we will find another cafe elsewhere with more variety and cheaper prices anyhow.
It has been fun riding with the group but the scenery is asking to be admired so Ren and I slow down to savour the view rather than savour pies and the views are priceless. The skies are turning blue and a swathe of golden sand with a lay by beside it seems the perfect spot for a break. Damn maybe I should have packed that bikini after all.
Overcrowded beaches...not in Scotland
The perfect place for a stop to admire the view and have a bite to eat.
A gorgeous woolly bear of a dog, a Japanese Akita passes by and stops to say hello and for a stroke. We strike up a conservation with the equally friendly dog owner, first chatting about her dog and then about the NC500 route, which being local passes right through her village. She complains about the increased traffic it has brought and how frustrating it is for locals to be stuck behind tourists in their camper vans. I realise that I had somehow thought the the NC500 was being marketed just to bikers. I never thought that it would be a route taken both by cars and even more surprisingly camper vans. I mean there is a lot of difficult and twisty single track roads on this route. No wonder camper vans struggle and locals become upset. Not only that but to add to the mix people are now hiring out high powered cars and competing to complete the route in the quickest time. Oh dear for every positive there does always seem to have to be the negative.
Back on the bikes and Ren points to a wooden table and bench, ahh I remember this I have been here before. Yes there is the public loo. I did not recall any of the road leading up to Drumbeg only the village itself seems to have left an inprint on my mind. Maybe because we stopped here last time for a break and I have photos of all our helmets on the bench. Photos seem to fade far less than my own memory these days. Oh no not another oh dear.
All those oh dears can be made better with a little comfort food. A suitable cafe is found with reasonable prices and I happily dig into a large baked spud jammed with cheese and a large side salad. Yum. The view is most pleasing too and its pleasant location appears to have attracted some other bikers. They come into the cafe and - hang on I know this rascal lot. Yes it's Bernard, Sue, Dawn, Pete and Mikey our Chunky Tread friends.
Good food and stunning views at the cafe. No complaints here
We ride to the campsite at Durness. The rain means some of the ground looks rather waterlogged so we choose to camp on drier land at the top of the slope. It begins to cloud over as we pitch up. As I go to my bike to unload more gear I see two very blue people approaching me. Both are wearing matching bright light blue jackets and darker blue over trousers. Could it really be possible, is this really them? My face breaks into a huge grin as I realise the blue people are non other than those lovely Germans we met the other day atop of a mountain. I am so made up to see them again. It is like my affinity to them has made them somehow materialise again right in front of my eyes. They both wish to thank us enthusiastically about the suggestion of waterproof over jackets and trousers. They took our advise and proudly show us their new waterproofs. I mistake Laura's outstretched arms as a invitation for a hug. I do not hesitate and grab Laura and give her a mighty welcome squeeze. Like I said I was so happy to see these two again. As I step back I see the look of surprise on Laura's face and Ren looking at me like I am rather strange. It seems Laura's outstretched arms were simply to show off her new jacket. Whoops. Oh well hugs are good..right? Errr awkward moment right there.
We chat like old friends but it is all too brief, as the rain begins to fall we need to get a move on pitching our tent, so once again we bid farewell to Laura and Stephan. I tell them I hope we somehow will get to meet again as I wave them goodbye. Only the other day these two souls were strangers but this is no longer the case. After all, all strangers are just friends that you have yet to come to know. Our lives intersected and even if that time was only brief we somehow became friends.
Later that evening we walk to the local shop. The owner is friendly so we once again approach the subject of the NC500. He loves it. It brings much needed trade to himself and other business owners. Although he most certainly does not like the idea of any of the single track roads becoming tarmacked dual carriageways to accommodate the increasing traffic. He is happy to welcome the trade the NC500 brings but does not wish it to change anything really. I hope a balance is found but I fear that the perfect equilibrium will be hard to find.
We join the rest of the Noo 2 and Chunky Tread riders in the pub and we spend a night chatting and laughing with old friends and new. Once again those whom were strangers days before now become connected. My phone begins to bring forth messages of doom from family and friends at home. Apparently high winds will blow us all away tomorrow and an ark will be needed rather than a motorcycle if any journey is to be made. Nick is concerned, maybe he feels responsible in some way for others safety due to being the main organiser of the trip. But we are all responsible for ourselves and we must make our own decisions. While Nick discuses the possibility of cutting the trip short I already know I will carry on regardless. I am having far too much fun to stop now. If reality stops me then fair enough but I know not to have too much faith in forecasts. I will see what tomorrow brings when morning arrives. Nick later talks to a Ferryman. The Ferryman says that although it will bit a bit blustery tomorrow with a few showers Armageddon will not befall us all. I have far more faith in the knowledge and expertise of the Ferryman than a computer generated assumption on TV. Everyone now seems happy to see what the morrow will bring. Thank you Ferryman for telling us there will not be too much trouble ahead and allowing us to all to rest well tonight and get to the other side of dream world.
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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.
Ross said :-
"Thank you Ferryman for telling us there will not be too much trouble ahead and allowing us to all to rest well tonight and get to the other side of dream world"
....but did you pay the ferryman? :)
Thanks to you both for sharing your trip, Scotland seems a long way from me in Kent!
5/7/2017 6:36:04 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Scotland is a long way from Kent Ross. But then compared to Mongolia Scotland's not far at all. While it is physically possible to ride from Kent to say Ullapool in a day it's certainly not a trip I'd look forward too. I'd have to break it up into at least 2 days ride if not 3.
Sharon didn't pay the ferryman, perhaps we should have got him a pint.
5/7/2017 9:22:11 AM UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
You're confusing me now, I thought Sharon was the ferryman? Oh, no, wait a bit, that's Charon. I hate to think what Charon would drink a pint of :O
5/7/2017 9:58:30 AM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
"Scotland is a long way from Kent" - but to repeat myself, France isn't and there's some lovely riding in the Ardennes although the Pas de Calais isn't my favourite area.
Pete: you know classical allusions confuse our Ren
5/7/2017 2:36:46 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Not paying the ferryman is a Chris De-Burgh record musical thingy. I'll have you know I'm edumicated in all the classics. Don't you be getting all high and mighty with your college education ways Mr Soady. I've read "Mort" by Terry Pratchet, I know about Mr Grim who's come to do some reaping.
5/7/2017 3:16:24 PM UTC
Sue chambers said :-
The nc500 road has been there for years it's a public highway that has been given a name it has been used by all types of vehicle's from horse drawn to cars campers pushbikes and motorcycles i have done this route many times by car can camper and motorcycle there's no rush to get round if you go to fast you miss the beauty of the highlands
11/7/2017 9:31:37 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Yeah Sue, the roads are probably ancient. The NC500 is a concept, and idea rather than an actual thing isn't it. You could take any route around any part of the world and give it a name. Heck you could even take an underground train journey around London and call it "The London Subterranean 50".
I'm thinking of creating "The North West 500". It will be the antithesis of "The North Coast 500" by taking you through all the dirtiest, groggiest and most awful parts of where I call home. I was thinking of naming a few places but I fear I may offend.
11/7/2017 1:29:22 PM UTC
Borsuk said :-
The problem will come when someone from the council realises that the traffic on the route is a lot heavier and the road is requiring more maintenance so then they will modernise the road and build bypasses at all the villages. This will allow people to move faster on soulless roads and means no one will want to do the route as they have killed it's character. The original roads will degrade into nothing but potholes as they will receive no funding and the economic boom to the arae will disappear as there are no NC500ers doing the route anymore and no-one is buying pie and tea at 11 squids or filling up there sports bike every hundred yards, sorry miles.
In America they had the famous route 66. They built a motorway paralleling it. In 2009 I drove across America from East to West coast. the bits of route 66 I was on were potholed tracks reminiscent of 3rd world countries, with ghost towns between small towns (if a population < 200 counts as a town) that closed at 9pm and every one was called Elmer and my car radio could only tune into stations playing banjo music.
I think of other touristy areas in Scotland where the locals have lost 90% of their business due to modernisation and can see the NC 500 going the same route eventually, unfortunately. Hopefully the locals will manage to keep the area as it is but when an elected civil servant is doing something for the good of the people it is difficult to prove he is talking out his bum. I may be feeling slightly pessimistic today. No bike therapy until October and the quad unfortunately doesn't provide the same smile count.
12/7/2017 4:01:28 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
The concerns you put Borsuk are concerns the locals already have. I'm writing an article about this and several other issues the NC500 is creating. I'm a little tardy and short with the replies as we are both on the road again this week.
15/7/2017 6:10:38 AM UTC
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Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017