Looking across to the snow capped alpine mountains seen from the back seat of a motorcycle

Home Travel StoriesUllapool 2012 - By Ren Withnell

Ullapool 2012 - The Lochinver and Drumbeg Loop

Ooooooooohhhhh that's better! A good night's sleep and a gentle awakening has perked me up no end. That and the thought that I'm unlikely to be eaten alive by midges as and when I venture out the tent. The gf's sound asleep but I can hear movement from IW's tent next door. I wriggle into my clothes and leave the tent. I'm aware the airbed's gone down somewhat in the night so I hope the gf is not left on the floor when I remove my fat ass from it. I look back, she shuffles and mutters something but doesn't really wake so I figure she's OK.

 Yesterday we'd purchased some cornflakes from the nearby Tesco so I have some for breakfast. Cornflakes in an army issue billy can with milk and sugar, eaten with a fold-out spoon, makes me feel like I'm really camping. I wash the can and hand it to IW so he can do what I've just done. After a visit to the toilet to brush my teeth and relieve myself I return to the tent. I look through the mesh of the bedroom section's door and much to my surprise the gf's awake, upright and in the process of applying a little makeup. It's not long until she's flashing her ass at me as she wriggles into her jeans. She only does it to wind me up. Grrrrrr....

cornflakes box, billy can and general camping stuff in the tent entrance
You were hoping for a picture fo the gf's nice ass weren't you...

The billy can is used once again by the gf for breakfast as I look at my map. I did not plan this trip to be a big mileage trip but as the day is dry and the forecast on my phone suggests the weather will be fair it seems a waste to spend all day just sitting around. Looking at the map a ride to Lochinver and around a loop that takes in Clashnessie, Drumbeg and Ardverk Castle looks like a pleasant ride without covering a sore ass inducing distance. IW agrees and the gf is quite happy with any suggestion, she's just glad to be out and about and on holiday.

Before we leave we walk over to Tesco again. I'm uncertain if there is anywhere to eat, drink or fuel up on the planned route, all the villages on the route look tiny. As such, and to save money, we buy sandwiches, a drink and crisps to take with us. At the campsite we load up and set off. The bike feels so light and so nimble without the luggage and I feel much more confident as I ride. We'd fueled up last night so we head straight out on the North road.

The Scottish highlands spoil visitors. We're surrounded by vast mountains, lochs of every size, deserted winding roads and rugged, craggy countryside. So much so that it almost becomes taken for granted. Splendid becomes normal and only the magnificent catches our eyes. We could stop around every corner to take photos that would impress, we could watch distant deer in the valleys or on high moors and we could be moved by endless vistas. I can see how people walk here, in every direction there's another something that will impress. Instead we plough on.

hills and mountains in the scottish highlands
Just another Highland scene.  The clouds casually rolling over the mountain tops.  It's all so beautifully normal.

I vary my speed. Sometimes I slow to take in the surroundings, making a hand signal to IW so he doesn't run into the back of me in his enthusiasm. Other times I push the bike hard around a bend or corner, but I still can't quite get it to all come together, I'm still not in the zone. IW catches up close then drops back, I guess he's doing much the same, switching between looking hard and riding hard.

We make our first stop at Ardvreck Castle. The gf and I stopped here before on our 2008 trip. We take pictures and IW talks excitedly of some kind of bird of prey he spotted on route, he loves his wildlife. We eat half the sandwiches and open the drinks as a handful of other intrepid tourists study the information boards and like us take their pictures. I walk towards the castle a little to get a better view of what is actually a ruin and not a big one at that. Upon my return IW and the gf are rummaging around in the heather, I hope the gf's not lost her contact lense. No, the gf's taking close up images of some plant while IW's looking for some critter or another. I don't do nature very well, all this activity escapes me. I suppose they're happy.

ardvrek castle ruins, just part of a tower and wall among grassy hills
There's not much left of Ardvrek Castle. 

The road continues to impress and curve it's way towards Lochinver which presents itself as another tiny town with a one pump petrol station, 2 cafes and from what I can see, one shop. However at the end of the road by the harbour is a massive building with rows of loading bays and a large surfaced area obviously built for large lorries to maneuver and load or unload. The only thing that makes sense is this tiny town must at some point move a lot of fish from harbour to road, but right now it's deserted. IW's spotted a sign to another cafe but after 3 or 4 miles of narrow single track road we both get the feeling we've been lead astray.  We turn around and head back to Lochinver for a brew in a cafe we know exists in this reality.

 The cafe exists, but it's in it's own reality. A quirky shop with an odd assortment of trinkets leads to a tiny room with 3 tables made of alien looking wood. IW of course manages to identify the wood but his words have no meaning to me, I just want a brew. We squeeze onto a tiny table, the bike gear piled up beside us almost forces another customer out of her chair. A lady with an aged alternative look gruffly takes our order and I raise a curious eyebrow to the gf. The brew is fine and IW consumes another cake but the cramped conditions, the surly service and the strange surroundings are all quite surreal. I remember my recent trip abroad and my new attitude, I decide that rather than dislike this place I should drink in the difference.

Outside we take a moment for more photos and to admire the views before we head off onto the minor road. This is even more remote yet human life is still to be found. Occasional walkers, seemingly miles and miles from any rest, shelter or comfort can be seen from time to time on narrow tracks across the moor. There's a campsite by the shore with just a few houses nearby. Empty beaches with golden or white sands beckon without access. Sometimes an island can be seen out to sea, lonely and desolate. Hills lead to mountains that seem unconquerable in their steepness. Yet from time to time we pass through the tiniest of hamlets and a woman can be seen loading the car much as she would if she were in any populous town or city.

lochinver seen from lochinver village.  A broad stretch of water with hills all around
The bay of Lochinver, seen from the village of Lochinver.  

We need to stop. Not for rest or respite, but because we should be taking it all in not flashing through it. Over another hill, blind bend and sharp crest I spot a parking sign. The small smoothly surfaced car park is a viewing point just before the hamlet of Drumbeg. It's obviously purpose built for the tourist, with a bench, an information board and a tiny toilet block nearby. I can see why it's here, the view across the bay and islands is amazing. I just can't help but feel like a tourist not an adventurer as I park the bike on perfect tarmac. Unless I venture across the deepest Amazon or the ocean floor I suppose I'll have to accept that I'm not breaking new ground. Oh shut up Ren, just admire the view and be thankful you're not stuck in an office today.

the view from drumbeg viewpoint.  islands in the sea and a steep hill to the shore, and a caravan in the bushes
The view from Drumbeg Viewpoint.  Notice the caravan near the shoreline, the white thing bottom centre-left.  How..the...hell...did it get there?  It's complete so it did not roll and we could not find a road or path.

Soon the narrow road is over and we're back onto the main road. I've seen the views and relished the space, now I want to get my head down and indulge in the road itself. I press on and the speeds increase. It feels a little better now, I'm just starting to get my eye in and get a feel for the road, the surface, the bike and the new tyres. It feels good to curve the bend, to power down the straight and bounce along the undulations. Yes, it's starting to come together now. After we turn back onto the Ullapool road I think I'm moving quite swiftly, then IW passes me like I'm standing still. I try for a moment to keep up, but it's no use, he's got his head down and on a mission. I back off to my own pace and take solace in overtaking the few cars left on this road. They get out of the way quickly, IW's already scared the be-jeez out of them.

As we complete another crest I see the view of Ullapool I saw 4 years ago. The mostly white town down by the loch shore far below, the haven, the place of rest, the tiny piece of civilisation amongst all this wilderness. I back off and roll downhill and into the town and onto the campsite. IW's just parking the bike up as I trundle next to him, proving my theory that even at mad speeds you don't get there much quicker. I tell myself that when I have to accept that no matter how fast I think I am...I'm not.

 What a great ride! And what does a rock n roll hardcore biker like myself need after a great ride? Beer? Loud music? Hot dirty sex? Nope, he needs a lie down and an hours kip, so that's exactly what I do. The gf joins me, much as she loves the rides and the splendor, she's happiest when she's asleep. In my sleep I notice the sound of a bike starting, I figure it's our neighbours. I like a nap in the afternoon, but the nap becomes over an hour's deep sleep and when I awake I feel like death. I leave the gf still sleeping and grumpily get up to try and regain some sense of normality. IW's bike is gone. Wonder what he's up to.

the calmac ferry from ullapool to stornoway on loch broom seen from my tent
From my tent you can see the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry just chugging by.  One day I'm going to save up and take that ferry.

I make myself a brew and nibble on some more cornflakes as I come to. I tinker and check the bike over then IW returns, his bike tinkling with excess heat. As I'd slept he'd taken himself for a ride down the main road towards Inverness. He's not been far but he's absolutely buzzing! He's thrashed the 900 Hornet, bouncing the motor off the limiter and maxing out. I think his little raz back into Ullapool wasn't enough so he's been out for another play. I watch the heat haze shimmer the air around the motor as he excitedly recalls his blast.

We spend the evening having showers, washing clothes and finding places for them to dry and swatting the occasional midges. The evening is warm as we take the short walk back into Ullapool. On the jetty we watch as trawlermen wrangle a large net ashore and fishermen cast their lines far into the loch. A Cheeky seal proudly pops his head above water, taunting the fisherman, daring them to catch something so he can steal it. He looks like he's actually posing for the cameras. On a small trawler a tiny dog with big ears bounces with each yap, defending his vessel with his all his miniscule might. He's so close to the edge of the boat I fear he may fall in.

the head of a seal popping out of the water in loch broom ullapool

We purchase a drink apiece in a nearby pub and sit on the shore looking at the boats and view. This is good, this feels right and comfortable and I'm happy to sit while as I sip my coke. I imagine what it must be like to live here. I dream of daily rides across endless roads bathed in sun, of evenings by the loch and chatting with friendly bikers as they pass through. In reality I suppose it would also involve cold winters with short days, hard graft in the fishing industry and long long trips to Inverness, Aberdeen or even Glasgow to buy anything other than a can of soup. POP! I burst my own bubble.

The gf and I return to the shoreline by the campsite. It's a great beach this for skimming stones, it seems almost every other pebble is flat and I send some of them out into the calm waters of the loch. Some bounce once or twice, others many times and I feel all smug inside, especially as the gf's watching. She wants a go.

I remember the last time a girlfriend tried to skim stones. That would be over 8 years ago, it's a sad memory for me as she died soon after. There's a part of me that wants to be melancholic and wallow in self pity. To make myself remember. It's an odd feeling. To desire to be down, to desire to be mournful. I want to be pitied, I want someone feel sorry for me. Then there's a clunk in my head as a penny drops. Stupid boy! OK, this should be funny.

I explain the method of flicking the stone to give it spin, of trying to get the stone flat with the water and about trying to get the throw as flat and as close to the water as possible. Plop. Deja-vu. PLOP! Hmmmmm. Bounce...bounce... By jove, there's hope yet. Excitedly she hunts for suitable stones and keeps on trying. She gets 2,3 and 4 bouncers and even a few good 5's. She's all excited like a little kid, asking if I saw that one and this one and watch watch watch. Whilst she does this the sun starts to set, I'm fine but occasional memories cross my mind. They don't help so I dismiss them.

We return to the tents and grab our camera's, the sunset is looking good. There's a little cloud cover but it's causing some artistic lighting, I take snap shots whilst the gf and IW take time to frame, compose and adjust to get that perfect shot. I'm not into animals much nor do I have an artistic bone in my body. I can see it's nice, but that's because this kind of sunset is a nice sunset. Anyhow, the gf is a happy camper as she's been skimming stones, had a nice sunset and had a nice day out too. As we wriggle into the tent I guess the only thing that would make is perfect would be a £40,000 camper van. For me too...not just her.

a hazy sunset over loch broom with caravans and the shore in silhouette
A pleasing sunset and the end to a good day.

Ullapool 2012 - Prologue
Ullapool 2012 - Bolton to Inverarnan
Ullapool 2012 - Inverarnan to Ullapool
Ullapool 2012 - The Lochinver and Drumbeg Loop
Ullapool 2012 - A Ride To Gairloch Just another one of those fabulous and beautiful rides around The Highlands. The weather isn't so bad either.
Ullapool 2012 - UIlapool To Callander
Ullapool 2012 - Callander To Bolton The motorcycle ride from callander to bolton and what happened on the journey
Ullapool 2012 - Epilogue and More Pictures The end of my travel story to ullapool and some more pictures of the area
Ullapool 2012 - Even More Pictures Pictures from my motorcycle trip to Ullapool. Scotland is a beautiful place and we even had great weather.

Reader's Comments

John said :-
Great reading Ren. more photos though please........:)
1/1/2000 UTC
David Petersfield said :-
Just caught this via Bing. It's been a long time since I was last in Ullapool and seeing these images drives me to return. I live near Yeovil so it is a long ride. I'm thinking it would be better to break the trip up rather than try it in one shot.
7/6/2018 7:40:01 AM UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi David. I can see Yeovil is a long long way from Ullapool! 636 miles if Google maps is to be believed. Now of course if you has a backside of steel and the concentration of a Zen master then it but a short hop. If however you're a mere mortal like the rest of us then I'd split it into two or 3 days...or even 4!

I'm very much wishing I too was up there right now.
7/6/2018 11:14:47 AM UTC

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