Looking along a long straight road amidst lush green farmland

Home Travel StoriesScotland With Friends - August 2014

Soaked In Newcastle

By Ren Withnell

See that, that was our holiday that was. If you blinked you missed it, that's what it blooming well feels like anyhow. We've got to pack up again today and start our return journey. There is hope however, it's not all over quite yet. We're going to Newcastle tonight and stop at another Premier Inn to break the journey up. My concerns for the day are 2-fold. 

a wide view of the firth of clyde. blue waters with hills and mountains in the distance
This is why I don't want to leave.
narrow back street behind some terraced houses
Because this is what I'm going back to.

Firstly have I left anything in the van? Have I got my camera, did I pick up the phone charger and did I pick up my undies from under the bed? My second concern is the route. It makes sense to follow the A9 south then cut across over the Fourth Road Bridge. But either side of the big bridge is motorway although the bridge itself is not. The maps show there's non-motorway access from either side but it is going to be all too easy to accidentally end up on the motorways and land the gf with her "L" plates in big trouble. Oh lordy.

After double checking the caravan for the third time I'm almost confident that I've got everything. Almost. RG drops off the keys and we set off with an overladen wobble back into Pitlochry for fuel then the A9. The A9 is already a dull road.

As I ride I have some interesting thoughts, a minor epiphany. I've always been rather a homeboy. I dream of being the great traveller, of wandering the globe and meeting curious people from unusual places. And yet whenever I have been on holiday or away I have counted how many sleeps I have before I can return the the safety and security of my own bed, back at the familiarity of my own home. I recall the more recent trips to Haggerston Castle, Shrewsbury, The Isle Of Man and Lincolnshire. That feeling is fading. That counting down is less important, hardly noticeable. 

This trip is perhaps the first trip where I can't recall ever thinking that I want to be back home. This is the epiphany. There will be many readers who won't understand and who will quite rightly think I'm a big girly wuss and that's fine, but that's who I am or perhaps that's who I was. Some people take to travel well, I've had to learn to enjoy it. And I've enjoyed this trip and all my recent trips more because I'm getting used to it. If you're an easy traveller, lucky you. If you're like me yet wish to enjoy your trips all I can suggest is to do more and more. We've already done a good number this year and there's more to come. Great!

That warm feeling and these thoughts see me through to the outskirts of Perth. I must refocus and concentrate on keeping on the A9. There's a few cumbersome roundabouts and last minute lane changes though we all manage to stick together and get back out of Perth still on the A9. I must now keep my eyes open for the A823 just after Auchterarder.

The junction is clearly marked and soon we're off the dull A9 and back onto a much more interesting road. We're back in the hills, not Highland mountains these hills are gentler and suitable for farming. The road is still a cracker, another curvy wriggler without much traffic and a few cheeky sweepers to swish around. That said, we've done 60 miles so it must be getting close to break time by now.

Powmill Milk Bar? Eh? It looks like a cafe but it's a milk bar? The film Blazing Saddles comes to mind, I'm expecting comedy cowboys shooting themselves in their own feet, alcoholic mountain men hugging a pint glass of milk wishing it was beer and The Milky Bar Kid clanking his spurs as he walks around in search of villainy. Nope. While it looks like it's made of wood on the outside, inside it's just a regular cafe in the countryside. We drink tea and use the toilets. It's actually rather nice.

the powmill milk bar, a low wooden building with the gf stood outside
Milk Bar? There's nowhere to tie up my iron hoss though.

RG's sat nav will take over from here. It's a relief I don't have to navigate as I'd spend more time stopping to check my phone map rather than riding. In fact it's a bloody good job as the route through Dunfermline and Rosyth is convoluted, complex and confusing. The final set of roundabouts have roadworks which makes it all the more amazing that we're still together as we approach the bridge. Fair play to RG, he has to perform some awkward manoeuvres and stop in some treacherous places to achieve this.

We have to wait in a queue on the bridge, a large crane is making it's way across. This gives us an opportunity to talk and take snaps, I only wish I could actually stop on the bridge to get some proper shots of the Fourth Rail Bridge and the vast estuary. The next hour is then spent trying to navigate our way through Edinburgh. Junction after roundabout, crossing after traffic light, pedestrian after taxi and lots and lots of traffic. I really am missing those empty Highland and Cairngorm roads right now. I'm wishing we were on the motorway. The gf is going to have to take her test soon, dammit woman!

the gf and rg look back at the camera sat behind a lorry waiting to cross the fourth road bridge
Life on the road huh...

After a length of time that feels longer than the entire holiday we finally emerge from Edinburgh's vehicle trap. It's not that Edinburgh is worse than any other city, it's just that we've been immensely spoiled these last few days and to come back to traffic is a shock. We're on the A68 heading for Jedburgh and we're moving again. This is a main road with traffic yet I'm still finding this countryside gives me a sense of space. Yeah, it's not the Highlands and it's not the Alps, but it's still very nice.

After the trauma of Edinburgh it's time for another break. We stop at what looks like a pub by the roadside and I get a sense of de-ja vu. Nah, I've never been down here before, it's just one of them things isn't it. As we wander around the front I get it again. Nah. Oh hang on... Erm. Good lord, yeah, me and the gf have been here before way back in 2006 when we'd camped around Scotland, 2 up on my NTV 600 Revere. Wow, what are the chances of that!

Inside "Juniperlea" is not a pub but a peculiar bar restaurant come tea room. It's a mis-match of round tables and chairs, couches with coffee tables, smart modern dining tables and décor from the 30's right up to the 90's. 2 elderly gents occupy one table drinking tea from a pot and a stout lady dressed like the Laird's wife gives us a dirty look as we walk in to what must be her pride and joy.

"Will you be dining?" she asks in a short aggressive manner. I'm 42 years old, my money is as good as anyone else's and I'm not in the mood to be talked to like a scumbag.
"No, we're just after refreshments and a rest." I don't give her chance to object, I throw my heavy jacket on a couch and sit down. We all do the same and order our drinks. As she disappears the 2 old chaps make some quip and laugh to themselves. I imagine they said something like "she'll not like that, she'll not be happy." They find it funny, so do we.

As we drink a chap comes in looking every part the downtrodden husband. He couldn't be more accommodating and warm, he refills our tea pot, enquires as to our journey and busies himself with polishing the bar. The matriarch is nowhere to be seen, we figure she's hiding in the kitchen from the dirty bikers. It's a strange place, I think they'll make a "film noir" about Juniperlea one day. 

I hereby call on all bikers, scruffy or smart, polite or grumpy, hairy or sporty, to call in at Juniperlea on the A68. I'm sure the landlady would relish it becoming a biker's favourite hang out. http://www.juniperlea.co.uk 

the outside of the juniperlea inn and restaurant. Just looks like a pub really
Restaurant - or The Bates Motel?

Outside it looks like rain. We kit up in preparation and head out once more, I'm in the lead again as the rest of the route is easy. We ride. It starts to rain. We ride some more. The rain gets heavier. We pass through Jedburgh. The rain persists. As the road gets closer to the border it climbs and climbs. With each extra metre we climb the rain gets heavier. Then it starts to thunder. Lightening flashes across the skies, a bang makes me wobble. We get caught behind a coach which is in fact good news. The rain is so heavy now I'm just following the coach as I can hardly see the road. 

BANG! I'm not scared of lightening as such but hell's teeth that was close. I know it's scientifically pointless but I'm keeping my head low to avoid being struck. BANG! FLASH! Holy cow. There's a river coming down the road, I can only see the tail lights of the coach which is thankfully very slow. FLASH! BANG! For #@$& sake! Whoa where's the road gone? I've been riding for 25 years, the gf for less than a year I hope she's Ok. This is scary and dangerous, hang on folks, just hang on in there. FLASHBANG! Christ that was right above me I swear to god.

We crest a hill and navigate some very sharp bends at jogging pace. At least I can blame the coach for the slow progress but if it wasn't there I'd be going at walking pace I can tell you. This is some scary weather. As we roll down the hill it finally abates a little, the lightening is behind us and the waterfall becomes just heavy rain. A few miles further on we spot a public toilet and stop to relieve ourselves. It seems everyone else's waterproofing has failed them, I'm marginally damp in places. Ha! Yeah, go me. The toilets reveal I'm not half as dry as I thought I was. Dammit.

The rain lightens and finally stops as we approach Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It's too late though we're all soaked to the skin and it will take forever to dry this lot out. I must say that camping is fine but knowing there's a warm dry hotel at the end of the road with a hot shower is a great relief. RG takes over navigation and we find the Premier Inn. Although we don't, just like at Carlisle there's 2 close together and we're at the wrong one, again. No matter, the other one has a carvery next to it, sorted.

As with the other Premier Inn at Carlisle I have no complaints about this one at all. The room is large, clean, simple and warm, very warm. We take great pains to hang everything to give it the very best chance to dry out. Curiously there's a large portable fan in the room, we configure this to blow a strong wind over our hanging gear. It's noisy but no matter, we're off for tea in the Carvery.

the gf stretched out looking posh and demure in the room at premier inn
Who DOES she think she is?

Unlike Carlisle this is Premier Inn is next to a Fayre And Square pub. This means ordinary but perfectly tasty food which is served promptly and at an acceptable price, a far better experience than the silly posh restaurant in Carlisle. After eating we all sit there feeling refreshed and filled, we discuss the day's extraordinary weather and our plans for the final leg tomorrow. As we walk the short path back to the hotel I feel saddened that this time tomorrow night I'll be back to reality. I've changed this year, I've changed.

a nice premier inn room made untidy with all our bike gear
It was a lovely room until we moved in.

We indulge ourselves with hot baths, turning the heating up and the simple pleasure of sitting on the bed, naked, watching TV (I've no pictures of the gf before you ask). Outside the rain makes a minor return so I check the forecast, it doesn't look too bad tomorrow. Yeah, yes we've had a soaking but overall we've not done so bad with the weather this week, not so bad at all. Even with the soaking it's been another good day.

Not Even Scotland The story and first day of our Scottish tour. A scam, some miles, some rain and a hot bath.
Big Miles Through Scotland The second day of the Scotch tour sees us into and through the surprisingly delightful Ayrshire coast and into the Highlands
The Fort William Loop We lucky four take in Dalwhinnie, Fort William, Glencoe and some of the bestest roads you could hope for.
Dawdle To Rannoch Station. Today's tale is of a lazy, slow and peaceful ride along Loch Rannoch.
Forres and The Cairngorms We find the best hospitality in Forres and and a different kind of awesome through the Cairngorms
Soaked In Newcastle It's the first leg of our return trip. We get a cold shoulder then a drenching - and still we're loving it!
Knaresborough And Home Oh dear, it's the last day of our trip. Will there be tears?

Reader's Comments

JDV said :-
Bloody hell, no pics of Sharon nakid..................im gona stop reading these blogs.you do it every time..................other than that, good write up dood.....:)
1/1/2000 UTC

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