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Camping? Scotland? Winter? Madness!

Blog Date - 28 October 2014

I have a plan. That's all it is at the moment, a plan. My plan is to ride to the Scottish Highlands in the winter and have a look around. 

Why? I mean it's not like I don't know the area already. It's not like it's disappointing or a let down in the summer, far from it, it's an amazing place. Yet every time I've been it's been between May and August, the holiday season, the season when it makes the most sense to go there...except for the god forsaken evil little wee beasties called midges. I love the Highlands. There's space to breath, there's the best motorcycling roads I've had the good fortune to ride, there's scenery that will bring a tear to your eye and countless villages and hamlets to explore. 

a still calm scottish loch in the glories sun and clear skies with 2 motorcycles in the foreground
I mean...it's not exactly ugly is it.

I've seen all these things, I've seen them in sunshine and rain, on still calm days and the depths of a storm but I've never seen them in winter. 

I want to see what life is like in Fort William and Ullapool when the tourists like myself have gone home. I want to see the mountains capped in snow. I want to imagine how life must have been through the winter for iron age Picts when it's bitterly cold. I want to see the Highlands at their worst, to try to understand what life is like for those who make their livings and their lives there all year round. I'm curious to see if the cursed midges actually give the locals and travellers some relief in winter too.

mist rolls across a highland hillside on a lonely empty lane
It's not all sunshine and blue skies in Scotland...believe me.

I also want a challenge. Can I do it? Am I up to the task? I'm talking of a week to 10 day break not a 3 month survival ordeal eating wild berries and hunting rabbits. I am used to riding all year round but not camping all year round. Will I be able to hack the cold and the rain I should expect? Is my gear up to the conditions? Is my mindset up to it as well. 

Some people reading this will scoff at how simple, safe and easy it is to camp and ride around a modern civilised country such as Scotland, even in winter. There are no bears or wolves to fear any more. There are real roads criss-crossing the wilderness. While many of the villages are tiny I can still find shops, cafes and petrol stations. I speak the same language as the locals, sort of. I'm not exactly taking in the Russian Steppe. Still, everything is relative. If as I have you've only ever dipped a toe into the safe parts of Europe in summer then to me Scotland in winter is indeed a challenge. I am a cautious man, small steps, one at a time.

There are risks. Apart from the everyday risks any motorcyclist faces my biggest fear is being snowed in. I can handle strong winds and driving rain but my snow experiences on two wheels in Lancashire have never been good. I don't want to find myself stranded on a remote road in the middle of a snow storm many miles from civilisation with no mobile phone signal. Obviously regular weather checks when internet access is available is the most sensible precaution. If I find snow is a-coming then I need to put myself somewhere safe to wait it out. Towns and cities are the sensible places but a good campsite near a village would suffice. I wonder if there's less snow near the coast? There's an awful lot of coast in Scotland.

a thick wall of snow on a lancashire lane blocks the path to Ren's motorcycle
This is Lancashire...imagine what it could be like in Scotland.

There are many things to consider and take into account over before I depart. It is true to say that part of the fun of any trip is planning the trip. I guess it gives me something to aim for, something to look forward to. 

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Reader's Comments

kingy said :-
Get it done you only live once.fancy similar trip.I live Merseyside and have family in Stirling.half way.looking for a bike to do it on at the minute.fantastic place.even with midges.
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