Scotland With The Lads 2005 - By Ren Withnell
There's a group of lads I usually go out with on a Friday night. I know them from Rivi, the local biker haunt. We go to town and they drink and being teetotal I drive. We have a laugh and look at the ladies. Looking is all we do, any ladies foolish enough to talk to us are scared off within 10 minutes with innuendo and rude comments. Still, it's better than watching TV.
Then someone made a suggestion to ride up to Scotland. Slowly over the next few weeks the suggestion became a plan, BnB's were booked and arrangements made. It was decided due to the lads owning motorcycles of the sporty persuasion that they would go up with the bikes in vans. Me, being the fool that I am, decided to ride up.
So, it's the Bank Holiday Monday at the end of May. I'm at the gf's in Liverpool and I hit the highway at 8:30 in the morning. Straight onto the motorway network and up the M6. It's a pleasant enough day, dry with a light breeze and the riding is easy. I stop every 40 to 60 miles as I travel up through Carlisle then onto the M8 in Glasgow. While stretching and dawdling along the M8 a Transit van passes me with some looney hanging out the window and waving. It takes me a moment to realise this looney is one of the Friday nite lads. So now I'm following 2 Transit vans over the Erskine Bridge and up past Loch Lomond.
Loch Lomond seems to go on forever. The road is twisty and narrow and I'm stuck behind a convoy of cars. Eventually I get to Crianlarich and hang a left to Tyndrum. As I roll into Tyndrum I spot the 2 Transit vans parked outside The Real Food Cafe. I pull in and go inside for a brew and a bite to eat. The lads are enjoying a brew and admiring the girls working behind the counter.
Smiles at the The Real Food Cafe.
We set off together to make the final 35 mile run into Oban, the place set to be our base for the next 5 days. The road again winds and twists its way alongside another Loch and through some stunning scenery. Oban presents itself as a mid-sized town nestled against a hillside with a port and harbour. It does not take long to find T and K's BnB and they seem more than happy with the accomodation. I, M and myself find our BnB which is bright blue, clean but quite cramped as 3 of us are sharing a twin room. Kindly I volunteers to have the camp bed so I get a comfy single. We settle in and rest after the 300 mile journey.
I and M took a walk up the street and noticed a fair maiden sat on a wall, opposite a car with a flat tyre. On mentioning this the lady said it was her car, and she was awaiting rescue from the AA. Being the gallant chaps they are I and M soon had the car jacked up, wheel changed and the lady was ready to roll. In the meantime a dirty old pervert had arrived with his camera. On offering to pay for their assistance the gallant fellows refused, but as recompense the lady agreed to have her picture taken. Off she went to Glasgow, our brave heroes smiled smugly to each other, another damsel in distress rescued.
A rescued damsel with her brave rescuers
The evening takes us into Oban. We dine at the Oban Inn and try out a few pubs. Bearing in mind it is Monday evening the night is quiet. With little to do we retire. Sleeping with 3 fully grown men in one room is to say the least interesting. It seems I's snoring and my smokers cough is driving M to distraction.
We awake early due to the sun shining through the flimsy curtains, carry out our ablutions and go for breakfast. Breakfast is just as you should expect from a BnB with bacon, sausages, beans and as much toast as you can stomach. I, who has been to area many times before, plans a run to Mallaig.
We meet and fuel up ready for the ride. Our first stop is a cafe near Castle Stalker. We have a brew, admire the view and some poor tourist takes our picture for us. On the bikes again in the glorious sunshine up to Fort William. We stop just after Fort William to take pictures of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountian. This being May I am suprised to see the top is still covered in a light dusting of snow. Must be bloody cold up there.
Off we ride again for a 40 mile stretch to Mallaig. I can sense the lads are chomping at the bit to get going. The speeds increase and soon I find I'm at the limits of my bike and myself. I back off and let them go, there's no way I'm gonna even try to keep up with bikes 3 times more powerful than mine, especially when the red mist has settled. I'm not exactly messing around myself as I travel, but when I arrive in Mallaig the lads are already parked and quite oviously buzzing from a rather enjoyable road full of open sweeping bends, high speed straights and awesome scenery. Whether the lads noticed the scenery or not is another matter. M recorded as much as 63mph (yeah right!) on his speedo, but after much discussion this was deemed to be in error as M is a law abiding sensible rider and has never even exceeded 70mph on a motorway. Must have been those dodgy Italian electrics.
Mallaig is a small harbour and port town, very remote and quite picturesque. We spot a seal in the crystal clear water of the harbour and it entertains us with underwater acrobatics inbetween the plentiful jellyfish. The sun is shining as we drink coffe and pop in a cafe and the talk is still about the last road. Upon return to the bikes T's machine is listing hard to port. It seems the heat is melting the tarmac under his stand and a few more minutes it would have left a nice Aprilia shaped dint in the car next to it.
Seal in the harbour
I don't even begin to attempt to keep up with the lads on the way back to Fort William. I enjoy the road at my own pace, taking in the view when I wish then upping the pace a little to enjoy the feeling of my machine carving up the tarmac. Again the lads dutifully wait for me before Fort William, and we ride at a safe speed through town onto the Glencoe road. And again the lads shoot off and I again take things at my own comfortable pace. Now the views become more rugged and enormous, mountains rise sharply out of flat valleys, bare rock is interspersed with loose scree while shrubs and heathers cling desperately to any available purchase. It is simply Awesome. The lads are waiting for me in a layby right in Glencoe. I stop to take pictures. When I set off the speedo on my bike has given up the ghost, I suspect the cable has gone.
Massive views in Glencoe
Fortuitously the road leads us conveniently into Tyndrum and The Real Food Cafe. Of course this means we have to sample the cuisine, and regretably look at the pretty girls again. Oh it's a hard life. After feeding our faces we again ride into Oban and prepare for the evening. To be honest the evening is much the same as last night, we end up in the Oban Inn listening to the dukebox and talking. I retire early and leave the lads to thier drinking. My roommates return quite late and somewhat inebriated.
Wednesday morning seems quite uncomfortable for my roommates. They are suffering the aftereffects of drinking, and to make matters worse it is raining, hard. Myself on the other hand, having woken my friends bright and early with my smoker cough, am feeling fine and ready to tackle my dodgy speedo cable. As usual the teeny weeny little screw that holds one end of the cable refuses to be removed. I and M try to help but soon they realise I'm not in the mood for help as the pouring rain and my dirty bike combine to wind me up big time. They soon head into town to get away. Of course 10 seconds after they go the screw comes out as if nothing happened. This only reveals the cable is fine, which means the problem is in the drive of the front wheel. Front wheel off, 1 tin of WD40 and a tub of grease, 1 t-shirt used as a rag, lots of cursing and chaffed knuckles and all is well with the world once more.
I shower, which leaves the beautifully clean shower unit covered in a layer of scum, and rest a while. The lads return, nearly as drenched as I was, and report town is a bit dull. Stuff the rain, I'm off out on the bike. Having looked at my map I headed south. I follow the A816 until I come upon a small turning for the B8003. This takes me down my favourite kind of road for the SLR, a single, twisty and hilly road that eventually terminates at a concrete ramp that runs into a narrow stretch of water across which is the Isle of Luing.
Moored onto this ramp is a ferry. Not a big boat type of ferry, more a large metal sheet placed upon a steel hull with railings and a small tower for the captain. 2 cars are waiting so the ferry must be running soon, I que up. 2 blokes climb aboard the ferry, one into the small tower, the other waves the cars and myself aboard. There's no strapping down done here, I sit on the bike with the brakes on feeling rather pensive as there is a fast tidal flow across this 500 meter crossing. The ferry lurches into action and I stagger a little to compensate. While we bob and roll up and down I am relieved of £3.70 return fare. It's hard to retrieve cash, with gloves to remove and pockets to be opened,trying to support a tall off road bike and being thrown around on the open ocean.
The crossing only takes 3 minutes and soon I'm on another single track lane in what feels like the most remote place on earth. This lane is 5 miles long and termintes at Toberonochy. A sign welcomes you to Toberonochy Harbour. It is more like a tiny natural bay with a short wall to one side. 2 old boats lie moored there and no more than 10 white painted small houses stand near by. It's miniscule. I set off and take another small road to Cullipool. Cullipool is a vast city by comparison. There may be as many as 100 of the small white painted bungalows and houses here. No shops mind you, the only shop is on the outskirts and is both post office, newsagents, hardware and general store.
I depart Cullipool and return to catch the ferry. Luckily the ferry runs every half hour during the day so my wait is short. This time I am alone on the boat, and the deck hand who looks just as a salty old sea dog should, tells me he has a bike and asks me my business. He also takes my picture for me and we talk of bikes. I really enjoyed being on the ferry, it made me feel quite wild and adventurous.
Me on the Ferry
I returned to Oban where I and M are in the BnB, resting. It seems they've been drinking coffee and whiling away a rather boring afternoon in the rain. I'm glad I've been out and relay brief details of my small journey. Again we plan to go out, but this time it's for a curry. We stroll into the Star of India and order our meals. Starters is very promising and tasty. Most of the lads have at some time suffered at the merciless pain of a very hot curry, so we all play safe and order milder flavours. The meals arrive and oh boy they are HOT HOT HOT. T has sweat pouring down his forehead, I is nearly in tears and K and M are suffering. I have struck lucky, my very spicy sauce is in a seperate dish so I can carefully choose how much to add. I in particular suffers from this curry over the next day. Many jokes about burning rings of fire ensue. If in Oban, avoid the Star of India!
Another wet morning. But today the lads are determined to ride and not sit around all day getting bored. I leads us at a steady pace into Inverary. Another small harbour town set in awsome scenery. We drink tea in our wet riding gear and stroll around the town a while. I notice I'm slightly envious of 2 Germans in thier mobile home, sipping hot drinks whilst dry and warm and admiring the scene through thier plastic windows.
View from the harbour at Inverary
Again the talk is of fast roads and sweeping bends so I decide to head out alone once more to travel at my own sedate pace. I head south again in the rain for another 40 mile trip to Tarbert. Again the roads are twisty and I'm starting to get my wet weather head on. I'm starting to enjoy powering the bike out of bends and controlling the back end slides. Tarbert is yet another harbour town set in another natural bay. Again there are the white houses and bungalows along with cafes and hotels. No matter how beautiful this place is, it is all starting to look the same.
I head back north and take the B841 signposted to Crinan. I notice I'm following a canal with locks everywhere. At the far end of this canal is Crinan. The canal is a short cut from the Loch Fyne, a sea loch, to the Sound Of Jura which is the start of the Atlantic Ocean. I stop and watch the locks fill and empty and boats pass through in calmness and tranquility.
The locks leading to the sea at Crinan
I head for the BnB. I arrive back before the lads so I shower to warm up and hang my sodden bike gear up in the bathroom. This of course creates a small paddling pool. When that lads arrive back the talk is of the weather, the forecast tomorrow is more of the same. After much deliberation it's decided to cut the trip short and return home tomorrow instead of Saturday. I contact the gf and she seems keen to see me, it's nice to feel wanted. So I decide to go home too.
Whilst out the lads learnt from a local to avoid the Star of India...a bit too late really. But she did recommend the Italian on the harbour front, so we dined there that evening. And a good reccomendation it was too. Everything was eaten, with starters and desserts. All were happy and well fed. We again go to the Oban Inn and endulge in conversation and drinks. I'd like to mention the locals but there were more Australian, Canadian and American accents in the Oban Inn than Scottish ones. Again being a boring old teetotal I retire early but my roommates were not far behind me.
A coach load of Canadians and Americans in the Oban Inn
Nothing exciting to report here really. Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast and load up was what we did. I set off at 9ish and started the long ride home. Again I stop every 40 to 60 miles and make simple basic headway back south for 300 miles. I arrived at Rivi to find I and M there before me, T and K arrive only a short while after. All done, all home safe, and a cup of tea at Rivi ended the holiday.
I loved the trip, would not have missed it for the world. The western coast and islands of Scotalnd are quite beautiful and impressive. There is water everywhere, every road runs alongside the coast or another massive Loch. And there seems to be an excess of water in the skies too, but do not let that put you off, just be prepared. The roads seem to be designed to get you moving along with the minimum of fuss and traffic is not too heavy. And the space. Where I live you cannot travel for more than 5 or 10 miles before you come across another town with traffic lights and hectic junctions. Up there all towns seem to be 30 to 50 miles apart with only occasional junctions. Be careful to fill up your tank as often as possible though, it would be very easy to run out between places. As for nightlife, Oban is not really for the mad for it generation. We did not see it at the weekend, I'm sure it could be quite good then. During the week you will find company, not great excitement. Go to Scotland, you'll love it.
pat deighan said :-
love the story about the trip photos are exellent especially the oban in photo ,great wee pub that.cheers.
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