Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017
Panicking, Boredom and Pleasure
By Ren Withnell
'Tis Wednesday and the day we're departing for Scotland and The North Coast 500. I ought to be excited and looking forward to revisiting the area I consider to be the UK's most beautiful. I ought to be, instead as is my way I'm fretting over the bike, the luggage, the things I'll need and navigation.
Why? Why can I not be as cool, calm and relaxed as other people seem to be? I speak to and read other folk's adventures and they're all like "throw the tent and a change of underwear in a bag and off we go...". I'm like "have I got my toothbrush how much chain lube will I need what if my phone stops working will I need paper maps have I got a spare tent pole what if the air bed goes down where will I store milk for a brew will that bungee be OK does my clutch lever need adjusting do those pads need changing are those batteries charged how much does this weigh have I got room for this spanner do I need this?"
Have I got everything? Have I? Have I?
I wish I were different but I am who I am. Luckily as I get older I am learning it's easier to accept I am who I am rather than trying to be someone I'm not. I can't force myself not to fret and worry so I accept it and get on with it. Oddly this allows me to relax into my fretting which makes it far less stressful and I find these days while I'm not a picture of serenity I am no longer a dizzy whirling dervish. If I could keep the body of a young man then getting old would be a most excellent thing to do.
This day is dry and warm as Sharon and I make our way north along the M61 and M6. The bike feels fine, the luggage seems secure, Sharon is following with no issues and to be frank everything is just fine except that I'm bored stiff. I like motorways - don't I? They're easy and swift and effective and they allow me time to think yet today the thinking is not coming and having travelled this blacktop too many times there's little new to see. I have to just get my head down and focus on counting down the miles. Like anyone who has clock-watched at work will know, this just makes every second and every mile appear 3 times longer and further than it should.
Tebay services provide a costly refreshment break and a moment for Sharon to adjust the straps on her Kreiga bags. We pass through Gretna Green without stopping to ensure Sharon doesn't try to swiftly marry me. The A75 routes us around Dumfries providing little of interest save for a random driver who insists on tailgating Sharon even at the speed limits. Finally the turning onto the A712 relieves the boredom.
Tebay is one of the nicer services but the prices are still high.
While the Dumfriesshire countryside lacks a little grandeur compared to The Highlands or The Alps the local council sure know how to create an exciting road through it. The A712 from Crocketford to Kenbridge is - I do declare - one of the best riding roads I have ridden. There is a gnarly mix of corners and bends, some fast and some slow, some blind and some open, some rising and some falling and there are but a few straights to bore you with. This section of the A712 is only 14 miles long but I think it would be worth a trip to Dumfriesshire just to experience it. Oh where's Sharon got to? Whoops! Best wait a moment while she catches up.
The A712 continues after Kenbridge, regrettably we need to take the A713 northbound. I think I may take a weekend to return and ride the full length of the A712 to see if the rest of it is equally delightful. The A713 is still a good road but after its numerically lower sibling it feels rather tame now.
While it's not The Highlands this is still a nice place to ride through.
I manage to get us lost in Ayr but that's nothing new is it. I consult with the mobile phone come computer come calculator come sat nav who's internal digital map and ability to reference and triangulate satellites is a wonder of our modern age. All this technowizardry costs £60 from Argos, I am bamboozled at how it's done. A little blue dot tells me where I am and with some finger fudging I can calculate the sea is "that way". Once I find the big wet blue thing I need to keep that on my right side and I should find the campsite I'm looking for.
I came to The Heads Of Ayr campsite on my way up to Ullapool in 2015 (A Head Full Of Ayr). It is really a static caravan park with a bit of space for tents and caravans too. However the toilets are smart, modern and clean, the facilities are of equal standard and there's a bar on site to shelter from the rain and midges if needs be. This evening is cool with a firm breeze so there's no midges to hide from nor is there any rain. It is still pleasantly cordial to sit and sip pop with Sharon and engage with the bar lady. We discuss our day and our trip and then I spot the weather on the TV. Looks like rain tomorrow dammit.
Sharon seems happy with the accommodation.
Do you know of any great roads you'd recommend? Not the usual well known ones but those special quiet ones that few people know of. You can drop Ren a line - firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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Travel StoriesNorth Coast 500 2017