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

Home Travel StoriesScotland In Winter 2015

Prologue - Scotland In Winter

By Ren Withnell

I hate this time of year, the months between Christmas and the first signs of spring. It's now that it's cold, wet, windy and even at times snowy. It's now that everyone's partied out, spent up and miserable. It's now that the nights are long, the days are short and everyone's lives are put into some sort of temporary winter stasis. As a species we don't officially hibernate but to me at least it seems we retreat into out homes, cars, offices and ourselves. It is, frankly, boring.

Last year the gf and I took a weekend away in Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury 2014). While it did not completely alleviate the winter blues it gave us something to look forward to and then something to talk about. It helped pass the winter and it panned out rather well all in all. We had a splendid time and the weather, while not perfect, behaved itself.

two 125's covered in frost in Shrewsbury 2014
I mean it were a bit nippy in Shrewsbury, but nothing serious...

This season I fancy pushing myself a little. I've been going "ooop north" to Scotland since 2005, blimey, that's 10 years! I love and adore the place for both it's breath taking scenery and it's perfect motorcycling roads. I've seen it through rain soaked visors, sweltered in glorious warm sunshine, carved bends at high speed and moseyed through the glens while trying to soak in the ambience. Language fails to describe Scotland at times, you just have to see it for yourself. I've never seen it in winter though. I've always been when it makes the most sense to go, when the weather is more likely, though not certainly, going to be more amicable. 

A typical Highland scene. Mountains, pine forests, light clouds and a loch
Summer is indeed the best time to see Scotland.

I have this notion of seeing the glens and the mountains in the middle of a tempest. I want to see the snow lying on the mountain tops. I want to see if those cosy little bothies look as homely on a dark windswept night. What are the towns like without the string of tourists like myself taking pictures? I also fancy that I'm up to the challenge of camping on some remote moor with nothing but a tent and a sleeping bag to protect me from the worst of the squalls. 

I start my preparations. In defiance of common sense, in the interest of being far too mean with my money and to further the challenge I'm going to take my trusty little Honda CBF 125. The gf and I have completed a couple of test trips with my bike fully laden and they went OK, well, sort of. I think my tent is up to the task. I think I'm man enough for the job. With but a handful of days to go before I depart everything is falling into place finally.

Then the trusty little CBF 125 leaves me stuck at work. The engine is making funny noises and the lights are not working. After going home on the back of a RAC truck I am quite upset with my 125. Upset, confused and angry. Why? Why now! You've been so good and so reliable. I've just bought you a new back tyre, new chain and sprocket kit, new spark plug, new air filter. You ungrateful little piece of rusty good for nothing scrap. Maybe this trip was never meant to be.

After a couple of days of intensive spannering, research, questioning, hand wringing and testing I decide the stator on the alternator has failed. It pains me to order a new stator and regulator rectifier for the resentful spiteful little machine but, but buy them I must. Damn. With these new items fitted, along with the tyre, service items, chain and sprockets I forgive my trusty little steed it's hiccup, she feels great now. I've spent the best part of £300, the damn thing best feel like a brand new bike otherwise I'm going to go and buy a bloody brand new bike and this one's off to the scrappers. 

the stator from the alternator on the CBf 125
The source of my misery. The stator off my CBF 125.

Amidst the tension of the stator fiasco it hails a lot, snows a little and freezes. This, this is not what I need, not now. Up till now I'd convinced myself that I could handle any kind of weather but after a brief ride on my 250 I promptly poop my pants for fear of falling off under the wheels of some lackadaisical motorist who knows nothing of the dangers of ice, snow and motorcycling. My confidence is taking a big knock. My head is now spinning with thoughts of breakdowns and crashes on top of some remote snow covered moorland road. I see myself lying in a pool of my own blood, shivering, trying to admire the beauty of the perfect Highland storm. Maybe this trip was never meant to be.

snow covers the street and cars in 2013
I hope we don't get another winter like 2013...

Why? Why do this to myself? Why not just stay at home, watch TV, take a little ride if the rain abates for an afternoon? What am I trying to prove? And to whom? But, but god damn it, but life isn't safe, life needs to be pushed, life needs to be tried. If I don't I'll never know. While in Scotland last year RG and myself were pondering whether or not to take an easy but boring route or a longer, harder but definitely more beautiful route. RG said to me  "If we don't do it, we'll regret it." Hmmm, those words struck a chord with me then and they do now. Mind you, "If we do it, we'll regret it." can also ring true. Damn

With the 125 all prepared and my eyes on the forecast I ponder. Then the weatherman promises improving conditions for the weekend and the start of next week. That's it. That's the key. I'm going. Definitely. Oh crapola, what am I doing this for again?

On the day before departure I drop into Bolton to do a few things. As I ride home I see 2 youths on a crosser coming the other way. No helmets, loud 2 stroke exhaust, one wearing a balaclava and the other has a drug crazed chav expression. I make a hand signal to show my disapproval of their illegal lifestyle choices and wonder which poor sod is missing a rather expensive motocross bike. I think nothing more as I ride away, then I look in my mirror. They're turning around. Poop.

I watch as they scream past a couple of cars behind me. I brace for impact, but none comes. They pass me and slow down. I slow. The chav on the back starts cursing, shouting, swearing and calling my all kinds of names. It appears I have hurt his delicate feelings with my disapproving hand gesture. It now appears he wants to beat me up, steal my bike and then beat me up some more. Well, that's what I can deduce between the torrent of expletives and saliva dribbling from his mouth.

The balaclava wearing rider stops, chav boy slips off the back. I try delicately to slip by but he whacks me across the back of the head, my helmet protects me from injury. I stop, in the middle of the street. There is a small part of me that is about to get off and start beating the living daylights out of my drug crazed friend.

Then there is Ren. Me. I don't actually know how tough I am because I've only ever had one fight and I was 7, it lasted 30 seconds before a teacher stopped it all. I doubt I could fight my way out of a paper bag to be honest, though I know I can take a punch or two. I am scared. I am scared because he might beat me to a pulp. I'm scared because somehow there's a tiny slim chance I might beat him to a pulp. I've seen enough reality cop shows to know he'll get 2 months suspended sentence for ABH and be out and after me within a day. If I beat him I'll get 6 months flat. I don't like pain either. I know I can take a lot of pain but that sure as hell doesn't mean I like it. I don't like causing a scene. The cars behind are backing up. 

I sit astride my dinky little 125 as he curses, dribbles, rants and screams abuse at me. I stand there in silence, just looking at him. I do fear for my well being and I fear he may just steal the bike too. I'm scared. But, I know one thing. It takes two to make an argument and I am not participating. He screams some more as a few people gather around. I stand still, stand my ground. I even cooly switch off my engine, looking at him. He walks back the crosser, the rider in fact looks terrified. He hops on, all the time ranting and dribbling. They shoot off. I start the bike and carry on.

This takes even more wind out of my sails. Now not only am I scared of the weather and my bike breaking down, I'm scared if I look at a driver the wrong way he's going to turn around and run me over in his 4 by 4. Maybe this trip was never meant to be.

Prologue - Scotland In Winter The build up to Scotland In Winter doesn't go anywhere near as well as Ren might hope.
Thinking Too Much As Ren rides north his bike takes a turn for the worse and his over-active mind starts to fret and worry. Is it all really worth it?
Hanging On In There Ren is suffering at the hand of the weather, his bike troubles, his sleeping arrangements and the wind. Will he make it?
A Better Day The weather improves, there's hope for the 125 and there's hope for a better night's rest too.
A Long Ride Ren makes the long journey south to avoid the forthcoming snows. But what does he find in Kirkby Stephen?
Epilogue - Scotland In Winter Ren contemplates the Scotland In Winter trip. Was it really worth the effort?

Reader's Comments

Ben said :-
Your bike is a "He?"

I thought social convention is:- man's bike = she and vice versa..to avoid any "confusion" ..unless of course you are trying to tel us something :D......
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ben said :-
Hi Ren,

Have you thought about a ride south at this time of the year to say Spain/Portugal or even North Africa..will get you away from the cold/rain and maybe a bit of much needed winter sunshine?!!

01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Hi Ben. Yeah the bike is a "he", apparently. "He" has a name too, Claude. None of this is my doing you understand, it is merely that I purchased the bike off a lady who had already christened "him".

As for Spain, Portugal and Africa! Oh it is but to dream, I just don't think I'd be able to get enough time off work to do it at the pace I'd want to go at. Anyhow, it's not a challenge unless it's hard!
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC

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