The outside of a motorbike engine seen up close near the exhaust

Home Travel StoriesScotland In Winter 2015

A Better Day

By Ren Withnell

I do actually manage to sleep on the bike gear. While the wind and the rain howled outside it wasn't too cold a night and I did not get too chilly. Sleep was interrupted by stiff hips, knees, shoulders and ribs but some sleep was achieved which is more than I was expecting. I try to lie in for a while like I did yesterday but it's all wrong, I'm just not comfy at all.

For breakfast it's sausages and beans from a can. I'm not hungry but I've not been eating much and I know I need to and should. I'm wondering what to do today. I want to go to Fort William to see if I can get myself something to sleep on and some more supplies. I have been offered the use of the campsite owner's large barn shed if I want to look at the bike. I want to just sit here for a while in the shelter and see if I can reign in my negative thoughts. The rain has stopped, well I say stopped, it's intermittent showers with intermittent sun. The owner spots me and yells across "The shed is open for ya!" Well that answers that then, bike first.

Here's my thinking. I've had problems with the CBF 125 coughing and kangarooing in the past. That time all the forums and blogs suggested there was a problem with the 2012 model's fuel pump, but mine's a 2009 model. Back then out of curiosity I'd removed the pump, found nothing wrong and replaced it. Ever since then it's been fine. The tickover problem is definitely a different problem but, clutching at straws, it seems an obvious place to start. 

The shed, while not exactly up to formula one team standards, is ideal. I'm out of the occasional rain, the floor is solid and there's space to work. I strip off the seat and side panels with my own tools but to get the fuel pump off I really need a 10mm socket. I have spanners, no sockets. I ask the owner, who's sorting out the horses with a lady helping hand. He's happy for me to use his tools and points out where they're all likely to be. I rummage around in boxes covered in straw dust, in dusty corners and finally in a tool box right next to the bike where I find what I need, yippee!

the cbf 125 in the doorway to the barn or shed where ren repairs the bike
Look at THAT! My own workshop, courtesy of the most helpful campsite owner.

I remove the pump, drain it out, replace it and give the chain the once over with some lube too. I start the bike and it coughs, splutters and dies. Damn and blast it's not that, it's not that at all. Gutted. I stand outside pondering when the lady helping with the horses says "hi". It turns out her husband is a mechanic in Oban, knows his way around bikes as he has one and if needs be she can get him to have a look. I'm thankful for the offer but to be fair unless it dies I shall carry on as it is. So far it's getting right up my nose but it's not let me down, yet. I bum a proper cigarette off her and we talk of life in the Highlands for a while.

I kit up and head off into Fort William. As I park the bike I leave it to tickover, it does just like it did the day I first got it. Hmmmm, don't get your hopes up yet Ren. Luckily with Fort William being next to the biggest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, there are plenty of outdoor shops. £35 for a self inflating mattress? I've, I've got 3 at home. Maybe. £16 for one of those nasty foam mats? You've got to be kidding. In the third shop I spot a single airbed for £5.99. That's more like it. It's big and it'll take some blowing up but it should be comfy. Gelert too, a brand I've heard of so it might last more than one night. OK, great, I'll have a bit of that.

Fort william town centre with a grassed area, church and shops
Fort William. The weather is far better today as well.

McDonalds next for some junk food but more importantly some internet. The bike starts fine, ticks over at the junctions and remains ticking over in the car park as I collect my gear. Is it fixed? There's hope you know, there's hope. Inside with a meal of some description I get online. Oh yeah, snow alright. In swathes across all of Scotland and down into Northern England too. I had planned a week, I've done 2 nights so far. It seems tonight will just be wet again and tomorrow wet too but from Wednesday all kinds of hell breaks loose. 

Now I ain't scared of the rain, and apart from Glencoe I ain't scared of the wind either. But snow and ice, yep, they bother me a lot. I've tried riding on both snow and ice and each and every time it's not ended well. I'm having a better day today and if the weather remains as it is, if the bike remains fixed and this airbed is up to the task then I'm sure I could see the whole week out and even get to the Moray Coast which was part of my plan. Today I feel up to this but it seems now the weather is going to make my mind up for me. I'm not gutted, the idea of going home to my luxuries, such as they are, is not a bad thing. I'm deflated though because I've not completed the task I've set myself. Mixed feelings about this, up and down.

the typical mcdonalds in fort william
McDonalds. Hardly fine eating but great internet access.

I spend far too long in McDonalds, the staff are giving me odd looks. I'd probably best leave. I ride out of Fort William but I'm feeling so good I make the effort to ride a little North to get some shots of Ben Nevis covered in snow and down into Glen Nevis just for a look and because I know it's a great road. The bike behaves impeccably. This is what I like doing, moseying around.

BEN NEVIS covered in winter snow and hazy mists
Ben Nevis. There's nearly always snow on top of this little hillock.
Glen Nevis with steep mountain sides covered in snow
Glen Nevis and my favourite road.

I mosey back towards the campsite and pull off to look at the Corran Ferry. I wonder, should I go across to Strontian? Nah, no need, lets just relish the day. As I stand there looking across Loch Linnhe a lady is walking by. I smile and say hello and soon we're talking. She's obviously of retirement age and I learn she moved up here after her husband passed away a few years back. She is completely head over heels in love with this place. She loves to walk with a local group. She loves to drive to various places. She loves to have morning coffee most days in Glencoe village. She loves to go to the wonderful Beach at Sanna near the Ardnamurchen Lighthouse. She loves to sit in her small home and look out across this stunning sea loch. 

the small corran ferry is on the far side of the loch and snow on the hills
The Corran Ferry. What an amazing view to wake up to every day.

She also fills me in with places to visit that only locals would know. She tells me that once the Fort William road was closed due to a landslide and the Corran Ferry was off due to weather, she had to make a 200 mile detour. She's as bright as a button, she looks as healthy as an athlete and I reckon she was once a looker too, still is in her way. Then she tells me she's 79! I hope to goodness that I'm as sharp, spritely and happy as she is if I ever make it that far. Filled with "joie de vivre" after talking to her we depart. She says I'll find more internet and a warm welcome at "Crafts And Things" cafe where she takes her morning coffee.

Inside the cafe I do find tea and biscuits, a smile and internet access. I take another hour happily sitting around supping tea and even doing some business online. One customer is reading a book, another couple just chatting quietly. I've been here before but I've never taken the time to just sit and relax. Why? I'm always caught up in getting somewhere and doing something. My bike is fine, I have a new airbed, the skies have cleared and they day is all mine. This is how I envisaged travelling to be, and it is good. 

Back at the campsite I am feeling more chilled and relaxed. The airbed is in fact perhaps a tad too large but it'll be comfy I hope. I heat up a tin of spaghetti bolognese and sit in the shelter as another band of light rain passes through. I take a shower and while it's nippy in the toilet block I can deal with that. The damn light switches itself off at one point though which sees me blundering about for a moment trying to work out where the sensor is, dripping naked in the communal area. It's a good job nobody else is here. 

It turns out there's internet here on the site too, but I can't access it. I talk with the owner and his good lady wife. I learn a lot as they try to solve the internet issue. He used to work overseas on contracts, they've lived in some interesting places, the campsite is also a small farm but nothing too serious as he at least is already 70. As we talk and the owner reboots various routers I figure out some settings have been lost on one box. Not only are they helpful but kind too, that allow me to sit in one of the cottages and use the wifi in there while I make some final checks on the weather. Good folks.

That evening the gf confirms the forecast. I did think about going back to Peebles first but it might reach -6 degrees there and snow is forecast early on Wednesday. I know it's up in the hills, I know it'll not be too busy round there and it's just a bit too risky. I decide I'll head to a campsite I've heard about in Kirkby Stephen. It's a long ride, longer than I'd like, 255 miles. But, but if there's any problems I'm only 80 miles from home then, the snow is not due there till at least lunchtime and it's likely to be less severe if it does come. Also if the forecast changes for the worse on Tuesday then I can bypass Kirkby Stephen and get straight home if needs be.

I wonder if the gf knows how much I appreciate this help? Yes I've had internet access today but there's no real substitute for a proper PC at a real desk with a solid internet connection when you're trying to work things out. The tablet is great but it's still not the real deal. 

I feel a lot more upbeat as I climb into the sleeping bag atop the voluptuous airbed. The wind has picked up and the rain has returned yet thankfully everything's a lot drier and cosier in here tonight. I watch "Edge Of Tomorrow" on the tablet. An interesting film with some novel ideas, although the connection to "Groundhog Day" is obvious. Night night!

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?

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