A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

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Ferry, Friends And Mostly Scotland

Ride Date 20 September 2020

By Ren Withnell

After my flapping on the outward crossing today's crossing should, in theory, be a little more relaxed. From the chalet to the ferry terminal at Larne is, according to Google, 18.5 miles. Our sailing is at 1200, we need to be there by 1115 at the latest by P&O's rules. The journey should take half an hour so we could leave at 1045. I'd like to be on the road by 1000. 

While I'm not quite a picture of Zen-like tranquillity this morning's preparations go as planned. Sharon and I check, recheck and double check the chalet as I, in spite of my flappy nature, have a bad habit of leaving things behind. This is one good thing about camping oddly enough. After camping it's easy to inspect the patch of land where the tent was to see if anything has been abandoned. With a chalet or hotel room it's all too easy to leave something in a drawer, under a bed, behind a chair or beside the toilet. 

The chalet in the garden in Belfast. A small stone clad building with doors and windows
Have I left anything behind? Probably.

We're on the road by 0945 so we have good time in hand. Sat-nav phone leads us through the suburbs and out onto the open road and back into Larne. The port is well signed and easily found and once more we're booking in again. The bikes are not inspected this time but today's Border Patrol officer grunts begrudging questions at me like he's lost £1,000 and found a dog turd.  

We join the queue and partake of the facilities, with time on our side we even manage a brew in the cafe. Back at the bikes we're joined by a couple astride 2 very smart and very large GS1200s or 1250s, I can't tell these days. After a few moments of uncomfortable "should I shouldn't I" thoughts, probably on both sides, a conversation strikes up. They have been in Belfast for 4 nights like ourselves but they've been staying in a hotel.

A couple dressed in black cordura bike gear smile stood by their BMW Adventure bikes
"Erm, Hi! How's your trip been?"

We board the ferry and strap down the bikes, making our way up to the restaurant where Sharon and I are joined by our new friends, trying to keep a social distance while equally trying not to make each other feel like someone's got body odour issues. We talk away the next 2 hours discussing motorcycles, travels, work and of course Covid. The ferry soon docks and we bid our new found friends goodbye as they whizz off into the distance. 

Calm seas and blue skies about the ferry from Larne to Cairnryan
Another lovely calm and comfortable crossing.

Last time, time was of the essence. This time it is 1430 and there is really very little point getting to the Travelodge north of Carlisle too early. You know I like Travelodges but they're hardly entertaining, intriguing or beautiful places. As such rather than head back along the A75 all the way I lead us onto the A712 just after Newton Stewart.

The more astute among the regular readers might recognise this road number. I've ridden the A712 from Crocketford to New Galloway before several times and it's a cracker. A mixture of sweeping bends and tight corners, smooth tarmac and lumpy bits, rising crests and g-force inducing dips all among the hardy and remote scenery.

This section from Newton Stewart to New Galloway I haven't ridden before. This it seems is a serious oversight on my behalf. Not only is the road a thrill with more bends and undulations, here the scenery is more mountainous and angular, beautiful too. 

CB50x Z250SL motorcycles on the A712 with trees and hills on the backgroundBonny Scotland once more. Galloway this time.

"Oh stuff it, sorry sweetie I'm off!" I open the taps and start to carve. Every 2 or 3 miles I'll find a straight and slow down so she can catch up. Hmmmm. Well, erm, either I'm getting older and slower or Madam pootles around bends unless it's raining then goes faster, is going faster in the dry now too. I don't think Rossi and Marquez need worry just yet but I might need to up my game at this rate. 

We gather ourselves momentarily at Newton Stewart, a brief stop to ensure we're good. Sharon seems happy enough, perhaps buzzing just slightly after overtaking a slow car and leaving another in her dust. We'll complete the A712 then consider our options. Once again I'm having some fun with this magnificent road. I suspect Sharon's eased of just a smidgen, not wishing to push her luck yet even so she remains just a handful of seconds behind each time I slow for her.

Hardy grasses and a lonesome halter atop the moors north of crocketford
Towards Crocketford the landscape is hardy and remote.

I wind my neck in and resume my normal sedentary pace once we're back on the A75. I find I have to ask myself a serious question after the last hour of thrilling tarmac and delightful scenery. Was going to Northern Ireland a mistake?

We could have saved ourselves £168 in ferry crossings. We could have had a more relaxed and flexible trip too without the rigid timings of the ferry. We both adore Scotland's rural areas. A trip to Scotland, no matter the weather, is never a wasted trip. But! But we wish to explore, to see and to learn, to expand our knowledge and experience. No, I have no regrets about this going to Northern Ireland, not at all. 

I manage, now I've turned Sat-nav off, to get us lost in Dumfries. I can think of worse places to be lost though. It is a town complete with industrial areas and housing estates and a slightly confusing town centre yet it's not a big place and the riverside is quite pretty. By skill and luck we end up at Tesco where we fill the tanks.

It's not long before we're rolling into the now somewhat familiar confines of Todhills Services and the Travelodge. After we're settled in and had a brew it's tea time. The problem is neither of us can be bothered to get back on the bikes to ride into Carlisle and get a proper meal. Instead we wander over to the BP garage, grabbing  a couple of better than acceptable "a-la-ping" paninis and some snacks. Hardly fine dining, better than going hungry.

Back home tomorrow I'm afraid. I am changing as I get older. I used to look forward to getting back to my kettle and my shed and my bed and, well, the safety of home. I am not a natural traveller, we know this, but the more I do it the easier it is getting. And the more I enjoy it too. I still like my home but I'm not ready to go back just yet. In fact not at all. I could easily, very easily, in fact I yearn to head north to Ullapool. Dagnammit.

If you'd like to advertise on Bikes And Travels contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

Northern Ireland - A Covid Prologue The lead-up to this journey seems to have been a bewildered shambles. So how did The Dynamic Muppets manage to rescue their trip from the tangled mess of 2020?
It's A Bumpy Lumpy Ride Sharon's life is never simple. While getting ready for maybe, possibly, perhaps going to Northern Ireland she takes a moment to explain why she's been so quiet on here.
An Easy Ride To Carlisle It's an easy, lazy and relaxed start to this holiday with a handful of miles to cover and the weather behaving itself for once.
Space Sharon's luggage situation has improved but it's going to take a while for her to unwind, chill out and settle into today's journey. Aaaaaaand relax.
A Ferry And Hint Of Northern Ireland Ren is doing what Ren does best - flapping.
A Dip Into Irish Waters Today's lesson - don't place yourself behind angry small mythical critters.
Causeway And Coast Getting into The Giant's Causeway poses a challenge for a miser like Ren, can he avoid his wallet seeing the light of day? The Causeway Coastal Route and Torr Head Scenic Route may ease the shock for him.
Giants And Hobbits Sharon enjoys a rather wonderful day exploring more of the Causeway Coastal Route. Languishing in luxury on the back of Ren's bike while he does all the hard work. Sort of.
Ards Peninsula, Wonderfully Modest Today it's the turn of Ards Peninsula to be explored. Throw in the regular dose of disorganised nonsense and some fair weather, it might be a good day!
A Bit Of Irish History A history lesson and tomfoolery by The Queen Of Rain. Thing is, it's not raining. Something is wrong here, very wrong.
Lough Neagh And Money The Dynamic Muppets circumnavigate the largest lake in the British Isles. Is this the sort of place where a prudent miser like Ren would fit in?
Reflections Another watery day in Northern Ireland and still no rain on the horizon. Sharon contemplates the many and varied lives we get to live.
Ferry, Friends And Mostly Scotland In a remarkable twist Ren is not flapping! Nor is he ready to go home. But alas and alack 'tis time for this all-too-brief inspection of Northern Ireland to end. Take comfort in Scotland Ren.
North Pennines And Epilogue It's the end of the journey for the dynamic muppets yet there's still time for a little detour, or two. What did Ren make of Northern Ireland?

Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
No, surely not?
It must rain on the ride home? Or has the curse been lifted from Madame Moisture?
I do like Dumfries and Galloway, great scenery, red kites, belted Galloway's, what more do you need in a trip. They say it's Scotland in miniature, they're probably right. Good smokehouse too.
Why do we live in Northumberland?
Thanks our young Ed.

13/11/2020 19:10:32 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
You will have to wait for the next exciting instalment Upt'! (Cue dramatic music) ... Will Sharon get home in the dry? Has she broken her curse? Will Ren stop being a plonker? The answers to 2 of these question coming soon...

Dumfries and Galloway's problem is The Highlands. The area is beautiful and remote and has some excellent roads. Of course the Highlands, about 2 hours further north, is MORE beautiful and remote. As such the Galloway area is overlooked all too often. To my mind this has an advantage though. Because it's overlooked it means the roads and the area is just a tad quieter which is a good thing.

The UK is but a small collection of islands compared to places such as Russia or The Americas. And yet we are blessed with a vast array of landscapes. With coming on for 70 million souls in this small area though it is very hard to find truly remote places.
14/11/2020 11:11:19 UTC
nab301 said :-
Nice write up as usual Ren, can't wait for the next instalment. Looking at the photos of the loaded bikes did you bring the camping gear just in case or were you actually camping at some stage ...... (where's the wink emoji)
14/11/2020 14:44:15 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Why you!! The cheek I tell ya.

If you would care to note. Firstly my bike ONLY has one bag on the back seat. No saddle bags, pfffft! The clothing under the bungees on my top box was me drying my washing as I ride. If you recall Sharon had deliberately loaded up her bike to test Tour-A-Plank thoroughly.
14/11/2020 15:23:55 UTC

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