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

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Speed, Strontian, Showers And Silliness

Ride Date 11 September 2022

By Ren Withnell

I've slept, which is good. Last night cooled down somewhat but as we're kitted for winter camping in a nylon tent then this wooden tent has been great. Sharon insists I put the heater on before extracting herself from the warmth of her sleeping bag. I fear she may enjoy the warmth too much and soon I'll need to add a generator and heater to the list of camping items.

Today's forecast is not ideal, the BBC is suggesting we're going to get properly wet later today. The BBC is always pessimistic though ever since Michael Fish's faux-pas back in October 1987. I know we'll get rain, just not how much. It's fine, we're ready for this... I hope. Tonight's camping in the actual tent might be a bit rough though, Sharon might be wanting that heater, and this wooden tent.

Heavy skies in the early morning, we see the pods and buildings of the campsite
It's already grey this morning and only slightly cool.

Anyway, today's going to be an easy day. We only have around 80 miles to cover from here in Tyndrum to Strontian. We have to be out of the wooden tent by 1000 and we can't check in to Strontian until after 1430 so we need to fill at least 4.5 hours with those 80 miles. This pleases me greatly - no rushing. 

There... there might be one small tiny fly in the ointment though. I have not booked into Strontian's "Sunart Camping" site. I'm kinda sure it'll be fine but what if there's no pitches left? I have a contingency plan of going further on to Ardnamurchan Camp Site but that's 40 more miles. If there's no spaces there? Then we're in the poop. Then we might be making our first foray into "wild camping". 

We depart the site at 1010. Sharon, the queen of the internet search or "Mrs Google", has found a castle she wants to look at en-route. This means we're taking the Low Road, the A85 from Tyndrum to Oban rather than the High Road, the A82 across Rannoch Moor and Glencoe. This suits me just fine, I've been over Rannoch Moor often enough to not feel the need to see it again.

Yes. Yes yes yes. YES! Now I truly and deeply feel like I'm in The Highlands. Fast swooping bends, long sweeping curves, undulations, dips, rises, wide open views across vast hardy valleys, steep hillsides, rocky outcrops, another mind-blowing curve and another magical scene. Like a man staggering out of the Sahara Desert after three days without water then finding an oasis I indulge and drink deeply. Whoooa! I drink too deeply, ease it back just a tad there Ren.

The road goes off into the trees and mountains of the Scottish Highlands
The roads are simply amazing here.

I slow a moment to ensure Sharon's still behind, ah there she is. I wring the throttle open and the engine growls me off into the scenery once more. You know? That there Sharon still hasn't gotten the better of me through the curves yet but when I ease off she's never far behind. I might need to have a word with her, I wouldn't want her to be catching me up now would I.

A loch and mountains, their tops covered in heavy skies seen from near The Castle
You do need to slow down from time to time to take it all in.

Kilchurn Castle can be seen from A819, the Inverary road. I take the junction and pull into a parking area. And there it is, across the water. We lock the helmets to the bike and take a walk across the boggy moorland towards the water's edge. There's a makeshift walkway of rubbery plastic mesh and random old pallets to prevent us actually sinking into the bog but it's muddy. Thank goodness for waterproof bike boots. We take our pictures then return to the bikes and these most excellent roads.

2 ducks paddle by a rock close by, the ruins of the castle and majestic landscape behind
Sharon does take some rather splendid images.

Across the Connel Bridge and Benderloch brings back happy memories. Much to my surprise the "Gleaner" (The Highland's primary chain of petrol stations) is selling fuel at £1.59.9! That's cheaper than at home. Cor, imagine how cheap it's going to be a Morrisons in Fort William then. I might move here after all.

I pull into the Castle Stalker View cafe. Oh my, oh dear, what happened here? The last time I was here it was a crisp smart cafe and shop. Polished wood and windows, smart benches outside and in, proper cups and proper cake. I can only assume Covid has taken it's toll. The outside is overgrown, gravelly and unkempt. The cafe within is gone, there's seating and the remnants of the shop. Outside is a brew van. Oh dear. The drinks are overpriced and Sharon's rhubarb scone is lacking in rhubarb or any other flavour. Sad, quite sad.

Sharon walking through the door of the once excellent cafe, looking a little downbeat
Sharon looks decidedly unimpressed.

The road to Fort William causes us issues too. Cyclists are now gods of the road due to changes in the Highway Code. That's OK, we should share and I agree we need to give them space. But then slow moving vehicles, of which I'd suggest cycles are, are also advised to allow faster traffic to pass from time to time. Combine this with inexperienced motorhome renters and we spend the best part of the remaining 8 miles to Fort William at 20mph. 

Someone, somewhere, is extracting the urine. £1.68.9 at Morrisons. If Gleaner, a regional distributor serving a small population spread out over many many miles of remote roads can charge £1.59.9 per litre then Morrisons? What the hell? Let us hope that's our 3 bad experiences for the day huh?

A ferry. You know I love a ferry. Especially a ferry where you remain on the bike and can see all there is to see as you cross. This is The Corran Ferry. I'm so happy to see it, to ride upon it's deck and to feel the bike undulating with the waves. This feels like home. As I take my snaps I duly note the darkening skies. It's here, the rain is here. Actually it's not arrived yet but it's definitely coming.

Ren sat on the bike on the ferry with a serious look on his face
"Hmmm... looks like the rain is here."

Drama. Good drama mind but drama. The road from The Corran Ferry to Strontian is only around 15 miles but with the heavy skies and majestic scenery it sends a shiver down my spine. It is both ominous and beautiful, frightening and awesome and we have it all to ourselves. Magnificently powerful, even my cold mechanical heart is stirred.

We arrive at Sunart Camping around 1445. A quick glance to check there's free grass is followed by the welcome of the owner. I need not have worried, there's only one other camper so far, plenty of space. We pitch up and the moment we throw the bags inside the rain finally arrives. Frankly we couldn't have timed it better. Not only that but the rain is merely a light drizzle, barely enough to wet the grass. 

Sharon's fooling around at the campsite
Someone's let the muppet out! She's so incredibly happy it's raining I'm sure.

The campsite is, well, nothing special. There's water and toilets in an acceptable level of repair and cleanliness so nothing to complain about, just nothing of note either. It's a campsite, a place to pitch and use the loo and wash up, no more no less. There is a local shop only 5 minutes walk away which provides sufficient options for us to create our evening meal and a cafe. Being Sunday late afternoon the cafe is sensibly closed now. No problem, I light the stove and rustle up a brew.

I've been to the cafe in Strontian several times before, but I've only ever passed through the village. After tea we don our waterproofs and head out to have a look around. It ought not take long, Strontian is but a small village. 

In light intermittent drizzle and darkening evening skies Strontian is not at all as expected. I'm sorry to report it feels ill kept, tired and somewhat abandoned. The high school serves the myriad of tiny hamlets and remote houses hereabouts with a crisp smart building but around it the grass is uncut and piles of rubble erupt from the ground. The junior school, much the same. The bungalows and houses feel unloved, gardens overgrown and rusting boat trailers, moss on the kerbs and an almost derelict telephone exchange. 

We try to figure it out. Logistically it must be hard to get the council street sweeper here regularly. Why fix the exchange, the whole phone system fits into one computer nowadays. Locals must commute for work which costs a fortune with petrol and ferry crossings, who's gotten spare cash for fancy plants and a new fence? Most of them will be older anyhow, the young ones will likely head to town or the city as soon as they can as there's nothing for them here. 

No, this ain't no quaint and idyllic rural village lifestyle. This is underfunded living with seasonal work in a harsh climate. As a tourist I find the surroundings and remoteness delightful, for the locals this is their forgotten reality.

We've been joined on the site by a couple more motorcycles. They're on their way home so today we're the lucky ones still at the start of our adventure. There's time for another brew and then to bed. As we settle in the rain intensifies. It can't be that cold tonight though, Sharon barely grumbles and appears to be in good spirits. 

Darkening skies, heavy cloud and mist over the otherwise smooth waters of Loch Sunart
Ominous and yet delightfully wonderful.

Today's hiccups were merely that, minor inconveniences. Otherwise the weather held off as well as we could hope, the campsite had space and I did get the chance to do that which I love to do in Scotland - to ride these roads both hard and fast for the thrill and then ride them slowly to admire the landscapes. I'd be thinking about work tomorrow if I were at home. I'd much much rather be here thank you.

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Prologue - This Time It Is Up North Ren has made this kind of trip many times and several trips of much greater magnitude. The bikes are fine and everything is under control. Don't worry dear readers, Ren is worried about having nothing to worry about.
A Successfully Dull Day The job of the day is simply moving 2 people on 2 motorcycles around 280 miles north. Is it worth the effort?
Speed, Strontian, Showers And Silliness At last! The Dynamic Muppets finally get into The Highlands properly. There's a couple of things for Ren to moan about, particularly that Sharon is far too happy.
The Ardnamurchan Peninsula - Slowly And Quickly It's not far from Strontian to The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse... or is it? The weather ain't too bad and there's a lovely bathing belle on the beach that requires Ren's attention
Dangerous Distractions, Draughts And Dapper Drivers Not all is as perfect as one would wish for today. There's a draught or two and a lairy scary moment. All in all though things seem to be going acceptably well for The Dynamic Muppets.
The Majesty And Magnificence Of Mull By keeping his expectations in check Ren finds the small island of Mull to be a delight. Apparently it's all about the journey not the destination though.
Spendthrifts And Sumptuous Scenery Ren's wallet is quivering in fear and loathing as Sharon seeks the comfort of a real bed. Maybe the scintillating scenery will be sufficient to ease Ren's pain?
From The Sublime To The Ridiculous The day starts well with a full breakfast and good weather. The day goes well too considering the dynamic muppets are back in the throngs of civilisation. Ren's choice of accommodation isn't quite to Sharon's liking though.
Favourable Freeways And A Grotty Grotto After last night's debacle this time Sharon's choosing the overnight location, making it much more amenable. Ren decides the roads hereabout have much to offer too.
Epilogue - Home And Thoughts It's the final day of this Scottish trip. With regret Sharon and Ren must return home to their regular lives. Ren reflects on the changes in Scotland and considers his next moves.

Reader's Comments

Upt'North ¹ said :-
It's a nice part of the world Ed, Sunart and Moidart, and although you can find pretty in some villages, it's the scenery and wildlife that wows. We've been in that caff at Strontian, nice enough but nothing to write home/a blog about. I'm sort of envious as we haven't done a proper Scottish trip this year. I'm trying to think why not, but I can't muster much clarity on that point I'm afraid.
I was wondering what Mdm.Moisture carried in all that luggage.....WOODEN DUCKS!
You've stirred some nice recent memories Ed, ta me duck.
28/10/2022 16:09:51 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Moidart last year, sorry for the thread hijack, but I came over all William Wallace for a wee moment. Have you ever read what the Kings men did to Wallace, it wasn't pretty.

Posted Image
28/10/2022 16:15:45 UTC
Borsuk said :-
Been many, many, many years since I last was in Strontian.
Can’t think why I would be there though.

While doing my bike test one of the minors at the end was giving too much room passing a cyclist whilst not enough room passing parked cars. I said I could see the cars were empty and I assume all cyclists are idiots who can’t make up their mind whether they are road users, pavement users or pedestrians. Most have never had any form of formal training and seem to believe the Road Traffic Acts do not apply to them and they act without thinking or concern for anyone else.
It was after this I found out the examiners colleague, a keen cyclist, had been run down that morning on his way to work. Oops.

29/10/2022 11:07:10 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
I have happy memories of sitting outside a little pub on the coast just south of Mallaig sipping an Islay malt while the sun set. I think it may have been Portlanuchaig but memory dims. That was on a trip round what is now called the 500 on the Commando.
29/10/2022 13:40:43 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Likewise Ian but we were at Back of Keppoch on a barmy summer night watching the sun set over Skye. Malts in hand.
Probably 2009?
29/10/2022 18:03:56 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Them ducks Upt', thems is real ducks none of your plastic ducks here. Sharon has the photographic eye unlike myself. Basically if there's a good image on here it'll most likely be hers. As for William Wallace it would appear he'd rather upset the King so they made a mess of him. Mind you not as much of a mess as Mel Gibson made of his true story.

So Ian and Upt' - your happy memories come from imbibing a drug in liquid form rather than the fabulous rides and mind blowing scenery? Kids these days, it's all about the booze not the beauty.

30/10/2022 18:55:13 UTC
nab301 said :-
Lovely photos , thanks Sharon.
@ Ren, on the cafe, I've noticed locally too , many are closed permanently with for sale signs, along with small family run hotels . Covid closures didn't help but energy/ electricity costs have possibly been the final nail in the coffin.
As for the unkempt look , I know what you mean but are we not moving away from the Victorian manicured look and letting nature do its thing ....

31/10/2022 17:42:15 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I concur, many small businesses that were muddling along quite nicely for years simply could not survive a year of closures mixed with ever changing rules mixed with staffing issues and huge drop in daily footfall. Covid has been hard in so many ways and affected us all in complex ways that are still coming to light.

Interesting you mention the Victorian manicured look. Not at Strontian as such but generally Sharon and I have discussed "nature". A garden resplendent with magnificent flowers and a plethora of curious foliage can be impressive, but it has very little to do with nature. There's a "wild flower" garden near where my dad lives. The idea is to encourage the bees, a noble cause. The thing is they dig it up every year and replant it. So... errr... it looks nice but wild flowers? Then there's a corner of the park where the brambles are head high, the trees intermingle with nettles and dandelions. This corner would be called a mess by most, but it's the most natural and wild corner of the park as far as I'm concerned.

Nature is messy. As such I believe I'm quite natural. I believe my motorcycles are closer to nature. So there.
31/10/2022 19:51:59 UTC
nab301 said :-
Quote "I believe my motorcycles are closer to nature. That's stretching it a bit Ren,(assuming you mean in their unwashed form?) the last 2 months have been rather wet but as it's still mild I've been clocking up the pleasurable miles still, I was going to post a photo of my V strom under the heading of cultivating the Ren look , but I had a burst of energy last weekend and in between tending to the still growing garden , planting the last of my spring bulbs ( well , they were half price) I gave it a thorough wash ( obviously with harvested rain water).
08/11/2022 20:39:41 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
nab301 - you have let yourself and me down. Fancy cleaning your V-Strom especially as it was just starting to get that wet weather patina. Now it looks like every other V-Strom, where's the fun in that. And you have a... I can barely type the word... garden? A GARDEN with PLANTS!?!? The only purpose of a garden is space to build more sheds and store more never finished projects.

I'm beginning to question the readership I'm attracting. Smart garages with painted floors, garden with plants, and clean motorcycles! Eeewww, I bet you lot even have nice houses too!
09/11/2022 09:16:37 UTC

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