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

Home Travel StoriesAn Island And Way Out West

Dangerous Distractions, Draughts And Dapper Drivers

Ride Date 13 September 2022

By Ren Withnell

This ain't right. I mean it wasn't the sort of sleep you get in your own bed or a sumptuous hotel but I have slept. Not only have I slept I've slept in! It must be 0715 by the time I depart my sleeping bag and that's only because I've ignored the need to pee for too long now. It did cool off last night but it wasn't cold.

The skies are mixed with dark clouds and blue patches, we see the bikes and the campsite at Strontian
Sunart Camping at the start of another day.

We leave Strontian today, heading for Mull. Again this ought to be a really easy day, about 30 miles and a ferry is all we need to travel. The campsite owner here is not expecting any more campers so we're more than welcome to decamp slowly, there's no fixed departure time at present. And guess what? We're only blooming ready to depart at 1000 anyhow. I'm sleeping in and Sharon's getting packed and loaded swiftly - strange things are afoot.

I knew this - the road from just outside Strontian down to the ferry at Lochaline is single track. It's not a problem, there's only about 20 miles of it and we have time aplenty. Much like yesterday the road is not bustling busy but busy enough to impede our progress. Get going, slow for blind corner or crest, get going, pull in and wait for motorhome, get going, slow to admire the delectable landscape, get going, slow for sheep... repeat.

Cripes! I have to pull up firmly as I thought the car coming towards us was going to pull in and let us pass. Luckily I'm just by a passing point but I need a firm squeeze of the brakes to ensure I can pull in. The car passes and I casually pull away. I look in my mirrors - oh dear. I suss by her flustered movements and body language that Sharon too had something of an emergency stop. She confirms this a few moments later when we pull in to take more pictures.

In a passing place we see the bikes against a dramatic and vast Highland backdrop
Yes, OK, I stopped briefly in a passing place to get a picture. Well worth it.

It takes many more pull-ins and slow downs before Lochaline comes into view. Those 20 miles have taken us over an hour and we're worn out! Sharon is still hyper from her close call - it was closer than I'd realised. She'd been admiring the vast scenery, trying to burn the details and feelings into her memory when she noticed, a little late, that I'd stopped. There was panic, locked rear brakes, more panic and a heart stopping moment or two. I was plainly oblivious to all this. 

It's a mark of how far she's come. OK, yes, of course the perfect rider would a) have not been too distracted and b) would have stopped perfectly without skidding. But really? How many of you can honestly say you've not been there? It's the fact she controlled it. It's the fact she carried on. It demonstrates she has the confidence in her skills to learn from her error but also put it behind her. I'm sure she'll be that little more careful next time.

We pull up behind a classic sports car. We've noticed it a couple of times in Ardnamurchan both yesterday and today and here it is. I'd noticed it on the way down the last section of single track too - NOT pulling in to allow a faster car behind to pass. That is a big faux-pas here. Dawdle and enjoy the scenery by all means, but let the locals pass as soon as you can, it's not a lot to ask. The gentleman driver is all you'd expect from such a character - dapper, polite, financially well retired, nice, and subtly smugly pleased with himself. 

The vintage car, our 2 loaded motorcycles and the scenic lock while waiting for the ferry at Lochaline.
Nice car, nice bikes and nice scenery. Could do with some sunshine.

There's a problem with this ferry, you can't look out over the loch you're crossing. The waters are silky smooth and I'm tempted to leave the bike and climb the stairs for a look. But no, there might he a random wave and as the bikes are not strapped down I desire to remain close to them, just in case. Not to worry, the crossing only takes about 20 minutes. 

On the deck of the ferry the sides rise high blocking the scenery. All we see are the cars and the boat
Ain't no scenery here.

I'm momentarily disappointed to find even more single track on Mull. Only momentarily though, we soon reach the main road, the A849. I lead us left onto a proper spacious wide wonderful road. Bliss. It's almost empty so I open the taps and give my engine an opportunity to clear its lungs. Not for long though, 5 miles and less than 5 minutes later we're slowed back down to 30 for the town of Craignure. It was good while it lasted.

Again we have contingency plans but Shieling Campsite is our primary campsite. Sharon has found and chosen this one as it has a camper's kitchen and somewhere to sit out of the weather. In all honesty she did want a hotel but according to the internet there's not a single bed to be found on the whole island! In fact looking around if we'd been here in a campervan or motorhome I imagine that pitches would be in short supply too. Luckily we're in a tent, much to Sharon's disappointment.

Sheiling Campsite has space for us. In fact there's only a handful of other tent campers and nearly all of them are in cars with big family sized frame tents. That's good then. However not all is quite as advertised. 

The camper's kitchen isn't a cosy building complete with a log fire and comfy settees. It's a mid-sized marquee tent with plastic chairs, there is a sofa and a fire but the fire is "out of use". The campsite is atop the hillside overlooking the bay and the wind is whistling all around, even within the camper's marquee kitchen. Sharon hates wind (behave, children).

A medium sized heavy marquee with tables, chairs, camping gas stoves and sinks
This is not quite the "Camper's Kitchen" Sharon had in mind. 

The pitch is some kind of weird fake grass that requires a stout blow to get the pegs to penetrate. The bikes are not allowed near the tent, we have to park them behind a bluff and we can't see them. The toilets too are also within a marquee complete with a stern draft and cold sea air. Personally I'm glad we can make a brew and sit in the marquee kitchen, Sharon's still mortified the campsite is not a luxurious hotel. 

The afternoon is still young, it's barely 1430 by the time we're pitched up, airbeds inflated and I've restored my tea levels back to normality. We should go for a walk into Craignure and do some shopping. The ferry terminal from The Isle of Mull to Oban is in Craignure, we find there's a proper CalMac office too. That's good, we can pop in tomorrow and book for Thursday's return to Oban. After emptying the local Spar of crisps and cakes Sharon rightly suggests we might as well book the ferry now.

"Do we need to book this ferry?"
A wry smile "Yes, it is very advisable, when are you planning to sail to Oban?"
"Thursday, meh, late morning would be nice"
"2 motorcycles"
"Sorry, we've no availability Thursday"
"Fully booked, you could turn up and see if there's a cancellation or if they're prepared to squeeze you on"
"Well, geeez! Errr... " I mumble with Sharon momentarily "...what about Friday?"
"Sorry, we've no availability Friday. You could turn up and see if there's a cancellation or if they're prepared to squeeze you on"

Hot dang! The clues are there I suppose. No beds available in any hotels. Campervans and Motorhomes everywhere. We didn't have a problem getting on the Lochaline - Fishnish ferry but it was packed. Oh poop. Oh dear. Oh heck. 

It is not a disaster Ren, calm yourself. The now Fishnish - Lochaline ferry will be running and we will get across there although we might have to wait. It does however mean adding around 30 miles to our return journey which includes 20 miles of single track, I estimate an hour and a half more. No, it is not a disaster just a small change to our plans. For the rest of the day I ponder perhaps trying our luck with the Oban ferry? 

Even with all this we still have plenty of day left. Why yes of course I'd like to see myself as the intrepid traveller who thinks nothing of 500 mile days across dusty deserts and narrow gravel tracks along the side of vertical mountains. The truth is this is how I prefer to travel. Slowly. 

Sharon hops on the back of the 500 and we ride back along the magnificent main road at speeds just a hair above the 60mph limit. For less than 5 minutes. Then we are back on single track. I, well, urgh, I've already had my fill of single track but this is what we must traverse to get to the famous town of Balamory, no, sorry Tobermory.

The very first impression of Tobermory isn't all that good. There appears to be an ordinary town with regular houses and a few workshops. It's only when we get to the sea front do we get to see the painted houses made famous through a children's program and countless "Visit Scotland" adverts. Expectations, Ren, manage your expectations. If I hadn't seen the hype I'd find Tobermory to be a pleasant and charming fishing village, albeit with a hefty lean towards tourism. Even on this Tuesday evening it's busy.

The brightly painted houses by the shore, reflected in the waters of the harbour at Tobermory
This is how we're supposed to see Tobermory.
We see the brightly painted houses but also the harbour wall covered in tyres and old fishing boats
This is more realistic. It's still lovely.

We purchase some chips from a van and sit upon the steps of, er, a clock? The chips are frankly incredibly tasty, I don't know what they've done differently but whatever it is they are good. A short walk around is followed by a short ride around too. Tobermory is indeed quite an agreeable town, bigger than expected and not as quaint as the marketing would have you believe though. 

A lane with small older and faded houses and a view over the bay at Tobermory
Behind the facade is a pleasant but far less colourful town.

The return leg is much as can be expected and the evening brings Sharon having a shower in the cold, draughty marquee. As she returns, grumbling and shivering, I haven't the heart to tell here there is another toilet block just down the way that is made from real bricks and concrete and isn't draughty at all. Oh who am I kidding? I smugly inform her because I'm a terrible person. 

Small shower cubicles, a tiled floor and all in a draughty windswept marquee
Oh poor Sharon! 

So how has today gone? The ferry debacle is playing on my mind unnecessarily because in all reality it is barely even a problem. I figure I'm more frustrated with myself than the very minor issue because I ought to have known. I know Sharon would have liked a perfect campsite or even better a hotel and yet she's not sulking or making a big thing about it. We're fine, we're healthy and we're here, doing, exploring, learning and even enjoying our trip.  

Advertise here - contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

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 :-
Ed, thanks for this episode. It brings back similar memories but the accommodation for ourselves didn't involve canvas. The romantic notion of single track roads and ferries by demand is just lovely.....but.....it no longer exists. When we were last up on the West Coast the magic of wandering at will was a long gone memory, the reality was queues and long waits. Two things we definitely don't do on bikes is queue and wait.
Those wee roads should be lovely on a bike but after a few miles your eyes are like saucers and it's impossible to enjoy where you are, lest you become a VW transporter bonnet badge and don't dare try to move over to the edge because there won't be one, just bogs and holes to trap the unwary.
We love the less travelled Scotland, unfortunately so does half of the bleeding EU and UK, so you start to think why bother. Then you see the sunset over Skye and remember why it's lovely to visit.
But the magic left the building some time ago and is replaced with just another bike trip.
I look forward to the next thrilling episode. No sarcasm meant or intended.

17/12/2022 10:25:52 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Some years ago I took the Commando up around the North Coast of Scotland - what's now known as the 500 although at that time it wasn't marketed as such. It was a great trip but about 20 miles of it were ruined by a motorhome I was following who absolutely refused to let me past as he chugged along at 20 mph or so, studiously avoiding the passing places which were clearly marked to allow following traffic to pass.

I eventually managed a scary overtake on the grass verge but wouldn't like to repeat that. I suspect the situation is far worse these days.
17/12/2022 13:15:33 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
In a world with terrifying inflation and skyrocketing energy bills I never ceased to be amazed at how many of our poor long suffering population can afford a minimum £30,000 campervan as well as the running costs to use them.

The next thrilling episode is already in the can so to speak. How do you keep an idiot in suspense? I'll tell you later.
17/12/2022 21:38:22 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
Ren, According to many on YouTube they afford a £30,000 camper/motorhome by selling their house and living in the camper, or renting their house and living in the camper.
If you are looking at buying or renting at the moment then living in a van must be an attractive option for some. No council tax and other bills associated with property, and mobile to go work wherever you wish.
If you can work as a digital nomad then it becomes even more attractive.
18/12/2022 07:25:14 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
It's a romantic notion of mine to get myself some kind of mobile home and travel the world, bike in tow and working as a digital nomad. I'm quite sure the reality isn't quite as wonderful as the dream, but still... why not?

I agree some of the campers out there may be those wild and adventurous types but I suspect the majority of them will be regular folks with a few quid to spare. I'm told campervan sales went mental during the various covid restrictions as a) people had some spare cash without being able to go to the pub/bar/restaurant etc for quite some time and b) they couldn't go to Marbella and Miami so they bought a camper to stay in the UK comfortably.

It remains to be seen how many of the newbie campervan owners remain campervan owners. Logically some will realise it's not for them or get tired of the UK's weather patterns and sell up. Equally some of them may get the bug and carry on camping. It remains to be seen what those numbers settle down to.
18/12/2022 20:17:38 UTC
Bogger said :-
You can't buy a new Motorhome for love nor money. Used prices are still through the roof.

Earlier this year at the Motorhome show, a particular motorhome took my fancy. I enquired as to the lead time?

The sales guy replied, probably Summer 2023!!!!!!.

And how much deposit would secure this non-existant Motorhome. If you gave us 8k deposit we will hold it for you and they were not interested in our Motorhome in part exchange.

Thanks but no thanks. But there were plenty of takers.

19/12/2022 08:15:43 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
What always amazes me is that the owners of these lavish vehicles which, as you say, cost a fortune, park up on those horrible aires in France which are little more than glorified (well actually often not even glorified) car parks. We often see them parked up with barely space to open the doors. Looks horrible.

Crazy when the municipal sites are so good, cheap and welcoming. Perhaps all their spare cash goes on servicing their debts?

We've had a few motorhome holidays in America. Oddly enough it's almost the opposite - the giant RVs congregate on expensive commercial sites while the fabulous National Park and State Park sites are quite empty - on more than one occasion we were the only people on one. Of course we then went to sleep thinking every creak of the branches was a a rabid redneck with an assault rifle.....
19/12/2022 12:06:54 UTC
Bogger said :-
Ian, when myself and Mrs Bogger visited our French chum and his family 4yrs ago, in our fist motorhome, we stayed only at Aires.

Previous to the trip I'd purchased a book 'All the Aires of France' which gave precise location details and the facilities at each Aire. I googled mapped them to peruse their suitability. All of those we stayed at were fantastic. The only one, that matches your description was the one at Arromanche. But we knew that before we stayed and it was only for one night.

The one At Malestroit ( where French matey boy lives) was stunningly beautiful and free.

I was so impressed that after our holiday I emailed the Mayor of the town saying how much we enjoyed our stay and the fact that the town encouraged people to stay. I had a really nice reply from him.

So yes some Aires are ****. Others are well worth staying at.

19/12/2022 14:30:37 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
I'm sure it's possible to find nice aires, but I've only noticed the horrors. Maybe because I don't need them? In any case I would still rather pay a few euros to be on a nice grassy municipal campsite - which also of course helps the local economy.

I noticed this one a couple of years ago at Digoin. The municipal is a couple of hundred yards away on the riverbank with a lovely riverside walk to the town centre. When I walked past the aire it was crammed although this image doesn't show that. The aire is right next to a really busy road.

Posted Image
20/12/2022 09:30:50 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Aires. Why oh why oh why are they all for campervans and not tent folks? I agree with Ian in that some of them can be, errr, rudimentary and not ideally situated. I also agree with Bogger that some of them are just fine. But I think you're missing the point. THEY ARE FREE! Well, most of them. The ones I've seen are free and come with a basic toilet and some water for the use of. When rolling through France I wish I could just pull into one of the many Aires and pitch up for the night.
23/12/2022 09:14:37 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
I am with Ren on the subject of Aires.
When touring sleeping can be the most expensive part of the trip.
Once you have paid your ferry crossing I would have a daily spend of around £6 on food and gas to cook, around £12 on fuel (depending on mileage), and then the campsite which can be from £8 if you are lucky to £20 +.
There are many Aire de camping car places with a grass area around the parking spots for camper vans, surely they could be used by tent campers with motorcycle or cyclists.
Has anyone tried using these areas with a tent?
If so what reaction did you get from others using the Aire and any officials?
23/12/2022 12:16:41 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Looks like I'm in a minority (again). Especially in France, the municipal campsites are cheap and usually next to a town for supplies etc. Yes the same can be said for some aires but as I mentioned most that I've seen have just been tarmac or gravel carparks.

I have the impression that unless you have your own toilet facilities etc you're not allowed on aires although I've foiund most French officials to be friendly and accommodating.
23/12/2022 13:46:30 UTC
ROD¹ said :-
Ian, I also agree with you.
I have stayed at some great campsites in France, and as you say the municipal sites give good value.
If I wanted to stay in an area for a few days then yes the campsites are good value.
If however you are touring and stopping at places as you find them, then all you need at night is somewhere to pitch up and sleep.
Trying not to be too crude, but as long as you are carrying water, and have a bottle and a bag, You can manage the toilet needs.
Most if not all Aires have black waste facilities and drinking water.
23/12/2022 16:20:53 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
I think you make excellent points Rod. Although I no longer do long European tours on the bike, being a confirmed softy I used hotels rather than campsites. My/our tours are now by car / caravan and we do tend to stay for at least a week so appreciate the facilities and convenience of sites. Interestingly, last summer (our first since COVID arrived), the municipal site we were on at Montoire sur le Loir (highly recommended), although close to an aire, was very popular with motorhomers both French and otherwise.

It does seem that motorhomers tend to move on every day while caravanners are more likely to stay for longer, so I can just about see the attraction of somewhere just to get your head down. Not my cup of café however.
24/12/2022 12:09:25 UTC

Post Your Comment Posts/Links Rules



Add a RELEVANT link (not required)

Upload an image (not required) -

No uploaded image
Real Person Number
Please enter the above number below

Home Travel StoriesAn Island And Way Out West

Admin -- -- Service Records Ren's Nerding Blog