It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to go on a bike trip/holiday each summer – this is normally a small group affair, including myself and my husband, my father in law, a good friend, and sometimes my brother in law too. We’ve done Wales, the Lake District, Ireland and of course the Top Down trip which we used to raise money for charity. This summer we were going to Scotland, to specifically ride across Glen Coe, a route that we did during our Top Down adventure but due to the lateness of the day and the number of miles we had left, we couldn’t really stop to enjoy the scenery.
When Graham passed away just a few weeks ago we were pretty much decided that the trip was off. I mean, it wouldn’t be the same. We’d planned this trip because Graham, and the rest of us, wanted to rediscover something of that trip in 2009, and explore the area of our ancestors (part of the Mcsomething clan – there’s a castle somewhere apparently!). Rick, our good friend, decided he definitely didn’t want to do it – it would be too strange. But something made my husband and I decide to go. We had a lodge all booked and paid for, had the time off work, had two bikes sat in the garage that hadn’t been on a long trip yet (we’ve both recently “upgraded” our bikes), and we needed a holiday. We were encouraged to go by our family and friends, and in the end it seemed the right thing to do.
So this is a blog post about a different kind of bike trip – husband and wife, with a big hole left, riding for miles to get away from it all.
A Different Kind of Bike Trip
When we did our top down trip back in 2009 we experienced some pretty rubbish riding weather. Rain, wind, more rain, flooding, yuk. But on Sunday on our way through Otley or somewhere near there we had what I can only describe as a freak storm. Torrential rain, immediate flooding of the roads, poor visibility, and of course thunder and lightening. I am not very happy in storms at the best of times, I was quite frightened, and so very wet (yes, right through to my knickers – nice). A few miles down the road and it was lovely. My boots still weren’t dry by Tuesday evening. Those bikers we saw go in the opposite direction had no idea what they were about to experience!
We didn’t do the whole trip to Killin in Scotland in one day – we wanted to take the scenic route. We rode just under the Yorkshire Dales (I waved at the Peaks we walked back in May) and through the Lake District, roads we have ridden many times before and will never get tired of. We eventually made it to a Premier Inn at Carlisle (who puts the accessible rooms down seven steps and at the end of a very long corridor?!) and a good healthy meal of Big Mac and hot Apple Pie.
The next morning we both commented it just wasn’t the same without two R80RTs bring started up outside the hotel window as a warning that it’s time for us to get going. Not the same at all. Who would check the oil and the chains and make sure the bikes were ready to go each morning? What would we do if we broke down? It just wasn’t the same without Graham.
We rode up to Glasgow on the motorway – the matrix signs said “heavy rain forecast” all the way. And they were right. Rain rain and more rain, again, this time on the M8 through Glasgow with flash flooding, but at least there was no lightening this time. It rained on and off through the rest of the day – from Glasgow we rode over Erskine Bridge, up alongside Loch Lomond, stopping at Luss (there are motorcycle bays close to the village store) for cake and drink.
Our chosen base for the week was Killin Highland Lodges, just on the bottom tip of Loch Tay and not far from the Falls of Dochart. The lodge was nice with decent hard standing for the bikes outside. It was really too big for the two of us, would have been perfect for four. Such a shame, seemed wrong to use one of the other rooms for our kit but made sense. Difficult for sure, an odd feeling when we popped to the co-op and bought pizza for dinner – something Graham couldn’t even eat. Unsurprisingly we had no phone signal so couldn’t check in with family or friends but Sky tv meant we could still get our Olympics fix while we were away.
The forecast for Tuesday suggested it would be driest to the west of Scotland, so naturally we decided to head that way! From Killin to Crainlarich and up to Tyndrum for lunch at the Green Welly Stop, a place my mum and dad frequented when they lived in Glasgow and so we had to visit (motorcycle bays on the right as you go in the car park). From there we took the A85 to Oban, stopping to take a couple of pictures for the album on the way. We rode along to the beach to check the sea was still there (miss you Grandad) – we had a gorgeous view across the bay in the sunshine, shame there wasn’t an ice cream van to complete the picture.
From Oban we headed down the coast road (A816) – a combination of long sweeping bends and twisty corners plus one tighter-than-it-looked hairpin bend up a hill; nice road, nice ride. We managed to lose each other at Kilmartin – oops – but met up again at Temple Wood Stone Circles before continuing down to Lochgilphead and up to Inveraray where the views across Loch Fyne were just stunning in the sunshine (what a difference a day makes!). It was a fantastic days riding; I got to see the sea and some lovely Lochs, and we got to ride some nice roads. To be fair we didn’t come across a rubbish ‘A’ road while we were in that area of Scotland – you can pretty much tell on the map if a route will be scenic and winding or fast and straight. That evening we ate at The Old Smiddy in Killin – the walk down the road into the town from the lodge was a bit hairy (a fairly narrow road with some blind bends and one way bridges), but it was worth it as the food and welcome was excellent.
The reason we booked this trip originally was to ride across Glen Coe. Back in 2009 we rode from Fort William down to Falkirk as part of our top down trip, but due to the number of miles we had already done that day and it being dusk it was difficult to enjoy it properly. So we vowed then to come back so we could ride the A82 again, take our time, enjoy the view and the road. Very (very) sadly the trip just didn’t turn out that way, we were just a few weeks late to enjoy it together, but the two of us decided to do it anyway – and remember.
We rode from Killin (of course!) up to Tyndrum and then up the A82 over Glen Coe to Ballachulish. No chance of the snow gates being closed today of course but it still makes me smile and feel a little bit mischevious to drive through them, with blue skies and white fluffy clouds I was looking forward to some fantastic views. I wasn’t disappointed. Curiosity got the better of us at one point and we turned off to Glen Coe Mountain Resort where we had a suitable lunch and watched walkers and mountain bikers head up the open chair lift to the summit. We were very tempted, and decided we’d come back and ski one weekend sometime. We must.
On to Fort William to see if we could see the top of Ben Nevis – we saw glimpses on the road but it was coated in cloud. We stopped at the Nevis Range Mountain Centre and once again watched the mountain bikers, both wondering what life would be like if we had just one hobby that we concentrated on rather than many we were average at. The guys on their downhill mountain bikes and protective gear made the bottom section of the world cup track look easy – I overheard a couple of them exclaim to each other it was a lot harder than they thought.
Time was against us really so we didn’t head further north – Loch Ness is still on the “to visit” list for another holiday (we will definitely be going back to Scotland!). Instead we headed up as far as Spean Bridge before taking the A86 – a lovely road that was quite narrow in places but a joy to ride with stunning views across Loch Laggan (but nowhere to stop for photos). The A889 took us across to the quick A9 (loved the fact a couple of police bikers were stopped in a lay-by taking photos of each other with their bikes with the hills in the background!). The A9 was saved only by the stunning views, we were very high up! We picked up the A827 west which took us all the way back to Killin, alongside Loch Tay, a winding fairly slow road. We have been spoilt today with the views. If you’ve never been across Glen Coe, go; go soon.
That evening we ate in Capercaillie Restaurant in Killin – the service was a tad slow but enjoyed a really decent roast lamb dinner with all the trimmings followed by the largest bowl of apple crumble I’ve ever been served in a restaurant. So full!!
For our last full day in Scotland we could do no better than head back over Glen Coe – just because we could. It seemed busier for some reason but was still a nice ride. We went back to the ski centre for cake (we don’t forget a nice cake stop!) and then back to the Lodge before walking into Killin (back down that dodgy road) to enjoy the sunshine – we clambered over the rocks at the Falls of Dochart and sat on a bench to catch up with friends on twitter, then had dinner at The Old Smiddy again. A relaxing day. That was a good thing as we had a very long trip home on the Friday – motorways are boring, even more boring on a motorbike than in a car and you have to concentrate so it’s really tiring. Ah well, home safely after miles and miles in the saddle, with happy memories of a good trip. A different kind of bike trip, but a good trip none-the-less. Both the Triumph Tiger 1050 and F650GS enjoyed their first week long trip, and their riders are pleased to have gone after all.
Next year we are talking about organising a Graham Homes Memorial Ride to take in the four corners of mainland Britain and perhaps also the highest and lowest roads… watch this space.