Featured Touring A Tour Of The Scottish Highlands

Discussion in 'Rideouts, Trackdays, Touring & Spotted' started by brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020.

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  1. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #1 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
    This is the story of my recent Scotland tour...

    Last year I paid my first visit to the Highlands with a couple of friends. At one point whilst riding around Skye the awesomeness of the experience brought me to tears and I vowed I must share this with Mrs Mouse. So last year I made a pillion seat so she could tour long distances and I booked accommodation for May this year. When it became obvious Covid-19 was going to scupper that I hurriedly booked accommodation for September to keep the hope alive, and remarkably our hopes were fulfilled.

    The Highlands are an amazing place to visit, especially on a motorcycle. The scenery is awesome and constantly changing as you travel, as does the weather which only adds to experience. At the times I've travelled, the roads never feel busy and on the single-track roads everyone is polite and obliging with the passing places and invariably will pull over to allow motorcycles to pass. Here is the tale of our trip...

    Day 1 (Route)

    We set off in light showers but the weather soon turned fine and sunny which was to last us the rest of the day. The first couple of hours was on motorway and dual-carriageway to eat up the miles, so with this in mind I'd fitted a fly-screen to take off some of the wind pressure, however the turbulence that produced was most irritating and I was very glad for our first proper rest at Scotch Corner services for elevenses. From here I'd planned a slower but more scenic route, along Teesdale...


    Then a nice quiet ride across the Pennines, with a coffee stop at Alston to eat a packed lunch, and on to Gretna avoiding Carlisle and the motorway. At this point there should be the obligatory picture in front of the "Welcome to Scotland" sign but I was rather flustered and looking for a petrol station, so didn't stop for that.

    All fuelled up it was on for the last leg to our our B&B in Carsphairn. This was rather in the middle of nowhere so we stopped off at a supermarket on the way to stock up on cold food and snacks for the night. This was to prove a regular feature of our trip as with the Covid-19 situation any eat-in places would likely be booked up and generally not worth the hassle after a day's riding.

    Day 2 (Route)

    The B&B was the best we've stayed in, it has just two spacious, well equipped and immaculate guest rooms with very friendly and helpful hosts and an excellent breakfast, so this set us up nicely for another long day.

    With greying skies we set off along a convoluted route I'd planned to avoid major roads and urban areas and get to the ferry which would take us to Dunoon. We arrived just as it was leaving and were waved on without even having to stop. Once at Dunoon it was a short hop to Sheila's Diner for lunch but with the rain starting I still couldn't resist a nice photo opportunity first...


    After lunch it was wending our way north along lochs and through forests and feeling this is where the good bit of the holiday really starts.

    day2-2-kilchurn castle.jpg

    After a coffee break at the The Green Welly Stop we headed across Rannoch Moor to Glencoe where we were to stay the night. By now it was getting proper rainy but that suits the scenery and makes it very atmospheric, unfortunately it was also exposing the gaps between my waterproof trousers and jacket! So it was with a wet crotch and water running down the inside of my trouser leg that I consulted with Mrs Mouse about also doing the Loch Leven loop, and we decided to go for it. I'm very glad we did; the rain had eased off, the views were great and the road, even 2-up in the wet, was fun; especially on the the north shore. (At points I think it was less 'fun' for Mrs Mouse).


    We were staying the night at an Inn I'd booked as a 'treat' (it was pricey) but I liked the convenience of an on-site evening meal and beer. Unfortunately, the 15 minute wait to find someone to check us when we arrived was a portent of queues and delays to come, and the tiny room was like something you'd expect from a Travelodge that hadn't been refurbished for 30 years. The only nice thing about the stay was that they had Orkney Dark Island on tap. :grinning:

    Day 3 (Route)

    After a not particular good breakfast we delayed as much as possible before heading off, allowing the heavy rain chance to ease. There was no hurry because it was only 80 miles to the self catering apartment near Skye that we had booked for the next three nights.

    Once we got to Fort William the weather improved enough to allow the sun through at times. and it was a pleasant ride up the Great Glen then starting west along the A87. This is where the scenery starts getting Big and on my first trip here last year was the point of my first 'oh wow' moment, where it felt like a new land. However, this year it was also where the rain started and then continued heavier and heavier. By now I was sporting a carrier-bag loin cloth but still there was seepage, yet somehow it still felt amazing, big rain, big awesome scenery, just not the weather for stopping to try and take photos.

    By the time we arrived at our late lunch stop at the Kyle of Lochalsh the rain had passed and we were glad to find space at what seemed to be the only eatery in town. Now we were at a bit of a loose end, we couldn't check in to our apartment until 6pm so had time to kill. Weather forecast was looking distinctly dodgy for several days so I thought to show Mrs Mouse some of Skye in case we couldn't later. We rode across the Skye bridge and up to Portree, the road around Loch Ainort is the highlight of that with the mountains towering all around. The weather was still grey and damp and we were starting to feel both of those, so headed back to pick up shopping and get to our apartment on the mainland. On the way, passing roadside signs warning of the bad weather to come...
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  2. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #2 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
    Day 4 (Route)

    This day the weather forecast brought us good news and bad news. Good news, despite high winds it was to be dry and even a bit sunny on Skye until mid afternoon. Then the bad news, heavy rain with wind which would continue for 48 hours, apparently a months rain in a day was to be expected. I was worried about getting stuck on Skye if they closed the bridge but an official site I found online had a forecast for the bridge to only be closed overnight to high sided vehicles. So our plan was clear, do Skye while the going was good then be off by 4pm and stock up on beer and food to wait out the bad weather tomorrow in the apartment.

    So it was off across the bridge again, and around Loch Ainort...


    On to Portree where we failed to find coffee and up to the Storr...


    Then the road gives views out across the sea, past the nearby islands you can see the mainland around Applecross. I wonder if there's someone at the top of the Bealach na Ba looking back?


    By now, in the exposed bits, we were getting rather strong side winds and for about one minute I was riding in a straight line by leaning the bike away from the wind and counterbalancing the other way with my body (that seams logically the wrong way around it's what I found worked).

    We stopped at what we thought was a cafe (it wasn't) and another biker there asked if we'd come 'across the top'. I said we hadn't but were heading that way, and he gave the impression he thought it sounded a bit dodgy and also that there was a chance of getting stuck on Skye if the bridge closed. I felt somewhat aggrieved this, putting doubts into my head and spoiling our adventure. But with an unusual (for me) sense of embracing the unknown and accepting fate I decided, with Mrs Mouse's agreement, to go for it. So, up a winding single-track road with some hairpins to find myself here...


    Taking that photo I'm leaning backward into the wind, because I'm only a couple of meters from the edge, but oh wow, certainly worth going 'across the top'.

    As it turned out, the road up was sheltered from the wind by the mountain, and after that it was direct into the wind so quite nice cruising along at 40 with a slightly euphoric feeling from that awesome view.

    The rest of the day's riding was following the main road off Skye before the weather turned. No rushing, but not dawdling, and feeling very grateful of having been given such a wonderful day.

    Day 5

    On day 5 it rained lots.
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  3. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #3 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
    Day 6 (Route)

    I managed to pack the bike in between showers then we headed off to Ullapool which would be our base for the next four days. We wouldn't be incorporating Applecross via Bealach na Ba due to luggage and passenger on the bike.

    First leg was through a mix of forest, fields, and open mountain terrain with sections of single-track road, all typical of Highland A-roads. Coffee break was at a very nice cafe in Shieldaig called Nanny's with a view of the loch. Then up along Loch Torridon with a fabulous view back...


    Not long afterwards whilst cruising along I caught something out the corner of my eye which had me grabbing for the brakes and reaching for my camera...


    That rainbow's end was only a hundred meters away, but the marshy bit looked too dodgy even for a pot of gold. ;)

    Then it was up an open valley made really atmospheric by the clouds and light...


    After another loch the pockets of trees gave the scenery a different, more intimate feel...


    And then we were back for a while at the coast, with views of sea lochs again...


    The total journey to Ullapool is only 130 miles, but taking it slow to enjoy it and stopping for photos meant it took most of the day.

    Our Guest House wasn't in Ullapool itself as I thought but two miles north on the main road, so not really walkable; it also didn't do breakfast. So after dropping our luggage off, we rode back into Ullapool for chips and to shop for evening beer and breakfast supplies. We were to spend all our evenings at Ullapool in our room, but at least it was very nice, of a good size, and had a table with two bar stools next to the window which looked out across the loch to the mountains beyond. :) (To be honest, what I would have preferred to pubs and restaurants anyway.)

    Day 7 (Route)

    After a lazy start we rode to Lairg for lunch. The road there is mostly a quiet single-track through terrain that has a lot of wooded areas and is more hilly than mountainous. After eating it was up the 17 mile long Loch Shin, on another quiet single-track road that is also very straight. Going at a relaxed pace this started to become a little monotonous at the end, but still great scenery...



    The views then change when the road gets to Allt Ceann Locha...


    And again at Loch Stack, with the amazing pink granite (?) shapes...


    These lochs were taking us north-west but then we joined the coastal road wending back southward. After a pit stop at Scourie we came across a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Loch Dubhaird Mor...


    By now, the weather was grey but the rain was holding off so we decided to put in an extra loop to our route to go through Drumbeg to Lochinver. This was something that looked good when I researched the trip, though on this particular day I soon realised we were ascending into the clouds. The nature of the road is single-track with twists and ups-and-downs, so with the visibility only just about reaching as far as the next passing place, and the road being rather busier than I expected, it was 40 minutes or more of intense concentration for me just to ride it. Mrs Mouse enjoyed it though, even though the clouds obscured the views it was very atmospheric.

    The road got a little less intense to ride as we neared Lochinver and being a little cold and damp we were glad to find a cafe, though first we had to wait for a large stag to lose interest in us and the cafe. After getting fortified by cake and coffee it was nice to head back to Ullapool without any single-track roads.
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  4. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #4 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
    Day 8 (Route)

    This was the big one. My reason for planning 4 nights in Ullapool was to give us a chance of getting at least one day of decent weather to do the north coast, and today the forecast was to be sunny and dry! In the hope of such weather I had packed my riding jeans as my single change of trousers so it was with excited anticipation that I donned them that morning instead of my touring kit.

    The original idea was to go up to Durness, across to Tongue, down to Lairg and back to base, but yesterday at Lairg we'd seen signs saying the Tongue road was closed. So with no viable alternate routes we would have to turn around at Tongue and backtrack.

    Not long out of Ullapool, the lowish sun and beginning of autumnal colours gave the landscape an almost desert like feel...


    But by the time we got to Elphin it was more a watercolour painting of a lush rural idyl...


    On up past Unapool and Scourie which we'd come down through the previous day, except this time with brilliant weather, and on to new roads past Laxford Bridge where the road soon turns into a single-track and the views become wide and open and you start to feel small and lost...


    Arriving in Durness we headed to Cocoa Mountain for coffee, which had about a dozen other bikers there and a constant change of people leaving and arriving. We then headed to the beach, which is very nice, but almost incongruous when you think about the terrain we'd been riding through and being at the far north of Scotland.

    The road across to Tongue starts as a winding single-track road down and back up Loch Eriboll where we ate our packed lunch...


    Then the road gets a lane for each direction and climbs to go across what seems like a large plateau with mountains in the distance, then down again into Tongue. We were hoping to find a cafe, but no luck. More importantly, my satnav reckoned there was petrol to be had and it wasn't where it showed it to be. After a bit of a panic wondering if my fuel would last the 30 miles back to Durness I found the unsignposted petrol pump set back off the road, phew.

    By now it was 2pm and we had to backtrack what we'd done so far. So with now nearly cloudless skies we set off with more of a purpose, and less dallying to take photo's. Coming back into Durness, the coast reminded me of Cornwall and I couldn't resist a dodgy bit of parking in a passing place to grab a quick picture...


    After an icecream it was back southward. This time the completely clear air enabled you to see as far as the mountains went, a quite different but equally wondrous feeling as in previous days. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop and wanted to stop everywhere for lot's of photo's but Mrs Mouse was getting road weary (as was I to be honest) so just this one stop near Unapool...


    Once back to Ullapool we got a Chinese takeaway, and as Mrs Mouse was done with riding, we sneaked it back into our room rather than going to a nice loch-side spot as we'd planned.
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  5. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #5 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2020
    Day 9 (Route)

    The previous day was very tiring for both of us, so today we would take it easy.

    The weather was still pretty good (i.e. not raining), so we first headed up the road to Unapool to try and get some photos from nice viewpoints we hadn't managed before...



    After going to Lochinver for our first hot lunch in 4 days we headed over the narrow Drumbeg road which we'd done 2 days earlier in the clouds. The first part gave great views inland...


    Now for some dodgy photo taking whilst riding...


    Riding this day was a lot less intense than in the clouds previously, now you could usually see road and traffic enough ahead to relax a little, and even admire the scenery and views occasionally. No places to stop and take photos though except at Drumbeg itself where they've constructed a viewpoint...


    After that it was nearly half hour to get to the main road, and I was getting hot and thirsty but there literally is no place to pull over to take off a jumper and drink some water.

    Once I'd cooled off at the main road it was back to our digs in Ullapool.

    Day 10 (Route)

    Now was the day to leave Ullapool and start zigzagging south. It was glorious weather with little wind, making water surfaces like mirrors...


    Following a coffee stop we got to Inverness and after more than a week in the highlands coming across busy dual-carriageways and dense urban areas was rather a shock. I just followed the instructions my stanav was giving and trusted that it would find an escape. Ahh yes, that's more like it...


    We were now hugging the shores of Loch Ness in the cold shade of conifers but after eating our packed lunch at a bench in Foyers we came out into the open...


    Continuing down the Great Glen was followed by a turn westward heading for the Cairngorms and into scenery with a different feel...


    After arriving at our B&B without any beer supplies we had to head off again to get them, unfortunately, the nearest place for beer ended up causing us a long ride involving the busy A9.

    Finally with our beer we could chill out next to the stream which passed the B&B. For half an hour anyway, before the midges forced us to go to our room where we also ate very generous plates from the B&Bs 'snack' menu.

    Day 11 (Route)

    Breakfast was good an hearty, then it was off south again. We soon turned off the A9 and onto narrow roads with forest around and mist below us. I was wondering if satnav was leading us astray but I could see we were heading in the correct direction for my planned stop at Killin at the end of Loch Tay.

    After coffee we continue south through the Trossocks, which when I'd planned it seemed like a nice scenic ride, however I hadn't considered that we would be doing it on a Saturday, and it was also glorious weather so the whole of Glasgow had decided to go there also.

    What followed ended up being somewhat of a slog, just follow the lines of traffic heading in our direction to get to our destination. This is the point when I first though "I just want to be home now and stop moving".

    Eventually we got past Glasgow and no longer had oppressive traffic. Stopping at Dalry to get supplies we found it deserted and everywhere was shuttered up, we wondered if there was some sudden new Covid related restrictions but we did find an empty but open supermarket.

    Now we were retracing the convoluted route we did at the start of our tour back to our first nights B&B, except in the intervening week, all the potholes in the roads had doubled in size and we now jarring every bone in my body. (Obviously it was my body not the road that had become worn in the previous week.)

    Day 12

    The final day was just retracing the route of the first day. Except this time I did it without the fly-screen and travelled the dual-carriageways at a what seemed a relaxing 60mph (think there was a slight tail wind which helped).

    Once home, with frozen pizzas in the oven and a beer in hand we finally got to go "ahh, we've stopped". But what an absolutely amazing holiday, the best experience of my life...
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  6. dilligaf

    dilligaf Guest

    Brilliant trip and write up along with lovely pictures :cool:
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  7. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #7 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2020
    Thanks :) Post ended up on the rather enormous side but I was trying to do the trip some semblance of justice. Now I'd got to start organising next year's trip(s)... :grinning:
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  8. Octoberon

    Octoberon Crème de la Crème

    Jul 2, 2020
    Peak District, Yorkshire
    #8 Octoberon, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2021
    Thanks for taking the time to post all those fantastic pictures and the really lovely description of your travels. Makes me want to get on the bike and head north. Definitely a trip for next year.
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  9. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    #9 brown mouse, Oct 3, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2020
    Thanks :) After experiencing it for the first time last year, it's something I want to now be doing at least once a year. For the next trip I had planned going just by myself for the total freedom that gives, but a mate wants to go too and likes company; so may end up trying to go twice :grinning:
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  10. Vulpes

    Vulpes Confused Member

    Mar 14, 2018
    Great write-up and photo's. A trip down memory lane. Cheers for that!
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  11. neilb

    neilb Active Member

    Oct 8, 2019
    Billericay, Essex
    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this and taking in the beautiful scenery. I’ve many memories of riding those roads over the years and this brought them flooding back. The only comparable place I’ve ridden is Norway.....like Scotland on steroids! Thanks for the great post.
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  12. Don the Don

    Don the Don Bigger Than The Average Bear

    Nov 5, 2019
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  13. Sandi T

    Sandi T It's ride o'clock somewhere!

    Dec 3, 2018
    Tucson Arizona
    What an amazing 12-day trip, @brown mouse! :grinning: Thank you so much for sharing the tale of your and Mrs. Mouse's Scotland travels. It was a fantastic write-up and your photos are amazing. I appreciate the time, energy, and thought that went into your posts. :)

    I found the scenery you traveled through to be mesmerizing--quite unlike anything I've ever experienced before. I'm intrigued with your route and plan to pull out the UK map that Mr. Sandi gave to me a few months back to locate some of the places you describe. Thanks a lot for adding yet another trip to my bucket list. ;):joy:
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  14. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    Thanks! It did end up taking a lot longer than I anticipated to select photos and to write, I'm very happy it's appreciated. :grinning:
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  15. Guy On A Bonneville

    Guy On A Bonneville Well-Known Member

    Aug 20, 2020
    Thanks for the pics and narrative. Scotland is on my to do list.
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  16. Thripster

    Thripster Elite Member

    Feb 21, 2020
    Northampton, UK
    Yes, Brown Mouse......a fantastic write up and pictures........you have done all the grunt work yet shared with us........thank you.
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  17. brown mouse

    brown mouse Elite Member

    Sep 15, 2018
    East Midlands, UK
    Thanks. Guess I was feeling a bike evangelical about Scotland :) If any UK motorcyclist hasn't been to the Highlands then they really should be going!
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  18. speedstu

    speedstu Member

    Jun 8, 2020
    Thanks for sharing, enjoyed reading it!
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  19. Bolosun

    Bolosun Well-Known Member

    Aug 25, 2020
    I have done a lot of those roads over the years. Next time you go, try adding this place to your itinerary, they sell the best coffee in the UK.
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  20. Foxy1

    Foxy1 Crème de la Crème

    Aug 31, 2018
    Great write up and pics, Brown Mouse. Glad you enjoyed.
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