Highlands and Islands

A visit to Orkney in 2016 on our NC500 trip confirmed we needed to spend some more time on the Scottish islands.  With that in mind we book the ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland and have three days making use of the well surfaced open roads on the islands.  A couple of ferries from Shetland mainland see’s us arrive on Unst and as far north as you can ride in the UK, the waters northwards cold and clear, the coastline and scenery wild and stunning.

Roadside cup of coffee, with stunning views

Looking down onto Scalloway

St Ninians Beach

Up near the early warning station on the northern tip of Unst

I got chatting to one of the ferry deckhands, he wanted to show me pictures of his own bike, a Moto Guzzi, as he scrolled through the pictures on his phone, looking for the perfect picture, he scrolled past the pictures of her indoors pointing at it, how I laughed!!

Every turn in the road affords a new view, bigger than the last, across inlets and islands. Staying in Scalloway we are pretty much in the centre of the island with easy access in all directions, its only ten minutes from west to east coasts!  We head down to Sumburgh head on the southern tip of the island, this is supposed to be puffin central, but it must be their half day, not one in sight.

Shetland provides us with the only mechanical of the trip, a snapped kick start on Pete’s bike.  We have already ridden past the islands only bike shop / garage at Burra and surmise its the place to go in the morning.

Steve, the owner of Burra Motor Repairs is a bike nut and as helpful as can be.  After a couple of cups of tea and a general chit chat about all things old skool we’re sorted with a kick start of a Chinese field bike, it being the same spline pattern as a 1971 T500.  A run of weld to lock the folding lever in place and the job is good for the rest of the trip.  We hoon round for the rest of the day returning to Steve’s for another cuppa and to drop off some beers – the international currency of the world

Arriving on Orkney at about 11pm, the rain of the late evening and early night has stopped and we ride off the boat to clear skies and damp roads.  Heading south we cross a couple of the causeways and bivvy out at Scappa flow under the stars.  Waking as the sun breaks over  the horizon the day promises fine weather and does not disappoint.

This evening we are back at John’s at Evie on the north of the island, a great host we are revisiting after our NC trip two years earlier.  John has made some improvements to his accommodation, most notably a small bar, he plies us with beers and we swap stories from over the years, skilfully managing to avoid too much of an argument with the other guests from France, who want to hug trees just a little too much.

Kitchener’s tower on the west of the island was built by the locals after Lord Kitchener was lost at sea with 732 other in 1916 when their ship hit a mine just a  mile and a half off shore, only 12 survived.

Back on the mainland we ride into worsening weather and crazier sheep, with two near misses as the gloom increases.  Arriving at Durness we have twenty minutes to get the tents pitched in increasing winds, stow our gear and leg it to the bar to get fed and watered.  Pete makes it in the nick of time and convinces the staff to feed us even though we are two minutes late.

The wind picks up through the night, the tail end of some hurricane that has raced across the Atlantic and southern Scotland.  Early morning and some other bikes are heading out, eastwards, I don’t envy them on narrow roads and gusting winds.  Our ride the evening before had been entertaining enough and winds speed has only increased over the hours.

The combination of A836 and A838 has to be one of the best rides in the country.  I would favour riding eats to west, even in the rain and mist the evening its a classic and at this time of day, little traffic, perhaps half a dozen cars in 70 or so miles.

We spend the day on the beach and in the bar, the good alternative to riding when the weather is like it is.  Sunday dawns clear with calm conditions and we take our time riding to Ullapool.  The west coast is breath taking.  Pete has researched  small campsite at Altandhu.  Even after a day of riding through stunning scenery the views as we drop down the hill to the village stop me in my tracks.  We are soon pitched up and sinking the beers as the sun dips below the horizon marking the end of another day of perfect riding.

The ride to breakfast takes some beating, an hour through the highlands to Ullapool, fed and watered we are soon steaming out to the Hebrides across Loch Broom.  The isle of Lewis is something of a disappointment compared to what we have seen already, although as we head onto Harris the next day the scales are balanced again as the roads rise and fall with the mountains and the ride to another ferry at Leverburgh.  The ride is wet and windy but despite the conditions we get a feel for the scenery, wit golden sand beaches aplenty.

The relatively calm crossing belies what’s ahead on North Uist.  Wind buffets us across the roads, disconcerting when the roads are narrow with no verges, just drops to either side to marshy wetlands.  It’s fair to say we are not seeing these islands at their best.  We leave South Uist the following morning, the ride to Lochboisdale offering the last of the empty roads we have grown so used to over the miles so far.

Malaig on the mainland offers us an introduction to the west coats tourist traffic and all too soon we are back to the mindset of looking out for Jo Tourist and Johny Foreigner.  The islands  have spoilt us with well surfaced empty roads – gone in a ferry journey.  A closed bridge at Oban has us on a hundred mile detour and we have to rethink our route home.  A known campsite and restaurant afford us our last night on the road, we head home the following day being chased by the rain, the weather forecast puts paid to any thoughts of a leisurely trip.

Stirling, Peebles disappear and we head for the Pennines, Alston and our last fuel of the trip.  The ride through Teessdale  on familiar but bumpy roads is dispatched and we are back on the A1, where the journey started two weeks earlier.

1816 miles in thirteen days on a 1971 T500 and a 1988 Z900 Harris.  We have seen plenty of bikes on the trip but none with the character and patina of our chosen rides, its just too easy on an adventure bike!  Pete’s Suzuki  attracts attention wherever it goes, with people recounting stories on similar machines, back in their yoof.  You don’t need an adventure bike, just a bike and a few quid in your pocket! JFDI