Scotland, in all its glory.
I love Scotland. I know, it’s kind of a no-brainer, however, the last couple of days that I have had, have been truly magnificent. Truly breathtaking.
After returning (after an awesome weekend) from the IAM conference, and a brilliant run up the road, I had a brief visit to my ‘day job’. An induction on Tuesday morning with a couple of new-starts. Job done, I scarpered up the road, threw my training kit into Smoggy’s panniers, and I was on the road again. I was tempted to take George for a last hurl before the salt arrives, but the weather forecast looked ‘kind’. How could I resist. They were predicting 18 degrees in the spot I was aiming for: Torridon. *Note to David McCutcheon* – I laughed at your message: “Reading your blog woman… bloody hell, how do you find the time?” I just do. I find the time because it’s my stress relief; my freedom. This blog might explain it a bit.
I know my last blog was only the other day, however, you know me, I can’t help it. Just like, I can’t help riding my wee bike. The love affair continues.
There was a bit of cloud when I left home, then going through Rannoch Moor, I could see that the forecast was spot on. By Fort William, the blue sky was visible in the far distance. The temperature had risen from an average 10 degrees to 12. By the time I had gone a few more miles, it was 15 degrees. Rare for the summer, never mind the middle (end?) of October.
As many of you will know, the roads north from Spean Bridge are pretty quiet at this time of year. It was glorious. Perfect conditions, quiet, dry roads. Not many tourists. There is a great big list of like-minded folk that I wish had been there with me. You know who you are. My most special Mentors got a text message from me, I was so overcome with the beauty and the roads and …. well, Scotland. 😉 If you didn’t get a text, it’s not that you’re not special, there’s just a couple of folk that I think about when I’m learning…. Reading this, you know who you are! Cheers, you are just fantastic and help make me feel ‘whole’ on my journey; just because you can be bothered!
Once upon a time, Ed and I used to take an annual pilgrimage up to Coruisk in Skye to visit the lovely Lesley. Feast on seafood and amazing New Zealand wine. We miss that. I miss going up the road to Skye. Every year, I gauge my riding improvement and learning on how I ride / manage the road. All of my readers that have ridden these roads, know what I mean. They are just amazing. Sweeping bends, with some tricky bits thrown in. Cattle grids, random sheep and tourists not paying the remotest attention are just some of the hazards. I so wish Ed had been with me.
Given I have been to Croft 4, yes, 4 times since my last visit to this amazing route, I was really looking forward to the run. I didn’t consciously head out thinking ‘I wonder….’ I just got out there and did it. The difference in the way I handled everything was just fab. You see, that’s what learning does for you. Little bits of advice from my mentors, practical training on Skills Days put it all together…. TA DA! I could feel the difference. This dogged determination that I have got for learning and picking people’s brains is working, big time.
I knew I needed to stop at some point, so I chose Eilean Donan Castle. Not only for the view, but for the loo (never pass a loo, never trust a fart and for those blokes… never waste a … Cheers, RR) and for a snack. Breakfast was gobbled at my desk before induction, braw it was too! I needed the fuel. A wee wander, a bite to eat and a chat to the lovely staff, then it was back onto my wee pal.
The road after there, turning right up towards Lochcarron, can bring the horns out, however, I was determined to just enjoy the spectacular scenery and stay in one piece. There’s a stretch of the road, where the tarmac is shiny, wee micro-climates that make you quite cautious. The other day, when I was out with Kevin, we had a conversation about that exact thing. You just don’t know if it’s slippy, so, assume it is and ride to the conditions. Then there’s the corner. That corner. It’s weird. It has that ‘green’ tarmac on it. It’s been widened and it has a strange limit point of vision. Difficult to explain without a photo. The last time I was in the car, I totally misjudged it. When I rode round it this time, I vowed that I would pay attention more on my run home. More of that later.
There in front of me was Lochcarron in all its glory. Wow, eye-candy. Heart soaring and making me feel grateful to be alive and riding a motorcycle on some of Scotland’s best roads. Some of the scenery was truly enough to make you want to cry with joy. For those of my friends who have been up this way, you know what I’m writing about. Those of my pals who I have to persuade to visit Scotland…. get organised. You’re in for a treat.
I left early enough to get to Torridon before dark. It was 12.30 when I scarpered. I knew I had to be there for about 5pm. The final stretch of 14 miles to Torridon is fun, a mix of single track and single carriageway. More of the former, less of the latter.
Then, after Lochcarron, there’s the wonder that is the Bealach na Ba. Click here for information. . It’s a braw wee road and it was just screaming at me. I had time, it seemed rude not to. It was Smoggy that did it. It’s been about 2 years since I was up there. So, off we went. I have to confess, the weather was so lovely, the sky blue, very few people on the road, I opened my helmet and grinned my way up the road. It starts winding its way up the hill side. For those that aren’t familiar with it, I guess it can lull you into a false sense of security. Then BLAMO! The road tightens and things get pretty technical. To start with, I was following a local who was making great progress. Then I had to stop and take a photo. I lost my ‘Pookie’. For anyone who isn’t a fan of Garfield, that makes no sense.. Ed normally acts as my Pookie, he goes first. I see his brake lights, and I know there’s a hazard approaching, especially an on-coming car on single track roads…. Garfield will use Pookie as his guiding light. Especially where lasagne’s involved. If you haven’t read any Garfield books, be ashamed, do it.
So, generally, you can get a good line of sight, however, having lost my Pookie, I had to ride at a speed that I could safely stop in the space I could see clear on the road. There isn’t a ‘side’ of the road, given it’s as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm.A BMW X5 was baring down on me. He passed an passing place. Just kept on coming. So, to set the scene, there’s an armco barrier (needed) on the left. The tarmac is ok, but no space to go off road. When we met, I was as far over as I could go, given I had my training kit in my panniers, I was a bit of a ‘wide load’. Where the X5 driver thought I was going to go, was a mystery.
Like my close call with an Italian woman on my trip to Sicily, I held my ground. What else could I do. I don’t have reverse. All I could do was sit with my hand on my front brake and foot brake engaged. It’s steep. We had a wee chat on the way past each other, as you do! Making sure that you have the balance and your foot brake engaged is essential, it’s a bitty steep in places.
Then there’s the hairpin / switchback bends, they are interesting. You need to look as far ahead as you can, and when there’s nothing coming down towards you, go for it. The line of sight was good to tackle the first few and a couple where I stopped, just to make sure we had space. I have to say, even going up the Stelvio Pass, there’s enough space for a car and a bike to pass, not here. It’s a pure single track road. With panniers, you have to be considering the space and just how you get by. Tyres on the edge, that’s about it. We, as bikers, can’t do anything more.
So, up to the top of the Bealach na Ba. Oh, joy. So worth it.The light’s going, I need to get to the hotel. Back down again. I have to stop at the top. A maintenance lorry who doesn’t even give me a hand wave; ignorant git. Never mind, I can see the whole of the way down. NO TRAFFIC!
Again, I can’t help myself. By this time, I have moved my phone from my internal pocket to my outside pocket. Stop bike. Take photo. Mirror check, blind spot check and on.
The last part to the hotel was a joy. I already had flies in my teeth from grinning, Smoggy and I were having a ball. I got to the hotel, said hello to the group I was going to be training, had a shower, dinner (with wine) and crashed at 9.30pm. Yes, an hour before my normal bed time. zzzzzz
The next day, it was training. 9am-6pm of solid teaching. We didn’t leave the room other than for the loo and for a kitchen inspection. I was teaching Intermediate Food Hygiene and cramming a lot into the day. Not used to just standing, talking (aye, right) and waving my arms around, I had trouble falling asleep that night. Not to worry, I did get a full night sleep and all I had to do today was invigilate an exam, after coaching them through the stuff that they were fearful about. I caught up with my business emails and started to read a very interesting motorcycling book. Sad person.
The run home. The rain had stopped at Torridon. It did however get a bit gruesome. It was hail at one point, however, I rode to the conditions and had a ball. The other breathtaking part was the wind. It was so strong that every organ in my body was trying to tense up with the excitement and tension. There was only one thing for it: park your arse back in the seat, place the balls of your feet on the pegs, lean forward, take your weight off your arms and shoulders and relax. As much as your arse might be giving you signals that want you to grip harder on the bars; don’t. Amazing how your butt can make you do what you really shouldn’t do, relax, go with the wind (parp) and just give the bars a wee bit of a nudge if needed, to adjust to the wind. It’s a hard thing to do, however, try it out. If your arms and hands are relaxed, it makes dealing with the conditions much easier.
Again, the view was just great, and what was a dry road on the way up, was a damp, wet and challenging road on the way back. That’s OK though, I’ve got the tools in my box for that. Get yer heed over to the mirror and you will keep the bike upright, it’s more stable that way. All will be fine. Believe. Understand that in the wet you probably have more grip than you think, possibly about 70% of your grip in the dry. Just get out there and practice.
I had a guy who caught up with me, he was driving a Ford Focus estate. I gave him numerous opportunities to overtake, then I realised that he was happy to sit behind me. I kept on doing my ‘thing’. Making safe progress, and even when I got to that dreaded corner, I was happily in my zone. I was ready for it and still I realise that it’s a challenging corner, with very little warning, coming over the crest of a hill and BANG, it’s there. Easy to get really wrong if you don’t know any better. Not much run-off and a big bush if you get it all wrong.
It was getting colder. The temperature had dropped quite a bit. It was about 7.5 degrees. I hadn’t (silly bint moment) plugged in my jacket. I had decided though that there weren’t any places that I wanted to stop for a pee or a coffee. I kept going. After all, Ed has made sure I have stamina. I wanted to get home before it was dark.
So, the sun’s in my eyes, I have my sun visor down in my helmet which is dead handy. I am riding along the widest part of the whole journey. A lovely wide part of the road, which brings back lots of memories. Good ones from when I was in the Civic Type R. All I could see were black blobs on the road that were cars. 4 of them. The car in second place overtook, that’s fine. The car in 4th place decided to overtake. OMG. Move over. Right…. NOW! He kept coming. I was viewing the world in sepia at that point, in slow motion. Sun in my face, sun visor down, still got a view, however, what was a fact, he could see me and the white Ford Focus behind me. He couldn’t miss us. You’d think.
I was over the left hand solid line, where there’s a strip of tar, about 12″ wide to avoid him. He overtook 3 cars and didn’t care less. I forgot my ambassadorial role in the IAM at that point and raised my left hand with two fingers extended showing the International sign language ‘you idiot’. (sorry, IAM, BUT he deserved it). I survived it. The Focus behind me was on the edge and in the gravel to avoid him. FFS. I guess on a good note, had I been splattered, the guy driving would have been able to defend the riding I had been doing for the 80-odd miles that he had been following, he chose to stay behind me in the wet conditions. I am writing this, thankful for all the ‘what you can see, what you can’t see and what you can reasonably expect to develop’. Phew. I thank the IAM and my Mentors for my continuing training.
Going through Glencoe, it was just amazing. Every car on the way seemed to have stopped to take photos. The cloud was low, the setting sun shining through the clouds. The view of the Buachaille Etive Mor was enough to make me greet. What a beautiful, emotional, heart-tugging moment. If I wasn’t starting to feel chilled, I would have stopped to capture the moment. So good to feel alive, so great to be on a motorbike and have that image in my mirror. It will remain with me forever.
I was texting Ed, telling him about my magnificent trip, and I told him how long it took me. EEK. He said, ‘You naughty girl’. I have to say, in my defense, that I was doing a ‘roadcraft’ day, those days when my lovely mentors are sitting on my right (positive) shoulder and I’m thinking about everything I have been taught. Other than the occasional moment when I had to do a ‘giddy-up’, I was legal the whole way. Shocked when I looked at Google and it said that I should have taken 4 hours and 7 minutes. That’s a load of bollocks. I took 3 hours and 10 minutes and that was without being a hooligan, taking time to take in the view and give a total plonker a hand signal (deserved) I wasn’t being a hooligan. Sorry, Google, your ‘car’ times don’t correlate to motorcycle times, even an hour of a difference. I might set myself up here to get a bollocking, but in all seriousness, that’s what I did. 3 hours 10 minutes. I got home before dark. Go Smoggy. You rock. I have to admit, I didn’t even sign for my petrol when I got into the shop. I just made a b-line for the coffee machine at the back. I didn’t even take my gloves off. It didn’t take me long to get a bath run either. It reminds me why Ed and I decided to keep the hideous avocado coloured bath, it’s just huge. Just what you need when you get off the bike.
dxcssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss – that’s Dotty’s contribution. Ha!
A big thank you to the team at The Torridon and the Torridon Inn for looking after me so well, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. I loved the tea cupboard and the contents were appreciated when I got off the bike.All the food was great – I couldn’t help it though, I had a wee play when my breakfast arrived. . Want to get away from it all and have the ultimate in peace and quiet, go and visit. In the summer though, pack your midge repellent!