And I Would Walk 500 Miles.....
gbmcc Sotland Tour 2015
This past week was our annual GBMCC (Gay Bikers MotorCycle Club) tour of Scotland. Pilgrimage has been somewhat of a theme this Summer, starting with a trip to Iona, touring with GBMCC, travelling down to the BBC Proms in London to celebrate mine and J’s 5th anniversary and finally the journey to Cambridge, where I will be during term time as I study for ministry. Altogether my wee Honda CG 125 has travelled 1229 miles in the past 9 days, and me with it! We have gone 500 miles, 500 more, and an extra 200 or so just to make a proper job of it! The map below shows our route, minus the bottom bit!
On the first day we rode up to Alston, in Cumbria. I was a bit unsure and nervous in the morning, having only ridden in lessons over the past few months since our Scotland tour last Summer! In the end, we had a lovely ride up. I particularly enjoyed the road over Hartside Moor, which I promptly described as ‘The Cat and Fiddle’ on speed! It had hairpin after hairpin winding up the mountain before ambling back down again. A fantastic weekend in Alston included visiting J’s relatives, seeing (and hearing!) the impressive ‘High Force’ waterfall and eating the first haggis of the week with around 20 bikers – friends old and new. It is wonderful, as a learner and a 125 rider, to be so accepted into the family.
On Sunday it was time to ride up to Callander, to start the Scottish tour proper. We spent a lot of the day on the B road that winds its way around the A74(M). Its the widest and straightest B road I have ever ridden on, and is pretty much empty as everyone else is on the motorway. This might be boring for well established bikers, but it was a great chance to work my way up to my bikes top speed of about 62 miles per hour (haha) and sit at it for as long as possible. It was great fun! There are two things, though, that no-one tells you about riding a 125 ‘fast’. One is that, with the throttle fully open in its top gear, it will not stop vibrating through your hands. Bone rattling indeed. The other is that you can’t actually sit at your top speed. I discovered gentle inclines that I never would have known existed had my trusty wee bike not slipped gradually back down to 50! Despite this, it truely was great fun. Despite getting lost around the edges of Glasgow, we arrived in time to have a cheeky few pints before bed, having had a lovely dinner of mussels en route!
After not too much sleep (never been great at dorms) and plenty of coffee we set off to ride to Shiel Bridge, Loch Duich, for the third consecutive year. As there were only 3 roads to find, J suggested that I lead. This was really good for my confidence and helped to improve my navigation and cornering skills. J also took the lead for a while to help me to practice my counter steering and cornering positions. One pleasant surprise of the day was to catch up with the others at the Green Welly Stop – they must have had a very long coffee break! It rained on and off all day, but we eventually arrived safe and sound at the hotel, where we had a lovely meal and a welcome pint and whisky. I was very pleased when one of the riders said that, unlike last year, no-one ever questioned whether I would make it there this time! I enjoyed a relatively sunny day off reading on the shore of the loch, while J did 180 miles around the Isle of Skye with John and the others!
The following day it was time to set off to one of few Scottish locations that I have never travelled to before – Durness, which is on the very top coast. I was very excited about travelling somewhere that is so visible on the map – that iconic jagged line that marks the top of the country. We enjoyed amazing fish and chips at Ullapool, and watched a large sailing ship (just like the black pearl!) from the Netherlands coming in to dock. The last 50 miles that we rode were through the most special scenery that I have ever experienced. It was literally jaw dropping. I had great fun overtaking just about everything for once on the gently winding single track roads (they were very narrow and slow!) which dropped down into a breath-taking valley in the rocky mountains. As the road rose back up bright blue sea came into view. We enjoyed the beautiful white-sand beaches – where we saw a seal – and had a good night’s sleep in the bunkhouse.
The next day was down to Tomintoul, the small town in the Cairngorms that our kitten was named after. We stopped at the peak of the road at a cafe that has become a yearly stop, run by an eccentric and caring couple who make a great butty! The following road has a very odd camber, is pretty steep and is a challenge on a 125, but one that was far easier than the previous year, when my back wheel was falling off! We arrived just after the others, which was a nice achievement, although they had gone on a route that was many miles longer! We had a beautiful meal in a local restaurant and I was persuaded to drink ‘Amy-bombs’, a terrible drink which was invented that night which was rather like a jagger-bomb but with Famous Grouse! (Amy was the barmaid…)
Myself and J spent an extra night in Tomintoul – just as well, as the others had to ride through foot deep flood waters! We spent the day walking the Tomintoul loop, which had some very overgrown paths and one that was flooded. It was great fun, though, and the scenery was beautiful. The next day we didn’t make it very far! The winds in the towns were at 80mph, so goodness knows what they were at Lecht summit, where my bike got pushed into the verge several times. This taught me a valuable lesson of how to rev high in a low gear and lean into the wind. I was very relieved when we returned to lower ground. It was still very windy, however, which soon took its toll. Late-rooms came to the rescue, and we stayed in a beautiful renovated cottage in Perthshire owned by an estate which also included a gastro-pub. A scary day turned into a really lovely night.
The next day we got down to Gretna. The following day we headed home via an accidental detour to Kirkby-Lonsdale – yes, I was leading! It was all good fun though, practicing new cornering skills and making it home faster than expected. This even spurred us into two consecutive days of bicycle riding!
So, that was Scotland 2015. I learned so much and had a truely fabulous time. It wouldn’t have been the same without our generous, funny, fast, welcoming fellow GBMCC members (which, on this occassion, became an international group including 2 Dutch, 1 Serb and an Italian).
Bring on the next trip!