Monday, 29 July 2013

An Almost Perfect Circle - Part One

Some trips happen after mountains of time, effort and planning. A combination of several people’s ideas and desires melded into one series of roads, attractions and beds. Others surface like mole hills.

This trip was the latter. A two night jaunt had been cooked up by Mike and Ben which happily fell over the first weekend of the school holidays. The two night timetable was swiftly extended to three when Mike realised the opportunity for him to check out our new Thurso mansion. My new found freedom however was being slobbered all over by a Great Dane called Rhu and a Greyhound named Dylan. Mike didn’t like this and a barrage of pleading texts and emails ensued. Help was at hand though which would solve both the slobbering mutts and the slevering idiot. Rob the dog my brother was coming up for the weekend to relieve Lynne and I of dog sitting duties leaving her good self to go and play bowls and my bad self to go on an adventure.

A hectic Thursday followed where I did lots, but with none of the lots relating to packing or preparing for a motorcycle meander. Ben arrived on his red steed at around half past four; he was however on his own. 

“ehhhhh… where’s Mike?” I asked as I gave the obligatory man hug.

“He went his own route to yours. He said he knew where to go.”

“How did you get here then?”

“I had a look on the internet last night.”


I’d given Mike some simple instructions a couple of days before but his powers of listening aren’t always the best.

“Wonder when he’ll call?” I mused as at that moment my pocket began to vibrate.

A shouting conversation followed with neither caller really understanding what on earth the other was saying. The wind had been blowing hard all day and even as I walked back into the house for some shelter it was still nigh on impossible to hear what he was rambling. I went over the simple instructions again and he seemed happy.

Meanwhile Ben had went about sating his chain’s needs and was now after a mug of tea to sate his own. We wandered in and he got out of his kit. We made a pot of tea. We drank some tea. We chatted. We showed him around. Then and only then we got another call from Moon Face who had previously been half a mile away from the house.

“What’s your road called again?”

“Where are you?”

“Ehhhhh Naffer place…. Napher place?”

“Eh?! I’ll pass you on to Lynne.”

Within two minutes he’d come back the extra quarter mile and was parked in front of my big white semi. The next laugh at Mike’s expense was soon to follow. Ben had mentioned that Michael’s new to him Arai was a tad tight around his sizeable noggin which meant his cheeks were rather pronounced.

We wandered out to greet, harass and insult him. “Mike are you wanting a hand?”

“Eh? What are you on about?”

“Are you wanting a hand getting that helmet off? It looks a bit tight….”

“Fuck off it’s not that bad. It’s just a bit tight on the cheeks.”

The banter continued to flow, all the bikes were squeezed into the garage, Rhu the Great Dane growled a lot at Mike and the PS2 was turned on. For the rest of the night I handed them their arse’s on Tourist Trophy while they made excuses. Fajitas and nachos were eaten for dinner and washed down with beer and the odd gin and tonic. Caithness is an amazing place but idiots of this calibre are few and far between. Having the nobs up the road was awesome. We eventually retired to bed with the reminder that we had a decent ride in front of us tomorrow.

Bed time with Moon Face. Story just finished.

Lynne and I got up early to walk the dogs. It was breezy. In fact it was more than breezy; the strong wind from yesterday hadn’t dropped any and if anything had gained even more strength. The sun was however trying to break through the clouds and it was with a light heart that we wandered through the town. We picked up rolls on the way home and came back to find Michael and Benjamin encamped again in-front of the tv battling it out on a pair of TZR 125s.

“Hello children”. Indeed.

Dogs fed we got ourselves sorted with some butchers bacon, farm eggs and fresh rolls. In Moon Face’s words “Braw”.

Ben Concorde living the dream.

It's not the butchers bacon, it's ours.

Fresh farm eggs. Cracking.


And then it was time for me to pack my clothes. And sort my camping stuff. And sort my riding gear. And pack the bike. Suffice to say I took a while. It made me realise that I was also quite thirsty and dry feeling. So I quickly slipped down stairs to grab a pint of water which I took out to the garden. I was caught by Ben who went on for the rest of the trip to tell everyone we met that rather than packing I was outside in the garden, staring into space while drinking a pint of water. When he shouted out to me asking what on earth I was doing all I could answer was “hydrating”. It didn’t go down very well.

With not really knowing what I needed I decided to take nigh on everything. This got whittled down as we packed the bike and I was abused, by everyone. Bikes packed we said our goodbyes and headed down the road for fuel. Mike had attached his Go-Pro to the top of his helmet and looked like a tellytubby. He didn’t take his helmet off when he went in to pay and the look he got from the lassie at the till was one neither of admiration nor lust; the glorious twat.

We pulled out and got on our way. Our destination was Achiltibuie which is a touch further north than Ullapool. Rather than taking the direct route of back south on the A9 and then cutting across just after Golspie through Rogart and Lairg we’d decided to take the much longer but much more interesting and adventurous top road. We set off at a reasonable lick. Firing the GS into the first long sweeping bend brought an even larger smile to my face. We continued on, the wind catching my bike and pushing me off line. Ben was having similar issues; his Sprint’s fairing acting like a sail. Mike on the other hand was unaffected, he would no doubt put this down to his ‘strength’ we weren’t quite so convinced however. We rode on only having a few wee moments with tourists and one oil lorry straying onto our side of the road. We stopped in Tongue at the café before you reach the village proper. We were treated to a surprise as the café has been totally redone and a rather flash new wooden and glazed building stands in its place. We grabbed a can of juice and sat outside with the view, the sun and the wind. The sun was doing a good job and out of the wind it actually was quite warm. The thermal liners were out of my trousers and when on the bike I was quite comfortable. While we sat about and yapped I had a play with my camera which had been playing up since Lynne had taken it away. Someone somewhere was looking down on us as with a fresh charge it had come back to life! Hallelujah! I swapped in a memory card and set about creating some room for this adventure. This however lead to the inevitable question “ehhhhh…. Have I put these pictures on the computer yet?” I deleted a few to give me a bit of room as Mike had a wee fit and tantrum as the pictures were from our trip last year to Orkney. A new target was set to acquire a new memory card. Simple until you remember our current location.

That's not a smile. Its his noggin un-squeezing itself after an hours close loving from a too tight helmet. Helmet.

The cause of the previous puce puss. Telly Tubby-tastic.

Cafe has raised its game. Ben Concorde sees double.

We saddled back up. I was keen to lose my ‘coach’ status so pointed out to Concorde and Moon Face that I had my head protector and hand shoes on first. They declined to respond in repeatable language and we left. The road continued on its sinuous way. Or it would if we didn’t have to stop off at the Spar for Mike to get his “I love Tongue” sticker for his new panniers. Once stuck we properly departed. The wind was still howling but the sun was still shining and the views were singing out to us as we passed (for a more detailed/verbose description of the road check out my Outer Limits story). We made good progress on the still relatively quiet roads. Loch Erribol had its usual effect on us all. The scale and sheer beauty of the area is simply breath taking. We pushed on however and came behind a pair of motorhomes waiting for an oncoming AJG parcel van at the very corner of the sea loch. The drivers seemingly didn’t have a clue and there was a huge amount of faffing as they tried to jig the vehicles about so as the van could pass. We sat patiently behind. Or we would have been sitting patiently if the wind wasn’t trying to rip us off the bikes and throw them on the floor. Loch Eriboll is famous for its flatulence, as the winds either peel in off the sea or come funnelling down from the surrounding hills. The strength of it was quite scary. I could sit with the bike’s weight resting on my left leg and leaning into the wind only for an extra strong gust to come and push both the bike and myself over to my right leg. It was lucky that none of us were short as you needed all the leverage and grip available just to stay upright. I could see that even Mike was having similar issues and it was with a relieved sigh that the campers finally got their acts together and we set off again. We motored on through Laid and pulled into the carpark at Sango Bay, which ranks in my mind as one of the most perfect beaches in the world. Mike was away taking pictures and scaring tourists with his horrific chat and bad ass language while Ben and I sat about.
Ben, bikes but no bouy heid.

Crazy pretty.

“Think I might adjust my chain if he’s going to be a while.” Ben said and set about his task. I wandered about and took some photos then leant a hand. All the while a wee sparrow came within a foot looking for scraps which we were clearly meant to provide.

Ben getting his hands dirty. I quickly realised I should give him a hand rather than take pictures...

A helmet with a face trying to explode out of it soon came to join us. “Alright?”


“I’ve just managed to adjust my chain in the time it’s taken you to take some pictures.” The abuse continued until a ray of light appeared in the form of:

“Hot chocolate then?”

Durness is home, or rather Balnakiel craft village, to a chocolatier called Cocoa Mountain. Their produce is awesome and made all the better by the rather eclectic setting. We’ll get to that though as first we had to check the shop out for my memory card.

We set off again. It always amazes me the amount of tourists Durness attracts. There were bus loads of them walking along the road at Smoo Cave lending the village an ant’s nest vision. Yet that is also rubbish as anywhere south would have twelve fold as many tourists so I should shut my blinkered Caithnessian mouth. We got to the shop and an old boy started yapping to us about bikes from his car window. He still rode and he swapped some stories with Mike. I ventured in and hit the jackpot. One 8GB memory card for a price that was surprisingly cheap. The guy behind the counter, complete with Leatherman pouch on his belt, chatted away as the machine logged my card details. “How was your run?”

“Aye pretty good. We came along from Thurso. Pretty windy though, coming round the loch it was mad.”

“Aye well it’s dropped a lot. It was a lot stronger at about ten or eleven.”

I recounted the mannie’s news to the boys outside. Suddenly my lack of preparation and relaxed pace didn’t seem to be so bad after all.

We moved on and took the narrow single track road, lined with tall, dry stone dykes to the craft village. Ben had never been before and was a bit sceptical. Mike and I on the other hand were salivating at the thought of what was to come. I prompted the boys to get a chocolate crossiant with their hot chocolates and I tried their ‘Mountain Mocha’ for a change. It was bloody awesome. We sat outside, sheltered from the wind by the building and comfortable in our bike gear. Talk soon turned to whether we were going to take the Drumbeg road to Lochinver or the more direct route. Both roads are fantastic with each being very different to the other.

Chocolate croissant. Awesome.

Ben getting stuck in.
Mike attempting to get rid of a chocolate spill. It was still evident after the ceilidh...

The road that runs through Drumbeg is a rollercoaster, goat-track, single-track that kinks and jumps about like a frog in a sock. Ben seemed to be feeling that he needed this however like a third armpit. In fact I’m sure when he said that he wasn’t really feeling the riding so far that what he was actually meaning was that if we were to take this road he’d have a nightmare in a bubble car... The direct route is much more open and full of sharp and sweeping corners. I seemed however to be the deciding factor. Last time round Liam and I had taken the Drumbeg route. Then I was on my noble steed of a hopped up XT600E and it was simply perfect. Foot out, rear end sliding, kicking up chuckies with the front going light as it caught the bumps, lumps and yumps of the perfectly imperfect tarmacadam. It would be a different proposition on the rather laden Gelande Strasse but as I rode it just like the XT I was sure that it would still be great. Mike took it that I hadn’t ridden the direct route before and with the added reluctance of big nose the decision was made.
We cracked back on the A838 beginning with the rather pretty Kyle of Durness before cutting through the heather and hills with the road continuing on as the A894. The traffic lords were again being kind to us and we bumbled along at an increasing rate. We said hello again to the sea and double carriageway as we neared Scourie. Passing on, the scenery continued in its brilliance, the sun glinting off the polished white caps and the last yellows of the gorse bushes littering the sides of the roads and looking down on us from the hill sides. The Kylesku bridge came and went with the massive grin on my face only widening. The ins and outs of the sea and land is fascinating as you pass and at times it’s wise to remind yourself to keep your eyes on the road.

Mike was flashing. He was thankfully flashing with the aid of his motorcycles indicators and not in his usual fashion. He pulled into a junction that I remembered correctly as the turn off for the Drumbeg road. Although we’d made a decision the old bugger was clearly having issues with remembering what it was….

“mmmuuuhhh waaaaah vhhhh thhhhhhhhh.”

“Eh?” I replied. The nobber had pulled into the junction and was sitting in the centre of the singletrack road which quickly disappears around a blind, and possibly deaf, corner. Ben appeared and joined in. Michael continued to shout nonsense and Ben finally joined him, in location rather than ramblings. I sat back comfortably out of the way with a perfect view of the oncoming car.

“There’s a car ya nobs!” I shouted out to them. Mike being hard of hearing at the best of times didn’t quite catch even the simple language of that sentence.

“Car!” I shouted louder this time while pointing vigourously behind the eclipse of a helmet which the car was no doubt bearing down on at a frightful pace of at least twelve miles per hour. He finally got the hint and paddled himself out the way. Within all the commotion the decision had miraculously been re-decided. The direct route it was. Again. I remembered as we sorted ourselves out, or rather waited for the large headed one, that I had in fact ridden this road once before in the opposite direction while coming home during the Outer Limits trip. My main memory of the road being going for an upshift on the exit of the corner only to realise that I was carrying more lean than I had realised. The upshift was abandoned as my left foot was trapped between the peg and the road.

Mike lead, I was in the middle and Ben was the rear gunner. Naturally. Mike and I cracked on at a fantastic pace. Ben later shook his head while recounting how close the pannier on my bike was to the ground during the first few corners.  This however was not simply due to my gargantuan appendages… With all the weight and only an enthusiastic, uneducated gesture at the preload knob by the ferg nob, the centre stand was doing a good job of dragging its knee. The next couple of miles were hilarious however and we attacked them with glee. We arrived at the end of the road and waited a minute or two for Ben who was still not feeling it. We carried on to Lochinver catching up with a group of Germans travelling at thirty five mils an hour. Once in Lochinver we avoided the fantastic pie shop and headed straight for some fuel. Moon Face was mistaken for a German by another German who spoke better English than the rest of us combined, English degree included. He was touring with his son on their 1200 GSA.

Step off bikes. Step into bar.
Ben and I popped a peedie bit of fuel in, paying the young lad in the kiosk who found eye contact a difficulty, then wandered across to the Spar to sort out some dehydration for later on. The next destination was set for The Summer Isle’s pub before moving on to Mike’s parent’s cottage. Riding through Lochinver we took a road that I’d properly never travelled upon. It was another goat track of a trail and with the sun shining and the awesome memories of the miles that came before we burped and barked along never getting past fourth gear. To be honest I couldn’t have wished for much more. If I could ride roads like these for the rest of my life then I would be eternally happy. We flipped and flopped our way on, meeting courteous drivers travelling in both directions, although not at once of course. As we neared our destination the road opened out and we caught back up with the heather. The final run into Achiltibuie was fast in comparison to the last few miles and a nice reflection on what had for me been a very special wee ride which would no doubt live on in its dappled sunlit way in the deepest and darkest crevices of my cranium. We pulled up the steep drive of The Summer Isle’s pub and abandoned the bikes by the front door. 

I'm Ewan, Mike's Charlie, Ben's Claudio. Naturally.

We wandered in and ordered our drinks, an An Teallach for Ben and a Suilven each for Mike and myself. There were a few folk in the tiny bar and more starting to sit down for their dinner so we ventured out to the beer garden. The tables were sheltered by the wooded hill behind and hedges that run its perimeter so we were quickly down to our t-shirts and marvelling at the cracking view of the bay and the islands that give the hotel its name. Ben took the time to make a call to his future Mrs and Mike and I played the game of answering every question as if he was talking to us. It amused us and Bender took it well. The beer however was a mixed blessing. It tasted amazing after the adventures of today but it was also going straight to all of our heads. We sipped for a good half hour before light heads or not, it was time to head on to the cottage.

The steeds.

The view's that way ya fuds!

"There's a view?" said chocolate face.

Benjamin phoning us.

Pair o' helmets.


Moon face.

Light headed as anything...

Wull, Agnes and Rolli the dog were staying in a wee village along from Achiltibuie called Reiff. The amount of houses in the area however is quite amazing. There are old crofts and new builds of all shapes, sizes and price tags dotted in between the rocks and heather. Mike was again leading as he ‘knew’ where the house was… I decided to ride the distance standing up and in the tighter turns felt a bit Stefan Everts trying to get the rear end to get squirelly on exit. It didn’t. It also highlighted that the big BM’s handlebars are far too low for prolonged standing uppery; something that I will have to sort in the future. The position put a huge amount of strain through my right wrist and tightened one of the ligaments leaving a sharp burning feeling. But it was fun. Pure road riders may well call you a poser, but the benefits of being able to ride standing up are huge both on and off the beaten path. Also if you haven’t ridden off road a lot you really really need to. Which should go without saying. Obviously.

Captain Fud
We passed a large erection. Presumably the marquee was for the ‘gathering’ which we’d fortuitously landed in the area for. A wee bit of road later and we pulled up to a house with a familiar car parked outside. The cottage was about a Bolt ten seconds from the sea and the wind was hurling itself across the water and attacking the land with venom. We sheltered the bikes along the wall and were greeted by a dog and a ball, Agnes and the heid poofter Wull. Pleasantries and abuses thrown we grabbed what we needed and ventured in to check out their crib. 

Rolli dog. Feckin dude.

It was sweet but Ben was a bit crestfallen when he realised that the three of us would have to share a room. 

“I said I’d never sleep near to Mike again.”

“How?” I ventured in typical Caithness backwardsness.

“The noise! He snores like fuck!”

Oh well then. A bed was pulled out from another bed and the issue of who was to share with who was avoided. 

With time to thrill before dinner the kids, as we now were, wandered the house and explored. It was quite by chance and accident that an opportunity for a spot of horse play presented itself. While in the toilet I felt a sudden stiffness. The hard object however was not the usual culprit being much larger in both girth and length. I was afflicted by the Bike Bogey. The Bike Bogey creeps upon its unsuspecting victims while their noses are safe from reach, cocooned within warm layers of plastic, fabrics and fibres. I attempted to extract this gremlin of the deep thrusting my sword like digit into my cavernous nostril. I stabbed at its heart goring it deeply. The struggle continued as I pulled it further, its true length becoming apparent. In its last throes it grasped a dark tree strong in trunks and roots. I yelped, my sword falling to my side. Once my eyes had cleared of the sudden precipitation in the air I was presented by a shocking image in the mirror. Hanging from my nose to just shy of my top lip was the massive beast. I tentatively gave it a gentle tug only for a bolt of lightning to shoot out and hit me from nowhere followed by another short shower. I was in a predicament but, no doubt brought on by the electrical charge still present in the small room, a memory and an idea came forth.

Rolli is mad for balls. He came out of here disappointed...

When we were in the Outer Hebrides in 2010 Ben, Mike and I had stopped at the standing stones of Callanish. A much lesser Bike Bogey had tried to inhabit my nose cave. This sprite had been dispatched with a short, sharp snort landing on my finger. Mike exclaimed his disgust quite loudly alerting me to his fear and wooseyness to such bogart slaying. Being a proper knight full of courage, valour and silliness I then proceeded to chase him around the ancient monument; dead bogey on my finger and girlish squeals gushing from his real pretty mouth.  A recent reminder of the scene had the mentally scarred oaf gagging to the point of spewing.

What was to come next would be formulaic: confide in Benjamin and entrust him with camera duties while hiding the dying Bike Bogey from the wandering ‘parents’. The video details he events well although I have no idea where the camp mince came from…

Cracking feed.

Eventually we headed back through to the kitchen and were presented with a feast. Agnes cooked us a four course meal while Wull kept us topped up in “Weasel’s piss” as he put it. Soup, stuffed mushrooms, pizza and a rake of cheeses, biscuits and breads were munched in quick pace. The next job was to figure out a plan for the eve. There was a ceilidh on in the local hall as the precursor to the ‘gathering’ on Saturday night. It was however eight pounds to get in. A decision was made to head back to the Summer Isles Bar for a drink first. We got ourselves cleaned up and reasonably presentable and piled in the Touran complete with Rolli dog. Agnes had turned into Des and off we went with the car being driven by not one but four people. It was fucking unbelievable!

“Watch on your left Agnes.” 
Wrong side of the hills for the sunset really.

“Careful there’s a sheep there.”

“Yes I can see that.”

“Stop here will you so I can get a photo?”

“There’s a car coming.”

And on and on it went. I don’t know how she managed to not throttle the lot of them. We did however make it safely to the pub, which must have come as quite a shock to the driving instructors who wished they had the wheel. More pictures were taken and we rocked in. The place was surprisingly busy and the clientele surprisingly young with a heavy female waiting. Eyebrows were raised. Drinks in, we grabbed a table and blethered pish for a while. The pub however forced our hand. They were closing early so they could get to the ceilidh and after a bit of banter with the girl behind the bar we followed everyone before us, in the direction of the hall.

Blah Blah Blah

Blah Blah Blah

About as angelic as he ever looks.



Cue more back seat driving and parking, which in fairness did seem to come in quite useful. We wandered into the hall through a maze of friendly smokers and paid our dues. The place was rammed which was quite a shock. Where on earth did all these people come from? There were a few jokes about the hills swarming and bleeding them out and then it was to the bar. Good beer on draught as well. More pints of Suilven and An Teallach and a soft drink for Agnes and we found a spot to stand out the way of the bar and the dancing which was being orchestrated by a pair on a guitar and keyboard. They were good; surprisingly good. The sight of the country dancing and the beer flowing through my system caused a strong longing for Lynne to be here too.

Orange tongue is always a mystery.

Good band! Their version of Superstition was ace.

The hall itself was large for such a small area which in itself is reasonably near to a bigger town. There was obviously money, evident in the proliferation of houses and richness of design and materials used and deployed in the building of the hall. With the soft uplighting the hall roof looked like an upturned boat; the strong, solid rafters mimicking the ribs and the wood panelling aping the planking. The band stopped for a drink themselves and Agnes and Wull found person after person that they’d met through the week already to yap to. They gave a good impression of being locals, their East Lothian accents showing stronger ties to the land than most others around them. 
Not an Orcadian... booo.
We spent the rest of the night drinking, eyeing up the dance floor (much to my distress) and making the usual shit jokes and banter. It was awesome. We got the craic from a few around us and generally mingled in the upbeat and relaxed atmosphere. I spoke to a young lad in his last year at the high school in Ullapool whose plan was to head off to the marines. He was however too young and so had to come by a signature from his mother to give him permission. His plan he informed me was to use the after effects of the ceilidh to make the task an easier one. It would be interesting to hear how he got on… With the band back on stage King Size and I embarked in bouts of freestyle slagging in time, supposedly, to the music. It kept us rather amused.

At the back of twelve however it was time for us to head. We met a happy Rolli and rolled the few short miles back in the simmer dim. Des, Wull and Ben headed straight in when we arrived.

“I’m going for a wander and a nature pee.” I informed the large headed one.

“Aye alright.”

We wandered off up the track that ran next to the cottage. It lead very quickly to a gate for another cottage. As I began my nature pee I could see a white flash making its way back and forward across the heather, rock and grass. Once sorted I re-joined Mike and we returned to our wanderings before using the light of the cottage to take poor photos of the bikes which despite the best efforts of the earlier wind, now abating, still remained where we had left them. After a bout of posing and clicking we wandered into the heat of the kitchen and into a scene of a table littered with toast, biscuits, cheese and spreads.
 We ate and ate while being given more and more drink. Time had started to slip but after what felt like half an hour Ben gave up and headed for the pick of the beds. We continued for what I can only imagine was another hour before Wull and Agnes also headed to their beds. It was, perhaps, soon after that I came to a realisation.

“We’ve drank a shit load.”

“We haven’t had that much.”

The conversation continued in a cyclical manner over another beer. After further musing and another drink and bite to eat we decided it was also time for bed and to see what state Ben was in. The rest of the night continued in a fairly standard fashion. We made lots of noise trying to make no noise. We took photos which must never be referred to or displayed. We continued to make awful jokes before falling into hundred mile darkness sleep. 

The day had been long and full of the kind of memories that, even with the efforts of alcoholic bleaching, would never be forgotten. These were the kinds of adventures that when aged eighty two, sitting in your wheelchair which was thoughtfully positioned by Aganieska three hours ago, to look out of the window of your care home, inventively named Bay View, that would rekindle due to the simple sun spark on the seas surface or the white whips of foam and ripples, stirred not shaken by the wind. These were the kinds of adventures and memories that would instil you with the warmth of youth and energy and the glow of good beer and malt whisky. They’d cause your eyes to gaze out, transfixed; seeing further than the present.  The kind of memories that will wrinkle your wrinkles and chisel a craic smile forced from within and from before. These are the memories that make mole hills into mountains and give life the living it promises and yet cannot provide. 

Ben's a big boy...

Reaction of a drunken pillock.

Perhaps. Maybe it was just rad.