Monday, 14 April 2014

An Almost Perfect Circle July '13 - Day Two: Achiltibuie to Glencoe

Part 2: Previously the boys had ridden up to the sunny climes of Thurso. Ben arriving safely on time while Mike arsed around getting lost in the metropolis. Food, drinks, banter and Tourist Trophy were partaken with the ever helpful Lynne, Rhu and Dylan on hand. The next day we had been blown around the north coast road. Avoiding confused motorhomes we stopped in Tongue, Durness and Lochinver sampling the delicacies of Cocoa Mountain and delighting ourselves, easy, on the roads of the area. Tight, twisting, turning tramping led us on to Achiltibuie where we stopped for a pint at the Summer Isles and then joined Moonface's parents and laughed away the night at a ceilidh in the village hall. 
The night passed, as they are want to do, but viewed through an alcoholic lens. We all had a bout of snoring, and a trip midway through the night to the toilet which always leads to the surprise of feeling even drunker than when you first went to sleep. Ben naturally rose earlier than Moon Face and I. Rolli was in and out of every bed available. At some unfathomable time in the probably not very early morning, Wull poked his sizeable red bonce through the door. “You dicks sleep okay? You decent?” With a mumbled response as reply he walked into the room.

Roli transfixed on the only ball in this picture.... thankfully. Travel with Moonface and you too can be honored with this view in the morning.
“Aye alright cheers” I began to say before the old child took the glass that had rested loosely at his chest and hurled the contents onto my bare torso.


Queen Og of the kitchen.

“Bastard!” I shouted suddenly awake. I couldn’t help but laugh however. The rest of the morning continued. Showers were showered and a huge fried breakfast was eaten with some almost proper coffee to wash it down. Wull tried to redeem himself by offering to polish our helmets. Turns out Mr Sheen does quite a good job. 

Mr Sheen....... Barry?

The helmet polisher. No helmet too big or too small.

 Eventually we were sorted to head and the bikes were packed. The original plan was to stop in Ullapool. I needed fuel and wanted some good coffee and a relax in one of my favourite villages, Mike wanted chips and Ben, well Ben wasn’t too worried about anything. We set off to a chorus of barks, waves and shutter clicks. The wind had dropped but was still strong enough to warrant taking heed of. The road from Achiltibuie which joined the main line heading south to Ullapool was a road I had genuinely never ridden before. It was a busy single track that hugged the fringes of the lochs which carved out the area. It would be brilliant fun if you knew what was coming round the next blind corner but sadly as none of us were equipped with this foresight from birth, we had to make do with a more relaxed pace. The tarmac was by no means straight, flat or otherwise uniform in any way. The road bowed at the edges and dipped and jumped where it saw fit. Even with the slower speeds it was hugely fun. If your eyes strayed for too long on the view you’d reawaken to a quick jolt and decision to make; react, or rut and ramble down the slope to the water’s side. Occasionally I’d let the gap to Mike and his head in front of me stretch and then use the room to get a brief wriggle on. My smile was reflected by the bark of the Remus system echoing off the cracked rock and heather of the hill side as my right wrist asked the fuel injection to supply a gill more gogo juice and Mr Bosch obliged. The rebellious tarmac had, by chance or inanimate design, formed hollows and cambers which felt like berms as you rode them. Standing with the bike leant over, outer peg weighted or perched on the outside edge of the seat with my leg stretched out, the bike hunching into the corner, the rear tyre digging in as Mr Bosch chucked the hydrocarbons at the pair of pistons with it all coming together in a joyous flowing, flying motion. All for it to be repeated again and again and again as each corner offered the same opportunities.

Skull Wull's shot of me leaving. Of course I was ridiculed and berated for standing up. Dicks.

The singletrack ended and we regrouped at the junction before peeling onto the wider and tamer path, Michael giving it the proverbial but unspecific berries. The road into Ullapool from the north is stunning but it is also hard to trust. The surface in the dry doesn’t instil huge amounts of confidence but in the damp positively negates it. The road, even with its poor people skills, is still fun enough. The last stretch is capped off with the beautiful sight of the village sitting in the lee of the hills, Loch Broom lapping at its ankles. 
We mosied on through the village and parked up near a long line of sports bikes, their riders getting ready to set off. My smile and nods were largely ignored however by the old buggers. The formula tight leathers + sportsbike = 50+ rider is one that has confused me over the years. Why aren’t more young people out on bikes? The gentlemen seemed to be enjoying their trip by the looks on their faces and their collection of bikes made a pleasing, brightly coloured addition to the already pretty street. Due to our slow start this morning we decided to forgo the chips and coffee and just get some cash and fuel. It pained a bit only being in the village for such a short period of time but there would be other days in the not so distant future to stir up memories of childhood camping trips and recent musical and motorcycle adventures.
We adhered to the signs wishes as the bikes were more abandoned than parked.
The road south from Ullapool is good; it follows Loch Broom, the houses and roads on the opposite side of the loch wishing you to take one extra adventure and explore. We sadly had people to meet and places to be so continued on our way waving goodbye to the loch and galloped on with the river. We swept and swooshed our way along with our fast fast wheels and by luck met the Loch Glascarnoch dam corners with clear tarmacadam ahead. They were nice enough to warrant turning around and doing them, again a few times but time dictated otherwise. The journey continued in much the same fashion, our speed rising and falling with the pulse of the roads and traffic. As we neared Inverness however the West coast pace and tranquillity was quickly forgotten. Michael and Benjamin seemed unfazed but I felt a bit uncomfortable. We made our way through the traffic and headed along Longman Road for some fuel. I left the GS on its side stand while in paying and grabbing something to fuel me. When I returned however the old girl had had an accident.
I don't have any pictures of us in Inverness so have another one of Ullapool.
“It always does that.” Piped up Mike.
“Ahhh right.” I replied trying not to slip on my liquid money while jumping back on. The GS fully laden was heavy. Really heavy. Pushing it on and off the centre stand or lifting it off the side stand took a lot of effort and made you think dark thoughts of terrafirma shrinking away from an outstretched foot. It was lucky I could get both feet on the ground, being a short arse would increase the danger of dented metal and pride hugely. I motored the few feet to the parking space where the other two bikes now sat and heaved the beast onto its centre stand which left the overflow pipe redundant.
“Hear, I bought you’se a Snickers to share.” Said Ben handing over the confectionary.
“Ahh cheers mate.” Mike replied quickly unwrapping and handing me my half.
“Cheers Ben, I’ll give it a go….” I’d always avoided peanuts. Peanut butter looks like turd and there’s a reason why, when found in packets, the little nobs are drowned in strong flavouring; yet in the spirit of adventure it would be wrong to pass this opportunity by. Turns out a Snickers is actually pretty good. Who knew?

That revelation over, drinks drank and bikes still brimmed we re-crash hatted and got back on the road. We sliced through the city making our way West following the famous A82. The roads fame however isn’t always accompanied by superlatives or praise. It is a notoriously busy stretch of black ribbon that snakes and worms along the length of the Caley Canal which takes in thirty or so miles of a wee puddle known by a few as Loch Ness. The accompanying bus tours, on a road that is a tight fit in places for a medium 4x4, combined with local and touroid traffic makes for an incredibly over populated byway. In a car it is a frustrating trip searching for overtaking spots and space to enjoy a road that is rarely straight. There is also however no run off and simple angst fuelled mistakes can turn into final full stops rather quickly. Deaths are common. However those enlightened fellows who know the freedom and rule bending qualities of motorised bicycles understand that even such troubled tarmacadam can produce memorable rides and simply, plain fun. 
The rough route... to a point.
We fell back into our previous rhythm and rhyme with myself the filling in the Moon Face and Concorde sandwich. The road was reasonably busy but thankfully the majority of traffic was travelling in the opposite direction to our own. The few vehicles that we did meet with similar intentions were quickly, if not quietly, dispatched as we romped along the shore of Loch Ness. Ben was floating along at a measured and smooth pace while Mike would race up to corners before backing off and then firing out again. Being the lead rider however his corner entry was always slower than mine and I had to remind myself to give him a bit of extra room. Meeting a buoy attached to a whale of a motorcycle beached and flailing around the apex is enough to raise an eyebrow or two. Drumnadrochit came and went and we were soon in Fort Augustus which for some, not very hidden, reason is a people magnet. There are several locks running through the village and people converge to stand, gawp and click at the boats. The village comes to a stand even stiller at regular intervals as the main road lifts and turns letting the procession of flotsam up or down the canal. It’s a barmy wee place and often filled with interesting cars and bikes trying to draw the eyes of the assembled crowd away from the water. A few years ago I sat on my Dad’s boat and watched a guy on a Yamaha YZF quad set up for the road launch himself up and down the main street at a huge lick, sound popping and banging from the racy single while he dodged the walking skittles. People barely flinched and didn’t even blink in his direction.
Skittles likewise avoided we continued on, meeting the canal at Aberchalder and the entry to Loch Oich. We filtered to the top of the queue and switched off the engines. The weather had so far kept dry and sitting waiting for the wee yacht to put put through the opening you could feel the muggy heat from outside and in. We yapped away, the brief stop proving a welcome break. Soon however the road swung back to meet our front wheels and invite us on our way. We duly did. The further West we rode the busier the road became. Flying along the banks of the loch He almost forgot to name (or is Loch Lochy the archetypal Adam and Eve from which all others were duly precipitated?) the road widens out as the water seems to sit on a level with your toes. We threaded in and out of rows of moving metal boxes as the weather finally began to turn.
As we left the shores we had a brief respite to spin and swing until we met further traffic. With the dampening day we began to take our time picking off the odd car when chances arose but never pushing our luck. As we neared the River Spean the lonely figures of the Commando Monument appeared. They stood in cold, mournful concentration yet still seemed to carry a certain power and dignity. Mike pointed wildly at them as if we could miss the three giant men looking out across the land which quickly changes from the flat to the mountains. Ironically the sculptor Scott Sutherland was from Wick. Fifty years and more on, there were new Caithness eyes looking upon his monument to the men of the British Commando Forces who trained just a few miles away. We didn’t have time to stop however and our eyes, Caithnessian or not, were quickly refocused on the road ahead.
More on this later. Sort of. (clearly not my picture too. It's July remember!)
The last section of the A82 as we neared Fort William displayed the kind of driving that would as often as not add to the statistics of the road. Picking off lines of cars or the odd bus or lorry on short straights and clear stretches is expected on a motorcycle, however it is not so natural when driving a small diesel van. Bugger me this guy wanted killed! We watched and grimaced as he committed every sin and rolled every dice. Each blind bend where he disappeared round on the wrong side of the road had us instinctively waiting for the bright red of brake lights. Somehow he got away with it and thankfully as he neared the town he calmed down. Ben’s toonser sense took over and he led the charge through the damp, busy streets of the town. I’d been to Fort William a few times in the past and had great memories of watching competitors riding back to parc ferme on their trials bikes. However it was a town I didn’t know. Also I didn’t actually know where we were going… Oh I’d better not lose them then. 
That is however easier said than done when your two city mates seem quite happy to squeeze by cars and wind on the throttle. It is also easier said than done when you are on a reasonably new to you bike which weighs twice as much as you’re used to, is fully laden and you’re not sure how much rubber you need on these Tournaces for them to be happy in the present greasy, wet tarmacadam. It was with wide eyes that I managed to find myself at the seafront on a road that I recognised with Benjamin Luddite and Michael King Size just in front of me. A sigh of relief was exhaled and replaced with a raised eyebrow of surprise and astonishment. I rolled off the heavy throttle of the GS as I left the round about as we appeared to have caught up with a motorcycle mounted Policeman. I grimaced as the GS and Remus system roared their archaic manliness to the seaside down, picking up the throttle again the roar was reduced to a Stone Age gargle and it was with this background noise that I took the chance to further study our uniformed brethren. He was slow, really slow. I sat in line behind his big Pan European as we covered the short stretch to the next round about. Oh dear. His positioning and balance seemed to be all over the shop as he had to stop for a car with the right of way. I waited for his waiting self and finally got over wondering why on earth after so much training and so much time on a bike did he seem so unnatural? As we crept up the gears I had a better look at his kit. The white helmet was as bright and eye catching as you’d expect with the fluro yellow of his jacket highlighting the blue and silver box declaring…… hang on a fucking minute! That doesn’t say POLICE that says bloody POLITE! I laughed like a hyena! A POLITE rider! What on earth was the world coming too? Ben who was still leading had now passed the faux bobby as we rode the long 40 mph straight out of the town. The rain continued to piss down but this little extra quickly made me forget about the nervousness I’d felt just a wee while ago. He waved us on as we left the 40 and Mike and I gave him a wave in return. I couldn’t wait until we stopped so I could speak to the others about him. However the place of our ‘stop’ was still a mystery to me.
The traffic was still busy and the rain and clouds now ever present. Working through the line of traffic in front of us was a case of grabbing any gaps that presented themselves. The constant smattering of rain and glare of the car lights distorted my visor into a barrier to the outside world rather than the form of an open window it usually lived as. We slowly made our way, rain sodden mile after rain sodden mile. At times we were split up by more than a single car and the feelings, thoughts and what ifs began to seep back into my consciousness. The Blue Whale however was proving to be a loyal companion. Whenever I needed the urge to surge passed a line of tin boxes the bellow of the Remus declared an affirmative. We passed through small villages and the occasional bridge but everything was lost in the spray and the grey of the wet world. I approached a small roundabout with two cars and a lorry ahead of me. In the distance a large head attached to a motorcycle sat on the wrong side of the road signalling that it was clear. I clipped down to second and left a gap in front as the convoy negotiated the small island, rolling on gently through the curve I kept my eyes focused on the road ahead. As the bike flacked after its flick I pulled the rest of the heavy grip towards me. My thumb flicked the orange switch as the bike and I roared onto the other side of the road. The tacho needle quickly climbed as I crouched behind the screen, as we passed the lorry I quickly rolled off the throttle, pulled in the clutch and forcefully kicked the gear lever up in to third. With the clutch out and the throttle cables stretched again the needle began its march once more. Rolling off the throttle and gliding back onto the right side off the road the GS thundered on the overrun. From 15 mph to 80 in a matter of a few seconds with the guttural roar of liquid dinosaurs being burnt by the gallon and that oh so exciting feeling in the pit of your stomach. The smile in my helmet would have matched a cat from Cheshire but the feeling of victory and achievement was short lived.
Ben and Michael were flashing again. I followed suit and then followed them as they left the main road. We parked up in the village of Glen Coe. “sdslkhfsshhhh ma naaaa shadh?”
“Eh?” I replied as I tried to paddle the lump into a suitable place on a busy, narrow street.
“There. Is. A. Shop. Should. We. Get. Drink. Here.” Ben shouted.
I left them to it and cruised the fifteen or twenty metres up the road to a place where it was less of a likelihood to be knocked over by a twat in a car. Our twats didn’t seem to care and continued their wee chat where they were. After a further minutes discussion where I’d taken my helmet off (ooooh ya) and removed my hearing savers the deaf buggers had decided to head on to the campsite as the girls had been tasked with bringing drink with them.
“How far have we to go?” I asked Mike, wondering if I should put my ear plugs back in or not.
“Not far, just a wee bit up the road.”
Decision made we set off. Leaving the village we took a sharp turn over a small bridge which was shrouded not only in hectares of mist and rain but also a substantial amount of trees. Tapping on the power ever so gently the rear end of the GS spun up and stepped out. It came back in quicker than I could react to it but the warning was noted and heeded. Each corner that we now navigated on the small, gravelly singletrack was not trusted. There was that horrible feeling and tension that gripped my body as the bike moved past its centre line and I waited for the front to tuck. The looming trees and dancing clouds took on a more ominous and sinister hue as we made our way. Our way however was short. We soon pulled up to the campsite and stopped in front of a wee box. It looked rather busy.
The Red Squirrel campsite had been mentioned many times by the guys. It was far enough from home for them to feel like they were on a trip but near enough to make it easy to get there and back again. The stories however hadn’t prepared my wee Highland heid for the amount of folk stoting about… or rather aboot. As we waited for the young guy who obviously belonged to the box to finish with the car in front of us I tried to soak in the place. There were a lot of hand painted signs declaring all sorts of stuff. Most were also decorated with flowers which added to the hippy vibe. The campsite felt quite enclosed set amongst an endless swath of trees. The feeling didn’t just come from the oxygen farters yet the heavy sky and rolling mists concealed the true reason for the closeness which I could feel yet not confirm for myself.

The old open your beer behind your mate trick.... classic.

The guy soon made his way over to Concorde who paid his dues and headed off onto the track. Moon Face was next and after paying set off at a few too many revolutions per minute which cracked and echoed around us as the spray of dirt and stones from his rear tyre peppered anything behind him. I paid my fee, the parting words from the foreign guy “please go a little slower than your friend.”
I duly obliged although the thought of opening the throttle up was tempting if fleeting. The bumpy and narrow path split a very pretty piece of land. There were a few side tracks which branched off; one with a sign declaring a swimming river which sounded rather awesome. It was busy though. There were cars and tents everywhere. Carina had parked up not far in and I pulled the bike alongside the Sprint and identikit GSA. Kirsten, Ben’s soon to be wife, and two of her friend’s Kelly and Rob had come for the night too. We found some cans for the stands and set about pitching. Kelly gave me a hand with my Khyam and we were soon sorted.

Kirsten and Carina.... everyone stares at Mike like that... 'that' being related to violence in a variety of forms.

Beers were produced and talk soon moved onto food. Ben, Kirsten, Kelly and Rob were keen on heading up to the Clachaig Inn for some food whereas Mike and Carina were planning on eating on the campsite and then wandering up. Decisions decisions or rather not when Carina said that she had brought enough sausages and rolls for three. One of the reasons why the Red Squirrel has featured so heavily in Mike and Ben’s past trips is that it allows you to have fires. In anyone’s book that is pretty cool. So we set about gathering appropriate wood and kindling which is easier said than done when the rain is still falling. We raided old fires and hunted under any covered areas and all returned back with a reasonable amount of fuel. A fire was soon blazing away with the occasional hiss and spit as a rain drop strayed too close to the heat. Our attentions were soon diverted however as the sound of some interesting internal combustion floated into out hearing. There were two bikes coming down the track, one sounding the deep bassy thuds of a twin and the other high revving in an equally high pitch confusing me as to what on earth it actually was.

Ned on tour.

Fire in the rain. Quality.

“Is that a two stroke?” I blurted out in my fog of bewilderment, years of school boy errors and motocross seemingly not helping one jot in this instance.
“Nah that’s not, it’s a four or something.”
“How’s it so high then? It sounds really weird….”
We climbed out of the hollow our fire was situated in for a closer look. The twin was a new Triumph and the mystery turned out to be even more of one than the sound suggested. Two older boys pulled up near the cars and we wandered over. The two were Frank and Dave. The mystery machine in its ratted out, cruiser, brat style was in fact a Kawasaki 500. Who knew?

Opinion master. "Having an opinion is important." He puts a lot of importance on that import...


Jake fire.

We climbed out of the hollow our fire was situated in for a closer look. The twin was a new Triumph and the mystery turned out to be even more of one than the sound suggested. Two older boys pulled up near the cars and we wandered over. The two were Frank and Dave. The mystery machine in its ratted out, cruiser, brat style was in fact a Kawasaki 500. Who knew?


Out of focus but you can just make out the trees tap. No sap on tap however...

Mystery machine

Rare striped and spotted single sided beasts.

Mike, Carina and I returned to the fire while the others wandered their way up to the Clachaig. We had a few more beers, ate sausages on rolls and shared some banter with Frank and Dave. They looked like a couple of old hand bad ass bikers normally associated with potatoes and American muscle but they were genuinely nice blokes who’d been in the biking world for near enough the past half century. Once fed and watered we sorted ourselves out and followed the trails of our companions. We walked out of the green and the wet of the campsite into the foliage and drizzle of the road. Great deer fences rose on either side of thick verges holding us out and the deer and trees in. The road rose and fell over a few small hills. The manlier of our company stopped for some nature pees and on the way met a Cocker Spaniel puppy which was every shade of awesome imaginable. We reached the car park for the pub and I was again quite shocked by the sheer volume of cars and, from the sound of it, people who were previously in those cars and who were now in the pub. The Clachaig is a famous haunt. Its situation, nestled in the heart of Glen Coe means that it has a rich history within the walking, climbing and touring world. We decided to try the furthest off door which would bring us into the lower, larger bar. We squeezed past the smokers and with some difficulty squeezed ourselves further to get through the door. Evidently the Clachaig had now found great fame amongst stag and hen dos as well. The rows of benches and spaces in between were full of heads, bodies and random body parts which in the melee and quick scan were hard to partner to which torso. We continued on and pushed, shimmied and excused our way through the tangle and noise to the bar. As we got there the band decided to stop playing and we were merely deafened by the general hubbub. We ordered drinks which took a few attempts as every choice seemed to be off. Squeezing through the jumble again we found our fed cronies in the upper bar.

Beer tinged smiles

Moon Face on holiday from his cottage by the water under a well trodden suspended pathway...

We yapped and drank away the eve with the music of the band fading in and out as breaks were taken and songs changed. The inn plays a lot on its history and well it should. The walls are crammed with a myriad of mathoms telling stories of adventures and exploration. It is a wonderful place to just sit back in your chair and drift off, pint in hand letting your eyes wander around imagining the lives, moments and journeys that accompany the equipment, photos and maps. We were sitting next to a table with one of the stag dos. They were a fine bunch of guys who resembled a cross between an amateur rock or metal band and the comic book store guy from the Simpsons. They were friendly chaps and keen to share the banter. In one break in music Moon Face educated them all on the game of Damn Busters. The game involves a coin, a pint glass and your butt cheeks. It went down well with Mike waddling across the pub with his hands at his eyes mimicking a pair of flying goggles as he sang the Damn Busters tune. He missed. The stag on his first ever attempt scored a direct hit. Our part of the pub exploded, thankfully with cheers, clapping and hollering rather than due to any arse deployed ammunition. The father and son pairing sitting across from us however soon left after Mike offered them the next go with a look of mild terror and genuine worry on their faces.

Your intrepid author

Rob and the wasabi peas. Minging yet strangely addictive.

STAG DOOOOOOOOOO! Future hero directly behind Rob.

The saint. Rad alcohol waves...


Post Damn Busters

The night continued in much the same fashion for a few hours until the last trip to the bar drew a blank. Good pub but a ridiculously short time period from the call for last orders and the last orders themselves. We joined the returning tide and wandered into the darkness, Mike trying to score a fag from other drunkards. The migration started. Once we were out of the glow of the inn proper darkness fell. The clouds and mist of before was still present and there wasn’t much light coming from the moon or pretty blond girls in the sky. There were all sorts of shouts and calls. Carina doing a freakishly accurate monkey call in reply to a drunk dude down the road giving the walk a dodgy planet of the apes feel. We caught up with the stag do guys and wandered behind the lot of them. All you could see was the outlines of the lads heads bobbing along on the slightly lighter backdrop of the sky. And then one vanished. The other heads stopped bobbing and shuffled to the left. We were only a few metres behind them and soon caught up. Closer to them now we could see the group gathered around the verge and peering over the rather steep side.
“Quick, some one get their phone.”
“Has anyone got a torch?”
A light was found and shone down into the depths. There, amid the long grasses and trunks of small trees, was a rather scared looking face peering back up at us…. 
Meatloaf/comic books store guy turned out to be okay and just a bit embarrassed. We managed to pull him up and he was ribbed for the last quarter mile back to the campsite.
Late night drunken fire awesome.
We headed back to the fire and cracked a few more cans open. The girls, including Ben decided enough was enough and went to camp bed. Frank and Dave sidled over and we swapped stories while staring into the flames. The two old boys smoking some interesting smokes. A few more beers passed with accompanying hours. Rob called it a night and Frank and Dave soon followed. The good pilot Moon Face and I decided it would be a good idea too. We grabbed our men grooming kits and wandered for the rather good toilet block. Proceeding in our drunken states to dick about for the next half hour and filming it for posterity… and when you are away on a bike trip with some of your best friends exploring, adventuring and reveling in the freedom that a motorbike and a tent liberates you with, why on earth would you not?