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Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Scottish Pub Crawl - The West

The ride started with a problem on the engine.
I had replaced the points, but the magneto, immediately sheared the woodruff key on the crankshaft. It took a couple of homemade replacements before the bike got itself going.
The weather wasn't the best for starting either, but after the four hour delay, I and my partner on this ride finally reached Gretna by early evening.
We pulled into a small town of Annan and I immediately found a location for sleeping and then went to find a pub for a drink.

A haggis burger and a mug of tea was the treat of the day
Chris who isn't used to the rough sleeping that I do immediately alerted the manageress of the pub, as to what we were doing and then the manageress of the bar near to our proposed sleeping quarters.
She immediately alerted the police who decided to do a thorough check on both us and the vehicles before leaving us in peace. I prefer to not draw attention to myself, which is difficult when there is two of us.The following morning we rode in glorious sunshine towards Stranraer, stopping only for a Haggis burgher and a cuppa.

We arrived late afternoon at the Mull of Galloway with a brilliant view of the Isle of Man, home of the TT races, then headed noth to Port Patrick a pleasant harbour on the west coast.

Still asleep and ready to miss the ferry

We were hoping to get as near to Ardrossan on the Ayreshire coast to catch the ferry the following day to Arran, but due to the lack of lighting on my bike we only got as far as Ayre.
The ride up to the ferry the following day was cold and grey and we missed the 9 a.m. ferry and had to wait till the 12 noon one. A hopper ticket which takes you over on one ferry and then off on the Kintyre ferry cost £40 and was going to be difficult to scrape back, especially as we were using up to £16 in fuel a day with the mileage we were clocking  up.
Arran was a pleasant little island with a road around the coast of fourty miles. The road isn't the best and we were warned about it's condition especially on some of the tight bends. The warning was taken notice of fortunately, or I could easily have found myself off the bike on a number of occasions.
Evenbtually we reached the half hour ferry crossing to Kintyre and crossed the short straite.

The view across to the Mull o Kintyre from Arran

Chris, my companion decided he didn't want to travel down the peninsular of Kintyre which is about thirty five miles long , so headed off North, with the intention of meeting up later. We never got close to each other after that and he managed to complete the ride in less than a week and was home the day I was arriving in John O Groats.
So I was on my own again, which in all honesty,considering the way I do my rides, was the best option
I rode the single track route down the east side which was exhilerating, as I met very few cars coming the opposite direction and could pass a car on the tightest of stretches, so didn't need to be too cautious. Returning up the West side was beautiful. The sun reappeared and tthe view across to the island of Jura and the Paps which are 4-5 mountains was quite romantic in the evening sun. Unfortunately Chris had the camera for the ride and I wasn't able to record it's beauty.
I continued on to Tarbert and decided not to venture further in case I was caught out by the fading light and had nowhere to shelter.

It was a great little town and I soon found a nice pub to while away the time before resting.
It was a clear night and I saw on the tv in the pub, that the weather forecast had no rain for the night, so I slept out without shelter alongside the toilets. I woke at 3 for a pee and buggar me I timed it with the local police patrol. They passed me by at first, but then came back to ask what I was doing there. Half asleep and still slightly innebriated I wasn't answering very well, but they decided I was a harmless old fool and let me get back to my bed in the corner of the two buildings.
The morning was clear and after a coffee and an egg sandwich I set off for Oban and onwards to the Isle of Skye. It wasn't long before I had to pull up to wait for some heavy morning mist/fog to clear from the loch, that the road ran alongside.
The road afterwards up to Oban was full of climbs and drops and sweeping bends to tight hairpins and all was going well until I was on the other side of Oban when the chain stripped the teeth off my rear sprocket.
Fortunately I was prepared for this and was carrying my spare , but it took me a full two hours to change as I had to find a means of propping up the bike while I removed the rear wheel.

I got my last text from Chris at this point telling me that he was on the twelve o clock ferry to Skye. My phone battery died after that and that was the last I heard of Chris.
I got going again and took the ferry from Corran to Ardgour, where Loch Linnhe narrows SW of Fort William.
I had to freshen up in the pub in Ardgour as my hands were covered in oil from the repairs to the bike.
The coastal route was again a one track road through woods and went for miles. I was behind a service bus, but couldn't keep up with the speed as he rolled and lurched around the bends. I pitied any passengers that may have been on that bus.
I emerged onto the road to Malaig that runs alongside the rail line where apparently they filmed the train scenes in Harry Potter. It was cold again and grey and the clouds where starting to roll in. I made it to Malaig before the rain started, but disembarking on Skye was horrendous with heavy driving rain and strong winds.

This was Skye 4 hours before I arrived and the rains set in
I eventually arrived in Broadford where there was a cafe and stopped for a coffee and work out a strategy.
I figured Chris was still on the island so parked up at the side of the road leading off the island in the hope he would spot me in passing.
I gave up after sitting in the bus shelter for two hours and set off for Uik. Unfortunately by then the weather was so bad it was almost black and I was worried I would not be seen by motorists , so after ten miles I turned around to return to my bus shelter.
I had got soaked during those couple of hours in the rain, so was in no hurry to move on. While I was sitting there I was joined by a gang of lads going to a party in Portree. They were carrying cartons of ale as you would expect and I was half expecting the driver to stop them bringing it onto the bus. But no, there were no objections and they assured me they would see me in the morning when they returned.
The one thing they did do for me was to assure me that the pub just a hundred yards away was OK, so off I went for my usual 4 guinness.
I got talking to a young couple there and the guy whose name I can't remember, as I have lost the card to his brewery shop, in Todmorden. I was hoping to go and try their stout this week, which is supposedly wonderful, but I can't remember the address of the place. So if you are reading contact me. (memory has returned and I can now remember where it is. It is Bear Arts)
The other amazing part of the night, was when I got talking to the barmaid who hailed from Preston and was older than me. It transpired that we worked in the same building in Preston at the same time. It was Peter Craigs Home Shopping , where I worked as a work study engineer some 40 odd years ago. She even managed to remind me who my boss was at the time, a Mr Alan Jeffries.
Here she was after dropping life in Preston at the drop of hat, and left to work in Skye and was putting some big shifts in up there.
I returned back to my bus shelter and the following morning sure enough the lads started returning from Portree. It was still chucking it down , but during one moment of relative dryness I discovered the pub was showing the Arsenal v Liverpool match at lunchtime.
That was that then. I wasn't going to miss the game for a ride in the wet Highlands, so off I went to get my mainstand seat in the bar.
A great result and the weather eased a bit during the game , so it was full steam ahead for Gairloch. 
It was a mixed bag of weather and scenery up to Gairloch and I arrived at the harbour shortly after six.
I stopped at the shop there to enquire of a petrol station.
The owner told me the garage shut at six and didn't re-open until Monday. It was Saturday at this point and I had a feeling I would be sitting it out for two nights.
However, he went on to say that on Sundays he sold petrol from the shop at a gallon at a time, after ten.
He could only get around the regulatuions as he kept about twenty gallon cans of fuel in the boot of his car.
It meant paying £2 over the pump price for his efforts in filling up each can on a Saturday, but I minded not.
I found a great pub in the village and got stuck in until closing time and then retired to the bus shelter by the car park. The following morning I was down to the harbour to sit and wait for my man to open the shop. A gallon can for £8.50 and I was off on my way again.
I hit foul weather again in Dundonnel at the back of the mountains that you can see from Gairloch. It didn't last long and I was able to dry off when the sun broke through on the way up to Ullaspool.
The scenery all the way from Gairloch to Ullaspool is absolutely stunning.
On arriving in Ullaspool I refuelled at the garage that was open. Apparently it is quite rare to find a garage open on a Sunday this far North. My only problem was that I forgot to fill my spare 1 ltr bottle for emergencies. A failing that cost me dearly later in the day.
The scenery changes quite dramatically after leaving Ullaspool and it soon becomes a rocky landscape with not much greenery, until you suddenly come over the tops near Laxford Bridge.
It suddenly becomes a gentle descent to Durness down a valley with gently rising slopes and grassy hills. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful ride to the North West corner of Scotland. The beaches here are beautiful white sand and everything is so tranquil. I wouldn't swim there though as I imagine it to be freezing.
I don't know what I was expecting at Durness. It figured prominently on all the road signs and I was sure it would be a bigger village than it was. I didn't see a petrol station so set off for Tongue twenty nine miles further on.
While I was riding I was doing the arithmetic on the distance I had travelled since Ullaspool and realised I wouldn't make it to Tongue at all.
I stopped at the west side of Loch Enboll and drained my tank and calculated I was nine miles short of Tongue in fuel.

There was no point going back so I continued. Down the loch into the rain that seemed to be pouring into the valley at the foot of the mountains there, before turning the hairpin to return North.
I was almost right as I made it to Hope, which was about six miles short. before I ran out. I stuck the bike on the side stand and the wind blew it over breaking the end of my brake lever. Then came the push which entailed a four mile ascent over the moorland. I was stopping frequently to look back at the drama in the skies over the mountains, wishing I had a camera to hand.
Eventually I made the summit, where a campervan pulled in to help me.
The guy was from Dewsbury and gave me half a litre of fuel, which I was grateful for but wished he'd come by a few miles earlier. I only realised afterwards that I hadn't pauid him for the fuel. 
I flew down the hill into Tongue, found the pub and was entertained by the local lads who had just returned from the Highland Games in Helmsdale.
I left the pub and couldn't find any shelter. The toilets seemed to be locked so I stretched out on the pavement outside a shop entrance. I was woken by a couple who after enquiring if I was OK explained it was the front door of their home and I was stopping them entering.
They then told me the gents side of the public loos was open, so off I went for an undisturbed nights sleep.

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