We had an early start to catch the 7.15 boat to Troon, in a total company of four bikes and six people. Once esconced on the boat with cups of tea, we discussed our route over my map and the guys' GPSes and decided that if the weather looked at all dry, we'd go for a scenic drive, avoiding the boring and crowded motorways. So up to Glasgow, over the rather fine Erskine Bridge, skirting the east side of Loch Lomond and on to Duke's Pass. Now that is a sizzling snake of spine-tingling S-bends through some fantastic forests with specatacular views — a real plus point of being a pillion there! On up to the stunning Falls of Dochart, with the sun still shining on the peaty water splashing down over the rocks. The music shuffled to 'Free Bird' as we pulled onto the single-track road on the south side of Loch Tay, and the first few drops of rain started to stick to our visors.
We pressed on further north and east, but the weather had started to turn proper nasty and by the time we reached Kirriemuir there was a thunderstorm chucking it down. The raindrops were massive and were leaving a good inch of surface water on the roads — oh well, we wouldn't need to do the fords ride the next day, as we'd already done it.
On our arrival at the Glen Clova hotel, we found that the view was disappointingly hidden in mist, but a few drinks in the bar and a very enjoyable dinner (chicken stuffed with haggis) cheered us up. In the raffle, we won a few biking DVDs, including one on Iceland, which I can't wait to watch as I have very fond memories of the time I visited that amazing country. We were lodging in the bunkhouse — one step up from camping, and I did feel sorry for the poor chaps and chapesses trying to dry their gear in their tents. We'd settled oursleves in for the night before being woken by our bunkmates — pals of ours who'd made the journey all the way from Donegal. Always remember, earplugs are your friend.
Cruisin' Round the Cairngorms
The next morning dawned still damp, although the heavy rain seemed to have abated temporarily. We set off for a tour around the Cairngorms National Park, but the weather had only been taking a breather. The scenery went from 'what's green and wet?' to 'what's green and invisible?' as we climbed high into the mountain cloud. Stopped at Ballater for lunch, and then past the Queen's summer residence at Balmoral and on down the marvellous road through Glenshee, past the static and silent ski lifts. These reminded me how much of a playground this area is — there's much salmon fishing to be done on the river Dee, many golf courses and hill-walkers in their element. The granite hills of the Cairngorms looked beautiful when the rain stopped, mottled with purple heather and grey scree. But the weather hadn't finished with us yet and more rain made seeing anything well nigh impossible.
Back at the hotel, we were locked out of our rooms for a while and so we shivered in wet socks until we could get in for a change of clothes. Some warming venison casserole heated up the insides and I was ready for the whisky tasting. About a dozen of us enjoyed our guided talk through Bruichladdich (pronounced Brook-laddy, from Islay), The Glenlivet (Speyside) and Talisker (Skye). I'm not an expert on malt whiskies, but I do know what I like and don't like. The middle one had an almost honeysuckle nose that I enjoyed very much, but the Talisker was one of those peaty west-coast ones that divided the camp into those who thought it smelled of dettol and those who were drooling over it. How many distilleries are there? I wondered. And do they make Scotland as ungovernable as the 400 cheeses are supposed to make La Belle France?
Back to the bar for the auction, where Dai and I discovered that we were both bidding on the same item! It was an ultra lightweight fits-in-your-pocket jacket that was just the extra waterproof layer that I needed, and I wore it with pride for the rest of the weekend.
Flat out in Falkirk
On Sunday morning we were up, packed and ready to go at 10am when disaster struck — the battery was flat. Everyone else was heading for their long journeys home all over the UK, but we managed to secure a set of jump leads and get her started. It was 12 noon by then, though, and with a 4.30 boat to catch on the other side of Scotland it was going to be a case of 'sit on and ride fast' in the hope that we could make it. Our previous plan of crossing the Tay1 and Forth2 Road Bridges was abandoned and we hit the motorways. Well, we tried to. Roadworks south of Stirling put the final nail in the coffin of catching the 4.30 sailing, and we stopped to phone and make a reservation for the next sailing at 8pm. I don't think I've ever felt so miserable on a bike — my fingers were swollen in their sodden gloves, my neck was aching from holding my helmet against the buffeting wind, my knees were stiff from being in the same position for two hours and I was shivering constantly. My biker name3 was proving to a very apt descriptor for my rear end. Surface water and dangerous driving from cars on the motorway through Glasgow didn't help either, and to cap it all the intercom wasn't working.
Home and Dry(ish)
We reached Cairnryan at 6, so only two hours to kill in the limited facilities. Nice big boat to stretch out on, though, and we were again joined by our bunkhouse mates (who had done the Tay and Forth bridges...). Back home at just after 10.30 when the final mishap occurred — the remote control for the garage, attached to the bike's key, had got waterlogged and refused to open the locked garage door. Dai and I looked at each other aghast as the realisation hit us of all the things that were locked inside — car keys, the office keys, and the inner garage door keys. Some very worrying moments until I searched and found the spare remote — phew!
Is this goodbye?
The coda to the story is that I did my motorbike test on the Tuesday — and passed! Now I will be buying a bike of my own, but I'll also still be a happy pillion for some long journeys for a wee while yet, so panic not, gentle reader, and stay tuned for our trip to the Pyrenees...