The Armchair Adventure Festival 2021

#AAF21 illuminated at the festival

I’m just back from spending the weekend at The Armchair Adventure Festival that took place at the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park in Cornwall.

Ben and I had a fun weekend meeting a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. It was the first “in person” festival the Sidecar Guys had organised as up until now it had been just an online event.

For me it’s the last festival of the year and so I was looking forward to it.

Since I’m retired I decided to take the slow scenic route down to Cornwall and spent a couple of nights camping on the way down. It’s great to travel in such a relaxed way taking in the scenery as I go, stopping whenever I want and not having to worry about time.

My first night was spent in the New Forest, a lovely part of the world that I’ve not visited for many years. It was a cold night, coldest night of the whole trip in fact but, with a hot brew made on the Trangia and my trusty 4 season sleeping bag I kept plenty warm.

I was surprised how empty the campsite was. The children had only recently gone back to school and I guess the parents back to work and so there were just a few of us oldies on the site.

The next morning I was up early, showered and on the road heading down to the south coast. Grabbing breakfast en-route the sun was beginning to show it’s face and things were warming up nicely.

I’ve not ridden along the south coast for many years, decades even, so I was looking forward to see it again however, I wasn’t ready for the level of commercialism that’s covers pretty much all of the south coast now. Large blocks of apartments everywhere, it’s more like southern Spain than south coast UK.

I dropped in at Poole in Dorset, the last time I was there was with Sara my wife, in the late 80’s when we parked our camper on the quay for the night. It was great fun chatting with others doing the same however, now you can’t get anywhere near the quay with a vehicle.

I pulled up on the bike to take a quick photo only to get moved on by two coppers who were less than friendly. The quay had nothing but super yachts moored up against it and there were loads of the finely dressed people sitting at the cafe’s on the quay, very different to how it used to be. Sad not to see any locals, just the rich and their big boats.

Views from the road – Dorset
Saint Michaels Mount Cornwall

Continuing on along the coast I made my way to Land’s End, the end of the road in the south. The weather was glorious, warm and sunny, perfect conditions for the obligatory photo at the Land’s End sign post.

22/09/21 – Feralmoto at the Land’s End Sign Post Cornwall
Panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean from Land’s End

It was only a few weeks earlier that I was up at the John O’Groats sign post in Scotland, it’s been a very long time since I’d been to both ends of the U.K. in the same year!

01/08/21 – Feralmoto at John O’Groats Scotland

Literally 2 mins from the Land’s End Sign Post there is a great little campsite situated on what was once a farm. With a hot pasty in hand from the pasty shop at the sign post I headed up to the campsite and got settled in for the night.

Sunset at the Land’s End Campsite

After a good nights sleep I was up early, showered and ready to hit the road again. The festival was just a mere 87 miles from the campsite and so there was plenty of time. Weather forecast wasn’t great and I expected to get a soaking at some point along the way.

Sure enough, the first 30 odd miles of the ride was dry and sunny but, gradually got worse until I had to pull up and get into my water proofs as the rain hammered down for the last 40 miles.

I arrived at 1pm along with a couple of other bikers, check-in wasn’t open until 3pm so we chewed the cud for a couple of hours.

Once checked in we headed over to the camping area and got the tents up. We’d been told that they’d sold 500 tickets and so there were going to be a fair few people arriving.

Camped at The Armchair Adventure Festival

A few days before the festival Ben had checked us in for a ride on the postie bikes with Nathan from Dorothy’s Speed Shop. Nathan is well known in the adventure world for riding an Australian Postie bike (Dorothy) from Oz to the UK and much further afield. He’s also written a children’s book all about Dorothy’s adventures.

It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a bike as small as the Honda 110cc postie bikes but, it was a lot of fun. Sadly it was a very foggy day and so we didn’t get to see much of the views but, the group still had a great time!

A small group of Festival goers enjoying the postie bikes with Nathan

The second thing Ben booked us in for was a couple of hours sea kayaking. Now I’ve never been in a kayak yet alone in a kayak in the sea but, I’m up for most things!

Ben and I floating nicely on the sea in a rather red and orange kayak

It cost us £10 each for the kayak experience, the best £10 I’ve spend in a long time. We had a great time paddling along the coast. The added bonus was that there were 4 dolphins in the bay too and so we had a great time watching them swim around the kayaks as we paddled around.

I really enjoyed the kayaking experience, so much in fact that I’m now looking at getting my own so that I can paddle around the east coast where I live.

Sadly not all the food vendors turned up for the festival and so we had a choice of two for the whole weekend, Pizza or chicken and salad wrap! Thankfully the chicken wrap vendor came to our rescue and was doing breakfast too, so sausage, bacon and egg rolls were available every morning, perfect!

Thankfully there was a coffee vendor on site which helped to wash the breakfast down every day.

There were a number of talks and presentations available to watch each day many of which were very interesting. There was only one motorcycle manufacturer there, Ducati from the local dealership, a shame as there was plenty of space for more!

Ural Sidecars had a very tiny presence with a couple from the Portuguese setup there with one unit, but they wouldn’t let Ben and I ride it even though we’ve both ridden sidecars before.

In the evenings there was live music and a bar, so everyone had a great time late into the night.

The Arcmchair Adventure Festival by night

We met some interesting people at the festival, one of which was Jane Sarchet,
The HedgeComber cookery author and photographer. Lovely lass with her partner Jonny in VW camper vans. Jane has some great recipes and one pot specials for camping on her blog, well worth a look!

Then there was Dave the dog and his owner Dave, yes they’re both called Dave, in their bright red sidecar, a real pair of characters. Follow their adventure on Instagram.

Ben and Mike at the Armchair Adventure Festival 2021

Overall the weekend was a great success. Let’s hope it’s even better next year!

Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 4

After a cold and windy night at John O’Groats we were now heading south for the first time. Leaving the campsite we picked up the A99/A9 East Coast road and settled in for the ride to Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park.

A99/A9 route south to Aviemore

The A9 is the busiest main road we’d been on for some time and it felt a little strange initially. We’d got so used to riding the small, single track lanes up the West Coast and across the North of Scotland that being on a large, sometimes multi-lane road with lots of commercial traffic felt somewhat alien. This also meant that we’d be putting the miles in fairly quickly as we needed to ride at the same speed as all the other traffic to be safe.

The East Coast road isn’t anywhere near as scenic as the West Coast route and we’d not planned any stops on the first leg of the journey south apart from getting some breakfast.

Upon seeing a sign on the side of the road saying next right for food we made a swift exit from the A9 and pulled in at The River Bothy for breakfast.

This lovely little bothy is actually a full on tea room and not a bothy at all however, it’s well worth a visit.

Being situated in an old wash house, this superb little tea room is full of character. There are old copper pipes and taps around the walls, an old wood fired water heater in the corner and a huge fireplace and wood-burner to keep everyone cosy in the winter months. The food here is excellent, one of the best breakfasts we had on the trip. The staff were also great, really engaging and full of fun, it was a great place to visit for breakfast.

The River Bothy just off the A9

After a good hour in The River Bothy we carried our full bellies back out to the bikes and continued our journey south.

40 minutes further south on the A9 we spotted a castle just off the main road and had to stop to take a look.

The Dunrobin Castle situated right on the shoreline overlooking the Dornoch Firth is one of the most beautiful castles I’ve seen in the U.K. With its tall towers and pointed roofs rising up over the beautiful gardens it’s almost Disney like in appearance.

It was such a shame it was a dull day as the light really didn’t make it easy to capture the castle in all its glory. We spent some considerable time here just walking around the grounds, along the coastline and taking far too many photographs. There really is a lot to see here.

There’s a wealth of information about the history of the castle on Wikipedia and is worth a read if you’re going to visit or just have a castle curiosity like me.

Dunrobin Castle over looking the walled gardens
Main entrance into Dunrobin Castle
Lookout on the coast
Side entrance into the castle for deliveries
View of the gate house from the side lane
Castle clock tower rising above the outer wall
View along the coast
Castle from the side lane
Our bikes parked out front of the main castle entrance
Beautiful wrought iron gate to the walled gardens
Crest on the rear gate to the walled gardens

Whilst I was at the rear of the castle taking photos of the walled gardens a young lady appeared behind the wrought iron gate and gave me a smile, I just had to capture the moment!

A smile captured forever

After spending far too much time at the castle taking photos we got our helmets on and headed south once more. Crossing the Cromarty Bridge we were soon on the outskirts of Inverness. Not wanting to go into the city we scooted around it on the A9 and headed towards the Cairngorms National Park.

Arriving in Aviemore we immediately found ourselves stuck in a massive traffic jam. Unknown to us it was a bank holiday in Scotland and clearly everyone had decided to come to Aviemore at the same time.

We found a little space on the side of the main street and parked up to get out of the traffic. The town was incredibly busy, not something we’d experienced on the trip up until now. Finding a little cafe on the main street with outside seating we plonked ourselves down and ordered coffee and cake.

Drinking coffee and eating cake whilst watching the world go by is one of my favourite past times and one that I never tire of. I love people watching, always have and always will. No matter where in the world I find myself, I always find somewhere to just sit and watch. Some would say I’ve wasted far too many hours of my life just watching others but, to me it’s not time wasted at all.

When I lived and worked in Brussels I would go to the Grand Place on a Saturday morning to sit outside one of the many cafes, drink great coffee, eat wonderful croissant and just watch people go about their day. It’s one of the simple pleasures in life that I love most.

The time soon passed and we were having to think about where we were going to stay for the night. With what seemed like the whole world in Aviemore we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. After phoning a number of campsite, lodges and chalets it became apparent that everywhere was booked up and no one had any space available for two old men on motorcycles.

Not deterred we continued searching google for places to stay. (Where would we be without google maps!) Eventually we found a campsite not too far from where we were seated and decided to just head on over and see if they could squeeze us in.

Arriving at the Glenmore Campsite it was immediately apparent they weren’t particularly biker friendly and didn’t really want us there. This wasn’t the first time we’d experienced this in Scotland, for some strange reason some campsites just didn’t like bikers.

Normally they charge £18 per night for a tent but, because it was a bank holiday weekend they wanted £28 per night for a tent and one person. It really annoys me when campsites hike up their prices just because it’s a bank holiday, there’s really no need to rip off your customers like this but, it seems to be common practice these days. Sadly we had little choice but to pay the over inflated price.

To make it even worse they wouldn’t let us camp on the tent field with all the other campers that had plenty of pitches vacant but, instead told us to go right to the back of the campsite behind the boiler house and pitch our tents there out the way. Anyone would had thought we were lepers and needed to be kept away from the masses. To ensure we didn’t camp with all the other campers they even escorted us down to the back of the campsite and pointed at the piece of grass we were to use.

To add insult to injury, the piece of grass they insisted we camped on turned out to be the dog walking area and was covered in faeces. £28 to camp for one night behind the noisy boiler house on a small piece of grass covered in dog faeces resulted in the worst review I have ever given a campsite in my entire life.

Once we’d got our tents pitched we then had a staff member complain to us our tents were too close together and that they needed to be 6m apart. At this point my patience was running thin and so I took him on a guided tour of the faeces covered piece of grass asking him to point out where the two tents could go 6m apart without getting covered in faeces. Needless to say he couldn’t find anywhere else other than where we’d pitched our tents!

Eventually we got rid of the staff member and got changed into some more comfortable clothing ready to go find somewhere to have a bite to eat and drink for the evening.

A few minutes walk from the campsite we found The Pine Marten Bar, a small ski bar and cafe tucked away amongst the trees. This little place had a cool vibe going on and we were made most welcome, how refreshing!

Neither of us are drinkers but, we fancied something cold on this occasion. The food was good and went well with a cold cider, the staff were great too!

Later the same evening we took a walk around the area and discovered that just behind the campsite was Loch Morlich which had a fairly large beach where you can wild camp for free! If only we’d known this before we arrived in Aviemore.

Loch Morlich beach – Ben Jackson

The view of the surrounding hills from the beach at Loch Morlich was spectacular as the sun set. If we’re ever up this way again we’d wild camp right here for sure!

After a good nights sleep we were up bright and breezy. The showers were hot which was a plus and the midges hadn’t woken yet, heaven!

We got packed up and on the road early heading south through the Cairngorms. The roads were pretty fast and we made great progress. Stopping at The House of Bruar for breakfast on the A9 was great. The food is always excellent there and they have good coffee too!

The House of Bruar food and shopping complex

Back on the road and we were soon crossing the river Forth on the Queensferry Crossing just north west of Edinburgh. Once past Edinburgh we turned off the A9 on to the A68 and headed south through the Northumberland National Park.

The Scottish side of the border
The English side of the border
The view of Scotland from the English side of the border

Crossing the border back into England marked the end of the trip, from this point on it was just a matter of getting home. As we passed into England the weather brightened up and the sun came out, it was a glorious welcome back to the home land.

We decided that since the roads were all fast moving we’d push on and head down to the Lawnsgate Farm Campsite on the North York Moors that I stayed at on the way up. Ben hadn’t been there before and so was happy to see another new place. We pushed on stopping only for comfort breaks and drinks taking in the views as we went.

After a total of 300 miles we arrived at the campsite, late in the day but, happy with our progress and the ride we’d had. It was a fitting end to a spectacular trip.

Our route from Aviemore to Lawnsgate Farm Campsite on the North York Moors

That evening we ate a melange of noodles that I’d had in my dry bag for a few days as our emergency food supply just incase we found ourselves wild camping somewhere miles from anywhere. Sitting watching the sun go down over the North York Moors was very relaxing and once the light was gone we turned in for the night.

The following morning it was a while before the sun broke over the hill behind the campsite. There’d been a heavy dew overnight and the tents started to steam gently in the warmth of the early morning sun. Kettle on, I soon had a brew in hand and just sat and watched the valley awaken as the shadow of the night was driven out by the light of the day as the sun rose over the hill. It was a glorious start to the day.

Once we were up and the tents were packed and loaded we headed off once more. We’d decided to take the scenic route across the Humber Bridge and then on to the Lincolnshire Wolds where Ben would peel off and head towards Birmingham to visit a friend on the way home. For me it was an easy route, through the wolds onto the A17 and back to Norfolk via Kings Lynn and finally down into Suffolk via the Beccles road, a route I know well.

After 14 nights away and almost 3000 miles on the clock my Tenere 700 desperately needed new tyres. The OEM Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres had now done just over 6000 miles and were well past their best. The bike was also now due its 6000 mile service so that needed organising too. There’s always something to spend your money on!