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!

Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 1

I’ve been to Scotland many times in my life but, not once have I ridden the North Coast 500 (NC500) in it’s entirety. Since we’re not able to travel internationally at the moment due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic that is still causing havoc globally I decided to travel closer to home.

NC500 Route By Thincat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79134229

Scotland is a good 800 miles or more from home by road and since I’m retired there’s no rush to get there so I decided to take the scenic route.

Looking at the map I thought it would be great to take in Lincolnshire, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District on the way up.

I didn’t want to book any campsites or lodgings as I felt I needed the ability to just travel freely without time restraint or restriction, to just wander wherever I wanted for as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

I invited a friend of mine Ben Jackson to come along as we’re planning on the doing the Mongolia trip together and so it would be a good idea to try a trip together here in the U.K. Ben was of course up for this and had his holiday booked with work in no time at all. (Yes he still works unlike me!)

I decided to head off a few days before Ben just to take in some of the sights enroute and we agreed to meet up in the Yorkshire Dales a few days later. This left me lots of time to wander around Lincolnshire and the North York Moors on my own riding the small single track lanes as much as possible.

I’ve ridden and camped in the Lincolnshire Wolds before but, it’s a lovely part of the world and I was happy to head back there again. I had a great ride up from Suffolk taking the slow route over the Humber bridge and then north into the Wolds.

I stayed at the Little Owls Campsite for the night, a nice little site just north west of the Wolds AONB.

Set up for the night at The Little Owls Campsite Lincolnshire

I decided to take my big tent with me on this trip as I was expecting rain in Scotland and it’s extremely useful to have a separate area to store wet riding gear whilst keeping the sleeping area dry. I’ve had my Coleman 3 Man tent for a number of years now and it’s lasting well.

After a good nights sleep a coffee first thing in the morning is a must

The next day I took a slow ride up into the North York Moors. This is a lovely part of the world and I’ve not been back there for many a year so, it was great to just get out onto the moors and enjoy the views again.

Whilst riding the tiny lanes around the moors I stumbled across a great little farm campsite. It’s beautifully situated on the side of a hill overlooking the valley below and gets the most amazing sunsets.

Needless to say I stayed there for the second night and just absorbed the view, it was truly wonderful.

The Lawnsgate Farm Campsite was a great find, it’s a super little campsite with great facilities run by a lovely farming family. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and everyone, including bikers are welcome. I highly recommend you stay at least one night here.

Before I stumbled across the campsite I went to the Yorkshire Cycle Hub for something to eat. This is a great little cafe and cycle shop situated in the wilds of the moors. They’ve a great selection of food available both hot and cold with plenty of seating inside and out. With a big car park out front it’s easy to park the bike up and sit and enjoy the views and some good food for an hour or so.

The following morning I packed up once more and headed west into the Yorkshire Dales, a part of the country I’ve not spent a lot of time traveling through in the past but, somewhere I dearly love.

Once again I had no plan of where to go or where to stay, just ride there and see what happens, my favourite way to travel.

Heading west through the tiny back lanes keeping clear of all the main roads, I lost myself for hours just enjoying the views and the little villages enroute.

My next notable stop was at the Ribblehead Viaduct, a famous landmark in Yorkshire that’s well known to most train spotters (not that I am one!!) and on this day it was no different.

When I arrived and parked up I was surprised to see so many people sitting on chairs with with large telephoto lenses on very expensive looking cameras in lines across the grasslands. Clearly something special was going to happen but, I had no idea what.

Making sure I had my trusty Canon 1300D DSLR camera and lenses with me I ventured over to the area where many people were waiting patiently. After a few conversations with many of the avid train spotters it was clear that a steam engine was going to cross the viaduct any time soon and that it was a special occasion that happens rarely these days. Sadly no one could tell me which steam engine it was going to be, but it was definitely going to be one worth photographing, apparently.

Within minutes of my arrival sure enough a steam engine did chuff across the viaduct slowly to the click of a thousand cameras. The viaduct itself is an engineering marvel, spanning quite some distance, its tall beautiful arches stand proudly above the valley below.

For me the viaduct was the most impressive sight, to think it was constructed in the 1870’s by 2300 workers most of whom lived in shanty towns set up near its base is incredible. After 4 years of hard labour, millions of bricks and the loss of some lives, the viaduct was finally complete.

You can find a lot more information about the Ribblehead Viaduct on Wikipedia.

The Ribblehead Viaduct in the afternoon sun
Ribblehead Viaduct with a little artistic licence

After spending some considerable time at the viaduct it was soon time to think about finding somewhere to camp for the night. Jumping onto Google Maps I soon found a plethora of campsites but, one in particular caught my eye. A little farm campsite not far from the viaduct tucked away in the hills, it sounded idyllic.

Heading off it was only a few minutes of riding and I arrived at the Philpin Farm Campsite. This campsite turned out to be a little gem and so I decided to stay for two nights so that I could explore the area further the following day.

The Philpin Farm Campsite is a small, beautifully maintained campsite run by a small farming family, nestled gently on the side of a valley overlooking fields of sheep and cattle. The facilities are clean and tidy, there’s a barn with a cafe to hide in if the weather is really bad and free wifi in a 3/4g dead zone, absolutely perfect!

A panoramic view of the campsite and surrounding countryside

Since the cafe does breakfast daily I decided to partake of the offering, for £6.00 you get a full cooked breakfast and a cup of tea or coffee, all freshly cooked when you want. Great local produce at an incredibly cheap price, sets me up perfectly for the day.

The following day I headed out on the bike once more and ventured deeper into the Dales. The views are spectacular and I found myself stopping regularly and sitting by the side of the road just absorbing the surroundings. It’s so quiet in the Dales that you can hear people talking across the other side of the valley, it’s an incredibly peaceful place to be.

I decided to follow the route of the railway that went over the Ribblehead Viaduct to see if I could find anymore viaducts or bridges. Sure enough I soon found another, smaller viaduct tucked away in the wilds of the countryside.

The Dentdale viaduct is considerably smaller than the Ribblehead viaduct but, built using the same technique and stone. I wondered if it had actually been built by the same workers that built the Ribblehead viaduct.

The Dentdale viaduct as seen from the road
The Dentdale viaduct viewed from the valley side

I spent the rest of the day just bimbling around the back lanes of the dales for miles and miles getting completely lost without a care in the world.

Later that day I headed back to the campsite to meet Ben as I’d sent him the map location details for the Philpin Farm Campsite as it was an ideal spot to meet up to continue our trip north.

More soon …

Getting back in the saddle post COVID19

Somewhere in the wilds of Suffolk

Now that the UK is starting to relax the COVID19 restrictions it’s been possible to get out on the bike more. Not being able to leave the country and head into Europe has meant that local rides are the only thing available at the moment, especially with Wales and Scotland keeping their lockdown in place and not allowing the English to visit.

The village of Walpole

I’ve been riding on my own on the little Honda CRF2510 Rally and really enjoying it. It’s the perfect bike for riding around the tiny B roads in Suffolk and Norfolk enjoying the countryside. Only problem has been not being able to get a drink very often as there is nowhere open for food or drink.

Not a soul for miles around

I’ve been using the Calimoto app to generate loop rides starting and ending at home. It really is superb for this and created some really interesting rides. The photo above is from an 80 mile loop ride automagically generated by Calimoto.

Being just just 15mins from the coast is handy to pickup the tiny coast roads and head north up through Suffolk and into Norfolk taking in Orford, Aldeburgh, Thorpeness and Sizewell to mention few eventually arriving at Walcott.

Phil and I on another of our coastal rides

I’ve also been stretching the legs of my Kawasaki Versys 1000 riding out with my good mate Phil who lives a couple of doors down from me. The weather has been superb and the riding has been great. The roads are getting a lot busier now which is a shame but to be expected. It’s been great to get out and about again for sure.

I’d really like to take the CRF250 Rally down to the Pyrenees this summer if at all possible and do the coast to coast route through the mountain trails. Whether this will be possible or not is still too hard to predict but we can but hope!

More soon …

Freedom!

The UK government has started to relax the U.K. wide lockdown and it’s now possible for us to ride our motorcycles to and from a place of exercise.

My expedition Honda CRF250 Rally Parked up on the quay at Bawdsey Suffolk.

So without delay, I got the bikes out and headed out into the wilds of Suffolk. The weather has been splendid for this time of year. Normally it’s rainy and miserable in Spring but, since the COVID19 pandemic hit and the planes have all been grounded the weather has been spectacular!
With temperatures hitting the dizzy highs of 20c it’s been like summer here in the U.K. for a couple of weeks now.

First trip out was on the Kawasaki Versys 1000cc, my wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a bike I’ve owned from new in 2016 and one that I dearly love. Heading north up the Suffolk coast I dropped into the lovely seaside town of Southwold. Not far up the road in real terms but since it was my first ride out in quite a while I wanted to break myself in gently.

My 2016 Kawasaki Versys 1000 parked up in the sun at Southwold Suffolk.

The ride was glorious albeit a tad windy as I got closer to the coast. Getting the tyres warmed up on the bike for the first time in ages was a great feeling and I was soon back in the swing of things.

The very next day it was the turn of the Honda CRF250 Rally to get out onto the road. I love this little bike and it just loves tootling around the back lanes and byways, together we make a great team.

My expedition Honda CRF250 Rally taking in the views of the Suffolk countryside.

Heading out into the sticks not really having a preplanned route I just explored lanes and byways that I’d not ridden before, most of the time not having any real idea of where I was.

Stopping here and there to take photos, take in the scenery and enjoy the sun on my face it was heavenly to enjoy the silence of the countryside. At times it felt as if I was the only one on the planet, a wonderful feeling to be had.

Passing through tiny villages that I’d never heard of before I found my self arriving on the outskirts of the town of Felixstowe on a back lane that I didn’t know existed. Eventually I came out near the golf course in the old part of the town and continued on until I reached the dead end at the Felixstowe Ferry opposite Bawdsey on the river Deben.

Heading out of Felixstowe I decided to ride around the river Deben to the other side and follow the road to its natural end at Bawdsey. Once again heading out into the sticks and not having any real route in mind I passed through a completely different set of little villages until I arrived in Newbourne, a village I know. Passing the Newbourne Fox Pub that was closed like all the other pubs at the moment, the village seemed dead compared to normal. Heading north through Waldringfield Heath round the back of Adastral park where all the tech companies live I was soon in the town of Woodbridge. A lovely old market town with many fine public establishments. I followed the road round past the marina, through Melton and headed out into the sticks once more.

The view over the river Deben from the dizzy heights of Ramsholt.

I somehow found myself on the Ramsholt road and decided to head up onto the top of the hill overlooking the river Deben near the Ramsholt Arms pub. Stopping at the top of the hill I sat in the sun for a while enjoying the view over the river whilst listening to the birds chattering away. This was becoming a very relaxing and enjoyable second ride out!

Leaving Ramsholt along the sandy lanes I managed to find myself on the back lane heading in the direction of Bawdsey.

Passing Bawdsey Manor where the radar research took place in the early part of World War II I soon arrived at Bawdsey Quay, directly opposite Felixstowe Ferry where I had been an hour or so earlier. 25 miles of riding to end up no more than 150 metres from where I started!

Wanting to stay within the law, I took my exercise and walked over to the cobbled beach to take a photo of Felixstowe. Exercise over, I headed back to the quay.

Looking across the river Deben to Felixstowe Ferry from Bawdsey cobbled beach.

Sitting on an old wooden bench with my back up against an old brick building in the sun, I watched the world go by for what seemed an age. Fishing boats came and went, sail boats slipped by silently all whilst the tide gradually came in. It was heaven!

Soon it was time for me to start heading home again. Getting my crash helmet on, biking gear zipped up and the bike fired up I headed back out into the countryside winding my way around little back lanes enjoying every moment of my new found freedom.

Looking up the river Deben from Bawdsey Quay.

The little Honda buzzed excitedly as we progressed past the lush green fields and derelict farm buildings that litter the landscape. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride little bikes, it was like being a boy again except it was totally legal this time!

Stopped on a Byway somewhere in Suffolk.

Ten or so miles later going through one village twice somehow I was soon back home and putting the bike away ready for another day.