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 3

Our timing to get the ferry back to the mainland from Mull couldn’t of been better. We rolled up at the Fishnish ferry terminal, grabbed a coffee and a bite to eat and minutes later the ferry arrived. We were pretty much at the front of the short queue and the ferry sailed mostly empty.

From the Lochaline ferry terminal we headed north to the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct – Ben Jackson

The Glenfinnan Viaduct was made famous by the Harry Potter movies and they make the most of this at the visitor centre. The Hogwarts Express, is filmed crossing the viaduct in  several of the films. The train shown is actually the Jacobite Steam Engine that operates over part of the West Highland Line on a regular basis taking tourists between Fort William and Mallaig.

Another view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct across the stream

It was a dull, misty overcast day and we couldn’t see much of the views along the route and so decided to head to Mallaig to get the ferry across to Armadale on the Isle of Skye.

Map showing the route along the A830 to Mallaig
View of a viaduct going across Loch Lochailort⁩ enroute to Mallaig

The route to the Mallaig ferry terminal was a lovely twisty road but, we saw very little of the surrounding countryside due to the weather. In less than an hour we arrived at the ferry terminal only to find we couldn’t check in until 4pm.

Ben did get a photo of the Jacobite Steam Engine at the station in Mallaig on the way into the town which made up for not seeing it cross the viaduct.

The Jacobite Steam Engine – Ben Jackson

We parked the bikes up in the town and headed off to The Tea Garden Cafe for a bite to eat and to take a look at the map of Skye to get an idea of what we wanted to see and ride there.

Ben taking a nap whilst we waited for the ferry arrive

Having checked in at 4pm we had two hours to kill waiting for the ferry. There’s not a lot to do or see at the ferry port and so Ben grabbed 40 winks whilst I looked at the map of Skye for campsites etc.

Upper deck on the Mallaig to Armadale ferry

Once on board the ferry we got comfy and enjoyed the short ride across the sea to the Isle of Skye.

Upon arriving on the Isle of Skye we headed straight to Camping Skye to get a pitch for a couple of days. We decided to stay at the one campsite and then ride out each day to see the sights rather than move to a new campsite each day. This gave us sometime to use the clothes washing and drying facilities available as some of our gear was in need of some serious drying after the wet weather we’d endured.

Camping Skye

The next day we headed out to Portree, the biggest town on Skye and also the capital of the Isle. It is the location for the only secondary school on the island, Portree High School. Portree has a harbour, fringed by cliffs, with a pier designed by Thomas Telford.

It’s a fairly busy little town with the main square being the place to be for food, drink and the Sheriff court, where we decided to park our bikes!

Portree main square

Fortunately the motorcycle parking outside the Sheriff Court was free and there was plenty of room for our two steeds. We assumed it’s probably the safest place to park in the town.

Portree Harbour

A walk up the hill from the town square gives a great view of the harbour front with its coloured buildings and stone gathering hall in the background.

We spent two days touring around the Isle of Skye taking in the views best we could under the low cloud and drizzle that seemed to follow us around. The scenery is spectacular and it would had been nice to be able to see it on a beautiful sunny day, but we made the most of what we had. There’s some great riding to be had on Skye which is covered in small, single track lanes that both follow the coastline and cut through the wilderness in the centre of the isle.

Skye Museum of Island Life, Kilmuir (Closed due to COVID19)

When the time came to leave Skye we returned to the mainland via the Skye Bridge and headed north towards the Bealach na Ba pass to Applecross.

View from the road at Strathcarron⁩ heading north to the Bealach na Ba Pass

The Bealach na Ba pass is the third highest road in Scotland at 626 metres (2,054 ft), with steep inclines and hairpin bends. The historic mountain pass was built in 1822 so that cattle could be moved easily through the mountains. The name is Scottish Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle and is pronounced Bee-al-uch nu Ba(h).

Sadly once we got up fairly high we found ourselves in fine rain and mist, so we never really got to see any of the views. The video footage wasn’t too brilliant either as the rain constantly filled the lens of the camera. Most of the motorists gave way to us and waited at the passing places so that we could get past without stopping apart from one delivery van who was coming through whether there was enough room or not!

Once we arrived at Applecross we continued along the coastal route heading north to Ullapool where we would stay the night.

Stopped by the side of the road at Achnasheen⁩ to take in the view enroute to Ullapool
Route up to Ullapool from Applecross

By the time we got to Ullapool my Tenere 700 was pretty much out of fuel as it only has a range of around 200 miles, unlike Ben’s Honda AfricaTwin that can cover almost 300 miles between fill ups. Fortunately one of the first things we saw on our arrival to Ullapool was a petrol station.

Ullapool is a small town located in Ross and Cromarty located around 45 miles (72 km) northwest of Inverness. Being a ferry port town it’s a busy little place with lots of people passing through daily. There is a regular ferry service to Stornoway, the main town of the Western Isles and the capital of Lewis and Harris.

Right at the end of the main street on the coast is the Broomfield Holiday Park. It’s a fairly flat, large campsite with great views across Loch Broom.

View across Loch Broom from the Broomfield Holiday Park, Ullapool

Once settled in at the campsite we headed off into town to the Deli-Ca-Sea Fish and Chip shop for a bite to eat.

After a good nights sleep we were up fairly early to get packed up before the rain arrived. Being an early riser I’d had a walk along the beach before Ben had woken. I love the solitary moments where you’re completely alone with nothing more than the view and your thoughts.

There were a number of small Cairns carefully constructed on the beach which created some excellent photography opportunities. It’s the simple little things like this that you always remember about a trip. These simple memory markers will remind me of our time in Ullapool for years to come.

Heading north out of Ullapool, John O’Groats is only 158 miles away via the NC500 coastal road. 158 miles would normally take around 3 hours or so but, on these Scottish single track roads with constant stops to allow traffic through and photograph opportunities we planned for it to take most of the day.

NC500 route from Ullapool to John O’Groats

Our first stop on the road north was at Ardvreck Castle. This 16th century castle stands on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt and is just a ruin today. The castle was once the home of the MacLeods of Assynt family.

Ben took the opportunity to give his drone a fly and capture some aerial footage of the castle ruins.

A little further up the road we arrived at the Kylesku Bridge (officially known since 2019 by its Gaelic name Drochaid a’ Chaolais Chumhaing). It is a beautifully curved concrete bridge that crosses Loch aChàirn Bhàin. The bridge is set in a picturesque location and has one of the best wild camping spots we came across on the whole trip.

A panoramic view of the Kylesku Bridge and Loch

This was another great opportunity for Ben to fly his drone and capture the curvature of the bridge which appears somewhat straight in photos.

Ben flying his drone at the Kylesku Bridge

We spent quite a bit of time at the bridge taking photos, chatting with people and capturing video footage using the drone. Here’s a snippet from Ben’s drone footage, I’m sure he’ll be putting more online soon.

We continued north up to the coast at Durness where is was windy and cold. The ride along the north coast road was beautiful but the wind and cold took it’s toll on us and we had to make a stop for food and hot drinks on the way.

View from the north coast road
The ever changing weather with occasional blue sky
Camped at John O’Groats on the cliff above the sea

We finally arrived at John O’Groats cold and tired. We got the tents up and then headed over to the shops to see what we could find to eat. Sadly everything closes early even though there are loads of people on the campsite all looking for food in the evenings! We managed to get a sandwich and some pie and cheesecake from a cafe just as it was closing and headed back to our tents to get out of the cold wind and fill our bellies.

We spent the night at John O’Groats in the howling wind, waking early in the morning desperate for a hot brew.

From this point on every mile we rode took us a mile closer to home for the first time.

More soon …

Fitting the Tutoro Automatic Chain Oiler

I’ve used Tutoro chain oilers for a number of years now. The great thing about them is the simplicity. They have no requirement for 12v power or vacuum from the inlet manifold like many other oilers do, they just use the natural up and down motion of the bike to control the oil flow.

The Tutoro oilers come with most of the fittings that you’d normally require however, none of them really worked on the Tenere 700 and it was soon obvious that I was going to have to make a mounting bracket for it.

The basic Tutoro Oiler kit as supplied

Heading off to the workshop with nothing but a rough idea of what I needed, I grabbed some sheet metal and started making the mounting bracket. I used a piece of 4mm sheet metal as I wanted it to be a really solid mount so that it could handle the rigours of trail riding.

Intial rough cut of the bracket

The best place to mount the oil reservoir was on the rear of the Outback Motortek pannier rack. At the point where the rear support crossbar is bolted to the left side tube there are two convenient long bolts that lend themselves perfectly to being used to mount the bracket. Spacing is tight but, with a little tinkering it fits perfectly. I had to make a couple of plastic spacers to get the position of the reservoir correct such that the flow adjuster knob didn’t stick out to far to ensure clearance when the pannier is fitted. I made the spacers from a piece of plastic rod I had on the shelf in the workshop, cut to size and then drilled the centres out so that the bolts could slide through them.

Once the final shape was reached, I cleaned the bracket up and gave it a quick spray with some black plasticoat paint to protect it from rust and then hung it on the washing line in the sun to dry.

Whilst the bracket was drying I started running the oil feed hose around the frame. I’d already worked out the route and decided that the Acerbis chain guide provided the perfect mount point for the oil delivery nozzle.

Oil delivery nozzle perfectly positioned on the rear sprocket

Running the oil delivery tube around the frame and swing arm was an easy task using a mix of cable ties and heavy duty stick on clips. I’ve fitted the tube on my other bikes using the same technique and have never had any issues even when riding off-road.

Having the Acerbis chain guide fitted was a real bonus as it provides the perfect secure route right up to the rear sprocket. Needing just two small cable ties the tube was fed through the upper part of the chain guide and then down by the side of the sprocket. This not only provides a secure fixing but, also protects the feed nozzle from flying debris.

Routing the oil delivery tube through the Acerbis chain guide

Once the tube was in place and the new bracket was dry I got it all mounted and bled the oil through the tube to the delivery nozzle.

The Tutoro supplied brackets usually mount to just a single point on the reservoir but, since there are two mount holes on the base of the unit I decided to use both to get a much more solid fixing. Knowing what the trails are going to be like in Mongolia and Siberia I wanted to ensure the fixing was as solid as possible.

With another fun little project complete I’ll be moving onto the next one very soon.

Stay tuned!

Tall seats and short legs!

One of the issues I’ve had with the Tenere 700 Rally Edition is the height of the seat. Being somewhat under-tall and constantly reminded of it by the guys I ride with, it’s really affected my ability to handle the bike confidently when foot down, especially on anything other than smooth tarmac.

The standard Tenere 700 Rally Edition seat

The standard Rally Edition seat looks great and allows the rider to move pretty much right up to the tank for off-road riding however, it raises the seat height considerably compared to the OEM standard two part seat and the optional low seat. Along with being high it’s also incredibly uncomfortable. From the bottom of the seat to the top, the seat gradually gets narrower meaning that the bit you actually get to sit on is far too narrow for anything more than a 30min jaunt. Any more than 30mins and it starts to hurt, after an hour you just have to get off.

I don’t know what it is with motorcycle manufacturers today, seats are made purely for looks and not comfort. Years ago back when I was young and foolish motorcycle seats were comfortable, you could ride all day without any issue at all. The last bike I had with a great seat was my lovely Suzuki GSX1400, what a great seat that was! I could ride that bike all day without an issue, no bum ache whatsoever, a joy to sit on. Since then pretty much all my bikes have had horrendously uncomfortable seats.

OEM two part low seat

After much measuring and calculating I decided to replace the Rally Edition seat with the Yamaha OEM optional low seat. This reduces the seat height by 4cm which, when you’ve only got a 73cm inside leg like me, makes a fair difference. Of course, there’s two parts to this story, the first is the price and the second is that it comes in two parts.

Manufacturers today milk you for every penny they can get, so why make the low seat a one piece unit like the original when you can split it in two and charge double the price!

The low seat option (which is just the front 3/4 of the whole seat) has an RRP of £160.00 + shipping. You then need to get the rear 1/4 of the seat which for some reason has an RRP of £179.00, yes the smallest bit costs more than the biggest bit.

The only good thing about this arrangement is that you can choose between a passenger seat for the rear or the optional luggage rack.

Since my wife no longer rides and definitely won’t want to sit on the tiny uncomfortable passenger seat for more than 5 seconds I opted for the luggage rack.

OEM optional low seat and luggage rack

The one big advantage of the luggage rack is that it mounts where the passenger would normally sit. This brings the weight directly over the rear wheel, probably the best place it could be. If you look at most aftermarket luggage racks they normally stick out the back of the bike which means once loaded, the leverage of the weight behind the rear wheel tends to lift the front wheel making the steering vague at best and terrifying at worst.

Prodding the low seat it felt hard to say the least and had me worried at first but, after a 4 hour ride I found it to be very comfortable. It’s also worth noting that it is some 4cm wider at the top than the original Rally Seat, this small difference actually makes a big difference as it gives much more support to the hips, so no more aching hips after long rides.

Tenere 700 OEM optional low seat and luggage rack with Outback Motortek pannier frame

One disadvantage of the low seat is that you cannot move forward as far as you can on the Rally Edition seat due to it’s deeper curve at the front, a small trade off for being more comfortable and able to reach the ground better.

With the original seat I could just get one foot down on tiptoes, no chance of getting the other foot anywhere near the ground but, now with the low seat I can get one foot planted flat on the ground and two feet down tiptoe if the need arises, a big improvement for me.

Total cost?
Well after having a hunt around I found that getting the parts from Yamaha dealers on Ebay was actually the cheapest route (They would only do full RRP on the phone!), so I ended up getting the front section for £141.95 including postage and the rear rack for £149.99 including postage, total cost £291.94. A saving of £47.06 over RRP.

I’m now almost £300.00 lighter but, can confidently reach the ground making the bike much more enjoyable to ride. There’s nothing worse then having to make sure you stop somewhere where you can always get a foot down, especially when on the trails. At least now I can just stop without having to worry whether I’ll be able to reach the ground or not.

More soon …