Cannich Scottish Highlands 2011

The last two years have not seen me enjoying the best of health and Rhonda and me have not been to as many places as I would have liked to go. After missing two previous invites to camp in Scotland I decided I would not miss out on a third. I contacted Ted Magnum and my mate Diehard some time in February and we collectively decided that all three of us should go and meet the good folk in the North of Scotland who had after all been good enough to invite us and make all the logistic arrangements on our behalf. Nearer the departure date and in the time-honoured fashion, the excuses were made as to why we could not go. Touring Ted the man who has conquered South America and raped, Pillaged and plundered his way across the Dark Continent decided he could not travel ALL of that way because his bike was not comfortable enough! Diehard had problems in the Emerald Isles and was physically unable to make the journey. That left me. After checking my bank balance and the weather reports I admit I felt like pulling out myself but for the sake of my credibility and the honour of the HUBB community on our fair peninsula there really was only one option and that was for me to travel the 420 miles to the designated campsite on my own.

I had never travelled that far before on a motorcycle in one day, I have never had any reason to. I spent a week packing and re-packing and deciding what to take and what not to take. In the end I packed everything that would fit on my bike and woke up in the early hours of Friday morning at 4pm. The plan was to be on the road at 5pm but that went out of the window as I tried to drag my weary bones and sleepy head out of bed. I managed to leave just before 6-30am and with clear roads hit the M6 just after 7pm. The plan was to ride until 8-30 when the worst of the morning rush hour would be sharing the road with me and then make a pit stop for an hour until 9-30 when the morning rush would be over. Nature had other plans and the showers I had planned so carefully to outrun caught up with me. The day was spent placing waterproofs on to keep out the rain then taking them off so I did not become a boil in the bag item when the sun came out again.

For all the efforts I was rewarded with some gorgeous scenery as I hit Scotland and headed for the highlands. I eventually pulled into the campsite at 5pm after 10.5 hours on the road, exhausted, aching in places I had forgotten I had and desperate for some rest. I felt like John Wayne after I dismounted Rhonda and I could empathise with any porn starlet who has spent a day on set with Ron Jeremy. Nevertheless a welcoming committee consisting of three guys with smiling faces that I shall name Robert De Niro, Christopher Walkden and XRM greeted me and welcomed me to their fold. After pleasantries and the setting up of my tent Robert De Niro muttered the immortal words, “reet tharts dun, ah ye oneten eh paint”, which loosely translates as good show old man would you care to partake of some refreshment at the local hostelry? Christopher Walkden smiled as he waited for an answer. I bonded with those guys in an instant. A short walk later and the four of us are sinking pint after pint of Cider in the local pub.

The pub deserves a mention it is an art Deco pub of the 1920,s style with a warm and welcoming atmosphere and decked out in pine with Canadian artefacts and décor. Whatever you think of this mix it is worth a visit and the food is to die for and reasonably priced. You will not need a second mortgage to be entertained in this place. Around about the third pint, I noticed a herd of cows slowly ambling along the main road. This was the Cannich bull run and while it may have lacked the pace and testosterone of the Madrid bull run it made up for it in a quintessentially British way in much the same way as Pimms and a plate of cucumber sandwiches does, full of charm and understatement with a hint of UK reserve. Daisy, Buttercup, and the rest of the herd gave it their all as the ambled along the road in a slow orderly fashion checking out the most luscious grass and dandelions. It was a truly surreal (especially for a city boy like me) moment and one of the most precious occasions I have ever experienced. You do not get to witness moments like that where I live and consequently when you do, such occasions tend to stick in your memory.

Fast-forward several pints (read a lot these boys can drink) and a few shorts as my stomach was filling up and it was time for bed. Staggering the short distance back to the campsite I slept like a log. I woke up at ten am and wandered over to the café where the rest of the gang where patiently waiting for me. By 11-30am, I was washed, dressed, fed and watered and ready to roll with only the slightest hangover and even the aches and pains I had arrived with had dissipated. By this time it was apparent I was the only one who made the journey apart from the locals. Whatever ride out had been planned was going to be tailor made for me. At midday another rider arrived and the tourist numbers had doubled. A decision was made to take me to Applecross and show me some of the scenery. Our merry band was joined by some guy I shall call Valentino Rossi. He was to lead our entourage that by now consisted of 6 bikes with Christopher Walkden carrying a pillion in the form of Mrs Artois. Valentino charged ahead at a rapid rate of knots and we followed. It may of helped if I could of understood a word he said but I digress, as it was I followed the nearest bike in front of me as we headed towards Applecross mountain (the locals call it a hill).

Stunning is an oft-misused word and as such it often loses any impact but the roads and the scenery was truly stunning. I would have noticed more if it were not for the fact that Valentino Rossi was riding at speeds of over 80MPH. This was over B roads with sheep that looked as though they just might wonder across the road at any given moment to see if the grass truly was greener. To be fair our band did stop on a couple of occasions for me to take photos. The Isle of Skye in the background looked so close I felt as though I could reach out and touch it. The ride out was over 160 miles long and absolutely fantastic. I can honestly say it was the best ride I have ever had in my life, except for perhaps, no best not to go any further BC would get jealous! Up until that moment I had considered the Dukes Pass in the Trossachs to be the best bike ride I had ever undertaken but it paled into insignificance compared to the ride out these lads took me on. The winding road up to the top of Applecross was worthy of comparison to any road in Switzerland and included more than one heart stopping moment for a novice to the area like me. Would I go back? The answer is yes and in a heartbeat.

All too soon the ride was over and upon arrival at the campsite Christopher Walkden announced that they had taken it easy on me because I was not familiar with the roads. For Gods sake travelling at 80 MPH on B roads is faster than I travel on the damn motorways! (He really is as mad as the namesake I have given him and for good reason) He then announced that they regularly travel on that road at speeds in excess of, well let’s not go there, let’s just say that a Harrier Jump jet would struggle to keep up. To be fair they live in fantastic scenery with little or no traffic and a marked absence of speed cameras. No matter the immortal words were repeated and we found ourselves in the pub-sinking pint after pint and when the Magners barrel ran dry I hit the Jack Daniels while Christopher Walkden hit the Scotch. Robert De Niro and myself got into a heated debate about Maps and then about the difference and benefits of stainless steel and carbon steel. Robert De Niro is actually a deer hunter by profession, hence the anachronism, and he knows a thing or two about sharp knives and guns. We agreed to differ but I suspect he is right and in the circumstances he finds himself stainless steel is best for him. Carbon steel was good enough for Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie and as such it will always be good enough for me! Just to rub salt into the wounds when was the last time any one ever saw a genuine Samurai sword made of stainless steel, I rest my case your honour.

After yet another fantastic night it was time for bed again. I did not want to go I did not want the day to end but you cannot stay awake forever-even vampires and Keef Richards (my hero) need sleep. Morning came and I woke up at 6am and started to pack. After breakfast at the campsite cafe, which deserves a special mention, the site is wonderful with full amenities, showers, laundry room, separate wash facilities for cleaning pots and pans etc and is very reasonably priced. I also have to mention the ground is not rock hard and you do not need a power drill to stake your tent pegs. The shop is stocked with everything you could need in an emergency, spare rope, pegs, gas bottles and they will even sell you a tent if you need one. Our hosts had thought of everything and full marks to them, I tip my hat to the guys who had arranged all of this. They had obviously sat down and thought long and hard about arranging for fellow bikers to come along and have every possible need catered for. I had the benefits of the almost exclusive attention of our hosts and what marvellous hosts they turned out to be. Boys there will always be a welcome and a beer in the fridge if you turn up at Chateau Gastanbury.


The road back from Cannich

I set off in the morning and upon the advice of mine hosts I opted for the scenic route to my brothers riding through Fort William along the banks of Loch Ness and eventually arriving in Edinburgh. The plan was great on paper but it rained not hard but constant drizzle and then I got stuck behind caravans and mobile homes on winding roads with no passing places and then the infamous Scotch mist descended. Scenic it was not! Fort William was almost invisible as I rode through it. I finally arrived at my brother’s home some two hours later than planned due to road conditions. No matter I was met with the words, “Yo bro here’s a beer”. This loosely translates as “Greetings dear brother welcome to my humble abode, would you care to partake of some refreshments”. And so with aching limbs and glad to be out of the saddle I took him up on his offer and after a beverage or two (read lots) I was persuaded to stay for two nights instead of the one I had planned. By now some of you will have noted that I did not say I reluctantly agreed or even that I took any persuading at all.

After two nights of pampering and constant raiding of a drinks cabinet that appeared to almost magically replenish itself, it was time to depart. I really did not fancy a trip that consisted of 75% of almost mind numbingly boring motorways and I took the A7 road to Carlisle. I felt good again with both my mood and spirits uplifted and the ache in my backside and legs had gone. Rhonda was behaving like the lady she is and the ride was enjoyable until I hit the M6. The wind from Carlisle til Lancashire was almost unbearable and I was blown across the motorway one more than one occasion. At times I was leaning at an alarming angle to stay on the road. I have to say at this point that I am not the best rider in the world and Rhonda is not the best motorcycle. She is the Delia Smith of the biking world, not much to look at (sorry Delia), but is certainly no moose does not set the pulse racing and is hardly likely to have you overdosing on adrenaline. However, she is reliable, very forgiving and tolerant and you know the end result will be excellent. We were made for each other; we go together like ham and eggs, Amy Pond and short skirts and Pimms on a summer’s day. Both me and Rhonda arrived home safe and in one piece and just before the rush hour had gathered any noticeable pace in the city centre.

Ok now for the boring bits. How much did all of this cost and why do I bother with costings?  Some people have said whatever it costs you it will be different for other people because we all spend differently. That may be so but if I use a gallon of fuel to get from a to b then someone else will use roughly the same amount and if it costs me six pounds per night to camp then it will cost another person the same to camp at the same site. If you are on limited income then such things do become important. Most writers and bloggers leave out expenses leaving many of us to wonder could we afford to do the same thing. If we knew how much the writer or blogger had spent and on roughly what then we could decide in an instant if we could do likewise. The argument that prices change over time holds no water with me because if something cost ten pounds ten years ago then with inflation it will cost around 50% more today. For what it is worth I save money where I can. I take sandwiches and a flask with me on journeys because I cannot bear to spend up to three pounds on a paper cup full of liquid shite from Starbucks or Costa whatever and the same goes for stale sandwiches on the motorway service stations.

In five days I travelled 1050 miles at roughly 50 MPG and averaging at six pounds per gallon. The camp site cost six pounds person per night and I stayed two nights.

I hit the bar hard but I need not have done and I could of ate a lot cheaper than I did although I thought the prices reasonable. To sum up then:

Fuel £126

Camp site £12

Food and entertainment aprox £80.

The food and entertainment could have been cut by three quarters by me cooking my own meals and drinking tea and I would still have had a good time and any one not wanting to camp could have stayed in a B+B. I could have done this trip for £150 and still had an amazing time or I could have maxed out my credit card.

The current financial climate has affected almost everyone and after speaking to various people at the meet it was obvious that plans to travel have been put on hold by a lot of would be travellers. We can’t all be like Charlie and Ewan and have equipment donated to us and then make money from the trip. Many of us will never be like Ted Simon and become ambassadors for a motorcycle company whilst keeping our jobs as newspaper correspondents and having an income on the road. This is not criticism of any one and many of us would jump at the chance do what they did in the manner they did it. But for the vast majority of people the chance to travel is far too costly to say nothing of personal circumstances that may prevent people from taking off for long periods of time.

Occasional small trips like this, meeting other likeminded people and enjoying the amazing scenery on my own doorstep will have to suffice until circumstances improve. However I am not on my own and like most of the folk I have met I suspect I will manage it one day.


The dark sky park

Several years ago I stayed with friends in Wyoming in the USA and although there are many memories that will stay with me forever, the most prominent one is the blackness of the sky and the twinkling of the stars. (Thank you Amanda, I need to repay the favour some day) I had never seen so many stars in one place at the same time in my life. I have been searching for a similar sky ever since. And so after watching too many programmes featuring stunning night skies, Beancounter and me decided we should find a place somewhere in the UK to star gaze. Our quest was helped by an article in a daily paper which gave the top ten darkest places in the UK. Right there up at number one was the Galloway dark sky park near Stranraer in Scotland. At the time of writing this is one of only three dedicated dark sky parks in the northern hemisphere which carry a gold tier standard. There are others but they only have a silver tier standard.

I loaded the bike up with our camping gear and we set off early one Friday morning to cover the 220 miles or so to the only camp site within the park itself. Rhonda groaned under the weight of all the goodies I had loaded her up with and once we had set off down the motorway the truth sank in, Rhonda was behaving like Gloucester old spot with a saddle on it. It was obvious that there would be problems ahead but no matter we were one our way and I would deal with them as they arrived. They soon appeared in the form of high winds along the motorway and the bike was soon swerving across lanes at an alarming rate. Through the helmet intercom I had bought in February I could just about hear BC mouthing prayers that we would soon be there and she could get off this pig.

After 200 hair raising miles, much cursing and lots of muscle pain that I knew I would pay dearly for the following day, we arrived at the forest and headed off down the track that passed for a road. In fairness it is surfaced with Tarmac and in good condition but it is narrow and there are no street lights. Obvious really if there were lights it would not be dark would it!! Add to this it is twisty and on the way there it is nearly all downhill. No matter we arrived safe and sound and checked into the campsite.

The camp site itself is gorgeous and it features a duck pond complete with its own troupe of inquisitive ducks that like to check each tent that arrives in search of tidbits and goodies. After a struggle to get out of the saddle I set up the tent in bad humour and made our camp. The ground is rock hard and each of my pegs bent. The sleep mats struggled to cope with the lumps and bumps of the ground and the wind was so strong I thought I was going to lose the tent on more than one occasion. After a short walk to a nearby pub (the only one for miles) for a well earned drink and a meal we came back and waited for the sky to turn black and the stars come out to play. Being up north and heading towards summer it does not go dark as soon as it does down south. By 11pm it was still too light to see all but the very brightest of the stars and being exhausted I turned in.

The following morning and in a state of shock by how cold it was during the night I was greeted by the ducks and the realisation we had no milk and that the nearest place we could buy fresh milk was 9 miles away. (note if you ever go to this place take milk with you). It has to be mentioned just how cold it was and the pair of us quickly came to the conclusion that the sleeping bags we had brought with us were completely inadequate, however space and weight restrictions meant that I could not carry anything heavier or bulkier than I had already loaded up. Washed dressed and saddled up on a, by comparison, near naked Rhonda, we rode into the nearest town stocked up with provisions and came back to relax in the sun with a bottle of red or two. The trauma of the previous day simply melted away with each fresh glass of wine until it seemed like a positively enjoyable experience and one we would laugh about in years to come.

We managed to stay awake until it went completely dark which was about 1am but we were treated to something beyond my wildest dreams and the light show was simply stunning. There were so many stars I managed to lose the plough in a myriad of dots that made the recognition of any constellations difficult and fruitless. Finally when I could stay awake no longer I crawled back into my tent and started to play with some of the toys I had brought with me. Namely the wind up radio and the wind up lantern (what were you lot thinking about!). The radio had no signal at all and all I could receive was some foreign station that faded in and out in medium wave. The lantern on the other hand was completely useless and what little light it did give off soon ran out until you hand cranked it up for about five minutes or so giving three minutes of semi useful light. By the time I was ready to sleep my arms and wrists ached and I felt as if I had been masturbating for hours without the euphoria at the end of such actions. The lantern was not coming home!

The original plan had been to stay at Glentrool for one night, head off to the Tan Hill pub the following day and then ride down to Dent in Yorkshire before setting off back home on the Monday morning. Our plans had already been altered by the ride and the bad night’s sleep we had on the Friday plus the fact we had not seen much of the night sky. So Sunday morning came and after breakfast we broke camp, loaded up and headed off to Yorkshire for the Tan Hill pub which is the highest pub in the UK. After a hair raising ride complete with higher winds than on Friday and with many trouser filling moments we arrived on a cold windswept hill in North Yorkshire only to realise that it would be impossible for me to put up my tent anywhere near this place. We asked at the pub if they did bed and breakfast and they laughed, we cried and despair sank in. BC did not want to go any further on the bike, I think she was in shock, and I could not find anywhere to camp that would be out the wind. Fortunately the staff at the pub pointed us in the direction of a friendly B+B and we set off to Kirby Stephen about 15 miles away across the moors.

After more trouser filling moments with suicidal sheep jumping in front of us and local land rover driving maniacs that would have put any suicide driver to shame complete with the most hair raising bends I have yet to ride on, we arrived at the sanctuary of the Jolly farmer who not only gave us bed and breakfast but offered us safe parking for Rhonda. Another meal and a couple of drinks at a local pub and it was time to turn in. I was so tired I fell asleep on top of the bed with my clothes on. Sadly and all too soon morning came and after breakfast it was time to return home. The planned trip to Dent had fallen by the wayside. The journey home was only slightly less frightful than the journey there and I was grateful to be home.

The lesson learned from this trip is not to take so much gear, do not go two up in cold weather and the newest green technology is not always worth the bother. I left around four items behind including two folding chairs, a wind up lantern and a supply of candles that kept us warm in the tent. I would have gladly left more behind but BC would not let me! BC has stated she does not want to go camping on the bike again but camping in the car would not be a problem as we can take much warmer gear and the weight of the gear will not affect the cars performance as much as it did Rhondas.

It is only a week since we went and already we are laughing at the so called misfortunes and scary moments and we would go again. I would also recommend the dark sky park to anyone who wants peace and quiet and to gaze at the stars for a few hours.

In keeping with other posts the costs are as follows:

950 miles 7 tanks of petrol.
2 nights of camp fees £21
Entertainment and food for 3 days around £60
Bed and breakfast? You really do not want to know!!


How the hell do I top that?

Its damn late, well nearly 5 months late but finally here are the photos  from Halloween 2010. As a surprise and to top the action from last year I managed to hire a fire eater that I bumped into one day last summer. He was giving an impromptu performance outside one of the pubs not too far from my house and I asked him if he did private parties. Thankfully he said yes and I booked him there and then.  I had only told a small select group of people what I was planning and so when my my friends came along with the kids no one really knew what was happening apart from the almost obligatory barbecue and bowls of stew along with sweets for the trick or treaters. Mercifully it all went well no mishaps, the house did not catch fire, no kids were rushed to A+E  and a Jolly time was had by all. The photos I took really do not do the event any justice but hopefully they will give anyone who was not there a flavor of what the night was like. Those who were there need no reminding. The problem now is how the hell do I top that?