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.