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Sep. 28th, 2016

Airplane pisser

Swings/Roundabouts

  • Renegotiate mobile phone contract, saving £24 per month
  • Rent goes up by £25 per month

Sep. 27th, 2016

Snow Fun

Dress Rehearsal

I had a birthday on September 16th, which I neglected to mention because there was so much going on. Thank you to everyone who noticed anyway!

The 16th was a Friday, which is a nice day for birthdays (I was born on a Friday). I took the day off and Howard took me to Duxford. It rained a lot, and we spent much of our time dashing from hangar to hangar, but it's a wonderful museum at any time. The American Air Museum in particular has had a refurb and is a delight to look round.

Friday evenings are not a good time to go to the pub, because it will be busy and noisy and many of your friends will have other plans. Nevertheless, I got a good turnout at my old favourite De Hems.

This means I have less than a year to work out how I'll mark my 40th. I do not intend to go quietly.

duxford

Sep. 23rd, 2016

WW2

NC500 by NC700: Sunday 11/09 - Monday 12/09

At some point on Saturday. Howard's bike had picked up a screw in the back tyre, and by Sunday lunchtime it was looking pretty deflated.

My repair kit was more of a get-you-home fix than one suitable for hundreds of miles of motorway, so we called the RAC, but they offered later and later arrival times. A van rolled up at half past five and the patrolman made a quick and competent repair, but by this point it seemed more sensible to stay another night and set off in the morning.

This gave us time to leave the motorway and enjoy a cross-country journey, with lunch at the Battle of Britain Visitors' Centre. The Lincolnshire landscape looked flatter even than usual after Scotland, but gave enough visibility to overtake the many lorries and tractors on our route.

We parted company at Peterborough, and I was home a couple of hours later. Total mileage was approaching 2,000, much of which was the travelling to and from. But it was worth it.

Miles: 251.2

Photo by Clive:

nc500
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Alice Street

NC500 by NC700: Saturday 10/09

Howard and I were heading for yet another night of free accommodation, this time with his brother in Leeds. With nearly 300 miles to cover, we nonetheless managed to fit in several stops for tourism.

First was the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift which has transformed the transfer between the Forth & Clyde and the Union canal from a series of locks taking hours to navigate to a five-minute journey which is also energy-efficient and very, very cool. I took the trip up, round and down while Howard, who had done it before, enjoyed a coffee.

Near the border with England, tourist signs started to appear for the Scottish National Museum of Flight. We hadn't planned to stop here, but it was of course irresistible. Sited at the former RAF East Fortune airfield, it's a well presented and planned collection with lots of gems, including an Islander air ambulance and the Messerschmitt Komet flown by Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown.

The A1, a flat slog lower down the country, is very pleasant here, with sea views and overtaking opportunities. We left it briefly so we could ride the causeway to Lindisfarne. The tide rises to cover the road several times a day, making this a slightly scary prospect even though we carefully checked the tide timetable.

On the way back to the main road we encountered a much more real danger in a level crossing stuck with the gate half open and the red lights flashing. Howard used the telephone at the crossing and was told that the next train wouldn't be for 'a while', but 'I didn't tell you that'. We risked it.

The last stage of the journey was completed in the dark, a tiring slog down a busy motorway where it was hard to keep track of each other. We arrived at 8:30 to very welcome cheese on toast.

Miles: 284

Falkirk Wheel
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Sep. 21st, 2016

Cross stitch

NC500 by NC700: Friday 09/09

We had reached the end of the official route. From here, most of the group would return to the Carlisle hotel where we'd spent our first night, while Howard and I headed for my auntie's near Stirling.

Howard and I set off after the main group, intending to catch up later as we followed the same route: slantwise down the Great Glen, alongside Loch Ness and Loch Lochy (Lochy McLochface?) to Fort William. We stopped at the Spean Bridge Commando Monument, whose three bronze figures look out at the landscape where wartime wearers of the green beret were trained.

The long 40 and 50 limits out of Fort William were presumably designed to enable looking at the views without holding up other traffic. After Glen Coe the road began to climb, and I soon lost sight of Howard as we worked on overtaking the lorries and caravans (this scenic route also being a vital one for transport).

It was windy up in the hills, mile upon mile passing with no sign of human habitation, and I was beginning to panic slightly when the descent began and scattered villages appeared. At last, I entered Tyndrum and spotted the agreed lunch stop, the Green Welly.

We had seen no sign all day of the rest of the group. Howard was convinced they were miles ahead, while I was sure we must have missed them somewhere on the road. We had our answer as I was finishing my sausage sandwich, when they walked through the door.

It was raining heavily when we left, just for a change, and we stuck together for the next leg as the rain shifted gears from 'persistent, heavy' to 'tipping it down'.

We made a diversion to do the Duke's Pass, which must be pretty when the roads aren't awash and you can see the views, before heading to a remote tea shop which proved to be closed.

So Howard and I said our farewells in the car park, walking from bike to bike to offer wet handshakes and hugs. An hour's riding in the rain, and Stirling in the rush hour, brought us to my aunt and uncle, who were positively delighted to welcome two dripping, smelly bikers into their home. We spared a thought for the others, and the extra eighty miles to Carlisle, as we changed for dinner.

Miles:198.6

Commando monument, Spean Bridge
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Sep. 20th, 2016

Ace

NC500 by NC700: Thursday 08/09

Howard had been complaining all week about having to visit John O'Groats: apparently it was a bleak wasteland, and not even the most northerly point of mainland UK, because that's nearby Dunnet Head.

So we went to Dunnet Head first.

On the way, I stopped off at Dunnet Bay Distillers. The distillery is small, clean and bright, the Rock Rose gin delicious (I tried the 57% Navy Strength, at ten in the morning), and the locally sourced botanicals read like a list of minor Watership Down characters: Juniper, Rowanberry, Sea Buckthorn.

John O'Groats was windswept and featureless, as advertised, but we were still excited about our obligatory photos with the signpost. We turned south, leaving the flat, misty plain for the main road to Wick and beyond.

Howard, at the front, had been keeping an eye out for potential lunch, and we pulled in at a little tea room where I had cullen skink, ordered with a vague sense that it was fish and potatoes and I would like it (correct), and the waitress answered every request or thanks with a cheerful 'No bother'.

An onslaught of rain prevented us getting full value from the sea views and hairpin bends of the Berriedale Braes, and set in for the afternoon as the A9 carried us back to Inverness, getting busier as it went. As Howard and I crossed the water into the city, the sky magically cleared to blue.

Since the holiday was nearly at an end, I took the opportunity to buy some sweets for the office. The Inverness Tesco wasn't quite the same experience as going to a French supermarket, but did helpfully have a Local Products aisle featureing the entire range of Tunnocks and Irn Bru.

Miles: 160.6

Dunnet Head

John O"Groats: Alice & Howard
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Sep. 19th, 2016

Cat Air

NC500 by NC700: Wednesday 07/09

A cloud of midges was circling the bikes. We dashed in and out of the hotel to secure our luggage, swatting at our hands and faces, and took off as soon as we were ready.

Our first stop was a photo opportunity at the Kylesku bridge, after which we cut off the top left corner of Scotland in a diagonal line ending at Durness.

We'd received several recommendations for Cocoa Mountain, and had come to try it for ourselves. They served a fantastic hot chocolate, topped with melted chocolate drizzled over inches of foam, and there was a delightfully friendly cat.

Here the rain which had been following behind caught us up, and never went away. It was a cosy rain we could layer against, rather than the downpour of the journey up; softening the edges and the colours so everything was peaceful greens and browns. We stopped for sandwiches in Tongue (but not tongue sandwiches) at a friendly pub, and pulled in to a layby for views of the distinctive Dounreay.

Our home for the night was Castletown, near Thurso. The town was very grey, the hotel and furnishings dated, but everyone we met was helpful and friendly. Howard and I walked down to the beach, among the remains of the town's flagstone industry, and I had a freezing five-minute swim in a sheltered curve of the bay, watched by oystercatchers.

Miles: 128.8

Kylesku bridge

Cocoa Mountain cat

Dounreay
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Sep. 15th, 2016

Husky Airways

NC500 by NC700: Tuesday 06/09

Today's journey would take us from Wester Ross into Sutherland, following the A832 as it potters round the coastline and through the hills, past the oddly named villages of First Coast and Second Coast. The sky was blue, but the deep water of the lochs beneath it looked black. We climbed above a bay: white houses with grey roofs, and dry bracken on the slopes waving in the wind like seaweed.

Left at a T junction, back up the eastern side of a loch we'd already travelled down, and onto the larger, busier A835. Ullapool, the lunch stop, was sheltered from the wind, and warm in the sun. We basked, shopped for postcards and ate chips.

The wind came back with a vengeance as we climbed into the hills, so we had to fight it around the corners. Dark skies threatened mist and rain, and I was keen to stay ahead of it. But as I followed Dave and John past a small loch, a Tornado suddenly streaked low over the water, followed by another.

Dave has known me long enough to work out why I suddenly dropped back. I pulled up at the side of the road, only for another of the fighters to roar magnificently overhead. I waved frantically, and got out my camera in hope of more action. Another couple of passes, then the thunder died away and I moved on.

At the petrol station in Lochinver, I was reunited with Howard, Dave and John. We went in search of afternoon tea, and I had my second cake of the day in a cafe with its own small herd of deer.

From here it was just fourteen miles to our hotel in Drumbeg. They were perhaps the prettiest fourteen miles of the holiday: a single track road that climbed above white sandy beaches and Caribbean-blue sea, with little traffic bar an occasional caravan or sheep to skirt around.

There was no wifi for guests and no phone signal, so everyone sat in the lounge before dinner reading the hotel's collection of tatty paperbacks, then went to bed at nine. It was nice.

Miles: 128.7

Viewpoint, Drumbeg

Tornado, near Ullapool
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Pertwee bike

NC500 by NC700: Monday 05/09

I was glad we were doing the Bealach na Bà, Pass of the Cattle, or Applecross Pass on the first day of the NC500 proper, otherwise I might have spent all week worrying about it. Steep, narrow, high and twisty, it's one of the UK's most challenging roads.

We set out from Inverness across the Moray Firth, heading for Wester Ross. Fast, sweeping roads gave way to a section of pretty, narrow ones with good visibility round the bends, and I felt my confidence rise.

In Lochcarron we stopped for fuel, bumping into forum member Trev who was doing the NC500 the other way round on a hired BMW. Eyeing the band of rain passing over, we decided to make it a coffee stop. Then: the pass!

We turned off the main road, travelling past rocky slopes and purple heather, with the sea below. The track wound upwards ever so gently and gradually, with miles of visibility. What was all the fuss about?

All at once, the fog descended and we arrived at three sharp hairpins. Cars slowed for a coach looming at the side of the road, taillights faded into the gloom ahead, and, at the top, rain and wind battered us. No hope of the splendid views afforded on nicer days; the rest of the group hightailed it for shelter, and, after a drink of water and a brief wibble, I followed.

I tiptoed down after Howard, my visor and glasses streaming with water. Soon I was safely at the bottom, where I cheered myself up with a golden syrup ice cream from the van outside the Applecross Inn and a possible sighting of a nuclear submarine out to sea.

The weather improved as we rode north along the coast. Pretty single track roads took us past Highland cattle with ridiculous hairstyles, while cars obeyed the police notices and pulled in to passing places so we could overtake. We travelled through the beautiful Bein Eirgh national park to Kinlochewe.

The Kinlochewe Hotel had friendly staff, a wide range of ales, whiskies and gins, delicious local food, and, next to the kettle in our room, the elusive Tunnocks Caramel Log.

After dinner, somewhat optimistically, Giles, Dave, John and I went for a walk to look for the Northern Lights. We didn't see them, but did see plenty of bats swooping after insects under a bridge.

Miles: 128

Calf

Coo
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Sep. 14th, 2016

Dangerous Curves

NC500 by NC700: Sunday 04/09

After a grey start it turned sunny, with a stiff breeze to dry out our gear. More motorway, but at least it was dry motorway with scenic views. We stopped at a petrol station and removed some layers, just in time to get rained on for the next leg.

Lunch in Pitlochry provided some of us with an opportunity to inspect the dam and fish ladder, which Clive insisted was a five-minute walk. It was more like twenty minutes, but the sight of actual salmon splashing about below the dam made up for it.

Around this time, we noticed that bikers in Scotland, rather than giving the curt nod we're used to down south, greet each other with a raised arm, rather like a Roman salute. We went from overtaking lorries in a cloud of spray to a sunny late afternoon's ride into the Cairngorms National Park, the Highlands, and Inverness, our home for the night and the beginning of the NC500 proper.

We had already covered more miles getting to the start point of the route than the route itself comprised. Would it be worth it?

Miles: 269.9

View from the dam
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