Scotland in a hurry

B741

We’re restricted in how long we can get away due to my mum living with us and needing support. My brother can look after her for four days but that’s pushing the limits of how long he can escape his own responsibilities. So the dream destinations in the Highlands are a bit out of reach for us. But Dumfries and Galloway isn’t so far, we thought. Eight hours there, two days riding, eight hours back. Tiring but possible, especially if we take proper breaks rather than pushing on for as long as possible until we’ve had enough and then some. Which is my normal mode of attack!

As the time approached, I looked at the weather forecasts in ever increasing amazement. It was going to be sunny and warm!  Packed waterproofs and spare gloves just in case, though. Set off around  6.25am, got through the Dartford Tunnel without issue and headed up the M11, A1 (M) and so on.  The A66 runs through some beautiful countryside, especially as it gets into Cumbria.

Passed into Scotland, got on the A75 and found our static just outside Newton Stewart. Lovely lady greeted us and said her husband had a Harley, a Fatboy I think. Didn’t like the gravel drive much but she pointed out a flat bit to park on.

Considering we’d done around 465 miles, we weren’t feeling too bad. The Guzzi is comfortable and my son, Callum, had recently added a comfort seat to his Super Duke 1290GT. We settled in, ordered an Indian meal to be delivered, and checked out the next day’s route.

I had downloaded a GPX route via TomTom MyDrive from Ride Magazine’s website, having looked at Simon Weir’s guides and asked advice online and found this route covered several recommended roads. It synched to my phone and appeared to be ideal. All I had to do was set it to take me to the nearest point and set that as the start point. I now discovered you can’t do that. It will only show you the route from that point onwards. So I spent too much time in the tedious task of manually inputting a route via waypoints. It’s not difficult on a PC, but doing it directly on a phone is hard work. I achieved a decent approximation of the route, though I was to discover I’d slightly misplaced some waypoints!

The next day, we set off at around 9am – any earlier would have been unfair on the other three families staying on the site, the KTM’s exhaust note not being subtle!

We headed up the A714, which was already looking good as it headed to the Forest of Galloway. First waypoint hiccup – I’d placed one too close to a junction and TomTom Go was still telling me about the waypoint when it should have been warning me of a turning, which it then did a moment too late. I hadn’t been paying attention and though I actually recognised the road from Google Street view, I was passed it already. I thought I’d just carry on as the road was good – reasonably fast and very scenic.

After a while, we arrived at Barhill. The satnav directed me up a side road to turn round but the turning options weren’t good and I though, sod it, let’s see where this goes! It went across a cattle grid into mixed forest and moorland. Stunning, but after some time on the narrow road we came to a crossroads and I decided to get back on track.

Back down the A714 then left towards Glentrool on an unclassified road, leading deeper into the forest. As usual, I missed taking photos of some of the best bits, where the views were wide and impressive, but eventually stopped for a few pictures.

Next stop was a bit better. 

We ambled along the narrow forest road, the Guzzi in its element, the KTM rumbling along behind, waiting for a chance to stretch its legs. Eventually, we reached the A713, a much faster road that was a lot of fun for several miles either side of Carsphairn. Fast, sweeping bends. Lovely.

Passed Carsfad and Earlstoun Lochs and through the quaintly named St John’s Town of Dalry, then joined the A712 all the way to Crocketford. It was getting towards lunchtime and we were planning to have our main meal now then snacks in the evening. I stopped at the first place I saw, The Galloway Arms, which is unusual for me. I usually sail past loads of places offering food and drink because I’m either going too fast to stop or just can’t decide whether I like the look of the place or not!  Good food, friendly people, big bloke in a ‘Scottish not British’ shirt sitting nearby.

Short spell on the busy A75 before turning right then down the A711 in the general direction of the south coast. Less dramatic but very pleasant countryside.

We had several excellent views of the sea and some islands but I couldn’t find a good place to stop for photos.  The bridge that takes the A755 over the River Dee at Kirkcudbright was an impressive structure.

We crossed the A75 again and headed along the Old Military Road. The village of Gatehouse of Fleet looked a real stunner, but we turned off onto the Laurieston Road. This was a real treat taking us through miles of forest and moorland.

After some very pleasant riding, we turned into the A762 towards New Galloway, with Loch Ken passing on the right, then onto the Queen’s Way, a decently fast road through forest and passing Loch Clatteringshaws on our way back to our holiday home.

I popped back out to pick up some shopping in Newton Stewart, which looked like a nice town with a river running through it, and we relaxed for the evening at the end of a quite tiring but good day.

Wonderful Wales

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We had a trip to Wales planned for June for my brother’s 50th birthday. Steve’s first proper bike trip was to Wales with me and my son Callum two years ago. He loved it, we loved it. Didn’t hurt that it coincided with a heatwave. Steve doesn’t normally ride in the wet, but what were the chances of it not raining in Wales twice?

It poured down during our dates in June, but, of course, fate had intervened and we didn’t get to go.

Steve had booked a really cheap cottage for the trip two years ago.  It was near Llanderfel.  Callum and I shared a room, which was fine, but the beds were tiny. It was basic but perfectly adequate. Very good value for money. This time, I searched for cottages and we agreed on one in Oswestry, just this side of the border. Much nicer.

When it came to rebooking for September, it wasn’t available, so we ummed and arred and ended up booking a static caravan at the same place we’d stayed before. It was even cheaper than the cheap cottage, but had an extra bedroom. Turns out the beds were even smaller! 

We kept checking the forecast, even though we know it’s wildly inaccurate more than a day or two in advance, and it gradually got better, with no actual rain likely.

We loaded up my panniers and Steve’s topbox (didn’t really need the KTM panniers as no women were involved in this trip!) and set off around 8.30am on Wednesday morning. We had made the potential error of providing Steve with Helen, my wife’s, intercom so he could tell us when he was desperate for a pee (apparently I didn’t notice when he pulled up alongside me desperately gesturing on our last trip) or needed petrol. His GSX1250 has a smaller tank and poorer economy that the Guzzi or Callum’s Super Duke. He’d filled up on his way to us and as it turned out we only needed to stop once for petrol on the way. Steve had been filling up as soon as the warning light came on previously, but he can go much further, with a bit of encouragement. We had a few drops of rain, a couple of places where the traffic slowed, but other than that it was a clear and easy journey and the Guzzi was comfortable. I did find that the mpg reading, normally 10% high, reads way low at motorway speeds. Or maybe it was filling up with still a fair amount of petrol in that confused it.

After hours of motorway, Shropshire and then Wales is like a breath of fresh air. At first it’s just green and gorgeous, then as we start to ride upwards on the B4391 it becomes more dramatic. The drop to the left on this road is slightly worrying but reveals a stunning valley. The road narrows on some of the twisty bits, and you wouldn’t want to meet oncoming traffic on those bends, but is generally easy riding. Then it levels out onto more open moorland, with a couple of tight turns and plenty of undulations, and one bit where you can see far enough ahead to get some speed up. The Guzzi excels on this sort of road. Getting close to our destination now, we avoided a right turn down a particularly narrow, steep road that has an awkward junction at the bottom and took the slightly easier way round. There’s still a tight hairpin to keep you on your up after a long trip. We parked up on the farm, trying to find somewhere fairly even and solid in the parking spaces. It was around 2pm.

We probably should have gone for a ride that afternoon but chilled out around the farm. Later, we got excellent takeaway food from the pub just up the road, The Bryntirian Inn.

The next morning, we were awake early. One person couldn’t so much as roll over in bed without waking everyone else up in that caravan!  We were out by 8.30am.

I’d planned a route on the TomTom satnav app on my phone. I’ve been using TomTom for a couple of years, and before that CoPilot, and both work well. Steve was keen on visiting various dams in the Elan Valley and getting some photos, though he doesn’t drag his proper camera out now.

We headed out to the fast and scenic A494 alongside Bala. We were having fun already. Then we headed down the A487 and stopped at the Mach Loop car park. The landscape around here is stunning. We got some photos and a nice old guy offered to get one of all of us. Steve struck a slightly unfortunate pose that provided for some giggles later!

This road continued to be good for a while, but then we got a series of roadworks, including one where we had to follow a convoy vehicle through, something I’ve only come across in Wales and Cornwall.

We turned off before Aberystwyth and stopped for another photo on a small road overlooking the town.

I’d promised Steve I would stop more often for photos on this trip, and with the intercom he could nag me to. I have a tendency to just keep riding!

The road to Devil’s Bridge was scenic, and we stopped there briefly for some more photos.

At this point, my satnav stopped working. It was still showing where we were, but wouldn’t work out any routes. Well, never mind, there’s always Google Maps. Except there’s no phone or 4G signal. My brother, on a different network, got it working but I’d never used it before and immediately took a wrong turning up a really tiny road that just got smaller. Stone walls on either side and no room to pass oncoming traffic. A pick up truck kindly backed up some distance to let us through.

Eventually, we made it back to the ‘main’ road, and headed for a dam. We didn’t do our original route and missed one or two dams as Steve’s phone lost signal as well and I ended up just looking at a map on the phone and trying to head in roughly the right direction. The roads heading towards the dams went through the most beautiful countryside.

Cwmystwyth Lead Mine Workings. Or thereabouts.
Craig Goch. Possibly.
Garreg Ddu. Maybe.
Caban Coch. Probably.

Google Maps was now working again and I made sure it was routing us along the A483 from Llandrindod Wells to Newtown. I’ve ridden this road two or three times before and it’s always been decent, but this time it was sublime.  We may have passed a car or two at the southern end of the road, but after that it was completely clear of traffic and we could just swing round bend after bend at good speed. It was one of the best, fastest rides I’ve ever had. The Guzzi isn’t really quick  but it feels delightful on this sort of road and Callum and Steve were impressed with how well it went. They were having great fun, too. It was like reaching a state of nirvana where everything just comes together.

From there we headed back towards the caravan up the excellent A4391.

The next day, we left a bit later as we were planning on breakfast at, or at least outside, The Ponderosa Cafe on Horseshoe Pass. We went through Corwen with the fake policeman propped up on a post.

Last time Steve was with is, he was on a virtually new Fireblade and less than impressed when we came across a long section of stone chippings. This time it was clear.

After some breakfast baps, we headed towards Llanberris Pass. Pleasant enough roads but it doesn’t get really good until you turn off onto the A4086.

We rode across open moorland alongside a lake. Wonderful. Then it’s up a mountain, a twisty road with a steep drop to one side, and, by now, strong winds trying to blow us off it.  Over the top and down towards Llanberris. This is one of my favourite places in the world. Steep, rocky slopes beyond mountain streams. All divided by a narrow, twisty but well surfaced two lane road.

From there, we went through Llanberris and ended up on the A487, which was busy and went through urban areas that weren’t much fun. The antics of a BMW estate in front of us kept us entertained – from a safe distance!

The car had a small plate above the bumper stating ‘Police’.  This may be a genuine things in Wales, but I doubt it. The driver kept overtaking or trying to overtake in dangerous places and nearly had a couple of head-on crashes. He would pull right out into the other lane looking for opportunities to overtake, regardless of oncoming traffic or blind bends. Eventually, we parted ways and after a while on faster roads, we came up behind a queue of traffic behind two tractors. Now, I’m quite a cautious rider, but when the road opened up ahead onto a long, clear straight with room for us to overtake the whole lot, I went for it. Aware that one of the other vehicles might also be thinking about overtaking, I gave them a wide birth and was ready to brake. What I didn’t really expect was for one of the tractors to swing out to overtake the other. Just as I was about to pass it. I braked without too much drama, and found that there was still room for me to go round it. The others followed, giving the driver the appropriate hand signals!

We were heading for a lakeside cafe near Blaenau Ffestiniog. We found ourselves on good roads again, ones we remembered from previous trips.

The cafe was in a mining area and near to a power station.
From there, it was a fast blast towards Bala, but rather than take the quicker roads around the lake, we headed along a small road through some beautiful countryside. We all could have ridden further really, but we had another long day on motorways to get back home the next day.
The return journey was uneventful, with speeds increasing as we got nearer to home.  We’d had a fantastic couple of days riding, with no more that a light, brief shower and a few drops of rain here and there. The Guzzi had performed admirably, economically and with good comfort.

Lake District

I really should have written this weeks ago, while things were fresh in my mind. But I didn’t. Luckily I’ve got a great memory. Oh, wait….

During lockdown, I was lucky (?) enough to still need to ride to work every day, and even got some extra shifts to cover people who were isolating! I varied my route a little, exploring country lanes, but still doing the same sort or distance.

As things progressed, I kept holding out hope that the Wales trip with my brother and son, Callum, would go ahead, but sadly not. However, the Lake District sortie with my wife, Helen, and Callum did make the cut. We were the first guests in the cottage as things started to reopen.

I put the three aluminium boxes on my Guzzi, and my son loaded up his Super Duke GT with panniers, and we had plenty of room for three nights away.

I actually planned where to stop on the way up for once, to ensure people got breaks and I didn’t just plough on, which I often do.

The journey of around 380 miles started on slightly damp roads, but within a few miles things were brightening up, and the M20 was remarkably quiet. We made good progress, but the last half of the journey got gradually wetter. It took us about seven hours, six of them actually on the bikes, approximately.

The cottage was in Backbarrow. It had good, flat parking outside, but the acute, uphill, badly surfaced and heavily cambered turn into the little lane it was on was very awkward. On other occasions, leaving it or returning, we rode up hill and turned round, rather than attempt the turn!

We usually eat out when we’re away, but any pubs or restaurants that were open at all required booking in advance, so later, I rode into Ulverston and brought back some excellent fish and chips.

The next morning, we set out, up the hill to the little parking area where we could turn round. My son wanted to adjust an earplug, but when he took his helmet off, a lens dropped out of his glasses. We returned to the cottage and borrowed some small screwdrivers from the nearby owner, Kath. Turned out her other half had a shed full of bikes and would usually have been just back from the TT around that time.

After much faffing about, we couldn’t get the lens back in, so off to Ulverston again where the lovely people at Vision Express (not our own optician) came to the rescue. The frame was bent, but they did their best and the temporary repair held until the long awaited spare pair, ordered before lockdown, arrived a couple of weeks later.

Off we went again, north past a very busy Windermere (no social distancing going on along the paths here!), and up through Kirkstone Pass. This pass was very relaxed riding and really very pretty.

We continued on the A591, through a busy Keswick, and past some standing stones where the parking area was too busy to stop.

We headed along many tiny, twisty, hilly lanes, past many walkers, until we eventually reached Wrynose Pass and on to Hardknott Pass. These, the latter in particular, were the most challenging roads I have ever ridden.

You’re chugging along at just over tickover up a steep hill, that turns so tightly you’re still barely going slowly enough to make the turn. Which is probably off camber. In fact, off camber doesn’t to it justice. More often than not the road is properly sloping both up or down and to one side. The downward ones just don’t seem right. You just feel that you’re going to fall. We made it through unscathed, but barely. On at least two occasions, we were going up steep hills at minimum speed only to be confronted by cars or trucks coming round bends towards us. We’re both on the short side and getting a foot down safely on uneven roads like that can be difficult, but there really wasn’t room or even time to stop. I took the decision to ride along the rocky, grassy verge and hoped Callum would stay on behind me! We managed to ride round the vehicles and rejoin the road safely, but there wasn’t much room for error, with a steep drop off to the side and a very uneven, slippery surface.

It was great when it was over! We enjoyed the challenge but it really was a bit stressful and I don’t think I’d do it again. The area we passed through after Hardknott was just as beautiful but the roads were less demanding.

We got an Indian delivered that night and watched some old detective show on TV before an early night.

The next day, I wanted a slightly easier ride. Kath had suggested going to the coast and I’d researched some of the other passes. Honister sounded good but less challenging!

We passed through some of the same countryside on our way out that we had returned through the day before. Lovely area. There was still on very difficult uphill S-bend on dirty roads under trees near the start, but then it opened up nicely for some time.

We headed up the West coast on more major roads and I was beginning to have second thoughts about doing Honister Pass. The previous day had been quite difficult and I didn’t want to stress Callum out. He’s autistic and copes very well generally, but it was as much by luck as skill that we’d come through Hardknott Pass in one piece. I asked him over the intercom what he wanted to do, and he just said that he thought Honister was where I wanted to go and we should do it. He amazes me with how good he is on a bike compared with how nervous he was as a 17 year old just going down small local lanes if a vehicle was coming towards us! I’m so glad he persuaded me, as Honister Pass was beautiful and the roads, while narrow, had few dangerous unsighted bends.

On the way back, we stopped at a motor museum in Backbarrow. For a small village, it had a huge motor museum with hundreds of cars and bikes crammed in!

That night, we’d booked a meal out at the at The Swan Hotel in Newby Bridge. It’s a lovely spot by the river. A slightly strange experience as we adjust to the post-lockdown world, with socially distances tables and staff wearing visors.

The next day was another, dryer motorway slog home. We’d have loved to have spent more time there, as this was our first visit to the Lake District.

The Guzzi proved to be a great long distance tool and more than capable of taking on the challenge of Hardknott Pass two up with a very average rider!

No-one expects…

So, things have all gone a little strange with the world!

When lockdown started, I was still running in the Guzzi. As I work with disabled and other vulnerable people, I still had to go to work. Just before lockdown, my wife and I had both sold our cars. I wasn’t planning on getting another myself, but was going back to having just a bike. In some ways, I was lucky in that I still had a reason to ride, 15 miles each way. As it was the only riding I got to do, I started to vary my route – same sort of distance, but along a variety of smaller roads. I could keep up a good pace on the bumpier roads. The Guzzi suspension is great.

I was able get the first service done at my friendly local dealer, although by the time I could get it in, it was a few hundred miles overdue. Also had some crash bars fitted while it was there.

My son, meanwhile, was going stir crazy and hadn’t left the house for weeks. So come the Wednesday when we were allowed to ride again, I had a day off and we had a ride together, along with my wife (who had a day off from working at home), and my brother. We rode out to Coldrum Longbarrow, which was fortunately very quiet.

On the following Saturday, my son and I rode down to Rye and on via Udimore and past the Route 1066 cafe. I’m not a cafe hopper, but do occasionally stop for cake and Coke. It’s more the toilets that I miss being open!

On Sunday, we did a quick loop via Swingfield (great road), Barham and Wingham, when I tried out a cheap action cam I bought a while back. Not bad for the money. It films in 15 minute chunks, which may be down to the formatting of the SD card, I think, but it’s not an issue. I will probably have it set up ready to take still photos more often than I use it for video. I’m always thinking I should stop for a photo at scenic spots, but I don’t really like stopping!

On Monday, with my wife on the back and my brother on his Suzuki, we headed down to Birling Gap. It’s beautiful around Beachy Head.

Today, with my wife and son, we travelled to Ashdown Forest. A beautiful ride through the wooded areas on the last twenty miles of the journey.

The Guzzi is proving to be capable and comfortable two up. It’s fast enough, even then. The acceleration isn’t mighty, but it’s sufficient and it just feels great. The handling is superb. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as confident in the twisties. Of course, most of my bikes until now have been old, with knackered suspension. Fuel consumption is excellent, although the trip computer is about 10% optimistic. It’s currently showing over 70mpg after today’s ride.

We should have been on a family holiday to Scotland this week, with my mum, but at least we’ve been able to ride a lot in the time off work.

Determined to make the most of the bike, I have two breaks booked – Wales at the end of June, with my son and brother, and the Lake District in July with my wife and son. Neither will probably happen now, but I’m still holding out hope. For the Wales one, we actually have a cottage booked just inside England, so if Wales is still shut, maybe we can still go and ride around the Peak District instead. But chances are, it won’t be possible. We’ll see.

Riding in the Storm

Torrential rain, gale force winds – not an ideal time to get a new motorcycle. It came by van from Wales and arrived during a brief dry spell. I pushed it into the garage and the rain started once more.

I was itching to get out on it, but I’d never had a brand new bike before, never spent anything like this amount on a vehicle, and was a little nervous of the conditions. Of course, the tyres and brakes were brand new and would need scrubbing in before they worked properly. And this bike was, frankly, a little tall for me, which doesn’t inspire confidence in poor conditions.

A few hours later, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was only likely to be a brief respite, but what the hell, let’s go!

Tentatively, I pushed it out of the garage and set off. The roads were heavy with standing (and sometimes flowing) water, my visor was covered with spray which, together with the low winter sun, made visibility a little sketchy! I rode carefully out of town on an A road, tiptoed round a roundabout onto a short stretch of dual carriageway, round another roundabout and then headed back the same way. Without the sun in my eyes, the return journey was more enjoyable, but I was still somewhat worried about throwing the motorcycle down the road.

I was also struggling with something that had never been an issue on any other bike – putting my feet down! The bike is a little tall for me, I knew that when I bought it, and had got the slightly lower seat option. However, putting my feet down naturally put them in front of the footpegs, with the pegs against my calves, and I wasn’t getting any benefit from the ‘lower’ seat. I had to think about where my feet usually went when I put them down on other bikes, but really couldn’t remember as I’d never had to consider it before. I tried putting my feet out to the side of the pegs, but that was a bit of a stretch, and putting them behind the pegs didn’t really work either. Until I recalled someone in a Facebook group saying that the seat was lower at the back. Most bike seats are lower at the front, so that’s where those of us with little arms and legs sit, but this actually worked much better if you sat back a bit, and over the next few days I got used to it and grew in confidence.

Day 2

The next day, the weather was better, but most of the day was spent at the London Motorcycle Show with my son, travelling by car so he could buy loads of kit.

Late in the afternoon, we got back and I headed off on the Guzzi to show it to my brother. He took a couple of photos and nagged me about cleaning it.

The journey back coincided with school traffic and a major bypass being closed. I discovered the bike was very agile and good at filtering.

Day 3

The weather still wasn’t really cooperating, but I wanted to get my wife out on the back, so, in the company of my son on his KTM Super Duke 1290GT, we headed off for a 50 mile blast on some mixed roads, including plenty of country lanes. I found myself nervous about the height of the bike again, with the (slight!) extra weight. I was very tentative at really slow speeds, pulling away, but all was good once we got going.


Sunday was grim and I hid in the house all day. Monday dawned a little brighter and I rode to work, where the bike got many admiring glances.

On Tuesday, I wasn’t working til the night. My son’s bike was going in for a suspension software update at a shop in Ashford, so, once done, we carried on down some favourite roads to Tenterden and Appledore, along the Royal Military Canal Road to Rye. We turned off along the Camber Road along the coast and I pulled into a lay-by so Callum could have a go on my bike. He’s even shorter than me and pulled away looking a little nervous and towards some big potholes at the end of the lay-by. I was so concerned watching him, thinking he might drop it, that I rode into a massive hole filled with water myself, just as I was pulling back onto the road. Callum’s bike is very powerful, revs up quickly, and is nothing like my Guzzi at all. And he had kindly left it in Sport mode! The rear span, the wheels got crossed up, I thought, “bugger, I’m going to drop this,” then the bike pulled itself out of the hole, straightened itself up (with no real skill or even input from me!), and carried on down the road. We normally use intercoms, but mine had broken, so Callum was blissfully unaware that anything had so very nearly gone wrong until we stopped at Dungeness.

Today was the day I fell in love with my bike. The suspension is excellent, it handles with precision and agility, and it’s beautiful to look at. It’s also very comfortable, which is as important as anything else.