If you want to do Scotland’s scenery justice, there are few better ways than exploring it on a motorbike.
Last weekend, Sandy and I joined my brother and sister-in-law for a trip through the Highlands’ stunning terrain, taking in Callandar, Killin, Fort William, the Bealach na Bà pass, Applecross, parts of the North Coast 500, Ullapool, Glencoe and Tyndrum.
There were large stretches of the road where we were the only vehicles and while the weather wasn’t kind on the Saturday, by the time Sunday evening came around, the winds had chased off all the dark clouds and the sun made an appearance as we sat outside the FBI (Ferry Boat Inn, geddit?) in Ullapool drinking beers and wine.
I set my Highland books in a fictional village, but it is part-based on Strathcarron, which is at the head of the sea loch Loch Carron in Wester Ross, describing my village as one long main street beside a loch, a hotel at either end, and I’m almost disappointed when I pass through these places and don’t see the fictional characters I created—Gaby pushing a pram, Mhari spying on her fellow villagers, Lachlan up to no good, and the red-headed Jack, attracting everyone’s wide-eyed attention.
Strathcarron is just before the Bealach na Bà pass (pass of the cattle in Gaelic). The latter is something of a mecca for motorcyclists. It winds its way through the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula, offering breath-taking vistas of rugged landscapes, towering peaks, and deep valleys.
The road ascends to a height of 626 meters, providing awe-inspiring panoramas of the surrounding countryside and the nearby Isle of Skye, although on the day we did it, there was a lot of over-hanging cloud.
I was glad of that sometimes. The steep gradients and hairpin bends make you gulp and in parts, you find your mind screaming, Don’t look down!
While staying in Banavie, we witnessed two yachts negotiating Neptune’s Staircase on the Caledonian Canal, a waterway that stretches from Inverness to Corpach, near Fort William, connecting Scotland’s east and west coasts, and designed by Thomas Telford.
The locks at Banavie are a prominent feature of the Caledonian Canal. They consist of eight interconnected locks that raise or lower vessels a total of 19 meters over a distance of 457 meters.
It is an impressive engineering feat and allows boats and vessels to navigate the height difference in the canal, making it possible for them to travel between Loch Lochy and Loch Linnhe (though it takes forever for them to get through it).
Returning home on the Monday, we drove through Glencoe. I’ve done it plenty of times, but the Monday was the first time it had ever stayed dry and while there were plenty of tourists—other bikes, coach parties and walkers/climbers—from my pillion position, I was able to stare at the towering mountains and the cascading waterfalls and imagine them in the millennia before the advent of people.
My favourite meals of the trip were what we ate in Ullapool. The coastal village is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains and the waters of Loch Broom. Wherever you stay, there are scenic views of the harbour and the nearby Summer Isles archipelago.
It is an active fishing port, and this is reflected in what the village’s pubs, restaurants and cafes offer. My travelling companions raved about the fish and chips on offer in the Seaforth Bar, while I tucked into the vegan fish fillets, mushy peas and chips.
(And paid the price later. As a type 1 diabetic, I follow a low-carb diet to help with blood sugar control, and the vegan fish fillets and chips is carb overload.)
On the Monday morning, we found a tiny café, The Bothy, doing a roaring trade in breakfasts, thanks to the caravan park nearby. Two scrambled egg rolls, one bacon roll and a full Scottish breakfast later, we were back off down south, replete, refreshed and determined to make the trip an annual event.
The photos above do not do the trip justice, mainly because I’m a terrible photographer but also because the experience and the scenery demanded full attention, and when I take photographs, the process removes me from the immediacy of the moment.
But I sincerely hope this has inspired you to visit these locations and experience the splendour of the Highlands for yourself if you’ve not already done so.