Unleashing the Thrills: Exploring Scotland’s Landscapes on Two Wheels

Ullapool, the west coast of Scotland

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.

Sandy next to the Caledonian Canal

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!

Dutch yachts negotiating Neptune’s Staircase

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.

My cat-sitter took this rather splendid picture of the cat while we were away; the cat hates it when her door slave isn’t available 24 hours a day to let her in and out.

Location, location, location…

A rare sunny Sunday in Scotland—extra bonus points as it’s a bank holiday weekend too. We took ourselves to the Drovers Inn in Inverarnan for a late lunch, which got me thinking about the locations I used for Highland Fling set in Scotland as the title alludes.

20190825_152843185946377.jpgI made up the village Lochalshie, but it is loosely based on Arrochar which is located at the head of Loch Long and surrounded by hills. Please visit if you ever get the chance as the views will take your breath away.

Every good village has a pub and I romanticised mine, turning it into a community hub and making it the best place to get a wood-fired pizza in Scotland. Sadly, pubs are dying out at the same time as the UK’s drinking problem continues apace. A weird contradiction, hmm? But the decline is for a number of reasons but people staying in their own homes drinking supermarket booze and watching Netflix instead of going out is one theory. And the younger generations aren’t drinking as much as the baby boomers and the Gen X-ers.

rose wine and a pint

We Gen X-ers. Making up for the Y and Z lot…

Still, again I modelled my pub (the Lochside Welcome) on the ones that still exist in some of Scotland’s more touristy places such as The Village Inn in Arrochar, the Winnock in Drymen, and the Falls of Dochart Inn (below).


The Falls of Dochart Inn, Killin.

And finally… behind the happy pictures can lie a very different story. We’d just finished our late lunch at the Drovers, and I’d sent Sandy off to snap some pics of the front of the hotel when a loud crash and the squeal of brakes sounded nearby. Close to, traffic accidents are visceral, shocking things. Your heart sinks and your hand goes to your mouth as you bargain with the deities, luck or fate. Please, please, please let whoever be okay…

A car had pulled out of the Drovers too quickly, another coming the other way hit it and a biker travelling along the road had no way of avoiding the cars. Cue—bike on the road, man down.

Luckily, he wasn’t injured badly and no-one in the two cars got hurt. Communities come in all shapes and sizes. Motor-bikers are one such and watching them rally round warmed my heart.

They pulled over, they got his bike up off the road and took pictures of it. They stopped and waited to see if he was okay. They shook their heads at the car driver who’d pulled out without due care and attention. And they said to themselves, there but for the grace of the universe and all that…

We took the motorbike up to the Drovers because it was such a beautiful day. As it was roasting hot, I elected not to wear the heavy leather trousers. It could have been me on that bike with only a thin non-protective layer between my skin and hard tarmac. Lesson learned? You betcha.

Together Forever… Whatever?

In precisely eight months’ time, I get to stand up in front of beloved family and friends and say: “I do.” (Should Mama Nature spare us and providing neither of us decide there is a better other half out there – y’know I can’t predict the future.)

Neither of us are religious: I am an out and out non believer and my fiancé describes his religious beliefs as “weak and conventional”. So, we have chosen a registrar wedding rather than a religious service.

The privilege of this is that one does get a say on one’s vows. My fiancé is pretty excited about this. He reckons he can work in something which results in me vowing to be his lawfully wedded wench, possibly also resurrecting the obey bit (as if!) whilst I am wondering about a long term promise, via wedding vows, to always fetch me wine when I ask, and forgive me my grumpiness as I forgive those who grumpy against me.

I’m very fond of my engagement ring…

One wedding vow I have been mulling over is the “in sickness and health bit”. Thanks to having relatives that lived to very old age (the magnificent Granny B lived to 101) and perhaps through a heightened awareness of the issue because of the organisation I work for, this one’s a bit of a clincher…

Some 17 years ago, my fiancé had a bad motorbike accident; unconscious for a long time, blood transfusion, permanent disfigurement etc. His future is likely to include a walking stick at the very least. I myself have a chronic condition which means cataracts may blind me, dialysis is a possibility and heart disease four times more likely. The ‘in sickness’ bit is just that bit much more likely to happen.

Projections for the future estimate that three in five of us will end up in an unpaid caring role. That brings with it all sorts of challenges – a relationship changing, the loss of independence, equality, finances and savings, not to mention loneliness, isolation and resentment.

Fate works in its own wee way. And there are plenty of self help tomes which will recommend that you always live in the present.

In sickness and in health… With the intelligent bit of ourselves, we can work out that the ‘in sickness’ bit is much more probable. Does that put me off? Not a chance!