May 25, 2006 GMT
Scotland

I must say that we have had a great time with our friends Donald, Lou, Mairi and Harry near Aderdeen, although they were all incredibly busy, with work, business commitments and wedding preparations etc etc. Skill was laid up in bed most of the week with the flu. With Skill being so sick we didn't get out much, Mairi was marvellous giving him the sympathy and attention his mean wife seemed unable to supply.

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On the day before we left we had a nice day out on the bike finding Drundochty Glen and church where Lou and Donald are getting married.

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Onto Fettercairn Distillery for a tour but no tasting as we were riding. It was a glorious day, we sat in the sun at the local Fettercain pub for a beer and a wonderful lunch.

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Then back on the bike with no fixed plan, we just rode, following the River Dee.

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When we came out at Balmoral Castle, we figured it was time to turn around and head back to Stonehaven. As we headed back it started to rain, and turned quite bleak.

The following day we managed to motivate ourselves to say Goodbye to Lou and Donald. It was nice to know that we will be seeing them again soon. We didn't get away till quite late and as we left it started to rain, by the time we got close to Balmoral it was sleeting and those little chips of ice were hitting my helmet again. The weather got progressively worse as we went over the mountains towards Tomintoul, a ski resort in Winter. The remains of snow still clinging to the some peaks and crevices not very far above us and that wind buffeting us all around again....

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........ We eventually made it to Inverness and went to check into the YHA but you guessed it, they were full. So armed with a list of cheaper places to stay and a very inadequate map we set off. Inadequate map is the key word. Had to resort to accosting a hapless shopper in the Morrison supermarket carpark for directions. Found the Hostels which were OK but no parking for the bike, well they had parking in a public car park near the Castle. Mmmmmmm no thank you.

Found a B&B around the corner so opted for that. The lady there was incredibly friendly explaining that it was her day for bikes as she had had to rescue a guy who had crashed his Ducati 996 in front of the house. We ended up parking next to it out the back. Skill (being the bike buff he is) identified the cause of the accident immediately - "brand new tyres, still had the fitting lube/soap on the rims, nipples and shiny surface still on the tyres". Poor guy had not even gone 2 blocks from the tyre shop, he had made an awful mess of the fairing, bits off everywhere.

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Out and about in Inverness, we found a pub that served Thai food, it was fantastic and just what we needed, before we settled down for a few more beers and listened to a great traditional Ceilidh band.

The following day it was onward and northward towards Thurso, it was an absolutely beautiful ride, with glorious weather for most of the day (but we have learned that the weather changes every ten minutes here, no exaggeration).

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Had a ride out to Scrabster dock to see if we could find out what time the ferries left for Orkney, the place was utterly desserted and no signs anywhere so we gave up and had a beer. Back into Thurso where we eventually found a hostel (above a fish and chip shop) to stay in, once again they let us park the bike out the back in the storage shed, in amongst the supplies for the shop. What a find a really friendly little place.

It was there we met Bryan an older cyclist who had cycled from Lands End (Southern most point of the UK mainland) and was on his way to Dunnet Head (Northern most point of the UK mainland), we spent the night in the hostel chatting to Bryan over a few beers and wee drams.

The following day as we are getting ready to leave, the owner of the hostel breezes in and starts chatting telling us to go to Gills Bay and catch the ferry to Orkney from there (much cheaper), a phone call later and we are off to Gills Bay via Dunnet Head and John O'Groates. At Dunnet Head we meet up with Bryan, so after the obligatory photos we celebrate his achievement with a cup of tea.

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Goodbye and down to Gills Bay where we wait for the ferry, get chatting to all and sundry who want to know about the bike etc etc. It is now a bit of a joke, people scan the number plate (as it is so short in comparison with the UK ones) then they see the AUS (assuming Austria) and walk away only to do a double-take as they read Australian Automobile Association, they then come back for a chat. It is like clockwork.

We had a great time on Orkney, from the moment we boarded the ferry, people were so friendly and helpful. The guys on the ferry tied the bike down and found a piece of cardboard so as not to damage the seat.

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We arrived at St Margarets Hope and checked out the Backpackers there which was very nice but we decided to go onto Kirkwall for a look.

After getting lost in Kirkwall and managing to ride the bike through a pedestrian only area we decided we didn't like Kirkwall that much so back to St Margarets Hope Backpackers at the Pub.

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Well we could not have chosen better, we had the whole place to ourselves for three whole days, a 6 bedroom house with lounge, dining room, and kitchen. The people in the pub were fabulous, from the locals to the people who owned the place. They made us feel so at home and every night a new local would shout us drinks even though we protested long and loud. Everyone seemed to know us and each night the regulars would come in and say "Saw you out today, how did you enjoy Stromness or Maes Howe etc etc"

Even though we were the only people staying at the Backpackers the hotel had some guests - One really interesting older man and his son became our afternoon drinking companions each day. George had been 17 when he was posted to Orkney with the army in 1943 and was back for the first time since then. You know the old saying that everyone has a story to tell, well here is George's story.

While posted at Orkney a young girl of 18 had turned up on a boat with a four day old baby and he had been instructed by an Officer to walk her and the baby home 4 miles to her village which he did. The next day the Officer asked him to go and check on the girl so he hired a boat for 4 pence and called on her. She told him she was fine but not to come again. (I guess because of the gossip)

George had never forgotten the young woman or the baby so 62 years later he was on a quest to find out what happened to her.

The whole time we were on Orkney it poured rain and was freezing. One day I swear I could see snow flakes drifting down only to melt before reaching the ground - remember it's almost Summer. However we still managed to visit most of the sights.

The famous Churchill Barriers built by the Italian prisoners of War, the little Italian Church that the POWs built from 2 nissens (circular tank like structures) and decorated with the most wonderful frescos.

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We also visited Maes Howe which according to the literature it is the finest Neolithic chambered tomb in Western Europe (pre-2700 BC). Maes Howe was raided by Vikings in the mid 12th Century. It houses the largest collection of of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world. They have been deciphered and are basically Viking graffiti. "HAGAAR WAS HERE", that sort of thing.

Next on the list was The Ring of Brodgar a stone circle comprising originally 60 stones of which 36 now remain, and The Standing Stones of Stenness is a small circle from the third millennium consisting originally of 12 stones, both are older than Stonehenge.

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On our last night in Orkney, George has a bit of bad news, the young girl he is looking for died in 1965 and the locals are keeping mum about the baby. He feels that he has exhausted all his options and cannot go any further without causing trouble for her family. Things like "Does her still living husband know about the baby?" and if he finds the child, does she know who her mother was etc etc.

We have a few commisserative scotches and listen to his stories about his war time travels as an 18 year old to Burma, Siam, and some other wild places. In the next breathe he tells us how he thinks we are amazing and brave travelling to the places we are going to. Go figure!!!!

It was hard to drag ourselves away from Orkney despite the weather. A very early start, onto the ferry at 7.30 am for the 1 hour crossing then down the West Coast of Scotland. This was probably the most spectacular scenery we have seen in our travels, an absolutely awesome day despite the rain and wind (again!!). We even had to resort to having our morning tea in a bus shelter.

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At one point we encounter some Highland Cows who take a decided interest in the bike and follow it. Or maybe it was Skill's brilliant cow impersonations.

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We arrive at Ullapool and decide to camp for the night, it rains all night, as usual when we camp. The guy collecting the camping fee next morning looks at the bike and like most Scots asks how the weather is treating us. When we say we are making the most of it, but gale force winds, rain and less than 10 degree temperatures make it less than perfect for bike touring, his response is the same as every Scot - "occhh its fine Scottish weather" - a little grin on his face as he walks off.

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The following day we have an easy ride to Fort William and decide to take our chances and camp again. A brilliant evening with our tent pitched at the base of the Ben Nevis Ranges. We retire at 10.30 pm. The sky is still quite light, then it rains the rest of the night.

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Another late start. The day starts overcast but dry, but turns into a miserable days riding as it rains for the majority of the day, we stop only once for lunch at the Drovers Inn (a grotty old pub with kich stuffed animals everywhere), we stopped here last time we were in Scotland and we were so amazed we had to stop again - it was the same only now it's won a tourism award.

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Then onto Glasgow. Take a wrong turn, miss the Bridge so decide to take the Clyde Tunnel instead. By now it is pouring and getting later, continue on towards Stranraar. Start looking for accommodation at 6.00pm, Thistle Hotel - full, Travel Lodge - full, B & B 85 pounds NO WAY!. Next B & B 70 pounds NO, NO, NO! That's just too much.

We head into Ayr and finally find a beautiful B & B for 60 pounds. Still above the budget, but by this time we are both tired, soaked and frozen, and are seduced by our opulent surroundings. It is such a wonderful place we decide to get Chinese takeaway which we eat in bed while watching the Eurovision Song Contest. Sheer Warm Bliss. Finland won by the way, if you missed it.

Feeling fortified by our huge breakfast and our first glimmer of sunshine in a week we have a lovely ride down the coast to Cairnryan where we catch the P&O Irish Sea Ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland. And so we say our farewells to Scotland but will be back for Lou and Donald's wedding in a month.

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We are now in Northern Ireland, Derry to be exact, and despite the weather, we are having a wonderful time, every day is a new adventure.

Cheers & Beers

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Quote of the Week: "We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open"
- Jawaharal Nehru

Posted by John Skillington at May 25, 2006 12:20 PM GMT
 


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