Monday, 22 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part IV: Scotland

My arrival into Edinburgh was timed impeccably well to coincide with Anna’s, who was north for two weeks visiting her parents who had just moved to Scotland from New Zealand. After a week alone on the road it was nice to have people I knew to talk to and see the city with. Anna’s family are incredibly beautiful and generous and gave me a couch and home cooked meals while I was there.

Sightseeing with a group makes for a slower pace (which is what I needed) so it was after lunch by the time we made our way up Arthur’s Seat to marvel at the views over the city. Anna used to live in Edinburgh, so had all the hot tips about where to go, including popping into a fudge shop which was incredibly generous with its samples, getting a deep fried mars bar (they originated in Edinburgh apparently) accompanied by an Irn Bru (basically an orange creaming soda) and trying Scottish tablet (hard crumbly fudge, yum). So basically Anna led me to all the Scottish junk food.

I was lucky enough to be in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, so the streets, centred around the Royal Mile, were packed with performers and people giving out fliers, as well as the hordes of tourists come to see shows. I was also impressed by the large stadium that was erected right outside Edinburgh Castle on the hill for the Tattoo.

The next day Anna and family decided to go for a cycle while I wandered about the city on foot, and by wandering I mean napping in the park in the glorious sunshine. Wet met up at the museum to watch some contemporary duos as a part of the Festival before enjoying some reputable gelato. Anna and I were enjoying our pub meal so much that we lost track of time and has to sprint through the streets of Edinburgh to get to the show we had booked at Dance Base; The End. Following a cider at Edinburgh’s oldest pub (500 years this year, wow!) I opted to continue the night by seeing Briefs, a hilarious gay cabaret featuring my friend James Welsby. I did not expect it to be so good - it was exceptionally hilarious (and featured some very cute boys). I then partied on at a small local gay bar (after some failed venues, including one that appeared to be a disco for first year theatre students).

Morning brought the discovery of ‘butteries’, a kind of salty scone-croissant hybrid local to Scotland, and a farewell to the Noonans as I continued north. I stopped briefly in Pitlochry to eat a Scotch Egg at a particular inn I had read about but they didn’t have it at that time of day (continued story of my life) so pushed on all the way to Loch Ness. Thankfully I scouted out a campsite while it was still light because the pub messed up my order and it took so long by the time I left it was fully dark. But it ended up being the best location I have camped; right on the bank of Loch Ness in a little secluded and isolated pebbly beach, with the full moon shining down on the inky silver-bronze waters. I spent time sitting on a huge boulder by my tent just enjoying the beautiful light and silence (secretly hoping Nessie would appear).

I rode along the Loch and west towards the Isle of Skye, stopping every now and then for photos. Some of the scenery on that ride was the best of my trip to date and rivalled even Iceland. Just after driving over onto Skye I stopped for fish and chips. When you’re travelling by motorbike you automatically attract the attention of anyone else who rides, and so the guy serving me fish and chips started asking me about my trip and telling me about his rides. He gave me some great motorbike-specific suggestions for Skye; basically, just ride everywhere on every road.

I decided to pitch in a campsite smack bang in the middle of the island, giving me access to the facilities and also the a pub across the road. It was a race to get my tent up, as the rain started coming down just as I pulled in. I conceded that I wasn’t going to get much out of Skye that afternoon with the rain continuing so took my laptop to the pub. Skye is home to the Talisker Distillery and so I thought it only appropriate that I give whisky a go. Turns out I kinda like scotch, so #masc. I shared a table with a well-travelled older gentleman, who works in foreign aid, sharing stories for most of the night.

I left early in the morning to start with breakfast on a small, grassy cliff over the water, looking into the bay of Portree. My silence was disturbed by an ungainly German man who appeared behind me, slipped on the grass and slid under half his body was hanging over the edge. It was way too early to be dealing with that shit, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t even move to help him. I mean I wasn’t advocating for his untimely demise on the rocks below, but tromp around like that and you get what’s coming to you.

The day was gorgeously warm and clear as I climbed up to the lookout over The Old Man of Storr, a picturesque rock formation. A couple in the pub the night before told me you could climb the fence and keep trekking further up the mountain for even more spectacular views, which I did. It was a relatively easy climb, but by the time I neared the top, with it’s knife edge peaks and sheer drops, my vertigo started kicking in. Commando crawling up to one edge, I swear I was saved from passing out by the distraction of shimmying into some bird poo. At the very top there was an unexpected plateau of grass, where I met a large group of teenage Czech backpackers, who had climbed from another direction (they’d actually been walking for two days from the north end of the island!). With their huge backpacks on, they stood way too close to the edge (like, heels against the drop off) while I took photos for them. I then helped them find the way down and we had some great chats.

I rode north for the afternoon for some more great landscapes and then stopped to find a quiet grassy spot for a nap in the Fairy Glen, these bizarrely formed grassy hillocks. The day was sunny and beautiful and I think this is where I got most of my unlikely Scottish tan. Exhausted I headed back to camp and the pub for some more cider and whiskey tasting, however their internet was down (and I wasn’t sitting in a pub for 3 hours with no phone service) so I headed back to Portree for a pub with better wifi to eat.

I had a bit of time the next morning before my ferry from the southern end of the island, so I just went riding to the southwest where fate brought me together with three heeland coos (highland cows), which I climbed a fence to go and look at and take photos with. It was honestly one of the highlights of my trip, they are so cute!!!

The Isle of Skye has really poor and patchy phone reception so it was late morning when I received a text saying my ferry had been moved 35 minutes earlier. I have never packed up a tent so fast and hightailed on the bike the other end of the island, just making the ferry! I did think it was quite unreasonable to send out texts in a place where people were unlikely to receive them …

After the short ferry ride I headed for Glen Coe, stopping a few times for photos of the fantastic scenery and more importantly, some great Harry Potter landmarks, such as the island where Dumbledore’s grave was and the famous Hogwarts Express viaduct. Glen Coe was very wet by the time I got there and I was even turned away by a campsite saying it was too wet anywhere to pitch tents, which was lucky anyway because I found a much better site that was right near the pub where I had previous plans to finally get my haggis, neeps and tatties. Glen Coe is one of the most famous glens of Scotland and deservedly so; the roads run through some stunning valleys alongside creeks and small waterfalls, backed by giant green mountains.

I spent the afternoon climbing the track to the Lost Valley, which was going really well until I took a wrong turn and ended up climbing for an hour up a gravel scree slope. There was a point where I spotted the actual track across the other side of the valley and could have turned back, but I went with the spirit of the adventure and the top looked just up ahead. I was deceived. It was a small miracle that I didn’t cause a genuine rockslide, or that I could even get back down into the valley at all. In the end I was rewarded with the giant valley all to myself (the others hikers probably leaving in fear of being crushed by the rocks from aforementioned landslide).

The pub was one of my favourites so far; dim and ambient with lots of wood and earthen tones, the kind that makes you feel you could be in a tavern from a fantasy series. The haggis was great too - very palatable, so I’m not sure what everyone’s fuss is about.

The next day brought more rain so I had a rather slow morning moving from the tent before powering on through to Glasgow and the promise of a dry room and bed. I hadn’t intended to stopover in Scotland’s biggest city, but it made a good halfway point between Glen Coe and the ferry to Ireland, so I thought why not. It was much nicer than I expected and very Melbourne in it’s offerings of dining options (I got the most indulgent poutine I’ve ever experienced, and by indulgent I mean absolutely loaded with gravy and cheese). I spent a few hours wandering around, including going to the top of the Necropolis for some great views.

My final morning in Scotland was the wettest of my whole trip and an absolutely cold and miserable 2.5 hour ride to the ferry port. In the end my day was only saved by a kind woman in a tour group who offered me her cake that she didn’t want. Bless that woman.

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