Saturday 23 June 2012

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 5

The day dawned bright and sunny over the Lakes, as I was now half a day up on my schedule and I was up early, I decided to make the most of the good weather.

After a quick shower and striking camp I headed north past Ullswater (stopping for a few photos of course) and then on to Carlisle.

After getting my photos and wandering into the town centre a few hundred yards away to buy some breakfast I enjoyed eating it whilst sitting on a bench in the sun outside the Cathedral. All around me preparations were being made for the Olympic Torch Relay, due in town that afternoon.

After fuelling up (again)! I headed north to the Scottish border (big proper Welcome to Scotland sign here) I shunned the M74 for the B9707, (a recent tip from the ABR Forum). What a brilliant road! Long sweeping bends, virtually no traffic and a great surface, well worth the couple of 30mph villages you have to ride through.

I then got onto the A73 which in hindsight I might have been better staying on the B roads as although it too was great, I did end up having to schlep through Lanark, Carluke and Wishaw before heading into Glasgow and the High Kirk of Glasgow.

After grabbing a couple of photos, my intention was to head through the city to the A82 and a stop for a cuppa with a fellow ABR member in Western Glasgow. Like a numpty I just assumed my GPS would know my intentions! Of course it didn't and before I realised it I was heading East on the M80 in the opposite direction.

I soon realised it had selected the A9 as the obvious route to the three Grail locations around Inverness, something I was keen to avoid as it's not the most interesting route and I was planning to come back that way. So I followed the motorway up to Sterling then took the A84 and A85 to rejoin the A82 at Crianlarich. On the way I narrowly escaped getting stopped for speeding; rolling into a village with a 30 limit at about 35/40 I spotted three coppers at the side of the road, one of whom was just raising the speed gun towards me! I chopped the throttle immediately and was pleased to see the copper drop the gun again and give me a grin and a nod as if to say "you got away with that one".

I also stopped to fix my video camera on the bike before heading into the Highlands. Unfortunately when I went to download the footage later, I discovered I had forgotten to put the micro SD card into the camera! In fact I had left it at home.

I stopped at the excellent Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum for lunch then tackled the route over Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe; fantastic biking roads (shame about the video). I stopped for some photos on the way.

Now on a roll, I continued to Fort William, a quick stop for fuel and then on to Spean Bridge where I stopped at the Commando Memorial.

It was rather mobbed with tourists but I took a while to walk round the nearby memorial area, whilst it was empty. Here there was an area for personal tributes and memorials. The ground was scattered with plaques and engraved stones, many to the original commandos of WWII but a significant number to those who have lost their lives more recently in Afghanistan.

Amongst the professionally made memorials was one that caught my eye. A simple plain piece of rock with crudely scratched onto its surface the simple message "GAV (40 Commando) RIP". I don't know the back story but it was clear that Gav was someone's mate and this crude memorial was their tribute, as it was the sort of thing you might expect from a fellow Marine rather than the majority, which were clearly family tributes. To my mind it was the most poignant of them all.

Getting back on the roads, I travelled up to Fort Augustus and then on up the northern side of Loch Ness, near Drumnadrochit it started to rain but it didn't last long. I had intended to head up to Dornoch as the furthest north but getting a bit tired, I decided to bag Inverness first as I was going to ride through there anyway.

That done, I stopped for a bar of chocolate and a drink to pick myself up, then headed the 40 odd miles up to Dornoch a great ride on empty roads over the Kessock Bridge and a couple of great causeways over Cromarty Firth and Dornoch Firth, a bit breezy though!

I made the decision to get a decent meal inside me here and then head to the campsite in town. I chose the Eagle Inn on the High Street and had an excellent dinner and not too pricy either.

Whilst sitting eating dinner, I decided to check the distances I had to do now that I was well ahead of schedule. It dawned on me that I was not going to be able to make Holy Island the next day before the tide cut off the causeway. I had always intended to visit Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh but even if I bypassed that it just wasn't going to happen unless I got up at 4.00 in the morning. I also checked the weather forecast on my phone and it looked like Scotland was going to get a deluge of biblical proportions tomorrow so hanging around for an extra day and going back to my original schedule wasn't really an option either.

Feeling refreshed after dinner, I decided to crack on, and so back on the bike I retraced my route to Inverness and then headed out on the A96 towards Elgin. Near to Nairn it started to rain again with a vengeance, so I stopped at a bus stop and using the cover of the shelter climbed into both overtrousers and one piece waterproofs (I was taking no chances) and continued into Elgin. Finding the cathedral quickly, I grabbed my photos and was on my way again in three minutes.

I had expected the GPS to steer me down through the Glen of Rothes on the A9412 and then along the A95 through Strath Spey to pick up the A9. Instead it took me back west along the A96 towards Nairn and Inverness. However at Forres, it directed me south on the A940, then after the village of Logie told me to turn right onto the B9007. This was one of those "what down there? You must be joking" moments as I descended a twisty bumpy, damp and gravel strewn single track road through a deep forest. At least by now the rain had stopped.

It soon opened out a bit and threw me through a couple of spectacular hairpins and then opened out a bit, winding through farmland and pine forests. Then as I exited one forest I passed snow gates and emerged out into a complete wilderness of upland moor. This was so remote I stopped to grab some photos; the GPS was showing "turn right A938 in 17 miles".

As I rolled across the wilderness, at least the road was easy to follow as it was lined with snow poles that indicated the route ahead. Soon mountains came into view ahead with patches of snow on the peaks. I knew these had to be the Cairngorms, so it would not be too far to Aviemore where I intended to stop for the night. Indeed I eventually reached the A938 and rode the few miles into town.

Arriving at about 10.15 a campsite seemed the only option and I turned into one just off the main street at the southern end of the high street. This was all shut up for the night with no evidence of anyone about, so I just picked a spot and put my tent up for the night.

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