DAY 1. DIRECTION – SCOTLAND
Leicester –> Fort William (430 miles)
We are in Scotland. The first day of the trip has come to an end. First stop: Fort William. Scotland greeted us with rain, but that, unfortunately, was to be expected. We wanted to set off at 6 in the morning, but it rained, so we have postponed the departure for 2 hours. As it turned out we had to give up the idea of taking the rucksack with us, so we could not take any food for the journey and we had to leave couple of things at home and some squeeze elsewhere.
I was riding from the very morning with the rain suit on. This proved to be a good decision, firstly because I stayed warm and secondly it started to rain, and it rained for the rest of the day.
Once we’ve passed Glasgow, we’ve entered “the real” Scotland. We were travelling very picturesque road – A82. The road meandered along Lochs surrounded by Bens. The drive was very enjoyable, just a pity that rained. But that did not discourage us one bit. Landscapes as from a fairy tale: mountain peaks in the clouds, waterfalls, lakes… Scotland has lots to offer.
DAY 2. DAY FULL OF EXCITEMENT
Fort William –> Shieldaig (150 miles)
The morning greeted us with rain. We had to wait a bit to pack up the tent. But the whole day was fantastic. We set off from Fort William. We took a risk of driving without rain suits on and we did right. The road led through a beautiful valley surrounded with mountains. Amazing views, and the road perfect for driving motorbike. You can swish and feel the freedom. From time to time we stopped to take photos and regale the soul with the surrounding beauty. In Kyle of Lochalsh we rode over Sky Bridge on to the Isle of Skye. The bridge did not make a big impression on me, though from afar promised to be interesting.
We decided to extend our route and tour the Applecross Peninsula. And it was the best decision. The road winds through the mountains, literally mountains, through Belach-na-Ba (the third-highest mountain pass in Scotland).
The experience hard to describe, no picture will convey the character of that place, in any travel guide you won’t find, won’t feel the remarkable nature of that place. You have to be there, see it and feel it in your own way. In place like this, one realizes how small and fragile he really is. We had the impression that the rocks will start falling down from the slopes. The road climbed higher and higher. And the higher the sharper the turns, the road on the edge of the chasm. At the top visibility was reduced almost to zero, because we were driving already in the clouds. On that road we have experienced our first fall-off. Our motorbike fell over on one of the turns, but at such low speed nothing serious happened.
Once we drove down the mountain, the road led along the coast, sea on one side, peaks on the other. Riding was very pleasant. You could feel the sea breeze. We got to Shieldag. We had some difficulties with finding the campsite, which turned out to be a small, fenced meadow on the hill and also was free :) The wind blew cruelly and we had problems with setting up the tent because of the rocky ground, but the views compensated those difficulties: mountains behind you, islands on the see in front of you… with such a view from the windows one could really live here.
DAY 3. FABULOUS ROUTE
Shieldaig –> Scourie (154 miles)
Today’s day was very long one. We’ve done 154 miles. At the beginning we had some troubles finding a petrol station. We had to turn aside from our route, but somehow we managed to find the way. We headed to Ullapool. Amazing surroundings, the road led along the lakes, which as mirrors were reflecting the surrounding mountains. The weather was superb, the road perfect for riding on a motorbike, the drive was really great. In Ullapool we stopped for a fish & chips.
Next step of our journey for today was Stoer. The road wasn’t in a good condition, looked more like a bicycle path, overgrown with grass seemed to be completely forgotten, and it looked like it led to the ends of the earth, far away from civilization. We stopped a few times to make sure that we actually were going in the right direction. We arrived at the Point of Stoer lighthouse.
We planned to see the rocky cliff formation: Old Man of Stoer, but because we would have to walk 1.6 miles in full motorcycling “gear” and it looked like rain was closing in so we decided to give up. We stayed then near lighthouse, and rested on the bench set up as a monument to a certain man, and we gazed out to the sea. Silence all around, the only sound we could hear was the waves crashing against the rocks, the clean air, amazing tranquillity – wonderful place to chill out.
Later on we were driving in thick fog which added new sensations to the already gloomy atmosphere of Scotland. The road meandered among the peaks, sometimes it was very steep. The views were impressive. We decided to stay in Scourie. We easily found a campsite, and as it turned out later, the Poles were working there… yeah well we are everywhere. That day we also celebrated our, so far successful, trip with a can of Guinness, which has since become our frequent guest. We sat in a tent which overlooked beautiful The Minch bay in the light of the setting sun… ehhh… in moments like those you really want to live.
DAY 4. THE OCEAN
Scourie –> Thurso (101 miles)
Today we started late, only about 13 o’clock. But that was the plan, not to hurry anywhere. We had a leisurely breakfast and then went on conquering Scotland. We arrived at Durness. There we visited the Smoo Cave. After a short rest we moved on. The road led along the seaside.
At some point we came across a small bay with sandy beach, clear blue water, surrounded by rocks. Beach like from a fairy tale, totally non Scottish. In a search of a petrol station, store and accommodation we got to Thurso (there is no petrol station in Malvich!) and there we stopped for the night. “We were given” a reservation in a tent overlooking the ocean. In the evening the weather cleared up, so we prepared a small dinner on the picnic table and we rested recalling the excitements of the passing day. Spiking of the picnic tables, they also became “the must have” of our trip. Since that day we always set up our tent close to a picnic table :)
DAY 5. THE CLIFFS AND PEBBLY BEACH
Thurso –> Wick (~50 miles)
That was an easy day. We’ve done just over 50 miles, but how amazing ones! We started off very late because we had to wait until it stopped raining. We headed towards Dunnet Head – the most northerly point of the British mainland. It was very windy out there. Visibility wasn’t very good, but we admired the views anyway. And the landscape was totally different from that seen yesterday. Every day Scotland offered us something new.
The next stop was the John O’Groats, which by most English is thought of as the most northerly point of the mainland. The little town itself does not offer a lot. So we did not stop for long and moved on heading towards Duncasby Head.
That place made a huge impression on us. We went for a short walk along the cliffs, and we went down to the pebbly beach. The sun was shining, silent all around, total tranquillity, only sheep were grazing nearby. We rested on the grass on the top of the cliff, amazing waters crashing against the rocks at the bottom of the cliff, and in front of us immeasurable amounts of water, oasis of peace. We didn’t want to leave.
DAY 6. THE CASTLES
Wick –> Wick (10 miles)
A typical „holiday” day, two o’clock and we were having breakfast. Yeah whatever, we were not in a hurry, after all it’s our holiday:) and because of the shining sun we didn’t want to go anywhere… and we relaxed completely.
After breakfast we took a short nap, and that “short” nap extended till 5 o’clock. So we decided to stay in Wick for one more night. However, to not waste the day completely we went to explore the nearby castles.
Old Wick Castle turned out to be a complete ruin, ie. literally only 4 walls left, but we regaled ourselves with the views on the cliffs and the North Sea. Sinclair Castle, which is located at Noss Head, is preserved in much better condition, but at that time it was being restored. Unfortunately due to the work carried out it was not possible to explore it from the inside. Today we did only 10 miles, but the total has already exceeded one thousand miles. We had to celebrate that fact :)
DAY 7. TRAPPED IN WICK
Wick –> Wick (0 miles)
Trapped in Wick. The previous night the weather began to go bad, it started raining and blowing strongly. We hoped that it will stop before the dawn. We hoped the same in the morning when we woke up, then at noon, in the afternoon… until finally we abandoned all hope. We found out that there is no chance of improvement, it was raining and blowing constantly. To simply put it, we were stuck for the whole day in the tent. Luckily we had some food reserves.
DAY 8. WATERFALLS
Wick –> Dornoch (170 miles)
The weather didn’t greet us very well. However, the previous day we decided that we will pack up and leave no matter what the weather will be, and so we did. Packing up in the rain wasn’t pleasant, but to have a perspective of another day in the tent? – Oh no!
In Wick we had a small breakfast and quickly left the city. We headed in the direction of Brora. The ride was a difficult one. Admittedly it wasn’t raining any more, but the wind was incredibly strong that it blown our heads off and motorbike off the road:/ I got terribly cold, I had to put the rain suit on to warm myself up a bit. The road was interesting – it lead along the sea coast, through small, charming Scottish villages.
In Brora we did some shopping and we moved on. That day was Sunday, so we had to think about the food earlier than usual. We headed towards Lairg.
On the way we stopped to see the tourist attraction called the Shin Falls, a small water cataract on the River Shin. The foamed, brown-red water looked like coca-cola in a glass:) We also tried to find Achness Waterfall which was marked on the map. We got lost “a little”. We made additional miles in a search for a waterfall, which in the end we didn’t find:/ A little annoyed we moved on heading towards Dornoch. On the way we had a quick look at Golsip castle, but only from outside. Somehow we didn’t feel like paying several pounds just to see that castle. In Dornoch we also managed to spot a castle on a rock, hidden behind the trees, it presented itself very nicely.
That day we had a nice choice of camp sites. In the Dornoch town there were as many as 3! We’ve chosen the one in the town centre. Admittedly we paid £11 per night, however it was a very nice camping. At last we could dry everything as the sun was shining nicely. We had our dinner and then sipping some tea with lemon we enjoyed an idyllic atmosphere of that place.
DAY 9. LOCH NESS
Dornoch –> Fort Augustus (81 miles)
We got to Inverness, and then we took the A82 road along the Loch Ness. Obviously on the way we stopped to take a must have picture with monster Nessi. We also stopped at Urquhart Castle. The ruins are very well preserved, but as they’ve done a big tourist centre of it we didn’t feel like going inside with the whole crowd of people. The Loch Ness did not make much of an impression on us.
We went further along the lake until we reached Fort Augustus. It was 15 o’clock when we arrived. So we bought some cake, some juice and sat near the canal watching the sailboats and small boats passing from lock to lock and through the rotating bridge. We decided to stay overnight in Fort Augustus. The evening was beautiful, cloudless sky, shining sun, we didn’t need to hurry, simply wonderful :))
Little afterthought. We could fell the return to civilisation. As the north is quite wild, yet the Loch Ness area and more to the south is full of people – tourists with monster gadgets. In fact Loch Ness was the last such big lake on our way, so we had to, willing or not, say goodbye to the peace and lakes.
DAY 10. MOUNTAINS, MOUNTAINS…
Fort Augustus –> Inverdruie (76 miles)
Shaken awake and out of the sleeping bags by the owner of the camp site, who made us realize that the checkout was before 11 am, so we had to pack up as quick as possible. At about 1 pm we set off towards Aviemore. We went further along the Loch Ness without any major stops. On the eastern side of the lake there weren’t that many tourists. Single track road with frequent road works (road covered with pebbles), led through mountains covered with heath.
We followed the picturesque A9 road that got us to Aviemore. We were expecting a small village, however it proved to be a real tourist centre – crowded, full of shops tourist base for exploring mountains.
We got lost a bit while searching campsite with free space for a tent, as some hadn’t got any available. After some time we found campsite, located in the forest. We liked it from the first sight. We set the tent somewhere between pine trees covered with moss, all around the bushes with blueberries, you could hear the sound of a nearby stream, and all that surrounded with high mountains. What more would you want… we decided to stay for 2 nights. Idyllic place :)
DAY 11. FOREST
Inverdruie –> Inverdruie (20 mil)
Because of the queue for bathrooms our outing to town was delayed. We went for a pizza to Inverduie and then to Aviemore for shopping.
As today’s attraction we decided to go for the Mountain Railway trip. We went on a motorbike somewhere high, the road climbed higher and higher and offered amazing views. We arrived at the “platform”. The railway ticket cost us £15.50 (2 student tickets).
At the top, at a height of about 1000 m there is a small tourist centre. As it turned out we could not walk down from that centre, we had to go on the railway. Oh well. From the summit you could admire a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains, valleys, glens, bens and lakes. It was cold and windy, but we absolutely loved it. We had a hot chocolate and ate some cake, then returned to the bottom platform.
Back in the campsite we had some tea with lemon, and then we went for a walk. That forest was amazing, dwarf pines, covered with moss and lichen. In the middle there was a path and somewhere nearby the brook flowed with water so clear, as if it wasn’t there… a fairy tale forest. In the distance you could see the mountains. We walked for nearly 2 hours, a nice variation from the hours spent on the bike:)
DAY 12. MOORLAND
Inverdruie –> Inver (124 mil)
That was the last day of our trip. The time passed so quickly… ehh… nothing to do but sigh. But we said goodbye to Scotland in good style. We left before 12, spending almost the entire day on the motorbike. The road leading through the mountains was amazing, which is quite common in Scotland offering something new every day: different landscapes, different views… and all that is amazing.
The road led through the moors, unfortunately at that time of the year not yet in full bloom, despite that it looked very interesting. I would like to go there once more to see the beauty in all its glory, just to… “go on to the moor and forget everything” *. The road wound its way up and down, turn after turn. We were looking for camp site, first we got to the caravan park, but there were no tent pitches therefore we had to go back. Finally we camped in Inver, by the river. After we set up the tent we went to Dunkled to get some food. Also we went for a short walk along the river. In the evening we imbibed the last moments of peace in our enclave by the brook.
That was our last camping. We knew it will be a pity to part with it, but what we have experienced, what we saw is ours and nobody can take that away, our memories remain and this is important.
* from song by “Stare Dobre Małżeństwo”
DAY 13. BACK TO REALITY
Inver –> Leicester (380 miles)
Wake up at six in the morning, packing up and off we go… a long way ahead. We said goodbye to Scotland and prepared ourselves to return to the humdrum reality. The journey was exhausting, and once it started raining it did not stop until the end of the day. Happy, full of memories we returned home.