Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back home - I need a holiday!

A quick update.
For those who wanted route information for the Scotland Motorcycle Tour, I have updated the daily entries with the track covered for each day.

Also - here is a combined track showing all days as a single track. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A brief sojourn in Istanbul or Trouble in Taksim

Our return (Celeste and Guy from Israel, myself from Scotland) to Istanbul happened to coincide with the largest protests in Turkey for many years. Despite the prosperous economy, there is a level of disquiet amongst the secular Turkish community, concerned at an apparent rise in Islamic/religious tendencies in government circles and decision making.
The initial protest in Taksim Square was over the ripping up of one of the last green spaces in Istanbul to be replaced by another shopping mall to be built by a company with close financial ties to the ruling party.
A small protest by a few hundred environmentalists was brutally broken up by baton wielding police supported by water canon and tear gas. A total over reaction that soon escalated as thousands of secular Turks took to the streets in response. A recent decision by the government to try and restrict alcohol sales, as well as the widely reported official chastising of a young couple for displaying public affection - i.e. kissing also helped provoke a public backlash in the western used secular towns and cities.

Our accommodation is just a few km from Taksim, and although we have not been directly affected, the impact of the ongoing protests can be felt. On our first evening, after dinner Guy and I walked up Istiklal Caddesi (Street) - one of the main boulevards leading to Taksim Square. Large numbers of banner waving protesters, were returning from the square, chanting and singing. The atmosphere was charged, and there was fresh graffiti daubed on many shop fronts - particularly those of international brand names. (Istiklal Caddesi is a shopping precinct - full of brand name boutiques.) Despite this, we noted that many local shopkeepers came out and applauded the protesters as they passed.

Yesterday we took a day trip by ferry to the Prince's Islands. An archipelago in the Marmara Sea. In the past used as prisons and places of exile - in more recent times as holiday destinations. They have the unusual feature of having no private motor vehicles. Only official vehicles e.g fire engines, ambulances etc. Public transport is by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. On the way back we stopped at the spice markets to pick up some Turkish delight. A very pleasant day, finished at a restaurant round the corner.

Today we (Celeste and I) made a pilgrimage to the Museum of Innocence - created by Orhan Pamuk as an extension of his novel of the same name. Evocative and effective. Returned to collect Guy for a late breakfast before heading to the Old City. A tour of the Grand Palace Mosaic Museum to view the remnants (still stunning) of the old Byzantine Palace mosaics. A quick pass through the Arasta Bazaar for some last minute purchases before repairing to the Cooking Alaturka Restaurant for our prearranged late lunch. Splendid! A late afternoon tour of the Underground Water Cisterns was a final highlight of touring the Old City.

Writing this blog on a rooftop terrace just below the Galata Tower with Istanbul spread out below in the twilight. The Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue and Suleymaniye Mosques all lit up.  A fitting finale to our time in Turkey.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Farewell Portpatrick and Farewell Scotland

And so we reach the end of the 'Tour de Scotland'. Ten great days of riding and enjoying a truly beautiful country - despite the occasional 'blizzard'.
A sad farewell to Portpatrick - surely one of prettiest small harbours in all of Scotland. A sad farewell to J&C - most gracious of all hosts.
A quick blast up the highway (and occasional byway) back to Cupar and the return of my trusty mount. Posing for the requisite publicity shots, then delivered safely to my hotel near the airport.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting and repacking, catching up with email and watching TV coverage of the 'excitement' in Turkey.
Dinner at the hotel where I met Ben & Jo, a delightful young couple from Edinburgh having a weekend away from their kids courtesy of grandparents. They picked my Australian accent. They had been to OZ on a working holiday before they had children and were keen to talk about life in Australia. Ben's mother was born in OZ, and they are seriously thinking of migrating.
An after dinner single malt with my new friends - then to bed.
Posting this over breakfast. 12:00 noon flight to Istanbul - yet another adventure.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A day tour round the SW

Today is my last day in Portpatrick. A day of relaxation. Tomorrow I head off up the highway back to Cupar to drop the bike before a last night in Edinburgh.

Yesterday I managed to clock up over 200 miles touring around the south west. I only had one specific destination I wanted to visit. The village of Lochmaben where my grandparents had run a pub for a couple of years during my childhood. I have good memories of times spent there. Holidays and a period of time when my mother had shipped myself and my brother off to her parents during the later stages of her third pregnancy. I don't remember how long we were there - but it was long enough to be enrolled in the local school. Only 80 miles from where we lived at the time, but I remember the difference in accents being so strong I felt I was in a different country.
First stop on the days tour was the Mull of Galloway - the most southerly point of Scotland. Mostly along secondary roads the ride was slow. An excellent view out towards Ireland in the west and south to the Isle Of  Man and England. Surprisingly for such a remote place, there was an excellent cafe with wall to ceiling glass looking out over the cliff towards Ireland. Coffee was above average as well!

Backup through the rolling green hills and crossing the main Stranraer Dumfries highway I took the scenic route to Lochmaben via the Galloway Forest Park - an area covered in Sitka Spruce plantations. Although nowhere as rugged as the highlands - beautiful in it's own way.
Again travelling on secondary roads, the rate of travel was slow and I only reached Lochmaben after lunch. Visited the loch behind the Crown Hotel - the pub run by my grandparents. Where we used to play as kids is now a caravan park. Spoke to a couple of campers who were fishing the loch for Pike. Naturally they wanted to know where I was from and why I was in Lochmaben. They were suitably impressed when I told them the last time I'd been standing there was probably back in 1960/61 - the best part of 50 years before.

Into the Crown hotel for a commemorative half pint. When I told the young woman behind the bar the same story - she just said 'Oh aye?' and carried on cleaning glasses. After I'd finished my drink and had a look around the beer garden out the back overlooking the loch - (hard to know what my grandfather would have thought of the idea of a Scottish pub with a beer garden) - I said goodbye to the barmaid and said I'd see her in another 50 years. 'Not if I can help it!' she responded.

Wandered up the street and stopped in at Crolla's Cafe - I remember getting ice cream there as a kid. The two women behind the counter (sisters) were much more responsive to my story, claiming to remember my grandparents. As they were about my age, I'm not convinced - I think they were just being polite. In any case they made a good cheese and tomato roll and an excellent cup of tea.

Leaving Lochmaben I retraced my route, bypassing Dumfries and heading back through the Galloway Forest Park. Continuing south I headed through an area called The Machars - an area of low lying or mainly level country - full of farms and rolling green hills demarcated with dry stone walls. At the southern point of this peninsula lies the Isle of Whihorn the home of St Ninians Chapel. Reputedly the first place in Scotland converted to Christianity. According to one of the locals at the Steampacket Hoterl - "Aye - an' it's been doonhill ever since!"

Returned back up the west of the peninsula along a perfect road with little traffic, with the sun warm on my left hand side as it started it's slow slide into the twilight. Back in Portpatrick by 7:00pm, time for a quick pint down at the Harbor Pub before doing some series catching up with this blog and sorting out photos
Today was much more leisurely - a slow chatty breakfast, then into Stranraer to visit family and help Janet & Campbell with the shopping. Back to their place for lunch and typing up this blog entry. Tonight I'm taking them to the local restaurant for dinner, by way of thanking them for their hospitality and generosity not only to me, but other family members who have passed through here over the years.
Tomorrow I will do a long fast run up the highway past Glasgow and Edinburgh back to Cupar to return the bike. Then a night in a hotel at the airport before flying back to Istanbul for a few days before the long flight back to OZ. Looking forward (of course) to being with Celeste again and catching up with Guy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Ford to Glasgow via the Kintyre Peninsula and then to Portpatrick with a detour down memory lane.

Apologies for the late posting of this and the next blog entry. Lack of time and lack of WiFi access prevented my usual prompt posting on a daily basis.

So - where were we? Ah yes south of Oban up a secondary road, deep in the hills and overnighting in the tiny hamlet of Ford. A delayed start to the day due to encountering a fellow Australian at breakfast. The consequent exchange of travel notes resulted in a prolonged breakfast and I only managed to get mobile shortly before 10am! Quelle Horreur!
As the day was fine and with Glasgow my ultimate destination I headed off southwards to Lochgilphead and the start of the Kintyre Peninsula. Lochgilphead and Ardishaig is one of the end points of the Crinan Canal. Built between 1794 and 1801, it is nine miles (14 km) long, and connects Loch Gilp with Jura Sound, providing a navigable route between the Clyde River and the Hebrides Islands.
Watched as a couple of yachts passed through the entrance lock before continuing south - heading for Campbelltown. Took the eastern route down the coast, a narrow B class road, rutted and full of pot holes. Slow going, but providing stunning views to the east of the island of Arran, its mountains capped by dark squally clouds trailing showers, the tail of one briefly peppering me with icy pellets of sleet. Despite the bad road, a good ride - albeit slow. And so to Campbelltown for lunch. A pretty port surrounded by lush green hills. After lunch, and aware of time and the distance still needed to cover to get to Glasgow, I headed back up the west coast of the peninsula - this time on the main (A grade) road. Light traffic and a good road allowed for rapid progress. However, the sudden darting of a deer across the road in front of me was a reminder that eternal vigilance is the price of safety (or some such words).
Skirting round Loch Fyne and Inverary the bad weather caught up with me and the traversal of Glen Kinglas and Glen Croe through the Arrochar mountains was suitably wet and gloomy. The rain eased to a drizzle as I passed down Loch Lomond, now on the A82, a major arterial road leading straight into the belly of the beast that is Glasgow.
I spent the night at my brother Scott's place. An excellent (cheap) curry at a local small family restaurant - and a glass of single malt at a local pub, followed by a long talk into the night. I hadn't seen Scott in 10 years - there was lots to talk about.

On the road by 8:30 am - heading south to Portpatrick on the south west corner of Scotland directly across  the Irish Sea from Belfast. Portpatrick is sometimes referred to by the locals as the 'Scottish Riviera', due to it's relatively (by Scottish standards) benign weather. The Port is where my aunt and uncle retired to, and an attractive village with a tiny harbor that was once (a long time ago) the stepping off point for travelers to Ireland.
A detour from the direct route south to visit my childhood home of Dalry. Spent some time looking around the town. Lots has changed (road re-alignments and my old school demolished), but much remains unchanged. Including our old house and a large park in the centre of the town that I have strong memories of.

While wandering around the park, I ended up talking to a local who was out walking his dog. Turns out that David is a genealogist ( and we had a pleasant discussion about origins and family trees.  
Nostalgia put aside, and following a route suggested by David I headed to the coast and avoiding the main road as much as possible discovered a couple of delightful small coastal villages - Dunure and Maidens.

Then back onto the main road at Girvan and so on to Stranraer and Portpatrick.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bisecting Scotland from Northeast to Southwest. Brora to Ford (Oban)

A day for getting from A to B. In this case from Brora to Oban following the line of the Great Glen. 208 miles and 5 hours in the saddle. Apart from two periods of rain - the weather was better than expected. Given the constraints of time and weather I have had to bypass Skye and that part of the western coast. I'm spending the night in an out of the way spot called Ford, to the south east of Oban. The Ford Guest House is an old coach inn that has been revived as a cheap BnB. There are only a couple of nearby houses and farms but no pub, so a quiet night.
No mobile coverage and a fairly basic WiFi. Tomorrow I'll head for Glasgow via Inverary. If the weather is fine, may also explore to south, perhaps all the way down to Campbeltown at the bottom of the Kintyre Peninsula.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A North Eastern Loop

A most comfortable night. Shutters that keep out the twilight/dawn helped - as did the whisky!
A relaxed breakfast while doing yesterday's blog. Weather was overcast and cool but dry and no rain forecast.
Today's ride took me up the coast towards John O'Groats, avoiding the A9 main road to Thurso (the ferry point for Orkney), I took an inland route to visit the Grey Cairns of Camster. 5000 years old and amongst the oldest stone structures in Scotland. Although substantially restored by modern archaeologists, they retain an eerie authenticity, and one can only wonder what life was like for the people who built them. It is presumed that the climate back then was warmer than today.
On then to John O'Groats, for lunch amongst the tourists. Turns out that the famous sign post at John O'Groats is privately owned, belongs to a photographer who will charge you for the privilege of having your photo taken with it. He also takes the sign down at the end of the day because it keeps getting nicked!
In any case John O'Groats is NOT the most northerly point on the mainland. That title belongs to Dunnet Head - my next destination.
On a clear day - like today - Dunnet Head provides spectacular 360 views. The Orkney Isles can be seen to the north, and the northern coast stretches out in both directions. From John O'Groats in the east, all the way to Cape Wrath in the west. South lies the entire British Isles.
On to Thurso - the end of the A9 main road and the primary ferry point for the northern islands. A brief fuel stop then further east in the direction of Tongue. Passed the Dounreay Nuclear Power Station. Now in the process of being decommissioned. This is scheduled to be completed by 2036, but so-called 'Brownfield' status Will take another 300 years. That's right - 2336!
Shortly after passing Dounreay, I reluctantly turned off the main northern coastal road and headed back south through the so-called 'Flow Country'. Peat bog high moorlands - a unique habitat. The weather had improved through the afternoon and the road was quiet. Again - great riding. As the road dropped back down towards the coast, following a river, I was fortunate to spot a herd of dear on the hillside. Bonus points!
Back on the coast at Helmsdale and an early dinner. Fish and chips at the La Mirage Restaurant - ranked in the top 6 fish and chips shops in the UK. Sat at a table on the street, enjoying the warm afternoon sun and some mighty fine fish and chips, watching the locals come and collect their 'Fish Suppers'.
Back to Clyenish Farm and a quiet evening in front of the fire with a 'wee dram.' Another excellent day draws to an end. I wonder what the poor people are doing?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dingwall to Brora - The very scenic route

Doing this blog 'the morning after'. Too contentedly tired last night to think about anything other than sleep.
Yesterday was the perfect day's riding. Perfect weather, perfect scenery, perfect roads. 216 miles. 5 hours ride time.
From Dingwall I headed across to Ullapool on the west coast through forested glens, then north to Durness on the north west coast along a route that was stunningly beautiful. Blasted rugged glaciated mountains and valleys - traversed with a twisting undulating ribbon of bitumen - for the most part traffic free. The landscape becomes progressively treeless apart from the odd grove in some sheltered valley.
At one point as I cruised along, enjoying the conditions - I came up behind a slower vehicle. A tourist camper van. Checking my rear view mirror before overtaking I was astonished to see - coming up VERY fast behind me a line of 20 plus motorcycles. In short order the tourist van and I were passed at a great rate of knots. Later when I pulled into the cafe in Durness - packed with bikes - it turned out to be a BMW club run, led by an ex-motorcycle cop who clearly knew the roads and conditions.
After lunch and a quick look at Smoo Cave, I rode eastward along the north coast to the Kyle of Tongue. Yet more amazing scenery and roads. Passed one of Scotland more famous surfing spots, perfect conditions but only one lone (and I presume - cold) surfer. Lots of bikes in this area passing in both directions. At Tongue, left the coast and headed south inland and up into some high moorland country. Full of peat bogs, scattered with small lochs and a narrow single lane road with the occasional signposted 'passing place'. Big sky country, with views back across to the snowcapped peaks on the west. Again - despite the single lane road - great riding.
Finally dropped back down into Lairg and followed the glen down to the coast. A final 10 miles to my BnB. Clynelish Farm built by the Duke of Sutherland as a retreat alongside the local distillery. Only recently opened as a BnB by the delightful Victoria (ex Tamworth) and Jason her Scots farmer husband. Victoria's parents are visiting from OZ so the atmosphere was very relaxed and familiar. Only one other guest. After dinner in the village, a pleasant evening with the family discussing OZ and Scottish politics over the odd "wee dram". Collapsed into bed at 10:30 in a room with shutters and heavy curtains - no lingering twilight or early morning dawn. Bliss!