Castles & Haggis & Rain: A Circle of SCOTLAND

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by skyguy, Aug 26, 2016.

  1. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
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    Castles & Haggis & Rain: A Circle of SCOTLAND


    Hello, again – It’s me, skyguy.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some spectacular parts of the world from the seat of a motorcycle, and I’ve developed a few simple criteria for selecting an international destination for a motorcycle trip:

    1. It should have amazing jagged mountain scenery, as well as ocean-side riding, preferably in the same day.

    2. Some form of English would be nice, if available.

    3. Country name must end in “-land.”


    New Zealand was my first big trip. Then Iceland. Exotic Maryland. And last summer, Canada-land.

    The next logical choice: SCOTLAND. (Sorry, Swaziland, you gave it a good run)

    Rugged mountain vistas? Check. Seaside riding? Yep. Some form of English? Aye. Plus they make good booze and tape. Let’s do this.

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    This turned out to be a great trip, with some unfortunate annoyances attached at either end. I’ll keep the annoyances to a minimum, because nobody wants to read about that. But they were a part of the adventure, and since they happened to ME instead of to YOU, you’ll probably just be amused by the whole thing.

    I’m still sorting thru the photos, but here are a few teasers.

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    More to come!
    #1
  2. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    DAY -1 – June 29, 2016


    I usually start by reserving a rental motorcycle, and the folks at Motorrad Central in Dalkeith (just outside Edinburgh) had a BMW 700GS available at the beginning of July, so I booked it.

    Plane tickets were purchased, but it did take some practice before I could say “Aer Lingus” without giggling.

    Planning the route proved to be more involved than past tours. In Iceland and New Zealand, there really aren’t that many roads, so the choices are pretty straightforward. But people have been living in Scotland for about 12,000 years, and they’ve been building roads that whole time, so there are a LOT of options. But after a few weeks of maps and guidebooks and e-mails, I was pretty happy with the route I’d worked out. Back roads, scenic routes, castles, oceans, islands… all the good stuff. Rooms were reserved along the route, and I started to brush up on my Scottish by watching Trainspotting and everything Mike Meyers has ever done.

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    The secret to packing for a trip like this is to borrow Troy’s big black duffel bag. Properly packed, it will hold all of my riding gear (jacket, pants, helmet, boots, etc.) plus street clothes, electronics, etc. and still weigh just under 50 lbs – the baggage limit. Cameras, books, and maps go in the tank bag, which serves as my carry-on.

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    No matter how much preparation I’ve done before a trip, I’m always certain I’ve forgotten something. But June was about to turn into July, so it was time to get going!

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    Started with a quick hop from DC to Boston. And thanks to a honking tailwind, the “overnight” flight from Boston to Dublin only took five hours. Zippy! Joined a bunch of sleepy people blinking their way thru UK customs at dawn in the Dublin airport. We’ll be back here at the conclusion of this trip, – for a WHILE – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

    Oh, I guess now we’re technically at…

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    DAY 0 – June 30, 2016

    Last flight was a turboprop from Dublin to Edinburgh. Tried to get pictures of my first sight of Scotland, but the clouds weren’t making it easy.

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    Clouds! Over Scotland! I’m sure they’re the last I’ll see.

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    Finally landed in Edinburgh, collected the big black bag, and found a tram into town. Encountered the usual transatlantic annoyance when I arrived at my hotel five hours before check-in, but I was able to leave my bags and wander about the city.

    Small current-events note: This was all happening one week after the “Brexit” vote, and it was all the UK could talk about. I’m not going to get into the politics AT ALL, but one short-term effect was that the Pound Sterling (£), the currency used in England (and Scotland) dropped significantly in value compared to other world currencies. So my US dollars ($) got me more local cash out of the ATM, and my meals and hotels (and motorbike rental) were a bit cheaper than they would’ve been had I taken this trip a couple of weeks ago. Back to the report:

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    Edinburgh is a cool city! I knew I’d be spending a few days here at the end of the trip, so I didn’t want to see all the sights as soon as I arrived. Plus I was woozy and jet-lagged, so I just roamed where my feet took me.

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    Here’s the motorcycle corral right outside my hotel on St. Andrew Square. I like how this GS rider has made some notes to remind him (or her) of important things like which side to ride on and a few basic mph/kph conversions.

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    (That reminds me – Drive on the left. Drive on the left. Drive on the left.) I don’t have my bike yet; I’ll pick it up tomorrow.

    To the non-motorcycle folks who are reading this - I apologize in advance for all the motorcycle pictures. I usually ride alone, so when I want to include something in a photo to show perspective or whatever, it's usually my motorcycle. Or it's me. You're better off with the motorcycles.

    The weather was overcast with sprinkles, but not too cold. Just down the road is the Waverley Train Station...

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    …next to the Walter Scott memorial (which could use a bit of scrubbing).

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    Encountered a piper outside the Scottish National Gallery, posed in front of a daunting sky.

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    (hey, that would make a good title picture...)

    And lording over it all – Edinburgh Castle, high on its hill.

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    We’ll take a tour in a week or so, but for now it just looks great when the sun tries to peek out.

    Finally killed enough time wandering and checked in. Scored a penthouse room… with a balcony!

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    Balcony panorama. That's St. Andrew Square across the street on the right (with the motorcycle corral out front). Even brought the GPS out so it could become acquainted with the local satellites.

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    More wandering, followed by a fish and chips dinner in the hotel restaurant, then spent the evening trying to stay up until a respectable hour to try to re-set my internal clock. I think I made it to 9:30p. Scotland time.


    Tomorrow – We ride!
    #2
    Vixen, Don T, markgsnw and 5 others like this.
  3. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    DAY 1 – July 1, 2016 – 90 miles

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    Woke to sunlight streaming in the window well before 6:00a. Like Iceland, Scotland is pretty far north, so the sun rises early and sets late this time of year. Wandered down for a hotel breakfast (note: porridge ≠ oatmeal) then packed up. Of course, this being Scotland, the sunshine didn’t last. By the time the taxi showed up, it was raining in earnest. But 20 minutes later, the sun was back. This pattern would repeat throughout the day.

    A £20 taxi ride got me down to Dalkeith, a suburb south of Edinburgh and home to Motorrad Central, where I was picking up my rental F700GS.

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    Greg greeted me and we got to the paperwork. The bike is a 2016 model with all the bells and whistles. Transferred my clothes into the cases and got the tank bag mounted. I guess I’ve gotten better at packing – I could leave the “vario” cases in their un-expanded position.

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    The bike comes with a GPS mount, and my Garmin zümo clicked in and powered right up. Called up the route for Day One (which took a loooong time to load up…) and rolled out.

    But no less than a block away – trouble. Instead of giving turn-by-turn directions, the GPS popped up a white screen with one word: “Approaching” and an OK button. That’s weird… Hit the OK and continued. The next turn came up: “Approaching.” Something ain’t right.

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    [SIDEBAR] I had a long description here about the issues I had with my GPS this trip, but rather than junk up the ride report too much I decided to post it over here.

    Go there if you want the grisly details.

    Suffice it to say, I had some GPS issues, so I wasn’t always riding my chosen routes, and missed some things along the way. [SIDEBAR OFF]


    British English Emily routed me safely out of town and into the countryside. Some of the roundabouts were a bit intimidating, especially with Emily telling me “at roundabout, take the fifth exit,” so I’m trying to count exits while remembering to go CLOCKwise around the circle while avoiding the lorry in the next lane… a lot going on.

    About an hour into the ride, the rain returned with vigor, and I pulled off under a bridge to suit up in the raingear. Once that struggle was over, the rain of course stopped.

    Today’s route was supposed to follow “The Kelpies Gallop,” a recommended route from motorcyclescotland.com. There’s some nice scenery in middle Scotland, including Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, a lovely woodland glen region between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

    Unfortunately, the GPS ignored my carefully planned route and took me right to tonight’s hotel, a fact I didn’t discover until I pulled into the parking lot about four hours before I’d planned to arrive. Guess my GPS woes aren’t over yet. Some improvisation would be required.

    I should mention that at one point I did indeed pass by “The Kelpies,” a pair of giant steel sculptures of horse heads that were supposed to be one of today’s waypoints. I took no pictures, I’m afraid, because I saw them as I blasted past them on the M9 at 70 mph. Here, Wikipedia’s got a picture.

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    Since I was in Stirling and it was only mid-day, I punched “Stirling Castle” into the GPS and found it shortly at the top of a hill at the end of a steep cobblestoned street.

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    Cool castle, and quite historic. I never studied Scottish history, and only read a bit before this trip. But some familiar names kept popping up in the various castles.

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    There’s Robert the Bruce outside Stirling Castle. Almost exactly 702 years ago, he led his Scottish forces to victory against the English in the nearby Battle of Bannockburn during one of the (many) wars of Scottish Independence.

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    Being at the top of a hill (the imaginatively-named “Castle Hill”), the castle has a great view of the surrounding countryside.

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    The first record of a castle here dates from 1110 – more than 900 years ago. As with most castles, it started small and was added onto as the centuries wore on.

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    Queen Anne had this outer wall built in 1708. Those are her initials at the top of the arch.

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    “AR” = “Anne Rules!”

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    Mary was crowned Queen of Scots here in 1542, as were several other Scottish monarchs over the years. Stirling is in a strategic location guarding the highlands, and has been the site of many battles and sieges.

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    The Romans were here. And the Picts. And the Jpegs, too, I suspect. At least one historian has King Arthur here, too. So… history.

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    A lot of medieval castles underwent renovations during the Renaissance, so you often get a mix of architectural styles. This is more like a palace than a fortress.

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    Before going inside to explore further, I hit the Castle Café for some lunch. They have an extensive selection of crisps, including haggis flavor.

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    A note about haggis.

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    I’m usually up for an adventure, but I’ll be honest – not when it comes to food. So when the gourmands are lining up for sweetbreads and blood pudding and sheep testicles and live octopus and fried crickets and yes, haggis – I’ll be hanging back. One adventure at a time.

    Sorry if anyone came here for the haggis. I’ll mention it one more time in a few days, if that helps.

    Let’s go inside…

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    A chapel – part of the Renaissance restoration.

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    Central courtyard…

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    Few remember the brief reign of Queen Mossy McMossface, but her likeness is here nonetheless.

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    The great hall, with a serious ceiling…

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    A couple of thrones. So much more comfortable than the one made out of swords.

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    It’s coming up on closing time, and this guy’s job is to go around and close the royal windows. In period costume, and armed with a crossbow.

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    The comfy throne. Note all the unicorns on the tapestries. The unicorn was “a royal symbol of purity and strength.”

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    Here’s a panoramic view from “The Ladies Lookout.” You can see for miles in all directions, including the approaching rain.

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    That geometric shape in the grass is called "The King’s Knot."

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    The Grand Battery

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    One last look at the view, then it’s time to get going…

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    That’s the William Wallace Monument a couple of miles away.

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    The rain started up again. I was hoping to shelter in the castle a little while longer, but it was time to close the big doors. Beat it, ya peasant!

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    Then on to the other attraction that I’d planned to see today. A rather interesting piece of engineering.

    The Scots have a long tradition of engineering innovations, and some of the world’s best-known engineers are Scottish: Alexander Graham Bell, James “Steam Engine” Watt, and Montgomery Scott just to name a few.

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    Thirty minutes down the road, I found what I was looking for. Once again, I’ve arrived after closing time, so the place is mostly abandoned. Just me and the swan family, who are using the boat-launch ramp as the swan-launch ramp.

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    The gray ugly ducklings in the middle are cygnets – baby swans.

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    Scotland is crisscrossed by canals, once used for shipping but now mostly just recreational.

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    And when canals have to get over a hill, they usually use a series of locks.

    Scotland wanted to connect the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal, but the latter runs 115 feet higher than the former. Instead of building a mile or so of locks to stair-step between the canals, they built this:

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    Ladies and Gentlemen… The Falkirk Wheel.

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    It’s the world’s only rotating boat lift. Your boat or barge sails into the top compartment and the doors are closed, holding the water (and the boat) inside. Then the whole thing rotates like a sideways Ferris wheel until you’re down at the bottom, 115’ lower. The doors open and you sail out.

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    (thanks, Wikipedia!)

    The water in each of the compartments will weigh the same every time, whether there’s a boat in the compartment or not (thanks, Archimedes) so the wheel is perfectly balanced and only takes a small amount of electricity to move – “The same as boiling eight teakettles!” they claim.

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    You can take a ride on a canal boat as it traverses the Wheel (up and down) but they’d already closed for the day by the time I got there.

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    If you arrive after closing time, you can park wherever you want!

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    Another look at the rental bike. The tiny windscreen does little to deflect the rain, but I do like how the colors match my helmet.

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    Alright, enough tourism for today. Back to the hotel. I have a lot of B&B-type places coming up, but for tonight I’m in a Holiday Inn Express.

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    Hey – it was cheap, and they have a bar right next to registration, so I’m good.

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    Tomorrow – into the highlands!
    #3
  4. Foosteiface

    Foosteiface Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2016
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    Edinburgh
    Welcome to my country of birth. I take it you have been and gone, if not I live near Dalkeith and have a CCM450 and always up to have a ride. You are doing this wee part of Britain (the best part by far) on an island in the Atlantic justice by your great photos. Hope you enjoyed everything this country has to offer and the midges were not to bad in the Highlands.
    #4
    skyguy likes this.
  5. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA

    Thanks! And thanks for reading - As you know, you live in a beautiful country.

    Yes, I'm already back home in the US. It takes me awhile to compile these ride reports. But you'll be happy to know that the midges were the least of my worries when I got up into the highlands.

    More later, and thanks again!
    #5
  6. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2009
    Oddometer:
    21,204
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Enjoying this.
    #6
  7. Blader54

    Blader54 Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,905
    Ah!!!! Scotland!!! More please, sir!
    #7
  8. goodcat

    goodcat Changing latitudes, altitudes and attitudes

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2015
    Oddometer:
    4,768
    Location:
    British Columbia
    Great report. ...I'm in on this Pronto.

    Your bike confused me at first glance with the Orange frame Lmao :imaposer

    I'm sure you know what I mean....
    #8
  9. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    DAY 2 – July 2, 2016 – 53 miles

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    Rained off and on last night but was okay this morning. Decent breakfast buffet in the hotel, while watching the magpies outside the window. We don’t have magpies in the US and they’re fun to watch. Packed up and rolled out around 9:00a.


    I noticed from some literature in the room that I was not far from Doune Castle. Couldn’t remember if I’d included it on the route, so I punched it into the GPS and headed out. About 15 minutes into the ride, it started to rain. Of course, the only way to stop the rain is to pull over and put on the rain gear.


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    Pulled into the parking lot for the Stirling Memorial and suited up. This is not a memorial for the City of Stirling, but rather for Col. Sir David Stirling, who founded the SAS and led an interesting life.


    The forecast I saw on the telly last night was not optimistic, and I figured I’d be wearing the raingear for the next couple of days. But it was down to a light drizzle 20 minutes later when I rolled down the narrow road to Doune Castle.


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    Cinema aficionados will recognize Doune Castle for the several roles it played in England’s greatest film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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    The Pythons had secured permission to shoot at several different castles in Scotland, but permission was yanked at the last minute so they ended up shooting most of their castle scenes here (Doune Castle was privately owned by Lord Moray; yes, like the eel).

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    Here’s the inner courtyard. Don’t know if that’s an excavation or a reconstruction happening behind that fence.

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    The main building. That round thing in the foreground is the well.

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    The Pythons used Doune Castle several times, inside and out, as Castle Anthrax…

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    …where temptress Zoot and her handmaidens tempted Sir Galahad;

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    (shot mostly in the castle kitchen)


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    It was also Swamp Castle, where Sir Lancelot killed several guards and wedding guests;

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    (I just noticed – they're even using the well)

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    And it was the interior of Camelot, where the “Knights of the Round Table” musical number was shot in the great hall in a single day.

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    (the exterior was, indeed, only a model)

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    Doune Castle was also the setting for a notorious taunting by a French knight:

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    “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”

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    Confronted by the Trojan rabbit, it was defended with a barrage of farm animals.

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    Some castles might try to downplay their moment in the cinema spotlight, perhaps thinking themselves too dignified for such nonsense.

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    Not Doune Castle! The audio tour actually starts with the classic swashbuckling theme music from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the narrator is Python Terry Jones, who co-directed the epic 41 years ago.

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    There are even audio clips from the film played throughout the tour, so you know which scenes were shot in which locations.

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    More recently, it’s been Winterfell for “Game of Thrones,” and the Starz series “Outlander” has shot here as well.

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    Of course, the castle was built in the 13th Century, hundreds of years before motion pictures were invented, and is of no small historic significance by itself. It was used as a royal hunting lodge and Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here several times.

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    They also invented the throne-couch, for the monarch who just wants to have a little lie-down.

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    Another fireplace. Again with the unicorns.

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    The staffers were even nice enough to let me park the motorcycle out front for a quick photo op. Thanks!

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    After castling, I called up today’s route, which should take me through the Trossachs that I missed in yesterday’s GPS fiasco. I assumed that the Garmin would just find its way back to my carefully pre-programmed route, but no – if you’re not starting at the starting point, it just says, “Well, here’s where he wants to end up, so let’s just route him directly there, and skip all the scenic roads he’s programmed.”

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    I don’t know this country, so I just follow along and am none the wiser until I suddenly find myself at that night’s hotel after riding 53 miles instead of the 125 I’d programmed… Grrr…

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    Not to say that there wasn’t some lovely scenery along the way today. Cute villages here and there, and nice country roads.

    I stopped for a quick bag of chips in Muthill, and found the ruins of an old church.

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    “Old” like, mid-1100s AD.

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    There’s the Scottish flag waving in the breeze. Did you know that the Union Jack flag is actually just the flags of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland stacked on top of each other?

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    (Sorry, Wales…)

    Stopped for lunch a few miles later in Crieff.

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    How much is that meat pie in the window?

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    I was then routed through Glen Almond, following the Almond River up into some classic Highlands scenery.

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    (this does not count as classic Highlands scenery)

    That’s the Almond River. Note the loner outcast tree up on the hill. Rebel.
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    It’s a bit hard to read, but that sign is warning fishermen away from that private pond.

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    “THIS LOCH IS BEING WATCHED”


    Nice riding! Too bad it ended so soon when I got to that night’s hotel in Aberfeldy around 2:30p.

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    Motorcycle and flower parking only.

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    Fortunately I was allowed to check into my cozy room a bit early, and spent the afternoon walking around this neat little town.

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    You're never too old for a conga line...

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    Aah! Monster! Wait, I read that wrong…

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    Cool old bridge – built in 1733 and still in use.

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    Too narrow for two-way traffic, so a signal at each side keeps things under control.

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    Check out the fake wooden cannon guarding the approach.

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    We’ve got time for a scenic 1.5-mile walk to a local castle across the river.

    Visited some of the locals along the way.

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    Ebony... and Ivoryyyy...

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    Menzies Castle.

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    It was closed by the time I got there, but it stood still for photos.

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    Someone left the window open. Where’s that crossbow guy when you need him?

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    These guys are over the front door.

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    If you’re expecting visitors, you could at least put on some pants.

    Along the way back, there’s a large bronze statue if a highlander soldier – The Black Watch Memorial.

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    I guess it’s been hit by lightning once or twice. I don’t think you can see it in these pictures, but it’s got a grounding cable that’s routed right under the soldier’s kilt.

    Hiked back to town and picked up some dinner at a take-out place in the town square. Cool town, but I’m getting bummed about these GPS issues…

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    #9
  10. Cyclenaut

    Cyclenaut Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2012
    Oddometer:
    146
    Location:
    Desert S.W.
    Great pics & RR...added to the list
    #10
  11. goodcat

    goodcat Changing latitudes, altitudes and attitudes

    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2015
    Oddometer:
    4,768
    Location:
    British Columbia
    Great in depth report.

    I'm luvn this one !!!!
    #11
  12. stevee

    stevee Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2007
    Oddometer:
    782
    Great stuff - am interested to see what you think of the Beemer - currently riding an 1100r and thinking of downsizing, both for the weight and fuel consumption advantages of the bike.
    Cheers
    Steve
    #12
  13. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA

    Thanks for reading so far! (or just looking at the pictures - that's fine, too)

    I liked the 700GS just fine. The last time I rented a bike was in Iceland two years ago, and I got an 800GS for that trip and really liked it. (I know they share the same motor)
    Motorrad Central did have an 800GS when I called to rent, but it was the "low suspension" version. Since the "low" 800 and the regular 700 have the same seat height, I decided to save a couple of £s and get the 700 - might as well try something new. And it was good. I like a smaller bike for the reasons you mentioned: it's easier to throw into corners, gets better gas mileage (though I really wasn't tracking my fuel consumption) and it's lighter. Spoiler alert: I never dropped this bike. There were one or two awkward stops where I was unbalanced and I could feel the bike starting to heel over, but in each case I was able to just muscle it upright before it got away from me. Not sure if I would've had the same outcome with a heavier bike.
    I ride a Suzuki V-Strom 650 at home, and have been very happy with it. Now, of course, I'm taking short tours, mostly close to civilization, so I'm not carrying lots of tools and spares and camping equipment. If I were getting a new bike today, I'd probably go for the BMW F800GS.

    Thanks again for reading - more soon!
    #13
  14. stevee

    stevee Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2007
    Oddometer:
    782
    Thanks for the info.
    Enjoy the rest of your stay, and may the weather gods shine on you.
    Went to Stirling Castle earlier this year, fantastic place.

    Steve
    #14
  15. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    DAY 3 – July 3, 2016 – 133 miles

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    Cozy room, decent breakfast (though I still prefer oatmeal to porridge). Realized that one of yesterday’s GPS omissions was Loch Tay, which is quite close by, so I typed in the name of the town at the far end of the Loch (Killin) and rolled out.

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    I can see why Loch Tay is a recommended ride – it’s very pretty.

    I think I’ve figured out this Scotland weather… somewhat. It’s bright and sunny first thing in the morning, then it clouds up as soon as you load up the motorcycle and start to ride. Rain, heavy or light, soon follows. The rain was pretty light as I rolled down the side of the Loch. Much of this road is single-track, so you have to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic and passing zones and hope that the two coincide.

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    Turned around in Killin and rode back along Loch Tay to my start in Aberfeldy. Stopped for gas for the first time – BMW side tank is easy; don’t have to undo the tank bag.

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    After that little side trip, I called up today’s “official” route on the GPS.

    And it looked like it was actually working, too! The zümo routed me out of town and onto the A9 motorway, then even detoured me over to Blair Castle, a waypoint I remembered adding to today’s route. I didn’t actually tour the castle; it looked a bit too “cleaned up” for my tastes. (And several big tour buses arrived at the same time as me)

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    U-turned back to the A9 and on into Cairngorms National Park – good highlands scenery. Oh, and the rain was back, sometimes quite hard. But I didn’t bother stopping to add the raingear because A) I was making good time, and B) I knew that the rain would stop as soon as I changed. And sure enough, after about 20 minutes, the rain gave up.

    I knew I’d have some short riding days on this trip, and sure enough I started seeing signs for Grantown-on-Spey, tonight’s destination.

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    Found my guesthouse (Parkburn Guest House) which is fine; clearly someone’s house (and it does smell a bit like dogs). Took a hike thru town…

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    (Hmmm… How many kilts do I need…?)

    There’s a trail next to the guesthouse that leads To The River.

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    The trail passes Grant Park Lochan, which allegedly houses otters, though I saw none.

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    And here’s our destination:

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    The River Spey is the source of much of the water used to make scotch.

    It’s true; there are several distilleries lining the banks of the Spey, (collectively known as the “Speyside” distilleries) and together they make more whisky than any other region in Scotland.

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    Whisky, you say?

    Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet are both near here, and there’s even a “Whisky Trail” route you can follow.

    Sadly, I never visited any of these illustrious distilleries. I wanted to, I really did, but the way my routes and stops worked out, I never ended up staying in a town with a distillery. And that's really the only way I would've been able to take a tour, as all of these distillery tours end in the TASTING ROOM, and the last thing I wanted to do was sample a bunch of (no doubt excellent) whisky, then hop on a rented motorcycle and drive on the wrong side of the road in the rain. So... another time.

    The river’s known for great fly fishing, too. It’s full of drunken trout.

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    The trail back wound thru the trees.

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    After that hike, I strolled in to town to grab a meat pie for supper, which I ate in the park, attended by some rather forward black-headed gulls.

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    Then rain. Then sun. Then rainbow over Grantown-on-Spey.

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    Then back to the guesthouse to write up the day, and only now do I discover that the Garmin has screwed me again! After the Blair Castle out-and-back, it was supposed to take me over to A939, passing Balmoral Castle, and then up a very scenic route (recommended by motorcyclescotland.com) into the Grampian mountains, thru Cock Bridge (giggity) and Tomintoul, then on to Grantown. Boo. The zümo is clearly ignoring my routes, and I need to figure out a work-around.

    But I’m on vacation, so that’s a problem for tomorrow. Tonight – bees.

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    Tomorrow – Loch Ness
    #15
    Vixen, markgsnw and Bigboy Pie eater like this.
  16. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA
    DAY 4 – July 4, 2016 – 251 miles

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    Happy 4th of July! Or, as it’s known here in Scotland… Monday!

    Long day of riding! I think I’ve covered more ground today than in the previous three days combined. I know yesterday’s report was a little lame, but we start ramping up from here.

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    Started with a substantial breakfast down in the common room, then I was off to Tomintoul, which Garmin screwed me out of yesterday.

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    Glad I took the detour! Nice climb up into the Grampian Mountains.

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    The curves are manageable, but there are some very steep (20%) climbs and descents.

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    And a surprising amount of roadkill – I saw Pheasant Under Lorry, a fine Compressed Hedgehog, and several examples of the Common Scottish Flat-rabbit.

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    Once I got to Tomintoul, I noticed a group of riders heading out from the hotel. Tomintoul claims to be the highest town in the Scottish Highlands (1,132 feet) which naturally makes it a motorcycling destination. A snapshot or two and I headed back the way I came.

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    It was even more fun on the way back. Nice vistas from this vantage point.

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    Back in Grantown-on-Spey, I called up today’s route, crossed my fingers, and headed out. I had actually previewed the route last night and checked it against a paper map and it does appear to follow the route that I had planned. Maybe my GPS luck is changing.

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    I started out on a road that was more or less parallel to the road to Tomintoul only down the glen instead of up in the mountains – very nice riding! Then onto the A9 motorway, where I’ll be spending a lot of time today. Nice to go fast for a while! And of course the rain returned. Got rained on about a half-dozen times today, sometimes quite heavily, often just spitting. The combination of rain and the A9 velocity meant I didn’t do as many pull-overs to take pictures – sorry.

    Skirted the suburbs of Inverness and found the small road (B852) that will take me down the east side of Loch Ness. Cool road, but narrow – just a single lane, with wide spots for passing. And for photos.

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    Loch Ness!

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    Monster!

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    I did keep an eye out for monsters (as I always do) but saw nothing. Maybe Nessie wants to stay out of the rain.

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    Saw a small roadside restaurant and pulled in for lunch.

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    Scottish smoked salmon and buttered bread – what’s not to like? And Crack Zero, of course.

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    And across the road, a trail to a waterfall.

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    Much as I enjoy hiking in riding boots, the steep trail down was short, and rewarded with a view of a nice little cascade.

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    It used to be much more spectacular, but apparently some of the flow was tapped for a power plant. “The Trickle of Foyers” didn’t have the same ring to it, so they left the name alone.

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    This road started out as an old military road in the 1700s. The low-fuel light came on halfway down the loch, and the rain re-started just after we crested a nice rise that revealed the mountains around the water.

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    That’s Loch Knockie back on the left, and way back on the right is Loch Mhor.

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    Rolled down to Fort Augustus, the small town at the end of Loch Ness and filled the tank.

    Scotland uses an odd mix of units of measurement – they use miles and feet for distance, and the bike computer measures mpg (Imperial gallons, not US gallons), but gas is sold by the liter – sorry, litre. And temperatures are measured in centigrade, which means it hasn’t gotten above about 18° since I got here.

    And the plugs are their own thing, too.

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    I only brought my "Europe" adapter, because Scotland is in Europe, right?
    Fortunately every bathroom had one of these outlets tucked away somewhere, so I could keep my electronics charged.

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    By "Shavers Only," I assume you mean that only people who shave are allowed to use this outlet to charge their phone and cameras. Back to the report.

    After Fort Augustus, the road up the west side of Loch Ness is a bit wider – two lanes! So I was able to make some better speed. Stopped at Urquhart Castle, but didn’t have time to take the tour.

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    The castle is shielded from the parking lot by a thick hedge, but crafty tourists have plucked out a couple of peek-a-boo holes for sneaking a picture.

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    I see you, Urquhart Castle! Or what's left of you...

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    Then back up to the top of the loch and Inverness again, the more trafficky and industrial part. After another half-dozen roundabouts I was headed north on the A9 and the rain machine cranked up. Hardest rain of the day, while trying to maintain speed, was tiring. I couldn’t stop, even though there were many amusing signs to photograph – “Bonar Bridge” and “Spiting” to name a couple.

    Speaking of bridges, here’s the Cromarty Bridge over the Cromarty Firth, photographed during a brief break in the precipitation.

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    When sorting thru the pictures from this trip, I’ll sometimes come across a gap in the sequence. Why didn’t I take any pictures between 3:15p and 5:30p? Oh, yes, that’s when it poured rain for two hours.

    The route found the coast, rolling up north with the North Sea over to our right. Normally, this is the type of riding and the roads I really like, but the high-speed traffic plus the rain made it a bit stressful. Not to say that it wasn’t really pretty, too.

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    Stopped when I could – here’s a look back at Helmsdale. Then the road turned inland and cut straight north to today’s destination: Thurso.

    Nice empty landscape up here, got a shot or two between raindrops.

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    Then hit Thurso, where I’m staying at the Y-Not, an inn over a restaurant/pub of the same name.

    Checked in and wandered around town. Thurso claims to be the northernmost town on the UK mainland, all the way up at the top of the island.

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    Strolled the coast road – the water is the Pentland Firth, which separates the mainland from the Orkney Islands – tomorrow’s destination. (Fun fact: It used to be called the “Sea of Orcs”)

    Since they’re probably not going to set off any 4th of July fireworks, I might as well go back to the room and apply the hair dryer to the wettest parts of my wardrobe. I spent a surprising number of evenings doing that this trip.


    TOMORROW – bikes on boats
    #16
  17. skyguy

    skyguy Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2009
    Oddometer:
    210
    Location:
    Arlington, VA

    DAY 5 – July 5, 2016 – 147 miles (plus ferries)


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    Hey, it’s my birthday! Or, as it’s known here in Scotland… Tuesday!

    Pretty quiet for a room over a pub. Slept well but rose early – I’m doing a day trip to the Orkney Islands, and I’ve got a ferry to catch!

    Since I’ll be back here at the Y-Not again tonight, I decided to leave the side cases in the room to streamline the bike a bit.

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    The ferry terminal’s only a mile down the road in the wonderfully-named townlet of Scrabster.

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    As soon as I rolled down the ramp into the boat, the bike was surrounded by a magical team of glowing ferry-workers who lashed the motorcycle to the deck.

    I went upstairs and had breakfast while we pulled out of Scrabster Harbor.

    Those are some wild chairs…

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    …they keep them on a leash.

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    The ship did roll a bit out in the North Sea, but nothing too nauseating.

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    At one point, I saw a small pod of dolphins just off the port side. Of course, by the time I dug my camera out they were gone. So just picture this exact scene only with dolphins.

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    During the 90-minute crossing, we passed by the Island of Hoy (one of the Orkneys), which has a tall stone column called “The Old Man of Hoy” standing just offshore.

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    Fun fact: The Old Man of Hoy formation appears at the beginning of Eurythmics' hit song, the aptly-named "Here Comes The Rain Again."



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    That’s the Old Man of Hoy on the left. I am unfamiliar with the provenance of the Old Man on the Right.

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    Cool sky and cliffs during the journey. The Orkneys are a group of about 70 islands northeast of the Scottish mainland. Most are uninhabited.

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    You’re funny.

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    Coming around the corner. That’s the Hoy High Lighthouse back there. (there’s also a Hoy Low Lighthouse somewhere around here)

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    Pulling in to Stromness, a former whaling port. And before that, Viking port.

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    Just before going down to the bike, I looked across the island. The sky looks a bit interesting.

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    By the time I got down to the motorcycle, it had already been loosed from its bondage.

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    There was another guy on a GS motorcycle down on the car deck, and we swapped photo services.

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    Docked in Stromness around 10:00a and called up today’s route. (It’s a small island, Garmin – How can you screw this up?)

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    Orkney is a nice island! Good roads and great scenery.

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    First stop comes quickly: “The Standing Stones of Stenness.” It’s a circle of standing stones that date back more than 5,000 years. That’s about the same age as Stonehenge; and about 500 years older than the pyramids.

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    They think that there were originally about 12 stones, of which only four remain upright.

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    Sweet barbecue pit.

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    There’s a “hearth” stone in the center, where they found charred bones and pottery.

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    There’s also a “Sentinel Stone” just down the road.

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    Practically IN the road.

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    A stone’s throw away (ha!) is a recently discovered “town” of 3 or 4 neolithic houses – Barnhouse Village.

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    And I thought MY apartment was small…

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    And just down the road is another, bigger circle – The Ring of Brodgar.

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    Originally, there were 60 stones in this circle, but now they’re down to 27.

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    This one was felled by lightning in 1980.

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    There are great fields of buttercups…

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    …and the noon cow parade is right on time.

    I saw a big patch of these extra-woolly dandelions. I’ve only ever seen them before in Iceland. Must be a northern variety.

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    (Scotland 2016)

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    (Iceland 2014)

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    Of course, the rain kept coming and going, as it does here in Scotland. I thought I’d figured out the schedule – the same as the old Dr. Pepper slogan: 10, 2, and 4. But it’s much more random than that. I’d suited up in the raingear back at the Stenness Stones, and just left it on for the rest of the day, rain or shine.

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    But the riding is fine. And sometimes the sun does try to peek out.

    And the island has lots of little scenes to photograph.

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    The route took me to Kirkwall, the largest town on Mainland Orkney and as good a place as any to find lunch.

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    (spot the motorcycle hiding in the pedestrian mall)

    It’s a nice town, right in the middle of the island. I ended up passing through it another 3 – 4 times as it turned out.

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    The zümo seemed to be behaving itself, so I followed its directions across the island.

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    But soon I realized – crap, it’s taking me straight to the ferry terminal, and I don’t need to be here for another three hours.

    Don’t want to waste my visit, and I knew there was more to see, so I checked the map for any familiar names, and clicked on Evie, a small northern village that shares its name with the daughter of my pal Troy, the one who loaned me the big black duffel bag.

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    Another 20 minutes of really nice riding (sun, rain, Kirkwall, rain while sunny, etc.) and there was Evie. Hi, Evie!

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    Look how nice the weather is pretending to be! Don’t get used to it. Photographed the sign and turned around. Now I’m a low on gas, so it’s back to Kirkwall.

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    I like this otter sign I found near the petrol station.

    A quick stop for crisps and a soda and it’s time to head to the ferry for real.

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    I like how the 700GS has a convenient crisps-holder.

    I’m taking a return ferry from St. Margaret’s Hope, which is at the other end of the island from Stromness where we came ashore this morning.

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    It’s actually a separate island; there are several of them up here that are joined by causeways called “Churchill Barriers,” named for Winston Churchill who ordered them built to protect against U-boats. The labor (sorry labour) was provided by Italian POWs who were being held up here.

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    Indeed, this body of water, the “Scapa Flow,” is militarily significant, and was a major base for the British Navy during WWI & II. After WWI, a number of German warships were scuttled here (intentionally sunk) rather than let them fall into British hands. Many were salvaged, but there are still a number of shipwrecks here that are popular among recreational divers.

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    Alright – off to the ferry. Hopefully we won’t be joining the other shipwrecks.

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    Mmmm... Wet oily steel – my favorite riding surface.

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    Thank you, ferry lady.

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    This ferry is smaller, faster, and doesn’t need to go as far, so the return crossing only takes an hour.

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    Great sky as we pull away from St. Margaret’s Hope.

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    More evidence of the military past – bunkers along the coast.

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    That little island at the end of the rainbow is Stroma.

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    The ferry drops me off only a few miles from John O’Groats (“John of Groats”), so I’ve got to go there.

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    When I was planning my route, I got this bit of advice from Motorrad Central: “We avoid John O’Groats - it was recently voted one of the least attractive places in the UK.”
    But I’m here anyway, and this is the spot where Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman started their “Long Way Down” motorcycle odyssey to Cape Town, South Africa. (You might’ve heard of it)

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    The sun’s back out, and the sky to the west is actually looking pretty clear. Here’s the Duncansby Head Lighthouse, marking the top-right corner of the UK mainland.

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    I was there! Really!

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    The locals are not impressed.

    On the way out, I grabbed a quick shot at the John O’Groats post office for added proof of visitation…

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    …then rolled the 20-odd miles back to Thurso with a bright sun shining in my eyes for the first time this trip.

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    Happy birthday to me!


    TOMORROW – Coast! Caves! Castles!
    #17
    Vixen, Kyle Komline, markgsnw and 4 others like this.
  18. kickstandsup

    kickstandsup Devout Atheist Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2013
    Oddometer:
    3,835
    Location:
    Kitty litter USA
    Great RR!

    We did Scotland a couple of summers ago...rented an F800GT from the same place...great folks.

    It is a riders' paradise, can't wait to go back!
    #18
    skyguy likes this.
  19. Frol

    Frol n00b

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2016
    Oddometer:
    2
    skyguy, I have registered here to say that you report exelent! Waiting for continued.
    #19
    skyguy likes this.
  20. findlj

    findlj How much fun is that Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2010
    Oddometer:
    345
    Location:
    Missouri
    Really enjoying this one! We (the family and I) took a roots trip to Scotland in '13. We did Edinburgh to the Cairngorms (which is where my families clan is from). Your path and photos are very interesting since we're going back next year to see more of the country. Hope to see more here!
    Thanks for taking us along.
    #20
    skyguy likes this.