Based on the film Being John Malkovich
In the aftermath of the Second World War, author George Orwell secluded himself on the bleak, outpost of Jura in the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. It was here in the splendid isolation of the western isles that he wrote his opus, 1984. This is a journey to retrace his steps.
I departed from Nottingham in the East Midlands, traveling north through the Yorkshire Dales. If you’ve seen my previous trip reports, you know that the Yorkshire Dales are a bucolic setting worthy of being a destination in itself. It was on the narrow roads of West Yorkshire where TT champion David Jefferies honed his craft. Yorkshire is also home to the Lampkin motorcycle trials dynasty and it is not unusual to spot a number of trials bikes using public roads to link their trials areas. By chance, I come upon the The Yorke Arms hotel in a tiny village in the Nidderdale Valley that featured a Michelin starred restaurant. Sometimes I just get lucky.
The second day would be a short jaunt to the English Lake District, where I procured a room overlooking Lake Windermere
I spent the following day touring the Lake District passes in splendid October sunshine
After an overnight stay near Glasgow, I head north along the scenic Loch Lomond with the splendid weather still holding firm
A left turn at Tarbert takes me on the A85 along the Loch Fyne
I reach the ferry port of Kennacraig at midday, and by some miracle, the ferry to Islay is loading. It’s as if it were meant to be. After about a 3 hour sail, we reach Port Askaig on Islay. I ride across the island to Bowmore where I secure a room right next to the Bowmore Distillery. The next morning, I catch the small ferry across the Sound of Islay to the Isle of Jura
Tourism is light at this time of year. I’m the only vehicle making the crossing. I guess the adventure riders went elsewhere
My only link to civilization disappears over the horizon (possible embellishment)
Looking across the Sound of Islay towards Islay
The only road on the island heads up the east coast from the ferry port
A farm house with a million dollar view across the Sound of Islay
The splendid isolation and wild beauty of Jura, virtually unchanged in the sixty some years since Orwell travelled this same road
Orwell spent approximately three years writing 1984 in between jaunts with his son, hiking and exploring the island
Clusters of farm houses dot the coast
As you continue northwards, the road begins to deteriorate
An unexpected patch of forest and pasture
Before the scenery opens up once more
I spotted numerous stags in the grasslands who exhibited no fear of human contact
Four miles short of Orwell’s farmhouse in Barnhill, the ride comes to an abrupt end
Nothing left to do but turn around and head south on the same single track
An old barn overlooks the coast, the Scottish mainland in the distance
Although Orwell’s writing thrived on the island, his health took a turn for the worse. In 1947 he was diagnosed with TB. At the time, there was no cure for the disease. He managed to finish 1984 in November 1948, and died early in 1950.
The only hotel on the island is the Jura Hotel in the village of Craighouse, where I stop for a lunch of tomato pepper soup and fresh crab
After a late lunch, I catch the four o’clock ferry back to Islay. Back on Islay, I ride along the narrow sound between Islay and Jura.
Looking across the sound to the Paps of Jura
A quick stop for refreshment at the Bunnahabhain Distillery
Another view across the Sound of Islay towards Jura. The natural light at these northern latitudes can sometimes provide some spectacular displays, especially when rain showers simultaneously compete alongside bright sunshine to produce some mesmerizing lighting effects which in turn compete with the beauty of the natural surroundings. Something of a reward for being out in inclement weather
Islay lacks a bit of the rugged isolation of Jura, but has its own special charm
Two friends along Loch Indall in southwestern Islay
The village of Portnahaven with the Orsay Lighthouse in the distance
Hairy Scottish cattle give me the once over
The 7 o’clock ferry was the only available crossing back to the mainland. UGH!
Watching the sunrise over Jura from aboard the ferry
This description of an Islay malt made laugh. I had never seen spirits described in military terms
After reaching the mainland, I take a short jaunt across the Kintyre Peninsula and catch another ferry to the Isle of Arran. The weather began to take a turn for the worse and I was holed up for two days waiting out the rain. Fortunately, I stayed in a comfortable country home with an excellent restaurant. Eventually, the rain tapered off, and I caught yet another ferry across the Firth of Clyde to the town of Ardrossan on the mainland.
Looking back at Arran from the ferry
After 5 days in Scotland, I head south back into England, where I make my way to visit an old friend in Shropshire. The next day would be a short hop across the Peak District back to Nottingham.
I stopped at the famous Cat & Fiddle Pub. As it is a sunny Sunday afternoon, the place is hopping with bikes
Not just bikes, but even some Lotuses (Loti?)
Even the Smart cars were out in force, cheekily making three parking spaces out of two
About an hour before reaching Nottingham, I pass thru the town of Matlock Bath, the East Midland’s answer to L.A.’s Rock Store. The town is bursting at the seams with hundreds of bikers enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. Almost looks like the main drag of Sturgis
Distance- +/- 1300 miles
Travel days- 9
Rest days- 3
Police sightings- 0
Deer sightings- 3
Bee stings- 0
Team orson embarks on a quickie, one-week venture across the border to the motorcycling playground that is the south of France.
Departing from team orson’s world headquarters in Parma, we stick to the backroads as we make our way across the Apennine mountains to the coast. The early fall temperatures combined with the altitude serve to feed the mighty, mighty goose with a horsepower boost in the form of cool, mountain air. We reach the coast by late afternoon and get a hotel room near Portofino. I didn’t take any pictures, so I’ll cheat and use a picture from a previous trip.
In a bid to save time, the next day’s route will be a blast up the Ligurian coast along the autostrada, the same stretch used by Richard Hammond to race James May in a cigarette boat. The road features dozens and dozens of tunnels cutting thru the mountains that line the coast. I can’t even begin to imagine how long the trip must have taken before the autostrada was constructed.
Just after crossing the French border, we leave the highway and head up into the hills in search of twisties. As you approach Monaco, you begin to notice an increase in the amount of auto exotica. In a matter of a few hours, I must have seen four or five Bentleys and a couple of Ferraris. Porsches and Mercedes seemed downright pedestrian in these environs. This is the closest they will allow you to get to Monaco on a Guzzi.
With the purchase of an iPad, this would be the first trip where team orson traveled with any electronic devices besides a digital camera. Perhaps lured by the flashing lights and whirring noises of this strange device, the team orson navigator threw caution to the wind and drunkenly decided to make a hotel reservation with the contraption. His reckless action would very soon come back to haunt team orson.
A tip that the ride along the coast to Cap d’Antibes was enjoyable proved to be wrong, as we encountered lots of traffic and very little scenery. With the skies beginning to darken forbiddingly, the decision was made to turn inland at Cannes and hit La Route Napoleon. A few years ago, BIKE magazine declared La Route Napoleon to be the “Best road in Europe.” While that would be a subjective opinion for sure, in my opinion they weren’t far off the mark.
Fast and flowing, La Route Napoleon may be short on photographic charms, but is top shelf stuff for releasing your inner Mike Hailwood 😀 For about sixty blissful kilometers, there are almost no towns or side roads to slow your progress. The mostly open nature of the terrain means that four-wheeled chicanes are easily dispatched.
Approaching Castellane, the dark skies begin to release their moisture with a vengeance. In the past, team orson would have retired to the nearest warm and dry hotel room. But now armed with a newfangled i-Pad, team orson felt compelled to continue onto their reserved hotel room, some 100 kilometers distant. Harsh words were exchanged between the team orson photographer and navigator, as the benefits of modern technology were called into question.
The last fifty kilometers were a slow, wet slog along the road that hugs the northern edge of the Canyon du Verdun. Although it was raining heavily, brief glimpses of its grandeur occasionally revealed themselves. Thankfully, the rain began to taper off later in the afternoon, allowing for a few photographs thru the mist.
The following morning dawned with an improved weather forecast, and I spent the day meandering back along the northern edge of the canyon before returning along the southern edge.
Coming into a small village, I saw a large group of about 20 motorcycles leaving a gas station. My initial reaction was, “Oh great. I’m going to have to work my way thru the slow pokes.” Not to worry though. This was France and these weren’t a Harley parade. Within a minute, the group had blasted away. France has a fantastic moto-culture. Despite having roughly the same population as the UK, they have twice as many registered motorcycles.
I stayed the night in the picturesque town of Moustieres-Sainte-Marie on the western edge of the canyon. The hotel’s restaurant was fantastic and I left thoroughly bloated after a six-course meal. Even the dessert had a dessert.
Moustieres-Sainte-Marie in the morning light.
We headed north towards les Alpes Maritimes. The south of France is chock full of lazily, twisting two-lane roads.
I was amazed at how little traffic there was on these roads. I stopped to take this picture, and not a single car came by during the entire five minutes that I was stopped.
The mountains begin to grow as you approach Barcelonnette.
At Jausiers, I turn south and head up la Col de la Bonette. The road signs claim that it is the highest paved road in Europe, but Wikipedia disputes this, claiming that it is only the third highest road. As I begin the climb, the skies begin to darken once more. As I reach the summit and begin the descent, I catch a glimpse of the rain waiting for me in the valley below.
Fortunately, by the time I make it to the valley floor, the rain has dissipated and I scamper off to find a hotel room. I awaken the next morning to a blazingly blue sky and turn back north. I’m not sure if this is a castle of maybe a monastery high above the valley floor.
The D-2202 between Annot and Guillaumes…oh my, my :drool: Such a wonderful stretch of tarmac is the stuff of dreams. the pictures can’t begin to do it any justice. I rate the French highway system among the best, if not the best in the world. Most of the main roads a paved with smooth, well marked asphalt.
A close up of the church in the distance.
Looking back at the D-2202 show it snaking its way alongside a riverbed.
After Guillaumes, the road narrows as it begins to climb la Col de la Cayolle. this climb seemed to go on forever.
About 10 kilometers short of Barcelonnette, I came upon this road works. D’oh! Merde Alors! I would have to backtrack almost an hour if I couldn’t get by.
Using my high school French, I found out that they would open the road in one hour, so i decided to cool my heels and wait.
After topping up the gas tank in Barcelonnette, I turned south once more and headed up la Col de Maure. While the fall colors aren’t as spectacular as New England, there were a few spots of vibrant color.
After a long day slaying mountain passes, the mighty, mighty goose stops to absorb some of the scenery.
The D-6202 is another wonderfully enjoyable road on a motorbike, fast and flowing, with hardly any traffic or pesky switchbacks to slow your pace. This trip to Provence has only served to solidify my belief that, the south of France has some of the best motorcycling roads anywhere on the planet. Wales & Scotland come close, but get knocked down a notch because of their infamously, soggy weather. Northern California and the south of France are the top of the pops in my book.
Once again I awaken to bright, blue skies, but alas, my time is running short. I point the goose back towards Italy for the homeward leg. I take a small detour off the autostrada in Italy to the bridge at Dolceacqua that was painted by Claude Monet.
Further up the road is the picturesque town of Apricale, perched precariously on a hilltop.
Once again, I use the autostrade to blast down the Ligurian coast. Looking back north along the coastline.
I spend the last night in Portofino. The view of Portofino harbor from the hotel room balcony.
In an effort to blend in with the local populace, team orson purchased some spiffy, Italian loafers. Whereas team orson was treated as a furriner before, now people mistake us for locals and stop to ask us for directions.
The next morning, we begin our final leg across the Appenines back to Parma. The scenic road leaving Portofino.
I stop for lunch in a small town and take a final photograph of possibly the most beautiful sport touring bike on the planet. Ten years on and the bike never missed a beat, still going strong after 80,000 km.
Distance- 2,000 kilometers
Travel days- 8
Rest days- 0
Carabinieri sightings- 3
Gendarmerie sightings- 0
Deer sightings- 0
Bee stings- 2
My 2012 vacation would mark the tenth anniversary since the inception of team orson. One would think that a grand tour would be called for to celebrate the occassion however, as I left Saudi Arabia for team orson’s palatial world headquarters, I didn’t have a clue where I wuz going. Befuddled and confused, I packed maps for both France (north) or Italy (south).
A late start meant that it was 4 P.M. before I left Parma and headed over the Appenines via the Passo della Cisa towards the coast, still without a clue which direction I wuz headed. I stopped for the night in Portovenere, exhausted after a little over 100 km. Portovenere isn’t as famous as its Cinque Terre neighbors or as posh as Portofino, but has a pleasant enough waterfront.
I usually sleep 6 hours a night, but that first night I slept 10 hours! Holy kwap! Wuz I becoming a lightweight in my old age? Watching the TV news, the decision on which direction to go was made by the weather report. Rain in France while southern Italy basked under sunny skies.
As I had ridden thru the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany on previous trips, I headed south along the coast towards the Marrema region of southern Tuscany, off the beaten tourist trail, but gradually becoming discovered. After only 6 hours, I was already toast, and decided to stop at a very chi-chi resort on the Monte Argentario peninsula. This place was so quiet and relaxing that team orson made an uncharacteristic decision to stay another night.
The next day, we sallied forth and rode around the peninsula on a blazingly hot spring day. The road was scenic, but a bit too congested for serious shredding.
I circumnavigated the peninsula in about two hours and was back at my hotel just after lunch. The high temperatures and the lure of a refreshing swim was too hard to resist, and I parked the bike for the day. The leg that had I injured in South Africa was giving me a lot of pain that I didn’t have when I rode last year. Swinging my leg on and off the bike was accompanied by excruciating pain. Once I was under way, there was no pain, but stopping for photos now was an ordeal. I developed a system where I grabbed my stitch by the ankle, and slowly lifted my leg on & off the bike. I’m sure people watching this thought I wuz nuts.
A view of the cement pond that lured team orson off the roads. Wheeee dawgie! team orson’s gonna hafta buy something other than t-shirts to blend in with this crowd.
Sunrise over the Monte Argentario peninsula.
After three days of whiling away the hours with the glitterati under crystal blue skies, team orson felt refreshed enough to finally hit the road. I continued south along the coast until turning inland at Civitavecchia.
A rugged looking hill town somewhere north of Rome.
After skirting around Rome and its heavy traffic, I continued making my way south along the spine of the Appenine mountains through the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo.
Even this far south, there was still a dusting of snow covering the peaks.
The following day, I reached the scenic Amalfi Coast, and found another, all too comfortable hotel. Team orson was rapidly becoming spoiled.
A view of the town of Amalfi from the hotel balcony.
The Amalfi Coast road has acquired a fearsome reputation as one of the scariest roads in Europe, although it’s not too bad on a motorbike. I think most of the reputation comes from tourists being driven by locals. It’s always scarier when someone else is driving. A good definition of Hell might be having to drive a bus on that road on a daily basis.
Heading west on the Amalfi Road
Looking back east
A secluded grotto viewed from the road
Heading back towards the hotel
Southern Italy is known for limoncello, and this time of year, lemons are bursting off the trees. Two glasses of this stuff will put you down for the count. That might explain the crooked horizon in the picture
Another view of Amalfi from the hotel.
After leaving the Amalfi coast, I continued south into the region of Campania. I stopped briefly to view the impressive Greek ruins in Paestum.
Venturing deeper into Campania, the terrain began to resemble the California coast. I had no idea of what lie ahead of me.
At Praia a Mare, the mountains rise straight from the sea, as the road clings to the cliffs in a perfect mirror image of California’s Big Sur.
In all my travels and all my reading, I had never heard of this stretch of road. Discovering a hidden gem of a road is worth massive bonus points.
The spectacular stretch of road ended all too quickly after only 30 kilometers, much the same as the Pacific Coast Highway does as it approaches L.A. It marked a fine ending to my longest day in the saddle, a good eight hours.
The next day, I travel inland across a small mountain pass. I had the road blissfully to myself, seeing only a couple of other cars before lunch time.
The farther south you get, the fewer the hordes of German & Dutch bikers who plague the Alps like locusts.
After crossing the mountains, I reach the southern coast of Italy, the sole on the boot if you will. It’s too early in the season for most of the coastal hotels to open and I have to ride all the way to the port city of Taranto before I find a hotel room.
From Taranto, I turn around and start heading north. The terrain of the Basilicata region is a pleasant vista of rolling hills which provide mostly straight, but throwing in enough high speed sweepers to keep things entertaining. Stopping for lunch in Italy is a bit of a conundrum. Most Italians eat lunch at about 1:30 before going home for a mid-afternoon break. If you don’t find a restaurant by 2:30, you’re out of luck as all the restaurants close and won’t open until 7 or 8 that night. This is the way they’ve done it for centuries and they’re not about to change Coming from the land of 24 hour breakfasts, this is hard to adjust to. It’s a bit maddening at times, but when it comes down to it, I’m glad Italians preserve their way of doing things. I still haven’t been bold enough to order wine at lunch, as nearly all the locals do.
By late afternoon I enter Puglia and reconnect with the coastline at the Manfredonia. The Parco Nazionale del Gargano takes up the bump protruding from the back of the Italian boot.
La costa Pugliense
The towns in this region are whitewashed giving you the impression that you might be in Andalusia or Morocco.
From Puglia, I blast north along the autostrada before heading inland in Abruzzo, just south of Pescara. I was mighty impressed by the size of the mountains in Abruzzo. Not quite the Alps, but beautiful nevertheless.
Near the Umbrian town of Norcia, in the Parco Nazionale dei Monte Sibilini, lies the vast open plain known as Piano Grande.
In the springtime, the plain is covered with yellow rapeseed and red poppies. Unfortunately, there were no poppies when I rode thru, but lots of rapeseed. The village of Castelluccio in the distance is the highest settlement in the Appenines at 1,452 meters.
The mighty, mighty Goose waits impatiently as the team orson photographer dawdles
A small castle stands sentry over a mountain pass
From Norcia, I travel the breadth of Umbria in one day to reach the Autodromo dell’Umbria near Perugia, where the following day, I get to attend a classic bike race.
Gianfranco Guareschi, champion to Guzzisti faithful everywhere for his slaying of the NCR Ducati at the 2007 Daytona was in attendance on a V7 Cafe Sport. A loyal fan base keeps applying to have him anointed a saint, but the Vatican insists on raising the technicality of people being dead before attaining sainthood.
Here, team Guareschi fends off rabid fans. Gianfranco in the grey shirt with Papa Guareschi in red.
There were a lotta neat bikes at the meet. These Kawasaki KR250s, ruled the world championships in the 1980s. This was the first time I’d seen one up close, and couldn’t believe how small they are.
FOR SALE- Franco Uncini’s 1982 world championship winning RG500 Suzuki
Not for sale, a Benelli 500-4
The riders take the grid, with Gianfranco having qualified fourth in a field comprised of about 80% Guzzis and 20% Ducatis. A Ducati 996 was on pole.
The flag dropped and Guareschi entered the first turn in fourth place. By the exit of the first turn, he was in front with about a 50 foot lead. The Ducati’s horsepower closed the gap on the back straight, but once they reached the twisties, Guareschi wuz gone, leading every lap.
After the races, I headed back into Tuscany on the final leg of my journey. This was the first time I had been to Tuscany during the springtime, and I must say I wuz impressed. everything was green with a vast carpet of red poppies. The roads don’t fail to impress either.
Tuscan hill towns
picture post card roads
Monte Amiata, the highest peak in southern Tuscany watches over the Val d’Orcia
There haven’t been many pictures of the Goose in this report due to the pain in my leg while mounting and dismounting, so I thought I better take one last shot in front of a carpet of poppies.
I stopped for the final night at the same little hotel I stayed in two years ago with a lovely view of the town of Bagni di Lucca. This time I came prepared with a bottle of Tuscany’s finest
The last day, I crossed the Appenines one last time via the Passo Abetone. There’s a small church up in the hills, but it’s hard to see in the picture.
I arrived in Parma at around 3 P.M. then unpacked the bike and bade my farewells. After 10 years, the mighty, mighty Guzzi had performed flawlessly, devouring every road put before it. Che macchina!
Distance- 4,100 kilometers
Travel days- 21
Rest days-5 😮
Carabinieri encounters- 0
Deer sightings- 1
Bee stings- 0
National Parks ridden- 7
Just a quickie one week trip report in Northern Italy for the Guzzi gathering and a trip to the Piedmont Region…
team orson arrived in Italy just in time for Moto Guzzi’s 90th anniversary party in Mandello del Lario on the shores of idyllic Lake Como. From Parma to the Italian Lake District is but a mere three hour jaunt via la autostrada. Usually, seeing another Guzzi on the road is a rare event however, as I approached Lake Como almost all the bikes seen on the road were other Guzzis, which was rather a strange experience.
The only hotel I could find was across the lake in Bellagio, but this really wasn’t a problem as Lake Como ferries run regular routes across the lake. After checking in to the hotel, I boarded the ferry for the 15 minute ride across the lake to Varenna.
Taking in the views and the cool lake breezes on the crossing
Nuthin but Guzzis on the ferry. I met some Dutch riders who had ridden from Holland to Mandello in one day.
Approaching ferry port of Varenna on the eastern shore of Lake Como.
From Varenna to Mandello was a quick 15 minute hop. Many businesses along the road to Mandello had Guzzi banners hung out to welcome the hordes. I arrived late Friday afternoon and the place was already brimming with Guzzisti. As I walked around taking in the sights, Guzzisti from all over Europe continued to roll into town.
Sport touring as it once was
By Saturday morning, the place was really filling up
Italian fast food
Somehow, a Benelli managed to infiltrate the event
After two days spent ogling the bikes, it was time to move on. Leaving Lake Como, an early snowfall had dusted the alpine foothills
I headed west along the base of the Alps. The roads on the southern side of the lakes are clogged with traffic and it’s not until you get past the western most lake, Lake Orta, that I begin to get a respite.
I spot a road on the map that heads up into the mountains before dead ending at the ski resort of Alagna Valsesia. I’m always intrigued by those end-of-the-road places and decided to make that my stop for the night. The town seems a veritable ghost town with most hotels closed for the season, but I luck out and manage to find a hotel that has remained open.
The following morning dawns with clear blue skies providing a clear view of the largest mountain in the area, La Monte Rosa.
Heading back down into the lowlands of the Po Valley
There’s a rather abrupt transition from the mountains to the plains
A small village with the snow peaked Alps in the distance
As I continue southwards, the terrain begins to turn to undulating hills as I reach the Langhe area of Piedmont.
The Lonely Planet refers to Piedmont as ‘Tuscany without the tourists’, as its hills lined with vineyards bears a resemblance to its southern counterpart.
The area is famous for its wines as well as its white truffles. I stay at the Hotel Castello di Sinio run by an American woman with a super friendly staff and a great ambiance. I manage to arrive right during the white truffle season and get an opportunity to sample truffles in the local cuisine. The Piedmont Region has become known as the seat of the Slow Food movement in Italy. I’ve stated before that it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in Italy.
Piedmont has an undiscovered air about it, as the vast hordes of tourists and tourist buses seen in Tuscany are absent, making you feel as if you have the whole place to yourself.
The area around Asti and Alba is crisscrossed with roads snaking their way through farms and vineyards. As it was harvest time, I often encountered farm tractors on the road but they moved slowly so it was fairly easy to pass them.
After two days in Piedmont, it was time to make my way back to home base in Parma. I think that one of the reasons there are so few visitors to the Langhe area is that it is difficult to traverse from east to west. Most of the main roads run perpendicular to the coast, leaving paved goat trails running east to west. This might be why most people stay on the autostrada and continue on down to Tuscany.
Still, I was determined not to take the autostrada to Parma and forged ahead, stringing together a series of backroads. Just south of Tortona, I decided to stop for the night. I continued forging my way eastward by sticking to the backroads. The terrain was still hilly, but less picturesque than the Langhe, so I didn’t stop for any pictures. Sometimes I took a wrong fork in the road and would end up on a remote goat trail before my instincts kicked in and told me that this didn’t seem like a major artery.
Finally, at around two in the afternoon, I reached the town of Bardi with a main highway leading to Parma. The road from Bardi to Parma is a stellar motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves seemingly custom made for the Goose. The Guzzi’s massive torque, like an avalanche sweeping away everything before it, easily overtook any cars in its path. Before long, we were back in Parma bringing a great week of riding to an end.
Riding Days: 7
Rest Days: 1
Mileage: 2500 km
Police encounters: 0
Bee stings: 0
A plan was hatched to do Scotland properly. I had been once before in 2003 when the Guzzi was in a friend’s barn in Shropshire. At that time, I only had a week and had only made it as far as the Isle of Skye before time ran out and I had to turn around and head south. Still, what I had seen was enough to whet my appetite for more.
A P.M. was fired off to a friend in Scotland, asking for a few route tips. Instead, he went far above the call of duty and provided Google maps and plenty of suggestions on where to stay. He even went as far as to arrange an oil change in Aberdeen for my Thruxton. I hafta doff my chapeau to him. I owe him the equivalent in return. Unfortunately, as I headed out the door to the airport, I left his maps and printed advice on the kitchen counter. D’oh!
After an overnight flight to the U.K., I arrived in Nottingham and loaded up the Thruxton. By 2 P.M., I was on the road and heading north along the A1. At Scotch Corner, I turned westward on the wonderful A864 across the Yorkshire Dales. It was at this point that the team orson photographer realized that he had forgotten the camera’s battery back in Nottingham. He tried to blame it on jet lag but, his actions were inexcusable
At around 6 P.M, it began to rain lightly (this would be a recurring theme) and decided on a nice inn near Hawes. The plan for the following day would be to make time on the M6 motorway in order to catch the final day of the 100th running of the legendary Scottish Six Days Trial held around Fort William. I got lost in Glasgow and ended up heading northeast instead of northwest. I finally realized my mistake when I reached Stirling but, it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as, the A84 turned out to be a great ride. Ha! Let’s see yer GPS do that!
Back when I was but a wee lad, the Scottish Six Days Trial was a major motorcycling event, dutifully reported on by the U.S. bike rags along with the ISDT and the Motocross des Nations. Sadly, in this day of freestyle MX and stunt shows, the trial has lost it’s luster and like the Daytona 200, lives off its former glory. Still, I felt an urge to witness this unique event in which trials riders cover as much as 100 miles per day over 6 days.
From my hotel, I rode up towards Kinlochleven, not really sure what I was looking for. After riding through the town and seeing no signs of the event, I eventually came across many cars parked alongside the road. A short walk up a dirt road soon had me at one of the sections along a rocky creek bed. It was interesting to see how the different riders tackled the sections, from the apprehensive youngsters to the wiley gray beards. Although the skies threatened to rain, it stayed mostly dry.
I then rode a few more miles to reach the famous Pipeline Section. Since I didn’t have a camera. It’s difficult to convey how long and how steep it is. It’s so long, they separate it into four sections. It was amazing to watch the riders switch from unstoppable bulldozer mode to ballerina mode then back to bulldozer several times.
Later in the afternoon, I rode to Fort William for the awards ceremony and to walk around the pits. A couple of blasts from the past were there with the team Ossa truck as well as the newly reformed Greeves factory. I was hoping to score a 100th SSDT t-shirt but, they were sold out and I had to settle for a beanie.
The next day, I woke up to face of an ominous rainy weather forecast. I was to ride across the breadth of Scotland to meet up with my friend in Aberdeen on the east coast. Amazingly, I rode through bright sunshine all the way up until 2 P.M. when a brief shower finally lashed out at me. Upon reaching Aberdeen, directions from a friendly local soon had me my friend’s front door.
My friend lives in an amazing home, formerly a church. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film where the protagonist is invited into Dr. No or Goldfinger’s lair, that’s what it was like. A vast open area with a couple Ducatis and a KTM motard overlooked by a huge stained glass window. I think having a Bond villain’s lair is everyone’s fantasy. Impressive!
Following his advice, we agreed to make the fishing port of Ullapool our base of operations on the west coast. We left Aberdeen the next morning headed towards, Edinburgh. As I was just following my friend rather than relying on a map, I had no idea where I was but, the sun was out and the traffic was light so, all was well in the world. The highlight of the day had to be the road on the north shore of Loch Ness. What a magnificent motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves and lots of places to pass slower traffic.
Looking north from the south end of Loch Ness
After a drenching rain, we finally reached Ullapool just after 7 P.M. A fish and chips dinner from the local chippie, a hot shower, a wee dram of scotch and it was off to never never land to sleep the sleep of the dead.
Sunset over Ullapool
The next day we headed north, using the single track road that hugged the coast.
Heading towards Achiltibuie on the Coigach coast
Encountering two other bikers heading south
The coastline reminded me of Norway at times
Despite the threatening rain, we remained dry as we approached the north coast.
Near the north coast, the Highland terrain opened up and offered vast vistas
We reached Durness on the north coast at around 4 P.M. before deciding to return to Ullapool via the main highway.
Views heading south
Dropping down into Ullapool from the north
In Ullapool, we managed to find a shop that sold cheap digital cameras so, apologies if the pictures aren’t up to snuff. We returned to our friendly hosts at our bed & breakfast just outside Ullapool for a hot shower and a nice steak dinner. After a good night’s sleep, we headed south from Ullapool, again following the coast.
The Isle of Skye hoves into view off our starboard
Belach na Ba kind of surprised me. Being so close to the coast, I wasn’t prepared for something that resembled an Alpine pass.
My friend heading downhill on his Ducati
Loch Carron. Somehow, dark and moody seems to fit this location better than bright sunshine
By 5 P.M. we were still on the west coast and my friend had been hoping to make it to Aberdeen that night! At Locharron, we bade our farewells and went our separate ways, my friend back to Aberdeen while I headed back to Ullapool for one more night before catching my ferry to the Outer Hebrides.
The following morning I woke up to more rain. I suited up and made the short ride into town to the ferry pier. Only three other bikes waiting to board. You must really want to go to get there.
By the time the ferry reached Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis at midday, the weather had improved. The rugged Isle of Lewis and Harris contain some of the oldest rock formations in Europe. While the scenery might be stark and bleak, I’ve always been attracted to these “edge of the world” type places.
Desolate isolation on the Isle of Lewis
The standing stones of Callanish whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time.
From Callanish, I turn south along the rugged western coast of Lewis
I continued south until grass started growing out of the asphalt. A sure sign I was getting near the end and would have to turn around
I should note that these aren’t ideal sport touring roads or even motorcycling roads at all but, if you have an itch for remote places, the Outer Hebrides definitely scratches that itch.
I rejoin the main highway and head to the southern part of the island known as Harris which is even more rugged than Lewis
In the town of Tarbert, I find a cozy bed & breakfast run by an elderly woman who reminds me of my mother. I’m struck by the friendliness and warmth of the Hebridean people.
The next morning, I continue south to catch another ferry, this time to the Isle of North Uist. I make a quick detour to the small island of Scalpay where I again reach the end of the road and am forced to turn around.
I’m surprised when the sun makes a rare appearance to reveal some pristine, sandy beaches on South Harris
I reach the ferry port at Leverburgh to find that I am the only motorcyclist waiting in line. You must really, really want to get somewhere to be the only motorcyclist.
The ferry ride to North Uist took about 50 minutes but, it was no simple crossing as the captain had to zig-zag his way amongst a veritable mine field of rocks and islets. He definitely earns his paycheck. Although not quite as rugged as Lewis & Harris, North Uist seems even less populated and remote
A lonely telephone box stands sentinel along a back road
North Uist is connected to the Isles of Benbecula and South Uist by a series of causeways. A local told me that during a bad, winter storm, a car and its occupants were swept off a causeway and out to sea by a rogue wave.
Another squall about to drench me blows in off the Atlantic. The wind was blowing the entire time I was on the Outer Hebrides. I can only imagine what the winter storms must be like
I made it as far south as the Isle of Eriskay off the southern end of South Uist before turning around and heading north. About 10 miles from my hotel, I was hit by yet another drenching squall. Suddenly, the Thruxton sputtered to a stop as if it had run out of fuel. Great! I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, with the rain pouring down. I peered into the gas tank and gave it a shake. I pushed the starter button again and, she fired right up! Hmmm. Maybe the carbs sucked in some rain or sumthin. I high tailed it to the hotel before she changed her mind again. That would be the only hiccup during the trip.
The next morning on the main road on North Uist (seriously, this is the main road), a herd of sheep blocks rush hour traffic. By the time they had been herded to their paddock, a four-car traffic jam had been created
I made my way to Lochmaddy where the MV Hebrides would take me on the 2 hour crossing to the Isle of Skye.
Once again, I was the only motorcycle on the boat. I didn’t see any motorcycles that looked like they were ridden by locals on the Hebrides. The few bikes I saw were obviously touring. With their roads and their weather, you’d have to be serious to be a regular motorcyclist on the Hebrides.
Once on Skye, the weather let lose with a vengeance. The forecast called for two solid days of rain so, I did what every perfeshunal dilettante does and found a nice hotel to hole up in and get some laundry done.
Eventually, the rain let up a bit but, not enuff to give me blue skies. Portree is the main town on Skye
The Cuillin Hills in the distance on the Isle of Skye
Ferry number 4 would take me from Skye back on to the mainland
The Morvern Peninsula is an isolated place of wonderfully stark scenery
In the little town of Lochaline, I stumble upon the White House restaurant that serves locally sourced meals. It was here that I had one of the best meals of the trip. These unexpected gems that you happen upon by chance are part of the allure of travel for me.
Heading back north along Loch Linnhe with ever-present threatening skies
Ferry Number 5 takes me across Loch Linnhe
Once again heading south, I make a detour thru Glen Coe. This is one of those places, like Yosemite, whose beauty stands out even in inclement weather
I continue south through the port city of Oban which kind of reminds me of small version of San Francisco. A western port with a slightly seedy underbelly. I make it as far south as Lochgilphead before a bit of rain followed by a strong, cold wind makes me stop for the night.
The next morning I head south along the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula on the A83. With a good view of the ocean and a salty sea air, it stirs memories of my days in Northern California
At Campbeltown, I fill up with fuel and turn north following the single track lane up the eastern side of the peninsula
At Claonaig, I await ferry number 6 to take me across as the Isle of Arran looms in the distance
Impressive mountains of Arran
I head east across the middle of the island and get a view of the Firth of Clyde with the Scottish mainland in the distance
A one hour ferry ride takes me back to the mainland at Androssan where I make a quick hop south to get a hotel in Troon in preparation for tomorrow’s ferry to Northern Ireland.
I wake up bright and early on Friday and make my way to the ferry terminal. This is the day before the North West 200 race in Northern Ireland and this time, I surely won’t be the only motorcyclist on the boat. I’m one of the first bikes in line and get to watch the bikes accumulate
I soon begin to notice a trend. Most of the race fans are in their 50s or close to their 50s. I see a few riders who might be in their mid-30s and none in their twenties. I’m wondering if high insurance rates are the cause of the lack of youth or maybe it coincides with the birth of the internet some twenty years ago.
Soon the signal is given and the horde of bikes is herded on board. I figure there must be between 200 and 300 motorcycles
I arrive in the port of Larne at about midday and am met by fellow Guzzisti, BelfastGuzzi from the V11lemans web site and his friend, both on Guzzis, who have kindly offered to provide me a tour of the northern coast
The North Antrim coast road doesn’t seem to get much press but, it’s a fantastic ride. Much too tight and lined with stone walls for any kind of serious sport riding but, the scenery more than makes up for that
BelfastGuzzi takes me on a road less traveled that hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of Torr Head
The picture doesn’t adequately convey the steepness of the single track lane descending the hillside
Unfortunately, race day dawns with a windy rain. I walk from my hotel down to the grassy viewing area at the Metropole and by the time I find a place to sit, the rain is diminishing
By the 11:00 starting time of the North West 200 race, the rain has stopped although the track remains wet. The 600 Supersport class leads off and Aussie Cameron Donald engages local lad Alastair Seeley in a ding-dong back and forth battle. Donald’s Honda seems to have the ponies but, Seeley’s Suzuki gets him under braking and manages to hold on for the win.
Unfortunately, during the Superbike race, a bike spews its oil on the racing line as it begins to rain again. Cleaning up the track and a bomb threat to the paddock throw a wrench into the works and, by 4 P.M. the organizers decide to call the event in the name of safety. I can’t say I blame them. following a mist of spray at 190 mph is no place to be.
Still, I’m glad I went as I got a good feel for the event and enjoyed the atmosphere. Excuse the crappy hand held photos
Entering the Metropole Section after a 160 mph straightaway
The famous railroad bridge
which leads up a slight rise into a blind right hand kink
I walked further down the coast to get a shot at the top of Black Hill
As luck would have it, the day before and the day after the race were rather nice. I mount up and head west towards Donegal in Ireland
You can hardly tell when you cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If there were any signs, I missed them. I make my way to Glenveagh National Park against a considerable head wind. I’m surprised by the sparse vegetation, almost looking a bit like New Mexico. Not what I expected of Ireland.
After about 4 hours, I reach the west coast of Ireland
I turn back towards the east and what was once a headwind, now became a tail wind…woo hoo!
A sectarian mural in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands and Che
I continue eastward on the scenic Barnes Gap scenic route thru bucolic countryside
I had planned to go see the Joey Dunlop memorial in Ballymoney the following day but the weather once again foiled my plans. High winds with gusts up to 70 mph created havoc across Northern Ireland toppling trees and making it generally unsafe to try and ride a motorcycle. The high winds also forced the cancelation of my 5 P.M. ferry so, I had to book for the following day.
The next morning, the winds had subsided and I made my way back to the ferry port in Larne.
I don’t know which is more impressive…this guy riding an Aprilia 125cc two-stroke from Scotland
or this guy who rode a BSA Lightning from Switzerland
I arrive back on the Scottish mainland at Cairnyan and begin to make my way towards England across the Scottish Borders district
After spending the night in Carlisle, I begin my last day on the road with my last bit of two-lane across the scenic Northern Pennines
At Scotch Corner, I grab lunch then hit the M1 Motorway and make the final blast down to Nottingham. Despite all that rain in the forecast, I really only had about four bouts of riding in solid rain. The rest of the times I was dodging rain showers or riding in a drizzle which wasn’t hardly like rain at all and, even had a few spells of sunshine. I had previously rated the Kiwis as the friendliest people I had encountered but, after this trip, I think the Scots and the Irish are on par with the Kiwis. Outstanding hospitality.
Mileage: 3000 miles
Travel days: 18
Rest days: 3 (due to rain & winds)
Ferry crossings: 9
Police encounters: 2
Police interaction: 0
Midge attacks: 1
During my recent visit to the U.K., they were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year. In the U.S., they would call it an Indian Summer. I dunno what they would call it in Wales. A Druid Summer?
I arrived in Nottingham and reunited with my Triumph Thruxton after a two year absence. The Trumpet fired right up as if it were only yesterday. We set off towards Wales under cement gray skies but, with an improving forecast. When I say cement gray skies, I don’t mean cement-colored but that, it actually looks like the sky is filled with cement. A thick pea soup mixture that dulls everything it touches. The grayness persisted for the entire first day of the trip so, not many pictures.
After overnighting in Brecon, Wales, day two dawned under similarly gray skies but, the weatherman was calling for patches of sun as I headed south across the Black Mountains. As I crossed over the top of the mountains, the fog was so thick that, I had to slow down considerably and had to allow a car towing a caravan (camper) to pass 😮
By 10:30 A.M., I was beginning to detect some brightness through the mist
Welsh backroads tend to be a tad narrow, down to one lane wide in places with pullouts to allow other traffic to get by
By noon, the sun was out in full force as I approached Swansea on the south coast
After getting through Swansea (a lovely looking city), I made my way to the Gower Peninsula. I stopped at the seaside village of Port Eynon for a lunch of fish & chips. I talked to a couple of local riders, one on a Harley and the other on a beautifully maintained, 30 year old Kawasaki Z900. I continued on to the town of Rhossili where, I found lodgings at a hotel overlooking Worm’s Head
Looking north from Worm’s Head to the wide expanse of beach. The little black specks in the water are surfers. Yes, surfers in Wales…in October
Sunset over Worm’s Head
The next morning, I was so taken by the beauty of the locale that I had to snap a few more pictures
Exploring the narrow roads along the coast. In the U.S. this would either be a bicycle or golf cart path. It’s hard to make out due to the brightness of the sun but, that’s the Bristol Channel on the horizon
On my third day, I left the Gower Peninsula and made my way around the Loughor Estuary, following the coast towards the Pembrokeshire National Seashore. The rugged Pembokeshire coast near the town of Bosherston
Continuing westward, there were many other people out enjoying the fine autumn weather
Looking back eastward along the narrow, coastal road
I spent the third night in Haverfordwest before continuing the next day towards St. Brides Head in far Western Wales
The village of St. Brides is as peaceful and idylic as they come. Location, location, location
Nearby, two fishermen were setting their pots
I continued north along the coast, trying to stay as close to the shore as possible by following the narrow, one-lane roads. Less sport and more touring really. Looking back south along the coast
Approaching the town of Broad Haven
Coastal farms were in abundance
A solitary stroller enjoying the fine day along one of the broad, Welsh beaches near the town of Newgale
Time was beginning to run out and I had to begin to make my way northeast towards Nottingham. The mysterious Preseli Hills from which the bluestones of Stonehenge eminate, hove into view
I rejoin the coast at Cardigan and follow the coastal road northwards past retirement and vacation homes. Near Aberystwyth, I find a nice country hotel with a splendid view and a fine restaurant. I enjoy a nice meal with accompanying adult beverages for my last night on the road. Wales is the closest place I’ve found that matches the beauty of Northern California. Sonoma County or Wales?
The next morning dawns bright and shiney and after a full Welsh Breakfast, I point the bike eastwards back towards England but, not before getting a few final pictures of the stunning Welsh countryside
The roads open up as the terrain begins to change. The Triumph falls into a relaxed pace as if trying to delay the journey’s end. It seems happiest when just puttering along at 65 to 70 mph on a lazily sweeping two-laned roads. A steady, unhurried beat like a Miles Davis composition 🙂
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. To expect 4 days of continuous sunshine in October is to be tempting fate but, somehow it was as if I flew through the eye of a needle. I get the feeling I may have to pay on a later journey.
Riding Days: 5
Rest Days: 0
Police encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: 1,000,019
Bee stings: 0
After a long layoff, a plan was hatched for a team orson reunion tour. While Greece was originally considered as a focal point, with team orson still recovering from their injuries and, with the Goose having been in mothballs for almost two years, it was decided to play it safe and stay close to home in an attempt to rediscover sport touring. The team was reunited at team orson world headquarters in Parma, Italy and was soon on the road heading southwards.
The first day would end with team orson in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The long layoff had affected team orson’s endurance and they were feeling mighty sore. In the past, team orson plowed ahead, staying in a new locale every night. A decision was made to stay at one place for a few days, making day trips before moving on.
Panzano in Chianti
Heading southwest from Siena
Someone’s Tuscan weekend bungalow
Approaching the castle in Rocca d’ Orcia
Narrow, cobblestone streets of Rocca d’ Orcia
Heading south from Rocca d’ Orcia, Monti Amiati, the highest peak in Southern Tuscany looms in the distance
Castel del Piano
Tuscan autumnal landscapes
Returning to Rocca d’ Orcia
An elderly gentleman makes his way up the streets of Rocca d’ Orcia. Team orson had been recommended a nice room nearby with an excellent restaurant
Tasty twisties were also sampled
We stopped to have lunch in this town whose name now escapes me.
Team orson was becoming all too familiar with the pleasures of Italian cuisine where, one course simply will not do. Meals were consumed with no concern given to bulging waistlines. At one lunch stop, an Italian waiter chided team orson for ordering a coke rather than wine with lunch. The fact that I was operating a motor vehicle failed to dissuade him from his stance. It was simply un-Italian. Within a week, team orson had to cut out all desserts.
Something was amiss with team orson’s itinerary. Whereas in the past, an innate sense of wanderlust had propelled us onward, now, wandering aimlessly had caused a feeling of disorientation to set in. A chance meeting with a leather shop owner in Siena changed things. After learning that we were both motorcyclists, a conversation about trips and roads ensued. He mentioned the Isle of Elba and how great the roads were there. A seed had been planted and by the next morning, team orson was heading towards the Tuscan coast.
Approaching the coast through groves of olive trees
I had planned to stay overnight at the ferry port of Piombino but, arriving by 3:00 P.M., I found that a ferry was leaving in 20 minutes. I purchased a ticket and was soon directed to the front of the line. I had barely enough time to get off the bike and snap this picture of the ferry before the load master was hollering at me to get my butt onboard
Elba lies 18 kilometers off the coast of Tuscany so, it was a relatively quick 1 hour crossing. The island is about 40 kilometers long and roughly 10 kilometers wide. As with many islands, time seems to slow down a bit and life is carried out at a more relaxed pace than on the mainland. We found a hotel on a beach and made plans to explore the island the following day.
The cove where the hotel was located
The next morning we head west from the main city of Portoferraio, following the coastal highway, Monti Capanne, the highest peak on Elba in the distance
Approaching the town of Marciana Marina on the north coast
The roads of Elba are extremely twisty but, with the heavy traffic, traveling at a sporty pace proved difficult. It seemed that a moped with flip flops and a bathing suit to sample the passing beaches might be the proper choice. After Marciana Marina however, the traffic density was reduced significantly and things began to look up.
When the road broke out of the forest onto the cliffs overlooking the west coast, I was impressed by the view. If you squinted, you might think that you were riding the Pacific Coast Highway in California
Cue Tommy Chong voice: Oh wow man! That’s California!
I stopped in the town of Pomonte for lunch. The primi platti of frutti de mari was absolutely delicious
Unfortunately, the Highway 1 similarity only lasted about 20 kilometers. Heading back east along the south coast
The next day would be spent exploring the east side of the island.
Overlooking the main city of Portoferraio across the bay
Approaching the town of Innamorata
Looking back west along the southern coast from the town of Innamorata
After two days on the island, we boarded a ferry back to the mainland. Heading across Southern Tuscany, the landscape reminded team orson of Spain
It was on this day that team orson would rediscover sport touring. From the coast, the Strada Statale 322 climbs up into the Appenines with a mix of fast, sweeping bends followed by tighter, more technical twisties. Team orson meshed into a single, strada-strafing unit, dispatching what little traffic they encountered to turn the knob to eleven. The day would end along the shores of Lago di Bolsena which, when viewed on a topographical map, is revealed to be the crater of a giant, extinct volcano.
The town of Bolsena is one of those places, lined with trees and cafes and gelaterias filled with Italians enjoying life, that make one think, “Dang, it sure would be nice to retire here”.
Leaving Bolsena the next morning, it’s just a short hop to the hill town of Orvieto
Meandering through the narrow streets of Orvieto
The mighty, mighty Goose patrols the rampart walls for any signs of approaching Honda hordes
Moto Guzzi V11 Le Mans
Leaving Tuscany, team orson enters Lazio. While not as famous as Tuscany or Umbria, Lazio still has some wonderful natural beauty.
Heading into the Grand Sasso National Park north of L’Aquila
Team orson was surprised at the quality of the twisties on the eastern fringe of the Appenine mountains. Wonderfully traffic-free, twisty roads that rivaled anything the Alps have to offer. It remains a mystery to team orson why so many focus on the Alps while leaving other fantastic roads untouched but, we are grateful for the lack of traffic
Vast wide open spaces on the northern fringe of Monti Sibillini National Park
The town of Civitella (I think)
Approaching Spoletto from the south
After almost two weeks of unflinching, sunny blue skies, a day of rain set in. With time running out, we began to head north towards home base. In Northern Tuscany, the mountains become steeper and the terrain becomes almost alpine-like.
The Northern Tuscan spa town of Bagni di Lucca where team orson found a nice little hotel overlooking the river
Sunny skies returned allowing for a beautiful ride through the Apuan Alps of Northern Tuscany
Resistance is futile. If you see the sign of a scorpion in your mirrors, surrender to your fate at the hands of an Abarth-equipped Fiat 500
More views of the Apuan Alps
Popping out on the Ligurian coast near Portofino
After a rest day in Portofino, team orson begins the final leg of the trip from the coast back to Parma. Team orson was a bit surprised to find some of the best roads on the trip were within a day’s ride from Parma.
Impressive mountain views in the Emilia-Romagna
The castle overlooking the town of Bardi
One final meal
Mileage: a paltry 3200 kilometers
Riding Days: 17.5
Rest Days: 1.5
Carabinieri encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Ferry crossings: 2
Bee stings: 1