Orson’s Travel Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic

Western Scotland & Northern Ireland

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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!

Stained glass

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

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

Ullapool sunset
The next day we headed north, using the single track road that hugged the coast.

Heading towards Achiltibuie on the Coigach coast

Coigach coast

Go north

Continuing northwards

North

Encountering two other bikers heading south

Bikers

The coastline reminded me of Norway at times

Coast

Coastt

Despite the threatening rain, we remained dry as we approached the north coast.

Loch

Near the north coast, the Highland terrain opened up and offered vast vistas

Vast

Open

Lake

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

South

Southh

Southhh

Southhhh

Dropping down into Ullapool from the north

Ullapool

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.

Glen

Vista

Mountain

The Isle of Skye hoves into view off our starboard

Sea view

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

Belach na Ba

Loch Carron. Somehow, dark and moody seems to fit this location better than bright sunshine

Loch Carron

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.

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.

Hebrides ferry

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

Lewis

The standing stones of Callanish whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time.

Callanish

From Callanish, I turn south along the rugged western coast of Lewis

Rugged

West

Westt

Westtt

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

Grass

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.

Pointing north

West coast

I rejoin the main highway and head to the southern part of the island known as Harris which is even more rugged than Lewis

Harris

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.

Scalpay

Cross Harris

I’m surprised when the sun makes a rare appearance to reveal some pristine, sandy beaches on South Harris

Beach

Sandy

Sandyy

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.

Leverburgh

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

North Uist

Sunny

A lonely telephone box stands sentinel along a back road

Phone

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

Squal

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

Sheep

I made my way to Lochmaddy where the MV Hebrides would take me on the 2 hour crossing to the Isle of Skye.

MV Hebrides

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.

Rain

Eventually, the rain let up a bit but, not enuff to give me blue skies. Portree is the main town on Skye

Portree

The Cuillin Hills in the distance on the Isle of Skye

Cuillin Hills

Ferry number 4 would take me from Skye back on to the mainland

Skye ferry

Argyll

The Morvern Peninsula is an isolated place of wonderfully stark scenery

Morvern

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

Loch Linnhe

Ferry Number 5 takes me across Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe ferry

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

Glen Coe1

Glen Coe2

Glen Coe3

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

Kintyre1

Kintyre2

Kintyre3

At Campbeltown, I fill up with fuel and turn north following the single track lane up the eastern side of the peninsula

Kintyre4

At Claonaig, I await ferry number 6 to take me across as the Isle of Arran looms in the distance

Arran1

Arran2

Impressive mountains of Arran

Arran3

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

Firth of Clyde

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

Ferry queue

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

Bikes

Northern Ireland

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

Guzzi

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

Antrim1

BelfastGuzzi takes me on a road less traveled that hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of Torr Head

Antrim2

The picture doesn’t adequately convey the steepness of the single track lane descending the hillside

Antrim3

Antrim4

Antrim5

Antrim6

Antrim7

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

Metropole

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

Metropole entry

The famous railroad bridge

Bridge

which leads up a slight rise into a blind right hand kink

Kink

I walked further down the coast to get a shot at the top of Black Hill

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

NI

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.

Glenveagh

After about 4 hours, I reach the west coast of Ireland

Rosses

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

Sectarian

I continue eastward on the scenic Barnes Gap scenic route thru bucolic countryside

Barnes Gap

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

Aprilia

or this guy who rode a BSA Lightning from Switzerland

BSA

I arrive back on the Scottish mainland at Cairnyan and begin to make my way towards England across the Scottish Borders district

Scottish Borders

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

Pennines1

Pennines2

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.

Trip stats:

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

Route Maps:

Scotland

NI Map

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Madeira, Portugal

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April ’06

Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic approximately 300 miles off the coast of Morocco. I first read about the island’s beauty about 20 years ago. It must have been from a motorcycle magazine because that’s all I read back in those days. I had my first visit two years ago when I travelled there with the girl friend unit. Although we were in a rental car, I was impressed with the twisty mountain roads and made a note to myself that I must return and ride the roads on two wheels.

Last week, I got my wish. I made arrangements to rent a BMW 650GS and explore the island’s backroads. Only 36 miles long and 18 miles wide, Madeira squeezes in some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery. Dramatic mountain peaks and valleys tumble down to an ocean covered in an abundance of exotic flowers.

Overcast skies greeted me on my first morning as I took delivery of the bike. Not wishing to risk rain in the central highlands, I headed for the north coast, skirting the mountains. Even though I was avoiding the mountain peaks, the road was still pleasingly sinuous. My first view of the northern coast was from the ridgeline high above the sleepy fishing village of Porto da Cruz.

Dropping down into Porto da Cruz under overcast skies.

From here, I would snake my way along the treacherous coastal road. Before the influx of European Union funds helped build a modern highway system, this was the only way to travel from town to town. Now, they have built a modern freeway comprising of a series of tunnels that greatly reduces travel time. While most of the locals use this modern, new highway system, this leaves the old road free for local villagers and motorcycle-crazed foreigners. If you’re a flower lover, it would be impossible to ride these roads. You would wind up so overcome by the intoxicating display of flora that you would soon drive off a cliff. Passing through small towns, dogs claimed patches of roadway as a good place to take a snooze, testament to the amount of traffic. Old men feigned indifference, as if they hadn’t been sitting and watching traffic go by for the better part of the morning.

Native Flora. These bad boys were growing all over the island.

The little Beemer proved itself well suited to the Island’s rugged terrain. As most of the island’s backroads were so twisty, the 650cc single cylinder Rotax powerplant was more than capable. What little slow moving traffic I encountered was dispatched with alarming alacrity, with the engine emitting a properly angry exhaust note. During the short spurts on the island’s freeway, the bike easily kept up with all but the fastest four wheelers. The heated grips proved to be a blessing in the highlands of the interior and the suspension absorbed the sometimes rough patches.

Looking westward along the northern coast, a torturous road heads inland.

I found a seaside hotel near the town of Santana with awesome views of the coast so, I decided this would be a good place to stay the night. The small dimensions of the island meant that each nights stop might only be some 5 miles from the previous night’s stop. Even so, I still managed to burn up a tank of gas a day. The skies cleared at sunset providing a promise for better weather to come.

The view at sunset from the hotel’s walkway.

The following night’s destination would be another quaint fishing village on the northern coast named Seixal, in the heart of the famed Madeira wine growing area. I followed the coastal road but took every opportunity to explore any roads I encountered heading up into the mountains. These inland roads provided scenery just as dramatic as the coastline. Mountainous terrain shot straight up into the sky at dizzying rates. Farmers took every chance to cultivate any plot of available terrain, with terraced plots in every conceivable nook and cranny.

Road heading inland.

The coastline near Sao Vicente.

Some of these backroads had also benefited from E.U. funds with a new coat of pavement making for some great curve strafing. Thank gawd for the E.U. funds. The last section of coastal road before reaching Seixal was clawed from the precarious cliffside making for a dramatic view of the Atlantic. I enjoyed this section so much, I returned and rode it again at a somewhat more spirited pace. Discretion being the better part of valor, my throttle hand managed to keep a prudent rate.

The road to Seixal.

Finally arriving in Seixal, I made my way to the bed & breakfast, my home for the next 2 nights. It was a charming place overlooking the small harbor, built in 1867 and recently renovated. I enjoyed the local favorite, blackfish with banana along with some of the local wine. I left the windows open taking in the fresh ocean breezes and fell asleep to the sound of the crashing waves below.

After a refreshing night’s sleep, I decided to make my way around the west coast of the island. By mid-morning, the ocean mist had burned away and I had clear blue skies. Porto Moniz lies in the Nortwest corner of the island. They have some neat salt water bathing pools amidst the crashing waves. Purdy cool. From Porto Moniz, the road climbs straight up.

The road climbing out of Porto Moniz.

Before long, it seems as if I had been teleported directly to Northern California. The road cut a path through a grove of eucalyptus trees looking for all the world like the section of the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Bolinas. Of all the places I’ve ridden, this section came the closest to matching the PCH for twistyness and beauty. Unfortunately, it only lasted for a few kilometers. The entire stretch of road along the western coast was extremely twisty yet traffic free. Even when stopping to take pictures, it was rare to see even one vehicle go by.

I returned to Seixal via the inland route across the highlands. The interior of the island resembles the Scottish highlands with no trees and scrub vegetation. The roads here also opened up vaguely reminding me of the mountain section of the Isle of Man TT course, bringing out my inner Mike Hailwood. Ocean mist rising along the coastal ridges and white marker posts added to the TT effect and only served to fuel my Mike the Bike fantasies.

Releasing my inner Mike Hailwood.

The next day would unfortunately be my last on the island. I had a 5:00 P.M. flight back to Lisbon so, I had to have the bike back by about 3:00 P.M. I took another route from Seixal across the highlands to the center of the island. The going was a bit chilly at the higher elevation but not enough to deter my progress. Approaching Funchal, I made a quick detour to the inland town of Curral das Freiras. What a great decision that turned out to be. The town lies in the middle of a dramatic valley that resembles Yosemite. Valley walls rise up in all directions to dizzying heigths. Unfortunatley, team orson’s ever-whining team photographer had allowed his camera’s memory to run out! So…no pictures from Curral das Freiras. 😦

Another road winds its way along the northern coast.

Typical winding inland road.

I made my way back to Funchal only to get myself lost on the city’s backstreets. This was great! I was going to miss my flight and get fired for being late back to work! Finally, I was able to come upon the freeway and managed to regain my bearings. With military-like precision, I pulled into the bike rental place with minutes to spare. A quick jaunt to the airport and I was soon being whisked on my way back home.

All in all, with it’s incredibly scenic coastline and wonderful array of flowers, Madeira makes for a terrible motorcycling destination. With all the distractions, it’s difficult to keep your eyes on the road! Therefore, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Madeira as a motorcycling destination. It’s bad. Don’t go there.

Map of Madeira.

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April ’04

I’ve lost the original text for this trip report so, I’ll try to draw on my sketchy memory…

I departed from my friend’s house near Porto, Portugal heading north towards the Spanish frontier.

Narrow streets of Ponte de Lima…

First glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean…

Sometime after lunch, I arrive at the river crossing just a mile or so inland from the Atlantic Ocean that separates Portugal from Spain.

Boarding the ferry to Spain…note geezer in red cap frozen in his tracks by the sight of a Guzzi in the wild 🙂

Views of the Atlantic coastline…

I believe this is the fishing village of Cangas. The inhabitants of Galicia are descendants of the Celts who inhabit Scotland and Ireland. Galicians even play a form of bagpipes.

Around 5 P.M. I find a small hotel near Vigo. I think I had seafood for dinner 🙂

The next morning I proceeded to head north, sticking to the coast as much as I could. I had hopes of finding a coastal road that would approach California’s Pacific Coast Highway but, alas…it wasn’t to be. Although there were stretches that were undeniably beautiful, the coast was too populated. Every time I seemed to get a clear run, I would enter another small town and would have to reduce my speed.

I stayed another night at a hotel along the coast. I believe it was in Rianxo. I was just beginning to think that this would be a lovely place to live…then it started to rain. There’s a reason Galicia is so green. Fortunately, although the skies were ominous, I only received some scattered showers. I made my way northwards to Cape Finisterre before turning around. Finisterre means end of the earth as they must have thought in the days before Columbus discovered the New World.

Stormy day on Cape Finisterre…

I made my way inland and started to head back to the south through Santiago de Compostela and then onwards to Ourense. I managed to drive in circles near Ourense before I found a cabbie who showed me the right road back to Portugal 🙂

I stayed the night in a restored monastery. It was quite nice but seemed HUGE as I was the only guest.

The next day would be my last day on the road. I found my way back into Portugal and back to Porto. Galicia and Northern Portugal are a great motorcycling destination as they are far off the tourist radar and have some great motorcycle roads. I would definitely like to return some day.

Galicia Route Map

Written by orsonstravels

March 2, 2009 at 7:09 pm