I’m in a cozy little apartment, attached to a B&B that’s run by a fantastic couple, Maggie & Malcolm, near the centre of town on the castle side of the river in Inverness, the gateway to the Highlands. At least, it will be that for me. I had originally planned just to ride from one place to the next, finding a new place to stay each night, but my experiences on this trip so far have demonstrated there’s a clear benefit to having a hub that you ride out from and return to each day, so that you’re not carrying everything with you everywhere you go. And in many cases, for me, this means literally carrying (and wearing) things I wish I didn’t have to, simply because I have no place to store them safely while I wander around on foot. For the next few days, Inverness will be that safe place.
But here again, I’m getting ahead of myself. I should be writing first about the ride from Loch Lomond to Inverness, before getting into conjectures about the next few days. And that ride was brilliant.
But before that, let me say a few words about Scottish breakfasts. They are the most ridiculous thing imaginable, with the possible exception of Irish breakfasts. In fact, they are very nearly the same thing: egg, back bacon, sausage (banger), beans (boring tinned beans, not Mexican refried beans with chiles, or American BBQ pit beans, or even pork & beans in molasses, but sad little white beans in a sea of bland, vaguely tomotoey sauce), black pudding (a.k.a., blood sausage), haggis (in place of the Irish breakfast’s white pudding), potato scones (which are not even a little scone-like), a charred tomato, and, of course, toast. This was included in the price of my hotel last night. I did my best.
Actually, with the exception of the black pudding, which I find more than a little challenging (I had an easier time with tripe, tongue and tendon at dim sum, but that’s another story), and the objectionable beans, and the potato scone (which tastes like someone mashed up potatoes, formed a patty, dredged it in potato flour and fried it)… except for those few things, it was pretty good. Surprisingly – to me, anyway – the haggis was the best part. And while it was, taken as a whole, far too much food first thing in the morning, it did keep me full until about 3 in the afternoon.
Anyway…. With breakfast working its way slowly through my digestive tract, I packed up the bike and was soon on the road again. Although, not before I saw this beautiful old Jag in the car park, and decided I had to take a picture. (Do not adjust your set. It really was that weird creme de menthe colour.)
The A82 is a motorcyclist’s dream. Or it would be, if not for the all to frequent convoys of cars and vans and caravans, motorhomes and motor coaches, consistently clogging up the artery. Fortunately, like the Irish, the Scots are good about being overtaken, and the Tiger is happy to overtake anyone. Have I mentioned how zippy this bike is? I feel like I have to add some hesitation of my own, since the bike has none. Twist the throttle and go!
The landscape, too, is more than just a little impressive. Loch Lomond, for example, is stunning to see. Like Lake Louise back home, but without so many ostentatiously tall mountains to distract you. The road hugs the shoreline, more or less, for several miles, and it makes for a beautiful ride, the bike tilting from side to side around the bends. The weather started well, too, if not so fine as it had the previous week or so. High cloud covered most of the sky, but scatterings of blue showed through, and the sun had enough of gaps to peak through and take the edge off the morning air. This is not really farm country, and there were no cows or horses, but here and there were cloud-shaped sheep grazing lazily on the bright green mirror of the sky. This gave way to heavily wooded areas, towering oaks an birches lining the roadsides and stretching out their limbs towards each other, the shadows of their leafy branches mottling the pavement, as I swept northward.
A sign announced that I’d entered the Highlands. The landscape became more jagged. At one point, a boulder at the roadside with a tree growing defiantly out of it. By this time, the cloud had formed an iron grey ceiling, the temperature dropped, and I had to zip the vents on my jacket closed. I switched to my regular glasses, too, as it had become too dark for sunglasses. The sheer, in-your-face beauty of it all was utterly striking. Like the Canadian Rockies, but on a slightly smaller scale. Or maybe just concentrated.
I stopped for coffee in Fort William. It was normally lunchtime, but I still wasn’t hungry. The clouds had broken up, and it had become warmer, so I switched back to my sunglasses and re-opened the vents in my jacket. It wasn’t long, though, before I regretted that. I’d heard the castle that was featured near the start of the movie Highlander (one of the best B-movies ever made, in my opinion, although you’ll want to avoid the director’s cut, if you can, and just watch the original theatrical release). The GPS claimed to know the way, but instead took me to a posh hotel. Maybe I’ll see it another day.
The A82 eventually skirts what is arguably the world’s most famous (or infamous?) loch, that being Loch Ness. The only things to be found resembling monsters, though, were the previously mentioned convoys, slithering serpentinite around s-curves. I decided to stop and take a picture of myself at a lay by, and thought briefly about looking for the house where Jimmy Page lived. (He hasn’t lived there for quite some time, I’ve learned from Google, and the place was all but destroyed in a fire several years ago. But maybe I’ll stop by Bron-Yr-Aur when I’m in Wales.)
It wasn’t long afterward that I arrived in Inverness. I love the feel of the old city. So much stone. The buildings, and many of the roads, made with it. The River Ness cuts through it, with Inverness Castle on on bank, and Inverness Cathedral on the other. Talk about separation of church and state! I imagine medieval lords and bishops glaring at each from their respective sides of the river, thinking, One of these days!
But in more contemporary terms, I checked into my place. I showered and changed and went out to find dinner. I did. It was light, small and delicious. I followed it with a 12 year old Tomatin, which I’d never actually heard of before. It was nice, fairly sweet, very smooth, almost no peat (which to my mind is a failing). I picked up some things to make for breakfast.
Tomorrow, I plan to ride either to Applecross or John o’Groats, to be determined, sort of, by weather forecasts. Wednesday, I may take the bus and/or train to some distilleries (so I don’t have to ride back from them). I mentioned that idea to Malcolm, and he kindly printed off some info about a distillery bus tour from Inverness. Unfortunately it’s only on Friday, and my plan was to be gone by then. But we’ll see. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.