Setting up camp in Inverness

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.

You take the high road

I don’t know if the A77 qualifies as ‘the low road’, but I’m in Scotland right now, on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond. Well, across the street, anyway. I can see it out my hotel room window. What the hell do you want?

This trip has been amazing so far. Ireland (all of it) gave me more than I had hoped for, and I wished I never had to leave. I felt so at home there. I’d have been even sadder to leave, though, if I hadn’t been looking forward to Scotland so much. Scotland, after all, was really the beginning of this trip – or, at least, the premeditation of it.

Originally, Adele suggested I tag along for the start of my friend Scott’s trip (he’s going for much longer – six months!). Scott, in turn, suggested I might want to meet him part way through, since he was going to be spending the first week or so visiting his ex’s family in England. I thought about it, and it occurred to me that I could, instead, spend that time riding around Scotland, and we could meet up when it was convenient to both of us. That was the start of the idea. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it, and thought, I might as well add Ireland, if I’m over there. And I’ve never been to Wales, either. Or to England, outside of London and a day trip to Cambridge. Gradually, the whole thing began to take on a shape very different from tagging along for part of someone else’s adventure.

So, this morning, I woke up in Northern Ireland. Looked at the time on my phone. And went back to sleep. Seriously, who gets up before six on a holiday? Eventually, I got up and set about packing up my things and loading the bike back up. I’m becoming gradually more efficient with how I load the Triumph bags, which are quite a bit smaller than the Happy Trails cases on my GS. Still, squeezing them closed is always a bit tricky.

I shaved, ate some cereal for breakfast, made some coffee, and cleaned up after myself. At a little after ten I was on my way to the Belfast ferry terminal to catch the Stena Line to Cairnryan. I stopped off for coffee on the way, and a few other bikers pulled up and we chatted. I asked if they were taking the ferry across, or just stopping for breakfast. It was the latter. They asked where I was off to, and where I was from. Essentially, they were politely sussing out whether or not I was an American. This happens a lot, and it always seems to relieve people to hear I’m Canadian, after which they mutter something about the ridiculous orange catastrophe in the White House. One of them mentioned he had relatives in Toronto. I told them I lived as far away from that as they do from Berlin, which is a pretty big understatement, actually, but still impressed them.

Anyway, they told me about journeys they’d done – the tallest bridge in the world, somewhere in the south of France – and told me I had to go to the Glenfiddich distillery. I often ignore these kinds of suggestions, but I may take this one, since it was my father’s favourite whisky.

Soon it was time for me to get to the ferry, so I said goodbye to them, put my helmet back on, and fired up the tiger. It’s an excellent bike, and I’ve largely gotten over most of my minor dislikes. I’ve learned to deal with the clusterfuck of controls operated by the left thumb, for example. I still think, given the choice, I’d pick a GS over a Tiger, but it would be a close decision, and the trade offs are real. The Tiger is just so much more zippy. Thank god for the cruise control, or I’d likely rack up a lot of fines.

The ferry ride was efficient, comfortable and pleasant, and there really isn’t much more to say about it than that. The food was far better than on the ferries back home.

Riding up the A77 toward Glasgow, I was impressed by how different the landscape and flora in Scotland are from Ireland. Scotland is just as beautiful as Ireland, certainly, but it feels more fierce about it. By turns lush and austere, there is little middle ground (in my extremely limited experience) where things are merely pretty. There were stretches that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in southwestern Alberta, if not for their proximity to a very large body of water. Others were more like my home province of British Columbia. Perhaps this is why western Canada is so full of Scottish place names. The rest of Canada, too, for that matter.

A little more than two and half hours after docking, I was here. In a hotel facing Loch Lomond. As I write, I’m watching the sunset colour the clouds in the east and cast shadows over the loch. Once again, the threat of weather hasn’t come to be. I’ve had sunshine pretty much the whole day.

A little while ago, I had dinner in the hotel bar. The most enormous piece of battered cod I’ve ever seen with excellent chips, a couple of pints of bitter, and for dessert, a dram of 18 year old Glenfiddich. Tomorrow I’ll be off to Inverness, which I’m going to use as a base from which to launch excursions into the Highlands over the next few days: to Bealach na Ba, John o’ Groats, Fort William, probably Dufftown and Tain (for distilleries) and wherever else I get a notion to go. As the signs at the edge of towns here say, Haste ye back!

****

P.s. – I want to thank all the readers who are following along, clicking like, commenting, or just reading. I know many of you, but there are obviously strangers in the mix – from Japan, Mexico, India, and Cameroon (!), among other places. I’m happy to get your feedback, if you feel like giving it. If you’d rather just read anonymously, that’s cool, too.

North

We Canadians like to think of ourselves as northern. Our national anthem even tells us we live in “the true north strong and free.” Well, I’m about five degrees further north than I would be at home, and I’m planning to go further north over the next several days.

I’m currently sitting in a suburb of Belfast called Newtownabbey. It’s a pleasant, tidy, ordinary place, and I expect most of the people here are pleasant and ordinary. They go to work, come home and eat dinner, tend their gardens, and some nights go down to a local pub for a few pints with their friends. They watch movies that make lives like theirs look like a crime. They laugh at the dumb suburbanites, who are very much like them, when they are the butt of the film’s jokes, and then they continue on as before. Wash, rinse, repeat. I know. My own neighbourhood, my own life, is not so different. And it’s not so bad, either.

I woke up early this morning, and got myself ready for my last full day in Ireland for the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow I’m off to Scotland (and hopefully not to hail storms like they had today!), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today is what we need to deal with now. Tomorrow can wait.

After getting the bike mostly packed, I went down for breakfast in the hotel. If you find yourself in Bundoran (god knows why you would – but if you do) you could do worse than to stay at Fitzgerald’s Hotel. The barman/proprietor is friendly and gregarious. He remembers something about everyone, and makes it seem like he’s talking to an old friend, even when it’s just a guest he met less than an hour ago. The staff, generally, are helpful and pleasant, if not quite as affable as their employer. The rooms are spacious, the price is pretty good. The one downside is their proximity to a country & western bar, down at the end of the block. But you can’t choose your neighbours. Thankfully, as a motorcyclist, I travel with earplugs. Even better, last orders came relatively early – around one, I think, but I fell asleep with my earplugs in, so don’t hold me to that.

Anyway, breakfast. Which didn’t come with – or didn’t have to, anyway – beans, various “puddings” (really sausages), fried tomatoes, and so on. I ordered two eggs, scrambled, and bacon. They were puzzled that I didn’t want cereal to start. As it was, they brought me a basket of toasted breads (dry, as is the fashion here), a croissant, and a small dish of butter, along with my coffee and orange juice, prior to my order. That’s more than I normally eat in the morning as it is. I can’t imagine adding cereal and yogurt to that.

Once breakfast and the hotel bill were sorted, I set out through the north of Ireland, not to be confused with Northern Ireland, although that was my destination today. The GPS led me along the northern coast, past Letterkenney and Derry, across the international border on my way to the Giant’s Causeway. The morning was grey and cool and damp, like the day before, only this time it didn’t burn off until I was in Co. Antrim, and even then, it kept the temperature to 17C.

Along the way, I noticed that sheep had come to outnumber cows, as they had in Connemara the day before. In most of Ireland, cows are the dominant livestock. Dairy, I expect, is one of Ireland’s top exports, the others being Guinness, whiskey and Irishness (a.k.a., “charm”). From the sheer number of B&Bs, I’d say their main import is tourists.

I arrived at the Giant’s Causeway a little after noon. This is no €8 tourist attraction, let me tell you. It’s an £11.50 tourist attraction. When you work out the exchange… But why? It’s a holiday. We’ll count the cost later.

Anyway, it’s a spectacular site, the result of ancient volcanic activity creating the interlocking basalt pillars that seem to form enormous stepping stones. Of course, the less prosaic explanation is that an ancient Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn MacCool) was challenged to a fight by an ancient Scottish giant named Benandonner. Fionn builds the causeway so the two giants can meet. There are similar columns from the same lava flow on the Isle of Staffa, and that may be how the myths originated. There are variations on how this turned out. No spoilers here, you can look it up for yourself. (I’d start with Wikipedia, and then look at the source materials.)

The causeway itself is a short distance from the village of Bushmill’s, where they make, of all things, Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey. The parking lot of the distillery was at least as full as the parking lot for the causeway, so I rode on past. As I did, I remembered being told that Bushmill’s was ‘Protestant whiskey’, while Jameson’s (and I assume this goes for all the others made in the Republic) is ‘Catholic whiskey’. I’ve never thought of whiskey as being associated with a religion, myself; although, it could arguably be a religion in its own right. I did notice in some of the pubs I’ve been in over the past few days that Bushmill’s, if they had any at all, was kept behind the other whiskeys. I haven’t noticed any similar religious or political tendencies with beer here. Guinness is just Irish.

There was a street festival of some kind in a village I had to pass through that required the GPS to do some recalculation of my route to Newtownabbey, where I’m staying for the night. Again, it sent me careening along narrow country roads, between overgrown hedgerows and beneath the verdant canopies of arching tree limbs, the motorcycle whirring happily along beneath me.

Tonight I sat for a while in a pub near the water and wrote postcards home. I had some ecumenical beer, and bangers and mash. It’s hard to believe this is my last night in Ireland for the next couple of weeks. I’m sad to leave it behind, but also looking forward to new roads and adventures.

The thunderstorms threatened by the weather forecast this never materialized. I hear they did in Scotland. With hail. In the Highlands. Where I will be heading tomorrow. I hope my Irish luck with the weather follows me!

Under Ben Bulben

I left David & Lin’s place this morning filled with gratitude, and just a hint of sadness that I won’t see them (or Davey) again for… who knows how long? The sky was grey with low clouds, and the air was cool and damp. The forecast said rain, but less than it had threatened when I looked yesterday. I loaded the bike and said my goodbyes, and then I was off.

David suggested going to Roundstone, on the south coast of Connemara, and I was happy to take his advice. The ride was brilliant, and it wasn’t long before the low cloud burned off and the air warmed itself in the sunshine yet again. With the exception of about a quarter hour on the bus ride to Lisburn, I’ve had exceptional weather so far on this trip. Knock on wood.

The N59 was a brilliant ride, and could, in different stretches, be renamed The Ram Road, given the number of horned sheep grazing along the verge. (In fairness, there were likely some ewes, and definitely some lambs, but those don’t alliterate.) At one point there was a ram standing on the centre line of the road staring in my direction, as if to say, “Go on, I feckin dare ye.” But I slid past without incident.

The landscape in much of Connemara is, as Oscar Wilde said of, savagely beautiful. Reminiscent of parts of the Rocky Mountains back home, and yet different enough to have a wonderful strangeness mixed with that familiarity. So different from what I’d experienced elsewhere in Co. Galway, or anywhere else in Ireland for that matter. In place of the lush vegetation I’d grown used to, here everything was rock and scrub, with only the occasional gnarled tree jutting up above the level of the ubiquitous stone walls. No hedgerows here. I have a notion the Highlands will be similarly austere and beautiful, but I’ll find that out soon enough.

After stopping for coffee and a scone (with clotted cream and raspberry jam!) at the Bogbean Cafe, I rode through Cliffden to Westport, watching the landscape transform itself back to lushness, while still retaining a certain wildness.

After a quick lunch (Irish Toasty with salad), I was back on the road and heading steadily northward, through Co. Mayo to Sligo. The N5 has wide lanes with broad shoulders, and the optimism of Irish speed limits finally felt well placed. That wasn’t encouragement enough for some drivers, though, who insisted on keeping to 80 kmh in a hundred zone. I passed them happily, and they seemed happy enough to be passed, pulling a little to the left as I zipped past.

I passed through Sligo all too quickly. I should have stuck to my plan about not booking accommodations until I arrive in a place lesson learned, which I’ll apply in Scotland (or try to).

Just outside the city, I found the churchyard in Drumcliff, where Yeats is buried. I studied Yeats in university, of course, but I had already introduced myself to his poetry in the summer before I began my undergrad in Calgary. I looked at the inscription on the stone, which he composed in his famous poem “Under Ben Bulben”:

Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by.

A motorcyclist, I thought, is as close as we come now to a horseman.

Riding past Ben Bulben, I think I understand why Yeats was so impressed. It stands out from the landscape with conspicuous enormity, much as his poetry stands out. No photograph could hope to convey the feeling – at least, not one I’m capable of taking – so I didn’t stop for it.

Tonight I’m in Bundoran, a slightly sad little seaside resort on Ireland’s northwest coast, in the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in so far. Tomorrow I head eastward, and a little further north, to the Giants’ Causeway, then down to Newtown Abbey, before leaving Ireland behind for Scotland. The threatened rain still hasn’t materialized, and I’m hoping my weather luck holds for a couple more weeks. But, as I’ve said before, I’ll take things as they come. I’m not made of sugar after all.

Getting set

Last full day at home before I fly away for the better part of June. I am mostly packed. I have a few last wee things to pick up, lunch with a friend, and my last bass lesson until fall. Then, one last night in my own bed, and tomorrow I’m off.

It still only feels half real. Well, may 2/3 real now, having looked at my bank balance. Whatever. It’s only money, and worth nothing until you use it.

I’m looking forward to waking up each morning and saying, “Where to next?” And then watching the answer unfold through the day.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people, discovering new places, finding out more about myself along the way.

I’m going to miss my wife, just as I did last month when she was traveling through Europe with her daughter. In a different way, and to a lesser degree, I’m going to miss my cat, even if she is a needy asshole a lot of the time.

But these absences will be brief, measurable in days & weeks. That their presence bookends my journey is a sign of immeasurable good fortune.

I am incredibly lucky to have the life I have, and to be able to walk (or fly & ride) away from it for a time. Most people are not nearly so fortunate. Some may have more money, but few can really claim to be richer.

One more thing I’m looking forward to: meeting up with an old friend in Dublin, at the beginning of both our separate journeys.

Anyway, enough. For now. I’ll write more later. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Wherever that takes me.

So close

Five more nights in my own bed before I hit the road – or more correctly, the skies first and then the roads in Ireland. Just a few more days to tie up loose ends at work, visit with friends & family in town, & spend as much time as possible with Adele.

I’m nervously excited, a little anxious but mostly filled with anticipation. I’ve never traveled alone except for work. I’ve never driven or ridden on the left side of the road – well, not on purpose, anyway.

My bags are mostly packed. A few last minute decisions will be made, but I’ve got most everything I’ll need ready to go. Maps, iPad, rain gear (hopefully this will go unused), first aid kit (ditto), riding gloves…. It’s a long list. I won’t bore you with all the details.

Not to say everything has gone off without a hitch. I lost my bank card, and a replacement won’t be delivered until I’m overseas. This means carrying more cash than I’d ideally like to, although I hope to rely on credit cards for most things.

When I arrive in Dublin, I’ll get a European SIM card to use while there, which should save me about $100 on data charges.

The forecast is looking like good motorcycle weather. Dry, warm (not hot), and mostly sunny. Of course, that can change quickly, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

If anyone has recommendations for pubs in Dublin and Belfast, I’d love to hear them. Same goes for the Highlands, England from Yorkshire to Bath, and the coast of Wales, although I don’t know precisely where I’ll be stopping or when after the first few days in Ireland.

What it is

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

It is often easier to say what a thing isn’t than it is to say what it is. Case in point, my upcoming trip.

When people hear that you’re going to be travelling around Ireland and Scotland – or at least, when they hear I will be – they tend to assume: whisky tour. Now, while it is entirely probable that some whisky will be consumed, that is not the point of the journey. Indeed, if my plan were to try to hit as many distilleries as possible in the relatively short time available, I would a) not be making this trip on a motorbike, and b) would have planned more time in Scotland, and less everywhere else I’ll be. And that is even granting that the place I’ll be in most is Scotland.

If I were planning a whisky tour, I would be including many places I likely won’t get to: Islay, first and foremost, since several of my favourite malts come from there, as well as Jura, the Orkneys, and several other points on the map of Scotland. Now, I will be stopping in Oban, where it is a very good bet I’ll tour the distillery, and hope to visit The Glenmorangie, The Glenrothes, and possibly one or two others, as well. But they are roadside attractions, not destinations as such.

The trip is also not primarily about motorcycling, although I will be doing a lot of it. About 5,000 km of it, give or take. I like travelling by motorcycle. I prefer it to flying, driving, taking trains, or just about any other way you can think of to get places. But it simply my preferred mode of transportation, and not the journey itself.

So what is this trip, exactly? I’ve been asking myself that, since I can see it puzzles people when I say, “yeah, there will be whisky, but it’s not why I’m going,” or, “yeah, it’ll be cool to ride a Triumph around the Highlands, but the riding’s only a part of it.” And if I say both these things to someone, they tend to change the subject. (Which, admittedly, they may have wanted to do anyway. Oh, you’re going to Britain? Cool, I guess. Where do you want to have lunch?)

Now, unlike many Canadians, I am not really that wound up about where my ancestors are from. I’m interested enough in family history, but I don’t feel any visceral (or imagined) connection to my so-called heritage. I don’t think of myself as Irish, although a good number of my mother’s family came from places like Cork and Londonderry, if you go back far enough. Others came from Wales (god knows where) and Scotland (Edinburgh, I’m told). On my father’s side, the family mythology has them from Scotland, although our family name hails from Northumberland. Still, with relatively porous borders, anything is possibly. His mother’s maiden name was Berry, so I expect that family were English (although, I’d love to believe I was cousins with Chuck). But I also don’t think of myself as Welsh, Scots or English.

I’ll be riding through places that, quite likely, my forebears decided it was best to leave. That’s kind of interesting, I think, but I’m more interested in meeting people who have stayed, especially in small villages and towns. It’ll be interesting to talk to people I’ve yet to meet, and who I may never see again after I leave.

Even this, though, isn’t really a full explanation, if such a thing exists. My initial plan was to ride around the European continent for a few weeks with a friend of mine who is on a much longer adventure, take in a concert in Poland, and then come home. Somewhere along the way, my plan changed.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do this by myself. I’ve always travelled with someone else before. I’ve never made any kind of extended journey completely on my own. That’s exciting to me, if slightly frightening, too. At first, I thought of doing just part of the trip on my own, but the more I looked into it, the more I wanted my adventure to be just mine. Not something tacked on to someone else’s journey.

Eventually, I decided to travel in Ireland and the UK for two main reasons: first, there’s a good chance of encountering English, no matter how strange it may sound at first to my ear, wherever I go; and second, after this year, the journey may not be so easy to complete. The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland may harden. And that hardening may not simply be a matter of checkpoints.

Of course, the real purpose of this journey is something I won’t really be able to put into words for several months yet. The road hasn’t even begun yet, so how can I say where it will lead?

The plan so far…

Flights booked. Bike booked. Accommodations booked for 90 per cent of the trip. Routes (roughly) mapped out.

I’ll be starting my trip in Ireland, skirting the perimeter of the island for the most part, and spending most of my time in the south. After picking the bike up near Belfast, I’ll spend a couple of nights in Dublin, giving myself some time to get used to everything being on the wrong side of the road. I’ll ride to my first accommodations, just outside of Tralee, before swinging up along the coast to Galway, where I’ll spend another couple of nights. Then I’ll be off up the coast again before ireland route

swinging east through Sligo to Belfast.

From Belfast I’ll catch a ferry over to Scotland, and ride to Dumbarton, where I’ll spend the night before heading to Oban. This will likely be the first of several stops involving a distillery tour, although I’m not planning to hit every distillery that I encounter, and haven’t included stops where many of my favoHighland route pt 1urite distillers are located (e.g., Islay). From Oban, I’ll make my way to Skye, and then up the west coast of the Highlands. I’ll decide when I reach it whether or not to ride the Bealach na Ba, or the alternate, slightly less dodgy route to Shieldaig on my way to Ullapool. From there, I’ll skirt along the coast first northward then eastward to John o’ Groats, the most northerly part of Scottish mainland.

I’ll spend the night in Wick, then head down the east coast of the Highlands to Craigellachie, conveniently located near four (at least) distilleries. From there, it’s down to Stirling on my way to Edinburgh, where I’ll meet up with a friend and former colleague.

From Edinburgh, I’ll head south along the coast into England, through Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Scarborough, and stopping in York. I am told some of the best motorcycling roads in England are to be found in Yorkshire, so I’m looking forward to those. From there, Highland route pt 2I’ll angle southwest towards Bath, where I’ll stop for the night before heading to Wales.

In Wales, I’ll ride through Cardiff to Swansea, on the south coast, former home of Dylan Thomas, where I’ll stop for the night. The next day I’ll ride up the coast to Snowdonia National Park, and spend the night in Colwyn Bay, on the north coast of Wales.

From Wales, I’ll head through the lake district back to Scotland, stopping in Moffat. I’m told it’s a beautiful town, by a good friend of mine who just happens to be named Moffat. I’m sure there’s no bias in her appraisal of the town. The next morning I’ll ride back to the ferry, and return the bike to the dealership in Belfast. A shEngland & Wales routeort bus ride will have me back in Dublin for another two nights before I board the flight for home.

If anyone has any advice – things that must be seen, things to avoid, to watch out for, and so forth, please leave comments. Over the next couple of months, as I get closer to June, I’ll talk more about the bike I’ll be riding, what I plan to pack, that kind of thing. If you’re really curious about any aspect of the planning, let me know.

If you made similar trips and want to point me to your blog, your YouTube video, or whatever, feel free to leave that in comments, too.

 

Calculated risk aversion

While waiting for Air Canada to publish their 2018 rates for shipping motorbikes around the globe (well, to Europe, anyway), I decided to do some additional checking about just how much it would cost to rent a nice new bike, rather than shipping mine. It turns out, as I expected, it costs more. But – there’s always a but – not so much more as I had thought.

This is mainly due to what’s included in the price of the rental (pretty much everything I could want), and what I’d have to pay for in addition to shipping costs to send my bike over with me (things like import fees and insurance, as well as servicing my bike, and most likely putting new tires on it).

For a mere £2,355, I can have a nice, new Triumph Tiger 800, with cases, helmet, jacket, jeans, gloves and boots, pre-programmed GPS, comprehensive insurance, roadside assistance and unlimited mileage. That’s about $1,000 more than shipping my sixteen-year-old bike, including the dangerous goods insurance required for the shipping. But that $1,000 would have a hard time covering new tires, servicing and insurance. And I still wouldn’t have roadside assistance, or as they call it in the UK, ‘breakdown cover’.

It might sound strange coming from someone who rides a motorcycle, but I’m fairly risk averse. At least, when the calculations associated with that risk make me so. I don’t expect I would break down on my bike, but I could. It’s old, things fail. I know this all too well. And when things fail on an aging BMW, the cost can be depressing.

Now, I also don’t expect to break down riding a nice (relatively) new Triumph Tiger, but if I do, it’s nice to know that someone else will be picking up the cost.

This also takes a lot of the complication out of my trip preparations. I don’t have to fill out a lot of paperwork, clear a motorcycle through customs, arrange to be at the airport the day before the bike flies (which would be the day before I do). I just get myself to the airport, fly to Dublin, catch a bus to the rental shop and start the fun. At the end I just do that in reverse.

Renting the bike also removes a lot of uncertainty and risk associated with cost. My budget can be more defined, and this makes planning a lot easier. And easy is good.

Of course, if I were going to be riding for longer than I am, bringing my bike would be a no-brainer. Just as a shorter trip would have removed that option from consideration. As it is, this looks like the Goldilocks solution to my question.

L

The calendar flipped and I hit a zero on my personal odometer. But it’s just a number. If I use Roman numerals, it looks smaller than the number that preceded it, at least in terms of characters used: L.

To mark the year, my wife suggested I do a long road trip in Europe, and I agreed that would be a great idea. (Yes, she is the best. Back off, she’s taken!)

After several weeks of planning, I’ve got the rough outlines of the trip in shape. I’ll fly my bike into and out of Dublin. I’ll ride down through Co. Cork, and up the west coast of Ireland – the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ – then across to Belfast. From there I’ll catch a ferry to Scotland, ride the ‘North Coast 500’ route around the northern Highlands, then down through England to Wales, where I’ll catch another ferry back to Ireland for the flight home. All told, it will be just under four weeks.

As noted, it’s a rough outline. For the most part I haven’t decided where I’ll stop or stay. My plan is to stick mostly to smaller places, outside of the larger cities (with a few exceptions), and to keep my riding time down to four or five hours a day (rather than the eight to twelve that have been my habit on past road trips), so that I can spend more time in places. It will all be new to me, as I won’t be stopping anyplace I’ve been before. It’ll be an adventure.

I plan to write about it all here. I’ll include photos, and (if I decide to acquire a GoPro, or something like it) maybe some videos, too.

If you have tips, recommendations, warnings, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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