Hebrides Ride: Day One and a Half

June 10, 2013
By Danny Morris
What a place to be sailing  the refreshing air was a good distance from the skies of London.
What a place to be sailing, the refreshing air was a good distance from the skies of London.

I packed the bike, called my friends who had already left Nottinghamshire that afternoon and made their way up to the Cumbrian Lakes. I set-off at 6:45 p.m. It was dry; the sun was setting, the London traffic calmed as l hit the motorway and pushed north the 290 miles. I was totally annoyed with the last 24 hours and hassles with the bike. I was looking forward to getting away more than ever now and just glad l was on en-route. Luckily, it was an easy run to to Cumbria – past Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool before finally pulling off the M6 motorway near Penrith. l made my way slowly through the dark country lanes towards a campsite set within a beautiful valley called Great Langdale. It is picture perfect and has a great campsite run by the National Trust. But as you can imagine – l arrived at night and it could have been anywhere on the planet, it was so dark.

Cumbria is a beautiful part of England, a must-see for international visitors, with its stunning scenery. It is famous for walkers rambling along mountainsides overlooking the Great Lakes and across the trodden paths of the Pennine-way – running some 270 miles through the Derbyshire Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland National Park and ending at a small village called Kirk Yetholm, just inside the Scottish borders. If you like hiking, then this one is for you – it’s certainly on my bucket list! However, quite understandably, the greatest draw to this region is the great Donald Campbell who was famous for his land speed record attempts across both land and water during the 1950s and 1960s. It was on the morning of the January 4, 1967 that his ill-fated attempt at the water speed record was crushed when his boat Bluebird K7 flipped-up and disintegrated in excess of 480 (km/h) on Lake Coniston. Miraculously, his body was found some 30 plus years later, semi-preserved at the bottom of Lake Coniston due to the cold, muddy conditions and finally laid to rest in the local cemetery in September 2001. Bluebird was also brought to the surface all those years later and is currently undergoing restoration to make her fit to be put back onto the water as a lasting legacy for the great Campbell name. My excitement is that the National Trust have allowed that Bluebird be given permission to breeze across Lake Coniston once more, when she is completed for a few final laps in Donald’s memory. I am hoping that this event will take place soon, as it will give another great reason to return to the Cumbrian Lakes, so l can personally witness a small chapter of British history.

Nick and Blag wrapping-up the tents before we depart Great Langdale and head to Port of Oban.
Nick and Blag wrapping-up the tents before we depart Great Langdale and head to Port of Oban.

I roamed the back roads of Great Langdale before stumbling across the campsite, spotting my friends bikes (KTM 640 & 990 Adventure), parked my bike up and sprinted into the dark distance using a small flashlight to guide the way to the local pub. Nick and Blaggy had already sunk a few beers, it was 11:30 p.m. and had taken the best part of 4.5 hours to get to the pub and last orders had been called. Doh, gutted again! Nick kindly let me finish his pint of bitter, before we made our way back to the tents. I climbed into Blaggy’s tent, it was a squeeze all right with all the gear and Nick got into his cheese-wedge shaped tent. Blaggy poured the whiskey and we had a laugh and agreed that the alarm would be set for 4:30 a.m. to make the 1:40 p.m. ferry from Oban to the Isle of Barra, the southern most island of the Outer Hebrides. I promptly pushed my earplugs into position, having known Blaggy for way too many years, tent sharing with this guy meant minimal sleep. He’s the kind of guy that can drop to sleep in seconds on his back and would let loose a deep snore and strong gas at any point, so it’s a shame l didn’t pack the canary. True to his past, l felt the rumble of Blag next to me as l climbed deeper into the sleeping bag trying to hide from the noise and in the distance l could hear the faint whistles from Nicks tent. We were all cooked!

I drifted to sleep and awoke three and half hours later by the alarm. We got dressed and could have all stayed in for another few hours, but we manned up and pulled the tents down, wrapped up and set off out through Langdale and onwards toward Oban. We used the Satellite Navigation for guidance, but only used it to make sure we missed the motorways and headed along quiet roads, sweeping bends and followed the quintessential patchwork countryside towards Glasgow. It was a great start to the morning, dry and fresh, though we were all really hungry. Even though we said this trip was about wild camping and the great outdoors – we soon pulled over after an hour’s riding when we caught sight of the ‘Golden-M’ in the distance (MacDonald’s). It was coffees, breakfasts all-round and extra double sausage muffins – wild eh? If you had seen Blaggy and Nick demolish their food, you’d have seen the wildness they brought to the table.

After a good feed, we were back on the bikes, heading north out of Carlisle, pushing towards Dumfries, towards Kilmarnock before pulling over in a quiet village for a re-fuel, chocolate bars and cans of Red Bull to help re-vive. We were all pretty tired. The fresh air coupled with the lack of sleep was killer, but we were all totally happy to be away on the bikes and having a mini-adventure. We pushed into the Glasgow suburbs through the traffic, but you can be rest assured we weren’t pulling over to ask the average Scottish male directions. He’d have eagerly given each of us a Scottish kiss, or head butt as it’s globally recognized. We crossed over the Erskine Bridge and headed towards Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, cutting along the A82. We then picked-up the A85 from Crianlarich and made the final 40-mile push into Oban. The sun was shining and we were all grinning ear-to-ear. The weather was perfect the whole day. Considering the last five weeks gave a mixture of good and bad weather, we were totally happy to feel sunshine sinking through our bones. We pulled along the coastline and down the hillside into the Port of Oban and straight to the ferry terminal. It had been another 275 miles and around six hours in the saddle. We grabbed the tickets and boarded the ferry, strapping the motorbikes down and headed up to the deck to find a seat and get us comfortable for the five-hour ferry ride.

The ferry was huge, crammed full with tourists and locals, but totally comfortable. We set sail, leaving Oban in the distance as we pushed along the ‘Sound of Mull’ and made our way through the Inner Hebrides. It was a really beautiful feeling, the ferry at full pace, the weather fresh, bright and warm as we pushed past the stunning landscapes and perfect little town of Tobermory, set back on the Isle of Mull and somewhere south in the distance, Corryvreckan – the world’s third largest whirlpool. It was a few years back since l last stayed in Tobermory with friends and remember the Scottish Malts very well indeed. You tend to sweat them out first thing in the morning after a full English breakfast and a greasy slice of black pudding.

The ferry journey was a great way to relax, l was on the deck taking photographs, but somewhat disturbed at watching this old guy walk around with his binoculars glued to his eyeballs. Seriously, he never took them away; l pointed him out to Nick who promptly called him a bulb. Nick had a new word for the trip and everyone was a bulb. Later on, Blaggy and Nick were sat downstairs watching TV, so we decided to eat some food together and let me tell you l can eat, but these two can totally eat… They had bigger appetites than Homer Simpson – and similar-sized bellies – so fish, chips and peas went down a treat! We all felt pretty shattered and with the slight motion from the ocean, it was obvious we weren’t going to be doing a great deal on this leg of the journey, but sit, relax and wait. It took some 4-5 hours before we could finally see the Outer Hebrides as we gradually made our way across towards Barra, then turning in and docking at the beautiful picturesque Castlebay. It was a fine evening as we rolled the bikes from the front of the ferry; we rode up the hillside and looked back at the beautiful bay. The Atlantic Ocean and the most central point of the bay dominated by the pretty Kisimul Castle, the ancient seat of Clan Macneil.

Scotland is a super small country, but l imagine that everybody around the world who has the pleasure of visiting this place must feel completely at home with the people, the food, the scenery. It really is a world-class destination to visit in so many ways. I was glad to be away, grinning from ear-to-ear as we pulled around the east side of the island and into a small campsite (Bolnabodach Croft 183, Camp Site), which seemed to have all of the main facilities we required for the evening. It was $10 each for the night. We fixed-up our tents, had a warm shower and shared a few stories about the journey. We got talking to a pretty Scottish girl camping with her boyfriend; everything was going okay till Blaggy asked the girl – ‘Are you 40 years old then?’ He’d seen the sign hanging in their old Land Rover, which they had just driven up from Inverness. As the tumbleweed rolled across the deck during the minutes silence, she turned and said, ‘No, the old Land Rover is 40 today!’ We walked-away, Blaggy chewing on his fist, before we decided to take a walk down to the local hotel and keep out of the way. The temperature was cooling as we took a stroll along the coast and gradually lost the light, before dropping into the Heath Bank Hotel. As you can imagine, it wasn’t tourist season and with only a small population on this island, we pretty much had the place to ourselves and were totally ready for a hot meal.

We soon found out that they weren’t cooking, so with every pint of beer drank we shared two-bags of bacon chips, two-bags of scampi chips and salted peanuts (Wild camping eh?). It was crazy really, because with all the salt, we just kept ordering more beer to quench our thirst. We were all ready for a good night’s sleep, and so headed back in the dark. The wind had picked-up, it was brisk wind and felt pretty good to finally get into our tents and hit-the-hay. Earplugs inserted – l had a feeling l would be the last to sleep.

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