All posts for the month April, 2015

We left the Habitat Bunkhouse in Ballanter after we made our own breakfast of cereal and milk (purchased the night before from the local Co Op) and headed for Aberdeen to visit Vince’s relative. Whilst there we met Derek and his Harris Hawk, Zeus. They are one of two falconers working in Scotland as part of a Seagull control program. The Harris Hawk ( who originate in Argentina and are purchased by the falconer at 26 weeks and then become food imprinted) just fly around and their presence has two effects, firstly if a Seagull is carrying an egg and it gets frightened the egg dies, and secondly if nesting the egg must be incubated constantly, if left for more than 30 min it will die. So the bird of prey just by flying around scares the Seagulls and helps control the population. It was very interesting to talk with Derek who told us it takes 10 years to become a master falconer and he has been doing it for 3 years, he has had Zeus for 1 year. Very cool!

We arrived in Aberdeen about 10.30am and left about 2.30pm heading south towards Edinburgh via Perth.  Unfortunately the motorway did not pass through Perth itself so we didn’t stop off and the traffic for Edinburgh was so horrendous we decided to by pass it as well. As it was the A1 had a truck break down and it took us over 2 hours to travel just 8 miles…..very scary on a bike in such heavy traffic …. and testing of our patience as some drivers got so close they were almost touching my left leg….I gave him an Aussie one finger salute and told him he was an idiot!

We had intended to camp tonight for the first time, but by the time we arrived in Berwick Upon Tweed it was around 7.30pm and we were very hungry as all we had eaten all day since breakfast was a Mars Bar at a fuel stop ( more about that in the Ooops post) . So we eventually found a B&B at Castle Vale House, run by Margaret and Justin…who kindly gave us a reduced rate for the night (of 60 Pounds instead of 80) as we arrived so late. We took a walk along the river and found that most places were closed for food …it was around 8.15pm…but we eventually found an Indian place ….very expensive at around 45 pounds for two dishes and drinks and some papa dams ( which we thought were bing offered complimentary!) ….any port in a storm.

So all in all an up and down kind of day today!

We got up early and sneaked down to the sign for John O Groats….and got a photo of our bike there ….which you are not really suppose to do …but hey ….I won’t tell if you won’t!

We left JOG at 8.30am and went to nearby Duncansby Head where we saw the lighthouse and the Old Stokes (rock formations). The wind was howling and very cold. Next we visited Dunnet Head  which is the most Northerly part of the British mainland, whilst JOG is generally thought of as the most northerly point…it actually isn’t ….so we walked to the top of Dunnet Head and although you had an almost 360 degree view it was so windy and cold it made it impossible to stay there very long.

Either way you call it …we have been to the top of Scotland!

We headed westward back along the North Coast and then turned inland and went back along different back roads until we eventually met up with the A9 and travelled back via Inverness, through the Cairngorm National Park…along the Malt Whiskey Trail to Ballater in Aberdeenshire. It’s near Balmoral Castle and has a very Royalist feel about it. We have come this way to enable us to visit Vince’s Aunt who lives in Aberdeen ….as we try to get back on track with our schedule as best we can.

John o Groats

We were hopeful to be moving on and said our thanks and goodbyes to Moira and of course Archie and Gigi ( the golden retrievers). After Dr Mike Wells gave me the all clear and discharged me from Raigmore Hospital (he was so impressed as he thought I would be at least another week) we were finally back on the road …..

Off to John O Groats …we left Inverness and headed North on the A9 and then went inland to Helmsdale and explored the back roads up to Melvich on the coast…from there we turned eastward travelling through the various small villages along the coastline through Thurso, Dunnit and finally onto our destination of John O Groats. We were very excited as ever since watching Borman and McGregor it has been a goal to tick this box! Whilst there we met another biker rider, Wil and a hiker, Andrew. We ended up all having a meal together and sharing stories of our travels. It was a really special time for Andrew who had just finished walking from Lands End to John O Groats….so we were thrilled to help him celebrate….CONGRATULATIONS on such an achievement! It’s lovely when people make their dreams come true!


CairnGorm Summit

After our distillery visit, Gordon the tour guide at Dalwinnie, suggested we explore the Funicular Railway in Avimore that goes up Cain Gorm Mountain as it was such a beautiful day and the sun was shining so the views would be spectacular. So in true Vince fashion ….we decided to “Give it a Crack”.

It didn’t take us very long to get there back along the A9 and once we purchased out tickets we went and had some lunch. The funicular carriages ran every 15 minutes and it took about 10 minutes to get to the station at the top. We were surrounded by skiers and snowboarders of all ages and there was a chairlift operating in the background. Across the piste we could see a track leading up the mountain towards the summit…..and you guessed it ….Vince decided to “Give it a Crack!” .    I swear he thinks I’m Tomb Raider Material…..dam near killed me and I thought I might not make it several times…as it just went on and on and on…..but Whoo Hoo! What a feeling when I finally did reach the summit to meet Vince…. who was already there ahead of me…..1245m high and what a view ….awesome!

Coming down was easier on the heart but harder on the knees and I made it back ahead of Vince to hold what we thought was the last carriage (it was actually the second last)…until he got there….all good!

All in all an amazing and enjoyable day….we got back to our B&B in Inverness around 5.30pm and headed off to the Castle Hotel for a well earned Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding dinner….yum!

Things went okay for me in my riding gear …maybe a bit more padding required to cushion those few areas still tender and healing over…..but a moving forwards day….we are now planning how to get back on schedule!

I had to put some dressings on a few areas to be able to wear my bike riding gear ….but all good!

After breakfast we saddled up and set off for a day trip to Dalwhinnie Distillery …the highest distillery in Scotland …and the coldest with avg temp 6 degrees C . We took a tour with Gordon, who was extremely knowledgeable and engaging. We got to sample the 15 year old Whiskey and got a keepsake dram glass. Afterwards, as I was not driving …I sampled the The Four Dalwhinnies along with their accompanying award winning handmade chocolates by Ian Burnett, chocolatier to the Queen …exquisite! Vince got to have the smallest sip of each, as he was riding …and we both picked the Distiller’s Edition as our favourite and treated ourselves to a bottle (at almost 60 pounds its a special treat for a special time).

The Distillery is quite small and set in the little village of Dalwhinnie itself. It was all very professional and I convinced Deborah, who explained my tastings to me in intricate detail, to let us go pro her in action …she’s a legend!

Vince will put a link to the video here….

Well, after being pretty much incapacitated, constantly in pain and miserable for the past couple of weeks…..I’m finally starting to feel human again! Today, I could have a proper shower for the first time in almost a week and I managed to get through the day without painkillers or dressings – other than moisturising cream cause I’m peeling and scabbing now ….who would ever have thought I’d be so happy to scab! I have an appointment with the burns unit on Monday which I hope will be my final visit and we can get back on our bike again …..I miss the ANIMAL.

This down time in Inverness has been difficult and put our schedule way out … we will need to relook at things but that’s all good….when life gives you lemons learn to make lemonade!

We have got to explore Inverness in ways we would not have if I had not needed to be at Raigmore Hospital every day…the staff were simply amazing and I received the very best of care….we also met some lovely people who helped us along the way ….the kindness of strangers renews your faith in the human race.

All going well we want to try a shakedown ride to the Cairngorms and maybe a whiskey distillery tomorrow to check out my pain levels and abilty to get back into my riding gear ……wish us luck!


Friday 17th April here – waiting for some photos to upload so just punching out a quick blog.

Karen saw the plastics specialist nurse this morning and she seems to have turned the corner towards recovering from the chemical burns across her chest – now the area is just a bright pink rather than the vivid glowing and weeping red it’s been for the past week or so. Wednesday’s dressing was replaced with a fresh, smaller dressing that just covers some as yet unhealed areas on her neck, and hopefully she will be fine til Monday when we go back to see Dr Wells in A&E. She’ll be able to have a shower tomorrow so that will be a real treat for her.

We had a lovely walk back into town from hospital, and sat down on a bench in the high street listening to a boogie busker battle it out with someone banging on their bagpipes for a while, before we stocked up on peanut M&M’s from the Pound Shop and then went for a walk across the road bridge, down past the old cathedral, and along the banks of the fast flowing Ness River. We crossed back over a pedestrian suspension bridge, couldn’t find the toilets for Karen in the luxurious ‘Abstract’ restaurant, so popped into the more down-to-earth Watershed next door for lunch and a pit-stop.

Karen is laying down now reading “Uneasy Rider” by Mike Carter, and she’s having fits of hysterics as she reads about his adventure-riding antics 🙂 It’s a very entertaining book – I’m sure I’ve got it in my collection somewhere back in Perth but this is Karen’s first opportunity to read the book and she’s spellbound and speechless with laughter as Carter ricochets from one funny experience to another!

No hospital visits this weekend so we may lash out and visit a laundromat instead. Hope to be back on the bike next week so watch this space !!!

Thursday afternoon here in action-packed Inverness!!! Woke up late to find out from Moira (our lovely hostess at Braehead House) that there had been a big fire in the centre of Inverness last night (Click here for SFRS details). Across the road from Braehead House is a roofless two-storey building reinforced with scaffolding – when I asked Moira she said that it used to be a hostel until it mysteriously burnt down about eight years ago. The house used to belong to the town’s engineer, and would have been beautiful in its prime. Next to Braehead, overlooking the River Ness below, is a very stately home dating back to the 1840’s, complete with cannon in the front garden.

Managed to upload some video today of our ride to Applecross – check out the six minute video here “The Pass of the Cattle”

Had a lovely breakfast this morning (bacon & poached eggs), played with Archie a bit, and then caught a taxi to A&E for Karen’s appointment today. The decision was made to not change the dressing today, so we’ll return tomorrow to see Christine in the plastics section. Had a lovely walk back to Braehead – it’s a 30 minute stroll, and Karen had a brief rest before we wandered into town for a lunch of tomato and basil soup at a small bakery off the main street. I purchased a cheap copy of Colette Coleman’s “Great Motorcycle Tours of Europe” whilst Karen spoiled herself with a shampoo and blow dry – all carefully performed so as to not irritate her wounds. Colette Coleman’s previous book “Great Motorcycle Journeys of the World” is a great read and occupied a favoured spot on my bookshelf for years – the 2014 “Tours of Europe” is a worthy companion and possibly of more practical relevance to riders here in the UK. Having a quick look the book at the hairdressers I can safely say that we’ve already tackled some of the best roads and/or riding areas in Scotland and England, and our plans for Wales, Ireland and Europe are well placed to take in some of the best rides in the world – bring them on !!!!

We wandered past the fire crews still hosing down the smoldering building, and then stopped at the Castle Tavern on the way home for a pint of beer and some crisps. It’s almost 5pm now and Karen is in some bad pain with her burns – hopefully they’ll start to feel better soon …

Shakedown slowdown

The first month of our trip was intended to be a shakedown ride, but it’s sort of devolved into a slowdown instead. We’re currently holed up in Braehead B&B, a quaint olde home just around the corner from Inverness Castle and not far from Raigmore Hospital where Karen is receiving daily treatment for the chemical burn she received as a result of using the chemo cream prescribed in Perth before our trip commenced. Neither of us anticipated that she would have such an adverse reaction to the cream, though subsequent googling suggests that the cream often has this effect on people. After trying to manage ourselves for a while we ended up at A&E in Raigmore Hospital last Sunday morning, and the care and medical assistance that Karen has received has been exceptional. All of the hospital staff – doctors, nurses, admin people, etc have been absolutely fantastic, and have provided one of the few rays of sunshine in an otherwise dim period.

Sunday morning Karen was discharged after being strapped up with a five-layered dressing across the burn, and was wearing a hospital gown to cover the dressing as her t-shirt wouldn’t fit over the bulky padding. In need of accommodation from Monday onwards and appreciating that we needed to relocate closer to the hospital than the Clansman Hotel, 10 miles or so back towards Loch Ness, we walked through the intermittent rain and hail back towards the town centre, looking for a B&B that could take us. Dressed like an escapee from an institution with her long hospital gown flowing around her ankles, Karen turned heads in the posh Kingsmill Hotel, where we had slipped in to so she could use their toilets. She attracted a lot of looks from guests and staff but no one dare question her as she wandered through the lobby, even having a brief rest in the waiting area.

We finally found a B&B that had a ‘vacancy’ sign on display, and someone at home to answer our questions. In retrospect, perhaps the hosts at other B&B’s were too afraid to answer our door knock. Moira certainly had a puzzled look on her face as Karen explained our situation, but when she figured out that Karen wasn’t an escapee she was only too helpful in making arrangements for us for the following week. Accommodation organised, we wandered around the corner and down the short hill into Inverness, stopping at a tapas bar for a late lunch. We caught a taxi back to the Clansman, and had an early evening.

Monday morning we packed up our gear and I reloaded the bike. After a quick breakfast Karen arranged a taxi to take her to Braehead, and I followed behind on the bike. Moira helped me get the bike into the backyard, safely hidden away from inquisitive eyes, and Karen and I caught another taxi to the A&E department at Raigmore Hospital. Another dressing change – a 30 minute challenge involving many dressing packs, bandages and rolls of adhesive tape, and another doctor (the very pleasant Dr Mike Wells – ex-Perth and all!) and we were sent home with instructions to return again on Tuesday morning.

Monday afternoon involved a lunch of cornish pasties and diet coke, a browse through WHSmith to get a couple of books to read (Uneasy Rider and The Tao of Travel), and then purchases for dinner – cheese, a long bread roll, a bottle of cheap Australian red wine, and some M&M’s. Dinner in our room was very enjoyable, but the rerun of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ was a bit long-winded, so it was another early night to bed, made somewhat more exciting when I fell through my bed (twice actually). Mattress placed securely on the floor I slept well that night.

Tuesday as a virtual repeat of Monday, though we now have an appointment to see a burns nurse tomorrow. Coincidentally – the burns nurse is the sister of the taxi driver who took us to hospital this morning (and through a complete fluke I also flagged down when looking for taxi to return to Braehead after our hospital visit today), and Moira from our B&B knows both the doctors at Raigmore that have seen Karen, so Inverness seems to be the place where everyone knows everyone – and it’s lovely.

We stopped in the Nero cafe for a coffee (me) and diet coke (Karen) and watched people walk past outside for a while. A lady came in with a dog (a cockerpoo she told us later when I asked – a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle) and she said that Inverness is only just starting to have dog-friendly shops. Archie, Moira’s seven-month old golden retriever is an absolute delight – he was playing with us at breakfast this morning, and again when we were chatting with Moira later in the morning. Gigi – her 12 year old golden retriever is happy just to lay on the floor near the doorway to the front room and raise an eyebrow when people walk past, but Archie follows us everywhere, waiting to be first into our room when we open the door, and jumping onto the bed for a pat when he comes in.

Anyway – that’s about enough from me for the moment. More medical appointments for Karen are scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday, and we’ve made arrangements to stay at Braehead for next week as well, just to give her injury a chance to heal a bit before we restart our ride. She’s just turned to page one of The Tao of Travel, so that’s my cue to do some reading of my own – ciao !!!

Easy riding day today – about 100km and 90 minutes from Ullapool to Drumnadrochit where we’ve booked four nights accommodation (at the bargain price of 201 pounds for the four nights, breakfasts included).

Karen helped me get the bike out of the pebbly driveway at Creagan’s Guest House and onto the footpath so I could load it up – it takes me about six trips every time to load and unload the bike.

Karen had a simple porridge breakfast but with all of her tablets that wasn’t going down to well. I read the other day that on the St Kilda Islands the locals used to add flavour to their porridge by adding a puffin (bird) to the porridge whilst it cooked 🙂

Refueled the bike in Ullapool – Karen walked to the servo which was just around the corner from the guest house as mounting and dismounting is painful. One pound 32.9/litre for 98 RON super unleaded. Had a beautifully sunny and warm ride from Ullapool to Drumnadrochit – the sun was shining and it was a magical day to be on the bike.

On arrival at the Drumnadrochit Hotel their reception didn’t know anything about our four-night booking, so a frantic phone call from them to the Clansman Hotel a few miles down the road secured a room for us, and the Clansman is right on the shores of Loch Ness – we’ve been watching tourist boats departing from the jetty across the road every hour on the hour this afternoon whilst we waited in the cafe for our room to be prepared. Had a good chat to Alisdair – the car park attendant here – very thoughtfully he pointed out a tarred bay I could park the bike in – a welcome change from all the pebbles we’ve had to negotiate in other car parks. Alisadair is an ex trails rider, keen quad rider and sidecar rider (but doesn’t have his road licence), and provided some good suggestions on places to visit both locally and further north of here.

Downloaded the GoPro video to the Mac and had a quick look at that – the video of the Pass of the Cattle enroute to Applecross worked out well so I’ll try and post that up tomorrow. Had a drink in the bar overlooking Loch Ness where we finally managed to get the wifi working, and now relaxing back in our room, watching the 1960’s movie “The Lost World” – quite fitting given our current location.