Day 35: Bala

Sunday August 23:

Despite the continued heavy rain, the white water rafting was still on. Well, I guess rain is one essential ingredient for white water rafting. The three of us piled into Becky and Leigh’s little car and made the hour or so trip across to the mainland and down to Bala. On the way I saw a very excitable horse running across a field and somehow manage to do a somersault. The whole animal spectacularly cartwheeled head-0ver-heels in the most ungainly fashion. It still seems quite surreal looking back now. Very bizarre.

When we arrived at the water sport centre we were quite disappointed by the lack of water in the river, but Leigh said there was an upstream reservoir that they release water from to increase the flow. We got paired with a Liverpudlian father and son, the father looked and sounded very much like John Bishop.

We got our wetsuits on (which was a first for me and much easier than anticipated) and had a safety briefing, before loading the inflatable boats onto flatbed trailers, then hopping into the minibuses to head upstream.

By now the river was flowing much faster and deeper, they’d obviously opened the dam on the reservoir. We got to the launch point and our instructor (a little skinny lad about 19/20 who I must admit, I doubted could handle this fairly big boat) reminded us of all the instructions for when to paddle, hold the paddles in, duck down etc. then we got on the water.

There were some pretty fast rapids and steep drops of five or six feet. We took turns in different positions in the boat on the different runs and it was definitely most fun in the front as you felt the drops more. The instructor, who also very capably steered with an oar from the back would also swing the boat upstream and everyone would paddle into a rapid so you’d get absolutely drenched from being thrust into the waterfall!

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One of the most horrendous faces ever seen. Credit me.

At one point it started raining, and by now on this trip I’d seen some ‘proper’ rain, but this was next level rain. It absolutely hammered down for about five minutes. So much so that a tree fell down and landed partially across the river! We waited it out by the riverbank, not that we could get any wetter.

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Just a bit wet

On the last run of the day Becky was sat in one of the front seats and Leigh and myself were really determined to giver her an absolute soaking! When we got to the part where we had to paddle upstream to shove the front of the boat into the rapids I really dug in and paddled as hard as I could. All of a sudden I was out of my seat and flying through the air. The boat must have hit a rock, as I was launched straight into the air and out of the boat! I landed head first in the rapids and quickly forgot all that the instructors said about holding onto your paddle! I did remember the safe swimming position to hold my legs up in front of me and stop them getting smashed on submerged rocks and fairly quickly floated a good 50 or so metres before I reached the bank.

The instructor shouted for me to get out and onto the bank. I was shaking a bit from the adrenaline but had stayed very calm in the water. I was amazed and very happy that my specs had stayed on my head and were undamaged at least.

When we got back to the centre I asked the instructor how many people get thrown out of the boat and was horrified to hear I was the first of that season. I felt pretty embarrassed. Between the five of us in the boat we chipped in to get a CD of the professional photos taken from the riverbank (some which are included for your amusement) then headed back to Menai Bridge where Becky cooked us a cracking roast chicken Sunday Dinner. A pretty good Sunday really.

Further Info:

Rafting at Bala – http://balawatersports.com/index.php/adventure-activities/whitewater-rafting 

Day 34: Anglesey

Saturday August 22:

It was a pretty dull and dreary morning in Anglesey but myself and Leigh were keen to sample the culinary delights of the local seafood festival. Well the ‘food’ part of a seafood festival, as neither of us are that keen on seafood. We were in luck as there were some tasty treats around and we both settled on an excellent BBQ beef brisket burger. To this day one of the greatest taste sensations I have had the good fortune of encountering.

Leigh showed me around the island including the marine zoo, where I was impressed by the diversity that can be found in UK waters, and one of the nice beaches which overlooked the straights. We had a good day together with Leigh sharing his wealth of marine knowledge and me a little of my terrestrial ecological knowledge.

We picked Becky up from her job right on the far side of the island by Holyhead and went out for a decent curry in the evening before heading back to theirs and watching a ‘so bad its good’ Scandinavian horror film called Dead Snow.

Day 33: Keswick to Menai Bridge, Isle of Anglesey, Wales

Friday August 21:

I wasn’t due to arrive at my old university friends  home in Wales until 6pm so I had a nice lazy morning around camp. I started to pack at around 10.30am but had to stop and hide under a tree for a few minutes due to pretty heavy rainfall. I was on the road after some delay by about 12.30pm.

I filled the tank with petrol in Keswick as I had over 200 miles to cover that day then set off. As it was quite late I soon had the urge to stop for lunch so parked up in Ambleside and ate my sandwiches. Pretty much as soon as I did this the heavens open and it began lashing it down. Rain soon became a theme of this leg of the journey with me encountering the heaviest rain so far on the trip. Not great when your riding a fully loaded motorcycle for over six hours.

Up until now the satnav had been excellent, though I had largely travelled through rural areas. But today it decided to play up. Instead of keeping me on the M6 motorway for most of the way it diverted me off and I ended up in rush hour traffic in Preston. I spent an hour being directed in circles around one way systems in horrendous rain. My summer gloves were so wet that when I was stopped I could squeeze my fingers into the palm of my hand and water would pour from the glove. In hindsight, its probably good that I was stuck in city centre centre traffic in that rain as I wouldn’t have been able to see a thing on the motorway, and with large puddles and heavy traffic would have been very vulnerable on a motorcycle.

I stopped for a pee at Chester services and the skies cleared a bit. Traffic was also lighter from then on and I managed to make up some time. It was still 7.3opm by the time I’d made my way across north wales and onto the island of Anglesey where my friends lived. The street they lived on was closed for a food festival so me and my friend Becky somehow manhandled my heavy motorcycle down a narrow alley and into her back garden.

It was great to see Becky and her partner Leigh, they fed me well and we went to their local pub, a lively place full of marine biologists from the nearby Bangor University.

Day 30 -32 Keswick area

Tuesday August 18 – Thursday August 20:

The weather was surprisingly kind for the most part of the week in the Lakes. I managed to get a few good walks in, including up Castlecragg where I saw my first English red squirrel, Wathendlath and a nice circular walk from Grasmere to Ambleside.

As I’d had the idea to the the mainland UK ‘three peaks’ I attempted to climb Scafell Pike on Wednesday. I’d done this many times before but wanted to do it as part of the trip. I started from Seathwaite and the first part of the walk passed without event. As Great Gable came into view I could the top was obscured by cloud cover, but I pressed on in the hope this would lift. By the time I came to the top of the approach to Great Gable to turn west and skirt round to Scafell the cloud cover had closed in, reducing visibility to around 50 m. I stubbornly continued over the tricky rocky section and where I could only just see from one cairn to the next. By the time I reached the final climb where I know there are serious drops on either side of the path visibility was next to nil so I had to abandon the attempt. Theres always another day. Being on my own meant it was particular risky for me. I passed a few groups on the way back including one man and his son who didn’t seem to have a clue where he was, who I advised not to continue but they all ignored my advice and continued. Safety in numbers I suppose.

On the last evening after some heated discussion about where to eat (my dads mate is the tightest bloke on earth) we had another Chinese and I said my goodbyes as I was leaving for Wales in the morning. I made the two mile trip up the hill full of food and beer and thought I wouldn’t miss that!

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Day 29: Keswick

Monday August 17:

My first day back in England and lots to do so I was up at 6am to beat the shower queues and get some laundry done. It was lovely and sunny so I strung up a makeshift washing line between the bike and a tree and to dry some clothes.

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I was due to meet my dad and his friend in town later on but hadn’t heard from them by early afternoon so I made my way down into Keswick to have a wander (£2.20 for a one-way four minute bus journey! – scandalous). I met with my dad and his friend about 3pm and had a few beers in a sunny beer garden. I popped back to their B&B so I could charge some batteries and upload some pics, then we went out for a nice Chinese meal in the evening. Walking home the couple of miles up the hill to the campsite was hard work and the last few hundred metres were pretty dark as I’d forgotten my head torch. Good job my phone has a half decent torch on it!

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Day 28: Oban – Falkirk – Keswick

Sunday August 16:

My last day of the trip in Scotland. I was up in good time and had the tent down and all my gear loaded on the bike before 9 am. I went to start the bike when I realised I’d left the ignition key in the internal tent pocket. Bugger! Dry bag off, all the gear out to get to the tent at the bottom, then unravel the tent to get the keys out. Thankfully I was pretty well versed with the packing-up routine by now, so it didn’t take long to get repacked and loaded.

I was on the road by 9.40 am and on the way to Falkirk to meet my mum and the family friends I had stayed with in Inverness. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the road, well I say surprising, but it was mid-summer in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK. Lots of overtaking to do when the opportunities arose to get past the 40 mph Sunday drivers. I had about 250 miles to do today so didn’t want to dawdle too much. I didn’t have time to retrace my earlier route on the A82, instead coming down the A85 and A84 through Stirling instead.

I arrived at The Kelpies (giant metal sculptures of horses heads) about ten past twelve to a huge queue just to get into the car park. Luckily being on a bike I filtered past most of it and parked up, after being liberated of about £4 for the privilege. I’d past my mum and family friends who were stuck in a car in the queue, but they soon caught up with me. It was quite hot and sunny so we got an ice cream and had a little wander round. They are quite amazing to see up close. They really are pretty big!

After that we headed over to see the engineering marvel that is the Falkirk wheel. I had wanted a ride in a boat lifted by the wheel, but alas I had more miles to do and time wasn’t on my side. I said my goodbyes and left the family and friends at the wheel to ride another 150 miles onto Keswick.

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The Falkirk Wheel

I hit a few rain showers not far south but nothing too bad. After a brief food and fuel stop at Lockerbie services I made it to Keswick camp at just gone 5 pm. The site, on the hill just outside of the town seems to have expanded since I was last there in 2013, with a new restaurant and bar, and the tents moved a much larger (but sloping!) field. After setting up camp I rode down into town for a fish n chip supper before retiring back to the warmth of my sleeping bag after an exhausting, but enjoyable day.

Further information:

The Kelpies – http://www.thehelix.co.uk/things-to-do/the-kelpies/

The Falkirk Wheel – http://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/falkirk-wheel/

Keswick campsite – http://www.castlerigg.co.uk

Flickr album – http://www.flickr.com/photos/135003299@N02/albums/72157658959643245

 

Day 27: Oban

Saturday August 15:

I had my one and only large breakfast from Wetherspoons on the trip, and my what a breakfast it was. Enough processed meats to last me a month washed down with the coffee equivalent of crack cocaine. I felt ill after two cups! I did manage to get a table next to a dual socket so managed to get some charge in the laptop and camera, upload some pics and do some research for onward travels. I had wanted to find somewhere near Falkirk to spend the Sunday night and make it easier to meet my mum at ‘The Kelpies’, but everywhere either booked up or too expensive.

In the afternoon I rode north up the coast to Port Appin. I’d passed on the way down from Fort William and enjoyed the roads and scenery. The Port Appin show was on but the amount of traffic and people put me off stopping. I parked up by a small harbour and took some pictures, including some of the iconic looking Castle Stalker then headed back.

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Castle Stalker

In the evening I walked the three miles from camp into Oban, ready to toast my last night in Scotland. I had a few pints of Deauchars IPA (bargain at £.149 a pint!) before getting a taxi back at about 9pm. The taxi driver was a Liverpool native who’d worked on ships that docked in Oban and met a girl there. They’d had kids too and in his words, he was stuck there. All he did was moan that he couldn’t get wifi or freeview in his council house. Looking back what a nice fella ey? Glad I didn’t tip him.

 

Further info:

Flickr album – https://www.flickr.com/photos/135003299@N02/albums/72157658886590536

 

Day 26: Fort William – Oban (again) and Knapdale

 

Friday August 14:

I got up at 6am to beat the early risers to the showers on the huge campsite. I hadn’t decided where I was going to move on to so I had a look in the camping guide. I wanted to explore the Loch Lommond area, but there seemed to be a surprising lack of campsites. I ruled Aviemore out as that would mean heading north again, and a very long ride to the Lake District in a couple of days.

It was dry for a second day in a row, but the bikers who noisily arrived at 10pm last night told me it was forecast heavy rain in the late afternoon. They were mostly on Suzuki Hayabusas – one of the fastest bikes in the world, and were tricked up with noisy Yoshimura race exhausts etc.

I settled on a return to Oban again. I really wanted to catch a glimpse of the wild beavers at Knapdale having failed to do so on the first visit. The ride was good, with little traffic on the fast and wide roads. I could see rain clouds floating about but I managed to give them the slip.

I returned to the same campsite and set the tent up, repairing the fractured pole with some more sturdy duct tape then headed for Knapdale at about 4pm. I rode right down past the Crinan Canal and sea locks to a small harbour where I saw the most beautiful wooden sailing yacht. It must have been worth a pretty penny or two.

I parked up the bike and had little walk around one of the forestry commission trails at Dunadry, then headed to the small loch where the beaver family lived at about 7pm. I walked the 15 or so minutes from the main road down the forest track and was a bit surprised to see a bloke parked up in a camper van (the road is a forestry commission logging track with no public vehicle access).

I got sat on the bank nearest the road, on the opposite side of the loch from the beaver lodge and could hardly believe that there was two idiots sat on a prominent rock less than 25 metres from the lodge. Do these people know anything about not disturbing wildlife? They were being far too noisy as well – total morons.

I was being  eaten alive again by the midges but kept pushing back the time I was going to leave as I still hadn’t seen anything. By 9pm the first pair of idiots had left, only to be replaced by a pair even more stupid. The new pair walked right up to the lodge! Unbelievable. At this point I knew it was time to give up as any beavers would either stay in the lodge, or get as far away as possible. As I re-joined the track there was a guy shaking his head in disbelief. We shared a few choice words about the idiocy of the people disturbing the lodge and he said an adult beaver had left the lodge and quickly swam away. Damn. I’d missed it as I was sat down on the bank. I thought I’d walk to the end of the loch and back for one last chance, but I didn’t see anything. By now it was almost completely dark so I power walked back to the bike, nervous about the hour ride to camp and the amount of large deer that often stray across the roads.

I made good time riding through the pitch black roads and got to camp about 10.40pm, ever conscious of waking people up with a thundering Honda V4 engine, especially as most of the campsite had lights out. There was still one loud group up, so I didn’t feel quite so bad. I had a quick whisky nightcap then headed off to sleep.

Further info:

Scottish Beaver Trail (still no word on the outcome of the report submitted last year) – http://www.scottishbeavers.org.uk/

Crinan Canalhttps://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/canals/crinan-canal/

Oban campsite – http://roseviewoban.co.uk/

Flickr albumhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/135003299@N02/albums/72157658886590536/with/20910294141/

 

Day 25: Fort William and Ben Nevis

Thursday August 13:

I finally woke up to what seemed like a miracle… A dry morning in Scotland! I was at the Ben Nevis visitor centre ready to head up the path by 8am. There was a little cloud, but the sun was already out, chasing the long shadows.

The path up Ben Nevis is very rocky, and at times just a series of large rock steps. I passed one guy who told me he’d driven overnight from Edinburgh to get some good photos before it got busy, but his sat nav had taken him on a two hour detour and it looked like he was a bit late. He was struggling up with 28 kg of camera equipment on his back too.

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Looking across camp to the looming Ben Nevis.
About midway up a girl who had been following me up stopped me to ask for some tissues. She had already done the West Highland way walk and was finishing with Ben Nevis. All to raise money for an orphanage in Nepal she was going to visit next year.

 

The views from the top were fantastic. The sky was a beautifully clear crystal blue, but it was still very cold due to the icy wind. The average annual temperature at the top is after all, only 0.5c. There was still a few patches of snow, including a cap covering one of the channels up the treacherous north face.

I made it up in 2.75 hours, and down in 2.5 hours. I actually found it tougher on the body coming down. Bouncing down the big steps really hammers my knees and the throngs of people coming up made it difficult to pick a line and stick to it. At one point I slipped and bashed my shin on a rock and went flying into a guy heading in the opposite direction. I was lucky not to knock us both over. I apologised and he was very polite about it all.

I collapsed exhausted when I got back to the tent and had a little snooze. I woke in a pool of sweat thanks to the boiling sun beating down. I had a shower then headed off for a few celebratory beers in town. I asked at reception when the bus into town was, but to my surprise and dismay was told I’d missed it by about five hours. The 300-400 pitch campsite is only served by two buses a day!

So it was on my sore feet that I made the three mile trek into town. I had a few pints in the Wetherspoons was and another pub – The Volunteer Arms, and looked up Edinburgh campsites with the last bit of charge in my laptop. The only couple of campsites with availability wanted something ridiculous like £30 a night because of the fringe festival. There was no way I could afford that on my tight budget. A crazy amount to pay for a small tent, bike and one person anyway.

I fancied a curry but wasn’t in the mood to solo in a restaurant so I ended up at the same takeaway as the night before, this time with a donner kebab. Great nutrition ey? I grabbed some cigars and small bottle of whisky and decided on a taxi back to the campsite, as  my feet had done more than enough work for one day.

Further info:

Ben Nevis – http://www.mountainwalk.co.uk/benneviswalk.html

Flickr album – https://www.flickr.com/photos/135003299@N02/albums/72157658955693071

 

Day 24: Skye – Fort William

Wednesday August 12:

I awoke to rain for god-knows-what number day. I’d seen the good forecast for tomorrow and wasn’t enjoying staying at the campsite so I’d already decided to leave Skye a day early and climb Ben Nevis instead. I just wanted to see the famous ‘Fairy Pools’ before I left.

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The path to the Fairy Pools

 

 

After a detour to the Portree tourist info office to find out where the pools were, I made my way down. I arrived at the small car park at 10.20am to find it was already full. I just managed to squeeze the bike into a the last gap. By now the typical Scotch mist had returned and low cloud was obscuring most of the surrounding mountains, but the pools and small waterfalls still looked spectacular. A word of warning if you do plan to visit; get there early. The place was absolutely heaving with selfie-stick armed tourists.

I spoke to a young lad who had a little coffee cart in the car park who told me the isle was often called Eilean a’ Cheo in Gaelic; meaning the ‘Misty Isle’. He also told me about how tough life on the island was and that many young adults leave for the mainland to find work. They’d only got broadband in the last couple of years!

By now the drizzle had turned to proper rain so I abandoned the idea of riding around the island and headed back to pack up my gear at camp. I packed up in record time, but also noticed one of the tent poles had splintered, so I wrapped it in electrical tape to hold it together.

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Sparse campsite in Skye

 

 

The ride to Fort William started wet but the sun came out at times. The roads were good so I shaved 20 minutes off the sat nav ETA. The A87 and A82 and are great roads and very popular with bikers, most who have a friendly wave for other bikers.

I went straight to Fort William to find some more tape for repairs then headed to the campsite which was about three miles from the town centre and booked in for two nights. After getting set up at camp I headed back into town and had a greasy burger and chips for tea. While I was sat on a bench eating a group of about 15 Dutch bikers passed me. When I got back to my bike they’d parked next to me and one numpty was so close to my bike I couldn’t lift it straight off the side stand. I had a bit of a struggle getting out.

Further  information:

Skyehttp://www.skye.co.uk/

Fort William camping – http://www.glen-nevis.co.uk/campsite

Flickr albumhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/135003299@N02/albums/72157658955667451