Over 1400 miles in 6 days through Lakes, Lochs, Highlands, Moors and Peaks.
It’s always exciting getting packed for an adventure, and for the next 6 days we will be atop the mighty bumblebeemer for a loop up the west coast of England into Scotland’s highlands and back down the east coast to London.
London to the Lakes District (280 miles)
Having just got back from an extra-long weekend of 5 days in Portugal, we were packing the panniers and loading up the bike for a road trip. Day 1 would be an uneventful day with a mainly motorway ride up to the Lakes District. Once we hit the Lames the scenery and the winding roads were a lot more fun than the motorways. We were staying in Ambleside on the northern tip of Lake Windermere. Great little village which was the base for many a walking adventure, had plenty of B&B options and some great restaurants and cafes. We stayed the night at The Old Vicarage, which we would highly recommend to others, and is right in the middle of town. Every room has a VCR and the owners had obviously made use of the sales in VHS movies to stock up a massive collection on the shelves through the 3 storey B&B. Dinner at Matthew’s was fantastic where the portions are bigger than you expect. Everything is within a 5 minute walk in the village.
Lakes District to Loch Lomond, via Electric Brae and Renfrew (200 miles)
The mighty bumblebeemer does tend to attract some attention from carriers of the Y chromosome, and this morning as we were packing to leave another lodger at the B&B struck up a conversation with us about a great road (A592) from Windermere through Kirkstone Pass to Ullswater which brought you down into Ullswater with views over the lake and surrounding countryside. As it wasn’t far out of our way, we took the opportunity to revisit a great pub/restaurant we discovered in Ullswater in 2009 when we last returned from Scotland.
From our stop in Ullswater it was out to the motorway for a short stint to the Scotland border where we could leave the motorway and head for the coast. Mum and Dad had told me of the Electric Brae near Ayr, which they had visited on their trip, so we thought we would check it out and also get in a ride along the coast. The Electric Brae is an area where the surrounding countryside gives the illusion that you are travelling uphill when in fact you are on a slight decline. Stopping on the road, putting the vehicle in neutral and taking your foot off the brake gives you the feeling that you are rolling up hill. We stopped there for a little while and watched other motorists try it as well. On every occasion you would see the car start to the move and then laughter break out inside their cars.
As we needs to skirt Glasgow to get up to Loch Lomond we also took the opportunity to check out the address that was on my grandfather’s birth certificate in Renfrew before making tracks to Balmaha on the east side of Lock Lomond where we were staying the night at the Oak Tree Inn. Again, what a great location! We had a room in a cottage that looked straight out over the loch. Not a bad way to finish a day’s riding, or start another one. The food at the Oak Tree Inn was also great. If you are in the area it is definitely worth a visit.
Loch Lomond to Elgin, via Loch Ness (200 miles)
Today was all about riding along the lochs. We started with a slight backtrack to go up the western side of Lock Lomond where the road hugs the loch and then following the road past Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe to Fort William. All we can say about Fort William is that the weather was great. In fact, sitting in the sun the jacket and boots had to come off and I was still overheating. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything more useful about the town so we continued on our way past Loch Lochy and Loch Oich, stopping along the way to experience the midges in full feast, to Fort Augustus at the southern of Loch Ness. We took the opportunity here to have a bit of a rest and use the “magical” VisitScotland service to book our accommodation for the night.
It’s definitely worth a mention that booking B&B and hotel accommodation in Scotland is so easy through the tourist office. VisitScotland have a great website with an extensive selection of accommodation where you can do it yourself, but if you are on the road (and without decent mobile data coverage) you just pop into the tourist office and for a small fee they do it for you. We had booked the first 2 nights of the trip in advance, but left the rest to chance just in case we needed to change our intended route. VisitScotland charges you £4, and they also take a 10% commission from the B&B or hotel (which doesn’t cost you anything) and all the while run you through your accommodation options, locations and features, and ring up as many of the places as you like to make a booking. For example, our B&B was going to cost £55 for the night. We paid £9.50 (£4 + 10% of £55) to VisitScotland and the remaining £49.50 to the B&B owner when we arrived. It all worked like a well-oiled machine!
From Fort Augustus we rode the length of Loch Ness having a few stops along the way. What is also great about the lochs are that they are flight paths for the RAF fighter jets and it one point the road took about 50ft above the loch and I think the plane that flew past was only another 50ft about us out in the middle of the loch. No chance of seeing Nessie with that racket going on. We saw about 3 or 4 jets doing exercises over the course of the day. If you don’t manage to see them before you hear them, it’s too late, they’re gone.
From Loch Ness we headed out to Elgin where we had a B&B for the night. My cousin had been to Elgin last year and recommended The Mansefield for dinner. They have a funky bar area where you can also get food, and being only a 4 minute walk from the B&B, it was the perfect option.
Elgin to Scottish Borders, via Dunnottar Castle (240 miles)
After starting the day with a full Scottish breakfast with both black pudding and haggis, we headed north to see the small harbour town of the Lossiemouth and ride out past the RAF base where another 3 fighter jets had taken off and 1 was doing take-off and landing exercises. Between our observation point on the hill beside the RAF base and the road out of town the GPS gave my favourite direction… “Turn left onto unpaved road”. Unfortunately it was only half a mile long but a run along a green lane, through the countryside, standing up on the pegs, just added excitement for me, but unfortunately the same excitement wasn’t shared by the passenger!!
From Lossiemouth we cut the corner to head for Dunnottar Castle which had been recommended by a colleague at work. The castle is in ruins but has been well kept and holds a very impressive position on the coast. £5pp entry if you are interested. It’s privately owned so no trust membership discounts.
William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II, all graced the Castle with their presence. Most famously though, it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell’s army for eight months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, the ‘Honours of Scotland’, from destruction. Crown, sceptre and sword now take pride of place in Edinburgh Castle.
We continued to fluke the weather, avoiding some threatening grey rain clouds, and had yet another day of blue skies in Scotland. I forgot I hadn’t mentioned much about the weather on the previous days. That’s because there was nothing to mention. Just the warm blue skies that the British summer is renowned for. We had a short shower on the ride up the Lakes on the first day, but since then it was blue skies!
After stopping at Dunnottar Castle for a couple of hours we continued our ride down the coast to Dundee, before the traffic started to build approaching Edinburgh. We weren’t going to stop in Edinburgh this time so we stayed on the ring road, only to be met by a traffic jam following an earlier accident. Once that had cleared we headed east from Edinburgh along the coast to Eyemouth where we had booked our B&B for the night. Again through VisitScotland because it’s just so good!
In Eyemouth we stayed at a B&B called The Anchorage and would highly recommend that to anyone. Very friendly, clean and modern ensuite room and just 5 mins walking distance from a great wine bar/restaurant Oblo. Pizzas looked amazing and popular given the backorder when we went to order, so we had to go other options which were very nice as well. A nice, friendly pace as well which his definitely worth a visit for a drink, lunch or dinner if you are in the area.
Eyemouth to York, via Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hadrian’s Wall (210 miles)
Eyemouth is only 8 miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed with the Scotland-England border in between. Berwick was our stop for the morning to walk the city walls. We had only seen Berwick from the train when we visited Edinburgh from London in 2006. From then it has been on the “places to see” list and being such a small town, walking the city walls was a great way to see the town and read about the history on plaques and monuments on the way around.
Before leaving Berwick we picked up a couple of sandwiches form the local bakery to eat at our next stop, Hadrian’s Wall.
Heading towards Newcastle and finding the B6318 we were able to ride along the path of Hadrian’s Wall. In certain spots where the wall has been preserved there is information about it and you are free to trample over it. The wall path is also a very popular walk people young and old out for a day walk or longer. We took the opportunity to have lunch on the wall, and I mean “on the wall” literally, surrounded by nosey cows looking from a non-grass feed.
Hadrian’s Wall had a far greater presence than I had expected. Having travelled past many a stone wall surrounding fields in the countryside, I was expecting some similar or maybe a little bigger than that. It really is a solid wall, over a metre thick with rectangular stone block, not just field rocks piled on top of each other. Guess I should have done more research before going there, but it made it all the more impressive for me.
After our late lunch we took some more B roads through Forest and Frith, which is between Northumberland National Park and the Yorkshire Dales. An amazing piece of country. No trees, just sheep grazing on grass and moss where the wind was chilling and fierce. No chance of going to too fast and running into a sheep because the wind would blow you all over the place. Great ride though.
Coming back to the main roads we were now headed for York, where we would have our final night. Unlike VistScotland, trying to book an English B&B or hotel is quite a different story. Comments like “we only help you book accommodation before 4:30pm, and you would need to ring the York tourist office to accommodation in York” were not music to our ears. Of course no-one would ever dream of booking accommodation after 4:30pm!! Laterooms.com to the rescue, and we were in nice hotel about 4 miles form York.
York to London, via the Peak District (280 miles)
The last day, and it was to be a big ride back to London. Skipping breakfast at the hotel, we heading in to York to have a look around and find a café for brunch. The Concerto Café is great for a brunchie meal if you don’t want just the full English or nothing. French toast with ice cream is a great brunch option by the way. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sasha took in some huge toast with cinnamon butter and the world’s biggest latte to set her up for a long day on the bike. I just saw many mandatory toilet breaks in my future.
From York we headed out through Wakefield, stopping at Pugneys Country Park to check out the windsurfing and plan our route back to London.
We thought the Peak District would be a nice way to break up the motorway ride, so turning off at Sheffield we headed towards Bakewell. Stopping at Bakewell, with what appeared to be the rest of the world, did not start smoothly. The last time we were here was the day after Sasha and I got engaged so expectations were high. These were quickly dashed by Sasha getting stung by a bee within 5 seconds of taking her helmet off (stung on the finger) and then having to battle crowds to get anywhere in the town. From here we took B roads to Ashbourne, winding through the green countryside before heading back out to the motorway and the haul back to London.
Highlights of the trip:
- Ambleside – definitely worth another visit. Stay at The Old Vicarage
- The Oak Tree Inn on Loch Lomond – Great place to eat and stay the night
- Highlands – again, need another trip spending more time getting further up in the highlands
- B roads – Find them, use them
- Turn left onto unpaved road – Need to find more of these… maybe for a solo trip