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Thread: Well I Have Moved, And I Kept On Moving - Scotland Road Trip May '18

  1. #1

    Well I Have Moved, And I Kept On Moving - Scotland Road Trip May '18

    In May this year I finished up with the company I had been working with for 9 years and took a long break between that and starting the new job. A bucket list item of mine was doing 'the lap of Scotland' and I decided to do just that and come back through England.

    I set off for Belfast and overnighted there, taking the early Stena boat to Cairnryan, leaving at 7.30am and arriving at 9.50am. I had a long days driving ahead so I booked into Stena Plus and had a giant fry. The views sailing out of Belfast Lough were spectacular.

    The city was quiet at 5am:

    The 325i was primed for road:

    The Tang were having a meeting outside the Port, probably discussing the price of Super Hampton boots and Scania jackets.

    And the views sailing out of Belfast Lough were spectacular:

    My destination for the night was Thurso, right at the top of Scotland. I had decided to do most of the North Coast 500 anti-clockwise and to finish in Glasgow, and was going to do the entire run up in one hit. My only stop would be the Cairnwell Pass (A93 between Braemar and the Spittal of Glenshee), the highest road in Britain at 670m.

    I got off the boat and waited my turn patiently on the A77 towards Ayr until picking up dual carriageway, and then I made great progress to Glasgow, through the middle of the town on the M8 and up toward Perth on the M80/M9/A9, turning off for the Cairngorms near there and heading up into the mountains on the Old Military Road.

    Last edited by Flet; 26-11-2018 at 10:39 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  2. #2
    The Old Military Road was spectacular end-to-end and I waved to Betty passing through Balmoral. Unfortunately I then got hit with a road closure that diverted me for miles and miles and cost what felt like about an hour. I think I eventually rejoined the A9 near Carrbridge, diverting from my plan to complete the Old Military Road all the way to Nairn. Other problems started - the weather turned horrendous on the A9 into Inverness, itself a dangerous road and I got into Inverness at exactly 5pm, straight into rush hour.

    I knew that after here fuel could be irregular so I stopped to fill, and started crawling up the A9 toward Wick. It really was awful progress, commuters and trucks in both directions and it was just a question of being patient - hard after being in the car for 5-6 hours at this stage. But somewhere between Brora and Helmsdale I fell in with a fella in what had to be a mapped Corsa OPC which seemed to be running something like 240hp because there was no staying with him. The good thing was that he was local, careful but assertive so I was able to tag in behind him and follow his sightlines and braking points. Together we picked off traffic up past Helmsdale and he turned left at Latheron for Thurso rather than Wick also, so I stuck with him for the last 25 miles also.

    My plan was to not do much and this proved wise, the weather was crap and the light was fading so I went for an excellent fish & chip dinner and a few pints before bedding down for the night. Thurso is a somewhat forgettable town but this was the highlight - literally - of the evening: I woke up at 3.30am to find it was still bright enough to read a book outside. You're nearly as far north as Oslo and Stockholm here and this was physical proof:

    The following morning I headed for Dunnet Head - the most northerly point of Britain - followed by John O'Groats - the island's most northerly settlement.

    The next 24hrs were to take me to the Orkney Islands. I had always wanted to visit there, partially because I like visiting islands but also to see Scapa Flow, having often read about GŁnther Prien's U-47 sinking of HMS Royal Oak in the early days of WW2. Scapa Flow is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and is a spectacular sight, now serving as a transfer point for North Sea oil.

    I was hoping to rent a bike or a car in Kirkwall but a bloody cruise ship had just spat out a few thousand of the most ignorant people I have ever encountered. I really dislike this kind of tourism and it impacted on my day as I was confined to the main settlement but had been hoping to see a few sights around the island, which is too large to walk in full.

    Kirkwall is a cool place, you can feel the Norse influence through the town name and St. Magnus' Cathedral, built by the Norse Earls from 1137.

    The Royal Oak's ships bell hangs in the church as a memorial to the 833 lives lost in the sinking - over 100 of them were not yet 18.

    I took a walk down to the townland of Scapa and its beach - the Royal Oak lies marked by a green buoy just out of sight behind the headland to the left.

    There isn't a lot to do in Kirkwall so once I had the place walked and saw everything I wanted I retired to The Ould Motor Hoose for a refreshing pint of... Scapa Special.

    I always thought the Scots were chatty people but mudderagad up here it's like getting blood out of a stone. I finally wore a few lads down and we spoke for a few hours. They said the winters up there are absolutely cruel, with a wind that would cut you open. They said so many people move up there to make a future away from the rat race and hardly last the first winter. Then a fella came in with a lunchbox of freshly made Scotch Eggs and offered everyone one. It was absolutely beautiful and after a few more pints I bade them farewell and headed for my hostel. Not a bad place in the end, Kirkwall.

    The following morning, the bus back to the ferry passed over the Churchill Barriers, later erected to keep pesky U-Boats out.

    Last edited by Flet; 26-11-2018 at 10:42 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  3. #3
    Then it was no more foreplay and time for the main event. Well, first a stop at Dounreay, once the UK's main nuclear R&D site, deliberately selected for its remote location.

    The road west started to drop hints at what was to come:

    The plan was to drive the entire NW down to Ullapool and finish there for the evening. In the very NW there are single carriageways with passing places and I have to say, those can be quite frustrating. I would think that in high season they are carnage.

    I am not 100% sure of where exactly the pictures below were taken but I'll let them speak for themselves.

    I wouldn't call this part of Scotland something like 'Donegal on Steroids' or 'a lot like Kerry' the way people do. I think the place has a beauty that is like a different continent entirely. It is absolutely SPECTACULAR.

    Eventually I reached the Kylesku Bridge near Unapool, about half-way to my destination.

    Last edited by Flet; 26-11-2018 at 09:53 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  4. #4
    At this point I should probably talk about the driving. As you can imagine, this part of Scotland is very sparsely populated and outside of the single carriageways, it also has spectacularly good roads. And they suck you in... no, that's the wrong word. They seduce you. And you give way, you let your guard down, you get into a flow and then you realise that you're in a zone that is borderline lawless.

    So you throttle back and say, ok... enough of that. Just enjoy the scenery. Five minutes later you subconsciously go at it agin, as Paddy Losty might say.

    After an entire day of bewildering scenery, bewitching roads and jaw-dropping vistas I got to Ullapool. I filled up the car at the smallest, busiest petrol station ever, checked into my hotel and decided to go and forage for some food.

    Ullapool is absolutely wonderful.

    Last edited by Flet; 26-11-2018 at 10:44 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  5. #5
    I thought at this stage that nothing could top that particular day of utter awesomeness but the second day was like that bit in The Snapper where the mother pulls Colm Meaney up from under the sheets and goes "WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO DO THAT".

    I set off nice and early, as I like to do. The scenery was absolutely relentless again, as were the roads.

    This otherwise unremarkable little bit of land is Gruinard Island, deliberately contaminated with Anthrax in 1942 to determine if dropping spores on German cities was viable. The island was eventually decontaminated in the 1980s.

    This is all that is left of the port in Loch Ewe, a gathering point for the Allied Arctic Convoys following the PQ17 disaster.

    There is a neat little local museum here, well worth a visit:

    Anyway, back to relentless roads:

    My destination was the Bealach Na Ba pass to Applecross:

    Applecross is famous for seafood, and it seemed rude not to partake:

    Last edited by Flet; 26-11-2018 at 10:09 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  6. #6
    The next bit of the journey involved travelling to Skye and crossing the island to Armadale to catch a ferry to Mallaig. I think it was a Bank Holiday weekend and a place on Skye could not be got for love nor money.

    I checked into the West Highland Hotel and witnessed one of the greatest sunsets I have ever seen, out over the Cuillin Mountains on Skye.

    The locals and I eventually (as I said, they take a long time to warm up up here) got around to talking about hillwalking and told me that most people that do the Munros finish in the Cuillins as you need to be roped with a guide for a couple of the peaks.

    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  7. #7
    The following morning I headed for Glasgow, turning in Fort William with incredible views up to Ben Nevis. It wasn't anywhere near as clear the time I was up there.

    After a very progressive (but safe) run through Glencoe I got to Glasgow:

    I was so pleasantly surprised by Glasgow, I thought the place was absolutely wonderful - like a bigger, even friendlier Belfast. And everyone talks to you (as you can tell this had started to bother me). I had a great day walking around, exploring the sights, taking a bus tour, having a few small ones. I walked out to trendy Finnieston on the way back to the hotel and fell into conversation in a few of the pubs.

    Then I had the greatest burger of my entire life. Seriously.

    If you are ever within a 100 miles of Glasgow, go to El Perro Negro and order a Top Dog. Good god I still think about it every now and then.

    It was better than a handjob.

    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  8. #8
    The following day it was time to leave bonnie Scotland and join the Sassenachs for a few days. My destination was to be Newcastle-upon-Tyne with a stop at Hadrians Wall:

    The original Hard Border:

    I couldn't resist:

    Newcastle was nice for a day, I guess. It's a cool town and I walked it from top to bottom. I was getting a bit tired by then and had to struggle to get a second wind but eventually I headed out for the evening. It's a town that is filled with giant, impersonal pubs and not really that interesting for the solo traveler. It was a Saturday night and my god the state of the place, it was hilarious. I ended up in a pub talking to a few lads my age out the front while a fella was being whipped with his belt by a thirty stone 50-year old stripper in front of all of his friends in the back. "Welcome to England mate, bet you're glad ye got your independence" said my drinking buddy as I wiped away tears of laughter. What a spot.

    The next morning brought a stop at the Angel of the North:

    Followed by a stop at The Tan Hill Inn, where I had a lamb dinner that I thought I was going to have to climb in order to be able to eat it. Some spot.

    I mean, is your local even a local if it doesn't have a snowplough:

    The next stop was the Buttertubs Pass, which should be familiar to anyone who watched Top Gear during its glory days:

    The Yorkshire Dales are incredibly pretty. This is Wensley Dale (where the cheese is from, Gromit):

    My stop for the night was Leyburn, and what a place it turned out to be. The landlord of the B&B was from Galway and he sent me up to The Black Swan, owned by a man from Mayo. The heady mix of west of Ireland hospitality coupled with the Yorkshire tendency to talk endlessly made for a potent mix and it was a long time after closing time when I fell into bed.

    After a quick stop in York - another wonderful place - I laid waste to middle Englands motorways and bedded down in Nein!Elf's Welsh mountain lair (with complementary views of Snowdon) for the night before taking the ferry back to Dubland.

    Last edited by Flet; 26-11-2018 at 10:46 PM.
    1998 Porsche 911 3.4 Carrera 2 (996)
    2000 Mazda MX-5 1.8 Jasper Conran #68/400
    2003 BMW 325i E46 Sport Touring

  9. #9
    Fcuking marvellous Flet.
    And the six banger is a fine steed for such a trip.

  10. #10

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