United Kingdom 2006

Day 07

August 25


Today will be a bit of a longer ride, as we plan to do a loop of the Isle Of Skye before we end up in Kinlochleven. Gareth is already up and has brewed himself a proper cup of tea while I am out taking my morning shower. He is the one that has introduced me to that delightful delicacy - the pork pie and the finer points of the ones with jelly and the ones without. He is also one of the few ST riders I know that has absolutely no chicken strips on his tires - none, not even a hint and he doesn't do it with a file either! At least the midges have somewhat relented on their usual feasting this morning as we pack up the bikes.

  On the way out of Applecross, the water and the sky are a stunning combination of blues this morning.  
  As we leave the coast and Applecross, we approach Belch nam Bo, 'the pass of the cattle'. It is the highest pass in Scotland, reaching a little more than 2050 feet. It was formerly just a path for herding livestock and was only opened as a single track road in the early 1970s. If you wanted to reach the coastal villages before that time, your only choice was to take a boat. As you ascend it, you encounter unbelievably tight hairpins and blind summits. It is not the place to lose your concentration staring at the scenery although the views from the top are breathtaking.  

I am just behind Colin, Keith and Ellen and I am taking my careful time. Once I summit, I see that Colin has had the misfortune of dropping his rear wheel off the edge of the roadway trying to avoid some construction workers at the top. He is firmly trapped between the road surface and the guardrail. There's no place flat enough for Keith and I to park the STs to come to his rescue. So lovely Miss Ellen bravely climbs off the back of Keith's bike to help Colin out of his predicament. There's not any serious damage done to Colin's bike, so with a good push from Miss Ellen he's soon under way. I'm stopped beside Miss Ellen, as we watch Keith follow him to be sure that he's okay. We look at each other and I say -

"Surely he's going to stop and turn around."

"Well, one would think so" Miss Ellen says,

As he continues his forward progress, it dawns on us that he is not going to stop.

We look at each other and say almost in unison -

"He's not going to stop!"

Since there are some rough looking construction workers at the top of the pass, I turn to Miss Ellen -

"Will you be fine here until I can get him?"

Ever the brave lady, she says "Sure I'll be okay."

"Well, if I can't catch him, I will be back for you" I promise her.

By this time Keith has a really nice lead on me, so I drop it in a low cog, and start making great haste down the mountain. I am honking my horn and flashing my lights but nothing seems to get Keith's attention. He's just motoring along without a care in the world and I'm after him like a madman on a mission. I finally catch him and pull up beside him and wave. He finally stops, gives me a very puzzled look, and says

"What's the matter mate?"

In my best country drawl I ask him -

"Hey Bubba, did you forget something?"

What he has just done sinks in rather quickly, and he drops his head.

"You, my friend, are in the deepest doodoo you've ever been in. You'd best make your way back up the mountain quickly and pick up your lady. Roses and candy might be appropriate at this point!" I tell him.

I watch him turn his bike around and go face his sentence. Not wanting to see the slaughter of the innocent, I beat a hasty retreat on down the mountain. I figure if there's gonna be a murder, I don't want to be a witness. I catch up with the rest of the group who are waiting at the foot of the mountain, and I explain to them what has transpired. When the guilty party finally arrives, Moff breaks out the duct tape to ensure that Keith does not make the same mistake again.

  Until we hit A87 to the Isle of Skye, most of the roads are single track. They wind their way around the water's edge and make for views that are constantly grabbing your attention. I wonder if this is similar to what Finland looks like. Hopefully one day I will find out.  
  The bridge to the Isle Of Skye is the only way to the island unless you chose to take a ferry. It has quite a controversial history as it was built in 1995 as a private bridge with a very expensive toll, which was despised by the locals. Finally at the end of 2004 it was purchased by the Scottish Transport Ministry and made toll free.  
  While we are crossing it, I manage to squeeze off a shot. It's unique curved roadway reminds me a bit of the 'hump' bridges that cross the inland waterway in North Carolina. When I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, I used to take my old 73 Triumph Trident and ride to the top of them so I would have a high spot to sit and look out from.  

The Isle of Skye is a beautiful place, and it seems that every where you turn, there's a quiet harbor full of working and pleasure boats. It is the largest and most northerly island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.

The terrain is like much of Scotland - scarcely populated and rugged. The hills seem to come to sharp conclusions and point you to the sky to look upwards.

Dave leads us on a loop of the island before we join back up with A87 which will take us to Invergarry and beyond. About 10 miles or so from the Island we come to another famous Scottish castle, the Eilean Donan Castle. It was originally inhabited around the sixth century, but has gone through many reincarnations and reconstructions. After laying in ruins for almost 200 years, it was restored to it's present form in 1911.

Nearby where we are parked, there's a man playing the bagpipes. It is here that I learn of what Peter thinks of such musical efforts.

"Nothing like a man in a skirt strangling a cat" he says.

"Hmm, I've never thought of it that way" I tell him with a grin.

As we take a break, Moff looks at Keith's back tire, which is just about flat.

"Hey mate, I think you have a problem" he tells him.

Not only is it very low, you can tell that he's been riding a while that way because it is just about slick.

I tell him, "Don't worry, I've got a air pump in my bag. We can at least pump it back up."

As I am pumping up his tire, Moff gets a good look at my rear tire also.

"You are already down to the wear bars, Phil" he tells me. "If you get stopped for any reason and they see your rear tire, they will give you a safety violation ticket."

Moff should know, since he is a policeman in Kent. And I know that over here, the tickets are very expensive and they take the road worthy condition of the vehicles very seriously. So this puts me in a bit of a dilemma. I am only halfway through my trip and have quite a few miles to go. I was a little concerned about the remaining tire life when I left About Town, knowing how I ride and how quickly I can wear out the tires on an ST1100. I also know from previous experience, that once a tire wears to a certain point, it gets into the softer compounds and wears away much quicker. It's late Friday and About Town is already closed. I've got to be at Troon to make the ferry across to Ireland Monday and there's no way I can make it back to London on this tire. And I figure the chances of road rescue service having a source of the tire I need is slim and none. I also know that Mike at About Town is a reasonable feller to work with, so I decide that I will see if I can find tires for the bike locally, to save Mike and me a lot of trouble. Keith also is in bad need of a rear tire, so Moff and Peter began to make calls to see if there are any to be had and if there a shop that will install them on a Saturday. They locate one rear tire at Fort Williams, a town we will be going through. They cannot mount it, but will be glad to reserve for us. Then they reach a Honda shop in Oban that has a front and rear in stock and is willing to bring in a technician to mount them for us on Saturday. I sigh a long breath and say -

"Thanks folks. Without your help, I guess I'd be trying to limp back to London and forgetting the Ireland trip."

So we mount up quickly, knowing that the tire shop in Fort Williams will be closing before too long. When we pull into the National Tyre Service, I am relieved that they are still open. I am also amazed that a 'regular' tire place would even carry motorcycle tires, much less one that fits an ST. If I was back in the States, I'm afraid I would probably have been just out of luck. As I bring back my treasure to the bike, Bob asks me -

"Now just how are you going to carry it - wear it around your waist?"

"Don't worry. I've strapped more things to an ST that most people could imagine".

I am careful to pad every thing so that the BT020 tire does not wiggle and damage the paint on the top box. Before long, my ST1300 has a nice 'spare tire' secured to it, ready for the dash to Kinlochleven.

We make it to the MacDonald Hotel & All Seasons Cabins without incident though a light rain is falling. It's a nice place and Dave, Moff, Gareth and I will all be sharing a single, rather large wigwam. This place has a washing machine and dryer in an out building, so I make use of it. But the midges have come back with a vengeance, so I've got to keep the door closed and endure the heat from the dryer. It's been a long ride today - 240+ miles which is a lot for the types of roads we were on and I am a bit tired. Once my clothes are done, I quietly slip back into the wigwam to join the other 'noise makers', singing their somnolent songs.