Isle of Skye has been a place that I wanted to visit since 1997 when I read about it from a motorcycle magazine. Although I am lucky enough to travel to many places outside UK, I never managed to come to Isle of Skye.
Last year I picked up a book called ‘Bikers’ Britain: Great Motorbike Rides’ by Simon Weir which listed over 70 good biking routes in the UK. With only three days and a limited budget, I decided to follow some of the recommended routes in the book and have a blast to Isle of Skye.
Preparation for the trip included some more camping gears as I decided to camp instead of B & B. I only ever camped once before (last year, one night in North Wales), so the experience would still be very new to me.
The route is about 440 miles, I aimed to reach there in one go as I did manage to ride more than that mileage before. Choice of bike is only one: Honda Fireblade CBR900RRV as my beloved Yammy had been sold as a contributing to my study fee next year. I only ever managed to ride the Fireblade for no more than 200 miles a day, so there would be another challenge.
Set off from home just before 7 so that I can go ahead of the morning traffic. Before lunch I had already covered more than half of the journey. The real joy of the ride started after Glasgow following A82 towards Ballachulish. It’s been described as ‘A Scottish Classic’ – from Tarbet onwards with lots of tight and bumpy turns. After taking a quick pic by the Loch Lomond, I was looking forward to the fun ahead.
I made a wrong turn to A83 and I rode along Loch Fyne instead of following A82. By the time I noticed my mistake, it was too late to turn back, I must carry on and find my way towards Ford William. I turned to A816 and rode along West coast of Scotland and aimed at Oban. Since I turned to A83, the roads were almost deserted, I hardly came across any traffic and my pace was good. I was very annoyed by my own mistake as I ended up traveling more than 80 miles extra! My piece of comfort was that the roads and the scenery long the route was as good as the original route. After all, I was supposed to be on holiday.
What it also meant was that I would only reach to the camp site much later than planned. Choosing the most northern part of the Isle didn’t help much neither. Fortunately the weather had been great, sunny, dry and very hot.
By the time I got back to A82 towards Ford William, I started feeling tired. I was surprised that I had no arching yet.From Invergarry onwards along A87 the route was spectacularly scenic, it had a mix of majestic heather-clad mountains and glens. There’s the impressive Eilean Donan castle (the castle from the film Highlander). I finally saw the Skye Bridge knowing I wasn’t too far from the destination. As soon as you stepped on the island, it gave you a magical feeling perhaps it was because Skye itself ‘was the wildest, most inspiringly beautiful part of Scotland.’
Another hour ride, I finally reached the camp site, it had been almost 12 hours since I left home.
The camp site was located at Dunvegan (west coast of the island). It was well equipped and clean. But all I really wanted was to cook and had a shower after such a long sweaty ride. Setting up the camp and get things ready weren’t too bad, however the midges had another idea though: they decided to attack me in a full assault and I was swamped by them. I had anti insect spray, using it on top of my sweaty skin wasn’t a good idea but I had no choice but doing it as counter attack. I did managed to cook but the attack from the midges had a better of me. I declared defeated and retreated to the camp after a quick shower.
The sleep was OK, what I didn’t know was the midges had another plan. When I was on my way to brush my teeth in the morning, I was ambushed. It was so bad that I decided to ride away from the camp right away! After such a long ride yesterday, I planned to spend some time casually riding around the island. The scenery was breath taking, the view from one corner after another was simply awesome. Although there were a lot of tourists, everywhere was very quiet. Road condition varies, as the book suggested: Don’t rush it – take time to savour the view.
When I reached the pier at Uig, I needed food and intelligent to ensure my second night in the camp site wouldn’t be a nightmare. A lovely Scottish lady told me everything about the midges: how they move and strike.
I also splashed my budget to seek help from NATO: I bought a mosquito net which claimed to be used by NATO. I would have my revenge tonight. After the meal, I wondered around the pier and continued by ride up the northern coast of the island along A855 towards Portree before turning right back to the campsite. I aimed to take the day easy but I still managed to ride just under 100 miles. When I returned to the campsite, I moved away from the water, got my dinner organised so that I would washed and well covered before sun set. Wearing the mosquito net does make you look odd, well, with more than 15 bites of my face, I’m already elephant man anyway.
Tonight plan was simple: walk to the nearest pub and have a meal. Back to the camp and sit tight. There were some shops nearby the campsite including a baker that claimed to be the oldest on the island. I passed a big house playing with some traditional Scottish music. Three Scottish gentleman wearing kilt stood by the doorway. I asked: ‘What’s happening here my friends?’
‘We are all from the Clan MacLeod. Every four years our people across the world came back to the island and celebrate our long tradition. Tonight is our finale and that’s why we had music, drinks and food inside the hall here.’ One of them said with a smile and a sense of proud.
I replied, ‘That’s fantastic. I happened to know something about MacLeod too.’
‘What do you know then?’
‘I watched all Highlander films and I knew “There can be only One!”.’
We all burst out laughing. I wished them all the best and made my way to search for food. I could hear one of them said while I was leaving, ‘He is funny, isn’t he?’
When I reached the pub, I saw two Belgian couple from the camp site walking away from it. I asked them anything wrong, they politely suggested that they were not comfortable with the amount of locals there. Contrary to their fear, I thought it must be a good place to hang out. Inside the pub was full of local men, as I learned afterwards, they came to the pub and have a big meeting. The pub served fresh mussels and scallops. I chose to have an Angus beef steak and a beer. A chat with a man who was also a visitor of the island and watch a bit of the Commonwealth Games on TV rounded up my second night here.
The night in the camp was initially peaceful until later on, more itch and pain had made me more determined to leave at the first light. I planned my move well: pack as much as I could inside the camp; pack the actual camp and take the mosquito next the very last moment just before putting my helmet on. The move was very slick and I hardly made any noise to disturb other campers. When I started my engine and felt really pleased to my plan, the midges came through the gap between my visor. The attack was so bad that I had to stop and tried to fend them off before I could carry on my way out of the camp site gate which was only 200 yards away.
Luckily once back on the road, the nightmare was over, at least I thought it was all over. I focused back on the empty road in the early morning, the temperature was a bit lower than yesterday, and both these elements gave a sense of freshness that encouraged me to ride a swifter pace. I followed the same route back out of the island and this time I made sure I went to A82 after A87. From Glencoe onwards to Crianlarich was the route that I missed last time, lots of fast flowing corners and some flat straight road with excellent visibility. The traffic only got busier when I was close to Tarbet where I saw a Ducati owner club was out in full.
Got a bit lost in Glasgow and once I was back on M74, it was just straight forward route back to Northwest of England. During the pit stops, er fuel stops, the bites went really bad. I could see people faces when I took the helmet off, I sensed it too because it got very painful. My only wish at the time: go home and rest as soon as possible. By 3 p.m. I was back home in Liverpool. The journey back took about 9 hours including stops.
There is a story about what happened about the bites but it will be another story. The blast to Skye was mostly enjoyable. The scenery along the route was breath taking. The Scottish people that I spoke to were very friendly. Isle of Skye also lived up to its reputation of being one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. There were only two downsides: mobile signal on the island was very poor and the midges, yes, damn midges. Don’t let them put you off though.
A week later laying on the hospital bed did make me wonder if the adventure had been worthwhile. I could have spend my days somewhere else knowing I was well looked after, but the joy of fulfilling your dream is priceless. A bit of a drawback in an adventure always make it memorable. I won’t be put off visiting Scotland in summer again. In fact I have already started planning for my next trip.
N.B.: This is the dish that I aimed to cook at the campsite but I never had the chance (mood) to do so: Smoked Haddock in Spaghetti. You can use one ring burner and cook it in 10 mins.