Whilst studying Law at Aberdeen University, I used to look forward to Friday afternoons so that I could escape from Uni life and head off with my motorcycle friends to the West coast of Scotland. Our favourite destinations were Oban, Inveraray, Ullapool, Applecross and Arisaig. I even remember spending my 21st birthday in Tayvallich, a sleepy little hollow in a secluded bay to the West of Lochgilphead. It was a far cry from the bars and nightclubs of Aberdeen, but that was my choice. That is where I wanted to be.
So, almost 35 years on and thinking of days gone by, I sat down and planned a trip down memory lane with my husband, Rod as I wanted to show him some of the great scenery and roads that I had enjoyed all those years ago. We had both recently changed motorcycles moving from sports bikes to a sports tourer (Yamaha Tracer 900GT) and an adventure bike (Honda Africa Twin) and so I reckoned we would be better equipped for the longer days in the saddle.
I planned a Thursday and Friday for our trip and couldn’t believe my luck when this coincided with Scotland’s summer!
Jumping on a new motorcycle out of the wrapper can be a little bit daunting but in no time at all I soon realised how balanced and easy to ride the Tracer is. Being more upright on the bike gave me greater visibility and at my age no more neck pain from a crouched riding position. I fell in love all over again - with the motorcycle - not necessarily my riding companion.
First stop was going to be in Callander but it was very busy, so we headed on a few miles and pulled into the Trossachs Woollen mill at Kilmahog. A quick coffee in the sunshine and a chat to the Highland coos and we were off again heading for Tyndrum and then along the A85 to Connel. What a great road that is! Superb scenery with a mix of hills, forest and stunning Loch Awe whose banks you skirt along for quite a few miles. The temperature climbed into the mid 20s which is fine on a motorcycle as long as you are moving. Our destination was North Ballachulish and the Loch Leven hotel, but we decided to stop in Appin at the Creagan Inn restaurant and bar for a spot of lunch. It is situated right on Loch Creran with a lovely decking area where you can sit out and enjoy the view and the sunshine. That’s exactly what we did.
The A828 heading north along the shores of Loch Linnhe to Ballachullish is another superb road with lots of sweeping bends and a great road surface. The Loch Leven hotel is a historic property situated on the shores of Loch Leven with spectacular views up into the surrounding hills. The hotel has some new pods located to the rear which are fully equipped units with a bed, wet room/toilet, bluetooth speaker, wardrobe and fridge. What more do you need? Oh, and they have a small seating area to the front facing West, so you can watch the sun setting in the evening. The food in the hotel was superb too.
Forgoing the breakfast option in the hotel, we decided to head off early on another beautiful morning and ride up to Fort William before heading West on the A830 towards Mallaig. Our destination was always going to be Arisaig which is a few miles south where we had once visited some twenty years previously and were keen to see what had changed. The road from Fort William was definitely a lot better. European funding had clearly been used to upgrade and widen the road which is now a delight to travel along. Perhaps we were lucky as we only passed a few cars along the 35 mile route. Mind you, it was between 8 and 9am! We stopped at the marina at Arisaig and enjoyed a well-earned bacon roll and cappuccino. We were able to enjoy more stunning views in a very tranquil setting. Time seems to roll along very slowly up in these parts. No one is in a rush to do anything and you can understand why.
Our destination for our second day was Crinan which is located in Argyll and Bute, so we needed to retrace our route back down to Ballachullish and then head south towards Lochgilphead via Oban. Due to the temperature which was starting to get into the high twenties, we stopped again en route just south of Ballachullish at the Holly Tree hotel which has a large decking area to the back of the hotel looking onto Loch Linnhe. It was nice to have a stiff breeze blowing along the shore along with a diet coke to cool us both down.
The final leg took us through Oban which was chaotic to say the least. It was the start of the school holidays but the one-way system, combined with cars parked on either side of the roads caused the large number of tourist buses to get stuck. Of course, being on the motorcycles, the option to filter allowed us to progress in the slow/stationary traffic when cars couldn’t so we were able to get through quite quickly.
The route to Crinan takes you along the A816 from Oban towards Lochgilphead. It is another fantastic motorcycling route initially along the shores of Ardentallen Bay and then Loch Melfort. A few miles north of Lochgilphead, we headed West on the B8025 for a couple of miles taking us over the Crinan Canal and then down to Crinan. The Crinan Hotel is a beautiful property with great views over the Sound of Jura and beyond. It’s a must visit location if only to see the canal system and watch the puffers negotiate the various locks. The canal was completed in 1801 having taken 7 years to build. It is 9 miles long with 14 locks and bridges to negotiate. It was designed to provide a short cut between the west coast and islands at one end and the Clyde estuary at the other, and so avoid the long voyage around the south end of the Kintyre Peninsula. We were lucky enough to go out on a boat to catch sight of seals and their pups basking on the rocky outcrops and also spy some feral goats with huge horns grazing on some of the islands. They believe the goats originated from ships of the Spanish Armada which sank forcing the goats to swim to shore.
As we left Crinan the next morning, the weather was starting to break so we weren't too disappointed to be heading home. The Lochgilphead to Inveraray road (A83) is another cracking road which all bikers love due to its classic mix of tight bends and long straights. We stopped at the famous Loch Fyne oyster bar at the head of Loch Fyne for morning coffee and a discussion as to whether we should avoid the A82 back down towards Glasgow and head up to Crianlarich and over to Lochearnhead. We decided to take the A82 as we would be heading against the traffic which proved to be the case. We were so glad we weren’t heading north out of Glasgow as the traffic was nose to tail.
Chased by thunder storms, we arrived home with 520 miles clocked up on the Tracer prior to its first service which is planned imminently. The only thing left to do now other than enjoy the photos and reminisce about the fantastic roads, scenery, food and hospitality is to plan and book our next trip. We are so lucky to have all this on our doorstep. I love Scotland, the people and the places. Most of all, I love touring on the motorcycle – it’s great to get a wave and a nod from fellow riders. It gives you that warm glow and a feeling of belonging to a special group of like-minded individuals.
I can’t do my job representing motorcyclists unless I truly understand what it’s like for us out there on the roads. We had a safe journey and the roads were in surprisingly good condition. Just the one observation - temporary lights take ages to change so don’t be tempted into thinking they are stuck on red…it’s just Highland time!