A Bute-iful day out
Scotland! Okay, it’s not the Alps but I’ve still been dreaming of getting North of the Border on a bike for ages. Not since lockdown began: since I got back from the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime in November.
It’s not that I needed an excuse, but hitting 50 gave my girlfriend the justification for drafting in the babysitters so she could take me away for the weekend – though of course as I’d doing the riding, it would be me doing the taking (no tittering at the back!).
It was touch and go, though. Without wanting to sound too much like an old git, on Wednesday night I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sit on the bike, never mind ride it to Scotland. My knee was killing me and intermittently failing to bear my weight – Christ knows how it’d cope with propping up a two-up Z1000SX at a junction (easy guess: it wouldn’t). Thursday morning I added a memory-foam pillow to my office chair and by Thursday afternoon I was skipping about like a spring lamb, only taller, grey-haired and wearing glasses…
So on Friday morning we set off. The relaxing of lockdown in Scotland had come just in time and Ali had booked us into the Buccleuch Arms Hotel in Moffat – my favourite UK biking destination. Partly because it’s surrounded by good roads, but mostly because it’s a proper home-from-home: bike in its own garage, superb food and drink, great guys running the place and a hotel full of fellow motorcyclists. There’s always a friendly buzz to the place.
I was worried how Ali would cope with the journey, though: the longest trip she’d done before this was to the West Country: a leisurely 200 miles each way. Now we’d be upping the distance to nearer 350. I was a bit worried about how I’d cope, too – the longest ride I’d done since getting the bike back was a cheeky B-road morning blast with my mate Ian.
In the end, thanks to his-and-hers Airhawk seat pads, it was effortless – despite an unscheduled, unforeseeable hour-and-a-half standing on the hard shoulder of the A1(M) near Doncaster until the road was cleared after a crash. We plodded up the motorway to Scotch Corner, filled up… and then the real riding began.
Obviously, I had to swing through Barnard Castle just to test my eyesight, which was fine so I pressed on to Middleton-in-Teesdale, Alston and Brampton. I had hoped to head up through Longtown and Langholm to Eskdale, but that earlier delay put paid to that plan: instead it was another burst of motorway. To celebrate the fact that it was my birthday, the Scottish weather gods welcomed me to their territory with a celebratory downpour as soon as we crossed the border, but we were both in good Held gear so nothing leaked.
Next day we set off for Bute. As a daytrip from Moffat, it’s perhaps not the most obvious destination, but it was great. We stayed off the motorway, taking the back roads to Abington and then swooping out towards the coast on the A70 – a lovely laid-back road, apart from when it tried to feed a few free-range sheep into the front wheel.
We hopped the ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, eating our packed lunches from the hotel as we crossed. Before leaving Rothesay I went up the Serpentine Road – I’d hoped it would be a kind of suburban Alpe d’Huez, but in fact it’s just a series of badly surfaced, ultra-tight hairpins more like a very steep Motogymkhana challenge. Disappointing.
Bute itself is lovely – but it’ not very big. You can lap the whole island in under an hour, so I tried to drag it out by doing a kind of figure-of-eight route and stopping to admire the windswept beaches. Then it was back on the boat to bob our way back to the mainland, returning to the hotel across the Menock Pass, through Wanlockhead (Scotland's highest village).
After a great evening in the Buccleuch drinking with fellow guests Ian and Annette from my old stomping ground of Grantham (relatives of former Bike photographer and all-round good egg Chippy Wood) it was time to head home.
This time we headed down to Tebay before leaving the motorway, then heading across the Yorkshire Dales – great riding from Kendal to Hawes and out to Ribblehead, but it was heaving… Loads of cars and masses of bikes enjoying the sunshine. I was too – and Ali loved it. The only trouble is, now I’ll have to take her somewhere even better next time. The Alps it is, then…