Scotland is still one of the best destinations for a motorcycle tour – especially if you're on a good route (ahem), with a good group and if the weather is stunning. I'm just back from a week-long trip and, well, two-and-a-half out of three ain't bad...
I set off a bit early, heading to the Lake District for some friends' wedding anniversary party. The forecast for Scotland wasn't perfect, but it was over 38°C as I headed north... so following my own advice (see "How to beat the heat") I was in a mesh jacket and armoured riding jeans, still sweating to death as the Honda Crosstourer devoured the distance.
It was a bit drizzly on the way up to the Buccleuch Arms in Moffat, where I was meeting my partner in crime, Bruce Smart – aka Teapot One. This trip had come about because he'd challenged me to put together what I thought was the ultimate Scottish touring route. What started as a joke quickly became real as he opened it out to members of his Patreon community (know as The Clan). And though we'd left it too late to get everyone into the Buccleuch, next morning we met the group of 13 riders joining us for the trip.
I'll be honest, conditions on the first morning weren't great. The drizzle eased off as we crossed the Mennock Pass, but built with a vengance, becoming a dreadful downpour as we headed to McInroy's Point for the ferry across the Clyde. Thankfully it eased once we were on the boat and, by the time we'd had lunch in Dunoon it was dry. Plain sailing from here, right? Er, no. That night's hotel had called: you know you'd reserved 15 rooms? We only have nine... Cue mild panic and a scramble to find alternatives. The hotel "found" an extra room and we ended up with five riders in a second hotel, 300m from the main group.
Next day we set off in intermittent drizzle. There are some roads that have to be ridden on a tour of Scotland, including Glen Coe. I'd been worried about the traffic, but it was great, scenic and mostly dry. We crossed the Corran Ferry and headed out to Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, the most westerly point of the British mainland. I'd wanted to include this on the route because not many group rides go there... and as I wrestled the big Honda down the narrow, gravelly single-track road – all huge undulation, blind bends and passing places – I remembered why. It's probably the toughest single ride in the UK, going on for mile after mile.
Everyone made it to the lighthouse okay, but most looked somewhere between surprised and daunted. Afterwards, as we stopped at Eilean Donan castle, everyone said the same thing: the ride to the lighthouse seemed really hard and took ages; the ride back was massive fun and was over in the blink of an eye. For me, though, it wasn't as much fun as what followed: into Fort Bill for fuel and then picking up my favourite British road. the A87 – the Road to the Isles.
Next morning we headed to Skye. This should have been a huge highlight of the trip but not only was it raining but also the clouds were so low that the Cullin Hills – the towering Munros that give Sky such an imposing landscape – were all-but invisible. I slogged my way north, shaking my head in disappointment. The biggest disappointment, though, was all the cafes in Uig being closed... We headed across the spectacular Quiraing (though without stopping at the bikes-pay-to-park car park) and down to Staffin for excellent coffee and cakes, at which point the weather began to lift. With the sun breaking out and the clouds disappating, we got to see Skye at its best.
More amazing riding followed over the next few days: over Applecross, picking up some sections of the North Coast 500 route, stopping off in Dunnet Head (the most northerly point of the British mainland) as well as in John o'Groats.
I'd been really worried about this section: last time I rode the NC500 was 2018 and it had been rammed: chock-full of idiots who didn't use passing places, making it not only frustrating but also borderline dangerous to ride. Not this time. We flowed along beautifully – and though there were cars to pass on the single-lane bits, really the roads were quiet. It was like it used to be in the mid-2000s, before the marketing machine of the North Coast 500 cranked up visitor numbers. In other words, it was as good a ride as you'll get anywhere in the world.
We didn't follow the NC500 route slavishly. Especially once we hit the eastern side of Scotland as there are much better roads than the A9 above Inverness. We worked our way down through the Cairngorms and back into the Borders, crossing at Carter Bar for the obligatory picture at the massive border stones, before reaching a final night outside Hexham.
While we had a few wet mornings, overall the weather was kind to us, though I didn't get my waterproofs off for the whole of the trip – I needed the windproofness of the top half over the mesh jacket – but that didn't matter. It was an outstanding ride: my favourite memory of the trip is overaking a yellow Porsche, only to watch in my mirrors as Trev sailed past it on his BMW R18 cruiser... but it was one of those trips crammed with memorable moments, good laughs and great people. I can't wait to do it all over again.
• If you'd like to join us for future trips, please drop me a line and I'll let you know when we get one in the diary – click here.