Round Britain Rally – Scotland Report Part 1

I’m riding north on a road maybe three feet wide, sprinkled with sheep, bordered with heather to the right and a steep drop to a burn on the left. You might think the M25 requires concentration – right now, that would be peanuts compared to this rural ribbon. Wisely, my sister has opted to follow me. She gets to dodge the sheep that I’ve disturbed with my triple Triumph heartbeat. I get to dodge the local farmers in their cars, slingshotting the corners with gay abandon. In a National Trust garden, you might think it a cycle path – and criticise its narrowness as ungenerous to wheelchair users. Here in Scotland, it’s the road to Innerwick, and 40 points for the War Memorial to the Men of Glen Lyon. It’s my biggest challenge this trip – not quite a road of bones, but a road of baas.

We started with a panic and ended with a puncture. I like to start my trips at sparrowfart, when the sun is newly minted and the roads belong to me. I find it far too stressful to start at mid-day, which is where a promise to a friend to cover her Saturday morning commitments left me. The problem with being flustered is that I choose to make progress rather than stop and fill up when I know I should – when the trip counter is hovering around the 100 mile mark and I pass a petrol station on the wrong side of the road. No, I think. Too much of a faff to stop now. I’ll press on and there’s bound to be another chance before I get onto the motorway. Except that there isn’t, and I’m coasting along the motorway craning my neck for a glimpse of the Humber Bridge, where I know there’s a Jet station and a Little Chef. I spot it, but it’s tiny and a very long, long way away. I pray to the gods of fuel-air mixture, tuck in behind the Norbert Dentressangle lorry in hope of a tow and rein back to 56, which must be the most fuel-efficient speed as it’s the one they quote in all the ads. And we scrape in on fumes. Hurrah!

Overnighting at the Beverley YHA, I find myself surrounded by lycra-clad cyclists. They like museli for breakfast. I leave them to it and head off in search of my bikers reward – fried, scrambled and toasted – and find it with a view of Robin Hood Bay on the outskirts of Scarborough. Because it’s a sunny Sunday, the power rangers are blasting up and down with their race pipes – I nod cheerfully but with inner condemnation for annoying everyone within 20 miles, they ignore me for not having matching bike and leathers. But I have a quest! and soon I turn right off the main road and head for the coast – Jaw Bones Corner, Bempton. And RBR rule 3 comes into full play – it may be a road that normally sees two tractors and a german cyclist in the course of a week, but the minute you get a camera and a sign out, it’s rush hour. This remains true for the other 5 landmarks in the bag today, my favourite of which is the Loraine Cross, next to which someone has kindly built a craft centre and cafe. The bloke selling woolly socks is missing a trick, he has shepherds socks, ramblers socks and wellington socks, but looks bemused when I ask for a pair of motorcycle socks. He would have had a good year!

Bank Holiday Monday also starts blue and clear – the Bank Holiday Drizzler is obviously not yet a Scottish tradition. I am joined by my sister and we head for the Isle of Whithorn via the Hizzy cairn. Hizzy’s memorial is in a beautiful spot, but it is still a sad reminder of a life cut brutally short. We are all pagans now, it seems, the cairn garlanded with gold chains, gifts and letters from pilgrims who have come to pay their tributes. The Rhinos at Lincluden look enigmatic, perched on a rusting container and staring out across the concrete Dumfries savannah. Heading towards Whithorn, we meet Scottish Hospitality at its Bank Holiday Best – “2 coffees please” “We’re closed.” At 3.30 on a bank holiday? You must be kidding! I must have looked particularly distressed as the young guy behind the counter smuggled 2 paper cups outside and let us sit on the bench out front – which only served to lure other hopeful thirsty tourists to pull in and try their luck. I forced payment on a proprietor desperately trying to lock the door and we headed down to Wigtown, where the B & B I booked on the internet looked like it had followed the cofffee shop’s example and quit for the weekend. In some trepidation we pushed on down to the very bottom tip of Scotland – the Celtic saints certainly knew how to pick a splendid view for their self-build, St Ninian is said to have chosen a spot where he could see 5 kingdoms – Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Man, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The internet is a marvellous thing but it does lull you into a false sense of security. The hotel’s website promised an in-house bookshop (Wigtown is Scotland’s equivalent of Hay on Wye – but with rather fewer restaurants); a bistro; and wonderful views of the bay. None of these things manifested themselves during our stay – the boundlessly enthusiastic new proprietor hadn’t got her restaurant certificates yet so it was Bed; and we were in the top floor with Velux windows offering a fine view of the sky. But there was a big bath, 2 fluffy bathrobes and slippers, which is all 2 girly bikers need of an evening. And the moon was so bright it cast a moonshadow, which I have never seen before, being an urban girl. Very exciting!

Our luck with the weather ran out for the return leg from the West Coast – the Kingdom of Heaven fell rather closer to the road than previously, and once again I ended up soaked to the pants because of my refusal to concede that yes, it is actually raining and yes, I should stop and put my troosers on. We squelched into the Moffat Woollen Mill – on the brink of closing at 5.30pm – and dried ourselves out under the hand driers. When we came out, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and we came home along the A708 Cappercleugh road, manifest proof that on the 7th day God wasn’t resting, she was out on her trailie carving the curves into the Borders.

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