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Decided to enter this on the grounds that otherwise this will be the first year for about twenty years that I have not visited Scotland at some time during the year! Also I have to go to Scotland sometime to visit the two National Parks there (plus Hadrian's Wall again for the Northumberland park), and could do to collect a few more Round Britain Rally landmarks as well since I am in danger of falling short of my target of beating last year's score of 888 points for a Silver award!
The rally took place on the weekend of 12th - 13th September, starting anytime after 10am on the Saturday and finishing anytime after 11pm on the Saturday night but before 12 noon on Sunday. Reading through the rules showed me that I could start from any of the receipt points on the rally map, which detailed 24 numbered receipt points and 19 lettered receipt points across Scotland. There were also three ride options - a Highlander Challenge, which involved visiting 12 designated receipt points in the far north of Scotland; a Distance Class Award, which involved covering at least 650 miles according to the matrix between receipt points on the map; and a Merit Class Award, which involved covering at least 440 miles, with at least 3 numbered receipt points and 4 lettered receipt points.
Because I would only be leaving after work on Friday I discounted the possibility of completing the Highlander Challenge as being too far away. As I also had four national parks to visit over the weekend and as many RBR landmarks as possible to get in, I tried to visit a route around these, starting from as far south as possible. After a few hours of working out different possibilities I came up with two possible routes, which would allow me to get in all the parks, 9 RBR landmarks and get to the finish after 465 miles for the Merit Award, but would mean I could carry on and do an extra loop to get back to the finish after another 200 miles if I decided I felt like completing the Distance Award. Furthermore it involved travelling along the east coast of Scotland and areas I did not know anything like as well as the West coast and Highlands.
I eventually left Wolverhampton just before 5 o'clock and got on to the M6 heading north. The traffic was very heavy and there were quite a few stretches of roadworks, in fact I spent most of the next few hours travelling between the middle and outside lanes of the motorway. I was surprised by how many bikes were sat in the queues or moving so slowly with the cars - I got up to over thirty I had gone past before I lost count of them.
By the time I got to the south Lakes I was so fed up with the motorway that I changed my plan of just getting as far north as possible and decided to take a detour and visit the Lake District National Park outside Ambleside on the way.
I got there at about 7.30pm, took my photograph and then spent five minutes adjusting my headlight - after taking the front of the bike apart the previous weekend to replace the HID ballast for the main beam I had forgotten to adjust it down again (on the standard setting the HID lights are far too high). I also tried to work out if I had time to pick up the Northumberland National Park Visitors Centre at Once Brewed on Hadrian's Wall, and decided I wouldn't because it would be dark by the time I got there. So I continued north, got on the M6 again and rode for another couple of hours until I crossed the border into Scotland and decided to stop for the night. I ended up in a Days Hotel at the Gretna Services - I couldn't recommend it! I even had to pay an extra fiver for an 'Executive Room' bceause the only standard rooms they had available had had pets in them.
After a decent night's sleep I left at 6:45, aiming to pick up a number of RBR landmarks before getting to one of the Scottish Rally receipt points around 10 o'clock. It was becoming a beautiful morning as I rode across the Scottish Borders towards Kelso and then north-east to the coast north of Berwick upon Tweed. This, the A7 is definitely the best way to enter Scotland. Mist was still filling the valleys and the dips in the road but the sun gradually rose up strong enough to disperse it and warm me up. I had four landmarks to visit before I got to the start of the rally, including a tower, a doorway, a memorial statue and a barometer. The firs of these was a doorway standing by itself in the middle of Langholm, preseved because it was the work of Thomas Telford when he was still an apprentice.
The next was the beautifully atmospheric Smailholm Tower, a stronghold against the border reivers in the middle of nowhere. I stopped and read teh tourist information board by the carpark, but did not have the time to walk up to the tower as the road and time beckoned,From here I headed towards Berwick and then along the coast to visit a memorial to a fishing disaster in 1779 at Eyemouth.And then further north to Dunbar where I spent a little while trying to find the Barometer by the harbour - none of the locals had heard of it of course!
I arrived at the service station on the A1 bypass at Musselburgh a few minutes before 10am. By the time I had made a phone call and filled with fuel my receipt said 10:03 and I was good to start on the rally. The next few hours were spent heading north up the east coast, generally making good time except when I got caught up in the long traffic queues heading for the air show at RAF Leuchars and spent a lot of time meandering through the traffic.
I visited another RBR landmark at Kirkcaldy in Fife, this time a memorial to a motorcycle racer, Jock Taylor. It stood in the park at Kirkcaldy, which used to be a motor racing circuit many years ago.
From Kitkcaldy I headed into Leven and quickly found the large Shell garage on the outskirts ofthe town at Bawbee - it helped that this was one of the few garages I had visited before, when doing the Touring Award the year before. I believe that many of the stations used on the rally are the same from year to year so I guess some people must know where they all are by now!
In contrast my next stop was a taxi firm in Arbroath. I found it okay, although the street names seemed to be configured differently in that area according to Garmin, but the girl behind the counter seemed a little confused at my request, eventually giving me a signed and timed card before recalling that they had had someone asking the same before - I was not sure if she meant earlier that morning or in previous years. I guessed not many people were following a similar route to mine!
My next stop was to photograph a statue called 'The Seafarer'just outside Montrose.Continuing north to Aberdeen I went though the city and out towards the north looking for a BP station. I thought I had found it when I came across a station that was closed down, with a brand new Morrisons supermarket and petrol station opposite. This had happened a couple of time on the rally the previous year (and was to happen again this year) so I went into Morrisons and filled up. Carrying on along the road for another couple of hundred yards I came across, a BP station so stopped again. It had become very hot by now so I bought an iced lolly to get a receipt and stopped to chat to three riders, the first other rallyists I had met. One was riding a Laverda so
that gave us something to chat about for a while - one day I will get it running! Often on these rallies you come across a very varied assortment of bikes being ridden, including some very well prepared old British bikes and some very weird contraptions like the monkey bike and sidecar with Wallace & Gromit aboard which I saw at the Welsh Rally, and which also completed the Scottish this year. And the rallies are all the more interesting for people like that.
I had been to Aberdeen a few times about ten years ago when my cousin, who works in the oil industry, lived there and we used to go climbing on the sea cliffs around Cruden Bay. So I knew exactly where the next RBR landmark was, although I had not seen it before. The Bullers of Buchan is a natural phenomenon, a collapsed sea cave forming an almost circular chasm (the "pot") some 30 metres (100 feet) deep, where the ocean rushes in through a natural archway. I parked by the sign at the car park and although taking a photograph of my bike next to this was probably sufficient to gain the 30 points for the rally, I decided it was worth walking down to the cave anyway. It felt good to stretch my legs and despite the rain which had started as soon as I exited the brilliant sunshine over Aberdeen, the Bullers was an impressive and evocative sight, with a host of seabirds whirling round and round within it. It was also very windy which made getting a photograph with the rally flag in it difficult, in the end I just had to hold it in shot.
Back on the bike I continued north to Peterhead and then cut inland to follow a number of narrow A roads to a garage in Turriff. I was still fairly close to my projected time of arrival at each of the landmarks so felt pretty confident I would be okay. My only time restriction was that I had to get to Dalwhinnie before the garage closed at 7pm - the rally sheet said it was open from 9am to 5pm but I had phoned it in the the week and been told it was open until 6pm in the week and 7pm on Saturday.
From Turriff I headed back toward the coast to pick up the RBR landmark at Portnockie. The description said harbour and memorial so I took a photo of the bike overlooking the harbour and climbed up the small hill to the memorial to photograph that.
In the next town, Buckie I could not find the petrol station I was supposed to get a receipt from and eventually worked out it no longer existed so went used the GPS to find the nearest one and got a receipt from there. I then went on to Elgin, stopped for a receipt there, and turned south or the first time that day, heading towards the Cairngorms and the visitors centre at Nethy Bridge. It was a really good road, very windy, alternating between forest and moorland as it climbed towards the mountains. The ride was also made more challenging by the fact that I overtook a guy on a Honda Varadero at some temporary traffic lights and he spent the next 20 miles trying to catch me - I was, of course, determined that he was not going to, which made for a spirited ride until I shook him off.
The visitors centre at Nethy Bridge is by no means the most obvious or impressive of the national parks centres but is set in a beautiful location and I felt very glad to be able to tick off the most northern location of the ride. Collecting the other park in Scotland, at Loch Lomond, and visiting the Northumbria visitors centre would mean I only had one more park to ride to, South Downs, to have visited all fifteen this year.
I reckoned I still had about an hour and a half to get to Dalwhinnie and after stopping off for a receipt at a garage in Aviemore I got there at about 6.15, to find a notice on the station's door to say it had closed at 6pm. Fortunately the rules do allow you to get an alternative receipt from the same location, which left the hotel opposite, as the only place open in the village. I decided I might as well stop and have a meal since I had not taken anything in apart from a few Snickers bars and a couple of litres of juice all day. The local fish was excellent and I sat with a coffee afterwards watching several other groups of rallyists come in.
The sun was sinking as I rode over the moors to Fort William and down the shadows of the mountains on either side of the road. When I got to Roybridge I stopped to try and find the wooden bridge over the Monessie Falls which was the next RBR landmark. Despite taking a couple of turns off the road I did not find the bridge, but did come across this sign so, since it was starting to get dark, I photographed that and decided to settle for half the points available for that one.
I met a group of other rallyists at the garage in Fort William whom I had gone past on the road from Dalwhinnie - they were heading for Oban and then stopping for the night before finishing in the morning. I had one more receipt to get before I could finish - I thought I might be too early as the rules said the finish opened after 11pm but I decided I could just wait about at the hotel there. Riding through Glencoe is always a great experience and having spent many winters ice climbing on the mountains above Glencoe it brings back many memories. I had another good blast after going past a Honda VFR on Rannoch Moor - he was faster than me but his headlight was rubbish in comparison to the HID on the GS. My last stop was the Green Welly station at Tyndrum and from there it was only 20 minutes to the finish at Sluie Lodge near Crianlarich. I got there just after 9.30pm but there were already several people finished so perhaps I had misread the rules!
I logged in with Colin Pate, the organiser, and spent half an hour chatting with some of the other RBR riders who had completed the rally before heading off on the 390 mile ride home. I stopped off on the way to collect those two National Parks, the Gateway Centre at the south end of Loch Lomond and Once Brewed Visitor Centre on Hadrian's Wall and eventually got home at 5.30am the next morning, having ridden 1030 miles in the previous 23 hours and visited 13 Scottish Rally locations, 9 Round Britain Rally landmarks, and 3 National Parks - all in all a good day out!