Mongolia, will we ever get there?

Mike & Ben – Scottish adventure 2021

The last couple of years has turned the world upside down in more ways than one. With the COVID19 pandemic bringing the world to its knees and governments globally forcing their populations into mandatory lockdowns, closing borders and blocking all travel it became impossible to even think about adventure motorcycle trips overseas yet alone actually under take such a venture.

With the Russian government now completely destabilising the region with the war in Ukraine, Scandinavian countries applying for NATO membership and the threat of nuclear apocalypse things are only getting worse, not better.

As if it wasn’t bad enough already, the border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan doesn’t look like it’ll end any time soon. The withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan resulted in the Taliban taking control of the Afghan/Tajik border making it impossible to ride along some of the most challenging and beautiful parts of the region.

Many governments have shown their true colour during the pandemic with some even becoming totalitarian and turning against the very people that put them in power. I was appalled at how the supposed liberal government in Canada treated people during the protests over unnecessary mandatory vaccinations. Whatever happened to freedom of choice?

The last two years have certainly impacted everyones lives one way or another.

Throughout the pandemic I’ve kept in touch with contacts in Russia and Mongolia and have received regular updates on travel restrictions and border closures. We’re now in April 2022 and the Mongolian borders are still closed to tourism, as are the Russian borders.

When I retired in October 2019 I was ready to go on my trip, all visas were sorted, ferry off this little island of ours was booked and I was kitted up ready to go. I’d been waiting for this moment for years and it was finally coming or so I thought.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether it will ever be possible to ride through central Asia and experience the open plains of Mongolia freely. It’s certainly not going to happen this year (2022) and as for next year, who knows!

Since the Mongolia trip is well and truly on the back burner until further notice I started looking at other options. South America has always fascinated me but, many of the borders are still closed and their death rates are still high, it’s going to be some time before this is viable again.

Australia has now opened it’s borders and so perhaps this is now my only option?

I’ve always wanted to ride across the outback and ride the coast road around Oz so perhaps this should now be my focus. Shipping coasts due the pandemic are ridiculously high so I’d need to consider selling the bike in the UK and buying a bike in Australia for the trip.

Fortunately my wife’s nephew lives in Australia and so we have a contact there to get information about purchasing and insuring a bike.

The shape of travel has certainly changed over the last two years and not for the better. I’m not convinced it will ever go back to how it used to be but, we must strive to find ways around government restrictions so that we can experience this beautiful planet to the full.

More soon …

Trip to Scotland to ride the NC500 – Part 4

After a cold and windy night at John O’Groats we were now heading south for the first time. Leaving the campsite we picked up the A99/A9 East Coast road and settled in for the ride to Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park.

A99/A9 route south to Aviemore

The A9 is the busiest main road we’d been on for some time and it felt a little strange initially. We’d got so used to riding the small, single track lanes up the West Coast and across the North of Scotland that being on a large, sometimes multi-lane road with lots of commercial traffic felt somewhat alien. This also meant that we’d be putting the miles in fairly quickly as we needed to ride at the same speed as all the other traffic to be safe.

The East Coast road isn’t anywhere near as scenic as the West Coast route and we’d not planned any stops on the first leg of the journey south apart from getting some breakfast.

Upon seeing a sign on the side of the road saying next right for food we made a swift exit from the A9 and pulled in at The River Bothy for breakfast.

This lovely little bothy is actually a full on tea room and not a bothy at all however, it’s well worth a visit.

Being situated in an old wash house, this superb little tea room is full of character. There are old copper pipes and taps around the walls, an old wood fired water heater in the corner and a huge fireplace and wood-burner to keep everyone cosy in the winter months. The food here is excellent, one of the best breakfasts we had on the trip. The staff were also great, really engaging and full of fun, it was a great place to visit for breakfast.

The River Bothy just off the A9

After a good hour in The River Bothy we carried our full bellies back out to the bikes and continued our journey south.

40 minutes further south on the A9 we spotted a castle just off the main road and had to stop to take a look.

The Dunrobin Castle situated right on the shoreline overlooking the Dornoch Firth is one of the most beautiful castles I’ve seen in the U.K. With its tall towers and pointed roofs rising up over the beautiful gardens it’s almost Disney like in appearance.

It was such a shame it was a dull day as the light really didn’t make it easy to capture the castle in all its glory. We spent some considerable time here just walking around the grounds, along the coastline and taking far too many photographs. There really is a lot to see here.

There’s a wealth of information about the history of the castle on Wikipedia and is worth a read if you’re going to visit or just have a castle curiosity like me.

Dunrobin Castle over looking the walled gardens
Main entrance into Dunrobin Castle
Lookout on the coast
Side entrance into the castle for deliveries
View of the gate house from the side lane
Castle clock tower rising above the outer wall
View along the coast
Castle from the side lane
Our bikes parked out front of the main castle entrance
Beautiful wrought iron gate to the walled gardens
Crest on the rear gate to the walled gardens

Whilst I was at the rear of the castle taking photos of the walled gardens a young lady appeared behind the wrought iron gate and gave me a smile, I just had to capture the moment!

A smile captured forever

After spending far too much time at the castle taking photos we got our helmets on and headed south once more. Crossing the Cromarty Bridge we were soon on the outskirts of Inverness. Not wanting to go into the city we scooted around it on the A9 and headed towards the Cairngorms National Park.

Arriving in Aviemore we immediately found ourselves stuck in a massive traffic jam. Unknown to us it was a bank holiday in Scotland and clearly everyone had decided to come to Aviemore at the same time.

We found a little space on the side of the main street and parked up to get out of the traffic. The town was incredibly busy, not something we’d experienced on the trip up until now. Finding a little cafe on the main street with outside seating we plonked ourselves down and ordered coffee and cake.

Drinking coffee and eating cake whilst watching the world go by is one of my favourite past times and one that I never tire of. I love people watching, always have and always will. No matter where in the world I find myself, I always find somewhere to just sit and watch. Some would say I’ve wasted far too many hours of my life just watching others but, to me it’s not time wasted at all.

When I lived and worked in Brussels I would go to the Grand Place on a Saturday morning to sit outside one of the many cafes, drink great coffee, eat wonderful croissant and just watch people go about their day. It’s one of the simple pleasures in life that I love most.

The time soon passed and we were having to think about where we were going to stay for the night. With what seemed like the whole world in Aviemore we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. After phoning a number of campsite, lodges and chalets it became apparent that everywhere was booked up and no one had any space available for two old men on motorcycles.

Not deterred we continued searching google for places to stay. (Where would we be without google maps!) Eventually we found a campsite not too far from where we were seated and decided to just head on over and see if they could squeeze us in.

Arriving at the Glenmore Campsite it was immediately apparent they weren’t particularly biker friendly and didn’t really want us there. This wasn’t the first time we’d experienced this in Scotland, for some strange reason some campsites just didn’t like bikers.

Normally they charge £18 per night for a tent but, because it was a bank holiday weekend they wanted £28 per night for a tent and one person. It really annoys me when campsites hike up their prices just because it’s a bank holiday, there’s really no need to rip off your customers like this but, it seems to be common practice these days. Sadly we had little choice but to pay the over inflated price.

To make it even worse they wouldn’t let us camp on the tent field with all the other campers that had plenty of pitches vacant but, instead told us to go right to the back of the campsite behind the boiler house and pitch our tents there out the way. Anyone would had thought we were lepers and needed to be kept away from the masses. To ensure we didn’t camp with all the other campers they even escorted us down to the back of the campsite and pointed at the piece of grass we were to use.

To add insult to injury, the piece of grass they insisted we camped on turned out to be the dog walking area and was covered in faeces. £28 to camp for one night behind the noisy boiler house on a small piece of grass covered in dog faeces resulted in the worst review I have ever given a campsite in my entire life.

Once we’d got our tents pitched we then had a staff member complain to us our tents were too close together and that they needed to be 6m apart. At this point my patience was running thin and so I took him on a guided tour of the faeces covered piece of grass asking him to point out where the two tents could go 6m apart without getting covered in faeces. Needless to say he couldn’t find anywhere else other than where we’d pitched our tents!

Eventually we got rid of the staff member and got changed into some more comfortable clothing ready to go find somewhere to have a bite to eat and drink for the evening.

A few minutes walk from the campsite we found The Pine Marten Bar, a small ski bar and cafe tucked away amongst the trees. This little place had a cool vibe going on and we were made most welcome, how refreshing!

Neither of us are drinkers but, we fancied something cold on this occasion. The food was good and went well with a cold cider, the staff were great too!

Later the same evening we took a walk around the area and discovered that just behind the campsite was Loch Morlich which had a fairly large beach where you can wild camp for free! If only we’d known this before we arrived in Aviemore.

Loch Morlich beach – Ben Jackson

The view of the surrounding hills from the beach at Loch Morlich was spectacular as the sun set. If we’re ever up this way again we’d wild camp right here for sure!

After a good nights sleep we were up bright and breezy. The showers were hot which was a plus and the midges hadn’t woken yet, heaven!

We got packed up and on the road early heading south through the Cairngorms. The roads were pretty fast and we made great progress. Stopping at The House of Bruar for breakfast on the A9 was great. The food is always excellent there and they have good coffee too!

The House of Bruar food and shopping complex

Back on the road and we were soon crossing the river Forth on the Queensferry Crossing just north west of Edinburgh. Once past Edinburgh we turned off the A9 on to the A68 and headed south through the Northumberland National Park.

The Scottish side of the border
The English side of the border
The view of Scotland from the English side of the border

Crossing the border back into England marked the end of the trip, from this point on it was just a matter of getting home. As we passed into England the weather brightened up and the sun came out, it was a glorious welcome back to the home land.

We decided that since the roads were all fast moving we’d push on and head down to the Lawnsgate Farm Campsite on the North York Moors that I stayed at on the way up. Ben hadn’t been there before and so was happy to see another new place. We pushed on stopping only for comfort breaks and drinks taking in the views as we went.

After a total of 300 miles we arrived at the campsite, late in the day but, happy with our progress and the ride we’d had. It was a fitting end to a spectacular trip.

Our route from Aviemore to Lawnsgate Farm Campsite on the North York Moors

That evening we ate a melange of noodles that I’d had in my dry bag for a few days as our emergency food supply just incase we found ourselves wild camping somewhere miles from anywhere. Sitting watching the sun go down over the North York Moors was very relaxing and once the light was gone we turned in for the night.

The following morning it was a while before the sun broke over the hill behind the campsite. There’d been a heavy dew overnight and the tents started to steam gently in the warmth of the early morning sun. Kettle on, I soon had a brew in hand and just sat and watched the valley awaken as the shadow of the night was driven out by the light of the day as the sun rose over the hill. It was a glorious start to the day.

Once we were up and the tents were packed and loaded we headed off once more. We’d decided to take the scenic route across the Humber Bridge and then on to the Lincolnshire Wolds where Ben would peel off and head towards Birmingham to visit a friend on the way home. For me it was an easy route, through the wolds onto the A17 and back to Norfolk via Kings Lynn and finally down into Suffolk via the Beccles road, a route I know well.

After 14 nights away and almost 3000 miles on the clock my Tenere 700 desperately needed new tyres. The OEM Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres had now done just over 6000 miles and were well past their best. The bike was also now due its 6000 mile service so that needed organising too. There’s always something to spend your money on!