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.
Leaving the Philpin Farm campsite Ben and I headed north west to the Lake District to ride the Wrynose and Hardknott passes. These are well known passes that can get very busy in the summer months so, we were ready for them to be packed with traffic.
The sun was shining and there was hardly a cloud in the sky as we arrived at the Wrynose pass. Pretty much free of traffic we made our way along the single track road gradually getting higher and higher. The views were spectacular and we stopped multiple times to get photos.
The Wrynose pass leads directly into the Hardknott pass so it’s just a case of continuing along the same track to ride both passes. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic so, this allowed us to stop whenever we wanted to take photos and enjoy the views. The ride gets more difficult the further into it you get with the climb ending with some very steep, tight switch back turns. Thankfully we negotiated them without issue.
Since it was peak holiday time we weren’t able to find anywhere by the lakes to camp for the night and so we ended up staying the night at the Wallace Farm Campsite near Brocklebank. We actually stumbled across this campsite whilst on our way to another campsite closer to Carlisle. The Wallace Farm Campsite is pretty much on top of a hill overlooking the area with great views. The facilities are excellent (has the best bathroom facilities I’ve ever seen at a campsite!!) and John the owner is a biker so we were made most welcome!
Gretna Green was a funny little town full of wedding chapels. There wasn’t that much there for us to see and so we pushed on through to Lockerbie.
The Lockerbie memorial is in a small, quiet garden area on what looks like a new housing estate. Being quietly tucked away from everything around it, the memorial lists the names of the locals who were killed in the tragedy. It’s a peaceful place to be whilst remembering those who lost their lives.
Before we left Lockerbie we needed to get some breakfast and a brew, Cafe 91 gets great reviews so we headed straight there. This is a super little cafe that has a great menu with something for everyone. We went for the cooked breakfast of course and weren’t disappointed. The staff are great, service is excellent and the food excellent too! If you’re in Lockerbie drop by and sample their breakfast or lunch, you won’t be disappointed.
Upon leaving Cafe 91 full of the finest Scottish breakfast we crossed over the road to take a look at some sheep that were on the pavement opposite. Of course, being the guys we are, we had to have a test ride! Sadly neither of us got our knees down but, Ben was close!
From Lockerbie we continued north towards Lochaline to get the ferry across to the Isle of Mull via Glencoe. The weather was great, warm, sunny and pretty much cloud free. Upon arriving at Glencoe we decided to ride the cable car up to the top of the ski area.
It was great to get out of most of the biking gear and head up onto the mountain in the fresh air and just enjoy the views. It was surprisingly quiet for peak summer so we made the most of watching the mountain bike riders racing down the trails. (Video of the cable car ride to come!)
Once we’d come down from the mountain we jumped back on the bikes and continued towards to Lochaline.
Rather than ride all the way up to Fort William to get on the other side of Loch Linnhe, we took the short ferry crossing at Nether Lochaber Ferry Terminal to save a few miles of riding. It’s a very short crossing of only a few minutes but, a most pleasant experience and highly recommended. No booking necessary, just turn up and wait in line, you’ll normally be across within 20mins and get to meet some of the locals who are full of information of where the best places are to stay.
Once across the loch the ride to Lochaline was mostly single track road with many passing places taking much longer to traverse than we thought. Fortunately it was very scenic and a most enjoyable ride. Arriving at the Lochaline Ferry Terminal there were already enough vehicles there to fill the ferry when it came in and so we had to wait for it to come back and collect us on the next pass. This gave us a couple of hours to relax, get a bite to eat, a coffee and chat with the other people waiting for the ferry. You meet people from all walks of life at these kind of places and it’s always great to make the most of the opportunity.
Arriving at Fishnish on the Isle of Mull we headed straight for a campground a chap at the ferry terminal had told us about. Apparently it was run by a mate of his, was a good campsite with excellent facilities and we’d be made most welcome.
The Pennygown Holiday Park looked pretty empty as we pulled in so we thought we’d have no problem getting a pitch for a couple of days. Going into reception it all looked fairly new and the people were friendly enough and made us welcome, strangely though we were told there was no space for us at the campsite even though there were plenty of empty pitches. We queried this only to be told a little more firmly that they were all booked and there was no space for us. So not wanting to push any further we headed back out to the bikes and started looking for somewhere else to stay.
Within minutes we’d spoken to the Tobermory Campsite on the phone and they had plenty of room for us, so we suited up and headed off.
As a side note, a couple of days later we rode past the Pennygown Holiday Park again and it was still very empty, all the same pitches were still vacant. This wouldn’t be the first time we’d be turned away from a campsite on our trip and we got the feeling that some places didn’t want bikers on their site.
An hour later we were settled in at the Tobermory Campsite and ready for a bite to eat! We decided to head into the town and see what culinary delights were available as we were both pretty hungry.
Arriving in Tobermory I was a bit disappointed to say the least. All the glossy brochures and online photos etc show Tobermory as this lovely, bright well kept town full of happy tourists, if only!
To me Tobermory looked really sad, full of tacky little takeaways that looked decidedly dodgy. The painted buildings looked like they needed a repaint and the town in general looked tired and could do with some investment. I was saddened.
On the other hand Ben loved it! He thought it was full of character and would definitely be back. It’s amazing how two people can see the same thing so differently!
After walking the entire length of the sea front and back again we decided that the Indian take-away that also did chinese and something else looked the least dodgy and so we grabbed some food from there and took it back to the campsite to eat.
One thing we had been told about the Tobermory Campsite was that it had the worst midge problem on the island and they weren’t wrong! The next day we headed back down into the town to get some smidge and anthisan from the pharmacy to deal with all the bites we’d got over night. Those little bugs love to bite!
The Isle of Mull has some great riding, there are lots of single track roads that go out into the mountainous wilds. The views are stunning.
If you’ve made the effort to ride all the way up to Scotland then the Isle of Mull is one of those places you just have to visit. Ride the big loop routes in the north and south of the island and take in the views, even in the wet it’s truly beautiful.
Whilst riding the southern loop road we took the detour out to Fionnphort on the south western tip of Mull and caught the ferry across to Iona. On this little island you’ll find the old abbey and nunnery ruins. There’s also a campsite and a heritage centre. It’s a very peaceful little place mainly due to the fact that you cannot take motor vehicles there unless you have a residency permit. So be prepared to do a lot of walking if you venture to Iona.
After two days on the Isle of Mull it was time to head back to the mainland and ride up to the Isle of Skye.