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31st October 2016

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Sunshine in Scotland, Part Two

Stuart Urquhart organised an extra-special classic motorcycle ride around some of Scotland's stunning scenery to celebrate a friend's birthday. And then gave him an Enfield Bullet to ride...

After the customary full Scottish breakfast we unfolded a map to work out an agreed tour for the day. Glen Coe was outvoted in favour of the quiet, scenic back roads surrounding Loch Tay and Loch Rannoch. Ian and Tom were keen to visit Glen Lyon and Fortingal’s 5000 year old yew tree. So we had a sketched plan – except that once on our bikes we were shocked to discover Killin’s petrol station was closed for repairs. Site workers informed us that the next nearest fuel stop was either at Tyndrum (16 miles), or Aberfeldy at the eastern end of Loch Tay (26 miles). So once again the Glen Coe v Glen Lyon debate resurfaced, with Glen Lyon pulling the ‘aye’ votes in favour of its quieter roads and proximity to Schiehallion (1081ft), Loch Tummel (Queens View) and Loch Rannoch. The drive along Loch Tay and past Ben Lawers (1214ft) was especially stunning that warm sunny morning – hinting we were in for a hot day ahead.

Classic Motorcycles - Sunshine in Scotland Loch Rannoch

After refuelling in Aberfeldy we had barely got going when the aroma of coffee and the sight of orange carrot cake dragged us into a local cafe – well there’s no hurry on a biking holiday after all! However, once refreshed, poor old Jens was embroiled in an entertaining fight to restart his Enfield. As a gathering crowd looked on he unfortunately came off worse, nursing a bruised ankle from one particularly violent back-fire. We did our best to explain the advantages of the Enfield’s decompressor, but Vikings are a stubborn lot... I was about to wade in and offer help when Jens fired up the Bullet to a round of spontaneous applause and then we were on our way again, past the impressive Castle Menzies and climbing the B846 towards the majestic Schiehallion.

Once we’d reached the road’s summit we stopped for pictures and to breathe in the cool breeze tumbling down the slopes of Schiehallion. Next we followed the B8019 to Queen’s View to join the jostling tourists for the best spot to take ‘selfies’ with the magnificent background view of Loch Tummel.

Classic Motorcycles - Sunshine in Scotland Rannoch Station
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After a brief rest we retreated back along the winding B8019 to Tummel Bridge, then westwards to Kinloch Rannoch. Our destination was the famous Rannoch Station Tearoom, perched above Rannoch Moor’s West Highland Railway and only a caber’s toss from Glen Coe – unfortunately only reachable by foot or hoof from Rannoch Station. It’s a stunning area and before reaching the tea room at road’s end there’s a jaw-dropping drive along Loch Rannoch’s scenic north shore. We all stopped to take pictures in the fine weather as the loch was in reflective mood. While glancing back over the deserted road we had just travelled we were reminded of the beauty and isolation of the Isle of Skye.

Soon we’d dismounted again and found ourselves trudging down the station platform towards the tea room in anticipation of tea and cakes and some welcome sunbathing. My cousin Richard (a hard-ass biker all the way from Hayward’s Heath) met us here and we all enjoyed some good banter along with our reviving tea and scrumptious cakes. The crickets were singing, the swallows were chirping and we were all peeling off layers in the mid-20s sunshine.

Classic Motorcycles - Sunshine in Scotland Schiehallion

Ian led us back along Loch Rannoch’s less-travelled south road which skirts the exposed slopes of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most striking mountains with its defining sugar-loaf profile. Initially the going is open and scenic with gentle bends and adequate passing places. But all too soon the road began to meander up and down through dark and heavily wooded sections for mile after mile and it was easy to imagine that we’d stumbled upon a film-set for Lord of the Rings – so imposing were some of the gnarled Scottish pines that stooped over the retreating road. The ancient Caledonian Pine Forest we were penetrating stretched as far back as Rob Roy’s times and its depths are as impenetrable as any Scottish castle. I now regret that I didn’t stop to take any pics, but as tail-ender I imagined I was easy meat for rogue ents, wargs and goblins…

Fortingal on the B848 was our next stop. It would appear that the Scottish Tourist Board has been busy glaming up ‘Auld Man Yew’ since our last visit, surrounding it with information boards and a splendid timeline-walkway that leads the inquisitive tree-hugger directly into the protected yew’s arms. According to local legend, Pontius Pilate was born in the tree’s shade and played in Fortingal as a child. Experts have dated the Fortingal tree to around 5000 years, and it is celebrated as the oldest living tree in Europe.

After a nosey inside Fortingal’s ancient church we returned to Killin to meet up with several other friends who were staying overnight before the following day’s Autumn Gathering. Another splendid meal was washed down with several delicious ales and our growing party celebrated well into the wee sma’ hours of Sunday. The 40th Autumn Classic Gathering was but one short night’s sleep away. I remember hoping we’d get some!

Classic Motorcycles - Sunshine in Scotland The Autumn Gathering

We had been blessed with fabulous weather over the previous three days and in accordance with the forecast the Gathering day dawned bright and sunny. I was looking forward to meeting up with Richard once again at St Fillans, as well as meeting with other friends and their interesting classics. The weather would be influential in attracting large numbers to the gathering and when we arrived at St Fillans the Four Seasons Hotel car park was already buzzing with motorcyclists enjoying the early morning sunshine.

Classic Motorcycles - Sunshine in Scotland The Autumn Gathering

Steven’s rare Matchless Silver Hawk (RealClassic magazine 109/110) had arrived and was parked next to a tasty Vincent Comet. Other classics of note were a pair of Norton Internationals, a BSA Rocket Gold Star and DBD32 Gold Star, two stunning Tritons, many Triumph Tridents, Honda CB750 Four, BMW R90S, Laverda Jota and a Mk1 Guzzi Le Mans, plus a myriad array of other British and Japanese classics. In all over 120 machines came and went throughout the day. After several hours of chatting with riders and appreciating their fabulous machines, Jens and I headed back for a tour around the East Neuk of Fife before stopping for cake and coffee at the picturesque fishing village of Crail. This was our last blast on the Enfields before heading home and taking the car down to Edinburgh Airport to catch Jens’ flight back to Denmark.

I know Jens had a fabulous time and will no doubt be reminded of his Scottish encounter with the Enfield Bullet every time he attempts to remove his right shoe. The fabulous weather, friendship and excellent scenery we thundered through over these three short days will provide treasured memories to mull over in the coming winter months – both here and in Denmark. Then with the return of spring arrives the chance to do it all again. We already have a plan for 2017...

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