August 17th 2016
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The Deluge in Deeside, Part Two
When rain interfered with riding in Scotland's Speyside, Stuart Urquhart and his classic motorcycle touring companions sensibly changed direction towards a suitable distillery...Part One Here...
Leaving Alford we headed west on the A941 to Dufftown, picking our way for several hours through some deserted but picturesque roads. On reaching the isolated summit of Glen Fiddich, we became aware of a large crowd of hill-climbing buggies of all shapes and sizes. Judges were flagging various sections and some organisers were assisting mud-stuck 4WDs with tractor and chains. We stopped for an entertaining half hour to watch jeeps and other 4WD vehicles competing over the muddy slopes.
Then the rain started in earnest and we hastily retreated to find shelter and some revitalising munchies in Dufftown. It was time to plan our next move. Dave2’s suggestion of visiting a distillery received a resounding ‘AYE’ given the cats and dogs that were now bouncing from the cafe’s pavement. We emerged head-to-toe in waterproofs to be accosted by a small group of boiler-suited farmers who were admiring our parked up classics.
Suddenly one enthusiastic gent whipped out his phone and began screen-flipping pictures of his own classic bike and car collection. Rather than escape to the dry warmth of the cafe we ‘ooo’d’ and ‘ahh’d’ for another fifteen (very damp) minutes on the sidewalk, dodging incoming umbrellas. But what good-natured and jovial biker’s chat we enjoyed on the sidewalk before our new companions directed us to the nearby Glenfiddich distillery, some 500 yards ‘doon the toon’.
We entered the impressive garden foyer that is Glenfiddich distillery, leaving little puddles all across the polished marble floor. As I fought my way through a group of excited Chinese tourists the DDG blonde and tartan-kilted receptionist couldn’t have been more welcoming. But unfortunately the next two tours were fully-booked and we’d need to wait at least two hours for a place, ‘Would we be interested?’
I managed to excuse myself away from her disarming smile and repeated the question to the drop-jawed lads. But we hadn’t anticipated such a bustling crowd and instead we manoeuvred ourselves towards the exit to try our luck with another, smaller distillery – after all, it’s no exaggeration that the road west to Grantown is covered with them. My guess was that all of Speyside’s tourists had the same idea, ‘let’s get out of this miserable rain and visit a distillery!’ Alas, the next distillery at Glenfarclas also looked busy and we decided instead to make tracks to Grantown, book in early to our hotel, and ‘hit the pub’.
On last year’s Ullapool trip we enjoyed a fabulous gourmet meal at Grantown’s finest Hotel, the Garth Inn, but were disappointed to discover that accommodation at the Garth was fully booked. No problem this year as we booked well ahead. My estimation of this fine establishment peaked when I opened my room door to its four-poster bed, sunroom and en-suite bathroom with power-shower. So we showered and dressed in our gutter clothing before heading out on that great Scottish holiday tradition – the pub crawl.
Dave1 had soon ferreted out the town’s local drinking den where surprisingly, excellent craft beers were almost half-price – had we stumbled upon nirvana? Too many beers later we shuffled back to the Garth for our evening meal and a few chasers in the bar as we waited for our table. Not sure who spotted who first – but we met two kindred biker spirits in the bar (ex-pats resident in Norway) who we learned were touring the Highlands on hired GS BMWs. I think their Triumph tees gave them away!
As our new throng tried its utmost to get royally plastered on a merry-go-round of whiskies pre-meal, didn’t the Garth invite us to all have a celebratory dinner in their salubrious private function room as the hotel’s guests? Perhaps we were becoming a bit LOUD... But oh, what an unexpected treat! What a fab meal! And what fantastic company we enjoyed that evening! Needless to say we lost count of our tab, but made a pact to return next year for another round... that is IF the Garth will have us back... and IF we can remember where it’s located!
The biker-friendly Garth Hotel and restaurant is in fact easy to find on Grantown on Spey’s main street. Book well in advance and please let them know they have a ‘HIGHLY RECOMMENDED’ listing in RealClassic.
Next morning the forecast was wrong again and we awoke to driving rain. Over breakfast we decided to take the long way home and travel back over the scenic Lecht and Glen Shee ski slopes – no point in prolonging the holiday as the long term forecast for Grampian was doom and gloom. With heavy hearts and even heavier waterproofs we headed for the A939 Tomintoul road that meanders up and down through the gob-smacking scenery to the Lecht and eventually into Royal Deeside.
At first the going was miserable with scenery shrouded in a blanketing mist. Then the telltale icy creep of leaking boots and waterproofs began and several miles later my feet and crotch were crying hysterically for home. Thankfully, as we started the climb to the Lecht, the low cloud and rain began to lift and the looming mountain ranges reappeared to give a welcome distraction to my shivering midriff and numb feet. But we had a good laugh at the Lech cafe stop when Dave2 opened his Goretex suit to reveal a damp patch the size of Angus that covered his midriff. I was tempted to wring out my socks at this point, but thought pressing on towards the brightening skyline of Royal Deeside would lift all of our spirits – even my Enfield was chirping again!
The road south began drying rapidly in the rising temperature and we picked up the pace. On leaving the Lecht the A939 changes to a single track road with passing places and many testing hairpin bends – the road was becoming fun again and we enjoyed the challenging ride, stopping regularly to take in the stunning panoramas that popped up around every bend. All too soon we were heading downwards again to join the A93 Royal Deeside road through Balmoral Forest. At last the sun appeared and it felt like a giant hair dryer was steam drying our damp clothing and the road ahead. I decided to stop and take a picture of Braemar Castle with the bikes before our next coffee stop.
With the picture bagged we fired up again and exited the castle entrance onto the main A93 – when the terrifying sound of screeching brakes froze my blood. I wobbled off the road with startled eyes glued to my rear mirror expecting to see Dave2 and his Bonneville under the wheels of a tour bus or car. A zillion shocking thoughts ripped through my hot-wired brain as I tried to grasp the situation. But of Dave2 there was no sign. On catching the sight of excited tourists at the castle entrance with heads turned skywards and hands veiling their eyes, all at once I realised the source of the horrendous and shocking noise – we’d been buzzed by the RAF!
Now this is a fairly common occurrence in the Highlands, in fact it also happened last year in Ullapool, but when it catches you unawares it really is a potentially dangerous and distracting experience. In the interest of public safety it’s been my long held belief that low flying jets should be restricted to desolate areas and NEVER in close proximity to moving traffic. We later discussed the fly-past over coffee and both Daves were more amenable to sudden Tornados in the Glens than I, so we agreed to disagree.
Leaving Braemar behind we stopped briefly at a lay-by to take some pics of the 1715 Covenanter’s stone before thundering back down the Glen and home to yet more boring Brexit news.
I’ve deferred my booking at the Caelidh Place in Ullapool and our plan is to return there in September. Hopefully you’ll read all about that sunny tour later. Meantime, careful how you go lads, and watch the skies…
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