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16th June 2009


Skint in Scotland, Part Two
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In the first part of their adventure, Elizah Wolfe's Royal Enfield Bullet enjoys a roadside rebuild and his travelling companion pays a violent visit to the verge. What else could go wrong? (Apart from everything…)

Fed and watered, we headed for Melrose, along some incredible roads and finally brightening weather. Along the way we stopped in Peebles, to rest aching bones (read; butts) where we were apprehended as we walked down the street by a girl with a clipboard, collecting details (money) for some charity. Now, having a pink mohawk and piercings means such people are drawn to you like a moth to a flame (charity workers, not girls) so presumably punks give more? Anyway, despite us not acquiescing to her albeit convincing patter, she still asked us if we would be heading through Edinburgh, where she could offer us a bed if we wanted. There were murmurs of dissent from McCaviy, we had been cold and wet too long, and I was inclined to agree. One last night and we would head home, early, and bowed by the harsh early April Scottish weather. But I took her number anyway, a travelling man needs allies.

They're smiling; or are the grimacing?... Elizah (left) and McCavity

We continued to Melrose, where we found lodging in a large mansion with gardens, converted to a remarkably cheap hostel, with views over the ruined abbey. After unloading the bikes we wandered into town (to buy cider) then retreated to the gardens, with guitars, to play some mad folk music and consume our flavoursome beverages.

Mid-song (and dance!), McCavity spotted a couple of pretty young women sitting on the hostel steps, smoking and watching us. We decided to approach, an evening of merry storytelling perhaps ahead. Separating us from the hostel was a babbling brook, a good leap across, easily managed on the way out, but a little more extreme with a belly full of apple intoxication on the way back! I leaped, can of cider in one hand guitar over my back, and almost made it, before sliding down the bank, catching my boot in a large root which pinned me effectively, thrashing about, covered in mud and trying to keep the cider upright, laughing like a lunatic.

All I remember is McCavity shouting 'Elizah you fool! You've ruined it, they'll never talk to us now you ridiculous b*stard!" I was unconcerned, as my heart belonged to a girl back home, so I swigged some more cider and attempted to untangle myself. Sure enough, the girls were laughing as hard as I was, and apparently had to wash their hair that night. 'A coincidence, nothing more' I remarked to McCavity, his only reply being a dark look.

Next morning we were up and on the bikes, loaded and ready to head home. I looked over the trees, to the ruined abbey. North. 'Let's go north. Going home is for losers…' I said.

'All right, but we spent all our money on hostels, so how?' said Cavity.

'We shall busk, and sleep in the woods; the bags are dry and we have bread and cider' I replied.

The correct decision made, and disaster (of the pansy variety) avoided we retraced our route east to Lanark, skirted up around Glasgow to Kilsyth and then a lap around Loch Lomond. It's a truly beautiful place although the first half of the road from Ballach is an ungodly nightmare on slow bikes, more than made up for by the second half, an ecstasy of motorcycle heaven (if you ignore the terrible road surface and many shattered car bumpers and sports bike fairings littering the verges like monuments to the fallen).

-sigh-

A night in Comrie, then the road from Crianalach to Fort William past the green welly and over Glencoe, possibly one of the most fantastical roads in the UK. A tourist information provided us with a ferry timetable and pricing to get from Lochaline to Mull, our benchmark for success. £10 for motorbikes, and we would spend the night there, camping.

We busked up some cash, then realised we had only two hours to cover the 77 miles to Lochaline before the last ferry! We dashed for the bikes, with an average speed of 35mph we were going to struggle, and it was gravely, single-track roads almost all the way. There ensued the most lunatic ride of my life: chances were taken, tyres and engines abused, many times I stood on the pegs to get a better view over blind summits so as to avoid braking. There was a very close call with a errant sheep, Cavity ended up on the wrong side of the road, inches from a stone wall, and a fat kid in a Capri nearly sideswiped me as he lost control on the gravel.

But we made it, and with twenty minutes to spare. The ferry arrived, and we boarded, triumphantly exchanging high fives at our success. Until the ferryman came over and asked for £30. Apparently it was £10 for motorbikes and £5 for passengers… Ridiculous really, what were they thinking we were going to do, send out bikes over to Mull on their own for a day out without us? Anyway, we had run out of cash, and couldn't pay. He got very angry, saying that we would have to buy singles then, and stay on the Island. I explained that we had no way of acquiring funds in such a place, and would instead return to the mainland on the ferry's return trip. He didn't like it, but we insisted.

Back on the mainland, with light (and temperatures) falling, we sped along the coast to find somewhere to camp. Eventually we found a ruined church on a hillside overlooking mull, and spent a night alone with the noisiest owl on the planet.

The next day, after only a couple of hours sleep (it was quite chilly) faced with only £20, having eaten nothing but raw cabbage since the previous day's breakfast, and with three days riding just to get home, things looked bleak.

We decided to head for Edinburgh with the hope of a good night's sleep and maybe some cider encouraging us to attack the 250 mile day. The road from Lochaline to Arachele was breathtaking and filled us with vigour.

Should've gone on one of these:

Alas, 11 miles from Fort William, over 800 miles and seven days into our adventure, disaster struck (again). McCavity was leading as suddenly I was enveloped in blue smoke and he screeched to the verge. No compression, no electrics, I diagnosed a piston ring failure and an end to his bike's adventuring. Unfortunately, Cavity's optimism had got the better of him, and he had decided against buying breakdown cover. An apologetic telephone call to his father saw his collection (in the back of the long suffering Punto) arranged for the morning.

Whilst we were figuring out what to do, a small man had come to offer his assistance and offered McCavity a bed for the night, and a meal. This is typical of my experience of Scotland: a dangerously generous people (apart from that blasted ferryman). Problem solved, and with 3pm approaching I decided to strike for Edinburgh. It was only 200 miles, with five hours of daylight (my lights don't last long) on a viciously overloaded 350cc Bullet. What could go wrong?

What could go wrong?

A lot it turns out.

Trying to press on hard, still unfed, I came to the Glencoe mountains. I spied a chap on a generic Japanese bike and decided to give chase, in the spirit of young hooligans everywhere. I was doing quite well, and closing on him around the tight bends, when suddenly my back wheel locked up and there was smoke everywhere. I skidded into the ditch and jumped off. The bike was baking hot, and the oil leaking from the head was burning off in clouds of smoke. The rain was drawing in, the temperature was very low and I was stuck on a damn mountain, with no one for miles around. I staggered away from the road stared towards heaven and screamed

'BO*L**KS!'

I waited for the bike to cool down, sweating about the sun's steady decline, and adjusted the tappets, added a pint of oil (oops) and pressed on, at a more restrained pace. The Bullet was not well, struggling to get past 30mph, crawling to a snail's pace and pretending to be a furnace on even a gentle incline (of which Scotland has a few) and seizing every 30 miles or so. I should have stopped, but I had no phone battery left, and last time I called for recovery it took five hours, and that was in a city in the midlands, who knew how long it might take up here? And it was sooo cold. So I kept nursing it on.

The seizures became more frequent, until 16 miles outside of Edinburgh it was every mile or so. Those 200 miles took me eleven hours. As I arrived in the city I was exhausted, insanely hungry, and actually verbally begging my bike to keep going. In the centre, I turned off the bike's death rattle and called The Girl. Her phone was switched off. I laid on the pavement and nearly wept. Then I remembered she'd told me her street name! I kicked the bike back to life and started searching, at random (I think my brain had stopped working) after half an hour I saw a taxi, and asked in desperation. 'Round the corner mate' he said.

I'd made it. She was there, unflustered by my lateness, and provided me with wine. The next day, after a lengthy sleep, her friend showed me around the city, I went to the castle, ate some chips, bought some cider and haggis and surveyed the city from the hill above, soaking in the rays and revelling in my achievement/survival.

The next day a truck took me home. I was sad that my bike hadn't survived, but it was the best thousand miles of my life.

Now I'm home, and getting ready to rebuild the bike for summer!


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