Editor ‘arris took a holiday in the UK, got a Ducati GT 1000 for a week and went for a quick spin to Scotland in search of scotch.
“Coming to Obarrn and noot doon the Glencoe rood orn a motorbyke, is … well, mardness”.
And with that sentence of Scottish wisdom from the man at the Bed and Breakfast 350 miles to the north of me, my plans to do a quick tour of Scotland were complete.
Having been born and bred in northern England, not having toured the gobsmacking beauty of Scotland – just a few hours to the north – was bordering on the criminal.
I’d been spoilt by the beauty and twisty roads of the Yorkshire Dales, but now older, having developed a taste for fine single malt scotch, I decided that the lawlessness had to stop and a trip to Scotland was in order.
I’d already picked up the shiny new Ducati GT1000 and packed wife and child back off to Canada. Now all I needed to do was work out which area of Scotland to see in the three days I had left.
Priority number one was to hit up a distillery – and a close one at that. Lagavulin and Laphroaig – my two favourite scotches – are located on the Island of Islay, which is infuriatingly close save for the fact of the required ferry ride which adds just too much to keep the trip enjoyable as opposed to a non-stop sprint.
After spending a whole afternoon crunching schedules and calculating distances I finally drop the Islay but find the next best thing – Oban.
Oban is a small port (ironically with ferries serving Islay no less) with one of the oldest Scottish distilleries making (surprise, surprise) Oban single malt whisky. It’s located on the west coast on the edge of the Highlands, about a long day’s ride from my base near the Yorkshire Dales, or to be precise, 350 miles via some of the most gorgeous motorcycle roads in the country. Well, I hoped.
With three days and a cousin in Edinburgh I decide that the first day could be spent heading due north to the Scottish capital, day two heading north-westerly from there to Oban (for scotch, scotch and some more scotch) and day three the long haul back home.
Good, let’s get to it then.
WEDNESDAY – THE HIGH ROAD TO EDINBURGH
My first day begins with glorious sunshine and a jaunt north through the Yorkshire Dales. This is where I (mis)spent so much of my youth – learning to ride on my rather delapidated old Honda CB200 over hill and dale. An almost magical combination to enter the world of motorcycles and newfound independence.
Old memories flood back as I swoop along some fast two lane road and then climb over desolate moor and single lane so bumpy that’s there’s no chance of the Ducati even getting close to the posted limit. Then it’s into Northumberland and one of my old favourites, the A68.
The A68 gets better as you get towards Scotland. Few straights and lots of swooping curves keep you on your game, whilst still allowing for some wandering of the mind too. Once over the border I’m into the Scottish Lowlands (as opposed to the more famous Highlands further north), which are somewhat neglected but still reward the exploring motorcyclist with a network of empty meandering roads.
I realize that I’ve made too good a time and so take the GT on a bit of a mystery tour, turning left and right as required to still keep a somewhat northerly direction. Roads lined with gause (a very prickly plant but stunningly beautiful when in bloom with a shower of small yellow flowers) contrast against the deep green stone-walled fields.
I feel my inner tempo calm and slow and the GT drops below 5,000, finding its thumping harmony with road and rider.
The clutches of Edinburgh don’t bite until about 15 miles out, breaking the spell with a series of roundabouts, stop lights and actual traffic! But even this big city fits the day with its grand Georgian buildings nestled between rust-red craggy hills, peppered with bright yellow gause.
The city smells of old money and sweet nutty gause pollen. I pull up and unload at my cousin’s flat.
THURSDAY – ROB, GLEN AND OBAN
Escaping Edinburgh involves heading south on any mainish road until you hit the southern bypass and you pick your way from there. An early start meant that said bypass was all stop and go so I opted to try my hand at the fine British art of lanesplitting.
It’s quite a refreshing experience – likely somewhat akin to how Moses felt when he divided the Red sea, only without a crowd of unruly Egyptians in hot pursuit – as lines of cars and lorries either side of me actually move over to let the biker through.
Hey, lane-splitting is an ancient custom, dating back to biblical times: “And next morning the motorcyclists enter the in-between lane, on dry ground, and the traffic was like a wall to them on their right and on their left.”
Sadly, Canada is full of non-believers which God has obviously punished with baseball, long winters and a plague of Tim Hortons (chapter 27, verse 3 : “Blessed are the lanesplitters who suffer the spite of the cag-ged idjits”).
Trying to get from Edinburgh to the Highlands sees some of the most populated lands in all of Scotland and so I opt to blast by it on some handy motorway, which dumps me out some thirty miles later in Stirlingshire. I’m soon out of the Lowlands and officially into the Highlands, as the hills start to pop and the road becomes more bend than straight.
I pass a sign for the grave of Rob Roy and opt to turn around and take a quick diversion for the sake of being a tourist and adding additional elements to this story.
Rob Roy MacGregor is a Scottish folk hero despite – or maybe because of – being seemingly more villain than hero. His grave is covered in coins, presumably tossed in by modern day sympathisers, though I know not the meaning. I resist the urge to take one of the two pound coins for a cup of tea later and head back to my original route.
Just before the turn off to the highly recommended road through Glencoe, I pull off at the entertainingly named “Green Welly” (British slang for a rubber boot), where I take a moment to catch up on my trip notes and chat with a group of self-deprecating Dutch Guzzi owners who are on their way to a Guzzists’ get together. Or was that an S&M meet?
From here it’s a stunning ride through Glencoe which is famous for not only being one of the most beautiful and scenic areas of Scotland, but also several historical events: the good (a location for Monty Python’s Holy Grail), the bad (also a location for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film) and the ugly (the infamous Glencoe massacre that occurred back in 1692).
THE GLENCOE MASSACRE
So what just did happen back in 1692 in the Glen of Coe? Good question, Well, back in August 1691 King William of Orange (the king of England) decided that it might be a good idea to offer the clans of Scotland a truce. You see, they reckoned that the deposed James VII should be king, not William, and so – as all Scots are prone to do – they would get drunk and cause general mayhem every now and then.
However, the truce came with a deadline of 1st January 1692, after which there would be “serious consequences” or something like. The Scottish clans in question thought it might be a good idea to pass this idea by James (now living in France) as there was still a possibility that he might leave the sunny climes of France and return to rainy Scotland and be king.
James ho-hummed for a while and then decided, sod it, I’m staying here, only letting said clans know that in mid-December. Well I guess some of the phone lines must have been down because one clan chief, Alastair MacIain, 12th Chief of Glencoe, waited until the last day before setting out to take the oath.
Unaware that he was about to invent what would later become known as “a CMG moment”, he went to the wrong place to swear said oath but was told that if he went straight to the right place that they’d let him off and everything would be okay (sounds a bit like trying to contest a parking ticket).
Anyway, after several other delays the oath-taker person reluctantly took said oath and MacIain went off on his merry way thinking that although it had all been a bit of a runaround, the deed was done and he could get back to Glencoe and do Glencoe-like things (you know, it really is like fighting a parking ticket).
King William was apparently not too pleased with this seemingly slack response by MacIain, and (as you do) decided that the late declaration might be a good excuse to send a small army up to Glencoe and kill everybody (which is where the parking ticket analogy slightly diverges from the story … slightly. Hey, I still think they had something to do with the sudden death of my goldfish after my last contestation).
Okay, so where were we? Ah yes, so a month or so later Mr. MacIain wakes up to find about 120 men at his door claiming to be there to collect taxes (oh yes, I see another analogy coming) and “could we by chance impose on your hospitality for 12 days?”
On the 12 February a letter arrived for the commanding officer instructing him to put all of the clan “to the sword”. The next morning 38 men were murdered either in their homes or as they tried to flee the glen. Another 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.
Next week in the second and last part of Dash for a Dram, Editor ‘arris gets the dram, gets a bit drunk and finds motorcycle utopia on the long ride back to base.
Oban Distillery for the guided tour and samples
Ducati UK for the GT1000 loaner
Ducati Leeds for the delivery and collection of said bike and the loaner bungees.