Monday 31 May 2021

Rogue Runners '21 - Day 8


Day 8

The last day in Strathpeffer, after breakfast we said our farewells as while the hotel itself was a little past it’s best, the staff had been very good. In my head, my plan was to go south through the cairngorms to my Son’s house at Glenrothes, then after leaving early the next day, intercept the other Rogues, but to go on further to investigate the “hammerhead” of land (pick-axe maybe) beyond Stranraer, then return the “The Glen” in time for tea.

It all went wrong.

Firstly I realised that the Rogues route went past Loch Ness on the southern side – I’d always wanted to try this road, so decided to follow them for the first section. That lasted as far as Inverness when a red light at a junction halted just me. I did get one instruction over the radio, but after that, nothing. I pulled over & looked at a map on my phone & found the village of Dores on the south shore & put that in the SatNav. But by then I stood no chance of catching up, especially when the road forked at Dores & I went the wrong way.

But “General Wade’s Military Road” was very nice indeed, I realised that all the pictures you see of Loch Ness must be taken from it as the sun lights the far shore. I stopped to take a few pictures – something you can’t really do on the main road on the other shore. After a while I re-joined the main road for a while, but turned off before Fort William, taking an excellent & very quiet road south – the A86 – I shall remember that. Again I stopped for photo opportunities, joined the A889 which was also very good – and then the A9.

Oh dear.

If ever there was a road specifically designed to cause anger & frustration in the road user, this was it. A 60 limit with average speed cameras – but – a 50 limit for HGVs so the traffic is stuck doing 50 behind a series of rolling road blocks. Then when there is a dual carriageway that would allow you to overtake, there’s a contraflow with a 40 limit – don’t ask me why half a dual carriageway in use demands a 40 limit when the single carriageway we were on just before & after has a 60, or indeed why we couldn’t have been directed onto the single carriageway road that ran parallel & only 50ft away to keep it a dual carriageway. To add to my irritation I’d set the SatNav to “shortest route” in the hope that it would get me off the A9, but that only resulted in it taking me right through the middle of Perth where the A9 goes round (sigh).

But after all this I eventually arrived at my Son’s house at about 14:00 which allowed me a nice long play with my Grandson.

Friday 28 May 2021

Rogue Runners '21 - Day 7


Day 7

Again, something a bit different today. With Linda’s car out of the running with a dead fan (Car Builder Solutions saved the day by getting the new one to us in Strathpeffer from Kent in 22 hours), I had a passenger - & what’s more, a lady passenger who didn’t grab the seat bolsters every time I went round a corner! I had written a route that went north to Thurso, west to Durness, then south to Ullapool & finally east to Strathpeffer. There was also an option of fitting in the “clashnessie loop” the bikers had recommended, that we’d failed to do yesterday. One of our Number had shortened the route (which is a good thing, the routes are just suggestions) & three cars would be doing each.

Sounds organised - sounds like a plan, yes? It lasted until we got to the end of the hotel drive when one group went right, the other went left, round the back streets & returned to the hotel. It turned out that I’d asked the SatNav to take me to the start point of the route which was in the car park – after we’d left the car park.

Oh how we laughed.

We caught sight of the others on a A9 where a long tailback of cars & lorries was stacked up behind a solitary cyclist. After a while the SatNav said “turn left”, shortly afterwards  three cars arrived at the Lairg visitor centre, then another one, then that one went away & returned with a fifth. The sixth had missed the turning & eventually went on to have a nice day at John’O’Groats.

Soon after Lairg the Lotus’ went off on their own route while two Sevens & a Cactus headed due north, hitting the coast at Thurso. The weather was improving & Linda used my pocket camera to take photos from the car window – often of signposts & trees as it’s an old pocket camera & the shutter-lag is “noticeable”.

Having rolled along the North coast for a while, we reached Tongue & stopped in the Tongue Hotel for a drink. “Sorry” said the receptionist “we don’t do just coffee”. Slightly miffed as well as thirsty we moved on to Scourie – a lovely spot with a caravan park overlooking a tiny harbour & a beautiful bay. It has a coffee shop which sells lovely cakes – when it’s open – which it wasn’t. By now the “miffed” at Tongue, was definitely moving towards the “disgruntled”, but we walked up the road to the petrol station which did want to sell us some refreshment, but all they had was fizzy pop & chocolate, which just wasn’t the same.

So again we headed south, over the magnificent Kylesku Bridge. Deciding not to do the loop the bikers had suggested we continued on what must surely be one of the best driving roads in the world. Wide & smooth with properly stunning scenery, I’ve driven it a few times before & always in warm sunshine. IT IS GLORIOUS.

As we approached Ullapool, Linda – who had been taking photos of trees & signposts (I’m being unfair, all the photos in this episode were taken by her & they’re much better than mine – but some were of trees & signposts) announced that the camera was out of battery.

On arrival back at the hotel, the new fan had arrived, so I quickly fitted it to Linda's car – almost forgetting to re-connect the front winkers – tested it & we’re all sorted for the journey to Selkirk tomorrow.

Except that I’m going to Balfarg to visit my son & his family.

Rogue Runners '21 - Day 6


Day 6

A bit of an odd one today, we were sharing our hotel with a bunch of guys on ruffty-tuffty touring bikes & inevitably conversations were struck up. They recommended a loop of road off the main Ullapool to Durness road that I’d looked at several times but never been able to fit it into a route. So we decided to go freestyle.

The plan was simple - head to Ullapool, re-fuel, turn right heading for Durness, park in the Kylesku Bridge car park, head back towards Ullapool, but take the first right, after travelling some way, set the SatNavs for home & follow them. Simple. A fool could do it

It didn’t take long to unravel.

The journey to Ullapool was excellent – we even had a little sunshine, but at the first fuel stop the cars that didn’t need petrol parked up in a hotel drive, I found a spot on the “main street” & two Sevens joined the queue. I took a few photos on the front & looked round to see one of the Sevens had vanished, I went back up the road & the cars had gone from the hotel too. We had planned to have a stroll in Ullapool, so maybe they’d gone round to the free car park?

I turned my attention back to the petrol station to see how the Seven in the queue was getting on, but it too had vanished – sort of – Linda (the driver) was bouncing up & down on the pavement waving her arms in the air. I curbed my natural instincts to run away from the clearly mad woman & went to investigate. The blue Seven had boiled over while waiting in the queue & had been pushed to one side. With the bonnet off there was a little coolant left in the header tank, so not a blown hose, the thermostat housing (which are known to crack in Zetec engines) was dry, so not that either. That left the nightmare scenario of a blown head gasket (home on the “trailer of shame”) or a problem with the cooling fan. With the coolant topped up & the engine started the temperature climbed to over 100deg & the fan remained resolutely stationary.

At around this point the garage man came out & asked us to move as the car was parked on the forecourt’s main tank & he had a delivery due (he was quite understanding about it), so the Seven was driven to the other side of the forecourt & a couple of biker types came & helpfully told Linda it was the head gasket & she was going home on a truck. One of the items in Linda’s big box of useful things was a jump wire to remove the fan switch from the circuit, I installed that & still no Breeze. The fan was dead then.

So that was actually one of the least-worst outcomes. I suggested that Linda went “Hot Rod” & drove without the bonnet on, but that idea earned me a wrinkled nose, so we trundled round to the main town carpark in search of toilets & a brave pill before running for home. By now it was pretty clear that the other cars had moved on some time back, so I left a message on the WhatsApp & we headed back east.

If it hasd really been the head gasket we wouldn’t have got five miles, but with the road wide & almost traffic free we rumbled gently the 40odd miles back to our hotel where I took off the nose cone & connected the fan direct to the battery to prove properly that it had died, then - after cleaning out an awful lot of insect parts - started looking for a replacement. Some years ago a place in Inverness had replaced a wiper motor on a Seven, so they seemed a good bet. I called the brilliant Car Builder Solutions who could get us a fan delivered the following day, so now we had a “worst case” plan. I scoured the internet for breakers yards but all I could find were places that wanted to buy my scrap car or places that could offer spares if I gave then a reg No. so they could identify the car type – which wasn’t going to work with a Kit. With just enough time to get there before “last orders” at CBS we drove into Inverness, but this time the 4x4 specialist couldn’t help, so we ordered the CBS part from the car park & when we got back to the hotel most of the others had returned, having had a very confusing day of caravan sites, missed turnings & hastily re-hashed plans. The other two arrived later after a very pleasant day visiting Skye which was apparently bathed in sunshine! Naturally we refused to believe something so obviously ridiculous.

So, another adventure was had.

Rogue Runners '21 - Day 5


Day 5

A damp start again as we headed due west, but the forecast was good – or at least dry - & the roads were pretty clear of traffic and they were good roads. Smooth, wide & fantastically scenic.

It was a short route today, just about 200 miles & for once the direct route was the best for us. We arrived at the bottom of Applecross Pass - Belach Na Ba (the pass of the cattle) – more or less together, I hadn’t quite managed to get past a 4x4 which disappointingly turned up the Applecross road as well. But as the single track road twists & turns up the mountainside the Rogues stopped at the only viewpoint parking bay & I was able to re-join, parking just a little ahead so the Cactus didn’t spoil the photos.

The low clouds today meant the views weren’t as spectacular as I’ve seen them in the past – but still pretty awesome. After a chat, photos & me swapping the GoPros around to fit ones with decent amounts of storage & battery, we set off again. Since the NC500 route was invented, Belach Na Ba has become a lot busier & today there was a fair few cars & even quite large camper vans coming down, leading to a few “incidents”, as one group headed down, the kits pulled into a passing bay that someone else had already parked up in, I could see there wasn’t going to be enough room, so I pulled into the next one down the mountain.
There was a delay while the cars coming down sorted themselves out during which a BMW decided that I & the brightly coloured cars in the next bay up must’ve parked & came past us – The Applecross Pass is not the sort of place to have your mind in neutral. It was all OK, nobody died, but really? You absolutely do not want to be reversing back down, so take a little time to understand what you’re seeing!

Anyway, little by little & with good use of the radios to report cars coming down, we got to the top & entered the clouds. Fortunately there was really very little traffic coming up as I went down through the fog & I found the others parked up outside the Applecross Inn – which was closed because it was a Wednesday apparently. But there was an open coffee shack pretty much on the beach, it wasn’t raining & it wasn’t blowing a hooley, so it was all very pleasant.

After a while we moved off north up the coast & this is also a fantastic road, perched on the cliff top with the Atlantic on our left we rumbled along – at one stage it went past & even through a herd of highland cattle & then east along the coast to our pre-arranged coffee stop at the lovely Shieldaig where we stopped, then all but three of us drove off again. The three that parked up walked back to the bar / coffee / cake shop, bought coffee & more excellent cake & sat outside looking out over the bay & the little island in the middle of it – also at a sheep made entirely out of old car parts – a “spring lamb” as it were.

Fully refreshed, we climbed back into the cars & headed out of town. Just as we were pulling away, a couple came past on a trike, which got to the top of the first hill & stalled. We waited patiently making hardly any sarcastic comments over the radio – honest. After only a mile or so the trike pulled over & we headed back east on yet another superb road. Yet more fantastic scenery & very little traffic (& what there was often pulling into passing places to let us past). It made this part of the journey pretty special as well.

As we drove along we would occasionally pass a petrol station & the call would go up “anyone need fuel” no-one did, so we moved on. We three were split up by other traffic & eventually two of us rolled into the hotel car park. But where was the third? Perhaps there hadn’t been any more overtake opportunities & he was 5 mins behind? Ten mins past. Eventually a photo appeared on the WhatsApp group of our errant companion in a layby adding the contents of a petrol can so he could get back to the hotel.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Rogue Runners '21 - Day 4

Day 4

Day 4 always seems to be the day for an adventure, it can only be a random occurrence, but it seems to be the case & this year is no exception. The weather looked to be best to the north east, so the north coast route was selected. It went up the east coast, cut inland to Thurso, along the north coast as far as Tongue, south to Lairg, west to Elgol, south to Ullapool & then east to Stathpeffer.

It was drizzling a little as we prepared the cars, some elected to go hood up, some hood down. Me – I was optimistic & opened the back windows. We set off & almost immediately ran into a rainstorm of epic proportions (again). We headed east & found the A9, heading up the map, past Dunrobin Castle – which frankly I’d assumed to be a literary joke & also past a large number of presumably disused oil rigs stored in the estuary.

We refuelled (well, I didn’t – I was still showing a range of 380 miles) then headed again up the coast, at this stage I was second-to-last playing the role of camera car when the lead driver – who at the time was looking out for a cafĂ© as we were all a little parched – turned left off the road & called over the radio “I’m not sure this is right?” but carried on - as we do.

And with those words the adventure began.

Strictly speaking it was a road. It’s shown on a map, it had tarmac, it had edges & a direction, but there the similarity with the technical term “road” ends. It had potholes you could lose a sheep in, it had grassy mounds in the centre that in some places would qualify as an arable farm – or at the very least “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”. We discussed going back, but as what passed for a metalled surface was barely wider than one of our very narrow cars – that would’ve involved seven cars reversing back on to an A road. So on we went, and on. After about four miles we were rewarded with magnificent views
– which was nice, but one of the Lotuses was dragging its’ front number plate under it – which wasn’t. At this stage the fear was that this “road” went all the way to the north coast, but one of our number noticed that down in the valley – a couple of thousand feet below – was a van travelling at a decent speed, so there was a road a fair bit better than the one we were on. Zooming the SatNav out suggested that yes the thing we were on would meet a road worthy of the name, so after taking in the magnificent views, we carried on. This time I led on the basis that the Cactus has more ground clearance & was obviously expendable.

Sure enough the road meandered its’ way downhill to join an “A road” – hoorah!

But this was the very north of Scotland, so the “A road” was single track with passing places, but that was OK because there was no foliage on the centreline & the tarmac was almost entirely flat & in fact, present.

It is possible that I selected this as a route, but I do tend to check what I’m calling up, so it is perhaps more likely that the SatNavs decided that as the track cut off a corner, it was a better option.

It wasn’t. But, what’s a road trip without an adventure?

So, we were now on a seldom used road that ran for 20-odd miles & we were still in dire need of coffee. We passed many places offering eggs for £1.30 per ½ doz, but nowhere offering to combine them with flour & sugar & serve them with hot beverages. Eventually the road met the NC500 at Thurso, so surely there would be no shortage of refreshments. There was, we’d travelled another 15 miles & stopped at a couple of promising looking – but closed – places before we got to Bettyhill where there were at least three such establishments.  Arriving at the very nice Farr Bay Hotel, we were initially flummoxed by the parking arrangements, but after circumnavigating the place, we found a way into the car park. It was a small place & we must have made up 75% of the clientele, but it all looked very nice & we placed our order for cake & coffee, which arrive after only maybe 50 minutes. By now the sun was shining brightly & it was warm – proper tee-shirt warm.

Having supped, we climbed back into our cars & pointed them west along the north coast to Tongue where we turned south onto a little used north / south road. Normally it’s little used, today we came up behind an artic almost straight away. After a while it pulled over to let us past & we gained some speed, but shortly after that we encountered an even bigger lorry, carrying a tracked digger overhanging both sides coming towards us. Manoeuvring past this leviathan was a challenge, butwe made it. After a while we realised that the two enormous lories would soon be meeting face to face – someone was going to have to back-up, maybe all the way to Tongue.

But looking on the bright side, we now had 35 miles of twisty road to cover & it was a joy! Smooth, with plentiful passing places, constantly changing direction & elevation with sunshine & fantastic scenery. It had to end & it did, at Lairg where we re-fuelled & headed towards Ullapool. Again the road was single track, but hugely enjoyable, but storm clouds were gathering – literally.

As we passed through Elgol heading for Ullapool the heavens opened. At Ullapool we turned towards Inverness & there was a brief respite from the rain but it assailed us again in waves. But it wasn't all bad news – I had a steel roof & glass windows, so was warm & dry.