Write up courtesy of David Hall (Organiser)
Originally a daft idea I had in spring of 2005, to go that summer…..several scooterists I know from a couple of internet Lambretta message boards who fancied going mentioned being fully committed for that summer, so it was decided to put off the ride until May, 2006 to enable more thorough organisation. At first it was to be me, & perhaps 5 or 6 others, but it soon snow-balled into what it became & a ceiling was put on the numbers, merely to minimise logistical problems that having more machines travelling 1700+ miles in just 6 days would bring. Riders are spread across the country.
Day One – The Ride South……..Barnsley-Honiton, Devon (260 miles).
A meet-up was arranged for the remaining 5 Yorkshire-based riders (more were already in Newquay at a rally) at a very rainy J36 of the M1 south of Barnsley. I awoke to find constant drizzle to accompany my first ever attempt at fully loading the scooter….all on the driveway, as I have no garage….not exactly the way I wanted the week to start after all my fretting over whether or not my plans would work out. Double-check, then treble-check all is present & correct, & I’m off to fill her with fuel & check the tyres. The 10 mile run to the junction saw me arrive after Scooter Stu, whose engine was mysteriously still running…..his explanation that it struggles to fire up when hot explained it all. Steve Wright arrived carrying a tent-pack a yard long across the front of his Li175….no squeezing through tight spots for HIM today, followed by Laurence Peake on his auto (special dispensation granted after he’d bust a gut trying to sort his Lambretta, but without luck….I’d previously said any autos turning up at Lands End would be thrown into the sea !!). No sign yet of Martin Hyland….it’s a good job there was a bridge handy to shelter beneath while we waited….forlorn in the hope of Martin arriving on time due to him only completing a rebuild the night before! We gave him 15 minutes & sadly wrote off his chances of turning up…I was disappointed, as the more familiar faces the better on this mega-ride.
Off we head southbound & the best part of a day’s riding in front of us. The weather gets worse as we float along through the spray; thankfully the new waterproofs & £7 Ebay Postman coat work well & I’m bone dry ! First stop of the day finds us at Donington Services where Scooter Stu switches off his motor to tank up….& the Vespa refuses to re-start. We push it round the forecourt but it won’t bump…Oh No !! Coffees are bought & the thing cools down; the engine fires & thanks to a bit of patience we’re on our way again & even the weather picks up. Strensham’s the next port of call….lunch beckons & a rendezvous with Brummie Spencer Cox.
We go inside to find alarmingly high prices for warm food, so take the flap-jack & takeaway coffee a better option (well, we do have our status as Yorkshire men to uphold !). While in the shop we see local press coverage of a Midlander & fellow Lambretta rider killed by a hit-and-run driver; the Midland scooter scene gathered a massive number of scooters to ride out in protest at the poor guy’s death….our own Spencer being present the day before in the throng.
There but for the grace of whoever, go we.
We head off further south, now 5 strong & settle into a steady pace….we negotiate Bristol & it’s ever on-going road-works on the M5, then stop once more before hitting our exit & the relief of getting off the motorways (though not busy, being a Saturday) is obvious….a beautiful, leafy lane takes us to Honiton & it’s sunny and suddenly a joy again to be a scooter rider. We find Tesco there, where we tank up ready for the next morning & buy some provisions. The day is going surprisingly well. Fenny Bridges is found easily & Skinners Ash Farm (our home for the next 2 nights) is right where they said it’d be.
Tents quickly pitched & we walk down the track to meet up with friends new & old, but not before Martin Hyland rolls up, ‘fresh’ from his solo wang along the M1, M42 & M6…..a welcome sight indeed & full of tales of drilling holes in side-panels at ridiculous hours of the morning & going 140 miles with a pair of mole-grips still attached to the brake cable underneath the scooter ! Nic Cicutti arrived from North London & acquaintances are made, but he’s unsure as to the reliability of his Lynx.
In the pub it seems Donegal Paul is trying to polish off the EEC Guinness mountain single-handedly & the air is, shall we say, somewhat colourful with his warm Irish twang !! We’ve missed the cup final & Liverpool have won a cracker of a game on penalties, but our minds are on other things…..the small matter of 30 or so scooters getting to Landsend for lunchtime the next day. Mark & John arrive in the back-up van, accompanied by Paul Barker & his wife Deborah (who rode pillion all the way). Everyone’s here that needs to be & the stage is set for LEJOG to begin.
Day Two – The Ride To Landsend………..Honiton-Landsend-Honiton, (274 miles).
The pro’s & Con’s of camping on a farm are many-fold & all show themselves in the short time we’re there. Set in rural Devon the setting is tranquil with a super country pub at the end of the driveway. Sleeping hemmed in by barns full of chickens, cockerels & even a pair of peacocks tempts fate though, & the little cluckers rise early (4.30am !!) & begin their array of top volume calls, designed to wake even the heaviest of sleepers……EXCEPT Donegal Paul, of course !! He has to be brought round by Laurence Peake swinging a cold sausage in his green face & we very nearly have another pile of vomit to match his previous 2 efforts of the night before!
It’s nice to travel luggage-less, leaving all the gear at the farm for the ride to Landsend & back….we get a bit excited, travelling mob-handed for the first time & petrol consumption rises rapidly as we get carried away on the empty A30. The morning Devon air is crystal clear & a pleasure to gulp into the lungs as visors are open for the start of the ride…..a stop at Exeter Services sees Les Gilson shoot past & into Exeter itself, while there’s no sign at all of Martin Hylands orange GP (later owning up to having got a full 400 yards before conking out !) ; we have our first AWOL riders & it’s only just breakfast time ! We give them 5 minutes, Donegal Paul is struggling with his hangover, but we press on, up & down the big-dipper type hills of Devon &to Launceston where we aim for Tesco’s but never find it….a Jet garage will do adequately though & after filling up we’re off again towards Cornwall, waving at the clusters of scooters going the opposite way away from the weekends rally in Newquay & onto Hayle Services. Once there we encounter a massive bunch of bikers congregated for a ride-out, but 1964 is a long time ago & we head off towards Landsend, only to pull up in a nearby lay-by as Paul Barker’s “Teenage Kicks” has split it’s carb mounting. A bodge with duct tape & he rides into Penzance for some proper hosing….we head to our meeting point at Landsend, enjoying the ride on the quiet Cornish lanes. After so long in the planning it’s fantastic to get to the start-point unscathed; The Lilac Flash responding (surprisingly) well to the many miles it’d done over the weekend so far.
We do the touristy thing & eat Cornish Pasties, pose as a group under the famous sign for posterity’s sake & take numerous snaps. Mark “Fred” Freer’s T5 “Precious” is first on it’s side as he has to adjust the stand before it parts company with the scooter! It’s decided that Steve Bush should ride his lovely Series 2 to the signpost for the group to gather round, but he takes the wrong path & ends up quarter of a mile away at the “Last House”….we beckon him back & he arrives to cheers & laughter ! Time for the serious business to begin though now & all scooters gather at the Start/Finish line for the real beginning of what we’re there for. That is, until we realise Paul Collins’ Lambretta won’t start & John Heeson of Wakefield Scooters (our back-up mechanic for the week) goes into action….then we’re REALLY off; heading back to retrace our steps towards Honiton.
I swing right after Penzance to photograph the enchanting St Michael’s Mount off-shore at Marazion & rejoin the group at Hayle Services. The youngest of the group, Phil Andrew, gets pulled up in a spot-check & is given a producer, but to top even that he has a front tyre puncture soon after & is sent sprawling, knocking his shoulder up & denting his front mudguard. We head easterly & leave Cornwall, again not finding Tesco but filling at the same stop as in the morning. Road-works on the A30 mean a tailback of approx. 5 miles….Michaela Bray is shaken when two idiotic lorry drivers try to “nip” her out by denying her room to weave past at low speed….very manly of them. It’s dusk when the main group return (later for Fred Freer who misses the A30 turn-off & puts in another 9 miles for good measure!). At the site, Davy MacLean realises he’s lost a front hub nut…a genuine 80mph scooter with the front wheel only fastened on at one side….a replacement is quickly found & his Monday rush hour suicide mission is averted ! The new arrivals set up camp & we’re all off for a meal in the pub then bed, ready for the long trek north to Preston the next day.
Day Three – Northbound………..Honiton – Croston, Lancashire (256 miles).
Our feathered friends on the farm are less vocal now & sleep seems to come easier….we’re still all up and about though around 6.30-7am, tents are packed away & scooters loaded up for the trip up north. This is the least glamorous day of the lot; the one I’m least looking forward to. Pretty much all motorway & having to negotiate road-works on the Bristol stretch, the almost permanent jams around Birmingham & the terrible stretch up past the M62 intersection of the notorious M6 in Cheshire. First stop though is Tesco for breakfast & petrol in Honiton. An army marches on it’s stomach, and this one’s no exception as sausages, toast & eggs are consumed eagerly. We chat with shoppers in the cafe who wish us luck…one lady shows us the weather map in her newspaper and I really wish she hadn’t….every inch of the UK is covered with black clouds !! The first petrol stop is reached & all seems well, but the lads already there are spread out & seem to be combing the area like a police search team….Sean Hallows (our Live-Photo upload man) has lost his scooter key somewhere….bins are emptied, the shop is scoured & every step re-traced….they turn up in the shop where he’d put them down momentarily & he’s back on track. A passing van driver stops to photograph the parked scooters & nods are exchanged. We’re away again, riding in small packs & I notice Nic Cicutti pulling out dangerously in front of cars with no apparent indicating…if he’s still alive at the lunch stop I’ll tell him to be careful. I whiz past 3 or 4 scooters on the hard shoulder; all of whom have stopped to help Donegal Paul’s puncture replacement effort…his worst fears have materialized, but he guides the wobbling Series 2 Lambretta to a safe stand-still.
Pushing on to Michaelwood Services for lunch and we’re there in force….pretty much all the group turns up and it’s a good sight, Lambrettas & Vespas filling the forecourt of the eating area. Motorists stop to chat & reminisce, photos are taken & food is gladly consumed. I opt for a “Chicken Royale meal please, with black coffee” from the Burger King concession there. “What drink do you want with that?” asks the lad serving….I’m dumbfounded !
I chat with (the still alive) Nic Cicutti about his signalling on the motorway, he’s shocked as the penny drops that he hadn’t re-connected the indicators on his side panels; thinking all along that cars in the middle lane could see his intentions clearly!!
I catch a ride behind a container truck, it’s slipstream pulling me along (at a safe distance, if you’re reading this, Mum !) for about 30 miles….the scooter almost glides behind it & riding seems effortless. It amazed me how much of a hole those things punch through the normal turbulence on a busy motorway & I was glad of an easy time as we approached the testing M6 intersection at Birmingham. Into the Services at Frankley for fuel & it dawns on Spencer Cox that although he’s ridden pretty much solidly for 2 whole days, he’s still only 20 minutes from home !
The girls in the petrol station ask me where we’re all going. “John O’Groats” I reply….”where’s that?” they ask ! “Well”, I say “Have you heard of Landsend?” ….”No” reply the girls in unison, & I wonder just what the heck it is that’s taught in schools these days!
Pressing on & we skirt Birmingham, weaving in & out of the crawling traffic (probably the only advantage scooters have over cars on the motorway). The traffic is very heavy & we have to be very careful here. we’re soon leaving the second city behind us though & heading towards open countryside again and Cheshire. We’re hitting this stretch though as rush hour builds AND the rain begins….the next hour or two won’t be fun, but once out of the way my worst day will be over, with Scotland’s riches for us to explore over the next few days. By Sandbach it’s teeming down & we re-group in the petrol station where we shelter for a while. Unbeknown to us, Martin Hyland has had a spill here, possibly on some diesel in the wet, but miraculously does no damage to the scooter as the luggage seems to take all the impact. A car driver is about to get the jump-leads on his battery in the middle of the forecourt….he’s reminded it’s not a clever thing to do & we push him away from the pumps and all that vapour !
Leaving Sandbach we’re on our last leg of the day….the rain is heavy though & gloves begin to take it in. My visor needs wiping constantly but rain begins to drip down inside it, splashing in my eyes….I’m having to look through droplets of water which I can do nothing about in order to chart my course; not fun ! The spray is terrible, the traffic heavy & scootering has had much better days than this as we head to the outskirts of Preston for the night. The rain stops as we exit the M6 & I take a wrong turn on a country lane and the gathered throng of 20 or so scooters has a 5 mile detour in order to get to the campsite. Once there though, facilities are good & the showers even better ! To make perfect the setting, some of the lads spot a “2-for-1” deal on meals at a nearby pub, so we make a bee-line for there…a couple of the riders, who live locally, opt for their own beds for the night, so they’re off until the morning.
Day Four – Going Abroad………..Croston – Glencoe, Scotland (286 miles).
As usual, we’re up & about early….in the whole week, I set my alarm in the tent for 7am each day, but never needed it to go off as I was already up. The night stayed dry, but the soaking we got the afternoon before meant we had to get kit dried in the shower/wash-rooms on site. It’s vital to start the day with dry gear & this we just about managed to do. We were on a very tidy caravan site, on their rally field, & had been asked to take a long way round through a field away from the regular campers…as it was a long way round over wet grass most of us nipped through the campsite proper, but complaints were made later to our back-up team as they left last…the previous night’s noise on our return from the local pub added to the grumbles….maybe 30 or so scooter riders wasn’t their cup of tea, but it would perhaps serve them well to consider us all in a different light when they or their families fall ill with some of the nasty conditions we were raising money for. Maybe not.
The traffic was MUCH busier than I’d anticipated up to & along the first stretch of the M6 around Preston/Blackpool, but once through it (a bit of bobbing & weaving was required) we made better progress & the morning traffic became as I’d imagined it in this “no-man’s land” between the bigger north-west towns of England & the Scottish border. After the first scheduled stop we (Scooter Stu & I) headed towards Southwaite for the lunch-stop….a stop on a long downhill was essential as I’d already passed the most easterly regions of the Lake District without getting the camera out. I was getting excited at the sight of the hilly scenery, so I indulged myself by snapping away in the sunshine.
Onwards & upwards, & the next time we stop we’ll be at the border for a “touristy” picture with the road-sign into Scotland. Scooter Stu was going home, a place he’d not been in some years. We reached the border & duly posed for the camera as traffic swooshed by, then it was on to the next petrol stop at Abingdon. 10 minutes into Scotland & I see the familiar outline of scooters passing the other side….I give the mandatory wave, but recognise the riders….it’s Jack Straw & Sean Hallows from our party….HEADING BACK SOUTH !! I fret over what the problem could be & settle on the assumption that they must have left something (Sean’s the tech-head and has all the gadgets) at the last services….they’d be late to Glencoe if it was that. We discover later they’d missed the border sign & Sean wanted a picture to upload to the website for the folks back home charting our progress….now that’s dedication !
There were the first signs of strong head-winds, something we’d be seeing a lot of in Scotland & the long, punishing up-hill stretches of the A74(M) guzzled the fuel….forcing me to go onto reserve far sooner than anticipated; not really a problem as I had a 5 litre can with me too, but the “gulping” & spluttering of the engine as you surge along the motorway & the engine gasps for more fuel does nothing for the motor ! Fortunately I’m quick with my heel to knock on the reserve lever & momentum is retained. The miles between these petrol stops are either up, or down….the ups being long, drawn out affairs, punishing the scooter & giving the impression of taking forever as man & machine struggle upwards. The downs take a lot less time & are sweeping & fast, but it’s a bit dis-heartening to lose the height you’ve fought for, so quickly !
Leaving Abingdon we exit as a group….about 10 of us head towards Glasgow & it’s my favourite part so far as we putt-putt along together in a tidy group. We weave through traffic approaching the city, hitting all the filter lanes perfectly. Fred Freer leads us off the motorway & onto the A82 which takes us close to the city centre….traffic is heavy & we’re weaving again. We pull onto the wide kerb for Davy MacLean to get oil at Hein Gericke & see Teenage Kicks over the road behind us (it seems we can’t go anywhere without seeing members of our group, which gives a familiar feeling, in these less than familiar surroundings). Inside the shop, Gwilym Smith plays a blinder by buying a top-of-the-range pair of bike trousers for a bloomin’ lot of money (waterproof, breathable, reflective etc) & straps them to the bike rack……then doesn’t bother to stop & put them on later in torrential rain & gets himself well & truly soaked !! Too much money down south!
We head out of the city & rendezvous for petrol at Dumbarton, passing the northern end of the impressive Erskine Bridge….Fred wants to go over it, thinking that’s the way to go, but that would be heading south again, so we make him see the error of his ways & stop 2 or 3 miles further on for coffee & petrol. I hang back for Martin Hyland, chat with Paul Barker & his wife Deborah over coffee & as we’re about to leave, Nic Cicutti turns up after having detoured into Cumbria to buy a new air-hose for his Spanish Lynx….it’s a relief to see him OK as it was feared he may be having trouble running. Us three head off to find the much fabled Rannoch Moor & then Glencoe, our stop for the night. We know we’re now some of the last scooters to pass through, but we’re OK for time & I’m determined we should enjoy the views. After only a few miles we pass a lay-by full of our buddies, but are waved on….the back-up boys are kept busy. We stop by Loch Lomond for some photos, but clouds are gathering & threaten what is to come later. We wind our way along the Loch-side road, slippery in parts from water running off the hills & over the road…I’m aware of the fact that this is one of Britain’s deadliest roads for bikers, as cars/buses/trucks like to cut corners on the “blind” bends, often taking out unfortunate riders, so I take the lead & make it ultra-cautious.
We’re now heading into baron, but beautiful valleys. Traces of snow are still evident in the higher gullies & the impression of real wilderness is acute. We head up onto Rannoch Moor, but the weather has now turned & is foul….rain is falling, there’s no sunlight & you get the feeling you’re the only 3 people left on the planet. Mountains stare at us through breaks in the very low cloud….I wished we’d had views & clear skies as this is the place I’d been looking forward to most, I hadn’t been here in 30 years & now, due to the bad weather, would see very little of the daunting mountains anyway.
We press on over the moor, the very highest point being a flooded plain interspersed with dozens of tiny islands, surrounding each side of the road….flashes of snow can be glimpsed in the higher reaches of the mountains which bear down over us, whenever the cloud drifts enough to show it. The weather is now vile as we drop down towards Glencoe Valley…I stop to take pictures and am alone in this hostile wilderness as they fight their way through the heavy rain….only 2 or 3 miles now to the campsite but I want to drink in some of the dramatic atmosphere before I get there.
Martin comes back to look for me, having had to stop at a very tight pass where a waterfall crashes down underneath the road. There are, would you believe, road-works going on & traffic lights halt anyone’s journey for at least 5 or 6 minutes. The steep mountainsides are at their most imposing here & I get the feeling that the cliffs are almost overhanging the road that we’re sat waiting on. The camera is zipped up inside my coat & the rain is coming down heavily….I’d love to capture this scene, but a sudden change of the lights would encumber our progress, so I photograph it in my minds eye instead. We set off on green & immediately the road twists right at the point where the waterfall crashes under the road….a temporary bridge offers no grip whatsoever & I almost hit the barrier surrounding the workings…a very near thing indeed. Michaela Bray tells me later she felt exactly the same there, but was more shaken than me as she’s still recovering from a broken collar bone sustained only 6 weeks ago in an accident.
We reach the campsite & are checked in by the caretaker, who is surprisingly from Sheffield….his wife is from Barnsley, & all of a sudden it’s a small world again ! Most of our group though have been, seen & left already, declaring it “Rain Stopped Play”, but six of us, for ever more to be known as “The Inner Circle” brave the boggy ground, pitch our tents & enjoy the craic and what was in itself a good night’s sleep. The others, forever now to be known as “Big Girls Blouses” made a dash for B&B’s in nearby Ballacullish, where we meet up with them for dinner in a local pub. Once fed & watered I make my way out into the teeming rain….it’s dark & my back light has blown….I ride the 2 miles back to camp with my foot over the brake pedal, but I needn’t worry; there are no other vehicles at all….this is Glencoe on a wet May midweek night.
Day Five – A Day Of Two Halves……….Glencoe – John O’Groats (203 miles).
The 6 of us brave enough to camp in Glencoe wake to find the morning fine, but again, overcast. We pack & are tanking up down the road in Ballacullish before the rest have finished their cooked B&B breakfasts, let alone polished off extra toast. The road to Fort William takes us over an iron bridge over Loch Leven; we stop on it for photos, but the mist over the estuary kills any hopes of really capturing its beauty.
I’d pencilled in this day as “play-day”, limiting the miles to just over 200, allowing time for stops to drink in the scenery….just reward for all the uncompromising miles of motorway we’d endured.
After a cooked breakfast in Fort William we were off up the A82 & into the heart of Scotland’s stunning scenery. Low cloud obscured the higher reaches of Ben Nevis as we left that behind, but the twisting road would soon be offering up other sights. At Spean Bridge we pass the Commando Memorial; a stone plinth holding a brass statue of 3 commandos, looking out over the valley & back towards the Nevis mountain range. A more beautiful spot couldn’t possibly have been found for the brave blokes who trained here in WWII in which to be remembered.
Along the banks of Loch Lochy we find a lay-by & snap away….& for the next 15 miles or so we stop sporadically to photograph various sights, none of which are any less than stunning.
As we approach Drumnadrochit on the banks of Loch Ness we collect at Castle Urqhart. The weather’s on the turn, so plans are changed to stick to the A82 into Inverness, as opposed to cutting through a pass where the weather looks gloomy. The miles are quickly eaten up & the road out to Dingwall is found….we’re booked into the staff canteen at Tesco’s superstore there, courtesy of Chris Gegg’s arrangement with their manageress (his colleague). £1 buys as much as anyone can eat & the food is welcome.
We press on, leaving Dingwall & turning North Easterly & into the mother of all head-winds….this we were to struggle with over the next three days. Gone was the inland sheltered terrain we’d enjoyed in the morning; we were now fighting into the teeth of some real blustery weather, as we skirt the Cromarty Firth & find the up-hills heavy going. The scenery changes, becoming flatter, & mist/low cloud is rolling in off the North Sea bringing with it a lot of cold air. Balaclavas & waterproofs (yes, even Gwilym this time !) are donned. We pass the famous Glenmorangie Distillery, though we only see the road-sign in the mist !
As we approach the petrol stop at Dornoch, Fred is stopped on a long road bridge over the Dornoch Firth….he’s phoning his Mum to tell her he’s standing on the bridge her company built (she had a photo of it on her office wall); now her son’s there, on his scooter having HIS picture taken on it. Seventeen of us meet at the petrol stop here & Sean Hallows films us exit as a group….the mist & cold are still problematic, though this far north we’ve seen the last of the busy traffic for a day or two.
We’re now almost exclusively following the North East coast of Scotland; hardly ever more than a few dozen feet from the sea….the riding is very tough, almost as if Scotland is offering it’s final bout of resistance to the success of the trip. The stretch from Dornoch to Wick takes us through beautiful coastal villages, up hills & down them again, all the while having to fight, quite literally, with the handling of the scooters to ensure safe riding; the wind gusting & catching the wide panel work of the scooters, trying to flip us left & right as we gear up & down to retain momentum. An enormous downhill stretch takes us to Berriehead, a snaking zig-zag of a road that crosses an ocean inlet & snakes it’s way back up the other side of the ravine….a lay-by half-way up the other side, after a first gear uphill bend sees us all pulling in to snap the superb vista it offers.
Not far up the road, Steve Bush’s Series 2 clutch gives up the ghost, rendering him to a trip for the last few miles in the back-up van (more of his exploits tomorrow!). We meet up in Wick, the last major settlement before John O’Groats; I was surprised as to how big it is & it’s been arranged for us to call in at the nations last scooter shop. While waiting there for a mass ride into J.O’G, it becomes apparent that Mick Bray’s Li is refusing to start, Scooter Stu’s PX begins dripping oil as he’s reluctant to turn off the engine as it’s tough to start again hot, Spencer Cox’s PX is leaning against a wall as his stand has parted company hundreds of miles back….we’re cold, hungry & very tired from the afternoon’s battle with the elements. I really want Mick’s Lambretta to fire up, as he was first down on the list when I first put word out about the trip last year & his commitment’s never wavered, despite having to revert to his “second” Lambretta after an attempted theft of his other damaged it beyond use for the trip.
Relief was evident as the old Li fired up, I tell Mick to press on alone to make sure he gets to J.O’G, but most of the others follow him instead of waiting for the formation finish into our destination….it’s impossible to get 27 people, all wearing helmets & revving scooters to do the same thing !
We await the arrival of the back-up van & ten or so of us lead it into John O’Groats, again, into the teeth of a vicious wind. We assemble in time-honoured fashion at the “other” START/FINISH line & slap backs while we snap happily away. We’re finished, but for me the job isn’t complete, as I now want to ensure getting home intact. The village of J.O’G itself is nothing more than a few buildings comprising a bar, a wooden souvenir shop, a very small harbour where the ferry to outlying islands docks & a couple of B&B’s. The campsite is a field adjacent to the sea, it has no protection at all from the wind & is very exposed. Tents are put up in the wind & rain, it’s cold & miserable & some of the party have decided on digs for the night. Steve Wright got the only spot offering shelter as he pitches his tent right behind the sanilav block ! It isn’t all good for him though, as his tent & sleeping bags are soaked from his aborted camp at Glencoe. One lad, not with us, carries his tent into the shower block & sleeps in there, while Chris Gegg has an hour in the phone box to try to get to sleep !!
The evening sees us all under one roof, at a local pub….bar food is going down well & Arsenal are on the telly losing the Champions League Final. There’s an air of satisfaction and bar for Nik Skeat (who has the RAC collect him after the photos are done) all have accomplished the main mission of getting from one end to the other, propelled by their beloved scooter. A presentation is made to me, for organising the whole thing, of some workshop tools….the sneaky so-and-so’s kept that one quiet !
We (the campers) walk back the 500 yards or so to the windswept tents & I impress myself by having actually thought on to take my torch out with me, for the first night this week, so I actually get to see my way into my tent tonight !!
And so to bed….job done !
Day Six – Wind, wind & more wind……….John O’Groats – Edinburgh (273 miles).
Scooter Stu’s off early, hoping to call in on his sister who he hadn’t seen in years on the route south through Scotland. Nik Skeat’s already gone, the previous night incurring the wrath of the local RAC man who, for some reason doesn’t fancy the 500+ miles trip to Lancashire in the middle of the night !! Half the riders are up the road in B&B’s while the rest of us pack away our tents by the sea. The three Bristol lads are making a start repairing Steve Bush’s clutch….INSIDE THE TENT !!……..he’s determined to cross the start/finish line the “proper” way, so has decided to ride back out, 25 miles or so, & back in, to say he’d got the job done under his own steam….no-one would blame him for heading back south & settling for that, but it becomes a measure of how determined we’ve all been to nail it & he gains instant hero status for doing so…fifty miles, it’s worth remembering, fighting tooth & nail with blustery, cold conditions, still needing to rattle off ANOTHER 275 miles or so AFTER that to catch the rest up at Edinburgh !
Because the group has become so disparate it’s decided that a group photo at the signpost wouldn’t be appropriate, so each rider begins the ride south…with 275 miles or so to do in the day, in these winds and with very little motorway on which to eat up the miles quickly, it’s to be a tough day & early progress is essential….added to this, the site in Edinburgh locks its gates at 8pm, so that’s very much a target in our minds. I set off alone, enjoying the freedom again of the lonely miles, free to take in the views as I struggle up hill & down dale. 10 miles or so from John O’Groats two cyclists pass the other way, wearing sponsor t-shirts….blimey, if these blokes have done the “End-to-End” ride on bikes it makes us look like lazy so & so’s, enjoying the luxury of having an engine !!
I’d stopped for fuel in Wick, a pint of milk & Snickers bar for breakfast & the guy in the shop rolls his eyes when I told him we were all bound for Edinburgh….”that’s some journey in one day!” he said….my heart sinks further….is this to be the fly-in-the-week’s ointment? Have I bitten off more than we could all chew. I fear getting caught miles out by nightfall & then struggling to find anywhere to camp (despite Scotland’s “right to camp” laws).
I set off again & within a few miles the scooter’s wavering in the wind more than it should…almost like riding across ice, it’s taken on a mind of it’s own. I pull over to find a puncture on the rear….off with the gear & luggage, out with the tools & on with the spare….priceless advantage we have over motorbikes, that. I can see the sea through a dip in the fields & think what a beautiful place for a puncture ! (If only the wind would disappear).
Worried about losing more time in the day, I’m relieved to see only Paul & Deborah Barker and Phil Andrew pass me….all were waved on as I’d soon be back on track.
I fight my way south, only stopping at the designated fuel stops, and to take the odd photo that I can’t resist ! Retracing our steps back to Inverness, we get to enjoy all the beauty of the coastline that we’d mostly missed yesterday due to the mist…unspoilt scenery with the sea washing in on deserted beaches to the left and distant mountain ranges building to the right. The Cromarty Firth features 3 or 4 drilling rigs; a surprise to see “inland” almost & a low road bridge that seems to be supported by a thousand vertical pillars stretches away across the wide inlet.
Coastal Scotland is now left behind & we’re heading due south for a petrol stop at Aviemore. The roads are surprisingly good, and where the wind permits, good speed is attained….a slight change of direction though soon puts a stop to that, as the wind hits me smack in the teeth again! Aviemore’s reached around 1pm & Fred’s there, at the petrol station, with Spencer & Laurence….we chat & eat lunch together by the roadside. Aviemore is a pleasant surprise to me; a cosmopolitan, almost Alpine-like ski resort with modern bars, cafes & restaurants all spaced out down the main drag. Most of the tourists there are dressed for the skiing, but there are only small fields of snow in the higher reaches of the mountains that stretch upwards east of the town. We set off together & fight through the gusty conditions, struggling up long inclines, sometimes down into 3rg gear, and again, the height we’ve struggled so hard to attain seems to be lost in seconds as we cascade down the other side. We hit one long straight, which seems to go for miles, through the Cairngorms & I’m almost distraught to have to gear down, though I’d have sworn we’re going DOWNHILL into the wind !!
Spencer’s having running problems, so he falls back…Fred & I lose each other along the way & I head for Edinburgh alone. I’m looking forward to the Forth Road Bridge crossing & stick to the inside lane on the bridge. The famous Rail Bridge looks on to the left & there are steels bars where a kerb would normally be….the Firth of Forth can clearly be seen flowing beneath & I can’t help thinking what would happen if a gust took me over them as I trundle over at 30mph.
Finding the campsite isn’t as easy as I was expecting & I manage to find the only deserted country lane in north Edinburgh, despite it being rush hour I realise what good time I’ve made on the run down from John O’Groats….really thrashing the scooter at times to get it to perform; and it kept coming back for more! At the site it isn’t long before Hodgy arrives, telling a tale of passing a rough area nearby & having a beer bottle thrown at him ! (well, he will insist on riding a Vespa !).
Four riders have by-passed Edinburgh in favour of getting home from John O’Groats in one go…Phil Andrew gets back to Lancashire on his PX, Laurence Peake makes it back to West Yorkshire on his X9-500 and Scooter Stu, whose sister wasn’t home (after all those years!) presses on & reaches home near Leeds by evening time….all rattling off journeys of 500 miles plus ! Duesy slogs back southwards, but books into a B&B in the Borders region. The measure of their achievements can be gauged by how sore MY shoulders & backside are, after ONLY (!) a meagre 275 miles!
Colin Chase’s Lambretta has gone through a big end bearing on the way south, so frantic calls are made to Scottish scooterists in search of a replacement crankshaft…..but then, to end the day on a real high note, the Bristol boys arrive after Steve’s heroics in retracing his steps out of & back into John O’Groats. Mick Bray was blissfully unaware of having won the award for loudest snorer for his exploits under canvas here in Edinburgh, while being accompanied on “backing vocals” by Fred Freer….the big problem being their tents are pitched directly either side of mine !!
Day Seven – Homeward bound……….Edinburgh – Barnsley (237 miles).
The day starts well with the arrival before breakfast of a replacement crankshaft for Colin’s GP (big thanks to the Edinburgh lads for sorting that as we slept). As the majority of us pack away tents & prepare to head south, Colin begins the task of stripping his engine, kneeling in the car park of the campsite to rebuild …right beside him is the back-up van & in his pocket an R.A.C. card, both of which most of us lot would have opted for long before taking the heroes option on open-engine surgery miles & miles from home. Not only does he fit the crankshaft, but also a new barrel and piston AND THEN runs the thing in on the journey home !
The main group leave for breakfast at Morrison’s while I hang back for Spencer Cox who’s having a job to start his Vespa. John Heeson our mechanic for the week takes a glance at his plug, adjusts the gap & kicks it up first time, leaving a flabbergasted Spence rolling his eyes but with a big grin….we’re off for the final (for me) push home……unbeknown to Spencer, this is to be his last mile of the week as his motor seizes along the banks of the Firth, necessitating a call to Carole Nash. “Adios Spence !” as I mount my trusty steed & set off to try and catch the rest (I never did find Morrison’s).
Despite being blustery again, the day’s bright & I enjoy the miles on the A1 from Edinburgh to Berwick. Riding alone can be enjoyable, as can rolling along in a group & I’m enjoying reflecting on what had been a fantastic week’s scootering. I hit the petrol stop in Berwick, the border town & rejoin the main group there. I’d enjoyed Scotland immensely, despite the harsh riding conditions we’d endured, & I’m surprised how little excitement I feel at reaching the stone “ENGLAND” sign, though it’s another marker to chalk off the milestones the scooter had reached without problem & I’m grateful for that.
We buzz south on the A1, stopping at Morpeth to eat. Newcastle comes & goes & we have fun belting round the downhill stretches there in & out of the bustling traffic. I stop to photograph the Lambretta with the Angel Of The North….the controversial iron landmark that you either seem to love, or hate, and again lose contact with the pack. I catch them again at Scotch Corner, where the Bristol boys catch us up too. They’re on a no-stop strategy south, along with Chris Gegg from Cirencester & would be in their own beds tonight…a not unhealthy distance of circa 400 miles. Good going for a great bunch of blokes.
Meanwhile, we head off for my last leg of the jaunt 5 up. Me, Fred, Jack Straw, Darren & Gwilym all grouped together Wakefield bound. I lead as I know the way through Wakefield, cutting off a big chunk of motorway. As Fred (the Millwall fan) is right behind me, I punch the air triumphantly as we pass a sign near Leeds for Leeds United’s stadium…..Fred overtakes me at the next one & duly waves his mutual gesture of respect at it….he’s a nice lad !
The Brays have beaten us into Wakefield & are tented up…I pop home to drop off my gear & return to camp with the rest overnight. Ska’d For Life Steve (who sadly had to pull out at the last minute) has arranged a mini bus to take us into town to see local mod band “Double Yellow Lines” & the proverbial “good night” is had by all. Davy MacLean has dropped off his Lambretta at home in Preston (after cracking his exhaust manifold only 40 or so miles from making it home, having to RAC it – I THOUGHT it was bloomin’ loud, that pipe !!) & had driven all the way over just to spend the evening with his new-found mates….camping on a quagmire of a rugby pitch (again, you guessed it) in heavy rain !
Tents are packed in the morning, scooters prepared & it’s off down the Redbeck Transport Cafe for breakfast, Yorkshire style. The runners & riders are then waved off southwards & I return home to catch up on some rest & to reflect on what’s been an amazing week, having made new mates, seen new sights & enjoyed every minute of it; my Lambretta propelling itself to new levels of respect as I’d thrashed it for the best part of a full week & it never misses a beat.
All the lads are eternally grateful to Mark & John for providing back-up cover (there’s a limit to the amount of coffee one can drink while waiting for things to happen !) and Sean Hallows for providing the watching internet world with “as they happened” photos on the website….good work !
It’s been a pleasure to be with these people for the week….now, what’s on next years menu ?