Monday, 9 August 2010

Home again! Seven distilleries, two motorcycles, eight days. 3700 miles...that was The Barnard challenge, that was...

Well, that’s just about it. Seven distilleries - Highland Park, Pulteney, Bladnoch, Bushmills, Midleton, Penderyn, St Georges - in Orkney, Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, covered in eight days. Aboard two Triumph motorcycles. Around 3700 miles covered. Seven bottles to add to the 50 or so collected by David Hayman and Vladimir MacTavish, and set to be auctioned for David’s Spirit Air charity in November.

Proof in pictures that we actually did it can be found HERE!

I’m home now in Shetland, and Rob is back in Norfolk. The Triumphs are back with the Great Paul Wallace in Hinckley (no recriminations at all about the broken indicator and scraped paintwork on my one). We had a fantastic time at the Belladrum Festival, though that 630-odd mile hammer from Dereham in Norfolk to Drumnadrochit took its toll. It was freezing on the A9 at midnight.

Thanks a million to John Beach at the Fiddler’s in Drumnadrochit for his forbearance, kindness and fantastic hospitality, and to everyone there for the great food and coffee. Thanks to all the distilleries, to Triumph, to Irish Distillers for the Fota Island Spa and Resort (sorry about the mini bar) and to Jim, Alice and Stephen at Fairpley. A special huzzah to the Coton Morris Men for the welcome at St George’s. And our wives and families for putting up with all this.

I hate to say this, but next year, maybe Harleys in Kentucky....

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Witness Cairn, Ireland north and south, and an unfortunate event

Just sitting down to write this, after a Murphy's (my first in Cork since my first ever Murphy's, in the Railway Hotel here in 1978) and I can feel my attention ...slipping away. Motorcycling: you ride, eat, sleep. Get up and ride again...

...if you can actually get on the bike. That's been a problem for me since we set out on the Triumphs (heavy, armoured clothing, lack of suppleness, peculiar on-bike luggage arrangement) and today it nearly brought the whole trip to a premature end. We were just saying cheerio to Gordon and Colin at the excellent Bushmills, after a truly superb visit and even better scones (also a 15, an Ulster delicacy: 15 marshmallows, 15 digestive biscuits, 15 glace cherries, one tin of condensed milk: crush, soak, mix and chill; it's got the density of uranium). The bikes, parked on a steep camber, were being arranged for a picture; I tried to step off mine, lost my balance and brought the Street Triple crashing down on top of me. For some reason, I was completely uninjured. the Triumph lost its front indicator. I felt like a complete idiot.

It took me until past Belfast to recover my equilibrium. With some 300 miles to go to Cork, all high speed motorway riding, it was essential to calm down. A lasagne and chips at TK's Diner helped. and now we're at the Fota Island Resort, courtesy of those nice people at irish Distillers, whose Midleton distillery we'll visit tomorrow.

Last night I met up with Sandy, Elaine and Wee Dave for a memorably delicious meal at 55 North in Portrush, and stayed with them at their friends' restored, thatched cottage, deep in the Antrium forests. We also had possibly the best ice cream in the world, Maud's Poor Bear, triple cones (it's honeycomb vanilla.) Grandfatherhood is a privilege. And another on the way in September, this time from a Glasgow direction!

And working backwards, on Sunday we left Bladnoch and decided to go on a wee pilgrimage to the shrine of St Ninian, needing, as we do, all the help we can get on this trip. You seem to have to pay to get access to St Ninian's tomb at the Whithorn Abbey, but not to walk from teh harbour at Isle of Whithorn to what must be one of the most overwhelmingly emotive religious sites in Scotland: The Witness Cairn.

Just across a field from St Ninian's Chapel, where pilgrims landing from Ireland on their way to Whithorn Abbey stopped to regain their land-legs, this is an inter-church project which encourages people to remember their departed loved ones by writing their name on a stone and depositing it at this place of pilgrimage. It is clearly meeting a very important need. Thousands of stones, many with heartbreaking messages, are piled up, and we passed a stream of visitors on their way to the site.

Remembrance and pilgrimage are crucial elements of human life, I think. We paused, and passed on. First to Northern ireland, and my delightful family encounter, followed by my travails with a motorcycle. Did St Ninian cause the bike to fall, or stop it hiiting my legs? I knew I should have bought a badge in Whithorn! Then our fast and hilarious encounter with the Irish Republic's toll road system: The first toll said it didn't take sterling, but did. The second only took euros and credit cards, no sterling. The third took no credit cards, but did take sterling. Great roads.

And now we're here. Mine's a Jamieson's! Wales tomorrow.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Orkney to Bladnoch...

Knackered in Bladnoch, after a superb haggis, neeps and tatties at the excellent Bladnoch Inn. An early night looms before heading to Stranraer tomorrow to catch the ferry for Belfast.

I just don’t have the energy to write our adventures up in detail: Hugh Kerr’s BMW suffering a mechanical breakdown between Wick and Scrabster, and subsequently Hugh abandoning the Scottish leg, much to his and our regret. The very odd West End Hotel in Kirkwall. The start of the Barnard Challenge proper, with the presentation by Highland Park brand amabassador Gerry Tosh of an extremely special bottle for future auction, and our departure (at 5.00am) from Kirkwall to catch the Stromness ferry south.

Yesterday was a hard day. While I headed to Inverness for my last live TM show of the trip, Rob went to Dalmore to collect both an auction bottle and samples for last night’s performance of the Malt and Barley Revue in Strathpefffer. Stephen from Fairpley picked us up from The Anderson in Fortrose and the gig, a house concert courtesy of the splendid Steve and Clancy Macdonald, went really well. Good crowd, old and new friends, and the three Dalmores we tasted, guided by Rob, were excellent. £240 raised as well. Bed at midnight, some 20 hours after getting up...

Today we were off the Black isle by 9.30am and heading for the Ralia Cafe on the A9 to meet regular TM Show listener Hugh Docherty on his Suzuki 1250 Bandit Grand Toursimo. Bad weather to Stirling, where we lunched al fresco in the rain. And then...

...Rob got lost. He took the M9 to Edinburgh before we could stop him (he was leading, it was a roundabout exit) , and Hugh and I headed for Glasgow on the M90. The rain came down in torrents, and Hugh decided to head for his sister’s in Kilmarnock. Rob texted to say he’d meet me at Bladnoch. I took the route through Ayr and Stranraer, he, satnav guided, went M74, Abington, Galloway Forest Route. And lo, Rob was there 45 minutes before me, which was just as well, as he was able to pick up the auction bottle form the distillery before it shut.

So there we are. Pictures include us at Scrabster, the excellent Anderson in Fortrose, Mr Hugh

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Orkney, one missing in action...(but he's fine, don't worry)

Hugh Kerr, who joined us just yesterday in Fortrose on his BMW F650, ran into a bit of technical trouble between Wick and Scrabster. Turned out to be nothing worse than the engine kill switch fitted to the side stand, but alas, diagnosis came too late for Hugh to make the ferry to Stromness.

The two Triumphs are now safely parked in Kirkwall, some 800 miles from their home in Hinckley and maybe 950 from Dereham. But tomorrow, the Barnard Challenge proper starts at Highland Park (though Hugh and Rob visited Pulteney today, while I was broadcasting from the BBC studio in Wick - thanks to Malcolm and all at Pulteney for their great donation to the BC auction).

We had a splendid night (truly fantastic crab soup) at The Anderson in Fortrose - great to meet up with D and W on the trusty Triumph Daytona - and will be back there on Friday, which will be a really hectic day, ending up at Strathpeffer for a performance (by me and Rob) of the Malt and Barley Revue, or as much as my numb fingers and befuddled mind can remember. Hugh is overnighting in Wick and then heading back to The Anderson tomorrow for some extra r&r, before Saturday's 276 mile run to Bladnoch in Wigtownshire.

Meanwhile, great news from David Hayman's trip around a huge swathe of distilleries last weekend. We now have over 40 rare (some very rare)bottles for Bonhams to auction in November, raising cahs for Spirit Aid. I'm just hoping that the 19-year-old used Bourbon cask Pulteney in my pack survives...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Glasgow and Perth and the nasty A9...

These show, respectively, a BMW GS1150 parked up in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, on Sunday, apparently ridden by a man from Minsk who was looking for cash And the view from the Travelodge in Perth, last night. Nice sky!
I left Perth about 9.30 this morning and set off up the A9, which should be one of the best motorcycling roads in the UK, but manages instead to be one of the most dangerous. Not, I think, as deadly as it is for car drivers, though.
It's various things: the scenery (distracting); the unhinged combination of very slow and insanely fast driving from people who haven't the skill to handle either; the switching from single to dual carriageway, and the unpredictable length of the dual bits. Add to that (for a biker) terrible road surfaces and the constant turn-offs and entries, and it can be a horrible experience. But...if you accept it for what it is, recognise the dangers and accept the delays without getting wracked with impatience (while taking the opportunities afforded by a ferociously fast motorbike for easy overtaking), it's doable. And then, at the Moy roadworks, when you slip effotlessly to the front of a mile-long queue...that's revenge enough on caravans, trucks and smoke-belching diesel Citroen Xsaras of a certain age...
Black Isle tonight, Wick tomorrow, then the ferry to Orkney.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Deer hunting territory!

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

500 miles from Norfolk... the start before the start!

Safely back in Glasgow, some 11 hours after leaving Dereham, deep in the Norfolk flat-beer zone (Woodforde's Wherry, absolutely delicious). I stayed with the Allansons last night, Rob collecting me from Norwich airport after an astonishingly quick (50 minutes) flight from Aberdeen. Quicker than the one to Shetland.

This morning, it was off to Dave Wicks Motorcycles, where my much-anticipated Moto Guzzi Bellagio was waiting. A factory demonstrator that had been used mostly for posing models on (it's Italian), it is the most beautiful motorcycle in the known universe, with the possible exception of the Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport. I got an amazing deal on it, back when the Barnard Challenge was a Guzzi-only zone. Only for us to switch to Triumph for insurance purposes. Oh well.

I had also neglected to tell my wife about said purchase (fully tax-writeable-offable, holds its value, rare, cheap, honest) but then had to phone her to get some insurance details. I took my verbal punishment like a man. A man who had already signed the registration document.

Around 10.30, Rob, aboard his trusty Hyosung, and I headed off for Hinckley in Leicestershire to collect the official Barnard bikes, Triumph Street Triples. All Norfolk seemed to be on the roads, which in this neck of the flatlands are pretty minor. The Guzzi, a wondrous cross between a cruiser and streetfighter, was a revelation: great thumpy sound, sweet gearchange, easy handling, really comfortable. The weather was hot, too. Still, we made it to Hinckley where Paul, the Man Who, had been expecting us yesterday. Oops.

The Hyosung and Bellagio were carefully stored away for future collection, and the Street Triples rolled out. Rob's a lurid lime green and mine (an R, which stands for Ridiculous) in sober matt grey. With lurid orange lettering. These are not bikes for shrinking violets.

They hold hardly any luggage, but we'd expected that. Each weighs about as much as a mountain bike, only with a jet engine. They are insanely fast (basically stripped-down 675cc Daytonas) and yet, after a while on the motorway, they become quite comfy; they're surprisingly effective long distance tools.

Unfaired bikes are sore on the wrists, though. By the time Rob peeled off for Manchester to visit his in-laws, I was feeling the handlebar burn. Still, I made it through the filthy weather of the Lake District, left the holiday traffic behind at Penrith and was in Glasgow by 8.30pm. The aroma of various foods was overwhelming ( did you know that on a bike, each motorway service area smells, as you pass, of burnt fat?).

To the Student Pit of Depravity (flat) and then, once dry and luggageless, to a Place of Security And Safety for the Triumph. One theft of a Triumph from outside Mag's flat is quite enough!

Glasgow now until Monday night.