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.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

I leave tonight...equipped with a Leatt Brace. The 'helmet for the neck'.

Off on the boat tonight, and that'll be two weeks away from home on the Barnard Challenge. This strange collar I'm wearing is a Leatt Brace, the simplest, cheapest Adventure model. It was designed by a South African neurosurgeon, Chris Leatt, after he saw one of his friends die of a broken neck - a C2 fracture - in a motocross accident. There's been little use of them in road motorcycling, but I think that's going to change. It's light, simple to fit, and comfortable. It only works with a full-face helmet. Basically, in the event of an accident, it stops your head, its weight increased exponentially by the presence of a helmet, from snapping the twig-like thing it sits on. The spine. At least that's the theory.

We're going to be covering several thousand miles on this trip - longer than any other motorbike ride I've done other than my journey through South Africa on a BMW R1150GS several years ago - and various brushes with people who've suffered massive neck trauma convinced me that £200 - the price of a half-decent helmet, and half the cost of some models - was a worthwhile investment.

I know, I know: the best thing is not have an accident in the first place. That means several things. Care, skill, observation, caution (but not debilitating nervousness). And visibility. To the end, I'm wearing hi-viz stuff rather than going for the cool black look. And you have to be comfortable, too, as long-distance biking when cold and wet can lead to disaster.

But the Leatt Brace is, I think, a simple and useful addition to the personal safety gear I'll be using (boots, armoured jacket and trousers, gloves). And if I look like a wimp, so be it.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Rob and Tom 's itinerary - feel free to wave or ride with us!

The trip is a bit tight for time, particularly in its latter stages. But if you're in the vicinity of any of our stops, or fancy a wee ride-out with us (we'll be riding...sedately) feel free.

Saturday 24th July
Collect Triumph Street Triples at Hinckley. Rob and Tom set off north, Rob for Manchester, Tom for Glasgow.

Sunday 25th July - Monday 26th
Tom in Glasgow, Rob in Manchester. TM Show broadcast from Pacific Quay, Glasgow

Tuesday 27th July
Tom rides to Inverness, broadcasts TM Show at Radio Highland. Rob travels from England. Both overnight in Fortrose, The Black Isle

Wednesday 28th July
AM: travel to Wick. Visit Old Pulteney Distillery. PM:Tom broadcasts show from BBC studio in Wick, then R and T ride to Scrabster for 19.00 ferry to Stromness. Ride to Kirkwall, stay overnight.

Thursday 29th July
AM - visit Highland Park Distillery. PM, TM show from BBC Kirkwall. Overnight Kirkwall.

Friday 30th July.
Early rise...06.30am ferry from Stromness to Scrabster. Ride to Inverness. TM Show from Radio Highland. Dalmore visit by Rob. Whisky tasting/Malt and Barley Revue/ Whisky Sessions house concert in Strathpeffer. See:
Overnight Fortrose.

Saturday 31st July
R and T ride to Wigtown, overnight at Bladnoch

Sunday 1st August.
Visit Bladnoch Distillery. R&T ride to Stranraer. Stena Line ferry to Belfast, leaving 14.30. Arrive Belfast 16.40. Ride to Antrim. Overnight Bushmills

Monday 2nd August.
Visit Bushmills Distillery. Ride to Cork. Overnight.

Tuesday 3rd August:
Visit Midleton Distillery. Stena Line Ferry Rosslare-Fishguard leaving 15.00, arriving 17.00. Ride to Penderyn, near Merthyr Tydfil. Overnight at Ty-Newydd Hotel

Wednesday 4th August.
Visit Penderyn. Travel to Norwich. Visit St George’s. Overnight Norwich

Thursday 5th August
Travel to Belladrum.
Friday 6th August - Sunday, 8th August.
Tartan Heart Festival, Belladrum. Tastings, workshops, tall tales and more music.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Rob: One week from departure. 'I have the beginnings of a nervous feeling...'

Rob Allanson muses on the past, and what lies ahead. We set off from Norfolk in a week

I have to admit I am really looking forward to riding with Morton again. Since last year's Journey's Blend trip I have made several long trips on my own, the only company being other bikers you hook up with on the road. The things you have in common are you are heading in the same direction.

That camaraderie is what helps make these long trips so addictive, in fact makes travelling by bike something to look forward to. The Zen thought that goes into packing your life down into small expanses of luggage, then swooping through the scenery like some sort of modern armoured knight.

I am sure there are people trapped in their cars who look on in envy as the steel steed and the leather and textile wrapped rider pass by. The bike, any bike, stands for freedom. The turn on, pull away and keep going feeling of escape. Your head filled with the sights, sounds and smells denied to car occupants by glass, filters and metal. It's all a heady potent mix, especially on longer trips when you know the next day you are heading off somewhere new and sleeping in a different place.

Anyway back to the Morton connection. He may not realise it, in fact I am sure he doesn't, but he has been tangled up in my life and friends almost since I started university in Glasgow.
I was told by a friend in my first year of this Scottish John Peel sort of radio show. Week days, great music and engaging chat in between. Something the commercial stations never really got right. I had no real interest in chart music, actually still don’t, and this dj was playing interesting, new, thought provoking and foot tapping music.

Then, after discovering the alternative worship group of the Late Late Service - again an ethos and vision that I was happy with, then came the revelation of Red Guitars in Heaven.
I still have the dog-eared, spine bleached copy that went around all my friends in Glasgow. It spoke to us all of bands, music, religion and of course the fair city that supported us. Four very important ingredients for us back then, all of which still occupy part of my existence these days, well most.

So that was it, Morton was truly on the radar. His show became avid listening material, and a friend through the finals.
After Uni, moving away from Scotland, the connection dropped, until one odd day working for Whisky Magazine an email dropped in from him. He was pitching a story about the Shetland distillery project. Well we at the magazine had never really touched this as it seemed a little dodgy to say the least. So there was I, turning the big man down. An odd state of affairs really.

The next crossing point was to prove the clincher. I found myself face to face with this voice I had grown accustomed to. The scene was the Wick Prohibition ball at Old Pulteney distillery. There he was across the table - voice so familiar. The man that unknowingly had accompanied me through the finer points of medieval Scottish Literature had become tangible.
By this point I had found his second tome, The Spirit of Adventure, which together with Ted Simon's writings was fuelling my passion for a long motorbike trip.

Tom's epic voyage round Scotland's distilleries on a motorbike, well MZ sidecar outfit to be precise, sparked an idea.
The idea slowly morphed into Journey's Blend, and after I passed my big bike test, the plotting became more definitive. Round the main compass points in Scotland and create a blend. So taking samples from Highland Park in the north, Bladnoch in the south, Kilchoman out west and Glen Garioch in the east.

Then head to the centre, Glen Turret, to make the one -off blend. Of course I would need a partner, so after a few, ok well a lot, of beer and whisky I mentioned it.

The plan was met with interest so as we sat hung over the next day, I went into more detail and vowed to get back in touch.
Things started to fall into place and off went the email. Thus started a riding partnership, it's just a shame the third musketeer Ken Hamilton cannot complete the set for this next trip.

I thought Tom was joking when, at Whisky Live Glasgow, he mentioned the prospect of following in Alfred Barnard's steps and touring Great Britain's modern distilleries. Becoming Barnards of the present day.
Of course the only form of transport suitable, the motorbike, most excitingly Triumphs again. This time their big naked street bikes.
It's a week now until the launch day. I have the beginnings of a nervous feeling in my stomach. But soon I will just want to go.