In 1991 my father who was an avid and lifelong motorcyclist died, and one of the rides that he had always wanted to do, but had never got around to, was to do the End to End run [from Lands End in Cornwall way up to John O'Groats on the northern tip of Scotland]. The shortest one way trip according to the Lands End sign post of 874 miles. So as a memorial to him, in the September of that year I did the run on my old 350cc Jawa for charity, with money raised going to the local Hospice.
With 2011 being the 20th anniversary of that run, I wanted to do the run again, on the same(now older) 350cc Jawa, once again in memory of my father and for the love of motorcycling that he had instilled in me, but this time to do the run the opposite way, to start at John O'Groats and to then head south.
As the initial trip to Scotland was a long ride and was going to take several days, I decided to take the opportunity to not take the shortest route to John O'Groats, but to ride up through the beautiful west coast highlands of Scotland, and to en-route, visit (and stay) with my good friends Tony & Tonia Thain [Tony is the Club's National Membership Secretary and an ex Swindon Branch stalwart]. It was then, due to some previous family commitments, just a case of waiting for a convenient time.
Day 1.Tuesday 2nd August, was chosen as the start date, so with the old Jawa having been given a quick service and clean, fully loaded up, it was at 08.30 that I left home for the trip north. As I was uncertain how far I would be able to get each day, I hadn't pre-book any accommodation in advance, so in case I had difficulties finding any, I took a tent, air bed and sleeping bag with me to make sure that I had somewhere to bed down. With the exception of the first 30 miles up towards Gloucester, the route up to Scotland is all motorway (the M5 & M6). Now the old Jawa is not designed for the normal motorway speeds that most vehicles travel at, but in some ways that was an advantage. Once on the M5 and with the speedo wavering at an indicated 55 to 60mph (probably a true speed of 50 to 55), I was just able to cruise along in the inside lane, and with the exception of having to pass the odd slow moving lorry, didn't have to worry about actually keep swopping lanes. At the indicated speed the Jawa simply purred along, and I soon settled into a relaxed riding style.
At Birmingham it was Motorway swop onto the M6, and here there was some congestion where the two major roads joined, however once again the Jawa was easily able to keep up with the slower moving traffic, until the congestion had eased.
Now, my original intention was to ride and stop somewhere in southern Scotland, but everything depended on the weather. The forecast was overcast with occasional heavy showers, so as I headed north I could see dark clouds all around, but luckily managed to dodge most of them. With the bike performing superbly, I cruised up the motorway and reached the Scottish border at about 3.30pm. As it was still relatively early, I decided to press on and see if I could get up to the Loch Lomond area. More miles today meant less miles tomorrow. I arrived at Glasgow at 5.30pm, and not only did I meet their traffic rush hour, but the journey through the city on the M8 motorway also coincided with a torrential rain storm, so a double whammy here.
Once out the west side of Glasgow, the rain had abated and after crossing the Erskin Bridge, it was off and onto standard A roads for the first time in many hundreds of miles. It was then onto the southern end of Loch Lomond, where I started to look for a camp site. As I travelled up the side of the Loch, most of the sites seemed to be for caravans and motor homes only, but I knew that at the northern end of the loch there was site that also took tents at a place called Ardlui. By the time I arrived there is was just past 6.30pm so I had been travelling for 10 hours. As you can imagine I was now feeling very tired, so pulled into the caravan and camp site and went to the reception office.
The warden welcomed me and then took me across the road to a small secure fenced field where I could pitch my tent. No one else was on the site so I initially had it all to myself. It was still quite warm, and as I stated to pitch I was being eaten alive by the infamous Scottish midges, I was not sure that I was going to have a good first night camping experience. I noticed that in one area of the camping field there were 2 small timber cabins. I wandered over and peered in to see a couple of bunk type beds, so I went back to the warden to enquire if it might be possible to use one of them. I explained that I was being eaten alive and that being in a cabin might help stop this. He went away and asked the sites owner if that would be OK, which luckily it was. This proved to be very lucky, as in the Bothy as it was called, midges were screened out and I was able to use a very comfortable bunk bed. Once settled in and with the bike parked up at the front of the cabin, it was over to the sites pub/restaurant for a nice cool drink and something to eat.
Mileage covered for the day an impressive, 420.
Day 2. Wednesday 3rd August. I woke at 6.30am after a really pleasant nights sleep (no midge bites), I loaded up the bike and by 7.45am was again headed north, this time with the destination being Tony & Tonias place on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Over night there had been more showers, so the road was still wet in places which meant having to be just that little bit more cautious when going around some of the bends. The bike however seemed to take it all easily in its stride and there were no problems. By about 8.30am I had reached the village of Tyndrum where I stopped at “Paddys Rock & Roll Diner”. This is part of a hotel, and for the princely sum of £6, was able to have an all-you-can-eat breakfast. Excellent food and really good value!
It was then on again up towards the famous Glen Coe. Being still quite early in the morning, traffic was very light, and as I approached Glen Coe the sun had come out and the air temperature had started to rise. I love this area of the highlands, as it is really beautiful and can be very atmospheric. Glen Coe however despite all its beauty, does have a sinister past of murder and treachery, but this really only enhances the feeling you get as you travel through it. At the top end of the glen is the village which takes its name. Small, but again very picturesque. I stopped at a small roadside café where I had a coffee break and just admired the scenic beauty. In the sun light it looked fantastic. It was then only a short ride to the Ballachulish bridge which crosses the mouth of Loch Leven, before the ride up the side of Loch Linnhe to Fort William. I have stayed in Fort William many times, and while it can be a bit of a tourist trap in summer, I think it also happens to be possibly the place with the highest annual rain fall in the UK. Luckily today was not one of those days, with the sun shining. I refuelled the bike and then parked the bike in a motorcycle bay, before going off for a stroll to look around and to also stretch my legs. I telephoned Tony to tell him where I was and what time I would probably arrive at his place.
Now Tony and Tonia live in a small hamlet called Achnaha, which is about 75 miles west of Fort William, almost at the furthest point west on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. It is a very remote and beautiful part of Scotland, where a lot of the access route is on single track roads with occasional passing points. However the first part of the route from Fort William is along the normal A830 road towards Mallaig. This takes you initially to Glenfinnan where in the past at the head of head of the Loch Shiel.`Bonny Prince Charlie landed after returning from France and raised the Clan Standard in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. There is also the spectacular Glenfinnan viaduct, which in recent times has featured in several of the Harry Potter films.
At Glenfinnan there is a National Trust building with lots of interesting facts about the place and the locality, together with a café for those wanting refreshments. When I arrived the car park was quite full, so I didn't stop there too long. With the Jawa fired up again it was off in the Mallaig direction, before at a small place called Lochailort, I diverted off and headed south to a place called Salen, which was where any half decent roads ended, and where it then became 25 mile of single tract road onto Ardnamurchan itself. I stopped by loch sides for breaks and to just sit for a while and take in the beauty and the warm afternoon sun shine. As mentioned the road from Salen to Achnaha is mostly single tract, following the coast for the first part, along Loch Sunart, before heading inland and then finally back again to the village of Kilchoan. The road in places was in quite poor condition, with obvious emergency patching having been done. There are also numerous blind bends and corners, so I took great care especially when travelling across metal cattle grids, which can be very slippery. I however had no real problems, although free range grazing sheep often ran Kamikaze like in front of me, and at one point a stubborn shaggy Highland cow refused to budge from the centre of the narrow road. Despite beeping my horn she would not move, so in the end I had to nudge her with my front wheel to get it to move out of the way.
From Kilchoan it was then only a few miles more to Achnaha, where I was warmly greeted by Tony and Tonia, and they fed me and put me up for the night. It was great to see them both again and to catch up on both of our news.
Mileage covered for the day, 139.
Day 3. Thursday 4th August. After a super nights rest, I woke to the sound of heavy rain, and as I looked out of my bedroom window in a westerly direction towards the coast, thick black clouds and hill mist were rolling in. It did not look as though I was going to have a very good riding day. After Tonia and Tony had given me a very nice breakfast it was time to say my goodbyes after what was really only a flying visit. I would love to have stayed longer with them but I had a time schedule to keep too, so had to take my leave. So, with the bike loaded up once again and the rain having abated I set off to retrace my route back initially to Fort William.
No sooner had I left Achnaha than the rain returned, and with an unpleasant ferocity which was to stay with me for the whole journey back to Fort William. Within an hour of this rain I started to feel cold, and it was soon clear that my 100% water proof riding gear was only 100% water proof when it was not raining!!! I could feel my normal clothing starting to feel damp. I refueled at Fort William before heading north towards Loch Ness and Inverness, again with it still raining hard.
Now the road north initially took me through Spean Bridge, and past a few miles further a spur (A87), which would take you to the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye. That today was not on my route plan, so I continued on to Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness. Fort Augustus is famous for having a flight of 5 impressive canal locks which form part of the Caledonian canal. It's a real tourist spot to watch the boats going up and down the locks. The main A82 road to Inverness runs right alongside Loch Ness and in good weather is really spectacular and fun to ride on a motorcycle. Today however with the rain I cannot say it was a fun day, all I wanted to do was get as far north as possible. Inverness lies at the northern end of Loch Ness (and no, I didn't see Nessie!) and also on the Moray Firth. Now I really like the city (known as the capital of the Highlands), but this time it was just a quick transit through before getting onto the main north bound A9 and crossing the Moray Firth bridge. With the route north now being mainly the A9 for most of the way, this road now follows the eastern side of Scotland, and the first part from Inverness takes you through an area called the Black Isle. Now it's not an island but a peninsula, and with the Jawa still purring along reliably, I was more than pleased that at last the rain had stopped. With the duel carriage way road ending it was then onto normal two-way roads.
In no time at all I was leaving the Black Isle and arriving at the Cromarty Firth estuary. There is a long bridge here which seems to take you across the estuary at what seems like almost water level. The bridge is a very low one. I can imagine that in very windy weather, crossing this bridge could be quite an experience due to how exposed it makes vehicles, luckily today it was relatively calm. As I continued further north, although the rain had stopped, there now appeared to be a mist coming down, which although not a problem now, was to become so later on my ride. At the Dornoch Firth I crossed the large bridge there, before starting the ride which took me along most of the eastern coast line.
As I'm sure you can imagine, I was now feeling tired after having been in the saddle for many hours, most of it wet, and with me feeling cold and damp, so I decided to make John O'Groats my goal for the day.
Now on this last 90 mile section two things came into play which nearly ruined my plan. Firstly the mist was gradually getting thicker the further north I went, and secondly that no one told me that there were no fuel stations between a place called Brora and Wick (a distance of 47 miles). When I was about 26 miles from Wick and going through a rather bendy section of roads and hills, the engine started to splutter. I immediately knew that it signaled low fuel, so quickly turned the fuel tap to the reserve position, the engine picked up, and I carried on. Now from experience I knew that reserve was usually enough for about 15 miles, so I immediately started to look for fuel. As I passed through several small hamlets it soon became clear that there were no fuel stations there. A few miles further on, I stopped in one village and spoke to a lady. She said the nearest fuel was in Wick and that was 18 miles away. As I had already used some of the reserve fuel it was quite clear that I was not going to reach Wick without running out, and I did not fancy being stranded in the middle of the Scottish north east in a thickening mist. At the next village, a small place called Lybster I saw a young lad sitting on his small motorcycle in a hotel car park. I stopped and asked him if he knew where I might get enough emergency fuel to get me to Wick. He directed me to a small café run by his father and told me to ask him. Well I did, and the gentleman was kind enough to let me have a small amount. I was very relieved, and Wick was still about 11 miles away. As I now headed towards Wick with the satisfaction that I now had enough fuel to get me there, the mist had now become so thick that visibility was down to about 30 yards. I pulled in and stopped in a small lay-by as my visor was misting up, when a couple of cars passed me also going slowly. I immediately pulled out behind them and keeping as far back as I dared, followed their red rear fog lights. I eventually arrived at Wick, and stopped at the first petrol station and refueled. I enquired as to where there might be some suitable Bed & Breakfast, and he pointed to a small terraced house opposite. I thought I would keep that in my memory in case I couldn't find something else. It was now 4pm in the afternoon, but with the mist (a little less dense now) and being so far north it was also quite gloomy, but with John O'Groats only about 16 miles further on I decided to go straight there, and so by about 4.30pm I arrived at what was to be my starting place for my End-to-End run.
Still being quite misty it was not possible to appreciate the surrounding area and sea scape, but I made my way to the famous sign post, where I parked my bike and had an official photograph taken. While there I met 6 cyclists who were just finishing their ride up from Lands End. They told me it had taken them 18 days, which due to the age of some of them (two of them at least in their 70's) I was impressed. I then went over to the nearby building where they keep the ledger of comments and where I got my official start stamp receipt. After a short time there I made my way back to Wick, and did get B&B at the house previously pointed out to me, with the bike secure in their rear courtyard. On what was still a damp evening, I later walked into Wick centre, found a pub that also served food, and had my first meal since breakfast.
Mileage covered for the day, 285.
Day 4 Friday 5th August. Today was when I started the run south properly, and once again the weather was overcast and showery. After another fine breakfast, the old Jawa fired up easily and I started my return run towards Inverness with more than enough fuel to get me to Brora or beyond. The 120 mile run back to Inverness was totally uneventful except that there was now quite a strong head and cross wind, which at times did affect the bikes handling. From Inverness I continued on down the A9 in the direction of Perth and Edinburgh, and I have to say that I really do like this road. Although it's the main north road from the Scottish capital and it carries a huge amount of traffic, it does pass through some spectacular scenery. Much of the road is duel carriageway with the road bi-passing the en-route villages. At Aviemore the famous Cairngorm National Park and winter ski resort, I diverted off where I took a coffee break stop. The place was heaving with tourists and so as much as I like the place I quickly pressed on.
At a distance of approximately 20 miles south of Aviemore, the bike clocked up 1000 miles since leaving home. As I continued south at least it was now staying dry, although I did wish that the head wind would drop, so after passing through the Glen Garry area, I again diverted off to Blair Atholl to have a quick stop at the castle. While the castle is famous, the unique and special feature of this place is The Atholl Highlanders. This is a Scottish infantry regiment based in Blair Atholl, although the regiment is not part of the British Army. Instead, the regiment is in the private employ of the Duke of Atholl, making it the United Kingdom's, and indeed Europe's, only legal private army. From Blair Atholl I then made my way the short distance to the nearby town of Pitlochry where I again stopped for some refreshments. After Pitlochry it was back onto the A9 for the run down to Perth and then onto motorway (M90) for the run to Edinburgh.
Now it was never my intention to actually go into Edinburgh, but to cross the famous Forth Bridge and to then take the M8 motorway towards Glasgow. However one can't help but be fascinated when crossing the Forth road bridge, to look across to your left and see the monumental Forth rail bridge. Truly a great tribute to Victorian engineering. Again it had been a long day, and despite me once again feeling the effects, the Jawa seemed to be taking it all in its stride without the slightest grumble, so just prior to Glasgow I took the road that took me back onto the southbound carriage of the M74 and heading back towards England.
It was now nearly 5pm, so I pulled off the motorway to go into Moffat, where I easily found a B&B to stop for the night, right in the centre of the village. The place unfortunately had no off-street parking, so I parked the Jawa just around the corner on a small side road, and securely pad locked it. Once settled in, I walked into the centre to find a pub to have a drinkand a meal.
Mileage covered for the day, 340.
Day 5 Saturday 6th August. At the outset I have to say that this was to prove my most challenging day! The weather forecast said that heavy rains with possible flooding were going to sweep in across southern Scotland by about 11am, so in an effort to get as far south as possible before the worst of the weather I left the B&B at 8.15am to get an early start. As I went to load my bike, my heart sank, as I could see that I had a rear flat tyre. As there was a garage about 100 yards away, I wheeled the bike there to use their air-line. The tyre inflated, but I could hear a hissing noise as it went back down. Now due to the bike having 16” tubed wheels which are not too common these days, I do actually always carry a spare replacement inner-tube, so it was just a case of getting it fitted. I could however find nothing in the tyre that could have caused the flat. The company I have my bike insurance with offers Roadside assistance as part of their insurance package, so a quick telephone call to their help line had them arranging for an AA recovery vehicle to come to me. A van arrived within 25 minutes (now about 9.10am) but as it was a tubed tyre he was unable to undertake a repair. He telephone some of his contacts, and a guy called Gus (who is a motorcyclist himself) and who runs a Toyota agency and garage in Lockerbie agreed to replace my inner tube. So the rear wheel was removed from the bike, and I was then taken the 16 miles to Gus's garage. The old inner tube was removed, the tyre checked for any projections which might have caused the flat (none found), and the replacement inner tube fitted. Gus was a real gentleman and fellow motorcyclist, as he would not accept any payment. It was then back to Moffat where the wheel was quickly replaced, and with the time now 11am I was on my way south again. The weather forecasters were not quite correct, it was 11.30 when the rain started, and as I continued south crossing back into England, the rain was steadily increasing in ferocity. Despite all this, I was making quite good progress, but as I started to climb the road to the Shap Fell summit, I started to feel the rear of the bike start to weave again. I edged onto the hard shoulder and as I slowed the bike began to weave violently and I had a real tank-slapper of an incident. Luckily I was able to bring everything under control and brought the bike to a stop. As I looked at the again deflated rear tyre not only did my spirits sink, but the rain also seemed to delight in turning into a torrent. So there I was on the M6 motorway, near the Shap summit, and in what seemed like being under a waterfall. Not nice, and once again I started to feel cold and damp. As I'm also a member (mainly for the car) of the RAC (Royal Automobile Club), I telephoned their emergency help line, explained where I was and what the problem was, and they said they'd send out one of their local agents. I then had an hour wait until a large flat-bed type recover lorry turned-up. It seemed that as it was now about 2-30pm on a Saturday, most nearby places that could help me were closed. The RAC had found a tyre depot in a place called Leigh which I believe was some 60 miles away to the west of Manchester. They however closed at 5pm, but they did have a tyre and inner tube if we could get there in time. So once the bike was securely stowed on the lorry, we set off. After we had been travelling for about 45 minutes, the driver of the recovery vehicle received a telephone call saying his vehicle was required elsewhere, so at the next Service area I was unloaded, and told that a vehicle with a bike trailer would be with me in a short time. Well it was a good 20 minutes before a Range Rover towing a bike trailer turned up, and with still some way to go, and time marching on, I became concerned that we wouldn't get to the tyre depot in time. We did however eventually arrive at the depot at 4.50pm, and the guys there were brilliant and actually stayed until after 5.30pm to make sure that everything was all right this time. They believed that the flats were caused by sharp flaking chrome slivers on the inside of the wheel rim due to corrosion which cut into the inner tube. They not only fitted a new tyre and inner-tube, but also cleaned up the inner wheel rim, and also fitted a new rim tape. I paid the bill (money that I had not allowed for in my original costs), and with about 190 miles to go till my home (my planned night stop), I set off again. The remainder of the trip home was uneventful and I eventually arrived home at 9.50pm.
Bike mileage covered for the day, 250.
Day 6 Sunday 7th August. After 5 long riding days, today was a rest day.
Day 7 Monday 8th August. With an approximate 250 mile ride to Lands End, my original intention was to ride there to officially finish the run, and then to possibly look for some B&B before returning home the following day. I once again fired up the old Jawa and left home at 7.15am and with the first 200 miles of the route a combination of Motorway and duel carriage way was able to keep up a respectable speed. Once off the M5 motorway at Exeter it was onto the equally good A30 which took my across the northern edge of Dartmoor to Oakhampton before heading down past Launceston and across Bodmin Moor to Bodmin. I then continued on the A30 till close to the Newquay turn-off the road becomes once again two-way. Traffic was now building up at each road intersection, but I just carefully filtered down the outside, thus bi-passing most of the jams. In no time at all I was at Penzance and taking the road the last 10 miles to Lands End.
On arrival at Lands End it was now a sunny but breezy day, and I was astounded just how many cars there were in the car parks. I rode up to the entrance booth, but instead of having to pay anything (unlike the cars) I was just waved through. I then made my way down to the official photographic sign post, were I had my picture taken to officially end my End-to-End run.
Both myself and the old Jawa finally at Lands End, after 1,674 miles since leaving home.
With lots of other general sightseers also wanting their picture taken, I did not wait there too long, but went and parked up next to the main café where I stayed for about 30 minutes having some refreshments. As it was still only early afternoon, I realised that if I headed straight back home (another 250 miles) it wouldn't be too late in the evening when I could arrive, so I then decided not to waste money on another nights B&B, but to set off for the long run home. The run back was totally uneventful, with the old girl not missing a beat, and we both eventually arrived home at 8.45pm.
Bike mileage covered for the day, 507.
Summary: The total mileage for the whole trip was 1,927, which was done in six actual days of riding. With the exception of the flat tyre problems on day 5 there had not been one problem with the bike itself and it had been totally reliable. Due to trying to keep up a reasonable speed on the motorways, fuel consumption had worked out at 67 mpg. It was really great to meet up again with National Membership Secretary, Tony Thain and his wife Tonia [thanks for your hospitality], and despite the less than favourable weather for large parts of the trip, I loved seeing and passing through many of the most beautiful and spectacular scenic parts of the UK.
As I said at the start, the run was done as the 20th anniversary of me doing the run in memory of my father. Unfortunately I don't think I'm going to be able to do it again in another 20 years.
'It's just too hot to wear clothes today,' Jack says as he stepped out of the shower.. 'Honey, what do you think the neighbors would think if I mowed the lawn like this?'
'Probably that I married you for your money,' she replied.
Mike Paterson is great for finding interesting bits and pieces. He has sent us this picture. For more information on Mike's find follow the link. http://www.bikermetric.com/2011/03/ukraine-built-jawa-two-stroke-250cc.html