A Balloch in the Trossachs – Scotland Bike tour

Table of contents for Scotland 06 Bike Tour

  1. A Balloch in the Trossachs – Scotland Bike tour
  2. Halifax to Aberfoyle
  3. Aberfoyle to Drumnadrochit
  4. Drumnadrochit to Edinburgh
  5. Edinburgh to Black Clauchry
  6. Black Clauchry to Halifax

A Balloch in the Trossachs – Scotland Bike Tour May 06
Having originally planned to bike down to the south of France to meet up with the boys who were going to be in Monaco for the Grand Prix, my plans were somewhat scuppered when they failed to get their act together and ended up not going to France at all. So – I had 10 days in my diary that was allocated to a bike trip, and no real plans.
I had some work which needed doing, so I decided to shorten the break to a few days, and planned a trip to Scotland instead. I am a regular visitor to Scotland – we have an apartment in Edinburgh for work – but have not spent much time touring or holidaying further afield. I have always wanted to visit Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, so this was the perfect opportunity. Rick (who came biking in France and Spain with me last year) and Sean decided to come along for the ride, and so we planned a route which would get us as far north as Inverness, and pass through some of the areas that I had wanted to see. I have not written down all of the names of the places we visited, as some of the Scottish names are so hard to pronounce that, as best you end up with a mild headache trying to say the name, or at worst you could lose various teeth in the attempt.

Portsmouth/Caversham/Halifax

We arrived at Portsmouth at about 7:30 in the evening. Engine problems had slowed us down a bit, but in the end we were only about 3 hours late. Rick had to work on the 29th, so he headed straight home. Chris and I rode an hour up to a town called Caversham, near Reading, about 40 miles west of London. We stayed with a friend overnight, before heading home. We got back to Halifax late afternoon.

In all we had ridden almost 1500 miles (2400 Kilometres) in a week, and had enjoyed a wonderful holiday. We have already started talking about what run we will do next year – perhaps riding the full length of the Pyrenees, or maybe a run down to the French Riviera for our annual pilgrimage to the Monaco Grand Prix. Watch this space………..

Zarauz – Bilbao (65 miles 104 Kilometres)

Lovely ride along the coast then up into the hills, and onto the motorway for the last 20 miles or so. I lost the other 2, and as they had the map, I got a bit anxious. We had ridden together so well for days, so got a bit pissed off that they didn’t wait for me when we got separated. Eventually I found the signs on the motorway for the ferry port, and found the boys there when I arrived.

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The ferry was delayed, and we sailed later than predicted, setting off about 2 pm. The crossing was easy, the ferry catering well for a 29 hour crossing. There were 2 cinemas, a number of restaurants, clubs, bars and recreation rooms. Our cabin was small but comfortable – though we didn’t spend much time in it.

Bordeaux – Zarauz (Spain) (195 Miles 312 Kilometres)

We headed off on our last full day of riding on the continent. Weather was stunning, and our by now traditional breakfast was taken on a lovely terrace overlooking the hotel garden. Not for the first time, we got a bit lost heading out of town. We headed toward a city called Arcachon. The roads were really nice – mostly in pretty forest areas. Some way further south are the costal areas which are home to some lovely, quite large, lakes. There are many holiday and camping villages along these lakes, which is a very popular vacation area for the French and Spanish. We stopped for a drink at one of these camping areas, and found quite a few English families among the visitors.

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At one of the beautiful lakes south of Bordeaux

The weather was so hot that even riding at 60 or 70 miles an hour, we still felt quite warm on the bikes. Had lunch at Vieux-Bacau, then rode through some quite heavily populated towns into Biarritz. This really beautiful city on the French side of the Basque region is very chic and sophisticated. We stuck out like sore thumbs when we stopped for a Coke at a smart seaside cafe, but still felt quite welcomed. We rode on the sea road out of Biarritz, which rose and fell along the cliffs producing stunning views of the sea, and the coastal tip of the Pyrenees.

This is Basque country, and they are keen to point out that while the region is governed by France and Span respectively, they regard themselves as an autonomous country and work hard for independence. It certainly is an extremely beautiful part of the world. We crossed into Spain without coming across a border, riding up and down the hills and valleys. I will definitely visit this part of the world again.

Our plan had been to stop and get a map of this region (we had only been travelling with a detailed map of France), but somehow found ourselves lost in San Sebastien, a large city, without having stopped to buy a map from a service station. We sent Rick off to find a map, while we lay resting in a park. He eventually returned with one, and we plotted our route to Zarauz. It only took about 30 minutes of riding to find this lovely little seaside resort. Again it is a popular vacation destination, and had very modern promenade, full of restaurants and bars. We had the obligatory paella, which was not only good, but ridiculously cheap compared with the prices we were used to paying in French restaurants. Beer was cheap too, so while I retired to my room to read, the other two headed off to see how much of the beer they could drink. I think they accredited themselves well, judging by the state of them the next morning.

Nantes – Bordeaux (210 miles 336 Kilometres)

After our ritual continental breakfast, we set off heading south from Nantes. We took the motorway for 15-20 miles, then onto more local roads. They were long, mostly straight, and rather boring. We headed into a town called Saintes for lunch (pizza for me – not for the cholesterol though) then decided to head off the beaten track. We headed to the coast, and road through some very pretty little villages and small fishing harbours.

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Harbour of a tiny seaside village

As we got nearer to Bordeaux, we passed through the Cognac region. This was stunning, with lovely rolling vineyards, beautiful old houses and open views toward Bordeaux. We got to a town called Blaye, which operates a ferry across the Gironde to the Bordeaux side. The Gironde is a large estuary formed where the Dordogne and Garonne rivers meet and run together in a wide body for about 45 miles into the Bay of Biscay. We waited about an hour for the next ferry, then rode on for the 20 minute crossing. The weather by this stage had turned into the stuff of dreams, and we were all too hot to ride with jackets on. I have a leather waistcoat which I wore, but the others made do with T-shirts.

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On the ferry over the Gironde

The other side of the Gironde is landmarked by the most beautiful chateaux (I think that is the correct spelling of the plural of chateau). These impressive buildings are the heart of the Bordeaux region wine industry, and tours are available of the beautiful old farms. We rode some lovely routes through the winelands into Bordeaux.

The hotel was on the outskirts of town, and had a very friendly manager who spoke excellent English, and was very knowledgeable about the routes we had planned for the next days riding. The beers in this hotel (Les Alizes) were probably the coldest we had all trip – and they were most welcomed after a hot days ride.

Caen – Nantes (185 miles 300 Kilometres)

Woke up to a heavy rain. Climbed out of bed, only to stand on Rick, who had moved in the night to escape the worst of Chris’ snoring. Our plan had been to ride north from Caen toward the D-Day beaches, and follow the Normandy landings for the morning before heading south. However, given the weather, we decided to just head straight for Nantes, our next overnight stop. This ended up being the shortest day in terms of riding.

We set off in a southerly direction at around 10ish, and the rain stopped by midday. We rode through inland Lower Normandy, which was beautiful. Many little towns, set on hills, interspersed with lovely open farmland, with gorgeous roads well suited to riding. One little town, Domfront, looked like the town where Rapunzel would live.

The further south we got, the more the weather improved. We stopped for lunch at a little café up on a high hillside, but they decided that they only sold drinks (although meals were advertised everywhere outside), so we had a beer and pressed on again. We made good time, and arrived in Nantes about 3:15 pm. It took a while to find the hotel, as it was situated in the very heart of the city, in amongst a warren of one-way and pedestrian streets.

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Boulogne sur Mer – Caen (218 miles – 350 Kilometres)

Saturday morning was quite overcast, but mainly dry. I had been afflicted a few days earlier by a Sleep-Related injury to my foot (woke up with a really sore upper foot, without injuring it in any way the day before). My foot was really sore when we got up, so I went to a pharmacy and got a support bandage for it. On a bike, you change gear with the left foot, so managing the pain was important. Ibuprofen really helped a lot.

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We packed up, and set off toward Normandy about 1030. In the main, we tried to follow the coast roads. They roads themselves were well maintained, and drivers are very courteous toward bikers. They move out of the way to allow you to pass without problem, unlike the UK where at best they are unaware of you, or at worst, the minority actually get in the way and block you from passing. Bike-envy, I think.

Passed a number of towns, including Dieppe, and lunched in a little seaside town called St Valery en Caux. Le Havre, Deauville and Cabourg went by, and we got to Caen about 6 pm ish. This hotel room was much better, and we each had our own bed. That didn’t help with the snoring, but the earplugs are a modern miracle. Amazing what a tiny sliver of foam can do for ones comfort.

I have attached a map of France, which has our approximate route marked out in yellow. The big blue dots are where we stopped each night Map

Halifax-Dover-Calais-Boulogne sur Mer (301 miles – 481 Kilometres)

 After some planning and discussion, followed by weeks of waiting impatiently, I set off with two good friends to conquer France by bike. We are all motorbike enthusiasts, and ride out when we can, purely for pleasure, taking advantage of the long summer evenings to head off after work into the peak district, up to the lakes, or over the moors. England in summertime can be glorious, and sunset can be as late as 10 pm up here in Yorkshire, so we make the proverbial hay.

 

Chris, Rick and myself have talked about a European tour for some time, and slowly had got our act together and arranged ferries, hotels, insurance, health cover and dozens of photocopies of every semi-official document any of us posses. We had planned a round trip that would last a week, and had done as much as we could to make sure all went smoothly. Chris and I had been on our motorbikes to Holland a few weeks before, and mine had developed some problems, so I had these seen to, and got it serviced too.

 

Packing for a bike holiday is interesting, as your space is very limited. We were each on our own bike, so carried our own kit, but still there is only so much you can carry. Travelling on the continent means you have to carry a first aid kit, some specific motor spares and other bits, so the limited space is eaten into before you start. Anyway, I have a good set of bike luggage, and managed to actually bring back a couple of bottles of whisky from the final ferry trip.

Having deliberately planned the trip for high summer, we set off in a typical English drizzle. Grey skies and wet roads – not fun for intrepid bikers. As we had a long days travel to get down to Dover – around 270 miles – we decided to stick to the motorways. We normally avoid motorway travel, as it is boring, and the whole point of being out on the bike is being one with the environment that you are moving through. Winding country roads are far preferable to the soulless concrete ribbons.

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The trip down was rather uneventful, and we got to Dover with plenty of time to spare. In fact, they put us on an earlier ferry, and after an uneventful crossing, rode the last 20-odd miles to our first overnight stop, the lovely port of Boulogne sur Mer. We shared a tiny hotel room, myself and Chris got the double bed, while Rick managed to wangle the single. Both of them snore terribly, so I used ear-plugs, which made the nights bearable.

 

The French are very accommodating toward bikers. In the UK, you can sometimes get treated with some disdain – but everyone there was very helpful and welcoming to us, always. The hotel couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming.

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