Saturday, 30 August 2014

Scotland 2014: Day 2

View from Volcano

Scotland 2014: Day 2, 30th August 2014
Day in Edinburgh

First thing I did this morning was take pictures of the room as promised. It's got everything you need, large bed (which is actually 2 singles pushed together but hey), tea and coffee, kettle, a few hangers, a safe and of course an en-suite. Next door the owner has another guest house which has sky TV, breakfast and other facilities but that costs pretty much double what a night here costs. We aren't too fussed about breakfast and as long as we have somewhere to lay our heads we are pretty much sorted. We also brought breakfast bars with us, so it means we can eat something quick and get as much crammed into our day as possible!

Leaving the guest house the dark clouds filled us with worry. As far as we knew it wasn't meant to be raining today. However, as we continued walking towards the city centre the clouds dispersed and the whole day has been lovely. Our walk to the city centre involved a minor detour... via the volcano where the top is known as Arthur's Seat. Last night I was wondering where the pretty side of Edinburgh was and today we have found it.

It took about an hour but we managed to get to the very top - greeted by heavy winds. The views from up here are outstanding. All around you can see either as far as the sea, the old town, the rest of the volcano or some of the small lochs below. Many locals were jogging around the area or walking their dogs (some of the dogs looked absolutely shattered!). If you come to Edinburgh you have to head up the volcano. The park is known as Holyrood Park, and the views are absolutely stunning. I have obviously attached photos but they can never do it justice.

From the top of the volcano Emma spotted a structure that she wanted to go and see. We headed back down and found out that it was the abbey next to the Queen's palace. To go inside required purchasing tickets and as we wanted to use some of our small budget to check out the castle we gave it a miss. Instead we headed up Calton Hill, home of the observation tower and several landscape artefacts. One of which was the Portuguese cannon, the last one of six after the rest were melted for weaponry in the second world war.

From here we headed across the city to the castle. The queues were quite long, I think we had to queue for about 45 minutes before we could buy tickets. At time of writing an adult ticket costs £16.

We were in the castle for about 2 hours. We checked out all the areas that were open including Davids Tower where the crown jewels were hidden during the second world war, the jewels themselves, the luxury apartments, prisons and the chapel. Worth a visit as the history is really interesting. The views from the castle are also fantastic and as you can see from my badly taken picture we tried to do a selfie to demonstrate this...

We almost left before checking out the Dragoon and War Museums, but went back to do these before leaving the castle around 2 pm. Keeping costs down, we walked to a Tesco Metro for a meal deal before finding our way to a black structure that Emma had spotted from the volcano known as Scots Monument. From here we spent a bunch of time wandering around checking out antique shops, jewellery stores and whatever unique shops were hidden down some of the smaller streets.

The night before we found that Edinburgh's main museum was closed for refurbishments. But we stumbled across a money museum on the mound (a man-made hill purchased by the Bank of Scotland for around £117,000 in today's money - apparently I do remember some of the things I read!). It was free entry so we went and had a look. It displayed the history of Scotland's banking as well as the first coins ever to be minted in Scotland. There was also a case of a million pounds in Scottish £20 notes, but these had been cancelled in case of theft. It also showed the types of chests banks used to secure property from bank notes to assets.

After more walking we finally went for dinner at Garfunkel's. We had a lovely spot by the window so we could check out what was going on along the high street. We'd never been to a Garfunkel's before but food was OK, what you would expect from a mid-range steak restaurant.

Tomorrow we head to Dundee - a nice short 60 or so mile journey. However, my bottom is still ever so painful from the journey up to Edinburgh yesterday. I have a feeling this is going to be slightly uncomfortable...

Friday, 29 August 2014

Scotland 2014: Day 1

Scotland 2014: Day 1, 29th August 2014
Billericay - Edinburgh (384 miles approx.)
Petrol Stops: 3
Time: 9.5 hours approx. (with stops)

So far so good! It is the first official day of our Scotland trip and I have managed to get online to write up as we go along. Excellent...

We left Billericay around 9.30am and first stopped at the petrol garage in Shenfield as I had no idea how much fuel was left in my bike (something to do with unplugging the battery and resetting the trip-o-meter several times during the week) and Emma knew she hadn't filled up sometime around leaving Houghton Regis the week before. Aiming for about 140 miles for a fuel stop, Emma next planned to stop somewhere around Newark on the A46.

So we carried on, through Brentwood town centre until we could get onto the motorways. Traffic was pretty standard from the M25 to the M11 until we started edging towards Cambridge. We ended up stuck at around 50mph on the A14 right through until it merged onto the A1 (where it then opens up to 4 lanes). From here it was pretty straight forward to our next petrol stop, a shell garage on the A1/A46 at Newark, arriving just before 12.30. We decided this would be a good time to grab some sandwiches for lunch later and then set off.

As we approached the Doncaster section of the A1 we hit standstill traffic between junctions 34 and 37. Forced to filter, we eventually noticed there had been a collision between two cars. Although these had been moved to the hard shoulder drivers were of course slowing down to see what had happened - which causes the major delays.

For those of you who have bluetooth or other headsets, you'll notice that your microphone tends to have a foam cover over it. You may not think it does very much in blocking unwanted noise, but prior to all the heavy filtering Emma managed to somehow dislodge hers from the microphone. The sound I was getting through my headset sounded as though she was standing on top of an erupting volcano. It was so painful that I had to turn the headset off (which in turn meant I couldn't hear my sat nav). When we were filtering and travelling at much slower speeds I turned it back on to see if I could hear her, which I could. I found out that the foam part was bouncing around inside her lid somewhere so we arranged to stop at the next services to sort this out and have lunch.

When we got back onto the A1 (which has its fair share of adult shops....) we had quite a mix of weather conditions. Near Wetherby we had drizzle up until we hit the A68 to head through the Pennines and Northumberland National Park. What a great road! The weather dispersed, and we had blue skies and fantastic views. Although bumpy in places the road was enjoyable, lovely sweeping bends and so many bikes heading in the other direction - so clearly a popular road. We stopped at a Tesco Extra for petrol, which was the only time I was able to get a picture of some of the view, but really it's nothing compared to what we saw riding. The funny thing is the moment we crossed the border (sorry Dad, the bagpipe guy wasn't there as we passed at 5.20pm) it rained! We knew it was coming as we checked the forecast before leaving, but it lasted all the way to the guest house.

Guest house is a small little bungalow type thing off Old Dakleith Road. Its our first night here (Emma has already gone to bed) and its pretty decent. Clean, big bed, ensuite, large TV on the wall. I forgot to take pictures of it and the room but will do tomorrow :).

Route below:

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Scotland 2014: Preparation

Scotland 2014: Preparation
I am aware that there are still a few days left to talk about with the Pyrenees trip from last year, but I am hoping I can keep on top of the Scotland one this year, starting with our preparations!

The great thing is that this trip hasn't taken anywhere near as much planning as the previous two years. For starters, the route has been decided by Emma so I haven't had to get too involved there, we are not camping so packing is a lot smaller and we are still in the UK meaning no extra breakdown cover or worries about finding a garage and so forth.

The Route
Compared to last year this is a shorter trip - only 8 days compared to I think 15 or 16. However, as usual we haven't been stingy on miles with almost 900 miles alone taken up with getting to Scotland and back again. Our main destinations/overnight stops are as follows:

  • Edinburgh
  • Dundee
  • Brora
  • Ullapool (via John O'Groats)
  • Fort William
To break the trip up we are are spending 2 nights in both Edinburgh and Fort William. I will post each route as I hopefully manage to update the blog on a daily basis but here is a map of the entire journey.

Bike Preparation
Other than the usual bike checks for any type of journey (tyre pressures/tread, chain adjustments, lights etc.) we have had a couple of things that have needed to be sorted before we go and have been staying in Billericay where we can get these things done.

On Emma's bike she has needed to rebuild her front brake callipers and replace the pads as well as bleeding the brake system. Her brakes have had a few issues recently and it was important that this was addressed. In addition to this she has also completed an oil change and polished up her spark plugs - which of course in a curvy SV there are only two to do.

This is the first time I have taken my blade away on a fairly lengthy trip so there was a couple of things I wanted to add. I ordered a motorcycle power cable for my Garmin Zumo 550 sat nav (approximately £15 on eBay) and asked the local garage to wire this up to the ignition for me. I also ordered a RAM mount from Telferizer (£28.50 plus £4 shipping for a CBR 900 RR3), which I fitted myself. I will add their link to the links section on the left as he is a really helpful guy and can supply a RAM mount for pretty much any bike. Rather than buying a new motorcycle mount for the Zumo, I am using the one I have fitted to my SV650.

With the sat nav taken care of I also wanted to add a 12v cigarette socket to charge our headsets, phones etc. I looked on eBay and Amazon but couldn't find one I trusted. I do have one fitted to my SV that I purchased from Hein Gericke that I haven't had any trouble with. Of course, Hein Gericke have now gone into administration and most stores have been taken over by J&S Accessories. So I headed down to the Watford store to see what they had and bought an Oxford socket (£19.99) designed primarily for handlebars, but the bracket can be removed. Underneath my pillion seat there are plastic sections either side separating the storage area from the cables. On one side there are 2 tiny holes so with Emma's help I used one of this holes to attach the socket to whilst running the cable directly to the battery alongside the other cables. I have deliberately attached the 12v directly to the battery so that I can charge things on the bike whilst it is stationary. I have done the same thing on my SV and because the power drainage is so low, have never had a problem starting the bike afterwards.

I have never been to Scotland, let alone the highlands, so I have no idea what to expect temperature wise. I have a spare heated cable for my Keis gear so I have also fitted that directly to the battery, cable tidying the lead underneath the left hand side of the rider seat. I did consider asking the garage to wire this into the ignition also, but decided to wire it direct in case I wanted to remove it when I got back home.

That has left only a couple of non-electrical things to do. As we are expecting to do a lot of miles - and lets face it the 954 Fireblade isn't known for its comfort! - I have attached my air hawk seat which was a life saver on the previous two trips (for the review click here: The last thing to do was an oil change as this hasn't been done since I bought the bike in April 2014. We have just finished all these today so the bikes are now good to go!

The Gear
As I mentioned above, we are not camping at all on this trip. We are quite fortunate that we have family we can stay with for a couple of nights which makes it a bit easier to pay for B&Bs and hotels for the other nights. Also locating a bike garage in Scotland is far easier than trekking around mainland Europe. So here is my packing list:
  • Clothes including one pair of hiking boots, motorcycle jeans, hoodie, Keis heated waistcoat, buff neck scarf, the lining for my Dianese gore-tex bottoms and a spare pair of waterproof motorcycle gloves.
  • Spare fuses
  • Charging cables (USB and 12v)
  • Electric tape
  • Wash bag with toiletries
  • Sat Nav
  • Reflective Vest
  • Helmet Cover with Breakdown Triangle
  • MP3 Player
  • Security chain + shackle lock
  • Laptop and Charger (for blog writing!)
For packing onto the bike I can generally tie to my Renntec grab rail. I have bought myself a new cargo net and am using a couple of bungee cords. My luggage includes a Bagster tank bag (loaned by Emma's dad) to fit to my Bagster tank cover and a 20L compression sack on the back for clothes. I have my bike tool kit and the security chain under the seat.

Emma will no doubt be bringing chain lube, spare bulbs (SV and CBR) and possibly clutch lever. As my Fireblade has a scottoiler I have topped this up and adjusted the flow prior to leaving. When I get home I will put the flow rate back to where it was previously. This is to ensure the chain is still being lubricated despite less often and should last the length of the trip.

As for what I am wearing for the most part gear wise:
  • TCX Waterproof Boots
  • Dianese Gore-Tex Bottoms (I expect it to rain in Scotland!)
  • Dianese Leather Jacket
  • Alpinestars Leather Summer Gloves
  • HJC Helmet with Pinlock and built in Sun Visor
I think that is pretty much it! Will keep you all updated whilst on the trip :).

Pyrenees: Day 10

Pont des Espagne
Pyrenees: Day 10, Esquieze Sere, Pyrenees, France - Pont Des Espagne, 5th September 2013 (13.7 miles - one way)

With Rob back with us we could carry on with the rest of the holiday. Today was all about the Pont des Espagne waterfall. Of course we love riding and that is the main purpose of doing a trip like this - enjoying the roads, bends and scenery. But being in the middle of the Pyrenees it would be a crime not to see as much as we could whilst we were here.

Before heading off to the waterfall, which was only 13.7 miles away, we needed to stock up on food supplies. Luckily in the very small town that we were camping in there was a small Carrefour supermarket so we stocked up on pasta, tinned vegetables, crisps - general stuff that we could cook on our small solid fuel stove and snack on during the day.

As well as the cable lock under my SV seat I also brought a second maxtor cable lock for securing some of the bike wear to the bikes. We rode in hiking boots to avoid climbing the waterfall in motorcycle boots, which we left in the tents. I locked the two SVs together in the car park, but this was quite gravely so Rob moved his bike somewhere more flat.

Part way up the waterfall we found a great place to have lunch. There were several large rocks that were situated in the water, easily accessible by the footpath that runs alongside the waterfall. We sat here to eat, enjoying the sound of running water, the lovely hot weather and the beautiful surroundings.

Further up the waterfall Emma was struggling somewhat with her joints which made it hard to continue much further. I continued as far to the top as I could in order to take some pictures whilst Rob stayed with Emma. I came back down to meet them and we stopped to top up our energy levels with some sugary sweets. Rob and I dipped our feet in the waterfall and despite the lovely warm weather the water was absolutely freezing! We picked ourselves up and headed back down to the bikes. 

At the bottom we stopped for drinks and ice cream. As we had spent a good day walking we pretty much headed back to the campsite after this so we could relax.

After dinner Rob and I went to the local town to find a bar so we could have a drink and let Emma rest up in the tent. It was great to wind down after a really active day ready to jump back on the bikes again the following day.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Pyrenees: Day 9

Col D' Aspin

As we are going away in just shy of a week to Scotland, I am trying to get as much of the Pyrenees trip of last year written up as possible! I now have a new 11" laptop so I plan to take this with me, meaning I will be updating the blog as much as I can on the next trip - meaning I won't still be writing about it a year later!

Pyrenees: Day 9, Ansalonga, Andorra - Esquieze Sere, Pyrenees, France, 4th September 2013 (210 miles)

After another freezing cold night in Andorra we got up to make the long trip to the Midi-Pyrenees where we planned to spend 3 nights. 

We got through the French borders and as we tackled the tight bends down the mountain I was having a few issues with my gears. Every time I tried to put the bike into first it would slip into neutral - giving me several heart attacks when going round hair pins! We stopped so Emma could take a very quick look but there was nothing she could see and wasn't anything we could do really until we got to our destination. To be honest, I still have the problem occurring every once in a while now. The only way is to use a lot of force to ensure it bypasses neutral. It may however be something common in both curvy and pointy SVs as Emma's gear shift is pretty dodgy too (but that's probably from years of abuse...).

We stopped amongst the mountains to have lunch alongside the company of a few cows. Despite the cold, we had lovely blue skies and riding conditions were fantastic. Compared to Spain there is less dried grass and the greenery is lighter in shade. The views again were amazing and they are one of the main reasons for doing a trip like this.

The further into the Pyrenees we went, the more difficult and narrow the roads became. When I planned these routes I used the best biking roads website (link to the left). What I didn't realise however is that the routes it suggested were the same roads used for the Tour De France. This became clear as we stopped in one of several well-known cycling locations -  Col D' Aspin. There were many tourists around here - cyclists, bikers, walkers - all stopping to take pictures of the mountains.

In the picture below you can see how bendy some of these roads are. In front of us a biker, who I think was riding a GSXR, navigated these bends with ease, a lot quicker than I was able to. Maybe he was familiar with the roads, but they are also rather narrow and it can be difficult to overtake when you also have cars towing caravans driving along them.

We arrived at the campsite as the sun was beginning to set. Earlier in the day, back in Barcelona, Rob had taken Casey to the airport and started to make his way up to meet us. With a slightly more challenging journey of 259 miles, Rob followed main roads with the aid of his sat nav until he reached the mountains. Unfortunately he then had to navigate the mountain roads in the dark until he finally reached the campsite, arriving some time after 10 at night. Me and Emma did save Rob some dinner so he didn't have to cook, but it was a bit cold by the time he arrived (not that he seemed to mind too much!).

Below is possibly the route that Rob took to meet us, but if this is wrong I am sure he will correct me so I can update the post!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Pyrenees: Day 8

Pyrenees: Day 8, Camping Ansalonga, Andorra - Cami de Riberies, Llavorsi, 3rd September 2013 (58 miles - one way)

Back when we were still planning the trip I had booked a session of white water rafting for 4 of the (then) 5 of us. Without Psy on this trip it had gone down to 3 (Rob wasn't keen on doing it). Of course, circumstances had now changed somewhat. With Rob and Casey back in Barcelona it was just Emma and myself that would take the short 58 mile ride back to Spain.

Although a short trip, there were several bends that perhaps we weren't really expecting. What we also weren't expecting were some of the amazing views of the mountains. It's amazing how green the mountains are in Northern Spain. Its a different kind of green to say England or Wales, much darker in shade and of course surrounded by dusty roads and dried out grass.

Our session was booked for 10:45am, although I remember arriving quite early, say around 10. There was a bit of confusion at reception when we explained we were now a part of 2 rather than 4. According to the lady at the desk we should have notified in advance that our situation had changed. I explained that we only knew what was happening the day before to which she seemed OK in the end.

There was a cafe across from the river so we went and got a hot chocolate whilst we waited. We ended up being the only 2 English people doing the session, so they paired us up with an instructor who spoke really good English (my Spanish is almost non-existent). I'd never done anything like this before, but I knew Emma had (and if its not rafting then she's at least done kayaking). The instructor was great, switching between English and Spanish, giving instructions and allowing rafters to jump into the water if they wished to - of course only at calmer, safer parts of the river!

The surrounding landscape was amazing. Clear water, flowing through the valley, with mountains either side. That's the part I enjoyed the most - looking around and taking in the surroundings. My bottom got pretty sore by the end, but it was definitely worth it. We were considering purchasing photos (they had one member driving along at various photo spots taking photos) but they shut up the kiosk before we could ask for them :(.

At the time of writing it cost us €41 per person (in today's currency £36) for the 3rd September - which may have been off-peak season. Of course prices may change. Visit for more details.

On the way back we stopped in Andorra-La-Vella to check out all the motorcycle clothing stores - in particular the Dainese store. The prices are just so much cheaper than back at home as it is a duty free state. I think if I need new gear I will be coming back here!

I also spotted a black/yellow 954 in the Honda garage which (apart from the colour scheme) is my dream Fireblade. I was tempted to swap in the SV but now I have a blue/black 954 so I am very happy :). There were also several Dali pieces knocking around.

Back in Barcelona Casey had some bad news regarding the Dakar. The garage could not give him an estimated time of repair so his insurance arranged to take the bike home and fly Casey back to England. Rob was going to meet up with us at our next camp site the following day.

So Emma and I ate on our own that evening back at the campsite and prepared for the epic trek through the Pyrenees to our next destination....