February 19, 2020
As with all good trips, this one stated with impatience for summer and itchy feet. Phil and me, having met for an evening to looking over routes and trips decided that we couldn't wait for either our 5 week excursion already written up, or our rally trip to Italy. Looking at dates, I was already in Scotland for May bank holiday for a classic trials event in Kinlochleven, so we decided to just go as far north as we could, hence Shetland.
Carrying on with the theme of our trip starts, we started separately. Phil had bikes to finish for work on the weekend of the bank holiday and I was baby sitting 2 old men, on old bikes, going where bikes where never really intended to go. But after all this was said and done, we made for Aberdeen to meet up for the ferry and start the overnight crossing, taking a little time myself to see the Dull sights.
For the bikes, I was on my trusty 2017 manual Africa Twin, and Phil rode the bulletproof DR650 (bulletproof as he had brought split links for the chain on this trip). For Phil this made the ride up a little laborious with mostly motorway miles and the A9, but needs must. We decided on a cafe to meet and after a day riding for the both of us, we met up, found the ferry port, and got settled into the ferry bar with no major drama.
The crossing was definitely the most fun ferry crossing I've had in a while, not because of the raucous parties like you get on the Newcastle to Rotterdam crossing, more because of the roller coaster like ride you get on the Portsmouth to Santander ferry sometimes. The captain informed us over the tannoy that once we cleared the southern isles and hit open ocean, we where going to encounter “a bit of chop”, but this was nothing to be concerned about. It turns out a bit of chop is fun! I woke in the night on my chair, clinging on to the arm rests for fear of falling out forwards. Then as the boat rolled backwards with a crash of waves to the windows, I felt like I was laying flat. Score! A flat bed for 50% of the night!
When we both woke (Phil much earlier than me owing to his dislike of the half flat, half vertical sleeping arrangements), we found mostly blue skies and calm seas, with out first views of Shetland.
Skipping breakfast we made for the bikes as soon as we where allowed and set off onto the island, hoping to make the most of the daylight and time we had. The plan was to spend the full day on the island then board the ferry again in the evening and head south to the southern isles. The reason for this was scheduling, to stay on Shetland another day would have added 2 days to our trip with ferry crossings and this would have stretched both funds and time too far. But no matter, we will just have to go back. Departing the ferry I was behind Phil and noticed a very small bike issue, it seemed that his rear tire wasn't seated onto the rim 100%. the Heidenau K60's that he had fitted had extremely stiff walls which made fitting a bit tricky. So our first port of call was a local garage. All the people where incredibly hospitable and friendly. A Theme which continued the whole trip! Every one refusing to take money off us for the time and air to get the tire seated properly. From here we set too riding, and my god was the riding good. All the roads are as smooth as Swiss tarmac with views that reminded Phil of Norway, and me of Iceland but still feeling very much unique.
Through the day we tended only to stop for pictures, having 1 break in the morning fairly early to let a band of rain (behind us in the above image) pass and fill us (being bikers still at the end of the day) with bacon and tea. For the rest of the island I'll let the pictures talk, our route going as far north as we could without passing onto another island, with the final comment being that it still remains some of my favorite riding road I've yet had the pleasure of.
Of course no trip to Shetland is complete with of course with out the obligatory trip to......
From this point we made our way back to the ferry for the crossing down to the southern isles, landing in Kirkwall having departed Lerwick. The journey was far smoother than the crossing earlier that morning and we landed again, without incident. The only issue we had was that we had not booked any accommodation and it was rather late when we landed, our hope was the we could ride to one of the places we had scoped out on google maps and pitch our tents for the night. When we departed the boat we where met by horizontal drizzle and 5C, so promptly scrapped the tent plan and found and AirBnB. The place we found was a converted hospital maybe 5 minutes from the ferry terminal and, despite the creepy idea of the place it was most welcome after a rather long day on the bikes and the rain we left the boat in....also the fact neither of us had seen a shower since we set off on the trip. The next morning, after an extended brew with another patron to talk bikes, we set off once again. The plan for this day was to see as much of the Orkney Islands as we could. We first rode south towards St Margarets Hope and the Churchill Barriers among other sights remaining from the war.
From here we then made for the west side of the island, both to catch our next ferry to the mainland and to escape the rain bursts which seemed to be passing over the south east of the island that day. This was a good decision.
Again, the weather was stunning, the roads where smooth and when out of the towns, free of traffic. We explored up the coast following several dead end tracks off google maps, made very easy by our Ultimate Addons cases holding our phones. People always tell me that Scottish beaches are some of the best in the world, and I completely concur. When the sun was out I'm convinced that for similar scenery you would need to be in the likes of New Zealand or Norway, and this is at most 2 days away for most of people in England, Scotland and Wales.
Our next step was to get back to the Scottish mainland. Catching the ferry from Stromness we where treated to stunning scenery along Hoy island, including the Old Man of Hoy, seen above. Once landed we again had a stunning ride across the far north coast towards our camp for the night, enjoying the road far too much to stop for pictures unfortunately. We had picked a place to camp for the night on an app we got recommended on the ferry! Park4Night has places marked where people have wild camped previously and gives you both pictures and good information about the immediate area. This was also, a very good decision.
So, after a fantastic couple of days and a cool camp for the night, we'd hoped to carry on. The weather had different ideas. The route we'd picked south went through central Scotland via Lairg. We got warnings when we turned off the coast road and the mountains had snow on the top, but undeterred we carried on This was not in fact a good decision. It snowed. Lots. Most of the way to Inverness visibility was around 30ft. The road was always snow covered with very few vehicle tracks.
This is the only picutre we took of that section of riding, just as we dropped out the bottom of the snow not far from Inverness. Here we became normal bikers again and ate a full English and lots of tea while trying to dry off.
Here we made a decision, that enough was enough and to just get home. So we put on the last of our wet weather gear and started south on the A9 all the way home to Cumbria via the M6. This was followed by where the last trip was planned, the pub.
To sum up, the trip was incredible and Shetland is somewhere that (with the right weather) is a bikers paradise. I'm also sure that the route south we took from the north coast is stunning, just when its not
snowing. Final bike drop counts for the trip are: Dan 0, and Phil on 0! which in my books, with that weather, is a victory in itself.
Huge thanks to @Doubled1131 for the awesome Blog Post of his trip to Shetland.
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