By Adrian GatesArmourer

On 1st July 2019 I set off from my home in Drogheda, Rep of Ireland, in my Skoda Roomster 1·2 TSI Automatic to catch the 1130 ferry from Belfast to Cairnryn in Scotland. One might ask why as I toured the same country about six years ago on my BMW R80T motorcycle. The short answer is I wanted to see a couple of sites and my philosophy is to “do it now” as tomorrow I might not be able to. A secondary reason is that I have signed up to ride from John O Groats to Lands’ End next May on my 1978 Triumph Jubilee 750cc motorcycle and I wanted to check whether I should allow either two, or three days to get there - the ferry takes up nearly four hours of the journey - as I am not getting any younger and frequent kick starting the bike now takes its toll on me.

It was an interesting drive from Cairnryan up to Glasgow where I was stopping the night in a Premium Inn and meeting up with an ex RAF and Serco colleague John Rae. Alas I somehow ended up in Glasgow city centre during rush hour and after thirty minutes trying to get back on the M77 South I realised I had to use my IPhone GPS. I mentioned in my Cyprus article that I did not use a GPS for several reasons but as they say “needs must” so I parked and managed to load in my destination; to my amazement twenty minutes later I was roaring down the M77 south to my destination where I had an interesting chat with John.

The next morning using my IPhone GPS on audio I set off to visit the Falkirk Wheel, which lifts canal boats the one hundred and fifteen feet from the Union and Forth, and Clyde Canals. This ambitious project was completed in 2002. Back in the 1930s, prior to the canals falling into neglect, barges had to use eleven locks to change canals. The wheel is more like a giant claw where two boats, or the equivalent weight of water, are rotated slowly to change places using only about 25 KW of electricity. The process takes about seven minutes and is fascinating to watch; there are frequent boat trips if one wishes to actually use the facility. One can walk along the upper canal through a tunnel and at the wheel there is a café and small shop selling memorabilia. Well worth a visit!

I next set off to Crieff where I spent the night in a nice B&B. The small town is very old and up one side street I noticed three churches. There were many more “take- aways” than Pubs. This surprised me but maybe this phenomenon is becoming more common in the UK. A reason for staying in Crieff was to investigate an alternative route to Inverness from Glasgow without going through Fort William. The next day I set off for Fort William and stopped at the Glencoe Ski Centre. Even though it was not the ski season the car park was half full and a few people were using the ski lifts. Adjacent to the bottom of the ski lift was a green covered area where many children were really enjoying themselves sliding down the slope in what I would call modified large lorry inner tubes; I would have liked to have a go myself. Next I stopped at the Glencoe visitor centre which I guess had been revamped of late, and in my opinion, just like The Giant’s Castle in N Ireland, was carried out for commercial reasons and they seem to lose the natural atmosphere.

I stopped in a “tired” guest house on the outskirts of Fort William for four days but it certainly had the best continental breakfast I have ever uncounted in any hotel in any country that I have ever visited. On the Friday I went on the steam train - Harry Potter - from Fort William to Mallaig. I went to school for five years on mainly steam trains so it was a nostalgic trip. One needs to book up months ahead to guarantee a seat. Alas the weather was really poor and the windows misted up preventing my viewing the magnificent scenery. On Saturday I visited the famous viaduct at Glenfinnan and walked from the viaduct to Glenfinnan Station and museum. I sure was knackered as it is a hilly, uneven and rocky walk and, of course, it was raining. I also visited the Neptune’s Staircase Locks. This is a series of eight interconnected locks on the Caledonian Canal built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822. In the early years they were manually operated but they are now hydraulically operated. Each lock can accommodate about ten thirty-eight foot yachts or the equivalent of other vessels and it takes about two and a half hours to get through all the locks.

I was to head up to John O'Groats but seeing all the motorcycles touring around the wonderful roads I decided to head for Lossiemouth to see Satch Goodwin and then return to Ireland in one day to get back to motorcycling. I met up with Satch about midday and, except that he has aged like us all, he was the same “old Satch” that I have always known. We first visited a small combined RAF Lossiemouth and RN Fleet Air Arm museum. I was impressed with the museum and the volunteers who man and maintain it; Satch is also a volunteer there. We then went for a bite to eat on our way to a museum in Kinloss. It is called MORAYVIA and covers science, technology, aerospace and astronomy. It has recently won an award as the best volunteer aerospace museum in the country. I was really impressed and it even had a Valiant cockpit which was the first aircraft I worked on at Wittering in 1958. Satch then returned me to my hotel in his newish Hybrid Toyota Yaris; it is a weird experience being in an electric car and I could not notice the change when the petrol motor cut in. Later that evening I invited a family I knew at RAF for a meal in the hotel.

The next morning I had a very early breakfast and went to start my car at 0730 only to find the battery was completely flat. I always carry jump leads so obtained a jump start from the maintenance man from the Hotel. The car started immediately but the ABS and stability captions were illuminated so I called the breakdown service to sort out the problem. They would not get there until 1100 so I set off. My insurance company said I would not be eligible for another call out that day. I replied OK, as I had never broken down in sixty-four years of motorcycling and driving, and set off. Just north of Sterling I stopped for petrol and as I returned to the dual carriage way and accelerated hard the motor misfired badly; I managed to pull in half a mile down the road. Two engine warning captions were illuminated and so I walked back to the garage on the grass verge only feet from the lorries roaring past, a scary walk. I checked I had not filled up with diesel and then tried to contact any recovery service.

Two hours later my car was on the back of a recovery vehicle and, at their depot, they diagnosed plugs and ignition cables. By now it was 1900 so they dropped my car at a Skoda Garage and me at a Holiday Inn Hotel, a ten minutes’ walk from the garage. The next morning I went to the garage and, after initially saying they could not look at it until the following day, they took it to their servicing department. They came up with the same diagnosis and said they would order the parts and the car would be ready the following day. The next day they rang me at 0800 and said the car was fixed. After paying £283.00 I set off, caught the ferry - I had fortunately purchased a flexible return as I did not know my return date - and eventually arrived home at about 9pm. Several days of motorcycling followed!