Jayne Packham's Highlands Adventure
Please tell us a bit about yourself...
I’m 45 this year and currently own 3 motorcycles, which I ride all the time, any time, any place, any where - I should’ve been called Martini hahaha. I’ve always been a bit of a speed freak adventuress. A naturally brave Guernsey gal, so it wasn’t long before I was ripping up my L plates with a full motorcycle license in hand, on my way home riding a borrowed test bike (Suzuki GS550) to my much loved Kawasaki LTD 450 mat black rat bike which was waiting rather impatiently outside my boyfriend's house for me.
I spent my late teens and early twenties hanging out with the Islanders’ at their bunker on the Pleinmont headland, always a tricky journey there and back from the Kosy Korner or the Longfrie. Often on the way home the headlights would be turned off as we raced in the dark to avoid the long arm of the law.
I spent weeks watching my boyfriend turn his bog standard Suzuki GS 750 into a softtail chop. I learned a fair amount of bike maintenance and a few new swearwords over those summer months. I was 18 and fast becoming a biker. I hankered after that bike and its huge alloy JMC swinging arm. Eventually I wore him down and he sold it to me. I loved that bike! I rode it around for 3 years before reluctantly selling it on, strapped for cash, as usual.
I became a mother at 25 and when my daughter was starting school I got on the lookout for another set of wheels. Motorcycles, rock and roll, loud pipes, leather clobber and back patches are still holding their own in my top fav things. I spotted this tatty bright red Kawasaki Z500 and tracked the owner down, forcing him to sell it to me for next to nothing. The Zed was a bit rusty and so was I. I spent the summer reliving my glory days but realistically I found it a little heavy to manouvre. Mechanically it was totally unsound and didn’t last too long but I enjoyed it whilst I had it and sold it onto a young lad looking for a restoration project.
Soon after, I was literally gifted a Triumph RS955i Sprint aptly named banana bike by someone leaving the Island. Total road bike and not my thing at all but I never owned a more reliable bike. My first bike trip to French France on banana bike was mad fast but the riding position was a little uncomfortable on my back so I sold it on and bought my first upright bike, a KTM Duke LC4 640cc with left hand kick-start but no starter motor! I took her for a test spin in the middle of a snowy February and it broke down after just 1 mile but that still didn’t put me off! She needed her jetting sorted so I put an offer in and the lad accepted the sale. Wow, what a blast, this bike just begs you to be a menace. I wanted to modify her for travels so I swopped the front tire hugger for a 990 Adventure mudguard, added a removable bike rack with a few modifications by Nick at Fusion Engineering, he even let me do some of my own pillar drilling. I was hoping to do some green-laning but there’s no choice for 17” rims so I stuck two rear nobblies on her, with just enough clearance at the back to make it work. She was a mud-ripping beast and I was ready for my first off road adventure. I didn’t even bother fitting a start motor, left hand kick all the way!
When did you take this trip?
I heard the rain in Scotland was less frequent during May so I booked up the Clipper for 3 of us, all the gear and no idea but the plan was simple. Mad, but simple. Wild camping and off-roading around the North Coast 500 on our large single thumpers, May 2016.
What was your destination?
Portsmouth to John O’Groats and back in 7 days. I was on a 640cc KTM Duke with two rear nobblies, what could possibly go wrong? The idea was to bomb it up the motorway to the Lake District for first night digs, then onto the Scottish borders to start the North Coast 500 travelling anti clockwise.
Who did you travel with?
My partner, Guzzy, a very experienced biker and mechanic, our mate Tweety on his fairly new KTM 990 Super Moto, first proper bike trip for Tweets and me.
What was the purpose of the trip?
It was all about riding the bikes. We wanted to mooch around the Scottish highlands, getting as close to nature as possible and to try our hand at off-roading.
What was involved in planning the trip?
A fair amount of research on the NC500 route and the fastest route into Scotland, when best to travel due to rainfall (May is best), what equipment we’d need etc. None of us had wild camped previously. We went to Millets and bought lightweight single tents, rollmats and 3 down sleeping bags. I organised a trial camp down at the horse-field in early April to see if everything worked. We woke up sleep-refreshed but a little cold and the horses were standing over the tents wondering what we were up to. We jotted down some notes after; Jayne, comfy thermarest, hat, pillow, thermals, walking boots (sensible girl); Tweets, piss bottle; Guz, knitted nose.
What were the most memorable events and locations?
Every day in Scotland was a memorable day, the scenery of the highlands is staggeringly beautiful. Riding alongside Loch Lomond, with the mountain pine trees on one side and crystal blue waters glinting in the sunlight on the other, winding and twisting our way up to Glenfinnan for our first night’s camp.
A memorable moment that sticks in my mind is the misadventures of our friend Tweety (John Rowe), what an absolute legend. One time, on our way from Thurso to Lairg we hadn’t seen Tweety in our mirrors for a little while so we circled round and headed back up the mountain moorland road to check on him . A camper van stopped us to tell us that our friend was in trouble and needed our help. We were both slightly panicked for his well-being and wondered what on earth he’d been up to this time.
We arrived to find two strapping lads from the Scottish Council pulling Tweets and his Adventure out of the gorse on the side of the road. He’d stopped for another piss and after relieving himself he got back on his bike, kicked up the side stand and lost his balance. He toppled over into the gorse bushes and had been there 10 minutes before the Scottish Council fished him out.
He suffered a broken wing mirror which needed replacing with all the overtaking we were doing. To top it all off, they gave him a free petrol fill up, un-bloody-believable! Only Tweety. We laughed for days about his misadventures, of which there are many.
Up at John O’Groats we arrived at a tiny harbour and gift shop. We headed up to the lighthouse on the cliffs to find a few locals with gigantic lenses honing in on a group of orca passing through the seas between John O’Groats and the Isle of Stroma. Fantastic!
Nearer the harbour there was one pub serving food so we scouted around for a suitable place to set up camp. We decided on the dunes near the beach so we rode overland and found a beauty of a spot, beach side, popped to the small bay to collect some firewood and watched a seal frolicking in the surf, happily playing with a bit of seaweed. Watching this seal play in its natural environment was a first! We set up camp and left our gear behind and rode onto the pub. It was heaving, majority of them locals. We sat and ate with some charity bike riders who were cycling the NC500 in the opposite direction to us and we exchanged stories and banter on our mutual experiences. We were told a west coast treat was in store for us.
The most fun I had on highland roads was on the notorious Road to Applecross (Bealach na Ba). The single-track road has Alpine-like hairpin bends and breathtaking scenery, a deadly combination. On the way there I was lapping it up, on the way back I’m thinking “sod the scenery, let’s see what the Duke can do on noblies” as I raced my way with a group of 6 bikers over the deadly pass.
At one point Tweety was in front of me and experienced a very near miss with a corner before a bridge. We were all tightly packed and he didn’t see the next corner. He only just managed to stop before the road dropped away in front of him. Heart stopping moment there Tweety m’boy! He kept it together very well, considering.
What challenges did you have to overcome?
We had to overcome authority & rules, for example, when we saw a “no motorcycle” sign, we purposely ignored it to give the route a try. Naturally, I’m ok with this thought process, Tweety not so much. There was also the ‘get off my land’ scenario to deal with. Gun-wielding masters of the glen. For example, when we arrived at the Glenfinnan (where the viaduct carries a steam train from the Harry Potter films), there was the old “no motorcycle” sign, which we ignored. Riding up the tarmac towards the viaduct, beckoning the others to follow me, about a mile up the road we came across the ghillie who told us to go back, which we did… kind of. On the way we came across a perfect camp spot alongside the river Finna where we could clearly see the huge viaduct. We parked up the bikes, set up camp, got a brew going, watched a steam train cross the viaduct.
After a little while in the distance we could see the ghillie’s master approaching, shot gun in-hand, snarling wolf-hound at side, enough to give anyone the heebie-geebies! I walked over to greet him (sweet talk him being the only female in the group) and after a few minutes he could clearly see we weren’t going to cause him a problem and with best wishes for a pleasant camp he left us alone. If we had obeyed the signs we would not have had the pleasure of staying in such an amazing place and experiencing all that (one our first night in Scotland).
What distance did you travel?
We travelled 2,500 miles in 7 days. Day 1 (23rd May) we covered Portsmouth to Kendal for first night’s accommodation. Day 2 (24th May) into the Borders, Loch Lomond & Glenfinnan. Day 3 (25th May) Fort Augustus, Inverness and all the way up the east coast, Tain up to John O’Groats. Day 4 (26th May) was north coast to Tongue & the start of the scenic west coast through Lairg, Thurso, onto Ullapool. Day 5 (27th May) was Applecross to Aviemore in the Cairngorms (via Inverness for replacement wing mirror). Snow was still on the ground and we camped in the woods to the hooting of owls. I discovered Glenmore Lodge where we got a decent meal and beers . Day 6 (28th May) we tried our hand at taking General Wade’s military road, the infamous Corrieyairack Pass but the boulders were far too big for our delicately placed oil filters so we got as far as the Melgarve bothy and stopped for lunch, turning back and heading down to Kinross (north of Edinburgh) and the awesome A68 down to Galashiels. We entered Northumberland National Park where we stayed overnight in Brampton and our final full Day 7 (29th May) was spent searching for Hadrian’s Wall along the straightest and longest roman road ever built! We said our goodbyes to the bonnie North and entered Southern climes, facing the reality of being homeward-bound. Our final night spent sneaking into a campsite after hours near Ringwood, bedding down under some trees to spend the night sleeping under the stars before heading into Poole Harbour to catch our return ferry.
How much petrol did you use?
My petrol tank was the smallest so we all stoped every 100 miles for me to fill up. This really wasn’t a problem as we all wanted to give our rears a rest from our thin bike seats.
What type of accommodation did you stay in?
We wild camped, pitching up in discreet locations, a bit tricky with 3 red tents. Our evening routine was to reccy the area for a secluded, quiet spot near a good eatery.
Once a suitable location was spotted we’d ride to the pub for an evening meal, quick clean up in the bathroom and return to the spot to set up camp, bed down for the night. In the morning we’d wake up, light the stove and put on a brew. We had the routine down pat, 15 mins to pack up and head off.
What did you take away from the trip?
You discover a lot about yourself when you take on an adventure like this - how you deal with physical endurance, lack of good accommodation and quality sleep, sometimes in remote locations. We chose to leave our creature comforts behind and experience the great outdoors and we loved it! Well, me and Guzzy did, I think Tweety would’ve preferred to stay in a Travel Lodge hahahahahaha
What would say to someone who was thinking of doing a similar trip?
A small amount of basic and practical preparation is required, internet research, gear and rough route. We did a heck of a lot of stuff in 7 days, if I did it again I’d give myself more time and allow a day for any misadventures (eh Tweety!) Don’t plan too much – it’s meant to be an adventure. Experiencing the uncertainties is the memories you’re making. Oh yeh, when packing; if in doubt, throw it out!
What motorcycles were you riding?
I was on my daily commute bike, a KTM duke LC4 640cc single with rear carrier conversion and swapped road tires for nobblies
Guzzy was on his workhorse Yamaha XT600 single
Tweety was on his KTM 990 SM
Was it fit for purpose?
All 3 bikes did us proud. The key is to look after your bikes so they’re mechanically sound and they won’t let you down.
Did you collect any statistics?
2,500 miles in 7 days
25+ petrol stops (100 miles to full tank)
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