When You’ve Had Your Kicks On Route 66…

…Then Get Some More On The A84

Been a bit quiet of late, haven’t I? There’s a reason for that and, I hope, a good one: self, partner, our businesses and the cats have all been busily uprooting ourselves from our past lives — in my case, twenty years in the hinterlands of Surrey and replanting ourselves in our new demesne, the Highlands of Scotland. We’ve been here for two weeks today, and I’m typing this whilst looking out over the local Loch as the low Winter sun glows off the hills opposite. Which isn’t a bad way to start the day, and a distinct improvement on the absolutely solid rainfall of the last fortnight. And, if the viciously incompetent British Telecom ever starts keeping its broken promises to provide us with our landlines, things will be just perfect. The lack of photographs in current posting (since updated) are just a reflection of the very limited bandwidth I have here via my mobile.

I’d actually have sent this by Polar Bear, except that it’s too bloody warm for them and they’ve all buggered off, probably to Bognor or somewhere really cold like that. So it’s mild, which is one thing and, guess what? – it’s rained pretty much continuously since we moved in, which is another. In fact it’s rained enough that the locals are going around saying, “Bluddy wet, isn’t it?” and “Och’t, ah’ve lived here man and girl for forty year and seen naught like it”. Which is very comforting when you’re trying to find a slot to give the Duke it’s maiden voyage in the Highlands. But at least the Balvag River has dropped about a metre in the last 48 hours, which means that bits of the road are now in fact appearing above the flood.

The sun did come out this morning, albeit a pale, wan thing struggling in the Southern sky against the mountainous black clouds that have seen it off for the last week, but I don’t need much to inspire me, so it’s time to stick my nose outside and see what the local blacktop has to offer. That’s as opposed to the local pot-holed and rubble-strewn tracks, into which category my drive firmly falls — I either have to upgrade it or buy either an R1200GS and matching tartan slippers. But for now, ’tis but a challenge to be overcome so, togged up in full Inuit gear, I fuel up the ST4s and point its nose out of the garage door. A kilometre of tiptoeing around flooded potholes and through inches-deep Autumnal leaf mould and I’m finally on the black stuff – a humpback bridge and a twisty, corkscrewing single-track road from the village toward the main road.

Then the main road itself – the A84, and a thing of beauty it is: a sinuous ribbon of well-maintained black-top (road-test cliché no. 537) that fires you North-South beside Loch Lubnaig, towards Stirling in one direction and on towards a meeting with the A85 at Killin in the other, leading onwards to Glencoe, Fort William and the Islands. What do I say? — it’s magnificent — a combination of long fast sweepers and nadgery multiple bends, continually rising and falling through startlingly beautiful scenery. Some discipline is required to avoid being distracted by and immediately becoming part of the same —

this is a deceptively technical piece of road and one that does not suffer fools gladly. When I first got here, people were queuing up to tell me how many bikers died annually on this stretch of the A84 (usually 3-4 in a 20 mile stretch) and I now understand why – several bends can easily sucker you in to a full- bore assault before they suddenly both tighten up and drop away precipitously over a ridge: if you’re on the throttle hard as the suspension unloads, you’re immediately into either or both worlds of low-side and high-side. And there’s nowhere to go but the rock wall on one side and the drop to the Loch on the other. A cautious winter ride is a good way to learn its ways — it needs focus, rewards wonderfully well, and is even better once you’ve remembered to check tyre pressures and replace the odd missing 10psi or so.

I’ve now got to rebuild my biking infrastructure: find a local club; a friendly Ducati dealer and of course the necessary biker-friendly watering holes across the country. Of the last there appears to be no lack; there’s are several localish riding groups with whom I should get in touch and I’ve gone from having four Ducati dealers within an hour’s ride to having two in the entire country. Fortunately, Ducati Glasgow seem like a really decent bunch and they’re only an hour or so’s cruise away — less by motorway. So lots to learn, but it’s looking good so far…

And our courtyard has a really good echo — just perfect for warming up Ducatis.

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