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Southern Scotland and Wales

Rolling out of Edinburgh mid-day we headed southwest stopping at the National Wallace Monument a couple kms northeast of Stirling. This monument is in recognition of Sir William Wallace, patriot, martyr and Guardian of Scotland.His rise to notoriety started in 1297 when Wallace led Scotland to victory over England at the Battle of Sterling Bridge.

Following small roads just wide enough for us to drive on, we pass a sign showing another side road leading to the gravesite of Rob Roy. Rob Roy (1671?-1734), byname of Robert MacGregor was a noted Scottish highland outlaw with an exaggerated reputation as a Scottish Robin Hood.

Heading toward the coast we camped for the night in a great seaside village, Oban. Oban is known for its great location and fresh from the ocean, fish and shellfish.IMG_20170821_190031051

It had rained here most of the day and the grass in the campground was soggy with deep ruts where heavier vehicles have been pitched with some unable to make their way out.
Setting up camp quickly, with a momentary pause in the rain, we blasted our way out of the middle of the field toward firmer ground while grass was flying in all directions as we fishtailed toward the gravel road.
In town we found a cool old pub, Auley’s Bar, to have a locally brewed cask ale while talking with locals, who had stopped in after work for a pint or two. An eatery around the corner was recommended to us for a well known English dinner of fish and chips, smothered in malt vinegar, chased down with another pint of locally brewed ale.

When we awoke the next day we were greeted with a glorious morning of puffy white clouds floating east against an azure blue sky background. Letting the tent dry out for a bit we made a cup of strong, dark roasted Honduran coffee for myself and a berry flavored tea for Melanie.
Headed down the coast we skirt along the shoreline of several different lochs with some incredible views.
At this point we are tired and desperately in need of a couple down days to rest and dry out. We headed back across Scotland to Newcastle and stayed in an AirBNB with another couple traveling from the US, and getting ready to move to Oregon. We ate supper and drank some red wine together while relaxing inside before retiring and sleeping in a real bed.
The morning found us travelling south in a fine mist, just enough to get you wet without you ever knowing it. The first place we come across is the Castlerigg Stone Circles.IMG_20170824_124040905_HDR

These stone circles were built around 4500 years ago and are believed to have been a gathering place for trade and ceremonies. Unlike Stonehenge these stones are not protected by a fence and you are able to walk amoung them and feel the energy that still exists.


After another great night camping we make our way back north a bit to a bobbin factory, the Stott Park Bobbin Mill. This place was super interesting and watching the process of turning locally grown wood into bobbins was fantastic. Our female tour guide operated the old lathes and drills with precision turning out a bobbin every few seconds. The men who ran these machines in the past would produce thousands of bobbins a day, all paid as piece work.

 

This is another town along the way that I can’t remember what the name was but a small store along the river was full of woodcarvings.

Finding our way back to central northern England, we stopped in Richmond to see the Richmond Castle. This Castle was built in 1086 and was built with two large and two smaller outer stone towers, with a stone walk between them. A narrow circular staircase tightly winds it’s way in a clockwise direction making foot placement in the dimly lit, musty dampness somewhat difficult on the time worn stones.


Standing on the top walk we both look at each with identical thoughts of “The Wizard of Oz”, when Dorothy melted the wicked witch with a poorly thrown bucket of water.
Directly in front of the castle is an old pub full of good natured locals so we stop in for a pint and have a blast ribbing the patrons and bartender equally with smiles and laughter all around.

Just outside of town was the Easby Abbey that had been founded in 1152. Inside the church, which was in use at the time, are still displayed 13th-century wall paintings.


This was a bank holiday weekend in the UK and we unluckily found all of the campgrounds full. We started talking to a couple of glamping couples who knew the owner and talked him into letting us stay a couple nights in a little space. After setting up we get invited over for beer and wine and a very entertaining conversation before heading to town to find a pub for supper.IMG_20170825_184658968

While at the pub we started a conversation with a couple who where in town with a box of 92 pigeons to be picked up. WHAT? RACING PIGEONS!!! They told us all about the world of racing pigeons and how their arrival at the end of the 95 mile race is all digitally records for the competition. This particular race was over 1000 birds.


Continuing on our zig zag, who knows where we’re going pattern we finally make it to the northern part of Wales, Snowdonia National Park. This is the last day of the holiday and campground after campground is full, as are the hotels. We finally find one, Llwyn Celyn bach, mid way up the mountain with commanding views of the town (Llanberis), the blue lake (Llyn Padryn), and mountain down below.

Towering off to the side of us is the mountain Snowdonia and a large portion of the people in town were there to climb this mountain. After walking into town to check things out, we walk back up to the campground and cook a wonderful dinner as the sun sets, casting colors and shadows across the valley below while the stars replace the light as the fading day turns into a clear crisp night. A glass of Scotch tops off a wonderful day with a toast to all that is good.IMG_20170827_201949861
Riding up thought the mountains in the morning is amazing with the views we were given, but it had begun to rain again.


Turning toward the coast we head to an area that a friend of mine, Billy, had recommended to us, the Blue Pools. The Blue Pools are at the site of an old quarry. To get to them you climb up a fairly steep hill and follow a trail to another very steep hill, almost like a very high berm. There is a low tunnel cut through this solid rock berm with an old narrow gauge track though it. Lowering your head to avoid the rock ceiling above, you step on stones as you navigate this muddy, rocky track.


Exciting the tunnel you are in a large bowl with the Blue Pools in the center. The sides of the pool drops off immediately most of the way around with two sides being somewhat shallow, allowing the brave, or foolish, to swim in the 40°F waters. I chose to be foolish that day are dove into the breath stealing, crystal clear water. What a rush!IMG_20170828_123203510
Cheers,
2WANDRRs

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Edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities. But let me back up.IMG_20170819_174824317

Tonight is the Tattoo. A tattoo is a Scottish military festival of bands, mainly pipes and drums. It will be held in the shadows in front of the massively imposing Edinburgh Castle built high on solid rock overlooking the town below it.


We have booked a room at the Castle Rock hostel just outside the entrance to the walkway up the cobbled road leasing to the entrance of the temporarily built stadium. Finding a parking area nearby proved easier than it would have been if we hadn’t gotten lost again. After checking in to the awesome hostel we donned our kilts and kit, filled the glass flash with my favorite Laphroaig Scotch and headed out on the Royal mile. Our room, as if by coincidence, happens to be the Romeo and Juliet.IMG_20170819_142618058

This road, the Royal Mile, links the castle to the Queen’s residence with shops, pubs and eateries lining the wide cobbled streets, filled with a wonderful mixture of people and cultures from around the globe. The sounds of talk, laughter and music filled the streets along with the scents of cask ales, fish and chips, and people.


We are complimented on our Scottish attire and welcomed the conversations that these brief interactions inspire. The day is sunny and warm with a scattering of clouds and occasional brief showers.

Check out the Edinburgh Cathedral.


Wandering into various pubs along the boulevard we met up with a funny, well dressed Scottish woman and her husband, in the Albonach pub. She engages us in conversation about how the Scottish flag painted on the wall has it’s color’s reversed. We get the other patrons involved and have a great time ribbing the bartenders about their screw up and most react with dismay and seem to be actually surprised as though not another person has ever pointed this out to them.

The festival also had another festival going on along side it, the Fringe. Throughout the city were other random venues with street performers and other bands with a schedule of what, where and when the performances were happening.

Before the festival performance we headed to a special three course meal with wine which is followed by a precession of the diners through and up the uneven, cobbled streets leading to the front of the Edinburgh Castle. The night had a chill in the air as we follow our Piper, who is outfitted in full military dress from red checked tartan kilt to a red hat complete with a white plume. Without a wait, we enter the Castle and take our seats just feet from the side of the arena, wrapping our legs in tartan blankets, awaiting the start of the 2017 Edinburgh Tattoo. The air is full of tension and excitement as people from around the world gathered for this highly anticipated performance.


The entrance of the first band sent chills through me as the pipes increase in volume and the band parades down the ramp from the castle the through the misty haze and shadows and into the stadium. The bands represented tonight were from several countries including the US Naval band. The opening ceremonies recognized several military brass and was very impressive. We continued to be impressed right up to the closing when all the bands took the field all playing, while fireworks exploded over our heads. Just spectacular!


The next morning after our breakfast at the hostel we take a bus tour of Edinburgh with a recent West Point grad and ourselves on the bus. He was in Edinburgh to finish his post graduate degree in IT. Congrats!

For now, Cheers.
2WANDRRs

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Scotland, headed to Edinburgh

Today we headed to Loch Ness, hunting for Nessie, the Lock Ness Monster. All we found were scary tourists clumped in pods of buses. We headed south to a loch that had been described as perfect, Loch Morlich. This was a small loch circled with wood, trails and mountains accompanied by a secluded campground. The wind and rain were again a bother that found us unable to cook. Luckily there was a nearby adventure center with good food and new to me Scottish ales.

One of the first stops was at the Singleton distillery. They have several distilleries in the highland area, each offering a different tasting Scotch Whiskey and each sold to a different market. The one we were visiting and about to tour offered Scotches that were to be sold in the Asian market and not available any place else in the world, except at this very distillery. The tour was fantastic giving us insight into how these Scotches were distilled. The end of the tour led us into the basement storage facilities to see whisky being stored in used barrels, oak barrels from Bourbons in the US and barrels used in Portugal to store Sherry, each giving its’ own unique flavor to Singleton’s Scotch, each being stored for a minimum of 12 years.

As we drove west in the morning, along a back track we saw sign pointing to the resting place of the infamous Rob Roy. After a crazy route we finally found the Balquhidder Church, the old and the new. The ruins of the old church sat at the foot of the Rob Roy burial site covered in green moss while the scents of old, wet and moss permeated the early morning misting. Another couple and I searched the grounds for the elusive gravesite which we finally located. The newer church was open, they all seem to be, so we unlatched the heavy wooden door with a turn of the black metal handle and a clunk of the old metal latch. The interior was cool , smelled of old dampness hanging in the air and was dimly lit, but, beautiful in it’s simplistic small country church way.

After a great night sleep and waking up to blue skies we headed back again to Glen Coe. This area was so beautiful we wanted to see it again, without the rain. As we entered Ben Nevis, in the rain, we decided to stop at their Scotch distillery, after we had already passed it. We turned around and went back just to look around. I bought a small bottle of their 12 year old spirit and was leaving when the guys convinced us to stay for a private viewing of the film they show on the tour.

After the film as we were headed out, Melanie turns and says ‘Martina’, thinking she has seen a friend of ours. Well, sure enough, it’s Martina and Dylan Wickrama. We met them a couple of years loop prior at a Horizon’s Unlimited event in Virginia. Dylan is well known in the overland community for his adventure and book, “Where the Road Ends”. This is about his RTW adventure and his sailing on a homemade raft around the Darien Gap. If you haven’t read his book or seen his presentation, please do. We say and chatted over a cup of coffee while they waited for their distillery tour to begin.

We passed through Glen Coe again in the rain but due to the rain the waterfalls were everywhere, some three and four tiers as they cascaded down the mountain.

Heading back across Scotland we got to the motherland of the world of golf, St Andrews. Arriving to the town we find much more than a golf course. The town has a beautiful old cathedral and castle standing on one end of a lovely town. From the castle you see outside tables lining the main thoroughfare with working people and families on holiday sitting in the morning sun enjoying breakfast and a Cappuccino or tea.

The St Andrew’s Cathedral was built in 1272 and is surprisingly intact having survived many attacks and storms. We ventured in to take a tour of the grounds, museum and tower. Walking up St. Rule’s Tower on the dimly lit, circular well-worn staircase with 164 steps we were rewarded with incredibly views of the city and golf course in the distance.

After watching so many Open Championships with my Dad it was sort of eerie to finally walk the grounds of the old course. Melanie and I took in a round on the Himalayan course, also known since the late 1800’s as the woman course. We had a great time putting around this 9 hole putting course with the winds howling of the sea in typical St Andrew’s fashion.

After our strenuous game of golf we headed to Edinburgh, looking for a place to camp for the night. We got stumped at the first site but they had typical US sites with only 1 tent allowed per pitch. On other campground was located on the south side of town with plenty of £30 sites available (ouch).

Tomorrow is Edinburgh, Tattoo, Whiskey and the whole experience. We’ve been working on getting here for 10 years on now we are here.

Till next time… Cheers 2WANDRRs

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Scotland, Finally

Scotland, it’s time to go see this beautiful land. Last year our ride was to take us from Germany to the Horizon’s Unlimited meeting, HUBB, in the UK and then on to Scotland and Norway. Britain’s Brexit vote cancelled those plans. In anticipation of the vote the ferry to Norway had closed down.

Getting ready to leave we call the airline to discover our flight into New York from Boston and then on to London were at two different airports, LaGuardia and JFK, without the time available to make the connection. Shit. We quickly rented a car for a ride down to JFK airport and left a little time for a trip to the National 9/11 Memorial where the Twin Tower’s had once stood. A somber experience indeed as we look at photos and listen to actual recounts of the tragic day in American history.

Arriving in London the next morning we grab our car (yes, you read that right, no bike) and drive north towards the walled city of York. We check out the Clifford’s Tower and continue on finding a great campsite full of chickens and a carvery right around the corner. Exhausted, we sleep well our first night back in the UK.IMG_20170810_113342682

The next morning we head north to Hadrian’s Wall and find a campsite within a mile of some very well preserved area of the wall. It rains, which we expect, but we trudge along through the saturated bogs and mud checking out the wall and turret.IMG_20170810_184214963

Hadrian was a Roman Emperor and built this wall in an area near what is now the Scotland/England border in AD 122. It stretched almost 80 miles from this narrow section in the UK from coast to coast.

The next morning we headed along the wall to Carlisle Castle which is the most besieged Castle in the country with sections still is use by the military. We explored the structure and were amazed at it’s long colorful history.IMG_20170811_105353832

It was raining again today and this seems to be the theme of our trips to the UK. While camping we have had to deal with another wild beast of this land, the flying teeth, the midgie. You know it’s going to be tough when you are setting up your tent and the other campers are watching you through the protective covering over their heads, mosquito netting. I have some also, just back in the US, in the panniers of my motorbike parked in New Mexico.

Today we will be heading to the Glen Coe region of Scotland. Our route took us through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. This road was two track, sometimes one track, through some of the most beautiful terrain we have ever been through. It seemed as if we would never reach our destination as we were having to stop every few minutes to take a picture of another beautiful sight. We were surrounded by mountains, valleys, waterfalls, lochs and sheep the entire way. The road curved and climbed and dipped following the rugged terrain in what would appear to be a very inhospitable land. Then, around a corner, a 300 year old house would appear, sheep farming had had been done for generations. Smoke from a peat fire would be curling out of it’s chimney keeping the chilly summer at bay. I will have to return to take in all the beauty.

We found a busy campground at Glen Nevis with so many tent campers it was amazing. Old people and young people sleeping in tents that ranged from light one-man tents to enormous multi room tents set up for a week at a time. The roads are so small even a tiny pull behind camper would find it difficult to reach this destination. A food cart was set up for convenience and was busy all night, serving up tasty fresh caught haddock and chips, being washed down by a good selection of inexpensively priced ales and ciders.

The night was chilly and rainy and we were told Scotland’s summer happened one day back in July and this was just pre winter. In the morning we headed for the Isle of Skye but we only got part way as we stopped to hike the Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle. These pools are a series of cascading small waterfalls forming tiny pools of water before continuing the process again. We hiked down into a glen then followed the path along the flowing water up the mountain to where the pools began. People were hiking and kids stomping in the water when at the farthest point, the skies opened up soaking all of us when a cold and driving rain chased us all back to our cars.

We found another nice campground on the water and cooked an easy supper as the Midgeees were out in force. Think tiny flying bugs with huge teeth. If there is water you can count on these pesky critters joining you for the evening.

The next couple days we spent hugging the coastline and savoring the incredible scenery to John O’Groats. The car ferry and tour to the Orkney Islands was booked at least three days in advance, so unfortunately on this trip we will have to miss that.

Like at Lands End, the southern most point on the UK, this is very commercialized. It was on and off raining and we grab dark quick pictures of the sign post. Interestingly enough, Bluff new Zealand was highlighted to the south at 12875 miles away.

We found a campground a bit south on the ocean and we were devoured by those small pesky bugs. We cooked supper while we were swatting and jumped into the tent as soon as possible.

Cheers,

2WANDRRs

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Scotland | Leave a comment

Mexico, Heading North

Bienvenido a Mexico.

Welcome Back.

Crossing back into Mexico from Central America is as easy as crossing from the United States. Navigating the throngs of people selling and buying things you will probably never need is tricky as people are like big rats moving everywhere, crossing as soon as you pass. Watching my mirrors as much as what’s in front of me I stop just in time as a person tries to cut just at the rear of our motorcycle and almost into the trailer that they never saw.

Today we are on our way to Palenque despite the warnings of men on the road stopping traffic looking for money. This has been a warning since we entered Mexico, not to ride the south route into Palenque. We bypassed this road the first time through but want to see a couple of things up this road so we are going that way today.

Stopping at a Wal-Mart that a small customized motorcycle and a rider with a black jacket and patches pulls in right behind us. He had seen us coming into town and followed us to the Wal-Mart. Slowly getting off his bike and taking off his helmet we greet in Spanish and realize quickly that neither of us speak the others primary language. He is there to say hi and offer us any assistance we may need in the southern part of Mexico. Exchanging email addresses and telephone numbers he gets back on his bike and rides away promising to be there is and when we may need anything. He tells us there have been reports of several men on the road north, but no reports today.

Heading out of town toward Palenque we round every corner tentatively as if the devil himself would be waiting for us. The road’s condition continues to deteriorate with every mile with wheel eating potholes and chunks of pavement missing. Since we have not seen anything yet and we are over half way there we start to relax. Rounding a corner half of the road is missing and there are the men stopping traffic at the perfect roadblock. Half of the road is missing, which is our lane, with a drop-off and the other side is the mountain.

There were orange cones and large rocks up directing traffic around the wash-out and around the immediate area were about 8-10 guys with machetes. It didn’t take long to realize that these were the banditos we had been warned about. While we were waiting our “turn”, two little kids came over to us and tried to sell us something to eat. First a truck in the opposite lane went through and paid. Following the truck, a car went through, then the cones were moved back into place in the middle of the road, wide enough for a bike to go through, but maybe not the trailer. We entered the cones where the guys were standing and I hit the gas, thinking FUCK YOU GUYS, I”M NOT PAYING. With the guys yelling, machetes waving and rocks whistling through the air (watch the guy on the left as we ride past pick up a rock), we roared off. So, this was our excitement today. The road sucked with topes and missing sections of road all the way out to Palenque. It took over 6 hours to ride only 190 kms.

Running the blockaid

As we quickly ride through corners the chunks of missing pavement go to whole lanes and we bounce and skid and slide through the turns making sure we aren’t being followed. Pulling into Palenque we are happy to see our hotel is in the jungle with only one-way in. Recounting our story to the reception desk we find out this is common here and we aren’t the first ones to have run this blockade.

 

We ate at the hotel’s on-site restaurant tonight amid the evening cries of birds and Howler Monkeys, an eerie sound in the darkening day. Tomorrow we will be taking a tour bus to Aqua Azul Waterfalls, Misol-Ha Waterfalls and Zona Arqueológica ruins. We want to swim and the pavement is more of a challenge than I want to do two days in a row.

Aqua Azul Waterfalls, (Spanish for “Blue Water Falls”), consists of many cataracts following one after another. The larger cataracts may be as high as 6 meters (20 feet) or so.

Misol-Ha Waterfalls is one single cascade of 35 m of height that falls into a single almost circular pool admits tropical vegetation. The water is of clear blue color due to its high mineral content. Behind the cascade there is a cave of approximately 20 meters in length.

 

Leaving Palenque our next town will be Taxco but we end up staying in a couple other towns along the way with nice little hotels and even nicer hosts and a couple memorable meals when it looked like there was nothing else around. The first was a little street side kabob run by a small family with each of the three having their own distinct duty, the father cooking the meat street side and the mother prepping the food. The seven-year-old son was the host seating the patrons as they arrived, taking orders and attending to the needs of the customers. A more polite and responsible boy would be difficult to find. Such is Mexico, all family members working together.

The next night we found a hotel high up on the bluffs overlooking the town. The drive up the hill was actually one of the steepest we had encountered on the entire trip. Cursing silently, we continued up the hill because stopping would have probably meant a backward slide and an unwanted get off. The views from the top made the ride worth the trip with panoramic views of the city below in the sunset. The elegant restaurant with fireplace was a definite plus and the meal was good and inexpensive.

Taxco, the city of silver. Taxco is built into the side of a mountain so a flat, straight road is impossible to find. Our hotel for the next couple of night is a spa and up a couple very steep roads with sharp corners where if you had to stop one leg would find nothing but air between the bottom of your boot and the pavement. Melanie wanted off so she took Gypsy and told me when the busy street crowded with VW bug taxis was clear so I didn’t have to stop. One wrong turn led to a multi-point turnaround with my trailer as I blocked traffic full of very patient drivers.

The city of Taxco was heavily associated with silver, both with the mining of it and other metals and for the crafting of it into jewelry, silverware and other items. Today tourism has replaced silver as the main economic activity.

Exploring the compact, hilly city is the easiest way and then when sufficiently lost, a VW taxi is always waiting to take you back. There are several churches with amazing histories all within view of the back balcony of our hotel. The owner spoke great English and grew up in Taxco. He was very proud of his homeland and took time away from his day to point out the places to visit from the balcony viewpoint. He shared with us that he had grown up in this very building, an orphanage at the time. Having great memories of growing up, when it came up for sale a few years ago as an inn, he couldn’t resist purchasing the place for his own.

One of the highlights of a visit to Taxco is the newly discovered abandoned mine. One of the hotels, the Hotel Posada de la Misión since 1940, was doing a remodel of its bar three years ago. After digging up the tiles in an area of the bar they arrived the next morning to discover the tools they had left on the exposed dirt were missing, through a small hole in the excavating area. Researching the hole further revealed an old mine with existing veins of gold and silver. The tour is very cool you descend in an elevator down four stories and hike down to a depth of about 150 feet. If you are feeling energetic you can also rappel 300 feet to the bottom. This is a great tour full of history and to find this mine directly below the hotel and city is amazing.

Tomorrow, through the middle of Mexico City.

 

Cheers

Categories: 2-up motorcycle travel, 2WANDRRs, adventure travel, Horizons Unlimited, Mexico, motorcycle travel | Leave a comment

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