Hop Scotch: Hopping the West Coast of Scotland

May 31, 2016

“D’ya speak English?”, one of the two bikers in line behind me at the ferry asks in a heavy Irish brogue. 

“Not your English, but yes”, I reply, wondering why he asked after seeing the Texas license plate. Then I realize he probably saw the “Montando en todo el mundo” (“I’m riding around the world”) written in Spanish on the back of my spare gas can.

“We’ve got a bit of a problem, and we were hoping you might be willing to help us out” he says. “See, there’s only room for two bikes on the next ferry, and there’s three of us here.” 

“What time’s the next ferry?” I ask.

“Twenty past six.”

“No problem”, I say. “I don’t mind waiting. I’m only going about twelve miles to my campsite after I get off the ferry, and it doesn’t get dark here til almost eleven o’clock.”

“Are ya sure? I’ll pay for your ferry ticket.”

“Nah. No need. Go ahead.”

They board the ferry, while I wait. It’s a nice day, and I’m in no hurry at all. 

Near the end of boarding, the ferry worker directing traffic walks up and tells me there is room for me after all. I ride on, they strap my bike down, and I walk upstairs to find the other two guys. 

I tap one of them on the shoulder and he turns around, surprised to see me. “I should’ve taken your money” I say, grinning. They buy me a coffee and we talk until the ferry docks and it’s time to ride off.

I had left Ian & Tricia’s mid-morning and headed west, with several nights planned camping along the west coast of Scotland. 

First stop: Falkirk, just west of Edinburgh. I had two reasons to stop here. First up, the Kelpies.

The Kelpies.

This 100-foot tall metal sculpture of two horses is a monument to horse-powered heritage across Scotland.

Second stop in Falkirk: The Falkirk Wheel. This might be the wildest thing I’ve ever seen, yet it’s a simple concept and very functional.

The Falkirk Wheel in its’ “at-rest” position. This is a replacement for the traditional system of locks to raise and lower boats to different water levels. Note the canal extension that juts out to the wheel at the top.


The wheel in action: there is a boat in each of those two containers and it is rotating counter-clockwise, lowering the boat on the left while raising the boat on the right.


Getting closer. The whole thing takes very little time at all, and I’m sure is much more efficient than pumping water in and out of locks.


After Falkirk I continued west to Oban, where I bought a standby ferry ticket to Craignure. 

Ian’s recommendation for a place to wild camp on Mull was fantastic. There was a long stretch of one-lane road (turns out this is the norm here), following the coastline. Between the road and the water was beautiful green grass, and lots of sheep. I passed a number of other people camping before I found a spot, but the opportunities were plentiful and stretched out for several miles.

I pitched my tent near the water, pulled out my chair and watched the sunset. At 10:45pm. It finally got dark about midnight.

And the sun came up at 4:30am. Brightly. By 6am the tent was dry and ready to pack, but it was so quiet and calm that I enjoyed a lazy morning.

Sheep, sheep everywhere and nary a wool blanket to be found. It was cold at night, but when the sun came up it warmed up quickly.

Eventually I rode further north on Mull to Tobermory, where I found an old church that was now a coffee and pastry shop. I had a bacon roll and a coffee at a sidewalk table in the sun, then walked next door to the grocery store and stocked up on food for several nights of camping in the wild. 



This old church in Tobermory had been turned into a local version of Starbucks (but with better food).


No scaffolding? No problem. Just get a bunch of extension ladders and tie them together.

I hopped the ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoane and continued north through beautiful scenery until I finally arrived at Applecross Pass. Not since Huascaran National Park in Peru have I seen such a stunning road through dramatic landscape.

I got off the ferry at Kilchoan and saw this sign. I figured since I already had the “Furthest point south in South America” and “Furthest point south in Africa”, I might as well take a photo.


This was going to be my next camp spot, but the gate was locked.




Heading to Applecross. I’ve seen sidewalks in the States wider than the roads here, and these are two-way.




Looking east from the top of the pass.



Looking north from the top of the pass at the clouds pouring over the mountain.

The pass eventually drops down into the small village of Applecross. There was a campground here, and it was full of motorcycles and a gathering of VW combi vans. I decided to spend the night at the campground even though there were several opportunities to wild camp, in order to chat with the other motorcyclists. There were several motorcyclists from England and Scotland. The group camped next to me were from Ireland; another couple I met were from Germany. Several invited me to visit them if or when I came through their towns. 

The next morning I took the coastal route — another unbelievable ride — north towards Durness. I hadn’t intended to venture this far north, but the scenery begged me to keep going, and who was I to refuse? 

I stopped for a break and was sitting on this bench when soon after these guys from France pulled up. They spoke very little English, but my bike caused them to try. They were touring Scotland before heading to the Isle of Man.



These yellow flowers are everywhere and are extremely fragrant. Incredible smells mixed with incredible scenery.

I’m camped again tonight on the coast overlooking the beach in Durness.  Tomorrow it’s off to John o’Groats, the northern-most point on the Mainland UK. 

8 thoughts on “Hop Scotch: Hopping the West Coast of Scotland

  1. Beautiful Pat!! Tomorrow morning (Wednesday the 1st) my two friends & I fly from Dublin to the IOM!!
    SeeYa next week!!

    • I’m back at Ian’s and headed your way…see you in a few days!

  2. If I were there I would paint until I died. I love the UK. Those yellow flowers were in New Zealand in their springtime, November!

  3. Beautiful pics! In England, they used to refer to the single lane tarmac roads as “C” roads. Had some interesting times on them when I was driving a 10-passenger van. Ha!

    • Yep…still referred to as “C” roads in Scotland as well. Great rides on those roads. They serve as a nice way of not distracting from the scenery and work fairly well with teh “Passing Places” (turnouts) every couple of hundred yards.

  4. Fantastic pictures! Looks like the weather has been superb – enjoy.

  5. Hi, I live in Victoria BC Canada and my name is Allan. I too have a small cc bike, a 250 Super Sherpa made by Kawasaki. With around 36,000 kl on it it’s being a great bike and very reliable like yours. There are two guys in Britain right know traveling parts of the world too, no wr250r Yamaha’s and on one of the bikes the bottom end has gone. { Moto Maverics on adventure rider } Very disappointing for them. They are from across the water from me in vancovuer area.
    I sure being enjoying your travelog, with great photos and writings. At must be hard to find the time to do every thing on the computer you do and all the updates plus sleep and eat. Take care and don’t forget to enjoy yourself !! Thanks again. Allan

    • Thanks Allan. It’s been a great trip so far. I tend to “conceive” my blog posts while riding along, then type them into a note program in the evening, and then upload them whenever I have wifi. It actually doesn’t take that long, and more than anything, I do it for myself, to look back later and remind me where I’ve been.
      Your Super Sherpa is another great choice of small bikes to travel with.
      Sorry to hear about your friends’ woes with the WR250. The good news is that unlike my XT the WR is sold here so parts should be available. It’s a relatively simple engine to rebuild…could do it in a day. A bit pricey to replace a bottom end, but then the cost of doing a trip like this has to factor in the downsides as well.

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