The Great Malle Rally is the longest motorcycle rally in the UK. Comprising 1500 miles from the most southernly point of the mainland of Great Britain, The Lizard, the most northerly point to the Castle Mey, just North of John O-Groats. Tackled over 6 stages, ranging from 200-300 miles per day, taking on almost entirely A and B roads, it’s an epic challenge through some of the very best landscapes the UK has to offer.
As a marshal my role was to open the route with my fellow marshals each morning and man the Rally checkpoints where the Rally teams would stop to have their Logbooks stamped and times logged. The rally is not a race to be the quickest but all about pacing each stage to get as close to the “ideal” time as possible. The one disadvantage the riders face is that no-one is told what this optimum time is!
Bike wise, the suggestion from the Malle team is that the adventure is tackled on in-appropriate bikes, but I felt perhaps something more appropriate was fitting in my support role. And being slightly selfish I wanted to make the very most out of the trip in every way possible given the opportunity to get out after the last year or so, being locked up (or rather, locked down).
Having owned the last few models of Multistrada including my current 1260s, It seemed logical to see what all the fuss was about with the brand new V4 model. Knowing how very capable the 1260 is on all roads the promise of the V4 with all the new bells and whistles was irresistible.
London – Lizard (Most Southern Point on Mainland Britain) – 268 miles
With summer in full swing the forecast for the trip to the start of the rally on the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall was for rain. So with the bike fully loaded up for a week I set off in my rain gear with a flutter in my stomach that comes every time you set off on a new adventure. The excitement and anticipation of spending a week on the road mixed with the nerves from the unknown. It was good to pull out of the drive way and just start riding.
A quick trip to the Southernmost tip of the UK, a spot of dinner at the first Rally Camp – in our 15th Century Camel Farm, a Rally briefing and chance to meet the riders who would be joining us on the adventure then it was off to our staff tents. Crammed in, air beds and snoring heads meant the luxury the paying customers were enjoying were sadly missing laying in my sleeping bag as the rain started to drum on the canvas above my head. It was not going to be a week of good sleep..
Day 2 – Cornwall – Cheddar – 211 miles
Monday morning and a 5.30am rise to leaden skies gave promise of a challenging day on the road. 200+ miles through Cornwall and Devon ahead, the first priority was hot coffee and an hearty breakfast. With the marshals tasked with departing at 6.30am it was a slightly frenetic morning getting the right kit packed and making educated guesses about appropriate clothing choices for the day. Turns out that few choices made were suitable for the day. As we set off to open the route, check for road closures and man the checkpoints, the rain was threatening it’s forecasted onslaught. It wasn’t long before the low cloud released it’s heavy load and the rain set in as a constant heavy drizzle. At 14 degrees it was a morning for heated grips and seat as we made our way east towards Plymouth and the high tors of Dartmoor with some stunning roads and epic vistas across the south west. By the time we had crossed the Tamar bridge we were suitably soaked with spirits equally dampened. There is nothing fun about riding motorcycles in the cold and wet. Fact. The only positive I could find was the relative comfort I was experiencing compared to my riding colleagues who had none of the comforts I had on the Multistrada. Smug face engaged. (For now)
As we headed up onto Dartmoor and our first checkpoint at Princetown the wind picked up and the temperature dropped to 10 degrees. In June!!! By the time we hit Princetown we were all chilled to the bone and pretty miserable. We stopped outside the pub where the Royal Marines are presented with their Green berets after completing the last 30mile beasting at the end of training. I have some sympathy with how they must feel after that, now I’ve been there in the grey, cold cloud on a drenched Monday morning.
The briefest of stops and onwards through the rain heading north towards the promise of broken skies and cream teas. And as is the Motorcycling God’s whim, we hit drying roads and clear skies approaching, arguably, the greatest road in the south west, the A396 from Tiverton to Dunster up the Ex Valley. After the toils of the morning, this 25 or so miles of fast sweeping A-road through the beautiful Devonshire countryside warmed both body and soul and grimaces were replaced by broad grins. And the bike? Well at last I could properly stretch it’s legs and boy do they stretch.
I’m really starting to enjoy myself already knowing that this is nothing compared to the roads ahead!
A quick pastie stop in Dunster, an hour of holiday traffic and eventually we reach our allotted checkpoint. Half way up Cheddar Gorge. An awe-inspiring scar in the Somerset landscape with the road twisting its way through the escarpment. It’s like riding through an amphitheatre with the watching goats and walkers silently urging you on. Tired after some long hours in the saddle we are set here for some time whilst the teams come through. But first, a couple of runs up and down the gorge whilst no one is looking and watching out for that local goat community that has no respect for the highway code.
As the Rally teams start to roll in I quickly realise their day has been similar to ours. Cold, wet and miserable punctuated by the dry road of the Ex Valley. It’s amazing how quickly we forget the pain and suffering when joy fills our minds. You have to suffer lows to truly enjoy the highs.
With all the teams through it’s time to pack up and ride the last 10 miles or so to tonight’s Rally camp. Priorities are beer, eat and dry the kit before getting our heads down. The next day brings promise of clear skies and the whole of Wales as our playground.
Cheddar – North Wales – 287 miles.
Another 5.30am alarm call. Quick shower, breakfast and load up for another day. There is cloud cover and it’s a chilly start but we are hopeful it will clear and we will have a good day in Wales. I’m feeling some fatigue after a long days riding and a poor night’s sleep. It’s mid summer so the tent is getting light by 4am and my airbed has generally lost enough air that I’m getting cold from contact with the floor… All part of adventuring…..
On the road by 7am again waving farewell to the Rally Riders who get a somewhat more leisurely start to the day. Heading through Bristol towards the Severn Bridge and Wales. Again, the bike is showing off as the heated grips and seat are on to take the edge off the chilly morning. I’ve opted for clothing suitable for the rest of the day so a bit cold to start but the heat makes it comfortable.
As we skirt the Bristol Channel and look North there is a line of cloud running east-west and beyond that nothing but blue sky. Could it really be? As we cross the Severn Bridge the line of cloud passes overhead and touching Welsh soil we are in under a cloudless blue sky. Those motorcycle God’s smile upon us once more. Time to pull off that brief stretch of motorway and head North for the Brecon Beacons before the run up to Snowdonia.
Mountains are my happy place so a great contentment washes over me as we climb into the Brecons. Trees make way for heather and everything gets bigger in scale and vocal outburst’s ensue as we round another corner to be greeted with the next jaw dropping vista. I’m approaching something close to Nirvana by this point. The bike is starting to feel part of me. Everything is becoming more instinctive as I start to push harder and see how the bike reacts. As good as the roads are with fast sweeping A roads, twisty rollercoaster single track lanes and mountain passes, this bike seems to have so much more to give. It’s not stepped out of line once even when being asked some more significant questions around stopping and cornering. It is just behaving so well that these roads perhaps don’t offer enough of a challenge to upset it. Don’t think for a second that makes it less engaging and enjoyable to ride. It just means you can push harder, faster and for longer without feeling like you are taking too many risks or getting too tired from extra concentration.
Navigation is easy today. From Llangynior straight up the A470 to Llanbrynmair. From there it’s a loop around Snowdon to my checkpoint under it’s watchful gaze at Capel Curig. The last few miles is up over the Pen-y-Pass. As my fellow Rally marshal Alex and I approach we come up behind a group of riders. Frustratingly they seemed like they were not in a hurry to clear some slow moving cars as we started up the twisty pass. I didn’t ride all the way here to miss the best bits stuck behind cars. Time to show everyone what a fully loaded new V4S can do. I see my opportunity. There are 4 corners ahead but the visibility around all is clear. The cars and riders ahead hesitate waiting for a straight but I’m confident the road ahead is clear and make my move. Dropping down the gears quickly and checking no one behind has had the same idea I launch the bike forward. Past 4 riders quickly as we approach the first bend. As I pass the last rider he looks as if he’s considering the pass himself. Thankfully I’m alongside quick as a flash before he can make a decision and I’m already past the car.
The road ahead is clear and as the V4 roars its way up the mountain I’m fully committed to making the most of this. I’m sure the views up Pen-Y-Pass are incredible and equal to the thin ribbon of tarmac in front of me but I’m not interested in that right now. It’s just me, the bike and the road as we come together in purity of the moment. Some find their mindfulness through Yoga or guided meditation. Mine is right here. Right now. Nothing in my mind other than being fully present in the moment. Accelerate, keep the wheel down, brake hard, pick the line, tip in, look for the exit, power on, launch into the next corner, repeat, repeat, repeat, breath, repeat. Smile.
At the bottom I stop and wait for Alex. He’s not far behind on his custom DeBolex Kawasaki and I was pleased to hear he took my lead and followed me through at the start of the pass. Riding great roads is awesome but being able to share the experience afterwards just amplifies the enjoyment and that shared experience. With our mental health in tip top order we head to Capel Curaig and a few hours down time as the riders pass through our checkpoint.
Once everyone is through all the marshals and support team are together plus a few other friends so we ride the last 60 miles or so to the Rally Camp at Hawarden Castle together. The sun is still shining in the late afternoon as we cruise along in a group of 12 having ridden the length of Wales in a day and had a hoot whilst doing so. The evening’s camp was another stunner set beneath a ruined castle. A few well-earned beers, an epic sunset and fantastic traditional Welsh Cawl stew for dinner and life was feeling pretty good.
North Wales – The Lake District – 199 Miles
You guessed it. The alarm goes off at 5.30am. The dawn chorus is in fine fettle as I rise to a stunning clear morning in North Wales. Showered and packed, a quick hunt for coffee and a welcome cooked breakfast and it’s time to head off again. Whilst the days are long, it’s hard to complain about riding a bike day after day. Especially when each morning you get to swing a leg over the Multistrada.
As the crow flies, todays leg would be a 2 hour blast up the M5. Luckily we are avoiding motorways and make a beeline due East to the Peak District before heading North into the Yorkshire Dales than a Westerly run into the Lake District. As we enter through Winnats pass the sun is beating down on a cloudless sky and it feels a bit like we are in a movie. The views are once again just wonderful and the sun warming the road has me licking my lips for snake pass which is the next destination. A quick navigation check ensures we don’t miss the turn we were about to miss.. phew.. and we are heading up a wonderful stretch of road. As a group of marshals we’ve been riding together enough now to find a good level of pace and understanding. Importantly no-one feels they need to push to keep up if they are not feeling it. I’m leading with the navigation loaded in and decide to push on up the road with an understanding that I will wait at the next turn to re-group. It’s fast and sweeping with good visibility and the bike just wants to go this morning. Mile after mile of road unwinds in front of me as I climb higher and higher into the heart of the peaks. Treelined corners thin out and give way to open moorland with heather and grasses. The vista expands and my pace drops to a crawl to take in the stunning views from the top of the climb. I thought the road up was fun but the road down was arguably better. A steep descent on a wide well surfaced road felt more like an alpine race track than A-road and it’s more pushing and smiling as the front tyre squashes into the tarmac into another corner before trying to launch itself to the moon coming out. No traffic, good weather and perfect black tarmac. Come on now. This is getting silly.
By now I’m starting to bore myself with the superlatives about this bike. It’s just doing everything so well and effortlessly that I can just enjoy riding and pushing as hard as I feel and that noise of the V4 engine when on full gas is so good. I’d love to take the cat off and put a full system on. I imagine it would be antisocially loud but all the better for it.
The only issue with riding through the peak district and the dales is the bit in between. That being Huddersfield and Halifax. Perhaps not the jewel of the county, certainly not from a road system perspective. A long slog through mile after mile of traffic lights felt more like London than Yorkshire. Whoever the local council are need to have a serious think about their resource spend too. Having a speed camera every 150m is just daft. Especially given there is a traffic light every 100m.
Eventually through town and back out into the open countryside and the Yorkshire Dales lay before us. Before that however a lunch stop and checkpoint. I confess to be feeling rather fatigued after the mornings adrenaline rush ride through the peaks. So a quick 5 minute shut eye in the sunshine was needed and welcome before the first riders rolled in. Smiles all around as the teams stopped for lunch. You could here the joy as helmets were taken off and moments of the ride shared with each other amongst a few expletives about Huddersfield and Halifax…. So good to hear people enjoying riding bikes on their terms. You don’t need to be Valentino Rossi riding at the peak of perfection to enjoy yourself. Having the opportunity to ride for days on end naturally improves your confidence and hones your skills. We are starting to see that with all the riders as the dry conditions and inspiring roads allow them to push on their own terms.
Alex and I head off towards the last checkpoint the clouds start to gather, we need to make progress and although rain is not forecast the sun disappears. We catch up with our team roadside as they are getting a 1957 Triumph back on the road again…. We leave the support truck and head up into the Dales. The low cloud closing in perhaps made the run through the Dales all the more atmospheric. The rolling hills and narrow lanes flanked but dry stone walls transports you to the world of Postman Pat. As we roll through I find myself singing the theme tune and having a jolly old time. But soon enough the singing stops and my game face is back on as the rolling hills gain amplitude and we start to hit some serious gradients and hairpin bends. Steep enough to lift the front wheel with a little too much throttle and given the weight on the back of the bike I’m being cautious. No need though as anti-wheelie is on so the protection is there if it gets out of control. We are riding in a group and Robert (Malle Founder) is setting an excellent pace. Smooth and spirited without being reckless or dangerous. So without having to worry about directions I can just enjoy this spectacular countryside and patchwork of roads that are leading us through it. We eventually head west towards Ingleton and our way out over the Pennines towards the lakes.
It’s getting late as we have had a few hold ups along the way including a medical issue which we attended. A smidge of rain in the run in towards Kendall and some low cloud requiring extra caution as we pass over the M5 but the bike is inspiring confidence in the wet conditions and the tyres are gripping the slick roads wonderfully and we are soon at our evening accommodation. The stunning Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club. We’ve been on the road for 14 hours and I’m in need of beer and food. Some of the team have other ideas however and I’m quickly coerced into an evening swim in the lake. And boy what a good idea it turned out to be. A running jump and swim out to a buoy sees us bobbing around in a mirror calm lake in the heart of the mountains. What a spectacular way to end stage 4.
The Lake District – Scottish Lowlands – 215 miles
My belle tent is 10m from the water’s edge of Lake Windermere and during the riders briefing the night before, I made an announcement for everyone to join me for a morning swim. So as I roll out of bed into my trunks, I’m pleasantly surprised to see a couple of faces strolling down ready for a dip. My mind and body are feeling alive as we swim out to the buoy again which is around 150m out into the lake. Invigorated for a day in the saddle it’s another hearty breakfast, strong coffee and on the road. Today is a wonderful route of high passes through the Lake District before a jaunt over the Scottish border and across Dumfries and Galloway to tonights Rally Camp at the graffitied Kelburn Castle.
No time to settle into the ride this morning though as it’s a short ride to the bottom of the legendary Hardknot Pass. A very steep, very tight and very twisty pass, this road is not for the faint hearted. To compound things for us the cloud is sitting very low on the hills and as we turn onto the pass itself we are almost immediately in the white soup. Damp steep roads, cold tyres and about 5m of visibility. Character building stuff to say the least. The lack of view did ensure full focus as the tyres skipped over rutter hairpins and the traction control lights burst to life, made all the more striking in the eery whiteness of the cloud. Soon though we reach the summit safely, but if going up a mountain pass in thick cloud sounds fun/challenging, try going back down the other side! The good thing about going up is you tend not to see the drops behind you. Going down however, you are suddenly very aware of the front wheel’s adhesive qualities as an abyss appears a matter of inches away from the side of the road. You can’t see how far down it goes but you definitely don’t want to find out. It may well have been a few feet but in the cloud it feels like thousands! It seemed the local sheep preferred this side of the pass too as they started to emerge from the cloud requiring a few evasive manoeuvres and expletives. We eventually emerge from the cloud base into a lush green valley and our first checkpoint of the day.
A few more hours hearing happy riders effervescent with their experience of Hardknot and we are heading off towards Buttermere. A quick stop to pick up the next marshals in Buttermere turns into a longer stop, unintentionally. The Multistrada has an electronic key that works on a proximity basis. Stick it in your pocket and when within 1m of the bike you can start it which is really handy. As the sun is now out I take the opportunity to strip off my marshal suit and pack it in the support truck. Shortly after I realise I’m missing my key and having only moved a little I start to look for it. 10 minutes later, a lot of head scratching and retracing of steps I still can’t find it. Meanwhile a couple of the team have headed off and the rest are keen to get going. I then take to a hilarious search method akin to metal detecting by wheeling the bike to locations outside the café we are stopped at where I have been and trying to start the bike hoping to roughly locate where the key is. Genius you say and as I hit the button by the bins I think the bike comes to life. Bingo! They key must have inadvertently been scooped up and chucked in the bin. Rifling through 3 bags later and no sign of the key but plenty of odd looks and unhelpful input from the other customers of the café… Trying the bike again by holding each bag up to the bike we confirm no key. Last resort.. What if one of the guys that left picked it up by accident? It’s the only remaining possibility before I have to call Ducati and get a code to start the bike. That would not solve the fuel key issues mind you.
A reply 5 minutes later on the WhatsApp Rally Marshall group confirms our fear that one of the team has indeed headed off with my key. Max heads back (he subsequently stole my swimming shorts as well btw.) and whilst I wait the rest head off towards Scotland and the next checkpoint in Gretna Green. Max returns shortly after and we are good to go. Phew.
We’re quite some way behind the last Rally teams on the road and a little frustrated, it’s time to catch up. What ensues over Buttermere pass can best be described here as ‘spirited riding’ and ‘making progress’. Read into that as you see fit. It’s a bumpy, open mountain pass with the sun beating down and visibility of the single track road ahead good. So before long the bike is starting to talk back to me a bit as I really start to see how far we can push this engineering masterpiece. Turns out it’s quite a long way and there was still plenty to go. Not that my heart rate would agree as I hit the bottom of the track and back on the A roads. Just before Gretna I catch the team and we ride across the border together. The clouds have gathered and as we cross into Scotland Robert raises his hand in acknowledgement and instantly a droplet of rain hits his visor! Let’s hope that’s not the way the whole of Scotland is going to go with the weather. A quick stop at the last checkpoint to put on the wet weather gear and it’s a long soaking wet schlep over to the west coast and Kelburn Castle where a warm welcome and awesome feed from tonights chef Tom (the Nomadic Kitchen) awaits. The road is largely dual carriageway past Dumfries and with the monotony of rain and straight roads interspersed with roundabouts it starts to get a bit drag racey out of the junctions to liven the ride up. Not that it was much of a race with the others as the Ducati roared past them all and left them cursing and shaking their heads at how blisteringly quick the bike is. Game over.
Tomorrow it’s the Highlands and some roads I’m very familiar with.
Scottish Lowlands – Scottish Highlands – 277 miles
It’s going to be a long day but an epic one as we head North into the highlands proper. It’s a chilly start again but dry as we head out towards Glasgow. Feeling really in the groove of the Rally adventure now. Still fatigued but feeling very comfortable on the bike and very excited about the roads we will start to ride. It’s a bit of a morning commute towards Glasgow however and I’d kind of forgotten most people were just going about their working lives again and driving to the office. Soon enough we pull off the M8 (one of only two short stretches of motorway on the whole 1500 mile journey) and we head toward Milngavie. A small town I know well as it’s the start of the famous walking route, The West Highland Way which runs all the way to Fort William. A number of years ago I rode the route and onto Inverness with a school mate over 5 days on a mountain bike. We will trace this route on and off and get to Fort William by early afternoon! Slightly quicker two wheeled adventure.
From Milngavie we head to Aberfoyle. A detour from previous years having received information of an amazing road that is well worth a visit. The road is Dukes Pass and runs north from Aberfoyle towards Loch Earnhead on the A84. I didn’t know it before but I sure won’t forget it in a hurry. It’s a wonderful route of switchbacks and undulating bends with great views. As we get further North, the traffic thins out significantly and we can really enjoy these roads uninterrupted. Finding your flow in the corners, getting into a good rhythm with the bike. Up and down the gears making use of the engine breaking and torque.
Before you know it, the Dukes Pass is in the past and we are making our way towards Glen Coe on the A84. It must be said that volume of traffic and the obsession with Average speed cameras has somewhat ruined this stretch of road as 50mph is a little pedestrian especially on the Multistrada, but eventually we pass the Green Welly Boot stop at Tyndrum and normal service resumes all the way to Glen Coe. As we pass over Rannoch Moor the Great Heardsman of Etive Mor sits at the head of the valley and as we pass we descend into one of the most visited places in Scotland. And with good reason; It’s a stunner. Nestled away towards the bottom of the glen is the Clachaig Inn. If you are ever passing through the area it’s a great little watering hole for a recharge and refuel with epic views all around of the peaks of the mountains looking down. We wrap up of our checkpoint and it’s onwards to Fort William past the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge then a left at Invergarry and on towards the Isle of Skye. From here on we had a few unplanned stops for mechanicals. Not the Ducati of course but one of the team had an issue with their bike we needed to fix and then that old triumph from the other day popped up on our radar again. It was again in bits on the side of the road half way up Glen Sheil. A chance to Google the history of the battle of Glen Sheil whilst fixes are made and we are off again. The day is drawing on and we could do with getting up the road. So probably not the time for a navigation error. As we start riding over the Skye Bridge I’m pretty sure there is not another road off the island to Torridon. And as I wave in a confused manner to Robert at the front we slow the pace. Straight around the roundabout at the end of the bridge and we are immediately heading back to the mainland to retrace our steps and find the turning to Loch Carron! At least we had the bragging rights of visiting Skye albeit briefly and it really is a lovely bridge to cross.
By now it’s getting pretty late and a discussion is had about skipping part of the planned Rally route to Applecross and taking the more direct route to Torridon. We all quickly agree that we haven’t ridden all this way to miss out the famous Applecross Pass, Bealach na Ba. So on we press into the greying evening. It’s midsummer and the light never fully goes this far North so that is not an issue but fatigue perhaps is the biggest risk. We finally make our way to the bottom reaches of the pass having already had an amazing day’s riding that anyone would be more than happy with. And now at around 7pm and over 12 hours since we started riding, we are tackling one of the most stunning stretches of tarmac on the planet. Fatigue is swept away by a wave of adrenaline as I take lead position of the group and give the Multistrada its head. Not a soul in sight, weary of stray Red Deer on the high mountain pass and with this weapon below me, the next 10 minutes will live long in my memory. Pure, unadulterated motorcycling bliss. You simply have to ride this road and I could suggest no better bike to get you from the bottom to the top. I suspect I may now hold the unofficial record time for a motorcycle assent Bealach na Ba. Maybe we need to go back and ratify it one day.
Once the group have caught up we make out way more sedately down to Applecross village where we find the last marshals ready to go. Unfortunately one of our team has picked up a nail in the rear tire on the way down. We are about as remote as you can get on UK roads so now is not the ideal time to have an issue and the support truck has gone straight to Torridon. Luckily the Ducati comes with a Plug kit and we can fix the puncture. The gas won’t give us enough pressure for the length of ride left though and the pump at the petrol station has a broken valve. Terrific. Thankfully there is a pub just down the road and as is the way of that part of the world, a local is only too happy to grab his car with a pump and help us get back on the road.
So onwards around the coast to Torridon. I didn’t think the pass to Applecross could be beaten but the next hour and a half of riding was superb. A fast and twisty undulating coast road in the twilight was just relentlessly fun. You know it’s good when you stop because you need a break but you are still in the middle of the fun. Most roads end and you break after. Not here and it almost feels wrong to stop and break the flow. Just mile after mile after mile of the best roads going. By now it’s gone 9pm and we are dog tired but the fun keeps us fresh. As we round the headland and drop to the loch side, the sun is setting (it’s nearly 10pm) and it’s just so staggeringly beautiful that our little team of 4 now pull over and have a moment. It’s these little experiences that so enrich the adventure and the soul.
We ride the last few miles towards Torridon and as we round a corner a mere mile from home (The most dangerous statistically) I have Robert’s constant words of warning from the riders briefings ringing in my ears. ‘Watch out for deer crossing the road’ just as the biggest stag I’ve seen in some time trots out in front of me heading for a small wood on the other side of the road! Thankfully I saw him in time and as we were just cruising could quickly break and avoid an unwanted interaction with nature. Timing is everything…
We roll into the Torridon Estate at gone 10pm. Just a gentle 15 and a half hours on the road! This overnight camp is notorious for being a bit of a Rally party and as we are still buzzing from the last few hours of riding and adventure I’m more than happy to buy into the atmosphere. Once the cloud of midges have been deterred with a gallon of repellent mind you. A few hours later I look up to see lightening skies. Perhaps time for bed as we need to leave again in a 5 hours.. oops. On the upside, I manage to secure an actual bed for the night. Ironically it’s the best, but shortest nights sleep of the Rally, but there you go.
Scottish Highlands – The Castle Of Mey (Most Northern Point on Mainland Britain) – 239 Miles
With little sleep I rise for the last days official riding to our end point at The Castle Of Mey. Just a gentle pootle along the now popular North Coast 500 route and the skies are clear. A big fanfare as the marshals depart for the last time ahead of the teams and we say farewell to the Torridon family. Having arrived late, I’m sad not to have spent more time in this beautiful spot and make a promise to come back soon.
As we head inland we are amongst an ancient, barren mountainous landscape. Nothing there but peaks and valleys with a single ribbon of tarmac, being the only sign of civilisation. Very soon we start to see more and more bikes and supercars. An oddity perhaps but given the travel restrictions and the great job the Scottish tourist board have done promoting the NC500 as a new destination, it’s probably no surprise to see so many people making the effort to get up here. Another wonderful mornings ride on faster sweeping roads brings us to Ullapool. The biggest town on the West coast north of Fort William, this fishing port is also the gateway to the Hebrides via the ferry. It’s another stunning spot and my checkpoint for the day. A much needed break in the sunshine and a quick power nap, some lunch and we are off again for the final leg.
As we head north towards Durness it’s a good time to reflect on the journey. I’m still riding awesome roads through mountains, over high ground and down by the coast. The views are relentlessly awe-inspiring and I’m feeling so blessed to be here, riding an amazing motorcycle with new friends. It really doesn’t get much better than this. We arrive at Durness and head to the beach. It feels like we have ridden across the Atlantic to the Caribbean with the stunning white sandy beach and deep azure blue of the sea. More superlatives and a moment of quiet to just enjoy the moment and be present sees my wellbeing in tip top form. My fatigue is not so healthy and some of the guys are also feeling the strain of 7 days of long days riding days. We find an artisan chocolate shop randomly and have a break and a sugar hit. Then it’s a quick refuel before the off.
I haven’t mentioned fuel stops much, but suffice to say they were numerous given the mileage covered. The old adage, of fill up when you can rather than when you need rings true. As all the bikes were different they had varying ranges. Especially the Debolex which had no fuel gauge so the need to stop was guessed on mileage… That meant more often than not, I had more than enough fuel when we had to stop but tended to top up. The Ducati is definitely a little thirstier than my 1260s but that’s to be expected with two more cylinders I guess. The tank is a little larger to compensate and I was probably getting about 180miles from a tank. The dash would suggest over 215 with a full tank but we were on A roads and riding fairly hard most of the time so It’s no surprise consumption was higher. Average consumption for the trip showed 39.60mpg over 2522 miles.
We are fuelled and off again with Alex along with Calum (deBolex). Now heading East along the Northern coast of mainland Britain, it’s more glorious twisting roads through the Scottish Highlands. I’m following Calum and become aware of him starting to miss lines through corners, having to adjust mid corner and shaking his head. He slows too and it’s clear that he’s tired as he’s a much better rider than that! I’m feeling it too and I pull alongside to check in and suggest a stop. We have quite a long way to go still but safety is paramount and the three of us sit on the roadside for 10 minutes, breathing in the fresh air and taking a much needed timeout. That does the job and we hit the road again. This stretch of road has plenty of supercars on it which is fun. Shortly after our stop I need to swap jackets as it’s hot now in the sun. We’ve just overtaken a McLaren and Aston Martin which were cracking on but struggling with overtaking traffic. No such issues for us and they are now following the guys. A few minutes stop and I’m now playing catch up with the boys and the cars. It’s a wonderfully fast and open stretch of road and I can spot the targets a few miles ahead as I round a hilltop. The bike is absolutely flying with that addictive sound of the V4 engine at high revs just launching us forward as it zips through the gearbox. Adrenaline once again sweeps fatigue to the side and I’m absolutely loving my life right now. I soon catch the team and pass the cars like they are standing still. That’s what makes bikes so much fun and so accessible. For a tiny fraction of the price of a new McLaren you can hit the roads with more performance and more opportunities to use it. The whole experience is more engaging and arguably more rewarding. Bikes for the win.
Finally we turn into the grounds of The Castle Of Mey (A royal household and restored by the Queen Mother) which is just a few miles west of John-O-Groats, flighty further North and where the Rally adventure officially ends. Happy faces from the teams who have safely completed the adventure and some keepsake photo opportunities. Once done we head to tonight’s camp just along the coast. The evening consists another awesome feed from the chefs of the Nomadic Kitchen, a prize giving and speeches on the cliff top looking out over the North Atlantic.
After the prize giving, as the sun floods the camp as it sets over the Islands of Orkney, I’m asked to talk a little about mental wellbeing and the importance of taking the time to enjoy these opportunities and check in with friends. It’s been an unprecedented time with the Pandemic and this has been one of the first opportunities to get back to some ‘normality’. It was important for me to take to time to appreciate that and later speaking to the guests it was clearly very important and potentially life saving for many of them.
Whilst the Ducati Multistrada was an amazing piece of machinery and an absolute joy to ride, it was perhaps what the motorcycle allows us to do that is it’s greatest asset. The opportunity to escape, to explore and to get lost can often lead to the greatest discoveries and understandings about ourselves.
Sometimes you have to get lost to be found.