James Owens travels north for this year’s ABR Ullapool Rally
We are off to one of my favourite playgrounds in the United Kingdom; the Scottish Highlands, and there is no better way to enjoy them than at an ABR rally event. A few hundred like-minded people that are as diverse as the machines they ride, all just up for a chat and of course a ride on the amazing roads of the Thistle.
Now I have around a 400 mile jaunt to get to Ullapool, well I do because I love to take my time and go the scenic route via Applecross. So I thought for this feature on the UK I would make it a bit different and talk about the rally, the people, the bikes and the roads rather than just an idea of where you could go … adventure can be as much about the people you meet as it is about the things that you see and the bike you rode there on. Let’s get it started.
To Fort William and beyond!
Many riders from England and the Scottish Lowlands will take the opportunity to break the ride up to Ullapool into two. They may well take off on Thursday and make a long weekend of it, and why not! I’ve stayed in Fort William before and there is more cheap bed and breakfast than you can poke a stick at – we are talking £20 a night on a turn up knocking with no booking for a double room. It’s also the last ‘big town’ that you will see as you make your way to Ullapool; perfect for stocking up on goodies. The area is beautiful and taking a stroll in the evening is a rather peaceful way to spend your time looking out at the loch and thinking about getting a holiday home in the area.
The A82 to Fort William will take you past breathtaking vistas as you ride past Glencoe; famous for walking and climbing (also for a battle), but just as famous for the views that lay ahead of you. The road is well maintained and has the right amount of sweepers and straights. You’re in the highlands so you can’t sneeze without hitting a loch, and the amount of classic outdoor views that greet you is mind blowing. You would be forgiven for thinking that you were in Scandinavia, such is the overwhelming beauty of the place – natural and raw.
Photo: James Owens
It doesn’t get any better…
Well, actually it does, but, and it’s a big but … the weather plays a massive factor on the next section to Applecross and the cheeky, twisty, steep little single tracked gem of a road. Applecross pass or Pass of the Cattle by any other name, is one of the most beautiful passes I’ve had the pleasure of riding on … and I’ve done the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Now this is where the weather comes in as you are riding a road that boasts the highest assent in the UK, with gradients of 20 percent as you come from sea level to 626m, so if the cloud is down you won’t see a thing!
Getting there is half the fun though – as it always is – as you’ve done the A82 and come up towards Fort Augustus, but swung an early left on the A87 and ridden past the lochs until you get to Dornie. From there you are heading north on the A890 towards Strathcarron with the loch on your left shoulder purring up and down and around this wonderful stress reliever of a road. Cut over to the A896 until you are riding past Loch Kishorn, then as you head north again on the A896 be on the lookout for a finger sign (a white sign with a black edge that has the location name …. not a sign in the shape of a finger!) for Applecross.
Up and Over…
Once you are up and over the Applecross pass, take the costal road around the peninsular for even more amazing views of the Isle of Skye. You will come back onto the A896 again and head inland past forests, woods and of course, more glorious lochs. All thewaytotheendoftheroadanda T-junction where you can swing a left onto the A835 for Ullapool as you are on the last leg of the tour. The A835 itself is a beautiful route and even though this is the last section of the run you have to remember that this is just you getting to the rally and the main ride starts there – not a bad way to spend a weekend!
Where everybody knows your name…
And now you come to the rally event that is ABR, something that our forum members have been running for several years. The first thing that you will notice is the lack of barrier or payment tent, due to the fact that ABR rallies are non-commercial and we make no money from the rally. Just people that like to ride their bikes in interesting places with other people that like to do the same; if you are on a BMW then fine, if you turn up on a Goldwing (it does happen) it makes no difference.
Photo: James Owens
All the ABR forum events tend to be along the same lines and we have many people coming solo for the first time and you will be made to feel welcome. Normally, someone will wander over if only to look at the bike, the tent or what stove you’re using – for some reason ABRs love camping stoves and the chat about multi fuel and gas burning can go on till the small hours. Of course we have members that will stay in the local B&B or a hotel and meet at the site in the morning for a ride-out. The point is that it is your event and you can do as much or as little as you want to.
We have found over the years that not having bands and stalls means that people will bond better around the fire in the evening and it helps keep the cost down. All you pay for at the ABR rallies is the camping fee, and that goes direct to the site or farmer – as little as £3 a night for some events.
A sea of tents
When I got to the Ullapool event it was late on a Friday and the place was lit up with tents of every colour and size. There was the focal tent where Craig and Jennifer were on hand as event organisers for any tweaks or issues. The whole event is a very laid back affair. There are rides-outs put on that cover the road rides and the more adventurous ones over private estates. But you can make up your own, or you can sit back and chill at the site and have a walk around Ullapool – it is all up to you.
There is not a great deal to say about my own kit as I had a small issue when I went to a recent Horizons Unlimited meeting (another great forum of motorcycle riders) and forgot my tent. Off I rushed to Tesco where I found a three person tent for less than £10! It worked well and I ended up bringing it to Ullapool as it packs very small and I don’t care if it gets damaged. Four corners and two poles that came with six metal pegs – extremely basic stuff, but effective.
Photo: James Owens
Who are you? Where are you going? Can I come too?
It was great to catch up with people after so long away and then get the chance to meet new people that had come to the rally for the first time. I like to be able to just have a casual wander around looking at people’s gear and bikes, stopping now and then for a chat and a smoke. Easy pace and an easy life is what I like and Craig and Jenifer did an outstanding job as always.
It was during another wander on the Saturday morning that I spotted a few blokes starting to kit up. I do the introductions before asking, ‘where are you off to? Seems that DaveAC, Irish Dave, Mikey and Liverpool Jim are off to ride around Gairloch to have a nosy around a gorge and an abandoned croft.
Hmm… I normally go north to Durness on one of the most beautiful roads in the UK, but I’ve not been to this other place. I ask if I can tag along and with a resounding nod I gear up for Irish Dave to say, ‘we don’t ride very fast.’ And that’s just fine with me.
Busy doing nothing
The five of us set off towards Gairloch, but before we reach that destination we headed on over to Corrieshalloch Gorge. Corrieshalloch Gorge is a rather impressive little slice of nature, but the walk down was a ball ache in bike gear –not as bad as the walk back up–Dave Irish (Northern Ireland’s Premier Pin Up Model – as he likes to be known) has a thing about heights. So, we all waited for Irish Dave to span the rather movable suspension bridge before all jumping up and down on it! Happy times seeing a grown man almost cry.
Photo: James Owens
After catching our breath, we were now off to find a little croft that had been left to ruin. We slipped off the main road and Little Mikey was on a Suzuki 500GS that was about 400 years old with road tyres, heading off into the wilds on the dirt road. My V-Strom 650 is a delight in these circumstances, standing on the pegs she reacts well to a fishing tail end and is light enough to recover without having done Mr Pavey’s Advanced Off Road School.
We all drew up at the site of rolling flat grass, partial stone walls and the two gable ends that served as the only evidence that a croft cottage had been there. Clicking away on the camera I made my way to the beach, where a beautiful white sand ran for about 400 metres. In the height of summer this place would look absolutely glorious, and I could think of no better place that I would rather live for that time, though the dream is often better than the reality; a simple croft life with your own private beach, sorting out sheep in winter (take that as you will) and all the rest of the ‘stuff’ that must go with that kind of life. Still, getting to ride a motorbike around the loch isn’t too bad a life either.
After much rolling around the various lochs and single track roads that cover the Highlands, it was time for another of the many ‘tea breaks’, only it was coffee that I was looking for. We ended up at a wonderful little café on the shore of Aultbea called the Aroma Café, run by a Romanian lady who would spend six months here and six months back in her homeland with her partner. But the money they made here was enough to live well back in Romania – indeed I have had similar retirement plans myself, but in Bulgaria (we have an ABR Rally in Bulgaria August 2014, see the forum for more details).
Back at the ranch…
After a full day’s riding around, taking pictures and drinking coffee we all headed back to the camp for a de-kit and something to eat, perhaps a wee drink just to be social! The camp was buzzing with activity as we got back in the shadow hours and people could be seen making their way to the local pubs. I was on the peckish side and ended up with a low-fat option of deep fried battered haggis and a large portion of chips – lots of salt and plenty of vinegar.
Photo: James Owens
It is just always pleasant to catch up and natter with other bikers and the night soon came when my cheap Tesco Force10 was called into action. Whilst the tent was as cheap as tissue, my sleeping bag is rated to minus 14, as is the self-inflating roll mat, so a warm and snug night was on the cards. I was rather impressed, I say with shock, at the performance of the Tesco no-frills tent. For what I used it for it worked just fine. Not bad for under a tenner.
On the road again….
Sunday morning and it was my time to go, just as it was for many of the other riders at the event. Some would be staying for a special event that Austin W was putting on, where they could ride off-road on some private estate land, but for me it was time to get back down south and get some typing done on jobs that are waiting for me. As I’ve said in the past, the more you work with motorcycles the less time you seem to get to enjoy them. So with the camp chirping with the sound of cold engines starting I said my goodbyes to the people around and said a last goodbye to Craig and Jenifer, thanking them for a wonderful event and the effort they put in so that we can just pitch up and relax.
The A9 called, but on the joining road my passion to wander was stronger than my need to get back in a hurry – so it was off to Glencoe again for a play in the Scottish Highland forests, beautiful! See you at the next rally.
ABR rallies are organised and run by members of our online community. They take place all over the country during all times of the year, some are even abroad (Bulgaria). Most recently, December saw the Exmoor rally, whilst looking ahead on the events calendar there are as follows;
Dorset, January 24-26th
Malvern Hills, March, date TBC I Salisbury Plain, August 15-17th I Bulgaria, August 25th
West Wales, September 12-14th
… with more events to be confirmed in the coming months. See our website for more details.
Where to stay In comfort
01397 701445 www.braeside-house.co.uk £22 – £50 a night
Under the stars Broomfiled Holiday Park
Scotland IV26 2UT
For your Satnav
I work on a Garmin Zumo 660, and of course, satnavs are only good as guides – always read the signs! You will need to use the map function on your Zumo or of course you could buy an actual map …