It’s about 900 miles from Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border back to Ullapool near where we were living at the time, and including a detour via Tiree and the Outer Hebrides.
But go via Ireland and it’s about the same, thanks to Stena’s handy Irish Sea ferries, including Fishguard to Rosslare, and Belfast to Galloway in southwest Scotland.
I’d already done the ride up through England a few years back on the BMW XCountry, so after the HUBBUK 2018 meeting in Clyro near Hay, I decided via Ireland would make a great ride back north. The full story was in RIDE magazine’s February 2019 issue. You can read it below with a few extra photos.
It’s just after 4am as the Stena ferry glides smoothly into the harbour at Rosslare, County Wexford. It’s also just a couple of days short of the summer solstice and behind me the sky is already beginning to lighten, dimming the stars ahead of what promises to be a great day’s riding.
I’d just spent the weekend at the Horizons Unlimited Travellers Meeting near and, looking at the map of the British Isles, there seemed a much more exciting and seemingly more direct route back home near Ullapool. Instead of looking for another new way to dodge the conurbations of northwest England, why not nip over to Ireland, shoot up to Belfast, over to Galloway and then hook up with Calmac’s ferry network, skimming like a pebble to the Outer Hebrides and back to Ullapool – a Motonaut of the Western Isles.
With only a couple of hours sleep on the floor of the ferry’s lounge, I knew I’d not make Belfast Docks without succumbing to an urge to sleep. But I’d given myself a comfortable six hours to cover the 220 miles, which allowed for cock-ups, refills and a power nap behind a hedge.
The XSR’s rorty pipe reverberated through the slumbering backstreets of Rosslare and once I’d picked up the N11 Dublin road and passed Wexford, I could open it up without frightening the horses. By the time it was fully light I’d split off the N11 which soon became a boring motorway. I may have a ferry to catch, but taking the N81 west of the Wicklow mountains was irresistible. If I got behind, at Dublin I could pick up the M1 to the Ulster border. The thrill of the new kept me alert till about 10am when all those well-worn tricks to stay awake couldn’t stop Humpty from falling of his bike if he wasn’t careful. I knew well that just 15 minutes could do the trick, so pre-emptively crashed out behind a barn and rolled into at Belfast docks with an hour to spare.
After snoozing my way back across the Irish Sea, heading along the A77 Ayrshire coast, road signs listed familiar names of towns I’d never actually visited, as well as one of Trump’s many Scottish golf resorts at sandy Turnberry Bay.
Ever heard of Wemyss Bay? Me neither until the other day, but it was here that the more intricate part of my ride kicked off. Three short ferry crossings via the Isle of Bute saved over 70 road miles via congested Clydeside to reach the Kintyre peninsula which dangles down just 13 miles off the Antrim coast. And now in 2021 there is talk of a bridge to Northern Ireland to help hold the Union together.
From Bute it was a short run up the road to Rhubodach and Britain’s shortest island-mainland ferry back on to the South Argyle mainland and a windy ride around Loch Riddon to Portavadie jetty for the boat over to Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula.
Around here I was expecting to run out of steam, and with plenty of daylight and spare time to catch tomorrow afternoon’s ferry from Oban to Tiree, I checked in to a bed-sized room in the town’s somewhat dank hotel.
Part Two later today.
Some photos below from Hay on Wye to Tarbert.
• XSR Scrambler: Western Isles Tour (later today)