UK and Ireland was on our bucket list for a few years now, but travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021 made it impossible to come here. Until now 🙂 We wanted to take advantage of the open borders and summer season. And, as we had the tickets to the ABR festival purchased a couple of years ago, it was just a good reason to stay here for longer.
We decided to make a different approach to writing a post this time, focusing on just a few things. For more details on the places we visited – feel free to check our Facebook or Instagram for the photos and YouTube for Video Logs 🙂
Five things about the UK
We really got sick of them on day one. Imagine: you get off the ferry, realise that you lost one glove (poor Joris needed to ride in his “winter” gloves in the summer) you need to focus on driving on the left side of the road, your navigation is not really working (no internet), you do not have a paper map, you do not know the exact address where you need to go, only a clue that is somewhere next to Ham and Sandwich. And then you have a roundabout where you need to choose a correct exit, so you don’t end up on a motorway. And then another one. And one more. And ten thousands more.
It took us a while, to get used to them, make sure we look in the right direction and choose the correct lane.
Luckily, the drivers in the UK are really kind and patient, and probably used to guys on foreign number shields doing stupid stuff.
To be honest, only once we ended up on the wrong side of the road – we were very relaxed, exiting a small road in a small village, taking a wrong turn and being more focused on figuring out where to go. We naturally ended on the right side. We only realised something was not OK, when there was a car coming from the opposite side – its driver without skipping a beat (and without flashing or honking on us) just moved to his right and passed us. Then it clicked and we went to the left 🙂
Tiny villages and cute houses
Sometimes we felt like the time has stopped in the UK in the middle ages – narrow streets, cute villages, tiny houses that look like they were about to collapse. With spotlessly maintained gardens, flags and decorations (whole villages were decorated for the Queen Elisabeth’s II platinum jubilee).
Of course, we visited London, but it were the small towns that stole our hearts.
We knew that people in the UK are open, but what we experienced was sometimes extreme! First of all we got a lot support from fellow bikers, who hosted us in their houses, helped us with the route and were a great source of information and inspiration (scroll down for the thank-you’s!). But also random people we met on the streets often started the conversations, showing interest and support to what we were doing. For example, when we went shopping, one of us went to get the food and the other stayed at the parking with the bikes. During that time at least three people started a conversation, so at some point we were flipping a coin, who goes shopping and who does the talking – believe us, telling the same story over and over again can be tiring, and we have just started the trip 😉 There was also one very memorable moment – we were stuck in a traffic jam, during rush hours on a Friday afternoon in Birmingham, on the way to the ABR meeting. A pickup car stopped next to Agata, the window rolled down and a lady inside started a conversation! How extreme was that?
Except for the famous English Breakfast and Fish and Chips there is probably no good food in the UK. It is chemical and pumped. The bread “stays fresh” for a week and after being squeezed into the top case it always returned to it’s shape. At some point we started buying twice as expensive sourdough bread, just to avoid eating the spongy one. Meat was also a challenge – it was a bit disappointing, when after placing a slice of a chicken breast in a pan it filled up with water, so instead of having a fried meat it was more cooked/steamed.
When we were crossing back to France on a ferry, we were dreaming of a fresh, crispy baguette with some brie cheese…
UK is expensive. Extremely. Not only when it comes to petrol prices (when we came to the UK it was about 2 GBP per litre, two months later it was around 1.7 GBP), but also food and campings (we usually paid around 30 GBP per night for two people in a tent, with no electricity; in many places charging a phone at the reception costed 1-2 GBP extra… no, thanks). Sometimes we were lucky, and the camping staff treated us as backpackers – that meant ~10 GPB less on the bill for a night. But generally, it was extremely expensive. We made a calculation, that travelling with a small campervan, like our T4, would make the trip half the price. In many places we could not even put up a tent on a camping, because it was only for caravans and campervans. Again – disappointing, that the spirit of camping has changed so much. By the way – wildcamping in the UK (except for Scotland) is not allowed – everything is fenced and private… “strictly private”.
We can’t illustrate some of the things listed above, so here are just some random photos 😉
Five things about Scotland
Compared to other regions, Scotland is way more remote, isolated, less crowded and empty. The landscapes are spectacular. We were impressed how wild it can be there – mountains, heathlands, lakes. Pure nature. A zillion opportunities for wildcamping (allowed), that was not quite possible numerous times (the heaths are too bumpy to put up a tent).
We were extremely lucky with the weather and we did not experience much rain or bad weather in the two months we spent in the UK. But still, we had some drizzle, very low clouds that added to the magical ambience of the region. We loved the moody climate of Edinburgh. We wished we had our T4 in Galloway Forest Park so we could park in a random place and enjoy the mist (the idea of experiencing the same in a tent was not that tempting though). We were mesmerised by the fog over the lake a day before we hit Bealach na Ba pass on the way to Applecross. But overall, we soaked up more sun that rain, just like a few years ago in Iceland.
We were told stories about those little monsters, that just swarm around you and suck out your blood. Yes, they were there, they were annoying, but again, we were lucky – it was not that bad. At first Joris thought they are avoiding him and only biting Agata, but it was not the case. The itchy scabs were proving otherwise. By the way – citronella candles don’t work. The only thing that sort of prevented the bites was Avon Skin-so-soft oil. sprayed on the skin it created a layer, that the midges could not bite through. They were still annoying, but at least not biting. We also tried the nets put over our heads – they worked well, given that there were no midges under them 😉 But doing any work while wearing them made us sweat and attracted the midges even more. This happened once – we decided to wildcamp, found a nice spot with a round shelter made of stones (for animals 😉 ) and when in the morning we needed to push our bikes back on the road we really struggled. We were so happy to feel the midges-free airflow on our faces being on the road again.
In the whole UK, and especially in Scotland, we were surprised how bad the phone signal is. Very often there was no coverage at all, and internet offered at the campings was not even good enough to check the mails. Also, Wi-Fi in the pubs and other places was usually not available. And even if it was – like in McDonald’s we struggled to connect.
Just to give you an idea how difficult it can be. We wanted to buy a local sim-card, top it up and use for internet access. We got one in a supermarket, for 99p. Then, we tried to top it up – mission impossible without the UK residential address. Even when we gave an address of a friend, it did not match with the billing address of the bank card we wanted to use for topping up. We ended up having a friend topping our account with her card and address and us returning the cost via bank transfer… One of the network companies told us, that to have a sim-card and top up the account we need to prove that we’d lived in the UK for 3 years. And when we asked for the scratch-off cards with a code that enables you to top up the account – they did not really know what we were talking about. Yep, maybe we were behind, but hey, it should not be that difficult 🙂
Anyway, we survived, maybe posted a bit less, but at the same time got more experienced in planning the routes using “offline” methods.
Scotland is a bikers’ paradise. Not only Isle of Skye, NC500 and Applecross – just in general it is a fantastic place to ride motorbikes. Officially, there are no greenlanes, but the small, twisty roads are great to have fun riding. And it is not only the landscapes – it is also the people! Once we stopped on the side of the road, just to have a short break, drink some water and enjoy the blue sky and 25 degrees. A group of bikers was passing us by – one of them stopped to check if we were OK. Such a spirit! After a short talk he went his way, but it was great to experience that somebody checked on us.
We also need to mention The Bikers Hub. We were soaking wet, coming from Inverness (we have good gear and waterproopfs, but gloves and helmets are always wet) and on a recommendation of a friend of a friend we showed up at The Bikers Hub. We had some hot tea and were offered a spot to stay for the night. One night turned into three, filled with long talks with our hosts, Scott and Teresa. We also came to the weekly hub meeting on Wednesday to witness the magic of the place. Few hundred bikers came to have a chat over a tea and eat some bikers food. The Bikers Hub is a wonderful place, run by wonderful people sharing their motorbike passion and knowledge with others. Thanks for having us there!
Again, we can’t illustrate some of the things listed above, so here are just some random photos 😉
Five things about Ireland
We crossed to Dublin with a ferry from Holyhead (we took Stena Line, as it was the cheapest 🙂 ) The city did not impress us that day and we were happy to move south, clockwise direction around Ireland. It is referred to as a Green Island and yes, it is green but not quite the same as the images we are shown in relation to St. Patrick’s day. Actually we found the lansdcapes pretty colourful.
Landscapes in Ireland were actually not anything new to what we had seen already. Yes, beautiful and picturesque, but the real atmosphere of the country is felt not in the open spaces, but in the pubs, overcrowded every night by the locals (and tourists). We loved to dip in the atmosphere, the noise (and the Irish people can be very loud, we actually underestimated how loud can the women be!!!), with a perfect pint of Guinness. And speaking of the Guinness, we normally don’t visit too many tourist attractions that you need to pay for, but we made an exception for the Guinness Factory in Dublin. Yes, it was worth it and the pint in the Guinness Storehouse bar tasted better than ever. As a fun fact – to keep our bikes safe, we showed up at the local Garda (Police) station and asked if we could leave the bikes there and it was no problem at all 🙂
We thought that UK roads were bad, but Ireland took it to the next level. Narrow, decomposing, with gravel when you don’t expect it. But still, we enjoyed them as they took us to so many beautiful places!
There are not many beautiful buildings in Ireland (but a always, there are exceptions) – the villages are not as cute as in the UK and many old buildings are just devastated and ruined, as people don’t feel like renovating them and just build new ones nearby. But there is one thing, they really take care of – doors. They are usually standing out, in contracting colours. There are a few legends explaining this phenomenon – one is that people were told to paint their houses’ doors black to pay the respect to the monarch who died and the Irishmen did just the opposite and painted the doors in bright colours. The other states that the wives painted the doors of the houses in different colours to help their husbands returning to the correct house after having a few pints to many in the pub.
Wild Atlantic Way
If you are a biker and want to go to Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is a must. It may not be possible to cover it all, but whichever section you choose, you will not regret it. We highly recommend joining a Facebook Group Wild Atlantic Way for Bikers for all the information you may need.
Bonus: World’s Largest Female Biker Meet
We told ourselves – no more fixed appointments, but we just could not say no to this one. We even shortened our stay in Ireland (and therefore not really visited Northern Ireland) just to attend this meeting. We wrote a short article about the event that was published in the Road Of Adventure magazine. You can check it out here and watch a video with the interview with Nimi and Sherrie from Moto Advisor, the organisers of the event.
General impressions from this stage
- everyone is super friendly to bikers
- speed limits are sometimes speed challenges 🙂
- everything is fenced and “strictly private”
- ambulances have a super high-pitched siren sounds… it hurts 😉
- it is beautiful there!!!
There were a number of people who hosted us, helped us or whom we just met on the road. We already mentioned a few of them in the previous post:
- Glen / Bunk-a-Biker – organising our first night in the UK
- Agata and Hubert – hosting us and helping with sorting things out during our first days in the UK and then twice during our stay – thanks for the rides, too.
- Des / Bunk-a-Biker – hosting us and giving tips on the route. You can follow Des and his motorbike adventures here: Motosunburn
- Sue / Bunk-a-Biker – hosting us twice, giving tips on the route, and allowing using the garage for the GS seal fix; inviting us to the World’s Largest Female Biker’s Meet
- Tom / Bunk-a-Biker and Tom’s parents – hosting us and organising our stays in numerous places, especially when the owners were not there 😉
- Tom / Bunk-a-Biker and his sister – hosting us in Ireland, giving tips on the route and Dublin sightseeing
- Tim / Tom’s friend – advising us on the stay in Scotland and letting us know about Bikers Hub
- Di and Trev / Bunk-a-Biker – hosting us and advising on the Wild Atlantic Way. You can follow them and their motorbike adventures here: Tales From the Bike
- Jackie / Bunk-a-Biker – hosting us for the World’s Largest Female Biker Meet
- Marc – hosting us and advising on Lake District routes
- Scott and Teresa – hosting us and allowing us dry our stuff
- Kev and other bikers from the Bikers Hub – welcoming us and giving us help when we were cold and wet
- Spencer and Michelle – saving us from a sin of not eating fish&chips and hosting us
- Katinka – follow her on KatinkAdventure
- Reinhard – thank you for your time, giving us the midges fighting Avon oil 🙂 – we hope to see you again on the road!
- Kate – follow her on one_abreast
- Mick, Jayce and Mariusz – real bikers we met in the Lake District
- Nick – meeting again 🙂 this time for lunch
- Mat – finally meeting for handing over the IZI Meeting bag 🙂
- 9680 km, including 1984 km in Ireland
- 66 days