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16: Alba!

Breakfast, shower, and waiting... When the ship finally docks, all the bikers are frantically busy to untie their machines, turn them, and get off the ship. After a loong wait for Her Majesty's Customs (why that has to take so long beats me - they do it 10 times faster in the Netherlands), and the umptieth reminder to ride on the left side of the road, I'm off. On the one hand excited about the first kilometers of my holiday, but on the other hand in full knowledge that the first couple of hundred miles will be relatively boring - straight roads leading up north from Newcastle to Edinburgh to Perth and on into the direction of Inverness. I'm getting bored, but luckily at the Dalwhinnie exit the Garmin beeps and tells me it's time to leave the A9.

Off the A9, I get a grin on my face that won't subside until I'm at my destination: first, I quickly discover that they build roads here with hardly any straights; second, the first major building along the road is the Dalwhinnie distillery. Finally, I'm in the land of twisties and distilleries!

My Michelin map has a green line along any road that they consider a scenic route. They might just as well have printed that every road in the Highlands is a scenic route and be done with it - all the way to Skye (inclusive), I'll have scenic routes. And Michelin is right - the landscape is breathtaking. Suddenly, I'm not in a hurry anymore to arrive at my destination. The moment I left the A9 the trip became more important than getting there. The GPS is counting down - only 150km of these roads left. I sigh and make the best of it, luckily I'll have more than enough time to explore this piece of the world during the rest of the week.

The weather isn't too best - overcast, and hardly any sun to warm you up. The air is damp, so all the air under my riding gear stops isolating. Time for a stop, so I pull over at the first pub and order coffee. The pub is everything I expected (having had quite some experience with English pubs, the Scots pubs aren't too different), but the coffee is not. Actually, if I would have dug around in my memory before ordering coffee, I would have expected it. A watery brew, and outrageously priced. That'll be my last cup of coffee I haven't brewn myself in the Highlands, I'll order tea from now on.

After the pub, I ride on through the wonderful landscape. All the time being thrown between riding calm and enjoying the views, and letting the throttle go to enjoy the roads. As usual, the throttle wins. Did I tell you that there are no speed cameras in the highlands? (well, none that I have noticed ;-))

I arrive at the B&B on Skye together with a guy on a Desert Twin who turns out the proprietor and who is a bit surprised to see me - my last mail had a typo in the date, it turned out, but I can stay nevertheless if I give him a bit of time to clean up. Well, after just some odd 500km, I'm not done enjoying riding so I head off for Dunvegan on the north of the island.

Some of the roads on Skye are outright racetracks, although lots of sheep are trying to spoil the fun. They're all over the place, grazing along the road. Most of the time, though, they're quick to step off the road when they hear me coming. Must be evolution at work, I think. Either you are a sheep that steps off the road, or you are a dead sheep. Sorts itself out automatically.

Dunvegan Castle is closed and looks a very touristic affair, so I won't return there. Because I went up to Dunvegan by Portree I go back along the west coast via Bracadale. A beatiful, lonely, empty road with great sights of the lochs and the cliffs of the west coast and The Cuillins decorating the horizon. I pick up some sandwiches at the Broadfort Esso and find myself back at the B&B sooner than I'd liked, although I am a bit tired and longing for bed. My back hurts a bit from riding all day, so I decide to do some hillwalking tomorrow. The bed is wonderful and even though my book ("Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!") is a pageturner, I'm off to sleep well before midnight.


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