Alness to The Glenlivet


Alness to The Glenlivet

There’s a new “Current Location” link at the top of the site.  It’s made possible by the SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker.  Unlike most GPS systems it has two-way satellite communication which means it can send a message via satellite as well as receive a signal to find its position.  It can send predetermined messages to family or friends via email/sms and a “911” function signals a response centre that will contact rescue services in whatever country it’s activated in.  Through some jiggery-pokery you can also see *exactly* where I am, most of the time.  My mother jumped at the opportunity to help me buy it for my birthday when I suggested it as an alternative to paying a fortune to post vegemite, fresh socks and underwear to the other side of the world.  Thanks Mum!

I wild camped near Alness, still waiting for my replacement camera intervalometer to arrive at Alness Post Office.  I wasn’t quite sure why I was so obsessed with this time lapse business.  I knew I wanted to capture the places I was visiting.  Pictures didn’t seem enough.  Something appealed to me about time lapse photography, where the sun sets in seconds, stars glide across the sky and people skitter about like ants.  Perhaps it’s just my lazy way of film making – turn on the camera, push a few magic buttons, and have nothing to do but drink hot chocolate, read a book or listen to a podcast for an hour or two.  That’s probably it.

“My, you’re well equipped” said the older lady on a bicycle as I gently pushed past her.  “That’s what she said” didn’t seem an appropriate response, so instead  I slowed down a little and we discussed the immutable laws of cycling*, homicidal car drivers who mow down cyclists for fun, and the almost comparable horror of cycling on the A9 near Inverness.  It was nice to have some company, even if only for a short time and it reminded me to slow down and enjoy cycling, to not be in a hurry to get over every hill and see what’s around every corner.

* 1: A head wind is always stronger than a tail wind.  2: The hill you climb is always higher than the hill you ride down

My reason for going to Inverness was to purchase the SPOT GPS system.  After acquiring the device, I headed to the local JD Wetherspoons – a chain of pubs covering the UK that offer reasonably priced food/drinks and free wifi.  I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the SPOT device was the older model – larger and heavier.  But it ran on 2 AA batteries instead of 3 AAA batteries – I already had a good collection of rechargeable AAs and I guessed they would probably be more available in the Middle East/Asia should I need more.  There was also a recall on the newer model when it first came out, so I was at least glad it wasn’t one of them.  Besides, everything else about my equipment is large and heavy (That’s what sh… never mind), so it only seemed appropriate.

I set up in JDs, checked my email and pondered my next move.  The plan was to head SW along Loch Ness to Fort William and then back to Edinburgh via Pitlochry.  I received a timely reminder from a friend that to the East was whiskey country.  Over half the of Scotlands distilleries in fact, lie in the Speyside region.  My route had me cycling around this area completely… How had this not occurred to me before?  The path before me had suddenly and unexpectedly forked in two – mythical aquatic creature, or fine Scotch whiskey distilleries…

I searched online to find exactly what distilleries lie in my path.  Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet among many others.  I needed to know more – I’d never visited a whiskey distillery before, I’d always seem to pass them after closing time.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Did they have a “cellar door” like a winery?  Did they offer tours?  … Whiskey tasting, perhaps?

As I perused The Glenlivet online, my choice became clear.  “It has been announced that His Royal Highness Prince Charles will be officially opening the new expansion …”  When?  4th of June, eight days from now…


When I left Inverness it was already quite late – 4 or 5pm.  The sun didn’t set until about 9:30pm, but it was still quite late to be leaving a city on a bicycle with no idea where to sleep that night.  I wasn’t concerned though, I’d find *somewhere*, I always did.  Approaching Inverness from the North seemed to be a fast transition from rural to suburbia to city. .  Heading out of Inverness to the East however, suburbia seemed to go on forever.  I found my way on to one of Scotlands Cycle Network routes which combine signposted paths and bicycle-friendly back streets.  I’d found it frustratingly difficult to find a map online of where all these cycle routes are and had given up looking – so I didn’t know exactly where it led, only that it seemed to be going in the right direction.  Suburbia dragged on, and on and the hills became steeper and longer and the sky grew darker and colder.

“Please tell me it’s over soon” I gasped at a couple walking by, 10 minutes up a long, continuous hill.  “I’m afraid not, but there’s a pub at the top.”  This was all the encouragement I needed to keep going, but the sky was growing darker by the minute, and what I really needed was to get out of suburbia and find somewhere to camp.  I did, eventually, find the pub they were referring to.  Cars were pulling away as I arrived and I found the front door locked.  The bar staff were clearing up.  I waved my water bottles at them and they graciously filled them for me.  They had no idea about any camp sites nearby.

It wasn’t too long after this that I decided I would ride through the night.  The weather looked good, it wasn’t too cold (yet).  I knew I was taking a risk and that if it rained heavily, I didn’t have any proper water proofs and I would be terribly cold…  Fortunately, apart from the odd spit, the weather held up. At about 11:30pm, the cycle route I had been following, had started going the wrong way.  I consulted my GPS (how did I ever doubt you!) and it plotted a loop to get me back on course.  I was aiming to travel east from Inverness, end up somewhere along the Northern coast of the Speyside region.  From here I could travel south through Whiskey Country and arrive at The Glenlivet in time to see His Royal Highness.

Cycling at night was surprisingly pleasant.  The terrain could hardly be described as flat – there were a few places where I had to get off and push, but after a while I seemed to get in the swing of things, and the miles clocked over without too much effort.  It was cold, but cycling kept me warm enough.

It was just before 1 am when I reached the seaside town of Nairn.  It was quite eerie arriving in an apprently deserted town in the middle of the night.  And then eerie again to find a lone person on the street.  He was standing outside a pub – I was surprised to see a pub open this late – I noticed more people inside.  I considered stopping, but decided that strangers in a pub in a strange town at 1am on a Thursday night might not be the sort of people I want to encounter right now.  Then again, they might be exactly the people I do want to encounter.  There was no way to be sure, so I moved on.

I found myself at Nairn harbour in a car park right on the shore line.  If I was going to keep riding all night, I was going to need help – I pulled out my petrol stove, made myself a coffee and noticed the full moon rising over the harbour.

Sunset was hours ago and sunrise hours away, but the sun never quite sets in this part of Scotland at this time of year.  The sun dawdles towards the horizon and sets ever so slowly and there’s always a hint of colour somewhere in the sky.  I keep moving, realising that after every minute off the bike my body gets colder and my joints more difficult to operate.

After passing what seem like miles and miles of defence properties (which I decide it’s probably best not to photograph) I reach Burghead at around 5am.  As I cycle up the main street of town, hoping to catch a view of the sun rising, I notice a “Bakery Open” sign and my heart melts with the thought of soft warm bread.  As it happened it was two hours before the bakery opens – at 7am.  This was a phenomenon to be repeated in many Scottish towns – “Open” signs out when the business is, quite clearly, not open.  Curse you small Scottish businesses that aren’t open when I think you are!

I was rewarded with a nice view (if a little late) of the sun rising over Berghead and the lack of soft warm bread was, at least, supplemented by chocolate and Pepperami.

It was still two hours until the shops opened and as I didn’t have much “proper” food, I had decided that I needed to keep riding until then.  I pushed on to another coastal town, Lossiemouth and waited out the last half an hour before 7am in a bus shelter, hiding from the wind.

I backtracked around 3km to Sandy Shores camp site and checked the place out before waiting for reception to open.  I ended up staying here for several days, mostly due to rain but also due to feeling completely buggered.  It had nothing to do with the camp site having an on-site bar.  At all.

After a few days, the rain had stopped but the wind seemed to have picked up.  It whipped the fields of grass in turbulent waves of green on fields either side of me.  It was a beautiful but unwelcome visage.  It pushed down a long shallow descent, I should have been cruising in 10th or 11th gear but I was struggling in fourth… The wind picked up – third gear.. second… first gear.  Downhill.  I could hardly believe it.  I swore at the wind – my knees ached and I struggled to build any momentum at all.  I came to a stop.  My foot seemed to crash in to the pavement.  I coughed feebly – I could see stars briefly and it seemed to sap what strength I had left.  I wasn’t sick, but.. I wasn’t well.  I rested for a moment and pushed on – after all I had a date with Prince Charles, and I didn’t want to be late.

Battling the wind for another few hours I eventually found a suitable wild camping site.  It was by the side of the road but dropped off enough that I was invisible to passing traffic.  It was a patch of lumpy grassland overlooking a pine forest.  The sun began to set in in a beautiful array of orange clouds.

I set up my camera on it’s ridiculously heavy motorised tripod, programmed the intervalometer and… nothing… I double and triple checked settings and connections… nothing.  My replacement JJC TM-D intervalometer, only a week after receiving it, had failed in exactly the same way as the first.  I cursed the cheap Chinese crap that it was and the fact that there is no alternative manufacturer for my camera system.

I ended up spending two nights here.  After the first, I realised I was in no great hurry to reach The Glenlivet by Friday.  I could have seen more distilleries in the area had I pushed myself, but at the time I just wasn’t in the mood, I was still pissed off about my second broken intervalometer.  So I lazed in my tent all day, listened to podcasts and read a book given to me by Dom and Carol in Keswick.

My spirits improved over the next few days and I found myself camped wild in a field behind the town hall, just short of The Glenlivet Distillery.  I wondered just how rigorous the security would be for the royal visit the next day.  I took in my surroundings, trying to find a spot that was out of sight of anyone on the road.  Someone at a tourist information centre had told me that I “might not be able to wild camp around there” due to the royal visit.   I half expected a member of the Royal Protective Service (or whatever they’re called) to jump out from behind a bush and move me on.  That would have been exciting, at least.

The next day I put on the most suitable clothes I could find, some black dress pants and a brown collared shirt.  I climbed up the hill towards The Glenlivet Distillery.  A few policemen, traffic wardens and men in crisp suits dotted the grounds and I was advised that the visitor centre was closed today.  I mentioned that I had come for the royal visit.  Noticing the camera attached to my bicycle he asked if I had a press invitation?  Sadly, I didn’t.

His Royal Highness Price Charles was to arrive at 2pm by Helicopter and then attend the official opening of the expansion of The Glenlivet Distillery.  There was an air excitement and anticipation among the surprisingly small crowd waiting for the royal arrival.

I struggled to switch my camera between taking video and stills and because of this both were a bit rubbish.  Prince Charles walked the short distance to the distillery expansion to a private function inside and I quickly moved to up to the end of a roped off section, quite close to the official plaque commemorating the event, still covered with a rug.

Not long after, he emerged from the distillery, As he spoke to the older man next to me, shook his hand and I snapped away, surprised that I’d found myself this close to His Royal Highness.  I stood there, camera in one hand, field recorder sticking out of my vest pocket.  Prince Charles took one brief look at me, disastrous image that I was, and walked not just past, but around me to the frilly hat brigade some way further.

I was, it seemed, not fit for a King.  Not even a prince.  I should have anticipated this and tried to engage ol’ Charles, offered him my hand and spoken directly to him before he’d had a chance to waddle away. But that didn’t seem the suitable thing to do in the company of royalty.  I briefly cursed at myself for this missed opportunity, but soon found myself amused by the situation.  Prince Charles was whisked away in a car and I looked longingly at The Glenlivet gift bags carefully placed in the trunk of the vehicle.  The Glenlivet’s best, no doubt.

Here’s the video:

And the map:

Alness to The Glenlivet

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11 Responses to “Alness to The Glenlivet”

  1. andrew says:

    DRUMMUIR is now our desktop!

  2. Laura says:

    Nice photos of the man with the large ears =D

  3. uli says:

    Hi Jords,

    nice Photos there and you’re really getting a hang of the storytelling, ey?… Very nice to read about the adventures of the lost Australian!

    And i guess Charles only walked around your AURA… 😉

    Safe travels!!!

  4. Clive says:

    Hey Jordan,

    How’s it going

    As others have said some good photos there matey of the man with aspirations of being king and it’s his misfortune for not speaking to you =D

    The storytelling is great and it’s good to hear that your still enjoying it.

    Happy travels

  5. Mike says:

    Hey Jody! You are nearly in Perth! I am in Perth! We should catch up for a smoke and a whiskey … Oh hang on, its the wrong Perth. Stupid unimaginative Aussies with their copied place names.

  6. Mike says:

    JoRdy, even!

  7. Ben says:

    Jordy, as usual a great read!

    And Charles is a vacuous, toffee nose, malodourous pervert. Being spurned by the Royal family is something to be proud of!

  8. bruce says:

    Love the B5 music on the vid! Not nearly enough sci-fi referencing in bike touring blogs these days…

    Looking forward to catching up soon – assuming you ever leave that Old Scone campsite (hope you’re OK matey)..

  9. bruce says:

    Ah. I see you now have. All an evil plot to make me look stupid, no doubt (shakes fist)…

  10. Jordan says:

    Ah hah! You fell in to my cunning trap! (Not so cunning as it took 8 days to spring it.) All is well, I have a GPS again, and my recurring fixation with Civilization IV has been satiated (for now)

  11. Bev Watkins says:

    Hi Jordan! Just been watching & reading all the wonderful places you have been to . You are doing really well. Wouldn’t like to be riding the distances you have by bike. The cruiser is much more comfortable!!!. Love your commentaries & photography. Keep safe & having a great time – hope you had some whisky samples Love from us all xxoo

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