After months of restrictions and lockdowns, the world is approaching a semblance of normality and for motorcyclists, this means the prospect of not only meeting up with other riders is imminent but so is the chance to head out for a decent ride or, now that hotels are about to re-open, even a longer tour covering several days.
While many will be keen to head across the channel and into Europe, that particular option may be farther away for a variety of reasons. But don’t forget that Britain has some amazing roads and scenery that are crying out to be explored and enjoyed before venturing farther afield.
Here are four of what we reckon are the best road trips you can tackle this summer and the ideal bikes to do them on. See you out there…
SCOTLAND WITH A DIFFERENCE – SOUTH WEST COASTAL 300
Up until recently, the Scottish North Coast 500 was little more than a rumour, passed along via hushed word-of-mouth between travel addicts and solitude seekers. However, just like The Prodigy’s Charlie did with the rave scene in 1991, the NC500 has exploded into the mainstream and has become a victim of its own success. Now the winding Scottish roads and lanes are jammed with caravans, motorhomes, coaches and cars and the locals along the route, while appreciating the money brought into the area, are less keen on the diesel fumes and roadside rubbish.
A far better – and less-discovered – option is the South West Coastal 300. It’ll be no surprise that it’s 200 miles shorter than the NC500 and is located on the south-west coast of Scotland, roughly encircling the Galloway Forest Park between Carlisle and Glasgow. The Visit South West Scotland website has a page dedicated to the route with the route map as well as a list of worthy stops en route.
You can start and end wherever you like and not only can you enjoy 311 miles of stunning countryside and coastal vistas, you can also take in plenty of culture.
Moffat is a logical place to start, as you can stay at biker-friendly www.buccleucharmshotel.com before you head out (it’s planning to re-open on May 17) and if you take the route anti-clockwise, you head north to Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village and over the Mannock Pass. From there it’s across to Alloway where you pick up the A77 south past Donald Trump’s Turnberry resort, following the edge of the coastline against the Forth of Clyde with Northern Ireland in the distance. If you’re taking it easy and want to enjoy the ride without the pressure of getting all done in a day (it’s a fair day if you do it in one hit), then look to rest your head around the bottom of the first southerly dip; The Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel is a few miles off the route, at the top of the peninsula at Barhills but has stunning views and a restaurant servicing a five-course dinner full of local produce.
The next day, head out again but this time, briefly south to the bottom of the peninsula before turning east and following the edge of the Irish sea to Newton Stewart and on to Kirkudbright, still following the edge of the coast until turning inland and heading for Dumfries and on to the infamous Lockerbie and tracing the M74 motorway back up to Moffat to complete the circle.
THE BIKE – Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT Tour
On the edge of the Scottish coast, something with decent protection is essential and so, you’d be best off on a tall adventure bike; take shelter behind a decent screen and allow its long-travel suspension to soak up the imperfections that will be everywhere. On a budget, the latest Suzuki V-Strom is a decent bike; not strictly much off-road capability but a good evolution of the ever-popular adventure-style bike with useful additions for a long trip, including decent luggage, gutsy V-twin motor and the latest addition has cruise control to help you rest your right wrist.
LORD OF THE RING – RING OF KERRY
It’s a fair way away from the majority of the UK but the Ring of Kerry in the Republic of Ireland is, by all accounts, well worth the effort to get to and in addition to breathtaking scenery, comes with legendary hospitality. It’s a genuine bucket-list ride…
I first became aware of it through rallying; parts of the Ring are used for the Rally of the Lakes run by the Killarney and District Motor Club and I stumbled across this video of 2019 winner Craig Breen (now a works driver for the Hyundai team) charging along the section known as Moll’s Gap in a Metro 6R4 on the previous year’s Killarney Historic event.
Typically, the ring starts in Killarney itself and you can tackle it in either direction but the route follows the edge of the land and the Atlantic Ocean for much of its run, while the cross-country sections are just as impressive, though for their mountainous topography rather than their oceanic beauty.
Leaving Killarney to the south and heading clockwise, the first section is through the Killarney National Park and passes the 15th Century Ross Castle around the foothills of Mangerton Mountain and past a selection of large – and small – lakes on the way to Moll’s Gap itself – perfect for a coffee stop and watch the world go by for a while.
Follow the N71 south and after climbing to the plateau, there’s a long run of sinuous tarmac stretching across the moors for as far as you can see. Distant hills soon descend towards the water and before long, you’re running alongside the edge of Kenmare Bay, snatching glimpses of the water before bursting out from the trees to an uninterrupted view of the rest of the bay out to the Atlantic and rubbing shoulders with rocky outcrops.
After a cross-country run through narrow, tree-lined lanes that could be anywhere, you run through Sneem and the scenery opens out again and you approach the western end of the route and the Atlantic itself. By this point, you could be in Norway or New Zealand, with what appear to be fjords laid out in front of you, layered up against ranges of hills and distant mountains.
Eventually the Ring turns north and heads away from the water for a while, before re-joining at Loch Currane and now there’s a decision to be made. You could carry on the Ring as you’re roughly halfway round or you could brand left and explore the Skellig Ring, a 20-mile extension that takes you out to the cliffs above the Atlantic shore and from where you can see Skellig Michael, or Great Skellig, the island where Rey discovered Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s a diversion well worth taking before re-joining the Ring of Kerry either at Ardcost Cross or hopping across the bridge to Valentia island and getting the Knightstown Ferry back to the mainland.
From here, it’s a changeable run back towards Killarney and the end of the loop, with the road chasing the shoreline at times and diving inland at others, flowing across flat valleys and swinging alongside trees and stone walls. Eventually, it reaches Killorglin and turns back to Killarney across country, a more relaxed and busier end to a stunning ride.
THE BIKE – Honda CBR 650R
Many of the roads on this route are fast and flowing so something sporty would be ideal. However, with typical Irish weather likely for much of the time, a smaller, more nimble 600 sportsbike, such as the Honda would be a great tool. The 650cc inline four has plenty of power without having too much to be able to use and while it has decent midrange, you’ll be wanting to use the slick gearbox and slip/assist clutch to hustle it from bend to bend. The screen will also give some protection if the heavens open but make sure you back is up to the ride there and back from home.
NOT A FOREST – FOREST OF BOWLAND
There are so many options for superb riding around the upper section of England; there are no less than five motorcycling dream playgrounds between Manchester and Carlisle (North Yorks Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Pennines and the Lake District) but it’s the farthest west and probably the least-known we’re interested in, the Forest of Bowlands. But don’t go looking for miles of tree cover – it’s a forest in the sense of a royal hunting ground.
This route may seem to wander across a chunk of Lancashire like a drunk spider but it’s a gentle sway though the best of the region. It starts and ends at Burnley and Skipton but you can tackle it in either direction. In fact, you don’t have to go right into either Burnley or Skipton, as the best start (or finish, depending on the direction you take) is north of Padiholm as you skirt round Pendle hill.
Once clear of Clitheroe, it’s fairly straightforward low-lying countryside but it begins to climb as you pass Chipping and start heading north towards Quernmore. Eventually, it reaches the top of the moors and miles of tarmac unfurl ahead of you, with views for miles on a good day. After dipping back down to ‘civilisation’, the route climbs back up towards Moor Cock and there are miles of flowing roads that climb to flat moorland, then dive back down to pastures and valleys before repeating the pattern.
North to Bentham, east briefly then back south and the moors, on a tight single-track route that you’d never give a second glace at on a map but what an undiscovered joy. It winds its way across the moors with not a soul for miles – you may well encounter other bikers coming the other way and the odd sports-car driver enjoying the road – but the chances are, you’ll have much of it to yourself. Wide open moorland, enormous skies and more than the occasional sheep – it’s a delightful way to clear your mind.
Continue south towards Stocks reservoir on the Hodder river and a pause for a coffee at the Gisburn Forest Café (Ok, there is some forest around here…). From there, you can do the final stretch towards Skipton and pick up whatever fast route you’d like to take home, with a grin on your face.
THE BIKE – Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX
This route suits a sports tourer with as much in the way of sports as touring. We’d go for something like the Kawasaki Ninja. The 140bhp inline four makes short work if climbs and dips and has plenty of midrange grunt to push it through slow and fast corners alike but with enough flexibility to really wind it on when you have the opportunity. The chassis is excellent and will mean you can enjoy the challenging parts of the route as much as you like while remaining comfortable and composed on your way there and home again afterwards.
SOUTHERN COMFORT – ATLANTIC WAY
I make no apologies for including this– a ride to mainland UK’s most southern point, Land’s End in Cornwall, is always an enticing proposition and this route follows the Atlantic Way through some stunning scenery, including the cliff edges of north Devon and the following, surf-haven beaches of north Cornwall.
As a jumping-on point, Bridgwater is as good a place as any to start, leaving the M5 on the A39 and heading west across the top of the Quantock hills and into the top of Exmoor and the cliffs that edge the Bristol Channel. Over the fearsome Porlock Hill and eventually down into Lynmouth and back out again, down and up the twisting hills before heading inland towards Barnstaple. You can, of course, if you wish divert and take the road out towards the huge sandy beach at Woolacombe rather than the larger roads for a pleasant diversion and coffee stop.
Once out of Barnstaple, the A39 continues south past Westward Ho! and by the time the route is past Trevose Head and Hartland, the next thing to the right is Newfoundland, thousands of miles away. The road continues south with diversions to the right and the edge of the land every few miles; Bude, Boscastle and Tintagel are all within a stone’s throw for stunning villages and coves.
Staying to the side of the main A39 for a while, the route heads towards Polzeath before inland around the mouth of the River Camel and back out towards Padstow, with its fishing village and seafood restaurants, including Rick Stein’s and a host of other celebrity chefs. Follow the coast road south to Newquay and Fistral Beach (dude!) before the narrow strip starts to get busy and you are forced back towards the main road.
Thankfully, you can soon head right again and follow the coast road around the remainder of the spit until you get towards Land’s End and the First and Last house in England. From here, you can always turn around and trace your way back along the southern coast of Cornwall and Devon and to the English Riviera of Torbay.
THE BIKE – Triumph Trident 660
For this ride, you want something lively and fun but also, something easy to handle and allows you to immerse yourself in the environment. You want a naked and the current king of the crop is the Triumph Trident. Sporting a lively and engaging 660cc triple motor and a chassis that has been designed with British roads in mind, it’s a rewarding and useful tool to use across faster, more flowing roads as well as tighter and smaller Cornish lanes. It sounds great too.
FARTHER AFIELD – Once Europe opens up again, there are a few trips we’d like to take.
First and foremost, I’d like to go to Le Touquet for lunch. Decades (almost centuries) ago my grandparents’ generation did the same but they flew from Lyd airport in Kent to Le Touquet. Now, once the Eurotunnel is open again, Calais is 35 minutes from Folkestone and Le Touquet is two hours from Calais even by the coast road. It rises and falls over cliffs to Bologne then out again on the other side. Le Touquet is lovely and to be honest, I wouldn’t mind what bike I’m on – maybe my Suzuki RF600R.
I’d also like to go to Ypres in Belgium, for two reasons. First is the rally; both modern and historic cars compete on the asphalt stages around the town and the service area for the rally takes over the centre of the town for days, with a palpable buzz – and odour of high-octane fuel. I’d also like to visit some of the WW1 sites around, such as the Passchendaele Memorial Museum on the outskirts of the town. I don’t have any family there but the nightly playing of the last post at the Menin Gate in Ypres (not a night missed since 1929 save for the four years the town was occupied by Germany in WW2) is one of the most moving and poignant experiences of my life.
Combining bikes and cars again, I’d like to head down to the 24 Hours of Le mans, starting with an overnight ferry to Cherbourg and meander down using the old roads that I did 30 years ago when I started going to the event. I think the classic event would probably be more enjoyable than squeezing in shoulder-to-shoulder with quarter of a million other petrolheads nowadays though…
I also feel the need to get some MotoGP action and I would like to find it farther afield than Northants, so I reckon a trip to Assen in late June would be interesting. North-east of Amsterdam, it would be a nice run up though Holland from Calais to the circuit and a day’s ride back down again after the race. A long weekend would see it done nicely, I reckon.
Time to get the bike polished and fuelled-up…