Wanting a holiday, and with my better half's blessing, I went on a motorcycling tour of parts of Scotland and the Isle of Skye. This was with Highland Rider, a small company run by Peter Macintyre and his wife Fiona.
During the booking up phase, Peter quizzed me on my motorcycling experience and ability. Apparently in the past he has had some bad riders, and he tries to weed them out from the onset. He tells a story of one particular man who booked up, arrived, then with a simple ride up and down Peter's lane proved he was totally incompetent. Peter refused to take him, with no refund! The guy later came to see Peter and thanked him for probably saving his life.
Peter started working as a fisherman, later ran a fish farm, and biked as a hobby. After touring with friends, he decided to start Highland Rider, and now does it full time.
This tour was four days with three nights in hotels, starting from Linlithgow, near Edinburgh. Because I live in Derby, 300 miles away, Peter organized B&B for me for the nights before and after, in a local hotel.
The first morning we congregated at Peter's (except for two who would join us later). I was the oldest but least experienced. There was one husband and wife, the rest were men. (There are often ladies, either pillion passengers or riders.)
Peter gave us an informal talk about what we would be doing. He then decided on the order we would ride. Peter would lead, I was second having never done group riding before, the chap behind me had done group riding but not with Peter, the rest were all repeats with Peter (that says something about the quality of his tours). When he came to the last man, he said, "Les will ride, well, where he rides".
We set off, shortly onto the M9, where Peter was obviously going fairly sedately, while he learned about our riding abilities, and we got into the swing of group riding. Then it was up onto nicer roads, the traffic getting less, the enjoyment factor rising.
For what passed as routine, each day we would stop at beauty spots and places of historic interest, breaks for refreshment in the morning and afternoon, and a lunch stop. Every time, Peter organised everything, taking all the hassle factor away from us. His local knowledge was amazing, and he knew many places off the beaten track I never would have found without a guide. He seemed to know everybody we met.
I soon found that Les was a bit of a character, knew Peter very well, was an excellent rider, and would often do his own thing, hanging back, passing and going ahead, doing little diversions. His riding ability meant that he never caused a problem, he could slip in and out of our line almost without me noticing, and was generally great fun.
Peter's riding was superb. Incredibly smooth, I later learned he had been on a police riding course, and it showed. My only criticism (if you could call it that) is that he rarely used his brakes, so there was no warning that he was slowing, so I had to use my brakes!
This was not a race around Scotland. The pace was relatively leisurely, speed limits in villages were strictly observed, and all riding was with care. Where roads were less interesting and there was nothing to see, the pace was adjusted accordingly. Always, Peter ensured that nobody got lost, and during periods of overtaking when the group inevitably got split up a bit, he would always make sure we were all there before he would turn off the road we were on.
The only time this went awry was an occasion when we turned off up a narrow road to the top of a hill, Les missed this turning, but no harm done, he went on towards a ferry we were to go on later. He 'phoned Peter while we were admiring the view, and we joined up later. As it was Les, no-one worried.
Many of the roads we travelled on were single lane, with many passing places. Peter would go ahead a little and by "body language" and gestures would get on-coming motorists to pull over and let us all by. He was brilliant at this. He even managed to get those we came up behind to pull over and let us pass.
One of the joys of these roads was that you could see round most bends, so you could really flow. Peter knew them like the back of his hand, and would pull us together as we approached hazards or junctions. He reduced worries to near zero, we could concentrate totally on enjoying the ride.
Peter was very happy to help when I was unsure about turning my bike on a narrow lane, he was pleased to do it for me. (I would much rather suffer the embarrassment of asking him to do it than the embarrassment of dropping my bike if I got it wrong.)
Every evening found everyone in a bar, where the day was discussed, stories and jokes were told, and copious quantities of alcohol were consumed (unfortunately not for me). It was during one of these sessions that we were fortunate enough to meet Peter's brother and mother, both great characters.
The only criticisms I could make was of the hotel we used for B&B before and after, it was adequate but not up to the standards of the others we stayed up. Peter apologized for this, but there was no local alternative.
Weather was OK, it did rain heavily for part of the first day, the rest ranged from overcast to sunny. Although many of the views were not at their best, what we could see was well worth the trip, and the riding was out of this world.
I shall be going on another of these tours as soon as I can.