In part one of the Tour De Forty adventure, our intrepid adventurers had made it to the spectacular village of Ullapool. Having enjoyed the scenery in the west of the Lake District and the route past Loch Ness, we certainly seemed to be winning. The weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the rest of the week. However, as we’re about to find out, the forecast for part two of Tour De Forty was very wrong!
Day 3 – Ullapool to Tain, via JoG
As morning broke in Ullapool, we awoke in our separate overnight accommodations with the expectation of three days of heavy rain. Anticipation of the journey around the top of the NC500 was mainly based on rumours. Tight single-track lanes, with broken surfaces and filled with campers, were the prospect for the route through to John O Groats.
The route for day three was to follow the NC500 strictly around the north Scottish coast, through to John O-Groats and down to Tain. A total of just 240 miles, but the slow going would mean at least 6 hours of time behind the wheel.
Fortunately, the weather forecast couldn’t have been more wrong. The early morning walk along the front in Ullapool was truly spectacular. A powerful rising sun and completely clear skies set the scene for the rest of the day. An actual summer’s day. However, there were other highlights of the day!
Joined by BX Royalty
Despite invitations being sent wide and far within friendhsip groups and the BX community, school holidays and my last minute planning hadn’t resulted in a huge turn out. Probably for the best. However, there was at least one member of the BX community that couldn’t resist a proper adventure.
After a little gentle persuasion, we awoke to find Matt F had come all the way from North Wales to join our trip around the coast. I’m still amazed he came through to Ullapool after work; serious commitment! Better still, after considerable time off the road, he’d manage to awake the BX and get it a new MOT. After a little lake-side fettling, we even got the HP belt sorted.
NC500 is simply breath taking
There’s no two ways about it; the scenery along the NC500 is pretty damned impressive. Okay, we got some rather unusual weather, which certainly helped, but man, what a view. These over-compressed pictures, viewed on a smartphone, simply do not give the route any justice.
Finding so many picture-perfect views in such a short time really made for a fabulous trip. I expected the third day of the Tour De Forty would be a hard slog through traffic and weather up to John O’Groats. I could not have been more wrong.
Sure, the infrequent road-blocking campervans were an occasional challenge, but really, the roads were empty for the most part. And while the roads may not be built for top speeds, they are excellent driving roads. Generally, you can press on without offending any speed limits.
The Citroen BX 16Valve seemed rather at home on the predominantly smooth roads. I’m not sure if this is a tourist encourager on the NC500, but there is a staggering lack of potholes in the North of Scotland. As a result, the driving seemed a little more relaxed than the daily commute or long-distance hack on motorways to car shows.
Bucket list ticking
And after 150 miles or so, we reached the check box I had been waiting for John-O-Groats. The primary mission of Tour De Forty was complete, and finally, I had made it to both ends of the UK. Is this the target for the next adventure, East to West?
A quick bite to eat and the obligatory photo, and we were back on our way. I managed to tick off a few boxes for my personal bucket list on the third day of the tour. After the NC500 and JOG, we managed to drop in at the Glenmorangie Distillery on the drive-through to Tain.
Having kept the BXClub Facebook Group aware of our progress, we even had some Scottish contingent join us in the evening. Alan rocked up in his impeccably well-presented red TZD. Yep, for a fleeting moment, Dornoch Firth’s south shore witnessed three road-going red Citroen BXs parked up together. And I failed to get a picture!
Actually, I failed to take any pictures in Tain at all! The Air BnB esc stopover was a lovely little cottage next to the train station. While the train line is still active, most of the station has been turned over to the Platform 1864 restaurant. Well worth a visit if you’re passing!
Day 4 – Tain to Dunbar
Day four was a much calmer affair than the preceding day. The 256-mile stretch started by deliberately avoiding the A9 and running through the Cairngorms National Park. Tiredness was starting to rule, so everything was just a little gentler paced. And the weather was just starting to turn.
The route through the Cairngorms was quite magical, and the early morning coffee stop at a cabin in the woods was a welcome if unplanned, discovery. While it may have looked like something from a 70’s horror film, the cakes were spectacular.
Eventually, though, there was no avoiding it, and somewhere around Gleneagles, the A9 was joined for a little faster-paced travel. By joining the A9 and taking the Clackmannanshire Bridge, we could avoid the M9 motorway around Stirling and Edinburgh.
A Steamy Stop Off
After crossing the River Forth, we continued to follow the shadow of the M9 on some local roads. Very quickly, it started to feel like a huge mistake. The industrialisation around Grangemouth had turned the ‘main road’ into a tedious slog.
Eventually, the monotony of driving from roundabout to roundabout around Grangemouth got the better of me. As a break, we headed to Bo’ness, aiming for a local motor museum. However, before we got to the motor museum, which seemed to be the private collection of an undertaker, we found the Museum of Scottish Railways. And I am so glad we did!
I’m not a steam-head, but I enjoy a bit of industrial heritage, and the museum at Bo-Ness has it all. I can’t think of another steam museum that is so well presented. The place is huge, from watching engines slowly being returned to steam, to walking around the rolling stock. I’ve never been so up close and personal with the exhibits. I’m unlikely to ever stand on a Royal Mail train again!
Overnight in Dunbar
Back on the road again, and it was now a quick run to our overnight stop in Dunbar. Given that overnight stops were based on accommodation costs and distance between stops, we did really well. Dunbar was another example of a place I had no prior knowledge of, but it was a great place to wander around.
Another picture postcard village, with an active harbour looking out onto the North Sea. It’s a pleasant place with the strangest hotel I’ve ever visited. I can’t think of any others where I’ve had to go up and down so many sets of stairs to get to a first-floor room!
Day 5 – Dunbar to Blighty
Day five and the final day of the Tour De Forty would see us returning to blighty. Cameras and storage cards filled, memories made and mileage covered. Staying within the no motorway rule became more and more of a challenge the closer we got to home.
By the morning, the weather was still holding, and we discovered the hotel with a crazy layout had an upside. The breakfast was delicious, just what was needed to help us along on the drive home.
Just before 9 am, the usual dawn chorus of a clatter of engines began. And being as we were, so close to the border, we had crossed into England by a little after 9 am. This left me with mixed emotions. A definitive ‘end’ to the adventure, being now on familiar roads, mixed with the expectation of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.
Touring the North East
The potential joys of reaching Yorkshire were soon forgotten. Reaching the more significant, busier and more potholed-ridden roads of England was quite a disappointment compared to the previous day’s drive. Despite the vast distance covered around the often tiny roads of Scotland, it was on the fifth day in England, that we hit severe congestion.
While getting there may have been a crawl, the Northumberland Coast still had some spectacular views. Looking out to the North Sea on a relatively choppy day eased the boredom when the A1 traffic stopped at a significant road traffic accident. Eventually, we made it to the outskirts of Newcastle, and for the first time, I could have a good look at the Angel of the North.
Comfort in Yorkshire and Lancashire
Past Newcastle, I was on all too familiar roads and some of my favourite vistas in the country. Be it on the A69 or the A66, I’ve long enjoyed transitioning from Yorkshire to Lancashire.
For reasons I can not explain, but perhaps a mistake in sat nav programming, our lunch break arrived at Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate. Coincidentally, this was another ‘bucket list’ tick box for me, having often visited the town but never had the means or time to stop for afternoon tea!
From Bettys, we took the most contrived route imaginable. Much slower, and often unnecessary speed limits, did nothing for invigoration. Coupled with this was a steady stream of doddering drivers. Many twists and turns in the route were to avoid the slow and sometimes dangerous pace.
The last leg of Tour De Forty
The great crossing from Yorkshire back to Lancashire continued on some more familiar roads and travelling through Ilkley towards Burnley. Eventually, though, my tolerance for A and B roads ebbed away, and knowing the distance from Rawtenstall to home in minutes, I finally caved. Strangely, for a Friday evening, the Manchester Autobahn was relatively quiet, and we were back in sunny Cheshire in no time at all.
Although quite a while has passed since I last took my Citroen BX on a long road trip, 1300 miles in all, the car seemed awfully familiar. After 22 years of driving BX’s, I should be used to the experience by now. However, be it on short or, in this case, long journeys, the BX 16Valve always impresses me with how well it can keep up with modern traffic and how fun it is to drive. And despite my worst fears and best planning, there were no dramas, no significant failures and very little liquid lost.
Now, I can only think of when the next long-range adventure will be!