Hugh Francis Anderson embarks on a 1,000-mile motorcycle rally from the north of Scotland to the Cornish coast
A ray of sunlight breaks through the heavy clouds, moisture hangs in the air, and the raucous sound of gurgling motorcycle engines reverberates all around. I’m at the Castle of Mey, Scotland, on the start line of the inaugural The Great Mile rally.
Founded by cousins Robert Nightingale and Jonny Cazzolla, who own the motorcycle-inspired luggage and apparel brand Malle London, The Great Mile was created to be the ultimate motorcycle adventure. “I was on a research trip in Mongolia last year with my wife, where we joined part of a 1,000-kilometre horse race,” says Nightingale. “It was brutal; the excitement, camaraderie and determination was contagious, and I thought, ‘imagine this for motorcycles’.” And lo, The Great Mile was born.
As the flag drops on the first stage of this four-day adventure, so too does the rain. Avid motorcyclists, 100 of them, riding an array of vintage and custom motorcycles, hastily throw on their waterproofs and begin the long 350-mile ride through the Scottish Highlands. It’s wet, it’s cold, but it’s more beautiful than we could have imagined.
The 1,200cc café-racer Harley-Davidson Sportster that I’m riding purrs happily beneath me as we travel along part of the infamous North Coast 500 route, before turning south along Loch Ness and into Glencoe for the night. The rain eases off as evening approaches, and we all gladly consume a hearty meal before bedding down in tipis erected under pine trees.
The murmuring of my fellow riding comrades wakes me early on the second day, and the sun splayed on our tent in a welcome sight. Jumping aboard our steeds once again, we hammer on through the Lake District, where Windermere and Coniston glisten in the sporadic sunshine, and the summer greens of the flora around hint at their imminent metamorphosis. With only basic directions on our route cards, we get lost many times, but the smile never leaves our faces, a wondrous sense of adventure remaining throughout.
Another early morning, another bright day. The weather is in our favour once again, and we’re all glad about it. The third stage, a staggering 12-hour ride, brought us hard through Snowdonia and deep into the Brecon Beacons, and we exhaustedly dragged our bodies to our tents, knowing that the following day would be our last.
The third stage, a staggering 12-hour ride, brought us hard through Snowdonia and deep into the Brecon Beacons
Naturally, the heavens did not stay on our side, and thunderous rain roused us early on the final morning and drenched us all within seconds. Few things are as uncomfortable as riding a motorcycle through the pouring rain, and remaining sodden for the entire day. This being the last day, however, an excitable energy almost wiped the rain from thought. And so we rode stubbornly into the driving rain, through Exmoor and Dartmoor, and down to The Lizard, where the sun finally appeared, as if in appreciation of our exploratory feat.
The Great Mile is an ode to the can-do attitude of Britons. Come rain or shine, the steadfast determination to ride across the country on machines that are far more suited to the streets of London than the wilds of the British Isles, is, for me at least, a joyous celebration of man, machine and adventure.