THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY
Let me tell you a story………
For some its the 4th of July, Bastille day, Guy Fawkes, Cinco de Mayo, or in the “Trialsrider’s”
bible it’s The First Week of May. As they say “If I have to explain you won’t understand” I refer
of course to the once advertized “Sporting Holiday in the Highlands” which it indeed was for
many years when I rode my “8” back in the 70’s,…… the one and only, Scottish Six Days.
All ready to go, stickers everywhere, the start of the 1975 SSDT
With the prospect (fingers crossed) of just possibly going back for the 2009 Pre 65 my mind is
already racing with memories of all the famous sections I once rode that, for the main, are now
Scottish folklore. The mind fills with all the admin details that had to be done and finally checked
in the last 3 weeks leading up to the trial. Some of the planning had taken place in the previous
year’s aftermath wrap up as only a fool makes the same mistake twice.
Clearly the “first” go is a mind opener as no amount of breifing and tales of the moors can
realistically prepare you for what is to come, of course it will help……. but the only way is that
VERY personal experience with you and the Highlands.
My first year was 1970 and I’m on the Montesa and I’ve been good and followed all the advice.
Spare cables, tubes in my bag, spare coil mounted on the frame, lever blade on the rear
downtube and bicycle pump on one of the engine downtubes to pump up between the sections
and for the roadwork. I’ve even managed to get a spare chain under the bash plate, and a
length of petrol pipe through the bars to do some syphoning if needed.
Like a child I’m taken round the Cattle Market collecting bits and being introduced. Tyres from
Dunlop, box of plugs from Champion, racing chain in the purple box from Renold and some tins
of spare links. Duckhams for every oil and grease you could think of and a fistfull of stickers
from all our sponsors. The RAF has very little to do as all our bikes are ready and we watch the
mayhem of tyre fitting and almost total rebuilds going on while others struggle to fit number
plates and then paint those famous yellow numbers.
Saturday and Sunday nights at the Edinburgh Clubhouse and a lot of smiling as you tried to
understand what people were saying…..perhaps Hadrian had it right after all?
The Baptism of Fire, Pipeline 1970
Monday morning and we pack up at RAF Turnhouse where we are staying and off to the start.
All nerves and fingers , don’t screw up and follow the route without getting lost in town and at
last here we are on the Forth road bridge so stick with it. The morning goes well and then
Pipeline for a mega disaster! Then bad to worse, up to the tank in a bog, flooded engine in a
river, near crashes with no brakes in the dark but I made it! The fun of seeing those Castrol
films and the drinking all night socials on the staircase of the Highlander stand out in the
memory. The game plan was half a pint a section, and on the first year I think I knocked up
12 hours sleep for the six days until we completed Blackford Hill on Saturday afternoon. What
a week! The highlight was the dab and applause on Pipeline when I rode over a spectator and
escaped with just 1 point lost.
1971 and I’m back again on another Montesa with the small hubs. For whatever reason I don’t
have much recall of this event and I think it too was another drunken haze. However I was
better prepared and don’t remember making the same mistakes and this time anything that
could unscrew or undo was drilled and wirelocked! Only memories of this year was a poor soul
who hit a cow in Fort William highstreet and another guy who got the throttle stuck as he
went into the first turn on the Devil’s Staircase. The bike shot off the cliff and landed in the road
below somehow missing all the cars and people but it did break the frame! As we said at the
time you bought it in “Kit Form” so what was the problem?
I even look like I know what I’m doing! 1972 on the Bultaco
1972 and we managed to get accommodation in the Highlander and I’m on that lovely 1972
slimline Bultaco which seemed just perfect for Scotland. I actually looked like I knew what I was
doing and had a very easy incident free ride and wrapped up my 3 in a row wins of the
RA Castle Trophy to go with the RAF’s 3 consecutive wins of the John Bull which we all shared
for 4 months each. I do remember accosting the Manager of the Highlander one evening and
giving him a piece of my mind while under the influence of some local libations. I believe I told
him I expected a personal early morning call and tea in bed with my morning paper. Imagine
my surprize when there was a knock on my door and a maid tells me it’s 7 o’clock and puts
down a silver service on the other bedside table. I’m lying there thinking how nice and smiling
to myself so I roll over, put some milk in the cup and then pour the tea. I can only think that
after about 600 miles on the moors and 2 hours in bed I got a cramp as I pressed down hard
on the cup and the entire contents of the tray took off in a giant arc coming down in the middle
of the bed. I can visulize those sugar cubes flying through the air like an expert juggler and
then with bleary eyes watching them disolve in the hot mess which was once my bed.
1973 and the year of massive overseas entries and very annoyingly I get my entry returned
marked oversubscribed! Now that I find less than acceptable as I can neither defend my trophy,
nor can we enter a team in the services team competition so 2 out of the 13 named trophies
will not be competed for this year. Something of a managerial oversight here I think!
The Pre-Production 1974 TY250A
1974 and this year I’m in charge having taken over as the Secretary of the Royal Air Force
Motor Sports Association. I’m riding a pre production TY 250A Yamaha and this is flewn in
specially from Japan. It gets picked up at Heathrow by Brian Leask of Huskie fame and is
delivered late at night to me at RAF Finningley in Doncaster Yorks. The robotic welder didn’t
manage to weld the rear downtubes from the seat to the lower frame so RAF workshops have
to do the work.
Ted Thompson on the SM Hi-Boy Bultaco
The 1974 Team
This year I have applied for a “grant” from military funds and also tried to get more sponsorship.
We look a little better with Blue/White TT leathers, a lightweight paddock jacket and some free
helmets as this was the first year when the helmet law came in. Not the best helmets but they
were free. I do remember a little old lady who served me those wonderful Mallaig kippers all
week. She must be long gone by now as she was over 60 then and she only ever served
breakfast, wish I could remember her name.
Ben Nevis 1974
I had a trouble free ride but lost out on the RA Castle to my protege Martin Widman and I can’t
remember why we didn’t win the team trophy but I think Dick Clears broke down and retired.
Saturday on the way back to Edinburgh. I stopped and washed the bike and had a lot of trouble
with the officials at Blackford Hill who were convinced I hadn’t ridden the event!
All Ossa mounted. The Last Edinburgh Start 1976
1975 and the last start at the Cattle Market. We are all on Ossas and are fully equipped with
a large support team to deal with about 40+ riders and all the factory Ossa teams. We have a
lot of support and some fantastic new Blue/White helmets from Griffon, even got Sidi boots and
the whole operation looks a lot more professional. Yours truly has a “moment” on Rannoch on
day one and shortens the wheelbase by 2 inches in an Evil Knievel jump over that “black hole”
on the track that didn’t come off! I did drag this badly handling machine around Scotland and
made it to the finish despite everything. What an experience that was! I was somewhat
dismayed when I got to the finish on Friday afternoon to my find my good friend Ted Thompson
holding a press conference telling all and sundry about his crash on Mamore Road. Well Ted
broke his arm and the team prize was gone and after his story was out “gamesmanship”
couldn’t be used! A bit sad to ride 5 days and not be able to get through the last ride back to
Edinburgh. ……. and I could have retired on Monday and spent 5 days drinking!
Edramucky 1975, about 40 mins before the major CRASH!
As Martin Lampkin told me one year on the staircase at the Highlander after I asked him why
he had stopped on the Forth Road Bridge “Eee, gotter seize ‘ker ooup int first m’ing, thent
p*** ont motor, ant if ‘ker frees off thent ‘ker woount seize agin!….. and if ‘ker woount then
f*** it! means some good suppin, aint nay point int ridin 5 ‘king days oop here and hav
f***** quit ont Satday”……….. and there we have it straight from the factory riders manual
of how to win and go on to be World Champion!…… THOSE WERE THE DAYS !
1976 the first year that the trial starts and finishes in Fort William. The RAF is fielding 2 full
teams, all Ossa mounted, this year and are very determined after the unlucky 1974 and 1975
events. Martin, Ted and myself make up the A team and some of the lesser lights are getting
their first look at the SSDT in the B Team. More money is required this year with the extra 3
nights accommodation in Fort William as in previous years we had always stayed at RAF
Turnhouse just outside Edinburgh. One piece suits are all the rage in a Blue/Black colour
scheme and some lighter pale blue suits for the warmer days, all our other sponsors are still
on board but we are back to rubber wellies as the Sidi boots let the water in.
1976 at Edramucky in the one piece suit and rubber wellies
At the start there is an American woman doing handstands and headstands on her TY175.
I nearly goofed here as she was riding close to me, and nearly offered to show her the way
across the moors. I’m glad I said nothing as it was all I could do to keep up with her! Debbie
Evans was to lady, now married to Lane Leavitt and currently on the mend after a “stunt” that
went horribly wrong last November. No major incidents this year, and we win the John Bull
1977 and now I’m on the Suzuki by Beamish. Looked fantastic but in reality was an evil
handling little beast and didn’t like Scotland or the rocks. However, the trial is now getting
harder and harder and the running scores reflect this but we press on and take the John Bull
for a second year.
A warm day and cotton SM Overalls on the Nasty Beamish
1978 and once again mounted on the Beamish Suzuki, all tin & tinsel ! Just one of those
machines that I never really got on with. This year the sections are incredibly hard and in some
cases verging on downright dangerous. It has become a “World Round” and is definitely not a
Clubman’s event. This is not “A Sporting Holiday in the Highlands” this is Endurance and not
really enjoyable. It reminded me of 6 x The Greensmith which was always the hardest UK National
and the last time I rode it there were only 56 entries! Any 3 was good in that event.
At night the bars are empty by 10, the results room is equally easy to walk round as everyone is
in bed trying to summon enough strength to get round the next day. There is also a big change
in attitude, very little laughter, hardly any drinking and seemingly bad manners out on the course.
You would often be ready to tackle a group of sections only to have some rider blast past you
and park his bike on the line within feet of the start card. These same riders appeared to be
carrying little with them in the way of spares or tools, and one could only assume they were
expecting others to donate to their cause if they got into trouble.
A regular result in 1978!
Well I finished just like all the other 7 and we were rewarded with the John Bull to complete
another hatrick. A very hard year with Martin Lampkin losing 99 and yours truly losing that many
on a daily basis.
So 8 rides and 8 finishes in the greatest trial there is. With the passing of time, the advent of
the modern monoshocker and the “pogo stick” jumping around, the Scottish will never be the
same. The small tanks and unstoppable abilities of the modern rider and machine have changed
the event for ever. The Pre 65 does offer a wonderful piece of nostalgia…… and thoughts here
what would a revamped 6 Days be like on the old bikes one year? No doubt too difficult and
too many heart attacks and medical problems from us old geriatrics, still just a thought.
If I’m lucky enough to get in next year in the Pre 65, then 2 days may be more than enough,
we will see.
Tony Down Still dreaming of Scotland
150 Articles find them all in ARCHIVES, and of course several on the SSDT