MEMORIES OF THE SCOTTISH
From time to time as I sit and gaze at the “new” vintage trials bikes that are rapidly overrunning
the house, the mind returns to those halcyon days… 8 rides… 8 finishes… the ultimate Trial… The
Scottish Six Days.
Return now with the author and let’s see it as it was…
Jokingly advertised as “A Sporting Holiday in the Highlands”… always run the first week of May,
300 riders and usually about 150-180 finishers…yes, a pretty high attrition rate… but, then it was
a “reliability trial”.
My first Scottish was the 1970, no comments on age please! Drive 650 miles up to Edinburgh,
a few beers in the clubhouse on arrival and try and understand what whisky swilling gentleman
is saying. “Gang awaw doon the burn laddie”, etc. and no, Scottish Whisky doesn’t have an “e” in it,
that’s only Jack Daniels.
Sunday morning, the check in, and lots of feverish activity with people putting on new tires, chains
and collecting handfuls of plugs and other goodies… Not forgetting all those stickers. Finally the
time comes and your bike is subjected to dabs of mysterious colored paint on all of its vital parts
and then your riding number is scratched into the drying fluid. Your aim, I’m told, is to somehow
get some of this paint… even if it’s only on your finger, because back in the support truck we have
every little tin of aircraft modeling paint and the support crew will spend hours color matching just
in case we need to change a marked item. Cheating? NO, this is Gamesmanship!
Monday morning, 2 riders leave every minute on the 200 mile run to Fort William. 45 miles of public
highway to the first group of sections. Spend too much time looking at this riverbed with a few
rocks in it trying to find a problem… No, there isn’t one, as these sections are traditional dating
back to the 1930’s! So, clean all those and on we go, next group easy too, and then with 100 +
miles gone we are off the roads and onto the moors in Glencoe. 8 more sections in a set of 4,
2 and 2, continuous style, with the little pink sign which says “finish of hill” at the end of the last
one and on to the lunch stop. I’m riding with last year’s winner, Bill Wilkinson, on the Greeves,
although he did call it a foooking fish pot or something like that when he got a 5 on one that I
dabbed. (Ed note: very difficult to understand what Yorkshiremen say at the best of times).
Well I’m pretty pleased because I’ve only lost 7! Well of course this doesn’t last long as the
first BIG section after lunch is the notorious PIPELINE… And now with 8 rides under my belt I can
say I have only seen the top of it twice, once with a centipede 3, and once with a miraculous dab
and using a spectator for traction. Today park the bike, hand in the time card to the checker. 45
minutes to wait, stumble up the hill amid Trials Greats from around the world…. But mainly British
in those days! Usual questions, 2nd or 3rd? And what about that step? My time comes, set off in
REHEAT in third and through section 1 of the 3. Looking upward through an unbelievable crowd
lined climb I hit yet another rock, get airborne and land minus chain in more rocks 2 feet from the
start of section 2! Choice expletives later, and dragging new Montesa downhill with chain broken
and jammed in everything it could find, I arrive back at the start of section 1. Well no sweat, I
have a new chain under the bash plate and I’m carrying more tools than Sears! Forget the link,
the chain is twisted, have to take the wheel out, and now the engine cover off, not forgetting
the bash plate, and finally with bits of chain everywhere and a now worn out chain breaker
I’m ready to go again. Flat in third…. Onward and upward, through 1 again (don’t remember
any of this!) into 2 and where did all these rocks come from? Ooooops, that’s 1 lost, good
recovery, Oh, oh! there goes another (that’s a 3 in those days
feet everywhere, still in third
and running out of speed and ideas the engine dies 18 inches from “section three begins” card…
NOT NOW! I’m not doing this again! Reverse hands on the bars, squeeze in clutch and carry the
Mother into section 3 for a well earned 5! (Ed note: you have to get into the section or you are
Physically drained and feeling pretty humble it’s off across the moors… bottomless bogs crisscrossed
with rivers (burns) and huge boulders and some smaller ones hidden in the grass. The grass
comes in 3 colors, Yellow, Green, and Lime Green and unless you know which color to ride on you
are in the proverbial S***!
Running late, find another group of sections and career through them dabbing at random, and on
across the 30 miles of nothing. Gulooop! In to the handlebars!! Well now we know Lime Green
is not good! 30 minutes later having dragged bike out spoke by spoke and trying without much
luck to ride this slippery bar of soap a new noise comes into play, Woiink, Woiink, Woiink???
Joy of joys, the left swinging arm bolt has fallen out!! Advanced problem solving for beginners…
Let’s jam a screwdriver in the hole and use the handle as the footrest… Off we go again, and in
the fading light there in the distance is a TRACK, thank you Lord, thank you.
Now with the Track just above me only this little whitewater river to cross… Pop, pop, pop, pop…
Gerbang! The front wheel nudges a rock which rolls downstream and I ride into the hole vacated
by the rock… So near and yet so far! As you watch your hands and handlebars slip gracefully
under the surface and hear the Buuuurrr of the engine sucking in ice cold water you wonder if
your earlier praise to the Almighty wasn’t just a shade premature?
With full boots once more the secondhand Montesa is hauled to safety and sat on it’s bars while
the water is pumped through the plughole. Eventually in the gloom of nightfall it fires into life
and finally runs. It’s dark, I’m late, and with no brakes at speeds close to 70 mph I arrive in
Fort William for the last section “Town Hall Brae”… 2 flint walls and a cart track in the middle…
no time to look, over the sidewalk and gone… where now? Spectators pointing, I slide into the
finish 45 minutes late, covered in mud, cut, bruised, and my new bike ready for the scrap yard…
and just think 5 more days of this to come! Are we having fun yet?
Many, many, beers later DAY 2 comes along, 15 riders unaccounted for from yesterday, still out
on “that” moor we think, a few seized going too fast on the road sections, some who couldn’t
change a tube and one poor soul who hit a COW in Fort William high street en-route to the last
section . Sympathetic organizers have cancelled the afternoon time portion due to multiple
protests. Some non-starters this morning, either it’s too much or they are sleeping in. Into
Parc Ferme and with the 15 minutes available let’s rebuild a Montesa!
Off we go again back to Kinlochleven, and very soon we leave the relative safety of the public
highway and we are going uphill. Needle sharp pieces of granite everywhere and we pass
several unlucky souls with their wheels out. First group, Grey Mare’s Ridge, which isn’t too bad.
Onward and upward! Eventually all good things come to an end and now its time to come back
down. The joys of Loch Eild Path, a steep path strewn with rubble, and 2500 feet back down to
the town again. Back up over the mountain passing Pipeline, and on to Altnafeadh which again
goes fairly well. On the road again and back to Kinlochleven again, only this time the route takes
us to the dreaded Blackwater. Some sections up a path by a ravine, and some netting in the
trees to catch the stuck throttle men and their wayward machines. Into the Valley of Death rode
the 600! Mile after mile of that bottomless bog and no idea of where you are going or even if you
are going, as it all looks the same and as you gain the summit of any crest you get the impression
you have ridden round in a giant circle. Some hours later a track appears and then a ROAD! A
little rest at 50 mph on the way to 4 sections at the bottom of Ben Nevis, and at last a saunter
into Fort William to tackle Town Hall Brae again. Oh! That’s what it looks like in daylight and the
markers have changed. Finally it’s over and back to the finish where, scores, horror stories, and
moments of brilliance are relived for the adoring public. Now it’s time for some serious drinking!!
During the course of the evening I meet an “older lady” who has just won a fortune on the Football
Pools who insists on feeding me beers and malt beverages all night.
Day 3, the morning was an alcoholic blur, but with Loch Eild Path (15 sections) and Martium
(which I rode well) behind us, time to tackle Rannoch Moor. 1970 was not a good year as it
was a warm spring, so most of the snow had melted and was now down in the valley as run-off.
Onto the moor and past the checker recording your entry to Hell, a few miles in, a group of
“new machines”… Yes, these are the “works Christmas trees” for anyone needing that spare.
Find our Royal Air Force Landrover, refuel, cup of coffee and away on 30 miles of the deepest,
blackest peat bog imaginable. Over crests, gazing at endless mud and water, try and find a line,
any line, that will keep you out of trouble. The body is saying sit down, take a rest, the mind is
saying stand up you fool… hands hurt like hell, no gloves in those days! Shoulders feel like
someone has hit you with a pickaxe, passing people in up to the tank, can’t stop, more riders
out of fuel! Cooked plugs, and other disasters. Finally there is the welcome sight of the Landrover.
Arrive like the creature from the black lagoon, towel down, coffee, smoke and fuel.
Later in the bar I’m looking at my hands, black palms from the rubber, calluses the size of dimes,
and red streaks running back to the center from the crystallized blood underneath, are we still
having fun? 3 days and nearly 600 miles gone, feeling pretty sorry for myself thinking of all the
things I did wrong and just how badly I had ridden… I could have retired at that point! Well a
few beers later, following Doctor’s advice of “drink heavily”, it’s time for the film show of previous
years’ events. Laugh!! I thought I was going to die, watching others in all the same predicaments
I had been in!
Day 4 “The Road to the Isles”, only 110 miles today and mainly on the road, not many people or
bikes at the start as 33 are still on Rannoch, having spent the night there in some bog. Lots of
famous sections today and in truth not that difficult, “Ravine” “The Devil’s Staircase”, “Camp”,
and “Bay Hill”… but then day 4 is a “traditional” day and by previous standards a rest day! Returning
in daylight Town Hall Brae again! Results show my rival in the Services competition has retired so
things are looking up!
Day 5, only about 150 of us left, so nothing flashy today, no riding it like you stole it, only 2 days to
go. First group, Laggan Locks, 8 sections in groups of 4. Nice round 12 inch boulders in a 20 foot
wide gully. Like giant ball bearings on a sheet of glass, walk the first group see the line and meet
older lady again offering yet more warm beer… breakfast of champions! Boy your mouth sure runs
away when you are up late drinking!! Back on the bike and off we go around the first blind corner,
but the rocks have all rolled the other way so the line is on the left now… great! Through the last
group in centipede style and, Oh No! Here she is again with another beer! A lot of riding to the
lunch check and then Bradileig, or ‘Break a Leg’ as we called it, for 8 horrors of the rock kind. Now
back into the moors again, follow the color code and stay out of trouble, and eventually find the
Mamore Road (road? you must be joking!) Off the so called ‘road’ and across the burn, to the
start of Callich. What have we here? 8 delights up a 2000 foot mountain along a goat track of
loose rubble with hairpin bends.
By now the body is saying I quit, you are on your own. Onward and upward once again, too difficult
to walk so lets just ride, and up we go collecting dabs and threes and maybe even a clean but 1000
miles of this is taking its toll. Pass some who have collapsed over the bars struggling for air and
others lying in the heather with little interest in the proceedings. Observers waving “come on” while
you gaze through the red mist as the sweat dribbles into your eyes. Finally the pink sign says it’s
all over, and just follow the route to the top. Up here you can see Kinlochleven way below, and
the Loch leading all the way back to Fort William. Bouncing along the ridge taking in the view, I
come upon a giant DUNLOP sign pointing 45 degrees down to the valley below. What are those
little ants? No, they are riders! Well here goes, 2nd gear, bum well back, point her straight down,
arms flexed… gerding ding ding, crap brakes, thank God for the heather. See others in peripheral
vision, some riding, some walking and some detached just rolling alongside errant machines. At last,
back on the joke Mamore road to Callart, which I seemed to ride quite well. Off the needle sharp
granite of the roman road and onto the tarmac leading the back way into Fort William. The road
has some huge dips and without even trying I’m getting airborne on some of them, but not as high
as one Southern Center rider who landed smack on the windshield of Ma & Pa Kettle, leaving an
imprint of his footrests on their roof! You have to ask yourself if you set off down a narrow country
lane in deepest Scotland and people keep flying at you head on at breakneck speeds every 20
seconds, then maybe, just maybe, you should be somewhere else? Town Hall Brae for the 4th time
of the week and back to the finish. I have a good day, so follow the Doctor’s advice!
Day 6… just a few simple sections and then the long ride back to Edinburgh to the finish. Sounds
easy? Not if you are following the “Doctor” At 0730 screaming team Manager arrives to find me in
the dining room, still in lounge suit, with a large glass of malt, putting the World to right. 15 minutes
to start time! This does not look good! Collect bike in drunken haze and do no work on bike,
confident that if it’s got this far then it will last one more day. Mustard keen spectator says my
chain is slack, so lean over saddle to check… ERROR! Fall headlong in parking lot with bike on
top of me, can’t work out how to get up, as I’m looking through the spokes of the back wheel.
Oh God, here comes that woman again!
Try to remember how to ride, first sections Pipeline (avid readers will recall my earlier disaster)…
Here we go, Mister Floppy bouncing off everything, but too tired and/or drunk to care! Feet
somehow welded to the rests, through 1 into 2, bounce, bounce! Ooops, bounce again, S***!
I’m in section 3! Slowing down, too much grip from the rear wheel, the bike enters a near vertical
wheelie, and pivots at 90 degrees across the hill! A poor soul tries to protect himself from the
menacing front wheel, which he grabs as he falls backward, so I ride over him, take a dab on
some part of his anatomy, and exit the section to a round of applause!
Over the Mountain and a few more sections, which only cost me a couple of threes and then I’m
following this rocky track ever upward, just bouncing and staring at the front wheel when I see
a PINK thing! Oh S***!, it says finish of hill!?? What Hill? Brilliant!
Park the wreck, trudge back down the hill, consult knowledgeable checkers one by one, with
shaggy dog story… “Excuse me Sir, I’m number 85, have I been through your section?” “Yes”,
says one, “You are the only clean we have had. Everybody else is coming in tight on the rock
step, but you went very wide right on the edge where the big drop is”. “What big drop?!” I ask.
Oh, JEEESUS! “I did WHAT?” …well, so endeth Day 6. Now, it’s 70 miles on the road to Edinburgh,
and its mind over matter as you try to ignore all the noises from the heap… Gerding, ding ding,
woink, woink, woink as the no longer round wheel keeps hitting the swinging arm, and the fender
stays are looking pretty wonky too! 2000 nuts, bolts, and rivets loosely assembled in Spain and
tested to destruction in Scotland.
At the end the best ride of the day was Malcolm Rathmell on 3, and the Winner was Mick Andrews.
Yours truly lost only 7, thanks to sponsors “Johnny Walker” and “Mc’Ewans Lager”. So the first
Scottish and I walk away with the R.A. Castle Trophy and I’m also sent to collect the Services
Team Prize, “The John Bull Cup”.
Hope you enjoyed this story of yesteryear and if so, there are 7 others and 2 ISDTs as well.
Relish your 5 in the way it was achieved!
TONY DOWN (A.M. Down)