THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY

THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY

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
again.

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

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Comments
  • 4/29/2008 7:17 AM Outlaw Dave wrote:
    Great reading Tony – I’ve only ever been to Scotland to watch, but your brief account of those years certainly bring back memories – I still remember standing at Fersit in 1992 with horizontal rain, bitterly cold, waiting for Steve Fracy to arrive – he was cold and ready to quit – luckily I had a hip flask filled with Crown Royal, and that warmed his insides enough to press on. ( He had hit a car earlier in the day)
    Reply to this
  • 5/23/2008 4:21 AM Dick Clears wrote:
    Tony you old —, glad to have found you. Recently back from watching the pre 65. Most of the old troops are still around and still wondering what happened to you. My suggestion that you had succumbed to a surfeit of alcohol was very wrong!as you are obviously doing extreemly well in all departments. Thoroughly enjoyed your slick and professional website. A long way from the six of us staying in the council house in Corpach! Must take issue with the reason for not winning the John Bull trophy in 74. It was because your key rider had left the R.A.F. in Dec 73. Technically I suppose I could have been described as retired, but NEVER broken down. Pleased to see you are active in both building smart looking bikes and riding testing looking sections, I’m rather envious!
    I’m still managing the occasional succesful ride in easy pre 65 events on a rather special lightweight 350 Matchless which I have built from scratch. Some mutterings from the purists, but I don’t win that much, problems with arthritis. Did get in the comics last year as “70 year old celebrates birthday and 50 years of trials by winning event” They did’nt add it was the pre 65 class and few riders, but it looked good.
    Jon Tye has ridden his last pre 65 Scottish this year. Sadly he retired on the first day, bike troubles on Blackwater, and not too well. Sad also because he featured on the cover of the programme and inside, reminiscencing on winning the 150cc cup 50 years earlier and happenings since. Also on a sad note Ticker Ted Thompson is no longer with us,having died of a sudden heart attack last year.
    Ted Heather and Jack Knoops are begining to compile a contact list of former RAF riders, perhaps you would like to be included?
    I would be very pleased if you would make contact with me as I would dearly love to catch up with news, bikes, and the secret to sucess!
    With best regards Dick.
    Reply to this
  • 3/31/2010 2:13 PM Martin Widman wrote:
    Tony. I was browsing the Internet tonight since my night out at Kings Lynn speedway supporting my lad was rained off(beautiful English weather again),and came across your wonderful website. Thought it was a bit self centered being all about you!!!! but then the more I looked, the more I unearthed a wealth of memories and faces from the past, regretably some no longer with us.
    Not sure how you are doing over in the USA since I haven’t quite unravelled the story but hope that you are keeping well. From the pictures you don’t look to be doing too badly.
    One delighful story that I had forgotten was when you shortened the wheelbase on your MAR in the SSDT to make it turn quicker, soldiering on for the rest of the week, valiantly keeping the team intact only to be let down on the 5th day.
    Stay well and keep the website going. I still have hours of reading left!!!
    Reply to this
  • 1/21/2011 4:39 PM Nadine wrote:
    Oh my goodness, I was searching the internet for photos of my Step_dad when he was in the White Helmets & I just can’t believe I’ve found this site. Ted Thompson was my Step Dad. It’s wonderful to see these photos of him, thank you so much.
    Reply to this

    1. 1/21/2011 5:38 PM Tony Down wrote:
      Nadine,
      I was very sorry to hear of your step dad’s death. Ted was one of my best motorcycling friends in the RAF, and although I could normally just beat him at trials he was much better than me in the enduro events. We always shared a room when we were on the big events and I’m sure you will find several pictures of him in any of my Scottish Six Days articles or our many visits to Jersey and Guernsey.

      Ted was a great friend of mine especially when he was a Chief Tech at RAF Waddington on Vulcans and I was flying Phantoms over at RAF Coningsby.

      I hope you enjoy the other stories, he was a great rider and I too have many fond memories of him.

      Best regards

      Tony
      Reply to this

  • 1/22/2011 10:39 AM adrian thompson wrote:
    great find dene – although “white helmets” was a swear word to dad. they were either the army or navys display team – the raf motorcycle display teams arch enemies when it came to the royal tournament as they would never have both crews in the same tournament lol
    still not seen any more vids other than the one on youtube though. there must be more out there somewhere!
    Reply to this
  • 1/23/2011 6:48 AM carole thompson wrote:
    Hi Tony, like my daughter Nadine and step son Adrian.. I have really enjoyed seeing these photos and reading your stories…. Ted would have loved to have seen this and his stories were endless….. many many happy memories.. x
    Reply to this
  • 1/23/2011 12:17 PM Nadine wrote:
    Oops- sorry for blaspheming Ted… you know what I meant! xx
    Reply to this
  • 5/28/2012 2:56 PM Martin Widman wrote:
    Tony,
    I have been rumaging round the house trying to find some photos of my work and came across a whole stack of press cuttings. I have scanned a couple and in time will scan some more for you. If you can send me your email address I will send them to you. Nothing incriminating!!
    Hope that all is well in the States and I just love the website but the problem is that I don’t have enough time to read it all. Well not yet. Next year maybe seeing as I am being made redundant when the airline closes in December.
    Martin
    Reply to this
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