Saturday, 14 July 2012
I’ve just disembarked from the hold of the Northlink ferry MV Hrossey to a dry Aberdeen morning,
with a 400 mile ride ahead of me I feel absolutely shocking! My heart is palpitating from the effects of too much strong coffee taken to try and counter the effects of too much strong alcohol and too little sleep and just to ensure I enjoy the ride home even more my BMW is riding like a ‘nodding donkey’. Warped front brake discs combined with too much weight over the rear wheel create an almost uncontrollable oscillation through the handlebars every time I feather the front brake lever. This is going to be a fun journey but however hard the ride ahead may be it can’t detract from the five previous days at the Simmer Dim Rally on Shetland. This may be the 30th rally for the organising committee but for me it’s only my 3rd and each time it reaches and exceeds the high expectations set the previous year. The ride from Rotherham to Aberdeen on the previous Wednesday proved to be a fairly uneventful affair, joined once more by Lou on the pillion of my R1150GS and accompanied by her fiancé Ravey Davey on his Bandit we broke the journey a couple of times, for breakfast at Brough on the A66
and again for fuel just shy of Edinburgh on a dry and reasonably warm June morning.
From here we wobbled over the Forth Road Bridge and headed north on the A9 before once again my concerns over this countries abilities to conform to the official secrets act was brought into sharp focus as we pass a huge motorway sign giving clear and unequivocal instructions on the direction to ‘Scotland’s Secret Bunker’. (See 2012 Dragon Blog). Watching out for the numerous speed cameras on route we cruise around the 90mph mark and reach Aberdeen at 1.30pm, having only done the journey twice before I ignore all signs to the docks and harbour and head into the middle of Aberdeen’s shopping centre, somewhat relieved to find another ten or so motorcycles that have done the same. We slip through one way streets and back lanes before locating a petrol station and then down to the embarkation point for 2.15pm.
On parking up the bikes the first people we meet whilst waiting to board are Rafe, Steve and Dave from Goole (Wobbly Goolies),
this surprises me somewhat as I know their plan was to spend the week following ‘The Farmyard Party’ touring the west coast of Scotland before crossing to Shetland on the previous evenings sailing to extend their stay on the islands, apparently the Tuesday ferries sail via Orkney and leave an hour earlier than usual, I’m sure you can guess what happened?. Next to pull up are Jonnie and Matt from Rotherham followed by Dave from Alnwick and a load more familiar faces. With bikes loaded into the hold it’s time to get the party started and what better place than the pub 20 yards from the ship, or so I thought. Yet again the place appears under new management and has undergone yet another refurb, gone is the large Buddha that appeared at the door last year to be replaced by a queue of bikers a mile long.
One barman attempts to keep serving whilst also delivering food and collecting glasses, he fails miserably. After a 20 minute wait I order a couple of pints and wait to board whilst watching bikes arrive, there’s a classic Norton, Guzzis and a host of cruisers, trikes and sidecars, sports bikes and big and small trail bikes, even a Dnepr solo has made the trip.
By 5pm all the bikes are loaded and secured and we walk the gangplank to the MV Hjaltland,
it seems to take the steward quite by surprise when he gives out directions to our cabin, first to Davey then to Lou and then to myself, once I explain to him we are part of Rotherham Swingers circle on tour he seems satisfied.
Gear safely stowed in the cabin it’s up to our ‘usual’ seats at the bar.
With a lack of Simmer Dim Ale on board this year I am forced to drink a mixture of the Orkney Breweries ‘Red Macgregor’ beer and ‘Dragonhead’ stout later to be mixed with red wine and J.D. until a bottle of Buckfast Abbeys best fortified found its way to the table tastefully disguised as a poodle!
Bugger I’ve missed the restaurant, time for a sandwich and a pie. It was another great crossing, flat calm and clear as the mainland disappeared into the twilight.
New people were met and old acquaintances renewed, it was great to meet up once more with Mark, Ian and the rest of the lads from Stoke who we had met on Shetland some two years previous
and with Taps whom I have known since I first pottered round Rotherham on my Garelli Rekord
moped in the late 70’s.
Stories flowed along with the beer and then as the bar closed guitars came out and songs began. ‘Time for bed’ said Zebedee, well after I finish this last bottle of red.
We arrived in Lerwick on the morning of mid summers day
and on leaving the ships hold we were marshalled into a holding area just in front of the terminal whilst photographers from local press and TV crews jostled to get shots as our convey headed north for Vidlin.
With tents erected and rally badges obtained Lou, Davey and myself retraced our steps back to the harbour front at Lerwick for food and a phone signal.
Reports from home came in by text, ‘Are you flooded out’, ‘Did you make it through the water’, etc, etc. A quick phone call to Kathryn confirms the north of England is underwater and heavy rain is falling around Aberdeen. We look up to a clear sky and decide to make the most of the weather by heading south west to St Ninians Bay, one of my favourite spots so far discovered on these northern isles.
The next events somewhat soured my day but I guess there are times when you need a bit of a kick up the arse, it happened when we called to see the gentleman on the island who has provided me with numerous sheepskins on previous visits and I had promised to visit whenever I returned, he came to the door looking old and tired and explained sadly that he’d been very ill over the previous months and knew that his days of making sheepskins were over. He almost had me in tears as he apologised for ‘letting us down’ and how he was going to miss the people who had called at his little cottage over the decades to buy from him. With heavy heart I wished him well, remounted and rode north with thoughts of him now being replaced by thoughts of Terry. Those of you who read my blogs will know of Terry Scholes, I sold Terry his first BMW many years ago and have met him at a host of
rallies and events since.
Last year he had met up with us on Shetland and had won the award for oldest rider at the event however not long after his return from his extended trip north he was diagnosed with a spinal injury, possibly as a result of previous motorcycle accidents or just as a result of the aging process he doesn’t know. I had visited Terry just days before I departed for the rally and whilst he was as bright as a button it was sad to think the motorcycle he visited Shetland on just 12 months previous had now been sold and replaced by a mobility scooter. I choke up, then open the throttle and live a bit because you never know what’s round the bend. Back at the rally site we are just in time for the ‘Boot Game’ to commence, a drinking game of epic proportions.
Participants seated around a long table pass a number of alcohol filled glass boots amongst each other. Fines are issued by the ‘judges’ for drinking too little, drinking too much, talking, not talking, passing the boot the wrong way, etc, I think you get the picture, the winner being the last person standing. Now some may like their beer from a boot and some from a tankard but after my first Simmer Dim I have made it a tradition to drink from a jug so with beer vouchers in hand I make my way to the bar to see what delights the Valhalla Brewery have come up with this year. I’m not disappointed as along with the popular Simmer Dim, White Wife, Old Scatness and other ‘almighty ales from Britain’s northernmost Isle’ sits SDPR, oh dear!
A special brew the ‘Simmer Dim Pearl Rally’ ale at 6.2 % has been specially produced for the event so I’d best give it a go, for the next three days ! The evening passes in its usual blur, good beer, good music and great people, not a bad way to spend the longest day.
Friday again dawns dry if a little overcast and I turn down the organised ride out to Esha Ness on the North West coast of the Shetland mainland in favour of a trip to the top of the British Isles. Joined by Jonnie, Matt, Taps, Damien, Jayne and a few others we ride north to Toft, passing the Sullom Voe oil terminal before boarding a ferry to Yell.
£ 7.90 buys a return ticket for the two ferries needed to get us eventually to Unst. On Yell although the weather stays dry the wind these islands are famed for picks up again and this combined with the sheep grazing on the unfenced peat moorland makes for an entertaining ride, we all take it steady as you really don’t want to be getting relayed home from here.
Onwards and upwards we board our 2nd ferry at Gutcher and cross the Bluemull Sound to Belmont before stopping at the ‘famous bus stop’ for photos
before continuing to Haroldswick for a well deserved coffee break. Considering what I’d put myself through the previous evening it was very welcome.
None of us fancied the spectacular walk to the nature reserve at Herma Ness, that will have to wait for another year, so we take the smallest of paved tracks and meander the northern most coast for the next hour or so eventually settling to stop north of the village of Skaw and the most northerly dwelling house in the U.K. To try and put that into perspective we are now on the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska.
Skaw was the site of one of the ‘Chain Home Radar Network’ bases during the second world war which in turn led to the cold war instillation at Saxa Vord a mile or so west. It was an important site providing early warning cover of Russian incursions from the north, situated as it is on Unsts highest hill at 935 feet, it was here in the early 1960’s that the highest wind speed in the British Isles was recorded; it blew at 177mph just before the measuring equipment disappeared!
R.A.F Saxa Vord closed in 2006 and much development of the site has taken place since, what was once a base designed to advise us of our imminent nuclear destruction is now a mixture of holiday
development and a home for local artisan producers.
I indulge myself in a visit to the Foords Chocolate workshops in the old airbase offices before crossing the road to the now transformed site of the military garages and storage yard; yes it’s heaven, the new home of ‘The Valhalla Brewery’ itself.
At the door we are met by Sylvia Priest and introduced to her husband, co-owner and brewer of repute Sonny who insists on a guided tour of the buildings and processes. Sonny is one of those guys who can infect you with his enthusiasm he talks of the work he has done over the last few years transforming the sheds, how he has plans to open an upstairs bar and leisure area with hopes of holding the U.K’s most northerly beer festival there sometime in the future. He also whispers plans for a possible distillery! All this talk is making me thirsty so after a short detour to the most northerly post office, where we send the obligatory postcards home bearing the unique ‘puffin franking mark’,
we retrace the outward journey back to the rally site.
The evening is spent reflecting on the day, imbibing the products of Valhalla
and being treated to a visit from the local Viking Jarl squad which solidifies the spirit of the islands.
But there is always one
Can it get better, oh yes, great bands play topped with my favourite ‘The Revellers’, it’s time to dance. I open the tent door around 9am Saturday morning,
it’s still dry so today I decide on a short ride south, to visit the old capital of the islands at Scalloway with its ancient castle
and memorial to those who crewed the boats of the ‘Shetland Bus’, providing a vital link to occupied Norway during WW2 many lost their lives sailing small fishing boats on the darkest, roughest nights of the year to carry arms and information to partisans under the German forces noses and to return
with evacuees and returning agents.
From here I cross the single lane bridge to the island of East Burra before cutting back east to Lerwick as the sky turns black and the wind picks up. I just have time to buy a few gifts for Kathryn, a small cuddly dog otter toy and Shetland flag bar of soap, (well what else would you take back?), before the heavens open and I ride the 20 odd miles back to the beer tent. The afternoons ‘silly games’ and quickly reorganised to take place in the now crowded marquee and unfortunately the usual bus trip for ‘a night on the town’ in Lerwick has been cancelled this year as the towns summer festival took place the previous weekend. It’s a shame as it’s something I enjoy and does give you a bit of a break from the rally site. Lou, Davey, myself and others think about hiring a mini bus into the capital but to be honest part of the fun is being with like minded people and a Saturday night in Lerwick without backup may be a mistake, so the decision is taken to stay put.
More music, more beer and more music is followed by more beer and then Davey O’Bayview together with a couple of other committee members dispense I guess something you could call a punch,
this when mixed with Dave’s special Vodka certainly hits the mark.
Soon it’s time for prize giving for best bike, oldest rider etc. Susie, picks up the trophy for I think ‘overcoming most adversity to get to the rally’ or that kind of thing,
she had crashed her bike on the first day of the ‘Wobbly Goolies’ Scottish adventure, had to get it relayed back to Goole then through the use of vans, trains, ferries and motorcycle pillion rides had finally made it to the rally late on Friday evening, her journey home sounded even worse with a train departing Aberdeen at 3pm on Monday with an expected arrival in East Yorkshire around midnight. We continue the party into the wee small hours but as its daylight for almost 24 hours anyway it
makes little difference.
The disco continues through till around 4am and is followed later by the ubiquitous rally sound of a four cylinder engine being taken up to the rev limiter, ahhh kids and beer! Rain greets me on Sunday morning but subsides long enough to take down tents and pack our bikes, the last hour is spent wandering the site saying farewells and making arrangements to meet at other rallies or if not to ‘see you here next year’.
From Vidlin we ride back to Lerwick and after an hour or so wait we manage to load our machines
once more into the ships hold
and head off to find a bar, now there’s a surprise!
Sunday evening passes in the ships bar,
before a full three hours sleep, that’s three hours more than Davy gets as my snoring forces him up on deck in the early hours,
I have to explain that ear plugs are not just to be worn when riding your bike. With no more ferries to catch, no great rush to get home, warped disc brakes and the fact that I don’t think I can even balance on a motorbike the next morning we wander down the coastal A92 through Montrose and on to Arbroath harbour for a quick smoke stop,
before crossing the Tay Bridge and then riding south to Edinburgh and beyond.Lunch is taken at the Jedburgh Woollen Mills cafe and here we see Dave and his Africa Twin shoot past oblivious, heading for Goole, no sign of Rafe though who I later find they ‘lost’ in Aberdeen, but Steve pulls in a little
For some the temptation of the soft comfy car park is just too much and the last we see of Matt and Jonnie is them happily grabbing a few extra hours’ kip amongst the coach loads of pensioners at this
tourist honey pot.
I know if I lay down I won’t get up again anytime soon, so it’s time for more coffee and more miles. We remount and push on south through the boarders and on to the A1 at Scotch Corner before I leave Lou and Davey just north of Doncaster and ride the last few miles home alone. I’m shattered, time for a shower and by 8pm I’m heading to bed, got to be up early as the bike is booked in for new discs, ‘bout time too!
For all the photos of the trip feel free to take a look at my photo site at http://jonsharrocks.smugmug.com