Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Simmer Dim Rally - Shetland - June 2011

Last week the phone went unexpectedly, it was Terry Scholes,
“I’m back” he says,
“Back from where?” I ask,
“Simmer Dim” is his response. “I’ve just ridden down from Oban today”
“But the rally was almost a month ago” I reply
“Yes but at my age I wanted to make the most of it!”
And that’s something I can’t argue with; Terry won the prize for the oldest rider attending the Simmer Dim rally. He’s 80 this year but as he explains.
“It wasn’t that hard a trophy to win; you just have to keep breathing”
He goes on to explain that after a brief extension of his stay on Shetland he had headed down to Orkney before heading west and finally home to sunny Sheffield via an ‘Island Hopscotch ticket’ taking him to Lewis, Harris and all points south eventually to Oban.
Well I’d almost forgotten I’d been north and his call reminded me that I ain’t written a ‘blog’ yet.
So the 29th Simmer Dim Rally and my 2nd one has again pulled out all the stops,
I’m sat on dry grass, beer in hand with the sun beating down watching a team of semi clad blonde girls fight their way under a cargo net a few feet in front of me, I don’t understand why they call these ‘silly games’ they seem perfectly sensible to me.

I really didn’t think it would turn out like this as I look back a few days previously. Having left Rotherham at 6.15a.m on Wednesday morning by 8a.m I’m getting blown across the carriage ways on the A66 heading towards a large black cloud that covers most of the northern lakes and boarders. It may have been the week before midsummer but after last year’s experience of Shetland I knew what to expect. A quick check in the mirrors showed Davey, Lou’s boyfriend, is suffering too and without the benefit of any fairing on his 1250 Bandit he is taking a battering.
After a stop at Brough for breakfast we head up the M6 and M74 to Abington services before joining the A 702 and cutting east past Lanark and on to Biggar where we are joined by Lou’s brother Robin on his Suzuki 650 V Strom. From here past Edinburgh, Dundee and on to Aberdeen the 400 mile ride improves considerably as the weather brightens and at 2.15p.m. we are at the ferry terminal.
The ‘Simmer Dim’ rally really does start the moment you hit the docks and this year was no exception. We had arranged to meet with around a further 10 riders and pillions from around the South Yorkshire area most of whom were using the Rally as a central point of a longer Scottish adventure, well talk about timing, I rolled in behind Tickhill Chris and Michelle together with Ivan and Heather, all four were just taking off their helmets, next arrived Martyn and Jan, then Terry Scholes pulled in followed shortly after by Micky Wheeler, Sue and Tony.
Fifteen minutes separated the arrival of the whole group from all corners of Scotland.
Friends made at last year’s rally Ozzy, Dave and Dawn from Northumberland roll in, the crew from Goole, Jonathan from Ecclesfield and more lads from Sheffield all safely arrive.
With tickets checked and bikes loaded by 3p.m, it’ll be time for a drink then! Talk about surprised when we walked into the old seaman’s pub on the Aberdeen harbour front to find a large Buddha greeting us and the place now half bar and half Thai restaurant, but the service had certainly improved since last year’s visit although the prices had risen to match.
Motorcyclists quickly fill the car park and the chat and catch up begins.
On to the ferry
and after quickly unpacking into the four berth cabin, it’s into the bar.
First night excitement leads to much too much alcohol intake if such a thing can exist. Robin makes friends with a rather ‘nice’ gentleman who says that on arrival on Shetland he will search out somewhere to buy a helmet if Robin will take him for a ride! Mmmm Robin looks very nervous don’t think a motorbike will be needed for the sort of ride this guy had in mind.
The cafeteria opened early for breakfast and it looked like it was inhabited by the crew of a ghost ship as many of those dining turned very white very quickly as a cute little puppy accompanied by two policeman decided to lovingly sniff anyone it came across. I think given the circumstances that dog is in the wrong trade and has a very poor sense of smell!
The morning sees a return to the Shetland weather I had expected, low cloud hangs over Lerwick harbour, the ship’s deck is slippery with overnight rain and the road out north offers little in the way of spectacular views I had promised the newcomers to these islands. I’m smiling though; it’s great to be a part of that long winding serpent of bikes that rolls its way across the treeless landscape, round the long open bends for the next 20 miles or so to the campsite opposite the village hall and shop at Vidlin. The marquee was already up and once tents are erected and we had checked in we sit expectantly waiting for the bar to open. A quick walk of the field as riders rolled in revealed some interesting machinery including a 30’s Harley
and a lovely pair of ‘his’ and ‘hers’ Guzzis,
Dave Ramsbottom (who I know from the Cossack Owners Club) is up from West Yorkshire on an MZ TS 125
and some weird but wonderful CanAm trikes
but perhaps the most interesting belonged to the rally organisers, a fine example of a SuzuKa.
Yep it’s only just gone 11am and we’re the first ones in the marquee, bag a table and wait for ‘The Boot Game.’

(I’m not explaining the rules again; check out last year’s write up in the blog archive to catch up.) The game followed its usual format
and it didn’t take long before the first casualties were seen exiting the game.

As usual the Simmer Dim bar tickets were exchanged for beer in measures slightly over a pint !However even we thought Ivan may have been taking the piss a bit presenting a four litre jug to be filled.
To make things easier for rally participants in search of advice or help the organising committee members kindly wear distinctive T shirts bearing their names, this made me laugh, Davy O Bayview is not to be confused with Davy No O Bayview, and they live in very different places.
Talking of T shirts you think Derren Brown is good but to have worn that T shirt and to sit in that particular spot at that particular time is truly amazing!
The long afternoon turned into evening and evening into a very long night, I knew really I should retire and was just about to head for the door when the next band came on stage and blasted out ‘Beautiful Day’ followed by other Levellers numbers, oh well guess I’d better stay around. God knows what time I left but I know that even by my own very high standards I was drunk.
Friday morning came all too quickly and it was not a good feeling. As I wandered over to get breakfast, Ozzy, Dawn and Dave were giving me that knowing smile,
“How much do you remember of last night” one of them asked,
“Not much” I have to reply
Dawn’s response was “That’s because I had been a bit drunk”
And my last words had been “I seem to have a bit of a wobble on, best retire”.
Oh well, at least I know my limits!!!
The ride out was planned for 11am and by 10.30am I could just about walk in a straight line so after avoiding the television cameras that were interviewing ralliest for an item on Scottish Television I headed out to the car park to meet the others and await the off.
The television crew really shouldn’t have tried to film us riding up the road by standing in a ‘passing place’ that I like to use to get my line for the next corner, clean undies needed for that camera man me thinks.
This year’s ride took us west through Aithnesting then cutting down south to the marina at Skeld where we had a quick toilet and cig stop.

Tickhill Chris was quick to point out to Martyn
“Not much of a change from your usual routine is it”,
“What do you mean?” asks Martyn
“Hanging around outside the men’s lavatories” was Chris’s quick response.
As usual the elite BMW riders decided to make maximum use of the off road capabilities of the GS motorcycles and park on the gravel!
As the main ride out group left the car park we took a quick vote and decided to go for a run on our own following some single track roads north to Sandness and Garth, overlooking the island of Papa Stour, in search of coffee.
Unfortunately a number of other riders including the police outrider escort decided to follow us and I think it took around 5 miles before they realised their mistake and headed off to try and find the main body of bikes.
Now some of you may know my views on GPS systems, fine to get you out of a mess, maybe lost in a big European city or unsure approaching a continental roundabout system but they are just as capable of getting you into a mess. So it was as all of us follow Martyn and Jan lemming-like down nonexistent roads in search of a nonexistent cafe.
We resort to asking a friendly local, using a map! And make our way quickly to the village of Walls, home to a great coffee shop and local bakery! Where we meet up with Martyn’s Dad Mickey, Sue and Tony who were already well down their lunch.

From here we follow the A971 toward Lerwick sweeping along beautiful roads under a clear blue sky with green islands dotted in the blue bay below us to Heglibister were we all suddenly hit the brakes as we pass a large road sign warning ‘Otters Crossing’. The late afternoon is spent meandering the main street of Lerwick,
checking out the harbour
before returning to the rally for another evening of over indulgence.

Saturday sees the rest of our group heading north, Shetland consists of over 100 islands of which 16 are inhabited and today they are going to take a ferry from the mainland to Yell before another boats takes them to Unst and the island at the ‘ top of the world’. I on the other hand decide to have a day away from it all, there are times when ‘I want to be alone’ and this is part of my enjoyment of motorcycling, after a few days of group riding I just want to poodle about, stopping when, where and as often as I fancy.
I head down toward the beach at St Ninians, recently voted the best beach in Scotland and hence the best in the U.K.!
On a day like today there is no better place to be, watching a power boat cut silver glistening curves across the bay as I roll a fag, lie back on the sand and listen to the clicks of a cooling bike engine behind me. Then nothing but the cry’s of sea birds overhead.
It’s only a mile from here to the sheepskin place I was directed to last year, the owner comes out to greet meet and again regales me with stories of the Norton he rode in the 40’s. He calls his wife out to photograph us with my bike before we head inside to discuss the rising price of sheepskin on the international market. £ 20 buy’s me two! Well Kathryn would be upset if I didn’t.
As I pack and prepare to leave he says
“You will come back next year won’t you, you don’t have to buy anything just come and have some tea with me and the family”.
I think that sums up Shetland for me.
My ride back takes me past fields of Shetland ponies and I stop for the necessary tourist photos
before a quick shower is taken at the Lerwick Leisure Centre which has me rejuvenated and ready for the Saturday night party. (I feel I must point out here there is no relationship between my need for a shower and the Shetland ponies!)
I return to Vidlin just in time for the silly games and the arrival of the Viking Jarl squad. There is something very surreal about a group of heavily armed Vikings marching across a field to the accompaniment of two accordions and singing ‘Bring me Sunshine‘
before trying out ‘Da Belly Mixer’
and being centrifugally fed beer or in some cases bottles of Vodka. That ‘Davy O Bayview’ is a one!
I take another look round the car park and campsite and although cars aren’t my thing I could be tempted with this one.
The afternoon passes in a haze of hot sun and alcohol before the others return and tell me of the delights of Unst as we board the pre booked bus and head into Lerwick for a night of big city lights.
The mid-summer carnival is in full swing
and all the bars are packed but we make the best of it and wander through two or three pubs before heading for the 11pm bus back to the site.
Ozzy and Dawn are the last to board and unfortunately are told that it’s full and they have to wait half an hour for the next bus. I do the gentlemanly thing and offer up my seat to Ozzy saying “I don’t mind keeping Dawn company in the bus station for half an hour!”An offer he strangely refuses.
By midnight we are back at the site and the party is just warming up, it’s still daylight and that spurs us on for a few more hours at the bar or rather sat outside as even at 2am it’s a balmy summer evening.
Next morning I’m packed by 10.30am
and ready to hit the road but some of the others decide to wait for lunch and I really can’t blame them as the food on site has been excellent all weekend. However owing to the very late finish at the bar the previous evening Sunday lunch is somewhat delayed,
by 1pm we decide to give it a miss and head back to Lerwick.
It’s amazing how much you can get on a BMW,
Ivan and Heather win!
I go in search of a present for Kathryn to back up the Sheepskin Rug and ‘Percy the Puffin’ quickly finds a place on Bertha.
The others go off to eat while I feel the need to continue my liquid diet and after some delay with the technicalities of loading I get Bertha onboard the ferry and head across the road to the Shetland Island Hotel. A few minutes later I’m joined by the rest of the South Yorks crew, then by the lads from Goole better known as ‘The Wobbly Goolies’ and by Ozzy, Dawn and Dave.
Finally in come the ‘Wheeler crowd’ carrying luggage !, Micky, Sue, Martyn and Jan have booked in the hotel for their last night on Shetland and tomorrow are off to Fair Isle for a few days to visit Mick’s brother who lives there. Last year Martyn made the trip to Fair Isle by boat on ‘The Good Shepherd’ this year it’s the luxury of a charter plane from Tingwall airstrip early on Monday morning. After a pint or three of rather expensive canned Guinness we say our goodbyes and board the M.V Hjaltland (the Old Norse name for Shetland).
What a treat we are in for as on our departure the ship’s captain informs us that we are to detour past the secluded gannet nesting cliffs not normally visited by the ferry as he has to practice different harbour routes as part of his captain’s ticket. It’s one of those times when you think the ship will roll as everyone heads to the starboard side (see that there, that were nautical) to see the swarming clouds of diving sea birds.

Following a final night of overindulgence
we say our farewell to friends
and disembark from the hold to a dry day at Aberdeen
and take the A90 down to Stonehaven. Here we make a stop for fuel and coffee and just as we are preparing to leave I hear the distinctive thump of a BSA M20,
it’s the guy from Watford who has now completed all 29 Simmer Dim rallies on his faithful ex war department mount. We leave him and follow the coast road to Montrose, Arbroath and on to Dundee. From here we head to Edinburgh and take the Jedburgh route before stopping for lunch at the Edinburgh Woolmill Shop.
It’s here we are joined once more by the ‘Goolies’ as Dave pulls in on his Africa Twin
and Raif on his GT750 ‘Kettle’ . After a nice lunch we remount and take on fuel, when would you believe it, in pulls the little BSA !The roads are clear and the weather fine as we sweep over the A68 through Corbridge then down past the “ Storming ”rally site at Whitton Castle before we make one last stop at Scotch Corner for fuel, fags and coffee. Now ready for the final 100 mile push home when guess what?
Yep talk about the tortoise and the hare, in pulls the little BSA. The rider says he has had enough for today and is going to camp around Boroughbridge before his final push further south the following day. I’m not surprised he’s had enough, we pull in at Lou’s place just outside Doncaster and this is what Davy looked like!
Think what he’d been like on a rigid frame 1940’s 500cc BSA that seemed to have kept pace with his 2006 1250cc Suzuki Bandit for the last 400 miles!
So that’s the Simmer Dim done for another year, will I go back again? We’ll I do fancy a change next year but it will be the 30th Anniversary of the rally so I guess it would be rude not to and I’ve still got a lot of Shetland left to explore,
so many ponies so little time !