Written at the time of the event, now forty years ago, here is a New Zealander’s recount of the 1979 Scottish Six Days Trial.
Words: Kerry Miles, Rangiora, New Zealand
Photos: Mrs. Joan Miles – Lynette Barnett
The 1979 Scottish – Kerry Miles
Friday 27th April. Final preparation:
What a hectic day, my biggest worry being whether to use my Mikuni carb or stick with the leaky Bing.
After the morning’s tuning session I decided on the Mikuni as I had a range of jets and wanted the bike on the rich side. It took ages to sort what tools and spares to carry, also where to put them all was another problem. I had purchased a Preston Petty tool box number plate which held most things except a rear tube which I strapped behind my seat. I carried a plug spanner in my jacket pocket along with a plug and plenty of glucose sweets and chocolate.
The time came to pack the car, god what a hell of a job … the poor old Fiat had its tail on the ground and I still had the bike to go on.
Saturday 28th April:
With the bike loaded we set off about 8.30 am up to M6, then on to Glasgow where we arrived in time for lunch. We were advised not to visit the centre of Glasgow and didn’t. From Glasgow we made our way to Stirling where we turned off the motorway for Fort William. A few miles along the road we spotted a safari park (Blair Drummond) so we went to investigate. On trying to obtain entry we were informed the bike would have to come off, so off it came giving the car a new lease of life, albeit short. Well it was good but surprisingly not as good as Orana Park, the bloody monkeys just wouldn’t get off the car and I expected scratches, but luckily there were none. We then headed on towards Fort William passing through some of the best looking trials country I have ever seen, which later turned out to be covered in ‘Scottish’ sections. Travelling through Scotland is very similar to NZ, especially the south of the South Island. We arrived in Fort William about 4 pm, the first thing to greet us was the parc fermé, even at this early stage it was a mass of colour.
The trade vans were there in force selling clothing, spares, accessories and NEW bikes, incredible. Driving through the main street one is greeted by a welcoming sign. We also noticed Mick Andrews walking along the street. There were blokes everywhere with Montesa, Bultaco, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki jackets on. We drove around and after asking finally found our hotel. It was easily recognised as there were many dealers vans and utes. Motorcycle and Motorcycle News had banners up on the pub and all over the grounds. We had a good view from our window, looking up at Ben Nevis. We could also watch everybody arriving. The weather had been beautiful but everybody said it wouldn’t last, boy were they right. That night we had dinner early and a couple of drinks and retired early.
Sunday 29th April:
We awoke to the sound of rain and hail beating against the window. What a contrast to Saturday. Ben Nevis was covered in snow, what little we could see in the murk. After a leisurely breakfast (2 hours) which we enjoyed with two friends from the Bradford Club we sorted out our gear. About 10.30 we drove down to the parc fermé. Joan sat in the car as it was still hosing down while I wandered around looking at the machinery. I stopped and had a good look at Rob Shepherd’s RTL and a good natter with Rob and his mechanic Mike, really nice guys. Just behind the Honda van I spotted two odd looking machines being unloaded so I went off to investigate. They turned out to be Moto Guzzi 230cc four strokes mounted in modified 348 Montesa frames and painted the worst colour green I have ever seen.
Then I spotted this Commer van with a NZ sticker so I went and made myself known. There were 3 guys from the Tauranga area over for the Scottish and the Isle of Man. While talking to them I spotted this blue LHP Bedford diesel arrive, turned out it was Vesterinen. His bike was immaculate as was his mechanic (his brother) and his dress. While wandering around in a dream trying to remember where the car was I heard a voice say in a broad Yorkshire accent “are ya alright?” It turned out to be Martin Lampkin. After discussing our strategy I wished him well as it was time for scrutineering. Being one of the early numbers I was one of the first through. It didn’t take long at all, they painted my wheels, frame and motor. I pushed my bike off the ramp and parked it, leaving it looking lonely amongst several Montesas.
Well by this time the cold weather was taking its toll and nature was calling in a big way so a mad dash was in order to the nearest pub. Whilst standing you know where, a bloke comes in with the same problem and says “there’s a guy out there from NZ who knows you”. I asked if it was Jock Cain as I had heard he was coming over but he said no. Strange I thought who could it be? Well standing in the bar was Nods (Neil Harris). We shared drinks and he told me he was riding a 175 Fantic. It was really great to meet someone like Neil. As it was time for him to get his bike scrutineered we left. Joan and I then drove back to the hotel.
After a long hot bath and some dry clothes we thawed out then it was down to the bar for a couple of whiskeys and on to the dining room where we met up with a work mate from Yorkshire who was riding no. 7 (I was no. 2). After dinner we had a few quiet drinks and called it quits about 10.30.
Monday 30th April – Day one, 85 miles:
Well what an early start, I was away at 7.31 am. From Fort William it was up the Mamore Road to Callart Falls group of 8 sections. Being the first riders there the rocks were slimy and very tricky. The sections were rock outcrops with water flowing down them and they were pegged tight. I did not do very well here but nor did the riders around my number. From Callart we climbed up the side of a mountain into the snow where the only way to find grip was to sit down and paddle. I fell off once and it took a couple of minutes rest in the snow to get my breath back after heaving the bike about 30 yards uphill. We then went down the other side to the road and on to Garbh Bhein. Here there were two sections just off the road up a rocky loose creek bed and fairly steep. I attacked it in second with full noise and had a couple of prods. This section got a lot harder later and took points off many of the top men. From Garbh Beinn it was 16 miles of road to Altnfeadh (four sections). I had a 0,0,5,5. God they were slippery. Joan was watching here and said the later riders cleared the top two easily but had problems on the first two. I was chuffed and annoyed. It was then 8 miles over the tops through more snow to the lunch stop at Kinlochleven. After lunch we went onto Blackwater. I had fives on the first two then a one on a section with a net on one side to stop riders, machines or both going over a 70 foot drop into a stream. One rider that night said he had tred on the net and the rope was rotten, a shuddering thought. There were two more sections here in a rocky creek bed, the sections were open but really limited to one line. I had a clean and a five. From the sections at Blackwater we had a long ride across Blackwater moor. It was
about 23 miles across and took about 2 hours during which time it snowed, hailed, rained and the sun shone. Going across we encountered bogs, rocks, streams and really narrow tracks. It paid to skirt the bogs because if stuck it can take up to 3 men to extract your machine. You can always find a way around them, takes time though! Bradileig was the next group. By the time I arrived there I was knackered. I had some silly feet here (I am certain in a normal trial I would have cleaned them easily). After this it was a ride of about 10 miles to the road and on another 12 miles to Fort William and Town Hall Brae right in the middle of town. I rode both clean. From here it was back to parc fermé where I checked in two minutes late (2 points). What a day, I ached all over from that 33 miles of moor.
Tuesday 1st May – Day 2, 104 miles:
Having a late number today I wasn’t off until about 11.00. They work on a system where on Monday its no. 1 to 280, Tuesday: 45-280, 1 to 44; Wednesday: 95-280, 1 to 94 etc. during the week.
First off we set off on a 23 mile road ride to Laggan Locks through snow and hail. I was really thankful for my faceguard I had bought along with my damart undergloves. Laggan Locks are four sections on a hillside with loose rolling rocks. When I arrived, there were about 20 riders in front of me. In the Scottish they operate a system called delay where you hand in your card if there is a queue. They then time it and when you are about to ride the section they hand you the card back with the time delay noted. This is then added to your time at the next check. I used this system at Laggan Locks and when my turn came to ride there were more riders and I had to start about a foot from the start cards. I ended up with a 0,1,2,0 and I was thrilled. On to Switchback for four sections in a creek bed with lots of water and several big rock steps. I did these for 2,0,0,1. We had several miles of moor work to cross before Achlain. Here things started to go wrong. It was a rocky creek bed and with really big rocks and huge rock steps I had threes and fives here. On the road to Allt a Chaoruinn I had to put the bike onto reserve and I was panicking a bit by the time I got to the sections, five in total. I had a really mixed bag: a five, cleans, one and a three. Fortunately down the road was the Comerfords van with petrol. Comerfords will, if you are lucky, look after all petrol supplies for a sum of £27. It may seem a lot but it is well worth it as they are always there with petrol about every 20 miles. They also carry spares, give your chain a lube and the rider half an orange or a drink, very welcome. This was the only time during the week that I had to use reserve. Down the road about five miles was a check. We had to wait there about one and a half hours while they rerouted us. The reason was that through Clunes Forest, our intended route there was 6 foot of snow. Everybody got cold at this check even though the sun was shining. Whilst we were coming down the road toward the check my mate’s bike (no. 7) seized at about 65 mph and he left a great black strip down the highway before getting to the clutch. He was a bit white when he got to the check. After our delay at this check it was back to Laggan Locks again. When I got there, there was a queue of about 100 riders so it was definitely a case of using the delay system. Normally with delay your card goes to the bottom and when you come up to ride
yours should be the top card, but here there were different riders queued and it was first in first served.
After two hours I started to get a bit worried about getting back in time for dinner as it was about 6.30 pm. I had eyed some Spaniards backing into the front of the queue speaking in pigeon English to the observer and being allowed to ride so I thought it was worth a go, and it was. I rode straight away, so quickly in fact that I forgot to turn the petrol on causing a five in the top section. The NZ sticker on the tank paid off!
While I was watching there someone knocked my bike over bending one shock and putting a huge dent in the tank. I managed to straighten the shock a bit by brute strength and rage, more of the latter.
When I pulled the bike down after the trial I found the shock was bent so bad you could not push it down by hand. I feel that must have upset the handling later in the week.
After Laggan Locks came a short ride to Muirshearlich. Four sections up a narrow solid rock stream with some huge rock faces, vertical (well nearly) and about 10-12 feet high. I would have hated to step off on these. I had a fairly good ride with about 4 points in total. Back to Fort William for Town Hall Brae (two more cleans). During the week they change the sections there by juggling the cards around. I think most NZ novices could clean these sections but they are the only easy ones all week. I finished at about 8pm and fortunately in time for dinner with a bath first. Today had been a bit easier, but not much.
Wednesday 2nd May Day 3, 96 miles:
I was a bit earlier off today. While I was waiting the sun shone beautifully, but the minute I set off it snowed like nothing I have ever seen before. It was really cold and hard to see. I arrived at Callart group (different to Callart Fall on Monday) frozen stiff and white from head to toe. Just after I had parked my bike the sun came out and filled the whole valley. What a contrast.
There were 4 sections in a rocky creek bed with rocks and several solid rock steps. Whilst riding one of these a certain part of my anatomy crunched into the tank and it took me several minutes to come right before continuing. Old Military Road was next, two sections, both fairly short twisting rocky climbs in an old creek bed (two threes for me). More road work before riding up the side of the river to Achallader for 10 sections. The sections here were very similar to New Zealand sections especially in the Wellington
area, I enjoyed them all. I had a five, several threes, ones and cleans. We were then faced with a bit more moor and road to Inveroran Hotel for lunch. After lunch, normally about 3/4 of an hour, it was on to Ba House for four very hard sections up these massive boulders about 6 ft. high. One section here you had to drop your bike into a hole, swing the back around by hand before starting only 6 inches from the start flags. Chair lift was next. After travelling across this narrow road I got carried away here and took
off my jacket and let down my tyres and had a real go at them. I had a clean up the first and a three on the second. The latter took fives from Andrews, Rathmell and Lampkin. I was really pleased because Jock and Beryl Cain were here, so was my boss Colin Appleyard. The eight sections of Loch Eilde path were fairly easy taking several prods off me. At Sleubaich it was up a huge waterfall with loose rocks on it and at the bottom. I got my wheel over the top but the bike stopped then all of a sudden fired up backwards. Fortunately a marshal managed to stop it going right back over. Believe it or not I did the
same thing on the section later in the week, this time it nearly took the marshals with it. They were not impressed. I had a three in the top section before riding down Mamore road to Fort William and check in. There was no Town hall Brae this day.
Thursday 3rd May Day 4, 112.5 miles:
Each morning, 15 minutes before you ride off you are allowed this time to fettle your bike. The aces all put on new tyres and chains this day but I didn’t bother as I
reckoned at this stage I was not going to win anyway.
This was the biggest day for mileage, heading out on a peninsula, but first we rode up to Ben Nevis for three sections in a flat rocky creek bed with a bit of water.
Then there were five more up the hill further. These were diabolical, large boulders on a fairly steep hill. It was like trying to go straight up the hill at Prices Valley to the fence line and beyond. We then faced a long cold ride in snow and hail to Camp group. Joan was here with camera and got a good shot of yours truly in his customary stance (with his foot down). This was another rocky creek bed with a step over a root about 3 ft. high
then up over some rocks and a tight turn out the end. On the first section over the root a rider before had moved out a rock from under the root and this made it very hard
to get up it. I lost a five on it as did many other riders. On the other three I lost 3,2,1. Next group was Glenuig – four sections, then two at Bay Hill and onto Salen for lunch. After lunch we headed onto Liddsdales two sections: a little flowing creek with a few twists. I
dropped a couple here. On the road to Beinn Nam my google strap broke and I wasn’t looking forward to fixing it as time was tight. I didn’t fancy riding without them but at the sections a R.A.F. support man fixed them for me while I rode the sections … sorry did I say ride? Tried to ride would be more appropriate 3,5,5. They were on shingle or rock with loose rocks in a bed, really hard. The Montesas looked really good in this section.
We did three at Camasnacroise before heading to the infamous Rubharuadh. The first two here were reasonably simple but the last two were very hard being a rocky bed (hard) at odd angles and very narrow with high banks and several tight turns with holes. I cleaned the first two and had a five and a really hard earned three. It was only then a short ride to the Corran ferry crossing about a mile across on a barge, 20p was the charge. Bikes got preference here over the cars (mainly spectators). From the ferry
it was an eight mile ride to Fort William. It was on this road I was motoring along quickly about 70 mph when one of Neil’s mates on a Fantic 175 flew past, god they fly on the road. So the race was on, a Fantic, 350 Ossa, me and another Bulto who soon got left behind. Well I won, sort of, going into the roundabout the mad Swede on the 350 Ossa left his braking late and nearly hit a granada on the roundabout.
Friday 4th May Day 5, 76 miles:
The first section was Cnoc a Linnhe, 24 miles from Fort William. I had two fives, a two and a one. Pipeline was next after 20 more miles of road and tracks. What a fabulous section. It starts off on loose rocks and gets steeper as you go up, also the large rocks get bigger ending with a big rock face at the end which is breaking up and a bit loose. I rode it in third ending up with a 0, 2, 5 (about 2 ft. from the end flags). It is a harder section than it looks in photos as you have to zig zag up even though the section is marked straight. Joan was there and took a couple of photos.
Next was Leiter Bo From (also called German Camp). The sections here were all on a hillside with a narrow path winding up with rocks and a bit of mud. I had a mixed bag here. It was then onto Mamore for four sections on a rocky track with several tight turns and a couple of steep rocky outcrops with a mixture of loose rocks. I lost a 5,2,0,1 after attacking it in too low a gear, a mistake I made a lot. During the week everybody had been saying wait until you get to Callaich, well here I was at Callaich. From the bottom all you could see was a mountain side. It turned out to be a twisting zig zagging track with about ten turns, some were sections (eight in total). On the way up I had a five, a couple of cleans and lots of prods and threes. Once at the top the riders at the bottom looked like pinheads, god we were high up. I had thought that going up was hard but going down was worse I reckon. About 1/4 mile at least straight down the mountain side trying to miss fallen riders, big rocks, bogs and holes. Most of the way down all wheels were locked in first gear. A guy in front went over the bars into a hole and just managed to wave me away in time. From here it was a short ride down Mamore road to Sleubaich for three sections. This time the top two were the same but they added one below in the creek bed. I had a silly prod about six inches from the end card, then another five and a three in the top two. From here it was a short ride back to Fort William. I was fortunate to be able to get a hot bath every night as we shared bathrooms and it was first in first served. The meals in the hotel were good but the service was slack as many temporary staff had been employed for the Scottish riders and supporters.
Saturday 5th May and final day 63 miles:
First sections today were Callart Falls again. This time not so slippery but pegged fairly tightly. I had a mixed bag here again. One problem here was getting to the sections, with snow on the ground and mud holes around, it was very hard to get lined up as many riders had parked their machines in the road. At one section my front wheel was right in before I even got started. Grey Mares Ridge was fairly simple, another winding track with a couple of detours up rock outcrops and over the heather. I only lost a couple here. We then shot across more moor to Bradileig again for eight sections. This time it was covered in snow and iced over in places, but I rode up the stream and had several cleans, a five and a few feet. It was then back on the road onto Fort William and up to the Ben Nevis group again. This time pegged harder (in fact the hardest sections I have ever seen, ridiculous for most people) and two more added up top. I lost 48 points on 10 sections only getting through one. The reason the organisers said they made them harder was to get a winner which as it turned out the sections did do. Rob Shepherd who was still well in contention for a win lost 27, Lampkin 10 and Rathmell was fantastic losing only about 4 or 5. These guys are unbelievable.
After Ben Nevis it was a short ride to Fort William for Town Hall Brae for two more cleans. My mate from Yorkshire (no. 7) lost two fives here by missing the two centre cards and going straight up. As it turned out I beat him by 9 points, he was not very happy that night.
It was a fantastic sensation to ride in and push your bike up on the ramp to have its sealing paint checked before you sign off. Well that was the Scottish over.
That night the hotel was packed as they were making all the presentations there. They cleared the dining room early and we all tried to get in to hear the results but it turned out to be an impossible task. It wasn’t until the next morning I found out that I lost 517 points and had won a second class award. First class went down to about 480 points. During the week Neil and I had been close on points but in the end he triumphed losing 16 less than me. Neil also won a second class. I was 150th and Neil 142nd out of 280 riders. Although the winner lost less this year than last, the clubmen lost more.
During the week I saw very little of the top men and I never saw Rathmell or Mart at all. I rode a lot with Jamie Subira, Dave Thorpe and John Reynolds. While waiting at Laggan Locks I saw Vesty and Andrews ride.
The sections were all called hills and they were as hard and more often harder than any in New Zealand. Although it was a shocking week for weather I did not really feel the cold. I think it was because I had just been through one of the worst Yorkshire winters ever. At times the hail become a bit
uncomfortable, but my face mask was a blessing. During the week I used two riding suits: a Belstaff and a TT Leathers new nylon suit, but the best combination was my Belstaff trousers (more durable) and my TT Leathers jacket (a bit lighter). Both trousers have rips in the leg but otherwise are still good suits.
My biggest fear was getting a puncture so I rode most of the week with 8 and 7 pounds in my tyres which I filled with a puncture preventative beforehand. I lost lots of marks because of the pressure but on the other hand Neil suffered a puncture and lost a lot on time. Ideally one should let them down for the section and pump them up in between but with 30 sections a day it becomes a bit impossible as time is very tight some days.
I was fairly fit beforehand but I suffered mainly in the shoulders during the week. Next year I think I’ll use Renthals instead of the original steel ones. At times I was doing well over 70 mph on the road to keep to time and to make time a bit easier when crossing the moors etc. I used to get cold on the roads and really sweat on the moors. The bike behaved itself all week but it has a dented tank, bent shock and the shock retaining screw broke off causing the shock to fall off on Friday, but wire and duct tape held it on for Saturday. I think I’ll treat it to a new set of rings and a primary chain. But I may trade it on a 200 Jerred Honda or a TL200 as they look very impressive. Peter Jerred has several versions using TL125, TL185, TL125s and CG125 engines. Colin Seeley is at present making frames for Honda’s machine but no one knows what form it will take. Marland Whaley told me Montesa are about to release a full 350 with a plastic tank and many other changes. I believe it will be based on Rathmell’s winning machine.
At present we are considering going to America as England is a poor country now. The cost of living is unbelievable and petrol is up to about £1.30 a gallon at some stations and is very hard to get. If we go to America I will sell my Bulto and probably buy a Montesa as I suit them better than Bultacos. But heaven knows, it’s nice to dream eh?
The Scottish is a fantastic event and the atmosphere is mighty, well worth doing but get fit first and ride in Yorkshire during the winter season.
Results: 1979 SSDT
1st – Malcolm Rathmell – 69 marks
2nd – Martin Lampkin – 71 marks
3rd – Yrjo Vesterinen – 87 marks
4th – Rob Shepherd – 87 marks
5th – Charles Coutard – 100 marks
6th – Manuel Soler – 106 marks
7th – Jamie Subira – 108 marks
8th – John Metcalfe – 124 marks
9th – Mick Andrews – 135 marks
10th – John Reynolds – 136 marks
Many thanks to Kerry Miles for sharing his recollections of riding the most famous trial in the world and to his wife, Joan for taking the photographs.