Tag Archives: Ben Nevis

Iain Lawrie’s 1977 SSDT cache

Rob Edwards 1977 Blackwater - IL
Rob Edwards on Blackwater in 1977. One of a number of photographs from Iain Lawrie that have never before been seen. Exclusive to Trials Guru. Copyright: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven.

Trials Guru friendly photographer, Iain Lawrie from Kinlochleven has just unearthed a number of photographs taken at the 1977 Scottish Six Days Trial. Many thanks to Iain for allowing Trials Guru to publish these.

These images are now on Iain’s page:

Iain Lawrie Collection

Copyright:

© – All text copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2015

© – Images: World-wide Copyright Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven, Scotland, UK (All Rights Reserved) – 2015.

ACU Ben Fund benefits from book sales

The ACU Benevolent Fund, the only registered UK charity that provides for motorcycle riders, has just benefited by the tune of 200 GBP from initial sales of John Moffat’s book, Motorcycle Competition: Scotland 1975-2005.

Cover shot MCS

Released for sale on 30th March, 2015, it covers the four main motorcycle sports organised in Scotland during that time frame and features many of the Scottish champions who went on to British, European and even World championship status.

The book’s forward was written by eight times TT winner, Jim Moodie and has 134 pages and over 200 photographs, many never seen before from photographers such as Eric Kitchen, Jan Burgers, Graham Milne, Jimmy Young, Iain Lawrie and Ronnie Weir plus many more.

Copies are still available online through Trial Magazine UK website: Here

The ACU are delighted at receiving the sum of money, every penny of which goes to rider benefit.

Photo0977

More photos now on Trials Guru

Trials Guru is always looking for something new or old, unseen or forgotten….

Kimages
‘Kimages’ photographs are copyright: Kimages/Kim Ferguson, Fort William.

We have just added two new ‘selections’ on the front page which link into photo collections of ‘Kimages – Trials Photos‘ and ‘Heather Mead – SSDT Photos‘.

Both are female photographers who have built up a sizeable archive of trials photographs over the last couple of years, particularly at the Scottish Six Days as these are Scottish based photographers.

Kim has lived in the Fort William area most of her life and has a love for motorcycle sport and trials in particular having grown up with the SSDT passing her door-step. Her brother rode in trials too, so there are family connections.

Heather became involved taking photos at the Parc Ferme in Fort William, a place that is usually inaccessible to spectators, so we can see SSDT competitors preparing for their daily battle with the terrain and elements.

DSCN9382-001
SSDT 2013 An official goes over the route card with rider 20, Ian Thompson – Photo Copyright: Heather Mead Photography, Dingwall.

Heather Mead and Kimages (Kim Ferguson) have recently given Trials Guru permission to display their handy-work. Please remember photographs are copywritten and are the property of the photographer, so please be respectful of that. There is no implied permission to post these images anywhere else unless by express permission of the copy-holder. This also applies to our other photographers, Jimmy Young, Armadale; Jeremy Whittet; Neil Sturgeon; John Hulme; Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven or any other images on this website.

Trials Guru have used some individual photos, which are the property of Mortons Media, Hornchurch this was done with their prior and express permission, for legal reasons, these are not for onward publication.

Links to Trials Guru Photographer Collections:

Jimmy Young Archive

Iain Lawrie Collection

Heather Mead SSDT Collection

Kimages Trials Photos

Justyn Norek

Jeremy Whittet

Responsible Land Use – The facts

Responsible Land Use

Kinlochleven - Loch Leven - Susan Black Photo
Kinlochleven, Argyll a beautiful place and one protected along it’s Leven Valley by a SSSI – Photo: Susan Black, Prudoe

Many words have been spoken, but little written about, responsible land use in motorcycle magazines and periodicals. One could ask the question – Is this a taboo subject?

Not taboo as such, but it is complicated and a very thorny subject that has provoked spirited debate.

The primary intention of this article is not to create further debate, but to be educational and informative for the benefit of the sport of trials, to create a better understanding of not only responsible land use but to recognise what controls it.

Motorcycle sport’s governing bodies such as the Auto Cycle Union, have endeavoured to address and promote responsible land use for well over thirty years, evidenced by its membership of LARA (Land Access & Recreation Association) in 1986. It works with its affiliated clubs through its own Land Access Advisory Service.

Part of the problem appears to be lack of proper understanding of the subject matter and that is probably caused by either people not being able to find relevant factual information, or don’t fully understand it when it is discovered. Perhaps some of the terminology is alien to some of us?

It’s possible to view website forums and dialogue which covers the subject in threads such as “where to practice riding skills” and similar subject matter.

However many of these forums are locked, only viewable by members with passwords or by subscription and for good reason. It is an attempt to stop people abusing the privilege of using land, made available by landowners under certain conditions.

This locking or restriction to access however does give the impression that perhaps something subversive is going on, whereas that is not the case.

Providing details of where to ride legally off-road is outside the scope of this article, so please, don’t get over-excited.

There are however many areas in the UK, specifically set out for legal trials practice for competition training and for leisure trials riding. With full landowner permissions in place, membership fee requirements, codes of practice, restrictions of use and insurance, perhaps even owner/operated, this is without doubt a responsible and sensible approach.

It is important to understand that there is no such thing as ‘waste ground’.

All land in the United Kingdom, including common land, is owned by someone, be it an individual, group of people, company or other legal entity. However, its ownership may not be clear or be a simple task to establish who the owner is.

Let us attempt to clarify matters by examining factual information, in an understandable way, in an attempt to remove any mystique which surrounds such a complex subject.

Hopefully this article will be sufficiently informative, without going into the fine detail of legislation, insurance and such matters.

To explain in simple but factual terminology and restrict it to parts of the United Kingdom and confined to motorcycles, but equally this can apply to other areas in the UK and four wheeled vehicles also.

Also it is important, perhaps crucial, to understand that trials riders do not have any legal right to ride their motorcycles off-road.

Why is this so, what does the law say?

The Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 34) clarifies it as follows:

Section 34 – Prohibition of driving mechanically propelled vehicles elsewhere than on roads.

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, if without lawful authority a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle—

(a) on, to or upon, any common land, moorland or land of any other description, not being land forming part of a road, or

(b) On any road being a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway, he is guilty of an offence.

So, there we have it, any motorcycle activity performed away from, or off the public highway without lawful authority (permission) is recognised as ‘illegal riding’.

We won’t probe, evaluate or discuss matters concerning the legal penalties or remedies, as that would be down to a court of law to decide as appropriate.

For clarity, let us examine a specific example of a sizeable piece of land to assist in the demonstration of how this works and what restricts or even forbids the casual use of land by off-road motorcyclists.

The area is fairly well-known to the trials sport community let us look at one specific area. After all, this is a trials based website and the rationale could be easily be applied and compared to other similar areas in the country.

Billy Tiffen 1954 - RB
1954 – Billy Tiffen from Carlisle on his Velocette, crests ‘Martuim’ in the Scottish Six Days Trial, now part of the West Highland Way and part of the Leven Valley SSSI. Photo: Ray Biddle, Birmingham

The area is in Northern Scotland, known as the ‘Leven Valley’ this name may not be instantly recognisable to the reader, but with further examination its mappings reveal: Pipeline; Blackwater; Corrie Odhair on the south of the River Leven and Loch Eild; German Camp or even Leiter Bo Fionn on the north side, then it will appear familiar. This land whilst appearing to be wild, rugged and fairly remote is actually very closely managed.

German Camp - 2015
German Camp / Leiter Bo Fionn entrance in 2015. The old SSDT section is on the Leven Valley SSSI. Photo copyright Trials Guru – 2015

The name known to trials enthusiasts as the ‘Blackwater Path’ is actually the ‘Ciaran Path’ which is very popular with recreational walkers, hikers and mountain-bike riders, who incidentally do not require express permission to traverse it.

Manel Soler 1981 - JY
SSDT 1981 – Former Spanish Champion, Manuel Soler on his 325 Bultaco tackles Pipeline, part of the Leven Valley SSSI – Photo Copyright: Jimmy Young, Armadale, Scotland.

Access to the countryside was increased by statute with the creation of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 for England and Wales and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, in Scotland, these rights exist only if they are exercised responsibly, as specified in the Scottish Outdoor Access code. Some will know, or have heard of the Ciaran Paths’ famous catch net, constructed by members of the Scottish Six Days Trial committee in the late 1960’s with the prime intention of prevent riders competing in the event and their machines from falling into the deep gorge as they climbed the path towards Blackwater and beyond.

The Blackwater (or Cairan Path) catch net, constructed by members of the Scottish Six Days Trial committee in the late 1960s. - Photo Jock McComisky
The Blackwater (or Cairan Path) catch net, constructed by members of the Scottish Six Days Trial committee in the late 1960s. – Photo Jock McComisky

Access to the countryside requires responsibility, sometimes this is absent.

Glen Etive - Rubbish
“… Access to the countryside requires responsibility, sometimes this is absent.” Photo Copyright: Mark Shona, (Glen Etive the dirty truth)

The construction was simple, perhaps even crude, but very effective, being fashioned from scaffolding pipes cemented directly into the bed-rock on the edge of the gorge.

No doubt there have been many wayward hikers and bikers caught by its netting since its construction. Whilst this has most probably gone unreported it was a useful safety addition to the Ciaran Path for many of its users since its construction some forty years ago.

Photo 2
The Leven Valley is covered by an SSSI – Photo: Neil Mackenzie, Inverness

This is an area with an industrial heritage and history. These paths and the German Prisoner of War encampments were constructed to provide the manpower to build the various dams, culverts, penstocks and conduits in the area together with the associated infrastructure for the development of the aluminium smelter.

Bernard Cordonnier
Bernard Cordonnier from Belgium with Kinlochleven and the Leven Valley visible in the background – Photo: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven.

These paths do erode over time, due to the severe winter weather in the area and by the constant use by walkers and cyclists. Parts of the Ciaran Path are already eroded, undercut in places and in need of repairs.

Photo 5
Leven Valley is an area dotted with traces of industialisation, here is the ‘Conduit’ carrying water to Kinlochleven from Blackwater Dam. – Photo: Neil Mackenzie, Inverness

Prisoners of War were used during their interment during the First World War, to construct many of these paths and there is a display within the Post Office in Kinlochleven which gives more information on this. These paths have been established for more than a century. Here ends the history lesson.

All these places described above are on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI, usually referred to as Triple- SI). In Northern Ireland the designation is ‘Areas of Special Scientific Interest’ or ASSI.

Pipeline - IL
Pipeline is one of the world’s most iconic of trials sections. It is however on an SSSI named ‘Leven Valley’ which requires various express permissions and careful management for legitimate use – Photo Copyright: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven.

The reader would be astonished to learn how much of the SSDT route makes legal use of SSSI’s. Many will have watched, observed or even ridden in this particular area.

Many hours are spent each year in meaningful discussion and negotiation between trial organisers and both the local land agents and SNH personnel.

Photo 8
Blackwater Dam, high above Kinlochleven. The Leven Valley SSSI stretches right up to the dam face – Photo: Neil Mackenzie, Inverness

What statutory instrument created SSSI’s and when?

Originally notified under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, SSSIs were re-notified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Improved provisions for the protection and management of SSSIs were introduced by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (in England and Wales) and (in Scotland) by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2010. (Source: DEFRA).

How many sites and how much land is controlled by SSSIs?

Scotland has over 1,400 sites designated as SSSIs, representing approximately 12.6% of the total land area of Scotland. Approximately half of these sites are located in the lowlands and uplands area.  There are over 4,000 sites in England, covering around 8% of the country.  (Source: Scottish and UK Government).

Let us look more closely at this area of land and in particular its SSSI status, with the help of resources freely available in the public domain.

In the Site Management Statement issued by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Leven Valley (Site Reference 927) is denoted as being a SSSI.

Here are some details:

The Leven Valley SSSI forms part of a larger 3000 hectare woodland grant scheme and the interest lies in both trees and rock formations, so described as: Upland Birch Woodland and Dalradian rock, but the scope is of course much wider, covering the flora found in that area.

To give an indication of the extent of the SSSI it is approximately 10 kilometres in length and 6 kilometres wide, so it is very large indeed.

There are no less than eleven specific activities that require not only the landowners’ permission, but permission from SNH, which is funded by the Scottish Government, its purpose being to care for Scotland’s nature and provide support to those who manage it.

However, this consent is not required if the organisers have been given prior ‘planning permission’ from the local authority, under Part III of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.

For motorcycle events such as the SSDT, the Pre’65, promoted by Edinburgh & District Motor Club Limited plus any other localised events organised by Lochaber & District MCC who promote the annual Ian Pollock Memorial Trial in the Leven Valley area.

IL photo - Loch Eild Path
The Leven Valley area is one of beauty and home to many plants, wildlife and industrial history. Its use is controlled. Here a rider competing in the annual Pre’65 Scottish in 1998, rides one of the many paths in the area. Photo copyright: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven.

The specific requirement to apply for consent from SNH is under reference number 26: ‘Use of motorised vehicles likely to damage vegetation’.

Why do we need to legally protect these areas described as SSSIs, why is this particular area deemed sensitive, why is it important and why is it necessary to have such controls?

Private research reveals that the Leven Valley SSSI is home to many different mosses and liverworts, collectively known as bryophytes. Some are very rare, dating back to pre-historic times.

Bryophytes play a part in protecting us, as these soft plants form a huge sponge on the valley floor, slowing down the flow of rain water from the surrounding hills which runs into the burns and eventually the River Leven.

This water slowing effect protects the Kinlochleven area from potential flash floods, given the high annual rainfall locally.

Thinking about it logically, conversely this explains why there are so many flash floods in residential areas nowadays. The ground has been waterproofed by buildings, structures, roads and footpaths so that rain water now planes off faster, causing localised flooding and worse. Flooding can affect us all.

The beds of mosses, blanket bogs and wetlands found in the Leven Valley SSSI area also absorb and effectively lock up, many tonnes of harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, potentially for thousands of years, into the peat below. That is providing that they are not disturbed, depleted or destroyed, hence the protection provided by SSSI status.

Depletion can occur through invasion by non-native plants such as the Rhododendron, which can spread rapidly, is difficult to control and covers large areas of ground. Similarly, animals such as deer, sheep or cattle roaming free or even inappropriate use by vehicles, can cause damage if not properly controlled or managed.

Now we can see the rationale for protection of this and other areas like it, we can begin to fully understand and appreciate why these areas are deemed sensitive and significant.

Protection does not automatically mean total exclusion of all activities, hence the continued use of the area by major trials events, but this is only achievable by proper application for permissions, negotiation and mutual agreement.

The SSDT has been running since 1911, the Pre’65 since 1984 and the Ian Pollock under its former title ‘Spring Trial’ since the late 1950’s. These events make legitimate use of the Leven Valley.

This does not however give their promoters any legal rights to continue using this ground, purely because of the length of time the events have been in existence.

Most of the ground described above and used in these motorcycle trial events is under the current ownership of Rio Tinto Alcan, a multi-national company whose principal office is in Montreal, Canada.Rio Tinto Alcan is the result of many company mergers and take-overs over the years, tracing its roots back to the British Aluminium Company in 1894 the entity that originally purchased the ground in what is fundamentally the Mamore hill range for the water rights, thus ensuring sufficient water to create power generation for the Aluminium smelter based down in the town of Kinlochleven itself.

Pipeline Alcan
The pipeline under construction. The Leven Valley has an industrial history. Photo copyright Glasgow University Archive (Rio Tinto Alcan)

The SNH Site Management Report in 2008 stated:

“During monitoring in 2002, the SSSI was found to be subject to a number of detrimental influences, the most important being: the spread of rhododendron; grazing/browsing pressure (due to deer and, probably to a lesser extent, stray sheep); annual burning; and motorcycle scrambling”.

In the above statement, let us simply replace the words ‘motorcycle scrambling’ with ‘off-road motorcycle activity’ for additional clarity, for that is what the report eludes to.

By giving cognisance to the above information, we can now begin to appreciate and understand what legislation event organisers have to consider and address fully when promoting a motorcycle trial in this area.

This is why such organisers stipulate that no unofficial following of the event by motorcycle is permitted or condoned, as only insured riders and officials may take machines onto the ground as allowed by the owners and ultimately SNH.

Similarly this is why all event officials must ‘sign in’ with the event control so that they are accounted for, have contact details and are insured under the governing body’s insurers for the permitted event.

Are things now falling into place?

During the research for this article, we spoke with Cathy Mayne, the locally based Operations Officer with Scottish Natural Heritage and the person charged with the task of negotiating with the motorcycle clubs.

Cathy explained: “In terms of use, there is no assumed permission for this, or any other off-road area for motor vehicles. Prior permission from the landowner and where relevant, consent from SNH, would be required for any trials rider accessing any area off the public highway.

There are some issues with casual use on the SSSI, as we have for other areas of land that is so designated and a focus of trials or other off-road vehicular use.

Hence the sensitivity of these areas. Permission for events such as the SSDT, the Pre’65 and Pollock trials are given only after careful consideration, planning and negotiation, with quite a few restrictions and stipulations put in place”.

We have used a land example from Northern Scotland, but of course there will be thousands of similar examples dotted throughout the country.

The Scott Trial, another event over 100 years old, held in the North Yorkshire National Park is another where planning permission is required and for a finite period at that.

Scott Trial action from Sid in 1974. Photo Alan Lampkin Archive.
Scott Trial action with Alan Lampkin (Bultaco) in 1974. The Scott is run in the North Yorks National Park and requires very careful management and permission – Photo Alan Lampkin Archive.

So, we as riders of trials motorcycles do not have any rights to roam, unlike walkers and cyclists, but express permission is required from landowners and even governmental bodies to enable us to ride off-road.

Consider these matters, as illegal riding does directly harm our sport.

There are many other organisations committed to individual and group off-road motorcycle activity other than organised events, for example the Trial Riders Fellowship of England and Wales who make use of BOATS (Byways Open to All Traffic) and UCRs (Unclassified Country Roads), so their members don’t actually ride off-road, they encompass forty-two regional clubs. But in the example we have examined, permission is granted for organised events because of the level of controls afforded by an event and the frequency of such events.

We hope that the reader will now have a more detailed knowledge of this issue and a better understanding as a result.

Do you now understand more about land use restriction and the rationale than before you read this article? If so, then this article has been worthwhile.

Article copyright: Trials Guru/Moffat Racing/John Moffat – 2015

Photograph and Image Copyright:

Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven

Jimmy Young, Armadale

Alan Lampkin Archive, Silsden.

Neil Mackenzie, Inverness.

Susan Black, Prudoe.

Glasgow University Archive (Rio Tinto Alcan)

Mark Shona

Acknowledgements and Research Sources:

Scottish Natural Heritage (website): www.snh.gov.uk

SSSI general and specific Information for Scotland : www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/protected-areas/national-designations/sssis/

Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC): http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com

Statute: Road Traffic Acts 1988

Auto Cycle Union website: www.acu.org.uk

LARA(Land Access & Recreation Association) website: www.laragb.org

Flood Information (Scottish Environment Protection Agency)

Map of  Leven Valley SSSI 927 – Registers of Scotland:

Trail Riders Fellowship: http://www.trf.org.uk

Great Scots – Ron Thomson – Fort William

Ron Thomson with the only C15 BSA to finish in the 1959 SSDT. All the works bikes retired that year. Photo taken at Gorgie Market, Edinburgh. Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Ron Thomson
Ron Thomson with his C15 BSA at the ‘weigh-in’ of the 1959 SSDT at Gorgie Market, Edinburgh. Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Helen Thomson

Ron Thomson originally from St Andrews, Fife moved to Fort William in the late 1950’s. Ron was a dispatch rider during national service in Egypt and a member of the services club, the Bar-None MCC. On being de-mobbed, Ron joined the local Kirkcaldy & District club. Ron takes up the story: “In my day trials bikes were measured by the hundredweight, not by the cubic capacity! I had a Gold Star, which was dubbed the ‘Stone-Crusher’. So called because no section was ever the same after we had gone through. As for the Scottish Six Days, we used to gear the bikes up, my Trophy Triumph was good for 90 plus mph on the road, the reason for the hurry was that we used to be more interested in the ‘Seven Nights’ than the Six Days!” says Ron.

Ron on his BSA C15T in the 1959 Scottish on Glenogle section on May 4th. One of the first day hills as he made his way homeward to Fort William from the Edinburgh start. On the right is Dunfermline rider Maurice Duffin. Photo: Mrs. Peggy Davies.
Ron on his BSA C15T in the 1959 Scottish on Glenogle section on May 4th. One of the first day hills as he made his way homeward to Fort William from the Edinburgh start. On the second right is Dunfermline rider the late Maurice Duffin. Photo: Mrs. Peggy Davies.

That particular Goldie, as Ron had one or two, registered PFS 916 had a neat conversion, featured in the first 1959 SSDT report in The Motor Cycle. In an attempt to reduce weight, Thomson used the gearbox as an oil reservoir for the motor thus obviating the need for an oil tank. The very machine on which Ron won the over 350 award at the 1969 Scottish which was to be his last ride in the Highland classic. That Gold Star was sold via Ernie Page’s shop in Polwarth Terrace and was passed through many ‘hands’ eventually ending up with Billy Maxwell in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

1964 SSDT on Mamore. Ron Thomson on his BSA Gold Star PFS916 - 'The Stone-Crusher'. Photo courtesy of Mrs Ron Thomson, Fort William.
1964 SSDT on Mamore. Ron Thomson on his BSA Gold Star PFS916 – ‘The Stone-Crusher’. Photo courtesy of Mrs Helen Thomson, Fort William.

Ron loved riding the Scottish Six Days which was in effect a local event for him as he lived in Inverlochy at that time. Ron said: “…well it was more the seven nights I was most interested in to be truthful, we used to get up to all sorts of fun”.

Ron knew an observer called Tommy Millar from Airdrie, a man who never had a complaint registered against him in over 25 years of observing- what was the reason? “I just gie a’ the laddies a clean”, he told Ron.

Ron said: “I’ve no doubt that the kids today on their water cooled pogo sticks in their go faster trendy bin liner suits will enjoy themselves just as much as we did, but still I think had greater fun in the golden years”.

1953 - SSDT - Kirkcaldy Club - Ray Biddle - reduced
At the end of the 1953 Scottish Six Days, Ray Biddle took this photo of the Kirkcaldy & District riders From left: Peter Victory (197 James); Dave Birrell (490 Norton); Jack Duncan (Montrose, 197 Francis Barnett); Dr. J.G. Stewart (197cc Sun); Johnny Birrell (348cc BSA) & Ron Thomson (343cc Triumph)

Ron had a reputation as the man to approach if you wanted your bike fettled for the Scottish. He worked for a spell at the Brechin dealership, Duncan’s.

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Ron prepares to start his BSA Gold Star at the beginning of the 1963 Scottish in Edinburgh’s Gorgie Market. Photo Courtesy of Jimmy Young, Armadale.

At one stage Ron, when still an active rider, prepared about a dozen Lochaber members bikes for the Highland classic.

“I couldn’t concentrate on my own ride for this one or that one coming up and saying, here! Listen to this – do you think it’s all right – will it last the week with this rattle or that rattle?”

Tyndrum, on the final day of the 1964 SSDT. Photo cortesy of Mrs. Ron Thomson, Fort William.
Tyndrum, on the final day of the 1964 SSDT. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Helen Thomson, Fort William.

John Moffat has a vivid personal recollection of the 1967 Scottish Experts held at Achallader Farm, Bridge of Orchy: “Ron Thomson was on his Gold Star, having ridden down from Fort William, a distance of some 35 miles in company with the late Ali McDonald on a 500cc Ariel. Post-trial, Ron stopped for a blether with a group of his old chums, I happened to be an interested bystander, listening in to the “banter”. Ali McDonald had decided to get home before dark and left immediately after signing off at the finish. The bold Ron then decided after quarter of an hour had elapsed to set off in pursuit of his pal, McDonald. Ron set sail from the farm, which, is about a mile from the main A82 trunk road. Within a few moments the assembled gathering could see Ron and the Goldie passing over the steel bridge which spans the River Orchy and up the “Black Mount”, overhauling several cars during his ascent, the big Goldie on full song. The exhaust note ever fading, disappearing from view as he crested the summit and onward to the Fort. What a great sight to behold.”

Alister McDonald was a greta friend of Ron Thomson. here we see Ali on his Ariel HT5 on Town Hall Brae (Rocky Brae) in Fort William in the 1964 SSDT. Photo Courtesy of Mrs Ron Thomson, Fort William.
Alister McDonald was a great friend of Ron Thomson. Here we see Ali on his Ariel HT5 on Town Hall Brae (Rocky Brae) in Fort William in the 1964 SSDT. Photo Courtesy of Mrs Helen Thomson, Fort William.

Known as a ‘big bike’ man, Ron also rode the “tiddlers” as well. In 1959 he chose the brand new C15T BSA 250cc unit construction single for the Scottish Six Days. In fact, out of four C15’s entered, Ron was the only one to get to the finish and that included factory bikes as well!

Ron Thomson - 1959 - BSA C15
Watched by Jeff Smith in the duffle-coat, Ron Thomson on the only C15T BSA to finish in the 1959 Scottish. All the works bikes had retired from the event. This section was at Achintee farm on the slopes of Ben Nevis Photo courtesy of Mrs. Helen Thomson, Fort William.

Back in 1955 he rode a Villiers powered 197cc DMW and a year later rode a similarly powered Welsh built 197cc H.J.H.

In the 1953 Scottish, Ron rode a self-built ex-WD 343cc Triumph, the following year he rode a 347cc Matchless G3LC.

1954 - Creag An Eilein - R S Thomson - Ray Biddle Photo reduced
Ron Thomson on his new for that year 347cc Matchless G3LC in the 1954 Scottish on Creag An Eilein on the Rothiemurchus Estate, near Aviemore. Photo: Ray Biddle, Birmingham.

Ron S. Thomson passed away on 20th January 2007, never being a regular church attender, there was a humanist service held for him in the Crematorium at Inverness. Ron left the trials community of the Lochaber Club and the towns-people of Fort William with great memories of a true character of the sport of trials.

Ron Thomson in 1964 at Achintee Farm on his 500cc BSA Gold Star. Photo Courtesy Mrs Ron Thomson, Fort William.
Ron Thomson in 1964 at Achintee Farm on his 499cc BSA Gold Star. Photo Courtesy Mrs Helen Thomson, Fort William.

Trials Guru on Ron Thomson: Ron Thomson was a well liked individual who moved from his native St. Andrews to work at the British Aluminium works at Fort William. The reason was simple, so that he would live in God’s trials country! He set up business initially in a shed in his back garden fixing motorcycles and lawn-mowers for local people.

His business grew and he obtained premises at the Industrial Estate at Caol a few miles from Fort William on the A830. Many of the younger riders in the town benefited from Ron’s knowledge, which included Hugh and Alister McDonald, Alastair Macgillivray. Gary MacLennan and Rodger Mount.

Friends of Ron Thomson, Hugh McDonald Senior and Junior. Hugh Snr is on Ron thomson's BSA Gold Star and Hugh Jnr on the special bike built for him by Ron Thomson. Photo courtesy of Alister McDonald, Fort William.
Friends of Ron Thomson, Hugh McDonald Senior and Junior. Hugh Snr is on Ron Thomson’s BSA Gold Star and Hugh Jnr on the special bike built for him by Ron Thomson. Photo courtesy of Alister McDonald, Fort William.

His business was called R.S. Thomson (Inverlochy) Ltd. He ran a repair shop and MOT test centre for motorcycles. He was agent for chain-saws and garden equipment and employed Cameron ‘Cammy’ Kennedy for many years.

Ron gets his 250cc BSA C15T examined and security marked at Gorgie Market in May 1959. On Ron's left is Davie Miller, one of the course markers of the SSDT. Photo cortesy of Mrs. Helen Thomson.
Ron gets his 250cc BSA C15T examined and security marked at Gorgie Market in May 1959. On Ron’s left is Davie Miller, one of the course markers of the SSDT. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Helen Thomson.

It was quite usual to swing in past Ron’s workshop for a great natter about the old days. But as sure as guns you were never there long until another enthusiast also had the same idea! How Ron got any work done heaven knows. He was a good builder of wheels, which itself is a bit of a ‘black-art’.

When Ron passed away after a short illness the business folded and Cammy took up employment with The Hire Centre in Fort William. Ron’s friends were not only Scots riders of his era like Jack Williamson; Arnott Moffat; Tommy Robertson; Johnny Clarkson and Bob Paterson, he also enjoyed the friendship of Gordon Blakeway; Ralph Venables; Peter Stirland and some of the best known riders of his era.

24-06-1962 - Ben Nevis - Southern and Lochaber
24th June 1962 – From Left: Bobby Neilson; Billy MacLeod: David Stodart; Hugh McDonald; John Noble: Jack Williamson & Ron Thomson. A joint effort of Edinburgh Southern & Lochaber Clubs to ride up Ben Nevis

They all knew Ron Thomson!

This article was put together from notes John Moffat made during an interview he had with Ron at his workshops at Caol some years ago and personal recollections by Moffat himself of Ron Thomson pieced together over many years knowing Ron Thomson.

Post Script: Added 01/02/2015: This story was spotted by Ron Thomson’s Grand-nephew, Ron Fisher who lives in Canada. It brought back happy memories of a visit to Scotland back in 1997 and indeed Trials Guru has been able to put Ron Fisher and Mrs. Helen Thomson in contact as a result of the article you see above.

Copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing / John Moffat – 2014

With special thanks to Mrs. Helen Thomson of Inverlochy, Fort William for the photographs which accompany this article.

Post script to Ron Thomson’s story…

We have been contacted by former Scottish Speedway professional, John Wilson who now lives in Spain. John owned the ex-Ali McDonald Ariel MDB590 and he has kindly let us see photos of the restored machine. He sold it shortly before emigrating to Spain some years ago.

1964 - Ali McDonald on MDB590 on Grey Mare's  Ridge Photo: Holder and Osborn
1964 – Ali McDonald on MDB590 on Grey Mare’s Ridge Photo: Holder and Osborn
Ariel 1
The ex-Ali McDonald Ariel HT5 (MDB590) nestles inside John Wilson’s den. His speedway memorabilia is in the background. Photo: John Wilson.

Ariel 2

A proud John Wilson shows off his Ariel. Photo: Chris Wilson.
A proud John Wilson shows off his Ariel. Photo: Chris Wilson.

The Rob Edwards Story – Part Two – 1964

1964 SSDT Programme
Front cover of the 1964 SSDT official programme, with Rob’s great friend Gordon Blakeway on the ex-Gordon Jackson AJS (187BLF) in 1963. The bike carried Jackson to victory losing one mark in 1961.

By the time the 1964 Scottish came around, I had got over my previous year’s disaster, this time I was allocated number 210 on an AJS 350 bought from Comerfords, this time entered as a ‘privateer’ and riding for the Middlesbrough & District, my home club.

The event still started and finished in Edinburgh. On the Thursday, we went over the Corrieyarrick Pass.

I think I had been following behind Peter Gaunt and what happened next I wasn’t to find out until sometime later.

I found myself sat on a banking at the side of the Pass, which is an old General Wade military road.

I had no idea at all how I came to be sitting there.

Alan Morewood from Sheffield who became a top sidecar driver, came along on his 500 Ariel as he was number 205 that year, he stopped and asked if I was Okay? ‘Yes, fine’ I said, ‘Bye’ he said and rode off.

couple of minutes later and Alan was back. ‘Rob, are you sure you are al-right, you look dazed?’ said Alan. ‘No problem’ I said and off he went again. Somehow I managed to get back to Fort William to finish the day’s run.

The first person I spoke to asked what I had been doing to scratch my face? Then someone said, ‘never mind his face, look at the back of his bike!’

The rear end was totally out of line. I then realised that I must have hit a pothole in the road with the front wheel over Corrieyarrick, cartwheeled and that explained my rest on the bank.

We pulled the bike back into line with a length of pipe that we found. Apart from a bit of a headache, it was back to business as usual.

Rest of the week was not as eventful and had a good old needle match with my mate Sid Lampkin who was on a factory Cotton that year. For the next year, I had bought another AJS from Comerfords, Thames Ditton built by Jock Wilson. I’ll tell you about that ride next. Bye for now! – Rob

Rob 1964
Rob on his 350 AJS at Achintee Farm, Ben Nevis, in the 1964 Scottish. The AJS supplied by Comerfords, hence the Surrey registration number 970PL. If you look closely the front wheel spindle nut has the ISDT type tommy-bar, obviating the need for a spanner. It also has the works style prop-stand tied to the front downtube by rubber bands and a small spigot mounted on the lower-most engine bolt and the attachment spigot mounting on the magneto mounting plate. Photo supplied by Rob Edwards. Photo copyright: Brian Holder.

Post Script by Rob Edwards: I’ve just been looking again at this fine Brian Holder photograph of me on the AJS on ‘Ben Nevis’ in 1964. The chap directly behind me is Mick Ward from Scarborough.

He built a bike especially for this event. He had the novel idea of taking the exhaust through the back frame loop to save a bit of weight.

However, when he got stuck, the ever helpful spectators would rush to his aid, not realising the exhaust was the rear frame loop and severely burn their hands in their quest to assist! I’m sure the A&E at Fort William were extra busy that week with burns!

I bet Mick never thought that one day Valentino Rossi would copy his helmet design! – Bye for now! – Rob

 

PCW AJS 1962
Comerford’s employee, Peter ‘Jock’ Wilson with one of his creations, an ultra short-stroke AJS 16C, photo taken at the back of Comerfords workshop at Portsmouth Road, Thames Ditton.  Jock was brought up a mile from the old SSDT sections at ‘Meall Glas’ in Glen Lyon, Perthshire. Photo Copyright: Don Morley, Reigate, Surrey

TRIALS GURU: – 1964 Scottish Six Days, this edition was won by Sammy Miller riding the much modified and much weight reduced, Ariel HT5. This would be the last time he would do so on the British four-stroke, Miller had already been secret testing the 200cc Bultaco Sherpa which he was later to develop to an increased 244cc and thus created a world beating machine with the San Adrien De Besos factory.

From the 1964 Scottish Six Days Trial Results:

No. 210. R. Edwards, Middlesbrough & Dist. M.C., A.J.S. 350 c.c. …. 124 marks S F C (Special First Class Award)

Ron Thomson 1964SSDT Achintee
1964 SSDT another Achintee photo taken the same day as that of Rob Edwards. Here we see the late Ron Thomson a great character originally from St. Andrews who made his home in Inverlochy, Fort William. Seen here on his 500cc BSA Gold Star. Ron called this bike the ‘Stone Crusher’ and was later owned by Billy Maxwell of Newcastle. Thomson and Ali McDonald were great friends. Photo courtesy: Mrs Ron Thomson, Inverlochy, Fort William.

Rob’s eventful Scottish ‘Thursday’ was May 7th 1964. The route was as follows, let’s follow where Rob went that day: Start, Fort William; Inverlochy; 2 sections at Annat; Banavie; Gairlochy; 8 sections at Laggan Locks; Corrieyarrick Pass (where Rob has his big off!); Melgarve; Laggan Inn; Roy Bridge; Inverlochy – Lunch control; Glen Nevis; 4 sections at Ben Nevis; Fort William – Down Ashburn Lane; Onich; Kinlochleven; 1 section on Pollock Way; 8 sections at Leitir Bo Fionn; Down Loch Eild Path; 8 sections at Mamore; Check at top of hill; Mamore Road; 2 sections on the Town Hall Brae and Finish of day. Total Mileage 132 miles. 33 sections.

A Macdonald 1964SSDT THB
1964 SSDT shot of the late Ali McDonald, a Fort William man, on his Ariel HT5 on Town Hall Brae in Fort William. Photo courtesy: Mrs. Ron Thomson, Inverlochy, Fort William.

SSDT Point of interest: The number plates you see in the SSDT photos were issued to riders by the organising club. The rider paid a fee of ten shillings and forfeited the deposit if they didn’t hand the plates back at the end of the event. In 1964 the number plate official was Bob Adamson who later was to become SSDT Assistant Secretary and Secretary of the Pre’65 Scottish Trial.

1964 - Blackie Holden at Achintee
1964 Scottish at the same section group, Achintee, Ben Nevis that we saw Rob on his AJS, here we have the late Blackie Holden from Bradford on his works Cotton. Blackie Holden junior supplied this photo and said: “My Dad rode with Rob Edwards many times and considered him a true gentleman of the sport”.

 

Copyright: Rob Edwards/Trials Guru, Moffat Racing (c) 2014

Acknowledgements:

Don Morley, Reigate, Surrey for permission to use the photograph of Peter ‘Jock’ Wilson for this article.

Edinburgh & District Motor Club Ltd for the use of 1964 programme cover.

Rob Edwards for the use of the Brian Holder photo.

Blackie Holden Junior for the photo of Blackie Holden Snr in 1964.

Mrs Ron Thomson, Inverlochy, Fort William for the photos of Ali McDonald & Ron Thomson.

To read all of Rob Edwards’ story of his life in trials, click … here