With the annual Scottish Six Days Trial and Pre’65 Scottish fast approaching, perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves that these are organised events, suitably insured and staffed with officials. These events don’t just happen and many months of planning and negotiations with public and private organisations take place each year, let’s keep it that way?
Have a read through the article on Trials Guru which explains fully the situation surrounding land use in the UK and how trials fans and spectators can do their bit.
There is a ‘right to roam’ but that does not include motor vehicle access!
The simple solution is, by all means go to these events, but don’t take a motorcycle, unless you strictly plan to follow only by the public highway.
Learn about illegal land use, it isn’t as obvious as you may think!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Access to the countryside requires responsibility, sometimes this is absent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In deepest Argyll, nestling among stunning scenery and mountains, lies the town of Kinlochleven. Many books have been written about the area, one of which is ‘Children of the Dead End – The Autobiography of a Navvy’ – By Patrick McGill – this book is exactly what the title says, it’s the story of an immigrant manual worker or ‘navvy’ as they were called. This book which is rated as one of the best 100 best Scottish books of all time, describes the times when the Aluminium smelter and factory was being constructed at the end of the 1800’s. Kinlochleven flourished as a direct result of the creation of the Aluminium factory which employed around 1,000 workers and produced high quality aluminium for the world. These employees came from far afield and settled in the town, one such settler was Ian Murray Pollock, who was originally from Falkirk, Stirlingshire. Pollock had been through the second world war, having served in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders regiment in Palestine. When he was effectively demobbed from the British Army, Pollock was fortunate to secure employment with the British Aluminium Company Ltd at their Kinlochleven smelter. The ‘BA’ as it was universally known, was a major employer both there and at their Fort William operation, which exists to this day.
Pollock started his career as a ‘fitter’ but quickly progressed through the ranks to become a shift foreman at the plant.
Being an active young man who had forged many friendships in the locality, Pollock took an interest in the annual Scottish Six Days Trial which made use of the hills near to Kinlochleven during the ‘Sporting Holiday in the Highlands’. Pollock had amassed quite a knowledge of the local paths, bridleways and rough country high above the town. This was to eventually forge a strong bond between him and members of the Edinburgh & District Motor Club, who promoted the Scottish Six Days Trial.
Ian also became involved in local events, eventually becoming a central character in the Kinlochleven Motor Cycle Club, which he helped form.
Pollock in association with his good friend, Lithuanian refugee, Paul Kilbauskas discovered there was more land available to the SSDT than perhaps the organisers were aware of!
The SSDT up until the late 1960’s, made extensive use of main and secondary roads, proper foot and bridle paths, sheep paths but very little open moorland. It wasn’t until Jimmy Mulvie became Clerk of Course that the SSDT made use of open moorland stretches.
It was Pollock and Kilbauskas that investigated the possibility of going out over the hills from Kinlochleven back over to the Fort William area other than by the original Mamore Road, which is the water bound surface that is still used by the SSDT and Pre’65 trials to this day. It stretches from Mamore Lodge across to Blarmafoldach, just outside Fort William and links into the Achintore Road.
Pollock and Kilbauskas were energetic men, they liked the outdoors and they both jointly and severally, explored the many trails, paths and rocky burns and outcrops that littered the hills high above Kinlochleven. They also knew all the local keepers, shepherds and landowners, so permission was never a problem. Many of the hills surrounding the town had been purchased from estates at the end of the 19th century primarily for the water rights. This enabled the factory to operate and ensure plentiful supply of water via the Blackwater area, high above Kinlochleven. Pollock and Kilbauskas were trusted individuals and it helped the SSDT greatly by having reliable people such as Pollock and Kilbauskas on hand.
These explorations bore fruit aplenty, for the Pollock/Kilbauskas venture yielded many new sections in the form of ‘Loch Eild Path’; ‘Mamore’; ‘German Camp’; ‘Leitir Bo Fionn’; ‘Grey Mare’s Ridge’ and of course ‘Brump Brae’, later to be renamed ‘Pollock Hill’.
In the period 1955 through to 1959, Ian was listed in the official programmes of the SSDT as an observer, but Pollock was much more than that, he was the journeyman who discovered many of the iconic hills that would eventually unearth the most famous of them all, ‘Pipeline’ probably the most famous motorcycle trial section of all time! Alex Smith, from Bathgate, a former assistant Clerk of Course confirms that ‘Pipeline’ was first used as an observed section in the 1967 SSDT.
‘Pipeline’ is just a couple of miles out of the town and is the subject of many of the most stunning motorcycle trials photos to come from the cameras of Nick Nichols, Eric Kitchen and photographers of their age.
Pollock was an enthusiastic observer at the SSDT and when Johnny Brittain won the 1957 Scottish, his photo adorned the cover of the following year’s programme, the observer in the background watching intently being Ian Pollock. The original photo used on the 1958 SSDT programme front cover was a ‘MotorCycling’ print which is now the property of Mortons Motorcycle Media, Hornchurch, but a personal copy still hangs in Pollock’s daughter Pamela’s home in Glencoe.
By 1962, Pollock was now listed as an Assistant Clerk of the Course and was held in high esteem by his peers and by the ‘Clerk’ himself, the late George Baird who described Ian as ‘our man on the spot’ in the official programme.
Kilbauskas was also a ‘Tunnel Tiger’ who worked on the many hydro-electric schemes in the Scottish Highlands, he was an explosives handler during his time on these massive projects. He concentrated more on riding the Six Days on Matchless, Royal Enfield and BSA machinery, always a 500cc machine. He helped find a sizeable part of the route was in effect a ‘displaced person’ who had to flee his native Lithuania in 1947. His first port of call was Market Harborough in Leicestershire. Paul eventually settled in Kinlochleven, worked at the Aluminium factory for a period where he met and eventually married his sweetheart, Rose who also worked at the BA factory and was originally from the Orkney Islands. They had two daughters, Marina and Rachel. There is now a Paul Kilbauskas award in the SSDT in remembrance of the one-time course plotter and explorer for the event.
‘Mambrec’ was yet another of the sections discovered by Ian Pollock, a section that has been used in the Pre’65 Scottish Trial many times. Pollock was fortunate to strike up a good friendship with Johnny Graham who also became Clerk of Course SSDT. Graham would leave a trials motorcycle at Ian’s home to give him something to explore with. One such machine was the ex-works 350cc Matchless registered ‘OLH722’ of Ted Usher and another was the ex-factory BSA of Brian Martin registered ‘BSA350’.
Pollock would regularly fire these ‘loan bikes’ up and take them up onto the Dam Road and into the hills to see what he could find.
In 1963 the SSDT committee honoured Ian by calling one of the sections ‘Pollock Way’, this was just off one of the many paths near the River Leven, that Ian and Paul Kilbauskas discovered on their explorations.
When the Lochaber and District Club was founded, they enlisted Ian’s help to organise their ‘Spring Trial’. This particular event was eventually re-named as The Ian Pollock Trial in his honour and is regarded as one of the best one-day trials in the Scottish trial calendar to this day.
Ian Pollock is survived by his only daughter, Pamela who married local man and trials rider, John MacGregor, they live in Glencoe and regularly watch the Pre’65 Scottish Two-Day Trial.
John MacGregor was at one time himself an Assistant Clerk of Course SSDT and Pre’65 Scottish in its formative years.
So next time you climb up the ‘Dam Road’ to watch riders in either the SSDT or Pre’65 Scottish trials, spare a thought for the man who discovered many of these sections – Ian Murray Pollock.
More on Kinlochleven:
Kinlochleven in Scots Gaelic is Ceann Loch Liobhann, it was the first village in Scotland to have electric street lighting because of the electric power generated by the British Aluminium Company smelter. It used hydro or water power which was pioneered at Foyers in 1895 on the south side of Loch Ness, not far from Inverness. Kinlochleven was actually formed from two small villages, Kinlochmore (Large head of the loch) and Kinlochbeg (Small head of the loch). Kinlochmore on the north and Kinlochbeg on the south of the River Leven that runs into Loch Leven of which Kinlochleven sits at the head of.
The British Aluminium Company became part of Alcan, the Canadian based aluminium producer which laterly became Rio Tinto Alcan, part of the multi-national Rio Tinto company, which employs local personnel at their Fort William smelter operation. Rio Tinto (Alcan) is the world’s leading aluminium mining and producer. Rio Tinto Alcan can trace its roots back to Alcoa founded in 1928.
High quality, pure Aluminium was first produced at Kinlochleven at the ‘wee factory’ which was a temporary establishment high up in the hills on the Blackwater path. The ‘wee or temporary factory’ opened in 1907 with the main factory opening in Kinlochleven in 1909. The Blackwater dam or reservoir was formed purely to hold water reserves for the British Aluminium Company by flooding a sparsely populated valley high above the town, effectively trapping many of the River Leven’s tributaries and led down to the power house by six pipes, which are of course visible and beside the famous ‘Pipeline’ SSDT section group.
Trials Guru is indebted to Pamela and John MacGregor of Glencoe, Argyll for information supplied which made this article possible.
Text Copyright: Trials Guru / Moffat Racing, John Moffat – 2015
Photo Copyright: Iain Ferguson – ‘The Write Image’, Fort William – All Rights Reserved.
Photo of Paul Kilbauskas, by kind permission of Ms. Marina Kilbauskas.
Special thanks to: Alex Smith, former SSDT Assistant Clerk of Course and former Chairman, Pre’65 Scottish Trial.
Thanks to the Edinburgh & District Motor Club Ltd – For use of the cover of the 1958 SSDT official programme.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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?”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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