End Of The Line Farthest Point West on the British Mainland
What can you say about the Antler? The road to the site is the most challenging you will encounter to get to any Mainland British Rally. However it used to be worse, much much worse! Over the years the toll of motorcycles that did not make it must be huge! But if you do get there it is a never to be forgotten experience, and for a lot of us an unmissable one year after year.
- Ted Trett
The Antler Rally 1974
Les Hobbs filled us in on all the gory details of the 1974 rally.
I don't really know where I got the idea from, to go to the ANTLER RALLY but I had made up my mind and that was that.
I had recently picked up a cheque, compensation for a road traffic accident that had seen me off work for 10 months with a shattered knee joint 4 years earlier and one of the first things I had done was to get hold of a new R90/6 BMW but as of yet I had not fitted the STIEB sidecar, the fittings not being available. Cyril Heath (Buster) of the Birmingham Sidecar Club who ran the Watsonian sidecar interest of Watson's was doing the honours. Mine must have been the first 900 BMW in England to be fitted with a chair. More about Buster later in the Heart of England Rally.
The accident had left me with a bit of a handicap; a weak right leg and a strange urge to drive only sidecar outfits, very strange as I was on a BSA GOLD FLASH and double adult when I broke my leg. All I had driven since the accident was the same BSA and a very fast TRITON and MONZA. Half the time the BSA was a B S, the rest of the time it was a TRIBSA. I used to spend most of the week working to keep the British bikes running for the coming weekend's rally, nurse the thing back home and get it ready for the following weekend. This all changed when I got the BMW. No more hours in the garage night after night.
I had had the latest rally list from Pete Whitesmith, Bynge Road, Catterick Camp, Catterick, Yorkshire. Any one remember him? The die was cast. My parents had gone away to the caravan for the week so all was ready. Bike loaded Friday night after work, full petrol tank. The plan was to leave around 4.30 Saturday morning, but we all know about plans. Friday night in the local was good, so when the alarm went off at 4.00 ... "I'll just have 5 more minutes" We've all done it. Next thing you know it's 10.50 am and OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THE TIME!!! Throw some clothes on, run out the house and crank the bike up. M6 here I come.
Two hours 55 minutes later I was in Carlisle (200 miles). Around an hour later I was in Glasgow. I was amazed to see the policemen walking around in threes and pubs with no windows, just a single line of glass bricks about seven feet up from the ground. The tenaments and even the chip shops had wire grills on the windows. My first naive thought was it was to prevent people breaking in. Nah it's to stop drunken jocks putting the window through.
Up to yet I had made good progress, then it started to drizzle which soon turned into rain. I hate wet roads. Every time I've come off it's been on a wet road and with my leg being weak I did not want to risk dropping the bike. The road around Loch Lomond was, or it seemed to be, full of car drivers doing 33 mph. I could not get past them. Each time I tried something came the other way or it was a blind corner ahead. When you finally did manage to get past them there was another car just as slow 200 yards ahead.
The A82 is not a good road at the best of times as it winds it's way around Loch Lomond and through Glen Coe but in the damp penetrating rain/drizzle misted up visor or visor-up mode, it's not the most enjoyable of Saturday afternoons that I've spent. Eventually the road arrives at Ballachluish where there is now a grand bridge, replacing the old ferry. So more time was lost awaiting the arrival of the ferry from theother side. From there it's a mere hop skip and a jump to the Corran Ferry. The light had starting to fade at this point and the ferryman informed me that I'm a lucky b-----d as this was his last crossing of the day and had I missed this ferry the only way around until the morning was the best part of a 50 mile drive up Loch Linnhe to Fort William, around Loch Eil, and back down the other side of Loch Linnhe on poor roads. At the prospect of that I think I would have turned around and gone home or found a place to stay until the morning.
"Where is the nearest petrol station?" I asked the ferryman "I've just gone on to reserve!"
I was told of a hotel/bar at Inversanda, a few miles away where an unmanned 24 hour self-service pump was located (thank God for local knowledge) and it took 50p coins which the ferryman provided me with, as I had none.
Disembarking from the ferry I drove to Iversanda on the A861. How this can be called an A road I'll never know. There was no great big sign saying 'last petrol ever until Canada' and it would have been so easy to have rode straight past. I tanked up and pressed on to Salen, a small coastal village/hamlet, thinking "I'm near now, less than 20 miles to cover". Fool!
Outside of Salen the A861 turns into the B8007. I have never, ever, before nor since, come across a road like this. A real night-mare. No more than a farmers dirt track, it's around 19.00 and I'm getting the shakes. I need a few beers. The rain has stopped but now it's gone all foggy, what's this across the road? A gate. Off the bike, open the gate, drive through, off the bike, close the gate, (did I just call it a road) The track was as wide as a land rover, 6 feet, two sets of tyre tracks with a deadly pryamid of loose gravel/grass growing in the center. God damn it another gate, and another, whoa! Sheep on the road! Another damn gate.
Speed was down to walking pace as the mist/fog limited vision to 20 feet or less. Have you ever seen a long horned highland cow/bull loom out of the fog? Frightening! Good job BMW fitted a loud set of horns to the range. I didn't resort to the use of them as the cattle seemed well laid back and ignored me and the bike.
Finally I arrived at Kilchoan. It was 21.00 and the pub loomed out of the mist. I stopped the bike ran inside to the cheers off the gathered throng and ordered three pints. The first was downed before the second was pulled. I now had time to look around at the lads who had managed to get up in the wee small hours to get here at a respectable hour and not the last minute. Ten hours it had taken me and what's that noise? A bell ringing? Yes the landlord was calling last orders. "We close at 21.30." Thank God there was some sort of a village hall where we had a few extra tins.
Hank from the Potteries Phoenix MCC offered to let me crash down in his tent to save me putting mine up at such a late hour, I had just binned the dreaded IGLOO and bought a tent "unwanted gift" out of the local newspaper. I unpacked the bike and sorted out the airbed and sleeping bag, throwing the new (BLUE) tent under the fly-sheet of Hank's (ORANGE) Vango Force Ten. It's a thing you never think about, but it's amazing how the colour orange has this little know quality to suck up the colour blue like a Dyson, or on the other hand how a cheap tatty tent can stain a mate's pride and joy and get you called a prat for years to come. Personally I think a blue and orange mix is quite tasteful, unique, even trendsetting.
Day dawned and we had a quick look at the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan and then set off home. Ken Lawrence from Newton-le-Willows, had thrown his 1974 BMW R90s down the road on the way from Salen to Kilchoan but arrived under his own power. But on a repeat fall on the return leg he threw the bike down on the other side and had to rely on the AA to get him home being unable to carry on further. The return ride to Salen was a lot more pleasing, being in daylight, and the sea mist had cleared. Now you could see just where you had been the night before. A good part of the road, at least 50%, was right next to Loch Sunart and in a lot of cases the waters edge was less than 5 feet from the road, down a small drop with no fence. When Ted Trett said the ride to the rally was over the most demanding roads it was no exageration.
I have never been back.
- Les Hobbs
I got my first rally badge at the 1972 Antler. Still got the bush hat I put it on - it's how I know which way is the front!
I was 9 years old or 10 if it was after August. Rode pillion with my Dad "Yakydar Smith" - BMW R60/5 I think - will look out some photies.
Still got the bike and still got me Dad :).
Found a real live haggis on a (funnily enough) haggis hunt. There was a deer roast that weekend too, if memory serves.
The final leg of the journey has been described here before and I certainly remember that bit - along the loch side. Single track road. Tent poles on the rack behind me teaching car drivers the meaning of patience...
Think I'll look at my other rally badges now!
Dad and me were both members of the Tyne Cyclones too when that started up. Gawd, I'm old.
- Mark L Smith
PS One other thing - there seems to be plenty mention of Drew Grant on your site. Do you have any news of him? I got his brother's (Scott) CX500 way back when.
If you think you're old, Mark, what about your poor ol' dad? We look forward to seeing your photies.
Within two days of Mark's question about Drew and Scott Grant, Ian Lee received the message via Ted Trett and sent an address, phone number and email address that was passed back to Mark.
Drew & Scott Grant are very much alive and well, Drew lives in Washington, Sunderland. Scott lives near to Birtley at Urperth Grange. I could take you to his house but can't remember his address. You can get it from Weee Drew, he won't mind you calling him.
Drew worked for me for over 21 years and is a very close friends as is Scott. He still sort of works for me in that he looks after my website. He is still very active with his bikes and still has one of the bikes he used to go to your rallies on; it's a 350 Velocette V line Viper, he's had it from new.
In the past I used to rally on a regular basis as I am a founder member of Dean Valley Motorcycle Club (I'm still a member) but due to my business I don't do many rallies although I was at one stage the General Manager of the BMF Rider Training Scheme and used to visit your club house for bmf meetings and used to visit the Rider Training scheme.
- Ian Lee
Now Ted Trett tells about his journey to the 1974 rally.
In '74 my friend Barry Clark had bought a new Honda CB750/4 and we decided to try it out two up on the Antler rally. (To save petrol money). He bought the bike from Queens Park Motors in Salford and was still in a state of shock at having paid nearly a thousand quid just for a motorbike!
Anyway, due to work we couldn't set off early on Friday so about 5.30 we got away from Bradford onto the M62 then M61, M6 and up to Scotland. Try that now on Friday and learn about traffic jams! Well so much for saving money. The first stop for petrol was at Tebay services, about 60 miles from home using the normal route on the A65 through the Dales! We decided that perhaps a more relaxed cruising speed might be a good idea!
We had passed an MZ 250 on the motorway, all loaded up with gear, the "flying banana" type with the big square headlight and tank unit. But due to our petrol stop he had got ahead. Well this kept happening. The MZ would be passed and left behind only to re pass us when we next stopped for petrol! Who needs a Japanese superbike? Barry was not impressed!
It's hard to believe now but back then you had to go through most towns and villages and even Glasgow didn't have a ring road (the M8 wasn't thought of then). It was always a risky business to pass through Glasgow late on Friday night. Not sure where you were going and at every set of traffic lights you were liable to be accosted by some guy wanting to know "weer tha heell u off orn thet Motersikle Jimmy!" Until the M8 was built I don't think I went through the same way twice!
We were just leaving Balloch village, just before Loch Lomond when we saw the MZ at the side of the road. Thinking that it had broken down we stopped to help. The rider of the MZ turned out to be Dave Hancock (Hank) from Stoke. He had just bought the MZ to replace a Norton Commando! Barry's previous bike was also a Commando so they could compare the merits of their new bikes! Hank hadn't broken down but had decided that there was no point in going any further because the ferry at Ballachluish and the Corran would be closed before we got there. We stayed with Hank in his Force Ten tent (shortly before Les Hobbs gave it a unique blue colour scheme!)
Up early the next morning we rode up to the rally together, the MZ as usual absolutely flat out but trouble free! The road to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan Peninsular was still an unimproved cart track then as previously described, but on this trip I was a passenger, so if only I had dared to open my eyes I could have looked at all the grand highland scenery! Why do motorcyclists make such bad pillion passengers?
Well the rally was wet that year and I had yet again fallen for the "we can use my tent, it will mean less things to carry." The tent Barry had brought was one of those pocket handkerchief sized "pup" tents, wooden poles and no sewn in ground sheet or fly sheet. When you touched the sides it leaked!
At least it had one good effect. I made my mind up then to buy myself a Vango force ten tent. I still use Vangos now and although I have tried all kinds of tent in the past 30 odd (very odd!) years I always end up back with a force ten!
Despite the weather, the bad roads, the cost, the licensing laws, the bloody hard seat on the Honda, I must have enjoyed it because I will be there yet again this year ('07) with a bit of luck.
NEXT: HOW TO DO THE ANTLER THE HARD WAY (or was this trophy really worth all this petrol money?)
Problems in 1976 saw me stranded at the Blackpool Rally instead of the Antler. But that's another story you may hear when I get round to writing about the Blackpool Do's!
Determined not to miss it again, I was faced with a dilemma in 77. There was a clash of dates; the Solent Rally was on the same weekend.
The thing was I had entered (and won) the Solent MCC's rally miles competition in 76, so I wanted to go down and see friends down there, but the run up to the Antler is so much better! Oh well I suppose I will have to do them both then!
Just to make things interesting I found out that the Mendip Rally was also on the same weekend!
Due to a lack of funds I was riding a Honda 400/4 at the time. Service intervals every 1500 miles! All I ever seemed to do was change oil and filters, but at least it kept it reliable. (39,000 miles in 18 months, my only problem was one set of fork seals under warranty!)
So after a phone call or two I arranged to go down to Stubbington to the Solent MCC meeting on Thursday night. I didn't finish work in Bradford until 4.30 but I managed to get there just before everybody went home but booked into the rally in advance, because although I would spend the night on the rally site I would be away in the morning before they got anything set up!
Next morning I was away across country to Somerset (the Slab House Inn site) for the Mendip Rally. I was relieved to find a few people from the Bristol Norton owners club preparing things and was able to get a drink and a burger to send me on my way. The next section was the worst, up the M5 and through the road works at Birmingham, then up the M6 and getting better, the A74 into Scotland.
I intended to make good time on the motorway section, so the poor little 400/4 got a merciless thrashing all the way up. I knew though that I would not make it to Corran before the last ferry. I finally gave up for the night some where to the north of Loch Lomond as it seemed a shame to ride through all that scenery in the dark!
Saturday morning bright and early saw me up and across Rannoch Moor, through Glen Coe, over the new bridge at Ballachulish and down to the front of the queue for the Corran ferry.
The Antler was not at Kilchoan that year but about 5 miles from Salen on the A861. Well after about twelve or thirteen hundred miles of riding I was flying, so when I saw another bike in the distance it was natural to try to catch up! And then of course as he was only pootling along I just had to pass him! It was a very fast approach to the village of Acharacle, BLOODY HELL I didn't remember that corner being so sharp, but I was in luck and just missed a car coming the other way and got away with it.
Not so the lad behind. He also missed the car but clipped the curb and came off.
Unbelievably the woman driving the car was a nurse and she set to sorting out cuts and bruises and all the time telling us what she thought of speeding motorcyclists!
I had managed to get within about half a mile of the site without any incident and I realised how easily that could have been me!
Well if you have read this far I suppose I had better mention the rally. I got there put the tent up and went to the marquee for a drink. The only thing I can remember is the midgies were not normal Scottish man eating midgies but hybrid piranha/midge crossbreeds that could shred you to the bone in seconds! Better walk up the road to the pub then!
Sorry but that's it! Oh and for some reason they decided to give me the long distance award!
The next year I did it all again but I had bought myself a Suzuki GS1000 for my 25th birthday. So to make it more of a challenge I also called in at Dick Powell's Devon Rally (near Barnstaple) the Mendip again then the Snuff Divers (near Kendal) and spent all of Friday trying to break the land speed record! No speed cameras, not much traffic and only an occasional police car to look out for. Those were the days, when speed was only considered dangerous if you took it in tablet form!
I would have to admit I'm not as keen to ride my bike these days. It looks like the Solent's going to clash again in 07, but I think I will only do the 750ish mile weekend trip to the Antler!!
- Ted Trett
Made me laugh - specially since I was hoping to go there in a few weeks time - well done boys