Mad Axeman Rally
Organised by Durham and District MCC (Durham Panthers) and until 2008 was at Witton Castle nr. Bishop Auckland.
Climbing up and down the middle of the tower was popular, but only after a few drinks!
I have been to lots of Mad Axeman Rallies over the years and it is hard now to separate what happened when! For many years as a member of the Tee's Tornadoes I was able to go to the rally without booking and just sign in the back of the book. We also never used to camp on the main field, but in a walled garden near the clocktower in the castle grounds. Entry to this was through a narrow gate and you had to watch the clearance on your panniers. Derek Faulkner on his CBR600 forgot about this and made a spectacular entry removing both of his on the way in!
In some ways, for me, the rally was never as good as the camping weekends and the Christmas dinners held by the Panthers at Witton Castle. It always seemed too crowded. But I suppose a lot of people enjoy the atmosphere of the bigger event and it is still small when compared to the "Storming the Castle" rally, the other event that used to be held there.
The Panthers always had a caravan on site as rally control and you could get tea /coffee /soup there. Across from that was a large bonfire which was very welcome to get a bit of heat back into yourself. (The rally is in February).
The Castle had a bar upstairs with a couple of large rooms and then a sort of games area with pool tables etc. Downstairs was a smaller couple of rooms also with a bar where the disco was held. These bars were always closed on time, but for those in the know there was another alternative bar in the clocktower which went on far too late! Climbing up and down the middle of the tower was popular, but only after a few drinks!
Ted mentions the clock tower and climbing up the centre of it. There was a central "chimney" that the weights that used to power the clock had hung in, with arched openings into each of the three floors. I can speak from experience, having been one of those climbers.
After a while just climbing it became too easy, so we would invent harder objectives to liven it up, culminating in climbing it head downwards, carrying two pints.
Things looked good until Ian Waugh decided I was actually going to make it to the top and started dripping hot candle wax on me from the top floor. I think the beer they had thrown had made the walls slippery as well. Anyway, down I came from two storeys up. I kicked big John Emery in the ear scrabbling for grip just before I hit the bottom head first. Alan (Favs) tended to the cuts and bruises, mainly my forehead that had hit the stone floor, sandpapering all the skin off and raising a giant egg. I looked like a Klingon.
I suppose I was quite lucky. Big John was in nearly as bad condition from the kick to the right ear I had given him. I now have a couple of siezed vertebrae in my neck, but it may have been when I fell out of the tractor tyre rolling down the hill at the Captain Cook, so I'm not blaming Woffy.
I'm a union safety rep at work now.
(Paul Elliott, ex Tees Tornadoes MCC, with the Woffs, Honneymans, Big John Emery, Big Keith Hunwick and little Val Banana Bell and Glenda.)
For breakfast I would quite often go down to an old style transport type café in West Auckland run by an Italian family, but there was catering on site.
The food at Witton Castle could be very different to normal rally fare. There was a fish and chip shop on site, but John Harker the castle manager used to organize shoots. You could have pheasant burgers, game pie, or order a rabbit or two to take home with you! I can still picture him in his usual attire of country tweeds and deerstalker hat. He never seemed to age, he still looked the same when he retired as how he did twenty odd years earlier and, knowing him, I bet it was the same hat!
I have been told that the castle has been bought by Hoseasons and is being re-developed as a holiday centre. The Mad Axeman is still running, though at a new site.
- Ted Trett
I'm the secretary of Durham Panthers. We still meet at Neville's Cross Social Club on Tuesday nights and we still hold the Axeman Rally in February.
We've been having it up in Weardale for a couple of years, but we've moved it down to a new venue in Durham City at the Rowing club.
This year it was a great success and we shall continue doing so, until old age takes its toll.
The Mad Axemen should be stalking the world for a good few more years I hope. Note that it is a Stricly pre-book only Rally!