Simmer Dim Rally

1st Simmer Dim Rally 17-20 June 1982 Islesburgh MCC

The Shetlands?1 Aren't they in that box in Scotland, like on the weather maps? They are WHERE?? For a CAMPING WEEKEND?? Are you mad??

Well, that was the reaction when our Rally Sec suggested the Simmer Dim rally during one club meeting. After a week of thinking it over, four of us thought it might not be such a bad idea after all. (And one of us only had a 250!)


- Phil the Spill

Shetland, it seems, is actually in the middle of the North Sea, 200 miles North of Aberdeen Harbour, where the ferry sails from. The cost of the tickets, £20, taking into account the 25 beer/food tokens, wasn't too expensive, but the cost of petrol for well over 1000 miles on top of the price of the ferry may have made us wary. But we agreed to it and sent off our money. As it happens, P&O gave rally-goers a hefty 50% discount for the solo bikes (not, unfortunately trikes or combos), this made it only £40, which helped a lot. Checking back, petrol only cost about £1.60/gallon (35p/litre) in 1982, and I expect we were complaining about it, even then.

And so it came to pass that myself (Yamaha XJ650), Pete (Catweazle - Yamaha Tr1), Neil (W-Anchor - some large Honda) and Danny (Barrel - Yamaha XS250SE) set forth on the great voyage of discovery into the unknown north-lands where dragons may be found (allegedly). Danny was the one on a 250 and he had fitted a screen upon which he had emblazoned the phrase "Simmer Dim or Bust", he was later to wish he hadn't done that!

All the bikes were equipped with CB radios and three of us had headsets in our helmets. Danny was the one without a headset. On our journey we found signs advertising a 'Radio Rally' and, being in need of some equipment, we followed the signs. The event was in a park in whatever town we were passing through, and there seemed to be a charge for members of the public to get in. When the guy on the gate saw us with our aerials waving in the wind, he just waved us through along with a group of cars similarly endowed. We quickly checked out the goods available on the stalls and selected what we needed. Then quietly went on our way.

The first night's stop was a campsite in the middle of nowhere, (means I can't remember where it was), which was a first for me, having only camped on rally sites up to now. Pete was well into this sort of thing and unpacked an unfeasible amount of cooking gear and food from a single pannier and soon had a meal ready. The rest of us made do with the single burners we had to warm up our tins of beans. There was nothing of interest, (pub), in the area, so we agreed on an early night soon after eating. We tried to connect Danny's new headset up to his radio, but it wasn't quite right. (No such thing as standard connected in the early days of CB radio!) But at least Danny could now hear us talking about the route ahead.

On the second day, we did another few hundred miles, (I think the Snake Pass was mentioned at one point), and Pete led us to a Youth Hostel to stay for the night, (he was apparently still a member, but another first for me). Despite the not-too-bad weather, we seemed to be the only people staying there, apart from the warden, obviously. After we made the arrangements and cooked our supper, using the hostel's kitchen, Pete set to work with his 12 volt soldering iron, trying to get Danny's head-set to connect to the radio, but was unsuccessful. In those pre-internet days, we couldn't just google to find a radio electrician but there was a yellow pages and a phone in the hostel, so we made arrangements to visit one the next day.

After visiting the engineer, we were all connected as we headed North for some serious mileage. We needed to be in Aberdeen the next day for the ferry! The weather was quite miserable and this was when Danny's bike started to give him some problems. It wasn't running right, and this slowed down the convoy considerably. When we stopped for lunch, we chanced upon Bob, from the 'Mighty' South London Triumph Owners Club - on a Honda CB250RS - who was also going to the 'Dim', so he tagged along. We weren't making as much progress as we liked, but we had travelled quite a distance and crossed the border, and when we chanced upon a B&B in the evening, we decided to call it a day. (Although Pete had decided to get a few more miles under his belt before nightfall and left us to it.) It wasn't a bad B&B, and they let us put our luggage under cover for the night, but the only thing on TV the other residents were interested in was Scotland playing in some football match, so we visited the nearest chippie before retiring.

Wednesday had slightly better weather, but Danny's bike didn't run any better, and it wasn't until nearly lunchtime when we got to Aberdeen Harbour. We found Pete resting on his bike in the middle of everybody else. (He had found a B&B a few towns further along our route.) Soon, most of us were settled in the Pub outside the Harbour gates until the ferry ticket office opened, and we all got our boarding cards.

We thought we might like a cabin for the trips, as we were unsure about sleeping in the bar. We managed to get one for the trip up, but they were all already booked for the return journey. Neil took advantage of having our own lifebelts to wear one as the boat left the harbour, but was asked by a member of staff to put it away and stop being a pillock soon afterwards. Although we were told the boat had a fully stocked bar, many people carried on crates of beer, and we had a merry old time crossing the jolly old North Sea. There was a reasonably priced cafeteria on board, but for the first trip, we used the more expensive restaurant. The advantage of this was that it was a buffet service and you could fill your plate as many times as you wanted, although some people used it to fill the plates with as much as possible each time they went up, regardless of whether or not the food would go together well, (custard and chips, anyone?)

Later on, the café became a video-cinema, but this was never all that popular. Although there was a musical duo playing in the bar, they started getting some rather rowdy requests and claimed some of them they weren't allowed to play. So they packed up early and the rallyists took over, not needing things like PA systems to get a good volume up.

When the time came to crash out in the cabin, Pete excused himself and returned some time later with a strange black powder about him. He had decided he would like to investigate the funnel of the boat, while it was being used! I don't know how many security measures, (if any), he had to get around, but he had succeeded in his quest, and managed to get much of the soot off him in the bed.

On Thursday morning, about 150 bikes poured out of the ferry into Lerwick to be met by a group of locals who were there to check us out. Some organisers were there to show us the way to the campsite at Vidlin, a distance of around 30 miles but which took hardly any time at all. Hardly anyone up there takes any notice of speed limits, the only thing we have to watch out for are flocks of kamikaze sheep.

After we all got settled in, and had our soup & roll, (coffee & tea were free all weekend), we had a few hours to ourselves to buy t-shirts and such. There was a yard-of-ale contest, which was well supported, before having to trudge across a peat bog to a marquee on the beach, where there was a barbecue, music and beer which, I am told, was being consumed at a rate of one barrel every 25 minutes!2 In the end, rallyists were helping the organisers carry the barrels across the peat bog.

On Friday there was a mass run-out to the oldest pub in Shetland that, despite its size, managed to cope with all the bikers. I was carrying Danny, as his bike was not at all well. I can report that the convoy of bikes was well over a mile long and must have raised interest if anybody saw us roaring past. From there, we went to one of the newest pubs, where there was soup and sandwiches laid out for all of us (included in the ticket price). After that a lot of us went back into Lerwick for shopping and sightseeing, then back to Vidlin for the night in the village hall. More food was provided and much more beer was consumed. It was this night that somebody found out it was Pete's birthday, (I must admit, even I didn't know), so he got presented with a cake in the face.

On Saturday, there were some silly games, not many, but enough to keep us occupied. There were some eggs left over from the previous night's dinner, so these were thrown about for a bit, then a tug-of-war, followed by a piston throwing - have you ever tried to throw a piston from a 1500bhp diesel?

At around 6pm some coaches arrived to take us into town for the midsummer carnival, (paid for), and they also brought us back just after midnight. Great fun with riotous singsongs all the way. Once again, a lot of people were still going at around 5am.

The village store was visited at least once by everybody at the rally. It was a tiny place smaller, I think, than our living room. You could get pretty much anything there. Apparently they sold about 15 dozen eggs - and 12 cans of shaving foam - none of which were used for their intended purpose. There are also a couple of petrol pumps there, but these are even more expensive than in the towns. Strangely. The price of petrol is higher on the island than the mainland, even though the refinery is there.

Sunday shuddered into existence and the survivors were swept out of the hall so it could be cleaned up for the farewell lunch and prize giving. Then everyone packed up and made their way down to Lerwick for the last time. There was ample time for more sightseeing, as the ferry didn't leave until 6pm.

Just before we set sail, there was a huge ship/shore flinging of eggs, flour bombs, water balloons and even yoghurts! As we took them by surprise, they didn't have any ammunition with which to return fire. To solve this, they sent a rider out to get some eggs. On his return, he parked within range of the boat and an egg hit his quite-hot engine squarely in the middle. He soon moved back out of range. (As did one car that got a yoghurt pot through the window, it having ricocheted off the car next to him.)

On the ferry, the musicians were more willing to join is with us, so we had a great party. Unable to get a cabin, we found the reclining seats were not as uncomfortable as we had imagined they would be and I, for one, had a good night's sleep, apart from when somebody shoved a mop in my face in a failed attempt to stop me snoring.

On Monday was the great trek home so, of course, it was raining. Leaving Danny to the tender mercies of the AA3, three of us rode off southwards. After some hours, Neil went off to visit some friends. A while later, Pete got bored as well and decided to shoot off at some highly illegal speeds, leaving me, trundling away. At one point, I decided I had to stop for a coffee as I was starting to drift. Several times I opened my eyes to find I had moved from lane 1 to lane 3 and I was about 6 inches from the car in front! I even missed one service station without registering it. I managed to find the next one, parked up, went into the café and sat down with a cup of hot coffee, fall asleep for half an hour, drink the cold coffee and then get back on the road. This managed to keep me going until I got home.

- Phil (the Spill) Drackley

1. We found out that the proper name is either 'Shetland' or 'The Shetland Isles'. 'The Shetlands' is not correct, and may lead to you being stoned by the natives if you use that term in their presence.

2. Approximately 3,250 pints of beer were got through which, apparently equates to 22 pints per rallyist. No figures are available for spirits, (or, in my case, Pepsi).

3. Danny told us the AA eventually picked him up and the 'Relay' service didn't get him home, (Aberdeen to Kilburn), until it was nearly dark. I expect he was more comfortable than us, though. I did not know before this, that the term 'relay' is a literal one as each region takes the broken down vehicle only to the edge of its area, where the next will pick it up and take it for another stage.