Simmer Dim Rally

14th Simmer Dim Rally 1995 Islesburgh MCC (Shetland)

I started this year's trip from the campsite at Priddy in Somerset, where the club camping weekend had been based.

After everybody else, had left on Sunday afternoon I was starting to have doubts about my plans, perhaps it would be better to go home and head north from there?


- Phil the Spill

The campsite was soon virtually empty, (I think there were two caravans left in the far corner), and I soon dug out the book I brought along and got stuck in. About 8pm it started raining so, as I was not interested in sitting in a pub all evening, I decided to go to bed extremely early, so as to get a good start on Monday, (I would never dream of going to bed so early at home).

DAY 1 - 365 miles

After a restless night I awoke, not surprisingly, very early on Monday, (must have been about six-ish), and was quite upset when I heard what I thought was rain on the flysheet. I waited for it to go away, but it didn't, so I pulled on my waterproofs and got up anyway.

When I emerged from the tent I found, much to my relief, that it wasn't rain that I heard, just the wind rattling the fly-sheet, which was completely dry by now. Even so, the sky looked threatening, so I packed quickly and set off.

I had decided to use the M5/M6 route to get to Hadrian's wall, where I was to meet up with my friends Danny & Elise from Box Hill, who were also attending this year's bash, and to this end I went into Bristol to pick up the M32/M4 to get to the M5.

Whilst waiting at some lights a local on a Honda, (250 Superdream I think), leaned over and told me that a new byelaw allowed motorcycles to use the bus lanes! This speeded my passage quite a lot, as you can imagine.

By the time I reached the motorway I was feeling quite hungry, so stopped at the Michaelwood services and had a substantial breakfast. Suitably refreshed, I set off anew and many miles passed by without incident - but anybody who knows me will realise that I hardly ever make this trip without incident - this year it was a loud clunking noise whenever I asked the bike to exert itself unusually, like hard acceleration, or up a gradient. Also, the rear tyre seemed to be developing a new centre groove. I assumed the two were connected but, not finding any visible problem, carried boldly on as I am famed for doing. The noise got far worse as I travelled along the A686, which has some quite steep bits. By the time I got to the very small - not on any of my maps - hamlet of Twice Brewed, up by Hadrian's Wall it was a lot worse, but still within tolerable limits.

The next problem was that Danny & Elise hadn't yet arrived, and the campsite they mentioned didn't exist! I was told "Windy Corner Campsite", I worked out they meant "Winshield Farm Campsite", but I still decided not to set up until they got there just to make sure. Unfortunately, the pub/restaurant down the road from the site, despite displaying "Open all day" signs, was definitely shut, so I decided on checking out the local roads and, perhaps more importantly, getting some petrol.

After quite awhile, (and some miles), as I shot past the farm - again - a couple of heads popped up from behind the wall - bingo!

They had taken their time about it because they were limited to 60mph, due to Elise's BMW being only 450cc, and Danny's Triumph chop leaking a lot of oil from the gearbox. After setting up my tent next to theirs I looked at my back wheel, and found that the extra groove was being caused by the centre bolt of my mudflap rubbing on the slightly oversized rear tyre, (what can I say - it was only £40). If the bike had not been so heavily loaded this would probably not have been a problem, but it was too late to worry about that now, so I just took out the - by now highly polished - nut and bolt and they slipped from my fingers into the long grass, never to be found again.

Later we walked to the pub, now definitely open, and had an adequate, if slightly pricey meal, a game of pool, and some much-needed liquid refreshment. After his pool game Danny declared that this would be the ideal opportunity to walk along a bit of Hadrian's Wall. Elise and I could offer no reasonable excuse not to, so off we went.

The wall overlooked the campsite but was still about a half-mile up a very steep hill. The view from the top is quite impressive, and Danny drifted off into some sort of reverie, declaring that he would have really liked to have been a Roman Centurion on guard duty there. After our stroll, with Danny cursing General Wade who 'stole' a lot of the original wall to build roads for his army to march on, we made our way back down again, as it was almost dark by then.

Once in my tent, the almost constant bleating of the sheep across the road stopped worrying me and I slept soundly all night.

DAY 2 - 242 miles

We decided to leave food until later as we had a fair distance to get us to Aberdeen, and we wanted to get as much as possible done as soon as possible. The main problem we were going to have was obvious fairly soon; Danny's tank had a range of only 100 miles, Elise had 200 miles, and I had 150 miles. All the way to Twice Brewed they had been OK, Elise filling up once to two of Danny's, but now I messed up the calculations, being in between them both. The noise from below was getting worse, the rubbing tyre having been removed from the list of probable causes, suspicion moved to the sprocket(s) or the chain itself, (you know - the one that 'should outlast the bike' according to the book. Doesn't say much for Norton's confidence in their machines). Apart from growing paranoia about that, the journey continued.

There was a bit of confusion around Edinburgh due to the local custom of periodically renumbering roads, and we were held up a bit on the Forth Road Bridge because of an 'escorted load' needing the bridge to itself due to its weight, (reminded me of an episode of 'Thunderbirds'), but we found the A90 after a while, and it was plain sailing from then on.

By now the noise only manifested itself whenever I accelerated, when I reached the required speed and was only cruising, it behaved itself. Elise was getting a bit annoyed at the seemingly constant stops for petrol, she wanted to get to Aberdeen quickly so she could relax a bit, (she wasn't the only one, believe me). The last stop was at Stonehaven, (at my insistence - sorry Elise - I just hate filling up too often), where Danny and I also made use of a cash machine, due to being a bit low on readies.

We had now been on the road about eight hours, but next stop was Aberdeen, and the campsite. I didn't realise how many hills there were to the Hazlehead campsite, my chain was letting me know in no uncertain manner. When we got there I really started worrying - there were no other bikes in sight. In fact, there were no other campers at all. Then Danny pointed out signs of activity behind some trees - campers had been put into a side area for a change. When we were set up and paid in, I turned my attention to the bike.

Everyone there reckoned it was the chain and so I set about adjusting it. The right-hand adjustment was no problem at all, but the left side was locked up solid. No matter how hard we hit it, it would not budge. I tried to put the right-hand one back to where it should be, and left it. I just hoped it would get me to the rally site and back to the mainland, where I could call out the RAC to take me home.

DAY 3 - 4 road miles + 200 sea miles

The trip down to Aberdeen Harbour was a bit worrying, as the noise was now mostly constant, the adjuster was probably out of line, but I made it to the shed where the other bikes were assembling. It was then that I found that the other Commander rider, (Stuart Tod from Cumbria), who I hoped might be able to assist, this year turned up in his Guzzi-powered Morgan replica. Luckily an air-cooled Rotary was there, not only that but the owner had been on a Norton factory maintenance course, and he said he was only too pleased to help me any way he could! (And this was before I took any embarrassing photos of him!)

Apart from that, the day progressed much as usual. As for my friends, Danny had been before but Elise was a first timer, and was a little worried about the boat trip, so they booked a cabin. She avoided any trouble by sleeping for almost the entire trip (14hrs), whereas I tried to enjoy the sing-songs and ended up talking to God on the great white telephone. It may have been that steak pie, but the sea was a bit rough on the trip up. It always amuses me that on this boat even the crew suffer from seasickness, so much so that tablets are free from the gift shop.

DAY 4 - The Rally Proper

It was a new site this year, just outside Hillswick, over on the west coast of Shetland, but only a bit further than we used to ride to Vidlin in the east, and was actually on the main A970 road, albeit at a dead end. It was a bit bleak and stony, with quite a slope, but the main problem was that the points of interest were so far apart. The marquee was in the field with the tents, which was about a mile walk from the hall, which was itself at least two miles from the St Magnus Hotel, in Hillswick itself, which was providing reasonably cheap food all weekend, (and was warm, and out of the almost constant wind as well). In this respect this was better than the old site, where the nearest pub was miles away. For some strange reason the organisers required us all to be booked in by midday, which annoyed some participants who preferred to go off touring round the island first, but they were in the minority. (I never did find out why this was imposed on us.)

After booking in, and consuming the very welcome soup & roll, Elise, Danny & I decided to get some postcards sent off pronto, (otherwise we would get home before they did). To this end we walked into Hillswick, but we just missed the only postal collection for the day. Here there used to be the oldest pub in Shetland, The Booth, but this has now closed, so we investigated the hotel bar instead, where we wrote the cards out, before posting them. While we were there Chris, the other Norton guy, and his friends arrived and told me that he had tightened up my adjuster while we were in Aberdeen Docks, (AH HA! If this were pushed further out of line then, it would explain the increase in noise on the island!).

After this, as we started walking back to the site, a few hundred yards down the road a car stopped, and offered us a lift the rest of the way. (Friendly lot, these Shetlanders - we also got a lift to the hotel on Saturday morning just for helping someone bump start his car on the road alongside the camping field.)

Back in the marquee the 'Boot Party' was just about to start, but we got bored with this after a while as nobody was throwing up over the judges, (great fun - for the spectators), and went outside only to find Chris & Co attacking my bike with a big tool kit! The other two decided to go back to the St Magnus for some food, but I felt I had to help the bike repairers, especially as they had just taken the back wheel out. In order to free-up the adjuster we needed to borrow some WD40 and a very large hammer. There was no trouble finding the WD, but the nearest I could find in the hammer department was the marquee's peg mallet - it was huge! Chris couldn't help laughing when he saw it. After a lot of banging and spraying, (we drew quite a crowd at one point), the adjuster finally moved enough to straighten the chain, and the rear end was reassembled for a test run along the road. There was no point putting any oil in the oilbath as it would have all run out through the holes where the loose chain had worn through the gaiters. However, Chris assured me that there was enough still on the chain to get me home. It felt wonderful to have full power available again.

After putting all the other ancillary bits back together, (number plate etc.), but not the mudflap - I found it was still rubbing on the tyre - and returning the mallet, various adjustable spanners and WD40 to their rightful owners, I decided to ride the bike down to the pub to join my friends. Later on we returned to the marquee for the bands and, on the first night only, the barbecue. The food wasn't as good as previous years, but it was still paid for by the tickets that were included in the rally price we originally paid.

The next two days were spent in much the same way, walking between the hotel and the marquee - the hall was avoided most of the time, as some rave/techno/rap/whatever music fan seemed to be in charge of the disco. Even when the bar in the marquee shut down people only ventured into the hall briefly for a refill, returning to the marquee for the preferred music and company.

Speaking of the music, the bands, (at least two per night), were the usual mix of good and bad, luckily there was at least one good one each night.

On the Friday morning there was something rather special arranged. Unbeknown to their friends a couple had arranged to get married on Shetland during the rally; the first their friends knew about it was during an interview when the boat docked. There is always a lot of media interest when we arrive but it doesn't usually get further than the local papers and radio station. The reporter asked these two why they were there, and they said; "to get married!" They even invited me along to video the ceremony at the Registry Office in Lerwick. They all wore buttonholes that looked slightly incongruous with leather jackets and jeans, as you might imagine. Outside, before and after the ceremony, the press and radio people were in full attendance. It made us feel quite important. I even got interviewed for BBC Radio Shetland (again).

In the afternoon I went over to see the old rally site in Vidlin - it was very strange to see the field empty, I have only ever seen it covered in tents - then back to the site, pausing only to take a picture of 'Mavis Grind' - not, as you may be thinking a local personality, but the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea, separated only by a thin strip of land.

The Bride & Groom weren't seen much for the rest of the weekend, I wonder why? (Ho Ho).

For the rest of us the day continued in the now familiar pattern, hotel - marquee - hall(briefly) - marquee. Sometime in the morning, possibly about 1am, we managed to regain control of the disco, so everybody squeezed into the hall for the rest of the party. I don't know what time it finished as I gave up at about 2am.

As usual nothing much happened on Saturday morning, mainly due to the rain that had been threatening for some time, but the Vikings arrived about midday for their usual free booze-up, and ritual photo taking.

After watching them for a while, and mainly waiting for the rain to stop, Danny, Elise & I decided to shoot down into Lerwick for some last-minute souvenir hunting. I must admit I thought most of the shops would be shut and the people preparing for the carnival, but I was wrong.

First stop was the butchers just off the High Street for some 'Smoked Island Cheddar' cheese, which I cannot get anywhere down here. Then into 'The Peerie Shop' where I found a T-shirt with a large sheep surrounded by facts about Shetland, like the ratio of sheep to people, how far from Aberdeen it is, how much oil is produced at the refinery etc. Danny was much taken with postcards showing sheep-orientated slogans, (the ones Neville likes), such as "All I ask is a tall sheep, and a star to steer her by" and such like.

Having got that out of the way, we decided to find somewhere to eat, as the pub snacks were getting a bit boring. We couldn't find anywhere suitable in town so I suggested the Chinese restaurant at the top of the hill, to which the others agreed. They decided I should lead the way as I knew where it was. Unfortunately some of the roads had been closed for the procession and I managed to go round in circles a few times, before finally finding the right road.

The restaurant was positioned at the top of the town, just by the start point for the floats, so while we ate we could watch the procession leave - much better than sitting on walls down at the sea front. By the time we had finished, the procession was over, and all the roads were clear back to the site. Much better than waiting, (and paying), for the buses provided.

Annoyingly the hall wasn't open when we got back, although it should have been, so we trekked up to the hotel for a couple of hours, and got chatting to a couple of German BMW riders discussing, strangely enough, rates of overtime pay, (Elise's job). Later as people got back from town the party began in earnest, this time I did better, staying, up until well after dawn (3am!).

Sunday! But no rest for us, the packing-up done nice and early, I went down to the hall for the farewell lunch, although I didn't eat anything, mainly for the prize giving. After that, (no I didn't win anything, this year), we all headed back into town for the ferry.

On the trip back to Aberdeen the sea was, as usual, calmer, but I had some Rennies to combat any sickness I might feel, and I hit upon the idea of eating fish, instead of steak pie, as it should sail better. (It worked!)

DAY 8 - Homeward Bound - 569 Miles

Rather dull really. I ignored the dark clouds until just before the Forth Road Bridge, where I put on my waterproofs, thus ensuring that I wouldn't get rained on. I gave them up as a bad idea halfway down the M6 after the sun came out. I noticed my tyre was still rubbing, but I was past caring by now. I decided on the jolly wheeze of using the M40 instead of the M1 from Birmingham and then managed to miss the turn-off, but luckily I found another road to get me back on course at the next junction and proceeded at quite a respectable speed home.

Although I knew I should unpack as soon as possible, I just couldn't face it until I'd had a rest, and a cup of coffee.

- Phil (the Spill) Drackley