Simmer Dim Madness
"Why are you going to Shetland?" was the most commonly asked question I got before departing for my week-and-a-bit trip. The answer, well, to tell you the truth I wasn't really sure.
Yes I like going to bike rallies, and yes I like touring on my bike. But to Shetland?
Well, off I rode, leaving on the Sunday of the MAG bike show at Croxley Green. On a Sunday lunchtime most people with camping gear on their bikes are just returning from a rally, I wonder how many realised I was setting off?
I filled up with petrol before getting on the M1, and carefully made a note of my mileage, and how many litres I put in. I had decided to do this at every stop I made, after all, what better time is there to do a really good petrol consumption test than when going from one end of the country to the other and back?
My route for Sunday was to take me along the M1, M6 and M58 to Formby, where I was to stay the night with friends. I surprised myself by finding their home without resorting to a map or phone-call. However my memory was surpassed by those of the dogs, who greeted me like a long lost friend, nearly knocking me off my feet.
After catching up on all the news and gossip, and a lovely meal, it was time to rest up ready for the next stage of my journey. Monday morning dawned with steady rain, however by the time we had had some breakfast, and reloaded the bike it had begun to ease off.
I donned my waterproofs, said my farewells and rode off towards the Lake District. Why is it that whenever you wear your waterproofs it always stops raining? Never mind, I wasn't going to complain!
With something like two hundred and fifty miles to cover I decided once more to hit the M6 and then follow the A74 and A702 to Edinburgh before using the M90 to get the Kinross services where I had planned to camp the night.
On my arrival there were only three tents to be seen, I parked up alongside and said my hellos and put my tent up. It was remarked upon at this stage that I had completely destroyed one man's belief that Harleys are never ridden further than the local pub, especially when I had told him it was my second time this far north, and I had toured Ireland twice on the same bike as well as going to Wales several times. SORRY!
With the night still quite light, and our bellies rumbling we set off to the local pub to indulge in a pint or four of Orkney Dark Ale, and swapped more tales of derring-do.
Tuesday morning dawned bright and breezy. It was still dry, and the few clouds that were in the sky didn't seem to be interested in depositing their loads. So we made tracks for Aberdeen, and the last rendezvous with fellow Simmer Dimmers before the ferry on Wednesday.
The riding formation consisted of a 1, 2, 3 and 4, in the shape of a Royal Enfield Continental, my V-Twin Harley, a Triumph T150 Trident and a Honda 550-4. It's strange the things that come across your mind when you're riding long distances! The route for this leg was the A92, which follows the coast all the way up - beautiful!
We made Aberdeen, and the Hazlehead Campsite by late afternoon, to find only one other rallyist there. By now the few regulars in the group were beginning to wonder if we had the right date, as there are normally plenty of people at both Kinross and Hazlehead. Not to worry, we put the tents up and, sure enough, the numbers slowly increased.
We then indulged ourselves in what is apparently the custom of piling onto a bus into town so as to meet at a pub called the Prince of Wales, another annual gathering place, to down a few more Orkney Darks. Food was hunted out, then a few more pints, then into a taxi back to the campsite to wake-up all the holidaying campers and caravanners. We did try to be quiet, honest. On our return it was nice to see that all 7½ Roadsters had made it, Phil, Ron, Ian, Chris, Chris+½, Hayley and myself.
So far one might be excused for thinking this was just an excuse for getting drunk in as many far flung corners of Britain as possible, but wait, you haven't heard about the ritual of getting onto the ferry yet. You all ride into the dockyard, park your bikes together at one side, and then abandon them to go into a pub situated 100yds from the terminal. From here on it's a bit of a lottery if you manage to get onto the ferry. Drink, boarding pass, drink, unload bike, drink, wheel bike onto ferry, drink, find your luggage, drink, board ferry!
Easy isn't it?
Unfortunately the bar on the ferry is open as soon as you get on, and so it seems almost obligatory to have another beer before setting sail. All I can say is thank God it was a really smooth crossing, because 14 hours of pitching and rolling would not have gone down too well.
The ferry set off at 6pm and arrived in Lerwick at 8am, just right to have a few drinks and then a good night's sleep. However, by now you are so far north that it doesn't really get dark, and so you don't really feel like sleeping. This produced the longest game of cards I have played in ages which, combined with a bottle of rum, managed to pass the hours most satisfactorily. Needless to say the rum finished before the cards, and shortly after we all decided to try and get 40 winks before reaching Lerwick.
Being woken at 7am is not my idea of fun at the best of times, but when you have only gone to sleep two hours before, it is definitely not amusing. Never mind, your attention is soon distracted by the fact that you are actually sailing alongside the southern leg of the Isles - we made it!
Getting off the ferry was remarkably civilised, and once on the dockyard we regrouped as a Club before heading into Lerwick and then on to the rally site, 20 miles further north.
The rally itself was much like any other, except that the festivities didn't stop when it got dark, because it doesn't get dark, and the bar and disco never closed. The Islands also have so much to see that we managed to cover something like 300 miles during the 'weekend and still only scratched the surface. I won't go on about all the things we did and saw, as I'd never be able to fit it all in. Needless to say, we all had a great time, and I'm definitely going next year.
Just to put the icing on the cake, Phil won the long distance award - from San Francisco! We also got the Club Aggregate Award and 8-year-old Hayley was voted Miss Simmer Dim 1993.
Unfortunately Sunday morning heralded the only rain to date, just in time to get the tents wet before packing them up and heading off for the ferry. Guess what - there's a pub next to the terminal!
The return ferry crossing wasn't quite as smooth as the outward leg, but by now we had perfected the art of rum'n'cards followed by a few hours kip on the floor, and I woke feeling quite fresh.
The journey back was uneventful, stopping off in South Yorkshire for one night, and I was back in time for a nice hot bath and a cup of tea before dinner on Tuesday.
Would I recommend this Rally to other rallyists? YES! I don't think I'd like to do it on a little bike, like Ron on his Tiger Cub, and I'd also make sure the journey was done over two or three days, unlike some who do it in one hit. Each to their own I suppose.
It is, however, fairly expensive. The Rally ticket was £40 (but this includes food and drink), the Ferry £68 (discounted especially for the Rally) and expect to cover something like 1400 miles from our part of the country. I'll leave you to work how much that costs at your respective mpg. Then there are also all the other little bits that always add up, souvenirs, etc. It's not cheap, but it's worth every penny.
- Neville Crisp
The Harley managed an average for the whole trip of 66mpg, and no, I wasn't pootling along at 55mph, just ask Ian and Chris about the ride home.