My annual pilgrimage to the Fort commenced on Thursday. I broke my journey north with a short detour just south of Stirling, to view the Falkirk Wheel.
This is a definite must-see attraction with a unique rotating boat lift, connecting the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal. Light refreshments are available in the Visitors Centre. I was in good time for dinner with the George and Betty Slinger and Derek and Jean Lord at our hotel, the Nether Lochaber by the Corran Ferry.
Friday was fine and saw us all travel independently to Kinloch Leven to watch the first day of the pre-65 event. Gordon Blakeway said it was very good at the chapel below Grey Mare’s Ridge, where local ladies dispense light refreshments in aid of the church funds. I then inspected the rear of the demolished Aluminium Works, where three new turbines drive modern generators providing electricity for the Fort William plant.
Saturday was cooler and the trial starts from the school, where local ladies provide refreshments in aid of the school funds. A visit was later made to the Antler bar, after watching proceedings along the Glencoe Road.
Sunday is the obligatory day to walk around the parc ferme and meet old friends and take refreshments in the West End Hotel. However Gordon Blakeway had organised his usual trials Sunday buffet, so you cannot hang about. In attendance at Gordons were legendary Scottish winners and British Champions of 40 years or more ago. We entertained several of the party in our hotel lounge; the last ferry is 8.45 which rather limit ones time at Gordons.
Monday was fine but having seen bikes for the last few days I took George and Betty down to the tea room now a bistro at Port Appin. you look across at Lismore Island in the Forth of Lorne. On the return journey, we enjoyed an ice cream at the newly opened tea room looking on to Castle Stalker.
Tuesday morning was very wet, so although I set off up the Great Glen I decided to visit Tomdoun in Glen Garry. The hotel was a regular SSDT lunch stop in the days before the hydro schemes lead to alterations in the road network; the hotel than being on the main route to Skye. After a coffee in the hotel, the weather had improved, so I returned to Invergarry and went to watch at Forest Gate, just in time to see Nathan Wrigglesworth record a clean on a very tricky section. Anthony needed some leg assistance. Late lunch was a super sandwich in the Letterfinlay Hotel with its superb views over Loch Lochy. I detoured to Banavie visit the basin at the head of the canal locks. A very large hotel boat Lord of the Glens was being cleaned by its crew, who looked to be of Asian extraction and spoke some strange language. When you see the vessel, it is hard to realise how it gets through the locks. Only inches to spare, a bulge in the bow plating bears witness to a minor fracas. That evening the hotel video machine was used to run the two videos David Wood had loaned to me. a party of friends joined us. The first video featured the 1925 SSDT, Allan’s mystery trial, 1955 Ilkley Grand National and Allan Jefferies Trial. The classic 1963 Ilkley GN is followed by a Scottish Scramble and the 1970 Scott Trial. The second video had the 1955 Victory Trial and a visit to Oulton Park with Bob Mcintyre testing his machines.
Wednesday the trial went into Ardgour, but it was pouring with rain, so I watched riders go up past the Ben Vue Hotel (shut). A bowl of soup and a sandwich was taken in the Srontian Hotel.
The riders rest stop. was opposite, but it did not appear to generate any trade for the hotel. I took the long way back past the ferry slip at Ardgour and round Loch Eil to Fort William and then back to Corran.
Thursday again started wet and a rush of blood decided me to go to Dunan, at the head of Loch Rannoch. I went via Killin and Tumel Bridge; it is a long way, nearly 100 miles and the section was not the one I watched seven or eight years back. Now it is a typical Scottish burn, round boulders and water. Early arrivals include clubs members Nathan Wrigglesworth who had a slack dab and Anthony Ayrton who was clean. Spectators were all local gamekeepers and shepherds; when surprise – surprise, Alan Wright appeared. He had taken the train to Rannoch Station and walked/run the three miles to the section. He told me he could not stay long as he hoped to catch the 3.25 back to Fort William. I also wanted a bite to eat so I ran him back to the station. Alan had time for a tea. but with no train to catch I enjoyed an excellent omelette in the tea room which was once the station waiting room. A downpour had commenced when I returned to the section, so I remained in the car, whilst Liam Walker and the Lampkins cousins tackled the hazard. For the return journey, I went east to the A9 and north to Dalwhinnie; it was almost the same distance by both routes.
Friday I drove out to Loch Ailort on past the Piper’s Burn sections where several hundred vehicles were parked along nearly a half-mile of road. I can’t comprehend how anyone could miss this group. An hour or two was spent watching at Glen Uig. I see the riders were confused by being sent up the old Scottish favourite Bay Hill and along to the Devil’s Staircase, before rejoining the blacktop. This keeps in use the old Moidart track and I wonder if the organisers plan to reintroduce Bay Hill. With no one yet rushing away from the sections there was no queue, so I travelled back across the Corran Narrows and left my car at the hotel. I went back to Ardgour as a foot passenger (free). A pint was tried in the Ardgour bar, which was remarkably quiet, true they have an outdoor kiosk, but in former years this place would have been heaving.
Saturday, it was fine and after a walk around the Fort, I went to watch at Leanachan. Standing on the bridge you can’t see the entire hazard, but it is convenient and one gets a chance to say hello to the lads as they head back to Ben Nevis and the Fort. The gondola station tea room is convenient, but their fare is a bit indifferent. Leaving the section, I started away for home via Inverary and the Loch Fyne Oyster bar at the head of the loch. It seems a few days later Prescott called and bought four kippers; a somewhat paltry purchase. They have smoked salmon, oysters. mussels, scallops. venison and a host of other delicacies. The new road takes you past Rest and be Thankful to Arrochar, then to the shores of Loch Lomond to the Erskine Bridge. From there it is motorway through Glasgow and south.