Simmer Dim Rally

Part 2 - Northern Exposure

This continues the triple report from Phil the Spill covering the Drunken Dragon, Simmer Dim and Shitting Bricks rallies in 1992. Read on...


- Phil the Spill

I always like to split the trip to Aberdeen into three parts, mainly because the ferry doesn't leave until Wednesday.

Stage 1 (250 miles) got us to the Lake District. That twisty road was very interesting with fully loaded bikes! There is a nice campsite (Low Wray) on the banks of Lake Windermere, not too far outside Ambleside. This is a nice peaceful place to stop, with a lot of cafes & chippies in town, (unless you get there on Sunday, as we did).

However, most of the pubs do food as well, so no major problems there.

Stage 2 (200 miles) is my favourite, but it won't be for long, due to road 'improvements' (turning the A74 into the M74). This gets us to Kinross, a few miles north of the Forth Road Bridge, where there is a campsite in the service area just off the M90. Nobody has ever asked us to pay here, (sometimes the 'BIKER' reputation can be a help - all the lorry & car drivers have to pay). This is where some of the groups of Simmer Dimmists come together. There is a pub (Muirs Hotel) in the village, just the other side of the motorway, which is a very friendly one, where they are used to us popping in once a year. Now the services' restaurant opens 24hrs, we can get a quick bite and a coffee before bed - very civilised. Like I said, it's my favourite bit of the journey.

Stage 3 (100 miles) is the easy bit, where a variety of roads can get you straight to Aberdeen. The A94 is my own choice; there is a pub about half way, the Finavon Hotel, who also expect us by now, which does good food. A place a lot of the rallyists stop at in Aberdeen is the campsite in Hazlehead Park, a council run place, just to the west of the city. The main reason for stopping here is that it is just a quick bus ride into town to the pubs (the Prince of Wales is highly recommended). This leaves just a five-mile bimble to the harbour on the Wednesday morning for the ferry.

While we were settling in at Hazlehead, Rolf, a German rider who was touring Scotland and didn't know anything about the rally, joined us. A few hours drinking with us in town convinced him that he would really enjoy coming with us, always assuming we could get him a ticket, as the rally is strictly pre-book. (Luckily a few tickets were available on the ferry.

Once you get to the harbour there is really only one place to go - the pub just outside the harbour gates (The Quarterdeck). Once again were welcome and the food was quite good, (why can't it be like that down here?). We had to leave the pub occasionally, firstly when the ferry booking office opened, and then later when they started loading the bikes and, finally, when they let us on the boat.

In previous years the bar on board didn't open until we had set sail, they relaxed this ruling when people nearly got left behind, drinking in the pub until the last minute.

An amazing thing about the ferry crossing is the FIFTY percent discount we get. It still cost me £66! This only applies to people attending the rally on a bike. Sidecars, trikes and trailers unfortunately have to pay the full vehicle fare.

At six o'clock the boat left Aberdeen for Lerwick...

This video from Phil is about an hour long. Time to open another beer.

Part 3 - Shetland Ho!

11th Simmer Dim Rally 18th-21st June 1992

There was a new boat this year, but P&O always call the Shetland ferry the MV St Clair. I think it may be an insurance fiddle, but I could be wrong. The main problem with this is that after ten years you get to know exactly where everything is - bar, food, toilets, etc - and then they go and move them all! The other problem is that the new St Clair was built as a cross-channel ferry (Portsmouth - Cherbourg apparently), and they have put it on the North Sea, which is possibly the roughest stretch of water anywhere! It certainly feels like it!

This was the first time I had ever been seasick. Previously I had been slightly amused when people disappeared, having turned a bit green. Now I can sympathise. I even missed most of the night's film, which P&O put on for us (well it is a fourteen-hour crossing!)

Although all passengers get a reclining seat included in the fare, lots of people, if they don't get a cabin, tend to sleep where they drop, which usually means the bar.

As for the rally itself, at first sight forty pounds is a lot to pay for just a rally, but the Simmer Dim is not 'just a rally'.

On arrival you get a book of 25 tickets. These pay for the drink and food provided by the organisers. There is also a coach provided into town for the carnival on Saturday evening. The rally is held in the village hall at Vidlin, a small town about halfway up mainland Shetland, with a marquee outside, both with bars.

After a thirty-mile blast from the ferry terminal to the rally site on Thursday and settling in, the first event of the rally is the Boot Party. If you can imagine glasses the size and shape of, yes, a boot, full of lager, being passed from person to person, each one taking a drink out of it, you can begin to understand what goes on here. There are 10p fines it you break any of the many rules, 'spillage' being the most common, and the winner is the last one standing, or conscious, at the end.

One guy found that throwing up over one of the judges costs three quid (a bargain, yes?). Actually as I had seen this for the last several years I decided instead to have a quick trip up to the most northerly Post Office in Britain, in Haroldswick, on the island of Unst, which is two more ferry trips north.

When I got back the Boot Party was in the last stages with about ten people still in contention. This quickly went down to three and then the organisers decided that it had gone on long enough and it was declared a tie. Last year they cheated and used alcohol-free lager but didn't tell anybody until Sunday morning. This didn't prevent everybody involved falling over drunk, throwing up, and getting hangovers - proving that it's all in the mind.

Most people still managed to stagger up in time for the barbecue later that day, (the word 'night' doesn't apply up here at this time of year).

Friday, ah yes Friday, I remember it well (parts of it anyway). As I recall, the morning was normal enough, some of us went into the Shetland capital, Lerwick, and did the usual 'touristy' things, but by the evening the 'slight breeze' developed (force eight. gusting force ten). Most people were left with a pile of shredded nylon where their tent used to be. Some had the right idea - unpeg and collapse it and wait for the wind to drop, which it did around midnight Saturday. This is what I should have done too as, although my tent stood up quite well at first, suddenly the main ridgepole bent, forcing a rapid packing up on Saturday afternoon.

Despite a valiant battle, lasting several hours, the marquee was taken down Saturday morning, before it got wrecked. What really annoyed me was those smug b*****ds with Vango 'Force Ten' tents, these 'Volvos of the tent world' just shrugged off the wind as if it wasn't there.

All the usual games were called off and some impromptu indoor ones held instead, including 'leg wrestling', which caused more than a few limping rallyists that afternoon.

During the afternoon a folk band played a selection of jigs and reels and we got the usual visit by Vikings ... don't laugh! The locals take this sort of thing very seriously and have competitions each year to be the 'Jarl Squad' for the summer, and especially winter, carnivals. There followed a somewhat out of tune song, for which I don't think they all knew the words. The chief, or 'Guiser', Jarl gave a speech of welcome, (I think), and sympathised with us about the weather (probably - the accent is difficult to make out at times, especially after several pints).

In the evening, the coaches arrived to take us down into town for the carnival/booze-up, (difficult to tell apart up here; definition of Shetland - 20,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock). They promised not to leave us stranded there this year. Last year the police gave some of us a lift back, (with lights flashing and sirens going), after the last bus didn't bother to turn up. This doesn't usually worry me as I come back on the first bus after the procession, not being interested in the town-wide pub-crawl, (and there are a lot of pubs to crawl through, believe me).

Back at the site, the disco was in full swing as usual, (it doesn't stop for long all weekend), and as people got back, in various states of drunkenness, we all got down to some serious partying, man (yo dude!).

As time went on I just fell asleep where I sat. Several others that had also lost their tents did likewise and that is where we were when Sunday arrived, almost unnoticed. (It actually arrived halfway through the party, but you know what I mean.)

While the organisers were getting the hall ready for the farewell lunch, all included in the price, we were thrown out as usual, but this year I didn't have to do any packing. All the people that had given up with their tents had deposited them in a skip handily placed just outside the hall, where all the people who reckoned that their tents were repairable were sorting through the assorted wreckage, scavenging what they needed.

During this lunch the prizes were given out. This year the club turnout was won with only five members, perhaps next year it'll be us? (Start saving NOW!). Then out for a last blast on the road that hardly ever has police on it, (not that I'm suggesting anything, of course...), back to the ferry terminal.

The Lerwick terminal also has a pub across the road, (well, it's the bar of The Shetland Hotel actually), which surprisingly, was open for business. I can't imagine many of the islanders being up, or even vaguely sober, so it might have been for us.

P&O let us on the ferry quite early at this end and unfortunately, having sorted my seat out and taken my seasickness pills, I managed to fall asleep. I missed whatever film it was, the food and even the 2ps-up-the-bottom contest in the bar. (The police team won - is this part of their training?)

Apparently we didn't sink any fishing boats this time, unlike last year, which I also managed to miss for the same reason.

Part 4 - Flying South

On Monday I did manage to wake up in time for breakfast, which was welcome as all I had the previous night was a couple of bags of crisps.

After we docked and unloaded, there was the traditional 'waiting around in the harbour for as long as possible just to annoy the harbour workers' ritual. Actually, this is where all the groups meet up for the run home or wherever. The ABC's summer holiday group, (down to four this year), were going to Lauder for the Monday night, and having found exactly where the campsite was I rode into Aberdeen to find a camping shop, having decided to join the smug b*****ds and get a Vango. When I saw the price I nearly changed my mind, (£275!), but I saw on Shetland just why they cost that much, and decided it was worth it. So, having loaded my bike even more, I set off for Lauder.

Continue Phil's epic holiday with his Shitting Bricks report.

- Phil (the Spill) Drackley