If this was a club venture, this would have been a first, this would have been the first Scottish Rally undertaken by SCAM club members. But what the hell, we are both club members so we adopted this as a club first.
I can probably also say that this was an incredibly lucky event - it would be nice to say it was good planning - but no, lady luck guided us well those three days in Scotland in September 2003.
The Scottish Rally is the third of the UK "National" Motorcycle Rallies and to be honest this is one event that should really be in Mid Summer to take advantage of the available light. It's also very different than the English and the Welsh Rallies. There are several different choices of event that a partiticpant can partake in, from the straightforward matrix type award where you have to visit a number of checkpoints without crossing your path, visiting the same receipt point twice etc. There are also 3 other options to the standard event, the Saltire where participants have to trace a St Andrews (or Saltire) cross from each corner of the country, the Islander event where participants have 4 days to visit a number of Islands and finally the Highland challenge where participants travel through the Scottish Highlands and visit 12 mandatory receipt points, but in any order. Receipt point? - ah this is the other subtle difference. Rather than find the answers to clues or use a rather labour intensive method of checking in and being stamped, the Scottish make you buy something and submit the receipt as proof. This does of course cause a bit of a problem in that you have to find a shop or garage that is actually open at the time.... this can be a tad difficult in the middle of the night outside the big cities. But the scheme works.
The rally is organised and run by the Aerial Owners MCC of Scotland and really does deserve a lot more support than it gets.
Our original intention was to do the Highlander. Unfortunately Richard had a late Friday afternoon appointment with one of his *most* important customers, so we actually got away early Friday evening. I devised a route that would take us from Dumfries in the Borders, west out and down the Galloway Peninsula and then across to the East coast and to a decision point at Edinburgh, where we could go for the Distance or settle for the Merit. You can see the route here. Point 'I' on the map is Stirling where we could choose between heading North up to Aberdeen, or cut short and skip across to Helensburgh and then onto the communal finish at Crainlarich. Numbered receipt points have restricted opening times - or rather they will close at 5:00 pm, letter points are supposedly 24 hour.
So why lucky? For a start the sun was shining and we were in Scotland and as with many rallies, location information was sketchy, so Richard and I booked into a travellodge at Dumfries late Friday evening, went for a pint and then off to bed. Next morning, we savoured one of Little Chefs' finest, got our stuff on and went out to load the bikes up and find the start. Only to find a group of bikes waiting in the adjacent Petrol Station. This was the start.... :-)
And so it went on.
Nice quiet roads, a very minor detour as we got lost around Kirkcudbright (the only time) and then headed off down one of Scotlands least known treasures. The Galloway Peninsula is stunning! A ride south on a road that is no more than 2m from the sea to a small town called Drunmore to buy petrol and get a receipt and then head north again to Ballantrae, near Ayr. That 100 miles or so in itself made the whole trip worthwhile, but there was much more to come. The [ahem] 30 miles on the route map between Mauchline (N) and Annandale Services (O) was more like 65 miles (for 2004, this leg is now 60 route miles)...and time was marching on. A very quick blast to Kelso(15) to get to the last of the numbered stops. A genuine 65 miles in about errr 60 minutes. (But not once did we knowingly exceed the speed limit - we were too busy dodging sheep to worry about speedos!)
To get to Kelso and be faced with a decision.. Left or Right - gut feel said right - so up into the town to find the next filling station at 16:45 and be told "we are staying open late for you guys tonight"... The very nice man showed us the short cut out of town heading to Berwick (depending on who you talk to this could be either England or Scotland but in spirit we decided it would be Scotland dispite riding past the "Welcome to England" signs...
By now we had clocked up about 400 miles in the last 8 hours - we reckoned that this was pretty good going and shows how much progress you can make when there are only two of you and you will sacrifice frequent cup of tea stops.
The next stage up to Edinburgh was straight up the A1 to try and find a cafe that was still serving food - no joy so we pressed on straight into the early evening (blinding) sun to Edinburgh for the third lucky decision. I thought I knew where the next stop was on the Edinburgh City bypass, but fuel levels were low so we pulled into the first services we came to - which just happened to be the next receipt stop. Luck like this couldn't continue!
A quick bite to eat at the third Little Chef of the day and heading out into twilight and decision time. I was quite happy to go for the distance award, but Richard was rather wary about the ride back the following day, so we decised to settle for the Merit.
We checked in at Stirling, and tried to find somewhere to sleep. A very nice lady told us about a small town called Glasgow (at least I think that is what she said) with a Travellodge big enough to have spare rooms. So that was where we spent the night. Another couple of pints in the adjacent pub, off to bed and an early (5:00am) start to get to Helensburgh and then to the finish at Crainlarich, checking in at about 07:00am - oh and now we were in the highlands - it was raining!
The finish at Crainlarich
The only downer now was the long ride back - in hindsight, Richard was absolutely right - the ride back (375 miles) was not the most pleasant I have ever done. But door to door, 1147 miles including about 550 rally miles. Are we doing it again - of course we are.