I was a last minute entry to take the place of a friend who had to go off overseas on a business trip. Well that was his excuse but perhaps he’d had a whisper as to how tough the two Robbie’s Ride would be.
My old trials riding buddy Robbie Allan had been planning the event at the time of his death last month and as he is an ex-Paris Dakar competitor it was never going to be easy. Another friend – Robert Burns picked up the reins and sponsored the event held in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support so I could hardly say ‘No’.
The first bit was relatively painless. I paid the twenty five quid entry fee over the phone and back came the entry pack on the morning of my departure. The map showing the sixteen Scottish circuits where motorcycle racing has been held at some time over the past hundred years was a nice touch. There was also a nice booklet enclosed about the Ride which included the nearest Post Codes and GPS co-ordinates for sat-nav users. Sadly sat-navs were something I never did subscribe to being an old-fashioned ‘map-man.’
Nothing ventured – nothing win so it was off up the road to Girvan on the hunt for Turnberry Airfield which was used for both car and bike racing in 1951 and 52. The view as I came over the hill above Girvan was a bit special with Arran and Northern Ireland glistening in the brilliant sunlight and the blue granite (or was it the guana?) of Ailsa Craig in the foreground shining best of all!
On a normal ride I would have stopped and clicked but today I was on a mission – first stop was Turnberry Airfield —
Or so I thought. It looked like an old airfield to me and said Turnberry on the roadside sign —
but I was to learn from a sat-nav equiped someone much later that the circuit proper was north through the Maidens and on t’other side of the road! Looks like I will have to go back and do it right next time —
With the success of my sunflowers bringing me new-found celebrity status I was late on the road by the time my last interview was over and I only made it as far as my daughter’s old coach house on the River Teith near Doune that night. There I found I wasn’t the only lodger as her cousin Charles had dropped off his five months old Leila for a spell while he went off on a jolly to the Canaries —
I won the fight for the bed – size counts – and next morning I was off up the Perth road heading for Gask Racing Circuit as it was in my day – 1960-ish.
We would catch the Friday night boat from Broomielaw on the Clyde over to Belfast before taking a double-decker bus up to the Ulster Grand Prix circuit followed by a trudge across the fields to Windy Corner where we watched Hailwood – Redman and Robb strut their stuff with a full supporting cast in the Ulster Grand Prix.
Saturday night would see us back on the boat for the return journey – with a few hundred head of shit-smelling Irish cattle in the hold. The boat lacked stabilisers so once everyone started throwing up the smelly beasts were the least of our worries.
We were made of stronger stuff back then for no sooner had we reached home on the Sunday morning than out came the BSA’s and Nortons and off to Gask we rode for a day’s racing on the old airfield.
Sadly there’s no airfield at Gask now —
Only an up-market housing estate —
Soon I was back on the bike – next stop Errol between Perth and Dundee —
Errol is another old war-time airfield where bike racing was held in the fifties. It is an industrial estate now but I did find something interesting to photograph —
This old Gannet has seen better days but I think it shows that this was a navy base with the Gannet being used for North Sea patrols and anti U-boat sorties (what I don’t know I make up) —
Wasn’t long before I was through Dundee and heading for Arbroath. Next was a left to Friockheim where I hung a right and left onto an unclassified road – well that’s what it’s called in the notes —
I thought this building on the hill looked familiar —
and so it was. This next circuit at Kinnell was at an old airfield on a farm where I had lived as a four-year old in 1946/47 – the winter of the ‘Big Sna’ when snow drifted over our cottage and we had to dig our way out.
Don’t know if that’s where this next pic came from but it certainly shows how my dad got into town for supplies when the only tractor on the farm couldn’t get through —
I’m sure Kinnell had an F’ in front of it in the old days —
I found a young Polish worker who clicked a couple of pics to prove I had been there —
Before climbing back on Susie and riding north again. She may not look the part but she was covering herself in glory and I was enjoying the ride.
All the way up past Aberdeen for my next target at Crimond airfield near Fraserburgh —
where after a face-off with some cattle who claimed they were there first —
I was eventually allowed to photograph my bike by the circuit gates —
Time was wearing on and I spent a lot of it looking for this next airfield. I’ve had business connections with the place in the past and thought it would be a doddle. But – I didn’t reckon on the cunning of the Ride organisers who I was to learn later had hidden the marker beside a cottage up a dead-end track
With neither a GPS nor ordnance survey map to plot the co-ordinates I had no chance of finding the marker and settled for a few photos of the airfield instead —
It’s now a heliport too you know —
I had arranged to meet Simmo – Robbie & Co at our hotel just off Union Street in Aberdeen where we were to stay the night and headed of down the Aberdeenshire coastline to rendezvous.
My daily paper had shown people in the sea during a ‘heatwave’ earlier in the week but as my pic from a detour along the promenade shows the heatwave had been short-lived —
So I settled for a pic across the road to Pittodrie where my football team plays instead —
Quite apt really on a day to stir the memories. This is where Grahan Leggat – Aberdeen and Scotland – took time out from a busy footballing career to write to a very young ‘me’ sixty years ago and included a signed photograph.
Enough rambling – time to park up in pole position beneath the hotel and wait for the boys to arrive —
Will carry on south tomorrow – hope you come with me 🙂
OK – it’s tomorrow. We will draw a veil over last night in Aberdeen – suffice to say it left me slightly hungover!
Not to worry – we got saddled up and out of there before ten – the boys heading north and me going west on the A944 for Alford. Twenty miles into my ride I spotted a roadside plate saying Mid-Mar – yup that’s all it said. It didn’t say Don was born here or anything like that but I know that’s where I came from. Not that roadside field where the sign was but further back into the forested hills where I was born as a wartime baby boy in an old woodcutter’s shack.
The Parish of Mid Mar as it says on my birth certificate still hasn’t grown into anything and is still pretty much a gathering of farms and cottar houses just as it always was.
Didn’t even stop for a click – I was lapping up the twisting undulating road as it carved it’s way west to Alford and after a bum steer I found my way to the Motor Museum where a nice lady bound for the golf course next door took over my camera —
That looks like my slightly hungover ‘superman’ pose – best get the camera back and horse on —
She just wouldn’t listen so I posed in the other direction before taking off on the ride of my life. Over Cairn O’Mount we went did Susie and I – absolutely loving it! There might not have been a race circuit at Fettercairn but that Triumphal Arch had all the connotations of a laurel wreath to Susie and me after our fun on the fast unfenced descent —
What a ride! Over and through mountains – forests – rivers and bridges – thank you Susie – you were wonderful!
Next it was Edzell Airfield. Or it should have been but the white golf ball type radar screens that marked the base for me in the past have gone along with the Yanks and it took me forever to find what they left behind —
Not a lot —
and see the legendary Red Arrows sign off in style.
Next it was St Andrews – summer break is over for the students judging by the many suitcases being dragged around town. I was so tempted to stop – it’s one of my favourite places in this world but daughter had given me a deadline for our evening meal and I still had four race circuits in Fife to find.
First was Crail on the toe of Fife —
it was a no-brainer for me as I had raced there in the past and it is still a circuit of sorts —
But my fistula was beginning to react to the bumpy roads in the East Neuk so I found shelter from the cold wind in a sunlit garden and enjoyed a pannini with bacon & brie —
before heading off along the coast to Kircaldy where I had fun and games finding Beveridge Park —
It hasn’t moved since I watched my hero Bob McIntyre race his works Honda there in 1962 but the town has grown a long way in every direction. Bob was inch-perfect through the tree-lined turns of the narrow parkland circuit but sadly was to lose his life shortly afterwards at another race meeting. After all my travails in finding the place I ventured inside —
and took another couple of pics —
It was getting close to my deadline but a quick flip soon saw me at Knockhill – home of Scotland Motorsport —
then a series of guessing games took me through to Balado —
where a guy was chaining up the gates. No worries – job done for the day and I still had enough left in my tank to enjoy my blast with Susie up another old favourite. Glen Devon – cuts through the Ochil Hills and finishes at Gleneagles Hotel – biking nirvana!
Daughter was pleased to see me and even Leila failed to bark at this biker – maybe cos Lady Bella had arrived home from her hols —
Bella loves soft toys and was quite happy to nick that one from Leila. But it’s hard work entertaining a puppy dog and after a couple treats from the boss —
it was time for a rest —
The end of another long day – or not quite the end as we went out for our evening meal at Ciros in Callender before coming back to fight over who sleeps where 🙂
Edinburgh and the south to follow soon – be there 🙂
It’s amazing the powers of recovery the human body has and even my seventy one year’s old bones felt ok as I headed off on my homeward leg of the Ride next morning. That feeling lasted as far as Ingliston where I met VFR riding – sat-nav equipped Garry scoffing a sandwich by the marker post at the entrance —
He has been following my tracks and made a few points where the sat-nav beat old guy’s logic. H-mmm – why didn’t they do it the old way and use a few Castrol or Dunlop triangles at junctions to point the way into the various circuits off the main drag?
No worries – but I had let the sat-nav thing unsettle me and I zinged past the East Fortune turn-off from the A1 as my low fuel light came on and the glass fell out of my right mirror. There was nothing wrong with my reactions for I caught the glass with my left hand mid-flight as it flew off and stuck it in my tank bag without missing a beat.
It’s ten miles till the next exit where I spun round and did the ten miles back. Fuel stations are thin on the ground in Haddington but I found one eventually and brimmed her again.
East Fortune was easy after that and having both raced and spectated there I was soon at the closed gates —
I found a newsagents in East Linton shortly after where I was able to buy superglue and re-fix the fly-away mirror glass before re-joining the A1 and heading south past a barrage of speed cameras.
My next target was a stotter – Winfield Airfield. I had never heard of it – west of Berwick – only the North Sea lies east! It wasn’t till I spotted a line of straw bales stretching into the distance about a hundred metres from the road that I thought ‘that’s an old runway.’ A quick turn onto a dirt road took me to a miserable sign wrapped round a fence post in the middle of nowhere!
Winfield – you may be the veritable needle in the haystack – but – I’ve gotcher! —
I was fading by this time and my last target – Charterhall – where I have spectated in the distant past should have been an easy find but I was coming from an unusual direction and without any signs showing I would probably have missed it on my first pass.
Luckily my old friend Gary from Ingliston was coming out as I slowed for a look and his shouted instructions sent me down through a busy Co-operative Farm to another well hidden post carrying the welcome sign for my sixteenth and last Race Circuit.
This is the Memorial Stone mentioned in the notes – I missed it as I came from the Winfield direction —
M-mmmm — in my haste at East Linton I managed to get superglue onto the face of the mirror glass. Does anyone know how I can get it off?
And – No – I don’t carry nail varnish remover in my tool kit 🙂
I must be a glutton for punishment but this event has given me an idea for a personal ride next year. I lived in eighteen cottar houses or farm houses before my eighteenth birthday. They range from Huntly in the north to Kelso in the south – about the same spread as the two Robbie’s Centenary run. Maybe I will visit them all in turn with my camera.
The Centenary Ride might even be by the Three Robbies as Robert Burns the poet got a mention for his Federation in the Welcome pack. It’s worth a try and maybe I will get an extra point for this photo of his auld hoose which I clicked on my way north from Turnberry —
Catch you next time – Don
SACU Centenary Ride