2010 England Tour
|The sun had already been up for 3 hours but it was only 7 o’clock on the morning of Saturday 5 June 2010,|
the peas in a pod, BSA slopers of Rex Edmondson, Bill Cowlin and Dave Weeks were riding down the
Queens Promenade, three abreast, at about 50 miles per hour, past the Trevalyn Hotel, overlooking the
quiet Douglas Bay. As they hit the tramlines, they lifted up, just like Ago at the bottom of Brae Hill and an
Irish tourist spilt half a glass of Magners Ciders down his shirt with surprise.
It all started the previous Wednesday, the twenty strong group met up at the King’s Dock, Liverpool, to
release the motorcycles from their crates. The clearing company left the group alone to prise the sides away
from the crates and undo the securing straps. The undamaged motorcycles were then topped up with two
litres each of petrol carried in the back up van, a 3t Ford transit, high roof style. Then, they were all ridden to
the Campanile Hotel, a mere kilometre away, just down from where the Steam Packet ferry would leave from
its Mersey dock on its 3 hour journey across the Irish Sea to Douglas, on the I.O.M.
The Thursday was spent shaking the motorcycles down and appearing for a photo shoot with the Liverpool
Echo newspaper. Some of the punters went on the historic walks around the old city, viewing the Beatles
Museum, the Liver Birds and the historic cathedrals. Chris Whisson’s 500 Norton single started playing up,
getting difficult to start and the exhaust valve kept jamming in its guide. That evening, the whole group met
up at a popular pub, across the docks, where we took stock of the situation and the committee addressed all
on the programme ahead. Mostly WA riders, we were also comprised of a South Australia rider, Dave
Jennings on an Australian built Invincible Jap, V twin 1000cc, Malcolm Cox on a 600cc Norton single and
Keith Barnard and Linda Green on a Rudge Ulster 500cc, representing Victoria.
At lunchtime on Friday, we checked out and rode down to the docks. Graham Datson, the van driver, loaded
up my DKW E300 and Carl Montgomery’s AJS 350 bigport single, as the two lightest bikes and all our travel
bags were stacked in the space behind the driver’s cabin bulkhead. Kevin Badby collected our ferry tickets
and we waited for the ship to arrive, while some went for last mainland drinks at the wonderful Pig and
Whistle brick building, left standing in between new Liverpool skyscrapers. All the others then rode their
motorcycles onto the bottom deck of the large vessel, where the bikes were parked on their paddock stands
alongside a rail and simply tethered to it like horses.
The vessel landed in Douglas before nightfall, so it was easy to find our way through the coastal promenade,
to our sea view hotel in the little Victorian era, largest town. The Trevalyn is an old, four storey hotel, with
pokey rooms, rabbit warren corridors and an ancient lift for one, or two, if you take turns to breathe. We
quickly found parking on the ancient promenade, just above the beach, in a row, and we covered our bikes
and interlinked our locks through the spokes, to prevent theft. Cider was ordered all round, and we ordered
tea from the Chinese takeaway next door. We then watched the sun dissolve into the sea and contemplated
a week ahead of VMCC runs on days when racing was not on. Having chosen TT week, Sunday 6th was
mad Sunday, so we were unable to get onto the track ourselves, simply watch the thousands of superbikes
hurtle round the track, (with only two fatalities this year) However, we held our first official VMCC event,
meeting with approximately 100 other vintage and classic motorcycles opposite the Farmer’s Arms in St
John’s, on the western part of the island, We travelled there along the A1, at one point the Indian Powerplus
of Graeme Hammond, the Scout of Phil Skinner and the Norton of Greg and Sharon Boothey swept past me
as I surged up a twisty section. Waiting for tail enders in the town at a place called “Smithys” Weeksy and I
marvelled at a brace of Douglas Dragonflies and Mk IVs parked outside. In St Johns, we registered for all the
runs, and then set off for the ancient capital at Castletown, in the far south before returning to Tyndwald Mills
for lunch after a memorable 30 mile route march through back lanes and scenic hills.
Monday 8th was the first proper day of racing, most of us walked up to the pits to watch the day’s racing then
returning to shop in Douglas’ golden mile of shopping. Then also visit the fabulous Manx Museum, with old
motorcycles on display and a video on the hour of the sensational Geoff Duke victory on a Norton, at the
1950 senior TT. We were amazed at the speeds obtained by the bikes, brushing past stone walls and foam
covered street poles. Some caught the 1895 electric tram to Laxey to watch from there; Kevin Badby took his
superb straight 4 Henderson, along with Gary Leigh on his Royal Enfield V twin 1000cc up to Union Mills, to
watch from there. On race day, the 37 ¾ mile mountain circuit is closed off, meaning that, for the whole day
you are essentially trapped within the mountain circuit, or else outside it. Phil Skinner had the head of Chris’
Norton off for the valves to be relapped in, and the valve guides trimmed in length. Also Malcolm had a
clutch bearing replaced.
Tuesday 9th was our second run with the VMCC. We met at Ramsey, in the north of the island amidst
constant drizzle and low cloud then set off for a tour of the northern plains, also with a route sheet, but we
ended up doing a somewhat shorter route as the rain did not disperse. The AJSs of Dave Alderson and Carl
Montgomery received two of the three awards given out at that meeting. We returned to our hotel to see
Graeme had his oil pump out again, to try to reduce the volume of oil being pumped around the motor. Then
the group cleaned and dried their bikes before polishing and quickly covering the bikes before the rain
Wednesday 10th was racing again so most of us went to Laxey on our bikes, first for a tour of the now closed
lead, silver mine there and then onto the Snaefell tram to view the racers coming up the mountain. The mine
tour showed how the ore was hauled from underground with two old faithful little locos before being
presented to crushers, buddles, jigs and tables for extraction from the waste. Two giant wooden water
wheels were constructed to use the river energy to drive turbines for the power required to run the equipment
and the furnaces. In the mid nineteenth century, when the larger wheel and new furnace were
commissioned, the then Governor of the Island had them named after his wife, Lady Isabella, a beautiful
dark skinned damsel. At the opening ceremony for the furnace he famously beseeched “forever may she
remain on heat” The weather on top of Snaefell meantime was very windy, with no shelter and severe mist.
Racing was abandoned and rescheduled for the next day. We retired early, heading for the warmth of our
bar once again and to our fellow residents, mainly Irish revellers.
Even though racing was on for the Thursday, we were still able to follow the VMCC route up through the hills
from Laxey, down to Castletown and then to the Cherry Orchard in Point Erin for lunch. Thereafter we
headed off back towards Douglas, stopping off to pay homage to the fairies at Fairy Bridge and the fabulous
Peter Murray motorcycle collection at Santon Villa. Peter regaled us with stories of bikes in his collection and
of Joey Dunlop, the legendary Ulster rider. That night we went on a late night bender, in which some of our
members went on, deep into the night, flying the flag for Australia, beating competitive Geordie and Irish
The parking lot outside was looking more and more like the Exxon Valdez crash site so we brought up some
beach sand to soak up some of the oil stains. Friday 11th was another fiddling, fixing and polishing day
before going off to the racing once more. We left for Kirk Michael when it was over, performing a complete
lap of the mountain circuit. At one point I saw the threesome of Geoff Coole on his 500cc J30 Royal Enfield,
Dave Alderson on the K7 “Cammy” AJS and Kevin on the Henderson doing about sixty (miles!) per hour
down the hill towards the Bungalow! We all met up at Kirk Michael with our VMCC UK colleagues for a
farewell barbecue that evening and were astonished at the prizes we won. Weeksy received a trophy for the
entry most in the spirit of the week, Kevin’s bike won “Best at tournament” and John Wightman’s DKW “Most
technically interesting” We then all received honorary plaques celebrating the anniversary of Mike Hailward
and Ducati’s first appearance at the TT. Rex then thanked the VMCC and explained to the gathered crowd
what was involved in getting our whole trip together.
Saturday morning we were up at dawn, to pack the van and make off for the docks. Our vessel was heading
for Heysham and we offloaded at noon, route sheets for “day one” loaded in our custom built rally sheet
holders. We had to thread our way through heavy Saturday afternoon traffic through Lancaster then along
beautiful B routes up into the Yorkshire Dales. We were greeted with large, green open spaces, loads of
stonewalls with sheep pens and idyllic villages. We all gathered at the home of Eric, Dave Alderson’s uncle,
who would shadow us for the balance of the trip. His wife prepared an amazing array of snacks for us, while
Eric showed us through his extensive motorcycle collection and workshop. We made it to Tan Hill pub at
about 6pm, up at 1800 feet above sea level and marvelled at the panorama surrounding us. Sheep and
ducks were wandering around and there were chickens in the box in front of the fireplace. Carl and Keith
were stripping and fiddling again with their bikes while others swilled Guinness and chatted with interested
locals that had stopped to rubberneck. Most of us ended up in bunks in a very rustic old building.
The next day was Sunday and we rode down through North Yorkshire and the rest of the Dales through
Richmond, where we met up with the local VMCC mob. They led us through quaint back lanes all the way to
Whitby, through patchy rain and cloud. Weeksy’s sloper exhaust valve guide was flogging out, Carl’s AJS
was not running too well either and the DKW was becoming more and more difficult to start. The youth hostel
in Whitby was a relieving sight, next to the magnificent ruins of the 1000 year old abbey. We tinkered into the
night on our bikes, had tea “down the 199 steps” in the old town and watched Australia play their first world
cup football game.
Day 3 was the “On to York” day, with the important rest day, (which we all needed). The van had 3 bikes in it
and as it was about to leave, Dave Jenning’s gearbox disintegrated on pull off. We sent a posse off to the
only motorcycle shop in Whitby. There we found a puller for Dave’s gearbox and also some new inner tubes
for Kevin’s Henderson. Unfortunately for Kevin, his rear tyre had kept on deflating then suddenly, just before
Whitby, the front tyre deflated and threw him off the bike. The van then departed for York with the three bikes
whilst the Henderson and the Invincible were worked on. By lunchtime we all left, Kevin mobile again and
Dave waited for the van to return. The van could only take two passengers, so I drove with Margaret
Hammond in her hired car to the Groves, just north of the fabled inner city wall of the ancient city of York. We
had our work cut out for the rest day, after booking into our rooms, Dave had to find a vital gearbox
component, I had to find a 6V coil to convert my ignition from magneto to battery-coil and the other chaps
had to work on their valve gear. In part 2 we pick up the story again in the bustling city of York, as we try to
get the bikes all back on the road again.
I was standing at the main traffic roundabout in the town of Banbury on Sunday afternoon, June 20th, my DKW E300 was standing chuffing away breathlessly, like a kettle just off the boil and I was reading the script under the statue of the lady on the horse. It was the crowning moment of more than a year’s wait and expectation. Just then, I heard the rasp of the Grindlay Peerless I had overtaken on the country lane leading into the town. Time to get back on the track and make up for the lost time, back west towards Gaydon, via the legendary Sunrising Hill and the finish of the 600 strong field of vintage motorcycles.
But it took a combination of luck and perseverance to get the bike running sweetly for the Banbury, only a few days previously. I was in the hired car of Margaret Hammond, driving through Goathland, scene of the legendary Aidensfield of Heartbeat fame, admiring the railway station and its motley collection of steam trains. The Yorkshire dales were at their best, black faced sheep lunging out of the mist begging for food, and day trippers walking cheerfully through square miles of rolling hills. By the time we reached “The Groves” on the northern wall of York, it was a sorry sight, with four stricken motorcycles on the forecourt.
Early the next morning, taking advantage of the rest day, I struck out past Yorkminster on a push bike, hunting down a 6V coil to convert my dead magneto to coil-battery ignition. At the first few bike shops I picked up a kickstart cotterpin for Weeksy (whose Sloper had wellied over at the I.O.M.ferry and broken the Bonaparte mirror and bent the kickstart) a bottle of valve ease for Rex’s knackered exhaust valve guide and some more 18mm spark plugs (to give to Phil who had lent me 2 plugs already). Then I picked up a Honda Cub coil which I thought would do the trick for my Deek but was actually for electronic ignition (curses, another trip!) Malcolm Cox and Dave Alderson sent me off again, making sure I got a coil with two terminal posts! Doh! Fortunately, the legendary Dick Craven, whose bikes still feature on Heartbeat had a perfect 6V MZ coil with matching condensor, so, happy as a skylark I pedalled back from Stockton on Forest to “The Groves” where my trusty mechanics were waiting, solder wire and screwdrivers in hand, to wire in the coil onto the old points. Luckily for me, the 1929 model came out with a handsome generator to service the by now, luxury electric lighting circuit and horn.
Chris Whisson, in the meantime, was cheerfully grinding his valves again on the Norton and the indominatable Kevin wrestled again with a new set of tubes on the beaded edge Henderson tyres. Also, Dave Jennings successfully pressed on a new bush on the input shaft of the Invincible’s gearbox and we had 16 goers again. To celebrate, we shot off to the “Hole in the Wall” pub, just inside the walls of York where various activities took place, like armwrestling the waitresses and general revelry, which I suspect, bring our hallowed sport into disrepute! Our Yorkshire riders told us of the unchanged law on the English statute book, in which it is still legal for an Englishman to shoot a Scotsman with bow and arrow, if he dares enter the walls of York. We noted groups of tourists wandering along the top of the wall, just like the rubbernecking tourists on the Great Wall of China.
Wednesday 16th June was a relatively easy glide down to Oakham in Rutland, the small county described as the “rural heart of England” where the people talk with no accents at all (or none that we could pick up). We were hijacked by various bands of VMCC riders, who obstinately took us along picturesque roads of their own choosing, handing us over like kidnap victims to the next bunch. Most of the riders were booked in at the Admiral Hornblower, with a few at the “Ploughman” just out of town, and me in the Wisteria. Carl’s gearbox packed up just before town but a fellow out of the country was summonsed to bring out a bronze bush, which Keith faithfully turned down to the right dimension. Chris’ Norton gave up the ghost about half way, but our tour guides gleefully took him off to their local Norton marque specialist, who promptly fitted a whole new set of valve gear from a whole lot of dealer stock still lying around after 50 years.
Thursday 17th June was quite a long day, as we had to ride all the way down to Bourton on the Water, in the Cotswolds. Once again, relays of faithful VMCC riders escorted us ever southwards, at one point we were on very remote back roads, the overkeen Vincent point rider rode up the back of Weeksy’s numberplate, it looked like its teeth had been knocked out.
Then, just before the next handover place, we were all parked quietly off to the left, engines ticking over as we regrouped, when Gary came round the corner like a fox with its tail on fire and rode between us and a couple of spinsters on horseback. The elder rider was thrown off into the hedge by the panicking horse, which then set off in pursuit of the mercurial Gary on his RE, fortunately at the next fork in the road, the horse peeled off to the left, Gary to the right!
We arrived in Bourton just before nightfall, so had a chance to see the beautiful miniature village and the little bridges over the stream running through the town. Kevin had another episode with his front tyre and Phil stayed behind to help, ending up with the two Jerry cans as well. Going round a corner, trying to keep up, the Indian tipped over into a ditch and picked up some scrapes. To add insult, it blew a head gasket (again) so Phil limped into Bourton, making contact with a local garage which had a sheet of copper of the right thickness, to effect a repair the next day.
Friday 18th was a relatively easy day, in which we motored back north, towards Stratford, where we were to spend the next three nights. As it was a short day, we headed for the Birmingham museum, just off the motorway, where we were able to see rows upon rows of smartly chromed and restored British motorcycles, bringing up a debate amongst us as to whether they had missed the point in “over” restoring the machines there. We were all together in the massive Youth hostel, just outside Stratford upon Avon, which as a converted Georgian manor house, easily accommodated us and a herd of young school children attending Shakespearian plays.
Weeksy replaced his kickshaft again and a general day of tinkering and fettling took place in preparation for the fabled Banbury Run on the Sunday. We were joined once again by Uncle Eric, now down with his 1914 Precision, his Indian Scout parked up at home. As we filed up outside the kitchen for Saturday lunch, we were astonished to see the scruffiest Bantam you could possibly imagine, roll up and park outside. The rider was not much smarter himself, but proudly showed the long list of countries he had ridden through on the bike, handlebars bent, brakes shot, paint flaked off to buggery and bolts missing etc .
Saturday night was spent reading through our instructions and some even ventured out onto the Banbury circuit, to check out the formidable Sunrising Hill and put in the finishing touches to their bikes for the big event. Sunday was sunny and mild and we all parked at Gaydon, in the Vintage Automobile Club car park alongside our allotted numbers, with no 1 closest to the start/finish line and number 600 the furthest. It was great to see our librarian and friend, Ken Vincent, with his brother Colin, sans Velocette as it was running but just had not gotten registered in time. As pumpkin hour approached, nerves started to run a bit high and excitement brewed as the mayor of Banbury took to the start/finish line with a checkered flag, and Sammy Miller left his magnificent 5 cylinder rotary to address the crowd from the media caravan.
The 600 motorcycles left in groups of 5 every minute, a short course for veterans, a middle course for early vintage and a long course for vintage motorcycles. There were three marshalls along the route where we had our time cards stamped and an end marshall. One of the awards keenly sought after, is for the best dressed, and so it was that several riders came dressed up in deerstalker suit with hat and pipe et al. There were three wheelers, some motorcycles we had never heard of before and even another four cyclinder Henderson, just like Gov’s. BMW were amply represented with a R42 and a R47.
Most of the spectators hung about on Sunrising Hill to see the riders come up in first gear round the twisty corkscrew hill up onto the plateau. By three o’clock all the riders were in and prizegiving took place in the conference centre of the motor museum. Geoff Coole won the best Royal Enfield on Show and Graeme Hammond best early vintage (in England, his 1918 Indian is considered early vintage, not veteran). The DKW won best foreign entry and also “Most technically interesting bike on show” In fact, as we were on the start line, the starter described the DKW as the first of a large group of riders from Austria, when Sammy Miller leant over and whispered to him “They’re from Australia!
After we had politely declined to take the silverware, the VMCC officials agreed to engrave the trophies for us but we took away magnificent perpetual glass trophies from the event. Most of the lads spent time walking up and down the autojumble stands outside the carpark buying essential items like acetylene lamps (and a throttle slide stop screw for Carl’s AJS which snapped off in the body of the carby).
That evening, most of the guys and gals walked off back to Stratford for a celebration banquet at a Chinese restaurant. On the way, we noticed air balloons in the sky, which is strange for evening time but there was no wind.
The next morning we said farewell to the YH staff and headed off southwards again, it being the longest day of the year, June 21st we were most appropriately spending the summer solstice at Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain, where sure enough, there was a throng of about 2000 hippies, druids and ominous looking underground types milling about. Some of the group got mixed up with the celebrations.
The next morning it was off to Sammy Miller museum on the south coast. All the bikes were still running and this time it was the back up car that finally broke down after several issues that had dogged it from the start, like poor battery, poor remote action and crappy tie down mounts on the floor. Graham was sent off to change for a flashier model.
Then it was homeward bound via Chipping Sodbury, the Welsh highlands and Liverpool once more, where the bikes were hosed down and the travel weary mob dispersed back to sunny WA.
John Wightman #811
--o--A small aside:
BELIEVE IT OR NOT FROM WELSH WALES 25th June
Little old me was wandering the streets of Hay on Wye in Wales today, browsing the bookshops of this
world renowned book town, when clattering through the streets of the medieval square came a
Rudge,......how charming I thought as I dipped my hat to the rider.....who swept past me with a dazed
lost look and disappeared in to a narrow lane beside the markets.
Next the banging and clattering of a pre-31 machine presaged yet another vintage machine, and again I
waved to the rider, who hot and bothered, lost and looking confused rode past me. To my surprise what
did I see as the bike rode away from me, nothing other than a WA plate!
Carl Montgomery to be exact. The VMCCWA tour was going through Hay on Wye. Unfortunately I never
got to spy any more of the group who were lost in the lanes of Hay on Wye, but for a brief moment I felt
close to home. Sadly I never got to speak to any of the WA lads but did speak to the wife of the Rudge
rider, who was from Melbourne. They have been having a grand time indeed in merry England and the
Isle of Man.
As for me, my riding thrills have been limited to a long ride on a 1200cc Suzuki Bandit out of Berlin to the Spreewald. Also Germany is a very pretty and interesting place. Riding on the wrong side of the road has its perils for the novice
right hand side rider such as my self. We did manage to get pulled over by the German police, and not
speaking German was my first challenge, not carrying any identification or a driver's licence was the
second. They took pity on my knocking knees (I could see a night or two in a German lockup coming)
and let me go...phew!!
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