Tag Archive: rally


So what is the simmer dim, anyway? And why would anyone name a bike rally after it?

Firstly it’s worth remembering just how far North the Shetland Islands are. If you’re anything like me you’ll have mostly seen them shown in a little box just off the cost of north of Scotland. This is about as true to life as the topological London Underground map, and in reality the islands are at a latitude not dissimilar to Bergen, Norway and mid Hudson Bay, Canada.

Whilst this means that they are not quite in the lands of the midnight sun, it does mean that at midsummer, it never gets completely dark. The sun dips below the horizon for around 5 hours, and the time in between is a surreal twilight known in Shetland as the “simmer dim”.

Bike rallies are often named after the events that inspire them, and as the rally is held over the closest weekend to the Summer Solstice at the time of the simmer dim, I guess the name seemed self-evident.

After the gloomy start to the Thursday of the rally, the weather improved considerably, gifting us with a beautifully clear night. One of our new friends, Stenton, had nipped out to go to the loo at around 1am, then came back in and grabbed us both to drag us outside. “You’ve got to see this” he shouted, and pointed across the field of tents to the simply stunning sight of the full moon hovering over the horizon in the simmer dim sky.

The next day was rather amazingly warm and sunny, so we took advantage and went for exploratory ride with Stenton. The scenery was stunning, with a strange kind of bleak beauty. We didn’t cover many miles as we stopped so often to take in the views, along with a ramble through the lovely little Tangwick Haa Museum that we stumbled upon just off the road to Eshaness.

After enjoying the cliffs at Eshaness lighthouse, we rode back through the wonderfully named Mavis Grind to Brae, where we scoffed a lovely fish and chip supper at the UK’s most Northerly Chippy.

I had wondered when I packed for the trip north if I was being a little optimistic including the sun cream, but was pleasantly surprised when the sun decided to keep us company for the majority of our time on Shetland – thank you weather gods!

Other highlights of the rally included a visit by local Jarl Squads, who serenaded us with such surreal Country and Western delights as “Coward of the County”, and the rather more appropriate “Bring Me Sunshine” of Morecombe and Wise fame.

It was nice to see them again at the Lerwick Carnival on Saturday afternoon, though without the singing this time.

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Back on the motorcycles for a mini-fled at last! In June we returned to Aberdeen for the 4th time in 4 months, this time on our trusty Moto Guzzi V7s. We had bought tickets for the Simmer Dim Rally on the Shetland Islands, which is held every year over the closest weekend to the Summer Solstice, our wedding anniversary.

We saw a bit of it from the road!The first days ride was lovely – both of us were happy to be back on the road again. We broke the journey at Stirling, staying at a hotel right next to the Wallace Monument.

Sadly our schedule didn’t allow us time to actually visit the monument as we had a 50th Birthday party to get to, so it will have to wait until another time. After a decent nights sleep we packed the bikes up and set off for our second days riding, just as it started to rain.

Gone was the warmth of the previous day – as the rain started to soak through our “waterproofs”, we found ourselves getting colder and colder. I was so very grateful for my heated grips, which I had used on a number of occasions in the past. Tony doesn’t feel the cold as much as I do, so had never used his before. Unfortunately as he tried to turn them on, the control knob broke off in his hand. Bugger.

We were staying with friends about 20 miles North of Aberdeen. Luckily as fellow bikers they anticipated the depth of cold we would be feeling, and greeted us with hot drinks, towels, and a roaring log burner, all of which were very welcome! Once we had defrosted a little we headed over to the 50th party for a few drinks before coming back for a fairly early night.

The following Wednesday we rode back to Aberdeen to catch the ferry to Shetland. It is an overnight crossing so we had treated ourselves to a cabin, as we knew it would be a good idea to stock up on our sleep before the rally.

The ferry port was flooded with motorcycles, all heading to the rally – the lady at the gate said there were only a handful of cars booked for the ferry – I should imagine they were feeling a tad outnumbered!

We settled into our cabins before heading for the bar. Tony commented on how surprisingly quiet it was, considering the ship was full of bikers…

Cue a strolling bunch of biker “minstrels”: a couple of guitar players accompanied by several kazoos. Unusual to say the least, especially as they were playing “Ring of Fire” which is not generally known as a biker favourite. A jolly night of singing ensued before we retired to our cabin for some sleep.

The next morning we awoke bright and early to leave the ferry on arrival in Lerwick, Shetland. The rally site was only about 20 miles from the ferry terminal, which meant that we were there, had the tent up, and were finishing our breakfast by 9.30am.

Now normally we arrive at rallies on Friday afternoon or evening, so once the tent is set up we start socializing over a pint or three, but 9.30 on the Thursday morning was a tad early even for us. The weather was dark and drizzly, so we retreated back to the tent with warming cups of tea and coffee.

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Wallace Monument photo credit: Son of Groucho via photopin cc

I had a big ah-ha moment on Friday when I realised that I was resisting blogging about coming home because I was so reluctant to come home. Then I ended up getting out of bed at 1.30am to write the darned thing… and then I left it another couple of days before I could bring myself to tackle my late night ramblings and make them a little more coherent… So here goes:

It was a bittersweet homecoming indeed. Whilst it was wonderful to see so many of our friends at the rally and to be greeted with a wealth of warmth and hugs, it was sad to know that we were nearing the premature end to this first chapter of our travels.

We were asked the first of many questions along the lines of, “Hey, it’s great to see you, but what are you doing back here? We thought you were going away for years!”.

This was something we were to get used to hearing a lot over the next few months.

The rally itself was great fun, but also not without its ups and downs. As so often happens in early October, the weather was surprisingly warm and sunny. It was also seasonably windy, very windy, which meant that the huge bonfire that was usually lit at around midnight on the Saturday could not be – the club running the rally made the sensible decision not to light it as the wind would have blown hot embers straight over the tents in the camping field, which would have been less than ideal.

It was a great shame as one of the joys of this rally in the past had been to enjoy a good old sing song around the campfire with friends. The upside was that we had a slightly earlier night than we would have had otherwise, so every windy cloud has a silver lining.

We were slow to pack up on the Sunday (that reluctance was manifesting itself again), and we ended up with the last tent still standing. The club were busy with clearing and cleaning the site, and a couple of them stopped by for a last natter.

Finally we dragged ourselves away and headed for home.

We had been away for 2 months, had ridden 3,354 miles through 5 countries and 2 principalities, enjoyed countless twisty turny roads, and more ups and downs than you can shake a stick at.

Our trip may have been temporarily delayed, but boy, what a ride so far!

Photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc

Despite the disappointment of having our trip curtailed, we had at least managed to time things so that we could go home via a bike rally, “Ye Gert Busturds”, run by the Moonrakers MCC in deepest darkest Wiltshire. For those of you that haven’t heard of bike rallies, they are nothing at all to do with racing. They are basically biker parties, held in pubs, halls and marquees across the land. Mostly people camp, and there is often live music, the imbibing of the odd alcoholic beverage, and usually a lot of laughing and silliness. Oh and hugs, lots of hugs – bikers might look like a scary bunch en masse, but really they’re mostly a bunch of teddy bears who hardly ever bite the heads off chickens any more 😉

We’d arrived in Portsmouth on a Thursday and the rally wasn’t starting until Friday, so we’d arranged to stay with a friend who lived 30 miles away. Lucky it wasn’t too far to ride, given how green around the gills I was feeling! Navigating by the skin of our teeth and the occasional aid of Google maps on my iPhone, as our SatNav (Mip) was still completely dead, we headed off down some lovely country lanes in search of somewhere to stop for a late brunch.

The road we had taken off the M27 was devoid of any habitation other than the odd farm dotted here and there, so eventually we took a single-lane road to the left, as a pub was signposted to be within hailing distance. What felt like 10 miles later but was probably a lot less we finally found the place, only to find they’d stopped serving food about 20 minutes before. D’oh! Luckily we had lots of directions from the locals, who came out in force to gawp at these two pasty looking strangers on loaded up motorbikes, and eventually we found the village they’d mentioned. We pulled into the car park of the White Horse Inn, attracted by the sign outside that said “Food available all day” – huzzah!

The pub was indeed serving food all day, and had a choice of a full Indian menu or a more traditional English pub grub menu. As someone who would happily eat curry for breakfast, lunch and tea Tony was in his element. I was still feeling rather delicate, so went for the more classic gammon and chips. It was just what the doctor ordered, and after washing the meal and a couple of paracetamol down with lashings of orange juice and lemonade, we went on our way feeling much refreshed.

That evening we had a good catch up with our friend whilst watching him sort through his belongings, as he was moving out the following weekend. I wimped out early and left the two boys talking late into the night, so was feeling considerably better the next day. Well fed and watered we left for the rally, after promising to return the following weekend to help with the move.

The Sunday of the rally dawned bright and sunny once again. When I say sunny, of course, there’s something a little different about the sun down in the valley. As we were surrounded by such big pointy mountainy things, the actual sunshine didn’t reach the valley floor until a good 2 or 3 hours after sunrise, and left a similar chunk of time before sunset. An interesting phenomenon that meant that in the Winter, folk living in the valley receive only about 20 minutes of actual direct sunlight, where higher up the mountains they got to enjoy a lot more of it. Lower temperatures with the altitude make up the difference though, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then there was... just us left!

It was Tony’s turn to be a tad hungover this time, so he slept on whilst I was up and chatting to some of our new friends. A lot of folk were up mega-early and had packed and left before I was up at around 9ish (I know, early for me!), but our fellow Brits, of which there were 8 in total, all took their time to pack up so that their tents had a chance to dry in the sun from around 10am. No rain, just a heavy dew, as the weather gods had once again been kind to us with a beautiful weekend.

We took our time and made sure that we were the last tent still standing, and old rally tradition of mine that we just happened to resurrect. First on and last off, seems fair! One of the Valais club members, Jean-Maurice, had offered to take us back to his house for lunch, and very patiently waited till we’d finally finished packing and were ready for the off at the crack of 1pm.

Still waiting...

He wanted to show us some of the roads which we had missed from the ride the day before, so took the scenic route up some amazing hairpins to Lac de Champex and back round again to his small village near Verbier. Absolutely beautiful, and an interesting challenge with fully loaded bikes, even with the hints on how best to handle the hairpins that he gave us beforehand.

Yes, the water was very cold!

After a wonderful 30-odd mile ride, we came to his house and were welcomed in by his family. Veronique, Jean-Maurice’s wife, who was originally from Mauritius, had prepared a delicious Mauritian dinner which we all dived into after whetting our appetites on the ride.

The view from Jean-Maurice's veranda!

After we had completely stuffed ourselves, Jean-Maurice pulled out some maps of Switzerland and Italy, and we spent a happy hour or two plotting possible routes to and around Mandello del Lario, and looking at the options for heading over to the Stelvio pass.

We eventually took our leave and headed off to get the tent back up, as we’d decided to stay in Valais for a few days. Jean-Maurice had offered to take us on another tour around the region, so we’d exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call us later. Another place with so much to see and so little time to see it in, but we wanted to fit in what we could, including a day at the thermal baths that sounded so relaxing! We had spotted a small campsite by the waterfall on our way to Collonges for the rally, so went back there and got ourselves set up in just enough time before the light left us.

OK, so the road gets a bit twisty up ahead...

Jean-Maurice called to say that the weather forecast was good for the next day and then expected to rain on and off for three days after, so suggested that we postpone the trip to the baths so we could take our tour on the good day. We arranged to meet him in Martigny at 1.30pm, and, as we were nicely full of the meal we’d been treated to earlier, we decided on an early night so that we could be up at a reasonable hour the next day. Well, reasonable for us, anyway!

Tony enjoying the view

Monday saw us up, breakfasted and on our way in plenty of time. We met up with Jean-Maurice and off we went on what turned into a 70+ mile trip. We picked up a couple of J-M’s friends en-route, who we just happened to bump into, 2-up on their Very Purple BMW K100RS. They decided to join in the fun, and away we went, up hill and down dale, or should I say, up mountain and down more mountain! I had the SatNav on so we could track the trip, although I have now found out, 8 days later, that it seems the SatNav only saves the last 7 days, so it’s gone. Gutted! It was a wonderful day, though – we saw all sorts of amazing roads, fantastic vistas, and strange and wonderful things such as the rippley pyramids, which are indeed a natural formation.

Yes, they are actually a natural formation, or that's what they tell the tourists, anyway!

We stopped for a coffee break at a hotel in Nax, a small town perched on the side of, yes, you guessed it, a mountain, and at the juncture of 3 valleys. The break was very welcome to me, as I’d discovered that needing to go to the loo most definitely affected my riding when dealing with the twisty turnies, so the relief was two-fold!

Many miles later we all parted company and we headed off back to our campsite, tired but happy. We decided that we’d done enough riding for one day, so walked over to the restaurant attached to the campsite, and perused the menu. Not cheap, but that was something we’d come to expect in Switzerland, so when we spotted Chateaubriand on the menu, we decided, sod it, we’re on honeymoon, let’s push the boat out! This caused much amazement to the owners of the restaurant, who said, “But the English usually eat cheese omelettes!”. After a little light bantering, it turned out that in 28 years of running the place, this was the first time that any Angleterres had ever ordered Chateaubriand! Good to know that we continue to surprise and entertain as we go.

Camping by the waterfall

The meal was absolutely excellent, and the local wine that they recommended to accompany it was also delicious. We retired to bed fully replete once again. Happy days indeed 🙂

All the Brits

Photo stops notwithstanding, it was an easy ride from Chamonix to Collonges, and we arrived on site at around 2pm. Other than Phil, a fellow Guzzi riding Brit, we were the first folk there other than the Valais club, who were still setting up. We were warmly greeted by Giorgio and Richard, who we’d been in contact with by email beforehand, and were the first to get our tent up so had our pick of the nice level sports pitch.

Nice inflatable, nice duck!

The rally was being held in the Couvert, a local community facility, like a village hall but with three open sides. It was filled with wooden tables and benches, and had kitchen and a bar which were being run by the club. There were also excellent toilet facilities on site, and even some communal showers. Superb. Party on!

After setting the tent up, the club were also organised and we went to book ourselves in. Richard, an ExPat Brit living in Switzerland, took our 15SF (10 Euros) entry fees, and in exchange gave us each a load of goodies, including a sticker, patch, free beer token, minature bottle of the local schnapps style hooch, and a bit of swiss chocolate. Needless to say that the chocolate and minatures didn’t last long.

Happy smiley people

The club had local beer on tap, but as I have never managed to aquire a taste for beer of any flavour, I asked what else was available. Now I’ve never thought of Switzerland as a wine producing nation, but we couldn’t help but notice the large quantities of grape vines clinging to the mountain sides in pretty little terraces whilst on our way into the valley, and it turns out that they do make wine, and do it rather well. They just tend to drink most of it themselves rather than export it, which seems fair to me! I partook of one of the local whites, a Fendant de Fully, which I liked so much that I partook of a bottle or three more than was good for me. Suffice it to say that a good night was had by all, it’s just a shame that it all gets rather fuzzy for me past about 1 or 2am! I do believe we were amongst the last still standing though, in true Tony and Sarah tradition.

Then there were two...

The next day I was somewhat the worse for wear. Definately too wobbly to go out on a challenging ride on twisty mountain roads, so we declined the offer of the organised run and went back to bed for a while after seeing the rest of the folk off. Saturday night was a much more sober affair, well for me, anyway. We had the opportunity to enjoy a local speciality, the Raclette. This was a simple affair, basically take half of a round of cheese (and they’re big rounds!), stick it under a little grill, and wait untill the top layer has melted and started bubbling. Scrape that on to a plate and add a new potato, a gherkin and a few pickled onions, then eat. Scrummy, but not desparately filling, and after a couple of these we moved on to the main event, a full platter of cheese, salami and walnut bread. A little more civilised than your standard rally burger van! A little more pricey, too, but this was Switzerland. We scoffed what we could manage, and ended up asking for a doggy bag for the substantial leftovers. The nice man at the cheese stall happily re-assembled the sliced cheese and packaged it all up beautifully for us.

Bit posher than your standard burger van!

The wine was going down a tad more slowly for me that night, so of course it was Tony’s turn to get a serious drinking head on. Several bottles of wine later we were chuffed to bits to be given a prize simply for attending the rally from the UK on our honeymoon – a huge bottle of the local brew in a presentation case along with a couple of matched glasses, oh, and a couple of beer mats too, just so we could keep things civilised. Long distance awards went to a lovely Danish chap, Sven, and Val from the UK, who had only passed her test a year and a half previously so was still on a restricted bike. The prizes were a minor challenge to work out how to transport back home, and we always love a challenge!

We managed to be some of the last to retire yet again, and eventually threw in the towel and headed for our tent at around 2am, tired but happy – a good rally indeed. Big thank you to the Moto Guzzi Valais club for making us so welcome and organising such a great event, highly recommended to all of you Guzzi riders out there!

PS This was my first ever non-UK rally, definately not my last!

Proving the Swiss have a sense of humour!

The view from our bedroom window

We awoke refreshed just in time to see a bunch of paravane parachutists enjoying themselves, swooping and swirling about in the clear mountain air above Chamonix. One tasty continental breakfast later, we were packing the bikes under a blue sky in bright sunshine and getting ready to set off. We have been so lucky with the weather.

In no time at all we were enjoying throwing the V7’s around some more twisty roads with stunning views and before we knew it we were at the Swiss border. We slowed down at the customs post, ready to be checked out, but no one appeared so we just rode on through. We were on our bikes in Switzerland!

We stopped to refuel and had a pleasant surprise as the petrol was much cheaper than in France. The prices were displayed in both Swiss Francs and Euros but my mental arithmatic quickly revealed that it was cheaper in Swiss Francs than Euros. I paid on my card and we decided to keep our eyes open for a cash machine so that we could pick up some Swiss Francs. No problem, after all this is Switzerland, renowned for it’s banks.

Near Martigny

We had a great ride and got to the town of Martigny, which was not too far from the village of Collonges where the Valais Moto Guzzi Club were having their rally. We had been looking out for a cash point on any likely bank looking type building since crossing the borderbut had failed miserably. Sarah pulled up in a layby outside the tourist information office and I went into the bank next door to try and get some Swiss Francs. As I walked in I realised why we hadn’t been able to find any cash machines: they keep them all safely inside. A few moments later I walked out much relieved, with our Swiss Francs in my hand. We were soon on our way again, destination the Moto Guzzi Rally.

Riding down the road from Martigny to Collonges, we had to pull over to admire a cascading waterfall that spewed out from halfway down a mountain. I love waterfalls, actually being around water generally, and this one was pretty spectular. A couple of photos later we were on our way again, only to halt once again by the side of the river we crossed over once we left the main road. We’d noticed when riding through the alps that one of the streams we followed was an amazing bluey-grey colour, and this was a river that was exactly the same! We had no idea whether it was because of being glacier run off or what, and later discovered that it was none other than the Rhone, so at some point we’ll do a little internet research to find out the cause.