The Scott Trial – The Tale of a Lifelong Obsession
Ever since Mum and Dad took me to watch Bill and Mick Wilkinson in the Scott Trial in the early 1970s, I’ve been a bit obsessed. It’s just got under my 7 year-old skin and now I’m in my 50s and I still haven’t shaken it off.
I caught the bug from Dad who was an old-school trials and scrambles enthusiast originally from Settle, in the Yorkshire Dales. I never knew him as a rider but he talked of great memories in his youth and there are some great old photos. Dad was a keen follower of The Scott Trial, although he never competed in it.
Dad’s work involved touring the north of England and visiting garages and motor traders, and one of the highlights was am occasional visit Bill and Mick’s Garage in Kettlewell. Bill and Mick were serious trials riders with a great reputation, and they were always seemed really friendly. As a small boy, in the school holidays I would accompany Dad where the highlight of the day would be a visit to the ‘Wilkies‘ in Kettlewell, where I watch them wheelie their Ossas up and down Kettlewell high street, or if I was lucky they would let me have a ride on their mini TY80 trials bike. So, when the Scott Trial came in the autumn it was special to have some familiar faces to look out for.
Dad passed away too early aged only 50, when I was only 12 and my brother Dave was 9, but Mum was terrific in continuing to support us in schoolboy trials throughout my teens driving us all over the north west of England. Crucially, she continued to drive us a fair distance to watch the Scott trial, something which was pretty impressive for a single mother (thanks Mum!).
As I turned 17 I took my road test, as then it was considered essential for doing the Scott…. I was all set to enter it and take it on and then….I went off to college, met a girlfriend and before I knew it the 250 MotoGori was sold as I needed the money for studies.
Life went another way, I took interest in fell running and after a nasty ankle injury in my 20s turned to mountain biking and then more road cycling and cyclocross, where I have stayed on and off ever since. In my 30s I had a family, got stuck into my career I almost forgot about trials altogether.
And then one day out of the blue, when I was around 48 I happened to spot Trial Magazine in a Newsagent whilst away on half term break with the family, and on the cover there was The Scott – apparently the Lampkins were still winning!
Intrigued, I bought the magazine and then searched the internet for photos and films of The Scott and the Scottish Six Days Trial (SSDT) and was thrilled to find I had missed out on the development of the monoshock bike and that all the bikes were now water cooled. The itch seemed to come back and back and it wouldn’t go away. I drove across to watch the Centenary Scott Trial in 2014 and even bumped into Bill Wilkinson, after all those years.
I was mesmerized. I had to get back at it. Initially I got myself lost in retro-land and bought a 1982 Montesa Cota 200 and entered a few local Westmorland and Lancashire Trials.
I think I was trying to subconsciously pick up where I had left off but I soon realised that it was a bad move trying to tackle modern sections on an old bike, with a middle aged body. My brother Dave helped move things on, when for my 50th birthday he arranged a trials experience day at Inch Perfect Trials. We both spent the day riding a Beta and a 4rt, trained by Dec Bullock. This was in October just before the 2016 Scott and I was quizzing Dec and the proprietor Matthew Alpe loads about the Scott, as we munched lunch.
I came home determined to shake off the heavy old Montesa and by December the Cota 200 had sold and I owned a modern Beta. It was absolutely thrilling and a few days after I bought it I was in a trial already riding better than on the old Mont.
I’ve never been short of a bit of enthusiasm and self belief, so in spring 2017 aged 50 I started fast tracking myself into what seemed like quite hard trials. One stand out memory was the Loch Lomond Two Day, to be honest it was a bit too much too soon, with some big Highland gullies and burns with what seemed like scary big steps and waterfalls, on top of big moor crossings.
I remember on day two I was absolutely shattered and whilst parking the bike on it’sside stand to inspect a section on a remote mountain top, I got my footing wrong and fell about 15 feet top over tail into a deep water pool, with the Beta landing on top of me. A dry whitted observer named me “The Swimmer”. Apparently the story spread around the highlands about the incompetent bike parker from down south.
It happened because I was so tired and on the limit of my ability at the time, pushing it on beyond my ability, trying to run before I could walk. It was exhausting, despite my 12 finishes of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race (which is pretty tough I can tell you), I still couldn’t get my head around the new set of muscles I needed to rediscover for trials.
My bruises subsided and summer passed and I was in two minds about whether to enter my first Scott at 51. But the way I saw it Dad had passed away aged 50 and I was the same age now, and I could either go and watch, or go and ride and it and make the most of life. And riding seemed much more exciting than spectating and I had nothing to lose, had I? I would just see how far I could get and at least starting would be a lesson in itself. I was on holiday on a Greek Island when I emailed my entry to Richmond Motor Club and Arkengarthdale in Autumn seemed a long way away.
My 2017 middle aged first timer strategy was to do all I could but not worry too much about it. I’d spent the last 12 months losing weight and was averaging about 50 bicycle miles every week as a baseline, and on top of that I added as much trials time as I could. This was patchy, but I managed to get my Beta to some local rough land where I could have a bit of a workout, but I really lacked access to big becks and gullies, where I could regularly pump my arms.
But I pushed on and certainly put some hours in. Around September my son Angus also got a 125 so it gave me added family incentive to go out and I had a training partner. About a month before The Scott before I rode the White Rose Trial, a big lap on the hills above Hawes, which was certainly a tough day out. It rained all day, so that was a good test, despite coming close to last of the finishers, at least I finished.
Eventually the 21st October 2017 came and the family came with me on the early dawn drive from Kirkby Lonsdale to start the 2017 Scott. I was a bag of nerves, but excited, as I sat on the start queue and my number 18 was called out. I was off! Local brothers and previous Scott riders riders Gavin and Warren Hazlett had advised me ‘don’t go off too fast’ so I didn’t – and that was part of my problem.
I remember being a little phased by some big waterfall steps I had to ride up in a deep gully, but I got up them ok, although I’m not sure how, the rivers were relatively low. I also remember Dougie Lampkin and Emma Bristow passing me well before Reels Head and thinking wow they are are going fast. I got as far as Bridge End (that year was a it was an ‘anti-clockwise’ route) when I simply seemed to get left behind and had to retire. Nothing particularly eventful happened, I simply wasn’t fast enough. I just didn’t seem to have enough pace or speed – there was no zip in my pace.
So when the faithful family support led by my wife Anne met me at Bridge End it was essentially game over. The flags were getting taken up. Nonetheless, I went home relatively happy that I had got nearly one third of the way around after owning a proper trials bike for only 9 months since I packed up 30 years ago. Not too bad really I thought. But I was sorry to let down my friends and loyal supporters Richard Bardgett, Eddy and Matthew McClements and of course my family. I wasn’t too dejected as my expectations hadn’t been that high – and anyhow I had started The Scott.
As I went into the winter of 2017-18 I wasn’t really sure what the future held and decided to postpone the decision about having another go. I backed off the pace a little and focussed on other non-trials priorities.
Actually, in the early spring I decided to cash in my 2015 Beta 300 for a 2007 Beta 250, to release a bit of cash for a family skiing holiday. When I picked up the older Beta, I was pleasantly surprised as it seemed quite rideable, and better still my clubman results started to improve. In August 2018 I had a modest (shared) win in a 50-50 clubman class in a Bradford evening trail, nothing special but a win is a win.
I also noticed that my riding was just a little better, I was more flowy, more confident with steps, steep gullies and waterfalls and (I started to think) well why not have another crack at it? So, for the second year in a row I put my entry in, and as any Scott rider knows, life changes from the moment your entry is submitted.
To be honest I conned myself, because when I sent off the entry I pretended to myself this was a ‘casual’ effort this time, no big financial outlays planned, just steady away on the older bike and the training, without stressing about it. But as August went into September and September into October, I upped it and upped it. I started to nag about things on the bike that seemed fine, new chains and sprockets, new tyre, new… you get the picture, money got spent. Also, my training changed. I spent far less time on the bicycle and much more time on the trials bike, hearing that the best preparation was bike time.
An athlete I really admire is Gary McDonald, who crosses over from fell running, to trials to cyclocross and mountain biking and I was intrigued how he did it. I met him after the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race in September 2018 he told me that he found it quite difficult to make the transition and mixing it up didn’t always help, and whilst cycling may be good for cardio fitness, there was nothing like trial bike time, that also required more core strength and upper body bulk. It seemed good advice.
I tried to focus on quality training sessions, and getting access to the best type of land. I heard it said that rocky gullies and becks were really the best and I made a special effort to find some. I got permission to use for a magic secret spot near my home, which I was able to use earlier in the autumn, at least until the pheasant season started. It had great big rocks and fast running water and I rode up and down and up and down until I was knackered. Early in the season one or two passes would be exhausting, but it got easier. I tried to get down there 2-3 times a week for about an hour plus.
I also set up a pile of rocks and logs in the back yard that I would nip out for 30 minutes at a time riding over and over, working my arms and core. It sounds daft but I had to get the workout somehow. This was all supplemented by cycling, mountain biking, press-ups, weights and planking. I also has a few trips to the chiropractor for good measure to keep things straight!
I had some sessions at Inch Perfect Trials, the first one was an afternoon with Dan Peace in early September, which was very instructive as an helped answer a lot of question for me as well as helping build confidence on the big steps, which is always my weakness. Matthew Alpe and Arran Drachenberg were also helpful in providing pointers and advice and on more than one occasion they would patiently take phone calls answering nagging questions about this or that for preparation.
I carried on and kept pushing it for me at the centre level, doing some big days out in a Richmond MC GE Brown Trophy Trial in Swaledale and the Westmorland Sporty Boys Trials. My results were never that good at that level, but I tried not to worry, as I was mostly focussing in building conditioning and endurance.
Despite all the training I was quite aware that for some reason I became more tired, probably as a result of my age, so reluctantly had to stop the training 7 days before. On reflection it was probably no bad thing.
“Race Day” 2018 approached and from about 7 days ahead I watched the weather forecast as this was going to be critical, and indeed proved particularly so in 2018. It turned out to be an absolute shocker of a rainy day on top of already heavy rain stormsfor the previous few days, the ground was soaked and the becks were overflowing. It was going to be a horror show!
Angus and I made the drive over together to the start where we were joined by my brother Dave and our long-term friend Matthew Pixton, doing driving support. There was the inevitable pre-start banter, and it was nice to see some youthful newcomers who I had got to know, Ollie Richardson and Joel Holdsworth. Joel and his experienced Scott – Veteran Dad John has become regular acquaintances and were particularly encouraging and supportive.
As we lined up waiting to be called off I shared a friendly exchange with fellow riders. One experienced looking face number 12 (Mark Wray from Scunthorpe) looked at me in the driving rain and shook his head is dismay. I asked how many times he had done it and he said he had done it many times. I asked him for some last minute advice and he said, “just never give in, keep at it, when you think you’ve lost it it’s amazing how close to time you can get”.
For the second time in two years I was off down the field and dropped through what I think is Clapgate beck, and was shocked at the depth of the water. One rider drowned his bike, not a mile in. I kept going through the woods, over the escarpment and dropped down, the other side, perhaps 5 miles until we came upon another stream crossing this time it was 2-3 feet deep and fast flowing and was littered with guys and girls in drowned bikes.
I took the plunge and drowned my Beta, dragged it across to the other side and emptied the water from the carburetor, changed the plug and lost about 5-10 minutesor more before I eventually got the bike going again. I would say that 30% of the bikes crossing that stream got drowned. I remember seeing Joel Holdsworth arrive at the other side and shouted warning to him not to risk it, so he joined forces with another rider and they took it in turns to carry their bikes across, a sensible strategy.
I pressed on a couple more miles until the route went into a notorious long river gully that I remembered from the previous year. This gully is completely committing, essentially it is a 5 m wide river bed that is surrounded by woodland under steep valley sides and small cliffs with no way out. Looking at the map I think it is is called either Padley Beck (how ironic) or perhaps Shaw Beck, just below Slack Hills and the older famous settlement called Washfold, a section I remembered in the Wilkie days in the 1970s (not used now, presumably because it is too easy for moden bikes).
I was quite surprised that the route this wet year was still going up that wet gully, it was absolutely gushing in water. The entire leg was probably only about 1 km in length but was characterised by a series of large gushing waterfalls, some of which are so severe the organizers kindly give you a plank to ride up to help you along. Anyhow, the main obstacle for me was the initial step, which was a near 2 m high waterfall covered in running water, that could only be approached through a deep pool. It was impossible to see what was where and plan your line. Even on a good day, this psyched me out, but today it was quite formidable.
A queue of riders formed, each sizing it up and one by one falling off or grappling their way up. Eventually it was my turn and I got up about halfway, misjudged it and and then bashed my front wheel on a hidden rock, halting progress and immediately falling back into the plunge pool, as quite a few others seemed to be doing. I tried a couple more times but each time I lost confidence and energy and realised it was all starting to fall away from me as the late numbers and some famous riders came by.
Dougie Lampkin handled it with a confident, but respectful single dab (and it was not even a section). Eventually there were just a few of us left changing plugs, draining air boxes and fixing bikes and I was saved by teaming up with Mark Hawkins. We took it in turns to help each other carry our bikes up the waterfall.
After about 10 minutes had passed we were both on our way and cautiously picked our way up the remainder of the wet gully, my bike engine faltering with all the water mixed with the fuel. Mark and I pressed on together but eventually I fell away, struggling with my bike’s performance and my own too. As I got to Hurst I realised it was over, I was shot, by bike was soaked and I was already way off the pace. I bumped into cyclist Kate Sharp who had punctured her rear tyre of her Vertigo near Orgate. I decided to head off down the road in the direction of the start, where I eventually managed to locate my faithful support crew, who had been patiently waiting for me at Reels Head. After some banter and the inevitable goading, we loaded the bike up and headed away, eventually ended up meeting my wife Anne and daughter Helen for coffee and cake at the cycling cafe below Reeth. We then enjoyed watching the riders on the return up Underbanks, before going home west, to dry out and reflect…..
There is no doubt 2018 was an exceptional and testing year and many much better riders than me didn’t finish either. What I found so frustrating was how I struggled on the big step of the waterfall and that I had lack of technical ability, it was too much for me in the conditions. Also, I just can’t seem to make the speed or the pace or ‘speed’ that is required. I calculate that a successful circuit of the 80 mile Scott Trial will need an average speed of about 11 mph or thereabouts, which is hard to maintain when you are spending half the time picking your bike out of wet river pools and emptying water from the engine. But I think the lesson is I just need more time and experience. I seem to have come some way in the last two years, but I have probably been fast tracking it too much, perhaps I need to slow down and just build up the experience in a more steady and non-rushed way, and hope I don’t age too fast in the meantime!
Talking of aging, there is something else I haven’t mentioned. My right ankle is pretty shot through arthritis from the old fell running accident in my 20s and so causes chronic pain a lot of the time, when I am training and riding. The surgeon says it is ready and needs doing “when I feel it is holding me back from doing the things I want to”. I guess I will need to get the ankle replaced or fused before I can really give the Scott a big shot. It seems that when the ankle is in pain it gets to a certain level it takes over my whole body and seems to undermine my performance, not just of my ankle but it spreads into a sort of all over nausea. Maybe I’m making excuses, I dunno. Anyhow I am due to see my consultant again soon so we can review that together.
I’m not sure as I write this if I will try to this again or if I am so far off the pace that it just isn’t worth it. I certainly still love trials so maybe my best strategy is simply to carry on doing it for fun, keep myself fit and see if my technical ability continues to improve with time and conditioning, plus ankle surgery. Just last weekend I had another encouraging win in a relatively easy Bradford Trial in the 50:50 class – by no means The Scott Trial, but a win is a win. Perhaps I have just been pushing it too fast too soon and my ankle doesn’t help? It is a big ask, but a good strategy and will probably require me completing the SSDT before the Scott – just to build the experience (Matthew Alpe tells me this is the best way to do it – as the SSDT gives the inevitable experience). And he vows the Scott is harder. I think I will have to wait a bit, focus on family priorities and keep my hand in, sort out my ankle, and maybe (just maybe) I can glean the experience necessary to have another go in my mid 50s. But my clock is ticking.
So either way I’ll see you next year. I’ll either be first man through Surrender on a brand new Beta or maybe a 4rt (shh don’t tell Anne)…or I’ll be there with my camera handing out nutrition to Ollie Richardson and Joel Holdsworth or maybe I’ll bump into Bill and Mick Wilkinson again and talk about good times passed. Either way, there’s nothing like it, and either way, you can guarantee, I will have a smile on my face, I just love the Scott trial. After all it’s a lifelong obsession.
January 26th 2019