Words: Trials Guru – KK Cameron – Rob Sutherland – Tommy Sandham – Raymond Leitch – Mairi Grant
Photos: Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven – Grant Family Archive, Rogart – David Sutherland, Brora
Back in the mid 1960s and up to the late 1970s, there was a unique event organised in the rural county of Sutherland in northern Scotland. It was called the ‘White Heather Trial’ promoted by the Sutherland Car & Motor Cycle Club and was the most northerly permitted motorcycle trial in the United Kingdom.
Held on a Saturday because of the deeply religious area being predominantly Free Church of Scotland which scorned sporting activities on a Sunday, the organisers respected this and therefore capitulated.
This allowed the Lochaber club, based in the Fort William area, to organise a Sunday event where the Free Church influence was not quite so strong and this made for a unique trialling weekend in the north of Scotland. This created a weekend of events in the Highlands of Scotland, not a two day event as such, but two days with events.
Centred at the hamlet of Rogart, which means: ‘great enclosed field’ it was a somewhat dispersed crofting community with the nearest village being Golspie, some nine miles distant. However Rogart does have a railway station and this had opened up the area somewhat over the years.
The trial started at Rogart and used sections at Davoch; Rhemusaig; Reidchalmie; Pitfire; Sonny’s; Kinnauld; Kerrow and Sciberscross in the Glen of Strath Brora.
Scibercross Lodge was built in 1876 and was one of the many hunting lodges built for, and by, the Third Duke of Sutherland.
The Grant Brothers – The Prime Movers:
Whilst there were a number of local club members that assisted in the running of the trial, the prime movers of the Sutherland & District Motor Club, White Heather Trial were undoubtedly the Grant brothers, John and Bill.
John was the older and Bill the younger, twin sons of Ian Grant and Jessie Magarry, born on 4th July 1928 at Dalmore, Rogart.
The family home called ‘Rowallan’ was built in 1889. Ian Grant moved along the road to the Bungalow when he married Jessie as his father was still Rowallan. They were only out of Rowallan for a year or two, but it was never bought. This is where the Grants ran their grocery business for many years.
They lived in Rogart all their days, the only exception being the time they spent in the Middle East during a stint in the obligatory National Service.
John and Bill left Rogart to train at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, serving as motorcycle dispatch riders as part of the Royal Signals, until 1949. They then returned home to help their parents run the family business.
John and Bill Grant’s connection with the Scottish Six Days Trial began with Bill becoming an observer in 1967. This was followed by a commitment as Chief Marshall before Bill became the Assistant Secretary to Ally Findlay where his in-depth knowledge of the event was invaluable.
The SSDT ‘influence’ was evidenced with the type of competition numbers allocated to competitors at the White Heather. The riders had a large numeral on black background fixed to the front and nearside of their machines in the late 1960 events. An idea taken from the SSDT at that time.
Not ‘medically identical’ twins, the Grant brothers were fiendish practical jokers. Some may remember the pranks that John and Bill played when they took their turn at attending the SSDT in alternate years, because the ‘absent one’ stayed at Rogart to run the family business in the village. Many people, including riders and officials didn’t realise there were two Grant brothers, because they were so alike in both appearance and mannerisms!
Daughter of John Grant, Mairi, former SSDT Secretary told Trials Guru: “They generally took their bikes down to the SSDT at Fort William. They would head down the main road to Beauly, then cut over the top to Drumnadrochit before heading on down to Fort William, a delightful run even today“.
The Grants had a preference for Velocette road motorcycles, which led to them to convince the marque owners club to hold their national rally at Rogart, run in the August.
John Grant passed away in 1998 aged 70 and ten years later, brother Bill aged 80 years in December 2008.
Trials Guru’s John Moffat: “I got to know Bill and his twin brother John through the friendship they struck up with my late father, many years before I found myself working with Bill in the SSDT office at the Milton Hotel in 2002. When I was 18, I observed at the SSDT in 1976 and Bill was Chief Marshall that year and his nightly ‘Briefing Meetings’ were a mandatory part of the duties and that was where he imparted his direction and knowledge to the officials and observers.
Bill‘s advice was always positive and he was a very knowledgeable chap to have on call as his experience gained through many years helping both Jim McColm and Ali Findlay, indeed steered me through a very adventurous week in Fort William in 2002.
We had great fun in the office, as he always had some story or other to tell in the short lull between the workload. As most of the stories he told me involved previous Scottish Six Days Trials, I must say I was always enthralled by them! He usually began his ‘lesson’ by saying the now immortal words: ‘Now, let me tell you this … ‘
I for one listened intently to what Bill had to say for this was the time to learn. I didn’t interrupt him. He had such a relaxed style that anyone who ignored him probably did so at their peril and no doubt came ‘unstuck’ shortly after!
The motto should read: When an experienced person speaks, it pays dividends to listen.
The Grant brothers have now passed into Scottish Trials folklore, they were true motorcycle enthusiasts“.
Competitors memories of the White Heather:
Kenneth ‘KK’ Cameron, from Fort William:
“The bike you see in the photo came from Donald Buchan dealership in Perth, most of my bikes were from either Donald or Jimmy Morton at Sorn, Ayrshire. My memories of the White Heather are that it was a great trial and one I rode many times. The one thing that I remember well was riding with Allie ‘Beag’ Cameron and ‘RM’ – Roger Mount, Allie affectionately called us by our initials.
We were looking a difficult section up on a steep hillside, that no-one was cleaning. After looking at it for a while, Allie told us how to ride it. Approach quite fast in second, shut off power till you reach here, then give it a wee squirt here and shut off again, then another and so on. I can’t remember how many ‘wee squirts’ were needed but there were quite a few. Allie then gave us a ‘master class’ on how to do it. Allie was a brilliant rider, needless to say neither ‘RM’ or ‘KC’ followed his example“. – Kenneth Cameron, Fort William
Tommy Sandham, author – Four-Stroke Finale, The Honda Trials Story, originally from Airdrie, now Magor, Monmouthshire:
“I remember the White Heather trial. I think I did it twice and recall it was held on a Saturday, so that meant either a day off or a half-day on Friday to travel up to Sutherland. I was based in Airdrie then so it was
quite a trek with a trailer.
I well remember riding round and coming into a village and there was a Policeman standing in the middle of the road waving the trials bikes through! The first and only time I recall this happening. Then we had a lunch stop which again was unusual and the village hall was filled with cakes, sandwiches etc made by the local people. Everyone seemed to be involved!
When the White Heather was finished it used to be a rush back South to Fort William where there was another trial on the Sunday.
The weekend involved two bed & breakfasts and a lot of miles to cover but it was once a year and I remember it very fondly“. – Tommy Sandham, Magor, Wales
Rob Sutherland from Brora, now living in New Zealand:
“I’ve spent some time trying to recollect the goings on of the White Heather so here they are”.
“My uncle, John MacDonald, my Mums brother who resides in Rogart to this day, was a clubman rider and former SSDT competitor on an ex- Brian Payne AJS (YNC526), which he bought from Alex Smith. I spent much of my early years with my grandparents in Rogart so the ‘WH’ was an on your tongue word being probably the biggest one day event in the Parish, apart from the annual sheep and cattle sales”.
“Uncle John had become an organiser along with Billy and John Grant and with others whom I cannot remember the names of now. By the time I started riding the event in 1976 on my brand new 348 Montesa Cota, I had been an active spectator prior to then and from memory, to me it could have been a world championship having riders of note travelling up from the North East of England which back then was to a young boy another country. They competed along with the prestige of Scottish riders such as Roger Mount, Ally Macgillivray and riders of their era.
Not forgetting that weekend was a double-header as the Lochaber trial was held on the Sunday, which I suppose made the long trip more worthwhile for the far travelled riders.
I had followed the trial on my late 1960s 250 Cota from the age of fourteen as I was very familiar in getting to see the Rogart side of the trial without riding on the public roads so you can imagine how I yearned to be sixteen and get in there with the stars who could clean what a young boy thought impossible“.
Sutherland continued: “I bought my 1976 348 with a five hundred pounds loan and topped the massive £799.00 purchase price of with my apprentice wages. The bike came from McGowans Motorcycles in Inverness and the salesman was Billy Lumsden who was, at that time, one of the top local riders and rode a Beamish Suzuki. Billy tragically lost his life in a road bike crash in Inverness. His younger Mike continued the tradition, as he rode trials with Gavin Johnson in the early days.
My first ‘WH’ was the 1976 event as I had just turned seventeen two weeks prior and as I think it may have been the first year schoolboys were allowed to ride, as long as our parents collected us for the public highway part of the trial which ran from Rogart North West to the Kerrow and Scriberscross, then down the Glen into Golspie before heading back to the Mound for the Aberscross and quarry group of sections.
The trial route changed yearly although some of the hardest sections were kept, but it did give the diversity with different sections to ride. It may just be my memory but I seem to remember large numbers of spectators at sections which only added to the competition a young sixteen year old from the Highlands could dream of, having spectated at the SSDT and having some of the big names from the SSDT ride in my own backyard.
I rode three White Heathers I think before getting into motocross, but had so much fun riding and practicing with John Moodie, Ray Leitch and the travelling adventures attending all Scottish championship trials. In fact I think the last ‘WH’ I rode in, a young John Lampkin was there on an SWM along with Glen Scholey and Rob Edwards taking in the double header weekend.
I remember these riders taking part… Steve ‘Butch’ Robson, who would become my best man; Gordon Butterfield; Dave Younghusband; Rob Stamp; Geoff McDonnell; Ray Crinson; John Winthrop; Robin Cownie; Walter Dalton; Keith Johnston; Casper Mylius; Alan Adamson; John White; Billy Matthews; Roy Kerr and Graham Smith from Hawick“. – Rob Sutherland, New Zealand.
Douglas Bald, Scottish Trials Champion in 1968:
“I have very happy memories of the white heather trial , can’t remember much about the actual event itself, but I do remember this occurrence no names but his initials were I. D. B. M; he liked a serious ‘swallie’ (drink) and as always l was the chauffeur.
We decided to go to the local barn dance and as would happen, we got back to our digs late to find the place dark and lock fast. This gave us no alternative but to gain entry, it unfortunately coincided with the local ‘Bobby’ doing his beat.
It took some explaining I.D.B.M was always a little argumentive after a drink and to this day it was the nearest l have ever been to being lifted by the Constabulary!
I can’t remember the date, but the police car was a Morris 1000!“
Iain Lawrie captured the action in 1979…
Ray Leitch who lived at Culloden, near Inverness:
“My very first White Heather trial I ever rode was in 1976 and I was number 1, but I lost the kick start on my Montesa Cota 247 half way through the event. Lots of ‘bump starts’ later and I finished about second last! I got betetr after that though.
I was sponsored by ‘Cawdor Castle Tourism’ and my brother Sid hand painted their monogram on the tank. That is the Bultaco you see here supplied originally by Stodarts of Oban, but later fitted with the Steve Wilson frame and swinging arm.
Those are Marzocchi air shocks which were modified from a set off a KTM motocross bike. Also riding round the trial with Rob Edwards was for me the highlight of all the White Heather trials I competed in“. – Ray Leitch
Simon C. Valente from Edinburgh, now in Yorkshire:
“My first ride in the White Heather was I think in 1975, in 1977 I returned, travelling with my elder brother Peter and Graham Smith of Hawick, who was then an up and coming rider working towards his peak of winning the Scottish championship a few years later, in Graham’s Volkswagen camper van.
A few minutes before the start, opposite the Rogart Hotel, a small crowd had gathered to watch Willie Dalling who was on a 348 Montesa at the time, flailing away with a foot pump to square up his rear tyre on the rim. Suddenly an almighty bang, reminiscent of the one o’clock gun going off at Edinburgh Castle, reverberated around the village, as Willie’s inner tube exploded inside the tyre.
Being a strong and sometimes fiery character, you could almost see the steam exuding from Willie’s collar as, without a word, he unbuckled his watch and handed it to his wife Creena before starting the task of replacing the tube.
Meanwhile the audience turned away in respectful silence to leave Willie to work off his temper with the tyre levers!
That year was the first when Rob Edwards came to Rogart to take on and of course beat Scotland’s finest of the time, Alan Poynton, John Winthrop, Robin Cownie et al, and local favourite John Moodie from Rovie Farm. I collected a first class award on my TY175 Yamaha.
The trial was a heck of an adventure, after an early start it must have been past 5 o’clock when we were tackling the final section, before packing up and joining the charge towards Fort William for the Lochaber trial the next day – Great days!” – Simon C. Valente
Peter Valente from Edinburgh:
“I recall Rob Edwards offering me his spare front brake for the following day’s trial after the linings came off mine on the 348. I should have taken it as riding without a front brake was a bit hairy – not to mention getting down from the top of Sciberscross.
Still the strongest memory of the trial is Willie Dalling using a footpump to square his rear tyre on the rim just before we were due to start. One of the bystanders asked Willie how he would know when he had got the tyre hard enough. Someone (it might have been me) said that when it went bang you would know that it was just too hard, at which point the tube burst. I’m sure you can imagine Willie’s reaction as he set to while the trial departed.
Then there was the rope with a bit wood on the end to go behind the stanchions to haul riders up a waterfall section that many fived. No doubt we’d find that one easy enough nowadays“. – Peter C. Vanente
White Heather Photo Collection of the Grant Family, Rogart:
Tommy Milton Junior, originally from Edinburgh now Northern Virginia, in Washington DC:
By the autumn of 1968 I was only back in Scotland intermittently, as I had started working for British Road Services based in Oxford.
More images and information on White Heather Trial to follow shortly.
- Iain Lawrie, Kinlochleven
- Grant Family Collection, Rogart
Special thanks to all the contributors, photographers and riders who have shared their memories of the White Heather on Trials Guru.
This article and photo-feature is dedicated to the people of Sutherland in north Scotland and in particular the Grant family of Rogart. It now sits in the Trials Guru ‘special section’ entitled ‘Great Scots’.
Did you ride at Rogart in the White Heather? Then tell us about it, maybe we can add your memory on this article.
Interactive Trials Guru:
Riders’ memories of The White Heather:
Richard Mackintosh, Inverness:
“My first ever competitive trial was the 1976 White Heather. An event that was to kindle a lifelong interest in the sport albeit sometimes interrupted by that nasty thing called work. I learned the rudiments of riding in a local woods and streams in and around Beauly from late 1975 on my fairly decent Ossa Mar, a £300 purchase from A. N. Other! Finding some out some months later that another Beauly lad John ‘Bull’ Davidson who by this time lived in Inverness was right into the sport too and palled around with previously spoken about Billy Lumsden. That led to getting some tips, advice and garnering further interest and being able to get a wee bit more practice in I guess. Anyway, trying to run before I could walk I entered the trial and had so much fun. I have a recollection I was about 38th or so out of about 80 riders. Dropped a barrowload of marks but there were plenty of also rans behind me. I can’t recall but it was probably the following year I became aware of the luminaries such as Rob Edwards being there too although it could have been that very year. Rob, a delightful fellow who I met briefly a number of times including my soon to follow 3 x SSDTs – another case of me trying to run before I could walk, had a great memory for faces and always had a few kind words. Back to the trial, it really was a great mix of sections, people looking on and you really felt part of something especially as a sport newcomer. All these cracking riders coming to participate and little old me being part of it. Just magic! The double-header of being able to shoot off to Fort William the following day , a bonus. Something,I’d forgotten about until I started reading this fine article. I think maybe 3 times or so I participated, Who could forget Robbie Sutherland in the coming seasons who really started to make his trials bike ‘speak’ and made us all envious when he got his 4 stroke CCM. Oh my, the sound! Ray Leitch, a fine rider often in the points. A shoogle here, a shoogle there, but feet firmly on the pegs. We travelled together to a number of trials and believe me, there weren’t many people who could get a Mk 3 Cortina and trailer chapping faster on the way home. Anyway, the White Heather, there couldn’t have been a better intro to the sport could there?” – Dick Mackintosh
Peter Bremner, Chairman Edinburgh & Disrict Motor Club Ltd:
“Well, this article brings back some great memories as Tommy Sandham said, it was a long drive up. Myself and Stan Young did that journey, we left Edinburgh about lunchtime and after a brief stop in Inverness at the West End chippy, non stop to Rogart in time for a couple of pints and it was 10.00 pm closing time in those days.
Seeing the picture of Tommy Milton Jnr, ‘Kerrow’ was one of his favourite sections. I managed it once for a dab, not only did I ride the trial, but was SACU steward a couple of times. On one occasion I came across Jock Fraser on the down side of the ‘Struie’ he had been involved in an accident. All the trials guys that were there duly helped get the bike on another trialer with Jock and his wife in another car.
His car was not driveable so what could be done with his trailer? I had my works van but no tow bar, but a single bike trailer can be wedged into a Ford Escort van with the doors only slightly open. There it stayed all the way back down to Fort William on the Sunday. And yes, the drive down to Fort William was interesting with trials bikes on trailers and pickups at various speeds!
My abiding memory is the way the whole village helped to put on the event“. – Peter Bremner
Ian ‘Midge’ Middleton of Dumbartonshire, an organiser of the Loch Lomond 2 Day Trial:
“I have recollections of the White Heather Trial and rode it from 1975 to the last one in 1983.
I was amazed to see the photograph of Geordie Shaw of Perth and Loch Lomond Clubs riding at the ‘Scriberscross’ sections on his Greeves in 1967″.
“That was quite a bit before my time, but I recognised him straight away, even before I saw the photograph caption. Geordie Shaw was great mentor to me and I couldn’t wait to have a go at the Trial, having heard all the tales from Geordie. Sadly Geordie passed away in 1975 when still quite young, probably aged mid-thirties or so.
After a long and arduous drive in 1975 on roads that had not yet been upgraded or improved in any way it was tremendous adventure even just to get to Rogart, the Trial epicentre. There was no Dornoch or Kessock bridges, no improved A82 or A9 roads, and it was very much the long way round, traveling through many small villages and towns.
Once there myself and my two travelling companions ventured into the pub to be greeted by Pete and Simon Valente whose first words to me were..’you look absolutely shattered’. I certainly was bit tired having driven 225 miles on fairly primitive roads in a very slow van. I was even more shattered after the event, but very happy at having completed my very first White Heather Trial.
Even more amazing for me was to encounter the lads from County Durham, Weardale and North Yorkshire who would have had to travel at least twice the distance to get to Rogart. The well known folks from the far South from where I am sitting were ‘Big’ Billy Maxwell, Ray Crinson, Walter Dalton, Rob Edwards, Gordon Butterfield and Colin Ward Senior. After finishing the Trial, the next task was to get everybody packed up and into the van for another arduous drive South on Saturday evening to Fort William, for the Sunday Trial run by Lochaber Club.
The White Heather was always a special and fantastic event, because it was a massive one lap trial with probably about 50 sections or so, and you were lucky to be finished at 5.30-6.00pm having set off at 10 in the morning. It seemed to closely resemble a day in the SSDT. I also remember lunch halts at a local school house which must have been opened up specially for the Trial. With the local ladies providing soup, sandwiches and tea. You had to be quick because time was short to get round the long lap.
The Grants also provided a route card with a sketch map of the route and the names of all the sections and section numbers. This was presumably all influenced by the SSDT processes, which having read the previous articles, the Grants were also already heavily involved with.
Being a very long one lap fifty section Trial it was very challenging, but immensely enjoyable. For me, it was ‘not a walk in the park’ and that was all part of the challenge in taking part and actually finishing. There is probably nothing like it in today’s world, and it was a shame that it finished in 1983, because the younger lads of today are missing out on something really special.
The sections called ‘Quarry’ was always pretty scary for me and they were always the last group at the end of the Trial when you were very tired. The group was just at the side of the main road leading to Rogart. You always had to be very careful to get the best line at the Quarry sections and have a really good blast up the steep rocky and narrow path, because if you were unlucky enough to fail and get a five, there was no way of restarting or going off to the side to get out of the sections.
If you took a five the only way out was to turn around and go back down which would have been a nightmare. That worry was the best incentive to get the right line, open the bike up and make bloody sure you got out the ends cards.I think I got through the Quarry sections without ever getting a five“. – Ian Middleton.
Ian Middleton kindly supplied Trials Guru with the official results for 1975/76/77/78 & 79:
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4 thoughts on “UP NORTH – White Heather Magic”
Ian – The schoolhouse lunchstop was Rhilochan school – secondary home of the Grants! Mam (and half the village!) were chief cooks and bottlewashers, and loved every minute of the chaos!!
My subconscious must have been working on this and I’ve remembered a bit more – the weekend was fairly “social” and I recall the pub at Rogart being so full that staff were serving us from outside, through the window, rather than try to cross the room.
I think opening times were a bit more elastic at Rogart but the 10pm closing was always a problem after the trial given the need to get to the Fort for a pint or two before retiring for the night.
I recall guys from the Stevenston club making their way with three bikes on the trailer (thus a 40 mph limit if memory serves) in the dark, down by Loch Ness. A pair of headlights came up close behind so naturally they sped up, but still the headlights were there. They managed to reach about 85 before the police car eventually got past and hauled them in. As the cops were on a shout the lads got away with a ticking off.
John Moodie had a tweaked Fiat and this came flying past, trailer flaying behind, at a rate of knots and sounding like a low flying aircraft as we descended to Spean Bridge and its tight right hander. Suddenly there was a lot of red light as the brakes were engaged followed by a quick turn left as that was not so tight and John had judged he wasn’t going to make the right hander.
Great fun but you’d never get away with it these days alas.