FORT WILLIAM’S FINEST
For a few years now I have been pestering a resident of Fort William to tell me about his trials riding days. Initially this fell on deaf ears – all the excuses were dragged out, such as “I have a terrible memory” and “nobody will remember me riding now”. I was undeterred, however; this man had been the Best Scottish Rider in the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1971, 1972 and 1974, I had to get his story. Finally, during a vacation at the luxury accommodation at his Fort William establishment, I wore him down over a perfect breakfast one morning. The proviso was that if he gave an interview, I had to be finished by eight o’clock at night as he is an early riser. Lochaber in North West Scotland has produced many fine trials riders over the years, and also several Scottish Trials Champions. This is possibly due to the Scottish Six Days Trial being run on their doorstep, where the terrain ensures a steady supply of ground to hone trials riding skills. One such man is Rodger Charles Mount.
Words: John Moffat (This article was written for Classic Trial Magazine and first appeared in Issue 38).
Pictures: John Moffat/Trials Guru; Alistair MacMillan Studio, Fort William (permission of Anthony MacMillan) – John MacDonald, Fort William – The Mount Family, Fort William – Alan Vines/Yoomee Archive – Eric Kitchen – Some images: Yoomee Archive.
Born in the March of 1951 in Inverness and raised in Fort William, Rodger was the oldest son of Charles and Elizabeth Mount. Rodger’s mother and Farquhar ‘Fachie’ MacGillivray were siblings, which makes Rodger Mount and Alastair MacGillivray, who was Scottish Trials Champion in 1974 and 1979, first cousins. Rodger was the oldest of three brothers, followed by Kenneth and the late Colin Mount.
Rodger’s father, Charlie Mount, and business partner to be Mike Beacham, arrived in Fort William as Royal Marines in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. Charlie was brought up in Birchington, near Margate, Kent and was a time-served bricklayer, as was Mike Beacham. Originally deployed on the Orkney Islands, when the commanding officer realised both men had a trade they were directed to the engineering deployment and began laying the foundations for the Army Nissan huts and buildings at Achnacarry Castle, the home of the famous ‘Commandos’ from 1942, based in Lochaber, which was to be their training ground. Most of the big houses in Lochaber were commandeered by the British Army for Commando training, including the ‘secret’ base at Inverailort Castle, close to ‘Piper’s Burn’ and the home of Mrs Cameron-Head, a supporter and landowner of the Scottish Six Days in later years.
Charlie Mount struck up a friendship with Mrs Cameron-Head, doing building and renovation work on her property after the war years in exchange for shooting rights on her property. When the war had ended, both Beacham and Mount had met their intended spouses in Fort William so they returned to make their home and livelihoods in the Lochaber town. They formed their builder’s partnership, ‘B&M’ – Beacham & Mount, which lasted for several years until Charlie Mount decided to go on his own and formed ‘Modern Builders Limited’ who had their base in Fort William’s North Road.
Young Rodger was to be educated at Fort William Primary and Lochaber High schools.
Mount: “I couldn’t really be bothered with school, I wanted to leave as soon as I could; so at fifteen, I packed in school and began a bricklayer’s apprenticeship with my father’s firm, Beacham and Mount in Fort William.” Rodger worked hard at his apprenticeship and by the time he was ‘time-served’ he could lay up to one-thousand bricks or three-hundred blocks per day, and made a good living out of it.
First Taste of Off Road
When he was fourteen and still at school, Rodger and his good friend Alister ‘Queerie’ Weir were allowed to take turns riding around on Ali McDonald’s BSA C15T at the back of McDonald’s shop in Alma Road. McDonald was, along with his brother Hugh, an accomplished trials rider and had ridden the Scottish Six Days many times with their friend Ron Thompson. Rodger was quite taken with the little BSA and reckoned he could get good at this trials lark, so at the age of sixteen he bought a 250cc Greeves from local rider K.K. ‘Kimmy’ Cameron in 1967. He can’t remember exactly which Edinburgh-organised trial that he first entered, but he did pick up the ‘Best Novice’ award at his first attempt. At the next event he took the ‘Best Non-Expert’ award and soon rose to the ranks of a ‘Scottish Expert’. He learned his craft on the Greeves but soon needed something a bit more up to date.
Rodger was becoming a more forceful rider; being a bricklayer kept him physically fit and he was as strong as an ox. He was stockily built and was a rider who took charge of his machine. He favoured the state-of-the-art ‘knees bent outwards’ style of riding similar to Malcolm Rathmell. Mount was known to throw himself around on top of his machine to maintain both balance and forward motion, and refused to take a dab unless absolutely necessary!
Practice Makes Perfect
Rodger had joined the local Lochaber and District MCC, and his eye was firmly set on riding the big local trial, which of course is the Scottish Six Days. He entered the 1969 event, aged 18, on a new 247cc MK1 Montesa Cota and was issued with riding number 112. The Montesa was bought for Rodger by his father, who had taken a keen interest in his eldest son’s sport. The machine was supplied by Donald Buchan of Perth and registered LES711G.
Mount: “I had a new machine every year without fail; that way you had less effort to keep it running spot-on and I had a good wage packet from working for my father. I practised a lot back then, in fact I was never off the motorcycle, they were well used. Starting in 1968, for three years we had sixty council houses to renovate for Highland Council in Kinlochleven.”
“I would ride the trials machine from Fort William over the hills and Mamore Road to Kinloch, timing myself for the journey. Then at lunch time I would go practising on some sections near the village, then ride home again at dinner time, then go out for another hour on some sections near the house after dinner.” Rodger found the handling and power characteristics of the Montesa Cota much to his liking and far superior to his second-hand Greeves. His first SSDT was uneventful but disappointing, as he failed to finish.
At this time he was riding in all the Scottish national events along with Lochaber stalwarts Allie ‘Beag’ Cameron, Archie MacDonald, James McManus and his cousin Alastair MacGillivray, known locally as ‘Ali MacGill’. The following year, 1970, Rodger entered the SSDT on a MK2 Montesa Cota and was allocated number 118. He came home a very creditable 37th place, beaten only by fellow clubman Archie MacDonald who had his best ever placement in 32nd place. Best Scot that year was Allie Cameron, also on a Montesa, with Mount fifth-best Scotsman. This made Rodger even more determined to better his score and final position.
In 1971 Rodger’s photo appeared on the front cover of the SSDT official programme, but not feet up; he was captured in a position where the front wheel had connected with a large boulder and was set to go over the handlebars on the famous ‘Grey Mare’s Ridge’.
However, 1971 was to be Rodger’s year, on yet another Montesa Cota, but the model with the much smaller and lighter alloy hubs. He was to win the Allan Hay Memorial Trophy for the Best Scottish Rider, in 12th position, and that made RC Mount the highest ever Scottish-born finisher since 1935 when Bob MacGregor won the second of his SSDTs. This record he held until Les Winthrop finished in ninth position some 19 years later. The headquarters for the ‘Scottish’ at that time was the Highland Hotel in Alma Road, Fort William. The daily results were posted up manually each evening and Rodger was astonished to find he was lying in 12th position. A local man who frequented the hotel bar ‘acquired’ the leaderboard sheet that night, and it is one of Rodger’s prized possessions from 1971 to this day.
Rodger also claimed the Scottish ACU Trials Trophy, wrestling the crown from his rival, Kenny Fleming. This was Rodger’s first title, just five years after taking up the sport, and he went on to dominate the series, being Scottish Trials Champion in three successive years 1971 to 1973. He relinquished his crown to his ever-improving cousin and travelling companion, Ali MacGillivray.
Mount: “I literally handed the 1974 Scottish Championship title to my cousin Ali MacGill. I had met my wife Dora in 1973 and spent some time with her when she was a teacher at Gracemount Primary School down in Edinburgh and I couldn’t be bothered competing in the final two championship rounds, and that gave the title to Ali!”
1973 was to be a bitter-sweet season for Rodger. He had bought a new Montesa for the SSDT, but he failed to secure an entry in the dreaded ‘ballot’. This greatly frustrated the reigning Scottish Champion as he had a good chance for not only the Best ‘Scot’ award but perhaps an even higher finishing position, having finished in 20th place in 1972 as a member of a Montesa team, but still no ride! Rodger approached the Yorkshire-based Dalesman concern through Competitions Manager Bill Brooker, who agreed to let Mount ride in the official works Dalesman team. This was the first time a reigning Scottish Champion had not secured an entry in the Scottish Six Days, the Scottish trials community was rather surprised at the time and the tongues were wagging.
Mount: “I thought Jim Sandiford might have entered me in the official Montesa team as I had remained loyal to the brand, but his teams were by then full – Jim was a gentleman and couldn’t put someone out when he had already agreed a place. Bill Brooker came to my rescue and gave me a 125 Sachs-powered Dalesman that had been ridden by Peter Gaunt. It was quite a good machine really, but we couldn’t get it to respond correctly when we got it home to Fort William. I contacted my friend Ron Thompson who was a good engineer and mechanic, he played about with the carburetion until he got it running crisper.”
Rodger weighed the little Dalesman into the Gorgie Market sheep pens in Edinburgh on the Sunday and noticed that the rear wheel had only one security bolt. He spoke to Bill Brooker, who said it would be fine as it was only a 125 and wouldn’t be a problem. He started off the week with some good rides and was in front of his two team members. On the Friday, however, the security bolt sheared, and it is not an item that riders usually carry or an item that support crews carry in vans either! Rodger had three punctures as the wheel kept pulling the valve into the rim, and he became two hours over the allotted time and was excluded.
Mount: “When Bill Brooker heard what had happened, he was not only horrified but very apologetic, it had never happened before!”
With the bitterness behind him, Rodger switched back to his Montesa after the Scottish and bought another new Montesa Cota towards the end of the 1973 season, which was to become sweeter. The final round of the Scottish Championship was to end in a nail-biting finish at the Edinburgh St George Club’s Colonial Trial at the ‘Hungry Snout’ near Gifford in East Lothian, a four-hour drive from Fort William. Two riders had gathered enough points to win and were level-pegging going into the final round. They were Mount and rival Ernie Page, who had by then established himself as a British Trophy International Six Days Team rider. Page was the Ossa distributor for Scotland, Mount was on the Montesa. The Scottish ACU Championship was an 11-round series in those days and Rodger was keen to take his third Scottish title.
Mount: “It was a tension-filled day, I can tell you! Ernie wanted to be Scottish Champion as he had won a Scottish Scrambles Championship a few years before and this would have made him the only Scotsman to win both Scrambles and Trials titles, but I was riding well and wasn’t going to give in.” The final scores were tallied, RC Mount was proclaimed the trial winner on 33 marks lost, and the title went to the Fort William man once again. Ernie was runner-up on 46 marks. Rodger finished on the championship on 77 points, runner-up was Ernie page on 76, Alastair MacGillivray was third on 61 and Allan Poynton fourth on 53. MacGillivray was title winner the following year and Poynton became Scottish Champion in 1976. Rodger married his sweetheart Dora Black in 1976 after a short engagement and they had three children: daughter Laurie was born in the April of 1977; Roger, who became Scottish Youth Trials Champion and latterly Scottish Premier Trials Champion in 2004, was born in January 1982 and Steven, also an exceptionally good trials rider, was born in April 1983. Son Roger served an electrical apprenticeship with Archie MacDonald, another trials connection.
So why did Rodger Mount stop riding trials at the ripe old age of 25?
Mount: “The family came along and that took up a lot of time, I was still working for my father’s firm and, in 1978, he had bought the Cruachan Hotel in Achintore Road which is the main A82 trunk road. I had won the Scottish Championship three times, so I reckoned I had proved myself. It was a busy hotel, and I built the main extension, which doubled its size. I was also the breakfast chef, so I’ve been cooking full Scottish breakfasts for nearly 40 years! My Dad said I missed my vocation, I should have been a chef. I ran the Cruachan with my brothers for two years then I wanted out, so they bought my share in the hotel and I bought Myrtlebank to run it with Dora as a guest house. Then a few years later we bought the property next door, which had been hotel owner Ian Milton’s house and doubled the accommodation of the business. I was just too busy to ride trials. I had another go when I treated myself to a new 349 Montesa in 1979, but I had lost my edge and I don’t like coming anywhere other than first! I did the Scottish on it that year, but the gearbox broke and I was out due mechanical failure.”
Rodger and Dora have built up a successful guest house business which is regarded as one of the best in Lochaber, all done through sheer hard work and maintaining high standards.
Mount: “Quite a few of the people I rode in the Scottish with stay here at Six Days’ time; they have stayed here for years and so have their children, who now compete. We are usually fully booked for SSDT week and I start the breakfasts at 06.00am, so that the early riders have a good breakfast in them for the daily run – that is important! My oldest son Roger is a keen fisherman like myself and he also took a liking to the trials, so I bought him a machine and he was a natural at it. He became Scottish Youth Champion and then won the Scottish Trials Championship in 2004. He should have ridden for longer as he was particularly good, but then work and children came along.”
“Steven was also an exceptionally good rider, he also had a natural talent for trials, and he too should have ridden longer. They both fancy riding the SSDT together next year – if they get through the ballot, of course.”
On asking Rodger if he had ever been paid for riding or winning trials he smiled and replied: “Only once, Hugh McDonald told me that if I beat Kenny Fleming in the Scottish Championship to win it, he would give me 100 pounds. This was at the time when new Montesas were around 400 pounds to buy new. Well, guess what, I did beat Kenny and Hughie paid me the 100 pounds in cash.”
The time had flown by and it was now close to nine o’clock in the evening. True to form, Rodger took a yawn and said: “Right, it’s past my bedtime; see you in the morning!”
Alistair MacMillan & West Highland News Agency:
Whenever the 1970s SSDT photos are looked at when pulling together an article, photos emerge with the copyright of Alistair MacMillan or West Highland News Agency stamped on the back. Alistair, affectionately known in Lochaber as ‘Scoop’, was a journalist and photographer. He initially reported for the Highland News, covering news and pictures in the Lochaber area to the extent that the local newspaper: ‘The Lochaber News’ was born. He also covered articles for the Press & Journal, playing a significant role in increasing circulation locally from six copies to around three thousand, as well as national papers and radio stations.
The Express called him ‘Our man on the mountains’ due to the number of mountain rescue reports he covered! Alistair reported extensively on the Lochaber & District Motor Club and the Scottish Six Days Trial from the early 1960s, for both the Lochaber News and the Press & Journal. He also took footage of the events for Grampian TV, BBC and STV news as well as performing radio interviews for BBC Radio Scotland. A lot of skill and bulky equipment was required to do this back in the day! A trials magazine used his dark room to process their photographs and would take their prints, still wet, to the nearby telephone exchange for a wire-man to transmit them to make it for that week’s edition. Again, a far cry from everything being done from one device at the touch of a button and being instantly accessible. However, it was his forward thinking that meant he was the first to photograph all competitors of the Scottish Six Day Trials at a specific section, which gave riders the opportunity to purchase a copy at his office at 101 High Street, Fort William and later at the Milton Hotel, the Trial Headquarters. Alistair MacMillan’s images are now copyright of his son, Anthony MacMillan, who has given permission for Mr. MacMillan’s work to be exhibited on Trials Guru website.
With thanks to C.J. Publishing Ltd, this article on Rodger C. Mount was written specially by John Moffat for their Classic Trial Magazine in 2021 and first appeared in Issue 38.
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