Highland Two Day
Over the past five years, the classic trials world’s attention has been awakened to the Highland Classic Two-Day Trial in Scotland but up until now very little has been known of its origins or history. Trials Guru’s mine of information John Moffat has been at the sharp end of the event’s promotion from its inception, and now he reveals how it came about, and how the successful mixture of theme and celebration have increased the trial’s profile and standing on the International Classic Trial stage.
The current Highland Classic Two-Day can trace its origins back to the year 1950 with the Highland Two-Day Trial organised by the Highland Car & Motor Cycle Club of Inverness, which had been formed the previous year in 1949. It was a Scottish national event run under a permit issued by the Scottish ACU, and it attracted many southern stars of the day, such as BSA supported rider Tom Ellis and Bill Wilkinson, to travel north to compete. History did, however, record that Fort William’s Allie Cameron won the event in 1962 on a Triumph Cub before he went to work for Greeves at Thundersley as a factory mechanic.
A new club
Thanks to motorsport enthusiast John Mackenzie, from Fortrose, he recently discovered the following information about the Highland Club. It was an extract from the Scottish Clubman magazine of January 1960: “A new Highland Motor Cycle Club has been formed in the Inverness area and, following the Annual General Meeting in November of the Highland Car and M.C.C., it is expected that a new Highland Car Club will emerge. We understand that it was mutually agreed in September that the car and motorcycle interests in the eleven-year-old original club should go their separate ways but at the same time retain a friendly association. The formation of the Highland M.C.C. was fostered greatly by some of the ‘old hands’, and Chairman at the inaugural meeting attended by about thirty was Mr Jack Gregory, founder secretary of the old club”.
Much of the history of this event has been lost, due in part to the separation of the club into two when the then committee felt that car enthusiasts and motorcycle enthusiasts were polarising when it came to their passion as they became very distinct and specialised sports. Two separate clubs were spawned, and the Highland Car Club exists to this day. However, the Highland Motor Cycle Club faltered in the mid-1960s, with the Lochaber & District Club taking up the slack in the west of the region which led to the creation of the Inverness and District MCC formed in the mid-1970s.
The Inverness club was founded out of the Grampian MCC when like-minded trials riders demanded more events whereas the Grampian club was predominately motocross based. One of the founding Inverness members is Malcolm Smith, a keen trials rider who had moved north from his home at Dunsfold in Surrey to Ardersier in the early 1970s. He was a specialist gun-dog trainer and shooting consultant who worked for Cawdor Estates and had set up his consultancy and livery business.
It was Smith who, in 2003, brought the idea of a Pre-65 trial to the Inverness & District committee. The main reason being that the Pre-65 Scottish Trial had that year restricted Scottish ACU licence holder entries to their Kinlochleven event due to its popularity and over-subscription. This event would go some way to giving Scottish riders the opportunity to ride other than at Kinlochleven. And so an event, at that time un-named, was promoted at the Alvie Estate in Kincraig in 2004. One of the first competitors was Jock McComisky, who enjoyed the event so much that he suggested that it be made into a two-day event to encourage more English riders to take part.
In 2006, the event was extended over two days and was given a name, the Highland Classic TwoDay, which hinted at the original Highland Two-Day event some 30 years previously. After the first twoday event was run the numbers certainly increased as word spread of the flowing natural sections on what is fundamentally a ‘shooting estate’.
The committee was once again to deliberate on allowing twin-shock machines to take part as they were by now gaining in popularity, particularly with riders who were now in their fifties. Again the numbers increased and so did the status of the event, which pleased the estate owners who encouraged the club to make use of new areas of their land allowing a longer lap distance.
The critical mass factor was about to take effect when John Moffat and, trials journalist, Tim Britton were chatting after finishing the 2012 event. The conversation drifted onto the Spanish ‘Robregordo’ event near Madrid where both these enthusiasts had competed a few years before. Both agreed that the Sotobike Club event was quite special in that it sported a ‘guest of honour’ from the sport of trials. They also agreed that the Highland Classic would similarly benefit from such a guest but who would be a good starter guest? Simultaneously the name Yrjo Vesterinen was on both men’s lips.
The Bultaco Edition
‘Vesty’ had taken part in the 2008 Robregordo event and the Spanish enjoyed watching the former threetime world champion make a tentative comeback to the sport after an 18-year sabbatical. The plan was created, and the Inverness committee was once again petitioned to push the boat out and ask Vesterinen if he would oblige the club by being their guest. John Moffat was to make the approach as he had got to know Yrjo at the Robregordo event in 2008, and he wasn’t disappointed: “It will be an honour to attend your event” said Vesty.
A couple of months went by with Moffat and Vesterinen discussing the arrangements by telephone when Vesty suddenly said: “John we could make this event really special if you would let me make some phone calls, I have a good idea that I wish to develop”. What Vesterinen did next was to knock the socks off the Scottish trials scene.
Using his old Bultaco connections, Vesty enlisted the co-operation and support of Oriol Puig Bulto (former Bultaco Team Manager and nephew of Bultaco founder F.X. Bulto), Ignacio Bulto (F.X. Bulto’s son), Manuel Soler (Bultaco development rider), Javier Cuccurella (former Bultaco works rider from Spain), Charles Coutard (former French national champion and Bultaco factory rider), Dave Thorpe and Jaime Puig (nephew of Oriol and Bultaco supported rider through Barcelona dealership Zona 3). It created the ‘Bultaco Classic Trials Team’ for the 2013 Highland Classic. Vesterinen had recreated the old Bultaco works team; the only member missing would be Martin Lampkin who still had world championship commitments at that time.
John Moffat suggested to the Inverness Club committee that the event is given a theme, and it should be ‘The Bultaco Edition’ in honour of Yrjo Vesterinen and his team-mates that year. It was unanimously agreed. It was a recipe for success as this had never before happened in any Scottish event. It was to set the scene for subsequent Highland Classics, and it also increased the event’s profile and standing from that year onwards. The success brought with it the challenges of oversubscription, but the Inverness committee stood firm and resisted a balloted entry system preferring the ‘first-come, first-served’ approach. The event on the ground was to be very carefully managed by the clerk of the course, first Malcolm Smith and subsequently Gordon Murray, an experienced SSDT rider, and Stewart Anderson. The sections were to be challenging but sensible and not aimed at taking very many marks from the better riders.
The friendliest Classic Trial in Scotland The phrase ‘The friendliest Classic Trial in Scotland’ was coined in 2015 and the club has strived to retain that feel to the event ever since.
Mick Andrews, a guest in 2016, was quoted as saying: “I like this trial; it has a continental feel to it. It’s just like riding in Europe, but you have the bonus of the splendour of the Scottish Highlands”.
Since 2013, the following individuals have been guests of honour: Yrjo Vesterinen; Dave Thorpe; Bill Wilkinson; Mick Andrews and Rob Shepherd, with Nick Jefferies a special guest and 1968 Scottish Trials Champion Douglas Bald in 2018. The editions have been Bultaco, Thorpe, The Tenth, Yamscot, Honda and Montesa Cota.
The estate management team, led by David Kinnear, were happy with 150 competitors, and the Laird, Jamie Williamson, was asked to deliver a pre-trial speech, in which he welcomed all the riders to his estate. The Inverness Club’s first approach to Alvie Estate was made by local Aviemore enthusiast Ray Sangster around 1975.
In 2016, it was decided to set aside entry places for ‘guest riders’ which were additional to the 150 maximum. These entries were specially reserved for competitors who were put forward by the event sponsors, called ‘Trial Partners’ and for former competitors of merit. Moffat remembered that the Spanish Robregordo trial had a ‘wine section’ midway through the day. The highland weather can be changeable, so the organisers of the Highland Classic set up a ‘section 19’ at the trial HQ under cover where cheese, wine and a locally sourced ale called ‘Happy Chappy’ is made available to all riders and observers, which makes for a social and friendly atmosphere. 2019 It is without a doubt that the Highland Classic has evolved, but this has been done in a planned way. The annual theme will most certainly continue as it keeps the interest levels high and the 2019 SWM Edition is no exception. The guest of honour will be 1979 World Trials Champion Bernie Schreiber who will celebrate 40 years since he won the world title on a Bultaco, and of course, he was victorious in the 1982 SSDT on the Italian SWM machine. Rest assured there will also be a few interesting surprises in the run-up to the event, which will be held on the weekend of 8-9th June.