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Riding Shotgun on the West Coast Road Run

 

For the best part of two years, we worked towards arranging for the Western Isles to host part of the West Coast Road Run.  All the months of hard work, and regular phone calls to Jim Beresford, finally paid off in September 2002.

Our day started in Stornoway at 9.00am on a beautiful autumn morning at our usual meeting place at the old ferry terminal. There, waiting on the quayside and looking splendid in the early morning sun, was MGB 286E, a 1967 Bedford SB5 on loan to us from the MacBrayne Circle. It was driven from Stornoway to Laxay by Calum (Gobs), and from Laxay to Tarbert by ‘Murray’, who was taking part in the Road Run with his cousin, Murray Shearer, from Aberdeen - the owner of JVA 59N, a forward control Land Rover 101.

 

RIGHT: WITPG members and commercial vehicle enthusiasts pictured at Stornoway during the West Coast Run week prior to setting off for Tarbert, Harris

At Tarbert a large crowd began gathering to watch the arrival of the lorries as they came off the ferry. Scott Bennett from Scarista, Harris - himself the proud owner of an immaculate 1934 Austin 7 - played the bagpipes as the vehicles drove up the link span from the ferry to the carpark.  After the ferry docked, normal vehicular traffic started coming off the boat. Then, as Archie Shearer’s Austin Load Star suddenly appeared at the ferry ramp, I heard someone behind me say: "Ah, this is more like it."  It sure was a sight to remember as the parking space filled up with an impressive line-up of 22 commercial vehicles.

For John Alex, Calum and myself it was a time to renew some old acquaintances and welcome them to the Western Isles. John Alex was to have another ‘spin’ in his beloved Bedford O type, which belongs to Jack Muir of Alyth, Perthshire. This lorry was a big favourite with the people of Lewis and Harris, as it was this type of lorry that would have served the island’s villages back in the 1950s.  Calum was riding shotgun with Bob Tuck in a well turned out Albion Reiver belonging to Tyson H. Burridge, Cumberland. I was along with Archie Shearer from Lockerbie in his excellent 1964 petrol engined Austin Load Star.

Jim Doig of Terregles, Dumfries, one of the event organisers, was on a real busman’s holiday - he had brought along his superb 1966 Leyland Double Deck Bus, LNY 536D. The bus had originally worked with Caerphilly Urban District Council, South Wales. It had a good load of passengers on it - they were participants in the Run who had to leave their vehicles behind at Uig, Skye.

It was fitting that the Road Run was to be started by two Harris men who were involved in road transport all their lives: Roddy MacAskill (owner and operator of R.M.A. Ltd and the quarry at Ardhasaig) and Calum MacLennan (Calum Blacky), a former bus operator from Govig, who cut the ribbon to set the first leg of the Run under way.  All entrants were given the excellent route map produced by Hugh MacInnes of Cuan Ard Press, Ness.  The route would take the lorries up the steep climb of the Ardhasaig brae, then on to the Clisham. From there it was easy-driving to our first scheduled stop at the Callanish stones and Centre for some lunch.

We were joined at Achmore by Western Isles Classic Car Club members with their vehicles, who were to follow the Run around the West Side and back to Stornoway. With the morning passing all too quickly and the sun still shining from a blue sky, what had started as a good day was turning into an excellent one.  A stopover in Callanish also gave WITPG members and spectators another  opportunity to take a closer look at some of the vehicles.

With the drivers and crews fed and watered, we were off on the road again, heading to the restored blackhouse village at Garenin, Carloway.

 
John Myers’ 1964 Scammell Highwayman Low Loader making short work of the Ardhasaig brae

The level of support the Run was receiving was tremendous, with car drivers flashing their headlights as they passed the lorries. The old lorries were also attracting the interest of many local residents as they watched them from their front gardens as the cavalcade passed by.  With kind permission from the Gearrannan Centre, who normally do not allow any vehicles to enter the site, we were granted permission to reverse some of the old lorries down to the blackhouses, where we had arranged a photo shoot with locally based professional photographer James Smith. This provided a magnificent backdrop against which to photograph the vehicles.

The route then led us across the Barvas Moor and into Stornoway, where the vehicles were parked in the old Hebridean Bus carpark. I think everyone who had ever driven a lorry came to view the fantastic line-up of lorries that were on show.  Later, a social evening was held at the Caledonian Hotel, where WITPG members got a chance to meet Run participants and inquire further about the history of individual participating vehicles.

The WITPG presented an award by members for the best overall vehicle in the Western Isles leg of the Run. The award itself was a superb, framed, photograph of Stornoway by James Smith. The award recipient was Peter Midgley of Otley, West Yorkshire, who is the proud owner of SWF 707, a 1956 Albion Clydesdale in its original livery - H B Wright & Son of Cottingham, East Yorkshire. It was used by them until 1981 and restored over a six-year period.   On behalf of the group I was pleased to present Peter with his award, but was happy that I personally did not have the difficult task of choosing the winner - in my eyes they were all worthy winners.  
Peter Midgley's 1956 Albion Clydesdale (SWF 707).

The award presentation rounded off an excellent day, with the weather also playing its part in making the event complete. I’m sure that participants and spectators alike had a brilliant day out.

Despite a change in the weather the following morning - with cloudy, overcast, but dry conditions - spectators still came out in force at the carpark in Stornoway. The departure time for Harris was scheduled for 10.30am.

All participants were assembled for a route briefing, but we had one final duty to perform before heading south. The Western Isles Classic Car Club had kindly donated two awards: the Ladies Choice, for the ‘prettiest vehicle’, which was presented to John Pomeroy of Warminster for his 1937 Albion 3 tonner, painted in the livery of Coombe Hill Carriers (Type CL122, registration number DXK 851).

The ‘Spirit of the Rally’ award was presented to Thomas R Anderson of Strathaven, Lanarkshire, and his 1969 Atkinson 2-Axle Rigid, registration number UVD 738H - the green D. M. Smith Atkinson and load, consisting of a Series 1 Landrover and a 1937 Fordson model N tractor.

 
RIGHT:  Ladies Choice winner John Pomeroy with his 1937 Albion 3 tonner (DXK 851)  at the Gearrannan blackhouse village on the West Side of Lewis

There are many people we need to thank for their invaluable assistance, without which this event would not have taken place:

Caledonian MacBrayne played a major role in enabling this Run to come to the Western Isles. They gave the entrants a 50% reduction on fares and also a concession for vehicles over 3.5 tons unladen weight by allowing them to board the ferry without welded-on lashing points. However they required to have bolt-on rings and straps fitted, to comply with existing Health & Safety and insurance requirements.  Grateful thanks must go to Caledonian MacBrayne’s Marine Superintendent, Captain Norman Jones; David Taylor, Cal Mac Manager at the Uig Ferry Terminal in Skye and Kenny MacAskill, Harbour Master, Tarbert, Harris, as well as the Master and crew of the M. V. Hebrides.

As we headed for Harris the weather deteriorated, and by the time we reached Tarbert it was raining heavily.  I had received a phone call from the Head teacher at Seilebost primary school asking if some of the lorries would stop at the school so that the ten children in the school, who were doing a project on transport, could see the lorries.  Calum ‘Gobs’, driver of the MacBrayne bus, picked the children up at the end of the road to the school and gave them a ‘spin’ to Scarista golf course (our cut off point) and back to Seilebost.  Two of the boys got a trip in NSH 123R - a 1977 AEC Mandator Ballast Wagon that was restored in the company colours (Tillside Haulage) of its owner David Tompson of Alnwick, Northumberland   I certainly didn’t have any teachers in school that would have let me have a ‘spin’ in a lorry!

As we headed back to Tarbert I hitched a ride in XFD 297H, a 1970 Foden S36, powered by a six cylinder 150 Gardner engine with a 12-speed gearbox belonging to Jim Beresford from North Yorkshire.  Since the Skye 2000 Run, Jim and I have become great friends.  We happily reflected on the events of the past two days over the throaty burble of a Gardner engine which seemed quite at home on the undulating terrain of the Harris roads.  There was encouraging talk of what was originally envisaged as a one-off event now becoming a bi-annual event.  So, fingers crossed, the West Coast Road Run could make a return visit in 2004!

All too quickly we were being directed into our parking lane at Tarbert and it was time to say our goodbyes.  The last two days had been a dream come true for myself and the rest of the WITPG members - a memorable event that will forever remain imprinted in our memories.

On behalf of the Western Isles Transport Preservation Group and everyone who took part in the West Coast Road Run, our grateful thanks.  Special thanks to Jim Beresford and Jim Doig for all the many months of hard work that they have put in to the event.

Until the next time.

This article, by RJ MacDonald, first appeared in the November 2002 issue of the WITPG newsletter

 
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