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4th January 2007


The 2006 Arbuthnot Trial
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Imagine an off-road trial featuring classic bikes equipped with girder forks and precious little in the way of rear suspension. Dave Blanchard would like to invite you to this nostalgic annual event...

Sunday the 17th of September 2006 was 'Arbuthnot Day', a day that old trials enthusiasts had been eagerly looking forward to. Finally it had arrived! So we were up at the crack of dawn for the long journey to Barford St Martin, just west of Salisbury in the pretty county of Wiltshire.

The trial is a day when we ride in memory of Sir RK Arbuthnot. He was the only serving Royal Navy Admiral to ride in the Isle of Man TT races in 1908. He rode a Triumph solo motorcycle in that pioneering event.

Very clean. So this is before the start...

Today, our treasured and ancient British motorcycles are the eligible machinery on which we are allowed to compete. These machines are mainly from the days when rear suspension was just a pipe dream in an old fashioned motorcycle designer's mind's eye. In fact, many of the motorcycles have crude and spindly girder front forks devoid of any hydraulic damping, giving uncontrolled rebound of the front spring. Some of the other motorcycles entered have more modern front ends, in the form of very early (but revolutionary then) telescopic suspension. But even this still left a lot to be desired and indeed discovered in the experimental years to come.

Yes -- you've guessed it! This competition is a re-enactment of a long distance trial of the type which was run in the years between the two world wars.

We assembled at the Barford Inn public house, which was an old Coaching Inn in those far off and bygone days of old. It still retains a lovely little courtyard from which the first rider would start at 9am, sharp! So the scene was set for another really ancient, nostalgic day's riding, in the very good company of like minded enthusiasts.

Two men in need of coffee and bacon butties.

From the Barford Inn we riders turn right onto the A30 for just half a mile, then we turn left onto an historic track for about one mile, to the first section called Hoopside. The Colonial route is straight through the middle of a long and steep sided gully, but the competition bikes have to climb in and out of this gully several times to test the riders' skills. Once this section is completed, the chaps put their heads down for a 19 mile ride on more historic tracks before coming to sections Knighton 1 and Knighton 2.

What goes up....

Now the trial is truly under way. We ride ever onwards, clocking up the miles through some exceptionally pretty scenery. The sections themselves have some captivating names and the next up is Croucheston Hill, at about 21 miles out from the start. After even more historic tracks, followed by an ancient Oxdrove track, we arrive at a real old-fashioned hillside section with the enchanting name of 'Misselfore'. Many a spirited attempt has been made here to make a clean pass of its steep slopes and hairpin turns. Some riders make it look easy -- whilst others clearly struggle!

...must come down.

After the Misselfore section is completed we climb upwards towards the clouds and disappear from the spectators' view as we head for Manwood, some 31 miles from the Barford Inn. But there is no hurry, because we ride through friendly and quaint little villages, inhabited by folk who live in pretty thatched roof cottages. The wattle and daub walls are mostly painted in traditional white, but others look cosier in the alternative pale pink. Manwood is another section on a very steep hillside and is also the place for one of the two special tests. Section and test are completed and we pick up another ancient Oxdrove track heading for a well-deserved lunch stop.

There was a new venue for lunch this year at the Rushmore Golf Club, situated in the beautiful Rushmore Park Estate. I must admit to being apprehensive as we entered the park through very tall and elegant, jet black, wrought iron gates, passing by a really 'architecturally interesting' and 'very posh' ancient gatehouse. Is this the park where our lunch stop was to be? Surely us old bikers wouldn't be welcome here!

But we were very welcome and what a great place it was too. The need to sign in and out at this stop is vital if you do not want to incur any penalties, for it is one of two important checkpoints along the Wiltshire Way.

Fording the stream. Easy.

The afternoon's adventure continued until we completed 12, old fashioned style sections. We were tiring a little as we'd ridden over 70 miles (the same number -- and a lot higher -- also represent some of the riders' ages!). But the pleasure was still mounting as we neared the end of a perfect day.

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We will treasure the memories and satisfaction of a near 78-mile adventure for a long time to come. This must have been the same feeling that yesterday's riders experienced all those years ago, when the Arbuthnot Trial was in its infancy.

Fording the stream. Easy.

I must make mention of a few outstanding riders and the top performances of the day. Riding in team 'Un-Sprung Heroes' on the competition route was Ian Watkins. A 1941 350cc road Matchless was his regular steed for the event. This was complete with all road equipment and lights, etc. Ian also carried a rucksack full of spares and sustenance; this weighed approximately 50lb. He has developed powerful shoulder muscles where he didn't have them before! (So the Arbuthnot is good exercise…) Ian also rode to the event on the same bike and then rode it home again. This added six more hours to his day in the saddle!

Fording the stream. Not so easy.

Pete Robson, riding his old 500 Levis, had an outstanding clean ride on 'White Sheet Hill 1' on this girder-forked bike. This section was so steep it made everything around it dark and you had to crane your neck upwards to see the sky. The surface was just a giant ripple effect, with a two-foot step at the steepest part! Very daunting.

Both riders are real, old style heroes.

So why don't you enter next years Arbuthnot? Whether you have a competition or Colonial (road) bike there are sections to suit. Come and experience the ambience of this special day -- plus the wonderful scenery of Wiltshire.

Call Mike Rye on 01725 511131 to get on the entry form list. You won't regret it!

2006 Arbuthnot Trial Classic Winners

  • Class A winner: P Robson
  • Class B winner: P Collin
  • Class E winner: D Hobart
  • Class G winner: A Prill
  • Class H winner: K Fitz-John
  • Class I winner: R Pike

  • Highest combined age (bike & rider): 139 years, Ali Tanner
  • Best Team: 'Pensioners in Paradise', P Sigourney, D Hobart, K Fitz-John

    The Kentish Mix team of 2002
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