This weekend is a little different to most August Bank Holidays, in fact, 2020 has been a little different in its entirety. It’ll be the first August Bank weekend without a National Scooter Rally since 1992. Even so, the Island is still buzzing with scooters and it’s only Thursday.
Photos from Ryde yesterday (Wednesday) showed as many scooters as you’d get on a ‘normal’ rally Thursday. My Facebook feed is full of people either there, setting off or talking about ‘seeing you down there”. I’d say the rally being officially cancelled due to COVID has only really had an effect on those who were planning to camp at the new for 2020 campsite on the other side of the Island. People with accommodation booked, or who are camping at Kite Hill and other public sites are treating it as a scooter holiday and who can blame them?
For those of us not going, Col’s been raiding his archives to give us a look back at some of the history of the mother of all scooter rallies.
For nearly forty years now, the Isle of Wight has been hosting large scale scooter rallies as part of the National Rallies Calendar. And, for the past 20 more recent years of these forty, the island welcomes the scooter rally with open arms, unlike the earlier years when the reception towards us was very different indeed.
Baptism of fire
My first Isle of Wight rally was quite literally a real “baptism of fire.” It was the 1986 riot year. A rally that will possibly go down as the most infamous National Scooter rally ever. I think it would be wrong for me to glorify the troubles and antics that I witnessed at that rally all those years ago, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would still be having an annual pilgrimage to the magical diamond-shaped little island nearly 35 years later. Sadly I lost my sleeping bag off the back of my scooter on the way home, wrapped up in it was the camera I’d used to capture the scenes that unfolded during the course of that weekend.
Keeping the lifers safe
A vivid memory from the ‘86 rally was a group of us walking from the campsite field a couple of miles towards the town of Newport to get beer. We stumbled upon the road leading up to HMP Parkhurst Prison (home to some of the UK’s most dangerous prisoners at the time). Just within sight of the prison grounds, we were stopped by three hefty security guards jumping out of a van. They told us to head back down the road towards the town. One laughed and said they had been drafted in as extra security for the weekend to protect the perimeter fence, not to keep the inmates in, but to keep “You scooter boy lunatics out!” We were young and gullible and believed what we’d just heard. So, off we strutted feeling like we were a threat to society, not realising what was about to go off on the campsite a few short hours later.
The Isle of Fright
Starting back with the early ‘80s, Smallbrook Stadium was the rally’s first official campsite and I believe it was used for four years in a row, and always on August Bank Holiday Weekend. It was always controversial, but things changed and in 1984, the island’s council and police tried unsuccessfully to get a court injunction to stop the rally going ahead. I’m not sure where the campsite was in ‘84, but I think another different one was used again for the 1985 rally, also held on August Bank Holiday. The ‘86 rally changed things and the headline “The Isle of Fright” used to describe the rally by the national newspapers a couple of years earlier, now sounded quite fitting.
The 1987 rally was unexpectedly changed to the Spring Bank Holiday at the end of May. An NRC newsletter (sparse on information) arrived in the post a mere 15 days before we set off to the event. Once on the Island, we headed to the town of Shanklin but were moved on soon after by the police. So, we headed to Sandown and slept in some open archways near the back of the pier. The following morning we were moved on again by the police to a hastily organised campsite in a clifftop field at Yaverland. Our club had a great time at the rally, as we always did in those days. It would be hard to imagine a rally taking place nowadays with only two weeks notice, telling you to go to a vague area only to be moved on and on when you got there.
The rallies in 1988 & 1989 were both at Easter weekend and again on a different campsite to previous years. It was at a farm near the town of Lake (I think). Mud everywhere and chickens running around on the loose. Both rallies seemed cold and wet on the night times and didn’t seem to have the same buzz as other Isle of Wight rallies. A poll carried out with the NRC membership card renewal the following winter voted the rallies very badly. The second worst rallies of the year if I remember correctly.
From 1990 onwards the Isle of Wight was dropped from the National Rally calendar, and didn’t make an appearance again until the summer of 1996. That rally was planned very last minute and took place at the end of July. This was the first and only time the Island has hosted a National Rally not on a Bank Holiday weekend. It was probably the poorest attended I.O.W National ever. The campsite was a fairly small field at the side of the Brading Road near the large Tesco supermarket. The gathering of scooterists outside the King Lud pub in Ryde on the Saturday afternoon of the rally was pitiful by today’s numbers. The decline in numbers on the rallies was clear for all to see at this point.
Dawning of a new era
A couple of years later numbers were massively on the increase again, and it soon became the well organised mega rally that it is today. The 20 plus continuous years the rally has just had based at the Smallbrook Stadium will become the stuff of legend, if it isn’t already. But sadly, it also raises more debate, and at times criticism, than most of the other big events put together.
With that in mind I will cut this part of the flashback short.
For the record, I’m happy to stand up and say I love the I.O.W rally. I’ve got so many good memories from all the different bands I’ve seen in all the many different venues used. The mega custom shows I’ve walked around, and the campsite vibe dwarfs most other rallies in my opinion. I’ve posted over 200 pics in the Rallery from previous rallies, highlighting the fact that it’s not all lights and mirrors like some of the critics say.
The next chapter of this scooter rally will start to be written, hopefully, in Aug 2021 at its new home at the airport venue. I’m proud to say it will get my full support.
No doubt 1000s of you will be there too.
Stay safe SLUKers…
Isle of Wight rally factoids
- The I.O.W has hosted well over 30 National Rallies
- The 2021 airport venue will be the 8th different official campsite used
- More scooterists have visited the Island over the decades than the 140,000 people that live there
- In the summer months, beer delivery lorries make two deliveries a week to Ryde. On rally weekends they make six lorry deliveries a day.
- VFM rally organiser Steve Foster has spent the equivalent of three and a half months of his life in a tent at the Smallbrook Stadium attending and organising 20 plus years of rallies there. So have I.
Isle of Wight Rallery #1
Isle of Wight Rallery #2
Isle of Wight Rallery #3