One of the classic 1980s/90s scooter rally venues is set to make a welcome return in 2019. The North East town of Whitley Bay was a popular rally destination, thanks to its stunning location on the Northumbria coastline, its clifftop campsite and a smattering of decent pubs and bed and breakfast accommodation.
Exactly 28 years after the last National Rally there the town will be once again holding a rally, put on by local scooterists, albeit at a different campsite. The rally will take place on June 14th/15th 2019 at Rockcliffe Rugby Club, with camping and full facilities, plus evening entertainment on site. One of the organisers, Steve Cato of Northumbria Scooters told us “We’re not going for National status for the first one but if it’s a success we may do the following year.”
We’ll bring more details as we get them but if you’d like to see the rallies getting a shake up we suggest you put the date in your diary and support it. We asked our resident nerd, Col to take a nostalgic look back at those Whitley Bay rallies…
Heydays of the Scooter boy
Over a ten-year period, from 1982 through to 1991, the town of Whitley Bay hosted four National Scooter Rallies. The first one was 18 months before I started my scooter riding career on a Vespa 50, but I attended the three that followed. Although, technically, I have only ever been to Whitley Bay once. If that statement doesn’t add up, read on and all will become clear.
Since the first Vespas and Lambrettas rolled off the production lines back in the late 1940s, and then in massive numbers in the 1950s, the proud owners have attended gatherings and rally type events on their new and stylish machines. The Mods rampaging at the seaside in the 1960s has been very well documented many times over in books and all forms of print. And, although the 1970s seemed quite quiet for scooter sales, and numbers of riders attending events, it was the start of the 1980s that we can track back to the recognisable organised and pre-planned National Scooter Rally format that we know and support today. This period of time is what most people I know describe as the “Epitome of Cool” or the heyday of the Scooter Boy.
The first National Scooter Rally in Whitley Bay was in early October 1982. I know very little of the rally other than it was poorly attended and suffered bad weather. Seven years later I had my first visit to the town in the June of 1989. I had a good time, but I went there expecting the worst, as did many of the riders I rode there with.
Four years earlier in 1985, we had visited the North Eastern town of Redcar for a National Rally. It was marred with fighting and sporadic violence with locals and football hooligans. Geographically Whitley Bay was as close as many of us had been to Redcar since the troubled rally; hence our worries heading back to a similar area. But the rally turned out to be a great success and the following two years, ’90 & ’91, it gained August Bank Holiday status on the rally calendar and grew in numbers massively.
Here’s the nerdy bit: the rally campsite and night ‘do’ venue weren’t actually in Whitley Bay. They were in the small town of Cullercoats, which was directly south down the coast, but still within sight of Whitley Bay (walking distance). The Beaconsfield cliff top campsite was basic. But, as rally campsites went at the time, it was far better than most and it had the added bonus of the official night time do at The Plaza not more than 200 yards from the campsite entrance.
Back in 1989, the rally organising body was called the National Scooter Riders Association (like the BSRA of today) as many of you will remember. And, in an attempt to keep out trouble makers and hangers on to the scene, an ID card system had been introduced a few years earlier.
Although the 8 or 9 major rally dates were announced at the start of the year, the venues were kept secret until about three to four weeks before the rally took place. Scooter clubs and solo riders that affiliated to the ID card system were informed of the rally destination via a newsletter in the post. No internet and Facebook in those days people! It’s a system that would seem pre-historic in this day and age, where booking the same digs on the internet years in advance in the knowledge that the rally you’ve just attended will more than likely be on at the same time again next year and so on.
Fred Perry documentary
Within the newsletter telling us of the June 1989 Whitley Bay rally was a basic message from the BBC to say they were bringing a film crew to the rally to make a documentary about the iconic Fred Perry clothing brand. Every other rider, (or so it seemed) had one of the legendary polo shirts on, in the hope of being on TV. You can see a YouTube clip from the documentary below. It also features a young 18 year old future SLUK boss.
My most striking memory from the rally was the amount of scooters being raced around the campsite in the pitch black dead of night by drunken riders, after both the night time discos. It’s a miracle people weren’t seriously injured.
Hangover from hell
Iggy remembers that rally and his awkward film shoot vividly, “I’d had a stroke of luck that weekend, I was meant to be working until late on the Friday so couldn’t set off until teatime. On the Thursday evening I’d spent hours rebuilding and fitting the engine to my T5 (big end failure if I remember correctly). Whilst rushing to finish the scooter so I could get it packed up and go to work on it the next morning I’d noticed a large plume of acrid black smoke in the distance. Little did I know but it was the textile factory where I worked. When I arrived for work at 7am the fire brigade still had the industrial estate closed off, the factory had burnt to the ground”.
This meant I got the Friday off so could ride to Whitley Bay much earlier than planned and the threat of losing my job could wait until after the rally.”
“Whitley is on a lovely coast and the weather always seemed to be good, it also had the obligatory (at the time) police checkpoint outside the campsite. We had to give all our details, any distinguishing features/scars, tattoo description (if any). It was just part of a rally back then. After a drunken Friday night I woke up on the Saturday morning with the hangover from hell, popped a white Fred Perry on and clambered out of my spray painted ‘Notts Warriors’ ridge tent. As I struggled to focus in the bright sunshine a film crew grabbed hold of me, asking why I chose Fred Perry. I quickly covered the early morning pile of vomit I’d left outside my tent with a well placed carrier bag and gave a rubbish interview to the amusement of my friends. The BBC cut the talking out but used the footage…”
1990 August Bank Holiday
By August Bank Holiday 1990, the rally had grown in size and Whitley Bay was one of, if not THE hottest rally of that year. The same campsite and night venue were again used, but thankfully the campsite had a fenced off camping and segregated scooter parking area, to avoid the previous year’s wacky racers. My strong memory of that rally was seeing people climbing and being pulled in and out of windows and safety doors in the “Plaza” night do – not trying to dodge paying in – just struggling to breathe in a venue that was so hot and crammed, the Health and Safety do gooders of today would have tried to shut the place down!
Hot summer days on a campsite full of laughter and music, with fun, games and lots of noise! It’s easy to forget how hardcore Scooter Boys once used to party. But then most of us were in our teens or early 20s. Your job was just this inconvenient place you had to go to, between the places you really wanted to be, the rallies.
First and final visit to Whitley Bay
The final Whitley Bay National was 1991 and again, August bank holiday, with the same campsite and venue being used. But even more security fencing – this time to keep scooterists off the electrified railway line running directly behind the campsite. Feeling like regulars, our group of riders decided to venture further afield to find different pubs and food places. This was our first and only visit to Whitley Bay town itself. It was full of pubs, but sadly our antics attracted unwanted attention from the police so we made a retreat back to the campsite at Cullercoats to find yet again a superb atmosphere in the safety of our own kind of people.
Around 10 weeks earlier we had visited Bridlington for the first time on a National Rally, and I often thought Brid’s popularity and success may have played a part in knocking Whitley Bay off the calendar of venues in the North East. The rallies had more of a countrywide spread of destinations back then.
On reflection, the three in a row visits to Whitley Bay were good, very good compared to some rallies at the time. The weather always seemed kind to us – who knows what a large scale rally would be like there all these years on? I for one would go back there in a heartbeat… I’m guessing any of you that went back in the day would say the same.
Ride safe down memory lane SLUKERS
What do you think?
Should Whitley Bay come back as a new National Rally? Can the town cope with a modern day National and would you support it if it was added to the calendar? Let us know in the comments.
Col’s Whitley Bay Rallery
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