Stormin' the Castle
Off to the ancient kingdom of Bernicia
We loaded up our trusty steeds, sharpened our swords, girded our loins and prepared to head north into the ancient kingdom of Bernicia. We had a castle to storm and by the grace of all that is held dear we would be successful in our mission.
There were more and more bikes as we neared Witton Castle, by the time we got there, a large queue had already formed. My excitement grew with each mile passed and the site got nearer. The anticipation at the start of a rally is akin to the feeling you got as a kid when you were about to go swimming, you cannot wait to get your trunks on and dive in. There is a tight ball of excitement in the pit of your stomach which builds the nearer the water you get. Waiting in the queue to get into Stormin produced this very same feeling.
I managed to put the tent up with some alacrity and then wandered along the waiting throng taking photos and meeting folk.
The set up had changed slightly this year with an inner gate operating an in and out system. All the food stalls were in a line, which for gluttons like myself is a boon. I ate at the first half of the stalls on Friday and the second on Saturday lunch.
The products stall opened in the late afternoon to a crowd stretching back at least a mile, snaking around the site. I popped in to say 'hello' only to be seconded into helping out to sign folk up. Pete Walker (a Yorkshireman) was not there, nor was he dressed in Lincoln green with a feather in his cap.
Once released from my duties it was time for a small libation and to watch the bands. I arrived as Desilva were finishing their set and very popular they were too. Hayseed Dixie were a little late starting due to a sound fault but once they got going the marquee was filled with the sight of many knights and their retinues swinging their limbs in an unholy fashion. The singer John Wheeler has recently got himself a new Bonneville and apparently travels from gig to gig on it. He has covered around 11,000 miles in two months. Why oh why I did not go back stage and sign him up I know not. I can only think that some bewitchment was brought upon me.
I met an Australian chap and enquired of him his name?
"Its not Bruce or Shane"
"What is it then?
"Come on mate, it can't be that bad" says I.
"Actually it's Derek" He said rather shamefacedly for why I know not.
"Well you're not going to believe this but my middle name is Derek" I lied. "And what is more my dad was called Derek"
He fixed me with the look of a man that has had a burden shared and he grabbed me in a bear hug like a long lost brother. Why Derek should be a funny name down under I cannot guess.
Saturday arrived in a murky fashion and then the clouds opened. It was not so much Stormin the Castle as storm without the castle, or simply storm. It rained without letup for nine hours. My mate Ejna had a two bed tent with him and had not put up the second bedroom. Nine of us sat there for four hours with the rain beating down. We got into something of a joke telling session. After one of my particularly bad jokes, the noble Polo looked skyward and said "I wish it would stop raining" Ejna quipped back "I wish I had brought a smaller tent. Cabin fever eventually set in and it was time to go and get soaked.
I took a few shots and headed over to the custom show. By this time the rain was coming in horizontal fashion. This seemed to cut down on the entries, not surprising really. Would you want to try and skid your pride and joy across a very muddy field for it to sit in the rain along with yourself, I think not.
I thought I might interview The Levellers later on. Whilst I waited for them to arrive I spent some time back stage. When Shovelmouth (very good they were too) finished, the level of activity was absolutely frenetic, all very coolly organised by Veece. I know that marshalling and running these events can be a difficult and thankless affair at times, and that everyone does a great job, but standing backstage watching folk work I was amazed at the sheer energy involved in getting the bands on.
The Levellers are a really down to earth friendly bunch of chaps and I had a great chat with them. I daresay they have been asked some pretty inane questions over the years, I just wondered what they did when not performing. Writing songs seemed to be the thing. Having penned the odd word (though not songs) I can understand how this could be a full time hobby. Get a comma in the wrong place and hardly anyone notices. (try spending a month in my shoes Ed). Put the wrong word in a song and it is ruined.
On the lads went to a tumultuous welcome and they played a blinder. The whole marquee was rocking.
Wandering around I met Para John and his mate (sorry I cannot remember his name), both disabled but willing to sit on the gate and help the rally along, nice one lads.
Sunday morning always feels like the end of the school holidays and we packed up and rode into the teeth of the storm.
These events could not happen if it was not for the army of volunteers that freely give their time up to do their bit. Thanks to one and all for a great party.
Thursday night - myself and Billy were sat in a bar having a few and I said to him "Shall we go to Stormin the Castle?"
"Where is it?"
"Its down south in Geordie land"
"No way man, they're all mad, nobody can understand a word they're saying and there will be no beer left for us."
He was right on the first two counts but wrong on the most important one. There was more beer than you could shake a tonsil at. Moreover there were more than a couple of places to find it. You could not go wrong with the food either, all in a big line, German sausages, burgers, chicken, Chinese, curry and falafel. What the hell is a falafel? Is it some sort of Geordie food for when you have lost your footing?
On the music front we were more than well catered for, Friday night we arrived to see Desilva and really enjoyed them, then we danced to Hayseed Dixie again. Saw them last year in Ullapool, I was so smashed I thought they were a Scottish band until I heard them at Stormin.
We managed to keep going until the wee small hours but no matter how much we drank, we could not understand the locals. It was so bad we had to find a couple of Englishmen to talk to. The fun fair on site was a gas. Billy insisted on paying to be hurled into the air at high speed on one such ride that made him waste a goodly amount of his beer. I chided him for the fool that he is, Big Tam back home will do that for nothing.
Saturday we were up early had a bite and actually met a man from Peterborough who had filled his lassie's bike with diesel, Mick and Karen they were. Could not believe it and tried not to laugh too loud.
Then it rained and rained and rained, it was just like home really except for the language barrier. Nine hours of solid rain, I was surprised, I did not think the sky this far south could hold a proper storm. We did the only humane thing and took to the bar, later venturing out to have a look at the bike show. Great bikes, would hate to have to polish them.
We pretty much hung about in Engine Bar all day, apart from dragging Billy off to join MAG at long last. By the time we had realised that night had fallen it was time to head off for the bands. We caught the tail end of Grumpy Old Men and managed a couple at the bar before Shovelmouth came on. They took the place by storm and no mistake, the little fella and me were leaping around like the proverbial loonies. Glad we had the kilts on as well.
The Levellers topped the bill in a way only they can. I have seen them loads of times over the years and what a band. In the words of the maestro "I could have danced all night".
Next year we will get there much earlier, we will learn the local lingo and perhaps learn what the hell is really going on. Why aye Man.