As the annual Scottish Six Days Trial gets closer it is not just this year's competitors who are looking forward to its return, but also the people of the event's host town, Fort William and the surrounding Lochaber region. Although the trial itself will take place from the 7th to the 12th of May, a full schedule of pre-event activities including the now well-established Pre-65 two-day trial, are due to be held in the area from 4th May, adding up to nine days of motorcycling entertainment. This attracts hoards of visitors into the region, providing a welcome early summer season boost to the local economy.
Lochaber has long been the focal point of 'The Scottish.' Whilst Edinburgh hosted the start and finish of the trial until relatively recently, the route has been focused around scenic Lochaber since the late 1930s, with riders travelling from Edinburgh on the Monday and returning on the Saturday. In 1977 the entire trial was moved from Edinburgh to Fort William, where it remains today. This means that the start of May is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for Fort William's hotels, restaurants and shops.
Alistair Ness is one of the many local business owners looking forward to the SSDT coming to town in a few weeks time. Alistair owns The Granite House, a long established gift shop on Fort William High Street. He seldom has time to go and watch the trial but his business benefits from the increased numbers of visitors to the town.
"The High Street gets a lot busier that week as competitors often travel with their families and make a holiday out of it. Spectators and bike lovers who don't follow the trial every day also spend time looking around the area. It gives local businesses like ours a fantastic boost and is usually seen as the start of the summer season. A friend who owns The Clan MacDuff Hotel agrees as he usually has Pre '65 groups staying with him year after year."
Alistair, like many other shop owners in the town, fully embraces the event. Many of the High Street shop windows will feature trials bikes and The Granite House will usually stock a few themed gifts, especially custom-made T-Shirts. The shop also usually sells a quite few digital watches to those competitors who forget to take one to time themselves riding.
An independent economic impact survey commissioned by the event organiser and funded by EventScotland in 2011 showed that the Scottish Six Days Trial provided a direct economic impact of around £1,100,000 to Fort William last year.
"Riders and trials followers have a huge financial impact on Fort William, and we always do well during trials week. Fort William plays host to a number of National motorcycling and cycling events but only the 'Six Days' lasts a whole week. The Scottish is known all over the world and that has to be good news for the town. Fort William locals are rightfully proud to have it back every year, " adds Alistair.
The SSDT is organised by the Edinburgh & District Motor Club. EventScotland is continuing to support the event this year as part of its national funding programme. This funding has specifically allowed the club to increase its marketing and promotional activity, enhance the new event hub programme and its live information services, plus develop the event website to facilitate the increased consumer demand and live tracking functionality. By including these new and additional activities the funding is being used directly to develop the event in order to appeal to a wider audience and increase domestic tourism in the area. The SSDT is free for spectators to watch on all days - for a full nine-day motorcycle entertainment and music schedule please visit www.ssdt.org.