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Savage Roads: The Davidson Legacy

By Pat Savage

Angus, Scotland, Aug. 11–19—As a 42-year veteran Harley rider, and a 35-year career world touring musician, I have seen a great deal of the world and ridden in many countries on almost every continent. I started out my life studying to be a filmmaker in the mid-’70s when we actually had to splice bits of film together with tape. I left school to begin a long and successful career as a musician, putting the dream of filmmaker aside. I am best known as a “biker artist” after 35 years performing at the biggest H.O.G. and Harley events all over the world. So, what better way to start my monthly articles for THUNDER PRESS than at the very beginning of the Harley-Davidson story?

Davidson Legacy Cottage

The Davidson Legacy Cottage fully restored | Photo by Keith Mackintosh

This past summer, I travelled to Angus, Scotland, just north of Edinburgh, to visit with my host, the legendary Scottish bike builder Mike Sinclair and his gal Maggie Sherrit who, together with musician Keith Mackintosh, are the owners and curators of the Davidson Cottage where William C. Davidson lived before travelling with his family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Davidson Cottage is an important historical site as it is a place of great significance to Scots both at home and abroad. Even without its amazing connection to the Harley-Davidson iconography, it stands amid tumultuous changes in the lives of ordinary people.

TJean and Jon Davidson visiting the cottage | Photo by Paul Reid

My personal journey to the Davidson Cottage began when I read Jean Davidson’s book Family Memories and, after reading her passionate story, I wanted to make my bucket list journey to where it all began as soon as possible. I have performed my Harley-themed tunes in 74 countries and have ridden bikes in most, and Scotland has been calling me to do both for years. The history and beauty of the countryside would be my prize, and first and foremost, the Davidson Legacy.

I was in Nepal writing music for two films and was wrapping up there so I booked my tickets directly to Edinburgh after getting a personal invite from Mike Sinclair. I arrived in Scotland and was immediately taken out for dinner by Mike, Maggie and some biker friends of theirs as it was also my 58th birthday. After an amazing dinner with me doing my best to understand their thick Scottish accents, we proceeded to the Davidson cottage just north of the community of Forfar in Angus County.

This is how Mike, Maggie and Keith found the cottage in disrepair | Photo by Keith Mackintosh

After a coffee, Mike began sharing the amazing story of the family Davidson and the rebuilding of the cottage itself. He explained that the restoration was a painstaking ordeal but a rewarding experience that took several years of planning and renovations. Their goal was to reclaim the derelict property and to transform it into a living re-creation of the mid-19th century home where William C Davidson lived. William was the father of the founders and it was he who built the “shed” where it all started. It truly was a huge task and Mike took me through the whole process. 

The bed I slept in on my birthday, in the kitchen of the Davidson cottage | Photo by Keith Mackintosh

After sharing with me the Davidson story, he told me that my birthday gift was that I could sleep in the bed of Sandy and Margaret Davidson in the main room downstairs. Guests sometimes stay in the two upper bedrooms but no one had ever slept in this bed before. I immediately accepted and it was like a dream come true. With my love of history and my overactive imagination I could barely get to sleep, having also fuelled up with the heritage and all the colorful stories Mike had told me about the family and the place. I did a lot of visualizing and imagined I lived there back in those days in Scotland and eventually drifted off to a sound sleep. 

Jean and Jon Davidson with members of the Fulda-Rhon H.O.G. Chapter from Germany  | Photo by Paul Reid

On Sundays, Mike, Maggie and Keith hold an open house where all visitors are welcome to come have a cup of tea or coffee and Mike takes them through the cottage and shares all the history pertaining to it with a passion and verve rarely experienced by this writer. That first Sunday afternoon we greeted members of the Red Rose H.O.G. Chapter from Yorkshire, England, and Mike presented them with a brick from the original building on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee. They were taken by surprise and I saw tears in several of the riders’ eyes. A local trike club followed them and finally a couple from the Geordie H.O.G. Chapter in northern England who were celebrating their anniversary and on a quest to experience the Davidson Legacy. 

During the next week Mike and I took rides to the Bon Scott Memorial in Kirriemuir and rode together to the Castle Glamis not far from the cottage. Some members of the Wales H.O.G. Chapter stopped in on Friday afternoon on their way to an event in Aviemore and Mike told the tales. On the last Sunday I was in Scotland, the Clyde Valley H.O.G. Chapter rolled in from Glasgow and Mike, Maggie and Keith treated them to a barbecue. They were presented a brick from the original building on Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee, and again, I saw tears of pride in the Scottish faces now enlightened about the Scottish connection to the iconic brand of bike they were riding. There are tiles from the roof of the cottage in both the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee and at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point in Sturgis, South Dakota, so you must touch them for good luck and safe travels when you are there! 

Mike Sinclair telling the tale of the Davidson Legacy | Photo by Keith Mackintosh

According to the Davidson Legacy website, “The founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor-Cycle Company were men of destiny, but their spirit of enterprise had its seeds in a humble, country parish not far from some of the most beautiful coastline anywhere in Europe. A transatlantic voyage in the 19th century was no small undertaking, and the decision to emigrate must have weighed heavily on Sandy and Margaret Davidson. Certainly, it was hazardous, and not without tragedy for the Davidsons. The Davidson story continues with the thousands of visitors who make the pilgrimage to the cottage each year and sign the visitors’ book to say, “I was here.” It’s a token of respect for brave people who took a chance in life and whose immediate descendants helped shape the modern world. Were it not for their courage, then the Harley-Davidson Motor-Cycle Company would not be the global icon that it is today.” This is a fact not missed by Jean and Jon Davidson when they visited a few years ago. Mike, Maggie and Keith are currently thinking about who they will pass the legacy on to. Will you be the one to carry the torch? I know after this amazing experience I sure would love to. You must make the journey to where it all began.

In my next story, you’ll read about my visit to the beautiful Kingdom of Jordan to perform at the Dead Sea H.O.G. Rally and film an episode of The Savage Roads, riding Harley-Davidsons in the Wadi Rum desert and Petra where Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy were filmed. From the northern tip of Norway to the southernmost Cape in South Africa, I am going to take you all over the globe with me and a Harley in “The Savage Roads,” exclusively here in Thunder Press! Vroom…

Historical info courtesy of Mike Sinclair: www.thedavidsonlegacy.com

See more from Pat Savage at his website by clicking here.

11 comments

  1. This is an amazing story about an amazing family.
    I’m really happy that someone with a great way to articulate to the masses what the true atmosphere of where and what you are trying describe comes through.
    Great job, and good luck. I look forward to upcoming articles.

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  2. Nicely done Pat, it’s a hell of a story how they left rural Scotland and relative safety to cross an ocean to a new country and set up a new life. Great that the Davidson’s celebrate their family history like this.

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  3. Thanks very much Kirk. Thought I would start at the beginning then move round the world :P.

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  4. Well done brother! Great insight on an iconic family! Congratulations on your new endeavor with Thunder Press!

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  5. What a great experience and great read! It’s good to hear there is another person who places themselves in time. I don’t think I could have slept either thinking of back when. Looking forward to the next writings.

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  6. Escribes muy bien, amigo!

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  7. Thanks Tim it was one helluva trip for me and Scotland is one helluva place right Mr. McChesney

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  8. Thanks Kathy. My whole series The Savage Roads will go all over the earth in search of real stories and characters and all on a Harley. Enjoy

    Pat Savage

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  9. Gracias little Ricky. Buenas noches desde Murcia

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  10. Great idea. Very well written narrative.

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