THEY came, they saw, they spent a fortune and today the Highland resort of Aviemore was getting back to normal after more than 5,000 bikers roared into the area for the 20th Thunder in the Glens rally.

This annual pilgrimage has developed from a closed event that attracted just a few hundred bikers to what is said to be the biggest of its type in Europe.

It is organised by the Dunedin Chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG), one of two in Scotland, and attracts bikers from all over the world.

The highlight was Saturday’s huge ride-out from Aviemore to Grantown-on-Spey, which saw more than 2,500 machines thunder through the spectacular countryside to congregate in the normally placid resort, turning it into a petrol-head paradise.

I watched as the thousands of bikes filtered their way into Grantown’s narrow main street, where hundreds of spectators had gathered. It took more than 90 minutes for the noisy, but colourful, procession to snake its way into the town and swallow up every conceivable parking space.

George “Mad Dog” McGuire, the rally coordinator who led the ride-out, said it was unparalleled in size and was now Europe’s biggest HOG rally.

“We have previously said that Thunder is worth over £10 million to the Scottish economy, but this year’s record attendance figures must put that figure up to £14m or more,” McGuire told The National.

“There are people who have come from far and wide for this 20th anniversary rally.

“Some haven’t been since its early days, but they’ve made the effort for this one.

“And they have not only brought their children, but their children’s friends as well – which illustrates perfectly that there is something for all the family.”

And from near and far they certainly did come. France, Belgium, Germany were represented; saltires flew alongside flags from Catalonia, Wales and even Australia.

“Scotland has everything,” said one German rider. “You have the scenery and the mountains and these winding roads from the towns and villages. You have the hospitality and it is good to see all these bikers being so warmly welcomed everywhere they go.”

The economic benefits, whatever the actual figure, are very substantial. There were perhaps three rooms available on various travel apps on Friday night between Perth and Torridon; cash machines in Aviemore ran dry; staff in restaurants and bars were rushed off their feet.

Kirsten Gilmour owns the award-winning Mountain Restaurant in Aviemore, and had to prepare nearly 140 breakfasts yesterday morning – before they started serving their all-day breakfast.

“We have a group of regulars who’ve been coming here for the past five years or so and they come for dinner on the Saturday night and they are amazing.

“They’re just shambolically fun and outgoing. They’re really great and the whole event is great for the community.

“It does bring benefit to the community, but aside from that they’re just really nice people.”

Local businesses appreciate the value of Thunder to their economy, and many play a part by sponsoring it.

Macdonald Aviemore Highland Resort, where the event is based, is its main corporate sponsor. CEO Simon Farr, who has stuck with four wheels since coming off a 50cc bike when he was a teenager, was soaking up the Thunder atmosphere when he spoke to The National.

“This is my first year here, but I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I’ve soaked up every inch of it, I have to say. It was amazing to see all the bikes going out on the Grantown ride-out and the weather’s been very kind to us.

“But the people are just fantastic, they want to be here, they love being here and we love them being here. It’s a massive partnership.

“it is immensely important for Aviemore and, at the end of the day our hotels are very much a part of the town.

“The organisers reckon Thunder is worth upwards of £10m to the economy, so that is good for everybody, the retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers, it’s good for everybody.

“And you can see the reaction from people who,live all around here — they adore it.

“It’s such a special thing for them.”