I had only been on the road for less than a year. My first bike an Ariel VB 600cc side valve and side car. The 250cc rule had come in. An older chap at work had given it to me and what a dog it was. At one time it was blowing a head gasket a day! And of course I was giving it a damn good thrashing; 55 mph flat out. I needed something better and my friend and mentor John "Wìshbone" Williams located a BMW R69 for me. Not having a full license I could not ride it. My Ariel was in the youth club being worked on and the sidecar, which would not go through the door, was outside in the yard - or it was until it was stolen one night.
We had all been talking about the Dragon Rally for some time and it looked at first that I would not be able to go. But another friend of Wìshbone's, Jim Bowen, said he would drive the bike and I could go as pillion.
So we set off Saturday mid-morning, A41 to join the A464 and then the A5 just outside of Wellington. From there to Llangollen, which was for many people a natural stopping point; chippy, cafes pubs and toilets. Also to watch the fools in canoes trying to drown themselves in the river which was in flood. There had been a lot of rain in the previous few days. We pressed on over the Horseshoe Pass towards Ruthin, St Asaph and into Abergele where the rally was at Gwrych Castle.
The castle stands upon a small hillside to the west of the town and camping was at the front. It was packed and the number of bikes and tents was untrue and, as you can imagine, due to the rain, a mudbath 4-6 inches deep. It soon went dark as we cooked an evening meal. That out of the way we headed towards the town. Not all of the pubs welcomed us, but I do remember one that let us into the back room, the bar being kept for the locals. The room had been stripped bare; carpets, chairs, pictures, trinkets, tables, the lot gone! And I think if the landlord could have got the wallpaper off, he would have. The only thing that was left in the room was the jukebox. We had been there for about an hour and a half when it kicked off. A bottle was thrown. It just missed some chap selecting records at the jukebox and went straight through the window. John and Jim dragged us out rather sharpish. Others in our group were Derick Plant, John "The Feet" Fairhurst and Brian Wall. We found another pub and continued drinkng, then went back to the campsite for the bonfire.
The morning was a nightmare. Everybody was trying to get their bikes off the field through (if I remember correctly) some sort of archway from road to the castle. Mud was everywhere. We finally got the bikes out and took the coast road A548 to Rhyl and had breakfast in a cafe then pressed on to Flint and Mold coming back a more scenic route.
That rang a bell for Tim Box (or should that read 'sounded a claxon')
My first Dragon was in 1970 at Llanberis. For those who are to young to know what it was like, let's just say there was a lot more going on in those days. The headlamp parade, snaking its way around the countryside, the male voice choir, the disco, the beer tent, the trials course for road bikes (imagine that now - hysterical). Sleeping in derelict M.O.D buildings, nipping down to Caernarfon for some serious drinking.
I can see us now arriving at the gate on a smouldering Ariel combo looking like we had come from Scotland (er Chester actually) having lost the silencer and the sidecar door, both run over by a following wagon driven by an irate trucker who had had enough of doing 25mph. The clutch was slipping and dragging something terrible. I can't remember how many times we stopped to let everything cool down. In desperation we put soil in the clutch as someone had remembered reading about Fullers Earth as a temporary fix! It seemed to work for a while.
Of the three of us who always made it to the Dragon no matter what, there are two of us left; Kenbo and myself. Our mate Joey passed away recently having made it to most of the 37 Dragons we have done on every type of smoking heap you can imagine plus a few cool ones. I dedicate this bit of Dragon history to him.
- Tim Box
By the time the 1971 Dragon Rally came I had passed my driving test so I took the BMW there along with Andy Hawthorne, Gaz Bennet, Mac "The Black" (could never remember his surname) a couple of other lads known by their nicknames as Poe and Prim, Bob Hughes aka Rupe or Rupert the Bear, Keiron Malett and his younger brother known as "Cowboy".
This year the weather was a little better, not rainy nor frosty and the location had changed, probably due to objections of the natives and police in Abergele. It was straight on at Llangollen to Betws-y-coed and then to Llanberis and some disused derelict army camp. As we arrived late all the prime spots to pitch tents had gone, so we ended up seperated from the main body of the ralliests on a grass bank with a good 25° slope. We all had problems trying to get the tent pegs into the ground. It wasn't quite so bad in my case, I had the dreaded igloo and could manage with 4 pegs. When God finished making the world this is where he dumped all the rubble.
On the evening we walked down the hill into the town of Llanberis and sampled some of the local ales. It must have been alright as I can't remember much about the evening apart from joining a massive queue at the chip shop on the way back to the tent. I woke up the next morning in my sleeping bag half way out of the tent. I must have turned over several times in the night and slid down the bank. And there was this strong smell of fish. Some joker behind me in the chip shop had reached over the side of the counter and nicked a piece of raw fish and put it into the hood of my tank suit.
I did the 1971 Dragon shortly after coming back from the Elephant Rally. I was on an A10 BSA sidecar outfit in fetching purple and black. My passenger was Mick Dalton. We came from London from the Saltbox MCC at Biggin Hill in Kent. I remember the cold wet mud but not much else (maybe it was the alcohol)
- Bob Smith
1975 & 1976
I did another couple of Dragon Rallies in the mid 1970s, '75 + '76 I think, with Alan Giddens. 1976 we tossed the tents over the wall left the bikes in the road and didn't bother signing in. We had been rallying for years and had never seen or heard of a Conway Club member attending any other clubs events. The Dragon Rally was a hyped up cash cow and the Conway Club have milked it for years. OK that's my view. Other people might see it differently but at the end of the day we had fun doing it and that was all that mattered.
- Les Hobbs
... After the 1967 rally...
The 1970 rally was at the Hall at Gwrych Castle I think. My bike had broken down, but was determined to go and my mates couldn't make it, so I stood on the A5 in Chirk and thumbed a lift. I kind rider on a 3 cylinder Kawasaki stopped and picked me up and that was another exciting ride up, a fast but good rider.
I went on several other rallies, the Pennine Rally (Skipton), the Robin Hood Rally (Nottingham), the Pre Elephant Rally (Ashbourne) They were all good fun, but nothing beats the Dragon Rally.
I still have all my badges, tickets, red scarf, and song books, along with some brilliant memories and good mates that I will never forget.
I am 71 now, but still have my Goldie along with several other bikes, and my dream is to make another Dragon before I hang my gloves up.
Steve Phillips - Phil
The following note arrived with a Five Star award.
The write up brings tears to my eyes, mate. Some of those you mentioned have now passed away but those memories of that part in all our lives will remain and that's what life is all about.
Now happy memories.
Don't remember too much, but it would have been the 1975 rally (Never did get a badge).
A friend and I from Canada were planning an overland M/C trip from Wales to S Africa (on Commando Interstates no less).
My friend was originally from Porthcawl, S Wales, and still had family there so that's where we met up. Problem was, neither of us had ridden bikes seriously before (other than a Honda Dream back in Canada) and didn't have driver's licences. So before being able to ride the Nortons we were limited to 250cc and "L" plates. Don't know what it is like now, but in '75 it took 3 months to to get a booking for a road test. Made arrangements with Waterton Cross Motors in Bridgend to buy the Nortons, as well as a 250 Honda for me (I'm 6ft 6in) and a Yamaha for my buddy so we could learn to ride.
Hayden at Waterton Cross told us about the Dragon, so we decided to go. Don't remember too much, but it was wet and on the way there I missed a curve and came off once. Into a soft spot off the road so no road rash.
The rally was an open field, wet, cold, somewhere up near Carnarvon I think. Felt a little silly with my 250 Honda, got wetter, colder, seemed to be raining all the time.
After leaving the rally rained all the way back to Porthcawl. Got more wet and cold, electrics on the Honda fried in Carmarthen (looking on the map not sure why I was even there), got separated from my buddy and got lost.
Did eventually get back to Porthcawl. Loved every wet and cold minute of it!
I have my Dragon Rally site entrance ticket, but it says "Thirteenth Dragon Rally 1974". It has a red X through it, so maybe they used leftover 1974 tickets in 1975?
Did pass the test so graduated to the brand new Norton and we made it into Africa with the Nortons as well, but that's another story*
Still got my Norton here in Canada almost 40 years later!
Nick Vandervelden- Nick V
* We hope that Nick will tell us "another story" soon.
Myself & some mates did the 1978 rally. I was on a CB750/4 Honda. Our group included Pam Hough, Martin Poyner, Jerry Thornton, Pat O'Connor, Barry (Bazil) Rathbone, Little Mickey Jones, who abandoned his Aerial Arrow when it seized somewhere around Telford & hopped on the back with someone else. I always wondered if he ever went back for it. There were more people , but I can't recall who they were now.
We arrived on the Saturday, just after lunch. At that point, I thought it was cold. Having no money, we had the cheapest tents you could get. The pegs were the thinnest metal the tent makers could get away with. The ground was frozen solid & the only way we could get the pegs in, was to piddle on the ground first.
The evening fire was warming & the ale was numbing. Waking up in the morning, open the tent flap & into the tent fell the snow.
The camp site was on a hill side & there was soon a tangle of bikes & riders on the floor, near the exit gate at the bottom of the field. We clubbed together & pushed all our bikes up the hill & on to the road.
At this point, they had sidecars trying to shovel grit onto the road, but abandoned the idea & as I recall, we had to await the local council to clear the road before we could leave.
Despite having marigold gloves, silk undergloves, gauntlets & handlebar muffs, I remember the trip back to Brum as probably being the coldest I could get without actually dying. Snowing most of the way.
I got told off by some old bloke for lying on my back in a cafe toilet, with my feet under the hand dryer, trying to warm them up.
It was a "been there, done that" for me & I'm such a wuss that I emigrated to Australia (still ride to work each day).
Greatest respect for those in the early days who went each year without heated vests, handlebar grips etc etc.
- Mark Thornton
I am the "Poe" Les mentions, real name John Pearson. Mac the Black's real name is Ian MacLachlan.
I do not remember Les having an Ariel VB: was it the same one that Gaz Bennett owned?
I remember Les' BMW, my father in law extracted a broken bolt stuck in one of the cylinder heads?
My memories of the 1971 rally centred on the ride there. Martin Bickley had an A7 which broke its primary chain somewhere by Capel Curig. I towed him with my TriBSA to the top of Llanberis pass and then suggested he coasted down. It was pitch dark by then and he had no lights apart from a torch but I said I would ride outboard of him. Off he went, I walked back to my bike and set off down the pass. I had to get up to about 70 to catch him, he was flying down the hill with his passenger trying to pick out the turns with the torch.
I also remember the 2000 odd bikes in Caernarvon chasing Police cars on the Saturday night. One guy in a pub had fallen off and although largely uninjured, he had lost consciousness briefly. When he came round, he was surrounded by a group of helmeted Police Officers. He initially thought he had died and was in his version of hell.
In the photo, I am standing by the front wheel of the BMW. I had forgotten that brown leather coat over a Belstaff suit but it was bloody cold!
- John Pearson