Dragon Rally

A 59 Club party, on the way to the Dragon Rally on Friday, had stopped at Watford Gap after a brisk run up the M1. "We've come some 80 miles, one-third of the way, said Father Graham Hullett. "And it looks like being the best third," retorted Jacquie Blendell as the first flakes of snow came flurrying down the motorway. How right she was. All three days of the Dragon were reminiscent of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.

On Friday, slushy sleet became a raging blizzard; main roads were soon blocked with slithering lorries. Many baffled rallyists sought relief at the Double Zero Club, whose young members did sterling work running an all-night buffet.

Those who made a start early on Saturday morning were lucky, particularly if they were from the West Country. Tudor Rees of Bristol, a Harley sidecar driver, left home at 5am, crossed the Severn Bridge and encountered little serious snow until Shrewsbury. Norton Villiers teamsters John McDermott (Commando) and John Wood (Mercury) made the 250-mile journey from London in 12 hours flat. However, Saturday did bring mini-blizzards of astonishing ferocity. The Llanberis Pass was officially closed to traffic when Jean-Marie Debonneville reached Pen-y-Gwryd with his BMW-VW special at 1am. But this lion-hearted Frenchman recruited a group of like-minded sidecarrists and together they heaved each other's outfits to the summit. "It took us four hours to make 12 kilometres," exulted Jean-Marie when he and his friends reached the rally site.

Jean-Marie Debonneville aka le Druide, in different weather conditions.

By the afternoon conditions in the pass were easier, thanks largely to the sturdy efforts of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team who hacked a rideable trail through hard-packed snow and frozen slush. Under such conditions they were indeed a hardy band at Glyn Padarn.

The final count, nearly 1,900, was the smallest ever recorded, but as Yorkshireman Colin Bembridge succinctly pointed out, "Every one you expected to get here has, and those you didn't couldn't."

As if the snow wasn't enough - a blessed puncture!

As the traditional bonfire flames crackled skyward in the frosty night air, snowballs flew in tremendous volleys. Everyone joined in the glorious battle.

Sunday morning came, and bikes had to be dug out of still more snow. Yet another struggle over the Llanberis Pass glissade lay ahead. Across the wild moorland by Cerrigydrudion snow squalls reduced visibility to a matter of yards.

Yet still occasional headlights would loom out of the murk, pressing steadily into the mountains towards Glyn Padarn. These stragglers had fought long, desperate battles against weather and mechanical disasters.

The Conway Club kept the control open long after sunset to award that covered prize—badge of the Dragon 69, fiercest rally of them all.

- Dave Richmond
From The Motor Cycle