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 drinking, 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.
- Les Hobbs
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
After the participation of Jean-Marie Debonneville in 1965, the reputation of the legendary Dragon rally quickly attracted the attention of French rallyists.
The French motorcycling press at the time was more focused on the disciplines of speed racing, motocross and trial than that of rallying. As such its coverage of the event was in my opinion rather lacking, whereas the German press, through their very professional magazine ‘Das Motorrad ’covered it thoroughly every year.
Despite the lack of publicity in France, and perhaps simply thanks to the effectiveness of word of mouth among French rallyists, mainly those who rallied abroad, increasing numbers of 'Frenchies' gradually took part in this Welsh winter reunion.
Pictured in the two photos below, are a group of French rallyists, participating in the 1970 Dragon rally.
- Jean-Francois Helias
... 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
Two more documents dedicated to the Dragon rally 1970. The first is a photo of a member of the legendary Denholme MCC posing with his Norton twin.
No snow at all but lots of mud
The second is a scan of the page that appeared in the winter of 1969 in 'Link', the 59 Club's magazine for members, announcing the forthcoming 1970 Dragon at Gwrych Castle, the same destination that hosted the 1964 meeting.
LINK, WINTER 1969.23.
In a few weeks time the thoughts of theousands will once again turn towards Wales as preparations and plans are laid for the annual pilgrimage to the Dragon. We have heard unofficially that the 1970 Dragon returns to Gwyrch Castle which is near Abergele, on 6th8th February.
The last time it was held in Gwyrch was in 1964 when the weather was bitterly cold although free of snow and rain. Since then of course we have had to put up with the worst both those elements could provide. Conditions at Gwyrch are very different from those at Llanberis with far less indoor accomoration and, in 1964, very poor services. Most of the cooking was done over open fires (great fun) and although there were lights in and around the castle the stars were called upon to provide, together with fire light, the illumination for the camping field.
Mike Cook photos of Gwyrch Castle and John Sheil preparing breakfast way back at the 1964 Dragon.
The article mentions two rally names: Mike Cook and John Sheil. Are they still with us today? Perhaps those who knew them can tell us.
- Jean-Francois Helias