Tamar Rally

At Gunnislake, Cornwall
late April or early May 1974

Well I had never been to Cornwall up to this point and I had a reliable bike a 1948 Ariel Square Four fitted with an enclosed single seater sidecar so lets go! I got the Ariel from the widow of a local man and he hadn't used it for years as his doctor had stopped him from driving, but it hadn't stopped him from draging it out and messing with it. In the early '50s Ariel had brought out a Square Four in wedgewood blue and the old boy must have liked the look of that particular machine, so he got hold of some paint and painted everything wedgewood blue, spokes, rims everything. First time I took the bike out it transpired that the magneto windings were duff. Forty pounds and three months later I had a reliable charriot.

I had heard the older chaps at work talking of going down to Cornwall on holiday and how long it took and of hellish traffic conditions, jams, tail backs and bad roads and that to travel at night was the best/only way to do it. This was before the M5 went much further than Bristol.

So I set off Friday night and had a slowish drive. Any quicker than 65 mph and there was the chance of it nipping up. There was an oil cooler fitted but it was not in the airflow. This was rectified later by the fitting of a 90 degree air scoop with a larger surface area, creating a ram-air effect and it worked, giving me an extra 10 mph cruising. I got onto the M5 just by Bromsgrove and, if I remember correctly, the M5 had not yet joined the M6. I rode down the length of the M5 to just past Bristol and then got onto the A38. From then on it was a nightmare of road works, unlit roads interspersed with the odd bit of new sections.

I had been at work and had no sleep so around 2.00am just south of Exeter I could go no further without a quick bit of sleep. The sidecar seat would do nicely but there was no spot to park. Then I spotted a hotel with a car park and pulled in, off the bike and into the sidecar. It was a bit chilly so I covered myself with the dispatch riders coat and settled down for a couple of hours kip. After a short while I heard voices and looked towards the hotel. What I can only assume were the nightporters were heading in my direction. Fearfull of being told to move on I reached up onto the parcel shelf behind me and pulled the washing up bowl and contents down. The bowl I put over my head and made myself look like a pile of badly packed luggage. They must have been bored or on a fag break but they certainly took the piss out of my bike for quite a while before wandering off. I must have nodded off for a good 3 hours or so before it became uncomfortable. It was daylight when I got out of the chair, started it first kick and shot off to continue on to the rally.

At Heathfield I joined the A382 in the direction of Moretonhampstead were I turned onto the B3212 to take me over Dartmoor passing Postbridge, Two Bridges and Princetown where Dartmoor prison is sited. I joined the B3357 to Tavistock where I had breakfast in a cafe, then on to the rally site. I can still remember coming round a sharp right hander then down a slow left hander and seeing the Tamar Bridge, the crossing into Cornwall, and going uphill on a right hand bend. The rally site at Gunnislake was only a few hundred yards further, on the left.

The weather was good and it promised to be a great weekend. There were a lot of the regular ralliests there. The rally site was a motel type place come caravan/camping site and I think trouble started with the price of the beer in the bar. Well over the top to what we were used to paying. A hell of a lot of us walked to a local pub for the evening, which was fractionally cheaper. We still had a great time.

Sunday morning, time for breakfast fry up and a long ride home. There had been some sort of minor disturbance in the reception around 11.30pm, probably lads trying to get more ale and a bit of piss taking going on. I left the campsite around 10.00am with John Jocys from the Manchester area on his MZ Trophy. It's amazing how many of the lads had these things as a second bike or in fact main machine. We toured our way back home seeing very little of the traffic that was promised.

Nice weekend but a long way over, at that time, poor roads. I did go to Cornwall again 35 years later and it's still the same rip-off county. It will be a long time before I return again.

- Les Hobbs


See photos from 2008.