Dragon Rally

Courtesy of Jan Heiland, more snippets from the MOTOR CYCLE in 1962 and 1963.



TAKE a good look! This is it - next winter's target for every double-dyed enthusiast who calls himself a real motor cyclist. Here is Gwrych Castle, North Wales, venue-to-be of the 1963 Dragon Rally.

Gwrych (pronounce it Gree-ich) stands on the coast, six miles from Rhyl, 12 miles from Llandudno. Riders along A55 glimpse its fairytale battlements and towers against a background of wooded hills.

The place has everything Bryn Bras has and more. Boundary walls enclose 300 acres of parkland. Camping space is absolutely unlimited; you could lose the hundreds who roughed it at Bryn Bras in one corner of Gwrych.

Battlemented and turreted, the Castle is the most fantastic place ever. Flanked by ramparts and barbicans, the building stretches for nearly a quarter of a mile along the hillside. Its broad terraces make the perfect setting for the super get-together. Completed in 1815, the castle's interior has all the opulence and splendour of the Regency period; oak panelling, stained glass, a grand staircase of Italian marble. Nearly 600 people can sleep here, 2,000 could find shelter if the rain came down.

Although the Castle itself may be comparatively recent, the site is famous in Welsh history. Dragon Rallyists will approach by the defile of Cefn yr Ogof, where three times the native princes of Wales threw back invading English armies with great slaughter. Here stood Shakespeare's "Barkloughly Castle", where Richard II was betrayed to the usurping Bolingbroke. In Cae Gerail, the Field of Corpses, will burn our great bonfire, a living symbol of the fellowship which binds the motor cyclists of all nations.

Gwrych Castle, then, is the scene; the stage will be set in early February. Organization will, of course, be in the hands of those greathearted enthusiasts, the boys of the Conway Club.

Only one thing it lacks, do you say? A mountain crossing in mid-winter. Just wait and see! You'd be surprised if you knew what is in store for the Dragon Men of '63! And as far as comfort goes - that castle will be colder than charity---that we positively guarantee.




Snow Sleet and Ice Beaten by Over 2,000 Dragon Rallyists

WHAT do you think of the Dragon Rally? Not much? Then you weren't at Gwrych Castle last weekend! From Glasgow, from London, from Manchester, from Edinburgh: from all over the country they came and 30 from Germany, too! On big bikes, on little bikes, on sidecar outfits, they filled the mountain roads from dawn to dusk. Only two days earlier, Britain had been in the grip of one of its most severe winters in living memory. Snow, ice and bitter cold didn't deter them. What, then, had they gone for? In the words of Conway Club secretary Laurence Irving, they had come for a bowl of soup and a simple tin badge. But that was far from the whole truth. Ask any Dragonist for his impressions.

First he will recall the experience of meeting hundreds of friends - friends he may never have met before - the camaraderie, the unity. He will describe the glittering headlight parade by well over 200 machines, the stirring community singing on the castle's Italian-marble staircase, the bonfire that outdid November fifth, And, not by any means least, he will recall the rousing tones of the rally's most celebrated visitor, Ernst Leverkus from Germany.

Between four o'clock an Friday afternoon and half-past ten on Saturday night, exactly 2,369 keen types passed the control caravan. There they got their lapel badges and tickets for a warming bowl of soup. Soon tents were being pitched and fires kindled. Those without tents dumped their bed rolls in one of the lofty rooms of Gwrych Castle.

The Court of the Dragon was in session. Everyone was discussing the ride up. Those who had set out on Saturday morning were surprised to hear that the slushy roads they had encountered had been, only hours before, sheets of black ice. The night owls, such as Tiny Tanner of the Oxford Sidecar Club, on the other hand, were chuffed at having clashed with, and beaten, winter's worst.

None had conquered the Horseshoe Pass - some adventurous types had set out to try, but were stopped by drifts and the R.A~C 's alternative route through Corwen and Cerrigy druidion was relatively trouble free.




Some had special tales to tell. Ulrich Schwab, for instance, had had an eventful journey on a B.M.W. R69S outfit. He was bowling along Ml with his two friends when he ran on to reserve and had to turn off at the next exit. No fuel station was to be seen so Ulrich asked directions of a 16-year-old lad. In no time the boy recognized them as dragonists. He took them home to meet his father John Watts an enthusiast even then preparing for Gwrych. The Germans were invited to stay the night!

At one o'clock on Sunday morning three begrimed enthusiasts arrived to ask if they were too late to check in. They had pushed their broken-down outfit for a full 30 miles.

Of one thing all were agreed - the trip to Gwrych had been bitterly cold. Cafes along A5 and A55 were invaded by cold and hungry motor cyclists as soon as their doors opened on Saturday morning.

"What's this, then; a rally they're having?" asked one proprietor at St. Asaph, her cafe bulging at the windows.

Rally indeed! From St. Asaph, where the northern and southern routes converged, the dragon men formed a neverending stream. There was a day-long traffic jam at the castle control.

The talk of motor cycling, motor cyclists and motor cycles went on until the light began to fade. Then camp fires were encouraged and soon a cheerful glow illuminated the dragons' pitch in the castle grounds. Time for the headlight parade.


Bang on 7.30, Conwoy clubman Don Williams led the way, followed by Ernst and Inge Leverkus on their white R69S B.M.W.




outfit, Kasawubu. In all, 249 machines - solos and outfits - led out of the castle grounds, headlights blazing. They took to the coast road as far as Llandulas and then turned left to Rhydd-y-Foel, making a complete circle of Cefn-yr-Ogof and back to Gwrych.

From the front of the parade the tights stretched for miles, winding in and out of the trees, a vast, phosphorescent reptile from a bygone age.

So long was the procession that the leading outfit met the tail-enders on the return trip. When the parade re-entered Gwrych the monster bonfire was well under way. A ring was formed round the fire, and soon the heat became intense. Rumour had it that so well done were the dragons nearest the blaze that they were served for supper.

Attention was diverted from the fire by a booming voice from the castle ramparts. Ernst Leverkus, father of the Elephant Rally and thus, too, through Motor Cycle, of the Dragon, was addressing the rallyists. He explained how he had wanted to be at the first Dragon but that illness had kept him in Germany. This year he had made it. And he had made 2,500 new friends at the same time!


Although the headlight parade was something that the riders wouldn't have missed for all the soup at Gwrych, the community singing on the massively proportioned grand staircase was the jollification of the evening. "Ilkley Moor", "Luvverly Bunch of Coconuts", "'Enery the Eighth" they ran through all the fayourites and a few new ones such as Bill Hume's "Song of the Dragon Men" - with the aid of an electronic organ atop the staircase.

The organist had to play 20 encores before he could strike up Auld Lang Syne!

Hardly had the last strains died than tired dragons were jumping into their bedrolls. Others stayed up all night, talking round the fires. Most had Ernst Leverkus' speech at the back of their minds. It sums up, only too well, the real spirit of the Dragon Rally.

"We are like the old sailmg men who cannot sit in houses when the wind is singing over the roads and the world is full of fair adventures, and when the sounds of roaring waves call to men. ... Three cheers to the Conway Club and the Dragon men, who light the bonfire of motor cycling as it was never before!"



The following piece is from Graham Carrick's DragonRally.org.uk website. I have included it here as a tribute to John Ebbrell whose untimely death was a great loss to motorcycling.
For me "Ebbrell" is synonymous with "ebullient".



Road to the DRAGON



GOSH, That was a trip that was to Gwrych Castle! Fog - black ice - slush - snowdrifts - blizzards: every conceivable winter hazard except driving rain. If you weren't an all weather rider when you set off on the Dragon rally, you sure were by the time you got back! My Ariel Leader clocked 510 miles and many riders made an even longer journey.

The weekend of the Dragon gave a classic illustration of how winter road conditions can fluctuate even in a country as compact as ours. On the Friday afternoon I left London bathed in bright sunshine. But along M1 patches of fog were already thickening.

As night fell the menace of black ice struck with all its hair-raising suddenness. From Atherstone it took me nearly three hours to reach my night stop at Wellington, some 45 miles away.

Next morning, as soon as we turned the corner into the hills after Chirk - bonk! - snow at last. The white stuff lay heavily about the surrounding fields and ridges of slush bespattered the road.

At Llangollen the signs said "Horseshoe Pass Closed" but of course I had to make sure for myself. Even at the foot of the pass it was as though the brief thaw had never been. Above the Britannia Inn roadside drifts stood 6ft high; underfoot the virgin snow was 6in deep.

Huge Drifts

When I met a trials sidecar turning back I decided to call it a day. The landlady at the Britannia told me that over the top the drifts were 15ft high and that a county council caterpillar tractor had had to give up in disgust.

Yet as I ate lunch, several riders passed the inn, heading with grim determination towards the summit. Did they get through? Are they still there? I didn't see them come back!

The diversion through Corwen, right along the A494 to Ruthin, was a piece of cake; despite the higher altitude there was less snow than in Llangollen. And from Denbigh to the coast, snow and frost seemed to be almost nil.

Going home I took the low lying road through Rhydyrnwyn (of short-circuit fame) Mold and Wrexham. But the local authorities had been less than enthusiastic about road clearing and ridges of hard frozen slush kept the speed down to 30 m.p.h.

Some heroic types took A525, the Ruthin-Wrexham road which skirts the north side of the Horseshoe Pass. Luckily for them a snowplough arrived at the crucial moment!

Back into England once more it seemed our troubles were over, but at the beginning of M1 the first snowflakes began to fall, and they came thicker and thicker. On such a wide, straight road this sort of going is at least bearable; a steady 35 m.p.h. could be held with confidence.

The driving snow brought yet another hazard. Persistent misfiring pulled me up to clean away the congealed slush around the h.t. cable. All along M1 I had passed halted riders, singly or grouped round a silent model. Were they too discovering that an all-weather motor cycle should be as waterproof as a trials plot?


Start of quotation I attended the 1963 Dragon Rally riding pillion on the back of my then boyfriends bike. I think it was a Triumph. I was 17 and we were part of large group from the Ford Sports Motorcycle club in Dagenham Essex.

We rode through the night arriving at Gwrych Castle early Saturday morning. It was freezing cold, but we were lucky to all be together in one of the larger bedrooms where we set out our sleeping bags.

The headlight drive was amazing to watch. After the mileage we'd done to get there we didn't fancy actually taking part.

The massive bonfire warmed us up a bit then it was inside for the singsong accompanied by the organ at the top of the marble staircase. I think there was a beautiful stained glass window at the top.

The ride home on Sunday was snowing all the way, but uneventful until we got outside my house and the bike slid over tipping us off. Happy memories. End of quotation

now Jeanette Sellwood- Jeanette Hare

Start of quotation Here are four images from my archive taken at the second Dragon Rally in 1963.

The iconic shot of the massive bonfire at the 1963 meeting was such a great image that it was used as the cover for the 9 January 1964 issue of 'Motor Cycle'.

Two others were also used in that issue to illustrate a feature promoting the forthcoming 1964 Dragon rally.

End of quotation

- Jean-Francois Helias

Start of quotation Riding a Matchless 650 sidecar outfit, (with the Mrs inside wrapped in blankets) we left West London in 1963 for our first Dragon Rally.

Fairly uneventful journey in spite of all the snow, and an amazing sight arriving at Gwyrich Castle.

Lucky enough to get space (under the castle grand piano) we hunkered down in our double sleeping bag, only to find some wag had left a "Just Married" sign at the bottom, which explained the sniggering that had gone on all night as sleepless bikers endlessly clumped past! We achieved some fame as a photo of us sleeping appeared on the front of The Motorcycle!

Start of the journey home was following behind the snowplough - that was until it got stuck sliding into a snow filled ditch. Getting past we made it to the motorway to find unblemished snow for us to make tyre marks towards home!

1964 proved nothing like as adventurous.

These days we wrinklies are reduced to using four wheels - but still live with our memories. End of quotation

- Terry Honour

Terry's venerable motorcycle combination. Note the Volunteer Emergency Service sticker on his fairing ...
... and just look at the size of the sandwiches on the sidecar roof!


Start of quotation Hi' My name is Tony Sheppard. I went on the Dragon rally in 1963 with my friend Bill Price. We hailed from Ruislip in Middlesex. We were cafe cowboys and always met at the Busy Bee, usually shooting off to the Cellar by the river in Windsor.

I went on the Dragon three times. Our friends thought we were mad. Ice, snow! Northerners!

I have written my memoirs of biking in the 60's - probably not too accurate but who cares.

Nice to reminisce, End of quotation

- Tony Sheppard


A photo of Philip Parry-Jones taken a long long time ago!

Start of quotation Me and my mate Ian did the 1963 Dragon, only 70 miles from Manchester, me on a 225cc Ambasador, Ian on a 350cc Enfield Clipper. Saw lots of bikes on the way there, always gave and got the thumbs up, always stopped to help with breakdowns. Slept in a pup tent, (so cold!)

Did 1964, again with Ian and also with Rob (T110). Seized my engine trying to keep up but removed the broken ring and got home ok!. End of quotation

- Philip Parry-Jones

Start of quotation I attended the 1963 Dragon Rally. My name is Tony Martin - anyone from that period will know me as Palladin. I used to ride a BSA Road Rocket.

There were just two of us from the Busy Bee in Watford. There was originally a whole group of us that were going to go but ended up with myself and Rob McGilchrist. We started early from the Bee with a group of the lads wishing us luck as the forecast was for snow. It was not long before we hit the snow and as we got nearer it got worse. There were large ridges of snow and ice. I was not as experienced riding as Rob, he was one of the best I had known. I ended up hitting a ridge of ice and came off. Fortunately no harm was done and we went on our way.

We arrived at the Castle we were allocated a space in one of the large tents that had been erected. We did not know many people there and then we met Father Bill Shergold who we knew well as we were members of the 59 Club.

We enjoyed the day and the evening parade with all the bikes going down the hill with their lights was fantastic. We watched from the Castle.

Night came, time for bed. We went to the tent that had been allocated to us. It was cold, we were unprepared, there was no way we were going to be able to sleep there. So up to the Castle we went and pleaded with them to let us stay inside. They eventually relented and we slept inside the Castle.

The next day the trip home was difficult as it had snowed a lot. When Rob and I eventually got onto the Motorway it was covered in snow. I was nervous, we were doing 80/90 which was fast enough for me but Rob wanted to go faster. I waved him on and when I got back to the Bee he was waiting for me with a cup of tea.

That is my memory of the Dragon Rally 1963. End of quotation

- Palladin

Start of quotation Have been to Horseshoe Pass a few times in the last couple of years on SV650 rideouts, but it's not as I remember it!

Where's all the snow?

Riding Maicoletta scooters a pal and I went up the pass as it seemed the most direct route. We saw car roofs above the snow and then just radio aerials.

Eventually the only tracks were the trials sidecar in John Ebbrell's article so we followed them. When we reached the point where he turned round (he had more sense than us) we did another 20 yards and then had to turn back ourselves because the snow was above the telegraph poles and we would have no idea where we were.

When we got to the crossroads at the northern end after a long detour we realised we couldn't have got down anyway - the Horseshoe road was a solid wall of snow about 12 feet high!

Happy days, although the night wasn't - my 'patch' had a frozen molehill in the middle of it. Never been so cold and uncomfortable - until the Elephant Rally where I walked round the Nurburgring to keep warm. End of quotation

- punyXpress