Monday 17 June 2019

Pendine or Bust

Way back in the '20s & '30s men with perhaps more money than sense would race monstrous aero-engine cars along the beach at Pendine in south Wales, attempting to become the fastest car driver on the planet. One of them died in the attempt & as the cars were becoming faster, but the brakes weren't getting much better, speed record attempts move to places where there was more space.

Roll the clock forward almost a century & once a year the Vintage Hot Rod Association organise a Hot Rod racing event at Pendine Sands – it’s not really racing as the cars run one at a time over a measured distance, so it’s a speed trial along the lines of Speed Week at Bonneville - and very much in the style of those early speed record attempts. My brother had wanted to go for a few years, so his son & I tagged along & his friend Anthony followed after a few days.

On the first day (Tues 11th June) we all met at the cafĂ© car park on the Hog’s Back & set off, my brother in his Model A pick-up, his son David in their ’53 Ford Customline & me in the Fury, we went cross country avoiding the motorways & on the way we stopped at Bradford upon Avon for some lunch & a walk round. Then we moved on, eventually reaching Pendine at tea time.

Pendine Beach
It seemed mostly closed. We found our caravan for the week, discussed the accuracy of its’ description of “8 berth” & went for a walk, there was next to no-one in the village & next to no-one on the beach. After a while we went in the “Spring Well Inn” & had tea at the bar watching (sort of) Wales playing some other country at football.


Laugharne Castle
 Day two was overcast, but we set off in the CustomLine & found a preserved railway, which promised steam engines but on this particular day could only offer a diesel railcar – which had broken down.

What's been holding this up since the Civil War??

We walked around & looked in the small museum, had a coffee & set off. On the way back we stopped in Carmarthen where we wandered & bought some supplies.

Later we went into Laugharne (pronounced Laaarn apparently). Where there is an impressive ruined castle with good views over the bay. The nice lady in the shop tried very hard to persuade us to buy the guide book, but we resisted. That evening we again dined in the Spring Well, but in the restaurant side tht we hadn’t noticed yesterday.

Steady as she goes captain
Day three & we ventured as far as St Davids,  again in the CustomLine, with David doing an impressive job of piloting the car down the car down the twisting lanes - a job that I thought must be like steering a canal boat down the Colorado rapids.


St Davids itself is very like a Cornish village except that it has an enormous cathedral, so it’s a city, it has ¼ of the tourists, so is relaxed & you can just drive in & park. Again we walked into the first pub we found & ordered lunch which was very good indeed – as was the local cider.

Solva - nice place

On the way back we stopped off at Solva, which appeared to be another small fishing village, but had an illustrious past as a port, with 30 local coasters up to 500 tons moving freight about & you could even buy a passage to America from Solva for £4. It was a lovely place & interesting to walk around.

 When we got back to Pendine, we waited for Anthony – my brother’s friend - to arrive, then being creatures of habit, we ate in the Spring Well as it still seemed to be the only place definitely open.


Day 4 was scrutineering day where the cars that will be racing are checked for safety, so we wandered down to the tented area & watched for a while as improbable looking cars were poked & prodded to make sure they conformed with the rules.

You're going to go how fast in this?
The view at luncheon
Tide out
Then headed off to Tenby in the Fury & Anthony’s TVR. Tenby proved to be a lovely place, reminiscent of Newquay but with far fewer tourists, the sun shone, we had a spectacular lunch on a veranda overlooking the bay, then walked round the harbour & watched the tide come in. The sun shone & we had a very pleasant time of it.
Tide in


On our return to Pendine, cars were still being scruteneered, so we again had a walk round to see what was happening
"Desoto FIREDOME eight" Cool!
For tea we decided against eating in Pendine & instead headed for Laugharne, the first pub we showed our face in seemed to be “a local pub for local people”, but as we were leaving (hurriedly) someone admiring the CustomLine suggested a restaurant just up the road, so we went there.

It was a nice place – the food was excellent, but the proprietor was “a character” shall we say? A man with a thousand stories & a mode of speech somewhere between laconic, mildly threatening & blind drunk, Stan kept us entertained / slightly worried for hours.
Day five & the racing started – we knew it had started because cars with flathead V8s & open headers make quite a lot of noise as they rumble past a caravan at 07:00 on their way to the beach. So we made haste down to the sea-front & found the sun shining brightly & cars all parked up waiting for the pits to open, then saw all the cars file into the enclosed pit area.

We had pit passes so entered with them & walked around looking at the cars, which varied from immaculate restored ‘30s & ‘40s classics, to cars that looked like they’d been buried for 30 years – obviously they were safe, but looking at some of them you had to wonder if attempting 100mph on sand was entirely wise, but one by one engines were started – some easily, some after a push - & the cars made their way to the staging area & were flagged off one at a time, some with a crackle& a roar, some with a smooth burble & a whoosh.

 After a while we returned to the caravan for some lunch & decided to take the cars down to park on the beach for photos, the nice man on the slipway waived the £4 fee for each of us.

Then the sky became very dark indeed, so the Fury & the pick-up were taken back. After that somewhat foolishly given the colour of the sky, we decided to walk towards the other end of the track, about ½ mile into this stroll it became very cold & tipped with rain, so we abandoned our hike& after some healthy exercise (that we didn’t really want) took shelter in the CustomLine. It was just a heavy shower & soon passed over. We went back to watching the cars until around 2:30 the runs were stopped as there was a problem with the track at the far end.

After yesterday’s dining experience there was only one place we were heading for tea – back to Laugharne & were rewarded with more excellent food & witty repartee.
 Day six & our last day in Pendine. To be honest it was almost a repeat of yesterday, woken by the rasp of flathead V8s, we made our way down to the beach & watched the cars running. Again the sky was vivid blue & we walked the pits & saw the cars being flagged off, then the sky clouded over & as the forecast had predicted, it tipped with rain & we made for the shelter of the caravan, a little while later rumbling V8s passing by indicated that racing had finished.

So that was it, Pendine 2019 was over we watched some racing on TV & had tea in Laugharne for the final time.



So what did we learn?

1/ The Gower peninsular is every bit as nice as I’d been led to believe, the scenery was lovely & the people were very friendly.

2/ The weather was better than expected, there was properly heavy rain, but only at night when we didn’t care, there were a couple of showers during the day, but not enough to spoil our fun.

3/ The Vintage Hot Rod Association put on a good show, they were perfectly happy for the public to watch as long as they observed a couple of sensible rules, the event was run safely without a heavy-handed approach.

4/ Pendine Sand is very hard indeed, all the cars set off from the same spot & after a couple of hundred runs there was barely a dip where the wheels had been spinning.

5/ People just stand & grin as the CustomLine goes past.

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