During the summer, you are never far from a vintage tractor event in the U.K. Numerous small shows are arranged by local clubs and enthusiasts, plus there are large national events that usually provide sufficient entertainment for a long weekend. Either way, between May and September there will always be someplace where you can enjoy looking at old tractors.
One of the largest of Britain’s vintage rallies is the Great Dorset Steam Fair, now in its 47th year. The name is somewhat misleading, as this show is about so much more than steam-powered engines and vehicles. The Great Dorset is Britain’s leading heritage event, and is of interest to anyone who has a fascination in our rural and industrial past. Providing a vast blend of entertainment and nostalgia over a 600-acre plot, this fair draws in about 200,000 visitors each year, which just goes to show that far from being a quirky hobby that appeals to just a few enthusiasts, the vintage scene is in fact a huge, growing industry, popular with a far wider audience than one might imagine.
But these large shows aren’t for everyone. They are crowded for a start, and there will always be a certain amount of travelling time and queuing time, and then of course there’s the cost. It might be a small island we live on here, but you’d be surprised how expensive it is to get around here. As I write this, petrol costs approximately £1.15 per litre (roughly $4.25 per gallon), and diesel is slightly more expensive again at about £1.20 per litre. Shocked? You should be. And in far-flung rural places, the costs can be even greater. Not only have these costs made it expensive for people who wish to take their vintage vehicles to shows and events, they have, more importantly, crippled many of our hauliers too.
With those costs in mind, I usually try to attend the local shows rather than the national events. It’s not just about money, though. I happen to like the fact that at a local event, I stand more of a chance of bumping into old friends, and generally the smaller events are more laid-back in nature and less bureaucratic than the larger events.
The first show of the season in this area is the Llandudno Transport Festival, which is held over three days at the start of May. Most shows are held in rural areas, with acreage being the key factor when it comes to venue choice, but this show is held within the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno and a stone’s throw from the beach and promenade. I think you guys would like this show, as I’m sure it is so very different from anything you probably see over there.
If you were wealthy and fashionable in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, Llandudno was the place to be seen. There was a real belief back then that the sea air, and indeed bathing in the chilly sea, could cure all sorts of ailments, and the crème de la crème of society came in droves to enjoy the elegance of Llandudno with its beautiful architecture, its sweeping promenade and its grand pier, all set against the backdrop of the Snowdonian mountains.
By the 1970s, comparatively cheap overseas holidays had been discovered, and Britain’s seaside holiday resorts began to seem a little tired and dated. These resorts fell out of favour as people began to cotton on to the fact that the sea in Spain was a whole lot warmer than the sea in the U.K. That said, these seaside towns, with their slightly faded grandeur, do have a real place in the hearts of most of us Brits. Despite the fact that it will never be as hot as the Costa Del Sol, we are drawn by the bonds of nostalgia to places like Llandudno.
Nostalgia makes Llandudno a great setting for a vintage vehicle show, and every form of transport, from steam to modern day with a whole lot in between, can be seen here. The show holds evening road runs, where all manner of vintage vehicles can (as long as they are taxed for road use) take to the roads and tour the area.
One road run on the first evening heads through Llandudno and up the Great Orme, a mountainous headland on the northwestern side of the town, whilst the second road run on Sunday eve passes through the medieval walled garrison town of Conwy. The road runs are popular with locals and tourists, who often line the roadsides to watch the motorbikes, trucks, tractors and cars pass by. It’s always great fun when the old trucks sound their horns, but the local authorities have in recent years asked exhibitors not to do this as it creates a disturbance. I’m not generally an anarchist, but really, some rules are just made to be broken, aren’t they?
Another great setting for a vintage vehicle show is the Isle of Anglesey. Anglesey (Mon in Welsh) is an island off the northwest coast of Wales covering an area of about 276 square miles. One doesn’t need a boat to access Anglesey: Two bridges cross over the Menai Strait.
Anglesey is rich in heritage, with more than half of the population being fluent Welsh speakers. The island has long been associated with the ancient Celtic Druids and also has a great deal of evidence of the Roman occupation, which was when copper mining first began in the area. As a flat and fertile land, Anglesey was once known as the Breadbasket of Wales because of its grain production and productivity. The island was once home to many windmills, and one of those is still in operation today. Interestingly Anglesey is also home to the town with the longest place name in Britain – namely, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllantysiliogogogoch. Try saying that after a few beers.
The Anglesey Vintage Equipment Society was formed in the early 1970s with the aim of promoting the preservation of machinery and artifacts. The annual show is held in mid-May. As this event is held at a larger venue than the Llandudno show, it has room for a show ring, which allows spectators to see vehicles on the move. There are no road runs attached to this particular show, as there simply aren’t any towns nearby to drive through, but many people like the Anglesey show, as almost everything of interest enters the show ring, and this means that spectators can sit with an ice cream and watch the world go by, or perhaps better still, watch the world as it used to be go by.
Anglesey’s show has a special place in my heart, as it was here, long ago in the late 1970s as a small girl, I fell in love with my first tractor. It was a Field Marshall, probably dating from somewhere around 1950, but as it was unrestored with a rough and rusty finish, it looked much older than it probably was. As a girl I was usually drawn to things that were new and shiny, but for some reason, this tractor appealed to me. “Oh Dad,” I said, “can’t we buy that one? Pleeeease?” Back then I assumed that everything in a vintage rally was for sale if only one asked, but much to my annoyance, my father wouldn’t even ask!
The Field Marshall, as many of you will know, is a solid lump of a tractor with a single-cylinder engine and huge chimney-like exhaust that issues forth a loud, distinctive beat. At a tick-over these tractors shudder in time to their own rhythm, and they have a real presence too. I watched this tractor, louder than all the others and so much more striking, chug its slightly derelict way around the show ring, and I fell in love and dreamed of owning a rusty old tractor of my very own one day.
One can dream a good many dreams at a vintage rally. When I attend vintage vehicle events with my children, we often a play a game where we choose the vehicle we would most like to take home with us. My son invariably chooses a huge gas-guzzling military truck, my daughter usually picks a dainty vintage sports car with an immaculate paint job, and me, I still almost always go for a battered old tractor ... some things never change, eh. FC
Josephine Roberts lives on an old-fashioned smallholding in Snowdonia, North Wales, and has a passion for all things vintage. Contact her at via email.