In memory of a good friend, Douglas George Bailey who passed away Sept 2008. Written by Bill Phelps and originally printed in the VMCC journal of October 1966. Updated June 2009.


The run from John O’Groats to Lands End was quite popular before 1911, record times were set up for sidecar machines and for solos.

Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies made several successful attempts on the record from 1909 to 1911 riding Triumph motorcycles. The very last record was made by him when he took a 1911 Triumph 3 1/2 h.p. over the route in 29 hours 12 minutes. The R.A.C. then decided that these feats were becoming dangerous to the public, and so declared that they would not recognise any further attempts to bring down the record.

Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies was born on the 21st April 1878 in Huntingdon to Welsh parents John and Florence Hart-Davies. Educated at King's school, in Canterbury, he became a schoolmaster at the New Beacon school, Sevenoaks. After giving up school teaching, Hart-Davies became an insurance broker in the Midlands and was listed in Kellys for 1912 as being at 17 Bank Street, Rugby. On the 6th October 1913 he qualified as a pilot on a Grahame-White biplane at Hendon, and it was rumoured that he only took up flying to try to set another John o’ Groats to Land’s End speed record, by air. However, it was flying that led to his death: he was killed on the 27th July 1917 on a training flight as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. He was a Lieutenant in 35 training squadron and age 39 at the time of the accident on the 27th July. He was flying a Bristol fighter F2B number A7103. His observer 2nd Lt Miller was also injured in the accident. An obituary notice in The Times recorded that, with three other motorcyclists, he won the Mürren Cup, despite the fact that none of the team had ever done any bobsleighing before - he also ran the 'I B Hart-Davies XI' playing cricket in Kent. A fellow officer, quoted by The Times, called Hart-Davis a ‘gallant fellow whom we all liked immensely’. He is buried at St James, Southam, Warwickshire churchyard.

During 1965 some members of the South Wales Section of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club have been discussing a non-stop run from end to end in the spirit of those achieved by Hart-Davies.

Doug Bailey arranged to attempt the run on his 1911 3+ h.p. Triumph, identical to the machine Ivan Hart-Davies used for his final record. So Sunday, August 28th 1966, saw a Morris 1000 van leave Cardiff for John O’Groats with Doug Bailey, Graham Gardiner, Doug’s son Denis and the Triumph aboard. The van was to “shadow” Doug on his non-stop run, keeping a log and supplying petrol when needed. The two drivers taking shifts at driving. Good time was made to John O’Groats with an over night stop in Ayr on Sunday.

The run started on Tuesday morning, August 30th, 1966, at 8.18 a.m. It was misty and raining. 25 miles out the engine of the Triumph seized. A big end. Retracing steps to Wick an engineering firm kindly obliged to repair the big end. Six hours cleaning the crank pin and making a new bush using the metal out of the old bush. Cost 3~/-.

A great deal of time had been lost so it was decided to return to The Groats and restart. Tuesday afternoon at 4.06 p.m. the Triumph once again set off, travelling slowly at first, to ease in the big end bush. 6.24 p.m. and 76 miles gone Doug was fed some rolls and tea from the van. All meals were taken this way throughout the whole journey.

At 7.08 p.m., just after a steep climb and 99 miles from the start, an exhaust valve snapped on the Triumph. This was replaced with a spare in eight minutes and the journey continued. Visibility was down to 20 yards at times.

The Kessock ferry was reached and crossed by 8.30 p.m. Dark was falling and the electric lights which had been rigged on the bike had long since shaken adrift. So a pedal cycle lamp was strapped to Doug’s belt and they continued. Perth was reached at 12.55 and an all-night garage stood the travellers a cup of tea. It rained ceaselessly all through the night. At 5.43 a.m. the Triumph was stopped by the police for not having any lights to the rear. But was let off with a caution.

They crossed the border into England at 6.10 a.m. Upon reaching Shap at 7.25 a.m. — 418 miles from John O’Groats — the second exhaust valve snapped. The only garage with a machine shop would not be open until 9 a.m. So a wait of an hour and a half was called for and a good feed. The mechanic turned up and promptly stated that he hadn’t any valves for a 1911 Triumph Motor Cycle.

However, after much persuasion and bribing a valve of the same stem diameter was found and the head ground down to size, the stem cut to length and a slot drilled in the stem. The valve was fitted and the Triumph took the road again at 10.35 a.m., having lost some three hours.

Another 48 miles and the Triumph was at the first service centre on the M6 for petrol, oil and a five minutes rest. Good time was made down the motorway — 35 to 40 m.p.h. all the way. At 3.27 p.m. the Triumph was in Wolverhampton having covered 577 miles. The traffic was solid and barely moving, so Doug pushed the machine along the pavement, leaving his escort in the van to battle their way through.

After the van got out of Wolverhampton they were delayed even further with a puncture, which put the Triumph about one hour ahead of them.

The Triumph, on the MS now, was running low on oil, so turned off to Worcester, as the escort still had not caught up. Back on to the MS and by the time the Kenning Service Centre was reached at 5.40 p.m. — some 622 miles from John O’Groats — the escort had caught up with the bike.

By now the veteran saddle was beginning to tell on Doug and his right foot and leg began to swell after being numb for some 100 miles or so.

The bike passed through Tewkesbury and Gloucester doing well. Bristol was reached by 8.0 p.m. on the Wednesday, having covered 676 miles. Here the front brake cable snapped during an emergency stop. The escort had to push the Triumph off, as Doug by this time, couldn’t place his right leg on the ground.

Bridgewater was made by 9.11 p.m. and a blanket tied around the Triumph saddle to give a softer ride. At Taunton by 9.35 p.m., having covered 720 miles, it started to rain once more.

Launceston was reached by 1.00 a.m. and with only 80 miles to go, it was decided to rest as the van escort was beginning to wander over the road. Re-started again at 7.32 a.m., having stopped for six-and-a-half hours.

Three miles further on and the belt snapped — a new one was fitted and the Triumph continued. Nine more miles and a link was removed from the belt, and another link after another five miles.

The belt then settled and Redruth was reached at 9.45 a.m., with only 27 miles to cover.

Lands End was reached at 10.54 a.m. on Thursday, the first of September, having covered 880 miles in 42 hours 48 minutes — stoppages were around 10 hours altogether — so the distance was covered in 32 hours 48 minutes, averaging 27 m.p.h. on the road. Quite a feat for a 55-year-old single gear machine and a 43-year-old driver.

The total cost of the venture was around £57.

This Photo of Doug and his Triumph was taken during the Vale of Glamorgan Road Trial in 1968 – before it became compulsory to wear a helmet in June 1973.