Remembering the Elan Valley Summer of Love in 1976

By Matt Jones  Reporter 

THE year is 1976. James Callaghan replaces Harold Wilson as prime minister, the Sex Pistols release Anarchy in the UK and the Cod Wars between the UK and Iceland over fishing rights in the North Atlantic are making waves.

Meanwhile, at a usually sleepy and serene Mid Wales beauty spot, hundreds of hippies take a diversion from Stonehenge and stage a festival in rural Radnorshire.

It’s 45 years ago this month and the Elan Valley Free Festival or Rhayader Fayre Free Festival brings a little excitement to the Powys countryside – with a newspaper article at the time renaming the Elan Valley the ‘Hippy Valley’ after around 300 people descended on the famous dams in early July.

The Summer of Love famously swept the whole of America in the summer of 1967 – around 100,000 people converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood as the city embraced the anti-war movement, hippie music, hallucinogenic drugs and free love.

The movement took a while to officially reach UK shores, with the Second Summer of Love officially taking place in Britain in the late 1980s, with the rise of acid house music and unlicensed rave parties emerging in the summer of 1988 and stretching into the summer of 1989.

However, it seems only very few were present or even had knowledge of Powys’ own version of the Summer of Love 12 years earlier.

The B4574, also known today as National Cycle Route 81, reportedly became a haven for “goggle-eyed” tourists for a few weeks in July 1976, eager to catch a glimpse of the hoards of hippies apparently cavorting around mainly in the nude.

The summer of 1976 was a scorcher, with stories about heat waves and droughts littering the UK news cycle.

The gathered masses had initially been left in peace, mixing happily with locals, but things soon took an ugly turn when the water board (now Welsh Water, who manage the Elan Valley estate) complained that the festivalgoers were polluting the water courses. Water from the reservoirs has long provided a public supply to the Midlands area and the water board eventually won a High Court order to evict the new settlers. After the hippies initially refused to budge, a 400-strong army of police officers swarmed the site early one morning and roused the visitors from their teepees and wigwams and forced them to leave.

County Times: Police arrive on the scene at Pont Ar Elan in July 1976. Picture by Janet ThompsonPolice arrive on the scene at Pont Ar Elan in July 1976. Picture by Janet Thompson

They were eventually moved on and allegedly the festival carried on at Pont-rhyd-y-groes just a little further west into Ceredigion.

Now, 45 years on, the Elan Links: People, Nature & Water Facebook page are asking any locals for their memories, recollections and pictures from the event.

“It’s 45 years since the great hippie invasion of Elan Valley. Does anyone remember it?,” read a post on the page from Thursday, July 1.

“Please get in touch if you have any stories or photographs you would like to share so we can create an archive of this momentous event. Email or phone 01587 811527.”

County Times: A poster promotong the 1976 Elan Valley Free Festival. Picture by Janet Thompson

A poster promoting the 1976 Elan Valley Free Festival. Picture by Janet Thompson

A dive into the archives will lead you to some wonderful photos from the event, taken by Janet Thompson, who was one of the festivalgoers.

Retro Rhayader featured a collection from the festival on its page back in 2014, under an album titled ‘Hippy Days, Elan Valley July 1976’.

“In July 1976 Rhayader and the Elan Valley saw 100s of Hippies visit the area, after arriving from Stonehenge for a music festival,” reveals a caption.

From 1974 to 1984 the Stonehenge Free Festival was held at the famous prehistoric monument in Wiltshire during the month of June, culminating with the summer solstice on or near June 21.

County Times: A newspaper clipping reporting on the event. Picture by Janet ThompsonA newspaper clipping reporting on the event. Picture by Janet Thompson

Accounts of the Powys festival a week or so later that year tend to be haphazard – perhaps something to do with the substances allegedly circling.

“The festival was to be the next one after the henge and was due to run for the whole of July,” remembers photographer Janet, from quotes published on the website, under the heading ‘Elan Valley Free Festival’ page.

“I hitched down there on July 7th. On the 13th at 6.30am 400 coppers had encircled the site and woke everyone up and evicted us, it was a bit of a shock, most people were still in bed.

“I think they had bussed in coppers from all over Wales. Everyone got themselves together and moved off ‘up the road’ to another site at Pont-rhyd-y-groes.”

County Times: A picture from the 1976 Elan Valley Free Festival. Picture by Janet Thompson

A picture from the 1976 Elan Valley Free Festival. Picture by Janet Thompson

Although the likes of Dexys Midnight Runners, The Raincoats, Joe Strummer, Wishbone Ash and Jimmy Page appeared at the Stonehenge Free Festival over the years, Janet can only recall a band named Solar Ben playing in the Elan Valley. They had a flautist called Michael Wilding – whose mother was none other than legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor.

On the same website but under the ‘Rhayader Fayre Free Festival’, a festivalgoer known only as Alan remembers: “We arrived in Rhayader direct from Stonehenge in a couple of trucks. There was a river running through the site, and we camped on both sides of it, the river being crossed by a couple of scaffold planks laid out at various points.

“The river was cordoned off, so drinking water, washing and swimming took place in different parts, the toilets were marked by green flags up the side of the hills surrounding the site.

“There was about 200 people there maximum and it was during the very hot summer.

“The vibes there were great, everyone was very friendly, not one sign of trouble, either with the hippies camping, or from the locals who were frequent visitors.

“As I was doing first aid there, I did ask (and received) help from the police to get a couple of people to the hospital in Aberystwyth as they were suffering badly with sunburn. I left the day before the bust.”

Another person who was present 45 summers ago was Paul Fraser. In his vivid memories from that period, posted on his Itchy Monkey Press blog, he recalls a site meeting at Stonehenge, at which it had been decided to move the festival to Mid Wales.

County Times: A picture from the 1976 Elan Valley Free Festival. Picture by Janet Thompson

A picture from the 1976 Elan Valley Free Festival. Picture by Janet Thompson

“I hitched up there, coming out of Rhayader, on the mountain road to [the] Elan Valley I got picked up by some people in a Mini Minor,” recalls Paul.

“We came over the top of this hill, the valley lay spread out below us and there it was, the massive Yellow Tipi, surrounded by smaller tipis, tents and a festival.

“That festival got [shut down, people got] evicted, the land belonged to the water board. We were going to make a tipi. We went to Cheap Charlies in Newtown and bought some army marquee walls for canvas, we went up in the forestry and bought some poles off some guys with chainsaws. We were skinning the bark off the poles when several busloads of police turned up and evicted us.

“The unity that had brought the festival from Stonehenge carried through. A site about 10 miles away had been scouted and the whole festival moved down there, to Pont-rhyd-y-groes.”

This entry was posted in . and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.