Shelsley Walsh under threat

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Shelsley Walsh, our very oldest motorsporting venue, may be closed by 2004 unless some £1.5m can be raised to save the famous hill. The Midland AC has been unable to purchase the site and now the only hope is a new long-term lease granted to the Shelsley Walsh Trust. The last hillclimb meeting this year will be on September 14, so you may wish to be there in case you cannot do so thereafter… It will be preceded by the usual championship and club meetings, the VSCC one on July 6.

One hopes the threat to this historic course will be averted. The excellent hillclimb meetings there are a feature of British motorsport. But this brings to mind a memory, one of mild regret instead of excitement. It would be impertinent, indeed dangerous, to gatecrash the hill on a non-event day just because an entrance is open. Only once have I so transgressed. On a dark night during the war, a friend and I found ourselves passing the deserted place, a gate open. We could not resist trying the famous climb, in the Ruby Austin 7. It made it, boiling. It is, after all, a fairly steep ascent.

I was once lowered down it with a Land Rover tied on behind the very big Daimler of the kind successful there soon after the first MAC meeting in 1905. After a fine ascent, the Daimler’s brakes were thought inadequate for the descent.

But the incident I regret has nothing to do with cars. I was again near Shelsley on a non-public day, but I went in, having an MAC pass, to show my companion the paddock and starting area. To venture a climb would have been against common sense, so we drove away and looked for the famous hotel nearby, but couldn’t find it. The desire for food grew as we drove toward Tenbury Wells. At last, a small hotel.

“Would sandwiches do? We have only just opened.” The landlady and her husband had just returned to the area where once, she said, he had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup race, one of the most prestigious of horse races, a great achievement for any jockey. But this meant nothing to me, so we left without asking when or the name of the ex-jockey. It was like being told the publican had won an important GP and not proffering congratulations.

I still feel guilty, but I have never been able to find the place since.

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