Longridge, 1976-77: Remembering one of Britain’s least likely racing circuits, often overlooked but unforgettable if you were there
“While British racing circuits have been closing down, a group in Lancashire has built a little 800-yard track just five miles north-east of Preston in a quarry at Longridge. The first meeting will be held on April 29 and several others are scheduled for later in the year…”
Those brief lines, published in the April 1973 edition, seem to be the only coverage Longridge ever received in Motor Sport (although I did sneak a featurette onto our website a year or so ago). The reference to ‘closing circuits’ smacks slightly of exaggeration – true, Crystal Palace had shut its doors at the end of 1972, but future casualties Rufforth and Llandow were at that stage still active while Knockhill and
the reopened Donington Park were somewhere on the horizon. The quoted dimensions weren’t quite correct, either: the track measured only 756 yards rather than the full 800 and was licensed to run races with no more than 10 cars (later increased to 12).
As the 40th anniversary of my last Longridge race attendance approaches (I went about 10 times during a two-season spell, as and when parental lifts were available), the moment is perhaps ripe to give the circuit its due. Used for kart racing and rally stages prior to 1973, it fast became one of the nation’s most diverse – if least celebrated – motor sport venues, hosting sprint events and races for cars, karts and bikes, while a rough-surface loop was subsequently introduced for rallycross (and 2CV-cross, which happily still exists in France).
Located high on the Lancashire moors, with views across the Ribble Valley, the circuit was built in the basin of what was originally the Tootle Heights stone quarry and little attempt was made to mask its roots. It featured two straights (one with a slight kink, the other lined by a rockface upon which spectators could stand to obtain a clear view of the whole track) and a couple of hairpins, the first of which had a significant crest at its exit. Not the most technical place on earth, perhaps, nor the easiest at which to pass, but the racing was often close and my evidence of having been there – assorted photos, a few programmes – proves that it attracted decent crowds.
It drew some interesting cars, too, including discarded and arguably unsuitable Grand Prix machinery. Local star Kim Mather used a BRM P153 – thought to be ex-Pedro Rodríguez – in early Libre events, while a sprint in March 1977 featured two F1 cars from three seasons beforehand, David Render’s Lotus 76 and John Ravenscroft’s Token RJ02 (the latter ending the day rather rumpled after it speared left into the quarry wall, separated from the track by a sliver of grass and two-tier Armco). In September ’77 Mather contested a Libre event at the wheel of the Chevron B34D/35 he would drive a month later in a European F2 Championship race at Donington Park – extreme juxtaposition of a kind that no longer exists, more’s the pity.
Longridge’s time (almost) in the spotlight was brief. Racing ceased in 1978 and the land was sold to become what is now the Beacon Fell View Holiday Park. I returned a few years ago – out of curiosity rather than any desire to rent a caravan – and many of the venue’s signature features, including the quarry face and the scruffy former paddock area, were exactly as before, though there were no clues that racing could ever have taken place.
In October 2016, a reviewer on TripAdvisor gave Beacon Fell View a one-star rating and wrote, “The section for tourers needs a massive overhaul. The area is muddy with patchy gravel and no suitable area to sit out. The toilets don’t appear to be cleaned often enough, with grubby sinks etc.”
That bit appears not to have changed, either, but 40 years ago such things mattered not. It was a racing circuit unlike any other I’ve known and being there was only ever a privilege.