Monday, 20 July 2015

Simply Wonderful Shelsley Walsh

A while ago I was chatting with a lovely friend, N, from the midlands when the conversation took an unexpected turn.  "I've just thought of something - you like classic cars and a bit of a nostalgic event, don't you?  Well, my wife and I are doing an event in July that might just be up your street..."

And so it was that this weekend I found myself heading to Shelsley Walsh - proudly (and rightly so) proclaimed to be the oldest operational motor sport event in the world!

Shelsley Walsh is a hill-climb event, and this weekend saw them holding their annual Classic Nostalgia weekend, and having never attended a hill-climb event, I was really looking forward to it.

The plan, it appeared, was to set off from the outskirts of Birmingham mid-morning on the Sunday and meet up with a small group of enthusiasts at a pub near Stourport-on-Severn, and then commence to Shelsley Walsh in a bit of a convoy.  Unfortunately, it would mean squeezing into the cramped back of N & J's Porsche 911 for the drive, but I suppose I'm the sort of girl who is used to contorting herself into some strange positions on a daily basis...!

Sunday dawned - sadly, with a leaden sky and lots of rain - not ideal for watching any motor sport event.  However, J was confident that the weather report, which promised the skies clearing for 10.00am, would be correct.  Thankfully, she was right, and just after 10.00am we set off for our rendezvous with the rest of the group.  There was an interesting array of cars waiting for us at Stourport-on-Severn, including a gorgeous Morgan Plus8, which, amazingly, had a spare seat going.  N very kindly arranged with the owner for me to swap the cramped rear of his Porsche 911 for the spare seat in the open-top Morgan for the remainder of the journey to Shelsley Walsh, and the blast along the sunny country roads with the Morgan's hot and rumbling V8 playing its soundtrack was certainly an amazing experience.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Morgan Plus 8
After enduring a slow queue as the event traffic grew and the country lanes narrowed, we reached our destination, and the truly stunning setting of Shelsley Walsh lay before us.  I soon realised I had arrived in the right car - while N & J in the 911 were directed into the normal carpark, we were waved into the 'classic and specialist' carpark - which was much nearer.  We parked up alongside a host of other Morgans and waited for our fellow travellers to arrive from their trek across the car park field.  The lines of fantastic sports and classic cars were spectacular - everything from cute and tiny Frog-eye Sprites to hulking American muscle cars, and old pre-war vintage cars to aggressive and sleek TVR and Marcos sports cars.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Shelsley Walsh

The skies were clearing rapidly as the hot sun rose, and we took a quick stroll over to the pits before lunch.  There were a small number of stalls selling motoring books, bits of automobilia and upmarket car accessories.  Outside one stall a pair of stunning E-Types caught my eye as the warm sun glinted off the polished curves.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - E-Types
Apparently the red drop-top was the one used in 'The Italian Job' which had its body reworked by a bulldozer in the film.  It looked like it had recovered from the ordeal very well though as it sat primped to perfection in the bright sun.  Over in the pits there was a great atmosphere as drivers and owners prepared their cars for the sprint up the hill, and the air was full of exhaust fumes and the noise of engines revving.  It was quite glorious.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Shelsley Walsh pits
Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Shelsley Walsh pits
Over in one corner a line of Ford GT40s sat waiting for their turn to power up the steep hill.  As I admired one of them a lovely gentleman came over and started chatting to me.  It turned out he was the owner of the sleek red GT40 that I was looking at.  He offered me the chance to sit in the car, but the combination of the height of the car (40 inches, of course), the wide sill and my very tight dress meant this simply wasn't going to be possible - I had to make do with sitting on the side instead.  I think had I offered to remove my tight dress in order to sit in the car he would have gladly agreed - and it did cross my mind for a moment.  As I perched on the side of the car a host of photographers appeared (as they do in these scenarios) and snapped away!

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - GT40

Soon we decided it was lunch-time, which was perfect timing.  In the clear blue sky an aerobatic display was just commencing, and we watched in amazement as the pilot performed incredible feats in the bright red biplane, including keeping the plane hanging in the air, nose up, for a full minute without moving.  It was spectacular.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - aerial aerobatics at Shelsley Walsh
Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - aerial aerobatics at Shelsley Walsh

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - aerial aerobatics at Shelsley Walsh

  With our picnic finished and the group somewhat refreshed we headed up the hill itself.  I suddenly realised that it was going to be a lot more demanding on the cars than I expected.  The track itself is little more than a single-lane ribbon of tarmac with steep banks on both sides, leaving little forgiveness in the judgement of the drivers themselves.  The course is amazingly steep, too -  and even walking up the spectator paths was very tiring due to the gradient.

We soon stopped half-way up the hill and took a spot on the wooden seating to await the first cars powering up the hill.  First up the hill and opening the day's racing was Norman Dewis, an old Jaguar test driver that was involved in the development of the E-Type.  Although 94 now, he certainly didn't hang around in the red E-Type that he flung up the hill.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Norman Dewis in E-Type
The action is pretty non-stop once they start, as no sooner is one car completing the course (35-40 seconds is generally good) then the next competitor is setting off at the bottom.  Some drivers looked like they were taking a pleasant Sunday drive, others pushed their machinery to the limit, throwing the old cars into the sharp bends, leaving a trail of hot rubber before accelerating away to the finish line.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Shelsley Walsh
As there was a special Jaguar celebration, a few of us decided to watch the old Jaguars finish the course towards to the top of the hill - that meant another steep climb towards the finish straight.  It was worth it, though, to see the high-powered cars sling-shot their way out of the final corner and thunder down towards the finish.  Loudest car of the day was the V12-powered Broadspeed coupe - it simply rattled your eardrums as it blasted past.  Lovely.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Jaguars at Shelsley Walsh

With a vintage fashion show planned for 4.00pm we decided to head back down the hill - just in time to see the GT40s roar ferociously up the steep course, including the lovely gent on whose car I had parked my bottom on for a while - I hoped the soft kiss of my derriére would bring him luck!

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - 'my' GT40 at Shelsley Walsh
Back at the main site it was as busy as before.  We sat and enjoyed the music and fashion in the small courtyard.  They announced a 'Best-Dressed' competition, and a few people urged me to join.  However, in my retro-inspired but new dress I didn't feel like I was vintage enough, so declined - after the competition though I was told by one of those who wanted me to join that I would have won  - he was one of the judges.  I may have deserved the 'Best Tits and Cleavage' award, but wouldn't have deserved 'Best Dressed' I think.  The two winners were well deserved though - especially the chap with his Penny Farthing bicycle.  I wish I'd got some photos but it was all over before I remembered!

I managed to find my GT40 driver again, who was quite pleased with his time up the hill - under 38 seconds - so at least I hadn't distracted him too much!

With 5.00pm approaching we made our way back to our cars - but we remained at Shelsley until the promised fly-past of the Spitfire.  I've seen these flying a few times now, but it never lessens the thrill of seeing them hurl through a blue summer sky again.

Dexi Delite, Manchester and Cheshire Escort - Spitfire at Shelsley Walsh
I found myself back in the Morgan as we headed home, the setting sun glancing off the hot louvred bonnet of the car as we sped through tree-lined and sunlight-dappled country lanes - a wonderful end to an amazing day, and one I won't forget.

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