Long-running motorsport events tend to evolve and change over the years for a multitude of reasons ranging from boosting competitiveness, improving safety to just keeping up with the times. With these changes comes the risk of chipping away at the soul or essence of the events that made the original so engaging. There is, however, one motoring event in particular that has managed to stay true to itself in a way that is seldom seen. It just so happens to be the oldest motorsport venue *Jeremy Clarkson voice* IN THE WORLD – The Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb.
The route to this historical hill climb takes you along beautiful, yet scary, country roads with breath-taking landscape views that tempt you to draw your eyes from the road. Amongst the hills and their foliage is the Shelsley Walsh Hill climb – blended in with its surroundings as if to not disturb its rural setting.
The venue first opened in 1905 by the Midlands Automobile Club (MAC) and they still manage it to this day. It started off as the go-to place for petrolheads to prove their engineering might by showcasing that their builds had the power to climb the hill with multiple passengers. As with any closed road with a stopwatch, it quickly became a competition to finish in the fastest possible time. Very soon after, it gained a reputation that attracted big players in the British and International automotive industry who saw it as the ultimate proving ground for who made the better car.
The hill climb itself is demanding of any driver so completing it in the fastest time came with bragging rights so heavy that Formula One drivers couldn’t resist one-upping each other in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1948 a young driver finished 1st on his debut at Shelsley Walsh, going by the name of Stirling Moss. You might have heard of him? (if not click here and here to get caught up on this legend).
The course itself has remained mostly unchanged. It features two sets of turns aptly named ‘bottom-S’ and ‘top-S’ which are steepest parts of the hill. This is where most of the crucial momentum, speed and, time is lost while putting any engine under a lot of strain. But that is the least of your worries if you enter with too much speed into the turn and spin out off into the gaping drop beside the bottom-S turn.
My first stop was the paddocks at the bottom of the hill. As I approached I was instantly intoxicated by the sound of the idle burbling of the cars prepped for their first ascent. Once I had reoriented myself I had a quick observation of the paddock and audience and noticed something unusual that I couldn’t quite figure out for some time until I tried to capture a moment in an Instagram story: I was the only one with a phone out.
It felt almost disrespectful to the nature of the venue that has clearly been maintained to invoke the atmosphere of the heritage of the event long before social media. It’s not that phones and social media banned at Shelsley (they have WiFi by the way), but rather that the audience would rather not have the atmosphere filtered and numbed through a pocket-sized screen.
The members of Shelsley Walsh have taught me to soak in the event in a way that smartphone screens can’t deliver. In an age of selfies and clout chasing (AKA collecting Internet points), It was refreshing to get away from it all and experience the event in its purity. So when you see me inactive on social media for a while just know that I’m probably at Shelsley Walsh getting my digital detox.