9th May 2011
Only the adventurous tackle the challenge of Red Marley. Richard Jones took his camera...
Red Marley is not, as I first thought, a radical left wing reggae artist or a character in Lenin's version of 'A Christmas Carol', but a hill-climb set in the deepest part of Merry England - a very steep hill-climb in the village of Great Witley. Originating in the early/mid 1920s the event moved to its present location, Walgrove Hill otherwise known as the New Hill (the Old Hill being past it or, to put it more accurately, no longer available).
The course is 440 yards straight up with the steepest point being 1:1.15 where there is an interesting little jump known as 'The Pimple' (the white horizontal scar at the top of the photo). The challenge is either to ride up it as fast as possible and leap like a startled gazelle at the Pimple's apex towards the finishing line or simply encourage the bike to drag itself up the last part of the climb (or not, as the case may be).
Bikes are all pre-1971 and range from the late 1920s to more current replica Triumph and BSA scramblers - think Cheney, Wasp or Metisse and you won't be too far out. Carl Pope took the record in 2009 with a Cheney BSA (told you so), doing all 440 yards in 19.53 seconds
Trevor had suggested we visited this historic event on Easter Monday and it came to pass that he, Nick and I gathered at the BP Garage in Brackley on a surprisingly bright, sunny and dry Bank Holiday, Trevor, as befits the chairman of the BSA Owners' Club, was riding a Moto Guzzi V50 II - said Guzzi is due an outing at the Festival of 1000 Bikes in July and was being treated to a run to get it ready. Knowing Trevor was on a classic bike and I was on Tessie the Hinckley Triumph, I had expected an easy ride with plenty of opportunity to occasionally gaze at the passing scenery. Not a chance - the Guzzi goes like a rocket, I was struggling to keep the pace and the scenery was a blur; keep an eye out for it on the 9th July!
And so we wended our way through the delights of Northants, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and, eventually, Worcestershire; England couldn't have looked better if it tried (except the Worcester ring road where the inevitable Bank Holiday traffic jam lurked). Arriving in time to get refreshments before the racing started at 12 noon, the first challenge was the walk from the bike park to the event. I am still out of breath a day later and anyone who made it as far up as the Pimple has my admiration (and possibly an oxygen tank).
Trevor and Nick acquired the compulsory Cornish pasties laced with stilton and I had a Silk Cut before we had a look at some of the runners and riders. As can be seen from these shots of a Matchless and its rider, Red Marley is not without its perils.
David Groves 1957 600cc Matchless whose best time was 25.57 seconds.
This 1939 BSA 410 belongs to Vincent Priestley who made it up the hill in 30.85 seconds - you have to be impressed.
If you were impressed with the previous bike then prepare to be astounded with this 1931 Norton 500 which not only made it to the top but did it in 28.61 seconds. It is owned by Joe Priestley - if there's a spelling mistake I'm assuming he's related to Vincent…
One of the more interesting sights was these electric scramblers - a sign of things to come perhaps. They were raced up a few times and it was eerie, to say the least, to hear (or not as was more accurate) these battery-powered bolides going up the climb in silence. All reached the summit and seemed to have more than enough go for this strenuous test; apparently you get about 40 minutes at full bore and up to two hours taking life a bit more easily.
Racing finally got underway at 12.20 with a commentary that was so typically British - charming, fun and occasionally wholly inaccurate. Heats have up to four riders who start at a grid and then go tearing off, hell for leather, in three classes (pre 1950; pre-1971 up to 350cc; pre-1971 over 350cc) plus an 'All Comers' race. Riders range from young bucks anxious to impress to a 72 year old who was doing the climb for the first time - he certainly impressed me.
Mr Walter Bratley, 67, powering his 1934 Levis 500 up the hill with a best time of 40.24 seconds and a third place in the Class 1 Final.
See what I mean about gazelle-like leaping? No 359 is Carl Pope demonstrating how you get to be overall second with a fastest time of 19.91 seconds and 3rd in the Class 3 Final on his 1970 Severn Bore BSA 600.
No 359 is Carl Pope demonstrating how you get to be overall second with a fastest time of 19.91 seconds and 3rd in the Class 3 Final on his 1970 Severn Bore BSA 600.
But not everyone made it to the top…
There were 189 races in all (there would have been 188 but the All Comers final ended in a draw so a tie breaker was required) with times ranging from just under a minute (Mr Bratley's Levis 500) to 19.78 seconds for Leigh Owen on a 1969 Jawa 500.
There were plenty of thrills and spills for the crowd that must have numbered in the thousands and lots of money was raised for local charities as well as Helps for Heroes.
If you want to see some exciting classic scrambles action make plans now for 2012 - more information on Red Marley can be garnered at www.redmarleyhillclimb.com
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