Kop Hill – The Giant’s Shoulder
Sir Isaac Newton is reputed to have first used that phrase to describe great thinkers who had gone before.
In 1910, some great forward-thinking motorcyclists decided to race their bikes up a hill in Princes Risborough in the Chilterns. They may not have regarded themselves as anything more than some friends seeking petrolhead fun, but boy did they start something.
The hill climb event became ever more popular and some very famous chaps joined in: Henry Seagrave, Count Zborowski and Malcolm Campbell, to name but a few.
Their fun almost turned to disaster when, in 1925, a spectator insisted on getting in the way and broke his leg in the ensuing crash. The RAC promptly stopped the event and along with it went permission for any public road racing.
Thus was spawned the elevation of the Isle of Man to petrolhead folklore.
No doubt it didn’t feel so influential at the time!
Now let’s wind forward to 2009 when a few local people decided to seek permission to re-run the famous old event, albeit on a non-competitive basis as a charity fund-raiser. In that year, 50 volunteers manned the barriers and all of the other vital ‘swan legs’ activities under the calm surface of success.
Apart from 2020, it’s been a must-go-to event on the Petrolhead calendar ever since and in 2021 we finally got to sample the famous old hill.
We knew it was going to be a good day when we parked up next to a maroon 1970 MGB Roadster. The chat inevitably started and then we discovered we were talking to Eugenie and son, Alastair Bendyshe-Brown. The car was being driven up the hill in memory and tribute to late husband/father Bill, who was one of the founding revival organisers and who had contributed much to the event’s success in recent years. His MGB had taken many years to restore and is now proudly in Alastair’s careful hands. They were a joy to chat to and their run up the hill was naturally filled with poignancy and memories.
In fact we knew it was going to be good before we got there.
Not only had the organisers made sure that every entrant had all of the information they needed (mostly using excellent web-based technology), they also kept us posted about traffic problem-free routes, an update on the then looming petrol supply shortage (remember that?) and they recommended we stay at the Peacock Inn… that is now listed on our website, of course.
It was also especially nice to be greeted by Kerry of the organising committee whilst we were queueing at the entrance. He’d placed himself at the ideal spot to do so and thus underlined the friendliness of the Kop Hill Climb.
And so to the hill itself.
We’ll let our little video demonstrate what it’s about – see here.
A queue to warm the cars between paddock and start line; a short interview with Wayne Scott to tell the enthusiastic crowd about the car and its owner and then the Union flag sweeps across our sightline and we’re off.
A relatively straight hill and so, if competing, could be taken at immense speed. Even for our ‘tour’ at the national speed limit, it felt pretty quick.
It would be easy to drift a little off line and court disaster if not concentrating properly, but it doesn’t require the full-on arm wrestling with non-power steering that say Shelsley Walsh or Prescott would require. There is enough time to wave to the marshals… at least I think they were waving a greeting rather than a warning! And then it’s gone in 60 seconds (well, a bit more really but that’s a popular phrase).
The gentle cruise back to the paddock takes in the town centre where hundreds of locals have set up chairs to wave and smile. It’s great to see how the noise and smells of classic cars brings such joy to so many.
If you want a measure of the success of this revitalised historic event, the 50 volunteers in 2009 has now swelled to 500!
There were around 600 hill climbing bikes and cars, a brilliant soap box challenge, celebrity racers like Sammy Miller, Maria Costello MBE and engineering superhero, Allen Millyard, fun fairs, car club displays, trade stalls and even somewhere to buy fuel in gallon containers!
Perhaps most importantly of all, the event has raised almost £1m for local charities… a figure that’s sure to grow come the 2022 event.
Giant’s shoulder? Maybe. Giant contributor? Most definitely.
That’s something that everyone involved can be proud of, especially Bill’s family.