In November the Motorcycling press were excitedly running the story about the upcoming Welsh Road Races to held on the old Eppynt Course in August 2018. At one of their launches at a national motorcycle show, there was an onboard video of Steve Plater riding the circuit. Brian Coldicott, a Velo Club member, spoke to them and said that he had ridden the circuit with some South Wales friends and was quite amazed when the organisers didn’t believe him. However it was quite true. We had ridden the full Circuit in July 2016 and what’s more we did it again in 2017.
Eppynt lies in the mountains between Brecon and Llandovery and is a delightful part of the country offering some lovely roads for motorcycle riding. Here, in the late 1930s, the British Army took over large tracts of land for training purposes and moved the people out. ( For information please go to http://www.taffthehorns.com/Epynt-without-people-and-Much-More)
In 1948 the first road races were held on the closed army roads. It was the brainchild of the Carmarthen and Builth Wells Motor Clubs who were able to persuade the War Office to make the roads available. The site was remote and exposed but the going was superb and the terrain made natural grandstands for spectators. All the roads still exist and any ride on them today will tell you how demanding it was as a race venue. The main road from the A40 to Tirabad is open to the public but the rest of the circuit is on closed Army roads.
The races continued until 1953 and attracted riders of proven quality such as Cecil Sandford, Les Archer and many others including local Merthyr boy Des Snow all these Velo mounted. The Eppynt results for 6 May 1950 show that Les Graham, 348 AJS, dominated the Junior and Senior races with Cecil Sandford, Velo, Maurice Cann, Guzzi, and Fron Puslow, BSA, also winners. Pip Harris, 596 Norton, was the Sidecar winner, with Cyril Smith and Bill Boddice also entered, all on Nortons. Fastest lap of the day was by S T Barnett on a 350 Norton at 70.65mph.
So how did we manage to ride the same circuit as these illustrious riders? It was made possible through Velocette owner John Wilding’s connection Chris Phillips, who is Landmarc’s MoD Liaison Officer, plus Major Mahoney of Sennybridge Camp. In July 2016, with their permission, 15 riders of the Wye Valley Centre of the Velocette Owners’ Club met at the Officers’ Mess at Sennybridge Camp. After a fine spread of sandwiches, tea, coffee and biscuits we headed west and after turning off the A40 near Trecastle pulled into the army car park at Dixies’ Corner on the Trecastle to Tirabad road. The plan was for us to follow an escort vehicle around the 5.2 mile course so we had an idea of where the road went. After a safety briefing which included a warning to beware of sheep we set off, with Peter Davies, another Landmarc liaison officer, leading in the car. Riding my 1959 MAC, I tucked in behind and the rest followed. The first lap was taken at a reasonable speed as part of the road is still a public highway and the rest although really well surfaced was unknown to us. The anticlockwise circuit starts at Dixie’s Corner and continues, along Llewellyn Way, on the Tirabad road for two miles or so. Turning off left, after Piccadilly Corner and negotiating some dips and rises and blind crests, with a variety of bends both sweeping and sharp we rode along Gardiners Path. A couple of hairpins and a wide left sweep at Copse brought us back at a lower level with a final sharp left turn and a rise back up to Dixie’s. The total length of the circuit was 5.2 miles.
Pulling in after the lap I was asked if we wanted to go again and at what speed. My suggestion of 50 to 60 mph was met with a smile and once again we were off for another lap at an increased speed. It was exciting. At one point on the road Peter flagged two approaching vehicles to the side and 15 Velocettes sped through with nothing to hinder them. A few sheep did cross our paths but we were able to brake and avoid them. Being in the lead I had a clear road as the car was quite a way in front and this meant that I could corner with enthusiasm and use the full width of the road. At the end of the lap Peter pulled in and allowed us go solo for a final lap. It was quite amazing and as the road was free from oncoming traffic we were able to pick up speed and cut corners. Passing the 30 mph sign at twice that speed did make me smile. Those riding towards the middle or the back of the group had a fantastic view of Velos charging unimpeded along a 60 years old racetrack. All too soon the laps were over and we pulled into the car park for photographs and a chat. Standing around I’ve never seen so many grinning faces. The roads are well surfaced and maintained but still felt rather narrow at the speed we were going. The riders of 60 years ago must have been truly amazing because the surface then was nowhere near as good and they were racing to win, with speeds in some parts estimated to be 90 to 95 mph, not going out for a quiet spin like us!
In 2017 I managed a repeat performance with members from the South Wales Section VMCC. Some 20 members on a range of machines from Velocette, BSA, Truimph, AJS, Matchess, Honda, Suzuki, Moto Guzzi, BMW and Lomax had three laps of the circuit. Again, one behind Peter in the car and two on our own. This time I rode my 1963 Venom and although the road was rather damp everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves as they lapped the course. As Barry Cooksley, riding his Suzuki GN 250, said, “I won’t do three laps because I was getting quicker on the second and at my age (81 years young) that was quite enough excitement”.
So in two years some 35 members of the VMCC and Velocette Owners’ Club have lapped the Eppynt TT Circuit in memory of the great riders of the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Soon the Circuit will again echo to the exhausts of racing motorcycles when once again Eppynt becomes the Mainland TT.
And some of us can say, ‘Been there, done that and got the tee shirt.’ although perhaps not quite as quickly.
Epynt without people and Much More. Lynne Isaac Website
Eppynt Geoff Thomas South Wales Section VMCC Website
Welsh Road Race.com website
Photographs Alan Griffin, Brian Coldicott and Rob Jones.