Gurston first popped up on my FB feed last year and I was immediately in awe! I felt it would always be totally out there in the realms of the super-fast and uber-gnarly – certainly not for the likes of me.
A year on and I have built upon my experience by having a go at a few more hills outside of my beloved Hog, gleaning as much advice as I can from other riders in the process and trying to put it all into practise.
Initially, I had planned to go the BVR but when I saw Gurston was on that same day, I decided it might be less crowded and a better use of my time. It was also half the distance to drive to.
It’s weird arriving at a new place; never quite sure where you are meant to be but a quick post on social media was responded to by Drew Barnham telling me to get to the top of the hill – I still didn’t know where he meant so I sat tight (having put a brew on) and waited for Ding.
Ding Boston (Oxford Stunt Factory) has been running Gurston taster days for SSSprint for a number of years and now includes us stand-ups. It is the longest running gravity event in the UK. Check out it’s FB page for more info by Pete Connolly.
Gurston itself is the home of British Automobile Racing Club which, come 2017, will have been using Gurston Farm for their Speed Hillclimb events for 50 years.
Of course, Ding runs the course the opposite way. Starting at the official finish line of Stone’s, one pushes off to begin the hurtle down Burke’s Rise. A speed check or two (in my case four) is useful before hitting Ashes Bend. Once round this, one meets Deer Leap. This becomes a drop for the lugers and longboards giving a sudden increase in speed as one hits the banked left-hander of Karousel, swiftly followed by a second left-hander at Hollow Bend. Once safely round this there is a sweet run out – past our finished line – and into the uphill (for us) of Park Straight allowing a safe and steady finish.
Then it’s a quick about-turn and push back to the waiting van and trailer for the uplift.
The track is around 950m in length and drops around 40 metres between start and finish. I believe the fastest speed so far is around 42mph. (As a reference, I got around 25mph – but then I wasn’t bombing it from the top.)
Gratitude to the farm owners, J Hitchings Partnership, cannot be underestimated. This location is superb! The views across the Wiltshire downs are beautiful and on our day the sky was the most perfect blue. The sun was to play a bit of havoc as the day progressed and we slowly melted inside our leathers.
Enough of the preamble, back to the hill …
When I did get to the top of the hill I parked up on the side with the others already there. I instantly recognised a car that had overtaken me en-route with a stash of boards in the back to find it was Jason Fry, Adrian Lisowski, Karl Ball and James Nixon.
They went off with Ding to collect tables, chairs, spare helmets & leathers and sort out the kayak trailer which was to act as an uplift aid - just as Xavier turned up. All the way from Eastbourne, and at 13, Xavier would be the youngest on the hill. A recent convert to longboarding and only his second trip to Gurston. He was truly inspirational.
While all the preliminaries were being sorted, I had ample opportunity to sort out my board. Having fiddled about with the set up, I had the ever helpful Jonathan Braund to check it out. He advised me to change bushings and kindly donated a replacement pivot cup. A few tweaks and I was ready to go. Everything was in place – start line manned, radio and stopwatch in hand, Stridey at the finish line with the speed gun and Ding waiting to stop the clock and takes us back up – and me feeling a tad queasy about what I’d let myself in for …
Together with a few others new to the track, and upon excellent advice, I walked down to just passed Ashes Bend and started there. A little push with the drop down into Deer Leap gave enough momentum to get the bank at Karousel and swoosh round Hollow Bend. There is an odd kind of camber going on there so it was quite sketchy but, oh! so much fun! That sorted out those butterflies and I now relaxed into having an awesome day.
I worked my way backwards up the hill so I was starting just before Ashes Bend and all seemed okay and do-able. Then I decided to bite the bullet and start from the top. The advice from the lads was to stick in a few slides to slow myself down and that’s what I did. At least four Coleman’s each time between the start and the first corner. Each time a fail! I got up, legged it after the board, got back on and pushed off. Frustratingly, I couldn’t now get round Karousel without sliding off backwards onto the verge! Every flippin’ time.
Nevertheless, not deterred and ever determined, I just kept at it, loving every moment and laughing away to myself each time I slid off the board, on me arse, and into the fields. My first timed run came in at 2.19 but by knocking out one of my many ‘Colemans’ I knocked 13 seconds off for the second timed run. My third run increased again by a few seconds. I think the fastest dude was around 55 seconds?
So, that’s my account as a relative beginner. And what about the more experienced rider? I asked Aaron Skippings to add a few words about the day.
“I’ve only been to Gurston twice”, he says “but as soon as I arrived I knew it was going to be a fun track. I always knew about it from friends who skate but I had never been able to make it to a session. Now I’m living in Oxford I try to get to every one I can and so far I have.
My first time here was really good. After 1 or 2 runs I felt comfortable down the track and put in pretty quick times for a newcomer. The track doesn’t really compare much to, say, a European race track but to UK hills it’s pretty good. I like the fact it’s a closed road and I can push myself more and more without worrying about a car. Having someone time you as well is good because it gives you a reference point when trying to beat your personal best.”
As mentioned earlier, the track has been designed for speed hillclimb motor races and it is, therefore, the wrong way round for us downhill mob. The corners are a bit strange but that only adds to the challenge – and as Aaron says “we all love one, right?”
As a first timer, I have to agree with Aaron when he wrapped up his comments with “I love the atmosphere at Gurston. Everyone is always stoked to come and skate, there is always a positive vibe and every ability is accepted - everyone is more than happy to give out pointers to learner skaters”. And they did, and it was ace. Can’t say fairer than that.
The next scheduled event is Sunday 17th July 2016. See the Facebook page for details.