Aberdare Park Circuit, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, holds a number of rare distinctions which have no doubt helped it survive over the years where other similar circuits have failed. One of only two closed road race circuits in mainland Britain (Oliver's Mount being the other) it is also one of the few to run anti-clockwise, looping its way through a Victorian-era park. It also holds the unique position of being the venue which hosted the first ever live outside broadcast of a motorsport event anywhere in Britain, when the BBC's cameras arrived to televise the races in 1955.
The park itself was established in 1859, landscaped and planted by William Barron who had laid out many parks in England. Set in nearly fifty acres, it is immaculately presented, with native and exotic trees, flowers and numerous statues and other commemorations. Open year-round to the public, each summer the perimeter road is closed off and a short but fast circuit is created for the motorcycle racers.
The idea of using the park for racing began shortly after the Second World War. Members of the Aberaman & District Light Motor Vehicle and Motorcycle Club had long wanted a local venue to compete on but with finances short in supply in the post-war austerity era, it seemed a distant dream. However, for some, the parkland roads seemed almost perfect for high-octane thrills and the temptation proved too hard to resist. From around 1948 a number of illicit and highly illegal late night races took place, but instead of cracking down hard on those responsible, the local authorities took the rather bolder decision to sanction proper organised events instead.
So it was that on 30 September 1950, the first Aberdare Park Road Race took place on the short but tricky 0.85 miles (1.36km) course. The event quickly grew in stature, such that in 1951 two meetings were held, the first on Whitsun Saturday (12 May) and the second on 28 July. By the following year, the race had gained national event status and attracted a record 170 entries.
What made the races popular with riders? Though short, the circuit is fast and demanding, with little room for manoeuvre and even less for error. Such was its status in its early years that virtually every British Champion from the era raced here, with names such as John Surtees, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read, Bob McIntyre and Bill Ivy among those taking part. It was at Aberdare Park that Surtees took his first ever victory on two wheels, while Hailwood, for his part, rated it as the best short circuit he ever raced on.
Racing continued throughout the 1950s (among those in the televised 1955 race was Frank Sheene, father of subsequent World Champion and all-round hero Barry) and into the early 1960s, before coming to an abrupt halt following the 1964 races. There was in fact a 14-year gap before racing was once again resumed, once again under the gaze of the BBC cameras, who had come to record highlights of the June 1978 event for later broadcast on its Sunday Sport programme.
The reborn events have perhaps not attracted quite the same amount of attention as in their original heyday, but some big names have still nonetheless turned out to sample the park's charms and the famous Welsh hospitality. In 1988 a young Carl Fogerty smashed the lap record, trimming it to 45.2 seconds, while in more recent times names such as TT legends John McGuinness and Steve Plater and road racing legend Ian Lougher have all competed here. In 2010, Top Gear magazine paid a visit and ran a poll which saw Aberdare Park ranked as number six best road racing circuit in the world.
Today, the circuit hosts the Welsh Open and series of other races which remain popular with the crowds. From 2020, the circuit will once again host two race events per year, with a new 'Classic' event in May and the regular event in July.