One of Northern Ireland's most iconic motorcycling landmarks, which hosted the first ever World Trial round back in 1976, has been closed down as a practice venue by the local authorities.
The Leadmines, which is sandwiched between Bangor and Newtownards in the little village of Conlig, has been a haven for trials riders to hone their skills for over 80 years, but has now been restricted to organised competition use – much to the frustration of local man and former world number seven Robert Crawford.
"The Leadmines has been used for motorcycle trials practice and competitions since the 1930s. It was vital for my preparations in the lead-up to my Trials World Championship campaign," he said.
"The skills I developed at the Mines enabled me to achieve the world number seven ranking and I am highly concerned for today's young riders, whose progress is being seriously jeopardised by having no practice area."
Improper use is not down to the respectful local trials community, but because of limited council policing of the Whitespots Country Park site to keep unsuitable machinery like pit bikes and motocross machines out of the area, which is also a popular spot for walkers and mountain bike users.
Belfast man Sammy Miller MBE – 11 times British Trials champion, North West 200 winner and 250cc Grand Prix podium finisher, back in the halcyon days – heads up a list of world class competitors who have competed and practiced at the Leadmines.
Others include Robert's father Benny Crawford, plus world champions Dougie Lampkin and current genius Toni Bou, reaffirming the importance of using the Leadmines site to further advance the skills of our future local champions.
An action group has been formed as a result of the decision, with a well supported social media site hosted by local businessman Glenn Drennan, aptly named: 'The Mines is for Trials'.
This in turn has led to the newly formed Moto Trial NI Club spearheading the 'Leadmines Motorcycle Trial Action Group' in response to the problem.
The action group has already been in touch with the local council and Crawford is hopeful that, with the correct policing, the Trials community can be reunited with their world-class practice area in the coming months.
"Trials is a family sport – it's not only the dads and sons who get out to do it, but the mums and sisters are involved too.
"Unlike other machinery, there is little or no noise from a trials machine, they carry only five or six psi in the tyres, so they don't destroy the land and we would be happy to use a controlled area of the Whitespots Country Park so as not to interfere with other people using the site," explained Crawford.
"We are urging the powers that be to seriously address the issues we are now facing and give us an alternative that is suitable for motorcycle trials practice to take place to enable the youngsters to have a chance at stardom in the future."