When my friend Juliet, a self-confessed lover of all things relating to aviation, suggested that I might like to go with her to the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford, I jumped at the chance! When asked if I fancied camping too I blithely agreed imagining a weekend of sun, fun and maybe some booze. It was going to be July, it would be perfect! I’ve always loved fast cars and the roar of their engines so moving on to jets seemed a natural progression.
As we all know, the great British summer has pretty much failed to appear this year and as I drove down to Fairford on the Friday (July 6th) my progress was hindered by large amounts of standing water on the motorways and non-stop torrential rain. I was dreading arriving at the campsite and sleeping in a tent seemed very unappealing. I began to wonder what on earth I was letting myself in for.
When we finally arrived at the campsite, a field only used for camping for this one week of the year, all my fears were realised. We were met by a sea of mud at the entrance. Getting out of our cars we gingerly made our way across the mud (me still optimistically wearing sandals) to register and pay. Formalities out of the way, we were told to wait in our cars until someone came to push us into the site. Yes…we had to be pushed through the sea of mud! I don’t use the word sea lightly: as my small Toyota Yaris was pushed across the mud, wheels spinning and engine over-revving, it felt as if it was floating, I had no control whatsoever and that was quite scary. Juliet’s car faired no better, but being a lot bigger and sitting a lot lower than mine, it kicked up so much mud the poor guys pushing it were left absolutely covered in it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t laugh!
Once we’d found somewhere to pitch the tent we had the unenviable task of doing just that. I’d never seen it before and Juliet had only put it up once with assistance plus, it was pouring with rain and the ground was uneven. The tent was huge which made trying to get it up with only 2 people and a lot of water particularly tricky so we managed, by looking suitably helpless, to garner the assistance of a rather inebriated, but luckily capable and kindly man. He enlisted his dad’s help and between us we eventually got the tent pitched and habitable. I don’t think either of us had ever been called “babes” so many times in such a short space of time and we were rather shocked by the size of his flick knife but, incredibly grateful for the help.
Settled, fed and watered but somewhat muddy and exhausted we sat in our respective ends of the tent wrapped in our sleeping bags and talked until it was time to attempt sleeping. Surprisingly sleep came easily and we weren’t woken until 5:15am the next morning when a truck came to empty the portaloos which were next to our tent. I wouldn’t normally advocate the pitching of a tent next to the toilets but when camped in a mud bath it’s the best place to be!
The walk to the entrance of the air field was about a mile with at least another half a mile inside to get through security and to where we wanted to be. Wet and muggy weather coupled with my total lack of fitness was exhausting! However, once we’d found somewhere to sit down and the air show started I was mesmerised.
Despite the doggedly persistent rain I was completely hooked by the displays, the roar of the engines and the smell of the jet fuel. The camera my parents kindly bought me for my birthday, and which I have yet to fully master, proved to be a winner, capturing a surprising number of decent pictures and even some video.
The highlights of that first day for me were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows; having never seen any of it before I was truly moved. The comedy moment of the day came when the commentator for the Black Eagles (Korean Air Force display team) announced quite seriously: “Black Eagles now from your behind”. The result was a missed photo opportunity because we were doubled up with laughter!
The walk back to the campsite was excruciating. Tired and achy from sitting on the grass all day and suffering the effects of having worn uncomfortable trainers, I just about managed not to limp and so avoided looking too pathetic. The rain, which we thought had stopped, started again with a vengeance once we were back in the tent and after several attempts to keep the stove alight so that Juliet could cook herself some sausages (I won’t relay here what her Twitter followers thought she was trying to cook), we resorted to chocolate biscuits for tea. The stove seemed determined to blow us up and blow out every few minutes, shooting fire out of every available hole before going out and needing to be relit. It settled down long enough to boil the kettle for some much needed tea and coffee which was just as well because by this time I was so cold my teeth were chattering!
After I’d had a fight with a large moth, we cocooned ourselves in our sleeping bags and talked until we were almost asleep. It’s amazing how much we found to talk about over the weekend! Juliet and I originally met on Twitter and over the last couple of years have become very good friends, but this was the first time we’d spent any significant amount of time together. I did warn her that I snore but she claims not to have heard a thing, although what was going to be a two-man tent turned out to be a four-man one with separate bedrooms. She swears blind this was nothing to do with my nocturnal noise-making but I’m sure I could give any fast-jet a run for its money!
I woke really early again the next morning disturbed by the torrential rain beating down on the canvas. Turning over I spied what I thought was a piece of grass stuck to the outside of the inner tent. It turned out to be a rather long slug which I thanked my lucky stars wasn’t inside the tent with me! I hate slugs and they were everywhere…one even took refuge in an open tube of Pringles!
So, after breakfast we set off to enjoy day two of RIAT, armed this time with our folding chairs so to avoid sitting on the wet grass. I was determined not to wear my trainers all day again so I just wore them for crossing the mud and then changed into my sandals. My toes had never been so grateful!
We decided to spend some time standing at the end of the runway outside the air field. It’s a good place to stand especially when planes come into land but we had no expectations about what we might see, we just hoped we’d get lucky. And quite frankly, we couldn’t have been luckier.
We’d only been standing there for a short time when we saw the Vulcan taxi onto the runway; it was facing away from us so we braced ourselves for the noise. If you’re unfamiliar with the Vulcan then it sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. It howls…quite literally…and it’s a sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The video below is someone else’s but this is what we heard:
To top off the amazing display by this “tin triangle” we were privileged to experience the beautiful Vulcan coming into land directly over our heads. She looked close enough to touch and all I could do was put my camera down, stand there and drink it in (the photo at the top of the blog was taken just before I put my camera down). She is simply awe-inspiring.
The sound of many of the aircraft is astonishing and we were perfectly positioned on both days to bear the full brunt of the roar as they took off. The F-16 Fighting Falcon, MiG-29, F-18 Super Hornet, Typhoon and Tornado all have their own especially strident voices. The noise reverberates through your body, you feel it deep in the pit of your stomach and it’s the best feeling ever. So many people were wearing ear-defenders and I’m sure many more were wearing earplugs and although I had taken earplugs with me, I never once contemplated putting them in. To be honest the sound was not as deafening as I expected, it was more of an all-consuming sensation than simply a loud noise and every time I heard it I couldn’t take the smile off my face.
Despite the cold and wet conditions I didn’t really want to leave but we had to get back to the campsite earlier on the Sunday to strike camp because I had another adventure in Devon planned immediately afterwards. As we left the airfield we found that the sun was shining and once away from the more exposed areas it was actually very hot. Surprisingly we ended up getting sunburnt walking back! Of course as soon as we approached the campsite the heavens opened and it started to rain again. The tent was much easier to take down than it had been to put up and we managed to do it without the services of a man. Whilst packing the cars we were wonderfully entertained by the Red Arrows displaying over our heads; a perfect end to a fabulous weekend.
And so sadly, our muddied and jet-fuelled weekend came to an end. We were dirty, exhausted and aching all over but it was worth it and I’d do it all over again.
The pictures above can be enlarged by clicking on them and more pictures of these and other aircraft can be viewed by using the link to my Flickr on the right-hand side.
With special thanks to Juliet for inviting me to join her and for making my first air show perfect even with the mud. Love you lots xxx