The tom-boy in me, has always loved vintage steam engines. The bigger and smellier the machine, the happier I be! This year, my brother and I decided to fulfil a childhood dream and attend the Great Dorset Steam Fair.
Like most festivals, access can be extremely challenging, especially if the Great British weather has its wicked way. However, it would take more than a few rain drenched fields to stop me attending.
Driving onto the 500 acre site, I was immediately glad we had stayed in the area and not camped. Accessible facilities ‘were’ available but hilly fields of water logged stubble grass and wheels, do not mix.
Heading down the steep footpath towards the entrance, the mud soaked scooter casualties limping back up the hill should have raised alarm bells, but we were all too excited to worry over a little bit of dirt.
A heaving river of mud dominated the entrance, but no sooner had we arrived, then two brawny gentlemen hauled me over the mud with my brother and hubby flying alongside. A few winded men and much muscle flexing later, we were in. How much of the show we would get to see was as yet uncertain, but boy we would try.
The terrain was tough going in places, but with family acting as personal donkeys, we made good progress. Fiercely independent, I find it hard to accept assistance in these situations, but with the booming serenade of the Gavoli Fair organs and sideshows at every corner, mud scrambling merely added to the excitement.
Familiar sounds and smells
The unique aroma of freshly turned soil, coke smoke and hot oil permeated the site, evoking wonderful childhood memories in us all. Other smells were teasing us now too; the smell of frying bacon. Delightedly, we ‘forced’ ourselves to join the throng of diners outside the giant marquee and partook in our second breakfast of the day.
There we stayed, glorying in the wonderful food and the hilarious entertainment of humans negotiating mud. Babies were being carried horizontally like parcels under parent’s arms, their prams balanced like giant metal hats on heads. Small dogs were stuffed into coat pockets and hoods, whilst women in heels waddled in perfect penguin motion, horrified at the brown crud splurging up between their toes.
In between the human theatrics, enormous tractors passed, towing heavy coal laden Lorries. The already churned and sodden earth was turning into knee deep furrows right in front of us. Trailing behind one of the vehicles, one poor lady even managed to walk right out of her wellies without realising, until she got to the other side.
A bit of determination
This was all massively entertaining, until it dawned on us that we were now completely surrounded by the stuff, without any idea how to get out. For a while, we managed to skirt around the edges, but eventually, running out of stable ground, we were forced to cross. It was hard on chair and body but I am glad I had my trusty power-chair with me, which although struggled in deep areas, coped admirably the second it hit even slightly solid ground. There was one moment however, when I couldn’t imagine my chair ever working again. Powering through one trench, the mousse like muck rose so high that it covered my feet and I ground to a halt. It took much determination on all our part to get to the other side, but when we did, thankfully the chair just kept on rolling. Half way over however, a hassled lady actually shouted in my face; “You’re so stupid to come here; how could someone like ‘you’ possibly enjoy it!?’ When a little while later she tripped and fell in the mud, I didn’t laugh, but divine intervention is indeed a beautiful thing when you are up against ignorance.
It would have been easy for us to give up at this stage, when all our limbs and muscles ached, but my family and I are made of stern stuff and nothing was going to stop us now.
With perseverance and much borrowing of muscle from the steam fair fraternity we finally arrived at one of the most spectacular sights it has ever been my privilege to experience at a show.
High on the hill stood row upon row of gleaming herculean steam engines, below these the spectacle of a real working village. In one village, men were working hard laying down actual roads, brick by tiny brick with a steam roller standing stoked and ready to flatten them into place. Surrounding this new road were workers huts and caravans and as far as the eye could see, history was being brought to back to life.
Stuck in the mud
With the combination of real time drama, organ music and the heady smell of burning coals nudging our senses, here we stayed, totally enthralled and completely immersed in the monumental story being told of the bygone steam era.
Eons later, I was reluctantly catapulted back to the real world. My power-chair was running out of juice. Normally, the battery covers up to 15 miles a day, but straining through less than three miles of swamp land had used it all up. It was finally time to give in.
Getting stuck in the mud was a great social leveller and in truth, was as much a part of my experience as seeing the mighty steam engines themselves. Man or child, show organiser or show goer, for most people, it was a time for great hilarity and incredible camaraderie.
Our time at the show hadn’t been easy; there had been impassable terrain a lack of accessible toilets etc. but like life, the road is rarely smooth and if you wait for the perfect ride, you may just miss out on the journey all together.