Reacquainted with an old friend

Right at the beginning of Fleet News I mentioned that my MG BGT had been somewhat neglected and relegated to something of a last priority. However, slowly but surely in the last few months the car has been brought back to its best. It was high time I clocked up a few quality miles in the vehicle that was once my everyday classic. So, in pursuit of this I decided to take her on a three day ramble around Southern England.

Our tour started in earnest with a visit to the REME Museum at Arborfield Camp. Highlights for me were the vehicle collection (predictably) and the gun/small arms collection. Never before have I found myself surrounded by such an amazing range of weaponry in such a small space. The collection included rifles, pistols and revolvers, machine guns and infantry support weapons, some exhibits dating back hundreds of years. There is much to take in at this museum about REME’s role past, present and future and I would strongly advise you to allocate a good few hours when visiting.

We then motored down the A30 and into the Test valley, passing through Hurstbourne Priors, Longparish and Wherwell, enjoying these stunning places with their charming character and well maintained buildings. We stopped for lunch at the Mayfly, a delightful pub/restaurant sitting right on the River Test as it babbles its way south through the Hampshire countryside. We then charged over to Ropley on the Watercress Line. It was late in the day and we were hoping to have a peek inside the restoration shed. As it turned out we had arrived at the perfect time as the locomotives were just being put away for the night. I will never tire of being at close quarters to the great steam locomotives that majestically pounded up and down the iron highways back in the glorious days of Industrial Britain. Everything is big, heavy and beautifully made and even when gently rolling to a halt after a solid day’s work on the Mid Hants, the atmosphere and presence of these magnificent machines is incomparable. On this occasion we were privileged to be in the company of Schools class ‘Cheltenham’ and Lord Nelson Class ‘Lord Nelson’. One of the chaps in the shed finishing off his work was very friendly and happy to answer our questions. Climbing back into the MG BGT I felt a glow of joy knowing that the era of the BGT began when a handful of these steam engines were still clanking around the network still providing sterling service at the head of a local passenger service or goods train. Magnificent!

Enjoying those thoughts we motored South into the New Forest and onto our hotel for the evening, the Master Builders Hotel at Buckler’s Hard. As is traditional on such trips the ‘Commander’ (my travelling companion) and I, inspired by fine British machinery and stunning British countryside, had a decent meal and a glass or two of fine local ale while putting the world to rights which, let’s face it, inevitably involves rectifying the appalling damage wreaked on these Islands by the shockingly bad governance of Britain, predominantly over the last twenty years, though the seeds were sewn many, many decades ago.

The Maritime Museum at Buckler’s Hard gave us a fascinating insight into the history of this 18th century shipbuilding village focusing on its vessels including those built for Nelson’s Navy. I knew next to nothing about how those glorious wooden ships were constructed and launched and was utterly staggered at just how involved and labour intensive a process it was. Well worth a visit.

We then headed west to New Milton and Sammy Miller’s Motorcycle Museum. Once again, you would be advised to allow a good few hours to enjoy this one because with over forty machines on show, all aspects of motorcycle history are covered in great detail. I have loved old bikes for most of my life and still I never fail to be amazed by the variety of designs and engine configurations that can be applied to a two wheeler.  When I visit this museum one thing always amuses me. Never more than a few seconds are allowed to elapse before you are once again reminded that the man behind it is Mr. Sammy Miller. There are simply a bewildering number of pictures featuring the great man – either in action or grinning happily astride a machine or alongside a dignitary. And quite frankly, so there should be, because Sammy has put together a peerless collection of living motorcycles in a superb setting. I shall be visiting again!

 We then motored on towards Bournemouth and on our way to the Sandbanks – Swanage chain ferry, I managed to clap eyes on some of the properties that have apparently made Sandbanks one of the most expensive areas in Britain. Some of these buildings are quite frankly hideous and once again confirm the old adage that you simply cannot buy taste. Having spent so much time at Sammy Millers Museum we decided to press on through Dorset and head for our hotel in East Devon. It was during this afternoon that we encountered the worst weather of this trip with steady rain accompanying us all the way along the A352 and 35. There was quite a bit of concentrating required here as the BGT’s wipers don’t sweep the screen as effectively as they should to be honest but we nevertheless pulled into the family run Hunter’s Moon Hotel in Sidmouth in perfect time to sample the local ale brewed a few miles up the road at the Otter Brewery.

The following morning we took the ‘quick’ way home – up the A30, A303, M3 etc etc and on arriving back home I could only admire the BGT for behaving impeccably over the three days. Although, strangely enough, 24hrs later I noticed the front offside tyre had completely deflated. However more on that another time…

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