January short break: Somerset museums.

February 04, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Knowing that January brings the possibility of bad weather (!), I planned this to be an "indoor" activity, visiting two major museums, one aircraft related, the other cars.

On the way down (on the Wednesday) to my base a few miles outside Yeovil and close to both museums, I called in at the National Trust property Montacute House to have lunch (NT cafes always have lovely cakes!) and to stroll the grounds of this old house built around 1590. Cold but dry, it was a chance to relax. Unlike at Hanbury Hall and Charlecote Park (two other properties I have visited recently) where one walks in peace and solitude, this place was only a stone's throw from a major A road into Yeovil and the constant traffic noise was in complete contrast to the other two.  

I stayed at the Kingsdon Inn (highly rated on Tripadvisor), an old thatched Inn in a tiny village a couple of miles off the main A road I would use to get to the museums. Verdict: excellent. Comfortable bed, excellent food, friendly staff, small characterful premises; what more does one need? I would go there again and would recommend it to anyone.

Thursday the weather wasn't great so glad that i would be indoors all day. The Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM) at Yeovilton was only about 12 mins away by car and I was there soon after 10. The fact that I didn't emerge till nearly closing time at 4pm says it all. It is FANTASTIC. Expensive maybe (but there are "offers" available if one trawls the internet) but worth every penny. Spacious, modern, highly interactive for children (and me!) and with the most realistic "Aircraft Carrier Flight Deck Experience". It starts when you climb into what is clearly a "real" helicopter, for a 90 sec. "journey" out to the carrier. The noise and vibration really does simulate a real helicopter ride. You step out onto the "flight deck" - surrounded by parked aircraft. The roar of the sea, sound of gulls, ship's engines throbbing, orders being given over the tannoy, all make you feel it is real. The loudspeaker directs you to the rear of the deck to watch (on a massive screen the size of a hanger door) a Buccaneer aircraft landing on the flight deck. On his first run-in he has to abort when gulls fly across the flight deck (!) and warning flares are fired. His second attempt is good and you are suddenly confronted with the sight of this plane hurtling towards you. The arrestor wires stop it before it reaches you but the lady standing near me did actually jump sideways, so realistic is it!!!

After a few minutes wandering round the "flight deck" the tannoy announces that a Phantom is going to take off from the front of the deck. Once again, a very realistic simulation of a take-off, complete with engine noise, vibration, commands from the "bridge" to the pilot and finally you see the plane take off on another massively-large screen in front of you and disappear out over the sea.  Mere words cannot do it justice. I actually stayed "on deck" for some 20 mins. or more watching these simulations several times. I was that enthralled. It was worth the money just for that. But that wasn't all. You were then directed through some of the carrier's "passage-ways" to see different aspects of the daily working life of a carrier, complete with commentary as to what you were seeing before you. Brilliant. All done inside one hanger.

There must be about 40 other aircraft and helicopters on static display, telling the history of the Fleet Air Arm right from its early days. Lots of TV monitors showing film of those planes in their heyday, right up to a special display on the role played in the Falklands War. There is also a real Concorde, 002, but as this was one of the prototypes, the inside is all rigged up with the test equipment rather than seats, which does spoil the experience somewhat.  

Yeovilton is still an active base and at several points, you could look out over the runways but it was pretty quiet that day.

The following day (Friday) I went to the Haynes International Motor Museum. Whilst I did enjoy a trip down nostalgia lane and saw a few cars I had never ever seen before, it was very much like a traditional museum, rows of static objects with a little notice giving a few details about its history. Very little in the way of TV monitors showing film of them in action. The admission fee of £10 looked rather steep by comparison with the £12 at the FAAM in terms of value for money. Verdict: I would go back to FAAM again but not to Haynes.

Saturday was back to home day, but even this was eventful. I went first of all to Somerton (the ancient capital of Wessex and where the name Somerset comes from) to look at a craft gallery. Lovely things there but nothing with a "wow" factor for me. Then on to Castle Cary to a second-hand bookshop I had read about. Nothing there of interest to me however. By now I was well East of the M5 so I plotted a route due north up to Bath (that was slow to get through) then straight up into Gloucestershire because I wanted to be near Dursley on the off-chance that Ted Walker, who runs Ferret Photographics, was at home. Ted has over 7 million motor sport negatives (and still growing!) and has already offered to buy mine if/when I want to part with them. At present, I don't. However, It was to discuss another photographer's work that I called in. Sadly, Ted hasn't yet persuaded this guy to sell, so another ongoing project of mine is still "on hold".

The day wasn't over yet as I then headed to Staverton (edge of Gloucester) to the Jet Age Museum there (volunteer run to celebrate the strong connections the city has with the history of flying). My reason for calling in was to go up into the Vulcan cockpit they have on display. Not a mock-up but a real one. My guide at Doncaster had told me about it in December so I just had to go. Wow, is it cramped. Must go back there again as I was running out of time and the volunteers wanted to go home!

And that was my January "outing".

 


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