Cleared for Take-Off to Gatwick Aviation Museum

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  Southern Section diary

An intrinsic part of any ride-out is the initial gathering. Over a period of 45 minutes to an hour, we have time to chat with fellow riders as they arrive speculating on who’s coming and who’s going to be a no-show, debating the weather, and exchanging anecdotes. One such discussion at The Departure Lounge, Alton, on Sunday, 16 August, proved to be somewhat ironic. A discussion had started about times that we had each ridden through deluge rain conditions.
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I spun the yarn of a ride in the Peak District through biblical rain without the benefit of the Gore-Tex lining in my jacket. When I stopped at the services in the following warm sunshine on the M1, I removed my jacket and hung it on the handlebars and literally drained the water out of the sleeve.
As you ride, taking in the scenery and watching the sign posting, you inevitably start to wonder when you will come to more familiar locations. Just such a place soon hove into view for us as we approached the outskirts of Liphook. We then followed a route that took us through the lovely, but familiar, roads towards Haslemere, through to the A283 and Chiddingfold, passing Dave Wright’s forge, and on towards Dunsfold.
These roads are a delight to ride at any time and offer any number of deviations into the many villages and hamlets of the Surrey and Sussex Weald. Passing through Kirdford, famous for its fruit growing, we then found ourselves on the outskirts of Loxwood, passing over the Wey and Arun Canal which, incidentally, was originally opened in 1816 as means of transporting goods from the South Coast to London but failed to run at a profit.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the buildings’ appearance, but equally, weren’t sure whether this was it either!  With Covid restrictions in place, the greeting was a little less than warm from the Museum’s chap but things were soon put right as we were directed towards the picnic site. Bagging 3 tables, all socially distanced of course, we created our own little sandwich bubbles. Lesley and I were the lead in the gluten-free bubble!
According to the weather forecast, today’s ride was scheduled to run under extreme and adverse weather, sufficient to put a number of riders off altogether. Our group, comprising of 8 bikes, 3 pillions, and a variety of bikes old and new, was lead by Paul and Marion Matchett who had put significant time into planning the route.  From our departure onwards however, the sun shone with only minor interruptions of cloud cover as we headed off in a generally Easterly direction. 
Alton is in an excellent location to start a ride-out, surrounded by beautiful countryside and twisty roads in almost all directions and, having negotiated the periphery of the town, we were soon riding through glorious countryside. The drop-off system was working like a well-oiled machine as we wove our way through unfamiliar roads.
Into Loxwood itself, and a quick right-hand turning took us back into a more rural setting and the sights and sounds of Gatwick’s Airport soon becoming more evident. We knew the Museum was close to the Airport but had no idea where exactly. A few more of the pretty villages, a few more precisely ‘dropped-off’ turnings, and we soon found ourselves in the Gatwick Aviation Museum car park.
Surrounded by 3 cold war aircraft, the chat soon started and we were joined by one of the pilots who’d had actually flown the Avro Shackleton sitting behind us. Unsurprisingly, he had an endless source of anecdotes about his flying career and the derring-do of flying what was state of the art in its time.
The whole museum was well presented and the guides knowledgeable about the aircraft, engines, and ancillaries on display, although, some of it may possibly have been erring towards ‘anorak’ detail for some of our party. Overall, it was a most enjoyable visit and well worth the £7.50 entrance fee, but like all museums in the present climate, they are struggling to keep afloat.
Bidding our farewells, we quickly prepared, setting off to beat the impending shower (no), downpour (no), cloudburst!  As we rode, almost unable to see the road in front of us through the rain and fogged-visor, my ironic tale about not having the Gore-Tex lining rang true. The rain was through my jacket, trousers, tee-shirt, shorts, and everywhere, else in a matter of a minute or so. It was just like old times.
Our thanks go to Paul and Marion for planning and leading, to Mike and Lesley for tailing, and everybody else for joining and making the whole day so enjoyable.