Having only just returned from my trip to Auchterarder, there was about enough time to run a half-marathon training route and pack up my desert combat uniform in order to head south to Folkstone Racecourse, between Hythe and the Channel Tunnel.
As usual, the War and Peace Revival Festival was billed as a five day event, running Wednesday through to Sunday.
Unofficially the event includes an obligatory monsoon on the Friday night turning the entrance to Kitcheners field (where we have camped for the past 2 years) into something akin to the morning after Glastonbury and a mass exodus of half of the exhibitors on Sunday morning trying to beat the Sunday rain storm and the queues on the M20…..
I’ll be referring to the site throughout the post, so here’s the layout:
Also as usual, our arrival with the 1993 Landrover Snatch was about 6 hours later than anticipated due to spending far longer than expected packing up all the camping stuff into the Snatch and constructing the barbecue! At least I had to do my packing in advance of travelling south!
Either way, we arrived at roughly the same time as we did in 2014 but with the added bonus that we knew how to assemble the tent. So it took about an hour to get moved in, rather than about 4 hours last year :-)
The rest of Camp SOC (Snatch Owners Club) had already arrived by this point and as we set ourselves up, the warning signs were attached to the boundary tape and we were there, ready and camped.
In our tent there were three humans and a dog – Simba, a 14 month old Mastiff/Lab cross who was already as big as any Lab, but with the bounce, enthusiasm and lunacy of a puppy. Having erected the tent Simba took us for a walk into the event arena to get some food as by this time it was 10pm.
Wednesday – The Show Opens
We set out across Kitcheners and into the event arena with Simba keen to meet anyone and anything. However, the first sounds of heavy shelling from the battle in the arena freaked him out and Chris took him further away to recover whilst Paul and I watched the German re-enactors kicking the stuffing out of the USA re-enactors (this seems to be a common theme of all the battles we’ve watched at the show).
Once we met back up with Chris and Simba on the opposite side of the grandstand near the Home Front exhibition, we met some other exhibitors with their cross-bred dog – this time Mastiff crossed with a…… PUG!
We found out at the last minute that the Hythe procession for post-WW2 vehicles was that night by which time Chris, our only driver, had drunk a couple of cans. So he remained at Camp SOC keeping Simba entertained whilst Paul and I jumped in with other drivers, and off we went.
Here’s a nice bit of footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxt2Iu6eeVk&sns=em
Paul was passenger in Snatch number 2 and I was passenger in Snatch 3. And the French Onion Sellers were neither French. Nor Onion Sellers……..
The enjoyment of the procession was tempered when we got back to camp to find Chris had been taken ill. Following a visit from about 6 Red Cross paramedics, Paul drove Chris and Simba back to their home to recover.
Thursday – a closer look at the show
The temporary departure of the others left me camping alone for about 20 hours although having Camp SOC on hand meant I was far from lonely!
Due to the late hour of their departure I ended up cooking on the gas ring in the dark, but the pasta meal hit the spot nicely and I got a reasonable night’s sleep despite the 1am fireworks courtesy of the North London Barmy Army.
During Thursday I walked around the site at length, my pedometer suggesting something like 23600 steps, taking in the many surplus stores and the living history sections. In all honesty there was an element of Deja Vu with many of the sellers occupying the same locations as they did in 2014. Similarly a number of the living history exhibitors rolled out the same stuff as last year – with Camp Bastion having the same walls (and same lack of content) whilst the Blackhawk Down exhibition was bigger and grander (and even more impressive) than in 2014.
I took my GoPro out with me to get some snaps whilst I was wandering through the living history. Having left my small camera at work and not wanting to drag the DSLR around with me, this was the best option as my camera phone is very poor quality. It seems that the Go Pro does however suffer badly from barrel distortion and the verticals look somewhat banana-like, albeit in a non-yellow edible sort of way.
To say I was knackered by the time Paul returned to the site in the evening was an understatement!
But Thursday was about to become far more interesting when one of the group announced that we had been given some evening arena time. Whilst Paul was insured on the Snatch he’d never driven it. He was given a few verbal instructions about driving a vehicle with a choke, was told by Camp SOC it would have to be a baptism of fire and off we went.
In fact when our convoy got there, we were filmed using a professional camera drone system, the footage which we had a sneak preview of being amazing, save for the random vehicle in the background burning rubbish at the back of the arena. Well, you can’t have it all your own way. See it here!
Friday – Ready for the Storm
Friday was a day of anticipation of the incoming storm, due in at midday, but actually striking at about 6.30pm, at the point where Paul and I were roughly as far from Camp SOC as we could have been (I’d guess about 1.25 miles away) whilst we were working our way around the Living History exhibitions. So we got a little wet.
As the wind picked up and the rain intensified, we had a bit of a panic that the tent may fly away or flood, so all belongings ended up in the Snatch. As it happens, Armageddon didn’t come and everything was returned to the tent in the morning.
Saturday – When everyone else visits
Despite the fact the show opens on Wednesday, Saturday tends to be the busiest day with all those who work in the week visiting at the weekend.
Due to the 10 or so hours of rain the night before, the site was now rather boggy underfoot. In addition, all the roads in the area were entirely gridlocked due to queued up lorries on the motorway and some other catastrophe on the A20. Despite all of this, by lunchtime the place seemed well attended.
I picked a few items of gear which I needed/wanted however unlike in previous years, I didn’t get carried away. A couple of the stalls were from Leeds which was helpful as it’s an accent I’m much more familiar with than the more local South-East accent, and thus much easier for me to understand!
We managed to track down other friends Kevin and Coral who exhibit their landrovers as part of a Green Howards exhibition. Whilst chatting Coral mentioned there was a Challenger Tank in the exhibition. There are not many occasions when one could walk past something that big and not notice it. Yet I managed to do this although I’ll blame that on the large number of other vehicles on the site…….
So after we left them we visited the food area and then went for a mooch. We chatted to the RMPs who were no site to advertise themselves along with a few other parts of the British Army. A slightly odd situation where Paul recognised one of them from a wedding they’d both been at several years earlier.
It’s one way to get a conversation started!
We then went and looked at the tank, which I even got to sit in. Despite it being huge, there’s not a lot of room for someone of my size. Which to be fair isn’t particularly big! I’m hopeful there is a photo out there to capture this event :-)
The evening, as last year involved Camp SOC sat around a fire talking nonsense. When I say ‘fire’ what I mean is a red glow-stick and two small paraffin lamps. Paul produced his Pimms recipe for the group which to my untrained eye appeared to involved a lot of fruit, a thimble of lemonade and a bottle of Pimms. I’m a non-drinker, so perhaps this is the correct method of production…..
In 2014 this esteemed forum introduced the genre of ‘Action Romance’ into common use in the English language. Whilst no new genres were discovered in 2015 the bizarre concept of an LED-lit Cucumber cock-ring received some discussion and ultimately resulted in some fruit-based graffiti on the front of one of the vehicles.
We are all grown ups after all. I blame the Pimms.
Sunday – mass exodus and more rain
We got up very early Sunday morning. Mostly due to the vast amount of noise generated by other campers dismantling their tents and beeping their horns to each other as they set off home.
The ‘Rules’ of the event state that exhibitors should stay to the end, which is only fair as anyone paying to attend on Sunday deserves to get a full exhibition – after all, they’ve paid the same as any other day visitor.
However, vehicles were leaving left right and centre. The traffic chaos on the M20, coupled with the fact that a significant number of exhibitors were from mainland Europe and thus needed to battle through it to get to the ferry port made this worse. And of course there were a number of casualties of HGVs stuck in the mud, just to churn up the ground even more.
At least today the showers were working and hot :-)
After breakfast, Paul and I emptied the tent before I walked all of my gear across to one of the stores who had, as in previous years, allowed me to leave my bags with them so it was only a 5 minute walk to the train rather than a 25 minute walk. This was important as at this time it was still dry. The forecast was very much rain and more rain, and this started as I walked back.
Paul had by this time flattened the tent and between us it was packed away into the Snatch as the rain became more persistent.
Goodbyes were made to the rest of Camp SOC and with all our belongings now packed away we went into the main arena. Where the main spectacle appeared to be the queue of exhibitors and campers trying to leave the site! Some of which were rather up to their axles in mud.
We took shelter in the Victory Tent where the charity ‘Scotties Little Soldiers‘ were brewing up (how can I refuse a cuppa when the proceeds are going to a great charity) before heading over to the nearby Westenhanger Castle for a Sunday Roast, a meal hands-down better than anything we’d eaten all the time we were camping!
To anyone looking in it must have been a very odd sight – two 1990s era soldiers eating with a WW1 British army officer and a similarly vintage Russian fighter. As we ate, Chunky and his owners also came in for their dinner!
Although my train journey was supposed to begin at 4pm, as it wasn’t too wet at 3pm, I decided now was a good time to make an exit, taking the view that an hour spent at Euston Station would be at least a little drier than the weather forecast for the rest of the afternoon in Westenhanger. Walking to the station, the place felt very much emptied from the previous days, with many stalls having vacated their spaces and others all closed down. There weren’t that many people walking around (hardly a surprise).
Far from it being a big exciting end to a festival, it was more a whimper. And a wet one at that. Overall though the time away was very welcome, giving me a good break from home and a chance to catch up with friends a long way from home.
I’m sure we’ll do it all again in 2016!