Traveling in Southern England and Ireland

Thatch roof and house at Dorset Steam

In the process of making a thatch roof and house at Dorset Steam.

Content Tools

Box 144, Louie Ave., Bluford, Illinois 62814

Last April we received a letter from fellow spark plug collector, Roland Swalas, inviting Betty and me to come to Sweden and travel with them in Europe. Having visited the Swalas' home and traveled with them in 1989, I knew this was another great opportunity.

With Roland only getting his vacation the first half of the summer, and our having two very pressing commitments the first half of the summer, we reluctantly shelved any long distance travel plans for 1991.

Then in early August I received a phone call from collector Dave McFeat in England with the question, 'Are you coming to the Beaulieu Auto Jumble this year ?' (Beaulieu is the large antique auto parts swap meet held early in September each year in south England.) I told him that I had no plans to go to England this year. If and when I do go to England again I would want to attend the Great Dorset Steam Show which is held a week before the Beaulieu event, and at this late date I- would not have time to make any reservations for rooms (bed and breakfast) at these two large events. Dave's reply to this was, 'Don't worry about that, I will make arrangements for you and Betty at both events.'

A quick call to American Airlines secured us a pair of tickets, and on the morning of August 28, it was pleasing to hear the plane tires screech as the big bird touched down at London Gatwick Airport in time for breakfast. We caught the Royal Coach bus to Salisbury, England, which is in the area of the Great Dorset Steam Show.

Upon arriving in Salisbury, we walked up Guilder Lane where all the houses are built together with each house utilizing the same side walls as the house on either side. We rattled the clapper on door #17, Mrs. Lyons' house; a gracious little lady stuck her head out of the one upper story window and with a pleasing English accent said, 'You must be the Bergbowers, I have been expecting you.'

It was our first experience (and a very pleasing one) with the bed and breakfast arrangement. The house was built in the twelfth century and many of the original hand hewn wood beams were left intact and exposed throughout numerous remodeling projects. 

That afternoon we walked a few blocks to visit the magnificent twelfth century Salisbury Cathedral, which has the tallest spire in England-a must for every visitor in the area. This huge stone church constructed, in the twelfth century without the benefit of modern machinery, is awesome. At least three restoration projects are in progress, with one near the top of the tall spire. We were told that those young apprentice stone Crafters learning the trade could look forward to a lifetime of work on this beautiful stone Cathedral built in the shape of a cross.

The following morning we traveled a few miles south of Salisbury for the start of the Great Dorset Steam Show. After visiting with fellow spark plug collector Jim Hardman shortly after his return from Dorset last year, Betty and I decided we must visit the great show sometime. Our first view of the show was awesome-as we came over the hill that morning there she lay, covering the entire valley to the west and stretching across the rolling hills beyond. Little columns of smoke were starting to rise from the numerous steam engines coming to life. Had I not had some idea what to expect I may have had thoughts not unlike those of General Custer-what a great Indian tribe I have stumbled on to.

We soon located collector Dave McFeat's National Spark Plug Museum display trailer. Wow! What a collection Dave has displayed in that trailer. Also met Dave's friends, the Mike Berrys, who have a beautiful collection of oil and gas cans and other related items.

There were plenty of food stands on the show grounds, many selling warm beer and sodas, and of course there was plenty of lamb available. For our lunch Dave suggested hedge hog and showed us where to find this specialty. He told us it is prepared by the gypsies, rolled in wet clay and baked in an outdoor oven-quite tasty!!

Dave arranged for us to stay late on Saturday night to enjoy the lighted midway where all 52 showman steam engines present were in operation. These beautifully restored engines pull the circus wagons and, with a wide flat belt spinning a dynamo high up on the front of the engine, power the equipment and the hundreds of lights on each unit. What a beautiful sight at night.

There were many other steam engines, gas tractors (many English Fordson) and horses working the fields, plus numerous stationary displays powered by antique gas engines. One of the many crowd gathering events each afternoon was a group of three 1920 vintage steam engines, two pulling and one pushing a load of huge stones up a hill. There was a lot of huffing and puffing creating a black cloud that momentarily blocked out the sun. A 'Bobby,' an old time policeman, was riding an antique bicycle and politely waving his stick to keep the crowd at a safe distance. Those chaps want the world to know they also know how to handle huge stones, for just a few miles north of Salisbury is the historic site of Stonehenge, where past civilizations moved and erected huge stone ceremonial monuments, also a must for every visitor in the area.

After three interesting days at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, Betty and I traveled west by train to the end of the railroad in southwest Cornwall County, England. While the train was standing for a few minutes in one of the stations, I entered the open door of the locomotive to chat with the engineer. Upon learning that I was a retired Illinois Central Railroad employee, he invited me to ride with him the remainder of the trip. I tried not to show it, but I was a little unnerved at the train's speed on curves and I could feel those front pilot trucks nudging the lightweight engine around the curves. The engineer, normally the only person on the front end, followed a preset sequence of pressing a button on the dash. This button is a safety feature. If for some reason the engineer lost consciousness and didn't press this button, the passenger train engine would automatically go into a shutdown mode.

The next day we traveled by double decker bus to Lands End and Mousehole, a tiny fishing village along the beautiful Cornwall Coast where the most modern building was an antique telephone booth.

Betty recalled the grade school poem about St. Ives, so off we went to St. Ives in the front seat on the upper deck of the bus, not with the legendary seven cats each having seven kittens, but instead with two German college students who spoke fluent English. Late in the evening the big bus nosed over the edge of the cliff. There, a thousand feet or more directly below, lay the little town of St. Ives and the sea beyond. All conversation hushed and my personal thoughts were that this big bus can't possibly get down there. The bus seesawed back and forth descending rapidly on each curve and finally arrived in the picturesque village. We walked out on the wooden pier and watched the fishermen unload the day's catch with the sun setting on the beautiful clear water. No wonder artists go to St. Ives to paint.

The following morning we left the beautiful Cornwall coast and headed east by train to Camberly, England where we visited with Dave McFeat and family. Early the following day we headed south with Dave on our way for the start of the Beaulieu, England Antique Auto Jumble. On the way we stopped to visit Mike Berry's museum, a long narrow sheep shed type building, with walls and shelves filled with oil and related antique cans and tins, a very unique and interesting display. The Berrys then joined our caravan south to Beaulieu, where local constables line the vehicles in neat rows in a field to await the opening of the main gate. Each new vendor to arrive would disembark and inquire as to when are they going to let us in? One vehicle got through the gate and everyone started to rush for their vehicle 'Oops! A false alarm-not yet! This was similar to the great 'land rush' many of us experience at the Antique Automobile Club's swap meet held at Hershey, Pennsylvania each fall. Oh yes, I think Dave McFeat can smell spark plugs, as he bird-dogged two nice ones while still in the waiting field.

Beaulieu consists of vendors from many European countries. At one time there were six or seven collectors of different nationalities gathered around Dave and I, discussing spark plug collecting. One or two in the group turned it all into English for Dave, who in turn changed it into American English for my benefit.  

Unlike Hershey, where much of the ground space is covered by huge trucks, vans and motor homes, there is that obvious down sizing of everything. Considerably smaller caravans (trailers), vans, and small trucks. They utilize every inch of ground space with stacks of parts consisting of small Ford and MG motor blocks, small antique wheels, head lights, and bumpers slightly longer than a yard stick. An abundance of motorcycle and bicycle parts, and oil related tin cans, etc. I found very few spark plugs at Beaulieu but I did trade with several other collectors including the Heerens, a young couple from the Netherlands.

Betty and I slept on an air mattress under the Berrys' awning, amidst the parts. A good way to get the real feel of any show. Needless to say we enjoyed every minute at Beaulieu, thanks to our helpful friends.

From there we headed across England by train and then by ship across the sea to Ireland. In Ireland we headquartered at the city of Cork. From Cork we traveled out and about southern Ireland visiting the sea ports and other places of interest, like Blarney Castle where Betty kissed the legendary Blarney Stone. I didn't kiss it because I didn't think it offered any of the improvements I need, such as growing hair on a bald head.

On one tour along Ireland's west coast I chased the sheep out of the road in front of the bus. It is open range there, where the grass grows like a solid green mat form the top of the mountains down to the sea.

Arriving back into the city of Cork late at night I inquired of two elderly ladies who were seated across from us on the bus if they were going to call a cab because they had said they lived seven or eight blocks form the bus station. They told us they had no fear of walking the streets of Cork late at night. Later, we learned the city of Cork, the size of approx. 300,000 people, has not had a murder in more than twelve years. We were truly impressed by the kind and gentle people of Cork where the predominant color of the automobiles reflects the eyes of the people, many shades of blue. We made some good friends in Cork, Ireland. We have a common interest in preserving Model T Fords. Henry Ford had a factory in Cork, which built Fordson tractors and the right had drive Model T.

I hope this story gives you the feel we had in three weeks of on the go.