Last year’s meet was cancelled at the last minute after days of torrential rain left the show field under several inches of water. So it was a huge relief for all concerned when Sunday morning dawned bright & dry. Perfect biking -& flying, weather.
Popham airfield lays beside the busy A303 dual carriageway, 6 miles to the West of Basingstoke, Hampshire. It’s a thriving little private airfield, owned by the family of Charles Church, a local entrepreneur who restored several Spitfires before he unfortunately died in one in 1989. The Popham aviators are still known as “The Spitfire Flying Club” in his honour. Over 100 aircraft are based at the field, ranging from microlights & gyrocopters to Russian trainer craft. The airfield manager, Dick Richardson, also happens to be a big bike fan so the airfield was the ideal venue for shows. The annual MegaMeet’s been held there for many years now & goes from strength to strength, attracting riders from all over the South of England.
We arrived at this year’s meet an hour or so after it opened & already the showfield was filling up, with more riders chugging down the slope from the entrance gate all the time. It’s great to see so many vintage bikes being ridden & enjoyed as they were intended to be -& so many equally vintage riders. Bikes over 30 years old were given free entry, which seemed to cover 90 percent of those in attendance.
As we wandered across the carpark, we bumped into Postie-Dave heading for his car. He’d come to a classic bike jumble & bought –a lawnmower. A push along model. Apparently a bargain & perfect for his 50s lifestyle. He couldn’t resist trying it out on the long grass of the carpark as he headed back to load it into his Consul. We found a few bargains of our own among the jumble stalls. Taz bought a brand new Corbin solo seat for her trike project for a very reasonable 45 quid –half what my own trike saddle cost. We also picked up a rubber boot to keep the water out of my trike’s distributor, a spanner & some sanding discs for our angle grinder. Dave found several parts for his Royal Enfield restoration. We weren’t really on a shopping trip though. We’d just come to take in the sights & sounds of hundreds of beautiful old bikes. Everywhere, small groups of little old men clustered around their steeds, comparing notes on camchains, tappets & crankshafts. Ancient engines were coaxed into life & the wonderful smell of hot oil filled the air.
We found a few familiar faces from both the bike & hotrodding scenes, as well as a few new ones. Taz was approached by a couple who recognised her MMMotors jacket. They often read the site & even recommended us to a trike riding friend. Nice to know we have a readership beyond the regular forum crew. Lots of traditional British café racers, from Tritons to Tribsas & even a lovely black Norvin on show. The café machines appear to be popular with the hotrodding boys –I guess they’re the biking equivalent of a stripped down rod & fit well with the whole 50s/60s ethos.
Of course, as well as classic bikes, there were plenty of aircraft to look at too. We grabbed a bag of hot donuts & wandered up the hill to the airstrip. Gyrocopters & microlights had been buzzing around all day & there was a steady stream of light aircraft taking off & landing on the grass runway. A pair of privately owned Pitts Special stunt planes arrived. Then we noticed all air traffic appear to stop. Taxiing planes remained on the runway & those in the air gave the strip a very wide berth. Odd. As we gazed skywards a tiny black dot appeared on the horizon. Within seconds it’d grown into a rapidly approaching craft. An unmistakeable silhouette –suddenly a World War 2 Hurricane fighter plane thundered over the tree tops, banking steeply & roaring down the length of the airstrip at just a few hundred feet, disappearing into the distance as swiftly as it’d arrived. What a spine tingling sight. And the noise! 12 cylinders of Rolls Royce Merlin engine on full song. A truly awesome machine. If we hadn’t wandered up to the airstrip when we did we might well have missed it.
Back down to the motorcycle arena & time for one last stroll around the autojumble stalls & club displays. Bikes were starting to head for home. Waxed cotton jackets were buttoned up & pudding basin helmets firmly buckled. I’ve often thought that those biking friends from my youth who’ve remained bikers all their lives are younger in spirit than those who’ve given in & bought 4 wheels. Not sure why, but it’s true. The ageing bikers of Popham certainly seemed determined to keep riding as long as their machines would keep running. Then they’d fix them & ride them some more.
Popham airfield is open to the public every day, excluding the 26th & 27th December, for those who wish to drop in & watch the aircraft. There’s an onsite cafeteria. Airfield opening times are 8am – 5pm in the Summer & 8.30am – 4.30pm in the Winter.