You can tell it’s spring. All the little parking gaps in Stow that are empty in the winter now host Solvol-gleamed motorcycles. The creak of leathers is almost audible as sportsbike riders mix it with the righteous Harley brethren in the mean streets and tea shops. Today, I headed up to Stow, as ever, through the Ural-friendly backlanes. Those backlanes seem always have a habit of leading me to old airfields.
I’m pretty used to disused hangers, cracked and pocked runways with more grass than gravel. But RAF Little Rissington (‘Rissy’ to its friends) is, unusually, still at least partially, active. 637 Volunteer Gliding Squadron are based here, flying Grob 109s and training air cadets. All rather a long way from the Red Arrows, heavyweight C130 Hercules and C5 Galaxies that used to rumble down the runways.
Most of the technical site has been ‘developed’ and is now a housing estate. Homes fit for heroes, with satellite TV. The Officer’s Mess (a gorgeous piece of faux-Georgian architecture) is now boarded up to stop any more vandalism. Cleverly, someone had left a pot of anti-climb paint in one of the halls before the place was made secure. It seemed someone had made good use of it – “666” and various anarchy symbols now cover the walls.
As I’d pulled up and switched off the Ural there was something a little more unusual overhead. OK, actually a lot more than unusual. Generally, one doesn’t see too many Focke Wulf 190s in the Cotswolds – at least, not nowadays. The FW190 was one of the Axis’ most effective warplanes. Even so, just clearing the west end of the runway was – apparently – an FW190.
That’s a bit like nipping down to the shops and seeing Senna’s JPS Lotus Renault pulling into a parking space.
It seems I wasn’t hallucinating – although I hadn’t actually seen a wartime FW. If you’ve got around £20,000 you can even pick up a second hand one. A replica. Usually a fully working and pilotable scale model of the real thing.
I don’t quite get it. Yes, I can see the point of the hours spent restoring an original. There’s magic to that; bringing the past to life again. But a smaller, modern replica? That’s like Senna’s JPS Lotus turning out to be an MR2 with a body kit. I’ll bet it gives its owner a huge amount of pleasure though, and who the hell am I to criticise?
The same runway that had seen Spitfires, Hurricanes and the odd Lancaster was now hosting planes that were very much made in Germany. One, a training plane for the modern RAF, the other, a replica of one of the RAF’s sworn enemies. Just a little smaller. I couldn’t help smiling at the irony.
I fired up the very genuine Ural and clacka-clacka’ed into Stow. It was time for a cuppa.