Great Dorset Steam Fair...
The Great Dorset Steam Fair does what it says on the tin and a whole lot more! It’s a steam fair in Dorset and it really is great!
Each year this massive event takes place in fields near the village of Tarrant Hinton just outside Blandford Forum. For one week each autumn a huge encampment of canvas, coal and iron spreads an intoxicating haze of steam, smoke and the scent of hot metal into the skies of the Dorset countryside.
This temporary town draws visitors and exhibitors from the four corners of Britain and around the World. And if you’ve never been, you’re guaranteed to see things you’ve never seen before and are unlikely to see anywhere else, ever again, until you return. For the Great Dorset Steam Fair is truly a special event.
This is not a show where a few enthusiasts compete to see whose paintwork is the shiniest. This is a mad jamboree where people in greasy overalls use steam engines and steam power to do just about everything that steam engines have ever done - with the possible exception of pulling trains and pumping water out of mines.
You may see railway locomotives at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, but this isn’t really what it’s about. The Great Dorset Steam Fair is about traction engines and fair engines. It’s about steam lorries, steam buses and steam cars. And if you do see a railway engine, it will probably be being towed from one place to another by a bunch of nutters with a trio or more of traction engines. Why, you ask? Because they can.
That’s the thing about the Steam Fair, it’s a giant playground for boys with equally huge toys! Go there and you’ll see traction engines doing the sorts of things traction engines were built for, from ploughing fields to thrashing corn, building roads to sawing timber.
And by timber, are we talking cutting a piece of two-by-four? Well we might be, but only in the sense of taking a fully-sized tree trunk and then sawing it down into planks and two-by-four!
The Great Dorset Steam Fair just doesn’t do things by halves. You want to see a demonstration of steam ploughing? Fine, take that field of stubble over there and watch it get ploughed just the way it once would have been.
You want to see how roads were built in the old days? No problem, we’ll build one over there, break up some bricks, heat up some tar and roll it all lots and lots with a steam roller or two...or three....or four...
Only ever seen a thrashing machine on an episode of “Dad’s Army”? Don’t worry there’s a collection of them over the other side of that hedge, big ones and small ones, all driven by traction engines and all with a team of people working them the way they would have been. How different from modern-day combine harvesters, you might think. And yet many of the principles and technologies developed for these old thrashing machines are still used in today’s massive combine harvester. Of course they only need one person to drive them, not ten!
Centre piece of the Great Dorset Steam Fair is, without doubt, the heavy haulage area. All day long this large expanse of field puffs, hisses, clanks and rumbles with the to-and-fro of traction engines, steam rollers, steam buses, steam lorries and a host of other machines large and small.
And the purpose of all this activity? Pretty much none at all except to show off and have fun! It’s almost like animals or children that have been cooped up on their own all year long and now, together, they have space to run and have fun. And do they ever!
Just for the fun of it, you can watch massive loads being hauled around the arena and up the hill the other side and down again. You can see double-headers, triple-headers and more. You can see loads with traction engines in front and behind and you see traction engines on their own chugging around at speeds you wouldn’t have thought possible! And there’ll be steam lorries carrying something or nothing and the occasional steam-car whizzing past.
The overall impression of the heavy haulage area is one of total, if loosely organised, chaos! And do you want to know what’s really great about it? You can go out and enjoy it too! Amidst all that heavy iron and steam mayhem, you can buy a ticket to ride on a steam bus or, with proceeds going to charity, a purpose-built trailer behind a traction engine.
To the extent that there is any downside to this mechanical madness, it is that all that steaming around can churn up quite a bit of dust when dry or mud if wet. But that’s true of the Steam Fair as a whole. You need to go prepared for conditions in what is essentially some kind farmers’ fields. Be prepared for dust when it’s dry and mud when it rains and for there to be smoke and smuts in the air whatever the weather! But regardless of the conditions, this is an event not to be missed.
And it’s not just about steam workhorses or indeed just steam. In addition to traction engines and their workaday look, there is also a huge array of fairground engines, all gloriously illuminated, painted and brass gleaming.
There is also a fairground on the site catering to thrill seekers of all ages offering thrills from yesteryear and the modern-day. There are live music stages and, across this massive site, whole areas devoted to vintage cars, vintage lorries, vintage military vehicles, vintage tractors, working horses, vintage horticultural machinery. There’s even a section devoted to shepherds’ huts once common accommodation for shepherds whilst they tended their flocks day and night in the fields and downs of Dorset.
And then there’s the fearsome roar of the tractor pulling area for the petrol-heads (or at least diesel-heads).
The list is seemingly endless, with something for all.
The Great Dorset Steam Fair is a cracking day out, but don’t kid yourself that you will see it all in a day. You won’t. A day will give you more things to look at than you can possibly imagine, so it is still great value, but if you want to see it all and still leave time for some tented retail therapy, you may want to have a couple of days or more.
There is camping and caravanning space on site and right next to all that goes on. But if total immersion in events is not your thing, you might want to look at the established camping and caravanning parks in Dorset to use as a base - especially if you have others in the family who just want a few days in Dorset to enjoy the countryside or coast rather than watch hard-core, die-hard steam-buffs get greasy and sooty.
You will be amazed at the wide diversity of people who do go to the Steam Fair and their numbers. The Fair also has a buzzing night scene catering to a variety of musical tastes, although mostly geared to people who also enjoy steam engines and other vintage and classic vehicles. So more sounds of “then” than “now”.
That said, don’t think that the Steam Fair is only about older men with beer-line “waists”, boiler suits and high-hitched trousers. There are also plenty of women and young people driving engines too. Which is just as well, because if the youngsters don’t learn about these wonderful machines now, who will look after them when today’s “old-boys” have dropped their fires for the final time?
And who will ensure that these wonderful, powerful, but gentle leviathans get out to run and play each year for their annual holiday in the fields of Tarrant Hinton, near Blandford, Dorset. After years of hard and heavy work, it’s the least they deserve!
The Great Dorset Steam Fair is a cracking day out, but don’t kid yourself that you will see it all in a day. You won’t. A day will give you more things to look at than you can possibly imagine...but if you want to see it all and still leave time for some tented retail therapy, you may want to have a couple of days or more..."