Have you been to see the Shuttleworth Collection near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire? I can heartily recommend, even though the Swiss Garden is closed and currently undergoing a £2.8m reconstruction.
Suffering from severe post tropical holiday blues, a friend suggested the outing as a way of cheering me; not an easy task as I was being a rather miserable old moose. With the promise of vintage planes, steam engines, motor vehicles and a Bird of Prey centre, we stocked the picnic bag full of sweets and snacks and headed up the A1 with Obi-Wan, my doggy, in his new fetching jumper.
I didn’t expect crowds on a Saturday afternoon but was really surprised to have the aircraft hangers all to ourselves. Free from the prying eyes of the public and museum staff we were able to use the exhibits as props to take some very juvenile photos of ourselves.
Anyway I got too cocky didn’t I, climbed a steam traction engine, and got oil on my mum’s fur coat, for which she gave me a thrashing later on!
The collection was started by Richard Shuttleworth, who wasn’t long in this world because his plane crashed during a training flight in 1940, killing him when he was just 31 years old. In his memory, Dorothy, his mother, set up the Old Warden Park Estate with the Shuttleworth Collection as a charitable trust. Dorothy wanted to ensure the estate would continue as a place for education in the science of aviation and agriculture.
You can see the world’s oldest airworthy aeroplane the Bleriot XI, a Bristol Boxkite, a Blackburn Monoplane – the oldest airworthy British plane in the world – and around 70 other beautiful examples of restored aeronautical brilliance.
In addition, there are about 150 cars, engines, bikes and agricultural vehicles.
The Bird of Prey display was really quite astonishing. Owls were perched right next to us on the post and rail fence and, when signalled, flew directly over our heads brushing our hair with their wing tips.
The star of the show was Jimmy, the thirteen month old Condor who couldn’t fly. As fledglings, these birds get kicked out of their cliff edge nests at ten thousand metres by their parents, so have no option but to learn very quickly to fly! I’m not quite sure this bird will ever need to learn but the keepers are valiantly trying, even though ten thousand metre cliff edges are strangely absent from the Old Warden Estate.
The Peregrine Falcon display was impressive but sadly we have no photo cos these birds are FAST!
Once done with the display, someone managed to take a sweet shot of a young small brown owl and another old bird.
The Swiss Garden will be reopened for visitors next spring when we’ll trundle along again leaving enough time to gawk at the planting and revisit the cars and aeroplanes. Will Jimmy be flying by then?