Great Dorset Steam Fair

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We first went to the GDSF in 2000, and rather naievely turned up on the Sunday. We arrived at about 11am, and by mid afternoon everything had started to wind down, so much so that we left at 5pm feeling cheated. The next year we went back, travelling down on the Friday evening and camping for two nights, so spending 2 whole days on site. After that we camped for another 3 years, spending an evening and then one or two days on site, always enjoying it enormously.

In 2005, I moved to Scotland, making it a little tricky to get to Dorset, but despite that we still got to the GDSF every other year, leaving my brothers house before 8am and rarely leaving the site until about 7 or 8 in the evening. It is an amazing experience, with an awful lot to see and do.

There's Steam, of course

The biggest attraction has to be the Steam engines themselves. The largest gathering of Traction Engines, Steam Rollers, Steam Tractors, Shwomans Engines and Steam Lorries in Europe, if not the world. The highlight has to be watching these historic vehicles doing what they were designed to do when they're 100 years old - hauling heavy loads around the Heavy Haulage Ring, which includes a steep climb to the upper ring. It really is an amazing sight as the clouds of black smoke pour from the chimneys when the engines start the climb. There is normally a fair amount of diesel haulage around the ring too - old Scammels, Rotinoffs and Thorneycrofts to name a few, but this year the ring felt emptier than in the past.

Away from the haulage ring, there is plenty more to see. Steam Ploughing on the steep hill above the ring, ranks of engines in various stages of restoration next to the ring, threshing, sawing, road building all by steam power. It truly is amazing to see the variety of purposes to which the road-going steam engine could be adapted.

Lorries & Cars

There are, naturally, a few steam cars at the GDSF, but if you head through the huge market / autojumble area and cross the 'dual carriageway', you will find the ranks of classic cars, and the considerably longer ranks of old lorries. These range from the tiny Austin A35 pickups to massive 20-odd year old 30+ tonners. There are classic buses and Fire Engines too, not to mention a couple of rows of weird and wonderful Army trucks.

As for the 'market' area, this offers pretty much everything you could want to buy. Clothes, furnishings, photography and electrical goods, homewares, a grocery store, bakers, fruit and veg, autojumble by the lorry load, tools, gardening ware and so on. The main draw for me is always the half hidden carboard box under the table that is full of Matchbox cars at 50p each. The first year we went, they were 20p each, now its nearer 1, so we have to be choosy. There are plenty of bargains to be had though and haggling to be done, although the kids trying to sell 1960s Corgis at twice their value (Dad doesn't want to sell it really) were not worth entertaining!

Night Glow

One of the other highlights of the show is the Nightglow in the Showmans Line up. These magnificent 100-year old engines rock gently as they run, their generators providing the electricity to light up the glemaing polished brasswork, the gentle thrum of the running engines just baout drowning out the raucous thrills of the fairground beyond. And its not just a few lightbulbs that these engines power, they are often hooked up to Fair Organs, and some of the truly Victorian Fairground rides that sit near by. Maybe it does take three engines to power one merry-go-round, but somehow that makes it even more magical!