Shuttleworth – A review of my visit
My visit to Shuttleworth was my first planned trip in quite a while. I intend to do at least two per month, sometimes though, as we are never quite sure what life will throw at us it might be none or many more. Of all the modes of transportation that are available to us, flying is nearly my least explored but my favourite. (As I fear the power of the sea, I’m least familiar with ships and boats on them). Least because I’ve rarely gone aboard but not through lack of desire to. Work got in the way. Favourite because I particularly enjoy light aircraft.
Shuttleworth wasn’t, for me, difficult to get to and I have visited before years ago and they’ve moved the main entrance to make it easier to find. It is a live airfield for those with private planes to use. The collection of exhibits is a result of a father and son being interested in transport and many of the vehicles and planes there are loaned out to filmmakers and other museums, partly to free up space for exhibits they borrow in exchange but also just to keep varying what’s there to see and keep the pennies rolling in to fund the museum.
The staff are courteous and extremely knowledgeable but it’s wise to note that many are volunteers there to restore, repair and maintain the exhibits as much as help visitors with their enquiries and others are there solely to to work on restorations. They operate a rota system to ensure volunteer staff get what they want to do. The result is the staff are very knowledgeable but not not always available for a long chat if you catch one mid transit for a repair part. Just ask if they are free to answer you query. They all adore hearing the memories and experiences visitors have had of similar vehicles not least because they gain a lot of information that helps them solve mysteries that baffle them when working on restorations.
The gardens cover 9 acres and have been available for hire for weddings, usually done in the evenings when the museum is closed. They include a range of structures that you pleasantly happen across as you follow the many curving pathways that form it’s structure and divide areas. You will also happen upon sculptures, a small set of pools complete with waterfowl and fish and peacocks if you’re lucky.
The garden belongs to the house which I’m not sure is open to the public to go inside as I ran out of time to find out and didn’t think to ask or look it up at time of writing this. Last time I visited it was not as it was part of Shuttleworth College which specialises in courses in animal husbandry, ecology. It means you pass the alpacas pen as you you reach the entrance to the grounds of the museum. On the left is a road to the house, but you go straight on to park your car, unless you fly in because you have an aircraft.
There is a camper van car park, but I’m not sure who for, students of the college or visitors and pilots use. If you have a radio controlled model aircraft you can fly it at Shuttleworth if you stick to the rules, stick to the area allocated and there’s most probably a club with a special pass to only do that. Coach trips for all groups, young, old and disabled and school trips are always welcome there. I’d say it is wheelchair friendly overall but in the Swiss garden there some steps and slopes that might pose a problem. There’s a fenced off playground near the hangers for really young children but apart from on event days and special groups, as far as I am aware, children’s activities are restricted to event days only, such as airshow days.
On such days your normal ticket won’t give you access at all. To get discounts for airshows you can sign up for a membership that will last a year, which I did when the Red Arrows display team were there again after as gap of a couple of decades as it was worth it for just that show.
Other events have included, evening music concerts and gigs in the museum grounds, and this year they are offering outdoor theatre in the gardens in the evening, to which you bring your own picnic. Yes it has a cafe and gift shop open during museum hours but you won’t see any kites sold there as it’s banned for obvious reasons given it’s an operational airfield. Nor are you allowed to have a barbeque on the airbase itself because, as I hope you will appreciate a lot of these vintage vehicles leak oil and fuel as they are moved about which can act like a fuse to a bomb if a stray spark hits it.
In summary then… is the place worth the £15 ticket price that allows access (bar event days) for 30 days? Yes. Is it for everyone? Not quite, as I feel you do need at least a passing interest in vintage transport or general curiosity to get the most out of the place. Is it stuffy and only for boffins, no. How would it survive if it was? Staff don’t tend to be in the hangers keeping watch over the exhibits, you see them wondering about instead as there’s always something for them to do too. Are the staff friendly and knowledgeable? Extremely when their not busy on repairs and maintenance duties of not just the exhibits but the buildings and grounds too. I wouldn’t expect someone mowing the grass to have the answer to a query about say, the inner workings of a Lysander but they might!
Obviously I love the place because of my interests, but as museums go it doesn’t try to be all things to all people despite of the variety of things on offer. It sticks with its own history referring back to how it’s been used when owned and established by the Shuttleworth family before deciding which events to host. It has a nostalgic feel but everything is kept clean and tidy to a standard that makes it seem, if not brand new then certainly fresh and uncluttered. I would look at is reinstating the sofas in the cafe when social distancing relaxes and the handful of horse drawn carriages are very poorly lit. It is the only area I found that felt dingy. There was a library and study room where you could do some serious research a few years back but it seems to have moved and can’t recall if you had to be a member to have access. And yes I did enjoy my day there.
Here’s the site address for any further questions that I haven’t covered. https://www.shuttleworth.org/