WESSEX

Brize Skies

East, to find any habitation, you have to hunt a bit - it stays away from the road.

There's Shilton, where a picturesque ford crosses Shill Brook. There are the twin, idyllic villages of Broadwell and Kencott, and Filkins and Boughton Poggs. All deliciously English, pretty, well-kept villages.

But you can't be around this area for long without realising that this visual feast comes with a price. For every half hour or so, the sky rends with a din which silences the birdsong and drowns out conversation.

Not very long ago, you wouldn't be able to find the source of this cacophony on a map - the Ordnance Survey pretended that there was nothing but open farmland South of the A40, East of the A361. These days, RAF Brize Norton is adequately marked and sign-posted.

Brize Norton is the largest RAF Station in the UK. It is the caravanserai for Britain's air transport effort, flying Tristars (big buggers) and VC10s (big noisy buggers) all over the world, carrying food and supplies to emergency zones - and heavy weaponry to places that are about to become emergency zones. In between, they send those lumbering tankers of the air, on which the frisky fighters suckle, before dashing off to be dashing.

It is the take-off and landing of these behemoths of the air which disturb the peace in the immaculate gardens of Broadwell.

Brize was opened in 1937, fought a bombing war from '39 to '45and was used to train airborne forces, before being handed over to the USAF in 1950. Strategic Air Command based B-29 and B-47 bombers at Brize, before the RAF reclaimed the Station for use as a tanker and transport base.

Also based at Brize Norton is No 1 Parachute Training School, which includes the RAF Parachute Display Team, the Falcons.

So, when you're having afternoon tea in the garden, there's no knowing who might drop in.

Of course, Brize Norton pre-dates the RAF station. The village itself is just as pretty as all the others. The church there is dedicated to St. Brize (or Brice), the only known dedication to this obscure Celtic saint in England.

Carterton, however, is another matter. It did exist before the airbase - as a speculative development by a farmer called Carter - but over the years, it has been commandeered by the various forces who have used BN, and turned into a barrack town - all the houses standing to attention in a row, uniform and utilitarian.

When I first went there, it looked like a post-war new town, with an obligatory supermarket in the middle of town - a Tescos, or Safeways or Waitrose. Except, back then, that supermarket was run by the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute).

I can't imagine the senior officers living in Carterton - not with all those pretty villages dotted around.

Straight Straight Young Whippersnapper Thames Young Whippersnapper Thames
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