After a 5 hour drive from Manchester to England's South we arrived in Fleet. A few breaks on the way there, the usual traffic and the averaging speeding cameras along the motorway meant that it was already 4am by the time we got there. Some early breakfast in the form of Asda Donuts and Red Bull was taken in, the rucksacks were filled with the left overs and we were ready to set off into the darkness of the forest.
Whilst this was the first trip to Pyestock for the driver and myself, it was the sixth for Millhouse, the self appointed guide of the trip. Climbing across the rather high perimeter fence and ignoring the staggering number of 10 health risks pointed out to us on signs around the fence, we made our way through the small strip of woodland. The plan was to lay down for a few minutes, observe security, climb across the second fence, run across the road, get access to the plant house and enjoy a few hours of sleep in a locked office.
Within no more than 10 minutes the land rover patrol drove past us twice, illuminating the trees around us with their searchlights and their orange beacon. We decided to get closer to the last fence, wait for the next patrol and then run for it. As we waited, the sun started to rise, and I had my first glance on the buildings that stood before me. After ten minutes we realised that there was not to be a clear pattern between the patrols. Our legs started to go numb and it became light. We were ready to just go for it just as we heard a group of people making their way straight towards us.
"A few minutes later we heard two voices, sounding Scottish, and two men appeared and made for the fence, which they then jumped into the woodland. ‘Shit – security, keep down’. Their walkie-talkies were relaying voices from what I presumed were other guards, and I thought at this point we were certain to be caught. But in a strange twist, the owners of the polish sounding walkie-talkie voices came storming through from out of the site, making no attempt whatsoever to be discrete.
They also jumped the fence, and joined the two men. Morse counted 8 in total. With a lot of shouting and joking between them, the group headed off through the woods and climbed the perimeter fence and disappeared."
With this opportunity, we went for it, hid under some pipes as the land rover drove past us again and got into the plant house. It was here that we realised that the group before was not in any way security, but in fact pikeys who had just burned a pile of wires and disassembled parts of a rotor, which was still hanging off the crane.
The building was filled with smoke. By now it was 6 am. Putting on some masks to filter out the fumes, we decided to postpone the much needed sleep and instead have a look around this part of the site first.
Pyestock, formerly known as the National Gas Turbine Establishment, was founded in the build up to World War Two. Its history is too large to cover here, there is a whole website dedicated to it, so here is a small extract from it:
"For over fifty years, Pyestock was host to the development and testing of gas turbine engines. From the 1950s through to the 1970s, it was the largest facility of its type in Europe (if not the world), and the design, experimentation and testing at Pyestock helped to usher in the jet age."
"It was arguably the world's leading research facility into the research and design of gas turbines (or jet engines). "V" bomber, Harrier and Tornado engines were designed and refined in its custom test facilities; the air plant and custom cells could fly a Concorde engine at Mach 2 from the safety of the ground; all the gas turbines used by the Navy were put through harsh, enduring sea-worthiness tests; and the hush-hush top-secret captured Soviet engines were discretely tested for performance and reverse engineered."
|No longer used today..|
By 1pm, after 7 hours of shooting pictures, hiding and running we had only seen the first half of the facility. We dragged three desks into an office as a substitue for a bed and finally had a small nap.
After more than 12 hours on site we decided it was time to get back home. We had only scratched the surface of what could be seen, but we where to knackered to keep going. Best proven by Millhouse's and Williamski's inability to doubt my calculations that we had spent just over 24 hours on site.
I had wanted to see Pyestock for more than a year. The visit did not disappoint and hopefully wasn't my last.
Biggest thanks to Williamski for driving us there and back, whilst millhouse and me were deep asleep; and also to millhouse for showing us around.