Introction to Flying Legends and a few disclaimers!
Before we get into all the tips and tricks about your trip to Duxford and Flying Legends, just a bit of information about me and some disclaimers so you won’t blame me if your experience differs from mine. I do not claim that I know the absolute «best» way to go to Duxford, where to stay or how to enjoy the show. These are my experiences and it serves as a guide. It’s up to you what you do with it. If not anything else, it might be entertaining to read! I have, for the most part, travelled to Duxford on a budget basis. In other words, no fancy hotels or anything like that. I do not claim to be an aviation expert or any type of expert regarding England, Cambridge, Duxford or the planes you see in the air.
I have been to Flying Legends every year since 2005. That is seven weekend airshows. In 2005 I went one day only. 2006, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11 and 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 saw me go both days (plus Friday for 2010 and 2017 as well as a Thursday for 2015.) In 2005 I didn’t know much about either Duxford or Flying Legends and went based on the add IWM had on their website and went with my mate while on holiday in the London area. I’ve gone to Legends with family, friends and fellow historic aviation enthusiasts that I have met at Legends or read this very guide. Some are more into photography, others want only to observe and soak it all up. Everyone got their own reasons and approaches. I try to be a bit of both. Coming from more of an author background than photographic background, I try to grab the whole experience to the best of my abilities but yet capture some fancy photos.
I have based this article on you arriving by airplane from a different country. It’s afterall a foreigners guide. If you’re English, then ignore that all togheter. I would personally still recommend going by train or bus if the distance is long because I always read internet forum posts by annoyed Englishmen driving to Duxford and then complaining for the next 40 sentences or so about the traffic jam they had to endure after the show. The amount of people packing their bags and rushing to the exit before the airshow finale is also embaressing to watch since the «Balbo» – the finale of the show – is a one of a kind experience.
So, just take the bus. Case solved.
I hope that some of these little tips and tricks might make your stay more useful! If not, then I’m sure you’ll find your own way around. If you read the whole article you might even get a laugh from it.
TFC Corsair with the Bearcat
Mustangs on the flightline, 2011
Travel and transportation
The closest airport to Duxford is Stansted. If possible, use that airport. If you’re flying in to Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton then you might have to go through London. Avoid. For Gatwick, I once tried to travel by bus up to Cambridge for what was a very expensive ticket. Here’s a good tip; if you are a group of 5-8 people coming into Heathrow or Gatwick, just rent a large taxi. Yes, expensive, but the feeling is oh so good. Avoid London at all costs. Airport Lynx in Cambridge can set you up for example.
Cambridge is the closest city to Duxford and is an attraction all of it’s own. Cambridge is where you should locate yourself, so take a train to Cambridge. However, I know people stay in Saffron Walden or the surrounding villages. If you do arrive at Stansted then make your way to the train station below the airport and get tickets to Cambridge. Trains leave from Stansted to Cambridge all the time, usually with Birmingham New Street as it’s final destination. Duxford village itself would be of interest to you, so would any nearby village with decent accomodation. Your choice. Drop London though (notice my hate for capitals?)
Spitfire take off, 2012
So, where to stay?
There are places to stay closer to Duxford than Cambridge. Red Lion is a famous pub/hotel pretty close to the airfield and it’s where the hardcore aviation freaks stay. If you want a room there, then book as soon as the Fighter Collection gives you the date for the Flying Legends show for the upcoming year. Even February can be too late to get a room the Red Lion. Duxford Lodge is another hotspot for aviation freaks. Same rules apply. There’s also some places in the neighbouring town of Saffron Walden, but my advice would be to stay in Cambridge. That way when there’s no airshow ongoing, you can pick up a little bit of this historic city. Cambridge got an endless number of hotels, B&B’s and so on. It all depends on your economy. We have stayed as close to the railway station as possible, since courtesy buses leave the station for the airshow every half hour. We have usually stayed at Tenison Towers, but also some of the others around. The new hotel by the train station, Hotel Ibis, is well recommended. Just be absolutely sure to book as SOON as you can. Cambridge get’s filled up to the max around July. Do it early. Before March if you can.
Travel to Duxford
As I mentioned, busses pick up airshow goers from the railway station in Cambridge every half hour or so. It’s easy to find and convinient. The first bus leaves around 9:00am and I suggest you get on that one or the next! It’s also free. If you’re loaded or in a group of people, you can take a taxi. It’s also pretty fun to see the driver sneak that big bus around the small streets of Cambridge. If you’re from a normal country who drives on the RIGHT side of the road, be in for some scary moments where you can’t seem to get around in your head that the bus driver IS on the right side of the road in this country.
What to see at Duxford
Duxford is huge. On an airshow day there’s so much to see and do that if you want to see it all, you have to be there first thing in the morning. There are several hangars, the American Air Museum, Airspace museum and a huge amount of stalls that sells aviation books and art. You won’t be bored. If you arrive later though, just forget about seeing it all. And if you want to have at least a shot at seeing everything, be sure to come both days. That will give you enough time to see everything. If you are lucky! Some people go on Friday instead of Saturday or Sunday. There’s some activity on Friday, with some of the same flying going on, and you’ll get in for a fraction of the prize. Now, why not go all three days? I leave it up to you! I personally would recommend going on Friday if you have the time. If you want to take the day and stay Cambridge, then do so. Friday is however a good day to visit all the hangars and pop out if you hear an engine start up.
Spitfire tail chase, 2012
Flying Legends will put you back around 30-35 pounds for entrance. Some English folks will moan and complain about the prize until they see the devil, but for starved aviation enthusiasts from Norway, Sweden, Spain or some other country, it’s worth the entrance. By far. To be in such a historic airfield is alone worth the money. If you’re a student like me, a senior citizen or disabled, be sure to tell them and show them your student card. Suddenly the entrance will cost you 10 pounds and that’s free entrance if you ask me. During Flying Legends you can enter the flightline for four pounds. It’s a silly price for something I feel should be free once you’re inside the airfield. However, the flightline is necessary for pictures and to soak up some atmosphere, so just suck it up, pay and get in. All the museums are free of charge though.
There are also companies that offer pleasure flights from Duxford. You can get on a de Havilland Rapide and take a trip around Duxford for 30 pounds or so. It’s great. Go if you have the money. I did it in 2006 and with a rather gusty wind we were airborne in no time. You can also get a ride in a Tiger Moth for about 100 pounds or even a Harvard if you have the money.
Public gathers around the historical warbirds, 2009
What to bring to Flying Legends
Bring your camera or video camera. Or both? My suggestion is to bring only your photo camera, and leave the video camera at home. After the show is over, pre-order the official DVD instead. However, in 2012 I simply had to video tape a little action. Depends on your approach once again. What are you looking for? To observe? To shoot? In 2008 I walked around with my video camcorder in my left hand and my camera in the right. This year I settled for my new Nikon D40 camera. If you are more than average interested in taking photos, I suggest you spend one day looking and one day snapping. The English will be sure to tell you: «bring an umbrella», and they do have a point as the english weather will suddenly turn from sunny to heavy rain. 2011 was the first time I have experienced showers during the airshow, although light.
The english weather changes in seconds, be ready for it!
Rain is not the problem, as long as it doesn’t pour down when the flying takes place. The sun can be just a big problem for some. For the first three years I was scorched. Absolutely superbly roasted. It didn’t matter if it’s cold, windy or rainy. It didn’t even matter it was cloudy! Those nasty UV things will go through the clouds of layer and hit your forehead regardless. If you’re caucassian bring the highest type of UV protection you can. In 2008 my wife gave me an Israeli sun lotion for kids which meant it was as protective as putting on layers of clothes. It did the trick and I didn’t get burned. I only got semi tanned instead. Finally. In 2010, I did the same, and no skin-roast for me. I can not stress the importance of it. During Flying Legends, the people around you – if they do not use sun-block – you will see them change color from white to dark red. I’ve seen it. I got pictures to prove it.
Another tip, don’t wear yellow t-shirts! Annoying little insects will crawl all over you!
Chairs can be purchased around the area for 5-10 pounds. They will be your best friend. Don’t stand. It will destroy your legs.
B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B pulls away from the incoming P-47 Thunderbolt, 2012.
Where to sit
If you arrive early, there will be several spots for you to park your chair and head off for the museums or the flightline. Don’t park it behind B-17 bombers as it will block 30% of your view, dauh. My suggestion would be to park your chair somewhere along the line where you know you will see most of the action in the air. I would also suggest you park your chair close to a speaker at least one of the days you’re there. The commentators are good and know their stuff but to listening to them twice is not really a point.
Back to where to sit/stand; the hardcore goers usually run to the end of the airfield, past the American Air Museum. In the good old days we called it The Tank Bank, but it’s all closed now due to new regulation. The place is still good for good pictures and will give you a great view of take offs and the action in the air. I would recommend you going there at least one of the days. Try to keep your stuff down to a minimum. Don’t piss off people with windbreaks, step ladders or anything else. Just your chair somewhere and then head off. No one will steal it. British airshow goers are polite people and usually do not touch stuff. However, don’t leave your bag, keep your belongings with you like you do anywhere else. Tie your chair to the fence if you want. One year we came back and found a fat german guy using one of our chairs, but that’s alright.
Now, in good traditonal English style, there are places for the rich and the special people. The Fighter Collection got their own little spot. If you’re a member you can go there and get a great view, as well as the friends of Duxford who got their own little enclosure. There’s also the Gold Pas section. I’ve been there four times. It got a nice looking tent where you can usually order Spitfire Ale (where did the ‘Smooth’ version go??) and relax inside. It also got some fun toilets that play classical music while you take a leak. I talked to a Norwegian there in 2009 and after impressively stating that Norwegian airshows never had anything like this, his opinion were of the fact that those toilets were enough to cover the price of the Gold Pas tickets alone. Well. The price for a Gold Pas is around 80 pounds. It’s expensive, but will give you benefits and a superb view of the spectacle over the airfield. It will overall make your stay relaxed. A lot of people will find it expensive, and yes it is. It’s up to you. All I’m saying is that to drink a Spitfire Ale while looking at a flightline full of Spitfires are more than nice. It got that relaxing thing about it.
Whats better than this? Legends programe and Spitfire Ale 2012
A packed Tank Bank, 2011
New friends at Flying Legends 2011, Adam from Poland (left) and Ralf.
A lot of english people just bring their own food to Flying Legends because they all think the prices for a Burger at Duxford is way too expensive. I agree. I paid seven pounds for a Coke and a Burger and it’s too much, they call themselves «Gourmet Burger», but there is nothing «Gourmet» about them. They don’t taste great either. Try the Fish and Chips if you want, it taste better than it sounds. Price is the same though. If you’re foreign don’t bother bringing a lot of food. It will be too much trouble. Just get food there. You’re at Duxford, if you made it this far you can afford some fish and chips.
The show varies from year to the next, but you will never ever see anything like it if you’re from another country. The Americans got massive airshows yes, but you will never see 10 Spitfires flying past you there. After a view like that you decide that any airshow where you are from will never be visited again. It will just be boring.
Hawker tribute, 2010!
The British are used to Spitfires and armadas of warbirds so they might complain if they don’t see 12 Spitfires in the air or be annoyed if only 2 Hurricanes show up. Pay no attention to them. They don’t know what it’s like. A tailchase of Spitfires at Flying Legends will NEVER be boring. You may watch it again and again. If you at one point think «I saw all those Spitfires last year doing the tailchase and I’m not paying 30 pounds againto see something I’ve seen before» you clearly have a mental issue worth going to the doctor to investigate. Flying Legends gives you about two hours or action packed flying, non stop. Where you’re from it might be a show of one plane and so it lands and you’re in for a 10 minute break before the next one takes off. Don’t worry. Won’t happen at Legends. Here you got it non-stop for two hours. If not more. Don’t be daft and leave before the Balbo ends. The Balbo is a mass formation of all the planes participating in the airshow. It’s a one of a kind thing. Stay, don’t rush. Applaud the pilots, the organizers and the volenteers. If time, look at some more planes. The amount of work put in to give you this show is huge. Pay respect. This is not the local fair with 15 Fords from the 80’s on parade. Airshows are never without danger, pay attention of what’s going on around you, and applaud the people involved.
The last bus leaves for Cambridge at 6pm. Get on it. If there’s a huge line don’t worry. They will get all onboard one way or the other. After getting back to Cambridge, take a shower and get ready to go out on town. If you’re tired just go to bed early and be ready for the next day. I have always been careful about getting enough sleep because going to Duxford tired is not a good idea. It will be lots more fun if you are fully rested and ready to take on some walks.
In Cambridge there’s a nice little pub called The Eagle. It’s located in the old part of town and it’s pretty easy to find. It got it’s own little RAF Bar and lots of people go there.
The Eagle, RAF bar in Cambridge
The Anchor, 2011.
It might be PACKED but try anyway. It got scribbles on the roof of the place by WW2 pilots too. You won’t find a better pub if you want to dig into some real WW2 aviation atmosphere. For food we usually go to a pub close by called The Anchor. We like it for it’s outside seating areas and the view of the river. They also serve good portions of food for about 10 pounds including a pint of beer. That is about 2/3 of the price for the same portion in Norway. Or even less. Another very interesting pub is Sainsbury Arms not far from the train station. Ask for directions. It got a splendid selection of ales for you to try. A pint is only 3.5 pounds. In Norway it goes as high as 8 pounds! Take advantage of it and drink real beer for a change. Forget the crappy stuff (unless youre from Czech Republic, Germany or Ireland) and drink Guinness or any of the Ale types. You won’t drink better beer. However, don’t be stupid and drink too much of it. You will just have to pay for your mistakes the next morning. Keep it at 3-4 beers and then go back to your hotel to sleep. Don’t fall into the trap, you’re there for the airshow, not the beer! Do also stop by a pub called The Prince Regent in the city centre. It’s a lovely looking pub.
Pint of Guinness, Extra Cold, The Anchor 2010
The English are in general nice, friendly and polite. They will help you out if you ask, no questions asked. The bartenders are used to lousy speaking foreigners and will have no problem understanding you. You shouldn’t worry. Some of the Brits are hard to understand as their dialects range from easy English like the queen speaks to basic mumbling in tones even I don’t understand, and I suspect, other Brits have to focus to get as well.
If you don’t understand them, just ask them to repeat and this time slower. They will do so. In general they are always «sorry» and is asking for «forgiveness» for anything remotely «disturbing» to your personal needs and well being. Remember to say «please» after anything you order or might ask about. «Two pints of ale please, could u tell me the direction to the Spitfires please». Anything is please, and don’t forget it. Use it. Aviation-wise, the british range from «Haven’t got a clue mate» to those who can dig up the history of Spitfire MkIIb with the serial number P2525 that crashed in some park in Southend in 1941. It just depends who you run into.
Spitfire take-off, 2011
That sum’s it up!
That sums up the whole foreigners guide to Flying Legends. Hope to see you there in 2013!
If you like this guide and would like to contribute in any way you can, why not buy VIKING SPITFIRE? It was released just before Legends in 2012. Selling the book will help me coming back to Legends each year, to keep updating this article. It doesn’t set you back much, and it’s a good story to read. Click the image to go to Amazon.