Travel Stories

Beating Jet Lag at Brooklands

The best travel tip I ever received was to sleep on flights to Europe and stay awake on the way home. Then, once landed, stay on the destination’s schedule. If you land in London at noon, for example, stay awake until bedtime – even if it means propping your eyes open with toothpicks. Jetlag is more quickly overcome this way.
My English friends know this technique and always help us adjust to their time zone by coming up with a Landing Day activity when we visit. The idea is that we will be so captivated by our experience that we are simply too excited to sleep. Most recently they surprised us with a visit to Brooklands, the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation.
Built in 1907, Brooklands was an extremely modern track with intentionally-banked curves on which British motor sports advancements were showcased until World War II closed down racing in 1939. Aviators, however, had descended upon the track in 1908 and made it into a dual-purpose track and aerodrome. From here pilots were trained and aircraft produced through both world wars and beyond.

Visitors walk through British Motorsports history in Brooklands Museum.

We entered through a gift shop in one of several buildings in what was once a paddock area. Another building was home to original Grand Prix cars along with the gear maintained them. These were the fastest and most cutting-edge autos of their time. Historical documents, clothes, artifacts, flags and maps adorned the rooms.
Moving on, we found vintage motorcycles and bicycles that had been raced on the Brooklands circuit. A volunteer explained that it is his job to polish up the motorcycles for weekend drivers and visitors. In this room were also shiny gold and silver trophy cups of all sizes commemorating records that had been broken at Brooklands. 
It is possible to don goggles and step into one of the cars at the property’s 4-D theater to relive a race from the 1930s with full motion, sights, sounds and smells that would have been a part of the experience.  The theater also offers a 3-D film of the British Red Arrows flight squad and a 2-D film of the Le Mans circuit.

There is much to take in at historical Brooklands Museum just outside London, England.

Outside, we turned a corner to find a field full of airliners that had been built at Brooklands’ aircraft manufacturing facilities – including a Concorde. This was the birthplace of the SST in partnership with France. Interestingly, the British half had been built with imperial measurements and the French with metric. Miraculously, the two halves came together in the world’s first supersonic passenger airliner. We toured the plane and sat in passenger seats for a simulated flight experience.
After our walk-through, we visited the Concorde’s flight simulator where pilots had been trained. It was originally off-site and full-motion, but when it was relocated to Brooklands, the movers unceremoniously cut it in two, rendering it useless.  Fortunately, engineering students meticulously reconnected every wire, and it is now open for visitors who can see what the cockpit was like when the nose of this supersonic bird dropped for landing.

A rare walk beneath the supersonic Concorde.

We toured the Vickers VC10 that had belonged to the Sultan of Oman with its gold velvet seats and luxurious sleeping quarters, and we peeked in the tiny shack that became the first air passenger ticket booth in the world when it sold a ticket in 1911. Other firsts that happened in the early 1900s at Brooklands include the first British air show and the licensing of the first British woman pilot. Bombed in 1940, it largely survived the war and continued on as one of the most important aircraft production facilities in Britain, with more than 18,000 airplanes of 250 types being built on-site.
Many of the facilities at Brooklands are indoors, a lovely feature for an often-rainy climate. The centrally located café sits in the shadow of the large building that is home to a post-WWII Stratosphere Chamber where aircraft were tested to conditions that simulated those found as high as 70,000 feet, the expected altitude for Cold War-era aircraft being developed on the field. In the same building were scattered myriad aircraft engines and various types of bombs used in WWII with docents available to explain everything.
In another hangar we walked around the Wellington Bomber, a WWII airplane on an ill-fated training mission that had been lost in Scotland’s Loch Ness during a blizzard on New Year’s Eve, 1940. The aircraft was found and resurrected in 1985 and is now being meticulously rebuilt by volunteers at Brooklands. From where we stood, we could see the controls used by the pilots and gunners and imagine them at their dangerous work.
Stepping even farther back in time, the Vimey Pavilion is home to replica airplanes from the early 1900s. One such aircraft, the Roe I biplane, was the first British airplane home-built and flown at Brooklands in 1908 by its creator.
Visiting Brooklands was a marvelous way to beat our jet lag. It turned out to be an excellent off-beat destination to while away an entire afternoon near London – and we didn’t give a thought to being tired.

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