Parking regulations once again pushed aside for the annual Calne Bikefest. I had to leave by 10:30 but already there were hundreds of bikes - and the sheer variety is striking. Everything from pre-war speedway bikes to the latest shop fresh common or garden, it's all here. Too many Harleys for my taste but at least they get ridden. The affection for Brit bikes is still touching, although the age of owners suggests this may pass in the next decade or so. What is nice to see is Marks and Spencer kitted middle aged couples wander though the bikes reminiscing about their youth, happy to mingle with ruffty tuffty bikers. The townsfolk genuinely welcome the bikers, and the bikers appreciate it. Live music adds to the atmosphere, and it would be churlish to bemoan the rather downmarket stalls and burgers vans, when there are some hidden gems.
The bigger purpose is to raise money for charity - a children's hospice (Julia's House), the Calne Youth Trust and, perhaps predictably, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance. At the end of 2014 the committee gave away £10,000, most of it raised by the happy campers who stay Friday and Saturday nights at your typical bikers' rally. The town gets extra business and a higher profile thanks to what the organisers claim is Europe's biggest free bike meeting. Calne could do with it - although famous for being the home of JB Preistly when he discovered oxygen, its greatest employer was the Harris family. They invented the Wiltshire cure for ham, by soaking to meat in brine for under a week - far quicker and more reliable than the old air cured methods. However, like many others, the firm struggled through the 1970s and eventually closed in 1982 after 200 years of meat production, employing 1500 people in its heyday. Since then, despite huge efforts at regeneration, Calne has struggled to match the prosperity of many other Wiltshire towns. Something left field like a bikers' meet might well be part of the solution