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Field Of Dreams


Michael Hasted gets up early in the hope of striking it rich.

The car boot sale phenomenon has sprung up in the last few years fuelled mainly by TV shows which encourage everyone to believe they have some lost treasure in their attic or a dust-covered, priceless antique under the stairs.

While it may not be true that everyone possesses long lost treasure, everyone certainly has something that someone else will want to buy. Consequently every Saturday and Sunday morning finds countless amateur entrepreneurs, their cars jam-packed with things they never want to see again heading off to some nearby field, car park or school playground to make their fortunes.

The kids will be getting rid of toys they have grown bored with, mum will be parting with an old toaster or her collection of ornate thimbles while dad will be wanting to offload his golf clubs as well as selling that thingamajig he bought last month for 25p which must be worth at least fifty quid.

Most weekends, nearly all towns will boast a car boot sale and here in Cheltenham we are particularly well served because we have two. Every Sunday will find over laden cars and their wheeler-dealer drivers closely followed by hundreds of enthusiastic buyers converging on the Racecourse or one of the fields around Southam.

The two boot sales are quite different in character and size. The Racecourse market, located as it is on the main car park, has an all weather surface and is able to function all year round. However, it can feel a bit windswept in the middle of winter.

The location for the Southam sale are two adjacent fields near the village so is rather dependent on dry weather and consequently does not operate during the winter.

There is a lot to be said for both of them. The Racecourse is enormous with hundreds of stalls selling everything from fresh meat to plants to junk. Southam is much more a true car boot sale with people selling from their cars and most commonly with the help of a folding wallpapering table. It is nice to feel and smell the trampled grass under your feet and although a lot smaller, I usually find more interesting things there.

There are lot more professional sellers at the Racecourse. There is usually a huge, open sided truck with fresh meat being sold at knockdown prices by a fairground type barker with a loud microphone. There are miniature, mobile garden centres with plants of all descriptions as well as stalls selling tools, electrical equipment and everything else you could imagine.

I asked Roger, who was selling a fine selection of fresh vegetables from a trailer, what time he had arrived. “I get here really early. I come from near Worcester and I’m up well before dawn to get the wagon loaded up.” Had he been coming here long? “I think this is the third or fourth year. I always do really well here; they’re a nice crowd in Cheltenham.” Deciding on whether to buy carrots or cucumber at the stall were Sue and Kevin from Hesters Way. Did they come here often? “We come up most weeks if the weather’s good.” Sue told me. And what did they normally buy? “We don’t really come to buy. We just like the atmosphere and if we see something we fancy we’ll buy it. Usually when we’ve finished here we’ll go up to Southam.”

Five minutes up the road at Southam, the cars and vans were beginning to arrive soon after midday. They line up in neat rows and even before the cars are unloaded buyers are crowding round hoping to find a bargain before it hits the open market. As I said before, this is much more a true boot sale. Most of the items on sale are discarded or unwanted domestic or personal items. There are lots of kitchen bits and pieces and lots of toys. I spoke to Sandra who had come with her two sons to sell off some odds and ends. “We don’t come every week,” she told me, “but we’re moving house soon and we just need to get rid of some junk. I love it here. They’re a really nice crowd and the customers are all very friendly and this is a really pretty location.”

If you miss your breakfast or want your lunch while at the sales there are plenty of stalls selling teas and coffees as well as hamburgers and chips at both venues, so why not make a day of it and visit both the Racecourse and Southam. You don’t know what you may find.