In this small, sleepy corner of southwest England, sharing a country road with a tank or seeing convoys of them pass in the distance doesn’t mean there’s an ongoing invasion. It’s just another day of training at nearby Bovington Camp.
The Armour Centre at Bovington Camp hosts British soldiers specializing in the operation and maintenance of armored vehicles (tanks and the like). It was established first as a barracks in 1899 before becoming the permanent home of the United Kingdom’s armored vehicle training center in 1916. T.E. Lawrence, of Lawrence of Arabia fame, trained here in the 1920s under a pseudonym to escape the notoriety of his war exploits, and both his summer cottage and gravesite are nearby.
The current Bovington Camp is massive. The Ministry of Defence website states that the Centre has over 180 tanks and 10,000 acres of training area, which includes an “8km all-weather driving circuit, a 75km cross-country driving circuit and extensive firing ranges capable of accommodating advanced troop fire and manoeuvre exercises.”
At a designated stop along the King George V road, which straddles the all-weather driving circuit, civilians and passers-by can park and watch soldiers learn the basics of tank warfare. Informative display boards, describing what types of tanks might go by, sit against the fence separating tanks from civilians.
Some patience is required, as the Armour Centre doesn’t announce when and how they’re training on a given day. But the reward is an awesome sensory assault, as tons of weaponized machinery rush past. Locals list tank watching as one of the area’s top entertainments.
When the convoys of tanks go by, viewers can expect clouds of acrid smoke, pungent exhaust, and deafening engine sounds that last for minutes at a time. There are also drills involving officers outside the tanks who have to monitor the drivers’ progress and “rogues” hiding in the brush who throw “dangerous” projectiles.
For a guaranteed tank-spotting experience, there’s also “TANKFEST” at the end of June every year. For one weekend, visitors can experience modern tank races, displays of firepower, reenactments of historic tank engagements, and tank rides.
Know Before You Go
Having a car is best, as the tank range isn't accessible by public transport.
Drive north from the Bovington Tank Museum (Linsay Road) approximately 1.5 miles up King George V road in the direction of Cloud's Hill, T.E. Lawrence’s summer cottage, until you reach a large clearing. To the left is a restricted entrance. Just across the road to the right is the viewing area.
When watching tanks train becomes too boring, the Bovington Tank Museum is worth checking out. It maintains over 300 tanks from all eras, including the first tank ever produced, “Little Willie.”