Although some inhabitants don't like their new-found fame, the majority of the population has welcomed the visitors and been proud to form part of this new, spontaneous ceremony.
On Sunday March 14th, bikers from all over the country gathered to thank Wootton Bassett in return, as well as raising money for Afghan Heroes.
By the day of the ride, ten thousand bikers had signed up, with thousands more on a waiting-list. The size of the gathering required a change of venue and timed arrival slots.
Howard and I had secured an arrival time of 11:00 - 12:00. Having travelled along country roads as far as possible, we hit the junction with the M4 and were immediately surrounded by other bikes.
Traffic slowed to a crawl, but we rolled on to Hullavington airfield at 11:15 and were shepherded to our place in the outermost of ten or so 'lanes' of bikes.
It looked like this:
and was more than ten minutes' walk from one end to the other.
Once you'd done the ten-minute walk and admired the sportsbikes, cruisers, trikes and scooters on display, as well as the many fine patches on the riders' leather jackets, there wasn't much to do but hang about, and not much clue as to when we would be moving (answer: as soon as I'd popped into the Portaloos, obviously).
Even when we were moving, it was only a few yards at a time, resulting in lots of switching on and off and unhappy, overheating engines. We crawled painfully up to the front, and at last we were in the dispersal area and it was our turn.
Now things really got going. With marshals in hi-viz escorting us, we hit the open road and flowed along in a stately 30mph convoy of shiny plastic and metal, exhausts rumbling like a thousand tigers.
Not only in Wootton Bassett itself but in every village along the route, people lined the streets. It was now four in the afternoon and the bikes had been coming all day, but many of the spectators had obviously been in position for the whole thing.
They smiled and waved and gave us the thumbs up. There were St. George flags and signs that read 'THANK YOU BIKERS' and 'BEEP FOR THE HEROES'. Small children held out their hands for high-fives as we passed (which made me wobble). It was extraordinary - we wanted to thank them, and here they were insisting on thanking us!
Then we were through the town and dispersing. The solid mass of bikes broke up surprisingly quickly; if you had been on the M4 that afternoon you might have thought there were a few more motorcyclists about than usual, but probably put it down to the first sunny Sunday of spring.
The forty-five minute procession was well worth four hours' waiting around. Expressing and receiving so much gratitude, being part of something involving more than ten thousand bikes and riders (various unregistered types managed to sneak on at the end), was an unforgettable experience.