It had been pleasant if chilly when I left the house, but now the rain rattling on the roof of the bus did not exactly fill me with delight as I headed out to the airfield. However ‘isolated’ the larger clouds might be, at this precise moment one of them was directly over Gower and the sky was startling black.
To my immense relief, the downpour stopped before the bus did — I was seriously considering staying on board for a circular tour of Gower and getting off on the way back rather than get a soaking!
When I did step off the bus I discovered the downpour had been not rain (or not entirely), but hail. It looked as though someone had split a beanbag and strewn the contently liberally across the grass.
One horizon was still black but the wind was from the clearer west and the puddles glittered in the sunshine, so I stepped out towards the field a bit more confidently.
The aircraft cover was sodden and the tiedown barrels each held an adequate amount of icy water to freeze the fingers and make me hop and swear as I spilled the one holding the tail all over one ankle. I’ve lost last years gloves and my fingers were numb by the time I worked the knots out off the dripping ropes and I was starting to feel hard done by.
I felt instantly contrite in the next moment, as a troop of scouts being shown around the airfield crossed the apron in a neat crocodile, wreathed in smiles and excitement at just being there, not even flying. How churlish to feel resentful of soggy ropes when they were holding my aeroplane (well partly mine…) that I was going to fly up into the sky for goodness sake!
I completed the checks in a rather better humour then sat peaceably in the cockpit, waiting for the engine to warm, watching a pretty little Ikarus taxy out to take off. Another shower crossed the fringes of the airfield, the gusts ahead of it nudging at my wings. The Ikarus turned to avoid it and the sunlight splashed on his wings and turned him for a moment into a sort of inverse silhouette – white on black – against the cloud.
By the time the oil temperature had come to life he was out of sight and the shower had passed. I taxyed out to the end of 28, did a few last minute checks and pushed the throttle forward. In the chilly air and brisk breeze TOMS jumped into the air with as much eagerness as I felt myself and climbed quickly enough to make me want to whoop.
All irritations of weather and wet tiedowns vanished. The shower which the microlight had dodged was now adorned with its own rainbow, the one that nearly drenched me was a smudge on the horizon when I twisted my neck to glance behind me.
Other showers, isolated, as promised by the long and involved morning’s TAFs, were easy to avoid. Even spread out as they were, the clouds from which they sprang dominated the sky, turning it into a sort of landscape of its own, mirroring the one below. Cefn Bryn had snared one of them, spreading above the ridge, and seemingly connected to the bare land by the grey haze of the rain.
I flew west in this transformed sky. Away from the clouds (which was where I was firmly sworn to myself to stay!) the visibility was astounding. I can’t have been more than ten minutes out of Swansea before I could see the coast of Pembrokeshire, beyond the peak of Crymych Mountain, which like Cefn Bryn had its partner raincloud.
A long line of swollen and puffy Cu, dazzling in the sunlight marched up either side of the Teifi valley. I found myself tempted to follow this river of sunlight, chasing away to my right. I abandoned my neatly drawn line to Aberporth and gave in to the lure, ambling happily up to Llanybydder and Lampeter before turning northwest west again for the coast, via the pretty Aberaeron.
Even following the coast I didn’t spot Aberporth until I was practically overhead and gave them a very hasty call. A quick lesson in not daydreaming too much! At around this point I decided I may as well do something practical, and tuned in the Strumble and tracked that for a while before giving in to temptation again and turning for the soft curves of the Preseli Hills, and the Llys-y-fran reservoir, alongside which I had played so many weekends as a sprog. I circled idly once or twice to admire the view before being chased off by an ominous looking cloud.
I thought about dropping into Haverfordwest but looking around at the showers decided I was better off up in the air where I could dodge them. With the afternoon wearing on I didn’t want to get stuck on the ground away from home if one decided to park itself. Not enough leeway before ‘afternoon’ and ‘dark’ at the moment to give the weather the benefit of the doubt.
I called them anyway to let them know I was about. Their only traffic was in the circuit – didn’t people know what they were missing up here?
I turned east for home, heading broadly in the direction of Carmarthen, and deciding on the spur of the moment to give D&D a call for a training fix. Being well beyond the limits of the brightly coloured helpful maps of coverage they put out, I’d been curious a while how high I’d need to be for them to find me out in the ‘wilds’ here.
They were very helpful and friendly, and tolerant of my curiosity, spent a good few minutes fiddling around looking for me. They couldn’t get a DF trace at all at first, then only a single one, so they gave me a squawk and asked for my last known position. As I still wasn’t showing up on radar at that time and the cloud was all still a fair way off I suggested I climb some. After a few minutes more and at about 4000′ I finally stopped being the invisible aeroplane and was asked to standby for a fix. This came shortly afterwards as 3 miles east of St Clears, or 13 miles north west of Llanelli (pronounced “la-neh-lee” to my mild amusement.)
I was suitably impressed! Very comforting to know it ‘works’, and useful info to have in had as to how high up I’m likely to need to be if ever I get in trouble out here and need to be found for real.
By now the clouds had cleared from Gower, and even Cefn Bryn was back in the sunshine. And I was far far too high for any sort of sensible join, so set up a nice leisurely glide back down.
I called for joining information, got distracted by the fact the ‘other Mike Sierra’ was on frequency and completely missed the runway and QFE. I heard someone else get this information a moment later, but as it was different from when I left I decided to swallow my pride and ask again. “Stupid questions are better than stupid mistakes”, they do say after all!
I floated on a bit but landed gently enough – they were using 22 now and for some reason I land better on shorter, narrower runways than longer wider ones! Got to be some sort of subconscious over relaxation on my part but I can’t seem to shake it!
I taxyed back and almost managed to get the aeroplane tied down again before the rain came to soak me and numb my fingers with wet ropes again!
An excellent coffee and a slice of coconut cake bigger than the chock I’d just shoved under the nosewheel soon cured that, and I trotted up to the tower to pay for fuel (and got hijacked for the Christmas party too!)
I ambled home in that wonderful, sleepy, contented mood flying always seems to leave me with.