When I was smaller I used to do a lot of horseriding and me and my sister shared a pony. I realised some while ago that I enjoyed that for all the same reasons I like flying now. A different view of the countryside, independence, the ability to pick a direction and just go, often for no better reason than “I haven’t been that way before”.
One of the places I used to ride was along the edge of the golfcourse at Rosemarket. It’s an informal sort of course, not at all the traditional stuffy place and the owner didn’t mind us cantering along the edge if we didn’t mess up the grass of the main course by tearing about on that bit.
We watched the little aeroplanes land and take off there too and when I started learning to fly one of the first things I decided was that one day I’d fly into Rosemarket myself.
The last time I was there on the ground was for the golf club’s barbecue. I gazed at the strip, thoughtfully. It sloped more than I remembered, and the runway went straight through a gap in the hedge which was a bit disconcerting. I knew the Pembrey lot had been there on trips, so you could presumably get a Tomahawk in and out with not much fuss, but it looked as thought it would require concentration.
My excuse for finally giving it a go was another barbecue. This time friends of the family, staying in the village. I thought the novelty of flying in to visit just too good to pass up so started planning.
My first puzzle came when I discovered that Rosemarket does not actually appear on the half-mil CAA chart. “Local knowledge” meant I knew where to find it, but I checked the coordinates anyway and plotted it on there with a marker pen. I knew I could recognise it from the air, I’d noticed it before when flying that way, but I was very aware there were several other golf courses nearby and the embarrassment of getting the wrong one was not to be thought of!
I did my planning but left the decision to go until almost the last minute. The weather had been forecast very showery and I didn’t want to add challenging weather to my first real ‘strip’ landing.
As the day wore on though the clouds cleared somewhat, and blue sky showed between them. I phoned the golf course to get permission to fly in, which they seemed delighted to give.
Decision made, I dashed to the airport and prepared TOMS to fly. It was late afternoon now and I’d be getting back after air/ground had gone home so I made a more legible than normal note of the QFE, and QNH — I’d use them later and hope they hadn’t changed too much. Rosemarket was non-radio altogether, and I’d been advised when I telephoned to make a low pass before landing to warn off the golfers! The strip runs straight down the fairway.
I took off into sunshine, and because it’s pretty I tracked along the curve of Carmarthen Bay instead of straight across it. I’d drawn a line on my chart out of habit and for timing purposes, but only bothered with it once I reached Saundersfoot. Somewhere between the Cleddau river and the main road from Milford to Haverfordwest was my destination, and I was staring about for it eagerly.
I recognised the large pond at the edge of the course first, then the little cluster of buildings and cars by the clubhouse. I circled above the course, fixing the runway in my mind. It looked narrower from here than it had on the ground!
I made my low pass and identified a couple of likely landmarks for making a circuit of sorts. As I climbed away and positioned myself for an attempt at landing it struck me properly for the first time that this really wasn’t an airfield with carefully listed obstacles and overshoot areas and firemen to run and rescue you if you muffed it up badly.
I looked out as I climbed away, noticing wires in one direction and farms buildings close by in another, and a wind turbine somewhere up ahead. It also occurred that I didn’t actually know the elevation of the strip and still had the altimeter set on Swansea’s QNH.
I realised a moment later that I hadn’t actually looked at the altimeter anyway when positioning myself for the low pass and it wasn’t that hard to judge how high above the ground a normal circuit was.
I’d decided on the westerly runway, since the wind had been broadly in that direction when I left Swansea, and they’d been using 28. The westerly runway at Rosemarket was the downhill one, but on the plus side, I’d discovered on my first pass, the approach had fewer obstacles.
My first proper attempt at a landing was a bit too fast and high for comfort and I went around. Startled looks from at least one set of golfers accompanied me (equally worried was my poor mum I found out afterwards!). I knew what the problem was and chided myself because it was an old one. In my anxiety not to lose the strip amid the fields I was flying a close circuit — not leaving myself enough time to get sorted out and nicely set up. How many times had my instructor told me off for not leaving myself enough base and final! I’d done the same thing not so long ago at Eaglescott too.
Next time around I slowed down nice and early and took a bit more time. The hedges forming the ‘gap’ for the strip, which I’d thought were perpendicular to it, weren’t, and my almost subconscious attempt to line up with them wasn’t helping matters. I forced myself to take my eyes off them and focus on my speed and where I wanted to touch down.
This time I arrived with barely a bump, carefully keeping as much weight off the nosewheel as I could. Firm, but less than full braking brought me to a comfortable stop with room to spare, and I looked around for a clue as to where to park.
The owner soon appeared and waved me to a parking spot alongside the cars I’d noticed from the air. TOMS made a incongruous but rather cute sight there. My little nephew thought it was very funny — an aeroplane parked among the cars and shrubbery!
I climbed out, reassured my mum that there’d been plenty of room, and discovered that the golfers who’d looked so startled were from abroad, didn’t realise the course was also an airstrip and had thought I was having some sort of emergency!
The barbecue was superb and I was only dragged away by the prospect of finding my way back across Gower on foot in the dark if I let it get too late. The ‘green’ buses would have long stopped, so I wanted enough light not only to land but to give me time to walk back to civilisation and the main bus route!
I decided, along with advice from the owner, that since the wind was now more or less straight across the strip, that downhill offered a better option for takeoff than trying to figure out which direction the wind was actually favouring.
I couldn’t help giggling at the bemused looks as I taxyed past the golfers still enjoying an evening round. I made my way through the gap in the hedge, more aware than ever of the clearance between it and my wingtips, and made a mental note of the sprinkler sitting right beside the strip a bit further on. (“Not an airfield, Leia” I reminded myself again, “Pay attention.”)
I ran through my powerchecks and decided on a short field takeoff, more for my own peace of mind than because the length really required it. I paid particularly careful attention to use of rudder as I accelerated through the hedge — this would be a bad place to swing and veer off from the centre of the runway!
With only me up, little TOMS doesn’t really need a great deal of runway, and I was airborne at a little over halfway, and climbing well, with a big grin on my face and a satisfied feeling of challenges overcome.
It’s not a fiendishly short or difficult strip, Rosemarket, but it was the most challenging place I’d been so far and I felt my horizons broadened a little bit, the level of confidence in “I can manage that” expanded a little bit.
The flight back towards Swansea was so serene in the smooth evening air, that I actually jumped at the sound of another voice on the radio as I approached Pembrey. I recognised the voice of one of the instructors in my favourite of the school ‘planes, HotelUniform.
I called out my position as well to let them know I was there, and as he was heading the opposite direction in a similar area we continued to update each other until I was clear the other side of the field, and announced the fact.
“Have a nice flight, Leia,” came over the airwaves in answer.
I grinned, I was recognised as well. I gazed around contently as I skirted a shower which threw rainbows around my port wingtip. I’d spent long hours in this particular patch of sky struggling to learn the skills needed to steer a little aeroplane through the air and bring it back down again safely. It was hard to believe that I was here now, so relaxed and happy in an aeroplane I could call my own (albeit I’d have to add “And seven other people’s” if pressed!).
There were still people making the most of the evening light at Swansea too, several of the microlights and a based Cessna were still active. The wind had shifted enough that 22 was now favoured and I landed on what seemed like an luxurious expanse of runway after Rosemarket’s grass.
I dawdled over tying the aeroplane down to watch the Cessna land and taxy in.
The grin stayed plastered to my face all week.
I’ve said it before but…
Good stuff, this flying!
(Oh and I was even spared the trek to civilisation after all — one of the firemen/refuelers/everything-elsers spotted me walking and gave me a lift — ta!)