Galway and the Aran Islands

Trip planning in a little aeroplane requires a certain amount (lots!) of flexibility and a willingness to go with the flow, all of which were demonstrated beautiful by the latest jaunt.  Quiberon was the original aim and into that plan went weeks of careful planning, coffee and poring over charts ordering more charts, rounding up of paperwork, booking hotels (carefully picking one with a GA friendly cancellation policy!) and watching of the bizarre unseasonal weather which has dogged us all summer.

Since the weather could not in any way be relied upon, several Plan B’s were discussed and the night before we left there were phone calls and last minute rescheduling.  A large and foreboding low pressure system was sat firmly in the middle of the English Channel and there was no chance!

To the west the weather was forecast much clearer and Galway in Ireland was the new destination. 

Hurdle One was that I had no charts, airfield plates or anything else for that direction!  Hurdle Two was that the Pembrey contingent didn’t have fuel available.

Both these were overcome in one stroke by arranging to meet at Haverfordwest first, fuel aeroplanes, eat breakfast and do the planning there. 

I woke to an unpromising drizzle but we headed out to the airfield regardless.  Malcolm was flying the first leg, and last minute reassurance was provided by a phone call from Derek who’d already made it to Haverfordwest.

It was an odd sort of day, the cloudbase reasonable and the visibility pretty good as long as you weren’t looking straight into the rain, but it was gloomy and damp nonetheless.

We arrived last to find the briefing room at Haverfordwest well and truly taken over by the advance party!  Over a much needed cup of coffee I picked up my borrowed chart and prepared a route.  Nice and easy more or less a straight line.

The plan was simple.  We’d talk to London Info from more or less as soon as we were away, Carl (always handy to have an instructor along on these things!) would activate everyone’s flight plans in one wallop and it should be simple from there.  He warned us they’d probably ask for an estimate for our time at the FIR boundary so I measured the distance and made a note on my plog that’d it be about 10 minutes after coasting out.

A quick bacon butty, then it was out to the aeroplanes again.  We were nine people spread between four aircraft altogether, and there was something very comforting about hearing familiar voices on frequency as we struck out across all that water.  As TOMS was bringing up the rear it also made the r/t a lot easier hearing everyone else go through it first!

We climbed to about 5000′, as high as the cloud would let us.  The weather was clearing as we went, apart from an odd sort of cloudbank halfway across which tricked me into descending thinking I was going to end up on top  of it when I shouldn’t.

It turned out to be an isolated patch, very odd, and I climbed back up again, content that I could see land ahead.  This proved to be the wonderfully named “Slobs” and we coasted in at the North Slob.

London Info had passed us across to Shannon, complete with squawk and now we just got asked for occasional reporting points as we made our way across Ireland.  These caused many a long and puzzled pause as, Irish names being what they are, the pronunciation gave very little clue as to how they might be spelled on the chart!  Something which sounded like “Lake Bob” could very easily turn out to be “Lough Baillorhednshiddhebhn” or similar, and there were several “standby”s while people scoured their charts.  You could almost see the questions marks floating on the ether.

The countryside unrolled below us, and the borrowed GPS came in very useful as we detoured around a group of mountains which still had their top in the clouds, even as the weather cleared.

After about an hours flying we were in sight of the sea again — the Atlantic Ocean this time! 

I hadn’t been into a controlled airfield since my QXC but there was no drama and we landed in sunshine and milled and chatted as we waited for the refuellers to arrive.  We seemed to have arrived at the closest this little regional airport has to a rush hour and several Aer Arann ATR-42s arrived close behind us.

We were parked on the far side of the runway to the terminal and it took several ferry runs by one of the airfield trucks to cart us all over to the right side to pay for fuel and landing fees, which were very reasonable.

Leia with TOMS at Galway

We piled into three taxis and as Derek remembered the name of a pub for lunch, headed into town.  The pub was the Skeffington and was a gorgeous place — all old wood and little rooms and set aside areas and staircases.  We ate well and while we were digesting, the ever-organised Mike went scouting for hotel rooms.

He returned with success after finding a hotel a street away from the main grassy square at a very reasonable rate.  We piled in, freshened up a bit and ventured forth again for music and more pubs.  The ‘excuse’ for the next pub was the name “Taaffes” being close enough to Taffy’s to lure us in, and we spent a while listening to a band tucked in a corner.

Despite it being a Monday afternoon there were lots of people out and about, and as the evening wore on, sitting outside and drinking, and the whole place had a surprisingly continental feel to it.  It’s a beautiful little city and could easily occupy far more time than we had to spend.

Everyone’s stomachs however, were an hour ahead of local time and we were soon hungry again so after a walk down to the waterfront and another pub we went in search of food and ended up in a small Indian before heading back to the hotel for more drinks and chat about the morning.

There are a group of three islands in Galway Bay, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer and they each have a runway and looked very scenic.  We decided on the largest since it seemed likely there was more to see there.

For some reason the airfield on that one wasn’t appearing in some of the assorted GPS’ but it could hardly be missed in any case so was no real problem.

We made a leisurely start in the morning, eating breakfast after which some of us did a bit more wandering around town.  (Where we got asked for directions by someone even loster than us!).

Three taxis ferried us back to the airport where security seemed a trifle baffled as to what to do with us, in spite of the visible GA presence in another corner of the field. Eventually we all got through the metal detector and x-ray machine, although still no one had glanced at a passport between us.  We then trooped outside and back into the same building we’d just left via another door, to find ourselves back in the cubbyhole where we’d come to pay our landing fees.

Here a friendly lady air traffic assistant came down collect our flight plans.  We’d reasoned that by the time we’d visited the island and had lunch they’d be in in plenty of time.

Then it was another wait for the two seat truck that brought us in several trips back to the right side of the runway.

I seem to be the slowcoach of the group and was last to start up again.  However, there was a twist, and I listened in puzzlement as Mike and Peter, in G-ARRI (currently doing their powerchecks behind me) were informed that they’d be number 2 to depart — after me! 

A few moments thought and it clicked — they wanted us to both backtrack the runway together rather than one go and the other have to wait.  That made good sense so out we trundled.  I twizzled around and was immediately cleared to take off, and G-ARRI followed me soon after.

It was a half hour’s very scenic flight out to the islands.  All three islands are on the same frequency and the radio proved to be pretty informal — even the runway direction was “at your discretion”, which gave me another moment’s thought before I heard Carl call up ahead of us and plumped for the same direction as he’d chosen.

In fact the wind was almost straight across anyway and that combined with some unexpected (although noted in the book) turbulence over the sandbanks on short final meant it was a less than stellar arrival.

‘Never mind — at least we’re down in one piece’ was on the tip of my tongue as I started to gently brake when the runway took an abrupt downwards slope and the beach ahead all of a sudden looked a lot closer!

Make that “firm” braking then!

We came to a halt without mishap,  backtracked, and were waved to a parking spot.  We shed lifejackets and climbed out onto the grass.

Malcom with TOMS on Inishmore

There, Derek told us the mildly worrying news that our landing had been the best so far!  A moment later G-ARRI bettered us all and taxyed over to join us.

I was busy gazing about, completely enchanted by the scenery, and the walk to the local pub to which the airfield staff had directed us was gorgeous.  All springy clifftop grass and flowers, and hills criss-crossed by drystone walls, and sweeping down to shingly beaches with small boats pulled up above the tideline.  A harbour that could have been from some children’s storybook.  A ruined church perched on a hilltop.  The other islands on the horizon.

Too soon it was time to leave, the weather and our filed flight plans both urging us on before it got too much later.

Back to the airfield, where the islands scheduled service had arrived.  A aptly chosen Islander bearing the Aer Arann livery. 

We wandered into the office where we discovered there were no landing fees, but a collection box for the lifeboat service.  Moved by an sudden sense of karma, I emptied all my remaining euros into it.  Overshoot that runway and that’s exactly who we’d be needing!

What a spot for an airfield!

Airborne again and heading for home we talked to Shannon, who were as friendly and accommodating as on the way out. 

The busy two days (and a big lunch) was starting to catch up with me and it was nice to share the flying.  We could trade off to have a rest, fiddle with the GPS, snap photos, and generally just gaze out of the window.  The scenery had ran the whole gamut from seashore to rolling fields to mountain to clifftops, to the strange barren rocky terrain of the western coast, and was utterly engaging.

Back over the water I tuned in and tracked the Strumble VOR more for practice than any real need Even without the GPS which was happily ticking away on the top of the coaming we could hardly have missed Wales!

Welsh coast & Solva with Ramsey Island in the backgroundThe sight of familiar coastline was very welcome indeed, and looked lovely in the late afternoon sun.  We don’t do too badly for scenery round here either!

We said goodbye to London Info who wished us well on our way, and switched to Pembrey for a quick bye-bye to the rest of the group, as we flew on to Swansea. 

We landed and climbed out of the aircraft stretching and yawning and both wearing extremely large grins.

So…  Next time to France…


2 thoughts on “Galway and the Aran Islands

  1. David

    Glad you had a good trip over. I’m based in Dublin but Galway is the closest city to home and that atmosphere is a year-round thing. The Skeff’ is a great place for a super-pub but the place is teeming with great pubs.

    While you were over here, me’n’She headed to the UK to the Luscombe Rally in Oaksey last weekend. I’ll be posting about that later. I was in H’fordwest too a few months back, checking out a Luscombe resotoration nearby. Small world eh?

  2. Pingback: Online Wizardy « Leia Airborne

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