A weekend in Devon and Cornwall (and inbetween)

Four aeroplanes, seven people, two days, and I’ve lost count of the airfields which is must be a sign of a good weekend! The notion of an airstrip-hopping weekend was brought up by Adrian, who had a recently acquired Cub and had heard the West Country had some good flying. He was soon joined by several more of us in a variety of aeroplanes, from Alex in a pristine Cessna 150, Gavin, Pete and me in their tailwheeled Robin, and Paul in one extremely full Bulldog packed with an astonishing amount of camping gear to equip us all for the planned evening’s barbecue

The schedule was largely determined by the Cub’s endurance and the first meeting point was on the fuel pumps at Swansea. One Cub, one Robin. I heaved and hauled my rucksack into the Robin while trying to concentrate on not putting my boot through the wings. Alex, and his PPL student passenger Lowri, were going into Lundy, but with three up, plus camping gear in the Robin, it seemed rash to try and follow suit so we agreed to do a few orbits overhead, take some pics, and meet them at Eaglescott, along with the rest of the party who were joining us there.

All abroad and lifejacketed, we taxyed out to the end of Swansea 28. It was my first time in a tailwheel aircraft and I cooed happily at the lovely floaty feeling as the tail came up and we barreled down the runway before slipping easily into the air.

Flickr Photo Set Devon and Cornwall Trip

Lundy was gorgeous, but gazing down at the strip, where the Cub sat alongside another of similar breed, we decided that the better part of valour was the right choice. We took plenty of photos then struck out for Eaglescott.

We had a warm welcome there made even more pleasant by wonderfully cheap fuel and landing! They were in the middle of a rally for gyroplanes so there was plenty to see as we waited for the Cub to catch us up and for Alex and Paul to arrive. It was coffee and planning only here since stomachs were rumbling and the “schedule”, such as it was, had already slipped to a time-scale that would disgrace BA. Even so we found time to wander around the hangars, admire the aeroplanes, and for Pete to chat with the now owner of his old aeroplane. Small world flying!

The Scillies were on the original agenda but bearing in mind the time, and the Cub’s fuel endurance they were left as an excuse to come back another day. We all wanted to stick together, and the next hop within striking distance was the golf course strip at Roserrow. This was far an away the most expensive place we visited, even after Paul’s haggling skills brought the landing fees down from £20 to a mere (!) £15.

The strip looked longer than the figures suggested but a certain amount of interest was added by the fact that the man on the mower seemed to have had an off day when cutting it and it had a distinct “wobble” in the middle! Nevertheless, everyone was soon down without mishap and we ambled across the golf course in the breezy sunshine to sit on the balcony of the clubhouse and eat hot panninis for lunch. (If you can call it lunch at almost 4 o’clock!)

By now it was not only the Cub that needed fuel and there was none at our planned night stop of Bolt Head, so next stop was Bodmin. TO be sure of getting off comfortably we’d swapped the passenger “manifest” around a bit for this leg and Pete joined Paul in the Bulldog. Paul also suggested we do his leg in formation. He’s the one with the formation skills, so he briefed Gav while Pete equipped himself with the camera and changed aeroplanes, joining Paul to get some pics of the Robin.

Up we went, and took as non-direct a scenic route to Bodmin as could be done with the fuel state with Paul and G-DOGG tucked in close on the Robin’s wing. Always great fun, though I wouldn’t want to try it without quite a lot of faith in the training of the person doing the following!

Bodmin was pretty in the late afternoon sunshine and Gav swished down to a lovely landing on the sloping grass, below the high moors overlooking the field. Most pleasant. His parents were on holiday in the area so had come up to meet us at the airfield, and we had the comfortable cafe to ourselves. Well, apart from the airfield cat anyway! Catering was an honesty box in the kitchen and, “Call the tower if you want anything from the bar!” so Adrian and Alex took on the tea-making duties while Lowri and I took on the biscuits!

Closing time was sunset, so there was no especial pressure to leave, and we dawdled until the prospect of a barbecue at Bolt Head started to outweigh the slightly sleepy, slightly sunburnt contentment that the coffee was doing little to dispel!

The first radio call when we fired up to leave therefore came as something of a surprise — “Plymouth are reporting thunderstorms with hail.”

We stared in confusion at the blue sky overhead. We had seen tall cunims in the distance all day, but thunder and lightening? It was hard to believe. The message continued onto say that it was still a “nice evening” in Salcombe, which was where we were headed and we could probably route north of Plymouth and get through okay.

In fact by the time we were airborne and approaching Plymouth the weather was already dispersing and the few remaining showers were largely out at sea. It had obviously been an almighty storm though, as the following morning every other dog walker who passed our camp-site commented on it and was surprised we were there. One RV aircraft parked at the other end of the field had stayed the night rather than depart into it.

For now however the sky was clear and we landed on the headland strip of Bolt Head, the Cub having left first, brought up the rear again by the time we arrived and Adrian got a certain amount of leg pulling which he bore stoically, secure in the knowledge that he might not be able to outrun us, but he could land places we could only gaze at from above!

He’d also managed to pack an amazing amount into the Cub, which was unloaded like a magic trick with a string of flags which just keeps coming. Even that was outdone by the amount Paul had managed to pack in the Bulldog though — a table, four chairs, tent, duvet, pillow, two picnic blankets, two disposable barbecues, 12 burgers, 40 sausages, beer, eggs, cereal, two large bottles of water… the list went on.

My sole contribution pretty much for the whole weekend was a small barbecue stand which required logic outdoing the Krypton Factor to assemble since I hadn’t had it out since assembling it on the living room floor on Christmas morning six months ago!

There’s something magic about setting up tents besides the wings and the smell of charcoal starting to burn down. Less so the smell of burnt sausages, and adding wings and tails and props to the things to trip over on a darkened camp-site put the risk of snaring yourself in guy rope to shame!

The airstrip is on the site of a former RAF field and the intriguing surroundings of an old radar station. Indeed, as we wandered around in the semi-darkness later that night, in a vain attempt to find the promised “proper” camp-site and the “within walking distance” pub, we half expected to find ourselves in a Twilight Zone episode, turn a corner and find it operational again…

In spite of the earlier sun, the evening was chilly and I was grateful for the four-season sleeping bag and woolly blanket waiting for my in my tent. The sky however made up for any discomfort. Away from all but small villages, and no trace of cloud left, it positively sparkled. There was not a patch but was filled with stars, there aren’t even the clichés to describe it, so I leaned back and looked up and felt unreasonably, unfairly lucky.

The sun was bright again the following morning, and the steadily increasing temperature eventually drive me from my tent to discover which of the intrepid campers were already awake. Once the number reached critical mass, it was time to fire up the second of the disposable barbecues and get breakfast on the go. Again we were done proud. Boiled eggs, sausages, bacon, cereal, apples and yesterdays left over buns soon had everyone fuelled and ready to go. Or almost ready… there was still the taking down of tents and reloading of aeroplanes to do and the laughingly referred to “plan” again drifted further for further from even a trace of a schedule. The Cub eventually took off while Paul was still drying his tent on the wings of the ‘dog and Gav had wandered off exploring and taking photos.

We smiled and chatted with the local walkers who all seemed perfectly happy to have aeroplanes drop in, and met the people who’d left the pretty RV parked around the corner, but opted for the warmer surrounds of a local B&B. They were also able to enlighten us as to the direction we’d failed to take the previous night!

Eventually we got airborne, all three of us in the Robin again this time. The sunny morning had brought everyone out to play it seemed. We passed several aircraft, and even spotted someone making a “run” on a dam somewhere en route to Eggesford! We later found out that Adrian, in the cub, hadn’t been able to resist the temptation either, and Paul too said he’d thought about it! Something for when there’s less luggage aboard methinks!

Eyes peeled for other traffic I watched as a speck of an aeroplane cross into front of us and curved around to disappear behind. I called it out and thought nothing more of it until Gav glanced around, only to see the Bulldog sitting on our right wing — Paul grinning across at us! The language from the pilot’s seat was what’s normally described as “expletive deleted…”

Paul stayed with us until we had Eggesford in sight. Or thought we did… There’s another strip close by… Hang about again, nope we were right the first time…! This time the Cub had beaten us there and it was the sight of that now familiar profile sat on the grass that was the final decider. Eggesford it was, and we joined and landed on the decidedly interesting runway without any drama. I think we got the easier direction mind you! It curved over the brow of the hill and down towards the valley floor. Very scenic, but not somewhere you’d want to leaving it late to climb away!

Eggesford itself is an utter gem of an airfield.

Landing fees? Nope!

High-vis jackets? Banned!

Hangars full of old aeroplanes, most in flying condition, some under restoration, friendly people, always bubbling kettle, and the biggest box of biscuits yet! Picnic tables full of pilots, and friends, and partners, and dogs all in happy confusion. It’s GA as it is in daydreams and Richard Bach stories. The place should be made a compulsory visit for pilots who are feeling a bit jaded and sighing about costs and regulations, and wondering if flying is still all they thought it would be.

Eventually, reluctantly we brought ourselves to leave. Dunkeswell was the next stop, and although it’s a favourite of mine, it felt slightly sadly like coming back to “civilisation.” Although there was still Swansea to stop at to drop me off, this was the end of the trip in many ways. Adrian and Lowri had already left for home, and from Dunkeswell Paul and Alex would head off too. Our little band would be back down to four individual aircraft going their own way.

The flight back to Swansea was peaceful, Lundy Island in the distance a reminder of the start of the trip. It hardly seemed believable that it was only yesterday.

Still — we’d only dipped into a sample of all the West Country airfields… Same again next summer…?

Pics and Other

My photos from the Weekend are on Flickr.  Gav’s are on Photobucket: Set 1 and Set 2, and there’s assorted other pics and discussion from the weekend on the Flyer Forums, on the original thread and in the trip report thread.

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