For a while now I’ve been intending to take an overnight trip with Lauren, my cousin and most enthusiastic of my passengers! We’d planned for Scotland, tying in with the Flyer Forum Glenforsa trip, but imminent lack of funds (diverted to TOMS’s engine needs!) meant that somewhere closer and cheaper was required.
Devon and Cornwall have more or less the perfect location from South Wales – you feel like you’ve “been somewhere” even though it’s not that far by air, and thus not too expensive, it’s sufficiently tedious by ground transport that flying gives you that smug satisfaction, and it’s littered with lovely spots, strips and “proper” airports all in happy proximity.
After last year’s trip I was keen to return to Bolt Head under my own steam (and maybe actually find the campsite this time!) so that was to be the first night stop. Swansea was again belaboured with intermittent fuel supplies, so first job was refuelling, and I opted for Plymouth as handily down the road from Bolt Head.
For the first time in a long while (maybe since the performance and planning exam!) I sat down and worked out the full weight and balance sheet, and runway requirements. We’d be full of camping kit, and after refuelling, heavy with avgas too.
I’d packed the PDA with PocketFMS, but discovered on arrival at the airfield that I’d failed to update it with the news that I paid my subscription for another year! So it was back in the bag with that and map and compass for the duration. No harm there – it’d be moderately difficult to get lost on the routes I planned.
Swansea wasn’t too busy as we wandered up in the late morning, 22 was in use and after some careful packing and positioning of the heavier items we were airborne. I cast a quick glance across the cockpit as we started the climbout, and met a broad grin. Satisfied passenger to start the trip anyway!
I don’t fly in the week much and it was a bit of a new experience to have all the military airfields open and operating. I talked to Chivenor, whose first transmission was utterly unreadable and eventually picked sense out of their second attempt while Lauren commented it sounded like a different language. I actually had to agree with that assessment on this occasion – Gobblegook perhaps!
I pointed out Belle Vue as we passed, with a fond look for the recent weekend spent there with a mob of scouts and aviators.
Lauren did some flying on this leg. “Awesome” was the verdict!
I’d planned in a dogleg via the reservoir Roadford Lake to miss the danger area D011 and the gliding site at Brent Tor. I like big landmarks – especially without the benefit of the beeping box telling me which tiny village I’m looking at!
We didn’t see any gliders though, which given the weather made me a bit suspicious and had my neck on a swivel. Maybe they were all at work!
Plymouth city eventually hove into view, but could I see the airport? I could not. Likewise could I find the reporting point – Yellerton? I could not! I should have looked at the map harder for features before taking off. Shooting quick looks at it now, I couldn’t find anything distinctive about Yellerton to give me a clue.
After a few moments floundering and finally admitting I was not yet visual with the field, ATC asked me to transmit for VDF and gave me a direction to look in. Followed by a check on my QFE as I’d drifted low with searching. Muppet.
Still my passenger had the grace not to express out loud any reservations about the competence of the person she’d given her safety over to, and I joined the circuit without any further incident. Perhaps to make up for being too low earlier I found myself too high on short final, and rather than go around, opted for a bit of a sideslip to get back where I wanted to be.
Quick fuel turnaround which would have been quicker still if either myself or the refueller had remembered I needed to pay a landing as well before hopping it! Landing was reasonable for a biggest airport though and the refueller tremendously apologetic about the price of avgas, which only actually topped Swansea’s hit and miss supply by a few pence.
Airborne again and a short run along the coast to Bolt Head barely required even the map. I made a pass along the runway to have a squint at the windsock and remind myself of the layout. I was heavyish for the length and wanted to get it right. Plymouth listened out for us all the way to safe touchdown which was a trace bouncy – whether down to me or the strip is an open question! I’ll go ahead and blame the hard, dry ground and a few clods!
We taxyed in beside the imposing old radar station buildings and shut down in the afternoon sunshine. The plan was set up camp then wander into the village.
We managed the first part…
It turned out the route into the village was in the opposite direction to last year’s attempt, but we got distracted looking for Bolt Head itself, which after a very scenic walk turned out to be a marker post in the ground… Not the civilisation we were in fact looking for.
Presumably we should have taken the Salcombe path, but hey we were back within sight of the strip and the caravan park was surely in the other direction… We did ask directions once. Or twice. Eventually we found it, and refreshed we even managed to find the actual footpath back to the strip in place of our convoluted route.
Time out 2 hours. Time back 10 minutes.
Not for the last time…
Lauren had been on food duty for night one, and had brought the necessary for BBQ, which we enjoyed in the cooling evening air before amusing ourselves with my favourite outlandish card game which I’d slung in the pack as an afterthought. Fluxx has to be played to be believed but it entertained us for some while.
The night stayed warm, and we both slept well. Same couldn’t be said for the local bird-life who were all up at 4AM in an almighty dawn chorus. I slept again once they’d calmed down a bit but eventually woke up irretrievably at around 7.30 to a very pretty, slightly misty morning.
I boiled up some coffee on the Magic Green Cooking Goo, that had been another impulse buy as a handy alternative to camping gas and sat quite content as the day warmed. Lauren woke a bit later, by which time I was puttering around, de-bugging TOMS and wiping the overnight dew (and more bugs) from the wings.
Land’s End was the plan today and we wanted some time to wander, so while we were in no rush, working to no one’s timetable (even our own!) we didn’t dawdle at Bolt Head once we were awake and fed, eventually leaving at around 10:30.
Pleasant run along the coast, talking to the very helpful Plymouth Mil to keep out of the danger areas, and with Lauren now in charge of the camera, snapping at towns and coast, and a few of the Eden Project’s glasshouses. She also proved to have a good eye for traffic.
Land’s End wanted us to join from the north so we cut across to St Ives and down to the usefully conspicuous Pendeen Lighthouse VRP. The airfield itself proved trickier to spot and I’d already been overtaken (twice!) by a rather attractive RV6 before I spotted the place.
We were offered 12, but I opted for the crosswind on the rather longer 16 as we were still relatively full of fuel and gear. This seemed reasonably routine as ATC gave us the runway length on both when they offered it. We were amused on the way through our overhead join by ATC’s calm but rather resigned response to someone ahead of us landing on the wrong runway.
Aircraft: “I did look for the numbers…”
ATC: “They’re quite large.”
They were and happily I was spotted them without trouble for a reasonable touchdown.
There were a fair few aeroplanes already at visitor parking and once ATC knew we were staying overnight they popped us right up at the far end with a request to get as close into the fence as possible as we were quite near the hold – the grass it appears is all taxiable and people seem to opt for straight lines between runways.
We tucked ourselves in as requested, but decided this time to leave setting up the tent for later. We wanted to explore.
Quick lunch at the airfield coffee shop, watching the tourists embarking for the Isles of Scilly, then we got some rather directions from the chap at the counter and struck off.
The directions proved to have been given by a habitual motorist and were wildly out on the timescales involved by foot! Once again we found ourselves trogging through extremely pretty scenery, while extremely lost, only to emerge and find ourselves once more within sight of the airfield, albeit one hill further over.
The conversation started to fall into a pattern and Lauren became used to my complete lack of coordination on the ground as I tripped over every tree root and pebble in our path.
“It must be a path – it’s got a bridge.”
“Why would someone build a bridge over a wall?”
“Let’s see what’s round the next bend…”
“The sea is that way, we must be vaguely on the right track…”
“Did you just trip over again?”
Eventually we stopped once again to ask directions and buy ice lollies at a local campsite and got a rather more direct route, via the beach.
We stopped for a paddle at the pretty Sennen Cove, and checked again for directions, (3 hours out so far). We would reach Land’s End if it killed us!
More pretty coast, and plenty of walkers suggested we were on the right trail and eventually we arrived at the “First and Last House”. Triumphant, but tired we were more interested in finding a First and Last Bar so after a few souvenirs and a stick of rock, we settled ourselves with Cornish cider, overlooking the Longships Lighthouse and relaxed.
While in search of the footpath on the way out of the airfield we’d been passed by an open topped bus from Land’s End to St Just’s so deduced that would probably be a nice easy way back.
It certainly was quicker, but Britain is perhaps not the spot for open topped anything – it was screamingly windy up there!
The airfield was shut, but not locked by the time we got back, and in any case we’d been advised to simply hop the fence! It wouldn’t have been handier open though as one of the things it turned out we’d forgotten to do was fill the extra water bottles for cooking. A bit of creativity was therefore needed for dinner which ended up involving soaking the couscous in the pasta water. Mmm, starchy goodness!
Still we were fed, watered and sleepy. Ready for an earlyish night after a few more hands of Fluxx, as I finally broke Lauren’s almighty winning streak!
We were woken the following morning by a dawn chorus of a different sort in the form of the first Twin otter flight of the day steaming down the runway.
The visibility had gone downhill a tad this morning and after breakfast I phoned St Mary’s to discover a broken 700′ cloudbase. I wasn’t too keen on that. Not when sallying out across 30-odd miles of open water trying to find a handful of little islands without aid of the beeping box.
We packed up the tent, swivelled the aircraft around for a quick getaway and then migrated to the café proper, which seemed well geared up for waiting pilots, with aviation murals on the walls and a pile of flying books on shelves besides the comfiest window seats.
More Fluxx, coffee and cake, interspersed with ‘weather’ calls, passed the morning reasonably pleasantly until, as lunchtime approached we finally got a CAVOK and headed out to fly. In all my concern for landing and taking off at the shorter Bolt Head was quite relaxed on the relative length and nice smooth grass here – bit too much so as TOMS launched a concerted effort to take to the air before actually going fast enough to stay there. A series of ungainly hops and skips preceded our final departure from the ground and left me rather chagrined and reminded of the folly of assumptions!
With PocketFMS still thinking me a debtor and with only a solitary, rather elderly VOR to back up the compass as we headed off into the hazy blue, we had to give a regretful “neither” to Land’s enquiry as to whether we’d be using DME or GPS. Instead they gave us Wolf Rock Lighthouse as a reporting point (which we never did find through the haze) and I ended up using the timing from our coasting out point to give them mid-way estimate instead.
We’d been asked if we could accept 1500′ for the crossing which is lower than I’d normally enjoy for a longish water crossing, but it was a busy bit of airspace and the odds of meeting another aircraft seemed to distinctly outweigh the odds of the engine choosing those particular minutes to throw a cog. 1500 it was and we stared about into a world of blue, the slight change in shade and the ripples on the water the only indicator which was sky and which sea.
We were handed over to Scillies Approach shortly after my call, and asked to report at the Eastern Islands, at which point we were offered a circuit of islands before landed which we happily snapped up. I’ve been once before but it blows me away, this little flotilla of islands hidden away down here. They look like a little piece of the Mediterranean transplanted to southern England.
By the time we’d finished our little circuit the rest of the traffic had arrived and we found ourselves asked to orbit, before being directed in as number two to one of the Twin Otters. Uphill on runway 09, the same as the last time I landed here – I’d made a bit of a lumpy job of it too, so was concentrating furiously on getting it right this time, and was rewarded with a gentle touchdown and slowed to almost taxy speed by the top of the hill.
We parked in front of the same sleek, black RV6 as we’d encountered at Land’s End – someone else on holiday?
Today was a day for taking it easy and we weren’t spending long on the island – we were both starting to tire and Lauren was extremely sunburned. We ambled down the hill to town in search of lunch, and more importantly icecream! I remembered the way almost well enough to not lose us this time. In any case the detour was shorter…
We dawdled over souvenirs before heading back and I perched on the wing in the sunshine to phone Perranporth where were planning to pick up fuel on the way home. I also tipped off Swansea that we’d be arriving back after hours and got a warning about a Hercules which might swing past to do a practise missed approach.
Quick visit to the Tower to settle up with the very friendly staff, then it was back on with the lifejackets, and a careful taxy down the hill to the runway threshold. I set up for a shortfield departure but was determined not to get launched prematurely this time and was caught muttering “stay down!” to TOMS like some sort of disobedient mutt.
“Ermm. I talk to aeroplanes,” I explained as we climbed away.
“I noticed,” Lauren said, but she seemed amused rather than daunted by this less than professional approach!
Perranporth was an easy run, and easy to spot, perched on the clifftop, the approach over which was sufficiently distracting that I ended up high and fast on my first attempt. Opted for a go around and looked determinedly at the runway not the cliffs on the next attempt for a tidy enough landing.
Topped up with fuel, and took advantage of some help to push back to a parking spot. Yellow jackets were waved off with a “You don’t need that here if you don’t want to,” Lovely! We chatted and paid up in the tower before going in search of cold drinks to sustain us for the last leg. Lauren was flagging and hit the Red Bull!
This time we really didn’t linger and once watered and briefly rested, we were up again for the run home.
Lauren did some more of the flying, improving all the time as she got used to the controls and discovered it was easier to maintain straight and level with one hand and a lighter touch, something I remembered vividly for myself when learning – one of my main offences was hanging onto the controls too tight and veering all over the sky every time I wanted to make a tiny adjustment!
Newquay gave us an excellent service, first time I’ve talked to them, and the traffic density had eased as the day came to the end, and we seemed to be the only up still up and flying in the early evening sunshine. Chivenor had gone home by the time we called them, so I flicked to London Info, for the mental security blanket of talking to “someone” on the final overwater segment.
Swansea was long closed, but Swansea Traffic was still populated by a small swarm of microlights on the Round Britain rally, most of whom seemed to have magically loaded almost as much camping gear as we’d stowed in TOMS! Shortly after I came to a halt back on TOMS’ tiedowns, we were all interrupted by the aforementioned Hercules. To judge from some of the facial expressions on the other pilots, not everyone had had the warning I had!
Sleepy the moment I kicked the front wheel chock into place I stumbled and fumbled through tieing down and covering up the aeroplane before flopping into the passenger seat of Lauren’s car and turning the transport arrangements over to her. (and another can of Red Bull)
Almost 5 hours flying, (one of which was my hundedth ‘in command’), 4 new-to-me airfields and a cracking few days, featuring everything that so great about GA – little airstrips, accommodating airports, friendly people, fun, and a complete absence of timetables and check-ins.
Only way to holiday!
More photos in the Facebook Album