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Tour of the Isles 2004 Goff Moore & Jonathan Morton in G-BJHB
This trip was the follow-up to the 2003 Mallorca visit. Over lunch at L’Estaminet in South Kensington we agreed to fly around the British Isles in a clockwise direction, visiting all the main Scottish Islands.
At a subsequent planning session at Seer Green, we agreed that the overnight stops would be Isle of Man, Islay, Benbecula, Stornoway, Sumburgh, and Dundee.
We decided to rent immersion suits for the longer, more remote sea crossings to supplement the life raft and life jackets already in the aeroplane.
Sunday May 16th
With management approval granted, and Jonathan’s Jag parked at Seer Green, we drove to Wycombe.
The first leg was Wycombe/Blackpool and we departed at 10.00am in good weather, Goff flying. We routed overhead Kevin & Teresa’s barge near Rugby, then via Lichfield and the Manchester low level corridor to Blackpool, landing on 28 at 11.20am. The GA ramp was crammed with two Hawk jets, a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster bomber – the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was in town. We parked, paid fees, had a pee, coffee and bun and booked out. (To be referred to in future as pppcbb ).
We took off at 12.35 for the Isle of Man, Jonathan flying. We had notified Special Branch 24 hours earlier of our intended flight. We landed about 25 minutes later at Ronaldsway on 26 in perfect weather, with Jonathan practising an ILS approach. We parked at ‘The Club’ to avoid expensive handling charges and they did us proud. Jonathan’s former colleague Helen, was there to meet us. She had kindly offered us her house for the night while she stayed with her boyfriend. Helen drove us to Castletown for a Tapas lunch at The Garrison. Having dropped off our luggage at the house, she drove us north past Doulgas to Laskey, for a walk by the harbour and then to one of the many pubs participating in the IOM Jazz festival. There we met up with her boyfriend Simon. Live music in the sunshine. Magic. We then drove back to the airfield and Jonathan flew Helen and me around the island, clockwise.
Having put HB away for the night, Helen drove us to the The Bay Hotel in Port Erin for dinner overlooking the bay. This was followed by a walk along the beach, phone calls home and then we drove to a wonderfully remote spot to view the seals at sunset. Magic. Home to bed and to reflect on day one.
Monday May 17th
The day broke fair with a reasonable forecast. Goff made bacon sandwiches for breakfast, and, suitably fortified, the taxi arrived to take us to the airfield at a cost of £5.00 for 0.6 miles.
We had a totally silent lady taxi driver. A call on the mobile to book out and we departed on 26
at 10.05am for Belfast City, Goff flying. It got a bit claggy over the Irish Sea and we approached the coast at about 1400ft drifting in and out of the cloud base. Belfast City asked us to join overhead the arrival end of the runway to provide separation from a departing passenger jet. We then positioned for a landing on 22, a long and unusually wide runway. They parked us on a remote ramp and we waited ages for the ramp agent, and even longer for the fuel truck. When fuel finally came they apologised profusely for the delay. We had arrived ‘at the wrong time’ as they were dealing with several ‘commercials’. The service from then on was terrific. They drove us to the terminal and took us personally in and out of customs and immigration. Pppcbb. The ramp agent had a stammer but we had a great conversation about his hobby, visiting war sites and museums. Nice man.
We departed Belfast City at noon, Jonathan flying. They offered us a choice of 04 or 22 and Jonathan chose the nearest, 04. We climbed out over the docks and river mouth. We headed north east to track the coast and the Antrim Mountains all the way round to the Giant’s Causeway. We concluded that whilst this looks great from the ground, it’s featureless from 1000 feet. Here we headed North out to sea, heading for Islay. On an earlier call to the island they had corrected my pronunciation: it’s pronounced Eye-La. Jonathan joined overhead and positioned to land on 21 at 12.50pm.
We parked the plane and walked over to meet the police officer that we had been told would meet the plane. He meets all aircraft that arrive under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) ie flights from Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. He was a cheerful and engaging chap. We filled in his arrival forms, and he enquired where we were staying. When we told him we would be looking for accommodation, he called the airport fire crew to ‘cancel his burger’ and said he’s drive us the 10 miles to Bowmore, Islay’s capital ‘town’. Not only that, he drove us from B&B to B&B, enquiring for us at each location about vacancies, and advising us where not to stay. The fourth attempt was successful and we checked in at the Harbour Inn, the last 2 rooms in Bowmore, it would seem. And indeed the most expensive. But the rooms and the views were wonderful. We thanked Donald, our policeman profusely and took his photo. People like him are the salt of the earth. There was nothing in it for him. It was just sheer kindness. He is the only policeman on the island which, with summer day trippers, can mean up to 14,000 people to police!!
We had a brisk stroll around the town and the harbour, then a light lunch at The Bowmore Hotel. We can recommend the smoked herrings in oatmeal. Another walk along the coastline beyond the Bowmore Distillery. We engaged the services of the local tourist office to book us rooms at our next port of call, Benbecula. We were starting to get worried about availability of accommodation in the Scottish Islands. A nap. Some flight planning. And then dinner at the hotel. This turned out to be one of, if not, the culinary highlight of the trip. Every course was exquisite. And so to bed.
Tuesday May 18th
The day dawned calm and fair at Bowmore, but the forecast was interesting. Continuing north we would experience low cloud, heavy rain and strong winds for about 2 days. Looking south, high pressure would dominate Southern England and the northern Continent, with clear skies and ‘scorchio’ temperatures. Which would you choose? We were on holiday. The whole point of visiting the Hebrides and the Shetlands was to revel in the stunning scenery, but if you couldn’t see much, what’s the point? So over breakfast I proposed Ireland to Jonathan, rather than Scotland. He agreed and we started to plan accordingly. We would need to depart the British Isles from a POTA airfield, and Prestwick was the nearest. So we planned Islay/Prestwick and then Prestwick/Weston (Dublin).
We booked a taxi for 9.30, which was late. The taxi driver turned out to be the 20 stone slow-driving chatterbox, written about in a 1999 article in Pilot about flying in the Highlands. Anyway he got us there fine. After using the fire crew’s machine to fax our GAR to Prestwick, we departed at 11.50am, Goff flying. We routed overhead Cambletown, up the Kilbrannan Sound to Bute, then via Irvine Harbour to land on Prestwick’s 31 at 12.30pm. Great views all the way.
We were handled at Prestwick by the Flying Club, which saved us a fortune. They were really nice and helpful. Pppcbb. We refuelled, filed a flight plan and departed for Ireland. We took off at 13.10pm on 31, Jonathan flying. Our route took us over Ailsa Craig, a tiny 1000ft island in the Irish Sea off the coast of Scotland, overhead Newtownards in Northern Ireland, then due south over the Mountains of Mourne to Maynooth, the VRP for Dublin’s Weston airfield. A downwind join for 23 saw us landed at 14.25pm.
Boy, has Weston improved since our last visit in 2000. They’ve invested a lot in infrastructure. The welcome and service from Vanessa in Ops was rich with Irish hospitality. Whilst Goff phoned the Irish Tourist Office to find 2 rooms in the City, Jonathan tried to buy some Eire charts from the resident pilots shop: “if only we had a key, we could sell you the charts”. Only in Ireland.
A taxi whisked us into the city, stopping only at an ATM, so we could draw out some Euro to pay him. Our hotel turned out to be both economic and centrally located for the Liffey, Temple Bar and Trinity College. Since I had spent a week in Dublin with Helen a couple of year’s ago, I was able to show Jonathan around on his first visit. A great city. We had dinner at The Oliver St. John Gogarty, which whilst a bit touristy was very Irish and had some great live Irish music. We walked the city a lot, mostly trying to find a letterbox for Jonathan’s postcards.
Over dinner we discussed our next leg. We could tour around Ireland, but we had done that before. So Jonathan suggested we continue to chase the sun and head south, namely to Belle Isle, a beautiful small island off the Brittany coast. I pondered this for a full second before yelling YES. I’d never been there but always wanted to.
Wednesday May 19th
An early taxi put us in good shape for a 10.20am departure for Plymouth. We filed flight plans and GAR forms, loaded full fuel and took off on 23, Goff flying. An easterly departure from Weston is always interesting because of the military zone to the south and Dublin CTR to the east. We called Dublin tower on climb out from Weston and they cleared us into their zone not above 2000ft.
We were into low cloud at 1400 ft and maintained this until KLY where we climbed to 3000ft and then 4000ft to be just about VFR on top. We maintained this until the southern most tip of Ireland where we headed out towards Milford Haven in West Wales. During this sector we talked to London Information and enquired about the 3 danger areas in the Bristol Channel. When they confirmed that there were all active we had to do some rapid re-routing. We flew direct Strumble (STU) then towards Brecon (BCN) turning due south over Swansea for a direct line to Plymouth. We landed on 31 at 12.10pm.
A plain-clothed policeman met the aircraft and enquired why we had not notified Special Branch of the flight. I assured him I had done this and showed him the form I had faxed from Weston to the UK central number for Immigration. He complained about how the system wasn’t working, how the left hand didn’t know what the right was doing and told us to go on our way without a stain on our character. Note, in future fax GARs to everyone, in case the system breaks down again.
We refuelled. Pppcbb.
We departed Plymouth at 13.50pm on 31, Jonathan flying. We were on route to Dinard to clear French Customs. The Channel crossing was mostly over low cloud and sea fog. Curiously most of Jersey was clear of fog as we flew over, with the fog edge sitting over the end of the westerly runway. As we hit the French coast the fog disappeared and we landed at Dinard on 35 at 15.50 local in hot sunshine. Pppcbb.
We departed Dinard for Belle Isle at 16.50 local on 35, Goff flying. Perfect sunshine all the way. We landed on the 660m 06 runway at this delightful little airfield at 17.35.
So we had completed the longest flying day of our holiday. A total of 3.6 flying hours. And a total time of 6 hours 15 minutes from departing Weston and landing at Belle Isle.
A taxi took us from the airfield to the Hotel Bretagne in La Palais that Jonathan had booked earlier by phone. We found that we had taken the last 2 rooms and the tourist office told us later that the island was totally full because of the Ascension holidays.
A walk around the town and the harbour, and then drinks in front of our hotel that overlooks the harbour. Every hour the ferry arrives from Quiberon with a boat load of French holiday makers. The ferry is relatively small but manages to disgorge an unbelievable number of vehicles. We think it’s really a Tardis. Wonderfully, we didn’t hear one English accent all the time we were on the island.
We had dinner that night at the hotel, on the balcony overlooking the harbour. An extremely good 3 course meal for €15.00. And so to bed.
Thursday May 20th
The sun rose on a beautiful day with ‘scorchio’ temperatures forecast. What to do? Well, why not visit another beautiful island – Quiberon, a twenty minute flight. But first a visit to the the Patisserie to buy a Croissant Almande and a Far de Pruneux, a local Brittany delicacy which was like an eggy bun with prunes. Then a walk round the market and local shops. Jonathan bought himself a framed photograph and I bought a variety of tinned Belle-Isloise fishes for Helen.
We taxied to the airfield for a 13.00 departure on 06, Jonathan flying. Before coasting out we did a clockwise circumnavigation of the island at low level. Took all of 8 minutes. We landed at Quiberon on 29 at 13.25 at the second attempt. We came in fast and high on the shortish runway first time and elected to go around.
A 15 minute walk got us to the nearest beach and restaurants. A light lunch was followed by a walk around the town and a paddle up and down the long beach. We strolled back in the ‘scorchio’ heat, downed two large, cold Perriers and departed on 29 at 16.40 heading back for Belle Isle, Goff flying. We landed at 16.55.
That evening we dined at another hotel, at pavement level overlooking the harbour. Another excellent good value meal. An evening stroll through the Citadel which dominates the defences of this 17th Century fortified harbour, prepared us nicely for bed. But we were both sad we would be leaving this wonderful island tomorrow, to return home.
Friday May 24th
The day broke fine at La Palais with some cloud visible out to sea. The forecasts for Dinard, Jersey and Luton were all reasonable. We taxied to the airfield around 09.00am. Before taking off though, we donned our immersion suits for a few photographs. Since we changed our route we had no need to wear them in earnest, so it seemed right to try them on for 10 minutes. Having completed this ritual, we departed Belle Isle for the last time on 06 at 09.40, Jonathan flying. We soon hit the low cloud and found ourselves in and out of the base at 1300ft. We found a hole and climbed to 4000ft to be VFR on top. It cleared somewhat as we approached Dinard and we descended to land in clearish skies on 35 at 10.30am. Pppcbb. We cleared French customs, filed a flight plan and took off for the short flight to Jersey in the Channel Islands. We departed at 11.45 and landed at 12.05 on 09 at Jersey.
The reason we routed home via Jersey was two fold. First we could fill up on cheap fuel. And second we could have lunch at The Zanzibar, a beachside restaurant at St Brelade’s Bay, a ten minute taxi ride from the airport. The weather was brilliant at Jersey, and we walked for 2 miles on the beach. Lunch was superb.
We departed Jersey on 09 at 15.45pm, Goff flying. We routed west of Cap De La Hague, Bembridge, Woodley to Wycombe. We landed at Wycombe on 06 at 17.00pm.
Helen picked us up the airport. It was over.
We had a wonderful time. Lots of flying. Lots of nice food. Some spectacular views. We didn’t fall out (with each other, not the plane). We met Donald the policeman. The Mooney performed perfectly. We didn’t fluff a single landing. We didn’t infringe any airspace. We managed all the complex planning (Customs, Special Branch, GARs, flight plans etc).
We were in and out of POTA restrictions much of the time: Wycombe, Blackpool, Isle of Man, Belfast City, Islay, Prestwick, Weston (Dublin), Plymouth, Dinard, Belle Isle, Quiberon, Belle Isle, Dinard, Jersey, Wycombe.
The Garrison, Castletown, Isle of Man
The Bay Hotel, Port Erin, Isle of Man 01496 810330
The Harbour Inn, Bowmore, Islay 01496 810330
The Drury Court Hotel, 28 Lower Stephens Street, Dublin +353 1 4751988
The Oliver St. John Gogarty, 58 Fleet St, Temple Bar, Dublin +353 1 6711822
Hotel Bretagne, La Palais, Belle Isle 02 97 31 80 14 www.hotelbretagne.com
The Zanzibar, St. Brelade’s Bay, Jersey +44 1534 741081
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