2008 and the fifth year of Fly-UK - over 45 adventurers took part in 30 aircraft.
The weather forecast published on the first morning suggested heavy rain and strong winds rolling in from the east to affect Scotland and Northern England early in the week with glorious sunshine in the South. This prompted a change in plan to benefit from the sun in the south and hope that the weather in Scotland improved to allow a visit to John O'Groats later in the week. After a morning of phone calls half the team were still determined to follow the originally planned route, starting at Sandtoft and flying north up the east coast towards John O'Groats. The rest chose a softer route. Everyone enjoyed a great week: those flying north enjoyed a challenge while those flying south enjoyed the sun!
We all reached Sandown on the Isle of Wight in time for the Wight Party and a fitting end to a memorable week.
Friday and I have to admit to joining the Southern crew. We chose Over Farm, just west of Gloucester as our meeting point. So after a late start I took a leisurely flight from my home airfield at Plaistows near St Albans, past Oxford and over the Cotswolds to Gloucester. This was my first time into Over Farm, but with good instructions a straight in approach on 34 with a short landing roll and I was soon parked up. Arriving last I pitched the tent and took a short walk to the pub for an excellent meal and a meet up with friends from past years.
In the east of England the poor weather arrived earlier than expected and several aircraft in the northern team were caught out by a storm at Easton Maudit, Northampton, where they camped overnight. They got away before midday on the Saturday after water had drained off the airfield! Pressing on up the eastern side of the country they made it to Lamb Holm on Orkney before being stuck in the north of Scotland for several days.
On the Saturday morning at Over we awoke to sunshine and enjoyed croissants and coffee on the airfield, generously provided by John and Monica, who lived locally and preferred home comforts to sleeping on an airfeld! Then while a few aircraft decided on going northwards a group of ten of us elected to follow the River Severn, past the pier at Weston-Super-Mare and into the south-west. We flew along the beaches north of Burnham before turning inland at Bridgewater for fuel at Weston Zoyland. Next stop Eaglescott, near Barnstaple - no food here, so no lunch today! A tail wind took us to our night stop at Roche near St Austell (a smashing, friendly club) had a walk of just a mile to a pub with grub. It was 3 miles back for those that got lost in the dark!
Sunday saw an early start and into St Just airfield at Lands End for breakfast where we cleared the cafe of food! Here we planned our route for the next couple of days with the expectation of improving weather in the north. So with a keenness to visit Scotland we chose a route up country. Next stop was back at Eaglescott for an easy refuelling. Beautiful cloudless skies with just a light headwind. Then with tanks brimming we retraced our steps, passing under the airspace of Bristol airport and then climbing for the five mile crossing of the Severn and into Upfield Farm near Newport, for the flexwings to refold their maps. Back in the air and due north to Shobdon, pitched tents and a quick walk to the pub before 9pm and last food orders! We met up with two or three others who had spent the day on the beach at Lands End before racing northwards to catch up!
So on the Monday we benefitted from an excellent breakfast at Shodon then refuelled and with an assurance from the military that Valley AIAA (Area of Intense Aerial Activity) was not active we took a route across the Welsh hills towards Snowdon and Caernarfon. I paired up with Col for this flight over Wales and we enjoyed the views over the hills of mid-Wales. Glorious views of Bala Lake in the sunshine gradually changed to a sea of cloud as we approached the higher ground of Snowdonia.
Unfortunately the clouds were lying on the top of hills so we flew on at about 6000 feet to be above the cloud and clear of the mountainous terrain below. It was at this point that I heard a shout from Col - a Typhoon military jet had appeared out of the clouds. I did a quick scan to left and right but missed it as it was directly ahead and disappeared overhead.
Nearing Snowdon and with few breaks to show where we were, I chose to circle down through the largest of the holes, hoping to get a view of the mountain and the newly constructed cafe on the top. It was not to be - on reaching cloudbase I found walls of granite rising up into the clouds on two sides. Snowdon on one side and Glyder Fawr on the other! Only a narrow view down the valley showed me the route to Caernarfon. I thought better of it and joined Col back on top. From there it was a glide approach of 13 miles to the airfield.
Lunch at Caernarfon then an aborted take off - the controls didn't feel right. So Cath and Stewart got away first while I was left on the side of the runway. A few checks and all was well. Next stop St Michaels, near Blackpool, but first a trip round the coast of North Wales, over the Dee, across the Wirral, then slipping past Liverpool's restricted airspace we passed over Warton an active military airfield. Clearance was obtained at not less than 2000 feet as a fast jet was practicing circuits and bumps beneath us. And so to St Michaels.
The wind was up on Tuesday morning and the forecast was for changing weather. So we made a quick hop to Barton for breakfast. And it was a quick hop with a 28 knot tailwind! After a full English breakfast and much discussion on where to go to get out of the winds, a decision was taken to cross the Pennines to the east side where the weather was likely to be better. So, following the M62 to Emley Moor transmitting station in the Huddersfield area, we then overflew Doncaster airport, round Scampton and in to Wickenby, near Lincoln. Here we had instructions to keep below 500 feet on finals when passing through the aerobatic box because another aircraft was turning cartwheels in the sky above us. After a rest and a bite we fixed our course for Skegness, over the Wash at 5000 feet then following the Norfolk coast to Northrepps airfield at Cromer. Down the town for an evening round the hostelries. Chips on the seafront for some and a photo at the pier!
Winds were still blowing strongly on Wednesday, but we made the trip from Cromer to Bourn near Cambridge for a brief stop and then on to Shobdon which is at the edge of the Welsh hills near Leominster, Herefordshire. A grand barbecue was arranged for us by the airfield and no-one was going to miss it. A group which had been stuck in Carlisle had flown down to Hull on Tuesday evening with a good tail wind, and came direct to Shobdon, while those aircraft that were stuck in Dornoch for 2 days had a leisurely breakfast then headed south through East Fortune (Edinburgh) to Pilling Sands (Heysham) for tea and scones on the beach, then on to Barton (Manchester) for a quick refuel and finally into Shobdon. The disparate groups had all come together eventually.
A great evening - enjoyed by all.
Thursday morning and Shobdon opened for breakfast and petrol at 9am. So it was around 10.30 that aircraft began to leave for Haverfordwest - back on the original planned track at last! We flew across the Welsh hills and passed low over the Vyrnwy dams at Rhayader which were just north of the route. The strong northerly winds made flying through the valleys 'interesting', but not as exciting as the landings at Haverfordwest. Wind speeds of 15 mph gusting to 20 at 30 degrees off the line of the runway caused a few go-arounds. In those winds take off runs were short and taken diagonally across the runway. Next stop Eaglescott (near Barnstaple). I flew with 3 flexwings on a scenic route over the island of Lundy - about 45 miles across the sea. Others kept to the costal route via Cardiff and 13 miles of water to Porlock Head in Devon. We spent a lazy hour in Eaglescott then on to Bodmin for a superb meal in the bar.
The route for Friday took us to Lands End, but as I had already been there earlier in the week I took the opprtunity with several others to fly round the coast at low level and not above 500 feet, to keep out of the way of the commercial flights to Scilly. After passing Plymouth we cut inland to Halwell where there is a garage not far from the airfield. Not only that, but another pilot had arranged for a picnic at the field and we all enjoyed the break.
Refuelled and ready to go, we continued around the coast to Bridport where I left the company of the other aircraft and headed for Old Sarum airfield at Salisbury where I had planned to pick up a spare part for my aircraft. My route took me past Cerne Abbass and I found myself passing over the Cerne Abbass giant. Spare parts collected and I set a route over the New Forest, across the Solent and in to Sandown.
Sandown is the home of The Wight Party (aka Spamfield). Britain's microlight fly in with the largest number of participants. As a Mecca for microlights it attracts up to 400 or so aircraft on a good year and has always been a target for Fly-UK. It brings the opportunity to meet old frinds and tell a tale or two of flying skills and adventures! And, of course, Fly-UK participants always have a story to tell. So Friday night is spent in the restaurant and bar on the airfield, or sitting round a barbecue with friends on the airfield.
The Saturday was spent with a trip down to the town of Sandown and a day lying on the beach. A really hot day with a high risk of sunburn. In the evening The Wight Party was as good as ever. Even the weather had improved! By the Sunday it was glorious! No hurry to go home.