Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Long Way for 2 Munros; Ben Avon and Beinn A Bhuird - Friday 20 June 14



Having agreed to meet Angus at the Invercauld car park at 0900 I arrived 10 minutes early which gave me just enough time to sort out my kit and look organised before Angus arrived with a minute to spare. As we set out the day sunny though not particularly warm - around 15C.

As far as I could make out most people tackle these hills from Glenn Quoich which is closer to Braemar but we decided to follow the route in from Invercauld via Gleann an t Slugain. This entailed a long steady walk in being passed on the way by cyclists who hoped to get to the mountains more quickly and keep the foot slogging to a minimum. We were contemptuous of this approach – no point going for a walk and then getting on a bike (though on the way back we were a little bit envious).


The walk through the Invercauld estate is straightforward with sign posts pointing the way to Glenn Slugain. Before 30 minutes had passed we had seen an eagle soaring above the cliffs overlooking the road to Braemar. After an hour or so of steady gentle uphill and about 6km into the walk the path we were following split in 2; Angus had been this way before and suggested the lower path was more sceninc and he was right. Following this entered a charming little glen that led up to the ruined lodge marked on the map. In the small stream we followed we could see trout no more than 4 inches long flitting through the clear iron stained pools.

Enchanted Valley

Passing the ruin which judging from the way the roof slates were laid out had never been a completed building, we continued gradually gaining height and before long we had good views of the corrie walls of Beinn a Bhuird directly ahead of us. As we left our wee glen the Allt an t Slugain ends but after a km the bigger Quoich Water leads the path northwards. We would need to cross the Quoich Water onour return journey but for now we kept to the east of the river on a well trodden path that after 3 hours of walking eventually led us up the Glass at Mor onto the col between Ben Avon and Beinn A’ Bhuird. As we arrived we felt a strong wind coming from the north as is was funnelled between the 2 mountains – time to put on a jacket.

Tors on the col between Ben Avon and Beinn A Bhuird and view North


From the col, where the first of the granite tors that litter Ben Avon and the northern part of Beinn A’ Bhuird are encountered, there is a steep climb to the left on an unconsolidated gravelly path that took us onto the Plateau of Ben Avon from where we could see a number of further tors. Given more time it would have been good to wander across the plateau for longer but we limited ourselves to a visit to the high point at Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuide where we finished off Angus’ last sandwich – Smoked Salmon and cream cheese YUM.


Ben Avon for Lunch

Making our way back to the col we had to be careful not to slip going downhill befire climbing up the opposite slope to Beinn A’ Bhuird. So far, apart from the eagle and trout we had seen little wildlife but on Beinn A’ Bhuird we encountered several Ptarmigan at different points. On seeing us they would try to lure us from their young by feigning a broken wing. This might work for predators but for us it was confusing – we didn’t want to unduly upset the adult bird but once it left its young they were near invisible so we had to walk slowly and carefully away.

Beinn A Bhruid and Angus celebrating a Munro

After visiting the North Top we kept close to the corrie edges for fine views of the valley we had come up earlier in the day to our left and towards Ben Macdui and the rest of the Cairngorm massif to our right. Ben Macdui several hundred feet higher than ourselves was covered in cloud and there seemed to be plenty of snow still on her though none at our level except in the shaded corries.


There is a choice of routes off Beinn A’ Bhuird a very distinct path leads to the Llyn of Quoich but we didn’t take this instead we stook to the edge of Coire na Ciche until it led into boulder field and a then the ridge leading to Carn Fiachlach from where there was a thin path leading back down to the Quoich Water. For the crossing of the Water, Angus slipped off his boot and socks and waded across before drying his feet with a towel. As he got ½ way across I charged past him in my Innov8s but was nearly rewarded for my show of bravado by a ducking as I slipped on something soft and very nearly fell. A lesson to be a little bit less of a show-off (pillock) next time.


To get back to the car park we simply retraced our steps of the morning down the Gleann an t Slugain though oddly the path seemed much longer on the way back and has cyclist after cyclist sped past we did start to wonder why we hadn’t brought our bikes. Just before 2000 we finally arrived back at the cars and within minutes we were on the way to the Boat Inn in Aboyne for a well-deserved pint.


Distance 37km; 1440 m ascent




Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Unplanned Micro Adventure in ZV 23 June 14



The plan was to fly to the grass strip at Insch for a familiarisation with Alex to provide guidance. We would stop for a cuppa at Insch and then zip back to Aberdeen to allow Alex to carry out a check ride on another member of our syndicate who needed to revalidate. We would leave Aberdeen at 1715 do a couple of circuits and land at Insch by 1800 and be back at Aberdeen by 1900 at the latest.


It didn’t work out that way! We 1st left the flying club and immediately turned back as it was pi**ing in a heavy rain shower – no chance of a VFR departure so back to the crew room and a 10 minute wait for the shower to pass. 10 mins later we started up and launched keeping at 800ft to stay clear of the lingering remnants of the earlier shower and with 10 degrees of flap for good visibility we followed the A96 and broke out into glorious sunshine as we cleared the Tyrebagger pass. From here the flight to Insch was simple– follow the A96 and then head just South of Insch avoiding the village of Premnay. Calling up Ken Wood who is the operator of the airstrip we told him we would be overhead shortly. It turned out we were more shortly than expected as the strip is hard to see unless you know exactly where to look so we were overhead before we saw it. Jinking to avoid overflying the village of Leslie at the western side of the strip I positioned to go downwind for a left hand circuit to runway 31. This 1st attempt I was too high (1000ft) given the tightness of the space available and did not extend the downwind leg long enough so we ended up going round for a second attempt . Again I ended up too high on finals – again too high on downwind leg and not reducing power sufficiently.

Insch Airstrip (google maps)

Overshooting again Ken asked us to fly a right hand circuit for noise abatement – this time Alex demonstrated with a downwind leg flown at 700ft and long downwind to go around the back of Premnay. This time no bother and Alex carried out a touch and go before handing controls back to me as we turned crosswind. This time I nailed it – 700ft on downwind ; round the back of Premnay a jink on the approach to avoid a farm and a fine landing – remembering to keep back pressure on the control column to avoid the prop hitting grass. Taxi in to meet Ken and a coffee – Job done.


ZV Marooned in Insch

It was now that the fun started. I went out to the aircraft and Alex called Aberdeen to tell them we would be taking of shortly and returning directly. Aberdeen ATC told us to stay on the ground as there had been an evacuation of the tower and to call back in 30 mins. 30 mins later we called and were told that cloud at Aberdeen was down to 300ft and they wouldn't accept us for ILS as they were then recovering everything that had been in the hold during the evacuation, we could wait another 30 mins and call back. This we did but by now they were still unwilling to accept us for ILS still – worse there was heavy rain showers with Broken cloud (5-7 Oktas) at 300ft now forecast for the next 2 hrs as a minimum. Decision time – sod it Ken offered a lift to Insch and we took it. I would go home we could get a beer and then I would drive Alex back to the airport to collect his kit and car. So it was we got back to the airport at 2100 in the Mx5 rather than the Cessna and eventually I was back at home at 2200 – further delayed by road works at Inverurie. ZV is still at Insch Airstrip and I hope to collect her tonight if the weather is OK.


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

White Mounth Munros; A Circular around Lochnagar – Saturday 7 June 14

Setting out from home at 0700 I was at the Spitall of Glen Muick an hour later having passed a surprising number of campers – both tented and in vans on the road in. The road from Ballater is narrow so I progressed the last few miles at a leisurely pace just in case anyone was coming in the opposite direction. Parking at the Spitall car park at around 0815 I paid the £3 charge (levied for footpath maintenance) and set of across the river Muick towards the Lodge on the other side of the flood plain and then followed the Allt na giubhsach towards Lochnagar.

Despite the bright sunshine there was a chill wind blowing along the valley and for once I put on my Paramo Smock whilst still climbing uphill. Last time I was here I had been in a T-Shirt all day and desperately thirsty for most of the day. Today I had plenty of water all day and all the streams I crossed could provide ice cold water to replenish my bottles. The path up to the col separating Lochnagar and Meikle Pap is obvious and was easily ascended. I did consider a quick run up Meikle Pap but in the end decided to leave something for next time – perhaps to combine with a visit to Conachcraig.

I believe the first part of the ascent to the top of Lochnagar is called ‘the ladder’, the ‘staircase’ might be more suitable as form the col below Meikle Pap there are rocky steps that are easy to follow. With an obvious and cairn marked path from the top of ‘the ladder’ to the main peak – Cac Carn Beag. Following the cairns I was reminded of the debate regarding their impact on the landscape – with many people getting agitated by their presence but to be frank I consider these to be amongst the least intrusive evidence of man on the tops with footpaths these days making navigation easy; Landover and bulldozer tracks everywhere and my least favourite – Wind Turbines being the greatest despoilers of the mountain landscape.



The walk across the top of the 1st 2 Munros – Cac Carn Beag and Carn a Choire Bhodeach was straightforward with clear views all-round – despite hazy conditions ruining my photographs. I had been on these 2 before and decided to have my lunch of 2 cheese rolls on Carn a Choire Bhodeach though I ate whilst walking – the stiff cold wind deciding me against a leisurely lunch.

Following the stalkers path across Allt an Dubh Loch I managed to keep my feet dry on the stream crossings and nearly skewered a frog with my walking poles – seeing him only at the last minute and keeping the pole in the air. So for he had been the only wildlife I had spotted though I would see quite a few Hares from here onwards. Having kept my feet dry crossing the stream I managed to soak them by taking the direct route to the top of Carn an Sagairt Mor. I have been meaning to visit this hill for some time and to take a look at the remains of the RAF Canberra Bomber that crashed here in November 1956. I found the remains of the engines and some aluminium but couldn’t spot the remaining large wing section that is still on the mountain (as far as I know) so shall have to visit again. If passing this way then spare a thought for the 2 young men (Flying Officer Redman and Flying Officer Mansell) who died here and please do not remove parts of the aircraft as souvenirs.



Canberra wreckage and well worn tracks on Carn an Sagairt Mor


Heading almost directly south from the summit one quickly crosses the path from Lochcallater Lodge to Lochnagar and it’s a couple of km to the 4th Munro of the day Cairn Bannoch. Navigation even in poor weather ought to be easy as there is a clear path between the 2 Munros but be careful not to stray south onto Fafernie or you’ll end up in Glen Doll rather than back at the car park. There is a path right over the top of Cairn Bannoch where you get excellent views back to Lochnagar.

Loch Muick from Track off Broad Cairn.


View Behind on descent

There is a clear path from Cairn Bannoch to the rocky summit of Broad Cairn. Look right and there are good views across to Glen Doll and Dreish and Mayar as well as Tolmount. As I arrived at the summit of Broad Cairn the view to Loch Muick opened up as did the view to the wide bulldozed track that was the route off the hill once I was clear of the not very extensive summit boulder field.

From Broad Cairn to the Spittall car park is 8km but it is impossible to get lot as one follows a wide bulldozed track pretty much all the way. I stopped at about 700 metres to remove my jacket as the wind was lesser now and the sun was hot. Where I stopped I picked up litter that had been left – a 1litre cherryade bottle – before carrying on. With good views over Loch Muick the walk was pleasant enough and there were 2 big herds of Red Deer watching as I descended to arrive back at the car at 1615.


Broad Cairn – 8k to Car Park

29km; 1280 m ascent


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Micro Adventure – World War 1 Battlefield Tour 19 – 23 April (Planned) ; 19 – 24 April (Actual Dates)

It might seem odd to claim a Battlefield Tour as a Micro Adventure but in this case I think its justified. This trip was not part of an organised party but was self-planned and achieved by Myself and Alex Guild flying ZV to France from Aberdeen and returning with the following itinerary:

19 April – Depart Aberdeen 0900 to Wickenby ( ) in Lincolnshire to refuel both the aircraft and ourselves ; Depart Wickenby 1300 and Arrive to Le Touquet – Paris-Plage pick up hire car and then Drive to Tourcoing (outskirts of Lille)

20 April – Drive to Ypres and return Tourcoing

21 April – Drive toBethune, Bapaume and Theipval Memorial (Somme) and return to Le Touquet – Paris-Plage

22 April – Fly to Verdun

23 April – Fly to Paris Le Touquet (via Cambrai for Touch and Go); Fly to Shoreham to Refuel and then Fly to Aberdeen – (Aberdeen Flight Cancelled due to Fog at Aberdeen) Overnight Stay at Shoreham

24 April – Depart Shoreham 0900 to Sherburn in Elmet to refuel and lunch; 1300 Depart Sherburn in Elmet and fly to Aberdeen landing at 1530 (ish)

So here is the story of the trip:

19 April. Wickenby is one of the few 2nd World War Bomber Command stations that still exists as an active airfield in Lincolnshire (excluding those that are still operated by the RAF and are consequently not available to civilian General Aviation). With my folks living just 10 miles from Wickenby I thought it would be a good idea to fly in with Alex in the passenger seat (he is after all a qualified instructor) before attempting this trip on my own later in the year to visit Mum and Dad. As we needed to refuel in any case Alex was OK with my cunning plan so after getting PPR for Wickenby on Friday, we took off at 0900 on Saturday for the 1st leg of our adventure with myself at the controls and Alex as passenger.

Our route took us out of Aberdeen via Stonehaven and then out to sea from Montrose to St Abbs – this was the longest overwater trip I had so far done in a single engine aircraft and the 1st time I wore a life vest (supplied by Alex) in ZV. We climbed to 5500 feet for the trip and with a strong tailwind our Sky demon unit was telling us that we could make land in a glide even though well out in the Firth of Forth. Costing in over the Cheviots the sight of masses of wind turbines on the hills was annoying but we had a great view of Cheviot itself before the land below was obscured by low level cumulus cloud which at least we were clear of at our height. We still managed to get good glimpses of Northumberland and Newcastle through gaps in the cloud below. The Tyne shipyards were clear and the large FPSO ‘Enquest Producer’ was clearly visible.

South of Newcastle the cloud below thickened so we used the on board GPS and Sky demon Unit to navigate. Over Tyne/Tees zone we were forced to stay to the west due to parachutists being dropped from above (we saw only the dropping aircraft no parachutes) and it seems we were lucky to get zone clearance when we did as a following aircraft was forced to go around the zone due to the parachute activity. Clearing to the South we needed to keep clear of Doncaster Zone and we contacted Humberside as we approached Wickenby. The parachute site at Hibaldstow near Scunthorpe was also active so we need to keep clear of this also.

As I mentioned earlier, Wickenby is a former Bomber base. Nowadays its runways are much shorter than during the war but it is perfectly adequate for GA purposes with 2 paved runways (03/21 and 16/34). We arrived with 03 the active runway (this has a displaced threshold) with a crosswind from the right. As we approached Wickenby the cloud thinned a bit and we descended to circuit height for a downwind join for Runway 03 as nothing was in the circuit was we arrived (otherwise we would have carried out an overhead join – descending from 2000 ft to 1000 ft on the ‘dead’ side of the active runway). With quite a strong crosswind I carried decided to use no more than 20% flap and put the right wing down (into wind) for a reasonable landing even if I do say so myself.

After refuelling at the self-serve pump (which didn’t work at first – requiring a member of staff to re-set it) we shut down in from of the WW2 tower and went inside to find a fine wee cafe (where we paid our landing fee and ordered a fine lunch of Lincolnshire sausages in a bun was taken along with a nice filter coffee) on the ground floor and a museum on the 1st floor that commemorated the more than 1100 men who had taken off from the airfield on bomber operations - never to return.

The old Control Tower at Wickenby now with a Cafe on the ground floor and museum upstairs
At 1300 we took off again – this time with Alex at the controls and me in the passenger seat. After a single circuit and touch and go we departed from the end of the downwind leg to the south calling first London then Lakenheath for a traffic service. I had called Mum and Dad and told them we would be flying over their house but as we were going in and out of the low fair weather cumulus I suspect they never saw us. By the time we had reached Southern Lincolnshire, around Wisbech, the cloud was much reduced and we had great views over the wash and to the south. Flying directly over Lakenheath, whose controller was not the most helpful, I noted an impressive line-up of F15s. From Lakenheath we went to Clacton and then across the Thames Estuary. As we flew further south we crossed the Thames estuary. I did note that in Southern England all the wind farms seemed to be offshore – probably a more effective bunch of NIMBYs – and these were plentiful. As we flew further south it became much less cloudy but the view ahead was becoming hazier. Alex wanted to see the White Cliffs of Dover so we went over these and circled to get a good view; certainly worth a look though the cliffs were not as extensive as I would have thought.

We continued to fly along the south coast to Lydd before turning south to head direct for to Le Touquet – Paris-Plage on the French coast. Given the thick haze we encountered crossing the Channel Alex elected to carry out an ILS approach which was done without difficulty and we were able to land after 2 ¼ hours on runway 14. After parking the aircraft I went to see about clearing customs whilst Alex went off to find our pre-ordered hire car. When I asked about customs I was told by the helpful French handler that ‘ze customs are ‘ere if zey want to see you zey would have done so – enjoy your visit monsieur’ so we were in France and had cleared customs and no need to faff with passports etc – it was a fine welcome indeed and the handling staff were so easy to deal with.

Alex collected our car and we set off to travel to our hotel the Ibis hotel at Tourcoing a suburb of Lille which was about 2 hours away. The Journey was uneventful until about 30 minutes to the west of Lille when we came across a small roadside cemetery. We stopped to pay our respects. This cemetery was much farther from the frontlines than we expected and contained 150 British and 3 German graves. Most of the graves dated to June 1918 so we surmised that this cemetery must have been somewhere near the extreme limit of the German advance from the 1918 offensive. Just yards to the north was what appeared to be concrete defensive positions so it is likely that this cemetery was close to where a field hospital had been situated in 1918. After 30 minutes of reflection we continued our journey, arriving at Tourcoing at about 1900.

Cemetery En route Tourcoing

The Hotel was perfectly adequate for our needs and was close to the town centre with parking close by. An impressive church dominated the square and a few eateries were open – we plumped for a small restaurant at the rear of the church where I had a rather fine pasta and scallop carbonara dish. After that we crossed the square for a couple of glasses of Leffe beer before calling it a day.

Sunday 20 April. We were awake early under grey skies and decided to get going after a rather sparse continental breakfast at the hotel (not really worth the extra 10 Euros) we departed for Ypres (now known as Ieper) about half an hour away. Entering the town through Rijsel Gate we parked the car and visited the small cemetery above the gate before walking into town and to the Cloth Hall (apparently medieval but in fact a 20th century rebuild) which housed the ‘In Flanders Fields’ Museum ( ) which for a small fee (plus an extra 2 Euro to visit the roof of the Cloth Hall) is well worth a visit. We took a good 2 hours viewing the exhibits which included some pretty graphic reminders of what earl 20th century warfare could do to the human body. The extra effort to visit the roof provides one with a view of the whole of the Ypres battlefield on a good day though for us low overcast and mist prevented us seeing more than a couple of miles.

Rijsel Gate

The surprising thing about Ypres was that what appears to be a fine medieval town has been almost entirely built since 1918! As the visit to the museum showed, the town had been completely annihilated during the war. The restoration of the centre of the town has been done very sympathetically, everything within the town walls was seemed to offer a coherence not seen in many modern towns.

Menin Gate

From the Cloth hall it is only a few hundred yard walk to the Menin Gate . Once the route that British and Empire troops took from the town to the battlefield this town gate was rebuilt to a design by Sir Reginald Blomfeld and opened in 1927 as a memorial to the 54 896 British and Empire troops who fought and died in the Ypres battles for whom there is no known grave. It is a staggering sight to see with every side of the monument covered in names.

Tyne Cot

After lunch we took the Menin Road out of Ieper towards Tyne Cot cemetery. With nearly 12 000 graves of which 8367 are unnamed, this is the largest cemetery anywhere that is looked after by the Commonwealth war graves commission. On the way we visited the Memorial Museum Passchendaele in Zonnebeke village. This museum is set in a small park and has reconstructed various types of German and British Trenches that allow the visitor to get a better idea of the construction – if not the experience - of Western Front defences. It is a small but informative museum worth the visit. From here we pressed on to Tyne Cot as the sun came out and seeing so many white headstones reflecting the sun was both awe –inspiring and humbling. Within the cemetery there are the remains of 2 German pillboxes as this had at one time been a part of the German lines. At the rear of the cemetery is the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing. Upon completion of the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres, builders discovered it was not large enough to contain all the names as originally planned. They selected an arbitrary cut-off date of 15 August 1917 and the names of the UK missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial instead. A sobering place to visit this certainly is and when we were there we met a lot of visitors, including one young man from Australia, all of whom seemed as thoughtful as ourselves.

On leaving Tyne Cot we decided to return to Ieper and grab dinner before returning to Tourcoing . We had a last look around and noted a lot of War Time Souvenirs for sale, particularly shell casings with carvings on and spent bullets. Somehow it didn’t seem right to buy a ‘souvenir’ after the day’s travel.

On returning to Tourcoing we were glad that we had eaten dinner in Ypres as the whole town was closed! Despite walking around the town centre for a good 40 minutes we could not find a bar or restaurant that was open. I would certainly not recommend the town as one to visit if you want an interesting nightlife. So it was early to bed and some time to read up on what we had seen during the day. At least we would be up early tomorrow!

Monday 21 April. Our last day with the car and we planned to drive to the Somme area going via Bethune and then Bapaume. As it was the Easter weekend there were not too many places open although as we entered Bethune we noticed that there was a market in the main square and some coffee shops open. The bell tower in the middle of the square was fairly impressive and provided a nice backdrop for a coffee and croissant. Moving on we took the road to the Thiepval Memorial. In gorgeous spring sunshine we wandered around this memorial, to 72,195 missing British Empire troops from the Somme battles (90% of whom were lost in the 1916 battles) , which also has a small adjoining French/British cemetery, wondering at the contrast between the utter peacefulness of the place today and the events it commemorated; sobering thoughts. The fairly new museum that is co-located with the memorial is in keeping with the setting.

Bethune market day

Thiepval Memorial

In the afternoon we intended to visit Delville Wood but decided to go to Bapaume forst to grab some lunch. Unfortunately Bapaume was pretty much shut though we picked up some bread and cheese from a small grocery. There was a restaurant openin the square but a bus party got there before us. Still it was pleasant to sit in the sunshine in the square and eat our cheese and loaf. Like many towns in Picardy, Bapaume had been devastated during the war and the church was famous for its statue of the Virgin which for most of the war hung at a crazy angle before falling off in early 1918.

Bapaume mural

After lunch our first stop was Delville Wood where we found the South African memorial in the centre of the wood that commemorates the South African losses in the war. Delville wood has a special significance to South Africa as it was the site of the 1st major engagement of S African troops in Europe during the war and of the troops engaged more than 80% became casualties, when they were relieved, only 143 troops came out uninjured and approximately half of these had been reinforcements sent in after the initial attacks. Walking today in this quiet and peaceful wood, the terrible fighting here is hard to picture. Yet the South Africans and other forces suffered extreme losses here, so much that only 113 of the 766 from the South African battalions who died here have known graves. Today the cratering of the woods of the main path is clearly evidenced and yet the wood is carpeted with bluebells seemingly a beautiful place. The wood itself is not big you can walk from one side to the other in under 5 minutes. The point where the S Africans entered the woods there is a plaque and I was able to follow their track to the east over still cratered ground. Through the woods there are named ‘Street’s which have been rolled flat and at the centre of these is the S African memorial.

S African Memorial

Bluebells in Craters - Delville Wood


At the edge of the wood lies Delville Wood Cemetery. This is not a war-time cemetery but one created after the Armistice. It was made as many of the post war graves by burial parties scouring the battlefields. The concentration of graves comes from a number of smaller cemeteries from the area (including Bazentin-le-petit, Courcelette, Guillemont, Loungeval, Maricourt and Martinpuch) but mainly from burials of those recovered from the battlefields. This is the third largest British cemetery on the Somme, with 5,523 graves.

At the end of the day it was time to drive back to Le Touquet before flyng to Verdun tomorrow. We were at least ging in the right direction as long traffic jams were encountered for thos driving away from Le Touquet and the seaside - it seems as if French holiday traffic can be just as annoying as British. We at least were not held up and booked rooms at the 'Blue Cottage' hotel just a mile form the airport and with a restaurant just across the road we were made up for the night.

Tuesday 22 April ; Le Touquet to Verdun. This was my leg and as Le Touquet tower was closed I decided to call Lille for ATIS which Alex in his own way pointed out was a rather dull thing to do. Anyway we took off at 1000 for the 2 hour flight to Verdun. We had noticed a NOTAM for an active military zone all round Verdun that would make getting in difficult but decided to go and then ask the military controllers for clearance through the zone. The transit was uneventful. All along the route it was possible to see small military cemeteries at roadsides although there was little evidence of battlefield disturbance around such famous towns as Arras or Cambrai, I suppose that after 100 years farming has finally healed the landscape. On approaching Verdun’s military zone we called the French Military controller to be told that there was no activity and we were clear straight in to the airfield at Verdun Sommedieu.

On arrival the airfield was very quiet so I carried out a join to observe the windsock and runway in use then made an approach which I messed up – I was too close in when turning in so ended up high leading to a go around before getting it right on the next attempt – this time carrying out a touch and go before handing controls to Alex to allow him to claim a Verdun landing in his log book.

We were able to get a Taxi (good old google) form the airfield after a short wait. We asked the driver to take us to Fort Douamont only to be told that it was closed as it was being prepared for the Verdun Centenary events. Instead, the driver suggested we visit the Citadel of Verdun ( ) which was itself a fort with a subterranean museum through which one travelled on a kind of ghost train ride. We acquiesced and were driven through the town gates past the statues of the Marshals of France (not sure of Petain is there or not) and were dropped at the Citadel. The Ride through the museum was interesting and audio visual was provided with headphones for different languages. At one point we were made to jump by a loud noise though this had nothing to do with the audio show it was only Alex dropping his water bottle.

From this point we wanted to get to a hotel and drop the bags but it was also form this point that taxi firms in Verdun decided to boycott us. We called a taxi to take us to a hotel – nothing turned up, we tried again – nothing. Alex tried to wave down a taxi that turned out to be a driving school vehicle with a learner at the wheel. Eventually we looked at a map and decided to walk into town and we were glad we did as we got a fantastic lunch at a small sandwich bar called L’Inconnu on the quai de Londres by the River Meuse (apparently the world’s oldest river); the staff at L’Inconnu like most people we met on the trip were friendly and helpful. The lunch was a kind of build yourself sandwich – Baguette + Steak +2 Veg + choice of Mayonnaise served with Frites. It was cheap and delicious. Given our inability so far to get a taxi the lady at the till called the taxi company and voila within 5 minutes a taxi was waiting and we were dropped at the Hotel Petronella which like the Blue Cottage before had been booked using the Booking.Com app on my iPhone.

After a shower we decided to walk into town in the evening to take in the sights. From the hotel it was an easy walk through the old city gate on the southern edge of the city and on up to the town centre, across the Meuse and back to the Citadel. We climbed the hill behind the citadel and walked on to the old Cathedral. From this vantage point it was easy to see what a good position the German forces had in 1916 in the hills to the east of the city. As we wandered through the town we wend back to the quai de Londres and found a bar for a couple of pints of Leffe and then decided to visit an Indian Restaurant for dinner. The Restaurant wasn’t busy so we put our gear down and had a fine curry with all the accompaniments before deciding to call it a day and heading back to the hotel.


Parked at Verdun Airfield

Verdun City

Weds 23 April – A slightly later start than that we planned as Alex had discovered he had left his Camera in the curry house last night. This wasn’t an issue as we decided to walk into town and the weather was excellent at least in Verdun. We had noted that the forecast and actual weather in Aberdeen was not good at all – thick fog - so a delayed start might actually help our cause. We had to wait until 1100 for the Restaurant to open for lunch but this allowed us to have a good look around the town and in case the camera had been lost rather than simply left in the restaurant we tried to find a police station to make a report for insurance purposes; a harder task than we expected as it turned out there were 2 completely separate police forces (national and municipal) apparently lost property was a matter for the municipal police but no-one seemed to know where these guys were based! Not even the National police station was able to tell us where their municipal colleagues might be found. So after some wandering about town I remembered seeing a local give a couple of policemen the ‘finger’ last night and decided that it might be worth a trip to where we had seen that vignette and that was indeed the location of the municipal police. Now not many Brits visit Verdun - the battle had been fought between the French and German Armies - so there isn’t a lot of call for English speaking policemen and we were relying on google translator to speak French. Reporting a lost Canon thus became difficult and getting a lost property report impossible! In the end we were offered a Nikon that they had in a back room but we decided it would be better to try our luck at the curry house again.

At 1100 sharp we were at the Indian restaurant and were handed a Canon as soon as we entered – they had recognised us from the night before – problem solved. As it was getting near to lunchtime we retired to the excellent sandwich bar – L’Inconnu - from yesterday and had a further Steak and Cheese baguette before walking back to our hotel (no Taxis are available in Verdun at lunchtime) picking up our gear and asking the receptionist to call a taxi to take us to the airfield.

This time a taxi arrived pretty quickly and we were back at the airfield in short order to witness a local fly-in as we flew out. The weather was clear and this was Alex’s leg. Take off was uneventful and we had a great view of Verdun as we had to follow the Meuse north in order to avoid a Danger Area. Again the military controllers were helpful but pretty keen to see us on the way. We cleared Verdun to the north and transited below restricted airspace before routing towards Le Touquet. At Cambrai Alex was keen to carry out a landing but as no-one was about we did a single touch and go. From here it was a straightforward flight to Le Touquet and after a couple of hours were on the ground and refuelled and Alex was able to confirm our GAR had been received in the UK and we were ready to return to the UK. It was at this point that I nearly got us stuck overnight by over-priming the engine I flooded it. I then faffed about to the point where we became concerned whether we would have enough charge from the battery to start the engine. After letting the engine dry out for an hour we tried again with no joy. The maintenance hangar was shut for the day but a friendly bunch of locals gave us an external battery to use only for us to find we didn’t have compatible leads. As a final attempt Alex called the Cabro engineer at Tayside for advice and tried a re-start which thankfully worked.

After all the Faff I took the controls and we were soon airborne and en route to Shoreham from where we could clear customs and refuel with sufficient fuel to get to Aberdeen if the weather was clear. The trip across the channel was uneventful and after 50 minutes we were on finals to Shoreham. On landing we parked up amongst quite a number of light aircraft – Shoreham it seems is a busy GA airfield. We were just in time to grab a coffee in the flying club and Alex checked the weather in Aberdeen whilst I went to refuel and pay landing fees. After refuelling I taxied back to our stand where I saw Alex wandering over to tell me it was a no – go for Aberdeen. The weather had still not cleared and as we would be operating at the extreme limit of range with no diversion there was no way we would be going tonight. We both agreed that an evening departure to Aberdeen when fog was forecast would have been exceptionally poor risk management. So it was over to Flight Planning to ask for a recommendation for a hotel and number for a taxi. The hotel recommendation was a good one and the taxi was with us in 15 minutes. Within the ½ hour we were supping a pint of real ale at the New Sussex Hotel in Lancing where for £60 each we got a fine comfortable room – though Alex’s was bigger than mine – with breakfast thrown in. A fine dinner of Sausage and Mash rounded off the day.

Parked up for the night at Shoreham

Thurs 24 April; Today started off with overcast at about 2000ft and some light rain. Again the forecast for Aberdeen wasn’t good though as Dundee appeared to be clearing we decided to depart Shoreham as soon as possible with a plan to refuel at Sherburn-in-Elmet (about 15 miles East of Leeds) and then go to Aberdeen with the option to divert to Dundee if the weather was still crap at Aberdeen when we got there.

After a good old English Breakfast at the Hotel we called for a Taxi and were told one would be along in 10 minutes so we got our bags, checked out and went outside to await pick up; after 20 minutes there was no sign of a Taxi so I called again to be told that the driver was on a ‘school run and had not told the controller’ we were promised another Taxi in another 10 minutes – needless to say none arrived. So we called a 2nd company and then a 3rd before finally getting picked up a frustratingly annoying 50 minutes after we had expected. With tempers a little frayed we were both wondering why so many Taxis were required to be doing school runs in Lancing – surely the responsibility for getting kids to school ought to be with the parents!

Eventually we arrived at the airfield (we could have walked there quicker) and it was a simple matter to file a flight plan, start up and get clearance to depart VFR with myself at the controls. As we needed to avoid both the London TMA and low cloud we flew at 2500ft for the 1st part of the trip which took us from Shoreham to Rochester and then to Southend where I climbed to 3f00ft to keep above cloud and avoid the ATZ below. From there it was a simple case of routing to Marham and then Coningsby and on to Sherburn this section was lightened by the Marham controller giving me avoiding action on a Tornado departing Marham at 250ft! This despite telling him 3 times that I was at 3500ft and NOT 500ft! North of Coningsby we were advised of a Typhoon carrying out aerobatics so I agreed to stay below 5000ft for co-ordination purposes though despite keeping a good lookout I never saw the other aircraft – I suppose that’s why they’re camouflaged. From Coningsby we routed towards the Humber letting down to 1500ft to get below the cloud and then towards the airfield which was pretty difficult to pick out (as I didn’t know that it had 3 huge warehouses on the Northern Edge – a good marker for anyone else travelling there) we deliberately stayed clear to the south until sighting the traffic in the circuit. We joined downwind as an overhead join was not possible from our direction because of low cloud and a lot of haze which would have made it difficult to maintain VFR. Sherburn has 3 grass runways and we landed on 06 before taxying round for fuel and then shutting down for lunch. Despite the haze it was a sunny day on the ground and Sherburn turned out to be a wee gem of an airfield – very GA friendly and it seems with an active flying club. We went to the clubhouse for a lunch of Chilli Burgers and Chips which was excellent. I must say that Sherburn is well worth a visit but if you do go make sure you follow the arrival and departure plates as there is a lot of local villagers that would rather not see aeroplanes at all near them despite the airfield pre dating the complainers by many years. For GA aviators I can say that Sherburn-in-Elmet is a gem worthy of your trade.

The final flight of our trip was from Sherburn-in-Elmet to Aberdeen with Alex at the controls on this leg. We departed Sherburn-in-Elmet without difficulty making sure we avoided overflight of the local villages and climbed to Flight Level 65 for the transit north. Despite the forecast of thick fog on the East Coast we saw none and had great views of the North Yorkshire and Northumberland coasts, bathed in sunshine, as well of the many wind turbines despoiling the landscape – not one of which was turning! We did encounter cloud as we crossed the Firth of Forth but not in any significant amount though at our height we did switch on the pitot heaters and kept a watch for any ice forming whenever we entered cloud. We could clearly see that Dundee was clear of fog so it was a suitable diversion but it became apparent the farther North we got that whilst there were fog banks just offshore from Aberdeen, that Aberdeen itself was clear. Nevertheless to make sure Alex requested an IFR recovery and ILS approach. For Practice he stuck on his blind flying glasses and I acted as safety pilot. The approach to Aberdeen was straightforward (although the glideslope needle was bouncing up and down – I suspect through interference) and we landed at 1545 bringing our wee adventure to an end.

A bit of research is need for the next trip – the trip to Wickenby got me thinking about carrying out an airborne tour of Bomber Command fields that are still active – but that’s for a long weekend at some time in the future.



Monday, 2 June 2014

Book Review: No More Beyond: The Life of Hubert Wilkins - Simon Nasht completed 1 June 14

Sir Hubert Wilkins is probably the most famous explorer you’ve never heard of (certainly I had never heard of him). Wilkins is probably so little known because he was not a self-publicist and did not always take the choice to go for glory (though well positioned to be the 1st to fly over the South Pole – he preferred to explore and map the Antarctic coast). Nevertheless Wilkins discovered more previously unchartered land and sea than anyone before or since.

This excellent biography seeks to redress the balance by recounting the extraordinary life of this man who was born in 1888 in the drought prone state of South Australia to parents who were both over 50 when he was born. Raised on the family farm Wilkins developed a self-reliant and adventurous nature that Nasht captures and develops. Nasht obviously like his subject and it comes through in this book which is all the more readable for the author’s sympathy. The majority of the book deals with Wilkin’s life before the 2nd World War and there is little of his later life or for that matter of his private life – he did not marry until he was 40 so that one doesn’t really get to know the man. Even so there is a lot to tell of this man’s life and extraordinary accomplishments up until the outbreak of the 2nd World War and the book is eminently readable.

The Amazon description of the book reads as follows:
“Aviator, war hero, explorer, reporter, prolific writer, spy, scientist and naturalist, Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958) was the most remarkable explorer of the twentieth century. The only allied war photographer to be decorated in battle, he was also the first man to fly in the Antarctic and to navigate a submarine under polar ice. He survived crashes and disasters, firing squads, sabotaged expeditions and even capture by Arab slavers, living long enough to be honoured by kings, presidents and dictators.”

Wilkins left South Australia as a stowaway in order to get to Sydney where he became interested in the then new trade of cinematography in which, surprisingly, in the early part of the 20th Century Australia was a leading nation. Quickly learning the ropes of film making he became a Newsreel cameraman and War Correspondent in the Balkan Wars of 1912/3 (where he was arrested as a spy by the Turks and lined up for execution by firing squad on several occasions – those next to him not being so lucky – but reprieved because his captors were wary of shooting a foreigner without gaining a confession). From 1913 to 1916 Wilkins was a member of Viljamhur Steffanson’s ill-fated ‘Canadian Arctic Expedition’ – as a cameraman initially but as his cameras were lost early on he took an interest in the Arctic Survival and Exploration. In 1916, Wilkins on hearing of the Great War took leave of Steffanson and joined the ANZACs in western France as a cameraman along with Frank Hurley (of Shackleton’s South expedition fame). Achieving the rank of Captain he was twice awarded the MC for bravery and wounded several times with numerous narrow escapes including having a German shell land at his feet but fail to explode. Wilkins was often found standing in no-mans land under fire calmly filming the chaos around him. Nasht states that the randomness of death experienced around him by Wilkins at Passchendaele seemed to inure him to fear of death.

Post War Wilkins continued to seek new experiences – in 1919 he was Navigator on one of the aircraft trying to fly from Britain to Australia in order to win the Australian government prize of £A10, 000 for the first Australian airman to fly a British aircraft from the UK to Australia within 30 consecutive days. The aircraft eventually crash landing in Crete with a suspected sabotaged engine. In 1921-1922 as an ornithologist aboard the Quest on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition to the Southern Ocean and adjacent islands and from 1923 he carried out a two-year study for the British Museum of the bird life of Northern Australia. This study, though well received by the British Museum, led to Wilkin’s being somewhat ostracized by the Australian government for the rest of his life (and perhaps leading to his modern day obscurity) because of his criticisms of the deliberate damage being done to the native fauna and the appalling treatment (including mass murder) of the indigenous population.

In 1927 despite having written off 2 aircraft in just 2 days trialling them for Arctic operations, Wilkins and his pilot Carl Ben Eielson exploring the drift ice of the Arctic Ocean in search for land that it was thought might be present were able to prove none was present by carrying out the first land-plane landing onto drift ice and taking soundings that proved the water depth was more than 5000m. Returning to Alaska from this flight they suffered engine failure and were forced to land and then walk out over several days.
On 15 April 1928 Wilkins and Eielson made the 1st a trans-Arctic crossing from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitsbergen, taking around 20 hours. For this Wilkins was knighted but not content to rest on his laurels he switched his attentions to the Antarctic. Carrying out explorations over 2 years with an interlude of the 1st round the world trip by Airship as an observer/reporter in the off season. On the second season in Antarctica, Wilkins could have chosen to be the 1st to fly over the South Pole but he eschewed the opportunity in order carry out explorations and scientific observations along the coastline. On hearing of the death on Eilson and on his return he declared that he was done with flying (though he would fly many times over the coming years) and turned his attention to becoming the 1st person to reach the North Pole by Submarine.

Whilst the Submarine expedition was to be a failure in many terms (its scientific results were later to prove more than useful) and its failure was to have a profoundly negative effect on Wilkins’ reputation, one can only admire the ambition of privately financing a submarine expedition to the North Pole in the pre-nuclear age.
In 1936 Wilkins did indeed return to flying in a7 month long Search and Rescue effort, at the request of the USSR, for find a missing Soviet aircraft that was attempting to reach the USA from Moscow.

The above represents a brief outline of the adventures covered brilliantly in Nasht’s book. The book does go onto talk about Wilkins’ work in the 2nd World War and his influence on US Navy plans to transit the Arctic Ocean by nuclear submarine in the 1950s but these are really only footnotes to the main events I have outlined.

Overall I would give this book a 5/5 – If you read nothing else this year then read this.