Friday, 24 July 2015

DVD review. Kayaking the Aleutians - Justine Curgenven

Awesome as a word is overused these days but it is a word that accurately describes the Expedition recorded by Justine Curgenven's superb film.   Justine is of course the doyen of Sea Kayaking film production most famous for her 'This is The Sea' series.  Nevertheless this film surpasses even her earlier work.  The filmwork is superb and the expedition it records is an epic. 

For 101 days Justine and Sarah Outen kayaked the 2500km length of the Aleutian Island chain, spending up to 15 hours at a time in their Kayaks.  To set the scene on needs to start at the beginning of the tale and this is Sarah's epic self-powered round the world trip which she commenced in April 2011 and is due to complete sometime towards the end of 2015 (for details visit her website ).  Having rowed solo across the Pacific in 2013 from Japan to Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands she was forced to abandon her trip in her row boat but determined to return to continue from where she left off in 2014 this time by Kayak. 

This DVD tells the story of that continuation this time in Sea Kayaks and with the expert aid of Justine.  The early part of the DVD covers Justine's training of Sarah over the winter of 2013 (Sarah was a relative novice Kayaker – I say relative that is to Justine as  she's a damned sight better than most from what I can tell!) .  This is a truly epic journey.  It is inspirational to see what can be done by a relative novice (Sarah admitted to being scared on many an occasion) if one just gets out there and does it.  

The Aleutian chain provides a stunning backdrop as the women progress through their journey, encountering uncharted tidal conditions, poor weather, fog and even Grizzly Bears but also the local hospitality on those islands that are inhabited.  This far North the weather changes rapidly and it is a tribute to the skills of these explorers that they thrive in these conditions whilst still producing such a superb film.  The physical challenges of sitting for hours in Kayaks day after day can only be marvelled at.  This DVD is a must for anyone interested in adventure, whether they are into Kayaking or not.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Tour O The Borders 2015

On 9 August I shall be cycling 120 kms on this year’s Tour O The Borders. ( ; In order to push myself a little I have decided to do this for The Hampson Foundation which provides advice, support, relief and/or treatment for anyone suffering serious injury or disability which has arisen from any cause, but in particular from participation in or training for any sport, sporting activity or other form of physical education or recreation (see ; I would be grateful for any contributions if any of you can spare some change via my Just Giving Link Below

Thanks in Advance

Monday, 6 July 2015

Bomber Command Micro-Adventure

For some time now I had thought of an aerial tour of the old Bomber Command Airfields of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, having remembered visiting a number of the Lincolnshire fields by car in the 1970s and early 80s. I was interested to see what remained of these once ubiquitous structures and to pay a small tribute to the brave men who flew from these fields between 1939-45. In Early June Alex mentioned to me that he had ZV booked for Sunday 28 June whilst I had it on the Saturday, he suggested that it might be a good chance to do this trip.
To say that flight planning was rushed would be an understatement. I had an idea for a route but it was only on Friday night that I could find time to write it on a chart. Nevertheless on, by coincidence, Armed Forces day 2015 we gt airborne at 0940 from Aberdeen
Saturday 27 June 2015
Leg 1 – Aberdeen to Church Fenton (Leeds East) 238 Miles – P1 Me 2hours 20 minutes
After one of the coolest, cloudiest and windiest Junes on record in Aberdeen, it was a great surprise to find I was taking off into clear blue skies at 0940. Climbing to 5000 ft to avoid a layer of fair weather cumulus I routed Leuchars - Charterhall-Newcastle-Teesside – Church Fenton. After crossing the Firth of Forth I descended to 3000 ft as I wanted to get a good view of Chartherhall as the 1st wartime airfield on my list. Charterhall was not a bomber field but a Night Fighter training airfield, known to many as Slaughterhall on account of the number of accidents caused by the inexperience of trainees and the clapped out nature of the aircraft flown – mostly Beaufighter IIs.
Chartherhall turned out to be well preserved and is still active as an unlicensed tarmac runway 600m long. Much better preserved than expected we thought we would try to get PPR for our return trip. Continuing on we we climbed to 4000ft to clear Cheviot and were cleared through Newcastle Zone – overflying the Alder Topsides Module being loaded out from OGN ship yard. At Teesides we were asked to keep clear of the airfield due to Para-Dropping. Teeside was my 1st bomber field of the trip (known as RAF Middleton St George during the war it was a base for Halifaxes)
From here to Church Fenton things got more difficult. We started top encounter a large numer of gliders in the vale of York – manouvering to avoid on that was co-altitude and around 500m away with several below plus as we neared York an auto-gyro. As we kept our eyes peeled we called up Church Fenton but could get no reply (despite PPR and a request made on Friday to get fuel). With Elvington off to our laft and Sherburn in Elmet to the right plus a lot of traffic around us we decided to land tuned to safety com (135.475) rather than Church Fenton frequency.
Like Charterhall, Church Fenton was not a bomber station during the war but a Night Fighter and fighter base. Now privately owned it seems to be being redeveloped and has been renamed Leeds East. It has 2 good runways but I still managed to find a strong crosswind and made the error of landing with full flap which made for a bumpy arrival. We could find no-one around (though 1 aircraft seemed to be doing circuits) nor an honesty box for landing fees. Obviously we couldn’t get fuel either so decided to press on the Breighton where we knew there was a self service fuel pump.
Leg 2 – Church Fenton to Breighton 28 miles – P1 Alex 20 minutes
This was Alex’s leg and we departed of the circuit avoiding the villages below. Stating at 2000 ft all the way we wer soon at Breighton after overflying Melbourne airfield (still reasonably well preserved. Breighton has a non-standard arrival procedure due to aerobatics often being performed to the North so we gave that side of the airfield a wide berth. Once a Halifax base the old airfield is clearly visible but the new airfield does not use any of the old runways – instead it uses a grass strip to one side. After just 20 minutes we were trundling along this and then taxiing to the fuel pump. By refuelling at Breighton you are exempted from the £5 landing fee.
Once fuelled we went into the clubhouse of this busy strip. A lot was going on there were constant arrivals form light aircraft, one doing aerobatics and a Stearman doing several wing-walking flights. I really liked Breighton, this was a friendly, dynamic little place and I shall certainly visit again. Even better there was an excellent café for a lunch of Burgers followed by home-made cake.

Leg 3 – Breighton to East Kirkby 69 miles – P1 Alex 40 minutes
After a fine lunch another leg for Alex. Getting airborne at 1420 our route would be Breighton – Hemswell (Lancasters) – Ludford Magna (Lancasters) – Easat Kirkby (Lancasters). Turning left after take off we got a Basic service from Doncaster Airport (formerly RAF Finningley). Staying at 1500 feet we routed below controlled airspace until contacting Waddington as we were going to pass close to a restricted zone around Scampton (from where the Dambusters launched their famous raid in 1943). En route we passed between the former Airfield of Blyton to the right and Kirton In Lindsey (Defiants and still an active glider site) to the left. A couple of orbits over Hemswell showed a field that had mostly been reclaimed but was still easily discernible.
Turning for Ludford Magna we had clear views of Scampton and Wickenby (Lancasters) off to the right and Alex noticed another light aircraft below and to our left (possibly a kit fox) that we slowly overtook. Ludford Magna is sited close to a tall TV mast so we made sure we kept well clear of that. A couple of orbits over the airfield showed this to be the least intact of all those we flew over this weekend. A rough outline of the airfield was visible but the only remaining structure appeared to be the runway intersection which was being used as a storage area by the current landowner.
The arrival procedure for East Kirkby requires ac to contact Coningsby (Lancasters during the war and current home of Typhoons and the BBMF) as the airfield lies beneath the Eastern MAtZ Stub. With Coningsby closed we stayed on Frequency with Waddington until we sighted East Kirkby (not easy due to Trees and the Modern Hangers in no way resembling the wartime type – plus a lot of the original site now reclaimed). Over to Safety Comm Alex lined up on a rather confusing picture. The Pooley’s guide to the airstrip clearly shows RW 24/06 as a mixed Hardstanding on to grass strip. In reality there is no obvious runway so Alex landed on the grass field of which the runway was part, on the correct heading – we decided that that was good enough.
East Kirkby is the home of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre ( ) and the Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ NX611 which the Panton family hope to return to flying condition (and which I had the privilege of sitting in when it was Scampton’s gate guardian in 1986). The Museum is a must for anyone passing this area. It was set up by two farming brothers, Fred (who sadly passed away in 2013) and Harold Panton as a memorial to Bomber Command and primarily as a tribute to their eldest brother Plt Off Christopher Panton who was killed on the infamous raid to Nuremberg on 30/31 March 1944 – a night when Bomber Command lost more aircrew in a single night than Fighter Command lost in the whole of the Battle of Britain.
As we arrived there was a Jet Ranger running heli trips for passengers and 2 flexwing microlights plas a Kitfox from Strathaven that both Alex and I had recognised from Bute – so he was a long way from home – it turned out this was the weekend for micro-lights to be running a loose touring rally of the UK. Making our way to the ‘NAAFI’ we paid landing fees and museum entry and then spent the next 90 minutes touring this excellent museum. The high point for Alex being to si in a Canberra cockpit and reminisce over a flight in one of thes when just a youngster – whilst he sat there he looked as happy as a pig in poo!
We now needed to think about where to stop for the night. The grass strip at Boston was at least close to a town so I called the PPR number – answered by a chap who was at that time 2000 feet over Whitby but happy enough ot give us permission)
Leg 4 – East Kirkby to Boston – 20 miles – P1 Me 15 minutes
The last leg of the day was mine. Given that the airfield was not marked I decided on a take off heading from the grass only of 210. There were 2 good reasons for this. Firstly it would be directly into wind and secondly the departure would be clear of trees. Using short field technique we got airborne and I stopped the climb at 500 feet until clear of Coningsby MATZ thereafter climbing to 2000 ft to allow for an overhead join at Boston – just 15 miles away.

Landing was uneventful ad after paying landing fees (another friendly GA Clubhouse), coffee and a cake we got a taxi into town. proved useless in finding a place to stay so we went to the pub 1st and then after a short walk around the impressive St Botolphs Church (13 Century testimony to the one time wealth of this medieval port), known locally as the ‘Stump’, a bite to eat. Alex’s Double BBQ Burger proving too much for him but I was successful with my Lincolnshire sausage and mash. Eventually we did discover the Y-Not Guesthouse on the outskirts of the town and retired for the night.
Sunday 28 June 2015
Leg 4 – Boston to Elvington – 111 miles – P1 Me 1 hour 5 minutes
After overnight rain the weather this morning was not so good, there was low cloud in patches and as we arrived at the airfield, a 25 minute walk from the B&B, it started to drizzle. There was warm front forecast to come through around mid-day and we were in its path – hence the dull weather. It started to rain as we inspected the ac so we didn’t hang about and I once again used short filed technique to get us airborne at 0945.
Initially visibility was very poor (though still VFR) necessitating a slowing of speed to 90 kts and switching on the landing lights for conspicuity. Unable to raise Waddington for a service I called London. From Boston I routed to Folkingham. During the war this had been a Transport Command Airfield but had joined Bomber Command after the war as a base for the Thor IRBM. The airfield was clearly still intact but pretty much every hard standing was being used for the storage of scrap metal. By now the visibility had improved to 10km but with intermittent low cloud just wher I wanted to be at 1500 feet. To the North we could see RAF Barkston Heath from where in January 1984 I had flown my 1st solo Jet Flight in Jet Provost Mk 5a. During the war this was the launching base for many of the C47s and Gliders used on operation Market Garden.
Turning North up the Trent Valley, still at 1500ft and with puffs of dank looking cloud at the same height making us climb and descend to avoid them. Alng the Trent we overflew a number of Airfields. First of these was Bottesford (Manchesters/Lancasters/C47s) and then Winthorpe. Winthorpe is now an industrial site but also houses the excellent Newark Air Museum. Although the airfield is now closed and we couldn’t land there we did get a good view of those museum aircraft that are parked in the open including the Vulcan that landed there in 1982 or 83. During the war Winthorpe had been a Lancaster base. Next was Ossington (opened in Jan 1942 as the home for Number 14 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit (No 14 (P) AFU) and transferred to No. 93 (Training) Group RAF Bomber Command in 1943) and then Blyton ( 199 Sqn Wellington then 1662 HCU Lancaster and Halifax) both of which are now closed but easy to spot. Blyton appeared to be being used as a race track for cars as we overflew.
Elvington was proving difficult to spot in the gloom but after 55 minutes it appeared only 3 miles north of us. The runway was long but the active part was a tarmacked area starting about 1/3rd of the way in. Landing was uneventful and we taxied to the fuel bowsers. Leaving ZV to the very friendly airfield operator (who fuelled her whilst we were at lunch) we were given entry tickets to the museum as part of our landing fee.

Leg 4 – Elvington to Aberdeen – 238 miles – P1 Alex 2hours 20 minutes
Elvington is now the site of the Yorkshire Air Museum and during the war was the base of the only 2 Free French Heavy Bomber Squadrons. These were equipped with Halifaxes and in tribute a reconstructed Halifax, in one of the airfield hangers, is painted on 1 side in the Free French Squadron markings (the other side is marked as ‘Friday the 13th’ Bomber Command’s highest sortie aircraft of the war (128 sorties). We took a good couple of hours looking around the museum and took the opportunity to get lunch (rather fine Chicken in White Sauce with Roast Potatoes and Veg in my case) in the ‘NAAFI’ before making our way back to the airfield office to pay for fuel and the landing fees and then to get a lift back to the airfield. I also tried calling the number for PPR to Charterhall but got no reply. At 1340 we were airborne again this time with Alex at the controls.
From Elvington our return route was similar to our outbound route the previous day. Until we cleared the N York Moors we struggled to stay VMC due to large amounts of low level cloud. Eventuallly though, just South of Teeside, we came into clear skies. This time we flew lower over Cheviot and had a close look at Charterhall where after a low go around Alex completed a Touch and Go before heading en route to Aberdeen where we landed after 2hrs 20.

Addendum - Jan 2017 I recently came across the following website that would be good for anyone planning a similar trip (or even going further afield to Europe):

Forgotten Airfields