Fly to the Sound of Mull

Planes at Strip

John and Anne Milner heard about the Glenforsa Hotel and Restaurant on the island of Mull and discovered that it was right next door to the island’s small airstrip on the edge of the Sound of Mull. Clearly this was a trip that had to be done. The Hotel is only open from April until October and we plumped for the first May Bank Holiday and booked. Brendan who operates the Hotel with Alison is an experienced warbird pilot and keeps his Cub there too. He also has a wonderful Gallery overlooking the Sound with a PC in the corner for flight planning. Perfect!

We planned to set off on the Friday and stay overnight in Carlisle to meet up with an old friend who lives there and has a Warrior. He recommended a B&B and pub for supper in the village of Irthington just around the corner which turned out to be excellent. The trip to Carlisle was uneventful and we refuelled on Saturday morning. Taking our friend’s advice we set off west along the Solway Firth until turning towards the Turnberry VOR to stay clear of Glasgow and then past the Isle of Arran and Prestwick towards Oban. Scottish Info and Prestwick were both very helpful and as we passed Prestwick there was a 747 inbound. It was quite a sight to see the Jumbo passing astern and slightly below as we trundled along at FL050.

In view of all the redevelopment work at Oban we’d called for PPR as advised and were told that there was 690 metres on 21 available. We arrived on a lovely sunny morning and had an interesting if undramatic approach past the side of the hills and through the threshold marked with cones to land on the edge of a large building site. It was bit like landing beside a contraflow on the M1 really!

I got Paul Keegan to fill the tanks since the long term forecast for Sunday night and Monday morning was iffy and so I wanted the maximum options and Glenforsa is as long as Fowlmere pretty near. We were provided jammy dodgers in the long Oban tradition and soon we were off 21 and heading down the Sound of Mull. Glenforsa uses Safetycom not the published frequency and we decided on a straight in approach to 25 given that GPS ground speed indicated a roughly westerly wind. That said Glenforsa wind is very localised and it’s got two wind socks, one each end. It’s quite normal for them to be pointing towards each other or away from each other! As we made our call we heard another aircraft call down wind and that turned out to be Ivan Shaw of Europa fame flying with an islander who had just finished building one!

The hotel is a Norwegian log cabin and in a delightful setting. We spent two nights and had excellent service and two good dinners. Dave Howitt who runs the airfield rented us a car and so we saw a bit of the island and bought some good local whisky from the hardware store in Tobermory that doubles as an off licence. All the roads are single track with passing places and it’s a big island so you won’t get round it in a day; trust me!

PuffinOn Sunday despite not having booked (a mistake) we managed to blag our way onto a boat trip to Staffa. We were very lucky because the sea was calm enough for us to land on the island and so we walked into Fingal’s Cave and sat and had our lunch with Puffins also sitting less than a yard away, wonderful!

Sunday night as predicted the weather closed in and it rained all night. Monday morning was low cloud but OK visibility so having discovered that
G-BSXS door leaks and dried out Mrs Milner’s seat we waited to see if the weather would improve as the front went through.

My precaution of having full tanks meant we had plenty of options and eventually we decided that my IMC skills were sufficiently current for us to take off into a 700ft cloud base and fly down the Sound towards Oban until we were high enough to turn South and head for Blackpool. Blackpool was chosen for three reasons: TAFs showed it behind the front, I’ve never flown there and my Great Aunty had a boarding house there in the 1950’s where some of my holidays were spent when I was small!

We flew IFR until Turnberry (Scottish Info and Prestwick doing their stuff once more) and then were able to descend out of cloud (a relief since we had been picking up small amounts of ice) and were duly rewarded with great views of the Lake District and the Isle of Man as we approached Blackpool across Morecambe Bay. Squire’s Gate has certainly changed since I were a lad and we shared the apron with a Ryanair737 a far cry from the Dragon Rapides of my youth.

Tanks topped up and insides emptied we headed South past Liverpool and across the Dee and down the Welsh border country to Kemble and home.

This was trip well worth doing, but don’t even think about it unless you have at least an IMC or can wait out the weather. As someone wryly remarked at Oban, “if you don’t like the weather just wait 20 mins”

We’ll be back to fly the Great Glen to Inverness one of these days. After the crowded South East flying in Scotland in good weather was a real treat.

John Milner - May 2006

GBSXS at Strip