David Crossman writes:
We are sitting at 2000ft over an azure blue sea with just a few puffy white Cumulus clouds in the sky around us. We spot some islands coming in to sight through the slight haze. Are we over the Mediterranean Sea or in the Caribbean? No. These islands are much closer to home and just as beautiful. They are the Scilly Isles.
This trip had been a long time in the planning stage but due to work commitments and the weather, we had been unable to fly it. At last on September 15th 2006 we had a good weather window and the time. My old school friend Richard Bendy had agreed to come with me. He also has a PPL, and had done a lot of the ground work in researching accommodation for us in the Scillies. From his research we had established that it does get very booked up, so we decided to stop en-route at Lands End-St Just to cover ourselves for any significant changes in the weather or aircraft serviceability before making any firm arrangements.
We hired a PA28 Archer III, G-JACS from Modern Air at Fowlmere where we have both been members for many years. Our routing from Fowlmere took us to Brookmans Park (BPK) VOR, from there on to Bovingdon (BNN) and thence on to Compton (CPT). As forecast the broken cloud at 2000 ft and 8km visibility improved to CAVOK west of CPT, which was just as well as this was to be the last VOR until we got to Lands End (LND). Fortunately the GPS backed up by the map and flightlog, together with the superb visibility made navigation easy.
We contacted Lyneham for a radar service as we routed down towards Wells. The high ground was also rising so we climbed up to 4000 ft to give us good separation. Keevil Danger area was not active, but two C130 Hercules passed close by so it was just as well we were talking to Lyneham. They handed us over to Yeovilton and then we continued with Exeter, Plymouth, St Mawgan, Culdrose and finally our destination, Lands End- St Just. Flying in the South West is wonderful. After the cluttered South and Southeast airspace it is so easy leaving you more time to enjoy the truly spectacular Devon and Cornwall scenery. The radar services provided by St Mawgan and Culdrose also make the whole process effortless.
Approaching St Just from the North we flew close by St Ives and then over the LND VOR from where we could easily make out the airfield. St Just is a lovely grass airfield with runways available in almost every direction you could wish to land on. On routing down the coast for a landing on runway 02 I could see a disused tin mine sitting forlornly on the edge of a cliff, an indicator of times past. Once on the ground the airfield staff, were most helpful providing all the information we needed about the crossing procedures to the Scillies.
One point of importance is that they do require you to wear one of those very fetching yellow jackets whilst walking on the Apron due to the Commercial flights that operate in there. Richard and I had searched high and low for one of these before leaving Fowlmere and had eventually borrowed an absolutely filthy one from one of the Engineers. As we walked in to pay our landing fees a number of passengers were waiting outside the terminal and I wonder what they must have thought as we turned up looking like the local refuse collectors!!
Scilly Isles St Mary’s does not have fuel available so it is important to give adequate consideration to this in case the weather deteriorates over the islands. We elected not to refuel outbound but to do so on our return to Lands End, as we had sufficient reserves to complete the flight safely.
The Lands End Transit Corridor is pretty busy with the Scilly Isle Skybus Islander’s and Twin Otters, as well as S61 Helicopters from Penzance. For this reason it is recommended to contact Culdrose for a LARS, although in practice St Just and St Mary’s controllers seem to have a good idea of the local traffic. Also it is recommended to file a flight plan both to and from the Scilly Isles.
Having donned life jackets we got airborne from runway 34 climbing up to our planned crossing altitude of 2000 ft. The visibility was so good that we could almost see the islands as soon as we were level. We routed towards St Martin’s head making the required position report calls at Charlie (18nm to run), Midpoint (11nm to run) and St Martins, before positioning for a right base join for runway 33 at St Mary’s. Landing on this humpbacked runway was great fun, although the presence of a granite outcrop on short final is certainly a little disconcerting.
It is best to land a little deep followed by a more extended flare than most of us are used to. The 1 in 13 gradient at runway ends certainly helps you slow down and in our case we were down well before the top of the hump, with a short taxi to the parking position on the grass by the tower.
There are taxis available from the airport in to the main town of Hugh Town but we decided we would walk via a coastal path. This eventually led down to our B&B. The main town has lots of good pubs and restaurants all with lovely views over the port. Boats leave regularly for the other inhabited islands of Bryher, Tresco, St Martins and St Agnes. Sadly we did not get time to visit them on this trip so I would certainly recommend going for at least two nights.
Accommodation is available in every form from Camping, to B&B’s and hotels. The prices range from about ₤70 a night for B&B to around ₤100-200 for a hotel. If you want to really treat yourself the Star Hotel on Garrison Hill is really spectacular. This is an old fort built in 1593 in the form of an eight pointed star. It was built to protect the western reaches of the UK from attack, and the dining room of the present day hotel used to be the Officer’s mess. Full of history and surrounded by ramparts, with great views over the other islands it would be a wonderful place to stay.
We ate at Juliette’s Garden restaurant overlooking the harbour, where we watched a Gig boat racing past as the sun set. Gig racing is a Scilly Isles institution a bit like the Oxford and Cambridge boat race culminating in a week of races during the month of May. With the sun setting and a few beers to hand it was an idyllic place to watch this. The food at Juliette’s lived up to expectations and was reasonably priced, but like most of the island restaurants you do need to book ahead. Another recommended restaurant is The Boatshed which is also close to the port.
The islands are quiet, un-spoilt and beautiful. There is a lot to see and do all of which can be found on the Tourist Information website, or by typing Scilly Isles in to a search engine.
Next day on departing the Scillies, ATC very kindly allowed us to complete an aerial tour of the islands at 1000 ft before setting course for Land End and home.
The Scilly Isles is just one place you have to visit as a pilot. It is a perfect flight to take advantage of the benefits of a light aircraft as you will be there in just 2hrs 15mins from the south east, having saved yourself a five hour or more car drive to Cornwall, and then the cost of getting over to the Scillies with a commercial operation. It is truly magical and I cannot wait to go back there.
Some useful contact points:
Star Castle Hotel : 01720 422317/423342 www.star-castle.co.uk
The Boat Shed : 01720 423881
Juliette’s Garden : 01720 422228
Tourist Information : 01720 422536 www.simplyscilly.co.uk