Thursday, 6 February 2014

Catchup part… I’ve lost count… Back again to Summer 2013

Microlights and Helicopters 
For my birthday two years ago, my number two son bought me one of those experience presents which was for a flight in a microlight aircraft. When I went to redeem it, I discovered that there was a weight limit, which to my shame I exceeded and so was not able to take the flight. Instead I exchanged the voucher for a helicopter flight which was the same price, therefore both finding an acceptable alternative and discovering what my number two son spent on my present. This delayed the time for the flight by several months.
The helicopter flight I wanted was to take place from Mapledurham, an attractive private estate that is old enough to have been mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086 AD). It is on the river Thames, with a slightly less ancient water mill and grounds adjacent to the river. The estate hires the old cottages there for holiday lets. Many years ago we had spent a holiday there and so we knew how to find it and the flight was going to take me from there over to Highclere Castle, the place where a lot of the filming was done for the Downton Abbey TV series. This did not excite me so much as simply being in a helicopter, not being a follower of that series.
Kingsclere is a place I used to pass by on route to my work when my office had been moved to Basingstoke which is fairly close to Highclere so I knew the area quite well. During that time there had been a lot of road works going on around Newbury, the town I passed through before bypassing Kingsclere. A lot of disruption had occurred whilst they built the new bypass and in the process had to cope with Swampy, the professional protester, who made the process a lot longer, annoyed a lot of commuters and achieved nothing but notoriety for himself.

Swampy and co being evicted from their favourite tree

The road which was built despite protests

As a result of the constant problems with my route, I had explored a number of alternative routes in an attempt to avoid all the congestion and had even gone as far as Highclere to escape the jams, but mostly I had roughly followed the route that Hazel and Fiver took on their epic journey from the Sandleford burrow to their new home on Watership Down. Mind you, it only took me about ten minutes by road to get from the Sandleford Link to the road running past Watership down, where you could see the ‘iron tree’ mentioned in the story, but rabbits cannot drive so it took them much longer.

Meanwhile, back to the helicopter flight, like most of these experience flights, they only fly during certain months and if the weather conditions are right, so it took several more months to find a window where I was both in England and almost in time for my next birthday the flight was on. You have to phone the day of the flight and twice I had been informed it was cancelled until finally that July, it was all systems go. This is fairly rapid progress for this kind of thing, where people have been known to wait two years or more for a similar experience.
It was my first time in a helicopter and so another thing to take off my bucket list and it was brilliant. I got an upgrade so that I could sit next to the pilot in the front of the machine and had a really great view of the ground we were passing over. As we rose up from the farmer’s field being used as a temporary airfield, Mapledurham House became visible and we headed off towards Highclere.
Mapledurham.  The house is in the background and the water mill is almost dead centre.  
Click any picture to enlarge

The view below my feet

On the way we passed over Greenham Common, once an RAF and American airbase used by nuclear bombers. Greenham Common had a lot of press many years ago because of the protest marches and demonstrations the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) had held there.  Most of the time they were quietly peaceful and were largely run by a group of women who were rightly alarmed by the current Cold War attitude towards nuclear weapons. However, on occasions the protest became newsworthy when they became closer to riots than protests. The protestors had created a big campsite close to the site, which they occupied for several years.
Peacful demonstrators being urged to allow the car through

Greenham Common at the height of the protests
Many years later when this had all died away, when I was commuting past Watership Down, my route also took me past this site. In the intervening years the airbase had closed down and the site had become a business park but to my amazement, two of the protestors were still living in a caravan outside the gates. They would write protest notices on bed sheets and hang them on the fence, with a new slogan every now and then. I am not sure why they hung on to the site, since nuclear weapons were long gone by the time I used that route. Eventually they had to go because the local council put in a big roundabout where the caravan had been and they finally moved on when there was no longer any room for their caravan.
My view of part of Greenham Common as we flew over these bunkers
 After passing over Greenham Common, we circled Higclere Castle several times allowing us to take pictures and then returned to Maple Durham.
Highclere Castle

The other side of Highclere Castle

Newbury Racecourse
 I enjoyed the trip and took reams of pictures and on the whole felt that a microlight trip would have been somewhat less comfortable. Still if I want to fly like that, it seems I must slim down a bit!


  1. Nice story snafu. I've had that problem trying to redeem a present. I got a sightseeing ride in a helicopter, took my trusty SLR, only to be put on the back seat, in the middle between people either side. Got a lot of interior shots of the helicopter.

  2. Interesting contrast in your opinions of Swampy and the Greenham Common women. You definitely seem to approve of one and disapprove of the other.

    1. I think their motivation was considerably different. Making a big thing about a few trees being removed to unblock Newbury and ignoring other sites which were more destructive to trees a few miles away is hypocritical. Trees can be re-planted, but turning the globe into a radioactive wasteland is slightly more drastic.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful trip. What a great son you have to give you such a present!

  4. OMG. You're braver than me. I'd be terrified!