Dodging the clouds to Caernarfon

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North West Wales for lunch

I’d been talking with Andy about sharing a flight – it’s been too long since we’ve flown together. He had been keen to fly to Caernarfon last weekend, where his wife was visiting relatives, but I couldn’t make it. So we agreed to fly on Saturday and then delayed to Sunday based on the weather forecast. A friend was keen for me to take him for another flight and also planned to come on Saturday, but sadly was already committed on Sunday. Perhaps this was for the best, because with full fuel we would have been out of limits.

We agreed to meet at Kemble around 9:30, and fly the Arrow to Caernarfon and back. Andy would fly there, perhaps circling Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales at 3,560 feet) if the visibility was worthwhile, and I would fly back circumnavigating Anglesey and overflying Andy’s relative’s house so he could take a few photos.

Although it had been frosty overnight, the temperature quickly warmed up and melted any frost on the wings. I got to Kemble first, and A-checked the aircraft but couldn’t pull it off the grass onto the hard taxiway by myself – it was stuck in the ruts.

Meanwhile, Andy rang Caernarfon and checked the NOTAMs etc before helping me pull the aircraft off the grass, jumping in and starting up. Fewer club pilots are qualified to fly the Arrow, so I think this is only the second time I’ve flown as passenger with another club pilot.

Outbound leg

Andy has separately documented the trip on his blog, but I’ve added a few photos below. We flew at around 5,000 feet or higher, and kept out of the cloud for all but the last 20 miles or so.

Cheltenham
Overhead Gloucestershire Airport with GCHQ and Cheltenham on the right hand side
Ridge
This mountain ridge must be good for gliding. There is a gliding site marked by the white building on the top of the ridge, half way down the photo
Lake Bala
Lake Bala, with Bala town at the right hand side (north east), is a good landmark
Approaching Caernarfon Airport heading west. You can just about make out the runway near the top middle of the picture, above the white buildings

An easy approach

Caernarfon airport has an easy approach with few buildings in the general area – only a mast several miles to the south and of course the mountains to the east to worry about. Surprisingly, they’ve decided to build two very large wind turbines right next the alternate runway – these are not yet finished but will surely add severe turbulence and risk to the airport operation. It seems a crazy place to locate them when there is a lot of land in the area that might be more suitable, but is presumably driven by commercial pressures.

The airport itself had clearly marked parking spots for visiting aircraft, a lively microlight club and an excellent restaurant. There were plenty of visitors there taking advantage of the Sunday roast – cyclists and locals, not just pilots. The office was helpful and we easily paid our landing fee. Hi-viz is mandatory with a notice warning of a £20 fine for contravention. There were good views of the area as we ate lunch, and the beach is just at the end of the runway.

Caernarfon Airport
Hangars at Caernarfon Airport
Caernarfon Microlights
Microlight club looked very active
Control Tower
Control Tower
Lunch – Sunday Roast for £6

Sightseeing along the Menai Straights

After lunch it was my turn to fly, and we took off and turned towards the Menai straights, flying over the famous landmark bridges and circling so that Andy could take some snaps. Heading anti-clockwise around Anglesey, we saw the ferry port (for the short crossing to Ireland), the power station, and overflew Valley airport (the RAF airfield where Prince William flys Search and Rescue missions from). I flew overhead at about 2400 feet, just below the cloud but high enough to be outside the ATZ – the MATZ is closed over the weekend. We tried to raise them on the tower frequency, but there was no reply.

Menai Straights
Menai Straights from the south looking north east
Menai Bridges
Menai Bridges, connecting Anglesey by road and rail with the Welsh Mainland

We then headed south over the peninsula to Pwllheli, flying at about 2,000 feet keeping slightly west of track to stay VFR and avoid the 2,000 foot mountains. Flying down the coast, we saw Llanbedr, a really nice looking airfield which used to be an RAF base which closed in 2004. The long runway and easy approach made this look enticing, but sadly it’s not open. I’ve heard there are developments to recycle old jet aircraft planned there and that planning permission has been granted, but it seems very unlikely to become another GA airport for recreational flyers.

Welsh mountain
High mountains to our left as we flew across the Llyn peninsula
Llanbedr Airport
Llanbedr Airport – what a shame its closed to GA traffic

The cloud bank was down to mountain height inland, but we remained VFR as we flew down the coast to Aberystwyth where Andy’s wife had gone to University.

Into the cloud

High clouds
Flying at 5500 feet to try and keep clear of clouds, which we did most of the time

Turning inland, I climbed up to 5500 and later briefly to 6500 to remain VFR, but we were IMC for about 10 minutes. Once at Abergevenny, we spoke to Cardiff and asked for a Basic Service. Interestingly, when we then confirmed we were IFR (although not actually in cloud, we were so close to them that technically we weren’t VFR), we were issued with a different squawk code. Some minutes later, as we neared the Severn river, we asked for a Traffic Service because we expected to be entering cloud, but Cardiff said that we were at the edge of their radar coverage. Rather than contact Bristol, we simply avoided the cloud and saw Kemble in the distance.

Arrival

There was a jet departing as we approached from the west and so we kept south, turning left into the overhead for the join for 26 left hand. Several other aircraft seemed to be joining downwind, so although the AFIS asked me to report downwind and additionally made position reports overhead and crosswind.

While I think my approach was good, and I did check the reds/blues/greens on final, I chopped the power too early and landed before I intended – a bit harder than I would have liked. When I suggested to Andy that I might benefit from a few circuits with an instructor, he thought that I probably just needed a few circuits on my own – on these longer landaways, you do far fewer landings so can quickly get out of practice.

Debrief

After fueling up, we parked up and joined Andy’s family in AV8 for a coffee and chat. I then met up with a couple of pilots from the Bristol Aero Club, which had relocated to Kemble a few days earlier (from Bristol Filton which is closing in December). Their PA28 is kept in a hangar near ours, and they have their own portacabin to use as an onsite office. They’d visited White Waltham for the afternoon. Perhaps we may share some landaways in the future.

Total PIC this flight: 1:50
Total Time: 230:50

5 comments

  1. Hi David
    Loving the Blog, the photos are particularly interesting and you are certainly banging in some hours for a mainly weekend flyer!
    The weather is vile at the moment and my aircraft is on Guernsey having its annual at ASG, so no flying for a week or two 🙁
    However, did manage a ‘Tour de France’ last week via La Rochelle, Carcassonne, Limoges, St Nazaire and then to Guernsey to drop off the plane for its annual.!
    So mustn’t grumble.
    Just don’t have the time to Blog it all….
    Good luck with your flying and look me up if you ever get back to Sleap…
    (G-JFER)
    Cheers
    Phil

    1. Hi Phil

      As you will see, I made it to Sleap yesterday but at such short notice I wasn’t able to arrange to meet up. Hopefully next time I’ll be more organised. Your French trip sounds impressive – no wonder the plane needed a service after that lot. Even if you can’t write up a full blog, the trip report section on Flyer Forums is a good place to share your photos and/or brief comments about what’s worthwhile at each place you’ve visited.

      FlyerDavid

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