Monday, 6 July 2015

An ambitious trip...!

Last week I made my first trip to the Hebrides without MrEH in tow as well - and also my shortest ever visit, as I was in the Western Isles for a grand total of 22.5 hours! Those of you who follow my Instagram or Twitter accounts already know that the reason for this trip was to see those RAF Red Arrows displaying in Stornoway - only their third ever visit to the Hebrides and the first time they've been there since 2001.

This one took a LOT of planning...right from when Red 10 first mentioned on Twitter having done the site survey back in March there was never any real question in my mind that I wanted to do it, the question was always how it was going to be possible. Flying straight up & back just proved too expensive and had to be dismissed straight away, it would also have meant that I would have had to lose two days work rather than just one - increasing the cost of the whole escapade even more. Thankfully as you know I do enjoy a bit of travelling so the thought of doing it in lots of stages wasn't as daunting as it might have been, and a bit of lateral thinking later and I settled on the following plan of action:

In flight on a Ryanair 737-800 o the way up...
On Saturday MrEH dropped me off at Stansted airport - it's at times like this that living close to a major hub airport comes as an advantage. I flew to Glasgow, where lovely Fay picked me up and drove me into the city to spend the night with another ace lady - Laurie, being able to combine the trip with seeing those two was a total bonus! Much wine was consumed and I confess to feeling a little delicate as I set off for Queen Street station and the next phase of the journey on the Sunday morning. Thankfully a large bottle of water sipped gently between there and Inverness sorted out the worst of that, and a fast-food lunch killed off any residual doubts as to whether my innards were going to behave or not! Good thing too as the next stage was one of my least favourite modes of transport - the bus across to Ullapool to catch the Ferry over to Stornoway itself. All went like clockwork and by 9.30pm I was happily settled in at the cosy B&B I'd booked, with a cup of tea and a book. Monday morning dawned with heavy grey cloud and light drizzle - just the sort of weather we really didn't want to see but with the boys not due to arrive until 2pm and the display not until 5pm there was time for it to change. Over breakfast I got my first surprise of the trip when I discovered that the display site has changed from the Airport to the town - all sorts of questions came rushing to the fore at that point - notably how on earth I was going to get through there in the first place, and then back to the airport afterwards in order to check in in time for my flight back to Glasgow - which was due to be shortly after 7pm! I know from experience that these things have a habit of working out though so stuck that one onto a mental back-burner for the time being.

Circus 2, aka James, aka "The short grinning Geordie" ;-) 
A few weeks previously I'd emailed the airport at Stornoway to enquire where they were planning on putting the jets while they were on the ground there - as I was hoping to be able to spend some time taking photos of the Circus guys at work I was hoping that they were going to be close to a fence-line where I could at least shoot through the fence. The reply came back asking me to call at the end of the week before, so on the friday beforehand I duly placed the call and spoke to the Airport Manager who proceeded to inform me that what they'd like to do was arrange airside access for me so that I could be on the ground to see the team arriving and get my groundshots too. Absolutely amazing - I definitely didn't expect anything of that sort and once again it reinforced my knowledge of just how fabulously hospitable Hebridean folk are. As such I reported to the airport at 1pm as agreed, was duly given my pass and taken across to the tower where it was agreed that the lovely Iain would drive me over the far side of the airport to the Hangar where the jets would be parked. It was also agreed that he would drive me into town for the display as well - which was fantastic!

Discovering the challenge of fitting the jets & fire crews and appliances into a photo... 
Bang on time as always the jets appeared - unusually in two groups rather than the more familiar "Big battle" V formation of 9, or the standard poor-weather fall-back of 3 groups of 3, and in short order they taxied round the airport and arrived on the pan in front of me. First to come over was Red 10 (Lingy) - he already knew I was there as I'd tweeted him when I arrived the night before (His reponse an astonished "You haven't...?!") and it was as always nice to see his cheerful grin! I took the chance to ask quickly if there was any chance I could grab a lift back from the airport with him after the display too and he agreed that he thought it was unlikely to be a problem but to go and find him and Martin when I got into town and he would confirm. Time then to deal with the official stuff - some photos of the team with the local Air Cadets, and a few more for the Airport fire crews, then time for getting stuck in to my first proper "Circus At Work" shots of the 2015 season. Fantastic to catch up with pals from last season Nicky & James, and to meet some more of the new guys on Circus for 2015 too - seems like we have another lovely bunch this year! After a couple of hours hard work...and a wee bit of time to play...

Duck! ;-)
...there was just time to grab a quick cuppa before Iain and I headed off into town where I bid him farewell with many thanks! Off to find Lingy and Martin then - which I duly did at the ferry terminal cafe - and confirmation that my transport back to the airport afterwards was sorted which came as a real relief! All that was left then was for the weather to play ball, which it REALLY didn't - all day it had been brightening up then clouding over again, and right on cue 15 minutes before display time the cloud descended again and visibility dropped right back to outside the limits - absolutely NOT what was needed!  Even five minutes before it was still looking doubtful whether we were going to get any display at all - but thankfully Hebridean weather did it's thing of changing in a heartbeat and the decision was made that at least the jets could come in for a the event the clouds cleared back enough that we got an entire flat display much to the appreciation of the crowd! Standing with Martin for the display it was interesting to see how he worked - as Circus 10 his role at displays is to film the display so the team can use the footage to debrief later - without someone in place to film the display can't take place so he's a pretty important part of the operation! The unexpected positioning of a massive cruise-ship at the pier caused some difficulties for both of us AND the team - datum (the centre point of the display) had to be relocated slightly to take account of it!

Circus 10 (Martin), me & Red 10 (Lingy) on return to Stornoway airport after the display.

Once the display was over we wasted little time in getting packed up, the taxi duly arrived and the three of us hopped in and returned to the airport, all that was left them was to say my goodbyes and check in for my flight home - which ran slightly late ironically enough due to the aircraft being delayed earlier in the day due to the arrival of some Little Red jets...! From there everything ran like clockwork again which was a relief - the airlink bus to the city centre arrived as planned and my National Express bus back to London left dead on time. All in all it was a truly superb few days and I'd take the risk of undertaking a similar trip again should they display in the Hebrides in the future - of course it may well be that by the time they do, any journey would be substantially shorter!


No comments: