Far to the South West of Dublin is County Kerry and the beautiful mountains that form the 'Ring of Kerry' - The Slieve Miskh Mountains, MacGillikuddy's Reeks and the Caha Mountains. Our departure today is from the superbly equipped Kerry airport in conditions of perfect VMC, clear blue sky and almost no wind - unheard of in these parts for March weather, and rare in July!
The delightful town of Tralee marks our departure from civilisation for the next two hours, as we proceed in a Southerly and then Easterly direction around the Southern tip of Ireland.
West of Tralee, we track the Dingle peninsula out to sea. On our left, we can just make out the trackbed of the long vanished Tralee and Dingle narrow gauge railway, immortalised for us all by Ivo Peter's beautiful colour 16mm films of the 1960's when every available engine and wagon was pressed into service for the annual cattle fair service in the railway's last year of operation. What a tourist wonder the T&D would be today, the most Westerly rails in Europe and the best scenery of any minor railway. A tiny section of track has been restored at Tralee, along with the sole surviving locomotive, so maybe one day...
The Dingle peninsula ends in spectacular Slea head, where towering cliffs stand against the fury of the open Atlantic. After Slea head, there's nothing but water until Newfoundland.
Rounding Slea head, we enter Dingle bay, passing the fishing village of Dingle and destination of the T&D. Dingle was Linbergh's first landfall, and how he must of felt seeing the tiny village after 20 hrs of ocean cannot even be imagined by todays aviators, so used are we to continuous radio contact, ADF, and GPS. (Even out here, we can read the Kerry controller loud and clear, while ever helpful airline crews frequently rely calls from low flying light aircraft when the terrain obscures direct communication). It's comforting to know that a call on 121.5 would probably be heard by someone, perhaps.
Next, we see Valencia Island. Famous to generations of BBC shipping forecast listeners, Valencia is often graced by the worst weather in the British Isles, but today conditions could not be more perfect. It is at Valencia that the transatlantic telephone cables come ashore and it's a sobering thought that one day 140 years ago Brunel's Great Eastern , the largest ship since Noah's Ark and the largest ship in the world for 50 years, stood just off the tip of Valencia Island when she brought ashore the first ever transatlantic cable and began, though they could never have imagined it, the Internet age.
So now to Mizen Head and, on our left, Bantry Bay. Just beyond Mizen Head is the Fastnet rock, start and end of the Blue Riband crossing of days gone by. For our little PA-28, it's east to the famous city of Cork
Passing Clonakilty, we encounter a spectacular windfarm, marching across the low ridge that seperates us from the City of Cork, just visible in the distance.
The Cork controller has cleared us to transit overhead and as we approach the field, a band of weatheris becoming increasingly obvious to the North, where we have to turn on track to Athlone.
Far to the East, we can make out the outline of Cork Habour and the port of Cove (Once called Queenstown), where the Titanic lay taking on mail and emigrants for the new world. Cove is a highly evocative place, with the White Star offices still standing at the waterfront and the landing stage where the Titanic's tenders came along side still existing, though in a ruinius condition.
Even more moving is the memorial to Lusitania, just across the road from the White star building and seperated from Titanic by just four years and the unimaginable gulf between the 99 years of the Pax Brittannica and the horror of the first world war.
Standing like sentinels rising out of the Irish plain are the mass of Galty mountains, at 3018' well above our VMC ceiling today of 1800'. Fortuately, we can skirt around the mountains to the west, keeping the low ground of the Shannon visible in the lowering visibilty as a bolt hole, should we need it.
Past the Galtys, the terrain lowers and we cross the meandering Shannon at Cloghan. Here, we strike out across country for Mullingar, where we will pick up the Royal Canal for our straight run into Weston. Out here, and at 2500', radio contact is surprisingly unreadable with Shannon and Dublin and ever helpful airline crews relay our calls until we pick up Dublin at Mullingar.
Approaching Weston, visibility and cloud base close in. We stick to the approved corridor under Dublin CTA, down to 1000' and closely following the canal, avoing the Baldonnel restricted airspace just to the South. Weston lies in a tiny niche between Military and Civil zones, and tight circuits are essential to avoid infringement. However, the landmarks are good and we have no trouble joining overhead at 1000' as instructed before turning downwind for the 08 runway. On short finals, the aircraft ahead announces a full stop, and as we call overshooting (no taxiway at Weston) he advises he will clear the runway in a highly convenient refuge at the Easterly end. A quick sideslip and we are down and taxying quickly to the refuge, as another aircraft is on our heels.
That aircraft is a Lithuanian registered aerobatic type and it is not long before my co-pilot is strapped into the rear seat for the ride of is life with, he later discovers, a Russian test pilot with hundreds of hours in SU-27 and MIG-29 aircraft. Apparantly, he is ferrying aircraft to Europe as a sideline and got a very friendly reception from the young ladies of Poland en route, and so he plans for at least a week of bad weather there next time!
Weston is the most wonderful and bucholic airfield I have known, and is still precided over by it's owner, sprightly octogenerian Captain Kennedy, whose many trophies in the clubroom include a photograph of his first solo in a Short Scylla flying boat.
Our modest circumnavigation of Britain is small beer in comparisom, but we have flown this same aeroplane to the North West corner of the British Isles, at Cape Wrath, and the South West corner here at Bantry Bay. For me, the soft Irish beauty of this remote landscape wins me over, and not a little because of the kind hospitality of the people we meet here. But Cape Wrath has a spectacular remoteness all of it's own, and both places are permanently engraved in my memory , memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life.Go Back to the UK and Ireland Map