27 Feb 08
Photo © Chris Sheldon
On a quiet day in February, there was nobody in the small terminal at NQY when we arrived. We each paid our £5 airport development fee at the automated machines then went to the check-in desk which opens about an hour before scheduled departure time. All baggage has to be checked-in as the Twin Otter has no room to store it in the cabin, and this was done quickly and efficiently by the cheery agent. Security was a breeze and in under two minutes we’d completed check-in and security and were in the small departure lounge which was as deserted as the landside area. I’d noticed on the printed manifest (computers apparently haven’t reached Skybus yet) that there were only three passengers on this flight and soon we were joined in the departure lounge by our travelling companion.
The cheery check-in agent then joined us in the departure lounge and asked us to go to the seating area where we were shown the safety briefing on video – this lasted just a couple of minutes. It was still 45 minutes before scheduled departure time but we were told that as everyone was here the Captain had decided to go! So off we went to our Twin Otter where we were greeted by the First Officer. After taking our seats (free seating on these services) he showed us how to operate the emergency exits before joining the Captain on the flight deck for their pre-flight checks. The flight deck door remained open throughout the flight so we were treated to a great view of the action at the sharp end!
Take-off was swift – we seemed to be rolling down the runway for just a few seconds before we were airborne – followed by the most thrilling flight I’ve ever experienced. The aircraft flew at just 1,500 feet along the spectacular North Cornwall coast and then onwards to St Mary’s, the largest of the islands and home to their only airport (although there is a heliport on the neighbouring island of Tresco). The approach to St Mary’s was stunning and we landed firmly on its undulating runway in a relatively strong crosswind. After engine shutdown we walked the 20 metres to the arrivals hall (a corridor!) where our bags were waiting for us. As the airport is only about a mile from the island’s capital, Hugh Town, we walked down to our hotel even though a bus was waiting for anyone who wanted it.
We spent a wonderful couple of days on St Mary’s, walking the entire coastal path (just 10 miles long) and enjoying the hospitality of the friendly locals. Alas, all too soon it was time to return to the real world.
29 Feb 08
Photo © Richard Hunt
I’d hoped to get on another of Skybus’ Twin Otters but it was the same one that brought us to the islands. The day of our departure was very windy, so when we arrived at the airport we were told there was only a 50% chance of getting off the island that day. All flights to Lands End were cancelled and the two remaining helicopter flights to Penzance were already full. So, we were relying on our aircraft (inbound from Exeter) being able to land and then the weather holding long enough for it to be able to take-off again. Fortunately, the little Twin Otter managed to get into St Mary’s and after another short safety video we were on our way to the aircraft, desperately trying to stay upright in the increasingly strong winds!
This time the flight was full (17 passengers) as it was accommodating some of the people who couldn’t get to Lands End. The Captain told us the weather at Newquay was deteriorating, so there was a chance we would have to divert to Exeter. The take-off was again thrilling – if very, very bumpy – and this time we flew at 3,000 feet, in cloud for almost the entire journey.
The Captain told us that he was hoping to get into Newquay as the weather had improved slightly, but if he couldn’t land at the first attempt we would be heading straight to Exeter. The approach into Newquay was the bumpiest (and scariest) I’ve ever experienced, but the skill of the pilots got us down safely. Most people on the flight looked terrified during the final approach (sideways for most of it) and incredibly relieved on a safe landing. All in all it was a great experience, although I suspect it’s much more enjoyable for most people in nicer weather than we had today!
Overall this was a great experience and one I highly recommend if you’re ever down in that part of the UK. In Summer there are frequent flights from Lands End (just 15 minutes to St Mary’s), making a day trip to the islands a realistic prospect. Give it a try sometime!