When I first met you all those years ago,
I fell in love so fast, I knew right then,
You were the one and only one for me;
I'd never have to look for love again.
Each anniversary finds us happier;
You are my light--my moon, my star, my sun.
You show me what real love is all about,
You fill my life with pleasure, joy and fun.
We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary recently. There were not many traditional or modern gift ideas specifically for this particular anniversary, which was a shame. But, the main theme over the years had always been bronze. The ‘bronze’ year symbolised a tougher, resilient and more durable relationship. To celebrate, we made a few plans, and among them was a trip to Chester Zoo.
It was a nice, sunny morning 18.5 C when we left the casa. The traffic was heavy as it was a Friday bank holiday and also the school holiday weekend. Then on the M6, nearing J6-7, traffic was at a stand-still. We were stuck here for nearly an hour due to an accident. There was a change of plans. If we go to Chester Zoo, we might arrive at 1 pm and could only spend about 3 hours before closing time. So we decided to head West, to where we first met, Aberystwyth.
We drove straight to Bwlch Nant yr Arian, although we know that we were going to miss the kite feeding session. But from past experiences, we always saw them flying over the hills as soon as they finished, flying very low waiting to snatch food from unsuspecting birds. It was amazing watching the hundreds of birds circling the skies and yet they never collided. The commotion that accompanied these airborne squabbles were ear-piercing, like a high-pitched prolonged excited screech. It was amazing to watch their aerial prowess and combat.
We watched one with a piece of meat clutched in its talon and flying away for a clear airspace where it felt secure to feed. With its 1.8 metre wings spread out for stability, the head turned down to meet with its forward lifted eggs. It started feeding but still keeping an eye out for other marauding kites.
Then we walked down to the visitor centre to use the facilities and freshened up. We spotted a new sculpture and went down to check it out. It was carved from a single standing larch tree. I wish I was there to watch it being carved. All the larch trees in this reserve had been felled to stop the spread of Ramorum disease to other areas and other tree species. Natural Resources Wales aimed to replace them with oak and other native species, replicating the ancient oak forest which once covered most of Wales.
Then we walked up back to the veranda to check out the bird-feeder. It was buzzing with dozens of sparrows, siskins, chaffinches, great and blue tits. Below, on the ground, Dunnocks and Blackbirds congregated, feeding on the fallen seeds. The Siskins were small, greenish yellow finch, with dark wings and yellow wing bars. They were messy eaters and had very sharp beaks which were adapted for feeding conifers, extracting tiny food items from tight spaces. They were quite aggressive and often kept away the much larger Chaffinches away from the feeder.
We had our lunch in the car with these magnificent Red Kites soaring above us with the commanding views of Cardigan Bay and the Cambrian mountains in front of us. A few flew quite close to where we were sitting that we could see the pale grey head and striking almost translucent white underwings patches and black tips on the primaries contrasting with arm orange or russet coloured feathers on the body and upper tail which appeared to glow like red embers giving them an ethereal appearance. With twisting deeply forked swallow-like tail and long slightly angled wings it turned this way and that soaring and spiralling skyward catching the unseen breath of wind or an uplifting warm air thermal. We watched its golden orbed eyes surveying below for food.
Then we made our drive down to Aberystwyth. The promenade was buzzing as the seaside down bathed in the sunshine. Thankfully, we managed to find a parking space outside the newly-refurbished Premier Inn which was going to be open next year. I was soo excited to see this and fingers-crossed, plan to book a room for our big anniversary. Sooo looking forward
We walked along the graceful sweeping seafront. The promenade was alive with sun-bathers, picnickers, walkers, joggers, skaters, bikers and those who just wanted to relax by the seaside, with space to sit and soaking up the sun . The busiest section was Marine Terrace with its Victorian and Edwardian style architecture, fronted by the wide Promenade and home to hotels, houses and student accommodations.The main Promenade also featured traditional seaside entertainment including a children’s paddling pool and a brand new £1.2 m bandstand.
We checked out the building that retained the outer wall of the original 1930’s Bandstand and a new sea defence that incorporated a walkway around the building. There was an art exhibition on and we went in to browse. It was good to see the building being used for displays and galleries. Then it was time to cool down with a Welsh honey ice-cream each.
We slurped the ice-cream and went to the walkaway to enjoy the stunning views of the Irish Sea wedged between Cardigan Bays and the Cambrian mountains. The local weather was dominated by the sea and the Gulf Stream which warmed the whole region. On a clear day, you could see North Wales, including the peaks of the Llyn Peninsular and Snowdonia. We walked as far as the Pier which was built in 1864 and from November to March, was home to a starling roost and I’m looking forward to watch their extraordinary display flight or murmuration. Then it was time to head back to Coventry.
Next on our list was the Cold War Jets Open Day at Bruntingthorpe Aircraft Museum in Leicestershire. The site was constructed in 1942 for the use of heavy bombers of WW2. After the war, the airfield was used for top secret test flying of the jet propelled aircraft bb Sir Frank Whittle’s Powerjets company. 1954 saw the construction of a new airfield for the US Air Force largest nuclear bombers and it was subsequently used as a strategic heavy bomber base (code-named ‘Big Thunder’) until 1962.
Following a brief period in the 1960’s when the site was used by the RAF, the Rootes Group purchased the facility in 1972 and the site was used for testing vehicles for the first time. Over the next 11 years, the Company, and subsequently Chrysler and Peugeot, used it extensively for vehicle development, constructing a number of test features appropriate for the vehicles of their time.
Now the aerodrome was home to the Cold War Jet Collection including a Victor, Hunter, Canberra, Comet, 2 off Lightnings, Starfighter, Mystere, Sea Vixen, Buccaneers, Jet Provosts, Super Guppy, Iskra and a Jaguar. In April 2010 a Nimrod MR2 was added to the collection. The latest aircraft to join the museum fleet was the Sea Harrier and an ex- Boscombe Down 2 seat Jaguar in April 2012. A large collection of aircraft cockpits were also seen. This airfield was becoming something of a Mecca for those who had a passion for classic jets, providing the last remaining opportunity to see many of the collection’s aircraft operating under their own steam.
Whilst these aircraft sparked much interest and nostalgia, they rarely flew anywhere. The Collection was maintained in fully serviceable order by a group of experienced volunteers. They have two open days a year where these aircrafts were ‘exercised’ and kept alive by regular engine runs and full power taxi runs along the main runway and at 60m wide, 3.2 km straight, was one of the longest in the country. This was an incredible spectacle band an ideal opportunity to get close to these mean machines. It was an explosive effect on the senses of the sight, sound and smell of these classic aircraft. It was for those who were here for their fix of loud and smoky aircraft that for most parts no longer grace our skies.
We planned to arrive quite early so that we could attend all the taxying and checking out the displays. But as soon as we drove past the gates, there was a very long queue to park the car. But we were distracted by the planes that were parked everywhere!!! It was wonderful that we were able to park quite close to where the action was. Unfortunately, all the best seats along the runaways was already taken by deck chairs sans owners. People had come early to reserve their seat before wandering off to check the exhibitions, stalls and eateries. Ces’t la vie.
We managed to find an open space in the crowd and dare not move, just in case it was taken. The crowd line fence was positioned very pleasingly close to the runway. But as the time got closer and more people started arriving and pushing their way in, invading our personal space. It began to feel quite uncomfortable. I kept on reminding Babe that we should have brought our deck chairs to act as a barrier. Next time, perhaps. While waiting for the show to begin, I spent the time people-watching.
The show started at 11 am with the first of the heavies, the VC10 thundering down the runway, a very impressive sight. ‘The Queen of the Skies’ with her 4xRolls-Royce Conway engines howled into life, producing a ferocious noise and smoking away in a manner that only engines of that era could. Seeing such large aircraft rolling and blasting down the runway and tearing the surface up at such close proximity was truly exhilarating.
“See, decide, attack, reverse.’
~Colonel Erich ‘Bubi’ Hartman, GAF~
But, we were truly excited when we saw a hare, sprinting across the runway after the aircraft had passed. The noise must have woken it up but I think it was so used to these monsters thundering up and down. Apart from housing a museum, Bruntingthorpe aerodrome was a privately owned airport and a proving ground. Unimproved grassland around the sites were haven for wildlife and it was lovely to see them.
Next was an ex-Warsaw Pact TS-11 Iskra (1018) Jet Trainer, the only fully operational ground running in the UK. It was notable as the main training aircraft of the Polish Air Force, and was the oldest jet aircraft still in service in Poland. The aircraft was designed in response to a Polish Air Force requirement for a jet trainer and was designed by Tadeusz Soltyk, hence the designation TS. As soon as it, whizzed across the runway, the car alarms went off.
Another European contender was the Aero L-29 Delfin 66654-53, an ex-Romanian air force jet trainer. It was Czechoslovakia’s first locally designed and built jet aircraft and became the standard jet trainer for the air forces of Warsaw Pact nations in the 1960s. As a trainer, the L-29 enabled air forces to adopt an ‘all-through’ training on jet aircraft, replacing earlier piston-engined types.
Bruntingthorpe was a mecca for Bucaneer aficionsdos and now I know why. In stunning 16 Squadron scheme, 3 jets performed a full run where they displayed all of their party tricks like wing folding, bomb bay rotation and arrestor hook deployment. These were fabulous presentations of the jets in a variety of configurations for the photographers in the crowd. All you could hear were the clicking of thousands of cameras. Then, they simply thundered run down the runway.
Whenever I see them ride on high
Gleaming and proud in the morning sky
Or lying awake in bed at night
I hear them pass on their outward flight
~ Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston~
Then the first of the heavies was next. The Nimrod provided the start of four-engine action of the day. The lengthy start up routine built a great sense of anticipation before it finally launch down the runway, bending down the trees and sending fragments of tarmac flying in its wake. It gave us a good showering of gravel which caught us by surprise. It was also the noise that this monster machine made that provided the real highlight, shattering ear drums as it spooled up and launched into the runs. It was weird seeing a Nimrod run down a runaway and hours later look inside it
After spitting the gravel from our mouth and cleaning the bits from our hair, I was looking forward to the next jet wash. Unfortunately, the Canberra was cancelled due to technical issues. But then, the sight of the 3 jet Provosts pirouetting before a stream launch down the runaway was impressive. Standing proud wearing Air Defence Grey amongst her red and white Jet Provost colleagues was XP672. Initially registered as G-RAFI after retirement, ‘672 spent most of her post military years as an instructional air frame.
The aircrafts slowly taxied down the far side of the runway and then performed an elegant ballet of carousels and figure of 8. After a 180 degree, they turn to taxi back to the start line, giving the crowd plenty of chances to get a good look, and photograph, of the aircraft from both sides. Once they’d completed their parade they lined up again and then perform the fast taxi run down the one mile runway before slowly taxing back again. Wow…
‘A fighter without a gun … is like an airplane without a wing.”"’
~Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF~
After that performance, I don’t think any aircraft could beat it. And boy, was I wrong. Hunter looked resplendent in its naval colour scheme, we witnessed the smoky spectacle of a traditional cartridge start. Sitting on the far end of the runway, the aircraft was shrouded in a huge black plume of acrid smoke as the cartridge was fired and the heavenly sounding Rolls Royce Avon Mark 22 bellowed into life.
‘Speed is life’
Then there was a ripple of excitement among the crowd. After a bit of jockeying around by the tow trucks, we saw the Lightning being positioned in echelon. The jet was lined up and ready for her run down the runway with a phenomenal noise as the burners were lit and the Avpin starters bellowed. There was a sense of drama as the scream of a Rolls-Royce Avon 301R afterburning turbojets yelled out across as the English Lightning F.6s blasted down the runway. It was lovely to see this living, breathing machine strutting her stuff and thundering away, creating a wall of noise and heat haze. This was the first time we watched this imposing monster hurtling down the runway in full reheat, leaving torn ear drums and a symphony of car alarms in her wake.
Then the engine spooled up, both rings of re-heat cut in, ears and people on the banking behind blown away, brakes were released and one of the great aviation spectacles tried her damnedest to slow the earth’s rotation before overcoming inertia and speeding off with two beautiful long licks of flame disappearing into the distance. As ever it was over far too quickly and we were all left imagining what it would be like if the stick could be pulled back and the nose pointed towards the stratosphere. Maybe one day…
Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within;
To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
Then back to earth at the end of a day,
Released from the tensions which melted away.
Should my end come while I am in flight,
Whether brightest day or darkest night;
Spare me your pity and shrug off the pain,
Secure in the knowledge that I'd do it again;
For each of us is created to die,
And within me I know,
I was born to fly.
~Gary Claud Stokor~
We managed to calm down a bit with another heavies, the v-bomber, Victor. Like the Nimrod, it provided the second four-engine action of the day. Again, the lengthy start up routine built a great sense of anticipation before it finally launched down the runway. It was a very impressive sight as she thundered down the runway, her Rolls Royce Conways producing a ferocious noise.
‘You fight like you train’
~US Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN~
Seeing such large aircraft rolling down the runway, tearing the surface up at such close proximity was truly exhilarating. Victor gave the crowd a blistering run in full swing as it powered down the runway before being obscured by the huge drag chute as it disappeared over the hump towards the lowering sun. Now, I knew why there was a bus taking visitors to the end of the runway.The photographs from that end were amazing.
What a shame that none of the aircraft were allowed to take off. But where else could you see live Buccaneers, Lightning and Victor moving and shaking the ground under their own power at near take off speeds. When you see the them at such close quarters doing a figure of 8 to the crowd before hurling down the runway, you can’t help but be in awe of these powerful machines. With the smell of the jet fuel and the sheer, raw power of these awesome beasts, they might be grounded but definitely not dead yet.
~~US Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN~
Large model aircrafts were out in force during the intervals between the taxi runs, filling the gaps between runs with cold war jets of their own. They filled the interlude with a series of low and close passes which was much appreciated by the assembled crowds. Vulcan, VC10 and Lightning models were expertly displayed at various times throughout the afternoon and proved a fine complement 1:1 scale counterparts. They were rewarded with a rapturous applause for every pilot when they landed.
During the break, we took the opportunity to swoon all over the non-runners littered across the site. There were a Victor, Hunter, Canberra, Comet, Starfighter, Mystere, Sea Vixen, Jaguar, Nimrod but this huge super Guppy dominated the landscape. They had their insides available for inspection and visitors were queuing throughout the day to have a look inside the various aircrafts. Assorted stalls and displays also added to a very pleasant afternoon wandering around the countless stalls selling discounted models, aero jumbles, pictures and books.
Then we walked back to the display area for the final parts of the show. First was the Folland Gnat flown by the Yellowjacks, an RAF aerobatic display team. The tiny swept-wing British subsonic jet trainer and light fighter aircraft whizzed through the Leicestershire skies, delighting the crowds below. These aircraft was developed for the RAF and flown extensively by the Indian Air Force.
‘To be a good fighter pilot, there is one prime requisite—think fast, and act faster’.
~Major John T.Godfrey, USAF~
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster had been scheduled to appear at the show but had to drop out due to engine trouble. Fortunately, the piston-powered Hurricane could make it. All of us were looking at the horizon when the humble growl of Rolls Royce Merlins was heard. Hawker Hurricane appeared for a trio of stunning flypast. Then, it departed with wing waggles leaving deep, grumbling growls from the piston fighter.
To end the evening, the Jet Provosts returned again. The 3 training aircrafts were lined up in an echelon right formation on a threshold for a stream launch. One of them was an airworthy example that had arrived earlier in the afternoon, and the jet let the trio performing a figure of eights before being let loose down down the runway. It then powered into the air whilst the two ground-bound examples had no choice but to throttle back. It was actually quite sad to watch.
Then it was time to bid goodbye. We’d a wonderful day at our first Cold War Jets show. All the aircraft ran in order and we were impressed to see them all run to time, with minimal delays. Also known as ‘Cold War Warriors’ these classic jets were wonderful machines from the golden age of jet aircraft, from the peak of British aerial power. They held a special place in the heart’s of every aviation enthusiast. Once protectors against overwhelming military might, they were now battling the elements and old age. Kudos to the volunteers and various groups who had saved them from the axe and made it possible for the thousands to see, hear and feel these wonderful aircraft live and breathe again. Long may they continue to do so.
There was a rush to leave the aerodrome but with about 10K people, it was going to take some time. We spent the time finishing our sandwiches and coffee and bought ice-creams for desserts. We then parked the car closer to the exhibits and watched the planes being tugged back into their allocated exhibit space. It was hilarious to see these huge machines literally stopping traffic. Then it was time to join the queue heading home.
After yesterday’s full-on activities, we went for an easy walkabout around Draycote Waters. As usual, the place was buzzing with walkers, cyclists and sailors. It was a lovely day to be and about. We walked along the wall checking out the sailors as they showed off their skills. There wasn’t much about except for a few energetic Pied wagtails flying after each other, their high-pitched ‘chissick’ calls trailing behind them.
We noticed a lot of activities on the field opposite the reservoir. It was the ‘Tanks, Trucks and Firepower Show’. We took the opportunity to check it out from where we were sitting. With our powerful DSLR cameras, we were able to see what was going on. We’d read about this event when we spotted the banner a few weeks ago. It was an event which featured tanks, armoured vehicles from WW2, military motorbikes, sniper displays, car crash demonstration and plenty of explosions.
There were mini tank rides and fairground attractions for the kids and military-related stalls for enthusiasts, as well as the obligatory beer tent and food stalls. There were also exhibitors and re-enactors on hand to keep the crowds entertained. We ‘enjoyed’ the pyrotechnic and firework displays where charges were set off with tanks causing huge explosions going off. Hearing the 30-tonne tanks firing were amazing with the huge ‘booms’ echoing down the valley.
Unfortunately, the heavens opened and we were drenched. There was no place to shelter as we were in the middle of a reservoir that we took in our stride and walked back to the car. The sailors had all sailed back to the shore and we also felt sorry for the crowds at the show. But I think they’d the barns to shelter in. But at least these Mute Swans were enjoying the downpour, wandering what the fuss was about. A bit of rain doesn’t hurt…
We laughed at each other as we got soaked to the bones. I’d my raincoat on but Babe only had his fleece. The rain drenched us but it would never wash away the love we felt for each other. What a lovely way to end the week of our anniversary celebrations.
“True love is a blessing from life, something that cannot be secured by effort. It is a gift of the spirit, not the consequences of action. It is not an object that we can target, it is a treasure entrusted to our care. When love spontaneously, make no effort, simply give in to it.”
~Daphne Rose Kingma~