My Mortehoe, My Woolacombe by John Fielding
My love of North Devon goes back nearly as far as my love of flight. From the age of ten in 1971 until well after I had left school, my family would spend a couple of weeks every year at Saunton Sands. The best part of it, as far as my older brother and I were concerned was the surfing and our favourite spot to surf was Putsborough Sands in Woolacombe Bay. The quality of the surf in this relatively sheltered bay was worth the fear of the rocks that lurked beneath the waves when the tide was in. On a later surfing trip in my early 20’s, I was camping at Perranporth in Cornwall when I stumbled across the former RAF fighter base, in its spectacular location at the top of some 300ft high cliffs. It seemed like an incredible place to position an airfield. I never, in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I’d be able to pilot my own aircraft to land there. Jump forward thirty years to August 2016. I’ve recently retired, have a small aeroplane and my hobby is aerial photography. “What better, more exciting place to fly and carry out some aerial photography than the spectacular coasts of Devon and Cornwall?”
My wife bravely volunteered to drive our campervan the 400 miles from our home in Norwich to Perranporth whilst I had the fun of flying down in what should have been considerably less time, I didn’t know much about the unpredictable vagaries of the weather in the South West Peninsula but quickly found out! The weather forecast had been ideal for my trip but the further West I flew, the murkier the conditions became until the air traffic controller at Exeter informed me that there was fog at Perranporth and that it might be wise to divert. My aircraft spent the next four days, squeezed into a hangar, courtesy of the wonderfully friendly people at Bodmin airfield whilst we waited for the weather to improve. Tuesday 23rd August was a gorgeous sunny day so I took off from Bodmin Airfield and headed north east until I reached the north Devon coast at Combe Martin. From there, I flew at a leisurely 60mph along the Devon coast until I arrived at the beautiful and hugely busy Woolacombe. I’m used to seeing crowded beaches around my local East Anglia but this was in a different league! There were clearly, tens of thousands of people enjoying a day on the sunny beaches along Woolacombe Bay.
I circled overhead at about 1000 ft whilst occasionally snapping a photograph out of the open window of my aircraft. The aeroplane, a Skyranger Nynja microlight has a surperbly quiet engine, and looking at the aerial image of the people on the beach, you would struggle to find anyone noticing an aircraft above them. A highlight of the flight was passing over the familiar beach at Putsborough and onwards above the golden sands of Croyde and Saunton. During our 8 days, I was able to take hundreds of aerial photographs of practically every beach, lighthouse, harbour and bay along much of the North Devon and Cornwall coastline. Taking the photographs is the quickest part of the project. Processing the images and obtaining the best result from each raw file takes over ten minutes for every photograph.
I have processed 170 of the images and have hundreds more to go. If you’re interested in viewing the images, they are gradually appearing on my Flickr pages: