New Hill

The title conjures up images of massive upheaval of the very ground we stand on, momentous events changing the landscape. Well, that should have attracted the geologists scouring social media.

Today we set off for a new hill to us. It’s been there for countless thousands of years and in fact both Rufus and I have seen it many times as we climb Fan Nedd or Fan Llia. Fan Bwlch Chwyth (it translates as ‘Peak of the Windy Gap’) is across the Fechan valley and in the past I have never thought it accessible. However, a check of the appropriate OS map shows that all of the land there is open access. The reason fro our visit today was for me to try and find the wreckage of an Avro Vulcan bomber that crashed there in February 1966.

This bomber, XH536, took off from RAF Cottesmore on a training run on the 11th February 1966. My previous blog explains why Cottesmore holds an interest. I read about this crash while researching the Vulcan for that last post. The plane flew up the Fechan valley in poor weather and the crew thought they were in the Llia valley – a mile to the east. They turned east to enter the Senni valley but hit the high ground to the north of the Fechan before they could complete the maneouver. All five crew were killed by the impact.

We set off from the car on a beautiful morning with a cool breeze keeping the heat manageable. It was the first proper hill for both of us for a while and I took it easy. Rufus, however, doesn’t understand the concept of ‘taking it easy’ and soon left me behind. So I pushed a bit to keep up with him. Eventually, I found a pace that suited both of us. We eased around the northern end of the hill before reaching a dry stone wall, collapsed in places. A narrow path between the thick tufts of grass made the going a bit easier and soon we had pulled up onto the hill and after a few more minutes, the expected trig point came into view.

After a short break, we headed off southwards, facing Fan Gyhirych and, to the left, Fan Nedd. There was a clear route tot he top of Fan Gyhirych and I filed that away for use in the Autumn. One of the problems in tackling Fan Gyhirych from Fan Nedd is a field full of cows between the two tops. Another is a stule that is particularly for Rufus. The new route would bypass both.

Today was for getting the muscles used to hills again, so after a couple of miles, we turned back and started to look for the crash site. The description I’d read told how the plane left a long trail of debris, as it had hit the hill at around 450mph. The heaviest parts of the aircraft – it’s 4 engines and two undercarriage legs – travelled the furthest. The landing gear cleared the stone wall, about half a mile from the initial impact point. Today, the impact area is fenced off as part of an enclosed parcel of land. This meant I wasn’t able to get close enough to identify the area. Only a few pieces of aluminium remain to mark the debris field and it wasn’t possible to see these from the fence.

We headed back down, only mildly disappointed that we hadn’t been able to get to the crash site. I was more occupied with the fate of the crew and the otherwise beautiful location we had just visited. Rufus, with a different set of priorities, was more interested in bounding over tufts of grass, charging off to investigate every little scent and avoiding my camera every time I pointed it at him to try and snap his carefree runs down the slope.

Back at the car, it was warming up as it approached noon and we were both glad to head back home in air conditioned comfort.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Air Show 2015

Today was the first day of the Wales National Air Show in Swansea. I try to go every time it’s on but this year was special as there was a chance to see the last flying Vulcan bomber. And, as I found out, it was the last year the plane would be flying.

The Vulcan and I go back a long way. One of my earliest memories is at the age of about 4, being woken up by the deep, earth shaking roar of a squadron of Vulcans taking off from RAF Cottesmore. This would happen quite regularly, at any time of the day or night. As a child, it was exciting and slightly scary. What I didn’t realise then was that this was the training and preparation for the third world war. Each time the aircraft were scrambled, my dad (a flight sergeant in the RAF) would have to get ready in case it was for real. If it had been for real, those bombers would have been our deterrent to nuclear attack and the fact they were taking off would signify an attack was imminent. Thankfully, the four year old me didn’t know this. I don’t know how my dad felt every time he had to rush off to his post on the base and I don’t know what my mum thought when he went. I just remember the big planes.

I was taken to see a Vulcan in it’s hanger by my dad. His mate in the maintenance unit managed to arrange for a private tour. The plane was up on the equivalent of car jacks as it’s undercarriage was being serviced. While I was there, they retracted and deployed the undercarriage, and then opened the bomb bay doors. I can’t describe how cool that was to me. I talked about it for years afterwards and anyone who knows me now must be fed up of hearing the story once I knew the Vulcan was flying at today’s airshow. I apologise!

Seeing the Vulcan approaching over Mumbles Head this afternoon gave me goose bumps and sent a shiver down my back. That iconic and unmistakeable shape banked over Oystermouth, sun glinting off the delta wings, and made a low level run along the bay. As soon as I heard the deep roar of the engines, I was back to my early childhood. The noise was so familiar that I could picture the base and the house we lived in. As it climbed at the end of the run, that extra kick of power and the chest pounding noise took me straight back to the exercises and alerts of 1968. I was four again! I took photos but made sure I also watched the plane with my own eyes. As I did so, I found memories of my parents coming back. As the Vulcan disappeared into the distance, it left me with that feeling of excitement, a little scared and with a great big lump in my throat.

EDIT: In the photo of the Typhoon, notice it’s in the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary colours – these are the original 1940 camouflage colours that appeared on Hurricanes and Spitfires. It’s 75 years this month since the battle started. Let’s remember the few. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.