Flying Land's End to Scilly

September 17, 2017


Two yellow footprints on a metal plate. Ordered to stand there, they weighed us as carefully as the suitcases. This is Lands’ End Airport. No body-scanners here, no frisking or passport checks—it’s weight that counts. A glance through the terminal’s large picture windows to the propeller driven cigar holders explained why.This the first of accessional posts about my travels around the West Country.


The safety briefing before we boarded was brief but longer than the flight. Told escape exits are by the front and rear seats and how to operate them, it was reassuring until the two of us climbed in. We were in the middle seats.


There is no aisle on the tiny BN2 Islander and our only escape route was a cramped climb over the seats in front or behind. Watching two elderly and large couples struggle to stretch and bend their stiff limbs into those empty seats, we saw our evacuation chances evaporate. On this flight to St. Mary’s in the Scillies we were going nowhere in an emergency, but down.


One of the two pilots, squeezed together so tightly they should have been married for decency’s sake, turned to the wheezing couple sitting in front of us. ‘I’m glad it’s you,’ the woman passenger said, ‘you got us there safely last year.’ He smiled a rictus grin.


They were so close, the pilot and the woman, they could have kissed without straining neck muscles. Let’s be clear, the Islander BN2 is tiny enough to fit in the toilet of an Airbus A380 and still leave space to do your business and read the Telegraph.


‘Remember,’ a young woman by the door told everyone before closing it, ‘the lifejackets are under your seat.’ I silently told her that our travelling companions were barely capable of getting into their seats and in no condition to bend to get under them.


The prop on the right jerked and spun into life and the left followed. The pilots suddenly looked serious and began fiddling with switches and levers. The engine revved, the plane shook and we catapulted forward, rising and banking to a fine view of the Cornish coast, littered with the ruins of old tin-mine workings sitting above fabulous beaches. And there, beyond Lands’ End, the Longships lighthouse.


I let go my partner’s broken fingers, readying to throw the old lady in out of the escape door if necessary, but sooner than you could say ‘let me out of here!!!’ they appeared, the Scillies, out of the mist, like puddles in a desert.


The plane Leant left then right, losing altitude, and there beneath us was the passenger ship, Scillonian—the only other route to the Scillies for all but the very wealthy who can helicopter into Tresco. Still correcting and re-correcting to align itself for landing, we dropped further until a rising hill filled the space that had been sky in front of the pilots (Aren’t runways supposed to be flat?).


With the co-pilot counting down height, the nose of the plane suddenly swung skyward when he said in a high voice something like, ‘three millimetres.’ A thud, screech of tyres and swerve to keep us on the tarmac that Dele Alli would have been proud of, and we were down.


Flying to the Scillies is FLYING as it used to be: shakey, noisy, unnerving and expensive (£328 for the two of us). The flat bottomed Scillonian (flat so it can navigate into the shallow island waters) is cheaper but famous for it’s gut-wrenching rolling ride and the sea shanty, ‘I don’t care how much the flights cost, I’ll never do this again,’ sung to passing seagulls by passengers leaning over the ships guardrails watching their half-digested breakfasts float away.


I have been one of those happy souls—that’s why I choose to fly. The only other alternative is not visiting the Scillies, and I’m not stone snowman daft.






















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