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Thunderstorms, Maintenance, Orkney Islands and Banangrams

With quite differing TAFs this morning, and a fair smattering of thunderstorms scattered throughout Scotland and Ireland, we spent the best part of the morning deciding where best to go on from Carlisle. The plan was to go to Newtonards in Ireland, then back over to Prestwick for an overnight stop. However, on starting up the aircraft, we had a low voltage light and no charge showing on the ammeter. We played around a little with the electrics, trying to induce some kind of life into the system, but had to give up on it as unwilling to play along with us. Retrospectively, we identified that over the last couple of flights, minor issues with the radio and gyros may have been a precursor to the problem. Unable to fly with the aircraft in this condition, we sought the help of the engineers, who after a little bit of tweaking, manage to get the alternator back up and running, though advised us not to shut down the engine and take it straight back up to Dundee for our engineers to find the root cause.

And so with a bit of paper flapping going on in the cockpit, we wound our way back up to Tayside, with the thought of resuming Evie’s Tour anticlockwise round the North of Scotland once the aircraft was serviceable again.

Refreshed after a night back at home, we were back in Tayside bright and early and raring to resume tour to Inverness and Wick, because for once the weather looked reasonable to the North. However, it turned out Wick airport was closed until after the weekend, and so we planned to go up to Kirkwall instead.

We were ready with our route, and were about to refuel ready to go, when we discovered that the fuel pumps had only just been refuelled, and so we had to wait an hour for any sediment to sink before we could refuel the aeroplane. After a bit of thumb twiddling we eventually managed to fill up the tanks, but after a thorough pre-flight inspection, Claire noticed oil leaking all over the carburettor. It was back into the maintenance hangar to see what was going wrong. The engineers had a look at the engine, restored it to normality then told us to fly one circuit, and bring it back to them to check all was well.

Of course, even the one circuit wasn’t straightforward, with several aircraft already in the circuit and several more joining, the wind, and therefore runway direction changed halfway round. We ended up flying the same half a circuit twice in opposite directions, then returned the aircraft to the maintenance hangar. It seemed that all was well, so we eventually got going again, only a couple of hours later than planned.

The weather to the North was far better than normal, meaning that, able to climb to 4000ft we could track through the valleys in the highlands. It seemed as though the eagles had the same thought, and we came ridiculously close to a pair of them, moments before watching a C-17 tracking low level passing underneath us. A few steadying breaths later we continued en route to Inverness.

Descending back to 1000ft for the circuit at Inverness gave a very odd and disconcerting illusion. Though 1000ft is our usual circuit height, having been up at 4000ft, it suddenly seems very low, even though the ground around the airport is relatively flat. There was one aircraft ready to depart when we joined the circuit, and another turning final, so we were told to orbit at the end of the downwind leg for the traffic to clear. It gave time for me to readjust my perspective ready for landing.

From Inverness we planned to route straight up to Kirkwall, spending the majority of the flight simply enjoying the spectacular wilderness that is the north of Scotland. We picked out the few features that exist along the way, including John O’Groats, famous for being the most northern part of mainland Scotland, though looking from the air most definitely isn’t, before crossing the water to the Orkney Islands.

It appeared to be rush hour at Kirkwall airport when we went on frequency, and while it certainly wasn’t the type of busy experienced at Gloucester, it was certainly a lot busier than I had expected. We landed, waved at a departing Loganair flight and parked the aeroplane on the apron for the night.

Perhaps I was expecting Kirkwall to be out of reach of civilisation, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that a bus runs from the airport every half an hour into the town centre, which is a lot more than can be said for many larger mainland airports. It was a pleasant bus journey towards our B&B, and the efficiency of it all left us the evening to explore the town itself, although admittedly that didn’t take terribly long.

One enormous dinner and a couple of rounds of banangrams later, we settled down for the night, ready to track back down the west coast the following day, hopefully to reach Oban.

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