Friday, 31 July 2015

Lovely ride in the Peak District today

I had a 'spare' day today and the weather was perfect - so I fired up the new Kawasaki W800 to take it for a trip around our local part of the Peak District. Out through Alderley and Macclesfield, and up the infamous Cat & Fiddle. I'm far to old to behave like some loonies on bikes do on 'The Cat', and took time to enjoy the unfolding views as we climbed.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Not the highest pub in Britain, but at almost 1,700 feet, still pretty high - the W800 at the Cat & Fiddle 

Looking the other way at The Cat, with the Cheshire Plain in the background, the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank prominent near the horizon 2/3 of the way across the picture, left to right  

Ashford-in-the-Water, by the Wye bridge (picture taken 11 August on a subsequent ride)

From The Cat we continued to Buxton, Harpur Hill, Brierlow Bar, Taddington, Ashford-in-the-Water, Sheldon (past Magpie Mine), to Monyash. Beyond Monyash we took 'The Rake' which just before it joins the Buxton - Ashbourne road affords this splendid view of the cutting south of Parsley Hay on the long extinct Buxton to Ashbourne railway

Here's a closer look at the cutting. The railway from Buxton to Parsley Hay utilised the (modified) trackbed of the 1831 Cromford & High Peak Railway. That railway was built rather like a canal, with flat sections joined by inclined planes with cable haulage by stationary steam engines being the equivalent of a flight of locks, and the section of the C&HPR from Parsley Hay to Cromford survived in its original form until closure in the 1960s. Today it forms the High Peak Trail, a walking and cycling way. The section of 1899 the Buxton to Ashbourne railway line from Parsley Hay southwards was newly constructed in 1899. In this picture Parsley Hay is off the picture to the right, the C&HPR to Cromford (now the High Peak Trail) follows the dry stone wall across the middle of the picture where it exits on its way to Cromford, right to left, while the 1899 line to Ashbourne (now the Tissington Trail) ran through the cutting on its way to that town.

The village pond in Hartington

From Hartington we took the lovely high road on the ridge top between the valleys of the Manifold and the Dove. The land falls away to the Dove on the right (above) and to the Manifold on the left.

Coming off the end of the ridge, above Longnor. The 'Dragon's Back' hills are in the background

At Glutton Bridge, beside the Dragon's Back hills; Parkhouse Hill to the right of the bike, Chrome hill behind it. These two distinctive razor-back hills are former coral reef formations and were off limits to walkers until the 'right to roam' opened up access. They make an interesting if challenging scramble, especially in wet weather when the grass and the exposed limestone are slippery!

Time for a pie and a pint at 'The Quiet Woman', in Earl Sterndale. The pub's sign depicts a headless woman! The lunch menu is somewhat limited - pork pie or... pork pie. These used to be very good last time I was here, but at the time of this visit were typical 'supermarket' pies; cellophane wrapped,  bland and tasteless, with soggy pastry. But the beer was still good!

From Earl Sterndale we headed south back to Longnor, then west to Royal Cottage by the Winking Man, then south east up onto the ancient ridgeway, past the old 'Mermaid Inn', overlooking The Roaches (visible in the background, above). Click on the picture to enlarge it and you can clearly see the old GPO radio tower on the horizon, on Croker Hill near Bosley.

Mermaid Pool, above Upper Hulme (picture taken 11 August on a subsequent ride)

Looking down from the ridge Jodrell Bank radio telescope can again be seen on the Cheshire Plain, with the long escarpment of Bosley Cloud on the left horizon

In the near distance, the Pecforton Hills in West Cheshire with the distinctive Beeston Hill at the righthand extremity of the range. In the background are the Welsh mountains.

Visibility was excellent today and once again Jodrell Bank is clearly visible. Click on the picture for a larger image and the cooling towers of Fiddlers Ferry power station near Warrington are just visible on the horizon.

Dropping down off the ridge we crossed the Buxton to Leek road and passed the end of Tittesworth Reservoir, looking very low, to Rushton Spencer and on up onto the ridge between Biddulph and Rudyard Lake. Here's the view north from there including again the Former GPO radio tower on Croker Hill, seen from a different direction. This tower used to be adorned with distinctive microwave waveguide horns, but these have been removed making look a bit 'sparse' as an almost naked concrete column (it does still carry some communications antennae). It's a pity they couldn't have left the horns on to retain the tower's characteristic shape. These days of course the data that used to be transmitted by microwave radio links goes by underground fibre optic cable, which has a far higher bandwidth so can carry more information.

Looking back the other way the ridge leading up to Mow Cop was visible

From this ridge (which is on one of my regular routes to Rudyard and the Churnet Valley) we dropped down into Congleton and back home along the A34.

The W800 is a great bike for a ride out like this; easy to ride, relatively light to manoeuvre comfortable with its upright riding position, good handling, and fast enough for grabbing overtaking opportunities without drama. It thrumbs along with an engine and exhaust note not unlike that earlier parallel twin I used to own, the old Triumph Bonneville. It really is a modern version of that bike, but without the oil leaks, maintenance overhead, and unreliability. The hundred miles I did on it today bring its mileage so far up to about 270. Soon be ready for its first service!


Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Pitts Special is 70 years old.

This diminutive biplane, originally designed by Curtis Pitts as a home-built single seat aerobatic machine, is 70 years old this year. Over the years many variations of Pitts Specials have been manufactured, some home built and some factory built machines. The basic designation is Pitts S1 for the single seat variant, and S2 for the tandem 2-seat aeroplane.

Pitts S1-T at Sleap today. This factory built variant is a single seater with symmetrical wing profiles and 4 ailerons. Built by Aerotek it has a 200hp Lycoming engine and the top wing is moved forward compared to the classic S1 for weight and balance reasons (to compensate for the heavier-than-standard engine).

Pitts Specials initially enjoyed great success in aerobatic competitions, having a high power to weight ratio for the time, and being extremely maneuverable. The drawback was, and still is, that the aeroplane's diminutive dimensions make it difficult for competition judges to accurate mark maneuvers as it's quite difficult to see exactly whether a vertical really is vertical, a roll properly axial etc, compared to larger aerobatic aircraft.

Aerobatic competitions are today dominated by bigger monoplane designs such as German-made Extras, Russian Sukhois and Yaks, and French CAPs. The little Pitts is a bit outclassed these days, but still competitive at Standard level.

The British Aerobatic Association this weekend hosted a Pitts Special aerobatic competition and fly-in at the Shropshire Aero Club's Sleap airfield, near Wem in Shropshire, and I rode down on the mighty Griso to have a look.

The view from the control tower balcony over the airfield 

My big Moto Guzzi Griso 1,200 parked behind the control tower 

 Three visiting Pitts Specials on Sleap's grass apron

It was good to meet some old faces today I knew from flying. In particular Bob, the proprietor of Sherlowe strip which was a regular destination for me in our Chipmunk. Bob is now the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) at Sleap. 

Another blast from the past was Steve, who used to be in our Chipmunk group many years ago at Barton but who now judges aerobatic competitions for the British Aerobatic Association. Steve wasn't judging today but was giving a commentary on the ongoing aerobatic competition.

There was a barbecue with hog roast offering light lunches, so I bought a hog roast bap and settled down in the sunshine to watch a few competitors run through their sequences before heading the mighty Griso homewards.


Friday, 10 July 2015

The bike fleet continues to evolve

Back in 2012 I owned a 1979 T140D classic Meriden Triumph Bonneville. I was aware it wasn't the 'really classic' Bonnie, so went in search of such a bike (see In search of a classic Bonnie).

1979 'classic' Meriden Bonneville

That trip down south reinforced two things I probably really knew; a classic 1969 T120 Bonnie will be expensive. It will also require lots of maintenance on a day to day basis, as well as more substantially, and it will be unreliable and leak oil. That's the realistic side of classic bikes. So I sold the T140D before something catastrophic failed, re-thought the whole 'classic bike' thing, and bought the classy Italian Moto Guzzi Griso 8V 1,200cc, a fabulous machine but not a classic.

1,200cc Griso 8V. Sounds like a Spitfire, and is a bottomless pit of power and torque. The 'thinking man's Bonnie'?

The Suzuki XF650 Freewind which has been in the fleet for almost four years

The 'classic' itch didn't go away. Arthritis in my knees was ruling out big kick-start bikes, and I had to think 'outside the box' if this itch was to be scratched. Also, one bike in my fleet of three (Griso, Honda Innova, and Suzuki Freewind) was a little 'tall' for me, even after I'd fitted it with lower suspension and stands. But the Freewind was my 'practical' bike, the one I used to go places (the little Innova was for local use, like a motorised push bike, and the Griso was for nice day no-luggage blasting round the Peak District or wherever).

The little Honda 125cc Innova

There was a bike that could replace the Freewind as the 'practical bike', while scratching that 'classic' itch and at a fraction the cost of a mint 1969 T120:  the Kawasaki W800. The W800 is a modern Japanese bike built in the style of a 1969 Bonneville. Even the colour schemes hark back to those bikes. But just as the Mazda MX5 is a British 2-seat sports car but properly built so it's reliable and doesn't leak, the W800 is a Triumph Bonneville without the maintenance overhead, the reliability issues, and the oil leaks. So I traded the Freewind for a brand new W800. It took a while to find a dealer who would give me a good price on the clean and low-miles Freewind, and I settled on DK Motorcycles in Newcastle under Lyme who had one W800 in stock - in the cherry red and creme scheme I wanted. I rode the Freewind for the last time this morning, down to Newcastle, and rode the new W800 back home.

 The W800 on arrival home in Wilmslow

 To make the bike practical, I had ordered a rack to enable the Givi top box I had used on the Freewind to be fitted to this bike

 After a couple of hours spanner and socket wrench work, the rack and top box are fitted

I know the top box does nothing for the classic looks, but it does make it a practical replacement for the Freewind. Anyway, it's quickly removable in a 'one click' operation from the rack if I don't need it!


Sunday, 5 July 2015

The return of the Barton Air Show?

Back in the '80s and '90s Lancashire Aero Club (LAC) used to hold an annual air show at Barton, their home airfield. It was well known for showcasing interesting aeroplanes and for some very spirited display flying. Following a couple of consecutive years of poor weather leading to financial loss, LAC decided to cease holding the shows. For similar reasons, BAe at Woodford airfield also ceased holding their annual air show about the same time. The large Manchester conurbation was thus bereft of air shows... until today. 

Barton Airfield is no longer the home of LAC, who used to lease it from Manchester City Council. It is owned by Peel Holdings and is known not as Barton, but as Manchester City Airport. But to those of us who flew from there as LAC members for decades it will always be Barton.

So today's air show didn't share the name of those amazing shows of a few decades ago, being called the Manchester Air Show. Today's air shows are different in other ways as well; health and safety has has tamed them down from what we enjoyed at those Barton shows, and there just don't seem to be the same sort of exciting aeroplanes exuberantly flown as there was back then. I remember, for instance, a stunning display by a Grumman Hellcat which was dived and rolled with such vigor that as it descended towards the ground, engine screaming and and airframe whistling with it's massive speed and energy I saw a pair of crows 20 yards away literally blown out of the sky by its wake. It leveled off just above the marquee of a car dealership, almost flattening it, the tent roof blowing downwards and the sides outwards. All the salesmen came running out convinced a mighty accident had happened, but by then the Hellcat was rocketing skywards through 4,000 feet. There wouldn't be anything like that today as having great fun is no longer approved. But hey, at least it's an air show!

I rode to Barton from home on the little Honda Innova knowing that using a car would commit one to possible queues getting in, and a certainty of a long wait to get off the airfield at the end of the day. With the little bike one just rides straight in, parks by the entrance, and at the end of the day rides straight out again with no delay. The only fly in the ointment was if the rain forecast for late afternoon materialised, I was going to have a wet ride home. It did, and I did!

I chose the pleasant route to Barton from home, using the back lanes of this part of Cheshire which suite the Innova much more than blasting down the motorway. Across to Ashley, through Bowden to Dunham Massey, across the Ship Canal by Warburton Bridge, then alongside that waterway to Barton. I rode straight in, bought a ticket, parked the little bike and went exploring the stands before the show started at 12:00.

First up was Mark Petrie in a Strikemaster, an armed version of the Jet Provost basic training aircraft, fitted with the constant thrust variable noise Rolls Royce Viper turbojet. This was followed by Lauren Richardson in her Pitts Special aerobatic display before this 'Extra' took to the Barton skies:

 Extra 260 flown by Steve Carver

The unmistakable thwack-thwack of the big two-bladed rotor announced the commencemnet of the display by this Bell UH1(Huey) helicopter. The Huey, along with the B52 bomber, symbolises the Vietnam war and this aircraft actually served in that conflict. Never mind that the commentator announced it would be familiar to viewers of the TV programme 'Mash' as the casualty evacuation helicopter featured in that Korean war drama. The 'Mash' helicopter was of course the earlier Bell 47 'bubble canopy' piston engined machine. 

The Rotor Sport Calidus gyrocopter flown by Peter Davies. These machines 'enjoyed' a poor safety record until a few years ago, when early unstable designs were replaced by superior machines like this. Because it flies a low energy display, it is allowed to come lower and closer to the crowd than other aircraft displaying today.   

Here Peter flies sideways along the crowd line. During an earlier pass he was visible in the cockpit waving to the crowd with both hands, demonstrating the stability of the machine. To make his waving more obvious, he wore large gloves, one red, one green. It was good to see he had them on the correct hands (red on his left hand, green on his right). 

This unmistakable pair made their usual impeccable, if restrained, display. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) can at present only field the Spitfire and Hurricane, as the Dakota and Lancaster are temporarily grounded with engine problems.

This, the RAF Chinook, was by far the most spirited display of the day. It has even more of a 'wokka wokka' rotor sound than the Huey, and as its pilot pitched it rapidly from the up vertical to the down vertical the blade slap was more like a loud bang! This superbly flown display belies the aircraft's 50 ton weight, the pilot upending it and throwing it around the sky as if it were a Pitts special! Brilliant!

Perhaps the most sedate display of the afternoon was this, the 'Old Buckers'. Pete and Andy fly gently around in their identical Bucker Jungmans (Jungmen?), each with its original Tigre engine. I have known Pete Gaskell (one of the pilots) for many years, and flown with him frequently, especially when we both had a share in dH Chipmunk G-BCSL. 

The sky to the west had been getting darker all afternoon as the grey build ups got more threatening. Just as Rich Goodwin got airborne in his Pitts S2S wind gusts lifting litter into the air (see the flying bag in the picture) announced the immediate threat of heavy rain. I headed for the little bike and home! 

The first heavy drops fell as I unlocked the bike. Many more folk were leaving, and a solid line of cars was very slowly snaking off the airfield, but mostly not moving at all. Hoards of people were walking out towards the road, and some taking shelter, under any likely overhang, from the increasingly heavy rain. On the little bike I ignored the vehicle queue and threaded my way past the pedestrians to the road, where all cars were directed to turn left towards the M60, but I could sneak right towards Irlam to retrace my route home.

At the left turn for Warburton bridge I rode past the long queue at the traffic lights (well, I was getting wet, they weren't!). When I reached Dunham Park cars were streaming out of the gate, their afternoon at that National Trust venue no doubt cut short by the deluge. There was about two miles of standing traffic between Dunham and the traffic lights on the Altrincham road, and once again the little bike could take advantage of its diminutive dimensions and whizz past these hundreds of cars straight to the head of the queue.

My Barbour waxed coat, leather gloves, and helmet meant I didn't actually get too wet. Despite the rain, I'm so glad I didn't take the car.

So was it 'the return of the Barton Air Show'? No, not really. Except for the Chinook; that display was well up to the spirit of shows past!