Balloon Repair Station

We wobble here, we wobble there – January Wobbling

We had only just slipped into January 2019 and we managed a couple of flights on the trot in good old George, now with its C3 burner and comfy T&C swept top basket jobby that we have put together. The old crinkly fabric ’56 is still a trooper. Son Peter is busy now trying to build up his hours and get back into the swing of things so when the third of January dawned bright and sunny we reckoned that would be a great time for a wobble. We met at eleven, how civilised, by which time the wind had gone 360 and was zero to nothing. The wind was too light and the direction wrong but we decided to give it half an hour and have a go anyway. It seemed we were in a ‘wind about to change situation’ so there may be a chance. It went this way and that but, there was something. Farmer Jay was roped in to retrieve and a decision eventually made. As was to be expected, we drifted off ninety degrees to the direction we had laid out in. Slowly we generally meandered down the valley towards the Black Horse with loads of steerage. Best let him get on with it then. Got a great picture looking back towards Wendover down the planned line of HS2 and, with fencing promised in the next few weeks, this may well have been the last flight from the field out the back of the workshop. Already the land over the road had a line of stakes across it! Getting the sextant out and taking a few solar sightings through the astrodome we got a fix and using me trusty rotary distance, time calculator we worked out that there wasn’t enough daylight or fuel to make the Black Horse but decided on Road Farm, half a mile short. The Knight’s land runs right up to the junction where the Missenden by-pass starts and you turn off for the pub. As small boys my dad took me brother and I up to Missenden Church below which the new by-pass was being built. Big earth movers shovelled up the valley. It was all pretty amazing at the time. When it opened our dad, along with his mate Herb Bewler, an American pilot, went down it in our Wolseley 4/44 and did a mile a minute. We thought that was great. Sometime later we all went the other way in Herb’s Jag at 100mph. My mother went garratty when we let slip. He got posted to Spain for a while and would borrow a plane and phone me dad to pick him from Upper Heyford. To let us know he had ‘arrived’ he would perform a very low, slow banking fly-past over our house, and then shoot off, heading for Upper Heyford. On one occasion he used the afterburners to great effect. The incident made the local paper although the aircraft was never identified! He told us it was a Phantom. That explained it then, clearly it never existed. It was the Cold War and sadly Herb disappeared on mission near the East German border in the mid sixties.

Although Pete was getting to grips with steerage we were making a somewhat erratic approach to Road Farm. We stayed high to get the left, we’d need it to counter the gob full of right on the surface when we came down. A passing Aylesbury train gave us a toot. Nice. Farmer John Knight sadly passed away a couple of years ago. For years he ran a blue Marina pickup which was dreadful. When the 1300 petrol engine died we put an 1800 diesel in it which made it truly dreadful. The Marina was designed by Roy Haynes who should have stuck to the Ford Cortina MkII and never saw the project through (understandably) on account of compromises and funding issues! We reckoned that they used all the bits left over from the Morris 1000s after Roy’s suggestion that Leyland use MacPherson struts for the front suspension were dropped as a cost cutting exercise. This meant that the dear old Marina suffered with lever dampers, trunnions, steering uprights and torsion bars meaning they didn’t handle (at all) and the front suspension often failed just like the Moggy. Enough to say they were not a good off-roader and we were forever sticking new (and secondhand) trunnions and steering uprights on it, not helped by the heavy lump of an engine and grease nipples which farmers tend to ignore. More often than not repairs had to made in the field it had expired in. Anyway he was a good old boy and good mates with Rusty Bob, John Brown and Brian How, Jay’s dad. His son David now runs the farming side of things whilst his son-in-law, Duncan, has set up Road Farm Countryways, part of the Care Farm Network, teaching kids of all abilities, especially those with learning difficulties, about the countryside and farming. Our Pete used to go there for tea with his mate Tom when he was small but clearly had no recollections. We drifted in over the buildings and settled into the back meadow to be greeted by Duncan, somewhat stuck in the hedge for some reason and waving. Now the farm is seriously old but what I had never realised was that at the back was the biggest dewpond I think I’d ever seen, almost a dell complete with a walk down for the livestock! Must pop back and have proper look. We wandered over and whilst Duncan untangled himself family histories and days of future passed were discussed. Everyone knew everyone. Wonderful. What had been a tad of an iffy flight had turned out smashing. I took me dog for a walk and met up after for a well earned pint. The weather for Friday looked promising. We could be looking at two on the trot then.

Friday was dull and overcast and felt like a laboured Friday. Whatever the weather it is always saved by Pork Pie Friday and the Duffer’s Walk. We couldn’t be late for that. We reckoned we may be able to get a quick flight in but, not wanting to be faced with trundling off down the valley again, headed out to Quainton. The clock was heading for midday before we set off. It’s a great place to fly from and the direction we had was taking us back into the hills, a bit of a tricky area to find a friendly farmer but we’d be homeward bound and, on the upside, there was a bit more wind so that theoretically meant more chances. Once airborne it was pretty obvious we were heading directly for Stewpot’s windmill. Typical. Quainton is surrounded by no landing areas so we gently climbed out and waved to the track-laying gang beavering away at Quainton Railway Centre alongside the old Brill Tram platform. One of my favourite quotes comes from Betjeman, as in John. He wrote of Quainton Station in Metro-land, “I can remember sitting here on a warm autumn evening in 1929 and seeing the Brill Tram from the platform on the other side with steam up ready to take two or three passengers through oil-lit halts and over level crossings, a rather bumpy journey to a station not far from the hill-top village of Brill.” He turned and looked down the line towards the last Metropolitan station, Verney Junction and says, very evocatively, ”The houses of Metro-land never got as far as Verney Junction. Grass triumphs. And I must say I’m rather glad.” Wonderously it is also the last paragraph in the book ‘Best of Betjemen’.

We went up and turned right towards Aylesbury following the railway, noting random lines of fencing marking out HS2’s route along the line. Not sure how John B would have felt about that intrusion. Low down we were heading left into open countryside, very open countryside, with little or no access. We used to shoot round this area and always reckoned that if you fell down no one would find you until spring! We needed somewhere near a road. In the distance we heard a slow, lumbering, clanking, grinding rumble. What a treat, it was only the elusive daily rubbish train heading for the Calvert Landfill (Waste Management!) site, bringing waste from London. It trundled slowly underneath us pulled by a trusty old Class 66 but I didn’t get the number. Comes down through Ruislip and Risboro’ and takes the Aylesbury branch through Kimble. Dropped me pencil in the excitement! The direction we wanted meant staying at a height that pretty well matched the top of the windmill so as we approached we nipped up a bit, turned right, and missed Stuart’s, never mind, back down and using the left we were now well on for the old boys at Hale Farm, near Bierton, where we landed John’s balloon on its maiden flight. Mr Ashley and Co have a large herd of cattle, which are about as laid back as you can get, a reflection on the farmer. They were all in. Couldn’t miss but as we approached we went right, missed the farmhouse front paddock and crossed the edge of the wood where there was no room to land before the pylons. Now, on the other side of aforementioned pylons was 40 acres of dry accessible pasture dotted with sheep. Pete elected to fly across this despite the sheep now being on the far side, half a mile away. The chosen field was over trees and five eighths water with the long abandoned Cheddington to Aylesbury branchline at the far end. We spotted a way in. Beyond that was acres of solar panels! The old railway, I explained to Pete, was the first branchline to be built in Britain, completed in 1839 and used for transporting Aylesbury Ducks and plums to London. He was clearly fascinated. With a bit of luck and vertical descent we may make it. Well we did, but the surface wind had picked up a fair bit and despite leaving a decent imprint we dragged a fair old way. Forty paces it seemed. We called Farmer Jay. He was chatting to the son and by now it had become apparent that the access we had spotted on the way in, a bridge over the brook, had collapsed. Not to worry, Jay duly arrived with a quad bike escort. There was just enough bridge left to get the bike over. Luckily we had the Dolly Trolley with us so without further ado it was rigged up as a trailer and off we went to get George. “Should have landed in the forty acre mate.” Says Farmer Ashley. “Would have done,” said Pete, “but it had sheep in it.” “Its Forty Acres! You could have just driven straight in!” We laughed. What a star, we were out and a decent bottle of wine duly handed over and reluctantly accepted. Two flights, two lovely farmers. A call to Barry. Him and Stuart were already heading for Wendover Woods and we were heading back to collect grand-daughter Holly from school. We may just make it for three yet. Our short flight had lasted an hour and forty! Pete bade his farewells and headed off to the Icicle in the company of Spencer Craze and a promise of more flights. I limped round the hill with me dog and the boys for an hour and a half and enjoyed a fine Pork Pie Friday. It had been emotional. – All about Road Farm – Bucks Railway Centre, well worth a visit. Featured in our article ‘Got a Card from a Good friend’.