Rachel takes a Robinson R44 to the Lygon Arms at Broadway in the Cotswolds for lunch and to stock up on festive favourites!
1 December 2022
One of the things that appeals to me most about helicopters is the variety of places at which you can land. The world is your oyster when the need for a runway is gone and you’re no longer limited to airfields and their ‘greasy spoon’ cafés.
I’m always reminded of this in the run-up to Christmas, when it’s a delight to drop in to country house hotels in all their festive finery. Thornbury Castle near Bristol was just such an enchantingly bedecked destination for Alex and me in the R44 this month, but it was a second trip to the picture-perfect village of Broadway, in the Cotswolds, that sent my heli-enthusiasm levels overflowing.
I had hastily put together a plan for the trip the day before, partly due to not having wanted to jinx the weather by making too many plans, and partly because the hotel I had originally had in mind for landing at was fully booked for food.
I looked down the ‘PPR’ section of my phone contacts (tip: whenever you’ve phoned an airfield or landing site, save the number in your phone with PPR as the surname and you’ll have yourself a handy speed-dial list in the P section) and found one I’d enjoyed in a limited fashion a few years ago: the Lygon Arms in Broadway.
I say ‘limited fashion’ because my first landing there had been a quick visit with my examiner after passing my first ever R22 Proficiency Check at Wellesbourne, back in the days when I still bothered to maintain both my Robinson type ratings.
We’d done the requisite 0.7 or so of autorotations, instrument flying and so on, and I’d been keen to end the day with something a bit more fun. So we’d made the short flight to the Lygon Arms for a cup of tea and slice of cake, but all I really remembered about it was the pride I had felt in how beautifully I had managed to line the skids up on the H…
Fast forward to 2022, and the R22 was also a distant memory, replaced in my roster of regular flying machines by the more powerful R44. For me, it just makes more sense all round.
It’s faster, so you can get to places more quickly and overall spend about the same as you would taking longer to get there in an R22. Plus you have two rear seats – perfect for cost-contributing friends (not that we’d be taking any on this particular excursion).
Alex flew the first leg from Kemble, which took us up through the Cotswolds and past Countryfile presenter Adam Henson’s farm.
At the Cotswolds Edge the familiar sight of Broadway Tower made it easy to locate the village below, the land falling sharply beneath us as we descended towards its famous High Street, where the Lygon Arms takes centre stage.
The helipad is easy to spot, being a nice big white H located in a fenced paddock out the back of the Lygon Arms car park. There’s a corridor of fields to the north over which you can make your approach, so coming at it from the south we flew directly over to assess the site before doubling back on ourselves into the paddock.
Which, it turned out, had telegraph wires on two sides – not the one side that I remembered – so it was a high hover over those before dropping down onto the helipad. Not the easiest of approaches, but that’s what helicopters are for, and with next to no wind, it was the perfect day for it.
After shutting down, we were greeted by one of the Lygon Arms staff, who led us to the hotel. We let the restaurant team know we’d be having a bit of a walk around the village before our lunch booking, and made our way through the cosy wood-panelled bar and reception out onto the High Street, where a bustling scene of Saturday shoppers and day trippers awaited us.
We spent an agreeable hour wandering in and out of the village’s lovely array of shops, picking up some Christmas gifts and devoting most time to the fabulous Broadway Deli, where we stocked up on Christmas panettone.
Retreating from the busy street into the haven that is the Lygon’s elegant dining room, we enjoyed a delicious lunch (Alex: beetroot Wellington; me: barbecue pulled pork sandwich; both: mocktails), before finding a quiet spot to sit and plan the next leg of our flight.
My last-minute plan had had a last-last-minute alteration, as the helicopter needed dropping off at Gloucestershire Airport for maintenance. The one exception to my general rule of not flying to other airfields by helicopter (why would you, when you can do that in a fixed-wing?)!
I’d be flying this leg, and once we’d phoned the tower to book in, we made our way back out to the helicopter for the obligatory photos, before stowing the Christmas shopping, checking over the helicopter and starting up.
It was an easy flight to Gloucester, flying to the south of Bredon Hill and along the motorway to join straight in for Heli North. Think of the extra cost had I had to do an overhead join!
As is always the way with aircraft-to-maintenance logistics we were, of course, stranded at Gloucester without our cars, so it was a taxi back to Kemble and a small discount off the flying invoice for the inconvenience.
That meant that my half of the day’s adventure came in at just £106 – less than I’d have paid to fly to another airfield in a fixed-wing, though not including the (optional) lunch and panettone!
Three lessons, then, in making self-funded helicopter flying more affordable: 1. have a flying buddy to share the costs with; 2. help your heli school out; 3. don’t fly too far.
The good news is that you don’t need to fly far to experience the thrill of helicopters in this neck of the woods – whether it’s a cosy pub or a tourist trap village, there’s always somewhere lovely to land and explore within a 15-minute flight.