…….to raise £5580 (558, get it?) for Avro Vulcan XH558.
It is a lovely bright and sunny Wednesday morning as a small group assemble at the unearthly hour of 6:30am on a windy Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, just south of Leicester.
Bruntingthorpe was chosen as the start because it was there that XH558 was restored to flight after being purchased from the MOD some years previously by David Walton. The ride was to finish at the present home of the aircraft at Doncaster Robin Hood Airport, formerly RAF Finningley, taking in places relevant to the history of Vulcans.
Three riders, two of whom haven’t ridden bikes since they were at school, are about to set off on what for them will be an epic ride of around 150 miles. Ray Whibley had done a fair bit of distance riding in the past but admitted to being a bit rusty while Sean Bennett and Lee Gosling didn’t even own suitable bikes…Lee borrowed his partners mountain bike to train on. However the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, who own and operate the aircraft on behalf of the British nation, put up the money to purchase two bikes that were then stripped down by A & C Cycles of Gainsborough and the frames repainted in Vulcan colours by Steve Hand who paints the Vulcan. The bikes were then rebuilt by Chris of A & C and are to be auctioned after the event to raise more funds.
Due to the early start we drove up from home the previous day and with the kind permission of the owner, David Walton, we stayed on the airfield overnight. We parked near the old wartime control tower where we spent a very peaceful night with lovely views. We had Tristars to the left of us, a Comet and Nimrod in front and to the right an assortment of aircraft including a Victor, Buccaneer’s and a VC10.
At just after 7am David Walton flagged off the riders and we hit the road and take a different route, via Leicester, to get ahead and be ready for their first stop. Oh how I hate city centres, particularly when the world and his wife are trying to get to work. We go right through the city and out the other side before getting on to winding lanes and the first stop, about 25 miles into the ride, just west of Melton Mowbray.
Jane and Malcolm Thomas, co-chairs of Vulcan to the Sky Club, who have recce’d the route, are hopping ahead of the riders in their Volvo to help with navigation through a maze of back lanes. On the first section there is a road closure due to work on a level crossing but the workers let the riders across while the support car has to find the long way round. They all arrive at the first ‘pit stop’ at the same time although from different directions. We have the kettle on in the motorhome.
After a short rest where drinks and energy bars are consumed the riders are off towards the next stop which is at Langar airfield. Langar was a wartime Lancaster base and after WW11 was owned by the Avro company for a few years where they serviced and tested Lancasters and Shackletons.
It was a fitting place for a brief stop and Jane laid a poppy cross on the memorial to the lost bomber crews.
Next stop RAF Syerston, now a gliding centre but once a wartime base and the site of a tragic Vulcan crash when one of the prototypes, VX770, broke up in the air during a display in 1958. The four crew plus three people on the ground were killed and three others injured. Although there is a small memorial at Crash Gate 6 there was nothing to commemorate the Vulcan crash and so Jane, on behalf of the club, fixed a plaque and a poppy cross to the fence.
By now the riders were getting weary but it was just a short ride to Newark Air Museum and lunch.
Again we hopped ahead and Kate got busy cooking a pasta lunch for the lads while I put out the awning, table and chairs ready for their arrival. A quick lunch and a short sit down and then off into the museum for photos in front of the Vulcan before hitting the road again.
We washed up and packed everything away and took a different route to get ahead again for a very brief stop close to where the riders had to cross the A15. After that it was the ‘home run’ for day one as we went on to the RAF Coningsby viewing area to greet three very tired riders.
The bikes and riders were loaded into cars to take them to their hotel for the night while we went back to one of our favourite stopping places at Oaklea, just up the road near Woodhall Spa.
A more civilised hour to start day 2 of the ride when we all meet up at RAF Waddington, home to XH558 for many years. Actually we are ‘off base’ at The Sentry Post Snack Bar at the Waddington Wave (Waddington Aircraft Viewing Enclosure) where John Robinson and his sister Chris have been very supportive, as they are with all things aviation related. Their collecting box was handed over to the riders by John.
We wait for the early morning traffic to subside on the busy A15 and photos are taken in front of perhaps the most famous Vulcan XM607, the aircraft flown by Martin Withers and crew to bomb the Port Stanley runway and open the Falklands War.
Shortly after 9am the riders are away towards Lincoln and it’s formidable hill. Except that a couple of hundred yards along the road Sean loses all his gears. Makeshift repairs were carried out on the grass verge and they carried on with Sean stuck in a single gear.
Meanwhile we once again went on ahead to meet up with the riders at RAF Scampton where we were to be given a brief tour of the Heritage Centre.
Scampton was a prominent Vulcan base but is now better known as the home of the Red Arrows and the wartime base for 617 Dambusters Squadron.
Once the riders had arrived we were met at the main gate by Barry, one of the Heritage Centre guides who escorted us in convoy to the hangar. There we saw the famous grave of Guy Gibsons Labrador dog (the dog that must not be named in this PC world) that was killed by a car as his master was en-route to bomb the dams.
We went into Guy Gibsons office, still shown as it would have been in WW11. Jane and Kate both had a sit in the House of Lords chair that is on display and after a quick tour we were provided with tea and coffee by Barry and his wife. Sean accepted the collecting box that had been there for a while and we were soon on our way again, this time to the lunch stop at A & C Cycles in Gainsborough.
Andrea and Chris did us proud by laying on sandwiches for lunch for the riders and support team which meant that Kate didn’t have to cook the planned pasta lunch. As I planned to take my bike on our forthcoming trip to France I had an unusual bout of common sense and purchased a riding helmet while we were there.
After lunch the last leg beckoned for the lads, from Gainsborough to Hangar 3 at Doncaster.
The hangar was busy when we arrived with a visit from a local school and there was much excitement when the children were issued with flags and led outside to form a welcome party for the riders. Friends and relatives of the riders as well as many well-wishers were there to see them arrive including Lee’s two small children dressed in surprise tee shirts and carrying home made banners and Barry Masefield, recently retired (from flying but not from supporting) Vulcan AEO (Air Electronics Officer). While the school children waited on each side of the entrance for the riders anything that moved got a cheer and a wave from multiple flags, including a surprised delivery driver who got the ‘full works’ when he drove in.
Eventually Jane and Malcolm arrived just ahead of the riders to much yelling and flag waving and when the riders came around the corner the children went mental. It was a terrific welcome and very well deserved. It was all quite emotional with tears and hugs and handshakes all round.
When everyone had got their breath back it was back into the hangar for photos in front of the aircraft and a very well deserved pint of Vulcan beer for the riders and bike builder Chris.
Special thanks are due to John & Chris from The Sentry Post and Andrea and Chris from A & C Cycles for their superb support, two small businesses that deserve to do well. Also Sarah Favell who followed the whole route as backup and the ever enthusiastic for all things Vulcan, Dee, Jaquie, Steffie and Paul who helped make up the welcome party at many of the venues visited.
After chatting to our many friends we set off for the long drive home from what had been a quite tumultuous couple of days.
We had driven 455 miles @ 25.7mpg.
PS. At the time of writing the total donations are edging over the £5100 mark if Gift Aid is included.Target is in site.
PPS. It’s not to late to make a small donation…… www.justgiving.com/cycletothesky