Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2012/13 posted by hidden europe on

Flying has generally ceased to be fun. The only certainty about much modern air travel is that it will be boring. Gone are the days when Dakotas battled against headwinds and made unscheduled landings at rough airstrips in offbeat parts of Europe. Airports from Omsk to Omaha are nowadays all very much the same and all equally uninspiring. All that said, it is always interesting to browse the summer flight schedules and find that there are a few parts of Europe where scheduled air services still make a very fine contribution to life in remote communities. And there are many examples where a plane bridges a gap between places that are otherwise unlinked by surface transport.

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Dear fellow travellers

"So, would you never fly?" asked one of our readers last month, correctly discerning that we tend to favour rail and boat travel. Well, the answer is that we do indeed take planes, but very sparingly. Just a couple of times each year, perhaps. It's not just a matter of environmental considerations, though those certainly influence our thinking.

Flying has generally ceased to be fun. The only certainty about much modern air travel is that it will be boring. Gone are the days when Dakotas battled against headwinds and made unscheduled landings at rough airstrips in offbeat parts of Europe. Airports from Omsk to Omaha are nowadays all very much the same and all equally uninspiring.

All that said, it is always interesting to browse the summer flight schedules and find that there are a few parts of Europe where scheduled air services still make a very fine contribution to life in remote communities. And there are many examples where a plane bridges a gap between places that are otherwise unlinked by surface transport.

Britain and Ireland are good hunting grounds for such offbeat flights. What better way to start a May morning than to board the flight from the Scottish island of Colonsay to nearby Islay? Just before nine on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, a little Britten-Norman Islander takes off for the short hop over the water to Islay. The two islands also benefit from a scheduled ferry link, but that is a once-weekly summer-only sailing, so the twice-weekly plane operated by Hebridean Air Services surely comes in handy.

A welcome return to the summer flight schedules for a third year is the seasonal link from the Welsh island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) to the Isle of Man operated by Manx2. We've long had a soft spot for this carrier, which flies a number of Irish Sea routes with small aircraft that rarely have more than a dozen passengers aboard. No regular shipping service links Anglesey with the Isle of Man, although it is possible to travel by boat from Holyhead to Douglas with a change of vessel in Dublin. So three cheers to Manx2 for bridging the gap. The carrier is spreading its wings too, for we see that it has this week launched a new route from the Isle of Man to Jersey with an en route stop at Oxford. Two and a half hours on a little Dornier 228 must surely be fun.

Regular flights from Bergen to Inverness resume next week for a 15-week summer season. With no ferries at all now linking Britain and Norway, well can we understand why folk want to fly. Most flights on the Bergen to Inverness route make en route stops in both Shetland and Orkney. Those with a real affection for small planes might consider stopping off along the way. We still rate the inter-island flights in Orkney and Shetland (operated by Loganair and Direct Flight respectively) as among the most interesting flight options in Europe.

The thrice-weekly direct flight from North Ronaldsay to Papa Westray gives views of the remotest part of the Orkney archipelago, and it is then possible to continue later the same day from Papa Westray to Westray, a two-minute hop which is often billed as the shortest scheduled flight in the world. Loganair celebrates fifty years of flying this year and the company's regular flights into tiny Orkney airstrips remain real gems in a generally bland aviation scene.

Another UK airline that celebrates an anniversary in 2012 is Skybus which for 25 years has provided a lifeline link for the remote archipelago off the south-west coast of England. Purist might argue that the only proper way to reach the Isles of Scilly is by boat - and we agree. But if you must fly, then the 90-minute flight from Southampton with Skybus is hard to beat as a way of seeing some superb coastal scenery along the way.

Flights to many islands around the coast of Britain and Ireland are a refreshing reminder of an earlier era of air travel. Be it the little planes that hop from Connemara over to the Aran Islands, or the seasonal helicopter service from Hartland Point in Devon to the Isle of Lundy, there is happily still a place for travel by air in this crowded continent of ours.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.