When you receive an email from the famous Shirley Spear asking if you will photograph the equally famous Michael Smith, the chef of her even more famous Three Chimneys restaurant, cadging a lift in a small plane from our local airfield at Ashaig would you um and ah and ponder the taking of pictures of celebrities and planes? No you wouldn’t. Neither did I.
No matter, because Shirley is a force of nature. An all inclusive force that drags you in and pulls you along with her. In such a nice way. She is friendly and engaging and encouraging. It is like being caught somewhere between the nicest hurricane and the most lovely tornado you’ll ever come across. Once Shirley’s enthusiasm is up to speed you happily tumble along with her. She is one of the sort of people I need to pick me up by the scruff as I wishy-washy my way through life.
She has championed many important causes and one that is gaining a great deal of attention is the campaign to re-introduce commercial air services to the airfield at Ashaig airfield on Skye. This isn’t so much a worthy cause as an opportunity for Skye to have what has become a necessity in so many other West Highland islands – a working airport. The chance to turn what is a 5 hour drive, a 6 hour train trip or a 10 hour bus journey into a one and a half hour flight is one we should grasp firmly. It would benefit both the islanders and tourism. She has been instrumental in setting up a campaign group and website Flyskye
So, when the Three Chimneys, let’s be frank, celebrity chef Michael Smith was to travel to New York to take part in the Tartan Week celebrations a plan was quickly hatched. A request was posted on social media for a plane. Soon after it was arranged that Michael was to fly from Ashaig to Glasgow in a two seat aircraft provided by the Perth based Scottish Aero Club. It’s things like this that makes us love the internet…
I had been planning to go along on the day of the flight. So when Shirley emailed my cheerleading, small plane geeking attendance was transformed into photographer with mission. On the day I made sure I arrived nice and early. Experience has told me that when lots of different people and organisations are involved plans and times can be highly fluid. There was a plane there when I arrived at Ashaig after my five minute drive from home (You can see why flights from Ashaig appeal to us). It was blue and white, the one taking Michael was meant to be gold. I approached the pilot who told me that there were a few planes from the club coming along for the ride. Excellent, more aircraft means more geeky pics.
Shirley and another plane both arrived shortly after and I started clicking in earnest. I was amazed at how she effortlessly included everybody and soon we were all bubbling over with enthusiasm. Then there was a flash of gold in the sky.
This was Dave McElroy arriving with Michael’s aircraft. He made a perfect landing and taxied to a halt beside a beaming Shirley. All that was needed now was a chef to transport.
Shirley standing next to Dave McElroy’s plane
A phone rang. It was Shirley’s. We all knew who it would be. Shirley spoke to Michael. Was there a problem?
“Where are you?”
We held our breath.
“Sligachan.” Came the reply. Phew, only half an hour away.
This left plenty of time for the good folk from the Aero club to contemplate the firmly locked door of the toilet at Ashaig…lucky there were plenty of bushes.
Michael soon arrived in a flurry of activity. He looked like a …celebrity. We all noted the size of his luggage and compared it to the tiny amount of space behind the seats.
The tricky task of getting the large luggage into the small plane
We then spent what was probably too much time doing the paparazzi thing. Mrs L365 is much more used to this type of affair and happily orders everyone about to get the perfect picture. I soon got into the swing of ordering people about. Michael was obviously a seasoned trouper . There was another snapper there and Michael calmly looked straight down each of our lenses alternately while posing.
Once he and Captain Dave were strapped in and ready it was time to bid them bon voyage Captain Dave gave us one last photo opportunity that I have to admit I blew a bit by watching instead of clicking. After take-off he banked tightly over our village and did a fast and low fly past over the runway. I had the themes from the Battle of Britain, the Dambusters and 633 Squadron all blaring away in my head at the same time. When the rest of the Scottish aero club planes left I have to admit that I may have stood a little close to the runway to photograph them. The pictures weren’t very good but the exhilaration of being so close was immense!
Ashaig is described by Shirley as Skye’s folly and it is indeed a wasted asset. The pilots on Sunday remarked on what a spectacular setting it was and how they really enjoyed the flight to Skye. It took less than an hour from Perth. It costs £20 for a plane to land here.(You use an honesty box). I think we should be encouraging many more private planes to visit. Let’s have some air tourism not just scheduled flights. There is a gap in the market for charter flights. An airborne version of all those small luxury buses that we see so many of around here. I want to see planes stacked up waiting to land at a bustling island airport.