I know that different people have different views as to what makes a great hotel. And, similarly, everybody will have different values that they would like an airline to have. This makes this blog open to criticism but nevertheless I have to share with you the details of my most recent trip.
I had to go to North Wales to meet with Jon the Webmaster from Tastic Multimedia. It was he who was going to make slight alterations to the website and also to set up this blog. The quickest and cheapest way to travel from south to north wales is via Highland Airways who run a twice daily scheduled service between Cardiff and Anglesey. The return trip is just £104 and takes between 30 minutes and an hour depending upon the route they choose to fly. I always choose to fly to north Wales not for reasons of economy and time – two compelling reasons on their own – but because of the experience the flight offers.
It begins with a remarkably simple online booking service. I only decided to go to visit Jon at 2 pm on Tuesday afternoon. The flight was due to depart at 4.15. All was booked within five minutes. Then it was home to pick up some stuff, then a forty minute drive to Cardiff Airport. Check in time is just 30 minutes before departure which means you don’t spend hours wandering around ‘airside’ looking at the same sad fluffy sheep that have been on sale for three years.
Twenty minutes before departure you are walking across the tarmac to the 18 seat Jetstream31. Entering and exiting the aircraft with dignity is impossible but once inside you buckle yourself in to a leather seat with adequate if not ample legroom.
Then comes the fun bit that diistinguishes this airline from most others. The cabin crew (of one) clears her throat and, making eye contact with all of the passengers welcomes you on board, tells you where the life vest is, points out the emergency exits and tells you how to buckle and unbuckle your seat belt which, she advised, should be kept buckled at all times when seated. Excellent. Then, pulling back the curtain, she murmers something to the flight crew and the turboprops start spinning.
The noise in the cabin is more than that found on modern jetliners, but it is bearable and the magnificent spinning propellors start to sigh and groan as they cut into the air. The taxi is comfortable and once cleared to take off the engines start singing in harmony as the plane gains speed and climbs in the air.
The lady in charge of the cabin asks if anyone would like tea or coffee and then busies herself making the beverages. There is no video, audio or any form of entertainment except for the wonderful views of the west Wales coast with, at one point, Snowdonia 12,000 feet below.
There is something very puzzling about the route taken by the flight. The scheduled time from Cardiff to Anglesey is one hour and five minutes. On Tuesday from the Departures gate one of Highland Airway’s Jetstreams could be seen with its Propellor unndergoing repairs on the airport apron. The airline had flown in a replacement aircraft and while this was being prepared a thirty minute delay developed. The usual route is to fly north up the Marches before turning west to follow the north Wales coastline. On Tuesday, because of the delay, the pilot announced (by sticking his head into the cabin from the flight deck that “We’ll be there in thirty minutes – we’ll fly up the west coast”. I don’t understand why they don’t always fly west then north, thereby saving thirty minutes of flight time (and fuel). I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation but I cannot think of one.
Thirty five minutes later we are on final approach and the arrival at Anglesey has to be one of the unique experiences in flying because, as you taxi to the terminal you pass row upon row of RAF Hawk aircraft, all lined up in regimented rows. You pass signs saying “WARNING – ARMED AIRCRAFT BEYOND THIS POINT”. The airport that serves Anglesey is RAF Valley – home of three Squadrons of Fast Jet Trainers and Search and Rescue helicopters. The noise the jets make as their engines spool up is earshatteringly beautiful and makes the walk from the aircraft to the terminal building different from any other airport I have used. Highland Airways may be small, but running scheduled services from the Highlands to the inner and outer Hebrides must mean that their pilots fly over and to some of the most stunning scenery in the world and must be envied in the aviator world.
I wanted to spend some time watching the antics of these trainee fighter jet pilots and so I had pre-booked a room at the fabulous Cymyran Hotel which is located about half a mile from the airfield. Pay ten pounds more for the Superior room and you get a view right over the airfield. Whilst the noise might not be to everyone’s liking at first, it’s amazing that after an hour you just don’t notice the scream of the jets as they take off.
The hotel owner has offered to meet my flight and I throw my rucksack into the back seat and hop into the working Land Rover. I love this hotel, it is so wrong in so many ways and so so right in others. There is no attempt at branding and no hint of developing a brand. Therefore there is no uniforms, name badges, routinely asked “is there anything else I can do for you” or “is everything ok?” and no signs telling you what to do if everything is not 100% satisfactory. What you do get are genuine people with genuine personalities. There’s the charming, if a little hard of hearing receptionist (I’m almost deaf and refuse to wear my hearing aids in public so you can imagine the conversation we had), the bar staff who regularly desert their post to check if everything is ok in the kitchen (well that’s what they said) and the rather clumsy waiting staff. In short, the hotel is staffed by real people who, free of the drudgery of hiding behind a false, corporate personality, are able to befriend the customers rather than interface with clients.
The friendliest of the staff has to be Mollie. Although she continually looks as if she is on the very verge of bursting into tears she always has time for all visitors to the hotel. She doesn’t say much, but is keen to establish a relationship with all visitors as soon as she greets you at the entrance to the hotel. Mollie’s on a perpetual diet in an effort to reduce her weight, and maybe that’s why she is always so tearful. If you visit the hotel, (and you should), please say hello to Mollie for me and tell her it won’t be long before we can have another deep meaningful chat about the meaning of life.
The food is exceptional. I chose the Lemon Sole from the extensive Specials Board that came with divine fresh vegetables – and at £7.50 it was exceptionally good value. Everything is home made and takes advantage of any local seasonal produce that becomes available. As I ate I looked out of the vast windows and down upon a horse jumping arena where a girl who was no more than six years old cajoled a rather large pony over increasingly high jumps while an instructor shouted instructions and encouragement. A unique view from a special restaurant.
The next day, after an unhurried breakfast I made my way down into the bay a few hundred yards from the hotel. After a few minutes it appeared, from the South West, screaming and with landing lights blazing. Just maybe one hundred feet directly over my head the Hawk jet landed just a few yards from me just over a sand dune. They continued all morning; some landing, others flying low over the runway, while others were practicing touch and go. Occasionally you get to see American F15s from Lakenheath, Tornados from Lossiemouth and Eurofighter Typhoons, but today it was just wave after wave of Hawks practicing and honing their pilots’ skills. Oh, and a great big yellow SeaKing helicopter hovered above the waves fifty yards away.
The winchman waved.
I waved back.
Hotel Angelsey“>Hotel Angelsey