August 7, 2010 12:30 am

Flying down to the Isle of Wight

Heather McGregor at the pilot seat of a Socata TB20 Trinidad

The Isle of Wight has long been a favourite destination for my family. My grandfather, the Reverend Edward Stothert Bartrum, was the longest-serving vicar at St Lawrence, on the southernmost part of the island. A visit to his church, designed in 1878 by Sir George Gilbert Scott, with stained-glass windows by William Morris, is an annual pilgrimage. But until I learnt to fly, I had dreaded going there in summer – queues of cars waiting for ferries past their prime never appealed.

These days I don’t bother with ferries. Instead, I drive to Oxford Airport and start up my Socata TB20 Trinidad, a four-seater, single-engine aircraft that can get me to Bembridge in under an hour.

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Heading south over Oxford’s dreaming spires and then the less-than-dreamy Didcot power station, I dodge the gliders at Greenham Common before asking Southampton Air Traffic Control if I can transit their air space. If they are too busy, I fly to Portsmouth and cross the coast to the east of the Spinnaker Tower, flying out over the sea before turning right into Bembridge. The approach over the cliffs reminds me of why I love the Isle of Wight: the proximity of the sea, the splendid views and, even in summer, new places to explore.

In Bembridge, I need only a few hours for lobster salad at the excellent Crab & Lobster pub, followed by a walk on the beach.

If you have longer, a half-hour taxi ride from the airport takes you to St Lawrence. After admiring Scott’s church, walk up the hill to the delightful 13th-century St Lawrence Old Church. Before the addition of a 10ft chancel in 1830, it was only 25ft long and 11ft wide, and thought to be the smallest church in England.

Back at Bembridge, I take off to the west and turn right, passing over the container ships headed for Southampton and then returning on a direct route from Portsmouth to Oxford, the sun setting in the west as we approach the airport. If I’ve left it a bit late I am grateful for the runway lights and familiar voices at Oxford ATC, which operates until 10.30pm.

Heather McGregor learnt to fly with Pilot Flight Training at Oxford Airport, www.pilotflighttraining.com

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Getting there

Bembridge Airport, www.eghj.com. Most aero clubs don’t require you to have a private pilot’s licence (PPL) to be a member – learners and other interested parties are welcome.

Eating and drinking

Crab & Lobster Inn; 01983 872244; www.crabandlobsterinn.co.uk

Don’t miss

Osborne House, acquired in 1845 by Queen Victoria. Beautifully curated, it’s a history lesson and a splendid tea shop all in one place. www.english-heritage.org.uk

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