One day during our recent trip to Orkney, we decided to indulge in a teatime pint at the Ayre Hotel on the seafront at Kirkwall. We’d been a bit unsure about where to go before settling on the Ayre Hotel, but boy were we glad we did...
When we left the bar around 6pm, we noticed a large crowd gathered in the carpark opposite, on the harbour wall. As we approached we realised the crowd extended right the way round the harbour. Clearly something was about to happen, but what? We saw families, couples, teenagers, and what looked liked professional photographers, possibly for the local newspaper. We could, of course, have asked someone. But instead we joined the crowd, wondering what on earth was going on.
A little while later we heard the drone of a plane. We didn’t really think much of it at first – it sounded like all the propeller planes which land at Kirkwall. As it came into sight however, we realised this was the event. It was a biplane, an old fashioned plane with double decker wings. It flew low over Kirkwall and over the harbour and proceeded with a rather impressive aerobatic display, which lasted about 5-10 minutes.
No sooner had the biplane started to head away than another one appeared, and again got stuck into a very low level display over Kirkwall harbour! It did loop-the-loops, barrel rolls, and zoomed low over our heads.
When the second biplane headed off, we waited a few minutes then decided that was it, although no one else was making a move. We walked back to the car, parked in front of the Ayre Hotel, and had the doors open when we heard the beginnings of a much louder plane drone, almost a roar. We paused and waited to see what was happening, reluctant to leave and risk missing anything. Moments later, with an astounding noise that gave me goosebumps, a Spitfire shot out across the harbour from over the buildings we were standing beside!
I’ve seen Spitfires fly before, but what a treat this was! It felt like a private display, given the location, the small harbour, the local crowd, and the fact that it happened on my birthday (I told my parents they shouldn’t have gone to such trouble to arrange an air display for me!)...the pilot was surely having a great time, wheeling and looping, and continually flying and banking so low over the crowd you felt you should duck! The weather was stunning, there was a real party atmosphere as people oohed and aahed, and the privilege of seeing such a special plane perform so close up was fantastic.
The display lasted some 10 minutes and then it was over, people started to drift off. What a treat for the people of Orkney – we later found out that the Spitfire and its pilot had been at an airshow near Perth, and a local friend had managed to arrange for them to take a trip further north. We were so lucky to have been where we were – we had no idea this was going to happen, so if we hadn’t been leaving the Ayre Hotel when we did, we would have missed it.