Human donkey

As I posted earlier, I'm doing a video diary for BBC Countryfile, and as I've also posted the Moors For The Future project is also airlifting several thousand bags of heather onto Bleaklow as part of the effort to repair the damage to the peat, so it seemed an obvious thing to do to try to combine the two and get some footage of the helicopter. I was going to film last Thursday, but as I've already said we were fogged in. MFTF were flying again yesterday, so I thought I'd do a normal patrol and walk over to the drop site to do some filming. I popped in to Windy Harbour to find out from the MFTF team where they were going to be before heading off to the briefing centre. They were going to be working around Wain Stones and Hern Stones so Bob and I drove up to Snake summit to walk across.

It was looking a bit murky as we drove up to Snake and just as we got togged up and ready to go Fiona radioed us to say that due to low cloud they'd moved the drop site to Lawrence Edge on the opposite side of the Bleaklow plateau. We got back in the car and drove round to Woodhead dam and parked up. We could see the helicopter as we walked up Bradwell Sitch, and as we got to the bottom of Lawrence Edge I heard over the radio that the helicopter was going to refuel. The weather was looking a bit dodgy on the north side of Bleaklow as well, so I staggered up Lawrence Edge as fast as I could, weighted down by the camera, tripod, batteries etc.

I got to the top edge and spotted the ground teams just as I heard the helicopter coming back. As it appeared through the murk I saw that it didn't have a load on, which was a bad sign. Sure enough it landed and the team nearest the edge piled in and it took off and dissapeared. Bugger! Having hauled all the kit the 800 feet up from Woodhead dam in double-quick time I was less than thrilled to see them being taking off the hill.

I mooched over to the second team to share my woes. They were hoping for the helicopter to come back to pick them up, but then the weather dropped right in so we all sat there while they waited for radio confirmation of whether they needed to walk off or not. 20 minutes or so later we heard the helicopter off in the distance - the weather hadn't perceptibly changed, so it didn't seem like there was any way he could get in. A message came over the radio asking the team to get as close as possible to Lawrence Edge, and as they were moving the rotor disk of the helicopter appeared up through the murk from under the edge of the crag, smack bang where he'd picked the first team up. The wind was blowing along the valley, so he came up from below the edge and across the moor sideways to the landing site and everyone piled in whilst I tried to get some footage on the camera. Once everyone was aboard he took off and crabbed sideways across to the edge again, about 20 feet above the ground before dropping back down below and very quickly out of sight into the clag. I was chatting to Fiona later on and it appears that the cloud base was a few tens of feet below the edge of the plateau, and he'd flown along the valley edge below the cloud level before popping sideways up the face to pick them up - a very slick piece of flying. It would have been impressive enough if the pilot had done this as part of a rescue, but was really staggering was that he was so matter-of-fact about it - he even offered to come back to pick myself and Bob up! The helicopter firm are based in Scotland so I suppose they are used to these sort of conditions, but still - way to go, PDG Helicopters!

Bob and hung around for a bit and had our lunch in case the weather lifted and they could resume the lift, but when I checked with Fiona they'd scrubbed for the rest of the day. Bob and I did some shots of the peat erosion and the steps being taken to try to stabilise it by the MFTF folks before carrying along to Wildboar Clough and off down White Mare where I managed to get some more shots of hares, although they were being distinctly uncooperative and kept running away before I got close enough to get a really good shot - most thoughtless of them ;-) We dropped down onto the Longdendale trail just above Torside car park before heading back to the car at Woodhead dam, taking a few last shots along the valley before we headed back to the briefing centre and then home.

Re: Human donkey

This week's Countryfile video diary (Sunday 6th February 2005 - featuring an ecologist chap and the local mountain rescue team teaming up to go planting juniper shrubs high up on some crags in the Lake District) proved that it is possible to do quite an interesting five minute film, even if the weather is predominantly wall-to-wall hill fog, so maybe Alan's "Best of Bleaklow", when actually shown, will be "alright on the night". P.S. Any idea yet of when your 5 minutes of fame is going to be?

Re: Human donkey

No idea when it will be aired yet Peter. I'm going to try to get some decent footage of the helicopter this week - fingers crossed for fine weather!