17th February 2014

The dangers of tree hunting

Over the years I have done some pretty unusual trips and some rather hairy flying around world; I have flown through snow blizzards in the Rockies and tropical storms in South East Asia. I have flown in rather ancient sea planes along the West coast of Canada, in Australia and in East Africa and taken flights in rather ropey looking burnt-out aircraft in the South Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean. With my fighter pilot ex-husband, I have flown light aircraft across the Nullarbor and Western deserts in Australia. I have even been in a plane struck by lightening over the Pyrenees  I will never forget the sound or the sensation it was as if we had been hit by a missile.

But never have I had the totally terrifying experience I had on Valentine’s night three days ago coming back from my latest tree hunting trip to Northern Europe. I flew from Stansted very early in the morning on Friday 14th to visit Von Ehren’s nursery near Bremen to look at some Betula nigra which are planning for the waterside area of the No Man’s Land Garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Then I drove up to Northern Germany to view more specimens. By 6pm I was pretty exhausted and looking forward to getting home to have a Valentine’s supper cooked for me.

But it was not to be. I was flying with German Wings out of Hamburg at 6pm. We were warned of bad winds at Heathrow but nothing could have prepared me, or the 199 other passengers, for what was to come. As we finally began to our approach into Heathrow, the turbulence grew stronger and stronger. We were buffeted around like ball bearings in a tin can as the plane literally listed like a yacht out of control on a stormy sea, lurching from side to side until we were only around 15 metres above the runway. The wings were flapping like a swan swooping in to land and then suddenly the throttle came in and, with a huge surge of power and a roaring sound, the nose suddenly lifted up and we were struggling up into the air again. The pilot had aborted the landing. He told us there were cross winds with gusts of 80 km an hour across the airport. But they had decided to go round and try again! The second attempt was even worse. It was an unbelievably rough ride but we descended and much closer to the ground this time  the pilot aborted the landing literally metres off the tarmac and the engines sounded as if they were struggling to pick us up this time.

After what seemed an age, we were told we would be flying back to Hamburg! Phew thank heavens! We managed to sneak in to Heathrow the next day, between gusts of only 40km an hour. It felt like a breeze after the night before but there were never 200 more relieved faces as we taxied to our stand.

All this just to get the best Betula nigra on offer for my No Man’s Land Garden at Chelsea!

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