Jonathan Schofield sees the country clearly, all of it, on a trip to the Northern Atlantic

I once saw the whole of Britain. All of it, in one go. 

This bright day reminds of another bright day in June 2013. The Faroe Islands were my destination and as there were no flights from Manchester I had to travel down to Gatwick. It was a mid-afternoon flight and the skies were blue: so blue and intense it looked like it had been put through a filter. 

The plane took off in a southerly direction before banking north towards the North Atlantic. As it turned over Brighton I could see the pier and the white cliffs. A short time later it was easy to spot many of London’s landmarks, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London towers. 

It was about then I recalled the weather forecast that morning. The radio presenter had said the whole of Britain would be bathed in sunshine. I grabbed an in-flight magazine and found the page with the flight path maps. I was in for a treat. I’d started the trip over England’s south coast and I would fly off the top edge of country on Scotland’s north coast. 

The map below shows the route approximately. 

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The flight path (more or less): the whole of the country Image: Apple maps

As we cruised at 30,000 ft I played a game of spot my country, its towns, cities or geographical features. Cambridge was identified by its college quadrangles and the lawns by the River Cam, Ely and Peterborough by their cathedrals and Nottingham through its two football teams either side of the River Trent. Far to the west I could make out the Welsh mountains. 

Closer to the plane, almost directly underneath, Chesterfield was simple to locate with its crazily twisted spire on the church of St Mary’s. Sheffield with its suburbs jammed into the Peak District came next. West again was the crest of Kinder Scout and even Beetham Tower in Manchester. A little to the north I found the craggy ridge of Blackstone Edge. 

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Nottingham and the football grounds from above, a library shot not taken on this flight Image: Wikimedia
Blackstone Edge Littleborough Rochdale
Blackstone Edge from the ground Image: Confidentials

Then came Leeds and to the east the towers of York Minister. The Yorkshire Dales National Park slipped away underneath me. The peaks of the Lake District mountains rose beyond them. Durham’s incredible Norman cathedral was followed by the estuaries of the Tees and the Tyne and cities of Sunderland and Newcastle with St James’ Park clearly visible. 

The coast of Northumberland showed off its castles Bamburgh and others, Lindisfarne island rode the waves. Scotland rushed beneath, Galashields and the trio of peaks of the Eildon Hills. Edinburgh was obvious with Arthur’s Seat and the castle, as was the mighty Firth of Forth railway bridge, Stirling Castle too. 

On we went over the Cairngorms which still held snow on the high ridges. That lump to the west must have been Britain’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis. It wasn’t a surprise but it was still notable how empty of population Scotland was compared to England. Inverness was that small town on the Moray Firth, with to the east a peninsula, its tip occupied by Fort George, built following Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat at Culloden. 

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The Cairngorms, from above, on another flight on a less clear day Image: Confidentials
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Fort George from above, a library shot, not taken on this flight Image: Wikimedia

We exited the main island of Britain over the pristine beaches of the Scottish north coast close to the Halladale River. To the east were the Orkney islands. Shetland then rolled into view and retreated and that was England, Scotland and Wales done from north to south, the length, the breadth. 

Below the plane the wild seas of the North Atlantic rolled and swelled. The distance between the north coast of Scotland and the Faroes is 200 miles of cold ocean and I could see ships and boats and occasionally flocks of gulls, oil platforms came and went. I knew in the Faroes there’d be puffins waiting, seals and whales galore, 2300ft cliffs at Vestmanna, cleft mountain of Tindhólmur and even a Michelin star restaurant in the tiny capital of Torshavn with its even tinier Parliament house made of wood (pictures below): but that was for the future. 

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My destination: the Faroes Image: Confidentials
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The cleft sea-mountain of Tindhólmur Image: Confidentials

I was thinking this would never happen to me again. 

I’d seen the whole of my beautiful country spread out below in its entirety and in limpid sunlight from north to south: towns, cities, houses, industry, stadiums, monuments, rivers, mountains and a tapestry of fields and woods. 60 millions of the good, the bad and the ugly. It had been thrilling, a God-like experience; a messenger God, Hermes perhaps, with winged heels, no, scrap that, given my destination, more like the top Norse god, Odin, on his flying eight-legged horse Sleipnir.

Jonathan Schofield is the editor-at-large of Manchester Confidential. You can book on one of his tours of the city and region here.

2024 01 23 Sleipnir And Odin
Odin and Sleipnir being all heroic Image: H D Johnson

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