Book review: Aircraft Wrecks: The Walker’s Guide by Nick Wotherspoon, Alan Clark and Mark Sheldon

The fells and mountains of our beautiful North West provide an awesome backdrop for keen walkers… but it seems the ground beneath their feet may yield dramas of a different and darker kind.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 10th October 2013, 10:00 am
Aircraft Wrecks: The Walkers Guide by Nick Wotherspoon, Alan Clark and Mark Sheldon
Aircraft Wrecks: The Walkers Guide by Nick Wotherspoon, Alan Clark and Mark Sheldon

Brooding Winter Hill, the Lake District peaks and even the more benign slopes of the Forest of Bowland have witnessed dozens of air crashes since man took to his flying machines.

And as these sites begin to gain the same historical significance as shipwrecks, lost civilisations and buried treasure, this fascinating guide to nearly 500 crash locations throughout Britain will inspire you to don your walking boots and head for the hills.

Because unlike the other, more remote discoveries, both walkers and enthusiasts can actually tread the earth where these tragic events took place and, in some cases, see tangible evidence of the aircraft and their wreckage.

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One of the authors of Aircraft Wrecks is Lancashire man Nick Wotherspoon who lives in the Ribble Valley and has been actively involved in aviation archaeology for over 25 years, forming the successful Lancashire Aircraft Investigation Team in 1998.

And as he points out in his introduction to the book, visiting the remote spots where a life or death struggle was played out might seem morbid but the experience, particularly in the case of wartime crashes, gives us an insight into the past and an understanding and respect for the sacrifices and heroism of the crews.

Often seen only by passing walkers or dedicated enthusiasts, these crash sites are now being recognised for their historical significance, particularly as interest in Britain’s wartime past continues to grow. Many are within reach of the average weekend leisure walker whilst others are in remote and sometimes inhospitable areas, ironically ensuring their survival.

Some of these local accidents have been well documented ... in 2008 there was a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the terrible loss of 35 lives when a plane carrying a party from the Isle of Man crashed on Winter Hill ... but others are relatively unknown.

In 1949, during the dangerous Berlin Airlift operations, a Douglas C-54G plane crashed on Stake House Fell near Garstang, killing all six crew who were on their way to RAF Burtonwood near Warrington after a stormy flight from Frankfurt.

The aircraft hit the steep scree-covered face of the fell and many small fragments, including pieces of broken medicine bottles from the cargo, can still be seen jammed between the rocks.

And in 1941, during the early years of the Second World War, a 20-year-old pilot on a practice night flight from Squires Gate, Blackpool, hit moorland just below the summit of Hawthornthwaite Fell near Scorton.

The young officer managed to crawl about a mile from the wreck before losing consciousness and despite being treated at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, he died that same evening. Many believed he would have survived if only help had reached him sooner.

Fragments of the Defiant N1651 plane, pictured in the book, still lie exposed on the bare peat where it was later dismantled.

And a surprising amount of wreckage from another wartime crash on nearby Bleasdale Fell still litters the site at open moorland near the summit. The pilot and his instructor from RAF Woodvale near Southport were both killed instantly when the plane burst into flames on impact in April, 1944.

The Lake District has also seen its fair share of dramas including an air ambulance which crashed into Broad Crag killing all six people on board in August 1949 and a lucky escape for two pilots who ejected safely from the cockpit of their jet when a bird shattered the windscreen over the Shap fells near Kendal in 1975.

Each entry in this immaculately presented and illustrated book contains the circumstances of the crash, the names and fates of those on board, a description of the site today and a verified Ordnance Survey grid reference.

So there is simply no excuse not to get into the great outdoors and search out the history that lies hidden in the hills.

(Pen&Sword, paperback, £14.99)