Note:Words in italics appear in English in Beaumont’s original French account. Where Beaumont is discussing flying I have often given the original French in square brackets for the record and because exact translation is often impossible – Tom Brearley, Sept 2012.
'Mes Trois Grandes Courses'
by André Beaumont (1912) Chapter V Circuit of Britain INCENTIVE GIVEN BY THE "DAILY MAIL". || FROM BROOKLANDS TO HENDON. || FROM HARROGATE TO EDINBURGH. || THE STIRLING RAIN. || DRAMATIC FLIGHTS IN SCOTLAND. || HALT AT SETTLE. || TRIBULATIONS FROM CARLISLE TO MANCHESTER. || FINALLY, AT BRISTOL. || THE CALM AFTER THE STORM. || LONDON FETES THE AVIATORS.
A few days after the Circuit of Europe, I get ready to participate in the Circuit of Britain [le tour d’Angleterre], organised at the initiative of Lord Northcliffe, the proprietor of the London Daily Mail.
Lord Northcliffe will be remembered as a great patron of Aviation. It was he who, in 1909, put up a prize of 50,000 francs to reward the first aviator to cross the English Channel: and Blériot’s historic victory of 25 July 1909 opened up a new, triumphal era for flight.
It was also he, who, in 1910, promised a prize of 250,000 francs for the aeroplane which flew from London to Manchester: Paulhan demonstrated, by his brilliant success, that long distance flights were from then on a real possibility.
Finally, it is Lord Northcliffe, who today, through a further prize of 250,000 francs, wishes to encourage aviators from every country, and machines and engines of every design, to compete against the other, to attempt to identify the best flying machine of 1911 and to bring it to the attention of his fellow countrymen.
I minutely study the course to be completed. Essentially, one must fly right round England and pass through the south of Scotland. This Circuit of Britain presents numerous and serious difficulties.
1st It will be necessary to fly over the mountains of Scotland - jagged, steep- sided, scattered with peaks - and, therefore, formidable for landings.
2nd The British year contains, on average, three hundred days of rain, mist and fog – the pilots will have, without doubt, a difficult struggle to maintain the correct heading.
3rd A rule prohibits the substitution of either machine or engine – five parts of the one, and five parts of the other will be marked at the start. At the finish two parts of the machine and two parts of the engine must be shown to be unaltered. The propeller and the undercarriage, particularly vulnerable parts, may be replaced.
4th There will be three compulsory rests of twelve hours (‘resting time’), at Edinburgh, at Bristol and at Brighton.
The need to retain the same engine and the almost certain inclemency of the atmosphere give me some quite lively concerns. But, thanks to the well known sporting instinct, the lure of these obstacles overcomes my reasoned fears, and I decide, gladly, to enter my name for the race.
The preliminary elements of the contest begin some days before the Circuit of Europe. For, from the 18 July, the English officials draw the starting order of the contestants.
I learn that first place has been allocated to me. The English and French newspapers have the courtesy to consider this hazard a happy omen. People congratulate me from both sides of the Channel. I am far from sharing the pleasure of my friends.
To start first from the take-off line is in reality to be under a disadvantage. Every aviator participating in a race by far prefers to get away after the second or third competitor; in assisting the first two or three take-offs [en assistant aux deux ou trois premiers vols], he can study the turbulence unique to each aerodrome [les remous particuliers à chaque aerodrome], the direction to follow, and he also has time to master his emotions.
If my starting number does not exactly enchant me, I am nonetheless very happy to have the opportunity to attempt a long flight of 1,600 kilometres in new, very practical conditions.
I embark from Dieppe. All the passengers ignore me on board: no postcards to autograph! I have signed so much for the last month and a half, in all weathers, and in all places, that my present anonymity feels extremely pleasant to me.
But then, on my arrival at Newhaven, a station employee cries out, “Beaumont! Beaumont!” a telegram in his hand. Pens and papers come out of pockets as if by magic… and the agony of autographs begins again. I try to escape them by jumping into a passenger compartment.
A reporter from the Daily Mail is waiting for me in Victoria-Cross Station [sic] at customs. To avoid mistakes as to identity, and loss of time, he had despatched a detective to find me, who picks me up as the train stops and brings me before the pleasant journalist. We climb into a taxi and are instantly whisked away to the Savoy Hotel! The reporter begins questioning me straight away. He tries very hard to conduct an interview there and then; but the driver of the vehicle, who had recognised me, tries even harder to show me that he can do 60 as well as I can – in streets crowded with pedestrians and traffic! We proceed at a break-neck speed, which prevents all conversation. In the various countries where I have raced, motorists always drive me at the same devilish pace. Courtesy? A bizarre caprice? I do not know. We reach the Savoy, and the interview continues in my rooms. My interlocutor asks me what I think of the Circuit of Britain, stage by stage. The question embarrasses me. It is not really possible for me to explain, in great detail, the tactics I hope to employ. Nethertheless, I show him my maps from the War Office, prepared for the race. “How long will the Circuit take?” he asks with a certain anxiety, no doubt slightly concerned over the result of this perilous line of questioning. “One cannot say – three, four days if circumstances are favourable, if accidents to the machines do not occur, if … “ His countenance brightens, and he moves on to talk to me of the article which I wrote for this morning’s edition of the London Daily Mail (20th July) (1) Footnote(1) How I feel in air race [sic]. M. William, editor of the Daily Mail, has translated my text into English with a literary elegance for which I thank him.
I leave London the next day, the 21st, to establish myself at Weybridge, about 2 kilometres from the track at Brooklands - the take-off point for the aviators. Someone tells me the curious origin of the aerodrome. A lord with a passion for fast automobiles found himself reduced to a speed of 10 or 12 miles per hour by the law. He therefore resolved to have a motor track for himself alone, and created, on an immense estate, a concrete race track four miles in circumference. He had to carve through a small hill, cut through a forest, and pay out one to two millions. But what did it matter when he was throwing his motors round at 150 kilometres per hour! In the course of time a club bought the track from him, to race cars and bicycles. Now in recent times, the centre of the track has been transformed into an aerodrome for the use of Londoners. The siting does not strike me as exactly perfect: 32 kilometres separate it from London; a river runs through it; and its magnificent trees make a belt round it as dangerous as it is picturesque.
I see an embryonic flying school there, with permanent hangars made of wood. Temporary hangars have also been erected here and there, made from canvas: one has been reserved for me. It is there that I find my monoplane: 50 horse power with a standard propeller. The representative from Shell petrol accompanies me. We make our way with difficulty through the crowd of people and motors, because today they are competing for the Prince Henry cup for automobiles – automobiles which shoot past at immense speed! At last I make contact, near my hangar, with the mechanics who will follow me on the Circuit.
The heat is suffocating. There has been no wind the past three days.
While waiting for the machine to be made ready, I lie down on the ground in the hangar. An English portraitist comes towards me and asks if I would like to pose for ten minutes to complete the collection of aviators’ portraits appearing in the Daily Mail. Although tired, I agree, and sit myself down near to the tent. While he sketches, the artist – who is talented by the way – reminds me (him too!) of my article in the Daily Mail. He perceived from it, to my deep astonishment, that I have “the soul of a poet and of a dreamer!”
After having lunched at the aviators’ hotel, the pleasant Heath Club, with some English friends, I return to the airfield through the oppressive heat. As the thermometer rises, my courage sinks. Fortunately, I am only a spectator for the moment.
Indeed, here are the officials who will imprint my machine with the permanent marks. They choose the two wings, a longeron in the fuselage, the tailplane, and the rudder. They pass a steel wire through the wings and put in place a seal, which they emboss with a special mark: a circle painted red surrounding the pierced point [Ils passent un fil de fer dans les ailes et mettent un plomb, qu’ils écrassent avec un cachet spécial: un cercle à la peinture rouge entoure le point troué].
The marking of the motor is effected by means of a little portable electric drill, which is used to engrave two letters on: 1st two cylinders; 2nd the forward tank; 3rd the crankcase; 4th the rear end of the crank shaft [la partie arrière de l’arbre] – making five parts in all. The various items are recorded in an official logbook, which the aviator must wear round his neck during the whole journey and present to the race steward on each stopover, for the times of landing and take-off to be added.
From then on, my big bird [mon grand oiseau] is properly under starter’s orders; it inspires me with confidence. I had added a tank capable of holding 15 litres of petrol in order to carry my flying time from three hours to three hours forty-five and allow me to accomplish the long Hendon-Harrogate stage without a stop (292 kilometres). Wishing to test it, I take-off to go and reconnoitre the route from Brooklands to Hendon, which is in general difficult [difficile en général].
The majority of competing aviators take to the air, while the others undertake the final tasks to ready their machines. I note with what care the English correct their compasses. Everyone is astonished that I do not imitate them; I reply that two or three degrees of compass error is insignificant due to the prevalence of drift in an aeroplane. An approximation is sufficient. [Je réponds que les deux ou trois degrés d’erreur d’une boussole disparaissant par suite de l’importance de la dérive en aéroplane. Une approximation suffit.]
I see the famous machine of the Austrian Lieutenant Bier brought out, with its 140 horse power engine. Notable also is the aeroplane of Cody, quickly nicknamed The Cathedral. The machine does justice to the name of Cody for the ingenious inventor built every part of her, without the help of a single craftsman.
A new Bristol monoplane also attracts my attention: its streamlined shape [sa forme de moindre résistance à l’avancement] has been designed by Prier, who flew from London to Paris non-stop in four hours using the machine Leblanc flew in the Circuit of the East.
A pilot about to fly must have a store of physical energy [doit s’approvisioner de forces physiques] and his nervous system must be rested. I get up very late the following day, the 22nd July, despite the smart servant at the Hand and Spear (Hotel of the Hand and Spear, in Weybridge) arriving repeatedly to let me know that it is 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30. Towards 1 o’ clock, at lunch time, the principal aviators of the Circuit sit down together for a meal; relations between them remain friendly.
I reach Brooklands at 2:15.
To my great surprise, my engine is not in good condition: the spark plugs are fouled [encrassées]. I get them changed. The series of problems is going to continue. Changing into the aviator’s garb, I notice that my wool cap [mon polo] has disappeared – my faithful companion from Paris to Rome and on the Circuit of Europe. Poor hat! It witnessed my disappointment at Nice, and my victory at Rome. It protected me in Holland, and reached Vincennes. It’s loss exacerbates my bad mood. The heat irritates me too. I damn the wind and turbulence [le vent and les remous] of Brooklands to all the devils. And I curse those curious spectators who, in their hundreds, invade my hangar.
But that is not all.
As I am bringing out my machine to the starting line to get away at 3 o’ clock – the officially designated start time – one of the fifteen or twenty photographers present says to me, with a dumbfounded air: “You’re leaving already! The start isn’t taking place until 5 o’ clock!” I must take off first, they have scheduled the start for 3 o’ clock, I am ready, and without telling me they change the time! Moreover, they have told no-one. Some lively protests are made and get lost in an intense commotion that follows. We learn that the first take-off will be at 4 o’ clock. What a frantic hour, what an unsporting delay!
I complain like everybody else and become, despite myself, the centre of a group of reporters swarming around an aviator who is talking at last! I hear this explanation for the unjustifiable delay: “The English are of the opinion that if the start were held now, there would be only two aviators able to take-off, Védrines and yourself.”
At 3:45, the machines are brought up to the white line. We follow. A magnificent spectacle! Some thousands and thousands of automobiles are arranged with perfect symmetry between the aerodrome and the far side of the race track. They resemble the rays of a circle whose centre is the aerodrome. The innumerable spectators give the impression of an immense living field from which emerge legions of multicoloured parasols. There is something uniquely extraordinary about the scene, incapable of description.
At 3:50, a little calmed by so much beauty, I see representatives of the press at my side. I remember my hat, and the idea comes to me of using the organs of the press to get it back. I advise the journalists that I wish to talk with them. One of them comes over and asks me if I have a complaint about one of his colleagues: “Not at all, on the contrary, I am seeking your help. My cap has vanished, a woollen cap of no value whatsoever. But it recalls a host of memories for me, whenever I hold it. I promise a substantial reward to whoever brings it back to me.” Nervous and hurried, I spoke in French. M. Ratmanoff, the maker of my propeller, translated my words. The journalists offered their condolences and allowed me to publicise the disappearance of my old cap. I am in my machine – it is 4 o’ clock.
I climb rapidly and very steeply (as I was later able to observe thanks to a London cinematographist). I was worried that the eddies over the wood would pull me down into the trees which border the track. My rise is so rapid that my motor slows down considerably. It seems not to be running quite as it should, it seems to me it is performing poorly. The sun scorches down and the wind tires me out. That layer of air which is in contact with the sun-baked surface of the track is superheated [surchauffée].
This dangerous state of the atmosphere does not surprise me. I was prepared for the struggle and bring everything under control, despite the treacherous air [la traîtrise de l’air]. To the great astonishment of the spectators, my machine flies on without the least worrying oscillation. After having made a semi-circle round the aerodrome at an altitude of 300 metres, I set out across the very pretty and green London region, looking out for the Thames, Ariadne’s thread, to lead me to Hendon. I recognise the hotel at Weybridge, adorned with its charming red brick tower, clothed in ivy. Very quickly, I find the Thames, which is thin and meandering at this point. In the distance, I see it lose itself among large ponds, then widen to bathe the city of London and take on the character of a majestic river. I follow its eastern loops with my eyes, but make sure I do not drift towards them.
All along my course, the country which unfolds is covered with handsome villas, surrounded by attractive gardens and shady parks. I pass over the populous suburbs of Hounslow and Acton, shaken from time to time by air currents; but they are more unexpected than violent. A fairly strong North West wind pushes me to my right, towards London, black and smoky. The largest city in the world is there, under my right wing. Its most exclusive suburbs appear, neatly laid out and sharply illuminated in the bright sunlight. Those furthest from me take shape only vaguely and disappear into the haze of the horizon. All around the vast metropolis shines a tangled network of railways, converging upon the heart of England, resembling a great spider’s web.
This wonderful vision, absorbed in a few seconds, is so striking that it will for ever remain an indelible memory.
A little beyond London, I recognise the reservoirs of Hendon through the flashing disc of my propeller. They are located hard by the airfield. My engine is now running with such force that I am compelled to throttle back several times. I land in the middle of a welcoming crowd.
I am driven to my hangar. There, with a programme in hand, seated on a chair, unencumbered by my overalls, I try to consider the future and my race. I do not make a particularly interesting spectacle. Yet it is a vain hope. Post cards are produced to me by the hundred, and I pay one of my tributes of the aviator. I have no peace until a new pilot arrives; my companions gaze for an instant and then stream away… those troublesome cards in their hands.
Soon twilight covers the earth and no more pilots are to be expected. Thus the short Brooklands – Hendon stage comes to a close; a vast spectacle put on for the enjoyment of Londoners on their doorstep one Saturday afternoon – that is to say, at a moment when work ceases everywhere.
My day is over and I very much wish to get back to London. But first it is necessary for me to wait for my valise, forgotten on one of the automobiles; not least because I need to retrieve my ill-fated course itinerary. Only one place will definitely have enough space for us. At 9 o’ clock in the evening, I return to the Savoy.
The following day, the 23rd, I return to the airfield. At Hendon, I accept the hospitality of M. Petitpierre, the clever chief technician at the Blériot School. We shall have to get away on the next stage on the 24th, at four o’ clock in the morning.
I have to leave, in second place, at exactly 4 h. 0’ 15”. However, due to a misunderstanding, I am given the signal to take-off twenty seconds too soon at 3 h. 59’ 55”. My mechanics can hardly have seen me raise my hand, but they respond instead to the time-keeper lowering his flag and let go of the machine. I set course in the calm, transparent, fresh air at an altitude of 300 metres, carefully following the railway track which passes the aerodrome. A good 20 kilometres from Hendon, I abandon the railway and immediately pick up the road to Bedford as my new guide.
Subsequently, I fly over some low hills and then, without warning, the earth disappears from my view: I pass into the dense cotton wool of morning fog. I am forced to make a manoeuvre which is essential in this sort of situation. It is dangerous from the point of view of flying, but certain with regard to direction. I glide down to just 30 metres above the ground, where at last I am able to pick up contours and some landmarks. Alas, the blanket of fog descends ever lower! So low and so thick that I become unable to make out the white ribbon of the road. Forced to climb back up straight away, I resign myself to practising aerial navigation by means of compass, watch and an estimation of my speed. A strange phenomenon helps me find my way. Great plumes of smoke appear, piercing the fog bank below me and blooming out over the clear, sunlit surface. Evidently, there are the chimneys of some factory below, of an industrial town. My map provides me with its name.
It is at this stage that Védrines overtakes me. He is flying wide zigzags, appearing sometimes on my right, sometimes on my left as he searches for the right way. These directional errors allow me to be not too far outpaced by him. What has become of the other competitors? It is likely that many have got lost. Those who successfully reach Harrogate will, I believe, be qualified to complete the course.
I carry on, satisfied with my machine and my route. Doncaster comes into view. My passage through this locality coincides with a notable change in the aspect of the fog. Cotton wool-like and milky up to now, my enemy becomes and remains astonishingly black from Doncaster to Ferrybridge, situated 30 kilometres from Harrogate.
Ferrybridge causes me considerable trouble. It is essential that I do not go too far to the East nor too far to the West – I must locate and follow the railway line to Harrogate. Therefore, I glide down into the middle of the heavy clouds of smoke and circle round the town, at 50 metres above the rooftops! I find the tracks and continue on my way, correctly orientated. More fog and a docile atmosphere, but not much petrol in my tank: a pilot always has his problems! I easily spot the aerodrome, thanks to its white cross, and land there at 7 h. 7’. Védrines is already there.
The journey has not demoralised me, and I cheerfully submit to the obligatory tour of the aerodrome in an automobile. The mayor of the town compliments me and organises refreshments. I regather my strength, inspect my machine and take-off in the direction of Newcastle at 7 h. 47’.
Harrogate – Newcastle : 110 kilometres. – The second stage is little more than a jaunt [une simple promenade d’amateur]. No fog, no wind, and an easy route. At 300 metres, I fly over farms and silent plains of a beautiful green. Near Durham, I search, in vain, for the famous flocks of that county. Neither sight of beast, nor man. My journey proceeds without distractions, monotone. Not far from Newcastle, a few light eddies [de légers remous] herald the Tyne. I pass to the right of the city - enveloped in an unbelievable quantity of smoke from its factories, cross the river, and locate the airfield, 10 kilometres away to the North. Several thousand inhabitants are gathered beneath the trees (8 h. 55’). Again, Védrines is already there!
Higgledy-piggledy, I am brought tea, congratulations, milk, and good wishes: I accept them all with real pleasure. A Frenchwoman makes the kind gesture of welcoming me in the name of the ‘entente cordiale’. But I cannot linger. My rival left at 9 h. 20’ and I set off in pursuit at 9 h. 25’.
Newcastle – Edinburgh : 150 kilometres. – Anxious moments, navigation errors: the dangers are going to follow each other, unceasingly. This is the beginning of the nerve-racking phase of the Circuit of Britain.
And right from the first, before even getting under way from Newcastle, I am undecided, hesitant. Which route to follow to reach Edinburgh? The coastal route is easier, but will take longer. The inland route presents more obstacles. I choose the most direct heading, deciding, once again, to follow the railway line.
Some kilometres from Newcastle, ever more forceful turbulence makes me fear the approach of a storm. I climb to a great altitude and thus escape from its effects. However, gradually the route becomes less visible. Another incident! A very strong wind springs up at 1,500 metres, paralysing my speed. I have the sensation of not advancing at all. Moreover, the horizon is now cluttered with large clouds: in the North, rain and wind are evidently rife. I can clearly make out many excellent landmarks - lakes, some large ponds – but they do not appear on my War Office map! I am decidedly uneasy in the air, through this foolish weather, these atmospheric disturbances. Yet I am compelled by necessity to continue. There are no suitable landing places in the country I am crossing: nothing but bare, jagged, forbidding mountains, deeply worrying for an aviator. As I have been in the air since 4 o’ clock in the morning, I feel weary and depressed. But the imminent danger helps overcome my tiredness.
Suddenly, I am caught in an appalling gust [une bourrasque épouvantable]. Large spots of rain strike my face and cause me acute pain: it feels as if grains of salt are being thrown against my face. Enormous air currents strike me. My monoplane rolls and pitches madly. I feel as if I am being sucked about [aspiré], sometimes up, sometimes down. A heavy shower prevents me from seeing anything around me. The situation cannot continue. I must lose my altitude of 1,500 metres and get back near the ground so I can find my railway line. At the moment I am preparing to descend, I am irresistibly dragged down by a column of descending air, to 100 or 150 metres above the earth! I see, closer than I would have desired, mountain crevasses and boulders covered with moss, looking like ruined castles. I do not advise any tourist to sample the charms of the Cheviot’s Hills by aeroplane.
I continue through this storm, across cols, gorges and rivers, changing my course at the least sign, stubbornly flying at a height that is manifestly inadequate. But I have no desire to get lost! Better to struggle with the unchained elements than to be lost. This mode of progress, although dangerous, allows me to retain a precise idea of my direction at all times. And within me, the certainty of keeping the right course steadies my courage and provides some calmness of spirit; repels, in a word, that failure of morale, which is much more terrible than the wind.
My struggle is almost over. I make out a dark mass on the horizon: it is the rock of Edinburgh. The aerodrome cannot be far: but how to get there? I am on the final straight, as I wished to be a long time ago. I see a large petrol fire, lit by the local committee. I alight on the surface through beating rain and some unpleasant eddies. It is 11 h. 18’. Védrines is waiting for me yet again, with a lead of seventeen minutes.
The single tent on the airfield shelters the machine that arrived before mine. Without delay, they set about erecting a second. Why had they put up only one tent? Did the officials not believe in the possibility of two machines being present at once? My bird put in the dry, I get myself taken to Edinburgh, to the Caledonian Hotel. Bath, lunch and a rest in bed. Towards 5 o’ clock in the evening, the tireless Robert Gering of Le Matin comes to see me. I receive him in a position familiar to all aviators: between the hands of a masseur!
The rules of the race condemn me to rest until 9 o’ clock that evening. As there is no need to consider flying, now, tonight, I decide to borrow some hours’ resting time from the third stage and to leave the following morning as early as possible. I have a feeling this third stage will be decisive. On the 25th, at half past one in the morning, my chief mechanic appears in my room. Not to wake me – I have not slept – but to inform me that everything is in order. An automobile is waiting for me, from yesterday evening, at the door of the hotel. We climb in and return to the aerodrome through a fine drizzle. The weather is perfectly foul [franchmen detestable]; masses of large clouds block out the horizon; the wind bends the branches of the trees with a mournful noise; and the rain never stops. Yet, it is into that that I must go. Védrines has outpaced me through calm weather and I have only one way to beat him in my turn: I will fly in the midst of the rain, the wind and the fog.
Thus, I do not hesitate, and, at 3 h. 10’, I fly off through a menacing sky towards Stirling, watched by several hundred spectators, who have spent the night – what a night! – on the airfield.
Edinburgh - Stirling : 50 kilometres. – I am welcomed by some violent eddies [des remous impétueux], which nevertheless hardly give me the impression of an irresistible force. Rather, I am conscious that I have the power to master them. That difficult moment did not surprise me – I was expecting it. I climb to 300 metres to avoid the trees bordering the aerodrome and go to look for some calm air above the large estuary of the Forth. I find it in abundance, as I always seem to whenever I fly over the sea. A little further on, 600 metres above the bridge spanning the river, the tranquillity ends and the wind starts to blow with such violence that I am unable to make any further progress. I descend to find a current that is easier to handle. I only partly attain my goal, and it is at a very slow pace that I overfly the meandering bends of the river. At this point, the bumps [secousses] surpass everything I have endured up to now. However, I do not seriously consider landing, because I now make out the picturesque castle at Stirling sitting on its rock. The aerodrome, a meadow, runs along the back of the houses of the town. Very large, with few undulations or trees, this meadow would have made an excellent landing field in any event. Unfortunately, a narrow space in the middle has been marked out by means of stakes and ropes! One must land in between the ropes! In my haste to get down, I do not at first pay attention to this novel and misconceived obstacle. I hit something. The sharp crack sickens me. Have I damaged some part of the machine? I jump to the ground, examine each part of the monoplane and can see nothing amiss. Instead, I notice at my feet a stake cut in two. ‘Bravo’ for my machine, which is as well behaved on the ground as it is in the air! Overjoyed to have come out of this incident at so little cost, I look around for the pilot of the Morane-Borel. Védrines is not there (3 h. 56’).
Dawn is pale, the rain redoubles it efforts, and an indefinable melancholy hangs over everything around me. But an inner joy compensates for the sadness of this dreary countryside. I lie down contentedly in a tent. Then, a character out of Dickens appears before me. Small, dry, soberly dressed, with sparkling eyes, grey hair, and mutton-chop whiskers, a man of about sixty comes forward with smiling face. He speaks volubly and gesticulates rapidly. Friendly and amusing in equal measure, he welcomes me warmly and leads me to understand that his fellow citizens of Stirling have appointed him to give me a “un present”. He offers me an object carefully wrapped in paper. Taking back this somewhat mysterious parcel, he unwraps it, carefully removes the protective wrapping, and shows me… a crystal inkstand, chased with silver. A detail attracts my attention: when the stopper is lifted to draw the ink, a clock is revealed. I would never have dared hope for so much… The delegate of Stirling, the honourable town-clerk, asks me whether I would consent to a public presentation. I acquiesce. He re-wraps the packing with care, we go out of the hangar; and there we are before the wet, soaking crowd. The excellent town-clerk delivers a second address to me, officially this time, and expresses the great pleasure which the people of Stirling feel in presenting a souvenir to the first aviator to visit their town. Once again, he unwraps the package, raises the artistic inkstand above his head for all to see, and begs me to entrust it to him so he can have my name engraved.
During this ceremony, Védrines arrives, worn-out by the journey [très éprouvé par la traversée]. He asks me whether I intend to continue the course or wait for a less wrathful sky. I reply that I will get under way at the first bright spell. As the rain continues to fall in torrents, we doze in the tent where the time keepers spent the night. At 7 h. 25’ into the air!
Stirling – Glasgow (Paisley) : 35 kilometres. – The eddies have not left this part of the world. I am strongly jolted about until the rain, becoming even heavier, comes to absorb my attention. The Glasgow field, located at Paisley, seems to hide from me. However, I land without incident at 8 h. 10’. On my departure from Stirling, a quick call to Paisley had told me of very fine weather there. On my arrival, I am astonished that the call was made only forty-five minutes earlier. The locals assure me that the rain which is falling represents “very fine weather” as far as they are concerned. The exodus of Scots to warmer climates seems fully justified to me.
I get away at 9 h. 3’, without having seen Védrines, who lands at 9 h. 4’.
Glasgow – Carlisle : 137 kilometres. – The sky is threatening. Rain alternates with fog, and strong eddies make my monoplane bounce along [font cahoter mon monoplan]. Nevertheless, I attack the steep, winding valleys to the south of Lanark with determination. Although I have a great deal of trouble staying on course through the gusting wind, I am powerfully struck by the beauty of the landscapes which quickly unfold one after the other. For a few seconds here and there, I forget my immediate problems, and my fears for the coming minutes. Many times, I find myself admiring the castles perched on the flanks of the mountains; and yet I am never able to take my eyes from the compass and altimeter for long.
The farther I go, the more the valley closes in. The wind which hits me here causes me to slip [dérâper] to the right and the left. My arms hurt from the rapid flying manoeuvres [les manoeuvres brusques du volant], and the wind and rain increase. I am compelled to fly very low, in the bottom of the valley between two great sheer walls, in order to follow the railway. At a bend, I suddenly emerge from the hills onto a plain, crossed by the Solway. An express train passes by, with handkerchiefs waving from the doors. Instinctively, I enter into a trial of speed with the engine driver – which I win by cutting the corners in the line. A marshland to cross, and I am in Carlisle, where a dense crowd is gathered (11 h. 16’). I am taken, with difficulty, to a hotel. My aim is to snatch some very necessary rest; but I congratulate myself too soon.
All the rooms are taken. My friends negotiate, and obtain a little untidy cubby-hole, where I stretch out on a mattress with great delight. Indeed the manager decides to lock me in. In this way, I am protected from those enthusiastic spectators who want to see me, and above all to touch me. During the journey from the aerodrome to the hotel, I constantly had hands on my jacket, on my hat – and often those touches were far from gentle.
Two raw eggs, a cup of tea and I leave again at 12 h. 11’ – little suspecting the serious error that has been made when my machine was refuelled.
Carlisle – Manchester : 165 kilometres. – The propeller does not turn in its normal manner, but no doubt it is only something minor. I head South without attaching any importance to this warning. And yet I will need to pass through valleys no less dangerous than those around Lanark: the narrowing passes of the Penine Chain are ahead. My initial observations concern me. I have difficulty climbing. A train overtakes me and I try to catch it up. I am only able to do so with a great deal of effort. When I finally succeed, not far from Langdale Fell, I prepare for the assault on the awesome gorge [le terrible défilé] ahead. Above all it is necessary to gain altitude. I attempt to climb. Alas! it is impossible for me to go above 800 metres. There I am, stuck in the violent currents low down. Suddenly, the motor stops for six to ten seconds: I drop. And under me there is nothing but ravines and jagged outcrops. It seems inevitable my machine must be lost. I must crash-land on the earth as late as possible. I try, therefore, to steer my glide to the deepest side of the valley to thereby prolong my descent. [J’essaie, en conséquance, de diriger mon vol plané du côté des parties les plus profondes de la gorge, ma descente se prolongera davantage.] At that moment, a gust forces me downwards. It seems to me I am finished. But Death obviously does not want me just yet. By an incredible chance, the motor slowly restarts. I am saved. My brother aviators, you must never despair.
My opinion of how the day will end forms very clearly: I will not have reached Manchester. I decide, however, to follow my route until I cannot make any more significant progress. It is in a state of acute physical exhaustion, but with firm resolve, that I leave this hellish place. The cylinder failures quickly return and grow worse. I am unable to fly any further like this. Sixty kilometres from Manchester, near the village of Settle, I find an excellent field, in a glorious setting, which looks better than many of the aerodromes I have met with since Hendon. In it I see some unusual obstacles; that is, bulls and sheep. How will these animals, normally so docile, but irritable if annoyed by a fly, receive me? I land quietly in a distant part of the field. The bulls continue to graze. The sheep, less disdainful, raise their heads and consider me with unmistakable interest. I have escaped from serious danger twice in half an hour. I am grounded, but without a scratch and full of resolve to press on.
Within five minutes a multitude of people have run up from Settle, and from I don’t know where. The local houses and schools empty themselves. Everybody puts themselves eagerly at my disposal. I make a choice. These ones will carry some telegrams for me to the nearest post office, and those will buy petrol for me. A young man with a bright expression serves as my mechanic. He refuels the machine and checks the spark plugs. After one hour, forty-five minutes of repairs, I am ready to get away. The country people hold onto the fuselage and turn the propeller, delighted to be assisting in a take off. A joyful feeling wells up to recompense me for my hard work. I get airborne without difficulty.
More mountains, more precipices. The route is easy, but I fly low, just a few metres above the ground, to the Malvern Hills [sic]. The rain which surprises me 2 or 3 kilometres from Manchester, does not inconvenience me at all. What is more, I do not even have to look for the airfield at Stafford Park. Even if the committee had not marked out the usual white cross, there are the tents and a considerable crowd. My first concern is to find out at what time Védrines left the aerodrome. “We still haven’t seen him, “ they reply.
They wish to drag me off for the tour of the field and a presentation. I hold on tightly to my monoplane, anxious to check it over. Of the three mechanics who were waiting for me, two have left for Settle. I make use of the third. While he works under my direction, I stretch out, sheltered by a tent. The flaps are open but some policemen keep the public at a distance. After a light sleep, I go out and receive a prize of 100 pounds from the president of the Manchester Handkerchief Society.
Manchester – Bristol : 225 kilometres (5 h, 42’). – Through a calm and clear atmosphere, I only just attain 500 metres. There are definitely one or several parts in a bad state [un ou plusieurs organes en mauvais état]. My overheating “Gnome” reminds me of it constantly. And I am unable to climb higher to cool it. For two hours, its working condition does not alter but at last I descend despite all by efforts. I come down, successively, to 450, 400, 300 metres. How to rectify this critical situation? I have recourse to subterfuges. I cut the ignition and descend further, in a glide, to cool the motor. Then, I recover the altitude lost by making use of the slight gain in speed. These climbs and descents keep me at 300 metres or more. I also employ a better method: with flicks of elevator [à coups de stabilisateur] I go to 600 metres. By this tactic, I fly over the Severn Estuary. With the night, I make out the white cross of the aerodrome at Bristol. It is 8 h. 37’. My courageous rival has still not appeared.
Resounding and enthusiastic applause. I make a tour of the ground and hasten to a hotel where they give me the room once taken, it seems, by Sarah-Bernhardt. The ‘maitre de l’hôtel’ massages me. I dine in bed and then try to find sleep, without success. At midnight, the chief mechanic, Petitpierre, informs me that everything is fine. At 2 o’ clock, I return to the airfield. The machine is not ready. I lay down until the dawn, which will, I hope, disperse the fog. At 4 h. 50’, I get away into a calm and pure atmosphere.
Bristol – Exeter : 104 kilometres. – A happy stage. I arrive at Exeter at 6 h. 11’ 28”, to get away at 7 h. 5’.
Exeter – Salisbury-Plain. – Flat, denuded country, lacking features. Weather very calm.
At the splendid Salisbury military aviation field, I recover my cap, which I lost at Brooklands. An officer returned it to me. Full of joy, I assist in the servicing of the machine. They have already almost refilled the petrol tank. Suspecting that yesterday’s petrol was impure, I make them empty it. I note that one of the fuel leads contains a great deal of castor oil! My troubles with the engine yesterday are explained all too easily. We clean out for three quarters of an hour.
Salisbury-Plain – Brighton. – The wind blows in the direction of Brighton. Everything works like a dream. The air is pure. I head for the coast, towards Portsmouth. There, many clouds roll in quite low, which I must fly beneath, at 300 metres. Despite some turbulence, I playfully overtake an express train at 120 kilometres. My descent is made, without trouble, at Brighton at 11 o’ clock. A general tiredness invades me; the stewards move on the autograph hunters. I sign only one postcard: a godsend. While I rest on a camp bed, various fears torment me. I dread an accident on this last stage of 64 kilometres between Brighton and Brooklands. On my orders, a number of recovery automobiles are positioned along the route. To reduce my tiredness, a Brighton doctor gives me an excellent massage; he certainly wants an autograph. Reinvigorated, I start my engine five minutes before leaving, because it had lost all compression [car il a perdu toute compression].
Brighton – Brooklands : 64 kilometres. – I climb away against the wind to 300 metres, having decided to follow the railway from Brighton to Brooklands. The heat decreases, and my energy reawakens. From Guildford, I see in the distance the enormous field which is the finishing point. I dive straight down to the final landing, hardly believing that my great sweep of 1600 kilometres is about to be completed. But the idea of engine trouble continues to bear on my spirit, and so I climb to 600 metres, in order to be able to descend in a glide onto the white line, should a problem arise. This manoeuvre requires me to make a circuit of the field in order to lose height little by little. I land at 2 h. 8’, in front of the hangars in the middle of a little gathering of two or three hundred persons. I am the victor.
The contest, ardently fought and uncertain up to Brooklands, absorbed me in feverish activity from Newcastle onwards. I struggled at every instant, often overcome [surexcité] by the serious obstacles and by the irony of things. And now that the combat is finished, that the victory has fallen to me, I am surprised, almost angry not to feel a strong emotion, as recompense for so much effort. I attribute this temporary state to a loss of emotional energy.
Cheerfulness will come soon! Already, hardly out of my machine, I am relieved to no longer be continually concerned with the engine. While my faithful flying machine is wheeled away, within a cordon of policemen, I hand in my log book and give myself over to the sportsmen gathered around me. Lord Northcliffe, the proprietor of the Daily Mail, presents his congratulations to me, the memory of which I shall always value. Soon afterwards, the crowd carries me into my hangar. A steward cries, “Quiet! I have an announcement. All the pieces of the machine and the motor are intact!” Cheers welcome his declaration. The words “speech, speech!” ring out. I understand. I am brought a step-ladder, deposited on it, and I say a few words of thanks in a version of English that is personal to me but that everyone tries hard to understand. …
[In the rest of the chapter Beaumont goes on to describe in some detail the official visits and banquets of the following days.] … So finished this “Tour” so uncertain at the outset, so dangerous in Scotland and towards Carlisle, and so well acclaimed after the victory. I would not wish to conclude this account without acknowledging the eminently sporting spirit of the English. I was aware of it, very strongly, in the most varied circumstances.
In all questions of sport, the English see only the man and his performance. They clearly separate considerations of nationality and personality: and I do not speak of race. They love inner courage and a difficulty overcome too much not to applaud these things wherever they may be found. Their sympathy lies, instinctively, with the best man, with the winner. There exists there a deep sentiment of innate justice, which manifested itself in a very special manner during the Circuit.
The Circuit was held in England; it was organised and endowed by an English newspaper; almost all the competitors were English; and many English machines had great financial interest in winning. Despite that, the success of two Frenchmen received an enthusiastic welcome. The country-dwellers, the spectators at the aerodromes, the press, and the authorities all fêted them unreservedly.
Do you not believe that in this respect all nations should seek to imitate the English?