Flying at night is one of my least and most favourite things, all at the same time.
Least, because I’m tired but I can’t sleep.
Most, because it can mean seeing very uneveryday beauty.
Once, I flew from Cape Town to Jo’burg at dusk. We took off to a mostly cloudless sky, gazed at the beauty of that city from above, and flew over mountains where clouds pushed against them, and the ridges held them back. Then, as we kept going north, the view out the windows to the right was darkness, whilst to the left the sun was big, and red, as it dipped below the horizon and out of sight.
That was my best night flight experience, but now I have new ones, gained the two times I’ve flown north from London to Newcastle. Both occasions have been on cloudless nights, and on a half-empty plane, I’ve found a window-seat and settled in for the show.
As we journey north there are glimpses of cities and towns with familiar names, but seen in a new way. They’re often just clusters of yellow lights amongst big, blank, dark spaces, but occasionally one can make out the patterns and shapes of roads and streets. And far in the distance the clusters of light disappear and the darkness seems much darker, as you catch sight of the coastline and the vast sea beyond.
But the best comes at the end, when everyone’s sitting down (and you’ve had to turn off your phone, so no longer have a camera to document the sight) the cabin lights are turned off for landing, and what were blurry, yellow smudges of light, suddenly become clear, and sharp, and recognisable, because, of course, this is home that we’re flying ever closer to.
The last bit of the journey takes us out to sea, and there are dark waves, and a lonely container ship, lit up in the midst of the black water. The plane turns, the view tips, and for a moment all you can see is a big, white, round moon, and one or two stars, before we’re flying straight again and headed inland. We can see the coast, and the swinging beam from the lighthouse at Tynemouth sweeps across the sea. Now we’re over land, and the fields are still white with snow which is lit up in the moonlight, and as you look to the ground you see the perfect shadow of a plane, as our speeding carrier briefly blocks out the big moon.
Finally, the lights outside are red and green, and rather than being below us they’re beside us, and the wheels touch down with a crash, the brakes go on, and the magic ends.
Except for that final, special bliss: a small and conveniently local airport, no checked baggage, and a well-timed Metro timetable, so that from wheels down, to your front door is all done in less than 30 minutes.
In summary: tired, but impressed.