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Published: 18 Oct 2017

A Merlin helicopter from 846 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) from the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) assisted the National Trust in Somerset with a rather unusual task today – moving stones, a lot of them from the base of Glastonbury Tor to its top. Rebekah West in whose area the Tor sits is a National Trust Area Ranger was faced with two dilemmas. First, the top of Glastonbury Tor was being eroded and damaged by the pounding feet of countless annual visitors - what was she to do about it. Secondly, any plan would involve getting a lot of heavy material to the top of the Tor – wheelbarrows were simply not going to work and National Trust vehicles could not negotiate the steep climb! The perfect long-term solution would be too expensive this time round and a stop-gap solution that would last for several years was required. Rebekah wondered if those ever so friendly folk from the Commando Helicopter Force with their rather large Merlin helicopters might be able to help. The outcome was that 846 Naval Air Squadron were given the go ahead. They got in touch with Rebekah, planning began and today saw everything come together.


Captained by Lt Fred Durrant RN and piloted by Lt Tristan Rowan RN with Aircrewmen Sgt Graham Smith and Sgt Julian Marchant the Merlin lifted nearly forty tons of stone and deposited them on the Tor. At the pick-up point at its base and on top of the Tor were members of CHF’s Mobile Air Operations Team who managed the loading and unloading. These trained helicopter handlers are used to working in the dangerous conditions around and under working aircraft…….a Merlin has a downdraft of over 70 MPH. Once the stone had been deposited on the Tor and the Merlin withdrew Rebekah, with the assistance of enthusiastic National Trust volunteers were on hand to un-bag and to begin to spread the stone.


The accompanying photographs showing the day as it unfolded were taken by Royal Navy award winning photographer PO Si Ethell. He captured aerial imagery from one of CHF’s 847 NAS Reconnaissance Battlefield Wildcat helicopter which was flown by Maj Ian Moore RM and Lt Dan Burnett RN.


Due to the proximity of onlookers and of nearby dwellings and buildings Lt Cdr Tom Cackett, 846 NAS’s Executive Officer was present throughout, ensuring the safety aspects of the flying. He said that it was a rare privilege to undertake community related tasks, especially on such an iconic site that has such meaning to many in Somerset, especially those who work and fly out of RNAS Yeovilton. The Commando Helicopter Force has always had a special place for Glastonbury and its Tor and whenever there is an event to celebrate the Tor is the main landmark on the flypast route where ‘we always dip a wing in salute’. To work on a project with Rebekah and the national institution that is the National Trust has been a real pleasure.


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