If you fancy getting a really close up view of a glider, you might strike it lucky if you visit Kenley Aerodrome in Surrey! The airfield is still in use by the MoD and the Surrey Hills Glider Club and although flights don’t take place every day, you may often be able to watch a glider taking off from one of the runways. If the gates are closed to the runway area, keep a look out for the gliders as they will be there on the ground one minute and before you know it they will be up, up, up and away! If you do manage to spot one actually taking off it’s fascinating. You can usually see them flying around the local airspace and then landing again after several minutes. You will need to take notice of the warning signs and on a day that flights are live, the inside area of the Aerodrome will be invariably closed off.
Whether there are flights or not you will be still able to walk around the perimeter of the airfield. This is a gentle walk of just under two miles and is mainly tarmac. In places it looks like the tarmac has been newly laid so it is a really smooth surface for riding bikes and for running. For this reason at weekends particularly you will encounter many children and their families riding their bikes and scooters around the perimeter.
If you keep your eyes peeled along the walk you can peruse interesting information boards giving details about RAF Kenley and a bit of its history. So if your family are intrigued with WW1 or WW2, this is the perfect place to visit and a sure way to encourage them to take a look around and find out more. RAF Kenley was an airfield station of the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War of 1914 to 1918 and the RAF (Royal Air Force) during the Second World War of 1939 to 1945.) Kenley played an important part during WW2, being one of the three main fighter stations responsible for the air defence of London. The other stations were at Biggin Hill and Croydon. These three stations had the vital role of defending against the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
Look out for ‘blast pens’ around the perimeter of the airfield. These were built to help protect individual aircraft and those working on or repairing them. There was some risk still but these pens were less likely to be targeted than hangars which would contain numerous aircraft. Shelters are built in to the back of the pens. Kenley Revival have been working with conservation contractors, architects and Historic England to conserve the Airfield and understand the history of this fascinating place.
There is a monument with a tribute to all those who served at RAF Kenley from 1917 to 1959. At our time of visiting there were flowers laid by the RAF Kenley Tribute Committee, with a handwritten note “Courage in Adversity.” It is also worth mentioning that the nearest church, St Luke’s in Whyteleafe, has war graves in the churchyard of those killed in action during the Second World War. They also have memorial boards in the church for those who lost their lives whilst serving at RAF Kenley. On Battle of Britain Sunday commemorations take place at the church with the laying of wreaths at Airmen’s Corner.
It is so important that we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of our country. If you think about it, they must have seen such harrowing sights and went through so much to give us the freedom that we are privileged to experience today. It is so important that we remember all of those involved in the war effort, and the families left behind. We will always remember them and owe them so much.
We love to visit places with a bit of history and if you do too, you will love a visit to Kenley aerodrome. Use your imagination and just picture how busy this airfield would have been during the war, with a buzz of Hurricanes and Spitfires taking off to do battle with the Luftwaffe! If this important historic landmark could talk, imagine the stories it could tell.
Every year there is a ceremonial fly past of World War 2 aircraft at Kenley Airfield, subject to the weather and safe flying conditions of course. This is held on the closest weekend to 18th August to commemorate the ‘hardest day’ in 1940, when Kenley suffered the worst attack of the Second World War and the runways were cratered by heavy bombing. It is so worth looking up the date and times of the fly by to spot magnificent aircraft such as Lancaster Bombers and Spitfires.
Thankfully, now, it is relatively peaceful, even if you are lucky enough to spot a glider or two, there will still be the gentle sound of the breeze and maybe a few people enjoying the area. The airfield is popular with walkers, cyclists, runners and dog walkers. It feels like a nice safe space for kids and dogs as it is away from any main road. If there are no flights, the gates will be open to the central area and you may see kite flyers on occasion too. You do need to be aware that Kenley is always open for use as an emergency landing spot so do be vigilant – just in case.
What you need to know:
- RAF Kenley is owned by the Ministry of Defence
- Parking at Kenley airfield is free. You can park in a lay-by in Hayes Lane which runs around the airfield. if you travel from further afield by train, the closest stations are Whyteleafe and Whyteleafe South stations, both within about a twenty minute walk.
- Kenley Aerodrome is situated on the southern border of London and the Surrey countryside.
- Dogs are welcome on and off the lead.
- It’s fairly flat so perfect for those who struggle with walking up hills.
- The area is mainly tarmac so is wheelchair accessible.
- There are no toilets for public use at the airfield.
- To find Kenley Aerodrome put the postcode CR8 5EG into your satnav.