Skyfall; machine guns and helicopters

Blimey, helicopters and machine guns at Hankley on a Saturday afternoon. And there’s me thinking I’d have nothing to blog about today.

he looks rather mournful, don’t you think?

Earlier I got all excited about the discovery of several ‘super-nymphs’ in the pond. We’ve been trying to remove the excess blanketweed from the pond, as it clogs up the open water and means that the wee tadpoles can’t swim freely – making them more susceptible to the dragonfly nymphs that lurk therein. So we take it in turns to sit there doing the most boring (yet strangely restful) job in the world; extracting bits of blanketweed, scrutinising it very closely, and then swishing the bits of weed that contain tiny little nymphs around in a bucket of pond water until said nymphs manage to extricate themselves and water-parachute down to the bottom of the bucket. It’s a job that, frankly, you can only be arsed to do if you have a deep abiding love of dragon and damselflies, since the nymphs are only around 5 mm long and show a distinct lack of gratitude for your efforts, clinging stubbornly to every last strand of weed.

Anyhow, most of the dragon nymphs to be found in the pond are the larvae of the commen darter dragonfly; they measure between 3 – 9 mm at the moment. By summer, they’ll be about 1.5 cm long, and the vast majority of them will emerge and metamorphose into dragonflies. We thought that some of them were staying in the pond and continuing to grow – a sort of giant super-nymph. I caught two today, and they’re a good 3 cm long; fearsome little predators. On closer examination, though, I wondered whether they are the same species – although the body shape looks identical, the size difference just seems too great. On doing a bit of research I’ve found that they’re actually the nymph of a different dragonfly, the broad bodied chaser.

big fella, little fella, and a water louse

In the picture you can see the chaser nymph alongside a little darter nymph – the little ‘un is around 7 mm long, compared to its giant friend. The third critter is a water louse; related to the wood louse. Both nymphs are going to be predating our little tadpoles over the coming weeks, and they won’t be alone in that; last night my daughter and her friend were conducting a torchlight safari of the pond, and discovered a newt hanging out in the midst of the frogspawn. Generally, you have a frog pond, or a newt pond, as newts are great predators of frog tadpoles, so frogs don’t bother spawning in a newty pond, so to speak. I’m assuming though, since I’ve never seen a newt before, that the newts have arrived due to the generous amount of spawn deposited this year. Much as we love the wee taddies, the cycle of life is that 90% of them are destined to end their very brief lives in the stomachs of other, slightly larger creatures. It’s a dark justice that the little nymphs who eat the tiny tadpoles will later be eaten by the big bad leggy tadpoles and froglets. It all evens out in the end.

JAMES BOND SPOILER ALERT – please stop reading now if information about the film set and plot would affect your enjoyment of Skyfall.

merlin flying low over lodge

merlin flying low over lodge

Alright then, on to the main event. We walked at Hankley today and were bemused to find the car park absolutely packed. Managed to find a space on the fringes, and wandered off huffing and puffing about all the people who were clearly just coming because of the filming (like we’re not…). There were security guys stationed all along the ridges, keeping the clamouring public back from the action – the whole of Surrey seemed to have begged or borrowed dogs to walk casually around the common. There was a security zone around the site, as there were a couple of helicopters being flown around the place. We were told that today is just practice filming, they might not film at all if the angles turn out to be wrong, and Daniel Craig won’t be there at all – only his double driving the aston martin. No point in me staking out the set with half the heath stuck on my head as camouflage and a long range lens, then, in the hope of that exclusive shot of Daniel in his itty bitty trunks. Shame.

almost finished chapel

almost finished chapel

None of the other security guys were very forthcoming, but the rumours were flying around the heath nonetheless; spreading from dogwalker to dogwalker like a heath fire on a windy day. The budget for the Hankley shoot was £5 million, no; £7 million. They’re blowing it all up on Monday, or Tuesday. Or next week. They’re blowing it up at dawn. They’re blowing it up at night. What seems to be agreed upon is that Bond’s Aston Martin is going to enter the site through the gates on the ridge, and then be involved in some skirmish at the lodge, and then Bond (despite him not currently being in the country) will flee to the chapel. From events today I reckon it’s safe to say that this will involve a big ol’ helicopter, discharging a lot of blokes with guns. Said helicopter will fly around the lodge a lot, shining a big searchlight on it and firing at stuff, before blowing it up. That’ll probably occur at sunset or dark.

will they cgi that bit of roof in, I wonder...

will they cgi that bit of roof in, I wonder…

It was all rather exciting, I must say; we wandered over to the chapel, which is coming on well but nowhere near finished. It’s got some holes built into the roof; whether that’s to look dilapidated or as a result of gunfire, I don’t know. The lodge itself is standing proud without scaffolding now, but the roof isn’t quite completed from the south side. Strangely, it looks less realistic now without the scaffolding; the way a new-build “period ” house never manages to actually look georgian or tudor.

practising with their guns!

practising with their guns!

We saw the helicopter early on and were told it would be taking off again, so we ended up, after a leisurely walk, hanging around on the hill with a handful of other people (armed with their smartphones pointed at the action), wondering if anything was going to happen. There was a merlin helicopter sitting impressively on site (you might wonder how I knew this; I can direct you to one of my early posts here, where I was geeky enought to look up the helicopter I’d seen). Eventually it started up and rose into the air, much to the excitement of us all watching. Bit of an anticlimax when it just hovered there for a few minutes, before dropping gracefully back to earth. Thankfully it did a bit more than that the next time, with lots of low flying round the lodge set, at times in tandem with the very sleek and impressive camera helicopter. The first time the merlin went up, there were lots of blokes underneath with guns, so I’m guessing that the actual scene will involve something similar to this.

filming helicopter

filming helicopter

I took a few videos which I’ve put on youtube; here is the helicopter after it’s initially taken off, with the ‘gunmen’ underneath. Here is some great footage of the helicopter flying around the lodge, with some inadvertent commentary from us. Here it’s coming into land again, and looking rather impressive with the ‘gunmen’ on display inside. Here is some footage of them firing machine guns from inside the helicopter. This is the best footage, I think; both the filmed and the filming helicopters buzzing around each other and the set. The filming helicopter is a bit gorgeous, I must say; a sleek waspy thing with a great big ball of a camera fixed below its nose. There’s something just inherently dramatic about the way they wheel and dive around the sky.

By the end, the light was poor, the air was thick with dust and the children and dog were vociferous with hunger and boredom. Despite my fear that as soon as we were out of camera range, the whole set would explode in exciting and photogenic pyrotechnics, we left them all to it. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring you some more pictures over the coming days.

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9 thoughts on “Skyfall; machine guns and helicopters

  1. Interesting, witty, informative. Love the videos! Don’t miss the wildlife info & pics – brilliant!

  2. I agree, I love your style Lucy. No nature book has actually captured my attention like your info and pics – I really must be missing home (!) – And the ongoing film set development is fascinating!

  3. The helicopter has sparked a few conversations but no one seems to know…
    Westland, Merland, French Cougar, NH90 or poss russian ?
    Or is it as some people think a Westland AW139
    What is it ?

    Cheers Chris

    • Chris I’m sorry to disappoint you, but all I can tell you with confidence is that it is a merlin. I don’t know who made it, I’m afraid. The only reason I know it’s a merlin is that back in the autumn, a helicopter was flying very low over Thursley (near to Hankley), with its cargo doors open. It was unusual enough for me to look it up and discover that it was a merlin. In retrospect, I think it was probably this merlin (or another belonging to the same company), scoping out Hankley as a potential filming site for Skyfall.

  4. Hi there,

    My name is Rob and I work for the Western Gazette newspaper in Yeovil where the AW101s are made – we’re doing an article this week about our area’s largest employer supplying this helicopter to the film, would you be able to drop me an email? We’d love to speak to you/quote from the blog about what you witnessed earlier this month and have permission to potentially use some of your great photographs.

    Many thanks

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