It’s Saturday 26th June 2010 and my wife Lisa is away having had to travel to Sicily to be with her parents after her father fell ill on holiday, so I can’t get away until I’ve dropped my daughter off at school for her Duke of Edinburgh expedition, done two lots of washing, walked the dog and waited until my son’s friend had arrived before they went off for a sleepover… All the stuff that Lisa would normally have done on a great looking flying day! But I wasn’t too worried about leaving late as the sky was just getting better and better. So I arrived at Mere at about 1415 and was greeted by a sight of much parawaiting!
I’d heard that Tom Mayne had got away earlier so it was obviously working – you just had to be patient and pick the right moment. I unpacked and got ready and had three hot and sweaty short flights (1 min approx) trying not to go down, before at about 1530 something bigger came through. Fellow Avon pilots Mike Coupe and Nick Somerville found it first and seemed to be gaining a bit more height than during our earlier attempts, so I took off and flew round to the west side of the bowl and joined in the bunfight!
After a few minutes Mike, Nick and I were above the rest and could start to relax – things were looking good! Nick had pushed forward along the spur and was climbing nicely but Mike and I stayed put in our climb which was only drifting slowly (3000′ in 1km). Looking around I spotted a crop circle in the field in front of Spencers Bowl – was it really man made?
The next thing I spotted was artist Bruce Munro’s “cd sea” installation made up of 600,000 cds laid out in a field – very cool, though more impressive from the air than from the ground when I looked after picking up my car on Sunday.
Once we got high, even though there were some quite long transitions between clouds we never really got low and the flight to Bath (30kms) was the easiest 30km I’ve ever done.
It was just beautiful up here, and to think that less than an hour ago I was sweating on a tiny little hill thousands of feet below! Paragliding truely is an awesome sport!
So it was an easy cruise past Frome and along the A36 to Bath. It was wonderful flying over villages and countryside that I know so well from years of living in the area. Or at least thought I knew so well, since flying over them gives everything a whole new perspective.
By now it was 1645 (I’d been flying for 1hr 20mins) and I had a decision to make – whether to press on and go for distance, or to head over to my home village of Combe Down on the south side of Bath and just enjoy the grandstand view. Added into this equation was the fact that I’d been invited to a BBQ with some friends, and also I’d left our dog Archie locked in at home since 1330, so I didn’t want to fly another 50km and then have a two hour hitch back.
So that was it, decision made. Head for Combe Down and try to get myself seen by as many of my friends as possible 🙂
Mike and I had gone our separate ways before Bath, but I now spotted him again and headed over to him with much “ye hahing” across the air!
There was so much lift around at this point that Mike and I basically boated around soaking up the views for almost an hour. The lift was smooth and very strong in places – at one point my vario recorded 7m/s. Ok, this wasn’t averaged, but no word of a lie, it was like this for probably five seconds!! Sadly I couldn’t stay in it since I was getting pretty close to the 3,500′ ceiling over Bath (the Bath Gap closed at 1600).
I had been regularly flying over my friend’s house where I’d been invited to a BBQ to see if there was any sign of life (or more importantly cooking and drinking), but at 1750 there was still no one in the garden and with the sky looking epic I decided to try a little out and return flight to Trowbridge, about 10km away. I climbed up to 3,500′ whilst still under the airspace, then glided out and found another lovely climb over Bradford-on-Avon which carried me right up to 6,000′ again.
From this high point I glided over Trowbridge then turned and headed for home, not bothering to top up at all – basically it was a 12+ km glide from 6’000′ down to about 600′. It was incredible how quick it was to cover the distance – there and back in forty minutes – it would take you longer to do it in a car!
Once I was over my friend’s house I started yelling “Sarah, look up!” and “Andrew, look up!” and sure enough the house emptied as everyone ran out. OK I thought, I can land now, I’ve got my audience 🙂 (NB. The “look up” is very important if you’re ever in this situation – people will hear you, but won’t naturally look up!)
So there I was, in my declared goal just over three hours after taking off, having flown 55km in total! You can imagine how buzzing I was! Definitely one of the most memorable flights of my life. I’m sure I could have flown further, or done a triangle and scored more points in the xc league, but having the chance to fly over where you live is not something to be turned down lightly!
As you saw I took some video during the flight – I’ve got a lot more to edit into a proper movie in due course, but in the meantime have a look at all the photos I took during the flight on my flickr account here.
You can see my tracklog in the XC Player here.