This year has been my best xc year ever flying 368km in 8 flights, not to mention flying another 383km in six tasks in Slovenia back in June, however I had a fantastic days flying at Rhigos in South Wales on Sunday 24th October, and guess what, it didn’t involve going xc!
For those of you who don’t know the site (see Bing map here – take off is by the view point in the centre of the map), it’s a large (2km wide) northerly facing bowl about 7-8km west of Aberdare, and about 2km south of the small village of Rhigos itself. But the great thing is it’s not just one bowl, it connects with a 4km long ridge to the east which runs almost as far as Aberdare, and another bowl to the west, giving you an effective flying area some 8km long! But it’s far from an easy Pansy style ridge run to get from one end to the other as you’ll see from the map and the photos, which means that it gives you some good challenges on non xc-able days.
As usual for trips to Wales we met up at our usual car-sharing meeting point near the Servern Bridge at Aust, and Declan, Stephen and Nick piled into my car and we did the trip to Rhigos in about 1.5 hours, and as we turned off the Heads of the Valleys road we were greeted by the sight of three or four gliders in the air – fantastic! Heartbeats quickened, unfortunately my elderly Peugeot 405 with four pilots and four gliders didn’t, but no worries, we made it up the switchback road to takeoff a few minutes later.
It was slightly on the breezy side at the takeoff (below and to the right of the mobile cafe) but once in the air it was absolutely fine and the whole bowl was working well. At the western end I was able to push well forward but I never quite managed to connect with the cloud streets coming from the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain five or so miles to the north of us.
I was keen to explore the whole ridge and tried to get across to the Hirwaun part of the ridge to the right of takeoff on three occasions, but each time, even with 1,000′ ato I had to turn back. Finally, I managed to climb to 1,500′ ato and with this height I easily made the crossing. Another glider followed me albeit a couple of hundred feet lower, and he made it too, although he had to soar round the northernmost part of the ridge rather than flying over it straight to the bowl as I was able to do.
It was an easy cruise all the way down to Aberdare and back, however it was frustrating seeing these great cloud streets above me, but with no thermals at this time I wasn’t able to get high enough to connect with them.
Back in the main Hirwaun bowl it took a while before finding a thermal which gave us enough height to get back to the Rhigos bowl, but by working a weak climb we both climbed a few hundred feet above the ridge and made the dash back towards takeoff.
I’d probably been flying for 1.5 to 2 hours up til now, so I landed to have a chat and see how the other guys were doing, and I was glad to see that no one was in a hurry to head home as it was still looking lovely. I took off again a few minutes later and headed along the bowl and then hopped over into the next bowl. It must have been about 4pm by now and I thought I wouldn’t be able to get much height, but as I flew into some pine scented air I realised there was gentle lift coming up from all the trees below me. The wind had dropped a bit and I was able to 360 without any worry of getting blown back and after ten minutes of this I was 1,000′ ato again, felling totally chilled in this wonderful smooth lift.
Feeling a little bit cold, hungry and thirsty I eventually landed at about 5pm having had a most enjoyable boat around… The mobile cafe does a great range of drinks and snacks, and what’s more, drinks are free for pilots – can’t be bad! What a great day it had been and a real treat for the end of October, and in the words of a certain Governor of California, “I’ll be back”!