So, less than two weeks after a lovely flight to the coast from Liddington, I found myself at the coast again, this time at Torquay (though not actually close enough to the beach for an ice cream sadly :-))
Here’s the story of big Tuesday! (30th April 2013)
There was some discussion the night before about whether we should head to Ubley or Leckhampton, but I was keen on Ubley thinking that the wind would be too NE’ly for Lecky, and so Pete (Waters), Tom (Janikowski) and I drove from Bath together and reached takeoff at about 1100 where we were greeted by many of the South’s best pilots – Adam Hill, Jim Mallinson, Craig Morgan, Guy Anderson and Innes Powell to mention just a few. Wow, we must be at the right place!
I had declared a 143km goal at Plymouth, but was convinced to change it to the one Jim Mallinson had set near Liskeard as reaching it would break the British declared goal record. (As it turned out no one made it because it was very randomly picked in the middle of nowhere and really too far north for anyone to get to).
So after a bit of faffing with GPSs and texting declarations in, I took off at 1130 and by 1145 I was climbing out in a lovely 2-3m/s thermal – yahoo!
As Ubley is within Bristol Airport CTA we are lucky to have an agreement with NATS that allows us to raise the limit to which we can fly to 4,000′ on good days and that was perfect as cloudbase at this point was pretty much 4,000′. The trick to getting across the Somerset Levels is to make sure you have as much height as possible before leaving the Mendips (this makes sense seeing as the air that has gone up over the Mendips has to come down again once the ground drops away), however I was down to 2,400′ before finding my next climb, and I then spent the next 30-40km crossing the Levels between 2,500′ and 3,200′ mainly in the company of Colin Hawke, but later with Alex Coltman too.
Just before I reached the higher ground to the south east of Taunton Colin managed to climb to base but still I couldn’t get there, and so when I saw Alex head to some tree covered hills a bit further south I decided to follow him and eventually we both found a reasonable climb which took us from 2,500′ back up to 4,000′ for the first time since leaving the Mendips 1.5 hours earlier.
However it was now decision time since this thermal had taken us to within 3km of Dunkerswell ATZ and if we carried on directly downwind we’d end up going straight through the drop zone let alone the ATZ.
I ended up choosing left probably for no better reason than the coast was closer in that direction (and my regular readers will know my penchant for ice creams at the seaside!), and Alex chose to join Colin to the right. So at 56km into the flight I was on my own and approaching a tricky bit of airspace.
As I squeezed past the east of the ATZ I was lucky enough to find a climb that allowed me to sneak over the top of it and into safety. My newly discovered iPhone app, FlySkyHy, proved invaluable at this point letting me easily see the height of the ATZ (2,839′), and I topped out at 3,500′ as I approached Honiton.
Now Exeter has a reasonably sized airport so I’m surprised that we’re allowed to fly so close to it and needless to say I kept a really good lookout for large lumps of metal taking off, but fortunately the sky was clear as I passed about 6km to the east of the main runway!
I found a lovely climb to the SW of Ottery St Mary that took me up to 5,000′ and from here the views towards Exmouth were stunning…
At this point I was passing to the south of Exeter Airport and just for the fun of it I tried to spot my uncle and aunt’s house near Farringdon…
I thought I spotted it from the air, but after looking at Google Maps I now realise I was looking about 1km to the east of where they actually live 🙂
The views as I cruised along the coast here were just magical and I had one of my regular “I can’t believe I’m so lucky to be on earth at just the right time to enjoy this amazing sport” moments! I think I almost achieve a state of euphoria at times like this – totally at peace with myself and totally at one with the air around me… I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel this way…
Sadly my trance like state didn’t last for long as the cloud sitting above a nice hill just to the west of Dawlish disappeared just as I arrived under it. I was down to 2,500′ at this point and just a short glide from Teignmouth which looked gorgeous in the afternoon sunshine. Oh well I thought, if I’m going to have to land this looks like a pretty fine place to set down and find an ice cream 🙂
But I found a small climb that took me back above 2,000′ again and I went with it and I had a reasonably lifty glide only loosing 1,100′ over the next 7kms as I headed towards Torquay.
A small climb gave me renewed optimism as I climbed from 1,100′ to 1,300′ and I carried on over the next cluster of houses.
Sadly the miracle didn’t occur (I was in the influence of a very light sea breeze here) but I did squeeze an0ther 3km out of it landing just where the snaking road in the right of the photo above disappears behind a hill for a straight line distance of 113km. Looking at my vario after I landed I realised it was only 1530 – still plenty of flying time left – so I was a little disappointed initially, but then sense prevailed as I recalled my almost zen like happiness only a short while earlier! I guess if I had to analyse where I “went wrong”, I reckon I should have headed inland a bit once I’d cleared Exeter Airport rather than letting the lure of the coast get me again 🙂 If I’d gone for that cloud over Topsham maybe I could have made my original goal of Plymouth… Oh well, no point dwelling on it, I’ll never know the answer to that one!
More importantly, I was here, it was now, and my wife Lisa’s uncle lived no more than a couple of miles away so it was time to give him a call and grab a cuppa…!
Three hours, three beers, and a delicious meal later Brian dropped me off at Torquay station and I boarded the 1840 for the very scenic trip back along the coast that I’d flown over just a few hours earlier.
Stupidly it wasn’t until I’d passed Newton Abbot that I actually checked where I was supposed to change trains. Ah. Newton Abbot. Right. Nice one Tim…! Oh well, I had no choice but to carry on to Exeter St Davids where I had an hour’s wait (fortunately the cafe was open and serving decent coffee), then as I was heading to my platform who should I bump into but Jim and Adam who’d flown way past Plymouth. And then once on the train who should be on it but Tom and Guy who’d also flown into Cornwall!
So, what a day, just amazing, and by far the biggest day from Ubley ever! Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for another day like that…