Sunshine and light winds have been in extremely short supply over the last few months, but Sunday 19th January looked like like a possible window in between the endless succession of Atlantic storms that have been battering the UK this winter. With excitement normally reserved for classic looking XC days the emails and text messages started appearing a couple of days before, and with the forecast still looking good come Sunday morning, Sean Simmons, Mike Humphries and I headed down to Eype near Bridport, meeting Mike Coupe and family down there.
The wind was very light when we parked up, but the sun was out and one glider was in the air, so without much dilly-dallying we started the short walk up the hill to the takeoff area. There was an assorted mix of Wessex and Condors pilots there, probably about a dozen in total, and it was great to catch up with a few familiar faces.
As we were getting ready the pilot who had been flying initially landed, and someone else took off and went down, but by the time I was ready I felt that the wind was just about strong enough to stay up, so with the thought “oh well, it’s only a short walk back up the hill again” I lobbed off, turning hard left and tucking in really close to the cliff. And it worked – I had a lovely 40 minute flight, mainly on my own, but also with company from Mike C and his children (not both at once 🙂 ) on the tandem.
After a while I could see a band of darker water (indicating more wind) about a mile or two out to sea, so I decided to land and take the opportunity to have a bite to eat and a bit of a chat whilst we waited for the wind. And when it arrived it was the perfect strength and from the perfect direction… Yeha, let’s get up there!
A few people had taken off whilst I was refueling, and I could see it was working all the way to the first big hill, Thorncombe Beacon, so without any further ado I took off, made one beat to the left to gain a bit of height before heading WNW to follow the others along this beautiful stretch of west Dorset coast.
The lift was smooth and consistent and it was an easy 8km run up to Charmouth, though for some reason no one else came with me past Golden Cap. Actually getting round Golden Cap is a tad daunting if you haven’t done it before as there’s not much lift on the east side of it if the wind is more SW than SSW, and it does get a bit bumpy as you creep round, but once you get onto the south face, then onto the SW face, you’ll rocket up and over the top at 2m/s… Lovely!
I worked my way up and onto the high cliffs just to the east of Charmouth, and at 600’asl I headed W to Charmouth to see how it looked. I arrived above the river with about 250′ and decided it wasn’t going to be enough to get all the way across, so I retraced my steps and patiently worked the lift up to 800’asl. Right, this has to be enough I thought, and turned and headed for Charmouth again, arriving with an extra 200′ over the river. Make or break time – do I go for it, or do I wimp out. I knew Nigel Rendell had made this crossing when I’d last flown here back in September 2011, so I knew it was possible. I figured that the worst that would happen is that I’d land and have a short walk back to the Charmouth takeoff (winter only), so I pressed on. I admit it felt a bit touch and go at times (full speedbar was used!), but as I snuck over the very low “cliffs” on the other side of the river I knew I was going to make it.
From here it was just a matter of tucking in close to the cliffs and working my way higher, and eventually onto the cliff which forms the southern boundary of the Lyme Regis Golf Club. It was an alien looking landscape below with a series of landslides forming dark wet terraces which glinted brightly in the glorious afternoon sun.
Having pushed west as far as I could it was was time to head back to Eype to see where everyone else had got to. Crossing Charmouth was easy this time, but once past I did make the mistake of trying to hop onto the highest cliffs (where I’d topped up on my outward run) with only just enough height, and it was heart in mouth time for a bit as I worked my way along below the top of the cliff – there really didn’t seem to be many landing options in the shallow tree covered bowl! As I reached the eastern end of the bowl the lift increased and I was soon able to get above the cliffs and back into my comfort zone again 🙂
From here it was an easy cruise back along to Golden Gap where I met Mike H and we had a brief foray out into Lyme Bay before continuing back past Doghouse Hill and Thorncombe Beacon again. Arriving high over takeoff I carried on towards West Bay, allowing myself to entertain the thought of crossing onto the vertical cliffs (featured in ITV’s Broadchurch where the son’s body was supposed to have fallen from) to the east of West Bay and onto Burton Bradstock and Hive. However as I reached the harbour entrance I couldn’t see myself being able to make it back again, and as the sun was now getting pretty low in the sky I headed back to Eype and enjoyed twenty minutes of wingovers and wagga in the setting sun before landing.
Having got this far you definitely deserve a break – make yourself a cup of tea, or even better grab a cold beer, and come fly with me along the beautiful Jurassic Coast!
Finally, it is true, sea air is good for the soul, especially after not having flown for two months… I hope I don’t have to wait for another two months before the next cracking day!