Thursday 5th May. It had been a funny old week – the week before I had been thinking that a last minute trip to Chamonix and Annecy might be on the cards, but that was before my flight from Liddington on Saturday (30th April), and as a consequence of that plan I had rearranged a conference call from Wednesday to Tuesday, just in case. Then come the weekend I had told the client, thinking that Tuesday looked like quite a good day, that I could make the original date for the call. Of course Tuesday then didn’t turn out to be anything special, and despite Wednesday now looking good, I couldn’t get out! Agh! Thursday was looking like the only chance of a decent flight for quite a few days, so I decided to go for it despite some reservations – on the breezy side, blue etc.
Pete Douglas and Mike Humphries were both up for it, however the general lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the Avon XC crew spoke volumes… (it turned out that some of them were SIVing in Annecy with the BPRA (British Paragliding Racing Academy), but that didn’t explain everyone.
The day didn’t start brilliantly with Pete unable to find my house, then we had to wait a further ten minutes in Bradford-on-Avon for Mike to get to the RV, then we got snarled up in a road closure so our 1030 ETA at Golden Ball car park turned into about 1115. Oh well, at least we could see someone flying when we rolled up.
Fifteen minutes later we were at takeoff and the one person flying had landed, and it was breezy… Still, there was nothing to be gained by not getting ready and waiting for a lull, so that’s what we duly did. Marek (Mogielnicki) and I discussed various goals – Shrewsbury (160kms approx, probably a bit optimistic), Bromyard (105kms approx, not far enough) before finally settling on Kidderminster (115kms). I switched Flyskyhy’s display to aerial view and created a waypoint near a golf course just to the SW of the town.
I’m loving my new Omega X-Alps, but there’s one thing I still need to get sussed with it, and that’s stopping it wrapping itself up on the ground if the wind gets into it when you’re not controlling it. I spent at least ten minutes having fun and games with it on the ground in the brisk wind! I think in future I’ll leave it bunched up from the concertina bag and build a wall straight from that position.
Finally at 1230 I took off, followed a few minutes later by Marek, Pawel, and Mariusz (Grupa 303 were out in force :-)). It didn’t take long to find a climb and after 15 minutes I was up at 2,600′ and on my way. Unfortunately ten minutes later I was down to 1,500′ over Avebury (1,000′ agl) and I was seriously thinking I’d be on the deck soon.
2kms later I was down to 1,200′ (500′ agl) over Windmill Hill, but then my luck changed – a weak climb saw me slowly climb up to 2,500′ by the time I reached the the Notam activated Lyneham CTA (not today though) 15kms from takeoff. By the time I reached Lyneham village itself I was down to 1,400′ (1,000′ agl approx) again before I found another climb which finally got me up to almost 4,000′ just north of the M4.Wow, what a struggle those 22kms had been – never once above 3,000′!
Grupa 303 were hot on my tail during this time, but sadly Marek and Pawel arrived too low at the edge of the Marlborough Downs to connect with my weak climb, and they landed near Lyneham. I hadn’t spotted Mariusz yet, but I later saw him land just to the east of Malmesbury as I circled lazily in a nice thermal coming off the town.
The day was blue with a strong inversion and without clouds to aim for the tactic is to fly over obvious trigger points – towns, villages and into wind and sun hills during the first part of the flight, then later big brown fields and rising ground. This worked well as I made good progress over Malmesbury, Tetbury, Nailsworth, Stroud, then the hill to the north of Stroud with the antenna on top which worked for me on a similar flight last year.
From there I wafted over Gloucester getting down to 1500′ before finding a nice climb which took me to 5200′, the highest I’d been so far. I was now 70kms from takeoff, the sky was still blue but there were occasional clouds around, and after a difficult start I suddenly felt that my first 100kms of the year might finally be on.
I wasn’t particularly thinking of my goal at Kidderminster at this stage (it was still 45kms away after all) although I was aware that it was now slightly to the east of North, and with the wind still from the SSE there was gong to be some cross-winding involved at some point.
I got up to 5200′ again just behind the Malvern Hills, and carried on, only a few kms off 100kms now, and where I landed last year. At the 100km mark I was up at 5300′ and with my goal now 25kms away I thought it was worth a crack at it, even though it was 30 deg off my track. A glide and a climb later I was back to 5000′ again and with 15kms to go it was definitely game on (10:1 glide to goal approx).
I enjoyed a lifty glide towards Kidderminster and with the glide angle to goal consistently less than my current glide angle I was getting more and more confident with every passing km.
Sure enough, Flyskyhy sounded its waypoint bagged sound so I turned round and landed near near the 18th hole at Burlish Park Golf Club where I was made very welcome! It was great to enjoy a pint whilst packing up 🙂
Getting home was easy enough – a taxi to the station, then rather a convoluted series of trains back to Bath, during which I bumped into Simon Twiss (who’d flown 160kms from Martinsell) who was on his way back to Cheltenham where he’d bribed his retrieve crew (wife and daughter) with the promise of a slap-up dinner!
So, after a hesitant start to the day, it eventually turned out really well – and it was great to get that first 100kms under my belt this year!