Yes, that’s right – a vol biv in the UK, in winter 😂
12th-13th February 2019
The forecast for the next few days was generally from the south – SSW’ly backing SE’ly over three days – and desperate for a bit of adventure, I came up with a pretty madcap plan to take off from Eype, near West Bay, on Dorset’s Jurassic coast, then fly and hike as far as I could to the west, perhaps even getting as far as Exmouth in Devon, as much of the coast is flyable in the right conditions. Of course it didn’t end up going according to my vague plan, but I had a lot of fun all the same. Here’s how it went down…
I have all my vol biv kit pretty much in a state of readiness at home, bar a few items of food and drink, and so it didn’t take long to get ready and be on my way. I arrived on the hill at about midday and was able to launch pretty much straight-away, however the wind was on the light side and crossing the gap towards Golden Cap looked like a one-way ticket to the beach, so I top landed after an hour, and then spent a frustrating hour waiting for more wind. But a few minutes after I got back to take-off after a trip to the beach the wind suddenly picked up, so I wasted no time to seize the moment. I took off pretty much vertically then it was a case of full bar for most of the entire 10km flight. Cloud base was low, only about 850′ asl, but that gave me enough height to cross the gap at Charmouth, however the wind was too SW’ly at this point and I wasn’t able to connect with the crumbling muddy cliffs and get closer to Lyme Regis. Landing on the beach was no problem, however the flinty pebbles on the beach made packing up difficult as my thin lines continually got snagged on them.
It was now 1545 and I started walking the mile or so along the beach to Lyme Regis, and from there the eight miles along the coast path to Seaton. Because of the time of year the state of the woodland footpath was pretty trecherous – ie. very muddy and slippery!
By dusk at about 1800 I’d been walking for 2hrs 15mins and was probably only just over half way. Out came the head torch and I spent the next hour walking through pitch black woods with just the hooting of owls and the occasional reflected eyes of deers for company.
An hour later I was out of the woods and getting close to Seaton, and finally just before 1930 I found a great spot to pitch up for the night right by the mouth of the river Axe.
By about 2100, now fully fuelled and watered (well coffeed and whiskied), I was ready to get my head down, sleeping under my glider.
All things considered I slept reasonably well, given my aching knees and the breeze buffeting the tent (from outside 😂), however my puffy bleary eyes might have told a different story!
After a hearty breakfast consisting of Greg Hamerton’s homeland favourite, Pro-Nutra, I decamped and headed westwards towards Beer Head, a mere three miles away. Work issues meant I had to briefly stop at a cafe in Seaton to use their wifi, but once sorted I enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the coast past the lovely village of Beer, to Beer Head where I arrived at 1030.
I was met there by local pilot John Wreford, and we ummed and arred about the wind strength. It was the perfect direction, however it was hoofing up the cliff face, and even if I could have got the glider up further up the take-off field, I’m not sure I could have controlled going from 0m/s into the equivalent of at least a 10m/s thermal in just a couple of seconds, all the time only a few feet off the ground. I’m quite sure that had I been able to take off I would have had an easy cruise down to Sidmouth, but sometimes discretion has to be the better part of valour, and that time was now.
So, what to do now? I could hang around and hope that the wind would drop, or I could accept John’s kind offer of a lift back to my campervan at West Bay where there was a better chance of flying given the lower takeoff.
I chose the latter, and arriving back at West Bay dropped my vol biv kit off in the van before heading to a cafe for a coffee and sandwich, then walked round the harbour to the lower takeoff. The wind seemed perfect and a short while later I was up and away, and spent a very enjoyable three hours enjoying the smooth soaring getting up to 1200′ asl at times.
I landed on the beach just before sunset – the end of a most enjoyable, and a little bit adventurous, couple of days…
So remember folk, vol bivs needn’t just be a summer alpine activity! Get out there and have fun!
Watch the video of my trip here: