2019 – a year in review…

Flyingwise, I’ve had a blast in 2019 – approx 85 hours of coastal soaring, xc, volbiv and hike & fly have made it a truly fun and adventurous year. You’ll notice that I’ve not mentioned comps – that’s because this year, for the first time in years, I didn’t participate in any of the British foreign comps. This was a conscious decision following the sad death of Innes Powell in the British Open in Krushevo last year. I’d flown with him in the North South Cup earlier in the year, and again at the British All-Comers Open in Feltre in June, and the news of his death hit me hard, making me question what I wanted to get out of my flying.

The answer was fun, and adventure, and for the first time since I started xc flying way back in the dim and distant past, I decided not to enter the National XC League. And what a revelation that turned out to be! No longer frustrated by missing a good xc day, or not making goal, or even touching down briefly during a 65km triangle flight in the Lake District, my flying seemed to improve as those pressures and constraints evaporated away.

EDIT: 8th Jan 2020 – I can’t believe I forgot my Jurassic volbiv !!!!

Now, February isn’t the normal time for volbiv flying, especially not in the UK, but that’s how my year of adventure kicked off, with a volbiv along part of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. Ok, the flying didn’t go quite as planned, but what the heck, it was great fun!

My first notable xc of the year was a wonderful three hour flight from Claunie on 31st March over some of Scotland’s wildest terrain – see my video here:

Then two weeks later on 12th April I had an amazing four hour flight from the Malverns to Aberystwyth, almost all of it on my own. Landing on the beach only a few yards from a really nice ice cream shop was definitely a bonus 😂.

A month later I was in in the Lake District for this year’s North South Cup – what an brilliant weekend’s flying it was too…! On Saturday we flew from Clough Head, with a goal at Skipton, 100kms away. I landed about 15kms short after a spectacular three hour flight out of the Lake District and into the Yorkshire Dales – take a look at the video here:

Sunday was, if anything, an even better day – the North had already won the comp so we all went up to Jenkin Hill to fly whatever sized triangle took your fancy. I opted for a 65kms route, taking in Great Gable to the south west and Red Screes to the south east. 4.5 hours later I made it back to Keswick, with just a small unintentional landing low down on the slopes of Blease Fell as I was trying to soar up it! I took off a minute later from the same spot, soared up, and was on my way again… ah, the joys of not doing the League this year!!

A week later, on 21st May, I flew my longest UK flight of the year, 166kms from Leckhampton to Littlehampton – it got easier as the day went on, but I nearly bombed before Cirencester – thankfully Lady Luck was on my side and I got back up and established nice and high over Ciren. I’ve just finished the video – check it out below…

A few days later on 25th May I was in Crickhowell for the two day Dragon Hike & Fly race. Ali Andrews set a challenging 50km course starting from near Pen y Fan, and ending up back in Crickhowell. Guess what? I won it!! A few of us finished it on the first day – just as well as the weather was rather unpleasant on Sunday morning!

June was a barren month flyingwise, but in on 3rd July I had a very enjoyable 50km flight from the Blorenge, past the Brecon Beacons landing near Dan yr Ogof show caves – it was one of those fun “low and slow” ridge-hopping flights that I really enjoy.

This was one of my last flights on my Omega X-Alps 2, because my new X-Alps 3 arrived just in time for my volbiv trip to France. I had an hour’s shakedown flight at Westbury on 27th July before flying to Nice for the start of the trip the next day! And what a trip that was… together with Richard Chambers, Marcin Minkiewicz and Steve Wagner, we flew to Annecy where Steve left us, then on into Switzerland, with me making it to Andermatt – approx 500kms flying in six flights. The highlight was the 175km flight from La Sambuy to Fiesch, but they were all memorable in their own way. Watch the whole series of films here:

I had three nights on my own up in the mountains during the trip – they were really special, and it’s experiences like these that really encapsulate why I love volbiv flying so much…

Then it was back home for three weeks before I headed out to France again for a three day volbiv from Annecy to near Interlaken to arrive in time for the Advance X-Alps celebration party on 4th September. This was such a fun little trip – I dossed down in Bristol Airport the night before the flight, and whilst there I bumped into some pilots heading out to Annecy, so that was my lift to Planfait take-off sorted!

I took off at 1415 and had a wonderful 80km flight well into Switzerland, where I lucked out with my choice of landing field – right next to an empty B&B whose owners let me stay in the garden and use the facilities!


The following day, despite an iffy forecast, turned out pretty nicely and I had a fun 45km flight which took me to within spitting distance of my goal near Speiz. Unfortunately the accommodation that night wasn’t quite up to scratch although it was warm and kept me dry from the rain that night…

After two days’ flying my luck ran out and day three involved a 20 mile walk to Speiz – no pain no gain, eh?! Luckily though, the day of the party was sunny, though with a low cloudbase after all the rain, but we all flew down from the mountain hut after a good hike up, and enjoyed a wonderful evening at a superb farm restaurant looking down on Lake Thun…


Check out my videos from the trip here…

Now back in the UK, a few days later (8th Sept) on a very light wind day when the hotshots were doing big triangles from the winch, I rocked up to Westbury hoping to make the most of probably one of the last good days of the year. I set a 55ish km triangle but it took ages to finally climb out in the virtually nil-wind conditions so I contented myself with a really fun 38km out and return flight to Bath and back. I’m working on the video of this flight right now, but here are some screenshots to keep you going in the meantime…

Edit 11/02/2020 – here’s the video!

With the season on its way out I had a couple of lovely days on the north Devon coast at the end of October and early November – here’s a video from the second of these flights, at Trentishoe Cliffs… So beautiful…

A month or so later, on Monday 2nd December, my friend Nick Somerville and I decided to have a crack at the South East Wales club’s Three Peaks Challenge. Starting and finishing in Abergavenny, you must take photos of yourselves at the trig points on top of the Blorenge, the Skirrid, and the Sugar Loaf. You can do the course in whatever order you think best, the rules are that you must carry your flying kit at all times (glider, harness, reserve, helmet), and that it must be done in the off-season – ie. 1st Nov to 1st March…

Well, I can tell you that it was bloody knackering, but also good fun and very satisfying (when finished!). We did it in 6 hours 8 minutes beating Ali and Aaron’s previous record, flying about 5 miles and walking 15. We climbed 4,500′ in total, but unfortunately the wind at the final mountain, Sugar Loaf, was blowing over the back so we had to walk down – aggh! Seb Nichols also completed it earlier on the same day, by a different route, and beat us by a couple of minutes, though unfortunately he doesn’t have the complete track log to prove it – ah well… If we’d have been able to fly down from the Sugar Loaf we’d have smashed it, prob sub 5 hours, so we’re keeping our eyes out for the perfect forecast!

Here’s a short video of our exploits…!

Rounding the year off were a couple of trips to Ringstead on the Dorset coast in December, the first at the beginning go the month, the second right at the end…

The second flight turned out to be a one way trip to St Alban’s Head, some 23kms from takeoff – I followed Grant on his Enzo 3 past Houns-tout Cliff over Chapman’s Pool onto St Alban’s Head but the wind wasn’t west enough so we ended up landing at the bottom where Grant, let’s just say, had a pretty grim job of extracting himself and his glider from a massive Hawthorne thicket… nuff said!

About three hours later we made it to the Square & Compass Inn in Worth Matravers where James Allen very kindly retrieved us. I think Grant spent the next day (or two perhaps) untangling his lines…!

So… what a year, here’s to 2020 being even better if that’s even possible!

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