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First XC in the Lakes

Soon after Autumn set in the wet and windy stuff arrived. I hadn’t flown since but realise how lucky I was to have such a wonderful flight on my first real outing.

Blease Fell

Sunday the 23rd March was my first time at Blease Fell and my first real flying in the Lakes. I awoke at 05:50 on Sunday in anticipation of a good day flying. The previous weekend when Bill Scott and I had gone to Kendal for the Jocky Sanderson training weekend “Getting away from the hill” it had been a total washout as far as the flying was concerned with the only height gain being achieved by carrying our gear up impossibly steep and unforgiving hills.

I left home at around 08:50 to pick up Bill Scott and Jim Watson. Arriving at Melmerby at about 10:20 we waited for Paul Myerscough and Ron Donaldson to turn up. Paul arrived about 10 minutes after us shortly followed by Ron. After quite a conference it was agreed that it had to be Blease Fell so we headed of in convoy.

The approach to Keswick alongside Blease Fell was stunning. Jim gave Bill and I the run down on the previous days flying showing where he and Mad Dog Miller had landed out either side of the A66. The drive to the parking area was not as bad as I had expected and luckily we found a parking spot in an already crowded area. The walk up looked like serious hard labour.

Ron gave me a briefing as a new boy at the site and I started my long climb to takeoff. Just before the first bend in the track I realised that I had left my camera in the car. So I said a few words of self admonishment, “!#+*&$”, dumped my gear on the path and ran back down to get it.

By the time I got to the second bend in the path I was doing a good impression of Ivor the engine. Jim and Bill were sunning themselves at this stop while they took a breather. Having thought that this was the takeoff you can imagine my disgust when Bill told me that, just like the Grand Old Duke, we were only halfway up.

The last part of the climb was a little easier but not much. When we arrived at the takeoff at the flatter section after the first ridge there were already quite a few people there. The conditions were absolutely perfect. Bill was somewhat dismayed and was muttering something about it being like “Northumberland Street on a Saturday afternoon” and how was a bloke supposed to have an “Earther Kit” with all these people about. I guess he must have managed because after disappearing for 15 minutes or so he returned with something of a relieved air about him.

By now it was about 11:30 so I decided that it would be better to eat my lunch and rest before getting into the air since I had resolved that once I took off I wasn’t going to land again until I had put in a good distance. Take-off was easy with just the right amount of wind for a good inflation. There was plenty of buoyancy once airborne so I a spent 10 minutes or so just getting into the groove. By now a number of pilots had either made it to the top or were working their way up. Try as I might I couldn’t seem to get enough height to jump the flatter area behind takeoff onto the steeper slope that rose to the top. Finally I found that the far left of the takeoff afforded better lift and I started scratching my way to the top. The higher I got the better the lift until I found myself just below the summit. At this point a couple of pilots were making their way along Knowe Crags to Middle Tongue. Looking at this particular set of rocks filled me with apprehension but I thought “what the heck” if they can do it then so can I. I was a bit low when I started working my way along the crags. Looking down into Gategill Fell I told myself that their was no way I was going down there. As it happened I quickly rose above the top of the ridge in the moderate lift generated at the almost vertical head of the Fell. Crossing Middle Tongue there was a punchy little thermal but I was now rising steadily so I decided to continue on flying above and upwind of the summit ridge. This second gully was even more awe inspiring than the first and when I crossed Hall Fell Ridge my vario started screaming. I hung stationary in the strong headwind gaining height in this thermal as long as I could and then pushed out on the speed bar, tucked my arms behind my risers and leaned back into my harness to penetrate upwind.

At this point I didn’t have a plan. Looking back at the way I had come I chickened out of flying back that way. I had plenty of height and decided to continue following the summit ridge. A number of walkers were making their way along the path that tracked the ridge. The view down over Scales Tarn was fantastic. Then I spotted a familiar glider low down at the south eastern limit of the ridge. It was Ron Donaldson scratching close to the hill to gain height. I guess that Ron must have been on his way back from a flight to the end of Scales Fell. Using the logic that Ron was bound to know what he was doing I made a dash over to where he was gradually gaining height just as he made the jump across to Hall Fell. I decided to follow and lost a good 100m of height crossing the gap. Ron was working the face of the Fell at the bottom of the ridge. So I fell into the pattern and we commenced an aerial ballet beating up and down the face gaining height all the while. Ron made the jump to Middle Tongue first and I soon followed, working my way to about halfway up the Tongue before flying directly to Knowe Crag, once again finding plenty of lift to take me well above the Blease Fell summit.

Looking up I saw Bill Scott some 30m higher. I remember thinking to myself Bill always gets higher then me. After several attempts to contact bill on the radio I could only get a response from someone who seemed to be speaking French. I gave up on the radio and resorted to shouting and gesturing madly for Bill to follow me along the summit again. Bill either got the message or decided independently to go this way himself. In either case we flew off in formation NE along the ridge again. This time I flew down the top of Hall ridge before making my way along the SE limits of the Fells back to Blease and up to the summit again.

I now started to get interested in jumping to Lonscale Fell. Hearing shouts I looked around to see John Watson excitedly pointing across the gully in the same direction. Knowing that John wasn’t on air I nodded exaggeratedly and pointed my glider toward Lonscale. John seemed to be flying slower than me and maintaining better height so that I arrived over Lonscale first and quite low hoping I wasn’t going to have to land. However once over the Fell the lift was strong and smooth. Turning WNW I found a nice little thermal and managed to get up level with the summit of Skiddaw. John didn’t seem to be following but I decided that it was time to throw caution to the wind and see how far I could go. Adjusting my track NW I flew to Little Man and on over Thornthwaithe Forest. It was flat from here on and I started following the A591 North preferring to land near to a road. I had a good tail wind and my GPS was showing a ground speed of 55Kph. I was still at about 600m amsl and going nicely. I think I just relaxed at this point and didn’t really try to find any further thermals to exploit, just drinking in the pleasure of the whole experience. I spied a large white building in the distance and decided it must be a pub. Arriving over this building with a good 150m agl. I studied the surrounding fields for a suitable place to land. I wanted something with no sheep or pylons and finally settled for the field directly across the road from what I was now convinced was a pub. The final approach was tricky coming in low over some trees to land in the middle of the field. Looking across the road I confirmed that it was indeed a hotel at the junction of the B5291 and the A591. I packed up my glider well satisfied with my afternoons flying, put in a call to Jim to come and get me and ordered a pot of coffee to celebrate.

This had to be one of my most memorable flights to date if not the longest. The difference was doing it in the company of friends.

The final flight statistics are not outstanding by any means:

Duration 2hrs 2mins

Max height gained 498m

Max height 909m amsl

Distance with turn point 17.3K

Andrew Billington


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