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Three got to Rhosili

We are three relatively low air-time hang glider pilots with four days to go flying. It was agreed we needed a change of scenery and so it was that Peter Talbot, Dan Parsons and myself found ourselves en route to Rhosili in June. We set off (very) early to give ourselves a chance of some flying on arrival, the forecast looked promising with moderate WSW winds for the next few days. However we had no idea where we would stay and no idea what the situation would be with regard to the tide. During the journey, Peter, being a technophile, sorted and booked some accommodation via the internet, all from the back seat of the car motoring down the M1. We were a bit lucky to get a small cottage about two miles from the site, the original occupants had to go home with a sick child, still every cloud…

The Rhosili Downs must be one of the most user-friendly sites for hang gliding or paragliding. The top take off is nicely rounded with no obstructions, the face is plenty steep enough and gives good lift even in light winds (as long as its blowing in the right direction). Top landing is piss simple because behind the hill the ground slopes away gradually. While rotor may be a possibility here I experienced no problems during several top landings. But, the bottom landing is the star feature; a blind man on a galloping leopard could land here, so long as the tide is out. To the left of take off are the cliffs that face NW and extend out to form the Worms Head. From there the golden beach stretches past the downs, approximately four miles to the north. At high tide the beach disappears almost completely but when it goes out it takes about ten minutes to walk from the high water mark to have a paddle. This gives a landing area the size of several large potato fields; it’s impossible to miss it.

We arrived at about 3.30pm, conditions looked good so we carried up to the lower take off at the south end of the ridge. We were in luck with the tide, it was on the way out and the wind was steady at 12 to 15 mph. Dan was first off, from the lower take off there is an initial scratch to get above ridge height. I know he was feeling a little nervous after a long lay off but was soon well into it and flying well. Peter and I joined him soaring 1000ft. above the beach the view was fantastic, magic! There was one other HG flying, a Swedish guy who goes to Rhosili every year for his annual holidays. There were also a number of soaring birds to share the air with, I recognised at least two buzzards but there were several others I couldn’t identify. After the long drive it was great to be flying, the air felt really nice with just a few bumps here and there to keep it interesting. This was my first flight on my new Discovery 195 (bought from Chris Appleby but new to me) and I was really enjoying the light and responsive handling. I don’t know if it’s me who is a sucker for the advertising blurb but it certainly improved my confidence. After a very pleasant flight we all landed safely. Time for some beer.

The Gower Peninsula in South Wales is, in my opinion, one of the most scenic parts of the country. I would spend time there even if it didn’t involve flying. We were made to feel very welcome by everyone we met but the site is sensitive. The area behind the beach is an SSSI; I’m not sure what it means (Site of Special Scientific Interest...ed.) but don’t land there. Either top land or on the beach itself. This dictates either a carry up from the beach or down from the top but in my view it’s worth it. The Worms Head Hotel sits atop cliffs aprox. 300ft. high. The view at sunset, of the downs, Rhosili Beach and on into the distance to Pembroke and Tenby is really something special. A nice meal and a few beers in the bar was a great way to end our first day.

We made a slight balls of day two. Having rigged we were ready to take off by 10.30am. The wind was spot on but the tide was on the way in. We decided to wait. High tide was at 12.30 but even at 11.30 there was still stacks of beach to land on. We had left it too late. Nil desporandum, peg down the glider and a nice walk down to the pub for lunch. Arriving back at takeoff for 2.30pm. the wind had dropped to about 6mph. The afternoon was spent in pleasant conversation with a variety of people including some local paraglider persons but no one managed more than a top to bottom flight.

The next day looked promising, sunny with moderate WSW. This wind direction is OK but it dictates there will be some rough air at the south end of ridge. Turbulence is caused as the air passes over buildings and the cliffs that form the Worms Head. The best wind direction is WNW. Not only does this give cleaner air it also means the cliffs at the south end of the ridge are soarable. We all enjoyed good flights, top landing with the approach of high tide followed by a walk to the pub for lunch. I had my best flight of the week that evening. The wind at take off was less than 10mph and ridge lift was marginal, however, a farmhouse just behind the beach was giving a small but useable area of lift. I had the ridge to myself and 360’d up to 500ft above the top before it seemed to disappear. With stacks of height to spare I flew over the Hotel and was tempted by the large field next to the car park to save the carry up. I had been informed landing there is no longer allowed and even though there was hardly a soul around it would have been churlish to spoil things on what was likely to be our last day. I landed on the beach. Time for more beer.

Our last day dawned overcast and damp, with the wind from the south-east as forecast. We watched England get beaten by Brazil in the world cup before packing up and heading for home.

It’s a long drive to Rhosili but it was certainly worth it on this occasion. I would recommend it especially for low air-time pilots or anyone who wants pleasant, low stress and scenic flying.

The pub’s OK too.

Chris Foster

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