Two magic spells served up by the Witchie.
Witchie Knowe 19th and 27th March 2023.
I've been an invisible Wingbeater for almost a year. Baby Angus was born on 2nd December 2022 so much of my free time over the last year has been swallowed up either with general baby preparation or damage limitation in the nappy department. I'd pretty much filed paragliding in my mind under 'fun whilst it lasted'. But then early March saw a family wander up on Lauder common. A large gaggle (sorry flock) of herring gulls were thermalling over the moor. I felt like I was watching wonder of nature. Mesmerising. Every now and then one would point a beak at the horizon and break from the top of the circle heading off in a straight line with a beady eye fixed on oblivion. If there’s a better sight to stir a dormant paragliding passion in someone I’ve yet to see it. ‘It’s amazing that you could do that,’ says Steph. ‘Correct,’ I think. Back home and inspired I got the phone out and opened telegram to deluge of messages. People had been out. And there was one from Fred ‘Sunday is the next chance to fly I reckon.’ He's usually right about these things. I was free on Sunday with Angus and Steph out on a playdate. Game on!!
Sunday 19th March: Dave and Tim were about and Ged was flying at Witchie when I arrived. He looked like a majestic eagle taming a moody grey sky. Breezy. Chilly too. I stuck all layers my on and went to watch. His windsock looked horizontal to me and my anometer was reading up to 14mph. I remembered having 12mph as a personal top limit when I last flew and they say currency is important in this sport. Current I wasn’t. After 15mins I’d all but given up and was about to head for a run up Rough Knowe instead when Ged landed. ‘Ach it’s not too bad’ he said ‘overcast so no strong thermals. Why not just get your wing out and have a play a bit lower down? It’s a good opportunity.’ All fair points, so off I trundled you the SW bowl. By the time I got there the wind had died off a fair bit. Wing out. Ah yes, that’s where all the lines go. Wing up, wing down. Wing up wing down. Wing up and I was off. What a feeling. I’d been given a super-power again. Whilst currency is undoubtably important, it seems flying is also a bit like riding a bike; you don’t really forget. Funnily enough almost my last time out was on a Flyeo SIV course 11 months ago and with a few strong gusts coming through all that dynamic flying and active input stuff was popping into my mind. Correct the swing. Catch the little dive. Make it smooth. Brilliant fun. After and hour or so of glorious fresh air on my face my time was up and I turned towards the cars landing at the foot of the SW bowl. I dropped my wing behind me and turned round. I’d landed in a patch of old bracken and orange stalks were sticking through my lines everywhere. Curses. Still a punter then! Tim, Ged and Dave all reported good times and were looking great in the air. I owe my own flight to Ged’s encouragement - cheers coach!
Monday 27th March: After the joy of Sunday I was properly forecast spotting again now in my own rudimentary way. I could see Witchie was likely to be good late afternoon and into the evening on Monday so I catapulted out of work and was there tout de suite! Tommy, Ged, Dave H, Tim and Steve were all in attendance and conditions were being discussed. Soon Tommy, Ged and Dave flew off to the SW bowl in nice lift with Tim and I soon scooting over to catch up. Conditions felt great, strong and steady enough. The odd bumpy bit where my snazzy new Skytraxx vario was suggesting thermals! Little circles appeared on the ‘thermal assist’ screen, how novel! I could feel them too. I had enough height to chase a couple of them round in a circle. Fab. I could see lots of smooth and competent flying going on all over the bowl, with Wingbeaters popping to and fro across between the faces and Tommy indulging in a little waga waga. After and hour and a half of pure joy cruising about in the low evening sunshine I decided to set myself a top landing challenge. About 8 landings and takeoffs later the breeze seemed to be dying off a bit and I headed back towards the road. Most folk were away once I landed with just Steve left. We chatted flying dreams and goals whilst he packed up. Paragliding chat is almost a language of its own and it was great to be with something who speaks it again. 2 hours in the sky and some cracking company thrown in - not bad for a Monday night!
Whilst I feel privileged to be in on the secret, the flying at Whitchie Knowe almost feels like something we shouldn’t tell everyone about: It’s great for a popular wind direction (SE-SW) and also good in a northerly I’m told. Its got stunning views over the bonnie Borders. It’s got comfortingly safe bottom landing options. It’s got good top landing options. Thermals swirl around nicely and to cap it all off you can drive to the take off! What more could you wish for? Happy days!