Well September greeted Wingbeat with the possibility of an afternoon of flying on the proviso that a journey would need to be made over the border to the Lake District - Clough Head to be precise.
The forecast indicated that the wind speed would be too strong in the morning, with a slim possibility of it dropping to the safe-side of "top-end" in the afternoon. The group emails were flowing the night before and the following morning too at what would be considered a time of "far too-early for a Sunday"
Dudley and Jamie clearly had an accident during the night (separately I'm sure they'd like me to add) and were first with the "Who, Where & Whens." I pretended I hadn't stayed up all night with excitement with the prospect of some flying and was next on the scene after an acceptable delay. The rest of the boys soon followed and it was confirmed that we would meet up at Clough Head which is near Keswick.
Jamie was first to arrive, followed shortly by myself. This was around 11:30 - the sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day so although it seemed like we had arrived too early to fly, we were keen to take in the view from the top of the hill - and get the walk out of the way too! Tommy, Dudley, Rob and Logan wouldn't be arriving for a while yet so we nominated ourselves as the real-time-weather-station - it had nothing to do with the possibility of getting in the air at the first sniff possible you understand and we would never dream of reminding the rest of the boys on their arrival that we'd been flying for hours before their arrival if that occurred! Oh no?!
We followed those who had already begun the walk-up and found it quite reassuring to be overtaken by cars heading toward the quarry. Always nice as a visiting pilot to see others are either as rubbish at forecasting conditions as yourself or they're in the know and it's going to be on!...
Toward the top of the hill we noticed a large group of pilots assessing the conditions and starting to unpack - always a good sign we thought. We decided to settle ourselves in the middle of the hill near the scree as this was receiving a very fresh wind perpendicular to the face.
Initial wind measurements were suggesting a wind speed average of 15 mph, gusting to 18.5 mph. It was fairly consistent but by the time our bums met the ground for the much needed post hike rest, it was lunch time so we decided to wait and see what the wind would do whilst we ate our piece, scran, crib, bate, call what it you like - but it was time to eat!
More pilots made their way up the hill and about the same time the day's test pilot took off - very nearly vertically! The wind was strong and the pilot made little forward ground but did achieve incredible height - he (I'm guessing here but it could quite possibly have been a she - or a he-she?!) followed the large ridge behind the take off point and gained height very quickly, suggesting that there was a little North in the wind direction too.
A few of the others from the large group of folk took off - one in particular caused everybody in the vicinity to decide it was too windy (breaths were held!)! It did seem like those who had taken off from this group were trying to top land at the same point they took off from after a flight of 10 - 15 mins but were getting blown back into the funnel between ourselves and the large ridge. We decided that it's probably best to stay well in front of the ridge and not too far to the right either (when facing down the slope).
After a while, it seemed like the wind had dropped and peeps were starting to taking off - there must have been a dozen or more pilots in the air when I felt it was time to pop the glider up in one of the calmer moments. I had a friendly wave from Tommy who just arrived at the top followed by the rest of the boys.
The glider popped up and my time in Wales ground handling paid off - I felt in control and a couple of steps was all it took for the vario to commence chirping excitedly. Jamie took off shortly afterward too and made much better progress than me! I actually slope landed after 10 mins or so after failing miserably to hook up with the lift at the front of the large ridge.
I kited back up to where the rest of team Wingbeat were and just before I reached them Tommy took off and climbed rapidly to meet with the rest of the pilots. Jamie by this time seemed determined to get to cloud base and was doing really very well. He was exploring the area in front of the hill like a pioneer! It seems like he's comfortable now with his new wing and harness!
I caught up with Dudley, Rob and Logan briefly, who were unpacking at this point, before trying again. This time, I was determined to get up and stay up (sounds like something I'll be saying to a doctor in a my senior years when requesting a certain pharmaceutical product!) - I popped the glider up, turned and a few steps later was up in the air and ascending rapidly. The area of lift was huge but what I consider the "elevator" was the high ridge to the left of take-off. Aiming for the strip of grass that followed the bottom of the face as it creeps around seemed to be the best area of lift - 200m in 2 mins and working consistantly throughout the hour and twenty minutes that I stayed up for. Tommy was demonstrating his skills and enjoying the moment with spiral dives then promptly returning to the altitude he started them from.
After a while, I noticed that the gliders that were set up on take off didn't actually take-off and others were starting to fly down to the landing zone (no top landings). I guessed that the wind had picked up and prohibited take-offs - in the air at 670m above take off things were pretty smooth though. After a while Jamie had headed for the landing field with others and after about 20 minutes I joined him. Tommy and Logan had confirmed over the radio that it was too strong to take off and as I had completed an hours flight (which after 45 mins became my target) I decided to head for the landing field too.
OK, so I didn't land in the right hand landing field with the wind sock, but the left hand field with sheep as Dudley very kindly pointed out - I did miss the wall - which apparently had already received two strikes that day.
I spoke to Dudley on the phone and wished him and the rest of the boys well and that the wind would be kind enough to them to drop so they could enjoy what Jamie and I had.
I'm hoping the space below my ramble (sorry - still very excited thinking about today!) will be filled with Tommy, Dudley Rob and Logans flights too! I would have loved to have stayed around, seen it all for myself and shared a pint with you but needed to dash off. I hope you guys had a good one too though...
Clough - Part 2
A leisurely start to the day, the usual debate about which forecast to follow and Logan's analysis of RASP saw the Wingbeat (Northern section) in Keswick for a quick lunch as we received reports from Jamie and Neil on the hill. Driving east out of Keswick the wind seemed to be howling in the trees along the A66 so we were surprised to see wings in the air at Clough.
After driving up to the quarry a slow walk uphill saw Rob, Tommy, Logan and me at the lower take off with Jamie and Neil. The wind was strongish so we sat and pondered the day before Tommy took the first steps into the air and pottered around in his usual way, searching for lift, playing with it, topping out and then descending back to the hill on big ears.....a sign that it was a little on the strong side for his liking. After top landing and joining the rest of the northern section an hour or so of the Wingbeat brand of sports psychology followed.....it looks strong over there.....is he standing on the bar......they're all pushing forward to the landing field....I wouldn't go that close to the ridge....look, there are no more wings in the air.
The wind had picked up so parawaiting was required as we watched the clouds wander past but the wind was still on the hill...and the wait proved worthwhile as a single orange wing took to the air to be followed, in quick succession by the Wingbeat team.
Perfect take offs and a couple of beats along the lower scree indicated that lift was easy to find. A few gentle 360's saw a height gain of about 500ft before pushing out into the valley climbing gently as if running a ridge of lift. Over the landing field the beeps of lift turned to the drone of sink so time to return to the hill and top up on height. Tommy, Rob and Logan had now ventured onto the cliffs of Clough Head and were circling gently above them, the same ones that Tommy had advised everyone to avoid!! I had two choices, a low transition to the cliffs then search for lift close in to join everyone else, or look for lift above the lower takeoff. Luckily a friendly thermal came along and, after a few S turns and 360's I had the height to make the transition and join Logan in a thermal above Clough while watching 2 ravens play in the breeze.
Life now seemed too easy, lift all over, the wing tip pulling into thermals and a gentle boat around never wanting to try and make cloud base. Looking out into the valley I saw Tommy pushing out so decided to take up the challenge and follow him into wind. He looked as though he was heading for Keswick but, after reaching the other side of St John's Vale, had obviously decided it was time to land at the bottom. I kept pushing out until I was over the higher ground on the other side of the valley but bottom landing wasn't an option....the beast was still at the quarry. After watching Tommy land safely I lost height with some 'tight' 360's over the valley floor and turned for the quarry, a quick return with the wind behind me still saw me too high so pulling big ears I lost more height to land above the quarry.
Maybe not a classic Clough day but one of the best days for ages.