I mentioned last November that I’d bought a new paraglider – a lovely Gin Sprint. It’s an intermediate glider, whereas my old one was a beginners wing. I managed to get it out of the bag again last Thursday after waiting on Bradwell Edge in the Peaks, without any joy, the previous Saturday.
Anyway, Chris Scammell is responsible for last Thursday’s fantastic flight, which is a real milestone for me because it was my first ever cross country flight and my first flight of the year AND first flight since gaining my pilot badge, after flying as a club pilot for 6 years.
I’ve a few years experience but work commitments keep me on the ground, so I’m considered ‘low airtime’; sometimes gaining only 12 hours a season However, when I get the chance I love paragliding, so when I heard that Chris was up for coaching cross country wannabe’s I was keen.
I met Chris at the Castlerig stone circle and after a short briefing we were off up to the North West Lakes – a hill called Robinson; above Buttermere.
There was little wind and high pressure made the sky a bit hazy, but there was enough and we could feel the ruffle of thermals coming up the hill. Cumulus was forming overhead so Chris took off and called me after, via radio.
I took off with one wing tip tucked under, but in control; concentrating on my heading and flying the wing out and left – straight into lift. I was too low to circle in it without risking a collision with the hill, so I slowed down and weaved a couple of ‘s’ turns to stay in the lift. Then I was over the take-off and could start to turn in a tighter 360 and find the centre of the thermal; the core.
Climbing fast with my Aircotec vario beeping the good news of rising air, I soon caught Chris and was looking out over the fells at 4000ft. We were quickly joined by a mate of Chris’s; James Jackson.
Together, in a loose gaggle, we travelled south east over to Dale head, finding more height, with Chris talking over the radio, pointing out features, such as the advancing sea breeze, rippling the lakes to the north.
Turning, we headed back over Robinson again, cross wind over the valley to Causey Pike, finding more lift to top up our height after losses on the glide there.
Again we turned and flew west over Grassmoor, before gliding back in sink, for Robinson again to complete a triangle. Height was lost and I couldn’t make the take-off spot, so I turned west again, flying down the valley to land in a field next to the Bridge Inn at Buttermere – one well earned pint of Yates’s please…
It may not sound much but the feel of gravity pulling you this way and that, cool air in my face and the exhilaration of finding good lift and turning in it can’t be beaten. I was almost sucked into a strong cloud over Causey and had fun using the decent ‘big ears’ kit my Gin Sprint has – much better than my old Advance Alpha’s kit. Even then, with full ears in, I was rising and thought about a spiral dive, before electing to push out my speed bar, which gave me enough sink to begin a decent – escaping to wonder at the vista stretched out around and below me.
The flight was a real buzz and is worth 30 points in the national XC league, though when I uploaded it I messed up the settings and had to settle for 17.2 – never mind; the flight will never be forgotten and I owe Chris a debt of gratitude for a truly priceless memory.
Chris Scammell is available to coach pilots who wish to progress or sharpen their XC skills. He’s a gifted pilot and excellent coach. He de-briefed me in the pub beer garden, telling me not to take my hands off the controls so often (to use my radio), and to try to be smoother with the controls when thermaling (I nodded here but the truth is that I love to feel the glider talking back when pull and ease off the breaks and was going up anyway, so wanted to pitch in and out of the thermal for the hell of it).
On the way home from Buttermere I called into The Sick and the Wrong in Keswick. Now I have a new helmet with integrated microphone so Chris won’t be able to tell me off next time…
PS – with some help I’ve sorted the XC league and now have 36.4 points for my flight, which puts me 61st in the league…