What a week…!

•September 22, 2017 • 2 Comments

I finished off my last post by praying to whichever god it is that’s in charge of the weather to give us some great flying in St André. Well, my prayers were answered! We had five great tasks, plus a day in St Vincent-les-Forts before the comp, and a great day’s mountain biking from St André to Castellane, and just to finish it off, a sweet little hike and fly before the rain came in on the cancelled last day 🙂

Task 1 (3rd Sept) – 77km race to goal at Laragne

Well, so much for the forecast strongish southerly winds – we ended up flying most of the way in a headwind! Add to that high cloud coming in from the south later in the day and it added up to only nine people in goal! I got most of the way round and I think got to within 7kms of goal after 5.5 hours in the air and absolutely loved it! It was a flight of contrasts – small hills and weak climbs at turnpoint 1, strong climbs and big mountains at turn point 2, buttock-clenching into-wind sink followed by a booming climb on the final leg, then some of the minciest flying I’ve done all year trying to get up from low down near the Sisteron Gliding Club. Oh yes, and power lines too 😄 I ended up gliding towards Sisteron for a beer and easy retrieve, but despite that I didn’t get back to St André until 2130. Great day!!

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Climbing out after the tricky TP 1

Summary: 9 in goal, I came 33rd. Mark Watts won the task, and Frazer Wilson took the prize for today’s reserve ride

 

Task 2 (4th Sept) – 68km cat’s cradle

Fast and furious with some rowdy climbs over the “Cheese”… St André built its reputation on days like this 😂. I think Kirsty was the only reserve toss today, minutes before the start, but I’m pretty sure Frazer had a big cascade, not to mention Yuki’s incident above the “Cheese”, followed shortly afterwards by Tom Cole’s very impressive frontal on full speed bar 😂😂.

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Pre-start crowds

Summary: 70 in goal, I came 33rd again, 33 mins behind the winner, Idris Birch

 

Task 3 (6th Sept) – 47km race to goal at Col de Bleyne

Despite an unpromising forecast François from Aerogliss insisted we should be bussed up the hill, and luckily for us we did – we were rewarded with a cracking task down to Col de Bleyne. Unfortunately it was all over too quickly – three minutes and thirty places separated Grant Oseland and me on our Omega X-Alpses (first three-liners in) from the winners who did it in 1hr 9mins. Unfortunately it was also a cracking flight (literally) for Rupert Hone who crashed near the third turnpoint and had to be helicoptered to Digne then Marseille Hospital with a fractured pelvis 😦 Get well soon Rupert!!

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Goal, Wahoo!

Summary: 100 people in goal today, I was 30th, 3 minutes behind the winner, Mark Watts

 

Task 4 (7th Sept) – a 100km epic!

The task of the comp! Lots of big names went down trying to get onto the Coupe on the way to TP1, but past that crux, and once past TP 1, the field split as there were three distinct routes to TP 2, some 20kms north of Digne. I took the west route along with seven or eight others in our gaggle, and once past the small hills just north of Digne it was into some spectacular scenery as we finally made it up to 2000m+ for the first time since the start! Having bagged TP 2 I headed to the Cheval Blanc and the Cheese and Shark’s Fin before crossing the valley and heading to TP 3. The house thermal there worked as advertised and from there it was an easy and fast run past Castellane and over the southern end of the lake to TP 4. I couldn’t resist topping up here, which cost me a place – the lifty line back to goal meaning I could have gone on glide at least 300m lower. Still, I wasn’t too disappointed with 13th place and first three-liner 😄 I think it was this task the Frazer had his third incident, resulting in a stay in Digne hospital whilst his shoulder, broken ribs and punctured lung were taken care of… a very tough comp for him for sure. I wish you all the best for a speedy recovery Frazer…

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Cranking it up near the Cheval Blanc

Summary: 39 in goal today, I was 13th, 18 minutes behind the winner, Russel Ogden

 

Task 5 (8th Sept) – 67km cat’s cradle

With light winds and a high base forecast, this was a doddle for many, and would have been for me too had I not had a brain malfunction on the way to TP 2. I was following gliders ahead and above me (not much above me) and they were pitching back in evidently strong lift, but I never found it… and the three of us (I’ll let you remain nameless) pushed on too low to our inevitable doom! Crazy! The retrieve was super-efficient and it didn’t take long to get back to HQ, where we we greeted with the sight of every man and his dog arriving over goal with tons of height… oh well, thank goodness for discards 😂😂

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Turnpoint 1 action

 

Summary: 88 in goal today with Mark Watts winning it again. The less said about my position the better! No reserve rides, just Mal Davies falling through his lines!!!

 

So there we have it – five tasks (the first time in 13 years I think Calvo said) and lots of great flying (for some). For others it was quite an eye-opener in the rough, strong very dry conditions. I was super-happy with my Omega X-Alps, barely a collapse all week, and most of the time well able to keep up with the hoards of Zenos! Decision making and good lines are so much more important than an extra couple of kms speed in my opinion, and I was more than happy with 27th place overall and first three-liner.

Results – Overall

Marks Watts
Seb Ospina
Russell Ogden

Women

Kirsty Cameron
Jess Cox
Nanda Walliser

Reynolds

Jack Pimblett
Lauren Martins
Alex Colbeck

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Reynolds Class winners (sponsored by XC Tracer UK)

Sports

Mike Miller
Dave Smart
Fons de Leeuw

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Great Expectations

•August 29, 2017 • 1 Comment

Well, it’s been a funny old season for me, I’ve had some really fun flights but the big distances have been elusive apart from a lovely 135km from Rybury back in early June.

I’ve been busier at work this year and haven’t been able to take so many days off on short notice, and on a couple of the days I did take off, the conditions didn’t live up to the forecast. Add in a couple of weddings and various family commitments, and I just haven’t been out as much as I might have done in the last couple of years.

Of course, this is the situation that most pilots find themselves in, and I count myself fortunate that I can get out as much as I do, but whilst I’m undoubtedly a bit disappointed from the point of view of my position in the XC League this year, I’ve realised that not chasing league points does have its benefits.

For instance I’ve been happier than in previous years to commit in advance to camping and sailing weekends with friends, and shock horror, last Sunday I even stayed at home and did some gardening with Lisa rather than most likely spending a hot frustrating afternoon parawaiting in nil wind. I’ve actually enjoyed the variety too – I guess it’s all about finding the right balance, probably something I’ve not been particularly good at in previous years.

But I’m not kidding myself that I’ve fundamentally changed, and I’m sure that had I been doing better in the league I would be more motivated than I have been recently. But, and hence the title of this post, I have great expectations and high hopes for some fabulous flying in St André-les-Alpes during the British Open next week, and it’s been partly the prospect of a week of good flying that has kept me going over the last few weeks, so, if there are any weather gods out there reading this, please, please, please, give us some great weather!!!

About bloody time too… :-)

•June 15, 2017 • 1 Comment

So finally, on June 3rd, a whole two months into the season, I flew my first 100km+ flight of the year. (By way of comparison, by the same time last year I’d flown three 100km+ flights, although interestingly, in 2015 I didn’t fly my first 100km+ flight until 4th June). Through a combination of poorish weather, being very busy at work, and what I put down to bad luck (or bad piloting), it just hasn’t happened until now, so it felt damn good to rack up 136kms on a lovely five hour flight from Rybury to Devil’s Dyke a couple of weeks ago now…

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Climbing out from Rybury looking down on Milk Hill White Horse

I flew most of the way in the company of my good friend Rich Osborne, and apart from a couple of times where one or the other of us was low, we were pretty much wingtip to wingtip the whole way, and even though we didn’t make our 161km goal to the north of Eastbourne it was a very satisfying flight as it wasn’t by any means plain sailing all the way. We both had low saves, difficult broken climbs, and airspace to contend with, so landing together at the foot of the Dyke was a real pleasure.

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Happy chaps!

What’s more, Lisa, and Rich’s partner Annee, had followed us in our campervans, and by the time we’d packed up and walked across a field to the nearest road, Lisa had spotted where we’d landed (thanks to xcrt.aero) and had parked up and got the beers (cold!) ready for us. Superb 🙂

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Retrieve crew arrives 🙂

Annee arrived an hour or so later and after a short while we headed up to Firle Beacon (via Asda to stock up on goodies) where we had a lovely evening dining in our campervan. A really terrific way to end a cracking flying day 🙂

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Dining campervan style!


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The view from Firle Beacon on Sunday morning – shame it was too windy to fly

Here’s a link to the tracklog on XCLeague.

A Mountain Masterclass

•April 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Back in February my old friend Marcus King tipped a few of us in the Avon Club off about Gavin McClurg’s Mountain Masterclass in the Lake District in April, and a couple of us booked up straight away. Gavin has always been a bit of a hero of mine through his films and amazing flights in the US, and whatever the weather on the weekend I thought it would be great to meet him in person and get some pearls of wisdom from him.

Lisa and I and our brown lab Monty drove up on Thursday night after the viewing of Gavin’s “North of Known” film in Bristol, and after a few hours kip in the van at Teebay Services we met up with my old buddy Steve Etherington at Jocky’s Flight Park. we made plans and headed off to Swinside where Steve and I had a lovely flight back to Keswick under 8/8 skies. Lisa met us where we landed and we headed to the Chalet Tearooms at Portinscale for a delicious lunch.

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Soaring Swinside before heading down to Buttermere

The sun was starting to make an appearance so Lisa dropped Steve and me off at Ullock and before too long we were soaring the upper slopes of Skiddaw trying to keep out of the cloud. A thermal just past Keswick got us onto Clough Head and then it was a beautiful cruise down past Helvellyn to Ambleside in lovely conditions. I first attempted that run years ago during a BP Cup or LCC when Jocky set a task form Jenkin down to Ambleside and I landed a couple of kms short of goal, so it was great to finally nail it!

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Looking south along the Helvellyn ridge

Saturday dawned clear and bright and by 9am we’d all RV’d at the Flight Park and made our introductions and met Gavin who was rocking a great T-shirt-tucked-into-pants look (he’s obviously spent too much time on his own in Alaska 😄). In turn we went round the table saying what we wanted to get out of the day – the group (14-15?) covered a wide range of experiences, from two years to my twenty six, and the common theme was info on vol biv flying and kit, but also just a general desire to keep learning.

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Big Guns Gav and his pants 🙂

We spent an hour or so at the Flight Park during which Gavin talked though his X-Alps kit, and gave us hints and tips for vol biv and mountain flying. We set a task for the day – Dale Head, Helvellyn, Skiddaw and back to the Flight Park – then set off for Honnister Pass in a convoy. The walk up went on, and on, and on! Just when you thought you were there you reached another brow and nope, there was definitely more to go! But eventually we all reached a suitable take off point at 2400′, and we started launching at 1330.

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Local pilot Rob Welford shows us the lie of the land

Pretty soon we were started climbing out – I think we were above the inversion and there were some strong climbs up to almost 4000′, however once we got low after the first glide it was tough work soaring the slopes to the east of Rosthwaite with the SSW wind blowing more along the slopes than up them! Some of the group landed in Rosthwaite, four of us flopped over into the next valley to the east, myself included, and only Lawrie Noctor managed to get to Skiddaw, though not via Helvellyn – that turned out to be a bit too ambitious! Meanwhile Gavin and Leon Newcombe were making their way on foot and air towards Keswick, and by the time the four of us were picked up by Lisa south of Keswick after an hour’s walk, Gavin had just dropped a pin in Telegram just to the south of the A66 so we were able to squeeze him in then drive up the newly tarmacced road up to the Skiddaw/Jenkin car park.

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The views round here aren’t too shabby

The walk up to a suitable take-off was like a Sunday afternoon stroll compared to Dale Head, and before long we were all enjoying afternoon beautiful soaring conditions on the slopes of Skiddaw. Gavin had encouraged us to practice too landing and a few of us took him up on his offer, touching down briefly and then taking off again. Gavin had earlier told us that too landing is one of the key vol biv skills so it was good to get two or three landings in.

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Adrian How soaring Skiddaw

During one of Gavin’s landings I noticed him have a bit of a mare with his wing, and I then spotted him disconnecting the harness to try to sort out the lines. It was quite breezy so I dropped in to assist. A mere hour or so later we were finally off!! I added to the problem because it took ten minutes or so to sort my lines out too – I was convinced I had twists in my lines so I was “somersaulting” my harness through the lines only to discover I was making it worse, doh! Then, when I did finally take off, I failed to check that my lines were the correct way for me to do my normal turn to the left and took off with a twist, so had a short “flight” before being dumped onto the ground!! That was a real wake up call for me – how on earth did I miss that? The answer is that I think I was probably dehydrated after all the hiking, as thinking back on it, I definitely hadn’t drunk enough water through the day. Interesting… Meanwhile Cross Country mag editor Ed Ewing had been filming the whole procedings from a lofty vantage point! Oh well…

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Top landing with Gav – it would have been a beautiful spot for a bivvy

Anyway, after all the faffing we pretty much headed straight out to The Flight Park where, at 1915, we touched down after an excellent day’s adventure. We had a debrief over some beers and all agreed it had been a really fun and useful day.

The next day another group was booked in for the Masterclass, but whilst some of Saturday’s group headed to Blease Fell for some flying before the wind picked up, the other group headed somewhere else for their day – I don’t know where, and I don’t know how they got on, but I assume they survived and had an equally enjoyable day as we had had.

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Yours truly soaring the lower slopes of Blease Fell

As to my overall thoughts on the Masterclass – it was always going to be a tall order meeting everyone’s expectations on a course like this, and personally I don’t think I particularly benefitted from it (except accidentally learning about the effects of dehydration on one’s concentration!), but having said that, it was great meeting and supporting Gavin in his X-Alps bid (and supporting the Cloudbase Foundation too), making new friends, and above all having three fantastic days’ flying in the beautiful Lake District!

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Monty eyeing up our picnic before we headed back south

Bike, Hike & Fly!

•December 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’d watched this video on Monday and having already thought about doing a hike and fly sometime this week, it inspired me to add a bike ride to my plans in a homage to these three superheroes/nutters who cycled 100 miles from Interlaken to Chamonix, hiked/climbed up Mont Blanc, flew down, then cycled the 100 miles back to Interlaken!

And the setting for my mini-adventure? Talybont 🙂 Ok, so it’s not quite Mont Blanc, but at 762m it’s the second biggest hill in the south of the UK (assuming you count the peaks in the immediate vicinity of Pen-y-Fan as one) unless you want to drive 185 miles to Snowdonia!

I got up early on Tuesday morning (29th November) to get some urgent work done, but by the time I’d done that, had breakfast, made a sandwich and chucked my bike in the car it was 9am before I left. On the way to the M4 I had to stop for 15 frustrating minutes to answer some emails, so I didn’t arrive at Llangattock (nr Crickhowell) until 11am. My plan was to cycle 8 miles along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal to Talybont-on-Usk, hike 7 miles up to the hill simply known (in the PG world) as Talybont, fly 3.2 miles flight back to Talybont-on-Usk (hereafter referred to as Talybont), before finishing (myself) off with the 8 mile ride to Llangattock.

En route I’d posted a message on the South East Wales Telegram Planning group asking if any mad fools wanted to join me at Talybont for a hike and fly, and surprisingly the threat of a 7 mile walk didn’t put Mair James off, so we arranged to meet up at the village shop at midday.

My epic adventure didn’t start very auspiciously with me discovering that the towpath was closed at Llangattock, but fortunately I was able to rejoin the canal about half a mile farther on.

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I hadn’t bargained on having to cycle uphill 🙂

The ride along the canal was an absolute delight (apart from the dozen or so low bridges that I kept bashing my backpack on – minor repairs will be necessary) – within two minutes the unmistakable dazzling electric blue flash of a Kingfisher darting up the canal signalled that I was in for a treat!

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Frozen!

Over the course of the next eight miles I saw squirrels, another Kingfisher, dozens of pheasants and a heron, not to mention the beautiful views of the hills to the north – just wonderful!

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Yet another low bridge…

I arrived at Talybont just before 12 only to discover I’d left my bike lock in the back of my car… Fortunately the kind people at the shop/cafe were happy to let me put my bike in their back yard,  and I was just ordering a coffee when Mair walked in. She ordered one too, and suitably refreshed, we hit the trail ten minutes later.

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Onwards and upwards!

We traversed the gentle slopes to the NW of Talybont as far as the church at Pencelli, then we joined the track  heading SSW up to the high ground.

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I wonder how many pairs of feet have trodden upon this ancient track?

We took it pretty steadily and by 3 ish we came across the first remains of snow left over after a big dump a week or so earlier.

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“Are we nearly there yet?”

Another half an hour’s walking brought us to the east facing bowl overlooking the reservoir and with the sun getting low in the sky we didn’t dawdle getting our kit ready. There was virtually no wind so it was clear we weren’t going to be able to soar and get some height before setting off on a glide.

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Almost ready…

I duly created a route on Flyskyhy which said I needed a 7.5:1 glide ratio to reach Talybont, and I was pretty confident that I’d make it on my Omega X-Alps, although a hill en route might pose a problem, but Mair, on her EN-A Nova Susi, wasn’t confident at all! I suggested it would made sense for me to take her car keys so that she could fly straight down the valley in front and wait for me to pick her up on the road.

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And I’m off!

Being made of lightweight material, my glider pops up in the slightest puff of wind and I was able to reverse launch and get off with no trouble. I headed in the direction of Talybont trying to maximise my glide with half-bar at first to get out of the initial quite strong sink. My current vs required glide ratio was looking distinctly touch and go for the first couple of minutes, and I was trying to line up a ground feature beyond the brow of the hill I had to cross to see whether I’d make it. As I got closer to it my sink rate improved and it became clear I’d make it, although not by much!

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I wouldn’t have wanted to be any lower going over this hill!

I could now see that i was going to make “goal” so it was time to relax and enjoy the next few minutes…

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You can see the takeoff hill on the left just above the hill in the near distance

I realised I had enough height to cross the canal and road, and opted for the village cricket pitch seeing as it had a perfect runway to land on 🙂

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The cricket pitch and runway (artificial wicket) at the far left

I had just enough height to line myself up on runway 09 (ie. facing E) where I made a smooth landing, touching down at 1551!

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Touchdown on runway 09 🙂

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The smile says it all

I quickly packed up, retrieved my bike and squashed it in the back of Mair’s car, then headed up the road to retrieve her. Fortunately we both had mobile reception at the right time and I was able to easily navigate to where I thought she would reach the road. It was almost dark by the time she walked down from her landing so we were both glad that this part of the adventure went smoothly.

Obviously it was now too dark to cycle back along the canal (phew!), and as no visit to Talybont is complete without a visit to the Stag (or Star, closed on this occasion) it would have been rude not to 🙂

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Hours of fun, literally 🙂 (50 mins cycling, 2.5 hours walking, 9 mins flying)

So all in all a great day – thanks very much for your company Mair, and also for the lift back to Llangattock to retrieve my car!

Video to follow, but in the meantime there are more pictures on Flickr here.

Edit 2/12/2016 – as promised, here’s the video 🙂

Is it finally all over?

•October 17, 2016 • 2 Comments

So, after two successive 50km Sundays in October, I wonder if this season is finally over? On Sunday 2nd I had a wonderful aerial tour of the Brecon Beacons, and just a week later I had a really lovely 5okm flight from Ubley down to near Taunton.

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Takeoff is in the centre, Blagdon Lake in the distance

It didn’t take too long before we climbed out in a gaggle of five – we took it pretty steadily at first as it’s important to leave the high ground as high as possible to avoid bombing as soon as you leave the Mendips.

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Climbing out with Remi, Joe, Rich and Innes

Cloudbase was only 3300′ max, but that just meant we didn’t have to climb so high to have fun in the wispies 🙂

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Remi with Axbridge reservoir beyond

We made good progress across the Somerset Levels without ever getting too low, and even the wet areas seemed to work well.

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Passing Street with Ken

Before too long we were approaching RNAS Merryfield and with declared goals near Totnes we decided to pass to the west of it.

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Innes leads the way with Lyme Bay glinting in the afternoon sunshine

Unfortunately avoiding it (unnecessarily it later transpired) meant avoiding a better bit of sky (and brown sunny fields) and we all got low passing it, with only Innes (and later Alan Maguire) making 60kms whilst the rest of us landed at about 50kms.

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Too low too early 🙂

The sky was still looking great when I landed at about 1330, but hey-ho, all good things have to come to an end sometime, both for this flight and for the season I rather suspect.

But what a season it’s been – I’ve finished in the top ten of the XC League for the first time ever and was only 24 points away from my goal of getting 1000 points this year. It’s also the first year where all six of my scoring flights were over 100kms, something I’ve been trying to do for ages!

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UK XC kms flown – 2016 was definitely my best ever!

Let’s hope that 2017 is just as good!

 

 

A Tour of the Brecon Beacons

•October 7, 2016 • 1 Comment

Wow, for early October yesterday (Sunday 2nd) was pretty special – light winds, 4500’+ cloudbase, and some pretty reasonable thermals! After some initial communication confusion (mentioning no names, but not one of us :-)) five of us headed over to Wales in my car (Nick Smith, Tim Crozier-Cole, RJ Macaulay and Keiron ?) and made it to the car park at Talybont at 11 o’clock where we met up with Rich O and Annee, and Mike Humphries. Short walk, long walk, short walk, long walk? – the age old question…! The long walk won, and so the adventure began 🙂

This is where light kit is a real bonus – my Omega X-Alps plus all kit and sandwich/water etc weighs in at a modest 14kgs which really is very civilised and makes a hike like this, whilst still not exactly a walk in the park, really not too bad at all.

After a bit of a discussion about plans and declaring triangles I decided not to declare anything and just go with the flow of the day. Of course I had something in mind, but I wasn’t going to let it dominate my flight, and in hindsight I reckon it was definitely the best plan.

We took off shortly after 1pm and within 10 minutes were climbing out under a lovely sky.

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The adventure begins!

There was a vague plan to head south to Merthyr for the first turnpoint, however even though there was a nice line of clouds heading that way I decided to stay over the high ground and take the scenic route… (NB. It turned out to be a good decision – RJ and Rich headed south towards Merthyr but didn’t make it back…)

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Heading west towards Pen-y-Fan and beyond

I’ve never simply explored these hills like this before – it was a real treat, just soaking up the views…

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Cruising past Pen-y-Fan (centre right) at base

I pushed west a bit farther, past Fan Fawr and over to Ystradfellte Reservoir. I’m sure I could have gone farther, but this flight wasn’t about points or kms.

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Past the A470, looking east


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Looking south towards Ystradfellte before heading back east


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Talybont Reservoir to the left, Pentwyn Reservoir to the right

I pushed south towards Merthyr for a few kms along this line of clouds before heading north again back towards takeoff to close my circuit.

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Just playing in the clouds…


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Heading back to takeoff (far left) to close the circuit

My little triangle turned out to be 28kms, then, having bagged it I decided to try to fly to Abergavenny and couldn’t resist a spot of cloud flying on the way 🙂

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Mmmmm 🙂


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Such fun!

After getting up to 5,300′ I found one more thermal which took me all the way past Gilwern to where I landed just a few kms short of Aber.

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Passing Gilwern heading for the wooded slopes on the north side of the valley

I was  expecting the wooded slopes to be into wind and thought they’d work well however I arrived just below ridgetop and the wind was from the south east, blowing up the valley towards Crickhowell, which didn’t exactly help my glide 🙂

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My LZ in the centre of the photo

So two and a half hours later I touched down after a wonderful 53km tour of the Brecon Beacons!

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There are worse places to wait for a retrieve than the Bridge End Inn in Crickhowell!

It might well be my last decent flight of the year, and if so it was a fitting end to a great season!

Click here for the tracklog, and here to see full-res pics on Flickr, and watch out on YouTube for the video!

Edit… and here is the video on YouTube 🙂