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More like it!

Monday, June 1st, 2015 at 11:05 am Written by:

The word went out on the facebook groups (relayed by email to a refusenik like me) that Bradwell Edge was the place to go instead of the Long Mynd. Got up at 6am, left house at 7:15 with Becka in the car because she wanted to be dropped off at the Stockport Decathlon to replenish the shoe mountain.

I was first on the hill. The wind was strong enough to blow out all the paragliders, like other irritations like midges and farts, so the slope was reserved for just us hangies — or “stiffies” as those para-wafters often call us. I don’t happen to know the derogatory terms used for those big white “sailplane” things that were skimming along the ridge like flying canoes from the gliding club next door.

clippinginbradwell

As usual, I delayed launching because it felt too windy and the first people up had shouted that it was a bit rough. Then, as I stood ready on take-off, there was not enough wind.

“I’m going to go down,” I whinged as I took off and was lifted about 500m by the first big thermal of the day. I was flying with a radio and heard a couple of the pilots above me saying that they were going to take it over the back and downwind.

I wasn’t ready to do this, still without any bearings, so I dived forwards and sped back to ridge for another one later. This put me at the level of the flying canoes, which was fine as long as they didn’t want to kill me. They must have been beginners as these are high performance machines, so I should not be able to get above them.

Weeeee, this is fun, spinning around in tight circles, riding a convective plume skywards.

I never spoke on the radio. All I heard was Gordon Rigg’s cattle-auction style monologue about the heights of each thermal he’d reached:

“I’ve got 4200 feet. Do I hear a 4-up? I’m now at 4600 feet. Going. Going. Cloud. Sold to the man with the tidy beard and brown dark glasses.

hathersage

I had no idea at all where he was. He could have been flying from the Long Mynd with an antenna the size of a king-post, for all I knew. We have got to get an air-to-air universal simultaneous live-tracking system invented soon to put a stop to this.

As usual, I lost the thermal, even though I circled wider and wider to look for it. The peak district moors were all alike. The second time I looked at the town of Hathersage and the apartment block where Becka’s aunt and uncle lived, I had already passed over it downwind and towards the east.

And it was there I finally caught a good one and actually rode it to within kissing distance of the clouds.

“Come to daddy!” I shouted.

And I was finally there. 1550m above sea level.

cloudbasepeaks

Downwind was the city of Sheffield, a great grey wheel of little ant boxes with a crunch of spiky twigs at its centre that were the skyscrapers. It was like a space station.

“Oh dear. I don’t want to be blown onto that,” I said to myself.

I headed cross-wind to the next cloud, prepared for the brutal sink by Gordon’s unending monologue. It felt like riding a 45 degree slope ski-run where you lose a lot of height very quickly, except it wasn’t enjoyable and you couldn’t buy a lift pass.

At this point I realized I had no clue about tactics or strategy. Had I been provided with some air charts and terrain maps unfolded onto a really big desk, my track-log so far, a pencil, node paper, ruler, calculator, a cafetiere of really good coffee and an inch thick chocolate brownie for afters, I might have correctly weighed up my options over the course of the next couple of hours.

tracklogbrad

But I didn’t, and instead I wound up looking out over the infinitely vast expanse of Chesterfield with absolutely no way round, and decked it in a field of fresh stubble, which I was certain was the finest landing field for miles around. Once you get fixated on something like that, there’s no turning back.

I parked by the gate and lay on the ground half out of my harness, gazing at the beautiful wings of my glider, savouring the fact that I had finally lost my UK XC virginity, until I was rudely interrupted by a car driver who had stopped to poke her head over the hedge to say, “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“No. Everything’s fine,” I said, standing up, composing myself.

“Okay then.” She got back in her car and sped away. There’s very little public curiosity in hang-gliding these days. It will probably only get popular when some famous celebrity gets into it instead of wasting their time and money on flash cars or extremely boring jetskis and speed boats.

I phoned Becka’s uncle who came and fetched me back to Hathersage. Then Becka and friend showed up after lunch and lent me her bike so I could peddle up to Bradwell Edge to collect the car, return the bike so they could carry on while I drove off the other way to collect my glider from the field.

I would now dearly love to look at the 74Mb of data which this flight has dumped on my SD card, but I better get back to work calibrating the machine tool instead of having any more fun this morning.

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