UK Paragliding XC Season 2015: Pilots' Tales

Paraglider pilots' tales from the United Kingdom (UK) cross country (XC) paragliding season 2015.

Pilots' Tales (2015 UK PG XC)

Peggy Williams: "I had some really memorable flights during the year. Flying off Aonach Mor in Scotland and looking down on Ben Nevis from over 6000' was a real moment. Another was in early October when Graham Steel, Tim Crow and I flew 60k from Worcester Beacon across the Vale of Evesham. It was the oddest of days. With very light wind, we had decided to try a triangle out front. Standing on take-off and watching these huge clouds build in the distance, I decided to take off in front of them and got the one big thermal, which the clouds triggered I guess, with the others quickly joining me. We ended up going over the back as it looked the best option to stay in front of the clouds, which was where the radios came in - changing our plans and co-ordinating in the air. We were under cloud, in cloud and over cloud during that flight. What an extraordinary day. By the end of 2015, I felt I was thermalling and reacting more without consciously thinking about it. I liken it to driving a car - there comes a time when you don't have to think - foot off gas, foot on clutch, change gear, indicate, etc. I was just doing it automatically, which freed up brain space. Then I started to get hungry during flights and needing a pee! Remembering that the first thermal is always different to the ones that follow as it is triggered/augmented by ridge lift, so don't disregard the next crappy little thermal unless you have good reason to."

Peggy Williams

Peggy Williams (Photo by Talika Bull)

Alistair Andrews: "I really enjoyed my XC flying in 2015 as so many things came together for me. For the last month of the 2014 season I’d found myself flying a glider that I became very comfortable on, so come March 15, I felt ready to go. Having moved from Cornwall to Oxford towards the end of 2014, I knew I was in a much better place to exploit any opportunity to fly XC, on one occasion even achieving a 77km flight having taken off after work at 4pm! Another thing I really got dialled was route planning and airspace. I’d been using an old small screen Garmin for flying in Wales, but for bigger XCs to the NE of Milk Hill it didn’t cut it, I upgraded to a 5" tablet with proper glide computer software, up to date mapping and plotted any NOTAMs. The cherry on the cake was a working in-flight relief system, which I finally got sorted, so I was able to fly until something other than my bladder decked me!"

Alistair Andrews

Ali Andrews & Tom Garner on the beach after Ali's first XC of 2015, Hundred House to Swansea (Photo: Alistair Andrews)

Nancy Elliott: "A very enjoyable year, my best yet. I flew with Carlo, friends old and new and achieved over 100 hours in the year (helped by over 28 hours in Colombia in February). Other personal bests were my longest duration flight of 4 hours 40 minutes, my longest distance flight 129km and highest scoring flight of 136 points. All lovely numbers, all unplanned and unexpected, especially being 1st Lady in the women's league! Although I was pleased enough with my overall position in the XC league of 42. My last flight of 2015 took me over 600 hours and I'm looking forward to see what I can achieve in 2016, work and weather allowing of course!"

Nancy Elliott

Nancy Elliott at work, testing wings for customers!

Mike Cavanagh: "2015 gave me one of my best flights of my life, flying through the Northern Highlands. It had everything a good flight should have: great flying buddies, unbelievable views, wild terrain, low saves, good luck, massive convergence, snow showers, an ending by the coast in clear blue skies, and fish and chips with good friends. The rest of the XC League felt like a retirement year for me, and it was fortuitous as the battle ground was mainly down south. Huge flights and amazing commitment saw the biggest overall scores to date. Quite a year, but personally pleased to be on the side-lines watching it all unfold."

Richard Osborne: "Despite the inner competitive monkey, I still measure my flights by quality and time in the air, rather than distance. Of course they are inextricably related, but deep down I will allow nothing to compromise the sheer delight of flying XC in our beautiful country. 2015 for me? Flew with fantastic friends. Had incredible adventures. Saw beautiful scenery, towns and villages. As ever, was blown away by the kindness of those who I met during the wonderful adventure of getting back after a flight. Got the bug for closed circuit flights. Learnt shed loads, from my mates and experiences. The good news? The 2016 XC season has begun!"

Richard Osborne

Richard Osborne grinning from ear to ear after reaching his goal at Corfe Castle in Dorset (Photo: Richard Osborne)

Graham Steel: "This year was so different from the last for me. 2014 was dominated by triangles; I completed loads of them. This year I completed none but did some epic long distance flights with lots of goal flights too. Two flights where I ran out of land; it's always good landing at the coast. Landing at Swanage, the home of many childhood holidays for me, was a special moment. As was flying over Devils Dyke to land at Brighton. The end of season flight to Hook Norton Brewery was also a classic with Peggy and Tim chatting all the way on the radio about where to land, tea shops at Broadway, cafes with great meringues in Chipping Campden! The 200km flights realised a dream I had had for many years and, although pleased to have joined the 200K club, it in the end made me realise that the numbers aren’t why I do it."

Graham Steel with Wayne Seeley

Graham Steel with XC buddy, Wayne Seeley (Photo by Toni Steel)

Barney Woodhead: "It's always pleasantly surprising looking over a previous years adventures, did I go there, did we do that and the occasional WOW, that really was awesome. With escalating social media dominance in all our lives, do we share these stories or keep them to ourselves, for these times make us all feel like the luckiest people on earth. I have not found anything more spiritually uplifting or humbling, empowering or demoralising, rewarding or downright destructive than paragliding. It is an ever-changing test of our skills, our knowledge, our fears and our values. I cannot imagine a year without it, each successive year a betterment of the last. For me, my personal challenges, my plans, my training, my dreams and aspirations would mean nothing without the people that I choose to share these sacred moments with. Thanks to all those people, you know who you are, and let's prepare ourselves for another kick ass year, ‘cos this is how we roll!"

Barney FM

Barney Woodhead over Creag Meagaidh in Scotland and "... leaving the white bits in search of some form of infrastructure."

Guy Anderson: "2015 was a bit of an eye opener for me about what is possible in the UK. With Mark and Alex knocking on the door of the 300k mark and Carlo and Nancy winning both male and female comps on EN C and B gliders respectively, the league is in a better state than ever. Alan Birtles' XC Retrieve website ( and related Telegram app means there really is no excuse to not pushing the boundaries further in 2016. I will be doing my very best to join the 300 club and I’m sure the triangle record could be fluffed out a little further from either Wales or over the flatlands of the Milk massif. See you all on the hill!"

Guy Anderson with Nancy Elliott

Guy Anderson and Nancy Elliott on their way up Carn Liath in Scotland

Hugh Miller: "The league really pushes you to consider what’s going to be possible on the day and go for it. It can also provide hours and hours of mental torture, if you let it. I was at George’s primary school sports day on one of the 200km days, and can’t say I was totally present for the egg-and-spoon… let’s put it that way. All in all it was another amazing season - I scored over 1400 points in one month alone (but then lost a load due to my ineptitude with instrument declaration settings - the bane of my flying life!). The highlights for me was the contrast between our Scottish triangle in April and my 65km triangle from Sharpenhoe, a small bump near Luton that isn’t best known for its nil wind potential, and that amazing day in June when so many of us flew from the Lawley down to Dorchester. It was a proper giggle flying and chatting away with Dean Crosby, who I’ve known since I was 18 but had never properly flown with before. It isn’t about the places, it’s about the people!"


XCommuting with Mark Watts and Hugh Miller, after a long hard day's XC from Wiltshire to Norfolk.

Phil Wallbank: "Normally I miss or cock-up a big day at the start of the year, but this year I managed some big flights early and found myself in pole position come May, so I decided to go for it big style the rest of the summer. Come June the weather up north turned crap as usual, the southern lads did some big flights and Hugh took top spot from me. I decided I had to travel south when it was on. I made a number of trips south and in mid-July I was buzzing and back on top after my 230km declared flight from Milk Hill. Flying down south really is easy! Alas that flight was not enough and Carlo deservedly pipped us all in the end. The league just seems to get more mad and extreme every year! Even though I did not win, I was happy to be a part of the madness :)"

Northern Posse

Northern Posse: Andy Wallis, Brendan Reid, Barney Woodhead, Phil Wallbank, and Phil Colbert, Tony Shepherd

Carlo Borsattino: I was hoping I might improve on what I've done before but really wasn't expecting things to turn out as well as they did for me. Many wonderful flights and – most surprisingly –winning the XC league, flying EN C wings! I am sure that there are better, and braver, pilots out there, most of whom also fly higher performance EN D and CCC wings. Of course there is more than a small element of luck involved! Although I used to fly comp wings, I enjoy my flying more on a wing that is more forgiving in case of encountering turbulence. Too many top pilots have crashed on comp wings over the years. I never let XC league rankings get in the way of enjoying my flying or affect my decision making in a negative way. Instead I use the league as great way to be inspired by others’ great achievements, and to encourage me to push my personal XC goals, whilst keeping within my own personal safety margins. I never flew in conditions that were too much for my own ability, sometimes standing down when other pilots flew – even after driving for hours to get to the site, with an epic looking sky! Nancy and I need to pick our days very carefully since we can’t afford to have too many days off work. Towards the end of the season it was very close for the top 4 spots! What were the secrets to my success? I think I was lucky to often be in the right place at the right time, I climb well enough and am happy flying for several hours, I am 100% comfortable and familiar with all of the equipment I select for XC flying, and in the end I made few mistakes. 2015 was a great year for Nancy and I, and we had a blast flying with inspirational XC pilots like Phil, Hugh, Mark, Guy, Graham, Barney, Phil, Richard - and other colourful characters!


A very happy Carlo in his 210 km goal field south of Dorchester after an incredible over 7 hour flight!

Brought to you by Flybubble

Flybubble - Your paragliding gear specialists

Want to see more? There’s no better way to support our efforts than buying from us. We’ll ensure you get great service! Choose from our great range AND enable us to produce more videos and articles to benefit the freeflight community.