Paragliding United Kingdom (UK) cross country (XC) season report for Summer and Autumn 2015.

Summer 2015 UK Paragliding XC

7th June turned out to be a record day for XC flying in the UK: 130 pilots logged XCs totalling 12,261 km. The biggest flights of the day were from Leckhampton in Gloucestershire, and The Lawley and Long Mountain in Shropshire. Ceri Brown (Niviuk Icepeak 7) and Guy Anderson bagged the highest scoring flights from Leckhampton, with a 152 km flight to goal. Meanwhile Neil Furmidge flew his Ozone Delta 2 from Long Mountain to his 166 km declared goal in Devizes.

Various goals were declared by various pilots at The Lawley. A northern posse of 7 made it to their 181 km declared goal, continuing on to Weymouth. Southern pilots Mark Watts and Hugh Miller made it to their 201 km declared goal just north of Dorchester, also flying on to Weymouth.

Without realising, I'd declared the most ambitious goal of the day at 210 km, and made it – just – so my flight turned out to be the highest scoring of the day (and the year so far) at 284 points. I confess, I was somewhat happy – especially since this was my first flight over 200 km and I did it on a mid EN C wing, the Niviuk Artik 4. I've done a full write-up of my flight.

Thermaling with Andy Wallis

Thermaling with Andy Wallis on the way to Weymouth from The Lawley.

On Sunday 14th June Tony Shepherd, Brendan Reid and Matthew Church managed 86 km, 88 km and 90 km declared out-and-return flights from Sgurr Finnisg-aig in the Scottish Highlands. Yes, that's the correct name – neither I, nor my keyboard, are drunk.

On 15th June, Hugh Miller managed a very impressive 62 km declared FAI triangle from Sharpenhoe. Anyone who's flown from this site will know how hard it is to get up from that hillock in a light wind – even with a good breeze it's not at all easy!

The next day, 16th June, Graham Steel flew his Niviuk Icepeak 7 from Worcestershire Beacon to his 153 km declared goal in Barton. A very impressive flight considering the conditions!

Two days later, 18th June, Hugh Miller flew his Ozone Mantra R11 from Selsley Common near Stroud to his 164 km declared goal at Worthing. On 23rd June Hugh won the day again, completing a 73 km declared FAI triangle from Westbury.

Hugh recounts: "Westbury was pretty damp and post-cold frontal when we arrived, but a good wedge of air was due to arrive - good enough for Carl Wallbank to break the UK HG record the following day as it turned out. I lobbed off first in nil wind to join some birds out front and got up, already a bit twitchy as I was borrowing Jim Mallinson's R11 for the day. The first leg was really hard, with 7/8ths cloud cover, and a headwind, which decked Carlo and Mark. The R11 just punches through though - I think two-liners make UK flying a good 20-25% easier than on three-liners. After about two hours of struggle I tagged the point and headed back towards Westbury, then wondered, ‘well, let's just try and get that second turn point, it's only a short detour.' The sea-breeze beat me to it, and I had to dive in low and just scrabble out in a horrible climb. One top up and it was quite an easy, buoyant glide back home."

Hugh Miller

Hugh Miller flying Jim Mallinson's R11 for a declared FAI triangle from Westbury.
Lots of shade at times, and more wind than hoped for.

I thought the forecasts for 24th June were looking epic, but surprisingly few pilots went out that day. I declared a 200 km goal from Milk Hill White Horse in Wiltshire to near Northwold in Norfolk. After a pretty challenging flight that was quite scrappy in places I reached my goal, on the Niviuk Artik 4. My second flight over 200 km! I continued on for 213 km open distance. All through my flight I could hear Alistair Andrews (Ozone Mantra M6), Tim Pentreath (Advance Sigma 9), Michael Coupe (Ozone Mantra M6), and Simon Green (Advance Omega 8) over the radio as they chased me from Milk Hill. Each of them went on to do their first flights over 200 km that day, entering the elite "200 km Club".

Chasing Richard Osborne

Chasing Richard Osborne as he races ahead towards Oxford.

Just a few days later, on 29th June, the forecasts were again looking epic for the ‘Milk Massif' so the XC hounds trekked in from far and wide. The forecast was very good but the wind seemed light, so a number of us set a goal at 189 km, near Bury Saint Edmunds. I was going to declare a goal at 175 km but was convinced to go for the same goal as the others (my fault!). I flew much of the flight with Phil Wallbank, who was flying especially well. I couldn't keep up with him, and landed at 183 km from launch in Newmarket, very happy but wishing I'd stuck to my original goal! Phil landed at 189 km, within spitting distance of his declared goal. Jim Mallinson and Hugh Miller would've made the goal we declared but had decided to declare a bigger goal at over 200 km and unfortunately landed at 194 km and 198 km respectively. Joint winners of the day were Mark Wilson, Mark Watts and Barney Woodhead, who all made the 189 km goal.

Barney FM "coming in your ears" broadcasts his report of the day: "The usual Southern Suspects were joined by a few Northern Monkeys on take-off. Sharing the love of Wallbank's declaration, and extra few K's from Mr Wilson and myself, with the Southerners, we rigged up. It was Wilson's birthday, and there was special feel about it. After a disappointing failed start, we watch all the other top guns get away before finally getting our shit together nearly an hour later. At fortyish K, I almost bomb out, down to 13 m AGL. Mark came over to land with me then, finding some bitty core, I scraped back up and we were soon both "godded" again. Whoop-whoop, innit! Flying together, sharing leads, we overtake most of the field, with only Wagga, Wallbank, Borsattino and Miller still going ahead. Seeing Wallbank decked one K short of goal is a bit of a pisser, but no worries as he sorts out a 200 quid taxi back too Milk whilst Wilson and I land together in the goal field."

Barney Woodhead, Icepeak 8

Barney Woodhead going for another big distance on his Niviuk Icepeak 8.

We had to wait until 9th July for the next big UK XC day. I had a new wing to test fly, the Skywalk Cayenne 5, so was hoping that the conditions would start out not too rough so I could settle in to it. It was not to be, and this turned out to be one of the roughest UK flights I had of the year! The Cayenne 5 is certainly more demanding to fly than the Artik 4, but still very good. I flew from The Lawley to near Tempsford for 190 km. Meanwhile Helen Gant flew her Ozone Mantra M6 from Llangollen to Corby for 175 km in 8.5 hours! Flight of the day was Mark Watts who, believing I was still going because his partner Annie let him think I was, kept going on his R11 for almost 9 hours and managed 213 km cross-wind.

Mark Watts, R11

Mark Watts on his R11 in the early stages of his nearly 9 hour cross-wind epic!

On Wednesday, 15th July, Phil Colbert flew his Niviuk Icepeak 8 from Dodd Fell in the Yorkshire Dales to his 162 km declared goal at Market Rasen. Others, including Phil Wallbank, didn't quite make the goal.

Phil recounts: "The forecast was for a strong NNW, with 5 K cloudbase throughout the day. Dodd Fell was chosen because of a great track with no airspace behind, and a few km further along the track than Wether Fell. Arriving at Dodd, it seemed very top end with no one flying, just a few parawaiting. After checking the wind, I decided to quickly set off and launched, straight away climbing out in what was probably wave, with very low forward speed. This took me down to two sets of ridges, hopping. A great thing about the track from Dodd is there are several NW facing ridges to drop onto if you get low. Text book thermal spacing after this and, with a high wind, distance was covered quickly. The sea breeze front was very apparent, as predicted by RASP, and the last 30 km was completed surfing this. Luckily I reached my goal at 4500 feet and managed to fly back upwind to the nearest railway station. A perfect day out! :)"

Phil Colbert, Niviuk Icepeak 8

Phil Colbert points his Niviuk Icepeak 8 towards the next Cumulus.

Three days later, on 18th July, the forecasts were once again showing big potential from the Pewsey Downs, and so once again the hounds came sniffing for XC. A few super-200 km flights were flown this day. Theo Warden entered the 200 km Club with a 207 km turnpoint flight on his Nova Mentor 4. Theo's flight was 201 km open distance, winning him a special prize (see below). Theo flew much of the way with Graham Steel, who did 216 km on his Icepeak 7. Alistair Andrews did 223 km on his Mantra M6. Alex Coltman did 227 km on his Enzo 2. The biggest flight of the day was by Phil Wallbank, who reached his 230 km declared goal at Southery in Norfolk, scoring a massive 310.5 points in the league. This was, and would remain, the highest score of the year! This put Phil, and the Pennine club, at the top of the League . The competition at the top was hot with few points between the top 4 places: Phil, Hugh, Mark and – much to my surprise – I.

Theo Warden going XC on his Nova Mentor 4

Theo Warden on his Nova Mentor 4

Phil Wallbank recounts: "It was obviously a banging windy day! I thought it was on the safe side of windy, unlike the big record day last year. There were times when I raced from cloud to cloud quickly clocking up the kilometres, but I also found myself in areas of the sky that were not working so well. I could've easily have bombed a few times. At Cambridge the sky in the west was milky, I'd not seen another glider for hours, I was low over crap terrain, there were no cumulus about and goal was still 60 km away – it did not look good! I hit a weak climb, minced and minced it, and after half an hour I'd drifted 20 km and I was now on the wrong side of Mildenhall ATZ – things still did not look good! Ali Andrews caught me up, it was great to have company again, clouds formed above, we gained enough height to fly over the ATZ. The sun came back out and it got easy again. I was well happy when I made goal!"

Epic sky at 10am

Epic Sky at 10am over Milk Hill on 18th July 2015.

Richard Osborne showed excellent planning and flying skills on 25th July, pulling off one of the most surprising, inspirational and technically difficult flights of the year. He declared a 161 km goal from Woolacombe on the North Devon coast to Corfe Castle in Dorset, and made it on his Ozone Mantra M6.

Richard recounts: "Living by the North Devon coast as I do, conditions can be trickier and more unpredictable than normal, as if they are not unpredictable enough in our beloved British Isles? BUT, when the conditions are just so, it's game on for getting away from the coast! “One of these fine days someone's going to get to Swanage” words that have been quoted by my mates and I for ages, heck I even programmed it into my flight instrument, in a, you never know sort of mind-set. So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when I sailed passed my previous best of Lime Regis at 5 K feet under a humongous cloud street heading almost to goal. I'd be far too embarrassed to play you the short video as I approached my goal at Corfe Castle in Dorset, but quiet I wasn't. An air show at Swanage ruled out that goal, but I know I'd have got there with height to spare. Job done, and what a hoot!"

Looking towards Poole, on glide to goal

Looking towards Poole, on glide to goal at Corfe Castle in Dorset.

On 30th July, the biggest flights came from Selsley Common. Hugh Miller won the day by reaching his 167 km declared goal at Worthing whilst testing the Air Design Pure 2. I reached my 164 km goal and continued on for the longest flight of the day at 204 km open distance, landing near Herstmonceux. I flew most of the way with Graham Steel who made his 157 km goal and continued on to do 176 km open distance. Mark Watts had declared the most ambitious goal of the day, and made it, however he made an error with his declaration, putting the start and finish the wrong way around, so only scored 210.7 distance points with turnpoints. Phillip Wallbank landed short of his declared goal near Worthing, so only scored 167 distance points. This put Hugh and the Southern club back at the top of the league.

Read Carlo's analysis of the flight.

Mark Watts over the South Downs

Thermaling with Mark Watts near Devils Dyke, on my way to Herstmonceux from Selsley Common

After a long, challenging flight on Thursday, it was also looking good for the next day, Friday 31st July. Once again the Pewsey Downs were the place to be, with pilots logging big flights from Milk Hill and Golden Ball. Graham Steel and I agreed on a 165 km goal at Peterborough. Both Graham and I made the goal, but we both carried on flying far enough to score higher in pure distance than our declared goals. Graham flew 222 km with turnpoints. Hugh Miller reached his 175 km declared a goal, which scored higher than his 219 km open distance to Boston. I managed to get up again at Boston and carried on to 244 km with turnpoints, landing near East Keal in Lincolnshire, again the longest flight of the day.

Graham Steel: "The day started typically, undecided about which hill to go to. With the wind forecast to start S and go SW, early birds went to Golden Ball. Carlo and Hugh decided on Milk Hill, so I went along with that. Now what goal to set? We all set something different along the same route. A 200 km goal was discussed, but nobody thought the day was that good! I went for 165 km between two bits of airspace SW of Peterborough since I had to go that way anyway and if I landed at least I'd pick up the bonus. Approaching Abingdon/Oxford, an area that for sure has cut short many an XC, I stuck with the gaggle for fear of landing, even thermalling down. Eventually Hugh left and I went with, but soon found myself low, alone, cursing and praying anyway! After that I never got low and the sky boomed; the only trouble was staying under the airspace. I flew to one big cloud in Bedfordshire where the lift was so strong that I did just one turn and left 1000 ft higher! It was a long glide to my goal and I wasn't sure I'd make it. When I arrived I got a nice thermal and thought great I'll land by the train station now, however it turned into a monster climb to a huge cloud which propelled me over Spalding - the possible 200 km goal. I saw Carlo behind me for the first time since Oxford as I left the big cloud for what was my final glide to a cup of tea in Boston!"

Graham Steel

Graham Steel sticks with the gaggle for fear of landing near Abingdon/Oxford.

On 8th August several pilots attempted an ambitious 69 km declared FAI triangle from Golden Ball. Only Guy Anderson managed to complete it on his Enzo 2. Meanwhile some other pilots – not flying comp wings – decided to go for distance. Nancy Elliott reached her 101 km declared goal, putting her at the top of the women's league.

Nancy recounts: "I must have got one of the last tickets out of Golden Ball and really thought I was landing in Marlborough for coffee and cake but my landing field kicked off and I got a bumpy ride up to 2600 ft. I managed to dribble on some more eventually getting to base (around 5000 ft) after Wantage, already 40 km into my flight! Then it was only my second time flying over Oxford city centre, which is daunting and exciting at the same time! After that I had some brief flirts with sailplanes and a fairly easy ride to my 100 km goal at Milton Keynes, where all my concentration seemed to be lost. I was so excited - I'd been trying to fly here all year, no wait, for a few years! From there I struggled with my decision making until I landed at Northampton. For me on that day a number of pieces all came together, all at the same time!"

Nancy Elliott, Advance Iota

Nancy Elliott hooks into a climb on her Advance Iota over the Pewsey Downs in Wiltshire.

Then, on 12th August, Phil Wallbank pulled off a very impressive 69 km declared FAI triangle from Mam Tor in the Peak District. This put Phil and the Pennine club back at the top of the league, with the days getting shorter and potential for big XCs fast reducing.

Sunday 16th August turned out to be the final decisive day for the top 4 places of the League. The soaring forecasts looked good, but with very light winds and spreadout for the afternoon – very hit and miss for getting up from small southern hills! Fortunately Lee Bligh said he could tow Mark Watts, Hugh Miller, Lawrie Noctor and I at South Cerney airfield. Mark and Hugh, both flying Ozone Mantra R11 comp wings, decided to declare 75 km FAI triangles. Since I was flying an EN C wing, and I don't consider myself to be as good a pilot as either Mark or Hugh, I decided to declare a smaller 65 km FAI triangle – which would still be bigger than anything I'd ever managed in the UK before. All three of us managed to complete our declared triangles in about four hours. When we added them to the XC league we were all surprised to find that in the overall rankings this put me in first place, with Mark second, Hugh third and Phil Wallbank fourth. Later it turned out that, for technical reasons, Mark and Hugh's declarations were invalid, meaning they only scored for non-declared FAI triangles. This made no difference to first place, but changed the final rankings for second to fourth places to Phil, Hugh then Mark. The final twist in the tale of the 2015 League had been turned!

Carlo on glide

Carlo on glide, half way to the first turn point of his declared FAI triangle (Photo by Lawrie Noctor)

Autumn 2015 UK Paragliding XC

Although plenty of XCs were flown in September and October, no more 200+ point days materialised, so the positions of the top 10 weren't affected. There was still some lovely flying to be had though. For example, Simon Green flew 131 km on his Advance Omega 8 from the Malverns to near the west coast of mid-Wales on 27th September!

Autumn XC

XC from Devils Dyke with Nancy Elliott in September 2015

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