19/7/2006 - Mike Coupe, 133km from the Malverns
I guess most people were aware that Wednesday 19th June was shaping up to be a very good day. Weatherjack had said 'there's the tantalizing prospect of 8000 ft (yes 8000 ft!) cloudbase'. It turned out to be the hottest July day for over a century, and followed a period of hot and dry weather, and indeed, was exceptional...Luckily I had a day off work, and after rearranging a meeting I was free to go flying.
The wind was forecast to be easterly early on, veering ground to the south in the afternoon. The day wasn't likely to get hot enough for cumulus until the early afternoon, so Mere was a possibility, but I thought that the Malverns were a better bet for a decent flight. By the time I was leaving Bath at 10am, the wind was picking up, and I thought it might be too strong, but a quick call to Fiona Macaskill who was already on the way to the Malverns convinced me it was worth a try.
I arrived at Kettle Sings at about 12.30. It was obvious as I walked up the back of the hill that it was pretty windy. Howard was already flying - whenever he got up above ridge height, I could see that he wasn't making much forward progress, and there didn't seem to be much lift around. Realizing that top-landing would be tricky, I decided to wait for a bit to see what happened. A cumulus started forming above the hill at around 1pm, and it was so high, I had to go!
I launched into a lull, and then had a rather uncomfortable 30 minutes soaring in front of the hill in quite strong winds until a huge thermal whipped 5 or 6 of us upwards. A gaggle formed consisting of Fiona Mackaskill, Tim Guilford, Innes Powell, myself and a couple of others. The first thermal finally petered out at about 7900ft, and then we were off on a brisk downwind glide.
Multiple inversion layers made the first hour or so pretty slow going. The gaggle worked really well together identifying weak thermals, and we made good ground drifting along in the tailwind. The crux came at about 60km; the gaggle had split up, and Tim and I had got pretty low, dropping below the inversion layer. We went on a do-or die glide into a tight little valley, and happily Tim found a strong climb out from about 200ft above a small wooded slope. I nipped in below, and managed to get into the same thermal. After a rough climb, which eventually smoothed out into a massive 2 m/s thermal, we made a bit of an error. Our airmaps showed a flight level at 6500ft, but subject to note 7. Unfortunately note 7 had been cut off the airmap to fit it into the flight deck, and we didn't realize that the flight level was only active at night. After much radio chatter, we decided to play it safe and pulled out of the most enormous smooth thermal which would have probably taken us to 10 grand, which was where the base had risen to by then. Oh well!
Pushing on, the flight became pretty cruisy for a while, flying over the Mynd and Corndon in a long convergence line of smooth lift all the way to 100km. The last section of the flight was very slow going, drifting along in zeros and ones for 20km over serious boonies as we approached Lake Bala. By then, the view had opened out to take in the Welsh coast, Snowdonia and all the way back into England - fantastic.
The day seemed like it was coming to an end by then, and the next section was over a high pass into Snowdonia proper. The lift was dying, and I could see sea air coming up the valleys towards us. We decided that a long walk out was not what we needed, so Tim Guilford and I landed together at the west end of Lake Bala. Ten minutes after we were down, a huge line of convergence cloud set up heading into Snowdonia so maybe another 20 or 30km would have been possible.
A six hour retrieve meant I didn't get home until 2am, but it was worth it to be out on what I guess was probably some of the best conditions ever seen in the UK.