29/03/04 - Rich Harding, 49.9km from Tal-y-bont
(see Rich's photos of the flight here...)
Particularly Howard - I sincerely hope you either didn't go to The Malverns today or had a bloody good time! As you may have noticed, I wasn't there - I noted the time it was taking for the forecast wind to materialise (it never did) and that it was supposed to die off later anyway so, repeat after me, everyone - "If there's no wind, go to Talybont". No ifs, no buts, no whingeing about the walk :-) It never takes me more than half an hour up on to the point and I smoke and always stop at the stream for a drink! Alex once did it in 21 minutes!
Anyway, after a nice, bridge-toll-free blat over to Powys on the Bandit, I arrive in the car park and have a nice chat with two blokes camped up there in a huge van, foraging for thirty-foot dead tree trunks for the biggest tee-pee you've ever seen (the *model's* bigger than Bad News' Stonehenge!), helmet and leathers locked to bike and yomp up to the point. There's no-one there: no pilots and not even any walkers, but there's a steady trickle up the SE face so I sit down for a look at the view.
Eventually two walkers turn up just as I get the glider out, so it'd be rude not to test the air for their camera :-) There is no sun at this point. I can see some down near Cardiff and more over Brecon but the Beacons (note from taxi driver later - don't ever call them The Brecons!) are covered in cloud. But there's no prevailing wind and a semi-constant 6-8mph breeze, so there must be thermals.
I fly round into the corner where the river runs down through those big slabs of rock, push out and back in, out and back in (this bit probably courtesy of the fact I'm listening to the title track of Pulp's This Is Hardcore as I type :-) ), come in really close for a photo, turn back and, ooh, that's strong :-) How does this work again? Oh, I remember, when it gets stronger, turn tighter :-) The averager never goes below 600ft/min all the way to base, with some turns at 1000ft/min plus.
Er, um, well there's no sun, so I'm not going all the way over the Beacons, as I did four (I think) years ago, but all the bowls to Pen Y Fan are into wind, so let's go and have a look at that - maybe I can come back too! Not a very good glide leaves me three or four hundred feet over the highest Beacon on arrival but the house thermal isn't working properly so I soon lose that and have time to chat to the walkers next to me as I scratch the lip, waiting for what seems an eternity. I think about landing. Nah!
But sure enough, another strong thermal comes through and I decide to follow a plan I've hatched to take it over the back and onto the ridge that runs east of the A470. The thermal is, though, very rough and I've forgotten how steep the southern face of Pen Y Fan is, and I end up gliding for the ridge, intending following it back South and then jumping back towards Talybont. When I hit another snorter...
...which takes me back close to base, approaching the A470. The sun has just reached the scraggy, steep, into-wind bowl just before the sharp bends at the top of the A470, so I head for that, partly because my hands are bloody freezing, I don't have thick socks on and my thin ones are no longer comfortingly around my trouser legs. For the second time in the flight, I'm low, level or below the lip, and I think I'm going to have to fly out and land by the road.
When I first got there, a buzzard flew out at me and I wondered if I'd disturbed a nesting site. Ten minutes later and he's trying to lure me north, onto a shallower but sunnier slope. Er... okay then - and of course, there's another gorgeous thermal there. I admit, I actually started chuckling at this point - this was payback for all those times I've glided somewhere that should have worked and it hasn't!
This thermal takes me properly back to cloudbase and I then glide effortlessly over Heol Senni (just south of the site itself). I'm wondering whether I have the height to make the bowl on Fan Gihyrich when I find something that's going slightly up; then I see the two red kites just to my north and a few hundred feet below going *very* up, in tight circles. It'd be rude not to say hello :-)
Now, I'm really having fun, even though I'm thermalling on a couple of fingers per hand, in snorty stuff, so I can shake some warmth back into the others! One reason I'm having fun is that I can make The Black Mountain, and I've always wanted to do that :-) And I can see that if it doesn't work (there's no sun before Swansea / Carmarthen!), there's a steep ridge that I can soar back down to The Gwyn Arms. Over we go then, circling at base over Crai Reservoir, which is the last time I'll see the sun today.
As I get to The Black Mountain, I catch another lovely thermal, and I'm only 1000ft below base anyway; this one speeds up on its way and, after big ears still drags me into the wispies, I spiral probably the hardest I ever have to avoid whiteout when I can hear jets playing over Sennybridge Danger Area. I hang around at base and dolphin fly to the next into wind bowl with a lake at its foot. I know it's getting on and, with no-one else on site, I'm thinking about my retrieve, so I carry on with the very slight drift instead of staying over the high ground - a reasonable climb will keep me high enough to make it across the first, populated but off the beaten track, valley and into the one where I know the A40 runs; I don't know which town is which (!) but I know where they are :-)
And so, on this day when I set off for a bimble and found an XC, I find a climb - not brilliant but pretty much to base again and I'm easily going to make the town at the end of the A40 valley, which I now know to be Llandeilo. I catch my last glimpse of Pen Y Fan in the distant murk and glide over the sodden river flood plain, turning occasionally and making efficient progress - so much that it's clear I don't have to land by the big roundabout but can follow the road towards Carmarthen.
I'm tired and shivering now, but I don't think I'm missing much, lazily gliding along at a consistent 1.5 down - the only big sink I had in the entire flight was over the A470, a long way back. There's a thousand foot gain to be had over Llandeilo, and I gladly accept, so it's more that I know I'm near the end than that I don't want to try - there is still no sun and the weak sea breeze front-ette would take another big thermal to reach - Fishguard, here we come!! Nah :-) Nothing doing except a lovely final glide, ekeing it out along the road, picking new potential hitching spots more than landing fields, as the options for the latter are seemingly endless :-)
A lovely rhythmic approach and I'm down. Grinning from ear to ear :-) I call a greeting to the man by the main road and the family in the car and pack up, chatting to my mate Niels who happens to call just after I switch the phone on and bemuse the woman in the house I flew over on landing, who appears, to ask, "Excuse me! What are you doing in the field?!". She's sweet :-) It's five o'clock now - three and a half hours in the air to the minute - and I need to get back to the bike!
Unfortunately, as I answer to Alex, who was stuck in a blasted meeting(!), I'm not wearing my Welsh rugby jersey :-( Hitching is a bit of a bitch at times and this is one of them - I really thought I was going to get stuck in Llandovery, which smelt terrible ;-) And was full of chavs in souped-up novas with lurid, go-faster mudflaps, auditioning for "teenage pregnancy of the year" ;-)
But, with a couple of half-hour nail-biters, and three chatty lifts later, including the last with a farmer in a Fiat Panda Dance, Marcus!, carrying a cage of chickens, I finally make Brecon, a little after eight. It's dark - taxi is the only way; fifteen quid; cheap at the price. I'd have been sweating a bit if the bike had been on its own, but the tee-pee chaps will be there, and sure enough they are and invite me in for a welcome coffee. I give them the baccy I bought, 'cos I forgot to pack mine and bought some in Llandovery, and wish them well. They've collected sixteen tee-pee poles.
Needless to say, I'm dead chuffed with a 50km flight (that last glide was well worth it :-) ) at the end of March - my third longest UK flight. Technically, the main point of interest was the regular nature of the thermals, whose shape, behaviour and surrounding air became easier and easier to divine as the flight progressed - definitely a case of learning how the day is behaving; along, I guess, with the combination of 'ground feature' and 'sky' flying when the sky isn't giving many clues. Attitudinally it was about having big goals in mind but concentrating on the sequence of little ones that combine to produce the end result; and being convinced that the day is such that there is no reason to have to land. Emotionally, it was about going out for a fun flight and having great fun! And some fantastic views and landscapes which I hope will come out well on at least some of the seventeen shots I took. The blat home was cool too :-))
Advisory: Collaps-o-matic Productions would like to certify that not so much as a tip-flutter was encountered during this punchy spring thermals flight :-) Although I did go weightless a couple of times ;-)
I love my Magic :-) It's soon to be joined by a Vulcan - it's got a lot to compete with :-)
(see Rich's photos of the flight here...)