|The Holy Grail - the first Cumbrian flight over 100km|
Mike Cavanagh flies the first Cumbrian 100km flight
Original articles - Spoilt For Choice, Oct 2009Kitt Rudd and Mike Cavanagh -
I first began my flying obsession in the Lake District nearly 20 years ago and have been lucky to fly with some of the sports luminaries as well as many of what I consider to be 'top draw xc hounds' who have visited the area. During this time, while other areas in the UK began clocking distances over the Magical 100km; the Lakes area continued to hold off giving up its main prize; till last Saturday.
Nigel Page was first to come close in the early 90's, clocking an impressive 90 km flight from Jenkin fell, this record stood for over 10years as the area's longest Pg distance; Untill Ali Guthrie made his strong wind flight (95km) from Great Mell Fell which lies on the edge of the main mountains of the Lakes in 2005. Only to be caught out by Newcastle airspace.
For me this flight of Ali's seemed to provide a bit of a key for achieving such a distance from this area; As lovely as it is to be flying amongst the hills and dales of this area, progress through this terrain can be painfully slow, as you need to often battle with either the prevailing wind; terrain orientation; as well as, the often technical influences of sea breeze which surround the county on three sides.
The key for me, seemed to be, to take off near the edge of the hilly area similar to what Ali had done, and so began my obsession with sites like Brigsteer and Barkin, as both these provided easy access to the flat land terrain, taking away some of the added complication which appeared to make achieving better distances from this area just that bit more tricky.
In 2007 I was lucky enough to lay claim to the longest straight line distance from the lakes (flying from Brigsteer) with 3 flights each a little over 95km (completed on consecutive days.) and although one of these, through the turnpoint xc rule, took past the magical and invisible 100km line, the xc score, in reality was still short of my 100km straight line holy grail.
The following year I was again fortunate to extend the longest flight distance claim by another km and achieve the Uk's earliest 100km xc score in a season (19th March) but again this was achieved through the now standard turnpoint flight claims. More annoyingly this could well have been the 100km straight line distance holy grail, if I had been better prepared with regard to knowing the actual restrictions of the Leeds Bradford airspace.
I had chosen to turn north in an attempt to circumnavigate the approaching airspace. However, If I had simply chosen to fly straight, stepping down my height as I passed over Skipton and accepting this as my final glide I could have achieved my ambition.
But in reality, flying for me is really about continuing the great experience of free flight than simply laying claim to a first.
Later that season, flying initially in the company of my good friend Mike Cavanagh, I made another attempt at my Holy Grail; this time from Barkin, but again with no avail. Landing a frustratingly few hundred metres short of the Scottish border and again only a couple short of that elusive 100. Ah-well, the search will continue next season.
On the 11th July the day after a great but painfully slow late afternoon/ early evening xc. We headed North once more to collect our vehicles where I chose to get my vehicle to a garage for some much need TLC, as on the journey to site the day before my car started to not fire on all its cylinders. While Mike and Ben Keayes were free of any such burden, they simply had to decide which site they should fly from - finally selecting Blease Fell.
Blease is an interesting site as it is very much a mountain site though in a position which is on the edge of the main fells and adjacent to Jenkin – the site of the areas first big pg distance claim.
It appears that Mike managed to do what Nigel had previously done, by slipping off the side of the range with not that much height he carefully made good progress over Calbeck then Carlisle, crossing the Solway and the Scottish Border and more importantly into a much improving sky. Following the M74 Mike made a steady track northwards passing the old Victorian Spa town (Moffat) at the 80km mark, knowing now he was in a good position for the 100km distance.
The usual indecision was present – to go somewhere in the south lakes – Barkin, Cautley, …if wind was light maybe the Langdales. Perhaps out to the Dales to Staggs or Semer Water.
Luckily the fact that my car was still in the quarry at Clough, after flying from there to Whitestones the day before, and Ben was offering to drive up there rather than hoping we could fly to it, had us heading north. Kitt came with us as his car was also at Clough having flown to Sedbergh the day before, however he could not come flying as he spent the day nursing it to the garage because it was not firing on all cylinders.
Once we were in the north lakes we still had a bit of indecision between Souther and Blease. We saw people high on Souther but when we got to the road end we could only see people struggling on the hill with wind off to the south. Catherine and Katie pointed out the high ones that had a lucky break, with a single cloud helping them get high. We still had thoughts of a Dales site where the Pennine clouds looked a lot better before taking the more sensible and more immediate option of Blease.
It turned out to be bang on and in reality quite windy. I was thinking about the usual batting about, to try and work out a triangle, but the wind and a rowdy climb out near the top made me consider a bit of a down winder. So I flew out to Souther where I got quite high leaving all options open. Good looking clouds in the Pennines reached out to Carlisle, so I thought I would glide into the blue and hopefully pick up something that would get me that far. In reality it was nice to go for a nice long glide without having to think about the hills!
Over the lone windmill out in front of Carrock it was starting to look tricky but my last major trigger, a quarry, was still within reach, and beyond something that looked like a chicken farm. Downwind of this it worked and although it was not very organised low down the lift got me back high, the drift not far off where I wanted to go, to get across the Solway near Carlisle and where the good looking clouds were still in some abundance.
The glide was good and the first clouds worked, I had reached my target and I had a good feeling. There seemed to be nice clouds heading the right way, just about down wind, although they were on the edge of blue sky. There were better clouds if I was willing to track due North, but the thought of the strong wind that I would be slightly cross winding, the hills and big tracts of forests all persuaded me to keep out of the boonies however good the clouds looked.
The line of clouds also kept me closer to the motorway and they worked like the stepping stones you dream about. I took most climbs high rather than long glides and skip them as the climbs were stronger higher up. I didn’t drop below 800m all the way to Moffat! And I think the ack-ack guns that I believe the Scottish flyers have put in place to keep us south of the border must have been out hunting haggis as I crossed the border with a smile. On the way, some wind mills confirmed the south easterly.
At Moffat I faced another choice. My line of clouds, close to the wind direction were petering out into the blue, there were very good clouds if I was willing to cross wind a lot and head up the valley towards St Mary’s Loch. There was also a third option, between the other two, directly north, but this was a bit blue and went over Devil’s Beeftub, an area where I have failed to find any thermals on a previous trip when me and Alex drove up there – I did not fancy that again.
As I was over Moffat I knew it was about as far as people had got on previous flights and although my clouds were petering out, they looked like they would get me the 100km! Tinto was also beckoning and the motorway was on the track! Decision made and off I glided into the roughest of thermals, a bit of a wake up after the nice climbs I had got used to. There was an 8mps lurking around in there which gave me quite a tussle, but ultimately it got me back high.
Meanwhile those clouds had petered out faster than I hoped and my next glide turned into my final one as the last decaying cloud failed me. I thought about heading for a hill to wait, but looked at the distance on my gps saying 98km; hopefully just carrying on with the glide and landing by the road would get me
100km in a straight line. It was bit closer than I expected as I touched down by the pub at Crawford – 101.75km. I had a big grin on my face and hoped the machine was telling me the truth.
Some perfect hitches got me back to my car and home before 8pm. Yeahey – I’m glad we chose Blease today!!
Although this Holy Grail may have alluded me, I will continue my quest to fly 100km (straight line) from the lakes. I must say a Big Congratulations to Mike. Who unknowingly to me also had this as a goal for his XC flying.
It was a bit of a holy grail for me too, I am amazed it had not fallen earlier. I was starting to think the lakes were too difficult to get that far. So maybe the fact that from there you can escape the mountains very quickly is key (I've always had that in the back of my mind), although you often have more sea air to contend with.
Mike has continued to be a great xc sparring partner since the early days and he's a great sportsman who has helped me to greatly improve my own flying as a by-product of our friendship.
What should our next ‘Holy Grail’ be Mike; the 100mile distance?