Slipping on my invisibility cloak I headed for Widdale. I've flown over it several times but never actually on it and from it; today looked like it may be possible - if not, then it would just be trying a new walk-in.
It wasn't a very inspiring day, active clouds and a threat of showers, but also quite a bit of sun breaking through. The school was out on Whernside with the ridge showing as soarable. If Whernside can fly then I reasoned so too could Widdale. I worked out four possible approaches ... one I tried a week ago, another last August and today I took the shortest, approaching from the back and using the Brantside parking area.
The walk-in proved fairly easy, trackless, but dry and gently rising. The highlight being the beautiful Widdale Great Tarn, larger than I thought and I imagine rarely visited. A lovely place for a summer picnic with a smaller tarn 150m to the north. Just another 200m further, along the flat top can be found a pleasant grassy take off overlooking the valley.
The wind had been forecast to go off to the south, however it was square to the hill and between 8 - 12 mph with a slight gustiness. I was soon away and the rapid climb out suggested it was certainly a lifty day. And so it proved - almost too much so!
I headed down the ridge (north) finding the steep cliffs and grassy slopes a new experience. The ridge is both bigger and longer than it appears. At the north end a wide, gentle bowl is crossed to another steep section where it culminates in an abrupt turn to the northface. Setting off back and lulled by the bundant lift (there was a lot of gustiness and some strong cores at times - so not the most comfortable flying) I rather took crossiing the bowl for granted - especially the out of wind section. The result was a touch down ... the wind seemed on so a 40' bunch up higher and away again - this time making better use of the slope. Back on the main edge I passed the forest and decided to try out an edge I'd scouted during 2022 as a possible take off. Despite being a kilometre further and across a shallow slope it worked perfectly Actually. In fact it started to work too well as pushing out front something quite active grabbed me. Afterwards I realised a couple of turns would have easily got me back to my car. Instead I went for what I knew - a landing above Arten Gill.
A walk down followed by different route .... the one passing the Brantside take off. It took about 45 minutes that next time I'll save myself by flying back.
Widdale is an impressive ridge ... probably quite spectacular in winter snow. It's been flown onto before, especially from Semer Water, but it's nice to discover in its own right. It strikes me as a very thermic place on the right day and a ridge that would link nicely with many of the other SE ridges behind. Well worth a visit.
A day of three halves - Is that possible? OK .... three distinct parts.
The forecast had been quite reasonable (by prevailing weather standards) .... however it seemed to have gone the way of all 'reasonable' forecasts. The morning brought thick mist, damp and was Dickensian dreary. However, the afternoon was meant to be better and weather cams showed it sunnier to the north - in fact, full sun in Hawes. It was now approaching noon and the gamble was on.
Rob collected me and shortly after, Alan at Ribblehead. We started to see patches of sun and even an occasional summit popped through the cloud. By Hawes it was sunny ... in fact we remarked on it actually being a beautiful day. So ... where to go?
Despite all forecasts suggesting WSW, we tried to force Stags to work. It was handy and it felt - sort of on as we arrived on the take off.. Pete Balmforth was there, glider in bag and not convinced, later Neil Plant turned up and was even less convinced. Five of us. I gave it first try and actually it seemed OK .... well there were some thermals. The wind however was distinctly off to the west. Pete, Rob and I all gave it a few flights and a few landings just to confirm it wasn't really the best place to be. We all packed and set off for Brantside.
On the walk-in I made it a little more than 50/50. As usual it was quite light, decent blows came through occasionally and it was a little too WSW ... SW would have been better. The first flight was a bit scratchy - so a top landing. A 10 minute wait and off again. It felt better and Brantside was ready for the afternoon thermal lift off. Within 10 minutes everyone was airborne and taking the climbs. My first climb was OK ... but I suspected a better one lay under a solid cloud towards Wold Fell. Better still it had a couple more lined up downwind. A long glide and thankfully it worked a treat.
I hadn't really intended to go xc as the day up to this point didn't seem conducive to it. The second climb convinced me to give it a try. Base was 3800' but I squeezed another 100' - I couldn't get it to hit 4000'. I would have preferred the south side of Wensleydale, but it was cloudless so opted to cross over to Stags where a good line of clouds ran along the north side. I expected the blue crossing, over Hawes, to be rather sinky - actually it was quite a bouyant line.
Over Stags I tucked under the first cloud expecting a lot more than I got ... there was a climb but it was slow and disorganised. I pushed on. The next cloud didn't deliver a great deal either and it began to look quite blue. The following wind was surpringly strong ... for a spell I had over 70kph which I interpreted as big climb ahead. Sadly there wasn't - just dribs and drabs, but it got me onto Nappa Scar. Nappa will just about take a SW, but it won't do WSW and the wind just slid along it. Leaving the Nappa behind a bunch of gulls took off and headed out, then started thermalling ... I followed and it seemed I may have found an escape. There were some decent surges, but each turn I seemed to fall out of the back. So .... back into wind again only to find nothing, followed by a desperate run downwind.
The flight was pretty much over, I could have scarped it over 30k by just setting off downwind, but chose to cross wind into Caperby for an easier retrieve.
One lift got me near to Bainbridge until I met Rob driving retrieve (Thanks Rob). All followed by a pint and debrief at the pub In Bainbridge. A decent day out and most pleasing was that Alan got some good solid air experience.
Just a few stills from Brantside and then only the first and second climb out LINK
Decisions, decisions ....
A good rasp, but light and fickle winds, so .... where to go? We (Chris, Allan, Tam amd I) narrowed it down to Cautley or Wild Boar. With the general concensus being Cautley we settled on that and joined about 30 other pilots for company with the prospect of a gruelling, warm, walk to the top. The walk up didn't disappoint.
The summit slopes were strewn with gliders, pilots, with no one in any great rush. A very gentle breeze occasionally came up the huge south face, but the sky remained stubbornly blue and at this stage it didn't look like the promised day. Still, this is Cautley and nothing happens until after 2pm. Well, that's my theory and it always seems to pan out that way.
Just after 2pm the scratching stopped and the first gaggle of five climbed out. I took off as a second bunch started to form, we climbed OK, I was near the bottom and it didn't convince me, so I headed back to quickly find something better - plus a couple of better pilots in Mike Cav and Pete Logan. I lost Mike ... and Pete to a degree, so on approaching 5000' I struck out across the Howgills and the good cumulus that were now springing up all over the Howgills. Pete intermittently appeared, first low, then high then he passed me toward the Tebay gap.
Now I have to admit I'm wary of the Howgills. Whilst they are a thermal hotspot, leaving them in any direction is always a struggle .... weak climbs and what goes up must come down someplace. That place seems to be around the edges .... and they take gliders down with them.
Chris and I had a task with the first TP being above Shap granite quarry. The problem was it was blue that way. I modified my task - in other words, ditched it to a degree. I still headed for Tebay - if a good climb arrived I'd either carry on to Shap ... failing that back into the Howgills and along the northern slopes. I didn't even make Tebay ... and boy was it slow going. With no cloud to head for and it feeling a sinky place I turned back for Langdale.
I came in pretty low over a very shallow slope crowned by a solitary walker plus dog. The only thing in its favour was being in sun and facing west (the drift seemed light W). A gentle climb gave me enough to cross into Bowderdale with its steeper slopes and better prospects. Having walked these valleys they are not to be underestimated - the walk out is measured in hours! A slightly better climb and I was able to move to higher terrain and under a good cloud. Soon it was easy again, a strong thermal and I was back over 5000' and dancing amongst the clouds. Stunning views.
My aim now was just a free FAI which has the huge advantage of allowing the start to be midway along a leg, so ... scope to build something to get over the 25k mark and get the bigger multiplier. You have to be a bit sneaky and game it at times. Turning NE I took it to the edge of the sector and then reversed. In fact, that was a mistake that xctrack didn't tell me about - I could have gone a lot further but it bases the sectors on the start point, not the potential to move it further away. Anyway, next time.
Good climbs saw me south, until over take off at about 4200' and on towards Great Dummacks. I hoped for a good climb there before setting off for Baugh Fell. There were no clouds that way, but maybe a climb, the numbers were edgeing over 21k for an FAI. Out over the moors, nothing ... but the number crept over the magic 25k .... just a little further, the ground rising slowly as I sunk steadily. Having to get back to close I turned for Yarlside. I came in below the top, a few gliders flying and the hill still working. Satisfied, after some briefing thermalling, I went and landed a few feet from the car to save a walk.
The day had more in it than I gave it credit for. With a little more thought I could have made it 30k plus - but that's an after-though. We finished off with drinks in the Dalesman, and a fish n chip restaurant meal (not cheap) in Settle.
17/5/2023 Three Men
It was certainly a flyable day, but the xc potential was limited by a lowish base and a half hearted RASP. Initially, I drove up to Ribblehead to make an assessment. It looked a bit grim with grey skies, full cloud cover and quite a gusty wind coming up the valley. It seemed more SW than the forecast west. To the west looked a far more attractive day, sunny with nice cu's dotting the sky. So - the western Dales it was.
I arrived at the parking at Three Men and it seemed OK, on the light side, but the sky looked reasonable. A quick message to Geoff who was about to set off and the short walk up. I arrived on top to find a soarable breeze from WSW ... just about perfect. A first, short flight as Geoff began walking up; followed quickly after by a second as he began laying out. Things really felt better, something was happening.
I was quickly at base 3,500' asl and as it seemed that each cloud was working I hung about waiting for Geoff (I tried a radio call, but received no reply). Eventually, Geoff launched but struggled to get high. Tempted by the clouds ahead and confident they would work I kept heading out ... towards Johnny Barnes. Four climbs later I was over JB. I took a fifth small climb and the striking thing was the sea breeze front which had now set up across the Lune valley. Exciting, spectacular, but deceiving. I considered heading north along my tried and tested, back of Barkin route - the wind now being SW. Still not too concerned, I opted for a small triangle via Great Coum to avoid an awkward retrieve.
Heading for the long, shallow spur dropping down from Crag Hill I knew I'd dropped into the wedge and the damper air ... the cloud had also lowered, maybe by as much as 1000'. It was a long sinky glide to the spur and the desperate hope that something might be triggered around it. If it didn't, it was a longish but familiar walk out. I did manage a climb, rather broken, strong in parts, it provided a useful 500' before it fell apart. Now what? The back of Great Coum has a very shallow SW facing bowl - but extends the walk out. I managed part way before realising the wind was now a lot stronger and a shallow slope wasn't likely to work well. I touched down gently in a lighter spell with the wind very crossed where I ended up.
The next hour was a high level, but flat walk across the top ridge from Green Hill - heading south until I found a small section of slope that allowed me three beats, 30' and a low level fly out towards the front ridgeline. Another level walk .... not too far and yet another launch that scraped me back onto the main Three Men launch area and inot wind. Rather than waste it - still only 4pm, I managed another solid hour of very smooth soaring with a few climbs to 1000' ato before landing by the car.
Quite an enjoyable day, lots of quality flying and some walking. Just a bit disappointed the SB curtailed the possibilities just as it was getting interesting
PHOTO LINK (Very few)
A short PS: The good spell was the sb nose triggering the thermals - usual thing. Geoff probably was 10 mins too late as it had reached him by the time he took off whilst I sat above enjoying the beneficial effects. ... and I guess it got windier and more choppy low down. Until I saw the front it wasn't obvious as it didn't seem that sort of day. Once you spot it, it can be too late .... drop into the wedge and you're stuffed. I did think of going over the back but the base seemed to low to be over a grey looking Dales.
23/5/2023 Johnny Barnes
It's always a struggle when there are too many options. Being a bit of a 'loner' I have my own ideas ... not always the best, but it often ends up with me being on my own hill whilst the rest go elsewhere. Today started off no different.
I was sat on top of JB before midday. The sky looked great but the wind was light enlived with only the odd, short-lived blows from various directions. A fair team had headed for Barton - which seemed a fair bet although the rasp for that area didn't seem that great.
Approaching 1pm and getting concerned the SB may soon be arriving, there were signs; I was eager to check it out and if all else failed slope land. At the same time, the Barton crew transport arrived at the foot of the hill and disgorged about eight (?) pilots. My first short flight may have encouraged the pace. It was just getting soarable in spells and I could scrape in on top. Three more short flights followed, each better than the last and hopefully spurred on the troops as they laid out across the hill. As the Barbon clock struck 2pm we had lift off ... no beating the hill, the hill simply emptied and everyone climbed out in their own broken mini gaggle.
Above: Bud and Westie about to launch.
I don't recall any group plans, but after the first climb we all scattered in various directions and radio comms seemed redundant. Bud and Westie were high and heading NE, Tom, Andy, Jacob and myself went towards Middle Earth and found another climb. Pete and Glenn I lost track of. Certainly staying around JB was (I thought) a bit of a non starter as this was the usual sea breeze trigger and once it had done its business would wipe the place out. I headed NE towards Crag Hill and a nice cloud. I think the others struck out north along the back of Barkin.
I took several climbs and progress at this stage seemed slow with a light drift. Climbing again south of Wold Fell I contemplated a triangle, but base wasn't that high and I felt the sea breeze would make it awkward to close. I also had a 92k goal task set up and the sky seemed pretty good that way. So I continued, slightly concerned that I needed to be back fairly early to do a wife retrieval from Penrith.
Passing south of Dodd/Wether I hit base at 4,900' .... better, but with signs of SB convergence just to the south of me. To the north was a large blue area and rather than risk it I carried on towards Buckden Pike. I was hopefully the moors would deliver a climb, but hope turned to despair as I ended on on the lower limestone edges of Buckden. I envisaged a scratching session at best, but no sooner had I turned into wind than a small bullet of a thermal hoisted me out of there ... bang on cue. I lost it several times, refound, yanked the glider about a bit and then lost it when I just needed that bit more to reach Great Whernside top edge.
Another long crossing, another lower edge I'm familiar with led to the gully top above Hag Dyke Hostel - I also know this gully area from previous visits. For fully 20 minutes I soared back and forth becoming ever more concerned about the increasing wind, the associated turbulence and wanting something to drop me back onto the main edge of Great Whernside. Eventually, that something gained me 200' and I crept onto the main top edge. Although high of altitude and long (3k) ... it's surprisingly small, maybe only 100' of drop and fairly shallow. I expected more.
This seemed a more sensible place to be and usually I'd take a breather, reassess and plan the next stage. But I was becoming concerned. Brief radio messages mentioned the wind increasing to unflyable levels in the Dales and it felt like it here too. The benign feel had gone from the day to be replaced by increasing turbulence, wind blown thermals and difficult penetration. Wave clouds were now showing up amongst the cu's. I tried following two thermals over the back but after only two turns it felt like the next meant total commitment to a BIG mean moor. I wimped out!
Looking back I think I would have done the next bit differently - but a fixation is hard to shift.
Using a lot of speed bar I pushed forward and south to avoid getting behind the Windbank ridge. It was slow, but straightforward - in fact I was often in light lift. It was the same heading down the valley on the wind-ward face ... very little sink, just a long float towards Grassington. There were clouds, there was the odd bit of something to work and the terrain downwind was now OK towards Grimwith Reservoir. But, I was more focused on a safe landing and a good looking field to aim for. Over Threshfield garage I found one and although a bit bumpy I managed a good vertical landing in what I assume was a gust as during packing it seemed to moderate.
This was a funny sort of flight and my report card would have said, could do done better. Being with company in these circumstance helps a lot; on your own it's easy to persuade yourself things are worse than they are and to take the easy option.
Two simple lifts and I was back home by 6pm.
25/5/2023 The Magnet
From the outset it didn't look like the promised day. Most of the Dales, with the exception of the western side, was covered in a huge area of convergence spreadout. It wasn't a hard decision to go (Tom S, Chris and I) where the sun still shone and the cumulus looked best - so the Magnet it was.
A soarable wind on take off, but annoyingly off to the south - it was to stay that way all day. Behind, dark, ominous and threatening clouds put the Dales in darkest shade; ahead quite different - sunshine and nice clouds. In total we had several flights ranging across three hours. It was only occasionally comfortable at height, low down it was often rough with characteristic surges and dumps that made scratching along and occasionally below the edges a bit stressful and needed careful wing management. I can't say I enjoyed it. Later things improved a little. Chris managed about 4,100' by edging towards the darkside; being more cowardly my best was 3,800 out front.
I guess it was a flying, but I've had better. A pint at the Marton Arms where Dean joined us after a long day instructing.
Photo LINK (not many and not that good - too bouncy to film and fly)
26/5/2023 Far Whitestones
Chris and Marek came around at 11am and after minimal discussion we setted on Far Whitestones. It didn't have the best RASP, that was slightly further east, but the sky said otherwise and the threat of another spread-out (like yesterday) wasn't evident. I love the Howgills, but FW never seems to appeal, which is odd given the splendid range of hills to explore - they'd kill for it down south. Anyway, FW is it was and many others made the same decision so it was filling up by the time we arrived.
Part way up the hill it was light, but with thermal cycles coming through - in otherwords, why walk to the top. Chris was away first and I followed shortly after. With the hill proven to be working another batch of pilots soon followed and I joined them in the climb out. Within 40 minutes there were gliders strung out along the bowls towards Sedbergh and hunting out front. The thermals were good, quite strong and each cloud seemed to be working. In fact a classic, light wind go and explore day - although a few pushed that maxim out front and had to land. The only downside was a base of only 3600' ... which in the higher hills never seems that high.
Above Sedbergh, over Winder, Geoff, Chris and myself took a climb and headed back north, Geoff to complete the NCS task. Partway back I really pushed my luck - with a cloud well out front that didn't deliver followed by a low run back into the bowls. In short, I sank lower and lower, almost into the bottom of one of the gullies with only a shallow grassy slope and a landing out seeming highly likely. I remember walking this very trail a few years before .... now I was inspecting it from 50'.
A little light lift came through, and persisted, so a few S turns up the grassy slope - push forward a little and a stronger surge, another S and another push forward and the surge became a roaring core. Lots of tight turns and like a cork from a bottle I went straight to base.
There was evidence of the sea breeze now starting to show ... where we were it was acting a as trigger and maybe the best way was just keep on going north. Chris called on the radio and suggested crossing over to Whinfell. I was happy with that, although there were no clouds showing that way.
We crossed the M6 to Grayrigg Pike and continued on along Whinfell - getting ever lower. It didn't look at all good until finally we stumbled into something. It felt OK ... not mega strong but if we could make base height (3600') it opened up possibilities to head further west towards the Beacon/A6. Chris made more of it that me so after losing it at a disappointing 2600' I decided to cut my losses and head back ... with just a channce of making it over the M6.
I arrived low on the hill on a cross wind slope and landed. Chris followed five minutes later. Still .... two and a half hours of quality flying in nice thermic air so it was worth it, along with two pints of Loweswater Gold In the Dalesman in Sedbergh to do our post flight debrief.
27/5/2023 Brantside/Brigsteer/Three Men
It had all the makings of a breezier day. I met up with Chris at Ribblehead and it was already windy. Liam was sitting on Brantside take off unsure whether it was flyable or not, so we drove round and walked in to join him. It was borderline not flyable, so we split - Liam to walk the dog and Chris and I to head west to Brigsteer and maybe lighter winds.
Brigsteer was being more weird than usual. It felt OK in parts .... little meteo wind just thermals gusts coming through and off to the SSW. The temptation was a good sky. We both had short flights, inspected the trees and got rather kicked around before landing in the field above the tree line.
We met and chatted with a nice couple, Anna and James recently moved to Morecambe. Brigsteer was never going to be their best introduction to local flying - not today anyway.
Next try, Chris got up and climbed away with no great height eventually landing outside Kendal. My next flight, produced the same kicking and another field landing only nearer the car this time A ponder followed.
OK, one more try. The wind had now come round and strengthened a bit. Unfortunately it had also veered too far to the W for comfort. This time I persisted for 30 minutes (it seemed longer) .... down in amongst trees, over the powerline and the large wood to the left of take off. I could stay up but that was it. I did try three times to make the Scar but it was into wind and I returned to the most unlikely and nasty of places, trapped in a corner of trees. Finally, I gained a few hundred feet and made it north to the Scar - should be better now? No chance! It was as rough, turbulent, strong and unpleasant as I've ever know it. I headed back for a bouncy, strong top landing and very glad to be down.
Collected Chris from the bus station and headed back towards home - it was now gone 4pm.
Approaching KL we spotted two glider flying on Three Men - Geoff and Tom S. It didn't look that exciting, but it was only a slight deviation for a look-see and chat. I wasn't fussed about walking up, Chris insisted and I thought, given the breeze, it should only be to half way - and of course I could video a Photon.
We laid out on the nice, lower grassy slopes and it felt really pleasant - launched into a gentle breeze and soared our way up. For the first 20 minutes it was just typical Three Men, soaring the SW face from end to end with odd light thermals coming through. Then the mundane changed and special things started to happen.
The thermals got bigger, stronger, more regular and the climbs went higher. The wind shifted slightly to WSW .. later WNW and the whole site suddenly opened up. The best climb I missed, only getting into the bottom and not following with any conviction. Tom and Chris meanwhile exploited it to the full and reached 4,600 in a solid 3/4m/s climb. From this point they always seemed high and were able to push well out front in the gentle winds. By contrast, up to this point, my thermalling seemed poor - I kept falling out of the back of climbs - I just couldn't get a good rythm and opted to exlore my weak side - turning left. In fact it seemed better or that may have been in my head.
Below: Looking north along the Gragareth ridge towards Great Coum. This was only at 3,600'. Tom's photos are from 4500'
For the next hour we enjoyed superb evening flying in lovely air. Chris and I set off for Great Coum, found odd climbs before heading back. Three Men was certainly delivering .. it does seem a rather special evening place when all the moors in front release.
To cap the day we enjoyed drinks (courtesey of Tom) and chatting in the garden by the pool as the sun set on a lovely evening. Not often you can say that in the UK.
30/5/2023 Park Fell
We're in a spell of persistent, 'orrible easterlies' ..... nice weather, but not great for flying - and I predict it will get worse next week as the high gets squeezed flat and they increase in strength. Until then the Dales is most likely blown out and only an escape west (Lakes) or north (Scotland) remains the best option.
A slight relenting allowed three of us to fly Park (NNE veering to ENE) .... and earlier two others to soar Simon Fell. I had two and half hours of nothing special, but pleasant .... a few ill formed thermals with attendant surges that became less as the afternoon progressed and the odd cu disappeared. But ..... it's the Dales in high summer so the views were nice.
LINK (video is Rob's taken as he was arriving near the top).