Well, here I am sat in the Golden Swan in Wilcot, near Pewsey. If you're geographically challenged and can only relate to places via paragliding sites, then it's near Milk Hill. What a day it's been, I'm bloody shattered after walking up the spur of Milk Hill White Horse several times after trying my luck in pathetic thermals only to be disappointed and ending up at the bottom. The first time is bearable, then it just becomes bloody hard work. I'd started off by declaring a goal of Milton Keynes, thinking that if I arrive in good time and high I'd just carry on. But, as the morning went by and 2PM was looming I changed my mind and stuck in a smallish triangle. What a dumb move that was, of course, hindsight in such a wonderful thing. Finally all the effort was rewarded and 2 off us managed to climb out… In different thermals within minutes of each other. I was actually playing catch up, thinking my partner in crime had a small head start. I mean, what the fuck was going on, he wasn't even flying a Zeno. I know it's hard to believe, but people actually do fly other wings. Anyway, a slight digression, someone has just stated playing some really crap music in the pub… It must be a country thing and living in the depths of Wiltshire. So, back to the paragliding, there I was, having finally made it to Base thinking what now? So much for having a flight plan, I more or less instantly ditched the triangle idea and decided to head to Milton Keynes anyway. Afterall, it was already in the bag, I only head another 100km to go. Pretty much one glide on a Zeno… If only. After a quick visit to the white room I thought it time to come down a tad. Yep, the ground was still there and I was bombing along on full bar. Nice, hanging on to my toggles for all I was worth. God, you gotta love two liners, there's nothing better. The one draw back is that I can barely hear my vario because of the wind noise, it's a small price to pay and I can feel any lift. You know, feel the force Luke, it's all through the risers. Of course, it does get rather interesting at times when you're bombing along and hit a 4 or 5 up… Stay calm and ride the storm on the toggles before burying the brake and start climbing. Once in the climb you can think about what the fuck has just happened. But then that's part of the fun and I can't get enough of it… It's better than sex! Certainly lasts longer… Depending on the night etc etc. Moving on… Before it I knew it, I had Oxford in my sights. It had actually been fairly uneventful getting to Oxford, hadn't got too low at any point and always found climbs when I wanted one. Transited just south of Abingdon airfield and then over the car plant on the southern bit of of Oxford. After Oxford I had once thing on my mind, getting to Milton Keynes and landing at what was my original goal… A small park more or less as close as you can get to the railway station. Something I hadn't really considered was being too high, let's face it, we don't normally have to worry about such things until later in the season… At least that's my experience. But, shortly after Oxford I was enjoying myself in a lovely 4 up climb when my airspace alarm started shouting at me. Instant reaction, wtf is that all about? Having woken up, it quickly became apparent I was rapidly approaching an airspace floor at 6500 feet. That's jolly annoying I thought, better leave this climb before I get too close… What a bugger. Anyway, straight line glide, hands on my trusty toggles and full bar. Yippee, happy days… However, I was still going up. Stick with it I thought, still going up though… Didn't take long and I was staying around six grand without climbing. Great, I thought, from six grand near Oxford my trusty Zeno should be able to glide all the way to the coast! Well, perhaps not quite that far but it'd be quite good. However, that idea soon changed with yet another airspace warning going off. This time it was a floor at 5500 feet, good grief, the whole world is against me, I was still closer to 6000 ft than I was to 5500 ft and to make matters worse I was only about 700 metres away from the boundary. To be fair, I did know it was coming but I was trying my hardest to ignore it for as long as I dare. Paying close attention to a little black line on my airspace chart telling me how many meters I was from the boundary I flew along parallel to the line whilst I came down to around 5000 feet. At 5000 feet I changed my track again and resumed my course under the airspace and heading for Milton Keynes. At this point I only had about 25km to go, shouldn't be too hard. What could possibly go wrong? Yep, you guessed it, bombing out… That wouldn't have been fun in the boonies between Oxford and Milton Keynes. There's the odd village but I do know public transport is crap in that area. I really needed to make my goal of Milton Keynes to save myself a whole world of hassle. So, back to the job in hand. After my lofty heights of 6000 feet I was getting down amongst the weeds again after a long glide. There's a really nice (and very big) gravel pit near Calvert, unless it's a nuclear waste dump no one knows about. Whatever it is, I'm really not that bothered, point is, it's brown in colour and has a tree line on the downwind side. As far as I was concerned it meant thermal source and trigger point. Sure enough, it worked nicely and up I went. Time for yet another glide. This time though I got really really low.
Blimey, this is a bit serious I thought, could spell trouble. Oh well, no XC flight wouldn't be the same without at least one low save. At 95k, just when I was really beginning to think it was job done and another 100k was in the bag. What's that saying about counting your chickens before they hatch… Or it's never over until the fat bird sings… Anyway, when low I fly the ground plus the clouds depending on whether they look like they're working. In my case, there I was at 500 feet above the deck and hunting for a good thermal source/ trigger combination. So, where was I and what options did I have? Well, I was at that well known disused World War 2 airfield of RAF Horwood. Just in case you was wondering, it was in service from 1942 to 1946 and used as a bomber command training base. Unfortunately, these days we're not allowed to bomb the Germans anymore so it's reverted back to good old farming. However, for the keen eyed paraglider pilot some useful bits are still around. I spotted a reasonably large area of concrete apron with a nice little copse on the downwind side. That meant one thing to me, thermal source and trigger point. Given I was at just over 95k from take off I didn't really care if I didn't get back to base, all I needed was a few hundred feet and I knew I could glide over the 100k line. As it turned out, my concrete source sent me all the way back over 4000 feet. I knew the job was done, another 100k in the bag… Yawn. Next dilemma was whether to carry on to Bedford or simply land at my target field in Milton Keynes. It was getting late, I hadn't taken off until after 2 PM and it was now around 5.30. I figured things would be shutting down soon and I really didn't fancy landing mid way between MK and Bedford… That would've been too much hassle just for another few Km's. Decision made, time to land. Arriving over my target at around 3000 it looked bloody small… It was small but from where I was it looked even smaller. I could see people in the park and they certainly looked really small. This is gonna take a while I thought, having spent three and a half hours trying to stay high I was now high but wanted to get down… I'm never happy! Of course, the big advantage of arriving so high above my intended landing field is that I got a really good look at all my options. There were a few other possible landing areas I could go for even when I got down to a few hundred feet, just in case I had to. I always like to have options when landing in built up areas. Needless to say, after what seemed like hours, I was low enough to really concentrate on my landing. Having flown various legs parallel to the park boundary I'd worked out the wind direction. Fair to say, there wasn't much wind to speak of. The slight concern I had was out gliding the park and with no wind it was going to be a fast approach. Finally I was on my base leg keeping a close eye on the tall trees on the park boundary making sure I'd just clear their tops. With hands up it was a quick approach without any breeze to slow me down. That's when I really notice the speed of my rocket ship, with a bit of ground rush, I buried the brakes at around 5 feet, a few quick steps and I was down. Round of applause from everyone in the park, obviously a very discerning crowd who knew they'd witnessed an extremely skilful landing… I simply breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn't screwed it up in front of everyone. That was it, 100+ km even though I hadn't taken off until after 2pm. Happy days. All I had to do now was get back to my car which was at Golden Ball car park. As always, the self retrieve after flying XC is always an adventure. It's amazing how many weird looks you get on the London underground when carrying a large paraglider rucksack. After two train rides and three underground I duly arrived at Pewsey at 2120 or thereabouts. Thankfully, Andrew Craig had been kind enough to give me a lift back to my car. I had tried various taxi options without success, at once point I thought I'd have to walk back to my car. I really didn't fancy that, so a huge thank you to Andrew. Overall, a good day having had a flight I really enjoyed. Until next time… 😂