Arrived at Combe at 14.45 to find no other pilots on the hill. The late arrival was due to a forecast that suggested an improving situation from the West in the afternoon.
The wind was very light as forecast, but the sky looked very good out front, with excellent flat bottomed cumulus. However, conditions were bluing out to the West, and there was congestus with a lower base to the East. The wind on the hill was NW-WNW and so I rigged on the far NW face of Combe.
I would not ordinarily fly alone, but there were walkers around and Combe is a site I am very familiar with. So, despite not being entirely happy with the situation I decided to give it a go, but was not hopeful. I have spent many a time on Combe in similar conditions with very little reward and reports on Telegram from other pilots who had been on site earlier and had found the conditions poor were not encouraging.
I waited 10 minutes before a light thermal came through and I launched into a weak thermal lift. A couple of beats of the NW face let to no real height gain and the nose to the East also produced nothing; I was reluctant to fly further to the West for fear of rotor over the trees in a WNW wind despite the wind being very light. I continued to the East past the nose and unsurprisingly began my inevitable descent below ridge height. However the East end of the ridge delivered some better lift and crucially being alone I was able to fully exploit it and a few beats later I was in a decent 2 m/s climb to a height of 3500 ft. A perfect looking big cumulus out front beckoned and resulted in a beautiful 3 m/s climb to base at 6000ft.
I have been paragliding for many years, but still find it remarkable that I can launch in nil wind on a tiny hill and within minutes be a mile high with stupendous views of the English countryside. It's an experience that never gets old and is an utter privilege that I will never take for granted.
Climbs were easy now and it was a case of join the clouds all the way to just south of Liddington, never getting below 5000ft. I topped up here back to 6000ft at about 5pm and decided to make the return run to Combe. Out West looked poor with increasing top cover and no cumulus and to the East was towering congestus with a much lower base. A triangle therefore seemed difficult and I wanted the satisfaction of landing back at my car.
The route back to Combe was now through a blue hole, but with my height I was able to make it back to Hungerford, arriving at 3000ft. There was a lot of sink here, I think due to the congestus just off to my East, but I found a climb out in the sunshine that eventually coalesced and topped me out at a chilly 6350ft just North of Combe.
The issue now was getting down. Even down at 3000ft the air was super buoyant and it was a matter of finding pockets of sink to spiral down in.
I was perplexed why there was no-one evening soaring on Combe, but on approach to landing it became clear the wind was now over the back from the SE and I had the peculiar experience of landing back at the Gibbet in to wind, facing the hill.
A remarkable flight that I won't forget.