For this day I had barely looked at the weather, got up too late and only snapped into action when the first site reports came in from Selsley. I was considering Combe or Westbury for a boat about but there were some good pilots on the common already and I drive past it every other day so Selsley it was. I assigned a goal Tim had posted- as it turned out I didn't make it but the heading was very useful.
The first point of interest was that the wind was much lighter than forecast. The second point was that there was some big development around. The day started slowly. Climbs seemed tiny and unconsolidated although there were plenty of gulls, swifts and buzzards marking lift.
In the early afternoon the cloud increased and there were audible signs of pilots giving up on the day. And then, under an overcast sky we got the climb, worked it and just went. I remember being high with Wez and Tom J and thinking if we don't take this now we'll never leave so we just hung in the best lift having the bird's eye view as other gliders followed us. LAT's ask about going over the back at Selsley- I think I was over the back of the common at 2000' asl but in a really good sustained climb. By Rodborough I was at 4000' so the Nailsworth valley had already been crossed.
A good bunch of pilots left with us, Tim P, Rob K, Graham R, Steve N and I saw many of them again in the flight.
The sky upwind looked foreboding. To the SW there was a very dark cell and to the North more big development. It almost seemed like I was riding the front edge of a huge cloud to the NW but the thermals never seemed too strong or rowdy and the sky to the South had some blue in it and space between forming Cu's.
I gunned it from Rodborough downwind and got another climb over Sherington which got me enough height to dog leg around Kemble and then a couple more climbs took me West of Swindon. I was flying for a while here with Graham and Rob. Although there was a lot of high cloud and shadow, ground sources worked well- housing, sheds, solar farms, dry fields. It was a day for columns of seagulls- Rob and I shared one over a building site near the M4 with a huge flock circling in the thermal for ages. It was also a day for some heavy RAF metal- A Chinook seemed to divert to the North of me- if so, many thanks!
Wooton Basset pinged nicely as did the escarpment before Wroughton. I heard the shooting range poop off near Barbury. Rob, Graham and I had leapfrogged a bit before splitting up- Wez had rocketed off and eventually made goal- nice one.
A couple more climbs got me within sight of Combe. I could clearly see gliders soaring there but the wind looked off to the West. I was at 3500' at Combe and remembered it can be a difficult retrieve over the back so hung in front of the ridge and headed East past Hell Corner (what a name) and dropped low near Highclere. Was it all over? I recalled Tim's story of landing at the castle and knew it would make a tale. I dropped to 550' agl and looking for landings when a crabby bit of lift changed everything. It was just enough to help me get to the castle grounds but then I saw two buzzards to the North of me and of course I was just outside the core so I made for them and took their climb.
This climb got me back up to 3000' over Beacon Hill (does anyone fly that? ) and I picked up another little climb over Watership Down. The really good climbs of earlier on had turned to scrabbling under shady sky at 2-2500' but I pressed on just managing to maintain this kind of altitude.
Basingstoke had some good looking Cu's above it and I had enough height to cross the town on the Western edge but the M3 crosses here too and I stayed over roads connecting with the town centre. I was probably a bit shy of the height needed to make it to a nice Cu over the town centre and was by now feeling tired, hungry and dehydrated. A nice clear road crossed the M3 and led to some good landing options and I opted to follow this down ending up near Nutley.
The landing field was a scraggy meadow waist high in grass and took time to pack and find a gate. Tim Pentreath had landed in a much more intelligent place near Basingstoke but PM'd me to see how far out I was. He got a much earlier train as I was a good five miles out of the town. I was almost looking for a hedge to sleep under when a fantastic guy in a little fiat took me to the station in time for the last train to Stroud. I got in at 11pm and had to slog up the hill and camped up there in my van with a couple of ciders. Rich Millar had been flying and offered to pick me up until his wife reminded him that he was a few gins over.
A really surprising and rewarding day- just shows what some perseverance can do- as Wez showed.