Finally, after 8 years of trying, I managed to fly over 100kms in Scotland today.
I woke at 7am and was driving by 7.15, ringing various friends as I headed down the A9 to see who was going where. The consensus seemed to be that Mount Blair, near Spittal of Glenshee was going to be a good starting point. So I drove for nearly three hours and arrived at the foot of the hill just as 15 or so other pilots were preparing to walk up.
At the top we eyed the fluffy cumulus popping off hilltops with some relish. It looked like a good day. Tim Bridle appeared and suggested setting Cannich as a goal for the flight. We laughed at this wildly optimistic suggestion and duly punched the route into our computers.
After a bit of a scrappy climb out with Andy Howson I set off downwind towards Spittal of Glenshee and watched with dismay as Andy bombed out after the first glide. Then I was alone for a quite a bit and progress was quite fast. However, I got low and stuck east of Carn Liath, in a place where landing would have meant an awful long walk out of the Cairngorms. After kicking the heather tops on some low hills for a while I managed to climb out just as Tim Bridle leapt frogged over me. Ten minutes later we were together and flew together over the remainder of the wild country of the western Cairngorms and over the A9 at Newtonmore. I squeaked over a corrie wall on the NW side of the Spey Valley very low and managed to milk a very low, very weak thermal over the Monaliadh plateau in strong wind past Coignafearn and towards the Great Glen at Foyers. As I was grovelling low I spotted Bob Mathews sailing serenely by thousands of feet above me.
Looking ahead to Loch Ness, I could see white caps on the surface and the heavily wooded and steep north side is not a place to get caught on a glider; I was only going to cross with stratospheric altitude! I climbed to 1800m close to Foyers and set off. The afternoon was drawing on now and there was a hint of colour in the west which reflected along the entire length of the Caledonian Canal as I flew high over Loch Ness - stunning!
Once over the north side of the Loch in the vicinity of Meall Fuar-Mhoniadh I could just about see where Cannich sat within Strathglass ahead of me. It seemed suddenly possible but I had been gliding for a long time with no sign of a thermal. The day was shutting down. I imagined landing just a few kms short of goal - probably at 99kms from launch! I was desperate for a final climb. I only needed one more.
I got very low and thought I had got lucky when a buzzard climbed out close to me but I couldn't make sense of the scrappy, wind blown thermal and resigned myself to landing in Glen Urquhart, just as predicted. I had my feet out of my harness as I came in to land in a field with no sheep when the glider heaved back above me and the vario chirped enthusiastically. The strong, solid climb took me back to 1000m and I now knew I would make goal. After reaching the goal cylinder I turned east and cruised a short distance up Strathglass enjoying the views and simultaneously noticing the stiff wind in the valley below me. I picked out a very large and sheep-free field at Invercannich Farm and came down vertically in the sea breeze. Bob and Conor landed nearby and Becky had brought a car down to help get us all picked up - a perfect end to a magic day.