The Lakes & the Dales & Mere

The Lakes - Mountains and Tears


By the end of May 1982, the frustrations and limitations of the East Anglian sites (and weather) were such that I decided I just had to find some big mountains for more experience. It had to work - right?
Wrong! In July, with borrowed tent, I drove to Keswick. That's Skiddaw in the background.


Big mountains = massive carry ups, even if you knew the way. Some days there was nil wind (yes!) - good for walks. Other days there was weather.


This was Southerfell and Blencathra - the only place I did get a couple of significant soaring flights, after an 800' carry up (not on this day, of course). Mid week there seemed to be no other hangies around. After a week of this, in moderate despair, I set off homewards, not knowing what to do for the best, but at least I thought I should look at the Yorkshire Dales on the way.

The Dales - First Thermal Flights

I arrived in the middle of a stable anticyclone which seemed set to last for days. In the Lakes, this meant nil winds, no flying - and lots of walking. Nearly crying with grief in the old station car park at Hawes, I heard a shout from behind the boundary wall, immediately followed by a hang gliding harness hurtling over the wall, further followed by a desperate pilot clambering after it. "Hey - give me a lift to my kite. I've just landed out!". Thus I met Tony Fillingham of the Dales club, and my fortunes began to change. Tony had a Comet - the latest type of double surface high performance kite. Oh wow! Camping next to him was a godsend. Each morning in the campsite, we would survey the dropped grass for the slightest sign of drift, then Tony would announce "Aaw - peachy! Semerwater!" or Weather Fell, or some other suitable nearby site.


This is Tony landing in the campsite. As you can see from the skyline, the thing about the Dales was that the hills were not so high (as the Lakes) and were flat-topped, and had roads up to the top (mostly). There were lots of hangies around all the time, too, with whom to spend wonderful boozy evenings in the pubs in Hawes reminiscing over the day's exploits before meandering unsteadily back to camp.
Page 3 of my log book shows the most memorable day of my life, 20/7/82 - the first time I gained height (probably 3-400') thermalling!!. It was at Semerwater, and the day started a near-disaster. Flight 134 notes "top landed heavily". What this concealed was that I had winged in and bent the starboard leading edge spar - a bit. The nearest source of spares for a Hiway Scorpion was probably Brighton (which would have been the end of the holiday). With the help of one or two pilots at take off, I propped the ends of the leading edge above the ground and then stood on it in mid span and bounced up and down on it (carefully, of course!) until the offending bend was reduced to more or less the same shape as the port leading edge. Thereafter I resumed flying. We used to do that sort of thing in the old days. My log book also notes that by now I had fitted a vario (a rate of climb or sink indicator).


Page 4 of the log book showed continuing progress. On 25/7/82 at Weather Fell (an exceptionally good site, with no carry up) I thermalled to cloudbase at about 1000' ATO (above take off) twice in the course of three flights, amassing over 6 hours flying time in one day. I couldn't quite believe that this sort of thing was now happening to me. As the end of my holiday approached I resolved to return via the Peak District. A good hot day on Mam Tor brought my first experience (at 7 pm) of "evening valley lift" - I could fly anywhere over the valley, and stay up. It also brought my first flight on a double surface kite. A pilot had just returned from the continent with seven "Azur" kites on his roof rack. He was flogging them. I took a test flight on one - with no little trepidation because this was a mighty step from a 2nd generation kite design up to a 5th generation "double surface" kite. However, my confidence was improving, and I survived. It felt good, and controllable, but I was certainly in no position to purchase one there and then (I guess it would have cost £500+).


This was Mam Tor on the day, but it certainly wasn't me, and it probably wasn't an Azur.
Life back in East Anglia would never be the same …

Double Surface Developments

Before the Lakes adventure, I had shared a few trips up north with Graeme Baird of the Dunstable club, an extremely energetic go-for-it experienced pilot. He thought nothing of motoring 180 miles to Carlton Bank (at 90 mph) on the chance of just a day's flying. He flew a UP Comet, and was trading up. After my Mam Tor experience, I thought I was ready to trade up too, and said I would buy it. We met at Dunstable early one morning for my first flight. It was nearly my last. Wooster was there. The wind was already up to 26 mph. It would soon be too strong, but I thought I would be able to "pull on speed" for safety with a high performance kite such as this. Immediately after launch the kite started to hurtle around the sky in a series of radical high speed turns. In complete panic I tried to fly away from the hill - my first thoughts were that the kite was rigged wrong somehow. However, my friends on the ground could see I was grossly over-controlling the kite, but they couldn't do anything about it, and probably thought I was a goner. By the time I had rumbled that less speed was the answer I was well down the hill and plonked the kite down into scrub in the bottom landing area. Wooster helped with the carry up, but by then the wind was even stronger, and nobody was keen to watch me have another flight. My log book says flight time: 1 minute.
I went through with the purchase, incredibly, and four days later tried another early morning flight with Graeme there again for some guidance. This time I logged 20 minutes (to our combined relief) but - "top landed in bushes". Dunstable was never an easy site for me. The photo album picture caption was "My new Comet - could I handle it?". I knew I desperately wanted to.


(Picture credit © Tom Bragg)
The magnificent beast was a WING not a sail (like the Scorpion). It had a double surface leading edge for 50% of the wing chord with mylar inserts to make a mouth-wateringly smooth top surface, and numerous pre-formed aluminium battens to create a genuine aerofoil wing section, not just a sail profile. The cross tube (so exposed on the Scorpion) was concealed within the leading edge to reduce drag, and was floating - allegedly to confer good flight handling. Yes, at 30+ kilos it weighed more than the Scorpion but, well, I would just have to learn how to lift the damn thing. A week or two after, I took it to Mere.

Mere 1982 - bl**dy Mere


The wind was light and variable. The only possible task that could be set was a knockout distance comp. Nil wind take offs have never been easy on a single surface kite. Brave souls lunged down the slope, nosed in, broke uprights, and an occasional arm. With the Scorpion, I would have been significantly fearful. With the Comet, I had a wing that wanted to fly if I kept the nose attitude right - which it seemed very willing to do despite its greater weight. And the glide angle was so much better than the Scorpion. I came seventh, and astonished myself. From now on, any weekend that was flyable found me trying to fly, almost irrespective of the distance travelled to the site. Wooster was a great travelling companion.


Dunstable began to contribute significantly to my flying hours (see p5). With the Comet's superior performance I could now get decent altitude above the top and almost came to like the site. This picture of me was taken on 13th November 1982 (nice looking clouds!), and more flights were logged well into December. Note the blob on the left upright, in the picture. These were instruments!

Instruments and Camera


In the Lake District I had fitted a vario: the Makiki pellet vario - quite a bulky item to strap to the upright, but at least it gave a visual indication of my rate of climb, or more usually, sink. Soon after acquiring the Comet, I attached a small plastic dial altimeter to it as well. This had an optimistic scaling up to 10,000', so most of the time its microscopic reading wasn't much help. From the earliest days I had possessed a Ventimeter for hand-held wind speed checks at take off.


A couple of months later I devised a stalk to mount this on the upright too. After all, the Comet was alleged to have a top speed of "50 mph" and I always wanted to know my airspeed. Other pilots didn't seem much bothered. The Scorpion's top speed was probably about 25 mph, but I never measured it. Affordable and practical electronic instruments for hang gliders had not yet appeared. Despite the growing Christmas tree of "draggy" instruments sprouting from my left upright, I dearly wanted to take photos from the air too, and so fixed a camera to the right upright. For me the fascination of flight was largely the view of the ground - from above it! The camera mount wasn't terribly easy to handle, but it could swivel through a range of forward angles. I had to guess where it was pointing when clicking the shutter with my right hand, whilst attempting to control the kite single-handed with the left. Unorthodox manoeuvres often resulted. It was of course a film camera - so no instant viewing of the results, but an anxious wait till the film was used up and sent away for development.


This was an example from my first photographic mission in mid December at Dunstable. The knoll at the north end of the site should be recognisable to pilots who have flown there. A corner of the London Gliding Club airfield is at bottom left, showing the scrub that I landed in on my first horrendously memorable Comet flight there.

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