Enjoying the freedom of cross-country — despite the idiot at the controls

It was a day to make the first attempt at a long cross-country, a day when the pundits were off doing 500k's I reckoned I could maybe do half of that, so a 200k it was. A look at the weather suggested a nice into wind leg, would take me to the northwest, so a trip to look at Grantham and Rutland Water on the way out was on, the turning towards a spot out in the countryside near to Northampton, and finally a gentle drift home downwind at the end of the day (black line in the picture).



A winch launch at 12:00 straight into a thermal provided a nice start to the day, and despite once again having to dodge around rocket launches just north of the airfield, I made sure I didn't spend ages faffing before setting off, like I did when I was making a stab at the Silver Distance, I wouldn't be making the same mistakes twice ­— no instead there was a whole new set of mistakes to be made today.

Heading northwards along a nice cloud street, I struggled into wind, but make good progress past Alconbury, until Peterborough, and then realised rather late that the only good cloud on track was in a parachute drop zone, and the short route around had gone blue. Not really knowing if the blue would work I took the long way round Peterborough, forcing me to give up some of the into-wind progress before carrying on - a mistake that cost me about half an hour and would prove critical.

With Peterborough behind me I headed towards Grantham, admiring Saltby airfield off to the left away in the distance: the home of glider aerobatics in the UK (really must pay them a visit at some point to learn how to fly inverted). The run into and out of the turnpoint was done without turning, always a really satisfying feeling, and that should have been the hardest bit done, it was a downwind trip hope with a bit of a detour to look at Northampton..... but things in gliding are never that simple, that's what keeps it interesting.

I set off for the next turnpoint, pausing to admire the sailing boats down on the reservoir at Rutland, as I drifted out over the water slowly climbing: it was good to feel that I was least slowly getting closer to home, every km back now was one less on the retrieve. Unfortunately it was time for mistake number 2, I misjudged the wind direction, and managed to fly an arc that resulted in ending 10k downwind of the second turnpoint. The clouds above me were spreading out and I couldn't find any decent lift: with the weather dying at the end of the day, I decided to head for home rather than fly headlong into a likely landout.

The final leg back home was slow, lots of scrabbling in weak lift, but every thermal was drifting me home, I passed Sackville farm and then Little Staughton and that was the last airfield until Gransden. Final glides certainly provides an adrenalin rush, 1500ft over St Neots even with a tailwind felt very low, and picking fields the whole way home added to the excitement, finishing with the rush when I knew I was in. Good lookout, join the circuit late, lower the wheel and land, brought to the end a memorable flight, even if I hadn't made it round — 190km in about four hours. The trace rather brutally showed the rookie mistakes I had made, but hopefully I should be able to improve the cross-country speed eventually — I might make it above 50kph one day.

On to Eden Soaring for expedition flying: ridge and wave to follow at the end of September, in the splendour of the Lake District.