Club History

FlyerThe inaugural meeting of the Cumbria Hang Gliding Club was held at the Globe Hotel, Cockermouth on the 9th January 1975. For at least twelve months prior to this there had been some rudimentary attempts at flight. Father and son team, Roy and Dennis Richards from Workington had been striving to coax their home built glider into the air since late 1973. Independently meanwhile, Dave Weeks from Keswick was attempting the same a few months behind them. Dave's attempts suffered a set back however when he became the first reported hang-gliding accident. The Keswick Mountain Rescue Team Report for 1974 states: "...a crosswind forced his triangular gliding frame into the hillside" (13/4/74). The result was a broken thigh.

During his enforced idleness Dave decided to advertise in the West Cumberland Times and Star to see if anyone else was interested. The outcome, in December 1974, was a meeting at the Ship Inn, Harrington. Those present included Martin Fortune, Bill Short and his sons, Eric and Doug, Roy Corbet and, of course, Dennis and Roy Richards (Roy is remembered as a VERY quiet lad in those days). Last to arrive was Dave, a stranger to all those present but easily identified by a considerable coverage of plaster! The humour of the situation was not lost and the club almost began life as the "Broken Leg Club".

At this time the longest flight was measured in seconds rather than minutes. Neither Dave Weeks nor the Richards on their early Skyhook had met with much success. Dennis Richards is noted as saying that, "...there isn't a hill steep enough to get airborne from!". They were soon joined by the Short trio who acquired a CB 240 (Curved Boom - 240sq. feet), which seemed a great step forward at the time.

Following the formation of the Club (subscription £3 for flying and £1 for non flying - the Club had to take out its own 3rd Party insurance in those days and this was quite costly) flying got seriously underway.

HangieThe first organised meet took place at Bewaldeth, with the CB 240 quickly showing its potential with a flight of 25 seconds from two thirds of the way up the hill. Within weeks this was eclipsed by Martin Fortune who managed a whole six minutes on his new Argus 216. This record was short lived in more ways than one when an hour later Eric Short raised it to 15 minutes, then as the wind picked up, brother Doug made the first, unplanned top landing. So ended an eventful day. By the end of the year everyone had made flights of over an hour and endurance flights were given up. Top landings retained their mystique for a little longer.

Experience and confidence gained on the smaller hills soon led to attention being turned to the high mountains. One of the early highlights was a flight from the summit of Fleetwith Pike down to Buttermere. So impressed were they by the experience that the following evening Martin Fortune, Dave Weeks, Eric Hindmarch and Roy Richards flew from the summit of Skiddaw. The descent took a mere 6 minutes! Only some weeks later, and not without some annoyance, did they discover that Ken Messenger had "pirated" the same flight just ahead of them - local pride was wounded.

Slowly the number of sites grew. Overlooking Keswick, Latrigg enjoyed a burst of popularity, landings being made on the as yet unopened Keswick by­pass. One such landing, captured embarrassingly on cine film, witnessed the neat removal of the rear part of Eric Hindmarsh's trousers on a barbed arrestor wire strung inconsiderately across the road by contractors. The black coal slides at Lowca, on the coast, still exerted a strong pull despite their unappealing nature. The growing popularity of the sport was brought home by a mass flight of thirteen gliders from Skiddaw. So ended the long, hot summer of 1976 described in the Secretary's Report as, ".... the year of the mountains, but also for some reflection". The last point alluding to the tragic death of one of the Club's founder members on Binsey.

The New Year began badly when Eric Short had a crash whilst learning to fly prone but with time he went on to make a full recovery. This salutary reminder of the risks of the sport caused others to take stock and approach the summer with added caution. Membership now stood at just over twenty and the performance of the new second-generation gliders was viewed as remarkable. A comment from the 1977 report sums it up admirably: "... To take off half­way up a mountain, go over the top, soar to 500' then to 1000' above the summit and fly downwind to land six or seven miles away; this is really something."

More visiting clubs began to come to the Lakes for inter-club meets and members began to venture further a-field. Martin and Roy entered the first Scottish Open at Tinto putting up creditable performances. The Club featured on local radio and television which increased the funds, if not the public's confidence in hang-gliding. These experiences prompted a change of Club policy towards publicity and further requests for displays and demonstrations were politely declined.

By the end of the year the number of sites had been extended to twelve. One of the new additions was Black Combe, described as having "great potential". On the minus side low flying aircraft were becoming a noticeable hazard and threats of a different kind were looming for Lowca and Wolf Crags. However, 2,500 flights had been logged totalling over 400 hours with only the one accident of any note.

Early in 1978 the first hang-gliding school, 'Top Flite', run by ex RAF pilot, Roger Middleton based itself in the area (at Rookin House). The school initially gave cause for concern with fears of congestion and site problems. However, these fears proved groundless and the school was painlessly integrated into the local scene. Many new members found their way into the Club via Roger and were to form the nucleus of the Club throughout the eighties.

The derelict black coal tips at Lowca were landscaped by the council and after due consultation with the Club it was even contoured to make it more suitable for hang-gliding. The sight of grass was viewed as a great improvement. The bridle track below Wolf Crags was re-classified but vehicle access remained. Dave Weeks especially deserved credit for his negotiating skills that led to the sport being viewed in a favourable light by both the National Trust and National Park Authority.

Several accidents occurred, most spectacular being a mid-air collision over Walla Crag. Both Ian Grant and Ian Dowler were fortunate enough to be able to limp away from their gliders. Over confidence, especially amongst the more experienced pilots was starting to become a contributory factor in accidents.

The first real XC flights were starting to be flown. Roger Middleton flew from Bewaldeth to Caldbeck, a distance of 7 miles. Roy, Martin and Tony Rathbone followed a veering wind from Souther Fell around to Bassenthwaite while Dave Weeks discovered the unexpected when he gained over 1000 feet in convergence on, of all places, Lowca. So ended 1978.

In February 1979 the first Annual Dinner was held followed closely by a BHGA Safety Conference in Keswick. Under pressure from the National Park Authority the Club declared itself against the new trend of powered hang-gliding within the confines of the National Park.

The first of many Club trophies was purchased; the Competition Cup. The winner was to be decided by an annual internal Club competition. Alas, attempts to run the event continually ran foul of the weather and it was given up in disgust to be replaced a year later by the XC Trophy.

Increasing numbers of members were being drawn from the south of the county and this resulted in the discovery of some new sites, the most notable of these being Ellerside, Whitbarrow, Barkin and Farleton. The last two sites mentioned being secured through the activities of the Lancaster crew of Ian Ferguson and Chris Putley.

Cross-country flights became more commonplace and Roy Richards was showing a talent in this respect. The following year would see him joining the newly formed British League. Meanwhile, father Dennis brought power into the area in the shape of his home built Catto hang-glider. During the summer a large group travelled to sample the delights of Irish flying and the potential encouraged Roy and new pilot Chris Taylor to visit again the following summer.

A new site guide was put together by Dave Foreman and the whole site system reviewed. Towards the end of the year Roger Middleton and 'Top Flite' left the area and moved to the south of England and better weather.

1980 began in spectacular fashion. In temperatures well below zero and with strobe lights fitted, four pilots took off from Skiddaw a few minutes before midnight on the 31st December. A full moon and calm conditions enabled them to achieve the dream of flying from one decade to the next.

In May the British League held a meet on Wolf Crag and the XC potential was demonstrated when Bob Calvert flew 30 miles to Grange over Sands. Many local XC flights were made and Tony Rathbone gained the XC Trophy with an 18 mile flight through the mountains to Ambleside.

Many of the second generation members began to take up the running of the Club. After six years in office the founder members were beginning to slip away. Mainstays for the next couple of years were Steve Barringer, Steve Pritchard, Dave Foremen, the McPhee twins and the evergreen Jim Whitworth.

Increased coverage within 'Wings!', and the continuing growth of the sport was increasing pressure on sites and the stipulation that full flying members should be resident within the county was imposed. However this was to prove untenable as many of the more active pilots were Lancastrians and unhappy at being granted only associate member status.

Despite the introduction of the CFX glider the early eighties were relatively quiet. Some pilots left to do other things, notably Dave Weeks who took to restoring old cars. Incoming members who went on to become the core of the Club; counted amongst them Glyn Kilsby, Steve Byrne, Ed Cleasby and V.M. Airaksinen, "The Flying Finn". One new member, Gordon Rigg, gave little indication of his potential. His first gliders did him few favours; by the end of the decade Gordon held the British XC record and was a highly ranked competition pilot.

In 1984 the first of many foreign flying trips took place when the Club sampled the delights of Ager. 1985 saw the start of the Newsletter. Despite a sometimes precarious existence it has continued and gone from strength to strength. November of the same year saw the Club dabble with towing but remain unconvinced by its possibilities in an area so well endowed with hills.

The Site Guide was revamped by Ed Cleasby early in '86 and continued virtually unchanged until 1996. A good new site was discovered too late to be included in the guide when Ian Ferguson and Glyn Kilsby pioneered Coniston Old Man.

The first Airwave Challenge took place over the August Bank Holiday with the Cumbrian team struggling to perform in depth and losing one of its strongest pilots to a vindictive tree. Stand-in was a young Robbie Whittall.

ParagliderThe final years of the eighties began quietly enough and the first sight of a paraglider was greeted more with amusement and curiosity than concern. The spring of '89 was good for flying and for the last time hang-gliders enjoyed the solitude of large, sparsely flown sites. One especially notable flight was along the impressive, Wastwater Screes by Ed and Matt Doncaster. Within twelve months things were to change considerably as the main sites saw hang-gliders increasingly in the minority. Down in Borrowdale, Eagle Quest, the brainchild of Jocky Sanderson, started to specialise in paraglider training. Like Top Flite before it, it was viewed with suspicion but with paragliding destined to grow the Club was faced with a considerable challenge.

With some reservations the paragliders were welcomed as full flying members but by virtue of the inevitable increase in pressure on hills the Club was to face a more difficult future in keeping its sites secure.

In 1990, after years of talking about it, the first Lakes Charity Classic was finally incorporated into the Club calendar and proved such a success it spurred other clubs to similar events. With sites now having to be worked harder for, positive public perceptions of the sport were becoming a necessity. Despite all the hard work and goodwill shown by the Club some sites were unfortunately lost.

With the membership now bolstered by paragliding and moves to amalgamate the two associations, a new Constitution and name change were put to the 1992 AGM. By an overwhelming majority those present voted in favour and the Cumbria Soaring Club was born.

Throughout the next decade the club experienced a continued rise in the popularity of paragliding and with the advancement in glider design, XC's linking the various valleys of the region became a popular way of exploring the lakes and the potential of this relatively new sport.

The period between 1992 and 1996 saw a number of new site records being set and then reset sparking a competitive rivalry within the club to explore new sites and set ever-longer distances from them. This internal club rivalry crystallised into three distinct posse's - The 'Keswick boys', the 'Golden rule collective' and the 'Eskdale crew' each exploring new sites and rewriting the record books on a regular basis. Though it was visiting pilot, Nigel Page's 90km flight in May 94 from Jenkin Hill taking him across the Solway Firth and up in to the Southern Uplands around Moffat, which turned heads. How did the local pilots miss out on the prize? However nothing can be taken away this was a remarkable achievement, a record which stood till 2005 as the longest paragliding flight from any CSC site.

The club always has always had a strong competitive presence with Jocky Sanderson, Pat Holmes, and a young Mike Cavanagh regularly representing the club in the Nationals and their country at international level.

In 1995 Pat was crowned British National's Paragliding Champion and in the 96-97 season the club had over 10 representatives competing in the British Nationals the largest single club contingent in any Nationals and with a little under 20 pilots regularly entering flights under the CSC banner in the national XC League. The competitive spirit of the club was being maintained.

Most XC's were either linked ridge runs or flights over the back though through the flights of Pat Holmes and later on Jim Stilling each demonstrating the potential for a paraglider to complete more complex defined tasks.

April 1997 saw Mike Cavanagh set a national out and return record from White Pike to Grasmere and back a distance of 31.8kms and in August, Steve Etherington flew a 28.71km triangle flight starting in the Langdales for the national 25km triangle speed record with a speed of 8.83kph. Pat topped the club's competitive achievements by becoming the 1997 National XC league Champion.

In 1998 the Club had its first attempt at attracting corporate sponsorship for the Lakes Charity Classic. As this was a particularly wet summer, the event was probably saved by the fact that we had secured commercial interest. On the hang-gliding front Ed Cleasby had introduced the Mosquito powered harness to the moribund hang-gliding community in late '97 and this sparked a resurgence of interest in hang-gliding, albeit in a different guise. In September 1998 this led to the world's first ever FLPHG meet at Lindale, when over 30 pilots enjoyed good weather and demonstrated an alternative and certainly more sociable future for hang-gliding. Three other subsequent power meets have been successfully held and with the advent of rigid wings the future for hang-gliding looks a lots more interesting.

Acro1999 was a good summer and saw an increase in flying activity. XC flights were now averaging in the 30-40km band and the national Club XC competition became a fiercely contested battle between the CSC and the SMPC (Scottish Mountain Paragliding Club). The two clubs trading top spot right up to the last weeks of the season. CSC's victorious team of Pat Holmes, Steve Etherington, Burkitt Rudd and (the now late) Dave Wilson ensured the Club had something to sing about.

With a number of members caught by the competitive bug and with the club's own XC league firmly established Paragliding XC's began outstripping hang­gliding flights by a ratio of 15:1 (a sign of the times). This period also saw a temporary decline in the club's very active social scene, whether this was due to pilots becoming more competent and happy to seek adventure on their own or the simple pleasures of simply soaring our favourite sites seemed less alluring is debatable. A number of key movers also left the area or the sport which resulted in the Club being temporarily weakened. Thankfully the club was had a good tradition at being able to reinvent itself, and adapt to the needs of membership.

Although this was compounded when the Foot and Mouth (F&M) disease unexpectedly struck in 2001 with Cumbria being especially hard hit. The CSC responded positively, working with the local community, the authorities and endeavouring to see pilots through this difficult period.

While this enforced shutdown in flying activity was in place throughout the UK, Chris Scammell seized the opportunity to embark on an inspirational solo alpine 'vol-biv' paragliding adventure that saw him traverse nearly the complete Alpine chain of mountains, from Gourdon in the Alps Maritime region of France to Vienna in Eastern Austria. A distance of over 850km and with 605km covered in the air Chris's adventure caught the imagination and admiration of the Free Flight community.

The Club used this difficult time to move forward on other fronts such as the development of a new Club website, the work of Pat McVey; a revised Handbook & Site Guide, put together by Kate Smith, and preparations for a new style Lakes Flying Festival guided by Burkitt Rudd and latterly through the inspiration and determination of 'Gordie' Oliver the clubs' annual Lakes Charity Classic has evolved to incorporate a more of a party type event though its main purpose, still, to raise money for local good causes as well as to serve as a positive P R exercise for the sport as a whole.

2005 and it's the Club's 30th Anniversary commemorated initially, in a quiet and understated way with a gathering of past and present members where it all began back at the Globe Hotel, Cockermouth. Yet its the Summer Solstice when the Club really celebrated its history with a grand party and fly-in on the top of Bewaldeth with a number of past members being present and an open invitation to all to join in, word quickly spread around Keswick and the surrounding area that this was the party to be at. The Club now firmly has reinstated its social side with such innovative events, but also through regular coaching days during the summer months and interesting talks to while away the winter the club continues to evolve and mature, devising new mechanisms to reach out to this diverse group being continually tested. One obvious change being the use of the internet and so the quarterly(ish) club magazine 'Spolit for Choice' evolved from a lavishly colourful production into an amusing bi-monthly 'e mag' under the editor-ship of Ben Keayes, later to be taken on by Chris Field's dry wit. With other club news bulletins being compiled and distributed through the continued and tireless efforts of Simon Raven the membership continues to be kept well informed.

The Club continues to have a competitive and pioneering spirit with new site records being slowly extended by a keen few. A more obvious resurgence in this activity appears to have remerged during the last few years. With some audacious and inspirational flying by the likes of Ali Guthrie, 'Dangerous' Dave Ashcroft, Chris Scammel and Burkitt (Kitt) Rudd each have demonstrated the simplicity for the paraglider pilot to see new vistas from our launch sites.

Spring 2005 saw Ali and friends launch from Great Mell Fell in very blustery conditions. Ali managed to hang on in strengthening winds, crossing the Eden Valley quickly covering ground towards Newcastle. Unfortunately he infringed the airspace near Newcastle and as such his flight voided, nonetheless he supersedes Nigel Pages' record as being the longest flight by a paraglider or hang glider from inside the county at 95km. Recognising what possibly had been unlocked with this flight Kitt began exploring sites and slopes which were not as hemmed in by the surrounding hills in a bid to try and further the distance travelled through the use of thermals and the prevailing breeze. It was not until May 2007 that Kitt managed to better the 'unofficial' flight record which Ali had in effect set. Taking off from the once popular HG site of Brigsteer Kitt flew (via 3 turn-points) to land at Durham 101.7 Km with a best straight line distance flight from a Cumbrian site or hill now officially set as 95.3km. By the end of the following weekend he had repeated this feat a further two times from the same site landing on each occasion because of airspace restrictions. Surely it's not long before the straight-line distance surpassing the 100km mark.

In the summer of 2007 and as part of the LCC and now infamous annual Club party, it was decided to host the UK's first Acro over water competition and with a helicopter whisking the brave (foolhardy) competitors to a suitable launch site above Buttermere Lake, a dramatic and thankfully incident free spectacle entertained the crowds.

As we come towards the close of 2007 Club members once again appear to have been caught by the competition bug. Mike 'Cav' returned to set a new (national) declared Out and Return distance record along a similar route to which he chose for his previous (now surpassed) British out and return record. Cumbria Soaring Club has achieved the Top Club Award once more in the National Paragliding XC league (Team members, Martin Sandwith, B. Rudd, M. Cavanagh. and B. Keayes). Martin is also crowned National Paragliding XC champion for 2007 and with Kitt securing the National Weekend league trophy the Club once more has a healthy competitive spirit but also a revitalised and energised social scene.

So whatever future direction the sport of free flying takes in the 21st Century, the CSC has shown its ability to adapt respond and is well prepared to meet it.