Getting away from The Screes at Wasdale.

David Ashcroft - 25/10/2002

On Fridays, usually in the summer when the weather looks rewarding, I try and wangle the afternoon off work and head for one of the local flying sites. I'm often on my own anyway, so take the opportunity to fly somewhere other than the regular spots. This particular afternoon I got away at 2pm and headed for the Wasdale Screes. The steam from the local cooling towers had indicated a N-Westerly. Like a good pilot I'd asked the farmer for a landing field, and earlier that morning even phoned for a Notam - all be it for two other flying sites, but at least I'd made the call, trying to predict where the weather would lead me. The Friday before, a jet thundered very low over my head as I rolled up my glider up on Wrynose Pass.

The Screes are a steep 2000ft high barren rock/scree slope that dives straight into England's deepest lake, Wastwater. But flying high, with your back to this scarred landscape, the view could not be more to the contrary. The valley bottom West of the lake is wide and a beautiful green patchwork of forests and pastures as far the coast. Across the lake lie the northern fells, and behind, Miterdale, Eskdale and low level fells.
I've probably flown here a total of nine times from fourteen visits. The wind strength and direction can be very deceiving. On the walk in you are sheltered by Latterbarrow, and only when near the first take-off can you feel the wind strength and direction. And today it was light. Too light to take off from here, but at least on the hill! I trudged on to the higher take off just before the Screes start. It's another forty minutes, but at least it's an easy incline. When I arrived at the large grassy bowl I was relieved to find a moderate breeze, and was filled with confidence that the walk was worth the effort.

The actual flight up and down the Screes was less than ordinary. The wind was slightly off to the North, and I spent an hour barely above the ridge. As I was heading West, back to the landing field and car, I flew through some lift and toyed with it just to prolong the flight. There was very little drift as it took me all the way to cloud base, around four and a half grand. The cloud was unbroken and stretched Northwards. The base was not flat but varied in level. I flew North over the landing field and then across the valley. The lift, which was almost consistent, was due to the northerly wind converging with the sea breeze. Once I'd cottoned on to this, I stopped loitering in lift, and made a straight line along its centre. For a while I just sailed on, sitting upright to enjoyed the new scenery. I'm not sure in theory where the best lift should have been, but the line I took worked well. Too well really, and for some time I lost sight of the ground. Off course, flying through cloud should be avoided by big ears or other. I had an urge to try and fly the 15 km to Egremont, where I live. With this in mind, I now had something tangible to aim for, and pushed on with the speed bar. The cloud was particularly damp. A surprising amount of water, which had condensed on the branching lines, began running down both risers like a tap had been left half-open. Due to low batteries and cool temperatures, my GPS turned itself off. My Silva ball compass was broken, and, ironically, my new Sup Air Mini Compass had been delivered to my house and was waiting for me on the porch floor. I confess to be a bit of a gadget nut, and so, not surprisingly, compass is one of the functions on my watch. I took it off and held it away from the vario to get a reliable bearing, and corrected my heading. There was a glimpse of the ground and then I left the cloud for good. From five and a half grand it was confusing to identify where I was, or see my neighbourhood which was eight more km towards the coast. Below me was Cald Fell, a featureless moorland. The towns in the distance looked deceivingly small. To find home I resigned to following by eye the main road from a factory I recognised. Although there was no more lift from here on, my height assured my glide to goal under a clear blue sky. I contacted home pleased with myself despite having cheated gaining height in the cloud. I was still high when I arrived and wandered about interested in this new perspective, filling in the jigsaw pieces I wasn't aware of. Although I'd flown here once before, it had been down wind carried by thermals and not so surprising a flight as today. As before I lined up to land in the garden but chickened out last minute, and landed in the adjacent field. Maybe, one day, I'll have the opportunity to try again.


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