Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nice Day Trip

We left freezing temperatures behind in St Andre for a day trip down to Nice by train. After exploring the market we strolled along the beach; the day was lovely, with several people in swimming. We had a nice lunch in the Vieux Nice before heading up a long hill to the Musee Matisse and took in some culture before the train back home. Some pics

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Schiehallion in the Clag

Schiehallion, as seen from Glencoe, is a lovely mountain - a great white triangle rising above Rannoch Moor. Today, I got to climb it but the weather didn't exactly cooperate. Pretty much as soon as I left the car I was in the clouds and it was quite windy; fortunately, the rain was never really heavy. I didn't see anyone else all day - I was the only one daft enough to be out on such a day - and the only break was a quick lunch on the summit. Sometimes, that's what a day on the hill is like in Scotland...

Friday, December 2, 2016

A 5 Munro Day on Ben Lawers!

Ben Lawers is a complex mountain - it's more like a set of mountains - and I hoped to 'bag' 3 munros (Beinn Ghlas, Ben Lawers and An Stuc). But the days are very short in December in the Scottish Highlands and I had left the house later than I intended. There were quite a lot of clouds around at the start and I was wary of finishing the day in the dark and in the clouds, so I set myself a "turn-around time" of 1.30 on the last peak.  

The clouds slowly burned off as the day progressed, and there were lovely views in every direction. Just 3 minutes before my turn-around time I arrived on An Stuc's summit and met three young lads. They intended to take a different route back and to climb a couple more hills (Meall a' Coire Leith and Meall Corranaich) on the way. 

They set off as I ate my lunch and pondered. I didn't feel at all tired, the weather had improved and the descent from the last hill was pretty easy (and could be done by head-torch). So I headed after them and we climbed the last two summits in the gathering gloom. We got back to the cars at 5.00 pm using torches for the last little bit. Quite a day!

Some pics.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Superior Mirage

The forecast was mega-inverted, but for clear skies; great for a hike somewhere and maybe even a flight back down. I packed my wing in the car but in the end I just had a nice walk along the Campsies, a line of lowish (500 m or so) hills to the north of Glasgow. It was frosty down in the valleys, but up on the tops it was glorious sunshine and shirt sleeve weather, with great views of snowy mountains in every direction. But then I realized I was seeing a chain of high, snowy mountains out to the SE. Strange, there are no mountains there! To say the least, it was unsettling; I didn't have a camera, but I took some grainy pics on my phone.
Over in that direction, the only hills are the Pentlands, some low hills just SW of Edinburgh. That's what I was seeing and the image was distorted by the huge inversion. As I walked along the hills got even bigger until they looked like the front range of the Rockies in Colorado. When I got home I checked on the internet; I saw a superior mirage, which is quite unusual.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ben Lomond - Three Vertical Layers

Ben Lomond is a Munro (3000 + ft mountain) near Glasgow on the east side of Loch Lomond. It was a Sunday with a lovely forecast, featuring fresh snow and sun. All the ingredients for lots of people to head to the mountain, so I knew the hike up was going to be busy!

There were 3 distinct vertical layers; below the cloud (no snow and a bit damp), in the cloud (a bit of snow) and above the cloud (lots of snow and sun, with great views). So I followed the path up, seeing lots of walkers, a couple of fell-runs, a few dogs and even a group of mountain bikers!

Lots of people on the summit, with great views in all directions, before heading back through the cloud layer and - via a short drive - Glasgow. The pics.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Good Walk Wasted?

I took some lightweight paragliding gear to Scotland; I wasn't sure if I'd get much of a chance to fly (Nov and Dec aren't exactly great flying months), but there was space in the car, so why not? There were actually a couple of decent days for flying but I was busy then. I got away on a not very promising day and met up with Ian - we headed to Dungavel, a little hill near Tinto, just south of Glasgow.

A fresh coat of snow looked really nice, but it couldn't disguise the fact there wasn't enough wind for such a shallow slope. Clouds kept forming on the hill, interfering with our desire to take off. Ian took off and disappeared; I waited a while for the clouds to dissipate and took off but I coundn't stay up and side-hilled before getting flushed. I played this game a couple of times before sledding back to the car, where I found a nice bog under the snow to land in.

A long way to take my gear for 5 minutes of air time! Anyway, a few pics.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


In our stay in Scotland, my wife and I spent the first 8 days in Edinburgh. It's not a city I know terribly well but I've always known it to be a beautiful city. But I must admit, I was blown away by how nice it is. It isn't just that the nice parts (the Castle, the New Town, the Meadows etc) are nice, but really how nice it all is. Several times we went for long walks and everything we saw was lovely. 

The other thing is that the city contains lots of green spaces and also has a definite boundary - when you leave the city, you're in the countryside (instead of endless suburbs or dormitory towns).

It's the most beautiful city by far in Britain, if you get a chance, go there! I'm afraid I didn't take anything like enough photos, but here are some pics that don't do it justice.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Munro Bagging, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin

View from Ben Vorlich
Munro bagging is the lowest form of mountaineering. Munro's Tables (named after the original list maker) lists every 3000 ft mountain in Scotland; there are 282 such mountains and they are known as Munros. There are also another 200 or so 'tops', summits which are considered bumps on the side of real Munros. Baggers aim to climb every Munro.

It's quite a satisfying challenge, requiring planning, fitness and determination. Mountains in Scotland tend to start near sea level, so 3000 ft (or 914 m) is 'higher' than it sounds but generally doable even on short winter days. Some isolated Munros take a full day, some combine well - e.g. as a ridge - so several can be bagged in a single day. Of course, given the time it takes, many baggers are retired.

As a youngster I considered Munro baggers rather dull fellows, content to plod up shapeless hills so they could tick a mountain off a list. Now I'm retired I think a bit differently. Funny how things change...

Unless I spend more time in Scotland, bagging them all seems unlikely, but I've decided to keep track of the ones I climb so I've got a chance at doing so. Today I climbed a couple, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a' Chroin (chosen as the two nearest to Edinburgh - Munro bagging also means driving). It was a lovely late fall day and very pleasant. Maybe I will make a special effort and do the lot...

Some pics

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Stow is a very cute little village in the Cotswolds, a range of very low hills to the NW of London. In fact, all the villages seem very cute there; it became a very trendy place for wealthy Londoners to retire to 40 or so years ago and everything seems hyper-gentrified. 

My wife and I were on our way up to Scotland and we stayed overnight there. In the morning we had a stroll around and took some pics before resuming our drive North.

The pics!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Paris Walk

On the way to Scotland, I drove up to Paris to pick up my wife. She was staying with a former school-mate, Sylvie, for a little re-union. I arrived in the middle of the afternoon and we all went out for a very pleasant walk, taking in the Jardin des Plantes, the left bank of the Seine, Notre Dame, the Ile de la Cite and the Ile St Louis. It was all very pleasant and relaxed - the 1st of Nov is a holiday in France, and Parisians were out enjoying it. However, in the aftermath of the terror attacks, it felt a little bit sad too, like a city trying to resume normality.

A few pics. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Le Cousson

Le Cousson is quite a complicated mountain near Digne les Bains; it's got two summits and leaves the town in the shade in winter mornings. I've flown over it quite a few times (in paraglider and in a sailplane) and I must have driven past it at least a hundred times. But I've never climbed up it on foot.

Today I got to fix that. I had to drop my wife off in Digne to catch an early morning bus. After a quick coffee I headed to Entrages and the start of the hike. The climb wasn't very memorable except for the views and the chapel St Michel, which is perched on the edge of a cliff. But at least when I drive past it I know I've climbed the thing!

Some pics.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


I finally got round to visiting Ireland, and it was worth the wait! I had a very nice 2 week vacation with my daughter and, for the first week, my wife. We stayed in Dublin, Galway and Killarney and did a lot of ticking items off lists in the tourist guides. We were pretty lucky with the weather (we had two very wet days, apart from that the worst we had was showers).

The remarkable thing as how friendly everyone was. This became clear right at the start of the vacation. My wife and I arrived in Dublin and got installed in our Airbnb before going out to do some shopping. We quickly realized we didn't know where suitable shops were and asked a young lady. She didn't just tell us where the shops were - she took as there in her car!

For me, it was about as stress free as a vacation can be - the language is mine, the currency is mine and the culture is a friendly version of British. 

My pics and a movie that Google made out them.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

PWC St Andre

The Paragliding World Cup visited St Andre for a week's competition in September - the biggest competition we've had here since the European's 4 years ago. Conditions were rather poor and only three tasks got scored. I went up to launch to watch the start of one task; an afternoon storm was predicted so a short task was set. Everyone hurried into the air and the task was started, but the storm won the day and the task was cancelled.

Some pics I took plus some info on the PWC site - results and pics from the action.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sainte-Victoire Hike

My wife and I had a break in Aix-en-Provence for a few days with one of her relatives. I took the opportunity to go for a hike on Sainte-Victoire for one of the days.

Sainte-Victoire is a famous mountain just outside Aix. It's an escarpement - the north slopes are gentle but the south face is a series of limestone cliffs. It was a favorite subject of Paul Cezanne's paintings.

This really isn't a good time for hiking in the area - it's too hot. Today was forecast to be 35 degrees (95 in old money). The most interesting hikes are on the south side, but I did one that climbed up the north side and set off early to minimize discomfort. The hike was hot but bearable; the landscape (limestone cliffs and plateau) was very interesting.

Some pics

Monday, July 4, 2016

Lima Charlie - my coolest ride so far!

I got to fly a Pegase sailplane today and it was very nice. It's a single-seater and, while it's not exactly a high perf beast, it's definitely more than a training 'mule'. 

Thin wings and retractable undercarriage reduce drag and increase performance. It flies very nicely in the air; the controls are light and direct. There seems to be less need to use the rudder to keep it flying symmetrically in a thermal than with other gliders I've flown. It was also very comfortable, with decent storage for water, food, camera etc (very unusual for a sailplane). I also liked having a beeping vario!

I had a nice flight of just under 4 hours, flying a nice little 100 km triangle. The sky was blue when I took off and I struggled for 15 minutes or so to gain altitude. But from then on there were some clouds and things got easier. Even better, I landed on runway 10 for the first time and it was quite a nice landing (at least, by my not very exacting standards...).

Some pics and explanations.

The Plateau of Valensole

I drive across the Plateau de Valensole to get to my sailplane club; it's a stunningly beautiful place. It's flat and open but the Alps (well, the Prealps) start right beside it. Wheat, almonds, olives and sunflowers are all grown there, but it is most famous for the lavender (strictly speaking it's lavendin, a commercial varient of lavender). 

It blooms in the summer months and has pretty much reached its peak. Especially in the evening, the scent of lavender and buzz of bees seems to be everywhere (lavender honey is excellent). The tourist season is also at its peak also and they all seem to want one thing - the perfect picture of them strolling in the lavender fields. You frequently see Asian couples dressed as for their wedding out in the fields.

One thing that is striking is how open it all is. None of the fields are fenced in, there are no 'No Trespassing' signs and I've never seen anyone get annoyed with the tourists. This is quite a contrast to what you'd expect to find in the States and it reflects very well on the locals.

A few pics.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Flying Over the Plateau de Valensole

Valensole and lavender fields
For the last 6 years or so I've been flying my paraglider in the mountains. But my new sailplane club is situated in pretty flat terrain (it's about 40 km to the mountains) and I find the lack of obvious lift sources a bit intimidating. Today started off blue all around the airfield (although cumulus clouds were visible in the distance) and that made things seem even worse. But I took off at the end of the pack and slowly built altitude as conditions improved. 

I flew over the Luberon for about an hour before coming back to the Plateau de Valensole. By then there were plenty of little clouds and the flying was pretty easy. I cruised around and took some pictures before landing back at the airfield for a flight of just over 3 hours.

Some pics

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Old Renaults

In addition to the normal St Andre market, we had a 'brocantes' (somewhere between antiques and junk) market today. The thing that got the most attention was a little exhibition in the main street of a couple of old, lovingly restored, Renault cars. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

First Single Seater - Mike Lima

I'm now flying a single seater sailplane. It's an Astir and it's the most basic single-seater at my club, but even so it feels quite different from the two seaters I've been flying up to now. The controls are more responsive - when you move a pedal, the rudder moves immediately while on the ASK 21 it feels like a long line of elastic is slowly stretching before the rudder moves. It seems more pitch sensitive - a small change in pitch produces a bigger change in speed than I'm used to. Overall, it's more responsive and needs to be flown more accurately - even if the raw performance numbers like glide ratio aren't hugely different. 

It has very low wings, and this gives a lot of ground-effect when landing. You need a delicate touch to hold it just above the ground on the round-out and you use up quite a bit of runway. It's easy to find yourself climbing when you wanted to be touching down...

Dashboard with vario suspiciously stuck at 0.5 m/s
The dashboard is suitably basic but adequate except for the vario. Varios on sailplanes are more complicated than those used in paragliding; they are compensated to ignore altitude changes due to airspeed changes (you can easily climb 100 meters when slowing from cruising speed to circling speed). It's hard to get this compensation right on a mechanical vario and I'm less convinced by the Astir's vario than those on other sailplanes.  

As is common in 'learning' sailplanes, the vario makes no noise. Experienced sailplane pilots climb more 'by feel' rather than by using instruments. But my feel isn't good enough yet and I'd much rather have some beeps and keep my attention outside rather than to look at the dashboard every couple of seconds. Hopefully my feel will improve fairly quickly...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Flying Solo

Today was a strange day's flying - 6 flights using 2 different runways in increasing winds, but I had finished my day's flying before noon. It was all part of the (long) process in gaining sailplane qualifications - I'm now allowed to fly solo.  

I've spent yesterday and today doing a bunch of different things, mostly take-offs and landings. I've got to do some new things like a simulated cable breakage on tow, when the instructor releases the cable unexpectedly and you have to land the aircraft. 

We were turning round the flights so quickly I also got to take off without a 'wing-runner' (so, you start with a wing-tip on the ground and have to 'lift' it up with the control stick) and taking off directly from the grass (rather than the tarmac portions of the runway).  

All important entry in my fight log
Provided you can do all this consistently without terrifying the instructor, he authorizes you to fly solo and you then take your first solo flight. Generally, this takes place in the tandem you learned in; in my case, a club ASK 21. 

The solo flight was suitably uneventful. With the reduced weight, the sailplane takes off super quickly. In the air, it didn't feel any different (it seemed to turn just as well). I used the same landing speed but the round out seemed much more 'floaty' with the reduced weight.

I'm sure there will be moments when I miss the reassurance of having an expert sitting behind me, checking on what I'm doing, but right now I'm looking forward to some flying without a 'back seat driver'.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sailplane Changes

Vinon airport, looking down runway 16
My sailplane flying has pretty much stalled and I decided that I needed a new club and instructor. It wasn't a very easy decision, but I already know it was absolutely the right one. I've recently joined a bigger club at Vinon; they've got lots of instructors and sailplanes and I can pretty much fly as much as I want.

Antoine prepares the WT9 Dynamic
There are a bunch of new things to adapt to, including the airport. It has three runways, separated into sailplane and powered aircraft sides. This morning I flew in a WT9 Dynamic lightweight aircraft (more info here) to practice landing patterns. The club is experimenting with it to tow up sailplanes. But it's also light enough to act as a sailplane for learning purposes (e.g. practicing 'landing out'). 

Lots to read as the engine warms up
(oil temp is only 16C)
So I was able to do three touch and goes in about 15 minutes. The chief pilot, Antoine, operated the throttle and commented the patterns while I worried about the other stuff. It's the first time I've 'flown' a powered aircraft and the differences with a sailplane were very interesting. No adverse yaw (so no need to use the rudder when turning). The control stick felt very direct. Three wheels rather than one, so very different on the ground. A lot more dials, displays and switches. But it didn't feel that different in the air either... 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Chilly Flying

Le Cousson from my landing spot at Mallemoisson
It was cold and somewhat cloudy, but the flying forecast was good so I headed up to launch. The wind was from the E (actually ESE), an unusual direction for St Andre, and although it wasn't very strong it gave a choice between flying locally or a 'downwind dash' towards Digne. I knew my glove batteries would run out after 2 hours, so whatever I did the flight wouldn't be very long.

Recovery drink in Digne
Conditions were excellent. Up at cloud base it's always hard to gauge the size of clouds you're flying under and I spent quite a bit of the time on full-bar and even using big-ears to stay out of 'the white room'. I crossed over the Mouchon and the Montagne de Coupe pretty quickly and headed onto Le Cousson (a mountain above Digne). Here I was hoping for some convergence as I hit the valley wind in the Bleone. But I got the opposite - mega-sink - and of course a head-wind.

I arrived low on Le Cousson but climbed back up again easily enough. I had a few choices now - head N up the Bleone valley and try to get onto Blayeil, head W over the valley onto la Bigue, land in Digne or try heading down the valley to my sail-plane club at St. Auban. 

The last was the least logical decision because if I got low I'd be flying against a strong valley wind. But if I could stay at cloud-base the wind would be ok. And my glove batteries would run out soon anyway, so whatever I did I wouldn't be flying much longer. 

Things started fine and after a couple of climbs my destination seemed, in the absence of wind, at a reasonable glide angle. But I flew under a couple of promising clouds that didn't deliver. And I was out of the mountains, so cloud base was lower and I soon found myself in the valley wind. I had one low save, but drifted so much with the wind it didn't help much. When I saw my glide ratio stuck at 0.6 for what felt like five minutes I knew it was over. I turned round and flew with the valley wind to make the retrieve easier and landed at Mallemoisson. A bus to Digne, a beer and then the train took me home to St Andre. 

About as much fun was you can have in two hours on a winter's day... Sorry, no in-flight photos, my camera froze up in the air...   


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Greolieres Expedition

Launch is the bald spot in the center,
LZ the grassy field below
When you get a decent flying forecast on a winter Saturday, you'll be sure to find a bunch of eager Nice-based paraglider pilots at Greolieres. Nigel and I were a bit fed up with the cold flying in St Andre and decided to join them. It felt positively balmy on launch and Nigel and I watched pilots climb out easily before getting ready.

Up on the ridge
In fact, we were a little complacent. It was Nigel's first time at Greolieres and I had warned him about a couple of safety issues, but (given how easily everyone was getting up) I didn't bother giving him any tips for climbing out. Just as we were ready to take off, it clouded over. At this point, the smart thing to do was to wait for the sun to come back, but I went ahead and launched and Nigel followed me a few minutes later. 

Arriving over Coursegoules
Launch is only a couple of hundred meters above the LZ at Greolieres, so you don't want to lose a bunch of height straight off launch, but that's exactly what we did. We grovelled around for 5 or 10 minutes before the sun returned and - with sighs of relief - we got high. We flew for a couple of hours and both made the standard XC to Coursegoules and back.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Looking over to Le Grand Coyer
We've finally had a decent dump of snow this winter. I waited patiently for a couple of days for the snow to stabilize before heading of to the medium mountains for a snowshoe hike. Blue skies, sun, snow, no wind and a big lunch on the summit - lovely! 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Eagles Locking Talons

In winter at St Andre good flying days are normally very cold - things need to be pretty unstable to compensate for the winter sunshine. I must admit I don't feel quite as keen on flying such days as I was a few years ago. But today's forecast suggested decent flying at reasonable temperatures, so I decided to head up to launch.

I was later setting off than I should have been; when I arrived on launch Philippe had top-landed and Nigel was taking off. It was also a bit windier than I expected but still perfectly manageable. After a leisurely lunch I took to the air and had a very pleasant flight. There were a few weak thermals mixed in with some dynamic lift, as well as some convergence.

The snow that fell in mid-January has completely melted and it looks more like August than February. After flying for around an hour I was taking some pictures of three eagles in a thermal when two of them locked talons and plummeted from the sky; this can be a mating ritual or a way of males fighting (in a game of chicken). Ever since I've seen this video I'm a bit wary of eagles and I avoided them for the rest of the flight...

A few pics.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Snowy Hike

We've finally had a dusting of snow and, even though it's only around 15 cm thick, it makes the mountains look special. The forecast is dry and sunny for the next few days so it may not last long. I decided to take advantage of the snow while it's here and headed up the Pic de Chamatte, a 1900 m peak near St Andre. The hike up was very pleasant - the sun was just warm enough for me to layer down to a tee-shirt. 

I was looking forward to eating my lunch on the summit but, as I reached the peak, the wind strength increased. This often happens in winter here - the top of the boundary layer is around the same altitude as the summits and once in the meteo wind you don't want to hang around. So I layered up for the end of the climb, turned around sharpish at the summit and ate my lunch 200 m lower down. Very scenic!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Brocken Spectre

Brocken Spectre (towards the bottom left)
I had a new year paraglider flight today. I certainly didn't fly because the forecast was spectacular but a nice hike and fly seemed like a good way to start the year. There's also bad weather moving in overnight (serves me right for posting about global warming...), so flying is likely to be out for the next few days. 

I've had surprising experiences in the Alps when bad weather arrives. I remember flying at Aspres once when the bad weather was clearly coming from the north but I was ridge soaring in a strong south wind. Today was a bit less dangerous, but the wind was all over the place - very lightly from the N on the south launch, about 10 km/h from the W on the west launch and at 35 km/h from the S above the LZ.

The damper air bringing the bad weather was forming clouds as it rose over Chalvet and I took the opportunity to fly above it and snap a picture of my brocken spectre (more info here).