ICGC Winter Tour
Dates of Tour
From the 28th of December, 2012 to the 3rd of January, 2013.
ICGC traditionally holds a tour to a UK ridge site each winter so that members can experience different types of soaring that we do not get at our home club, Lasham. However, for the last couple of years, there hasn’t been a winter tour due to various reasons. So this year, determined to resurrect this tradition, we planned a 7 day tour to the Scottish Gliding Club, Portmoak, not far from Edinburgh. This is somewhere the club had been quite a few times in the past, and was ideally situated for ridge and sometimes wave lift. We took our Discus single seater, 296, and borrowed Edinburgh University’s K21 training glider, already based at Portmoak. The best word to describe the trip would have to be ‘wet’, but we had a great time nonetheless…
The tour started bright and early on 28th December, with everyone meeting on Campus, apart from Tom who was towing 296 from Lasham. A rather long minibus journey entailed, through plenty of wind and rain. We stopped a few times on the way up, with the first sign of John Davey’s (one of our ex-students, and drivers) arcade game addiction revealing itself at the first service station. Finally arriving at the airfield, we met Andy Cockerell, the other ex-student, and our instructor for the week. That evening, we visited Mr Chan’s Chinese restaurant, in Kinross, as is also dictated by club tradition. After this, we headed back to the airfield bar, to chat to the locals, before turning in for the night.
We awoke bright and early on the 29th, ready for our first full day of the tour. However, when it eventually became light (Scotland’s so far north that it takes a while), we were able to see just how much water was sitting on the airfield. Despite it just about being flyable weather, the locals judged the field to be too wet to fly from. We managed to rig 296 in a gap in the weather and put her in a spare space in the hanger, hopeful for better weather to come. Meanwhile John, our expert tour guide, suggested we visit the Tullibardine Whisky Distillery, near Perth. It was an interesting tour, although being a bunch of tight students, nobody actually bought any Whisky and instead opted for the Haggis Crisps. We then headed into Perth, to discover shops in Scotland are just the same as anywhere else. After a very nice meal in the Clubhouse, we went to watch ‘Life of Pi’ at the cinema in Dunfermline, which everyone seemed to enjoy. On returning, one of the locals proposed the ‘Cinnamon Challenge’, and John quickly accepted. Much to our disappointment, it appears a Maths degree and a Physics PHD stand you in good stead for swallowing a tablespoon of cinnamon.
The next morning brought with it more wind and rain, which continued to leave the airfield waterlogged. Everybody spent the morning catching up on a bit of work (typical Imperial Students), apart from John who decided that he needed to go to the gym. We then ventured out for a walk across the airfield, and down to nearby Loch Leven. Whilst walking through the many puddles, we discovered that Jack’s shoes were definitely not waterproof, and that Johannes could in fact walk on water. For the evening, one of the locals recommended a small pub, not far from the airfield. It turned out to be a really nice place, and we even had our own room complete with fireplace. The food was great and we stayed for a few drinks as well, apart from the driver of course, before heading back to the airfield.
31st December, New Year’s Eve, and quote of the morning went to Xiaoyu: “I’m trying to find the Sun. I know it’s quite big, but I can’t find it”. With the weather still not flyable, a group of us decided to go for a trek up Bishop, the tallest of the ridges next to the airfield. Suitably booted, we started the ascent, stopping at a few of the traditional makeshift rope swings where Jack always seemed to make himself scarce. About an hour later, after taking the more ‘scenic’ steep route, and with a bit of sheep herding on the way, we reached the summit. With a brisk westerly, the wind was rushing up the side of the ridge, which definitely allowed some of our members to experience ridge lift for the first time, just without a glider. We took in the rather good view, including a rather wet airfield, before heading down and returning to the airfield. We ate at the airfield before preparing to head in to Edinburgh for the Hogmanay Festival. Keeping together was a challenge in the packed city centre, but the atmosphere was intense and it was a great way to see in the New Year, with nobody drinking too much in case we flew the next day.
2013 brought improved weather, and the 1st January looked promising. Eventually, some locals turned up and declared the there was just about two dry lines that we could fly from – finally! The weather was a bit windy, but near perfect, with blue skies and a strong westerly blowing straight onto Bishop Ridge. Tom and Andy flew first to clear Tom to fly from the site, and subsequently, John did the same – also managing to break the only cable of the day! The ridge lift was great, working above 2000’ and allowing flights to be as long as we wanted. Everyone else then took it in turns to fly with Andy, whilst Tom flew 296. With the last flights landing at Sunset, everybody had managed at least 35 minutes in the air, all of which was spent learning to soar the ridge, and Tom had managed nearly 3 hours in total. Unfortunately, there was no wave lift to be found near to the site, but it still made for a new and exciting type of flying compared to Lasham. Flying often less than a wingspan away from the face of rocks, feeling the updrafts and following the contours was simply great fun. With longer flight times compared to Lasham, everybody was also able to spend time improving their flying skills. That evening, we went bowling in Dunfermline, although this soon resulted in John feeding his arcade game addiction. The quote of the day again goes to Xiaoyu. Having consumed about two pints of Strongbow in the club bar, “Oh, this is alcoholic, I didn’t realise”.
The 2nd January was the final full day of the tour, and unfortunately the good weather for the year appeared to be over. In a brief gap between the rain showers, we were able to thoroughly clean both gliders and pack 296 back into the trailer, ready for the journey home. We all settled our accounts, before heading to the local curry house in Kinross for the final meal. Having not disappointed so far, John duly accepted the ‘omelette’ challenge proposed by Douglas, one of the locals who joined us. This involved having to order a rather large omelette and chips main meal for the starter – something they soon regretted. The food was good though, and Xiaoyu won the award for eating the most chillies. This was duly rewarded with a beer, but a non-alcoholic one this time.
An early start to the final day ensured that we were underway by about 7.30, well except for Tom who got half an hour away before realising he still had his room key. Despite the fact everybody knows that it is downhill on the way back home, the journey wasn’t any quicker. However, about 8 hours later, we were back in London.
Overall, the weather on tour was pretty disappointing, with only one flyable day. Having said that, most airfields around the country were in the same situation and had been for weeks. Despite this, everybody had good fun, got to know each other a bit more, and saw some of the sights of Scotland. On the day we did get to fly, not only did everybody thoroughly enjoy the ridge flying, a completely new experience for most, but the flights were longer and more productive than we would have managed at our home club. In this respect, the aims of the tour were met. The smooth running was partly helped by the fact that both John and Andy had prior knowledge of the area, and that there were many attractions close by for when we were not able to fly. Thanks especially go to Andy for instructing and to John and Johannes for taking turns to drive. Thanks also to Edinburgh Uni for lending us their glider. Here’s hoping next year’s Winter Tour will be even better!