Paragliding over Keswick

By Beth Monks

Paragliding over Keswick, soaring above the picturesque landscapes of the Lake District.

Feeling exhausted after a week of sailing I thought it would be a good idea to spend a week learning to paraglide. This was also something completely new to me and I had no idea how it would work but I was excited! It was only when we were told that the way to get people with disabilities flying is by rolling the ‘buggy’ or ‘flying chair’ off the edge of ‘a big hill’ that I got slightly apprehensive! Nonetheless, the next day the weather once again was perfect in Keswick and I found myself sat in a Land Rover trekking up ‘a big hill’ with the intention of ‘rolling off’ it! At the top it was quite windy and as I stared at the grassy slope I was going to roll down with my instructor to do my first tandem flight I definitely felt very nervous!
Everything was set up and as I sat ready for the wind to catch in the parachute I realised there was no turning back. People were shouting we were good to go and I was being pulled at some speed down the hill, towards the edge. I remember thinking we were going straight into the fence but then I felt a jerk, the air gushed into the material that was going to keep me in the sky and we were off the ground.

I had no idea that flying would feel so 3D. I was expecting the ground to just disappear beneath me and for everything to be flat and distant like it does when you’re flying in a plane but that was not the case. We were soaring back and forth close to the hill, catching the updraft and getting higher and soon I could see everything, including the sea. The Lake District is very beautiful! The sense of freedom was amazing; no stuffy box around me blocking my view of the world. It was a different feeling to one I had felt before – it doesn’t feel alien to the sky like it does flying in a plane. Using the wind well (like sailing) was the key to paragliding so you can catch thermals to stay up otherwise essentially all you do is go down! These were usually quite hard to find and involved looking for small gaps in the clouds where the sun heats the ground causing warm air to rise taking us up with it if we were lucky! To ‘get down’ from a height you have to pull sharply and spin round and round quickly at a steep angle whilst leaning into the turn. This made me a bit dizzy and felt quite scary as you see the ground getting closer to your face! Landing itself is apparently easier in a flying chair (or buggy) ‘cos it doesn’t matter as much when you haven’t lost as much speed ‘cos the chair rolls… it was just the job of the instructor to run fast enough! Still felt a big clonk every time though!

All week we learnt the theory behind paragliding and the ‘rules of the sky’ to work towards getting a paragliding pilots license. In order to get the license you had to do a solo flight. I controlled the glider by attaching my hands to the brake handles. But with no working triceps my strength is limited to just a pulling down action, this made landing quite difficult to get smooth as you have to pull down all the way into a push position quickly (flaring) to slow down. Also I didn’t feel confident enough in my own strength to feel safe to fly solo. But apparently they did! And on the last day they said I could try a solo flight! However, even though we were at a little hill I wasn’t entirely upset when the wind changed and my solo flight opportunity was abolished.

After my first flight I was hooked and wanted to have as many as possible. However I was soon to learn how weather dependant paragliding was, we couldn’t paraglide for two of the days due to rain and strong winds and there was one day when the wind was so low that all we could do was go straight down once in the air. This happened to be the day we missed a barbed wire fence only by an inch on take-off! There was a lot of sitting around and I think, even though it’s really fun once airborne and I really enjoyed the week, ‘the hill waiting’ put me off a little from taking it on as a regular hobby.

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