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The forecast was normal for the Lake District – in other words, dire warnings of rain and wind. But I’d arranged time off for the weekend and Team South partner Andy was up for a long drive, so we set off for The Flight Park in Keswick.
The region is a hidden gem of England, tucked away on the North West coast, with proper peaks, steep ascents, and a great variety of geology to entrance the eye and challenge the legs. Despite the high tourist traffic, once on the trails I encountered few people, especially on the back routes that hike-and-fly racing takes you.
The concept for the X-Lakes race is simple: bag as many high points as you can over the weekend, and return to the Flight Park, or as meet director Jocky Sanderson warned in a mock French accent, you get ‘no points’. Nil pwah!
If I’d been more of a planner I might have arranged some support or at least a bag drop which was offered by Jocky, but I’d decided to use the weekend to test the limits of fasted performance. A bowl of leftover pasta on the Saturday morning would be my only meal, so I carried no extra weight of snacks or cookers. A small tent would provide all I needed for one night in the fells.
I didn’t bother with much route planning: I had a simple idea – head south as far as I could, play ‘pacman’ and gobble as many points bits that I could see. Sleep out, then try and stage an unlikely return on Sunday. I’d get lost in the mountains, get exhausted, and test my limits. Perfect!
A far more efficient approach was adopted by Andy, and Rod Holdsworth (the winner). Design a circular route that connected the maximum score possible in an achievable and optimised track that was possible to do mostly on the ground.
I wouldn’t have cared if I had such a route laid out for me. I was there for the flying!
Once the thermals arrived around mid-day, I was able to stitch together a few peaks, but it’s very challenging to fly far in the Lake District, especially when the clouds roll in. Each valley seems to have its own interpretation of the wind direction. Luckily the winds were mostly light, so we could safely explore the deeper ravines and land on odd slopes.
Soon I was happily lost in the world of rocks, ridge lines, trails and the echoes of Wordsworth. All the terrain above an altitude of 1000ft is included in the National Park and offers you the freedom to roam as you will and even camp (or fly). This is a rare privilege in the UK, and one I relished. Nobody telling you where to go and what to do. Just … be as you would be, and explore.
If you have a reasonable level of paragliding skill (BHPA Pilot rating) and enjoy being in the great outdoors, come and join me on the X-Lakes assault course in 2020. Jocky Sanderson and his team provided a safe and supportive environment for the weekend, the Cumbria Soaring Club were excellent hosts and the flying was challenging and very educational. I came away feeling lucky to have been part of this special event while it is still ‘under the radar’ and wonderfully low-key.
To get a better idea of what it was like, enjoy this adventure documentary funded by Flybubble and our wonderful patrons