After a warm-up day in Glencoe with a little 10km xc, followed by an extremely convivial night at Tony Shepherd's house, a gang of pilots convoyed to Dalnasidal, near Dalwhinnie. We arrived simultaneously with Adrian How and Roland Rider, so that there were about 8 or 10 pilots in total - a number up from England.
We pondered the hills at the end of Glen Garry and plumped for the Sow of Atholl as a good option. The walk up was pretty easy once we found an Argo track heading up the southern flank. The summit was a paraglider's dream - a rounded green baize of hard cropped grass and vaxinium. Slopes facing from N through SE and superb views. Below us the A9 was blocked by a broken down coach and we could hear the babble of children's voices as they were shepherded from one coach to another on the road-side; surely carried to us from 1000ft below by rising air! However, the summit was also windy, with strong gusts coming though. So we sat in the hot sunshine and blethered paragliding for a while.
After a bit I fancied a bit of ground handling on the billiard table vegetation and so popped the wing up into a switchy and variable wind, taking off to soar the NE slope a couple of times and finding lots of lifty air but also getting blown down wind pretty fast. I landed back on launch and waited for someone else to show the way. Pete Southern and Adrian went next and found therms out front. The lulls were getting longer and more pronounced and the day seemed to be switching on. I launched and after 30 seconds of scratching out front found a good climb that took me to 4000 ft straight up over launch - not much drift in the wind. Game on! I think I had got lucky though, as the gaggle that launched seconds later couldn't find the same climb.
I headed over the back towards a sunny knoll and connected with another climb, albeit a scrappy one. I feared the others had bombed and so was pleased to hear Tony Shep on the radio saying that he, Richard Carter and Adrian were heading towards me. I pushed on and crossed the first of several lochs of the day - Loch Garry. I found myself low and wondered if it was going to be a two therm day. I started heading towards the A9 to reduce my walk out and connected over a tiny bump at the top of a broad sunny gully. I scratched back to 3000ft and pushed on towards a larger, sunnier slope on the S side of Loch Errochty. However, as I reached the N side of the loch and started to cross it I hit a really nice climb and so thermalled right across the loch reaching 6700 ft by the time I got to the S side - weird but wonderful! I could still see the threesome behind me and hoped they'd catch up so that we could fly together. However, with the whispies all around I had to push on.
The Dunalastair Reserve was the next body of water to be crossed and I found a weak and scrappy climb at the S end of the Tay Forest Park. As I climbed onto the NW flanks of Schiehallion it consolidated and grew stronger. Conditions were weird here. There seemed to be convergence clouds forming amongst the cu, meaning that base was a very different heights within a small area. I hit base at 6000 ft over Schiehallion and so pushed on. At this point we decided to abandon our declared triangle, as we felt the wind was too strong for the return leg and it looked very blue to our east. So we just continued heading south.
Over the back of Schiehallion things got scrappy for a bit. I connected with a therm coming up off a lee side and got a bit of a kicking. However, I was pleased to note that by this point my nerves were all gone and I could take the rough without too much concern. That said I didn't linger in that place! Ahead was Loch Tay and I didn't want to commit to crossing it without decent height. I noticed a conical wooded knoll with sunshine all over it and a beautiful circular and strong looking cu forming perfectly above it. I booted the bar through heavy sink to get there and connected with a powerful but rough therm. I rode the bucking bronco to just shy of 5000 ft and set off across Loch Tay. It was such a lovely sight - looking down the length of the loch and watching the yachts and canoeists below.
Once on the S side I climbed in lazy lift over a sunny moorland. I sensed that there was a stronger climb nearby, especially as there was a muscular cu building just to my west, but I was content to chill for a bit and wait for the others. I think I was getting tired and I was definitely getting complacent. I pushed on quite low without taking all the lift I could find, convinced that I'd find a better climb further south. Wrong! I got to the knoll I thought I was going to climb out from and found nothing. (However, I did see a white tailed eagle and several buzzards all together, which is something I've never seen before. ) I scratched about in a valley for a while, trying both sides to see if I could rejoin the others, who had just flown over my head. But despite some promising bubbles I couldn't get high.
I realised I was in for a long walk and so headed down wind low along the valley catching thermic bubbles of small forestry blocks and even a sheep fank. I managed to knock 3kms off my walk before landing and just squeaked past the 51km mark in the process. I was at the very head of the River Almond in a magical little lost valley with a good track leading back towards Loch Tay.
I managed to use the inReach to ask Roland if he'd bring my car my way and then set off for an 8km walk back to the tar. The walk was magic - such a beautiful place that'd I'd never have seen if it weren't for paragliding. Loads of wildlife and wild flowers and stunning little streams surrounded by native woodland. I arrived at the tar with blisters and happy to see Roland come around the corner in my car.
We headed to Pitlochry and ate fish and chips in evening sunshine while waiting for Tony, Adrian and Richard. They had landed shy of Crieff and got a bus to Perth and then a taxi to Pitlochry. I dropped them back at their vehicles and headed home, sneaking into the bedroom at 10.30pm, so as not to wake my sleeping baby daughter.
Massive thanks to Roland Rider for a sterling retrieve. It was so refreshing to painstakingly text out my location and my anticipated location once back at the tar in an hour and a half and then to get the no nonsense reply - "On my way. " Cheers Roland!