Peter’s Paragliding Nomadness

Peter Jennings


England and Wales - April 2011

April 2011 UK

The route taken

Devon and Cornwall

I arrived back in the UK on April 12, a delightful sunny spring day and spent the first night in a rural carpark at Burrington Combe, where the police seemed to be conducting some kind of operation - I can't call it undercover, as they had all their lights flashing for hours on end. They arrived around 1:30 am and left before 4:00. I was very curious as to what they were up to, but didn't go out and ask. Whatever it was, they didn't feel any need to talk to me about sleeping there.

The weather was distinctly English as I headed up to Minehead and Exmoor. There are numerous paragliding sites in the area, Bratton Ball, North Hill, Selworthy Sands, Bossington Hill and Porlock Hill. I looked at them all, but as you can see from the photo above, it was not a flying day. The horses didn't seem to mind the inclement weather.

When the tide is out - walking to the surf

When the tide is out, it can be a very long walk to the water on the Cornish coast. This surfer is hiking her way out to the edge of the water across a vast expanse of wet beach at Saunton Sands. She looks like she is walking across the sky.

Dizzard Paragliding Site The paragliding site at Dizzard is a wonderful coastal ridge facing north.

Dizzard is on the South West Coast Path, 630 miles of spectacular walking around the coasts of Cornwall and Devon. I spent a delightful morning hiking a few miles in each direction from the Dizzard parking. There was no wind at all, so no paragliding.

When the tide is out, there is a lot of beach to land on. But when it comes in, there might not be any at all.

By Saturday afternoon, I had meandered my way along the coast of the Bristol Channel and the Celtic Sea as far as Perranporth, a lovely seaside town with a popular beach and another coastal flying site.



Cream Tea at Perranporth

The weather had turned warmer and it felt like a summer day on the beach. I wandered about the town and picked up a takeaway cream tea. Two scones, jam and a pot of Cornish clotted cream. My parking spot on the cliffs overlooking the beach and the rugged coastline was the ideal place to enjoy an afternoon tea in the van.

Although I could probably have spent the night at Perranporth, I thought that on a Saturday night I would rather be away from the inevitable partying teenagers that tend to roam the streets on the weekend.

My GPS was filled with POIs from the web site, which indicated a quiet spot near the long closed Levant Mine. My thanks to Canalsman for compiling this useful list.

This turned out to be a great place to camp. After a quiet night, I hiked a few more miles of the Coast Path, returning just in time for the 11 o'clock opening of the mine to tourists. I was interested in seeing the beam engine in operation and it was well worth the visit. Anyone interested in old steam engines should check this one out.

Wild Camping at the Levant Mine

Cape Cornwall

The Cornish coast is spectacular. Particularly when the sun is shining as it was this week. Records were set all over the south of England and people in the east were talking about drought - it hadn't rained in almost two weeks.

After visiting my cousin in Helston and touring the huge antennas at Goonhilly Downs, the European end of the first transatlantic satellite link via Telstar, launched in 1962, I spent some time exploring The Lizard, a flat peninsula stretching south into the English Channel.

Landewadnack Boat Launch

The boat launch at Landewednack was impressive. Lifeboats and fishing boats have been winched up and down this 45 degree incline for generations.

The Lizard Wireless Station was set up by the Marconi Company at the end of 1900 to supply ship to shore radio service with ships passing Lizard Point. It also served as a research centre and a monitoring station for the trans Atlantic Poldhu Wireless station at Poldhu Cove, Mullion.

The museum is housed in the refurbished original buildings, the interior being, as far as possible, a true facsimile of the station at the start of the 20th century.

Marconi Spark Gap Transmitter The station is fitted with spark transmitter and coherer receiver and looks as it did in 1901, when Marconi received signals from the Isle of Wight, a distance of 186 miles, a new world record.

In 1910 the station received an SOS call from a ship in distress. This was the first recorded reception of SOS by a coast station. The Lizard Wireless Station is the oldest Marconi station to survive in its original state in the world.

For a taste of what radio was like in 1901, I recommend reading Wireless, a short story by Rudyard Kipling.

Combestone Tor

Still in search of paragliding sites, I checked out several on the south coast, including Struddick Farm and Whitsands. Both looked like they would be great if the onshore wind were blowing as it is supposed to. Even so, they were delightful to see on a sunny day.

On Dartmoor, I explored several launches at King Tor, Black Hill, and Cox Tor. Great weather for hiking, but not a pilot to be seen. I spent a couple of nights parked beside the enigmatic Combestone Tor. This was a peaceful wild camping spot near the Venford Reservoir, except when a horse decided to rub up against the camper at two in the morning.

Near King Tor PG site

Near King Tor PG site


I really hadn't planned on staying long in the UK, expecting it to be cold and damp in April. But the weather was splendid. In fact, it was warmer in Britain than in the south of Spain, and dryer, too.

I headed up to the Brecon Beacons, where I know there are several paragliding sites worth exploring.

Blorenge, near Abergevanny

I wasn't exactly sure where the launch was at Blorenge, so I took a nice long hike around the top of the mountain and was surprised to find that not only was the launch there, but that there were loads of pilots getting air time.

Back at the van, I considered grabbing my gear and hiking back to the launch, a good half hour from the parking lot.

Hail and a deluge

Hail blankets the ground after the storm

In the end, I decided to have a cup of tea and leave the flying for the next day. Good decision! The skies opened up and a deluge of rain and hail descended from what was a clear blue sky just minutes before. I would have been drenched.

The next day, I hiked to the launch and had an afternoon of wonderful thermal flying at Blorenge. Unfortunately, my attempt to fly back to where I was parked left me hiking out from a steep valley, but it was all fun and I would do it again.

Canal boat entering the Ashford Tunnel

Someone on the Wild Camping Forum had mentioned the spectacular scenery and tranquil camping spots between Ystradfellte and Heol Senny, so I headed off in that direction.

I was completely surprised to see some canal boats in this hilly, almost mountainous terrain. The Monmouth and Brecon Canal runs through here. It follows the contours of the terrain around the mountains, crossing valleys on aquaducts, and slipping under hills through tunnels. There is a lift bridge at Talybont that you operate with a push button. But, please don't lift it during the 15 minutes before and after school hours.

You can rent a canal boat and explore Wales by water, as these Dutch couples have done. I followed them on foot along the canal, as they added colour to the picturesque scenery. What a wonderfully peaceful way to see this landscape.

My GPS told me there was a paragliding site at Heol Senny, but I wasn't expecting to fly again. I stopped for lunch at a spot overlooking the site and was surprised to see wings in the air. After lunch I headed in the direction of launch, which was easy to find after I picked up Viv, a British pilot who had gone over the back and landed out. She directed me back to the launch and explained the site. I grabbed my bag and hiked up to the top.

Flying above Heol Senny

A couple of hours of flying later, I landed next to my camper and packed up my gear. What a great place! The thermals had been gentle but persistent and it had been enjoyable flying. The view is from 1200 feet over the launch.

The village of Thornham

The unseasonably warm weather couldn't last forever. But it had been well timed for the lucky Brits who had two four day weekends in a row.

As the temperatures dropped, I headed east to visit my uncles in Bedford and make my way to Dover for the ferry across the channel.

I toured the Norfolk and Suffolk coast en route to Dover while listening to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on the radio. As often happens on the British coast, the tide was out and the sea was gone. This is not to be counted on, however. Many a wild camper has been caught by the return of the tide which often floods the picturesque parking spot in the salt marshes near Thornham, where I spent my second last night in the UK - after checking the phase of the moon.

On to France...

It will take a rising tide to float these boats

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