The Hills Beyond Samlesbury.
Once we were committed to Samlesbury and began to taste the joys of soaring when thermals rose & clouds beckoned, we saw no reason to stop there while the ultimate was obvious all around. Those lovely hills. Anyway we found that the damp sea air was still pursuing us up the Ribble estuary each afternoon. With any onshore airstream that produces convection, cloud cover moves inland as the day goes on, and the edge follows the shape of the coastline. During the afternoon thermals faded away, while active cumulus seemed to mock us to south and north. Chipping looked ever more desirable.
Over the years we had been viewing the county with one eye open to seek a launching site. We walked over Pendle, a majestic hill which must produce excellent hill lift in northwest and easterlies, but the top plateau is not really smooth, and at 1827 feet will suffer hill fog more often than even the established hilltop sites, and was sandwiched under Amber One at 3000 ( now FL 55 ). We walked Spence Moor at 1450 feet; my one-inch OS map still has two possible winch runs marked, a mile from the road, along a rough track. It would not be a good place for us, though I wonder that Eric Addyman didn't try it in 1931 !
Longridge Fell is an excellent shape, has road access to 940 feet and a peak at 1149 feet, but faces north which will not often be useful. The 1931 site on Beacon Fell looks quite inadequate today, low and shallow, even the aeromodellers haven't used it, and tree planting will have reduced its influence on the wind, not to mention filling the possible flying sites. Winter Hill looks good from a distance, but does not improve as you explore. We were asked to consider Stronstrey Bank, as a suggestion from the Central Council for Physical Recreation, but this narrow shelf on the hill face is not flat, and is covered with large boulders.
Our attention never seriously wandered from the Bowland Fells. The sweep from Bleasdale to Fairsnape and Parlick to Totridge looks so good on the map and to the eye that it rivets your attention, and it is visible from so far away. Jack Aked made approaches to three major land owners with a view to renting a site. Lord Derby owned land east of Parlick, on to Wolf Fell. Colonel Silcock (the cattle food supplier) owned the Bleasdale estate and moor. Captain Dickson owned Harris Fell. Unfortunately polite letters just got nowhere. Walking round the area trying to get into easy conversation with the tenant farmers wasn't very successful either, Ken Cooper described vividly the view down the barrels of a shotgun after one such trip !
Two Saviours : William Jolly and Mrs. Brewer.
Jack talked to a friend who happened to be an estate agent, in fact a partner with Entwistle (now Black Horse), Tony Legge. He realised that the farms to the south of Parlick were freehold, and suggested that letters addressed to them directly might possibly ring the bell ; this was a very long shot, but we had no better idea, so Legge went ahead. Two interested replies were received, one from a farm north of Beacon Fell, sloping fields rather far from the hill. The other was from William J.Jolly of Lower Cock Hill Farm, Fiddlers Lane.
This was the jackpot. He was even prepared to consider selling his 57 acres, farmhouse and barn. We could not credit how fortunate this had been, but our first look at the site made us delighted with the prospect that had opened up, and that came to fruition after four more years of worry and hard work. In truth, a critical look at the feasible positions for winch launched operations, with good chances to reach the hill faces in every wind, would have narrowed the field seriously, but we had fallen on to almost the best
possible place. We had already looked at some flat fields to the west of Parlick, at Brock Mill, and drawn possible winch runs. This would have been ideal for access to the west side of the hills, but cut us off from using east winds. Cock Hill promised access to every face, and developments in glider performance and winch power over the years have made our approaches to the hill ever more assured.
The farm at that time did not extend much to the north of the buildings, and was split into seven small fields (see the plan). The longest winch run was 700 yards, and we wanted 1000, so our first move was to approach Mrs. Brewer of Lower Core, our neighbour to the north. We had already asked for temporary access to her fields, to make trial flights, but she had refused; there was absolutely nothing in it for her. She was the widow of the farmer who had built it up, and kept it going while her two sons, Ted and George grew up. They have been very good neighbours from the start, and when we approached her with proposals to exchange land so that we would get a more ideal layout, she acceded happily. The Brewer family laid down the ground rules, that they did not lose on area or quality of land, and we were happy to give them first refusal on the grazing rights, which they took up. We got a previous enquiry from someone else but we felt that it would be better to deal with the Brewers alone, and this has turned out well. They lime and feed the grass, and cut the hedges, and pay for the privilege of running sheep and cattle, which we drive on to another field when we wish to fly. We deal with drainage and levelling and maintain the drystone walls. They clear our s*pt*c t*nk.
Negotiations with the Brewer family were carried out by Ivor Stretch and Tony Kemsley, mostly sitting in Ivor's car. We decided that we would need two runs, 12 - 30 of 1100 yards, and 06 - 24 of 830 yards (the most that could be found between the roads). We exchanged 9 acres, mostly to the north of the entrance track, to gain two narrow strips. With this vital hurdle cleared we could pursue the project seriously.
Exploratory Hill Soaring.
The next move was trial flying to show that operations would be feasible, and Mrs. Brewer happily allowed us to put the winch on her land. Everyone thinks that all winds come from the west, so we arranged to use 800 yards on 250, to launch near the gate. This crossed two fences, so we raised scaffolding poles to protect them, and to drape the solid wire across, during late summer of 1967. Jack's portable winch (from the Nickey Nook trials) was checked over, and tried out at Samlesbury, launching the Olympia which was to be used. Malcolm Eaves was ground engineer, and would act as winch driver; success was critical. Cable breaks would be very tricky since the site was split into small fields, none longer than 300 yards. We got a new drum of wire, but when this was later put into club service on the main winch it gave much trouble until we found that it tapered badly along its length, down to no more than half strength........ Happily it gave the Olympia nine launches at Cock Hill without failure.
The signal to move came when British Aircraft Corporation agreed to allow an aeromodel contest on Samlesbury, but without asking the gliding club if this was feasible. When hordes arrived, and no nonsense about waiting until 12.30, we realised that we had to withdraw. There was no possibility that we could do winch launching with people chasing models all over the airfield. So we moved out and set off for Chipping. In the event the model contest was cancelled due to strong wind, but we were too far away to know this. By the time Jack arrived pulling the winch behind his Land Rover we had got the Olympia rigged. Jack then got himself bogged down, so Mr. Jolly pulled
him out, then took the winch across with his tractor. Jack wasn't given enough time to invent reasons not to fly, for Mr. Jolly soon appeared with the wire, helpers having arranged it over the scaffolding. Had we rung the met. office and learned how strong the wind was, Jack would have cried off for sure, especially since the direction was across our pre-set run. But we hadn't got a windsock, and probably Jack didn't appreciate exactly where the wind was coming from. He took a launch to about 800 feet, and flew towards the west side of Parlick, which was the hill face that we expected to use most, if and when the club got settled. The wind carried him there very quickly, and for 15 minutes Jack manoeuvred around Blindhurst farm, gaining a bit then losing it, but never getting high enough to approach the hill face and climb above it.
Remember that we didn't have todays experience of soaring below hilltop height, and Jack's flying had been at Sutton Bank, Long Mynd, Camphill and Nympsfield, hilltop sites all. Without radio contact we were helpless ; radio control might have been more successful ! Jack struggled valiantly but had to give up. At least his approach was easy, straight in over the wires near the gate, and the ground roll was short in that wind.
We pushed the Olympia back to the hedge, actually the tailskid was almost in a small pond, that is still just visible in wet weather, and we were south of a hen house that is shown on an aerial photo. The winch wire was waiting, and Jack got in for another try. This time the launch was not as high, so he didn't have a chance to try the hill, he just flew near it on his base leg, and came straight in. Another good landing, at least that hadn't been a problem. The third try was a repeat of the second, a modest launch and a circuit. Was that the end ? For the fourth time Mr. Jolly had brought back the wire, and Jack was almost obliged to use it.
What Would You Have Done With A Brisk SouthSouthWesterly ?
He committed a major tactical error, he offered me the chance to fly. "Sorry, it will only be a circuit," said Jack, but I was able to misinterpret this, and reckon that he hadn't actually ordered me to do a circuit ! While Jack was airborne I had been standing with my back to the wind, and weighing up what my flight plan would have been had I been flying. I reckoned that the wind was south-southwest, and that only the end of Parlick might be expected to work, and that now my bluff had been called, what I needed was a good launch. Malcolm Eaves responded well. He was working blind, for the winch was down a dip near to a ditch, from where he couldn't see the glider until it was well off the ground. We had an intermediate signaller, using bats of course. There were no prizes today for a shallow climb, so up we went, to a glorious thousand feet, from where Parlick looked friendly and inviting. Starting from above peak height I was able to map out the region that was going to be helpful, using short beats in a figure of eight pattern. A steady climb was being achieved, and when my pulse rate slowed and I could enjoy the view, the scene was dominated by the sight of Fairsnape beyond, its absolutely superb high steep clear face positioned to deflect every bit of that days rather strong wind.
It never crossed my mind that I shouldn't go there, it looked so inviting from my privileged perch. I don't remember whether my flight planning got beyond hill soaring Parlick, for the crosswind, cable break options and circuit plans were vital. But in the air there was no real doubt. From 1200 feet the Olympia turned away and disappeared behind the shoulder of the hill. Jack had been heard voicing advice, and recently "don't go too far away, Keith". He was rendered speechless. I took a track along the top of the hill, in case the Blindhurst face was turbulent or in sinking air, and was losing height gradually, but making splendid progress towards that exciting face.
Would it work ? Near Nick's Chair and the scree, at about 1000 feet, I reached the most glorious and welcome rising air, and swept along and upwards, soon to be visible to the gang below, to their great relief and Jack's amazement. It took very few minutes for cloud to be reached at 2400 feet, and the next move was obviously to see how far upwind I could penetrate against that wind.
But it proved to be no problem, Blacksticks was easily reached, with plenty of height to get into a circuit, but it seemed to be a good idea to go back on Parlick and explore the critical part some more. This time the arrival was at only 700 feet, but there was no difficulty getting straight in to lift and a steady climb up to 1300 was made. On one beat I went further west than usual, round the corner by mistake, and only just above the hill. Trying to penetrate back against the wind, probably boosted by having to squeeze past the hill, required a lot of speed, through unhelpful air, and I began to sweat before getting back into the lift. But if the outward turns at the end of each short beat were made in the best spot, you could stay within rising air throughout.
In retrospect this dramatic and critical flight trial could not have been more serendipitous. An easy condition, what we would now classify as "easy Red Card", would not really have proved anything. And we were not to get many opportunities to try out the hill that was such an integral part of our master plan. Sunday, 1st of October 1967. A vital day for the club. The most satisfying flight of my gliding career, 33 minutes that I was most grateful to have been allowed. The responsibility didn't strike me at all....until later. But had I just done that circuit, would Jack have ever gone there again ? We had had our "west" wind, and the hill just didn't work, or it was too far away to be reached from a winch launch. That tiny field would be dangerous in any less wind, and the thought of a cable break........Reasons to call it off on any particular day would have been all too easy.
Anyway we carried on planning and finding out how to go about buying a farm, and raising enough cash, and applying for a grant, even without another flying expedition. An outbreak of foot & mouth in the spring of 1968 made us keep clear of the Chipping area, although Mr. Jolly escaped direct involvement, but we thought that we would be unwelcome at that time. Our second trip there didn't happen until 11 August 1968, when our luck was good again, and we had a steady northwesterly, perhaps a bit marginal for an inexperienced Red Card pilot. Certainly more than a simple test for the hill, and very good value at that stage. There was no problem at all this time, the hill was reached easily from the launch, and you went straight in to glorious rising air, if anything the first bit you reached was the best bit anyway, and there was a good long beat before you ran out of the lift on the face of Fairsnape. On this occasion the winch was used at Samlesbury before taking it to the farm, so Jack didn't have time for more than one circuit before he had to leave for an "appointment" (He usually disappeared early. Did his pass-out expire at tea time ?)
Jack left Keith Emslie to carry on flying, and didn't clear any other pilot, so two good soaring flights were made, of 40 minutes and an hour. Climbs to 1500 feet were easily made in the modest northwest wind, perhaps 10 or 15 knots. Climb at hilltop height was at least 3 knots, and the whole face was explored round Fairsnape, noting that the southwest face did not produce any turbulence in the northwest wind. Aeromodellers were in action, but with no conflict of airspace. (Hang gliders and gliding parachutes had not been invented.) Some days later one of the model club produced a set of photos, and these were very welcome; they gave me the black & white negatives. Roy Greason made a set of full plate enlargements, which could be mounted as a collage to make it look as though several Olympias were soaring together, and it didn't even look like heavy traffic !
The following Sunday, 18th August 1968, produced another northwest wind, Jack went again, had a good hill flight, caught a thermal off the hill and drifted back over Chipping. After a pleasant hour he let Ivor Stretch enjoy a similar hours flight, though just on the hill. This completed our exploratory flying. Three days. Four circuits. Five excellent hill soaring flights. Was this really enough as the basis for such a lot of committee work and financial commitment ? Probably not, but that is exactly how it happened. What about easterly winds ? But we couldn't use the opposite winch run, Mrs. Brewers field was not really level, and the launch height would probably not have been enough. Fortunately the aeromodellers came to our assistance. The east face works better than the west in gentle winds, they said. So we blandly stated in the documents describing our plans that models often soared the east face, and so would we. Did we mislead anyone when we claimed that the hill would be usable from northwest through south to east, and accessible from winch launches ? After twenty years of flying we are more than satisfied with the hill itself, if just a mite disappointed by the convection that we experience and the wave soaring character, both of which can be found more easily and to greater heights at other sites. Nine out of ten. Nice try. But do Sutton Bank, Long Mynd, Camphill, Aboyne, Talgarth, Hus.Bos., Dunstable or Lasham score any higher as all-round club sites ? For all-round training including airmanship, soaring of every type in all seasons, cheap fees and friendly atmosphere ? We rest our case.
Club activities took on a more purposeful air, we had a goal ahead. Flying was seen as the best way to generate surplus cash, and we were able to hold out to current and prospective members a future worth striving for. It even beat drinking ! We started to bring in more than we needed to spend, but a serious assessment of the whole project showed that the grant would be vital to our success.