Spring Easterlies






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Apparently not satisfied with just socialising with the hang gliding pros, Donald MacKenzie managed to gate crash the solitude of Lismore Island and started a party!

Spring easterlies in Scotland mean that the North West coast is heaven. The cold continental air is dried out by the Grampians to give clear thermic conditions over some of the most beautiful scenery in the anywhere in the world. Over the years, some of the Auld Enemy have lost some of their misconceptions of Scottish flying - high winds and rain for weeks - and headed north for some of their best ever flying.

The urgent need for a Cross Country Clinic gave Darren Arkwright the reason to be in the right place at the right time. Darren, being the extremely talented competition pilot that he is, who roams the world flying in every sort of competition, just mention north-easterlies and Glencoe, and he’ll be there. So a quick Friday evening drive and he arrives in Glasgow, ready for Saturday’s guaranteed flying.

However, although talented, he still has a few flaws and in his case, it is the ability to talk for hours. I suspect it has something to do with the league. All that sitting around. I have always found competition pilots threshold for boredom is so low that they are not normal unless given a task, so on the drive from Glasgow, I ask him for an estimate of the height of cloudbase. 4000’, 5000’, 6000’? Darren goes hyper! "What height is it, Donald?" "It’s 8000’, Darren." Darren starts driving faster, overtaking, never mind the sheep, old ladies don’t count. What will we do? Where will we go? Do we land at a pub!! One and a half hours later, and partially deaf, we arrive at Glencoe chairlift, where we are provided with the usual excellent assistance from the chairlift company staff. In no time at all, we are ready to launch.

Off goes Darren on a Solar Wings Fever, followed minutes later by myself. Straight into a thermal, round and round to 8000’. You lose sight of the scowling faces on take off after about 1000’. As we topped out we were close to the Buachaille Etive Mor, the 2500’ vertical rockface which is a mecca to climbers. The higher we climb the more spectacular the scenery. From this height, you can see over distant mountains and into remote emerald green glens, with the colours changing through to purple and black on the larger mountains. The complete western seaboard of the Mull of Kintyre and a myriad of islands and sea lochs come into view. Intimidating glens and plateaus seem to be tamed, so it is easy to tip toe between the small cumulus; even so, it is only every fourth or fifth cloud which seems to work. Mind you, even that is not very demanding at 8000’.

Darren meanwhile is blasting around convinced that he is still on the race section as he heads down the west side of Glen Etive. A golden eagle comes in to join me. They are nearly always in pairs, so I scan around looking for his partner and sure enough, there she is, about 1500’ above, eyeing the scenery and looking for food. Their thermalling abilities are superb, seeming to centre effortlessly, climbing quickly and gliding off at 15:1.

I have now lost sight of Darren, but can still hear him. If he slowed down to less than 40 knots, I would have the opportunity to catch up. We both make our way to the coast. Darren decides to go for the triangle, but due to the severe lack of sources (of Guinness), I decide to try some island hopping, trying to get to Mull via Lismore. On the crossing to Lismore, I get a bone jarring thermal, which unfortunately is taking me out to sea, so discretion being the better part of valour, I fly down the length of Lismore hoping for the thermal that will carry me to Mull and back among the big stuff. I wander aimlessly around the island for twenty minutes, gaining and losing, until I end up losing.

Sitting in the field in 70 degree sunshine, I can reflect on a fabulous flight, and still listen to you know who on the radio! He is back to 8000’ over Ballachulish after completing two legs of the triangle. The wind is quite strong at ground level, and I suggest he joins me on Lismore. As I speak, a woman cycles up and suggests I come to her house for some tea. I agree, and then her husband arrives! If you haven’t heard, the Highland hospitality is legendary. After I arrive at their house, it goes like this. "You’ll chust have a cup of tea." Allow two seconds pause before replying. This allows sufficient time for the man of the house to give the rhetorical reply "Ach, no! No, you’ll be having something a wee bit stronger." Another short pause, then nod approvingly, and the whisky appears. It cannot be served on its own due to the temperature, so cans of beer are produced to slake your thirst. The party grows on the road outside the croft with every passing car stopping and a bottle coming out of the boot. The soft west highland accent and wonderful sense of humour have me chuckling away contentedly when one of my host’s daughters asks me what the radio is for. I suggest again to Darren to come over to Lismore, but to no avail. The wee girl is extremely disappointed, so I tell her that Darren already has a girlfriend. Anyway, all that body hair takes some getting used to.

Two hours later, my thanks and farewells given, I headed back to the mainland on the ferry.

Author: Donald McKenzie (Lanarkshire Lothian)
Written: 01/01/96
Tel: Not Available

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