Tour of Bell Hill part 1: Front, back, and sides

Home (contents) Hang gliding Hang gliding 2010 Tour of Bell Hill part 1: Front, back, and sides

Bell Hill is near Blandford Forum (that’s a town, not a web site) in north Dorset, England. This tour of the ridge, although arranged in sequence as if a single flight, is composed of photos from several flights in 2010, 2011, and 2013.

Hang glider ready to launch

The front wire assist here is not holding the wires, but his hands are cupped ready to grab them if the pilot loses control.


Hang glider launching

The hang strap is tight, indicating that the glider is flying, but it is not at that point flying fast enough to lift my weight. After three or four accelerating steps, it lifted me off the ground...

In-flight photo of hang glider launching

We have lift off...

In the air

Hang glider in-flight photo

Struggling to maintain height in front of launch. I had not at this point zipped up the harness.

I find the airflow is quieter with the new open face helmet. (It is actually my paragliding helmet.) More importantly, visibility is better without the chin guard blocking a significant portion of the view. However, the open face helmet confers less protection in the event of what paraglider pilots call a sub-optimal landing (and what hang glider pilots like me still call a crash).

Wing-mounted camera view from airborne hang glider

Heading back to the ridge instead of embarking on a cross-country journey.

Photo from wing-mounted camera on a hang glider

The north end of the ridge

Towers of Hanoi

Wing-mounted camera view from airborne hang glider

Bell Hill, May 15th, 2011

Although this photo was taken on an overcast day and there was a smudge on the outer lens in the middle, it shows the ridge run to the west. There are a couple of tall radio masts in the distance. They mark the turn point of a permanent out-and-back challenge. (I have only managed to round the towers and make it back once.)

Beware of venturi effect in strong winds where the hill is lower and less steep to the west — a little way beyond where the white track disappears over the end of the main hill in the preceding photo. On one occasion when flying my red and white Aeros Discus, a much faster wing than the Sting 3 in the photo, I flew towards the towers and I was pinned by the wind in the gap there. It is not really a gap. It is just where the hill is lower and less steep. Therefore, the horizontal component of the wind is greater and, on this day, it matched the top speed of my glider. Even flying as fast as I could, each time I was turned by turbulence slightly out of wind, I crept backwards over the ground. There is no recognized landing area there, and it is not a good idea to try new landing zones in strong winds. By the time I realized the seriousness of my situation, I felt too low to make a down-wind dash to find a field to land in somewhere behind the ridge. As I lost more height, the turbulence increased, but — fortunately — the strength of the wind decreased (because obstructions on the ground slow it down) and I made forward progress. Eventually I crept forward through the air low over a house with a small swimming pool. A woman doing the dishes watched my progress out of her kitchen window. I managed to track to the right, back towards the main hill, where the wind was going up more than along. I climbed back up to altitude in front of the hill and landed in the field on top. Lesson fecking learned, I can tell you!

I am not the only one to have been caught out by being to unaware of wind strength:

Slowly, inch by inch, my wings leveled. The glider crept forward and sideways. I crabbed to the left and after a few-minute eternity I had gained on the ground and was even with the launch again. All my strength, experience and instinct for survival went into that battle. The minutes passed, and I had no tricks left, no ace in the hole. I simply did everything I could, knowing as I did so that the outcome was beyond my control. At last the wind, which had blasted in after my launch and never let up again, was a smooth roar.

— Lauren Emerson writing in her Bird’s Eye View column in Hang Gliding, November 1980

Wing-mounted camera view of hang glider in flight

North-west (up-wind) of Bell Hill, July 2011

The chalk pit at right is at the base of the wooded spur that divides the two parts of the ridge. (The take-off area and the west half of the ridge are out of view to the right of this photo.) The slope of north half of the ridge is partly covered with trees and bushes. It has a long rectangular wheat field along its top. (The top landing field is adjacent to it and is out of view to the right of this photo.) In the middle of that part of the slope is the ‘magic tree’, above which we often encounter lift.

The hang glider bottom landing field is the one with the lone tree below my harness at about knee-level. (We also use the one this side of the white track; nearer the camera, when it is not divided by an electric fence as it is here.) Power lines run beside the road that defines its down-wind edge. The apparently large field at bottom right of the photo, in front of the chalk pit, has a pronounced slope and is bounded by trees, buildings, power lines, and the road. It is also close to the hill and generates lift just when you do not want it if ever you try to land there. Paragliders use it as a landing field, but in my experience it is difficult to get a hang glider into it safely. (At least one pilot disagrees. He has landed in the generally down-slope direction, but he points out that the ground rises in the middle, where he lands.)

The cluster of buildings at the far end of that field, at the road junction, is named either Belchalwell or The Cross; I have yet to determine which it is.

“Open fire on the ville!”

Wing-mounted camera view from airborne hang glider

Sinking out

You don’t always go up. Here I have launched at the wrong moment — into heavy sink. The rim of the chalk pit is discernible just below the rear half of my harness and the landing field (with the tree) just above it. The hedge along its near edge hides a road with power lines. After I turned out to land, those features rose up in my field of view; indicating that I was not going to reach them. The large nearer field (partly obscured by my harness) had livestock in it and, anyway, it is difficult to land a hang glider there (in my opinion) mainly because of its slope and proximity to the hill. The power line leaves the road where it bends right (the bend is obscured by my head) and bisects the field on the left.

Wing-mounted camera view from airborne hang glider

Over the ville

Sink does not go through the ground. I made it to the landing field with height to spare and I even encountered lift adjacent the ville. However, I was too spooked to use it, so I landed.

Hang glider landing

Nil-wind flare in the field below Bell Hill on a different day (in June, 2013)

Hang glider pilot in landing field

Glad to be down

Anyway, there’s always stuff to do when you’re back on the ground…

Hodges approached Snake, who was setting in two men behind a mound. ‘That light mean anything?’
Snake squinted. His hands grasped clumps of grass on the mound. He bolted towards the unpositioned squad members.
‘Open fire on that ville!’
The cemetery erupted as tracers reached towards Nam An (2). Rounds poured furiously for a few quick seconds, then there was a moment of silence: in their excitement, all had emptied the first magazine of ammo at the same time.

— From Fields of Fire by James Webb, 1978. Nam An (2) is the name of a village in south Vietnam, as designated by the U.S. military. According to Webb, it is near Dai Khuong (4) and Nam An (1).

Internal links

Hang gliding preparation

Tour of Bell Hill part 2: Top landing at Bell Hill

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