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24 September 2014

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Come fly with me....
Up, up and away....
Do I look a little apprehensive? All my fears were about to be thrown out the window.
BBC Devon's John Govier has his head in the clouds as he soars high and silently above Dartmoor to bring you a look at the graceful pastime of gliding.

Take a look at our photo tour and experience a birdseye's view across the moors.

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Ten Tors 2002

British Gliding Association

Dartmoor Gliding Society

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In the UK, distances of over 600 miles have been covered in one day in a glider.

To go solo, you must be 16, but you can learn before this - many fly solo on their 16th birthday!

There are really only three things that will stop you from flying - rain, low cloud and strong winds (more than 30mph).

There is no upper age limit, although after 70, you will need a doctor to sign once a year that you are fit to fly.
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If you've never tried it, you're missing out on an experience of a lifetime.

For my birthday, a friend bought me a voucher for a trial flight in a glider. It sat on the mantle piece at home for almost a year, not because I didn't want to give it a go - in fact quite the opposite, I was really looking forward to it - but because Dartmoor Gliding Society was just another victim of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, suffering badly from not being able to access the moor.

Waiting for take-off
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So it was with great excitement that I set out one Sunday morning to make the best of the Spring sunshine and find out more about this graceful pastime.

I imagined the club would be fairly exclusive with lots of Biggles look-a-likes who wore long scarves, drank Martinis in the plush clubhouse and spent their time comparing flights. Not so!

When you arrive you park in a makeshift carpark and walk past the hanger and a wooden shack (the plush clubhouse). You're asked to report to the duty pilot which, in my case, entailed grabbing the first person who walked past and asking what I should do.

Dartmoor expands beneath you
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We were bundled into the back of a Land Rover but had to take a detour on the way to the airstrip. The tractor which normally pulls the winch lines from the huge motor up to the other end of the strip to be attached to the glider for take-off had broken down.

We drove across the bumpy field towards the winch that the club has bought from the military, attached the lines to the back and drove in as straight a line as we could towards the waiting gliders.

The idea is you're winched at great speed on one wheel until, just like a kite at the end of a rope, you are suddenly in the air. When you're at the required altitude you release the line and, hey presto, you're flying.

I was surprised to find the Society only has around 50 - 60 members - especially as the costs are so low. (A year's membership costs £100 and a flight is £5 for launch and first five minutes, 20p per minute thereafter.)

Brentor Church
Brentor Church
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Everyone mucks in. And they're a really friendly bunch, keen to encourage more people to join. I signed my disclaimer and spent the next hour chatting before it was my turn.

As a complete novice I was made to feel very safe. My pilot talked me through what was about to happen and what I should (and should not) do to make sure everything happened as it was supposed to. Then the hood was lowered. The slack was taken up on the line and we were trundling across the field.

It's only seconds before you feel the lift under the wings and you're in the air. The ascent is very steep and the loud crack as the line is released makes your heart stop momentarily. But're flying!

It's fantastic. I was like a kid with a new toy. The vast expanse of Dartmoor spreads out like a carpet below you as you search for that thermal to take you higher and higher.

The airfield below us
All too soon the landing strip appeared once again
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I was allowed to take the controls for a while. Just the slightest movement on the joystick resulted in a response from the aircraft. I wanted more and was very disappointed when it was time to land (why on earth should we have to consider the other people waiting to have a go...?).

Apparently when I got out of the glider I had a grin that stretched from ear to ear.

I loved it! If you would like to give it a go check out their website and I'm sure they'll welcome you with open arms. One things for sure; it may have been my first flight. It definitely won't be my last.

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