What words describe the Bwlch? Awesome, immense, inspiring, phenomenal!
There are seven slopes in all, The Crest, The Wrecker, Back of Wrecker, VR98, Ice Cream Slope, Mickey's SW & Mickey's W
All are 1000ft high monster slopes generating amazing lift when other slopes in the region are struggling. The air is smooth, the lift phenomenal
Ice Cream Slope
This is a NW facing slope. Park in the car park at the lay-by with the ice cream van in it then walk through the green forestry gate to the right. Almost immediately you will see a narrow track bearing off to the left.
Take this track and walk until the slope to your right flattens off, this then becomes your landing zone. No rotor, no rocks, just long, lush grass and great lift.
For me, the two Mickey's slopes are the best of all the slopes. Huge, deep grassy slopes, no rotor, no rocks, just amazing lift and flying.
Start at the same place as for the Ice Cream Slope but instead of bearing left, you follow the gravel track to the right and continue walking for about 15 minutes to get to the SW slope, which is a couple of hundred metres after you cross the cattle grid. Anywhere along there is fine, just ensuring the forest below is to your right.
For the west slope, continue on past where the gravel track ends and the track becomes just a couple of wheel ruts. After a few minutes you will cross a gully. Walk on about 100 metres then head right through the grass to the ridge. Again this is long, lush grass and no nasty vices but more amazing flying.
The Crest, Wrecker, Back of Wrecker & VR98
The Crest - Someone once told me that 6 mph of wind on the Crest will generate 100 ft of lift! And that is probably about right. The lift is HUGE and very smooth, like flying a sea cliff. However, this slope has a nasty vice. Rotor!
This is a mainly easterly facing bowl with a mostly vertical cliff. You don't want to land out here because you may never retrieve your model. The walk to the base is long, hard and can be very boggy.
For me, the best way to land is to gain as much height as possible before heading down wind and begin walking away from the slope. You may have to walk 100 meters before the wind stops blowing on the back of your head as you look towards the ridge line. You can then circle down before lining up for a landing but, just be aware that anything can happen. The Crest has eaten many a model upon landing.
However, despite this, the Crest has to be experienced to be believed, and I would recommend any visitor flying it when an easterly wind blows in.
To get there, take the Port Talbot turning by the ice cream van lay-by. You will pass another lay-by on your right about half a mile further on. You then pull in and park at the side of the road about a 1/4 mile on from there. There is a picture below.
The Wrecker - This is the Crest's baby sister, a NE facing bowl with the same qualities as the Crest. Again, the rotor is notorious and landing is achieved by walking across the road and about 100 metres up the slope behind. If you try to land on the grass behind the ridge line, the Wrecker will wreck your model.
The Wrecker & Crest together
Back of Wrecker - This is a south or SE slope which is probably our least favourite as it does get some turbulence. Also, landing out isn't an option here as the vertical cliff is rocky and it has a road at its base. It does also suffer from some rotor so, land with caution.
Park in the Wrecker car park and walk over the brow of the hill on the other side of the road until you reach the ridge.
VR98 - This slope gets it name from the Viking Race F3F competition that was held on it back in 1998.
It is north facing and a continuation of the Wrecker but without the Wreckers nasty attributes.
Landing can be a bit tricky due to the close proximity of the road to the slope. If you have a model with good crow braking, you can fly along the slope side of the road, then turn in, applying crow in the turn. If you have little or no braking, you are best coming in very low and from the right, along the slope and as close to the road as you dare before plonking it down in the long grass.
Wrecker parking & flying area
Bwlch main car park area
Meio is probably only a little over 100 metres high from the road, however, the SW facing side does generate some fantastic lift and all of us who fly it, love it. In fact out of all the slopes we fly, this is probably our favourite which we fly the most. The lift is usually smooth and the landing zone is great with no rotor. This is just an enjoyable slope to fly.
The Meio also has slopes facing NW and NE and although they aren't as good as the SW slope, they are perfectly flyable.
The only problem with Meio, if you can call it a problem, are the mountain ponies, which can be a nuisance, coming very close to models sitting on the ground or, indeed your car at the bottom of the slope.
Manmoel, Abertysswg & Fochriw
Manmoel - ENE
Not a bad slope at all. Park anywhere you can along the bumpy, pot holed road and walk over to the ridge about 300 metres to the east. There is a small bowl to the right if the wind swings slightly south. The slope has no nasty vices and the landing zone is good with no rotor.
Manmoel is also an excellent venue for flying thermal soaring gliders, either electric powered or off a high start bungee system as the area is a vast, open area with no trees. In between the rough, moorland type vegetation are long tracks of smooth grass which make excellent, natural landing runways.
Abertysswg - NW
A very good NW facing park & fly slope with good lift. Landing is best done on the ridge side of the road. Landing on the slope behind can be tricky as the plane doesn't want to lose height there, even with crow braking.
Fochriw - NE
Unfortunately, for the time being anyway, this slope is unavailable to drive up to as Caerphilly Borough Council have erected locked gates at either end of the road, blocking driving access to this slope. The Fochriw community and the S Wales Paragliding & Hang glider Club are fighting this decision which was done to stop fly tipping in the area, instead of policing and catching the culprits. We are still able to walk to our flying area, which would probably take around 15 minutes and be no worse than the walk to Mickey's slope at the Bwlch.
This is an excellent NE facing slope. No rotor, great landing zone and superb lift. However it is frequented by para gliders during light wind conditions
Rhigos Mountain (Hirwaun Common)
Rhigos mountain is 1,690 feet high and overlooks the old and now derelict Tower colliery, but it still has an active surface mining operation. It has magnificent views across the Heads Of The Valley's road of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains and has slopes facing north west, north and north east. I had previously flown the NW and N facing slopes, but never the NE slope.
I decided the easiest, and probably the quickest route for me to take to get there from Cardiff was probably by driving straight up the A470 to Merthyr Tydfil, then hang a left onto the A465 Heads of the Valley's road, following the signs for Hirwaun. At the roundabout with the entrance to Hirwaun Industrial Estate, I took a left to follow the sign for Treherbert, which takes you past the old Tower colliery on your right before the road begins to climb up the windy mountain road.
As the road takes a long right hand bend towards the top, there is a small entrance, marked by two wooden posts, to a small area where you can park a few cars. Or, if you don't fancy that, you can continue further along the road where there is a lay by with parking. This just means you have a longer walk.
From there you turn left out of the car park, walking down the hill towards the left hand bend, and then you bear right off the road before the banking on the right becomes higher.
You then follow a vague track made by a vehicle towards a gate, then just continue through the gate and on up the hill following the track.
At this point, you can fly anywhere along the ridge on your left which is facing NW once the ground has leveled off.
Then, 20 minutes after leaving the car, the ridge changes direction and faces north where, a curious steel post, about 30 cms across and 1 metre high sticks out of the ground. This marks the spot for flying in a northerly wind. The landing zone is perfect! It is flat and grassy with no rocks anywhere.
The surface mining operation in the picture below. When the sun shines, this area gives off some cracking thermals.
To reach the NE slope, you continue walking along the track for another 6 minutes until you reach a fence. Follow the fence until you find a piece with the barbed wire missing and sneakily climb over the top and walk down to the ridge line.
As you can see from the picture above, you could continue your walk along to the higher ridge. But this ridge is vertical at the top with a sharp leveling out at the top, and although it does produce great lift, (I know because I flew my model towards and along it), I suspect that there would be a great deal of rotor in the landing zone.