With travel still complicated, and many of us currently limited to our native nations rather than adventures out in the world – here and now might be turning up secrets and wonders that were under your nose the whole time. Our roadshow collaboration would have long since set out for the mostly familiar names and places of mainland Europe – but for now, there is waiting. In the meantime we have teamed up with our good friends from UPT and Cookie to attend some dropzones in the UK – with the idea being that enough event support tents create a solid extra reason to head down to the local and get some jumps in. Dropzones come in all shapes and sizes, with qualities that serve as recommendations for attendance there over somewhere else. Fast planes and fine scenery are two immediate draws, skill level another. The overall vibe of a location is crucial though, and may well supersede a lot of other considerations – with firm motivations and specific criteria lubricated by simply having an excellent time.
Skydive Northwest sits right on the coast at the Southernmost end of England’s Lake District – a fine beauty spot generally rammed with tourists throughout the mild months. It is said that Cark is the friendliest dropzone in the UK, and while we are not an authority on the matter – this might well be true. Tandems, regulars, and new arrivals are welcomed in with the same manner of inclusivity. The dropzone’s functional spaces overlap. In some places, there are very clear dividing lines between who is at the dropzone for what – but at Skydive Northwest the usable areas centre onto a collection of picnic tables and some excellent grass that serve to focus the activity on a central point. Things like this can make a huge difference to how a skydiving operation feels, and it works here to create a fine atmosphere that draws people together – supported by an ever-friendly greeting crew and operations staff.
Cark’s local team is the Ospreys – named after the local fish-bothering hawk bird – made of key members Kieron Hayes, Steven Doran, and Ian Chick. The Ospreys focus their skills and attention on training new skydivers, developing jumpers as canopy pilots, and increasingly with the business of flocking – a discipline with a lot of interest at all levels and plenty of space in which to build useful stepping stones for aspiring dynamic group pilots. The team know and understand the need for guidance in the area of flying together under progressively smaller canopies, and nurture the interested locals toward good choices and responsibility with their collected experience of CRW, competition level canopy piloting, and a wealth of active teaching. With the various peaks of the Lake District nearby, the Ospreys use their position as educators to guide the keen local skydivers toward speedflying their home lines under the right circumstances and with the drive of humans who pursue something not just for work, but because they love to do it.
Hidden away in the Northern Lakes, local paragliders have been gathering at the edge of Buttermere for what is now fourteen years of flying and various other off-grid activities across a weekend in June – and it is the kind of easy good time only brought about by refining and bettering an event year upon year. Getting demo skydiving work in the UK is largely the realm of the military teams, but due to their free flight connections, the Ospreys get to jump into this one as part of the finale celebrations. Sharing a demo gig with others is no small thing, and offering this kind of unicorn jump to their friends and regulars speaks of how things go at this dropzone. Efforts are made, experiences are shared.
Friday’s weather is perfect – albeit downwind into a spot with no outs. Saturday is more challenging – requiring a display of first-rate flying from DZO Mike in his Pac XL to get a bunch of wide-eyed skydivers out in the right place amongst the terrain. The Ospreys handle the work in the back of the plane with the eyes and hands of professionals, keeping things cool amid what can really only be described as some wild turbulence over the mountains – then they nail the jump in front of a couple of hundred paragliders who probably don’t believe you can land that accurately on such little wings. Then there is beer and dancing with real live music – embraced with the reverie of something we have all missed.
Skydive Northwest is the kind of place that once you know it is there, you are drawn to go back. It is not famous for any particular reason – but that can allow a place to exist as what it needs to be – which is a huge asset in its own right. Friendliest dropzone in the UK? Checks out.
Thanks to everyone at Skydive Northwest, the whole Buttermere Bash crew – and especially Kieron, Steven and Ian of the Ospreys.