Fly away home

Guy Richardson swapped the cars on the driveway of his London house for paragliding in the Derbyshire peaks

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Guy Richardson has discovered the true meaning of happiness. For him, it’s heading into the wilds of the Peak District with a rucksack on his back in search of a hill that will allow him to fly.

A former IT professional who once lived on the “hamster wheel” of a nine to five existence in the capital – working to pay for his children’s private school fees and the cars on the driveway – at the age of 54, Richardson, a paragliding instructor and outdoor enthusiast, now lives a more simple life in the north of England.

“I worked in London for 20 years, chasing the dollar, until divorce, redundancy, and eventually deciding that I needed a new direction in life,” says Richardson. “I think it gave me perspective, really. Going through divorce, bankruptcy, all that sort of stuff really made me realise what’s important.

“We have such a short time on this planet. What’s important in life, for me, is adventure. And being able to live a lot more sustainably without too much emphasis on possessions and money.”

These days Richardson’s commute is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. He runs Ginger Nomad, an outdoor pursuits shop in the village of Nuncargate, Nottinghamshire, where he insists he always has the kettle on for anyone who fancies a browse. The rest of the time he can be found up in the air, in some country or another, either teaching or for fun.

We speak on a sunny October morning – for him at least. Richardson takes the call in the shade of an olive tree in Epidavros, Greece. Days earlier he was in Annecy in the French Alps. His job takes him all over the world but he insists Derbyshire, where our photographer meets him on a slightly greyer day, will always be home.

“I could live anywhere in the world, but I always go home,” he says. “The Peak District is my love. My family is there, but it’s also where I know I’m comfortable and it’s where I make a living. I love it. I love the people. I love the attitude.

“My job has taken me all over the world – to Africa, Europe, Canada, America, Libya, Tunisia – to me the Peak District is the most beautiful place in the world.”

Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness or lies in a cocoon-like ‘speed bag’ suspended below a fabric wing.

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Before learning to fly in 1989 Richardson was a professional sailor.

“Flying is a little bit like sailing,” he says. “You’re sailing in the air, or sailing horizontally, and so I found the transition very easy from the point of learning to fly.

“I feel paragliding is freer. I can walk to any hill with a rucksack as long as the wind is in the right direction. I can sit there for a couple of hours thinking about the world or go flying. I can fly home to North Nottinghamshire from Derbyshire.

“We also go cross-country. We’ve landed in Skegness from Derbyshire. We’ve flown all that way without power – that’s just on the thermic activity of the day.”

These days, Richardson gets his kicks out of watching other people excel in his field. He works as chief coach at Derbyshire Soaring Club, and says he relishes watching people becoming better pilots.

“I like to see people improving,” he says. “I like helping people to improve their skills, maintain their safety, and pushing them to be better, more efficient pilots, so they can fly further. That’s what I really enjoy – I like to see people becoming better than myself.”

It is more than 30 years since Richardson took up the sport, but he says he’s never forgotten the advice he was given then.

“I’ve still got my instructor sitting on my shoulder when I’m flying,” he says. “He tells me when I’m doing stupid things. I’ve done all sorts of things like acrobatics, tandem flying and flying through mountain ranges and he’s always there, as a little bit of a mascot, still giving me advice.

“I remember he drilled the quote: ‘It’s better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air, than in the air, wishing you were on the ground’.”

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