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Skybound: A Journey in Photographs

Posted on 20th April 2018 by Martha Greengrass

Diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-thirties, Rebecca Loncraine learned to live again through the discovery of flight. Chronicling her experiences, Skybound is both a powerful nature memoir of a world high above our heads and a moving, inspirational testament to freedom and self-discovery. Rebecca sadly passed away before the book could be published. Here her mother Trisha - who helped to bring the book to print - presents a diary in photographs of Rebecca's extraordinary journeys in the skies.

Two years on from a breast cancer diagnosis, and after months of gruelling treatment, Rebecca Loncraine flew in a glider for the first time. In that engineless plane, soaring 3,000 feet over the landscape of her childhood, she fell in love. If illness meant Rebecca had lost touch with the world around her, gliding showed her a way to learn to live again.

Skybound is Rebecca’s extraordinary story of taking to the skies. She travelled from the Black Mountains in Wales to New Zealand’s Southern Alps and the Nepalese Himalayas to chase her new-found passion: her need to fly with the birds, to push herself to the boundary of her own fear. Skybound is a nature memoir with a unique perspective; it is about the land we know and the sky we know so little of, it is about memory and self-discovery.

Just as she finished writing Skybound Rebecca became ill again. She died in September 2016. Publication has been made possible with the help of Rebecca’s mother, Trisha. Throughout her time flying gliders, Rebecca documented her experiences in notebooks, but she and Trisha also took hundreds of photos of Rebecca’s time in the sky. 

Rebecca and Bo in the glider they flew in above the Black Mountains in Wales

‘The ground falls away beneath me at seventy miles per hour and I am swallowed by the sky’ wrote Rebecca, of her first glider flight with Bo, the man who would become her long-term instructor. 

The valley from above

‘I am shocked to suddenly notice that we’re flying directly over my home . . . I’ve never seen it like this before, all at once, and for the very first time I can look at its overall shape, its body. I trace the boundaries of the farm with my finger from inside the glider. I see how the land rises up and wraps around it on three sides, so it looks like it’s held in the cupped hand of the hill.'

Flying over the Brecon Beacons

As Rebecca flew more and more, she realized that gliding was helping her leave the trauma of her cancer treatment behind: ‘Suddenly, in the sky, I have found a space for myself, a place to feel uplifted, so perhaps I will find my language in flying.'

Rebecca in the cockpit (L) and Rebecca writing on the scar on the hill (R)

Rebecca began to write again, and as she became a more confident flyer, to learn how to trust the feel of the glider and her connection to it: ‘My whole body is slowly becoming a flying instrument.'

10,000 meters above the Black Mountains

By the end of the flying season in Wales, Rebecca and Bo were flying higher than ever, and during her last flight of the season, they reached 10,000 feet.

‘We’re well above the cumulus clouds, now, and heading into the cloudless Prussian blue . . . And then we reach 10,000 feet, almost two miles up. The curvature of the Earth is just discernible. On the far horizon, the sky meets a flat plain of golden orange and it takes me a few moments to realize in astonishment that I’m seeing the west coast of Wales: it’s the sea glowing liquid copper.’

With the flying season at an end in Wales, Rebecca knew she couldn’t face six months on the ground, so she travelled to the Omarama in New Zealand to glide in some of the best and most dangerous skies in the world. 

Gliding in New Zealand (L) and a steep turn above New Zealand’s Southern Alps (R)

In New Zealand, Rebecca flew to ever more dangerous heights, flying to 30,000 feet in wave. It was here that she realized she wanted to ‘face fear head on – to choose it, move towards it, become intimate with it.’ Having lost all sense of fear during her treatment, flying over Mount Cook reminded Rebecca what it felt like:

‘We fly on towards Mount Cook and suddenly we’re tumbling down a black hole of sinking rotor. I scream . . . blackness envelops my mind as we continue to be thrown around above glacial crevices and rocks.’

Turning above Mount Cook (L) and Cloud cover around Mount Cook (R)

‘This is the extreme edge of glider flying and it’s my edge too; I have finally found it: I can experience total all-consuming fear.'

Rebecca’s most terrifying flight of all

After her New Zealand trip, Rebecca returned to Wales, and to gliding at her beloved Black Mountains Gliding Club, and she focused on writing Skybound. Just as she finished writing her book, Rebecca became ill again. She died at home, in September 2016, with her parents, Trisha and Tony, and Bo, by her side. Despite her tragically early death, Skybound is still about learning to live again: deeply moving, thrilling and euphoric, this is a book for anyone who has ever looked up and wanted to take flight.

Rebecca (L) and Rebecca with Trisha (R)

Above the Southern Alps, New Zealand

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