Get Back: Where to fly a kite

A monthly series following Rob Cowen and Leo Critchley as they reconnect with the simpler things in life

Most of us have felt the joy of sending a kite soaring, but making one yourself – and getting your own piece of DIY to fly – takes the fun to new heights.

The iconic diamond kite is simple enough to build using materials found around the house. Lash two pieces of gardener's bamboo together (90cm by 70cm) to form a cross and cut grooves in each of the four ends. Make two extra nicks in the ends of the crosspiece so it looks like the top of a Phillips-head screw. Tie a piece of string just below the central join and pass it along the crosspiece's length, over the horizontal grooves and pull taut, to bow the crosspiece about 6 or 7cm.

Now run string around all the ends of the canes to create a diamond-shaped frame, before placing the kite on to a large plastic bin liner. Cut around it and gaffer tape this "sail" into place over the string frame, so that the side that bows outwards is covered.

Make holes for a halter at the top and 20cm from the bottom and attach 100cm of string, tying it around the central cane. All you need now is to tie some running line (about 30m) one-third of the way down the halter and hoist it into a breeze.

Britain is Europe's windiest country and, as we found walking over the soft, shoe-sliding dunes on to Camber Sands in Kent, it is also blessed with many breathtaking beaches that double as runways. Under a cloudless blue sky, we took it in turns to be launcher and flyer, shouting ourselves hoarse each time the kite caught the wind and snaked its way into the atmosphere.

Soon we learnt that pulling the line gained altitude and slacking allowed manoeuvring. The darting diamond was staying airborne for 10 minutes at a time and we found our attention devoted to the slender path of string as it rose upwards. Nothing else mattered. People spend years trying to achieve meditative states that allow them an out of body experience. This was the perfect short cut.

Building and flying a kite goes deeper than feeling the wind on our faces, it ties this fascination with the earth's natural powers to another innate human instinct: to control it. Despite huge, shop-bought kites being flown expertly nearby, parents were being dragged over to watch us, Kent's own version of the Wright Brothers. The delight of the homemade was contagious and more than one toddler had their dad promising to make a kite when they got home.

Surfing thermals had led us in criss-cross patterns towards the sea and we were surprised at how far down the beach we had come. Our bags were ensconced in scrubby dunes half a mile back along the shore, but having just spent such an uplifting few hours, there was no weary trudge before us.

On the way down to the shore, we'd picked up ice creams and watched a game of beach cricket. It featured all the best elements: an overly cunning bowler failing to get spin on the ball and the fiercest-looking batsman being dispatched by a small child. When we left carrying our kite an hour later, they were still going, but with an eager Labrador in the party and a rising sea. We knew that play would be curtailed soon enough, either by act of God or act of dog.

The south coast of England is famed for its proud cliffs and broad beaches but, by building and flying a kite, there is another playground waiting above. One that can really lift the spirits.

Top spots to fly a kite

Holkham, Norfolk

Delightfully secluded, and part of England's biggest nature reserve, pines and grasses give way to expanses of sand that offer plenty of space for running around. Just don't get run over by a horse.

Barafundle, Pembrokeshire

Counted among the most beautiful beaches in Britain, on a fine day you would be forgiven for thinking you had been spirited away to the Caribbean. Ideal for flying kites and perfect for building sandcastles and bathing in some of the cleanest water around.

Joss Bay, Kent

Set below the iconic white cliffs, at the height of summer this broad sandy beach can get very busy, but as an intrepid kite-flyer you can take advantage of cloudier, windier days when the sunbathers are not out in force.

Bamburgh, Northumberland

If you want a stunning horizon to go with your freshly minted kite, Bamburgh is the place to be. The sweep of the shore and the magnificent castle standing proudly atop a vast basalt outcrop may even distract you from your flying line.

Rob Cowen and Leo Critchley's book describing their journeys around Britain will be published in spring 2012 by Hodder. For more information, follow them on their blog at

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