BOURGES – 2nd AUGUST to the 4th AUGUST 2019
The much-anticipated fly out to Bourges (capital of the department of Cher) in central France on the first weekend in August approached with the promise of good weather for the whole trip, well at the French end anyway. We had a full complement of NWFG aircraft taking part, plus being joined by our usual friends in the ‘GEEP’ together with Linda W and James G in C172 ‘CS’ and then with James Furness following on a day later in PA28 ‘SL’ that forecast made everything look rosy. Needless to say, things started to unravel when our C172 ‘FG’ had an engine problem which put it out of service for the trip which meant I had to cancel two of the guys at short notice. With the weights and likely ambient temperatures in France, it was too tight to send them three up.
The plan was to depart North Weald on the Friday morning and route cross channel to Deauville (LFRG) in Normandy for customs and lunch before routing south to Bourges (LFLD) to stay for two nights. Given the good weather Phil and I together with Mrs B decided to depart a day early in ‘VB’ and head to our usual summer visit location of Bagnoles De L’orne (LFAO) from where we would join the others on the Friday afternoon. Our bit when went fine, but when the others gathered and prep’d for the planned 09.00 departure from North Weald the weather typically wasn’t doing quite as expected. Murk and a 300ft overcast covered the airfield and much of the southeast, somewhat scuppering the planned departure time. Sitting having coffee in the garden at Phil’s near Gorron in France we had a bright blue sky and light winds and it was warming up nicely, a world away from what was happening back at North Weald. The next hour and a half was spent looking at the Metars in the hope that the guys could get out.
If they could get as far as the south coast then they would be ok for the crossing, although there was a ‘tempo’ for some low cloud on the French coast side around midday. A text from John Reynolds said that things had improved a fair bit and that they were going to give it ago. Whilst we had an amble around getting ready and having more coffee and thinking about when to wander down to ‘VB’ parked at Bagnoles the guys were heading south either towards the QE2 Bridge or over Southend towards Dover in not exactly great weather. Several were taking the shorter sea crossing from Dover and along the French coast whilst a couple took the Seaford to Dieppe crossing. Vrai Stacey who was flying alone as his usual buddy Pete McDonald had, unfortunately, had to drop out at very late notice was doing the most direct crossing to Le Havre. As expected once they all got to the south coast the cloud melted away over the sea and they enjoyed a good very clear crossing and went from London Info to either Lille Approach or for those further west Paris Info all the way down to the Deauville Area. Of course just when you think it’s all got better the gods of sod stick their oar in. This time it was not only the low ‘tempo’ cloud with an overcast of 1000 ft that had typically appeared over Deauville and down the coast but a Dutch Airforce C130 was doing circuits! This required all of our aircraft to hold off at varying distances from the airfield and with Vrai in an extended orbit off the coast of La Havre at a relatively low level. Finally, the group aircraft were cleared in by Deauville approach for R30 and all got in safely in some cases having flown for 25 minutes more than planned. Parking on the grass area a couple of the aircraft needed fuel top-ups given the extended flight time and for the estimated 167nm leg down to Bourges. The great advantage of Deauville is that not only is it a very nice airfield, fuelling is often done quickly by bowser and the passport facilities are quick and straightforward with the customs office on site. Alas in typical fashion the late departure plus losing an hour in going to continental time resulted in the restaurant having closed and the guys going without their planned lunch. With a message from JR that all were in at Deauville we headed off to VB with the plan to get into Bourges just before the others arrived.
We departed from Bagnoles more or less at the same time as the guys were getting ready to set off from Deauville, but we were already some 50nm miles further south so had a head start. To say the run down was incredibly simple would be an understatement. The weather was as near perfect as one could hope with stunning visibility and light winds. The only issue was the temperature which was now climbing into the high 20s C and the further south we got the more intense the thermals rising from the varying landscape below became. These rising currents of air made it very hard work to keep the aircraft level and on a constant power setting. It was probably the most thermic flight I have ever encountered and at times we were experiencing lifts and a vertical speed of
500ft+ per minute with the power off and nose pitched down. Fantastic conditions for gliders but for us with the constant adjustments being made it did make for a tiring flight for the left seater! The route through was easy, almost a straight line with only a couple of little dog legs having to be put in to avoid gliding sites (lots of them up in those conditions not unsurprisingly) and a few areas marked as having aerobatics planned. The green fields, rolling wooded areas and pretty villages with enormous churches gave way to miles and miles of very flat lands with huge cultivated fields after we passed over the Loire, taking in a stunning view of the huge 16th-century chateau at Chambord as we did so.
The magnificent Chambord.
Routing further south the open plains gave way to more wooded areas as we headed down towards Vierzon. A call to Paris info confirmed as expected that as the big military base at Avord wasn’t active which meant we didn’t have to worry about the airspace approaching Bourges. A call to Bourges information on 119.600 at 10 miles was all quite simple, ATS in English, ‘gliding in progress and report downwind left hand for runway 24’. The city was clearly visible ahead and as we passed over the double and very winding L’Yevre River the airfield and its 1550 metre hard runway came into view. All was very quiet as we joined on a wide crosswind leg. We reduced speed early to get the lay of the circuit and to assess the correct pattern as the approach to 24 does take you over part of the city but the very large lake which is part of the Auron River clearly marks the correct base leg ahead. Downwind with the city ahead and the airfield to our left was a great view and just another call to ‘report final 24’ was required. Turning base over the lake and then finally revealed the wind to be a little brisker than expected with 12/14 kts across the runway. Slipping down the final approach had us skimming over the numbers to kiss the tarmac as we arrived at another new airfield. Vacating right we headed straight for the fuel station for a fill-up.
The whole process at Bourges was really easy, the friendly guy in the small terminal showed us how to use a standard credit card to pay for the fuel rather than the often usual faff with Air Total or Air BP cards. Hopefully, this is the start of a new standardisation in France! Back to Bourges, after parking on the grass we paid our landing and parking fee for the two nights which came out at 36 euros so not too bad. The others had now started to arrive and our friendly ground staff guy called cabs for us. As nobody would be in on Sunday which was our day of departure either in the terminal or tower he gave us the airfield perimeter gate code to get in and told us when we wanted to leave just make blind calls in French. Something we are well used to now. I’ve said it plenty of times before, but it’s just so easy and a pleasure to fly in France and places like Bourges just underline it.
It’s only a short cab ride into the city and in honesty, on arrival at our Ibis hotel, the first impressions weren’t great. Although the hotel was perfectly fine shall I just say that perhaps we weren’t at the ‘better’ end of town. If I can mention cans of special brew and dogs on basically string leads as well as a couple of ladies who appeared to offer ‘professional personal services’ you might get the picture. That was an unfortunate first impression because a short walk away on our initial recce revealed the real Bourges to be a delightful city dominated by its World Heritage Cathedral.
Enjoying the Cathedral gardens.
Unlike other group visits where we have always managed to have a group dinner because Bourges is quite a popular tourist destination and this being peak season we simply were unable to get a venue big enough to accommodate all of us on either night. So after a group drink in the hotel that evening we broke off into smaller groups to find dinner venues. Fortunately, JR had managed to book a super restaurant the ‘La Gargouille’ right next to the Cathedral where John, Malcolm, Phil, Lin and I had a rather splendid dinner in the walled garden at the back, so much so we booked it for the following evening.
After dinner, we ambled around the absolutely stunning luminaire show that features on many historic buildings in the city. Following a trail of blue ‘cats’ eyes’ and blue-lit street lamps we stopped at the buildings where a loop of historic city events are artistically projected onto the sides of buildings.
Just a small example of the Luminaire
Over breakfast the following morning it appeared everyone’s evening had been pretty good although some had missed the luminaire so that was added to the list for that evening. The Saturday was a free day and we took advantage of the stunning if not somewhat hot weather to enjoy all aspects of the city including the Saturday market, Cathedral, it’s surrounding gardens the inevitable ‘petit train’ tour and a visit to the La Marais de Bourges. This is a huge area adjoining the city where a series of waterways crisscross small houses, gardens and allotments with the Cathedral dominating the backdrop. A very peaceful area for a tranquil walk surrounded by gentle summer bird song, well it should have been if we hadn’t kept bumping into the various groups of North Weald pilots!
Part of La Marais
That evening was once again taken up by a group drink including being joined by James Furness and partner who had flown in that afternoon to catch us up before heading off to different venues for dinner but then onto a trip to the luminaire for all, absolutely fascinating. It was then a case of heading back to the hotel for the night.
Although the original plan had been to leave around early afternoon given the way the temperature has started to rapidly climb in the morning and with higher temperatures in the low 30s forecast for the Sunday we decided to get out earlier whilst the temperature was reasonable and before the heat started to degrade the aircraft take-off performance and the thermals really started to build. With an early breakfast, we were in the cabs by 09.30 for the short ride back to the airfield.
With the code letting us back in ‘airside’ we headed off to our aircraft for pre-flight checks. With ‘VB’ heading back to Bagnoles for a few more days in France, we said goodbye to the other crews who were heading back to North Weald via a customs stop at Albert Bray (LFAQ), an airfield operated in support of the Airbus parts factory close by and where we called in on the return from our trip to Nancy. From Bourges, this 180nm trip involves routing around a myriad of complicated airspace to the east of Paris. However, given the experience of our pilots and the crystal clear weather it presented an interesting but uneventful leg for the guys. Albert was only planned to be a relatively short stop to do the customs facility and most took a small lunch pack with them given the lack of any facilities at Albert. Again Albert are another very efficient and friendly airfield who were happy to take our lot on a Sunday and with the proper request and notifications is a good alternative stop from the usual ones for trips back from further into France.
Departing R06 Bourges
The good weather continued all the way back to the UK, amazing and unusual but a very welcome change from tales of how shall we say changing and challenging conditions arising half the way through our trips. That last leg again was easy, in contact with Lille Information and routing up towards Le Touquet before coasting out towards the crystal clear English shoreline at Lydd and onto London Info before returning back into NW some 1hour and 40 mins later.
Despite the delayed start due to the poor weather it all worked out very well. Relatively uncomplicated flying is probably when all things are considered arguably the best country for GA in Europe. Another great flying trip with a new airfield coupled with a historic city to add to the list of the many we have visited over the years.
Thinking about a flying trip to France? Bourges should certainly be near the top of your list.