Le Touquet: the Aviators’ Mini-Break

We got our week off to an enjoyable start this week with an overseas flying adventure. Le Touquet, on the northern French coast, has been on our list of places to visit for the nearly three years we’ve been together, but despite it being a mere two-hour flight from Stratford, finding two days of nice weather in a row when neither of us are working has proved tricky! So I was very excited when the opportunity finally arrived for us to make the trip.

The night before we did a bit of flight planning and decided on a route that would take us round the top of London, crossing the Channel at Dover.

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The finished route plan – as you can see, we couldn’t go in a straight line because of all the airspace.

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We got to our airfield about mid-morning in glorious weather. Here’s me modelling the life jackets we have to wear when crossing water!

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As I’ve mentioned before, blue sky days are great when you’re on the ground, and you’d think they’d be great for flying, but they also mean strong thermals, which means you’re bounced around a lot in the air. Our plan had been that Lee would do the flying and I would do co-piloty things like navigating, checking radio frequencies etc, but 10 minutes into the flight and I already felt sick (so disappointed at myself, as I’m usually fine!), so we ended up swapping and I flew the rest of the flight. Just like you don’t get sick when you’re driving the car, I did feel better once I took the controls, but it was hard work maintaining headings and altitudes when you’re constantly being jostled around by thermals. By the time we’d got down to Dover and airspace was less restricted, we were able to climb to 5,000ft, which took us above the level where the thermals could reach, so we had a beautifully smooth journey across the Channel. We “coasted out” just south of Dover, which you can see in this photo of Lee’s.

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Me, concentrating on flying the Channel crossing, with my hat perched over my headset for some much-needed shade! We were rather glad to be able to by-pass all the queues/migrant chaos at the ports and Tunnel entries!

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The view as we approached the French coast. Photos don’t do justice to the experience of flying the Channel. On a clear day like this one, you can very clearly see both England and France at the same time, and up high in the smooth air, with panoramic views, it’s what I’d imagine being in the cockpit of an airliner must feel like.

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Boulogne, taken by Lee.

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This was the view of Le Touquet on final approach into the airport. Lee flew the final approach so I’m back behind the camera at this point!

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…And this was the view straight ahead. As you can see, there’s a racecourse and stables right next to the airport. I guess the horses must be used to all the aeroplane noise!

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Once on the ground, air traffic control instructed us to “follow the marshaller on the bike” to parking. Everyone was really friendly, I’m pleased to say. Much better than the surly fireman we encountered at Calais last year!

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All parked up. We were amazed at how many other planes were there – lots of British registrations, too.

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Once we’d booked in, we waited mere minutes out the front of the terminal for a taxi.

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We asked the jovial taxi driver to take us to Hotel Le Caddy, where Lee stayed before when he and Nigel brought the Dimona back from Austria. We had a warm welcome from the lovely owner of the hotel, who showed us a couple of rooms to choose from.

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We chose to pay an extra €10 for a large room with this nice view. €92 in total, including one breakfast – not bad for turning up on the doorstep in high season!

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After we’d dumped all our stuff at the hotel and freshened up a little, we set out to explore in the sunshine. This is Rue de Metz, Le Touquet’s charming main street.

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We found a bar to sit and quench our thirst in, and reflected on what a great piloting team we’d made on the flight over.

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Then it was time to find something small to eat, as it was mid-afternoon and we’d still not eaten lunch. Freshly made crepe fit the bill perfectly. I had fromage, Lee had jambon, and we took them down to the seafront to eat.

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This was our view while consuming crepe. The sea was behind us, and in this sort of seaside square, kids were riding round on these amazing little tricycle things made to look like horses and carts, with reins to steer with. I’ve never seen anything like this before, and we both thought they were fantastic!

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This is the water park on the seafront, which was heaving on such a lovely sunny day. The taxi driver had told us that during the winter, Le Touquet has a population of 5,000 – but in the summer, it’s 80,000. I’m not sure as to the accuracy of these figures, but it certainly seems to be popular with wealthy people, as there are lots of big houses there and property prices in the windows of the town’s many estate agents seemed steep.

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The beach. Le Touquet is known as “Paris Plage” – I’m not sure whether this is because it’s the nearest one to Paris.

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Mandatory one of us.

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The seafront isn’t actually the nicest part of Le Touquet. Much of its charm is to be found a couple of blocks back from the sea, and this lovely street was even further back. We found another cafe on this road and sat outside watching the world go by.

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On the walk back to the hotel we saw lots of characterful houses – in fact, every house seemed to be unique and quirky in its own right. Quite unlike the street after street of more or less identical housing you’d expect to find in a UK town. I’m not sure what happened with the photo editing in this photo, but you get the idea!

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We dozed for an hour or two at the hotel and ventured out again in the evening in search of food. We settled on this restaurant, Le Matisse, on Rue de Metz.

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Lee had steak and I chose pizza – not very French, I know, but I had a craving for one and I wasn’t disappointed. I also had my one glass of wine for the day with the meal. French wine, of course, and it was served chilled, which was surprisingly pleasant.

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We weren’t ready to eat dessert immediately after the meal, so we had another wander around the town and Lee ended up getting a chocolate crepe from the same place we’d been to earlier. I didn’t have room after my pizza!

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I was content with some window shopping, admiring the exquisite array of delicacies on display in the windows of various patisseries and chocolate shops. You seldom see anything like this in the UK, but they were everywhere in Le Touquet.

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We arrived back at the seafront just in time to watch the sun go down. It sunk below the horizon so fast you could actually see it moving, and it seemed the perfect end to the day.

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Next morning, after a lovely hotel breakfast of apple compote, baguette and pain au chocolat, we crossed the street to the market, which was in full swing (it being a Monday morning). We enjoyed perusing the great choice of fresh produce…

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…including the seafood, which, though neither of us like eating it, is strangely fascinating to look at.

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Having stocked up on a few favourites from the supermarket, we noticed that the clear blue skies we’d woken up to had taken rather a turn for the worse. It had clouded over and the sky was so universally grey that it was impossible to tell how high the cloud was and whether it would prevent us getting high enough for a comfortable Channel crossing. We decided to head to the airport and assess the situation there, sharing a taxi with a couple of Dutch pilots who’d also stayed at the same hotel as us. The first thing we did when we got there was to refuel, so that we’d be all set to head off when the weather improved.

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To kill some time, we paid our overnight parking and landing fees (€30 for landing fee and €10 for overnight parking), and then settled ourselves in the rather nice on-site restaurant while we waited for the cloud to lift a bit.

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Luckily the cloud did lift, and we were able to depart by about mid-morning. In this photo, you can see the layer of cloud that had caused our delay, but once over the sea the skies were wonderfully blue once more. That’s Boulogne in the photo below.

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I took this panoramic photo mid-Channel. We hadn’t been able to see England straightaway this time, as we were a bit lower for the crossing back than we had been the previous day, but as you can see, the white cliffs of Dover slowly started to emerge on the horizon.

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Once we’d crossed, we started working our way along the south coast of England. We’d chosen a different route for our flight home, one on which the airspace would enable us to fly higher, above the thermals that had bounced us around so much the previous day. If you click the play button below you’ll get an impression of what this stage of the journey was like.

It seemed to take forever to get along the coast, because we had a headwind that slowed our progress. I was getting hungry, so I was glad I’d had the presence of mind to pack some snacks for the journey!

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Ahead of us in the photo above you can see some thicker cloud. As we got closer, it became obvious that it was too solid for us to fly over, so we started to descend to get below it. We had to keep descending and conditions got steadily worse – not forecast – until we decided we ought to do a weather divert into the nearest airfield, which was Goodwood near Chichester. As it turned out, it had started raining ahead so conditions were worse than anticipated, so we ended up turning around and instead going into Shoreham Airfield, near Brighton, while we waited for the weather to improve. Here’s the view on final approach into Shoreham.

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We ended up stuck on the ground at Shoreham for several hours waiting for the weather to improve enough for us to get out. Still, we took the opportunity to have a nice lunch at the airfield’s Hummingbird Restaurant.

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The Art Deco terminal building was quite interesting. We also went up into the control tower and spoke to the lovely air traffic controllers to thank them for being so accommodating in letting us fly in with no notice. They told us that the problem was the South Downs – these hills give Shoreham a microclimate all of its own, so while the rest of the country was enjoying blazing sunshine, we had low cloud and drizzle at Shoreham.

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Waiting for the weather to clear. I even had my aeroplane dress on!

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The weather didn’t improve a huge deal, but the cloud did lift enough for us to get out over the Downs and back into the lovely weather beyond. On the way over the Downs we had a spectacular view of Arundel Castle.

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Back at last! We were both very glad to be back after our eventful flight, still sporting our life jackets and reflective jackets!

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Now I have some delicious French goodies and some lovely new gladiator sandals to remind me of our trip.

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All in all an excellent trip, and one that I’m sure we’ll do again in the future.

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