Around the lighthouses of France in just 19 hours
Connexion reader Geoff Scott has seen more of France than most. He flew over almost every French lighthouse – in a light aircraft
The challenge, which he admits was “a bit barmy”, was an entry in the annual Dusk to Dawn competition, run by aviation firm Pooleys since 1964.
The rules are simple: any qualified pilot from anywhere in the world can start and end their challenge in any country, flying any kind of aircraft.
As the name suggests, the challenge has to be completed in a day (although flying hours can be spaced to different dates), between dawn and dusk, and must involve at least four hours in the air.
Extra points are awarded for the most original theme or objective.
Competitors have to submit a 1,000-word account of their challenge, along with the log book of their flight.
The top prize is £1,000 but the real reward is personal satisfaction and a modest dollop of kudos.
“I’d always wanted to enter,” Mr Scott said, “and you have to have a theme, you can’t just go in a straight line.
“A friend has recently done architectural follies and, in another year, constructions left over from World War One.
“Another group played golf on links near airfields.
“Anyway, French lighthouses seemed like a great theme.” He and team-mate Richard Warriner realised it would be impossible to complete the challenge – 2,294 nautical miles (NM) requiring 19 hours in the air – in a day, so they split the trip into two days.
“The weather was great for the first trip,” said Mr Scott.
At dawn, they left their home airfield in Heathfield, East Sussex, in a Cessna 185.
They crossed to Dunkirk, and it did not take long to spot their first two lighthouses.
“We didn’t fly over every single lighthouse on our route as some were in restricted airspace,” he said.
“Perhaps if we’d asked permission, it might have been possible, but who knows?”
After flying 383 nautical miles from Dunkirk and spotting 47 lighthouses, they stopped to refuel at Dinard, where Mr Scott and his wife Janet have a second home.
Then they were off again along the Brittany coastline.
During the next leg to Belle Isle, they covered 431NM and spotted 80 lighthouses, taking aerial photographs as they went. “Brittany has a tortuous coastline with very many lighthouses, and we planned to do them all, but we missed a few.”
After a refuelling stop, they continued round the coast to La Rochelle.
Many French lighthouses were damaged or destroyed during World War Two, but most have been rebuilt to their original designs. Just north of Biarritz, they hit fog and had to divert from their route.
Having flown 1,222NM and spotted 184 lighthouses, the intrepid pair landed in Nogaro, in the Armagnac region.
After an overnight stop, they headed north and, via Deauville, were back in Heathfield in three hours 45 minutes.
Months later, the pair flew back to Nogaro to restart the route where they had left off, but the weather was less kind.
“The cloud base was low and visibility wasn’t great.”
Nevertheless, they flew over Biarritz and St-Jean-de-Luz before turning inland to Pau and heading towards the Mediterranean. “We had planned a spectacular flight along the Pyrenees at 5,000ft but, due to the weather, we took a more northerly route.”
By the time they reached the sea, the weather had cleared and they spotted lighthouses in seaside fishing towns including Banyuls-sur-mer, Collioure and Argelès-sur-mer.
They worked their way to Perpignan, Béziers and Cap d’Agde and in three hours 35 minutes were in Montpellier, where they refuelled.
Then it was onwards and eastwards, flying over the capital of the Camargue, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
“It was very beautiful, the étangs a pretty pink colour. I do not think it was flamingos, more likely the salts in the water,” said Mr Scott, a microbiologist by profession.
Further along the coast they flew over the Château d’If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas.
Again, some of the lighthouses were in restricted zones.
Near St Raphael, they flew over the memorial to pilot and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who died in a plane accident off the coast of Marseille in 1944.
After a quick refuelling stop in Cannes, they headed to Corsica, where they circled the island anti-clockwise.
They spotted not just lighthouses but also a massive asbestos mine and a memorial to the crew of the three-masted frigate Sémillante, shipwrecked in 1855 en route to Crimea.
In one day they had flown 1,203NM and spotted 58 lighthouses in nine hours, 40 minutes.
After an overnight stop in Cannes, they returned to Heathfield in four hours 34 minutes.
Of all the lighthouses, which was the best? “The most elegant is in the Gironde: the Phare de Cordouan. We awarded it our own prize for being the prettiest lighthouse on the north and west coasts.
“Of the Mediterranean lights, Planier, just off Marseille, is the most dramatic,” Mr Scott said.
They were awarded the Tiger Club Trophy by the judges, and details of their adventure, which dates from 2015-16, are at tourdespharesdefrance.com .
Have you completed any eccentric travels linked to France? Let us know at email@example.com