We are in Eysines, in an area known as Domaine du Pinsan, familiar to most these days for its sports fields, its swimming pool and its r...


We are in Eysines, in an area known as Domaine du Pinsan, familiar to most these days for its sports fields, its swimming pool and its running path. At the base of a tree, a number of small plaques and potted flowers serve as an unofficial but poignant reminder of a tragic event that occurred here on December 21st 1987: the crash of Air France flight 1919 from Brussels to Bordeaux, and the death of its 13 passengers and three crew members. 

The aircraft was an Embraer 120 turboprop operated by domestic airline Air Littoral for Air France, as part of a regular service connecting Bordeaux with Brussels and Amsterdam. On this Monday before Christmas, the weather was poor throughout much of Europe. After the outbound flight from Bordeaux touched down in Brussels at 10:37 Central European Time, the two-way Brussels-Amsterdam leg of the service was cancelled due to the bad conditions in the Netherlands. There was then a further degree of uncertainty when the Bordeaux-bound plane departed from Brussels at 13:30 because heavy fog back in Bordeaux had failed to lift as had been forecast; it was likely the flight would have to be diverted to Toulouse or Biarritz. 

An Air France/Air Littoral EMB 120. Photo by Werner Fischdick, source: www.crash-aerien.news
However, captain Rémy Robert and co-pilot Guy Michoux (whose roles had been reversed, the co-pilot was “Pilot Flying” and the captain was “Pilot Monitoring”) were keen to return to their base in Bordeaux to avoid the obvious logistical complications of landing elsewhere, and they reached the area to the north of Bordeaux-Mérignac airport without any trouble. At this stage visibility remained poor and clouds were low (100 feet), so the crew requested to enter a holding pattern to the south. But, just as the aircraft was about to exit the flight path to enter the holding pattern, air traffic control reported an improvement in the weather conditions (the cloud base had risen to 160 feet) and, to air traffic control’s surprise, the pilots decided to revise their plans and immediately sought to re-join the landing route. 

At this stage, the plane was travelling faster and at a higher altitude than it should have been, and overshot the glide path to the airport, veering to the right of the designated trajectory. The pilots still considered they could rectify the path of the aircraft, deploying flaps and landing gear ahead of landing, but the plane’s descent was much too sharp, it was now well below the glide slope and radio contact with the control tower was lost. It was too late to recover and at 15:10, some 5,100 metres short of the runway, the plane struck some tall pines and crashed, burst into flames on impact and set fire to nearby trees. Everyone on board was killed virtually instantly. 

From the official report into the crash: on the left is the usual flight path from the north, over the Dordogne and the Garonne and on to Bordeaux-Mérignac airport. On the right is what flight AF1919 did, initially deciding to head towards the holding area to the south, and then switching back to the designated glide path, which it overshot by some margin to the right. 
Emergency services soon arrived on the scene. They were met by the sight of windows blackened by the fire inside the fuselage, from which the wings had been torn. All 16 bodies - 11 men, four women (including air hostess Annie Suzineau) and a young girl - were recovered from the wreckage by the rescue workers, although it soon registered that the toll could have been far worse: the plane had crashed a mere 200 metres from a children’s day-care centre where 30 toddlers were having their afternoon nap. The children were quickly evacuated from the premises. 

Pictures taken at the scene of the crash as included in the official report into the crash. Top left: the tail of the aircraft; top right: one of the engines; bottom left: the front of the plane; bottom right: what remained of the cockpit.
A 37-page report (including a transcript of voice recordings of the final 30 minutes leading up to the crash) produced by France’s air accident investigation bureau (BEA, Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile) was released some 18 months later and officially stated the crash was attributable to the mismanagement of the aircraft’s trajectory, due to a lack of vigilance on behalf of the pilots and poorly-coordinated tasks, such as monitoring altitude data and alignment with the on-ground instrument landing systems. 

Prior to that though, in the immediate aftermath of the accident, much finger-pointing and speculation had quickly emerged in local media. Regional daily Sud Ouest had run the headline “Les chauffards du ciel, les pilotes étaient ivres”, singling out the pilots as being both reckless and drunk. This latter claim was not initially backed up, and Sud Ouest issued a discreet correction/apology a few months later. Then again, in the BEA report, it was stated that tests showed the captain’s alcohol level was 0.35 grams per litre (today, the legal limit for pilots in Europe is 0.2 grams per litre), while the co-pilot’s blood was free of alcohol, but nothing more was made of this finding. 

However, whether the pilots were under the influence or not, judging by a message pinned to the tree in Eysines, the families of the victims of the crash have neither forgiven nor forgotten their misjudged actions and decision-making. The text mentions "the pilots' incompetence" and quotes the verdict delivered by the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris in 1992, "an inexcusable error that caused the accident", before signing off "We do not forget. We do not forgive."


Finally, when researching this item Invisible Bordeaux uncovered an unexpected dimension which was undocumented in any of the contemporary media coverage or the official investigation report: one of the passengers on board the aircraft was the 22-year-old Philippe Deschamps, who was returning to his native south-western France from his new home in Brussels. He was set to meet up with his family to spend Christmas in Anglet, between Biarritz and Bayonne. 

Didier Deschamps, pictured playing for Bordeaux (1990-91).
Picture source: Getty Images/Alain Gadoffre.
Philippe was the older brother of the then 19-year-old up-and-coming Nantes footballer Didier Deschamps, who of course went on to enjoy an illustrious career at clubs including Bordeaux, Marseille, Juventus and Chelsea, as well as captaining France in their victorious World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 campaigns, ahead of becoming a successful coach at Monaco, Marseille, Juventus and now for France’s international squad. Didier was in Concarneau, Brittany, when he received the dreaded phone call, while staying with the parents of his girlfriend Claude (who later became his wife) before heading south for the family reunion. The extent of the shock was further compounded three days later when, as an indirect consequence, Claude’s father died of a heart attack… 

Didier Deschamps has only very occasionally spoken publicly about this pivotal and traumatic period in his family’s history, but in a 2015 interview with Canal+’s Michel Denisot he stated that “it’s something you live with. You can never forget. Life can be unfair, destiny can be cruel, and in this case it was very cruel and very unfair. You live differently, it hardens you. It was difficult for me personally, but I know that it was even more difficult for my parents, and it still is today even though many years have passed.”

Didier Deschamps talks candidly about the loss of his brother
[from BALAMED Youtube channel]
Back at Domaine du Pinsan, the planes still fly overhead as they progress on the home straight towards Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, and the joggers continue to run past the tree and its makeshift shrine. But for everyone affected by the accident, the memories will remain. On an online forum, a border police officer stationed at the airport in 1987, and who was immediately dispatched to the scene of the accident alongside the emergency services, has written about how he would never forget the sight of the “flight delayed” message on the arrivals board and the families waiting for their loved ones in the airport terminal… the kind of situation everybody hopes they will never have to experience. 

A plane flies over Domaine du Pinsan, Eysines.
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: memorial to victims of 1987 plane crash, Domaine du Pinsan, Eysines
> The full BEA report into the accident is available here: http://www.bea.aero/docspa/1987/f-gh871221/pdf/f-gh871221.pdf
> Cet article est également disponible en français. 

Over the years, I seem to have amassed a bit of a collection of old postcards showing various sights and scenes in and around Bordeaux...


Over the years, I seem to have amassed a bit of a collection of old postcards showing various sights and scenes in and around Bordeaux. A recurring theme that I often find myself drawn to is the old Stade Municipal, known these days as Stade Chaban-Delmas, although most Bordelais prefer to refer to it as Parc Lescure... so here is a selection of those cards!

This historic city-centre stadium (the subject of a full Invisible Bordeaux report some years ago) is associated by many with local football team Girondins de Bordeaux, although it is now the permanent home of top-flight rugby team Union Bordeaux-Bègles. If you're familiar with the stadium as a spectator, you may be surprised to see some of these pictures, starting with this one which shows the entrance to the "tribune d'honneur" on match day. Check out the smart spectators and the elegant automobiles - parking didn't appear to be a big issue!    


The curious photo below somehow manages to get the full width of the arena into shot. Judging by the distortion, it looks like some form of fisheye lens must have been used. Note the steps down to the underground tunnel which led to and from the dressing rooms located in adjacent buildings. Later, the tunnel was diverted under the main stand towards the middle of the pitch. What are those panels with numbers on them bottom right? Part of the scoreboard system?


This next picture was taken from more or less the same spot, but sections either side of the underground tunnel access appear have been modified, presumably to cater for some form of athletic competition. What are the metallic structures laid out on the ground at either end of the pitch? Dismantled temporary stands?


Looking at the picture below, the area around the tunnel looks different once again. Could that be some form of ramp which has been installed to make it easier to wheel bicycles into the stadium? Judging by the position of the cyclists towards what must be the top of the ramp, that might just be the case. Don't let the rugby posts mislead you: the only activity going on here is cycling - even the people you can make out on the pitch (other that those who are sat down) are actually on their bikes.


This next picture was taken up in the stands and gives an idea of how comfortable the seating arrangements were! There are no football or rugby posts on the pitch itself, but have you noticed that there is a full-on six-lane running track alongside the cycle track?


There are a few more people on the next shot! It appears to be a cycling event, and there is a whole row of punters standing just by the track getting ready to cheer on their champion!


The caption of the next picture (postmarked 1951) reads "Le grand tournant nord. Le contrôle." The white pole and rostrum therefore marks the point where the progress of cyclists was monitored as they sped around the track, and was no doubt the finishing line too. Bottom right, you can even spot the bell which rang out before the last laps!


As detailed in the previous Invisible Bordeaux article about the stadium, the cycle track, which hosted events such as the arrival of a Tour de France stage as recently as 1979, was removed in the 1980s in order to increase the venue's overall capacity. A new velodrome, the Stadium de Bordeaux, opened in the Lac district to the north of the city in 1989. The picture below shows another cycle race in progress.  


Another full house at Lescure, but what have they come to see? Could the linesman visible to the right, running at top speed along the touchline, be about to call a footballer offside? The gendarme standing in the bright sunshine towards the middle of the picture certainly appears to be more focused on the game than on any potential crowd trouble in the stands!


The following is only the second of this series of postcards to also include a handwritten message ("Je suis reçu. J'arrive demain soir, vendredi, avec tout un chargement de valises, Pierrot") and a date (1954). The gymnastics gala in progress (described overleaf as an "Exercice d'ensemble en face des tribunes") must have been a daunting experience for the hundreds of children involved, under the guidance of their conductor positioned on the (multi-purpose) platform over to the left!


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux. 
> A fine book about the history of the stadium and some of the Girondins footballing legends who called the place home was recently produced by the most excellent local journalists Julien Bée and Laurent Brun. Heavily recommended! See: https://www.mollat.com/livres/2124781/julien-bee-lescure-et-les-girondins-le-rendez-vous-des-legendes
> The full Invisible Bordeaux article about the history of the stadium is available here: http://invisiblebordeaux.blogspot.fr/2013/02/stade-chaban-delmas-nearing-end-of-its.html
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

At various locations in the quiet western Bordeaux quarter of Caudéran, traces can still be spotted of the coat of arms that was Caudér...

At various locations in the quiet western Bordeaux quarter of Caudéran, traces can still be spotted of the coat of arms that was Caudéran’s when it was a separate town. Surprisingly, the crest features three snails. The explanation had better be a good one! 

Caudéran was an independent town until 1965 when it merged with its more imposing neighbour Bordeaux, a move which was no doubt in everybody’s interest although it is often murmured that the move was primarily instigated by Bordeaux’s mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas. By becoming part of the wider city, the 29,000 residents of this well-to-do district (referred to as the “Neuilly of Bordeaux”) would help swell the conservative Chaban-Delmas’s electoral base. In return, they did get to keep their own 33200 postcode...

Source: Wikipedia.
All of which is fine, but where do snails come into it? Well, it turns out that for much of the 19th century and through until the early years of the 20th century, Caudéran didn’t enjoy the bourgeois status it commands today, and was instead a wilder patch of land more naturally associated with its roster of up to 70 bars, inns, cabarets and guinguettes… all of which lay conveniently close to Bordeaux, but also happened to be beyond the “barrières” where “octroi” offices (a previous Invisible Bordeaux subject) had been set up to collect duty on goods being brought into the city. Caudéran was basically a duty-free leisure haven.

The most famous and festive date in Caudéran’s calendar year was Ash Wednesday (mercredi des cendres). Any self-respecting Bordelais would have spent the previous days partaking in carnival-themed shenanigans through until Shrove Tuesday (mardi gras). Just before the sobering period of Lent kicked in, Ash Wednesday became synonymous with one final day of food, drink and general partying in Caudéran, the huge crowds of people mingling with each other in carnival masks and fancy dress… and, you guessed it, the de facto meal was a plate of snails. 

Place Lestonnat: one of the focal points of Caudéran's traditional Ash Wednesday celebrations.
Indeed, in amongst the vines, flowers and marshland in the area at the time, snails were commonplace and had developed into something of a local speciality supplied by Caudéran’s “cagouillards” (“cagouille” being the Charentais term for snail that was naturally transposed into Bordeaux's Bordeluche patois). So much so that one of Caudéran’s most famous restaurants at the time, on Place de Lestonnat, was none other than À la Renommée des Escargots. When a local Caudéran newspaper (the offices of which were in central Bordeaux) was launched in 1896, it was naturally given the name “L’Escargot”. Finally, Caudéran even incorporated snails into the town’s Gascon motto: “Lou limac cendrenous a fait ma renoumade” (a rough translation could be "Renowned for the ash snail").

The Ash Wednesday tradition died out during the First World War, just as Caudéran began developing into the residential quarter we are now familiar with. But the snail connection lived on in the shape of the town’s coat of arms, hence the designs that can still be seen above the door and on the exterior of what was the town’s mairie, above the door of the municipal police station, and on the war memorial where Caudéran’s standing as a “ville” lives on, carved in stone.
The old town hall (now a mairie de quartier).
The pleasingly bizarre police station.
The war memorial, frozen in an era when Caudéran was still a ville.
Visiting the area today and checking out some of the restaurants in Caudéran, I fail to find a single mention of snails on the menu (possibly the first time I have been disappointed not to spot snails in among the culinary options on offer). However, the snail connection is gradually being revived as the local association Vivre à Caudéran has recently begun organising modern-day “Fête de l’Escargot” celebrations in July of each year on Caudéran church square.

And, it could be argued that the taste of the Caudéran snails lives on, handed down by generations of locals. To get a feel of what those festive snails must have tasted like back in the day, tinned “Escargots à la Bordelaisecan easily be purchased, and there are also plenty of recipes readily available online... although I am reluctant to try any of them myself! Bon appétit nevertheless! 

> Much of the information in this piece was compiled from an article written by Philippe Prévôt and Richard Zéboulon (collectively known as Cadish) for Sud Ouest which also features in their book Bordeaux, petits secrets et grandes histoires, and from the entry about Caudéran in Jean-Jacques Déogracias’s Blasons des communes de la Gironde (thanks Guillaume!).
> Thanks Vincent for the linguistic tips! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

If you're in and around Bordeaux at the moment and pop into a tourist information centre, a hotel lobby or the reception of a town ha...

If you're in and around Bordeaux at the moment and pop into a tourist information centre, a hotel lobby or the reception of a town hall, be sure to pick up a copy of the current issue of Bordeaux Moments!, the free bilingual quarterly magazine produced by the Bordeaux Metropole tourism bureau. And, if you do, check out pages 28 to 31 and read about Invisible Bordeaux's tips to some of the unusual sights to enjoy in and around the city! 

The article was originally featured on the new Un Air de Bordeaux website, aimed at getting locals out and about visiting and exploring the surrounding metropole. This second appearance, in old-school print this time, will enable the piece to reach out to visitors to Bordeaux whether they are in the area on business or on a city break. 

In the article, the places I recommend to enjoy an oddball take on the metropole will be familiar to loyal readers of the blog: the scenic Parc Floral, the wide open spaces of Eysines, Le Corbusier's Cité Frugès in Pessac, the banks of the Eau Bourde stream and the national social security museum in Lormont (but do note that this most unusual of museums is only open on weekdays).  

As well as its print version, the 56-page Bordeaux Moments!, which also covers subjects such as the brand new Bordeaux Métropole Arena, the Médoc's status as a parc naturel régional, and the influence of Spanish culture on the city, can also be viewed in its entirety online. Get reading! 

> View Bordeaux Moments! online here: http://fr.calameo.com/read/00536575204fccd59a902
> The "Super week-end" item can also be read on the Un Air de Bordeaux webzine here: https://www.unairdebordeaux.fr/article/2017-11-21/le-super-week-end-de-tim-pike/    

Turning off the final roundabout leading to Bordeaux’s international airport in Mérignac, there is no alternative other than to drive pas...

Turning off the final roundabout leading to Bordeaux’s international airport in Mérignac, there is no alternative other than to drive past a mysterious expanse of urban wasteland. The derelict area has not always been that way: it was once the location of a US Air Force air base, which then made way for a residential estate. And it will soon be the location of a large-scale business complex comprising a conference centre, office blocks and a hotel. Let’s get the full story! 

Rewinding back to the early 1950s, Bordeaux-Mérignac airport was slowly getting back on its feet after the Second World War, as detailed in a previous Invisible Bordeaux item. With the Cold War gaining momentum, the United States Air Forces in Europe sought to set up bases to the west of the Rhine river out of easy reach of potential attacks by the USSR.

While the historic military base to the south of the airfield (BA 106) had been returned to the French Air Force, this area to the east of the airfield was given over to NATO forces in early 1951 and in August of that year work started on the construction of dedicated facilities. Before the year was out, the 126th Bombardment Wing of the US Air Force and their 48 Douglas B-26 Invader bombers and three C-47 military transports were stationed here.

The Bordeaux Air Base wing headquarters and aircraft maintenance hangar, photo © NARA, source: www.france-air-nato.net
Strange as it may seem, this is the view from more or less the same spot today.
The base was a bona fide village that developed around two massive aircraft maintenance and base supply hangars. A map produced at the time shows the extent of the facilities available for the military, whose home US bases were in Illinois and Missouri. Ominously though, the “base theater” is labelled as being unfinished. They may therefore have been a little short on entertainment!

Map of Bordeaux Air Base. Picture © Jerry McAuliffe, source: www.france-air-nato.net
There were grand plans for the base to develop further with a view to becoming the European hub of the US Military Air Transport Service and hosting a number of key combat, rescue and training units. This, however, was not in line with France’s desires to boost the airport’s nascent passenger transport activities (the airport’s original passenger terminal, located to the north of the airfield, had been destroyed during the Second World War). The plans were therefore soon abandoned.

In 1952, after just six months, the 126th Bombardment Wing relocated to Laon in north-eastern France and were replaced by the 12th Air Rescue Group and their fleet of Sikorsky H-19B helicopters and Grumman SA-16 Albatross seaplanes. Their stay was equally short-lived and the base became home to the 7413th Air Base Group, a training and support unit for USAF staff in transit, whose presence was also thought to be laying the foundations of a logistical air base capable of accommodating and equipping forces if and when Europe-wide deployment was to be triggered.

The scene in 1956, very much in line with the plan further up the page. Aerial photo source: https://remonterletemps.ign.fr
By the mid-1950s, tensions continued to escalate between US forces and the French authorities, who remained faithful to their plans for a large-scale commercial airport. Finally, in October 1958, the US Air Force closed the military base for good, officially citing economic reasons. This move paved the way for the creation of a brand new passenger terminal which was inaugurated in 1960 (the building still stands today, albeit in heavily-altered form, and is now referred to as Terminal A).

Meanwhile, the land vacated by the air base was to become la Cité Maryse Bastié, a residential estate with around a dozen low-rise apartment blocks, built mainly to house employees at the new airport facility. Very little is known about this estate, but one eye-witness I spoke to thinks each building comprised four to six apartments. Likewise, photographic evidence has been impossible to find, but the Institut Géographique National’s excellent “Remonter le Temps” website does include aerial shots such as this 1970 picture, which gives a good idea of the scale of the buildings.

Once again, courtesy of https://remonterletemps.ign.fr: Cité Maryse Bastié in 1970.
When was the estate demolished? Whatever, little or nothing remains of it today: viewing the area on GoogleEarth, the outline of the old road structure can more or less be made out, but other than the occasional stretch of tarmac or concrete, the area appears to be the territory of trees and other assorted forms of greenery.

Today's GoogleEarth imagery shows traces of the old roads, one of which is labelled "Cité Maryse Bastié".
To get a feel of the area, I headed over to the urban wasteland to see for myself. As GoogleEarth suggested, there wasn’t much to be seen. Ironically enough, given that this part of the metropole saw 6 million travellers pass by in 2017, my sole live company in all the time I spent there was some wild rabbits. And unlike many other areas of urban wasteland, it didn’t even feel as if it had become the territory of bored local youths; the only sign of human activity here was a burnt-out motorcycle. The old road infrastructure was indeed still there though; it was strange to see bits of old pavement where local residents once walked – it did feel a little like a ghost-town.


But things are set to change because work is soon to begin on “45e Parallèle”, a brand new business park. The development will include a 154-room four-star hotel and a 1,400-capacity conference centre, along with five office blocks and multi-storey parking for 1,000 vehicles. The project initially took shape in 2012 but the first lead contractors, Thalium Promotion, hit on hard times and were declared bankrupt in 2016. Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport, which still owns the land, has now allocated the 80-million-euro project to Nexity, who have committed to retaining the original plans.

What the urban wasteland will look like soon, as viewed looking away from the airport. Picture source: Objectif Aquitaine / La Tribune.
The complex is scheduled to open in 2020 so it’s safe to say work will start shortly - the building permits are certainly in position. Just like the US military of the air base and the airport workers of Cité Maryse Bastié, those rabbits and that burnt-out motorbike will have to find a new home.


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Urban wasteland, Bordeaux-Mérignac airport
> Big, big thanks to Marc Montaudon who suggested this subject and provided valuable insight and tips.
> Additional photos of Bordeaux Air Base can be viewed here: http://www.france-air-nato.net/STRUCTURE/Pages_web/Bordeaux_Historique_Fr.html
> If you're interested in renting office space in the new 45e Parallèle business park, check out the phone number featured in the picture at the top of this page! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

On the last Saturday of 2017, I once again met up with fellow blogger, Bordeaux 2066 ’s Vincent Bart, for another laid-back adventure. ...

On the last Saturday of 2017, I once again met up with fellow blogger, Bordeaux 2066’s Vincent Bart, for another laid-back adventure. You may remember Vincent from other joint road-trips such as our expedition to the point where the Greenwich meridian meets the 45th parallel north, following the Eau Bourde stream from its source to the river Garonne, and of course our successful attempt to visit Gironde’s northernmost, easternmost, southernmost and westernmost points over the course of a single day

This time, Vincent’s suggestion was that we follow the recently-inaugurated Ligne Grande Vitesse (LGV) railway line from Bordeaux to wherever we would be when we finally decided to turn back. We didn’t expect to see very much of note but decided to proceed nevertheless in case we were wrong. It actually turned out that, on the whole, we had been right, but we did gain a better understanding of the railway line’s course, and did make precisely one interesting discovery. What could it possibly have been? 

First though, a little background information: this new addition to France’s high-speed railway network has been operational since July 2017, a full 25 years on from the concept being initially green-lighted, and after five years of work on this stretch between Tours and Bordeaux (or, more precisely, between Chambray-les-Tours and Ambarès-et-Lagrave). The end-result of the mammoth 7.8-billion-euro engineering project led by contractors Vinci is a brand new line enabling non-stop high-speed rail travel between Bordeaux and Paris, cutting travel time between the two cities to just a little over two hours.
Saint-Jean station as viewed from the new multi-storey car park.
Symbolically enough, Vincent and I meet up at Saint-Jean railway station and, to enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s rail transport hub, head to the top of the brand new multi-storey car park. The car park has been built as part of the wider redevelopment scheme on the Belcier-facing southern flank of the station, in line with the creation of the new “Euratlantique” residential and business quarter. The station entrance has also been completely overhauled, with the addition of shops, takeaway outlets and a restaurant. At one of the outlets Vincent goes looking for a chocolatine (for Parisian readers, that’s a pain au chocolat) but gives up after an ugly queue-jumping incident. At another he is informed he will have to wait ten minutes. We decide to make a move instead. 

We set off and aim for Pont Saint-Jean, Bordeaux’s great unloved bridge, crossing the Garonne river a few metres away from the railway bridge. We drive through the Bastide quarter and past the high-rise buildings of the Cité de la Benauge, which rarely make it onto postcards but are the first sight that railway travellers enjoy of Bordeaux. We proceed north and make a first stop in Lormont, which estate agents reportedly refer to as “the Montmartre of Bordeaux”. We spot a first TGV racing into the tunnel there and Vincent suddenly feels sorry for the people on board whose telephone conversations have been unexpectedly cut short. A security gate preventing access to the line is conspicuously unlocked, and over the warning message the words “From Paris with love” have been artfully graffitied. We take in the view of the Pont d’Aquitaine and move on towards Bassens. 
"From Paris with love" in Lormont.
In Bassens, we head towards the station in the vague hope that Vincent will finally get his hands on a chocolatine. Moving inland from the waterfront docks and industrial warehouses, it turns out the station is located in a residential district. We head onto the platforms to get a feel for the place but it is a quiet, lonely experience. We do however get to cross the railway lines on foot in search of a slightly dangerous photo opportunity. Once the photo has been taken, Vincent informs me that photos of the like are prohibited. Oh well, too late. We move on to Bassens town centre, perched up on high, and fail once again in our quest to find a chocolatine, although there are plenty of hairdressing options. 
Kids, don't try this at home.
Our next stop is the wonderfully-named La Gorp railway station in Ambarès-et-Lagrave which, you may remember, is where the new line technically starts. The roadbridge over the lines and station is pleasingly modern. On either side, big stainless steel panels are broken up by windows that have been designed with trainspotters in mind. As if on cue, another TGV steams past northwards; after holding back in the vicinity of Bordeaux, the train is about to hit full throttle and reach its cruising speed of 300 to 320 kilometres per hour. 
Windows on the railway lines.
Departing Ambarès, Vincent excitedly spots a roadside boulangerie and heads inside as part of his ongoing mission to get his hands on a chocolatine. They’re out of chocolatines though so he has to make do with a cookie. Who would have thought that such a simple request would be so challenging? Somewhere between Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Saint-Loubès, we hit the Dordogne, admiring the bridge over the river which was built to accommodate the new line. We spot a house at its base which appears to have been abandoned. Were the owners forcibly moved on? 
1,319 metres long, 45,000 cubic metres of cement, 150,000 tons: it's the LGV bridge over the Dordogne.
We opt for the simplest means of crossing the Dordogne: a short stretch of the A10 motorway, exiting as soon as we can to continue following the railway line. From now on, this exercise becomes a complicated case of slaloming back and forth over the line; it’s virtually impossible to drive alongside in perfect linear fashion. We eventually reach a railway station which has been given the name of its two neighbouring villages: Aubie-Saint-Antoine. The station is only served by the longstanding Bordeaux-Nantes line, the LGV trains do not stop here. But its presence is tangible given the brand new car park and a modern red metallic footbridge over the lines; the station has clearly benefited from the arrival of the LGV. 
Vincent inspecting the modern footbridge at Aubie-Saint-Antoine station.
Looking over towards Saint-Antoine.
On the next stretch of our drive towards Marsas and the point where the Nantes line and the LGV split for good, beneath yet another new bridge we spot what used to be the entrance to a level crossing across the old railway tracks. A white cross has been erected there, a sad reminder of how deadly level crossings have so often proved to be (and as was once again the case recently in Millas, near Perpignan). There are no inscriptions on the cross, just some faded artificial flowers; we move on not knowing the full story of what once happened there. 
We carry on north to Laruscade, a small market town which is stuck in that limbo zone where it has neither the charm of a tiny village nor the amenities of a larger town. On its outskirts, where a surprisingly high number of properties are up for sale, many of the single-storey houses are of a Mediterranean-style yellow colour – this annoys Vincent profusely, who remains agitated and only really calms down when he spots the sign welcoming us to Charente-Maritime. Geographical landmarks of the like get him quite excited, so it’s quite a big deal when we alight to take a photo immortalizing our crossing the departmental border line. 
We then loop up towards Bedenac, a small town which is possibly best-known for its prison. One of the distinguishing features of the establishment, Google suggests, is that the inmates are given sessions of what is termed “médiation canine”. Further information is available here. Moving off the beaten track to the west of Clérac, we go in search of a sight of what is labelled on Googlemaps as “la Base de maintenance de Clérac”. Although the satellite view is impressive, from our vantage point on the other side of the tracks, there is really not much to be seen at all.

Looking over towards the Base de maintenance de Clérac. Wow.
We drive on to Clérac proper and treat ourselves to lunch in a small hotel-restaurant establishment, l’Auberge des Lacs Bleus. After our meal we take some time out to visit the town centre, which is all very neat and tidy and pretty; Clérac was one of the technical hubs of the LGV project and the economic benefits were substantial throughout the construction period. Much of this has no doubt been translated into embellishing the environment here. We nip into the church, walking beneath a sundial which is a good deal smaller than its associated information panel. Vincent spots an old “CITRAM” bus stop and we have visions of travellers getting on buses here to journey to far-off climes. 
The sundial and the CITRAM stop, Clérac.
Given the lack of excitement so far (with the possible exception of Vincent’s chocolatine quest), we decide our next stop, Montguyon, will be the northern tip of our journey. We admire the town and the ruins of its medieval castle from a distance and drive towards the impressive 135-metre-long structure bridging the gap between the hills either side of Montguyon for the LGV. When parking the car we bump into a genuine trainspotter – well, not a full-on trainspotter who is up on train types and numbers, but rather a local who knows that trains pass by regularly and who just gets a kick out of seeing them. There is much celebrating when a TGV ploughs past at top speed. 
Montguyon railway bridge.
We are now more or less 70 kilometres from our starting point and it’s not yet mid-afternoon, so Vincent and I decide to backtrack to an unusual sight we had spotted on our outbound journey: somewhere around Cavignac, just to the south of Laruscade, we had driven over a disused railway track. We return to the spot to find out more and to see whether the old line and the LGV intersect at some point. 

We park by a house next to what remains of a level crossing, and get chatting to the person who lives there – he had purchased the house, where he was born in 1957, from his grandmother who had been in charge of the level crossing on the railway line when it was still in operation. Although the information he provided was sketchy at best (and the clarity of the data he delivered was possibly affected by that day’s early aperitif), we later established the line had connected Cavignac with Coutras. It had operated passenger services from 1874 until 1938 and freight trains continued to run here until the mid-1960s. The line closed for good in 1976 although a tourist steam train now runs on a section further east between Marcenais and Guitres
The old level crossing and house.
Vincent making his way along the disused railway line.
Checking his phone, Vincent estimates the distance between the old level crossing and the new LGV line to be around 600 metres, so we set out on foot along the moss-covered tracks towards the inevitable dead end. We soon arrive at our destination and view a couple of high-speed trains whizzing past this point where a previous-generation railway line has come to an abrupt end. It all feels suitably symbolic – we are left wondering whether at some stage in the future the LGV tracks will meet a similar fate.
The end of the line, where old meets new.
We turn round and head back towards the car, wondering what we’ve learnt from our day tracking the LGV tracks. We agree that we now have a clearer idea of how the project has made an indelible stamp on the landscape and the impact it has had, for better or for worse, on the towns and villages that lay alongside the line. And, above all, we now realise that north of Bordeaux it is easier to get a haircut than a fresh chocolatine

We head onto the southbound Nationale 10 road, soon joining up with the heavy motorway traffic heading, like us, into Bordeaux. The loneliness of the deserted abandoned railway line in Cavignac suddenly feels a long, long way away. But to Vincent and myself it now feels strangely comforting to know it is there, silently observing LGV trains en route to and from Bordeaux and Paris. With love.

This adventure is also available as a major motion picture!

> Find the old Cavignac-Coutras railway line on the Invisible Bordeaux map: disused section of Cavignac-Coutras railway line, Cavignac.