On Saturday, as I wrote in my last post, Alan and I were give a free pass to go paragliding. The sun was shining and the conditions looked OK. We were also just happy to be spending a day together away from work too. Because there was a west wind forecast we decided to drive to another flying area about 20km away from the campsite and our normal spot in Pfronten. Luckily we know all the backroads because we would be driving straight past the village of Schwangau which is home to the famous castle Neuschwanstein – which you know from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is the second largest tourist attraction in Germany and this was the first day of the Summer holidays – traffic was to be expected.
Ariane had gallantly volunteered to look after the girls and go to the Alatsee for the day. I have written about how much we love this area, the Allgäu, before but it really does deserve the praise. There are lots of lakes, all of them good for swimming, but they can get quite busy in Summer. It’s good to know a few local secrets and the Alatsee is one of them, as you can see…
In the meantime Alan and I had wound our way past Neuschwanstein, with surprisingly little traffic, were heading to a “small” flying hill at Buching. By small I mean it is about 1000 feet high. Most of the other places we fly are between 2000 and 3000 feet above the valley floor. On a good flying day it is not difficult to fly up above those mountains, even if you are launching from the lower Buching hill. We had chosen Buching because the alternative would be the spectacular, but very busy, Tegelberg. This is legendary mountain in free flying circles because it was the site of one of the first hang glider flights in Europe back in 1973. It is still a very popular place to fly today because there is a cable-car straight to launch and you can fly over Neuschwanstein. The downside is that there is only room for one pilot to launch at a time and it gets really busy. We paraglider pilots like to think of ourselves as free spirits, just a little bit closer to paradise than the rest. But watch the haggling and bitching as 20 of us line up to launch in the baking sun and that dream soon disappears.
So we went to Buching – intending to circle up in summer thermals and fly over to Tegelberg and Neuschwanstein and back. Our plan went well for about thirty seconds. The guy at the chairlift wouldn’t let us go up to launch unless we had the correct documentation. I produced my licence and third party insurance. All present and correct. Unfortunately we also needed some sort of document from the local school saying that we had been given special instruction on how to land here at Buching. Seeing as I had been flying in the area for 25 years I thought this was a bit rich – but how were they to know? I could have put my hands on my hips and said “I was flying here when you were still in nappies young man!”. But I don’t think it would have helped and anyway he was older than me. Actually going to the flying school and getting this bit of paper would probably have been no problem – but it would have been like asking for directions when you’re lost. Men just don’t do that. So Alan and I had a quick think and then decided to walk up to launch and hope nobody would want to see any papers up there.
We had a pleasant, but very sweaty, walk up. We both used to be runners so we spent most of the way comparing old war stories and reliving the days when we would have skipped up a thousand foot mountain without breaking a sweat. We eventually got to launch and found out that (a) it was packed and (b) the conditions weren’t looking great after all. Had we yet again conspired to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Well, we sat it out for a while and rehydrated ourselves. After an hour or so we joined the queue and launched into the sun. The conditions had improved and with a little effort I was able to fly over to Tegelberg – and as you can see from the pic it was absolutely lovely.
I landed at the Tegelberg and Alan landed at Buching and drove the car over to meet me. Apparently nobody bothered him the landing field – little did they know we were flying without the special piece of paper. We both enjoyed a drink and some good German nourishment – a fresh-pretzel in the shady beer garden at the bottom of the lift. The day was still young and Ariane had texted me to say the girls were having a great time at the lake, so we decided to bit the bullet and go up the Tegelberg for another flight. As predicted, lots of people were up there and we had to queue to launch. But it was worth it – the conditions were fine and I had a nice float around above Neuschwanstein and took the tourist pic which I hadn’t managed to do for the previous 25 years. The castle from above…
I flew around a bit more, saw Alan and waved at him and then went to land. It was a just a great day out. While I was packing up in the still very hot sun, Alan had the bit between his teeth and flew along the mountains back to Buching and then turned around and made it back which wasn’t easy that late in the day – nice one! (I am making a special mention of Alan’s flying skills because he accounts for about 25% of my readership and I need to keep him happy). We packed up and drove back to the campsite where we met my tired, sunburned but happy girls and drank a couple of cold beers (and a Sekt for Ariane) before visiting the Italian for another take-away dinner. The kids disappeared into their tent as it got dark and we grown-ups finished the day with a glass of Benromach Single Malt which Alan had kindly brought along. Perfect. Just perfect.
The next morning I packed the tents away in the pouring rain. It still all seemed worth it.