Tag Archives: places of interest

Down to the Sea

It really is no exaggeration to say that we have spent our lives little more than a stone’s throw from the sea.  Mind you, as we both come from England that’s not hard to do, I guess.  I’m a Navy brat, so close proximity to the sea is a bit of a given.  Graham wasn’t, but he too was raised very close  to the sea.  As we have moved around the world each of us has lived pretty much in clear sight of it.  When we began to look for a home in Europe we set out a list of criteria to aid us in our search.  Being “in clear sight of a moving body of water” was the only non-negotiable requirement.  Climate was another significant factor, as were language and proximity to reasonable travel hubs.

I don’t think that even though most of the properties that we looked at on-line were at least 100 miles from the sea that we really thought that we would end up a 2-hour drive from it.  But we did.  Anyhow, during our last trip I had suggested that we make a run up to La Rochelle to scope out the old town.  Graham had sailed there many years ago, but I had only sailed the coastlines of Normandy & Brittany as a kid and thought that it would make an interesting day trip.  In the end we decided that it was a bit far to drive for lunch (3 hours each way) and, as by far the smallest of the three of us, it is I who gets to ride in the parcel shelf that is sold as the back seat of our car.  I am getting too old to imitate a pretzel for 6 hours in a day unless we’re doing something really important!  However, there was still a hankering to see the sea.  So we settled on a drive down to the Dune du Pilat and the Arcachon Basin, which is a 2-hour drive from Les Terraces.

The run was uneventful but did serve a useful purpose as it led me to believe that taking the rocade clockwise around Bordeaux might be the faster way to get to Bordeaux-Merignac than the northern anti-clockwise route.  As we headed SW away from Bordeaux the countryside flattened out, pancake style, and the foliage became much more heavily coniferous than in our end of the Gironde.  The soil became remarkably more sandy (not that Mo saw anything as he had his head in a book swatting for his Baccau mocks).

Once we turned off the A63 and onto the A660 for La Teste-de-Bouche we entered the realm of French holiday camps.  I had visions of being back on the Isle of Wight (where I went to school) with sticks of rock and kiss-me-quick hats!  I was astonished at the lines of traffic backed up towards the parking area adjacent to the Dune du Pilat – this was April.   God knows what it is like in July & August.

Anyway, Mo and I went off to conquer the Dune, leaving Graham sat comfortably with a coffee in the warm spring sunshine.  The Dune is amazing.  Purportedly the largest in Europe (although my father, who lived in Denmark for more than 20 years wondered whether the Danish one, which has obliterated an entire village, might not be larger) I stood on its crest wondering why it was there.  It is only one ridge deep, but high and long.  Sadly, the tourism information office, which might have provided some explanatory literature, was closed and the signage by the Dune is only in French – mine wasn’t equal to the task of translating more than about 30% – so Mo and I could only conjecture.

View from the Dune du Pilat
A view from the Dune du Pilat

A word to the wise ….. if you suffer  from vertigo don’t attempt the ascent of the dune.  I, who am happy to work at the top of a mast in a bosun’s chair, thought twice about the descent as the routine is that one climbs the dune using the stairs provided, but the descent is straight down through the sand and it is very steep, trust me!

Stairs up the side of the Dune du Pilat
This might give you some idea of the dune's height
The landward side of the Dune du Pilat
It's difficult to show quite how steep the side of the dune is