On the first morning, I woke up in our wooden attic bedroom to sunlight squeezing its way through the veloux blind. I threw back the covers and stumbled downstairs. The house is full of light, sea, sky and rippling cloud. The working day had started; traffic was streaming up and down the boulevard Francois Mitterand outside. Across the road, not a large one is a small hilly, heath, is perfect for walking Pops last thing at night. My morning walk is across the (tiny) heath, and down to the beach while the tide is out.
I am trying to develop a routine to help me work. Most mornings, I do a little bit of writing with my tea sitting at the table with this fantastic view of the town and the sea, seeking inspiration from my Russian Earl Grey (I left my Barry’s somewhere en route). I sit…for a while, key in a few words and usually decide to have a shower instead and walk the dog.
The surrounding region is similar terrain to South England, but the cliff’s aren’t white, and there is a definite frenchinezzz about the place. There’s a cliff walk, full of grasses, sea, and rather large bottomed people walking with poles. Poppins is interested in the rabbit burrows, one in particular which seemed to have a very large family as Poppins was able to get halfway down, her deburred tail shaking with excitement. On that walk it’s better to keep her on the lead. Twelve kms away, on the far head, the small town of Ambleteuse is perched in the bay, its red and whites houses glistening in the sun. A visit for another day.
On our first day, after our first fresh baguette dipped in a bowl of coffee, we went to peruse Le Portel where the ma and pa had a little apartment back in the day when we lived in England, to which I often came. It’s an ordinary sort of town, not particularly pretty but with a lovely beach. They got it a little cheaper back then because between Le Portel and Boulogne was a factory which every so often belched out grim looking yellow smoke. That has gone now and wind turbines have been put up instead. The town has been gentrified a little. The cafes are no longer dingy bars, dark and smelling of a cross between wine and urine and the beach seems much more yellow and glossy than it ever used to be.
Then we continued to the Magic Forest which is still one of my most favourite places in the world. It turns out it is actually called the Foret d’Ecault but it is still magical: full of pines, and beeches, oaks, birches, sandy paths, cones, dunes, glittering shade, wonderful shaped trees, hillocks, just how I remembered it.
The tomatoes here are to die for. We have a ‘contact’ Intermarche right opposite which is a daily must visit for me. My first purchases were tomatoes, melon, anchovies, mustard, peaches, butter, nectarines, cheese, cornichons. I had to go back half an hour later for kitchen towel, toilet paper, milk, washing machine tabs. Supper was pate on petit pain grille which I gorged on while I cooked an onion, tomato and anchovy sauce with pasta. I had a couple of glasses of the most delicious Gerwertstraminer.
It turns out the Mairie Café in town is a nice spot for our aperitif, and being retired local government workers, it seems appropriate. We can wander down and back across the heath. It’s a bit of a climb back up, but builds the appetite for supper and I enjoy a Pastis or a beer and watching people. It turns out, the climb is too much and Jerry prefers to drive. Actually, it’s me who drives even though I prefer to walk because the choice is between Jerry driving and me, and I feel happier with me every time!!
Yesterday, we headed to Ambleteuse where Google had told us there was a market. French markets are my most favourite things in the world. After circling the pretty, tiny, village through the various one way system lanes, we came upon it under the church. Three tables, one cheese, one veg and one meat. Mon Dieu! What has the world come to. We bought an admittedly very delicious Pyrenean cheese and had a coffee to temper our disappointment and came back for Poppins to take her to the beach at the next town of Wissant. Driving in we came across a lovely, winding, traditional, market that took up all the streets at the top of the town. Joy of joys. But dogs were not allowed so I took a quick meander through the stalls while Jerry stayed outside with pops and put it in the diary for next week. I noticed some lovely angora wool jumpers.
What is the sport called which involves paraglides and boards and gorgeous, generally young, men streaking out on the wind, jumping waves to surf the sea and occasionally take off in the air? After the market and a windy walk on the beach which Poppins didn’t really seem to enjoy, we went to a café on the rocks and watched them paraglide, leap, sail, and crash. The tide was roaring in and so they came closer and closer (not, however, too much distraction from my big pot of moules frites which were totally delicious). Wissant is a lovely little town. There was an old mill, a mill pond with lots of quacky ducks, a gorgeous shady mill stream down to the beach, and it was a place frequented by artists in the 19th century. We will return.
I was exhausted after that and stretched out on the green deck chair in the backyard reading my Isabel Allende book, Ripper, which is quite bizarre. It seems to be a murder thriller set in California wrapped in magical fantasy. Kinda works for me at the moment.
And now, off for my morning walk across the heath and down to the beach with Pops. Today, the objective is to find a librarie de presse to buy an ordonnance survey map.
And we did that thing…and who knew…thirty kms away is a wetland area, full of narrow streams, big lakes, rolling forests. Funnily enough, driving around what seem to be long, dusty white roads, surrounded by squares and rectangles of harvested fields, you wouldn’t have thought there was a drop of water in sight, certainly never imagined that it was home to a very extensive wetlands.
The region is very Flemish looking, pointed red tiled roofs, very clean, tidy, and everything in its place. There are very few modern buildings, particularly in the countryside and each village is very discrete with its own name and character. There is no leaching from one village to the next. The region feels full of secrets. You can drive around these very pretty villages, along lanes running along pretty streams, but not see anything else. According to the map, there are lakes in the wetlands area, but you don’t see them. Jerry (he likes to keep his face buried in maps) kept saying, I think there’s a big lake behind these houses. They were tiny, pointy roofed homes with jolies gardens, climbing roses, cockleshells, and dwarfs…maybe that is it, I never trust a garden with dwarfs! No, there’s definitely something a little reticent about this region. It feels like it’s holding back. Maybe it’s something to do with crushed and smashed German pill boxes on the rocks.
In the end, we found a lovely, short, walk along a board walk around a steamy pond with bull rushes, olive trees, herons so we were happy. And changing the subject completely, we had our aperitif on the prom yesterday to watch the sun set instead of in the Mairie.
I’m still enjoying the Pyrenean cheese and the lovely fresh garden lettuce, anchovies, cornichons, tomatoes. We added a hard boiled egg into the mix last night. Maybe we’ll eat out tonight. Now, me and pops must be off. We’re checking out Wimereux market this morning and going to the woods South of Boulougne. The ordinance survey map shows a million of them!
Market was perfect! I got lovely raisins (tiny black grapes) plums, nectarines, smashing big scallions, more cheese…and, and, and…
We also had an adventure in the Foret de Boulogne. In advance of leaving, we identified the Parking on the map where we were to stop, find a walk and explore. Outings can be the cause of much marital anxst in our family, so it is important we try to agree in advance…though, of course, I am prone to sudden changes of mind mid route if I see something else!
Anyhow, we found the P, parked, noted the green route and set off, me and my 72 year old hubby who is not a great walker. There will be arrows all the way around, I assured him. At one junction, where there was a division of paths, we agreed we take the trail, (it looked like it was going in the direction of the car). Unfortunately, the trail disappeared into a track, and the track disappeared into woods, and the woods disappeared into a gorge, and the gorge disappeared into a raging river (they call it un ruisseau here) at the bottom of a steep ravine full of brambles and thorns. Like any mighty leader wanting to maintain troop morale, I confidently moved forth, identifying possible paths, and like any Scouts Brown Owl, would say loudly ‘This is Fun’ every so often. I think a more appropriate illustration would be the Pooh Bear story where Rabbit loses the expedition, except we lacked a piglet in Poppins who seemed to have no more idea of how to get back to the car than we did. Then I remembered the maps app on my phone and, like a magician, (forgive my mixed metaphors, I was very excited) pulled it triumphantly from my pocket.
‘This will show us how to get to where we parked the car.’
‘how do you know where we parked the car’
‘I’m pretty sure its here’
‘and why do you know that this way is the correct direction?’
‘those flares point to it. Come on we are very close.’
He looked down at the deep gorge, ravine and rushing river (ruisseau) further up from the same one we had just crossed.
‘We could turn back,’ He suggested
‘I could never find the way back. We’d be like that girl in the Netflix series Keep Breathing we watched who went round and round in circles, unless you’ve been scattering crumbs.’
He shook his head, and together we went forth, sharing my walking stick, stumbling, sliding and eventually arrived victorious, weary, proud back at the car.
We decided we deserved dinner out and found a very nice restaurant, Le Carnot, on the main st. At 7pm it was shut and 7.02 it was full! Lucky we were looking through the window at 7.01. I had delicious soupe de poisson and rumpsteak and Jerry had more salad! I will return to try the Tuna Cru.
Yesterday, we visited Hardelot Plage. I remembered it as a rather bizarre place but in the twenty five years since I’ve been here its matured into what could be described as a film set perfect for a horror zombie murder mystery. You slowly drive towards the centre (there is no centre) through wide boulevards or avenues with wide, white painted, cycle lanes past vast detached, wealthy, old fashioned homes stand on very green lawns behind luscious old oak trees. Every kilometre there is a roundabout and directions towards la plage, ou tennis, ou les chevals ou les jeux d’infants, ou l’hotel four star. It is how I imagine The Hamptons in America’s East Coast to look. Then finally we arrived at a silver and concrete strip of eight storey residences, which shimmered in the sun across a million miles of concrete and beach. It was deserted apart from an old woman and a café. We had coffee and left.
We decided to go and walk in the Massif du Mont St Frieux but the route was barred so we ended up on the beach by a rather moving war memorial to the aviators who were killed in WWII. Somehow, in the vast emptiness of sand and sea it was very easy to imagine the battles in the skies and the spinning plumes of smoke as the planes were shot down. The monument was a simple curved V shape with the quote from Churchill: Never was so much owed by so many to so few. I found it rather moving.