Meeting the Cockleshell heroes

Our adventure through Northern Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar had been marvellous but we had a big family party to attend in England so it was time to start the long drive back to catch the ferry in Cherbourg, France.

The long trip back begins
We went a slightly different route but you get the picture!

The first part of the trip took us from La Linea in Spain, on the border with Gibraltar, following the coast southwards, and passing famous holiday resorts such as Marbella, Torremolinos and Malaga.

The resort town of Arroyo de la Miel
Torremolinos – the famous Costa del Sol package holiday destination

At Malaga we turned inland and before too long we could see the glowing snow covered peaks of the Montes de Málaga in the distance.

The snow covered peaks of the Montes de Málaga
Strange to see snow when we had been so warm in Gibraltar

We stopped for the night in Valdepeñas, in central Spain and the next morning drove on to El Puente de Sabiñánigo near the French border.

Time to stop the night in Valdepeñas

We enjoyed most of the drive as there was some stunning scenery along the way but around midday we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by thick fog. Fortunately it didn’t last long and we had blue skies for the rest of the day.

No doubt we were in Spain – we saw these black bulls that symbolise Spanish culture everywhere.
A moody sky and interesting rock formations
There was plenty to see en route
Fortunately this fog didn’t last for long but it was quite disconcerting

The area of Sabiñánigo has always been strongly linked to sport and, especially, to cycling. Our stopping place for the night was next to a fine looking municipal building which had a hostel attached and a nice looking restaurant.

Almost at Sabiñánigo

After a wander around the town we went into the restaurant and were told it could serve us but warned us a big group of young people would be coming later. We were in our own little section and had a delicious meal and the crowd was quiet and not at all a nuisance.

The municipal buildings near our camping spot

It wasn’t until the next day and we saw the bikes in the air (photo below) and the sign at the entrance, that we realised that the hostel catered for cyclists and the group at dinner was probably there to take part in a cycling event.

Bikes in the air – taken as we left Sabiñánigo

The area is famous for holding “The Quebrantahuesos” one of the most important amateur cyclist races in the world. The town is also a frequent start and finish point of the Vuelta a Espana.

From El Puente de Sabiñánigo we headed for the French border and within forty minutes we were crossing over into France.

On the Camino trail once again!
The French border post
In France at last

Soon we were driving in the Pyrenees and had some enticing glimpses of snow covered mountains before turning west and making for the Atlantic Coast.

Glimpses of the Pyrenees
Glorious mountain views
A small French village
This overhang looked very worrying from our rather tall campervan
Going through the fly fishing region

By the time the sun was setting we had arrived at our destination – the resort town of St Georges de Didonne. We stopped in a car park right next to the beach and the next morning we decided that a bit of exploring would be in order.

Arriving in St Georges de Didonne.
Winter trees silhouetted in the setting sun
Our overnight spot right next to the beach at St Georges de Didonne.

The beach just beyond our parking spot was littered with oyster shells so it was no surprise to see – in the middle of the harbour – rows and rows of buoys marking out oyster beds.

So many oyster shells!
Lots of buoys indicating where the oyster beds lay

Our walk took us passed the old but still active lighthouse and port buildings – long abandoned by the looks of things.

The lighthouse and old port buildings in the distance
In summer you can take a tour of the lighthouse
The old port office – No longer in use

Around the headland we strolled along the rocky shoreline where we encountered a memorial to the heroes of Operation Frankton, a daring World War II commando raid in which a small group of British Royal Marines were taken by submarine to the area and dropped off at sea near St Georges de Didonne.

The memorial commemorating Operation Frankton

The ten men then paddled (over several nights and hiding by day) five collapsible canoes (kayaks) 100 kms to the port of Bordeaux where they planted limpet mines on German cargo ships halting the distribution of goods and thereby disrupting the German war effort.

A close look at the Cockleshell Heroes’ memorial

As we read the memorial dedication, Jonathan recalled a film from his boyhood that had made a great impression on him called “The Cockleshell Heroes”. This highly fictionalised account of Operation Frankton had left him with a lasting memory of this extraordinary and heroic mission.

The brave men involved in the heroic operation

We walked as far as the sweeping main beach which in the summer months is packed with throngs of holiday makers.

A glimpse of the coastal path
This beach is heaving with people in the summer

Thankful that we didn’t have to share the delightful coastal path with any of the 50,000 or so summer visitors that arrive each year, we slowly meandered our way back to our campervan to head for Cherbourg where we were catching the ferry to England.

We were very fortunate to have the coastal path to ourselves

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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