Mud seems to be a bit of a recurring theme in our travels recently. After leaving Ferme L’Horloge, near the tiny village of Tardinghem, 20 kilometres from Calais (where we got bogged on our first night), we headed south towards Veules-les-Roses, in the Normandy region of France.
Although we didn’t leave the farm until midday, the ground was still covered in a beautiful thick frost which looked like someone had painted everything with a sparkling silver magic brush.
As we left we saw a group of people in the field behind and wondered what they were up to. The previous day we had seen model airplanes being flown so thought that’s what was happening this time.
Then we heard a engine leap into life and realised that one of the people was about to take off in a microlight aircraft!
Up he went into the frosty air while his poor family were left shivering watching his progress. It must have been freezing up there!
Leaving the enthusiasts to their devices we left for what turned out to be a three and a half hour drive (including a stop for some lunch). In places there were still patches of ice on the road so we took it very slowly and carefully.
We arrived at the “Aire” (car park that allows camper vans overnight) just outside Veules-les-Roses and found just one other van and a number of cars parked.
The surface was mainly grass and the remaining spots where we could potentially park looked extremely soft and skiddy. We were determined not to get bogged this time!
So we sat at the entrance for a few minutes waiting for some cars to leave before attempting to park. Quite soon two cars left so we started to move towards the place one of them vacated.
Suddenly our wheels started to slip and slide and Jonathan tried to ease the van out of the soggy mud. We were stuck again!
Fortunately he had an idea! Find two pieces of wood and put them, crossed over each other, under the tyre that was really bogged. The top stick redistributed the weight of the van allowing us to roll off the the larger stick underneath, stopping it from sinking into nasty, muddy mess. Thank goodness Jonathan went to Boy Scouts when he was a boy!
After another wait more cars departed and we were finally able to find a nice dry spot and relax.
The reason the car park was quite busy on a cool winter’s day was that there was a lovely walk from there to the beachfront at Veules-les-Roses.
We set off to explore and were surprised to see imposing white chalk cliffs on the shore – almost identical to the famous White Cliffs of Dover. A very grand sight.
Having walked along the beach on the way we decided to circle through the village to get back to our camping spot. We saw some very beautiful cottages, some super elegant houses and an interesting 13th Century Church.
Our next destination was a lonely beach in the romantic sounding place St Martin-de-Varreville, not far from Omaha and Utah Beaches, where the D-Day landings took place.
The beach was long and lonely, the weather was blustery and it started to rain as we walked along the sand so after a bit of a tramp we headed back to the comfort of the van.
That night our van shook and trembled as the wind howled around it. It was very cosy in our warm bed and we felt so grateful we weren’t in a boat, having to get up and check our anchor at frequent intervals!
Although we had just installed a brand new (and expensive!) lithium house battery which means we can have the heater on whenever we want and not fear we will run out of power, we decided to go to a “proper site” for a day or two where we could plug in to mains electricity and boot up our laptops and other electrical equipment that need mains power.
We could also fill up with water and drain away the grey waste water there, as well as empty our chemical toilet. We found one not too far away that was still open in the winter months (and during Covid restrictions) in a village called Rothéneuf about five kilometres from St Malo.
For those of you who love to read, St Malo is the city in the wonderful book All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, where one of the main protagonists, Marie-Laure, and her father flee to during World War II. (Very highly recommend this book!)
Rotheneuf is just over five kilometres from the centre of St Malo and is famous for being the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, the first European to map the Gulf of St Lawrence and the shores of the St Lawrence River which he named “the country of Canadas”.
Sadly, because of Covid, we were unable to go round the museum or see the famous “rochers sculptés” (rock sculptures carved in the cliffs of Rothéneuf by a hermit in the late 19th century/early 20th century). In the course of 49 years the hermit carved over 300 grotesque and bizarre faces and figures into the rock.
The first evening there we were contented with a stroll round the town but the following day we decided to do a more significant walk to St Malo.
It was an interesting route that first took us along the road for a while but then we were soon on the massively long and wide beach leading to St Malo.
The tide was out which left hundreds of metres of firm sand to walk on. We had forgotten how massive the tidal races were in this part of the world – apparently St Malo experiences some of the biggest tides in Europe.
The tidal range can vary between low tide and the open sea by over 40 feet (about 12 metres). We didn’t witness it but the intensity of the incoming waves are apparently a wonder to behold, a sight much beloved by photographers and artists.
To cope with the onslaught of the waves, Saint-Malo equipped itself with breakwater defenses that have become emblems of the city. These are more than 3,000 wooden piles, roughly 10 feet high, installed originally at the end of the 17th century (and replaced over time) to absorb the impact of the waves and protect part of the citadel.
It was great to see that even on a cool winter’s day, the beach was being really well utilised with scores of people out walking their dogs, dozens of kite and wind surfers and even land yachts skimming over the golden sand. It still felt gloriously uncrowded!
Of course there were no cafes open in St Malo so we came prepared! After a walk on the glorious 17th Century ramparts we found a seat and cracked open our thermos and made a nice strong cup of tea!
On the walk back we kept mostly to the promenade which again was well patronised but we felt safe as everyone wore masks and were careful to keep their distance.