A Storm in a Teacup; The Ubiquitous Evil & The Wrong Kind of Wind!
8th September: The dogs were suddenly excited. Even we were aware of the delicious, briny smell of the sea as we crossed the bridge on to the Île d’Oléron. At 22 miles long, Île d’Oléron is France’s second largest island after Corsica. There is no toll on the bridge; Oléron is altogether more down-to-earth than its swanky neighbour, Île de Ré.
With salt-pans and mussel beds on each side of the road, we were overjoyed to see the gorgeous, big, blue expanse of the Atlantic laid out before us.
We mused that our trip is the longest period that we have been away from the ocean since we took up (‘became obsessed with’) windsurfing!!!!
The run over to Oléron was probably one of the most ordinary journeys of the trip so far, although with this being La Belle France, the countryside would still rank as “quite pretty”! The rain cleared by 11.30 as we departed the Dordogne to enter the white, limestone villages and vinyards of Bordeaux. The vinyards were like works of art. Each vine was perfect; pruned exactly to match its neighbour. The lines were perfectly straight and fastidiously weeded. A mere glimpse of these vines would make it obvious to anyone that the wines of Bordeaux are a cut above!
Still, travel is always an adventure and the sat nav decided to add interest to the journey to fill in where the landscape was lacking…!
Initially, it was our fault; we forgot to set the sat nav to ‘Avoid Tollways’ and in no time, we had racked up €16 in tolls, the cost of a night’s camping! €10 for coffee and a cake and we rapidly adjusted it to “Quickest Route” although the sat nav algorithms seemed to defy the laws of mathematics and geometry. A red ‘A’ road rocketing straight up the hypotenuse of a triangle from ‘You Are Here’ to ‘Île d’Oléron’ leapt out at us from the map. Yet the sat nav opted for ‘Quickest Route’ via a meandering series of unmarked roads through the middle of absolute nowhere!
It turned out to be the towing equivalent of a steeplechase. During my stint at the wheel, I had to navigate narrow roads, hairpins, bollards and chicanes, many of which bore the evidence of less careful drivers scraping the sides. The pièce de résistance, however, was an excursion the wrong way down a short one-way street which vomited us out onto a major roundabout!
The locals very generously stopped in their hoards to wave their arms and point out how stupid I was, but even in the face of such censure, there was no way I was reversing back! Thankfully, a very kind lorry took pity on the Damson in Distress and held up traffic on the roundabout to allow me to pull out. Even this was not a straightforward manoeuvre; it was quite a sharp turn, but whoever you are, thank you. You are a gentleman and Knight of the Road, who appreciates that foreigners on unfamiliar roads do make genuine mistakes. And to all the rest of you, we promise to cut you some slack and afford you the same courtesy should the same ever happen to you in England!
Our campsite ‘Les Saumonards’ at Boyardville is magnificent – in the midst of a forest, shaded by tall pine trees and offering a pitch right next to the walk through to the beach. It has a wonderful, peaceful ambience. We are really looking forward to our stay here.
We treated ourselves to a beautiful walk on the beach to shake off the trials of the trail. The golden, evening light lit up Fort Boyard, the Napoleonic ocean fort in the bay and highlighted the pretty town of La Rochelle, clinging to the mainland. Our Fur Babies were absolutely thrilled. Being brought up in Bournemouth, the beach is their natural element.
We met a really sweet couple; the hubby told me that I was the loveliest English person he had met and both he and his wife adored the dogs. They noted how well behaved and happy they were and very kindly commented that it was the home environment that made them so. Particularly following such a stressful drive, it was so uplifting to experience such spontaneous kindness!
Saturday – I’m in trouble again! We walked on the beach to have a look at one of the windsurfing bays. I took a photo of the beautiful sky. We got some looks. I did not realise until later that getting out my camera phone was a little insensitive; we had inadvertently strayed on to a naturist beach!
Mark cooked up some local Boyardville mussels that we bought in the Intermarché. They were truly delicious; so fresh and only €5! I have always been a fan of Mark’s mussels… In combination with the garlic bread that he made, I think we will be safe from Vampires for a day or two – and our friends in the UK will probably be glad that we’re not home for a couple of weeks yet…!
We met a lovely German couple, Friederike and Dieter and their gorgeous, black miniature poodle, Arturo. They kind of adopted us and we walked into Boyardville to dine with them. 5 dogs in a restaurant. Must be a record! We had the local speciality, which is, of course, moules frites (you can never have too many mussels!) They were delicious!
Friederike and Dieter wanted us to go around the island with them on Tuesday, but I am not sure that anyone other than a windsurfer would understand our reasons for declining. We had told them that we wanted to windsurf, which was fine, but when they bumped into us the following morning, the conversation went something like this;
“We thought that you were going windsurfing!”
“We’re waiting for the wind.”
“But it is windy!”
“It’s not enough wind. We need about 14 knots to get going. It’s supposed to get up to 18 knots at 11 o’clock.”
“It’s nearly 11 o’clock now…!”
“Yes, but the wind hasn’t quite come through yet. And it’s in the wrong direction!”
I don’t think that they would have understood why, in the end, we didn’t go windsurfing. The wind was not only a little feeble, but it was due to switch further in the wrong direction and a thunderstorm was forecast.
Being out on the sea clinging on to a 5 metre tall carbon fibre lightning conductor (mast) is not a great strategy for survival. Is that enough excuses? I guess that we could have said that we’re British and it was the wrong kind of wind!
I’m not sure why we ever bother trying to go windsurfing. It is such a fickle sport! (If you want more information on why windsurfers never actually seem to get on the water, see Windsurfing – A Blagger’s Guide!)
Once we had completely abandoned the possibility of windsurfing, we decided to drive around the island to scope out potential windsurfing spots for future reference. This did differ markedly from Friederike’s objective, which had been to drive around the island, have a sumptuous lunch and visit a boutique!
Billboards around the island warned of impending ‘Orages’ (Storms). The Orages came that night with vengeance. I have never experienced anything so loud – the thunder shook the caravan and the rain was so torrential that it felt like we had pitched beneath a waterfall! Poor Rosie was terrified. She was trembling uncontrollably and we couldn’t even distract her with a treat, which was unprecedented. We opened the blinds to watch the sky lighting up. The trees showed up as stark, black silhouettes against dusky, mauve sheet lightning, with the odd magnesium-white bolt zig zagging like a rip through this other-worldly backdrop.
We had invited Friederike and Dieter over for a drink – unsurprisingly, they didn’t brave the storm. Just as we were settling down to watch the 2nd episode of ‘Longitude’ on the computer (the storm has knocked out the electrics! The CD player sounded distorted and the TV wouldn’t come on!) they arrived! We had a lovely evening chatting with them. Arturo cuddled me for ages, which they said was highly unusual!
We discussed language and how it defines a state of mind. Anthropologists claim that it is not possible to really understand a culture without a command of the language – and it goes deeper than just deciphering poetry and folklore. Friederike said that she was learning Arabic, a language with no verbs! A very different view point to Europe where ‘doing’ kind of characterises us! I am fascinated now and want to learn Arabic too, since my European perception can’t understand how a language could possibly work without verbs!
Our iPod seems to have become predictive. It started playing “Thunder only Happens When it’s Raining.” It also played “Try to Catch the Wind”; this might seem apt after our windsurfing experience but the timing was impeccable because the track coincided, mid-cuddle, with Kai loosing a dainty little botty burp on Mark’s hand!
Chaos was brewing in the caravan. I had a sleepless night worrying about towing the caravan off the Île. Reception had assured us that the bridge would close if there was too much wind, because “Caravans have been known to blow over…” Well that had really reassured me! It was, however, a beautiful morning. I saw Friederike as we checked out. Bless her, she shed a tear and said that she was worried that she would never see us again! We exchanged hugs, details and open invitations.
But a very British storm was brewing – or not brewing – which was more to the point. Our low-voltage caravan kettle has mutinied – it has started to switch itself on and off spontaneously. But worse than that, we’re down to our last box of M&S ‘Gold’ Tea Bags.
Fewer than 1 tea bag per day for the rest of the trip…
Do we re-use or simply accept our sentence? Can we survive our final few weeks subjected to the ubiquitous evil that is Lipton’s Yellow Label?!!! Join us next time for more Island Life and find out why we fell in love with the really rather charming Île de Noirmoutier.
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