6am and our ferry ‘Barfleur’ slid across a Poole harbour so smooth that it seemed almost solid. The water glistened like a jewelled mirror, just as it had on so many wonderful days when we had flown across its surface on our windsurfers.
Poole Harbour is a very special place. The light is exquisite and unique. Everything seems keen and in focus. Even the air surrounding you seems to shimmer with the brilliance of a magnesium flare; sharp and clear, as though it is charged with its own strange energy.
Poole is Europe’s largest natural harbour and its excellence for windsurfing is partly because it is shallow – so shallow that in the huge expanse of water, you can stand waist-deep almost everywhere! Needless to say, large ferries need to stay in a well-dredged shipping channel to avoid grounding. Professional pilots are employed by large ships to guide them safely out of Poole harbour.
A small boat accompanied us across the harbour. “Do you think that’s our Pilot boat?” I asked Mark. “I doubt it.” He replied. “It’s got ‘Captain Cod’ written on the side!”
We passed Sandbanks, which boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
Nevertheless, we decided that whoever had parked a helicopter in their garden was a bit showy offy!
It turned out that we did have a Pilot boat and as we were nearing the pure white, limestone obelisks of Old Harry Rocks, which rise from the ocean at the mouth of the harbour, we got a little performance. A lady came up on to the deck of the little boat and sang us a song!
Then the tiny boat drew alongside the towering sides of the ferry and the Poole Harbour pilot leaped over the rails of our huge ship to board the Pilot boat. An everyday drama on the high seas!
We had left the puppies home alone in the caravan for the crossing. Even though it was early morning, I was relieved that they were on the west (cool) side of the ship. Never one to over react, with the recent heatwave, I had worried for days that they would all die of heat exhaustion during the crossing!
However, in the spirit of if it can go wrong, it will, our caravan water pump had started piddling out water the day before our departure; just when there was no time to do anything about it! Thankfully, I had bought a spare some time ago, when one had come up for a good price on the internet. “Buy Cheap Buy Twice” is my usual mantra, however I was pleased and amazed in equal measure that it did actually work when we plugged it in!
We felt the cares and stresses of the last few months gently slipping out of our consciousness, like the view of Poole Harbour as it diminished behind us in the wake of the ferry. The tingle of excitement of a new adventure was building. Once again, we were destined for freedom and were Living the Dream!
L’Arrive – Penthièvre
The drive from Cherbourg to Penthièvre, near Carnac in Brittany, is always longer than you think. However, that is the price for a short ferry crossing for the benefit of the pups. We stopped with 150 miles to go and had our lunch parked next to a Dutch couple in a small camper van. They admired our roof full of boards. We saw them again later; setting up at our campsite in Penthièvre!
It was still balmy when we arrived at around 7.30pm. We said ‘Hi’ to our friends (the meet up at Penthièvre is an annual pilgrimage for the Seavets Windsurfing Club) and while Mark set up the caravan, I took the dogs to the beach. I hadn’t seen them so happy for ages!
They played chase and Lani repeatedly attacked Ruby, who was actually really busy doing her job – running up and down the shore line like a pup possessed, chasing – well – who knows what?! I sat on the sand for a while, admiring the view over to Carnac and drinking in the fresh, salty scent of the sea. The mournful cries of wading birds seemed to hang in the air. A wind meter rotating on top of a small fishing boat moored close inshore beat time; it sounded just like the ticking pendulum of a grandfather clock.
The following morning, we were SHATTERED and slept in until 11am, even though the alarm went off at 5am to get us up for our ferry. Mark had forgotten to switch it off… Still, I never tire of turning off the alarm and rolling over in bed on a Monday! The early morning windsurf that everyone had threatened was not even a consideration.
We had an UTTERLY lazy day, chilling in the sunshine for the first time in ages. It was wonderful. In the evening, we had ‘film night’ over at ours. We watched ‘Three Billboards’; a challenging and moving film, which highlights the difficulties of taking on the Establishment and swimming against the tide of approval. Something with which we are more rather more familiar than we would like.
La Planche – Tuesday
You can come knockin’ if the caravan is rockin’ – so long as the rockin’ is down to the wind, which it definitely was this morning! Our dog shelter had been moved back into the awning by Steve, who had kindly rescued it from the side of the van, to where it had been blown and pinned!
Of course, the tide was out – and by the time it came in, the wind had dropped. We had an offer of a dog sitter, so that Mark and I could launch together, so we went out anyway and had a lovely bog around in light wind on the glistening bay. It was 30°C and wonderful to be out on the water just in shorts and a rashie (rash vest – no squeeze into a tight-fitting rubber wetsuit!) I managed to launch without making an complete idiot of myself in the fluky winds inshore, under the scrutiny of lots of Seavets and a good few onlookers! Not bad, since I haven’t set foot on a board since last September – and that was not the most flattering of sessions! (It took me an hour to get back to shore in a gusty, offshore wind at Lake Garda after Mark told me not to go out because “the conditions are horrible and you’ll hate it.” I love and honour my husband. Sometimes, I really should obey!)
I felt like I was chasing rainbows. I would see a patch of wind out in the bay, but as soon as I got near, like the fabled pot of gold, it seemed to move! I had a ‘dry hair session’ without falling in, although once I had landed my board, I decided to get wet properly and went for a refreshing swim. At 5.30 when the sweltering day had cooled down, we took the doggies for a walk before sweet-talking someone with a satellite dish into letting us watch Nigeria vs Argentina in the World Cup.
Getting reliable internet was also like chasing rainbows. Our MiFi internet hotspot stopped working. It sent us about twenty emails saying that we were over our roaming limit and that we owed a fiver; ten quid; eight pounds fifty; two pounds – before it finally settled on… forty pounds! More than twice the cost of our monthly subscription. We have a 12GB pre-paid data allowance. We had only been abroad for three days and the thing had barely worked since we arrived! There was no way that we had gone over our limit. Establishment beware. We’re comin’ in…
Beacon 6 & A Bit of Black Magic!
One of real the perks of travelling is the interesting people whom you meet. Pitched right next door to us was Mr Milk Tray. Mr. M was a gently-spoken, charming English gentleman. A former Royal Marines Commando, he had been involved in a number of famous chocolate commercials in the 1970s. I don’t think that he was the actor, but going by the impressive list of injuries that came to light as we got to know him, he had prepared and performed some incredible stunts to deliver those boxes of chocs, all because the lady loved them! Apparently, water skiing on one advert, he sustained a broken leg – but didn’t find out until the following day!
He told us that he had spent a whole week setting up a collapsing bridge for one sequence; and then the Director had asked for a slightly different camera angle. Mr M had told the Director that although it was not easy, it was do-able. He spent two days adjusting the set up, however when he tested it, the cameraman reported that it was really funny watching Mr M as he slammed into a mountain side.
This was not because he was horrifically injured, but because the very second that Mr M had started the test, he knew that the set up was wrong. The footage showed him approaching the rock wall at speed, saying calmly and with true English understatement. “Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.”
We had another film night where Mr M and his daughter cooked a delicious Thai prawn curry for us and showed us a short documentary about Robert Cundy’s 1962 ‘Cape Britannia Expedition’ to Beacon 6. The objective of the expedition had been to search for any record left by Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in 1845. Franklin had planned to traverse the last unexplored section of the North West Passage, which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Beacon 6 was a cairn built by Thomas Simpson in 1839 at the mouth of the Back River. The accepted theory was that if any of Franklin’s men had survived and begun an ascent of the Back river, they would have deposited a record at the cairn. The documentary followed Cundy’s 900-mile expedition through the Arctic with three other men, equipped with lightweight kayaks and woolly jumpers. One of those men was Mr M!
It was a fascinating account of a very tough journey in difficult conditions. They encountered huge rapids and had to conduct many portages – making several return trips through the untamed terrain to carry first their kayaks and then all of their kit around rapids that were too huge to run. At one point, they had to build a functioning kayak from the broken remains of the two others, both of which had been smashed by the rapids.
After several gruelling weeks, they did find Beacon 6. However, after enduring such hardship, all that they discovered was a note left two years previously by the Canadian Geological Survey, stating that they had been there, but found no Franklin relics.
Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.
But then such is the life of a traveller. So often, things don’t go according to plan. As we were about to find out!
To find my review of our campsite, click on this link; 30s Site Review – Camping Municipal, Penthievre, Brittany, France.
To read about our previous visits to Penthièvre (including how we nearly got into a fight when out on a cycle ride with pensioners!) follow the links below;
- A Postcard from Quiberon – Part 1– blighted by breakages, tricked by technology & foiled by French fusion cuisine.
- A Postcard from Quiberon – Part 2– lost at sea; French by numbers; more culinary capers…
- Fandangles in France – High Drama on the High Seas! – an ‘Optimism’ of octogenarian windsurfers requires rescue!
- “Auray or Bust” – An Exercise in Combative Cycling for 80-Year Olds! – pedal with pensioners & see if you too can get into a fight!
Join us next time as we experience a Change of Heart – and a Change of Direction!