Last Gasp at Caen

It’s the morning after the ice storm at Moliets Plage. Stepping outside at the beachside site of Le Saint Martin there is not too much to show for the night’s deluge of ice and most of our neighbours seem to have survived the storm with little or no damage except for soggy tents and awnings and a fair amount of foliage from the trees. Once again we’ve cause to be glad of our trees, which almost certainly sheltered us from the worst hits.

At the service point we wait while a father and son clear the water from their VW camper. When they open the back doors of their van a torrent of water gushes out like a geyser. Not everyone has been untouched by the storm. Once they’re clear we empty and refill our van and drive off out of the site, first to get groceries ahead of our long journey north. We begin to see a little of the devastation resulting from last night’s bombardment. A huge weeping willow in the centre of a roundabout has been toppled. As we travel on there is evidence of many more trees down and we learn later that a few lives have been lost, as well as businesses such as vineyards. Vehicles and homes have also been damaged.

Temperatures are back to summer normal, although I wonder what normal is for temperatures now. We journey on towards the north without incident, mindful of the cracked windscreen which leads us to use mostly motorways, which we wouldn’t always use.

For a swift, convenient return it works best for us to return to Parthenay, where we stayed en route to the Dordogne and where we can get a serviceable meal outside the bar. Then we’re off again towards Caen, and the port at Ouistreham, from where we’ll return to the UK; except this time we’re allowing ourselves an extra day and Husband suggests trying out the campsite, for once instead of the aire we normally use, next to the ferry terminal.

It’s overcast now, here in this northerly part of France, but not cold or raining. There’s an excellent cycle path along the river that skirts our site, the Orne, and we’ve cycled a little of it before while staying a short distance along the coast. It isn’t far along to the Pegasus Bridge, a facsimile of a world war 2 bridge, now a substantial tourist attraction with war themed cafes and gifts for sale. We’ve visited one of the cafes before and been unimpressed by the welcome from the staff so we avoid it this time.

We cross the bridge and slip down the opposite side of the river, which leads to the estuary- and it’s beautiful and wild with many foraging seabirds. Further on there’s a short stretch of nature reserve and we arrive at Merville, the tiny town we stayed in before, which has a broad beach and a few cafes. On our last visit we’d anticipated getting a meal here only to discover the bars and restaurants were all closed on Mondays and Tuesdays- commonplace in France. On our return the Pegasus bridge opens right up to allow a sailing boat through, an outstanding sight!

For our final evening though, we walk into Ouistreham and get a fine meal at a canalside restaurant, watching massive vessels glide past and through the lock gates- a fitting finale to our trip.

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From Heatwave to Ice Storm in one night

One of the great advantages of staying at Le Saint Martin, Moliets Plage is that you can turn left out of the exit and be able to get just about anything you need. A bakery, a delicatessen, clothes outlets, surf outlets, newsagent, beach items, gifts, rotisserie, a comprehensive supermarket, a cash machine, bars and an assortment of restaurants and all in easy walking distance outside of the campsite gate. To the right of the exit and up the slope are still more bars and restaurants en route to the beach.

In high season the bars and restaurants are busy, especially when people are leaving the beach, but there’s always somewhere to get a meal, beer or a cocktail in the evenings. Later or earlier in the year there’s a reduced choice and the supermarket may not be so well stocked, but now, at the start of the season we don’t need to travel anywhere to get anything.

Inside the site there is no commerce except for an ice cream kiosk, new for this year, overlooking the extensive swimming pool complex- also very different this year, new pools and slides having been added to the domed indoor pool that was here previously.

If all this sounds like publicity for Le Saint Martin I must add that our first impressions are of slight dismay- we’re not fans of holiday park type sites, on the whole. But as we settle in most things seem like the old, familiar site we love, so we’re happy enough- and besides, it is in a stunning location between the forests and the ocean, with a comprehensive network of flat cycle paths. Perfect!

When the punishing heat subsides enough to allow us to cycle we pedal out on a favourite route to Leon, a few miles away. It’s not an arduous cycle, with only one steepish climb into the village, which has one or two bars around a square and very little else. We’ve been a couple of times before, once hving to stop in the square for a puncture. This time we don’t pause for a drink, but lock the bikes and have a short wander, though there’s not too much to see.

It’s still too hot for daytime beach and although we opt to go at 7.00pm it’s still very warm indeed, with little or no breeze.

Towards the end of our week something extraordinary happens. It’s late afternoon and the temperature is around 40ish- something we’ve come to expect on this trip. Then it starts to plummet, becoming noticeably cooler. In ten minutes it has dropped ten degrees. It feels incredible- like being released from a hot bubble. The evening becomes cooler still and clouds bubble up.

It’s a more comfortable night and I get off to sleep quickly, only to be woken by a crashing, hammering, clattering noise, so loud I’m prompted to leap up to close the rooflight. Water is splashing in from a monumental deluge of ice showering the van, melting and pouring off the exterior. I hurry to close all windows. The windscreen is a falling sheet of water and the sound is ear-splitting. The raging, icy torrent lasts for several minutes then slows and subsides. We are nonplussed. What just happened?