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?

Cycling, Stifling and Seizing up…

So, south west France is currently suffering its second heatwave in a matter of weeks. When we arrived, though, the first heatwave had yet to begin…

You know you’re about to enter Les Landes by the way the scenery changes from fields and countryside into endless miles of pine forest. Occasionally the forest might be punctuated by a village, but mostly it’s mile upon mile of tall conifers reaching up into what- whenever we’re there- is a blue sky.

The drive from overheated, stuffy Bergerac has been a relief, with a cool breeze blowing throught the open windows of the van and once we’ve pulled up at Le Saint Martin, our site at Moliets Plage, the air is fresher.

Le Saint Martin is a huge, undulating site with direct beach access, if you are prepared to scale the dunes that fringe the edge; or you can make a more demure and leisurely walk by exiting the site and ambling up the slope from the outside car park.

The beach here is vast, as it is almost all the way down this west coast, with boisterous Atlantic rollers crashing onto pale, soft sand and retreating in a watery mist. A narrow strip of the beach is strictly surveyed by lifeguards, the margin demarcated by red flags. An occasional bark over a tannoy indicates that someone has transgressed by going outside the zone. It sounds draconian, but the seas are treacherous with a powerful undertow. We’ve seen a helicopter airlift swimmers from the sea here before.

There are spaces available and we park up and settle in, getting bikes off in readiness for a cycle- something we’ve not done in the Dordogne due to heat, hills and traffic. But now could be our chance- with all the long, flat, tarmac-ed cycle paths criss-crossing the forests everywhere.

One pressing issue is our damaged windscreen, which needs attention. But it seems nobody wants to come out and deal with it. We’re assured by the insurance company that the screen is ‘laminated’ and cannot shatter. I’m sceptical.

The weather begins to heat up again- even here in this breezy, beachside location. Once again we’re polaxed by it, dossing about in the shade. We’re entertained by the antics of tiny tots- the children of the many German families here- as they play together, although the increasing heat begins to induce tantrums and whining amongst some of them. It starts to look like cycling may not be a great idea, at least not until evening.

But after a second day of indolence I’m wanting to do something, so towards the end of the afternoon we ready the bikes and prepare to make an attempt. We’re used to the cycle paths here and have ridden them many times, in many directions. There are two moderate inclines out of Moliets Plage then you’re in the village and on to the forest cycle tracks. As we progress further into the trees I’m glad I remembered to apply insect repellant on top of my sunblock; even so, horseflies are trying to attack, crawling on my sunglasses and brushing my legs as I pedal. Once- on the coast near Bordeaux- horseflies got up between my T-shirt and the skin of my back, covering it with itchy bites that turned into hard, hot lumps, causing a lot of discomfort-especially at night.

After half an hour or so I begin to feel lightheaded- a sure sign of heat stress. I also notice that Husband’s pedalling [he’s in front] seems laboured, as though he’s finding the flat path hard work. We stop for water then decide we should turn back. Perhaps a cycle wasn’t such a good idea?

It becomes clear, then, as Husband’s bike seizes up entirely, just as it did a couple of years ago on the Nantes-Brest Canal path. Heat has caused the oil in the hydraulic brakes to expand and bind once more, meaning cycling is impossible. It’s fortunate that we’re not too far from our site as he has to push it back- a much harder job than cycling- and back up and down the two slopes, too.

We’re at Le St Martin for a week. Will we ever get a cycle in? Even a trip to the beach feels Herculean…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

The Lure of Simple Pleasures

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            We’ve been spending a few days at a favourite site here in South West France. Situated on the Atlantic coast on the peninsula created by The Gironde, Le Gurp nestles in pine woods by a beach that stretches on almost as far as the eye can see, stroked by azure Atlantic rollers crashing on to the sand in frothy crescents.
This camp site is almost entirely visited by German holiday makers, who flock here for the waves, which are perfect for surfing and for its proximity to the beach, which is surveyed by lifesaving personnel and has soft, white sand, a couple of showers and a car park. The proliferation of Germans [and surfers at that] makes for a Boho, hippy atmosphere where strings of bunting, flags, drapes and all manner of camper vehicles abound-like a Mad Max movie.

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           Sites vary as much as hotels do. If your preference is for infinity pools, spas, cocktail bars, beauty salons and karaoke you could have it. If, like us you prefer a beautiful location, a clean, warm, efficient shower, security, space and the basics Le Gurp is the place.
We happened upon it the first summer we travelled to the Gironde with a tent, twenty or so years ago. The site we were on, near to Soulac [having supposedly booked to no avail] was tightly packed with chalets and boasted raucous entertainment each night. During a cycle trip we found Le Gurp beach and site. Could we book? No-it is a municipal site but is vast. There was plenty of space so we moved.
From the site a network of tarmac cycle tracks radiate through the pine forests to tiny, pretty villages like Grayan et l’Hopital and Talais or bustling seaside towns like Montalivets [which has an extensive and boisterous Sunday market] or Soulac-which is touristy but pleasant. On our first visits here we were runners, jogging every morning along the forest tracks in hot sunshine as many continue to do. Later [and older] we took to cycling. On the way to Montalivets by bike you’ll go past the tight brush-work fencing of ‘Euronat’-supposedly Europe’s largest naturist holiday park, although anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of naked tennis or boules-in-the-buff will be disappointed. If you’re bent on spotting unclothed bodies a stroll along the beach in either direction will reveal plenty of devotees-but it’s not a pretty sight!
A short walk [or shorter cycle] over the hillock from the camp site towards the beach takes you past a surf shop, a small supermarket, a newsagents/beach shop, a boulangerie, a launderette and several bars and restaurants-not a massive development but everything, in fact that the average German camper needs or wants.
During the day tiny children play among the pine trees, peddling madly around the tracks on bikes and ganging together to play with sticks and pine cones before being taken to the beach. Here there are no organised activities, there is no pool, nothing but a couple of swings and a climbing frame to amuse them-and so they amuse themselves. Camping is surely the best holiday a child can have?
In these late summer evenings, the sun sets like flames through the pine trees and as twilight descends the site comes alive with twinkly lights from tents and vans. There will be an occasional gentle strum of guitar and groups of al fresco diners will sit up chatting into the night over bottles of wine. You could sit outside with a glass or two or stroll over to one of the beach bars for a late drink. Wonderful.

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