Saturday, 4 November 2017

Wild swimming...

I've always enjoyed swimming, ever since my parents took me to the local swimming pool when I was young and, if my memory serves me well, that was so long ago that the changing cubicles were small and curtained and situated all round the pool, so if you were not careful you could inadvertently expose your bare bum to the swimmers. Not a problem for a five-year-old, not so good for her mother when said-offspring whipped the curtain back before she'd finished dressing.

That happened often.
I was impatient as a child.
Still am, a little, although I am learning to slow down.

We swam in the sea during trips to Cornwall. The funny thing is that when I think back to my childhood holidays they always seemed to have involved Cornwall and clotted cream and sandy toes and freckles and the taste of salt on my lips. And pasties and pixies, mustn't forget them. But we only ever went there twice so either I have very selective memories or it made a huge impression on me; I suspect the latter, holidays were a rare treat when I was growing up because time was in abundance but money was not. A happier situation, I think, on reflection.

When we lived on the Rock of Gibraltar my school took us swimming once a week. All year round, In the sea, But not the sea as I would describe it, no sandy beaches and gentle waves. We were given swimming lessons at a slightly oily, smelly marina place near the harbour. It was unpleasant. I learned to swim fast to get my lengths done so that I could get out.

Back in England Hertfordshire my grammar school had its own swimming pool and I, having been taught to dive from high rocks and the end of the jetty at the RAF swimming bay in Gibraltar, was selected for high-diving lessons. That impressed everyone, except me, I wanted to be in the water not constantly entering and leaving it.
 
I taught The Ragazzi to swim as soon as they'd had their first inoculations, but here I am droning on with a history of my family's attachment to water when I just meant to say that yesterday, November 3rd, I went swimming in the sea at the north Brittany coast.

And loved it.

I've been to Tregastel regularly since I came back here in June and most times I have swum, but that was when the weather was warmer. Now we're into autumn with a vengeance and so for the last few trips each time that I have swum I've declared it to have been my last swim of the year. Until the next trip when I've just had to have one more swim.

Yesterday the weather forecast was for rain at the coast but I was feeling twitchy and my feet were feeling itchy so I thought I'd pack a picnic and the dog and head north anyway. I had my riding coat in case the forecast was correct and I thought I could walk on the sand and enjoy lunch in the car and at least I'd be out of the house.

This was what was awaiting me...



   
Rain? What rain?
The day was gloriously sunny, albeit a little misty at first but then misty mornings are made for the seaside, aren't they?




Tashi and I set off walking round the corner to the next beach to see if there was any sea there. There wasn't. It was far out, low tide, not to be seen.




So we set off across the sand to search for seashells because I love collecting stuff when I am rambling around. Empty seashells for me, inhabited ones for my fellow-hunter-gatherers...




I'm not a fan of little winkly things in shells, at least not when they're on my dinner plate and especially if they are still alive when they are being consumed, but I am a huge fan of fucus and eat it whenever I can and if I can't then I pause to photograph it and to admire it.

This is the result of a biology, or was it geography, field trip on which my Northumbrian grammar school took the fifth-formers. It was to the coast for a week, so the topic I chose for my project was seaweed. Fascinating stuff, and very good to eat if you chose the right type and the right location.  




Our ramblings took us out to the castle and it being very low tide I thought it would be interesting to see what is on the other side of the little island, the side I never see from the beach.

Well! Look what we found! A beautiful sandy beach.




But it was lunchtime so we headed back to the car for our picnic and a little rest from clambering over rocks and wading though seaweed and accidentally falling into a rock pool and getting our feet soaked. (Yes, that was me, not the dog, he is much too sensible to step where it's wet.)




We sat in the car and indulged in some people-watching.

A trio of young people who had become stranded by the incoming tide and been obliged to strip and wade back to the beach with their clothes held above their heads. They passed the car half an hour later, still soaking wet and clad in thongs and T-shirts and and with their backpacks on their heads but laughing as they walked up the road away from the parked cars.




A family parked next to my car and set off to explore the rocks, Papa taking pictures while his Papa held onto the little girl ...




And then this happened and I was captivated and, it must be said, green with envy.




I mean, it's wonderful to swim with the pink castle as a backdrop and fantastic to be able to admire it between my feet as I float but, to be able to ride into the sea on horseback, well, that would really make me smile...




But, envy is a deadly sin and if I want my own horse there is absolutely nothing to stop me from finding one, except for the slight worry that I may not be around to look after it for that long and what would happen then?

I slipped into a swimsuit and pulled a sweater on top and walked down to the tide line to test the water temperature.

It was cold. Very cold. Too cold for a swim, I convinced myself.

And then a man who was wearing jeans, a sweater, a coat and wellington boots called out to ask me, in French, if I was going to plunge right in? And was I mad? And I decided, yes I was, and yes I am so I waded back to my bag on the sand, pulled off my sweater and returned to dive into the sea.

And it was wonderful.


 

Last swim of the year?
Who knows?
I am ruling out nothing, if we're lucky enough to get another day like yesterday then...




Sunday, 29 October 2017

More guests...

I've had house guests again.

This time only for twenty-four hours: their arrival was delayed by road diversions and a satav failure and getting lost on their journey from Normandy (a foreign country) to Brittany, so we missed out on the planned trip to the Pink Granite Coast and a picnic on the rocks and my (possibly) last swim of the year, tant pis, another time. 




I've known Val for years. At first virtually when she contacted me after reading A Mouse in France because she had her own French house not too far away near Huelgoat, and then we met for real in Oxford, took a weekend trip to Glastonbury and finally I made it to Cornwall where she now lives. But this was the first time I had welcomed her (and her son) to my home. I should explain that Val has a very busy life, so busy that after I have read one of her Facebook posts detailing her morning routine I am so tired I have to go for a lie down to recover.




Well, they arrived and we sat down with tea and cakes to start talking and I that, the talking, sharing ideas, experiences, trials, tribulations and triumphs.




And we continued talking over dips and tacos and an aperitif...

And over a chilli and rice dinner with wine, and the chocolate cake and tea for afters...

And as we walked Tashi round the village before the streetlights went out at 10 pm...

And then this morning we went to La Vallée des Saints in the rain where I was able to have my now-customary chat with Saint Melar while Tashi sniffed the grass...




And we were introduced to a new saint - Alar, patron saint of horses, which is why he's shown here at the forge. A most appropriate saint for a pony-mad kid of a certain age...




while other horse lovers rode past...
How nice that would be, I said to Val, riding round the statues on horseback!




Val likes my house, which makes me happy.
It is at its best when filled with friends.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Real-Life Tour Guide

Maggie and I had a blast during her six days with me and I really enjoyed being her real-life tour guide. playmate and fellow adventurer.

Too busy to blog, too busy to write my journal, even too busy to work on my TEFL course so here, in a few selected pictures is where we went and what we did...

Saints...





and swimmers...







and sight-seers...



and shoppers...






and 'splorers...






Monday, 11 September 2017

Being A Tour Guide

I have a guest.
A friend of many years, in fact we've been trying to remember when we first met, through our husbands who worked together in the late 70's.
We had lost touch and then I joined Facebook and found her.

We met again down in Dorset when I rented that gatehouse for a few days, and spent a happy day fossil hunting and lunching and playing catch-up.
And here she is, in France with me for a week of exploring and adventures.

On the first afternoon it rained so we went to La Vallée des Saints and wandered among the statues, oft times with another visitor nearby listening as I told Maggie the stories of the saints,not all of the saints, there are about seventy now and I'm not that good at memorising the guide book, but the ones that have impressed me for one reason or another. Like Saint Melar. It was a shame for the other visitors, and for the coffers of the organisation that runs the site, that the shop selling guide books was closed. A missed opportunity there, I wonder they don't have them in a bar or a shop in the local village too. Happily we had two copies, I buy one each year.

So that was the first afternoon. An introduction to Breton saints on a rain-swept hilltop.
The next day the forecast was for more rain but, this is Brittany, the weather can change from minute to minute so we went to the coast.

One of my greatest pleasures is arriving at the Pink Castle Beach and finding a high tide.




We had put swimming costumes and towels in the car, I never go out without mine these days, but we first wandered along the sand collecting shells. We are a pair of committed beachcombers, we discovered. But that sea... so blue, so calm, so empty, so, so there!

After a while I left Maggie on the rocks and snucked back to the car, changed into my cossie and before you could say "Bobbing about on a wave" I was swimming.

It was perfect. It is always perfect. On such occasions, life is perfect.




Of course, once someone realised that I was in the sea he appointed himself my lifeguard...




Once dried and dressed we drove past Ploumanac'h so that we could walk the Sentier des Douaniers.

It was breezy, blustery, blowy...
 



We took many pictures.
We stopped many times to gasp at the waves crashing against the rocks.
We paused to breath in the scents of iodine and ozone.




It just goes to show that you should pay no heed to the weather forecasts.




Towards the end of the path we took a detour into Ploumanac'h for a lunch break, then it was back on to the Sentier des Douaniers to retrace our steps back to the car.




Then a cold drink at Trégastel before winding our way home.

This is now a regular event for me, a swim in the sea, a walk along the pink granite, refreshments in Trégastel, and then home. To arrive sandy, salt-crusted, windswept or with a few more freckles but always, always with a happy heart.

I am so blessed, and so appreciative.

And Maggie has fallen in love with the Pink Granite Coast, as I knew she would!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Binic, Blackberries, Beaches and Being Brave

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the day when I arrived in France to live in the house that I had just bought, here in Brittany.

It's a funny thing life...
We think we have it sussed, plans put in place, futures mapped out, that we are in control of our destinies, steering a course from cradle to grave and, of course, that is far from true. In reality we are as little boats bobbing in a vast sea and often we are adrift without a sail, or perilously close to the rocks or becalmed in a mist and a mire.



(pic from a Twinings Tea TV advert)

I quite like watery metaphors. Can you tell?

I moved to France expecting to remain here forever, and returned to England two years later to take up what I thought would be a wonderful new career, with what I thought would be an ethical and supportive employer. I have recently signed a gagging settlement agreement with that employer which means that I am not permitted to disclose anything about my experiences with them, nor am I permitted to say anything disparaging about the events that took place while I was employed by them, which really speaks volumes.

Suffice to say there was severe stress, there were crippling anxiety attacks and then there was a diagnosis of cancer.

And so here I am.
Back in Brittany.
Having a ball.

Today I drove to Binic. Binic was the first beach that The Ragazza and I found when we moved here, and my ex-partner, aka The Someone, and I subsequently spent many happy days collecting mussels from the rocks, walking along the cliff paths with the dogs and enjoying lunches in the town. So I suppose it was natural that today I would take a trip down Memory Lane.

I'd forgotten that the road to the parking area is steep and ends at the edge of a cliff, although I notice they have built a little bank of earth to prevent people from plunging over the edge. I was still clutching the steering wheel and biting my bottom lip as the car inched down towards the drop before we swerved right onto the grass.




 And I'd forgotten how steep is the walk down to the rocky beach. And that my knees are quite arthritic and stiff and so that made for a slow and painful descent.




But coffee on the rocks was nice...




And then Tashi and I set off to climb up to the top of the cliff opposite.
Well, what can I say? I am a wimp. I suffer from vertigo, which, together with my unsteady old knees made for a quite precarious climb, and the dog didn't help running ahead and standing close to the sheer drop and disappearing from sight several times.


   

But I made it.
And the views were quite wonderful.
And I did feel a little proud of myself.




We walked along the path until we reached a place where I remembered there being a picnic table and, amusingly, a car park at the end of a much easier road, but where would be the adventure in that?




We had our picnic. Mine was a chicken baguette made with bread baked a the village boulangerie this morning and washed down with fizzy water, Tashi had scraps of chicken and a little milk while sitting gazing out to sea.




I picked blackberries.
I'm not a mad fan of blackberry pie/crumble/whatever, but I do like stewed berries on my yoghurt so a small tub of fruit was collected while Tashi explored and made friends with a passing Husky and its owners.

Some advice on those pesky toxic seaweeds...
I wasn't aware that I should inform the nearest mairie should I succumb to the hydrogen sulphide fumes, assuming that I survive, of course. That's not as silly as it sounds, a horse dropped dead on a beach near Perros Guirec a few years ago after breathing in the fumes of rotting green seaweed.




And then we retraced our steps.
All the while I worried about that descent back down to the beach,




But it was not as bad as the climb.
Michel de Montaigne, in one of his essays, wrote, "A man who fears suffering is already suffering what he fears". Smart man, wise words.

He also wrote,  "An untempted woman cannot boast of her chastity" but that's a whole other story!




I felt quite proud of myself for having strayed so far from my comfort zone, for having pushed myself past the limits of my courage and, mostly, for not having fallen off the cliff. Especially as there is a sign up there warning people against such carelessness!




One last quote?
"The strangest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage"
Michel de Montaigne