Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Lost for Words

Written 9th December

I am actually, for once, lost for words - unbelievable I know!  We have been to the wierdest, most surreal place I have ever been - Dune de Pilat and it is indescribable.

Obviously I am now going to try and find many words to describe the indescribable but I doubt I shall do it justice and the pictures will also be inadequate (but then as not one of the professional photographs managed to capture the scale or vast surrealness of the place, I don't feel so bad about that) so you will all just have to pack up and go yourselves.

We knew that Dune de Pilat is the biggest sand dune in Europe, and reading the information board in the carpark which baldly describes it as being 4000 years old, 105m high, 500m wide, 2.7km long and containing 60M cubic metres of sand is all very well but nothing prepared us for the actuality of the thing.

You walk down a forest path and through the trees you start seeing glimpses of sand through branches in strangely high up places - which strikes you as a bit odd - then you round the corner, and there is suddenly a wall of sand in front of you, literally like a mountain. 

Not being a skier, I don't know what the gradient of a black run is -the impression is very snow like with a brief nursery slope then black run - but from the look of the steps which get laid out on the slope for summer (and are currently stacked in pieces at the bottom) the slope is 1:1.

Of course we climbed to the top - again much like snow, it is very much one step forward, two steps back in places until you learn to really dig your toes in

- and it just gets wierder as you now find yourself effectively on a rolling, windswept sandy beach but on one side there is a seemingly sheer drop into the forest, and in the other you can't see the edge but you can see from the tiny boats on the sea below that you are a long way up.

It is just surreal

To get back down, you walk as far to the north eastern edge as possible and then throw yourself off - well not quite but that's what it feels like.  Down is a lot a lot of fun with a bouncy moonwalk-like slidely gait that fills your shoes with sand - they reckon that the top changes height between 1-4 metres every year and with the amount of sand I have taken away and am still finding in my shoes when I put them on, I'm not surprised

As light was fading and it was slightly misty when we first went up - a break from an afternoon of fettling in the carpark which saw the starter moter out, inspected and replaced (we're still not sure why it is making the odd squealy noise but the flywheel ring gear seems ok, which was a worry (engine out job) and we now have all the part numbers (and it is a bosch standard part) so if it breaks, we can at least get a new one) and the new throttle, remodified and reinstated (honestly, couldn't cope with the racing idle of the old one which was such that even on a slightly uphill road, taking your foot off the accelerator didn't mean that the van slowed down!) so we went up again the following morning and with better weather, clearer skies and some notion of what to expect, it was still just as unspeakably wierd.

We walked along the ridge to the visible peak, only to find, as you do, a further peak in the distance, and then back along the gently sloping seaward side watching the oyster boats chug out down the channel from the Basin of Arcachon to their fishing spots in the sandbar

- even the sun came out and it was t-shirt weather in december in this unlikely paradise - just amazing.

Bill, if you haven't already been, this is a place you would love for that "walk round a corner and it makes you go wow" feeling.  But go in December or January when then carpark is free and you can camp.  In fact all of you, go in December or January when the carpark is free and you are one of maybay 20-30 people (most of whom are spanish) rather than the rest of the year whe you will be one one 1.5M people - ok you don't get the steps but I think the climb is part of the fun :)  And go soon, for despite all their efforts, it is being eroded by the sea on one side and the wind and sand slides into the forest on the other and will eventually no longer be here....

With all new bits installed and all old bits reinstalled, we set of south again and spent the night and much of the following day in a leafy aire de camping-cars (again, free in December) in Seignosse-Ocean, a small village in tourist beach coast heaven - although eveyone thinks of the mediterranean south of france as being the place to go for beach holidays, they are apparently pebbly (we'll let you know if this is true in February),

this is the corner of france for expanses of golden sandy beach set back with campsites and holiday cottages in pine forests.  And we're on the same map page as Spain!!

Will spent the morning re-writing his software - the idle is indeed now properly controlled with the stepper moter rather than those switches (although somehow not doing quite the right thing yet) and he has blocked up a whole load of air leaks so needs to re-write his fuel map - and I spent a happy morning painting in my sundappled leafy glade as, due to over-zealous sanding and then a lack of further paint, the front is showing spots of orange again :(  all sorted now though and we are back to unsanded grey and I am once again up to date daisy-wise.

After a drive through Bayonne and Anglet in rush hour traffic, we have spent the night in an aire de camping cars in Biarritz - apparently all the campsites in the region are closed for the season! - surrounded by behemoths with satellite dishes and very loud TVs (we think the occupants are old) and after a pint each in a beach cafe which came to €10 we probably won't be staying too long...

and after 3 days of steak and potatoes in various forms, we had duck sausages last night - 68% pork, 32% duck - odd, not on a dune de pilat scale of odd (my new measure for oddness) but odd nonetheless.  on balance, will probably stick to normal sausages

But it is so exciting.  Even just driving through, the place feel different somehow from other places we have so far been in france, the signs are in french, basque and spanish (which is good as we now know the words for "town centre", "tourist office" and "all routes" which I suspect may come in handy!) there are hills here in town, and hazy mountains in the distance and palm trees with fairy christmas lights!!  and Spain, twinkling over the corner of sea...

right, dawn has well and truly broken, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, so it is time for chinese tea and adventures....

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant stuff - what an education.

    No, I missed he giant sand dunes but see on GoogleWorld they are spectacular. Top of my list for next Spring. Also, looking at GW, I think I will invest in permanant on-line facility for next trip - and the Autoroute GPS gizmo to get a wider view of what I'm just missing! So as not to miss such nearby treats. I find zooming around GW easier than reading moungs of guide books.
    What a dream it was travelling through the mountain pine forests in the late Autumn as I did and you are.
    If you are dropping down through Burgos try the N623 route from Santander - you won't be disappointed......beware one very long drag of a hill at the outset.

    Did you manage to get an electric hook-up in Biarritz or did all the oldies get ahead of you.

    Glad to see you're not spending too many twenty squids on camp-sites. For major towns I favour parking in side turnings of main shopping streets - usually auto-loo's around. You will miss your lay-in though as you'll need to feed the parking meter at 9.

    All the best