Sunday, 13 August 2017

Swimming with the tide...

Thursday dawned clear and sunny. 
After a couple of days of cold, very cold for August, temperatures and torrential rain, it would have been foolish of me not to have packed my bag and headed for the coast.

We arrived early, Tashi and I, and were surprised to see a high tide. I don't think we've ever been to that particular beach when the castle has been sitting on an island, it was quite strange, even though I have a large photographic print of just that scene, I had never seen it in the flesh, as it were.

There were several people on the beach, stripping off and preparing to plunge into the sea.
It was chilly, still only just past nine o'clock and with a stiff breeze blowing off the water. 
I hesitated. For a few seconds. And then, with Tashi safely in the car that was parked right by the beach, I stripped off and followed them.   

I didn't swim out to the castle.
I haven't really done much sea swimming for, oh, fifty years, not since my family lived on the Rock of Gibraltar and we swam in Rosia Bay, I've mostly done lengths in a chlorinated pool or splashed about with The Ragazzi as I taught them to swim, so I'm out of practice.

The waves lapped against my face, the retreating tide pulled me out to sea, I caught a knee on a submerged rock and it was cold, very cold.

But, I reminded myself, not as cold as that ice hole in the frozen Finnish lake that I keep saying I'll jump into one of these winters. And it was fun to be bobbing about in the sea on a Thursday morning when I could have been sitting at a desk in a corporate cage.

And there was a lovely feeling of companionship with the other swimmers.
Especially the large brown dog that joined me. No, I told her embarrassed owner who was standing on the beach, I didn't mind having her doggy paddle alongside me.

And then, grinning like a kid, I sat on the sand wearing a jacket on top of my wet costume and with a towel wrapped around my goosebumpy legs, and sipped coffee from my thermos flask, and thought that life can be wonderful.

Several hours, a shopping trip to Ploumanac'h and lunch in Trégastel later, the tide was low and Tashi and I were able to walk towards the castle.

Do you remember that place among the rocks where at low tide there appeared to be a perfect little swimming place? When I first found it I decided to return to check it out when I had my swimsuit and towel with me so...


Tashi was able to stand on the sand right nearby and bark without disturbing the snoozing sunbathers way back on the beach, and I was able to walk a few steps and then plunge into a channel that was deep enough for me to swim and calm and warm enough for it to be a pure pleasure.

I floated, I dipped and dived, I splashed and I swam.
And then we padded back towards the car, clambering over rocks and wading through rock pools and slopping over muddy channels, and dripping wet from my swim, to lie on the beach and let the sun dry me.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Castel Meur - Plougrescant...

I really wanted to call this post 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place' but that would have been corny and so predictable and it must have been used thousands of times already in relation to this place:

It's called Castel Meur and it is famous for having been built between two huge blocks of granite.  Of course, back in 1861 there were no restrictions on where people could construct a house, though it must have taken either a lot of courage or a large measure of stupidity to build your home with its back to the sea and at the mercy of the storms that batter this coast.

Perhaps the first owner knew that one day his home would be famous.

During the years since his death it has stood empty, served as a second home and then came into the possession of his grand-daughter, although I don't see how the numbers add up, if he built it in 1861 he would have to have been born almost two hundred years ago but who knows?

The new owner returned from America in 2004. I'm not sure if she lives there full-time but when I went there were cars outside and the front door was open so someone was in residence. It seems that the lady was not happy with the house's notoriety, and when a coachload of Japanese tourists stole some of the roof tiles as souvenirs it was the last straw, and she had a wall built to encircle the house and land, and banned the use of pictures for commercial gain, which put an end to the previously popular postcards of Castel Meur.


It's not just Castel Meur's owner who is protected in these parts, the rocks and pebbles are where the rare plover chooses to nest and to lay one or two eggs each spring.

Just as along the Sentier des Douaniers, walkers here are restricted to wire-lined paths along the sea and steered away from the flora and fauna. The result is that the area is incredibly beautiful, a real wild rock garden.

Visitors are also forbidden by law to take the pebbles from the beach.
In fact they're banned from the area of the beach where the pebbles occur lest they disturb the plovers.

Someone seems not to have heeded the warning notices...
this pebble was the size of my hand, beautifully blue and speckled, like a bird's egg.


I wished I'd taken a bag for rubbish.
There were a few bits of paper, tissues, plastic bags and cigarette ends on the paths and they offended me. I'm not averse to clearing up after other people and I do usually carry a bag for such purposes and a hand gel to protect myself from the germs - a hangover from chemotherapy days - but this time I was not well equipped.

Next time though...
When the tourists have left and I can return to enjoy a more solitary, less sociable morning.


I couldn't quite decide if the novelty of the house's location and the beauty of the shoreline would provide adequate compensation for the disruption caused by the tourists who flock to this spot.
Even an abundant supply of pine cones may not be quite enough. Have I ever told you that I love to collect pine cones? Don't even wonder why, I am just a human squirrel!


Maybe the wild fennel growing among the rocks  would help?
Fennel and freshly caught fish for supper...

and then a glass of chilled white wine as I admire the sunset and look for dolphins and whales in the granite rocks.

Please tell me you can see the baby whale?

I think that I proved how smooth a driver I am that day.
As I pulled into a car park at the restaurant for lunch someone tapped on my window and waved my fitness bracelet at me, seems it had been on the roof of my car since I'd left the car park by Castel Meur, some three miles away. Sadly those extra miles had not been added to my mileage total.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The House Rules

Last night friends came here, ostensibly for a belated birthday celebration, but really just to hang out, to eat and drink, to chat, catch up on each other's news, have fun.

And we did, until certain people kicked off.

This little guy went off to bed early.
He probably had the right idea.
I should have joined him. 

Suffice to say I was not impressed, but last night I was polite and restrained.
And today I decided to stay home, to have a quiet day with just my dog for company. 

We mooched around.
I cleaned the dining room, polished the table with bees wax, was pleased with the shine... 

Admired the flowers that one friend had brought from her garden and smiled at the perfect colour coordination, considered sketching them...

And I waited for the apologies that I thought would be forthcoming.
There were to be none.

Now this bothers me a bit. 
Maybe it shouldn't, and I am learning not to let myself be affected by the moods of those around me, not to be a sponge for their complaints or a magnifying glass for their negativity, and I do think I am getting better at not feeling responsible for everyone else.

But I do expect that friends who come to my home will act with respect and consideration.

Perhaps I should email those concerned a copy of this with a polite request that they read it and respect the house rules?

Thursday, 3 August 2017

and dog makes twenty..

That's how it feels sometimes, living with Tashi.

They say that owners and dogs become more and more alike with the passing years, and there may well be truth in that because my own started out as a confident enough puppy and has become, during the last nine years back in England, almost neurotic.

Frustrating at first, especially as I like to have adventures and I enjoy the company of my dog as I am out exploring, until it occurred to me to watch my dog's moods and see if they matched my own. And of course they did. It was an eye-opening experience.

When I was relaxed and happy Tashi was playful, he would bring me his toy to throw and we'd indulge in gentle games of tug of war over it, or he'd fight an imaginary bear on the rug, rolling and growling and looking to see if I was amused by his antics.

When I was sad he would sit at my feet and sigh deeply.

And when I was stressed and anxious and fearful my poor pup was a nervous wreck.

I daresay, on reflection, I shouldn't be surprised by his mirroring my moods. He is a dog. He depends on me. He has no way of knowing what is happening around him and takes his cues from me. Ergo, I am afraid, Tashi is afraid. And there had been much to be afraid of during those nine years.

But now we're back in Brittany.
We're in our own home where we please ourselves, where we are safe, where we can close the shutters and keep the world and its ogres at bay. When we need to.
And when we want playmates there are plenty and most of them are pretty crazy people.
And when we feel like an adventure, well, we are in Brittany.

It's time to teach my dog to relax and stop worrying.
Physician heal thyself...
So while we are both a work in progress I am adapting the adventures to be more Timid Tashi friendly. For instance, I love the beach. I especially love the beach between Trégastel and Plouman'ach, la plage de Tourony, because it is from there that I can, at low tide, walk to the pink castle and at high tide it's safe and pleasant for swimming. And, more to the point, dogs are permitted.

So far, so good.
Except that Tashi is afraid of the sea. And he is terrified when I swim in it. To his canine consciousness I am probably being devoured by this large, mass of water that persists in licking at his paws before retreating to gain strength for another attack.

The last time we were there I took him on several gentle walks into the sea while reassuring him that all was well and we wouldn't lose our toes to the Salt Monster. Eventually he relaxed a little. But not enough for me to risk a swim, and that was frustrating.

So, I have a Grand Plan.
We go to the beach at low tide, we walk all the way to the castle and there, among the rocks, we find this spot where a few paces into the water there is a drop of some six feet, thereby providing a natural swimming pool for me and a safe (and more importantly very close) place for Tashi on which to stand guard. And if he feels the need to bark a little at first, well, we'll be far enough out not to be a
nuisance to other people.

Of course, this means checking not only the weather but also the tides.
And Saturday looks like it could be ideal. Low tide at midday and sunshine is forecast.
So, watch this space....


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Le Yaudet encore une fois....

I have a new friend here, H2. 
She is busy renovating a little house, and when I say renovating I really mean rebuilding it, during her trips over from the UK, but she likes to explore and I am always ready for an adventure, so when she suggested a day out I thought of Le Yaudet.

I did not drive down the twisting road that reminds me of the Swiss Alps, nor did I drive down the truly horrible other road into the bottom of the village. I wimped out. I drove from Lannion and we arrived at the top.

And walked down a marked path onto the beach...

It was a week day. And not yet the French school holidays therefore it was quiet. Just a few people wandering on the sand, messing about with boats etc.

I much prefer walking up the hill to travelling in a car!

This is the gite at the bottom of someone's garden.
We decided we'd happily live there full time.

Stone house name.
Ty is Breton for house, not sure about Nod...

The view from a garden halfway up the hill.
Not bad, is it?

When we got to the top H2 decided it was too early for lunch so we walked down the other side to the port. The tide was coming in, the boats were bobbing and the noises made by the rigging reminded me of wind chimes.    

And then lunch...

For me, a galette with sausages, potatoes and onions

Well, of course it was followed by a salted caramel crèpe.
Yes, I am predictable but I know what I like!

Beautiful house near the restaurant...

And into the church to check out the Sleeping Virgin...
I hadn't believed that there really would be a statue of Mary in bed but yes, there was. And apparently baby Jesus is in there with her.

Many chapels in Brittany have ships, this is an area that has strong, strong ties to the sea.

One last photo on the road leaving Le Yaudet.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Back where I started...

I suppose that I should edit my profile now that I am no longer working as a Mobile Malware Threat Researcher, or living in Oxfordshire, or channel hopping between England and France. I sent my resignation to my solicitor last Monday for him to handle on my behalf, posted hard copies last Friday and am awaiting the confirmation that the agreed severance settlement has been completed.

So I am no longer working in IT which, forty years after I wrote my first line of code, is a little difficult to comprehend and that makes me smile because I never intended it to become a career, it was just a well-paying job to support me while I decided what I did want to do with my life.

It's so much easier for people now, I think, this whole work/life thing.

Now, as I tell The Ragazzo, it's possible to work from anywhere, on one's own terms, when one chooses, and if things do not work out well, move on to something else. People may shake their heads at that and say that the job market is tricky, that there is no longer job security/final salary pensions/guaranteed pay rises every year etc and that may be so but, but there is technology that has give people the means and the tools to do so much more than sit in an office or stand behind a counter as a wage slave. And there is so much information available at the click of a mouse, and free online courses, and videos explaining how to do anything from deliver a puppy to bake a cake to install solar panels etc etc, and all of that gives people the power to live their lives on their own terms. Or it should.

If I were starting out now I'd have part-time work that paid for my food, clothes and a shelter and I'd spend the rest of my time doing the things that make my heart happy; the writing, the reading, the teaching, the studying, the painting, the horse riding, the swimming in the sea, the kayaking round pink rocks.

I would not have the intimidatingly large mortgage that kept me chained to a job that, at times, was so stressful it probably contributed to my cancer. I would not have credit card bills that grew every month and that I feared I'd never clear, and I would not sell my soul to a corporate devil.

Easily said, I know, but being older and a little wiser, I would do it, somehow.

But here I am back in Brittany, in the home that I thought I'd left nine years ago and I am very grateful to have this place to return to for a saner, happier, healthier life and, I hope, a few more wild adventures!

I hadn't meant to say all of this. I'd intended to talk about a day out with a new friend and her son at Le Yaudet, or the birthday that Tashi and I spent yesterday playing at the pink granite coast, or one of the other fun things I've done since coming back, but hey, that's the way it goes sometimes.

Stay flexible. bend with the storms, turn your face to the sunshine and live a full life!


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Making hay...

The weather in Brittany is a constant source is surprise to me, it can change within hours from cold and wet to a veritable heatwave and then back to winter again. This can be challenging and sometimes depressing when plans have to be put on hold because a storm has swept in from the Atlantic, but I have learned through experience that what cannot be changed must be accommodated....

Or, make hay while the sun shines and when it doesn't, write books
Or bake bread
Or, learn a language
You get the idea?

And when the sun returns, well, this is how I spent a day last week when the sun shone in a beautiful Breton-blue sky and wanderlust and a longing for the sea overcame me....

Le Sentier des Douaniers

Walking towards Plouman'ach
In the company of some (mostly) French visitors, several of whom were tanned, fit and in running gear which, considering the blistering heat, was very impressive, a few couples had kids in pushchairs or in back carriers and some more senior folk used sticks to help them on the path.  

I have a book at home in which the more famous rock formations are described and named; the bottle, the sorcerer etc and while I can see the shapes and while I do agree that they could be described as such, to me they are all animals and everywhere I look I see whales and dolphins, crouching cats and eagles.

I would need to take you along to see the rocks through my eyes...
And perhaps you would need a more vivid imagination or, perhaps, a glass or two of Kir to help you.

And I readily admit that some days I see nothing but a pile of rocks.
Albeit pretty and pink but still, just rocks.

And on those days pretty pink rocks are more than enough, especially when the background is a blue sea under a cloudless sky.

Of course the dog sees the same animals in the rocks that I do.

My dolphin...

Here is the famous bottle. Me, I see a baby whale.

Well, I did see a giant cat's paw, I'm sure I did!

We clambered down the rocks to dip our toes in the sea.
I really, really wanted to swim, and I had worn my swimsuit under my skirt and shirt and brought a towel in case the opportunity presented itself but there was nowhere safe with the tide low.

One of the boats carrying holiday makers on a trip to Les Sept Iles. When friends and I did that trip a magnificent sea mist descended and we were unable to see the Pink Granite coast from the sea.

The lighthouse is somewhat famous. Most people take a picture of it. The house is a private residence, I can't help wondering if its location makes up for the annoying sightseers constantly passing the sign on the gate that declares 'PRIVEE'.

In the past the feet of so many visitors trampling on the plants caused a great deal of damage and that led to soil erosion and that led to the plants dying and ... vicious circle.

Some years ago it was decided to take steps (no pun intended) to restore the environment and teams of volunteers worked hard to install signs asking people to stick to the paths and not to cross the low wires onto the heather, grass, wild honeysuckle and orchids and....

They have transformed the Sentier des Dounaiers.

Last attempt to convince you, please tell me that you can see the ape's face in this picture?

No? OK then I'll let you see your own shapes....

We walked for two miles and were hot, tired but happy.
And I got my swim.

We had to go to Trégestal to find somewhere safe for both me and the dog.
The sea was warm and the tide was coming in and it was lovely, just lovely.