Springtime in Northern France
After our wonderful sailaway party and boat blessing we spent the first week of our new life in the Solent. There were still a few jobs on the list that needed to be completed before we crossed the channel, namely batteries. We finally left on Friday 4th at 5.30 am. It was drizzling and misty as we left England without knowing when we would return.
We arrived in Bray harbour on Alderney at 18.15, our first island, having had a fantastic first sail. We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and watched the sun go down.
The next day we went ashore to explore in the spring sunshine. We walked around the sleepy village and the interesting museum with lots of exhibits about the war. We left Bray harbour on Monday 6th and sailed down to St Peter port; the place was deserted.
While there we went shopping, my favourite, and its VAT free! One of the things we bought ourselves was a digital SLR camera with a detachable zoom lens, just the thing to photograph all the wildlife we hope to see! We stayed 3 nights and got our 4th night free.
We decided against an early start because that would have put us at Lezardrieux at low water, we left later to get there at high water instead. It’s important to arrive at slack water (high or low tide) because it’s reported that as much as 5kts of current runs through the pontoons. We left St Peter Port at 10.00. Bill put the French courtesy flag up just before 18.00 in the rain and we took the sails down ready to motor up the river. We eventually tied up in Lezardrieux at 20.30 our first French port.
The next morning we enjoyed our first French breakfast; we had arrived in France.
We spent 4 nights there altogether. On Easter Sunday we spent most of the day walking back down the estuary along a marked footpath.
It was a wonderful walk that took us along the bank of a natural stream that had lots of wild spring flowers growing along its banks and beautiful fern fronds stretching out into the spring sunlight. It was muddy in places but also opened out onto the waters edge with fantastic views of the jagged rocks that guard the entrance to the river. The thought of my Easter egg on our return kept me going!
We left Lezardrieux at 13.00 and motored around to Tréguier. We arrived in the rain and it rained most of the next day, which was a pity because Tréguier is a beautiful town. It’s set high above the port and is a meandering medieval wonderland that has retained many of its ancient half-timbered buildings. The stone spire of the cathedral is full of holes, to offer least resistance to the wind, and contains the very ornate tomb of St Yves, the patron saint of lawyers, bizarrely. Parts of the cathedral date back to the 11th century.
We left Treguier at 7.15 just as it was getting light. The rain had stopped and the sun was trying to peep through the broken cloud. It was lovely to breathe in the crisp fresh air. We arrived at Perros-Guirec at 11.30 half an hour after high tide but unfortunately too late for the lock gates that already closed. We made a quick exit because we were in an area that dries to nothing at low tide.
We motored out to the edge of the low water line and put our anchor down, our first night of the season at anchor. We saw the most beautiful rainbow.
The following morning we decided to go to Ploumanac’h which was only an hour around the headland. We had originally decided against it as you need to motor through a rocky entrance to get in and they don’t look very friendly on the chart.
The trip round was beautiful because the sun was out and shining on the waterline that was strewn with large boulders of pink granite rock of all shapes and sizes. We found the entrance channel and crept slowly in over the rocks and the entrance sill, the tide was still in so it was fine.
Once inside it opened into a really pretty village with lots of mooring buoys across the middle of the water. There was a beautiful sandy beach just inside the harbour that was surrounded by more of these stunning boulders. They were all shapes and sizes that had lain there for millions of years while the elements had eroded them into soft and organic forms. Many of them stacked improbably giving the impression that they had no right to be there and were going to topple into the sea the moment you looked away.
Saturday we took the bus into Lannion. It’s an historic city with streets of medieval housing.
We climbed the 142 granite steps to the 12th century Brélévenez church. It was a pretty climb with many picturesque houses with gardens full of spring flowers along the way. The view from the terrace was stunning. We walked back down to the town and through the medieval streets to find a tiny restaurant tucked in amongst them. We ordered the set menu without quite knowing what we had ordered. We needn’t have worried because a beautiful rump steak turned up followed by a delicious chocolate pudding.
On Sunday the weather was cloudy but we still went ahead with the 5-mile walk along the coast back to Perros-Guirec taking in the full extent of the boulders. It took us several hours but we got there. It really is a spectacular coastline.
I couldn’t resist trying to lift this one! We took a picnic and sat on a bench overlooking the beach eating it with the wind blowing but soon, very soon the sun will shine.
We got up early to cross the sill before the tide dropped too far. We motored over the sill with bated breath because we draw 1.9m and the tide gauge was already down to 2.3m but we passed across unscathed. We crept back out through the narrow entrance, past the spectacular rock formations, and into the open sea. It was light but the sun wasn’t up yet.
At 7.45 a red ball appeared over the light mist that had formed in pockets between the rocks setting the pink granite rocks on fire – our first sunrise this year. It rose further into the sky making beautiful reflections in the oily smooth sea; who said April was too early to leave? We arrived off Morlaix entrance just after 10.00, an hour before low tide, too early to venture up stream to the lock so we ghosted in between the islands and anchored while we waited for the tide. There was still not a breath of wind and the sun was getting hotter, this is more like it.
Bill decided to put his shorts on for the first time this year as we relaxed in the sun. We enjoyed lunch in the sunny cockpit and then motored up to the lock arriving at 2.30 pm.
We spent a week in Morlaix altogether. We spent many hours exploring the town, which has many attractive buildings that have survived from its medieval heyday.
It was originally protected by an 11th century castle and a circuit of walls, sadly little is left of either but the cobbled streets with their half-timbered houses still remain. Many have been restored and still have most of their original timbers, some of which came from the structure of ships. There is a viaduct that carries the railway over the town. Morlaix was the closest we could get to the Breton Parish Closes each of which comprise of a walled churchyard which in addition to the church incorporates a cemetery, a calvary and an ossuary.
The Ossuaries now hold nothing more alarming than some picture postcards but were originally charnel houses used to store the exhumed bones of less recent burials. Inside the churches are magnificent examples of hand carved pulpits, baptisteries and, for me the best of all, beautiful altar walls. One of which covered the entire end wall with gilded carvings and sculptures surrounding icons; truly magnificent. We visited 3 of the best known examples within 2 or 3 miles of each other. When they were created each village tried to be better than their neighbours. We cycled out to see them on a beautiful sunny day. The problem came when we had to cycle back. The guidebook said they were 10km away but on the way back we saw a signpost that gave 17kms to Morlaix! We cycled 32 miles altogether that day and my bottom felt every one of them. We’ll leave it there!
We stayed longer than intended because we wanted to see the Saturday market that went right up through the old medieval streets. Unfortunately we regretted doing that because the weather closed in around us. We left on the Monday and motored through the lock back down the river into the sea. We had arrived in t-shirts and were leaving in full foulies; how fickle the weather is. We hoisted the sails with 2 reefs in the main and a scrap of genny. It was blowing a NW4-5, raining with squalls and quite a swell. We motored through the Ile de Batz channel described by Tom Cunliffe as ‘a rock-strewn, tide-scoured chamber of horrors’ that cuts the corner off and gave us some shelter. It is indeed rock strewn but with careful planning we passed through unscathed. The swell was now coming in from the west straight off the Atlantic along with the wind but it was too late to go back. Bill managed to helm the boat very well; he seemed to enjoy it. We took the sails down at 13.30 because we were now headed and motored towards L’AberWrach. The swell was horrendous and easily 20ft high with very little distance between them; the channel wasn’t going to let us leave without a fight. Bill turned into the entrance at 14.30 and by 15.00, thankfully, we were tied up on the pontoon.
So that takes us to the end of April, northwest France and the choppy channel. Biscay and pastures south now beckon us beyond Le Four.