European Escapades

Playing in the Sand




looks easy from this angle Looks easy from this angle.

We head out of Bordeaux and onto the west coast of France to go see a sand dune, which seems to be popular in the area. We arrive and park in a large wooded car park where there are few coaches and numerous cars and motorhomes. Seems we have found a popular attraction here. As we walk out of the car park along a well trodden path, we pass the usual tourist type cafes and novelty shops, selling postcards and bucket and spades. I wonder if we have found the French equivalent of Blackpool just west of Bordeaux. As we navigate a bend in the path, I look up and see what appears to be a rather large sand dune with a number of people clambering up the side of it. Not one to shy away from a challenge I decide that it must be a nice view from the top and it would be worth the small effort to ascend to see what all the fuss was about.

Frances decided that the view from the bottom, watching the climbers trying to get to the top was pleasing enough. I took my shoes and socks off as I assessed my plan of attack. Was I going to go around the side of the dune or go for a full frontal assault? Watching a few young guys and girls heading up the face and a few old farts navigating the milder side route I had decided. The frontal attack it was going to be it.

I started up at a pace, but soon realised that sand is a little different from a normal hillside. When you plant your foot in a slope of sand, your foot tends to find itself almost at the same point as where it started. As you climb, the sand compresses and slips back down the slope and takes you along with it. So it’s a case of three steps forward and two steps back. After climbing for what seemed like a reasonable distance you find you have only got about thirty feet up the dune. I sit down and decide through laboured breath that maybe the side route is not that bad after all. Five minutes to recuperate and I’m off to the side to connect with the shallower path. Unfortunately even moving horizontally across a sand dune means you’re going downhill for every step forward, and I find I’m not that much further off the ground from when I started my ascent from the bottom. Maybe Frances had the better idea in the first place. But I’m a man and as all men know, there is nothing worse than admitting defeat, or admitting that you’re lost. We all know men don’t get lost, they just don’t know where they are at that precise moment and we are too stubborn to admit to defeat either. I stand looking down at Frances smiling, knowing I cannot go down and the only way is up. I look ahead and start my climb again , clambering over the first dune summit where I cannot be seen from below and I sit down trying to catch my breath again. Ten minutes this time and I’m ready for the next phase of the climb. Young children all around me seeming to be inexhaustible, I spy a middle aged man looking as if he is just about to have a heart attack scrambling along on his hands and knees as he navigates his way towards my spot. Spurred on I reach the three quarter mark where I can now look down upon the bar and the shops below. A small wave to Frances, I don’t know if she saw me but it feels good to be up here looking down. However this is not top but a level area to enjoy the view as you prepare for your final challenge. As I scan the dune I see three people in an area almost devoid of anyone else, one with a large camera and tripod, the others, a man and a woman dress as if out of a Laurence of Arabia film set. Seems they are on a photo shoot and need to replicate a desert scene as the guy pears above the edge of a small dune posing for the photographer. I laugh as it must be quite hard trying to find a small bit of dune for the task, with people scurrying all over the dune towards the beach below. I also spot a number of kite boarders just off the beach, kicking off from the water’s surface into the air showing off their acrobatic talents, for them to contend with as well.

View from the top of the dune View from the top of the dune.

My final ascent and I make it to the top noting as I do the way the dune is rolling though the forest area below, eating trees and vegetation as it moves at a sedate pace of four metres a year. I am told it has already swallowed a road and a house on its journey and I guess if I do not get back down to Frances soon, she may go the same way. It is one thing to have to clamber up around the side of a dune; it’s another matter altogether deciding on how you’re going to get down. Off to my left is a guy that seems to be having fun, as he grabs his girlfriend’s legs and pushes her backwards onto the slope of the dune. It takes her at least fifteen feet down, before she can stop her decent and then has to wrestle back up to the top to get her revenge on him. One last look at the stunning views of the forest and the sea and I’m off down the side of the dune attempting to walk, yet running at a forty five degree angle trying to keep my balance. For what took over thirty minutes to climb, I descended in about two. I rush downwards to where Frances is standing waiting for me. We move to the bar next to the dune, to enjoy a cool refreshing beer in the sun and watch all the other people around us attempt the climb. A man dragging his wife, both hands behind her as he pushes and cajoles an unwilling participant in the climb ascend a few more feet. The two black guys taking my fool hardy frontal approach, cheered on by their two friends sitting enjoying a beer behind us. One crawling on hands and knees as he finally makes the lower summit some sixty minutes after he started. The father of a family of four, looking like a Sherpa as he struggles up the slope with a large backpack, picnic basket and sundry other items. Having to stop every few minutes, to doll out drinks and snacks to his eager children along the route.

The dune is about 60,000,000 m³, measuring around 500m wide (from East to West) by 3km long (from North to South). Its height is 107 metres above sea level and as such is the largest sand dune in Europe. Would I recommend a visit? A whole hearted yes to that as I have not had this much fun for a while. Not only playing in the sand personally, but watching other people playing in the sand as well.

This entry was posted on Sunday, April 4th, 2010 at 7:46 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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