Wimereux – a stormy adventure with silver linings

My brother-in-law had been going to the north coast of France for many years.  In his youth, he and a friend braved the Channel in a dinghy, and (with a stroke of luck, having got lost mid way) – they  finally made it to Boulogne.  Mickey is also a rail enthusiast and it was because of this he found himself after one of his trips a few miles up the coast, leaving the train at Wimereux.  And so began a love affair with this small country town by the sea.

When my sister married him, she also became enamoured of this Hulot -esque, unspoiled spot with its fabulous ‘digue’ (promenade) and picturesque architecture.

Mickey was in poor health now in his ninetieth year  and needed to be in a wheelchair much of the time but he longed to go back once more to Wimereux.  It was slightly risky but we got a letter from the doctor to say he was fit to travel and off we went.

We’ve made it to the Channel Tunnel … racing towards France

Horse power and mega horse power 2017 … we board the train … Mickey sleeps on …

The tunnel is an astonishing feat of engineering and we are soon on the other side,  en route to Wimereux …

The open road …

We take the coast road rather than the autoroute.  Traffic free – with fabulous views … my stress levels falling by the minute …

Coastal route – a joy to drive

‘Hotel du Centre’ – safe arrival

The resident guardian

We have two rooms opposite one another.  Mickey and Christine have an additional small sitting room with comfortable sofa and TV.  Their window overlooks the garden.  I love my spacious room with giant size bed.  The bathroom is tiny but ‘perfectly formed’!  A welcome hot shower sets me up for the afternoon and evening ahead. With even a chink of uninterrupted peace to read a couple of chapters of my book. Bliss!

The sea awaits, five minutes walk from the hotel.

Wimereux sea air

Seagulls at Wimereux

It’s very windy but we catch the sun and enjoy a drink at the local café, while watching the waves rolling in …  wonderfully exhilarating… and with supper to look forward to …

The hotel owner’s sister has a welcoming restaurant looking out over the sea.  She is so hospitable, rushing out to help us with the wheelchair. Mickey’s eyes light up at the thought of his favourite ‘moules’.

The restaurant by the sea

… and a favourite bowl of ‘moules marinières’ …

By the time we had finished our supper, the wind was howling like a banshee around the building and we struggled with a bumpy ride home.

The night did not go well.  Christine woke up in the small hours in a pool of blood.  Mickey had somehow cut himself.  He is on warfarin, which thins the blood.  Disaster was narrowly averted.

Breakfast is served in a conservatory, which extends into the garden.  Christine and I learned how to eat kiwi fruit without getting the juice all over our fingers.  We copied the stolid Belgian couple on the next table.  Why did we never think of this?  A mysterious face looked down on the diners, high above the coffee machine.

Enigma in the breakfast room …

Mickey had made it to breakfast but we then tucked him up on his sofa and brought him ‘Le Monde’  and ‘Figaro’ newspapers.  The hotel will bring him coffee.

A blustery and fierce wind greeted us as we made our way once again to the sea. What a shocking but thrilling site awaited.  The ‘digue’ was awash with waves, the force of them sending spray high into the air.  There was no point in looking for a coffee in one of the cafés on the sea front  –  they were completely cut off  –  and closed down against the storm.  And yet the sun was bright and we felt lucky to be here. Carpe diem!

Wimereux – waves rolling in a bit too far – I’m feeling quite high on the ozone front!

The drama unfolds …

Surfing …  along the ‘digue’ – Wimereux

After the storm …

A trip to Boulogne market (twenty minutes away) seemed like a good idea before lunch.

Boulogne – old …

Boulogne – new

I bought a bunch of the sweetest, tastiest, small black grapes – probably from Greece.  Also a small, flat, soft leather purse for 2 euros – perfect for keeping coins re parking.

Lunch at the local bakery – with a model fishing boat.

With Mickey back at the hotel for his afternoon nap, we explored the town.  Some of the old houses are quite unusual.

The coloured house by the shore – Wimereux

Houses on the beach – Wimereux

Pavillon des Dunes – good for a film set?

Le Rayon Vert

This house overlooks the sea.  It must be called ‘Le Rayon Vert’ after the film by Eric Rohmer of the same name.  Sometimes, at sunset, as the sun slips below the horizon, there is a green flash as it splashes into the sea.  I have never seen this (except in the film) but hope to one day.

Wimereux – bathing huts

A typical street view near the sea …

Religious automobiles?!  Mixed media?!  Puzzling! Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Christopher officiate over Express Automobiles …

Back to the sea front.  The sea was still rough and we found the local youth risking life and limb …

The local youth flex their muscles …

A new day …

We had one afternoon left.  Mickey was already asleep after his favourite ‘Croque Monsieur’ at lunchtime, so we decided to drive along the coast two miles to a fort at Ambleteuse.  This was built by Vauban on the orders of King Louis XIV.  Access is at low tide only. The fort is open in the summer months, so we only got a view of its dramatic location in the sea.

The fort at Ambleteuse, built by Vauban – low tide

I was keen to get back in time to watch the sunset at Wimereux.  The sky was clearing after the storm and maybe I’d get to see ‘le rayon vert’!

The storm is over but there’s a chill in the air.  The hotel has a good restaurant, so we can eat ‘at home’.  I realise how frail Mickey is now but he still enjoys a good French dinner. And he’s a trouper, keeping going against all the odds.

I put on a warm scarf and make my way down to the ‘digue’ to watch the sunset.  The colours are spectacular.

Golden sunset …

Wimereux windsurfer

Hand in hand …

No ‘rayon vert’  tonight though.

The sun slipped beyond the horizon leaving a glow, like embers in a dying fire. Couples were walking hand in hand along the shore, people strolling with their dogs.  What would it be like if you lived here and often had this experience? Everybody looked content, nodding ‘bonsoir’ as they passed by.  I sat on the wall,  just happy to be part of the scene and for once feeling calm and peaceful, away from all responsibilities.  And the sea, which had been so rough and wild, was calm too in the chill of the coming night.

Evening light

The end of the day …

Windsurfers persevered as darkness flooded in.  A dog walked along the shoreline.

Looking out to sea …

Twilight –  or in French, ‘crépuscule’ …

The dusky, pastel colours here remind me of Monet. I recommend a fabulous book by Ross King called ‘Mad Enchantment’ which is about Monet and the painting of the water lilies.  Ross King is an excellent writer.

We go home tomorrow.  For such a short sojourn I feel amazingly restored and fulfilled.  A change of scene in beautiful surroundings lifts my spirits, changes my attitude to life in general.  I hope Mickey feels this too.  We did wrap him up well against the elements as we sped him along the promenade in the wind and the sun. He had the right idea in wanting to come here one last time. Now we just have to get him home in one piece!

It’s market day and once we’ve packed up the car we just have time to see what’s on offer.  I buy dried fruits from Morocco, honey from Provence and special biscuits from Wimereux.

Wimereux fruit and veg …

Wimereux biscuits

The coast road 1

The coast road 2

We make good time to Calais.  Mickey is deeply asleep, ensconced amongst his cushions and chunky Kit-Kats in the back of the car.  At passport control the officer insists on waking him up to make sure he and his passport agree.  At least precautions are being taken against terrorists.  Mickey passes the test!

Passport control

The train is delayed so we manage to settle Mickey down in the lounge with a sandwich, which attracts a perfect little French sparrow, as crumbs scatter on the floor.

Le petit moineau – the little sparrow …

Finally, we’re on our way.  My sister is as practical as I am the opposite. She’s truly impressive with logistics.  Au revoir, France.  We hope to return very soon.  I am a European at heart!


PS  The book I was reading was “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories’ by Penelope Lively.  Now in her 80s, she still has a keen and observant eye and a black sense of humour.  Genteel ladies are not always what they seem – she uncovers the deeper traits of human beings through the minutiae of daily life.  Wise and funny.

PPS  Michael Green (journalist, actor and humorist) died on 25 February 2018.  There was a full page obituary in ‘The Times’, another in ‘The Telegraph’ plus ‘The Leicester Mercury’ (where he started his career).  He was 91.

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