The first part of half-term wasn't in France. P rented a canal boat with our friends the Laxtons, while I worked. They saw a trebuchet in action at Warwick, and ate at some great pubs, particularly the Buck and Bell at Long Itchington. The dog fell in twice: Jane once. Don't use boat poles like the boys are doing on the left. Use a rope.
Meanwhile, Scott was visiting Cambridge for a Linux convention, so we went to a couple of fancy restaurants. I ordered the leeks at Restaurant 22. I thought they would be a post-modern witty apotheosis of the leeks described here, but they were a closer relative. At the mercilessly expensive Midsummer House, you can see Scott injecting a syringe of snail concentrate and me eating a foie gras lollipop. We could hear a cook throwing a hissy fit in the kitchen.
I bought six old Charlie Brown books to keep the kids amused through the drive to the Chunnel, though Ross soon went back to the 1,000-page Musashi. In Calais we ate at La Pléiade and walked the dog. (In the Picture, P is wearing a daisy-chain made by Claire.) Then we drove south, intending to make Dieppe, but since we had to return to Calais by Sunday to have a vet validate Jasper's dog passport, I had us turn off early at the interesting-sounding Fort Mahon plage. There we frolicked with the dog on the beach, and camped at Camping Le Royon, which, though it has a heated pool (forgot our swimsuits) rated poorly with us as the ground was lumpy and the showers cold. Also, too many mobile homes is a bad sign in a camp-site. Still, hard to complain for €18. We had a fine picnic in the tent: rillettes and mustard, then tarts. Mm.
After this we went north, with a vague idea to revisit Bagatelle, though it is probably too juvenile for the kids now. But on the way we saw some huge octopuses floating in the air above Berck Sur Mer, a place we had been before. So we headed that way.
First things first, though. We found a morning market. We ate those excellent artichokes back home in England.
The kites filling the air above the town signalled the festival of Cerfs Volants. I was puzzled by the term, vaguely thinking that "cerf" meant "stag." It does. The etymology may derive from the very old practice of keeping a stag beetle (cool picture) on a string as a toy. Or maybe the "cerf" comes from "serpent".
Please have a look at my video of the kites on YouTube!
I took rather too many pictures of that mermaid.
There was a whole section of wind-driven devices, like pumps, spinners (one made of pistachio shells), bubble-blowers, and musical gizmos, that especially fascinated Ross. You see from the image on the right that dogs (and kites!) were technically not allowed on the beach, so P sat with Jasper until I finally came back and she took a look around, and also walked the stick-labyrinth.
Then we lunched on mussels, and visited a Chocolats de Beussent shop, for Easter was the next day.
In Montreuil we camped at a site of many fond memories. We stayed here once with Madeleine, and feasted on Flammenkuchen from Pizzeria La Paloma in the place du Général de Gaulle, just a short walk up into town. The pitches are flat and catch the morning sun. The place was nearly deserted.
P and Griffin had colds, so they napped while Ross and I walked along the Canche river, which was flowing strongly and had many fishermen in attendance. There is a tempting kayak school here, but it was closed.
Dinner was, of course, more Flammenkuchen. We watched old Avengers episodes on Claire's portable DVD player in the tent.
On Easter morning Claire was up first, naturally. A huge lapin had been by in the night leaving eggs, but Claire politely waited for the boys to stumble out of sleep.
I would not have minded hanging about in this area, but we had to visit the vet in Calais. He proved to be a very cheerful man who spoke excellent English and who gave Jasper a worm pill and some tick lotion. We discovered incidentally that pedigree French pets, like British cars, must be given a name starting with a particular letter each year. This year you may name your dog Ciboulette or Citronelle or Cheddar, but not Fido.
We visited a flea market in east Calais, but, though large, it was one of those filled with used kids' pyjamas and broken toys and other very uninteresting stuff, so we left town.
After playing a bit on the beach, where the fog rolled in and then disappeared, we knocked off a geocache, the only one of the trip, though I had printed out a stack of them.
Then we drove to Guînes. P had found Camping Bien Assise on the web, and a very nice campground it proved to be, too. There were a lot of Britons, and those in the pool were rather on the tattooed side, but quiet. Ross and I explored while the others lazed. We booked dinner at the nearby La Ferme Gourmande, and walked into town past a bleating lamb that looked like it had escaped from a Doom episode.
Guînes was quiet. Real quiet. It looked like nothing would happen there, or ever had. There was a museum of the clock tower, Tour de l'Horloge, that claimed to be open, and really was. So we went in. Wow! Guînes, like Montreuil "sur Mer", used to be on the sea back in 928, when Sifrid the Dane invaded and started the town's fascinating history by putting down roots and stealing Elstrud, the local lord's daughter. We watched a movie of this, as we sat inside a hydraulically creaking long boat. Then we learned about a thousand more years of history, too. I remarked to Ross that, back in college people said that majoring in French History is unwise as it is simply too complicated. The culminating display was about the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which took place not far away. It inspired our imaginations by claiming that fat old Henry 8 and Francis actually wrestled, and tweaked each other by sneaking to the opposing camp (Guînes was part of England then) and waking the other king up cruelly early.
Dinner at La Ferme Gourmande started well, with more foie gras on gingerbread, but the dish was kind of oily and later dishes were oilier, culminating in a side dish of lawn-clippings in grease. Ugh. I guess the English influence lingers on.
The next day we tracked down a zipwire place in the woods nearby (here I imagine Henry 8 whizzing down a steel cable), but it was not open on a Monday. It was lovely to be in a French wood in the pelting sunshine, though, so we went to Licques (famous for chix), and bought a picnic. And some firecrackers.
P loves fresh butter. I love French mustard, but you see what happens if I have too much.
The firecrackers drew the attention of some hunters, who then disappeared deeper into the woods. Maybe we saved a cerf.
Below Claire calmly dispatches a white chicken.
Then we spent more time on the beach, finding a few fossils and some interesting crystals. We had a very early dinner at the excellent L'Aquar'Aile. I liked the local cheeses: pavé aux algues de Samer (with seaweed), and camembert with calvados and breadcrumbs. Then we drove home to London. Jasper's passport worked fine.
I had pretty much insisted that we spend Easter in France, out of fond memories from earlier camping trips. Now I have another one to relish. I hope I inspire you to do the same.
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