Leaving behind the rain of England to catch the Plymouth to Roscoff ferry was followed by some difficult driving conditions with heavy traffic and difficult weather for several hours of the 550 mile drive South to the sun and surf blessed Landes region of South West France.
The first stop was Mimizan Plage where we greeted by temperatures in the high 20s and chest high surf. After a quick surf and play in the shore break with the kids, went to Bar Le Surf for some late lunch, a place I have been frequenting since 1992!
After some reminiscing about old times (pre-children) spent in Mimizan, we moved down the coast to Moliets et Maa, where we had an apartment booked. Having traditionally travelled to France during September, this year, our travel dates were dictated by childrens holidays, which meant things were pretty lively being mid August. Moliets is a fairly lively town, but there is enough on the doorstep to keep everyone happy with a trek across the sand dunes to the beach, trails through the pine forests, bars and good restaurants.
A short walk up the beach at Moliets was where the Courant d’Hutchet met the sea forming a high quality surf break over a sand delta formed by the river mouth. There were a few days out there where it looked like a surf movie with dredging sandy barrels peeling down the coast. The downside was that most of the rest of the beach was closing out meaning it was packed.
If things got too hectic in Moliets the nearby Etang de Leon was quite chilled in comparison. There was a small windsurfing community the last time I was there, but they had mentioned they rarely get out in summer, with Autumn preffered. There was one day of about 15kts at the coast where it may have been sailable on big kit, but I dont think it was worth dragging my windsurfing kit down there. I think the better option would be a 5.5m rig to attach to my Starboard SUP.
For a long time, I had wanted to climb the 248 steps to the top of the lighthouse standing at the top of the cliffs at Biarritz.
It was a magnificent view over one of my favourite parts of the world, the Pays Basque (Basque country), straddling the French / Spanish border.
Conditions wise, we were lucky again for the whole trip with surf in the range of head high or bigger most days meaning I was surfing the 6’6 with only one relatively small chest high day where I took the Starboard SUP out for a change.
The plan to come home was to leave Moliets on the Friday afternoon and travel overnight in order to check in at Roscoff at 7.30 the next morning. Unfortunatelty, the traffic was horrendous with the Bordeaux ring road doing a good impression of the M25 but full of mad European drivers bumper to bumper @ 90mph.
Unfortunately, this meant the we were running behind schedule and to make matters worse, the alternator warning light started flashing in the van. After switching everything electrical off except the headlights, in order to reduce the load, we suddenly lost all lights and power on the motorway and the van went into limp mode. A word of advice, if you are going to travel in France, do not do it on a Friday evening. I managed to get the van to a picnic area off the motorway and called the RAC, as after all, I had comprehensive Euro breakdown cover, and I was naive enough to think that one call would see the van on a tow-truck, us in a cab being taken back to Roscoff. I was informed by the RAC that they are not allowed onto the toll-roads (motorways), and I needed to hang up, call an emergency number, and when they tow us off the motorway, call the RAC again, who will send out a local recovery truck. However, as it was the weekend, they informed us, there were no garages open until Monday so we would miss our ferry. They would put us in a hotel, but we couldnt take a hire car back to Roscoff.
After fearing that I fried the alternator, the recovery truck driver said with a gallic shrug, that seeing as i) I wasnt involved in an accident and b) I wasnt completely broken down (the van would still run), he was leaving us there, so things werent looking too good. Having nothing to lose, we decided to press on and see how far we would get, but I didnt hold out much hope with warning lights flashing and alternator on the blink.
After much hand waving, the recovery truck driver agreed to follow us for a few miles up the motorway in case the power failed again.To my surprise, the van kept going, so we decided to press on the remaining 380 miles to the ferry. Being fed chocolate, bananas and cups of coffee throughout the night, I managed to nurse the van North towards home, with pretty much everything (fan, radio, dvd, windscreen wipers, etc) off except the dipped headlamps in order to not ask too much of the alternator / battery. At about 5am on Saturday morning, much to my surprise we arrived in Roscoff after a journey of 550 miles and 11 hours. Being wired on soo much coffee through the night a couple of celebratory Kronenburgs were required.
Even before the journey home, I had reached the conclusion that I am now getting too long in the tooth to keep driving that far South, so from now on, I will be taking the ferry to Santander and making the relatively short 2.5 hour drive into the Basque region of France.
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