Saturday, 24 September 2011

Summer Holidays

Well, we had a good time away - four weeks in all - we picked up the children in France after their Royal Rangers Eurocamp in Le Havre, and en route to a campsite near Cormeilles, paid a flying visit to Tancarville castle, from which (according to the family's ancestral history) the Chamberlayne family originated, the family who happened to be William the Conqueror's and subsequent royalty's chamberlains and whose scions eventually produced one of my great grandmothers. What a hoot. Apparently the castle, which is a bit of a ruin, is going to be converted into flats to rent.
We arrived at the campsite later to be welcomed by a delightful and friendly Frenchman whose family-run site had already seen some French Royal Rangers camp there. He kindly allowed us to stay the night in a vacant caravan so that we wouldn't have to put up our tents for one night, at a fraction of the cost it would have cost, because the caravan hadn't been cleaned yet. We weren't fussy and it really wasn't bad and we were grateful to be able to get to sleep after a 14 hour drive on our parts and a challenging week's camping on the children's.
The next morning we trundled off to Brittany, where we arrived at Les Plages de Beg Leguers in the early evening - France is HUGE! - but the roads are good - just too many tollbooths  (they want to introduce them here in Germany too, and the UK - more money and control for the Elite) and had a fight putting up our tents in high Atlantic winds. We were almost at the point of giving up, when we decided to have a final try, and commanded the wind to subside, in the Name of Jesus. Praise the Lord, very shortly afterwards, things calmed down a lot, which enabled us to finish everything in good time. :)
The next few days we spent on the beach, rested, got some sun, visited old cairns, castles and stonecircles, enjoyed the countryside and kind hospitality of the Bretons. Frank was positively surprised by how friendly and kind people were, especially to him, as a German, and it has probably healed his picture of France somewhat. We all enjoyed practising our rusty French, which improved every day - the children were the best, of course, and everyone we met was thrilled that we had a go - it seemed to make a good impression. It is so sad to hear of Brits who go abroad and throw their weight around, arrogantly expecting people to speak their language. And French and German lessons are now no longer obligatory in British schools. Totally crazy. Brittany is gorgeous - the houses reminded me of Northumberland, which was lovely - we felt quite at home.
After a week, we drove back east and then north to Cherbourg and took the overnight ferry to Ireland, driving down to County Kerry, which took us another 6 hours. We'd never been to Ireland before and that corner is so beautiful. What a blessing. Wild mountains, gloriously beautiful beaches, unspoilt walks, fascinating history and friendly and welcoming people. Being English I was slightly apprehensive owning to the way we have treated the Irish, but they were nothing but kind. Frank and Ben went fishing for the first time, and after a few days, got the hang of it.
We spent a fabulous day visiting Skellig Michael -taking  a 1.75 hour boat-trip out into the Atlantic - to an abandoned rock on which, over a thousand years ago, a group of the toughest monks lived for several hundred years, not to mention subsequent lighthouse men and their families. The monks lived in beehive-shaped stone huts and lived off fish, seagulls' eggs, sorrel, seaweed, and faith. Once we arrived on the island, it was a steep climb up to the top, up flights of stone steps, while below us the kittywakes circled the blue thermals with effortless ease. The view over the sea to the mainland past Little Skellig was incredibly beautiful. One can understand what makes people say that this is a spiritual place - the beauty of it certainly draws one God-wards. How those intrepid souls managed to build their dwellings here, let alone survive for hundreds of years in such an inhospitable place, is a mystery.

It is hard to imagine in an age where we have become so soft and used to comfort and convenience. They had the spirit of the Desert Fathers, and all they longed for was to be alone with God and far from the noise and decadence of the world. I suppose only eternity will tell what effect their prayer had on the world so far away from them, but I couldn't help wondering if they might not have been more effective actually living in the world which they had rejected. On the way back to the mainland we discovered that the two boys who had come with us on the boat, had been fishing and caught a lot of mackerel, and a huge pollock. This they proceeded to fry for us and we all shared it on the trip back. It tasted marvellous.
The whole holiday was great. We had lots of arguments and as families (especially ours) do, got on each others' nerves, but we had lots of good talks to hash things out. Other highlights included a hilarious evening spent playing charades, a huge haunch of vension which our obliging landlord managed to get from somewhere, which we roasted in red wine and herbs at 150° from 10.30 am to 6pm one day - and which was arguably the best roast we have ever tasted, and Frank's and Ben's fishing-trip with an outdoor expert on which they caught a large dogfish which nearly took Ben's hand off before they threw it back into the sea.
We had a day on a wonderful beach on the Iveraugh Peninsula where yours truly actually swam for the first time in the sea for goodness knows how many years - but the water was so clean and blue and the little cove where we were so deserted, that I couldn't resist it; and in the evening we made a fire in a circle of stones and barbecued sausages and steaks.  Our stone cottage overlooked a lonely valley through which a rushing river ran; we had a log and peat fire every evening, beds which were rather uncomfortable at first, but we got used to them, and very little rain. The post-boxes are green and the roads are appalling, the Catholicism is terrible but the people couldn't be nicer. I'd go back any time.
We had a long trip home but with three drivers it worked out well, and after a short but moving stop at Utah Beach in Normandy to remember the Allied Landings on D-Day 1944, we finally arrived home at 3.30 am on Sept 4th.

No comments:

Post a Comment