The Sands Of Time

The sands of the Cote Sauvage are like the beaches of my childhood. Tucked under the sheltering arm of the Ile d` Oleron on the Atlantic coast of France, vast tracts of empty seashore stretch into the distance. Piled up behind are the dunes, protected by Maram grass, each new hummock promising a secret den like the ones I used to hide in from my sisters or where I would lie snuggled up in a hollow to daydream . Growing up on the east coast of Scotland, I spent many happy hours on Gullane sands, jumping over lug worm casts or making sand castles. I would decorate my castle with seashells then fill the moat with water carried carefully in my shiny new pail. Afterwards I would play in the waves, trying not to be knocked over, but loving it when I was. This beach made me want to be that child again and so I went down to the sea to brave the rollers. It must have made a funny sight; a 50 something woman wading out to where a wave was breaking, then turning to run from it, whooping and laughing like a girl. Several of them slammed into me, taking my breath away as I lost my footing, but each time I rose, spluttering and giggling, to do it all again.
Around the headland lies the Cote Beaute which is calmer than its wayward sister. The good girl to its wild child. Here flotillas of dinghies fly along, dodging the sandbanks that lie in wait for the unwary sailor, like hippos breathing under water. Now we are in the mouth of the Gironde estuary where the great rivers Dordogne and Garonne join hands before entering the sea.
People cycle or promenade by the sea, enjoying the late summer warmth, revelling in the unspoilt loveliness. Even an old married couple like us feel like honeymooners. At low tide the shore is dotted with people, backs bent double, searching for cockles. Whole families foraging together, raking through the silty water with their three-pronged forks, filling buckets with hundreds of shells. I know that I will be back the next day to try for myself. I did and they were delicious; cooked in garlic butter and all the better for the juice that ran down my chin.
Further down the coast Royan reposes like a sophisticated lady,just her dainty toes dipping in the sparkling water. The Belle Époque houses sweep up from the beach like the folds of her dress, hitched up to reveal a well-turned ankle. Blue and white candy-striped changing tents line up along the sand and the matching parasols are like gigantic hats on Ladies` Day at Ascot. No kiss- me- quick, end of the pier ambience here, no boarded up video arcades or sad-eyed boarding houses devoid of guests, just the understated elegance that so many have tried to mimic but only the French have truly mastered.

J Graham

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