Pockets Full of Sand, The Highest Dune in Europe, Dune du Pilat

Dave the motorhome’s feeling claustrophobic all of a sudden. We’re parked up in the official motorhome aire at Parentis-En-Born, and we’ve got company, lots of it (N44.34405 W1.09870). The aire is rammed full, mainly of French vans but unusually for us, there are three of us Brit vans here too. It costs €7 a night, but we’ve somehow managed to find ourselves hooked up to the included electricity (there are about 5 motorhomes for each available socket).

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The motorhome aire in Parentis-En-Born in August. More vans have poured in since we took the photo. The French aire network comes under severe pressure in August it would seem. We’ve only ever travelled outside of the high season and the incredible influx of vans has come as a shock to us. There are 29 motorhomes in here.

As more and more motorhomes squeezed into the parking areas around us yesterday, I wondered what would happen if the authorities arrived. The tourist info office had given us a wedge of information, in amongst which was a statement that nowhere around the bay was more than 6 motorhomes allowed to park in the same place. We were among 11, plus a cheeky fella parked around the corner. One of our fellow overnighter’s had rigged up a washing line, with one end tied to the ‘port traffic only’ parking sign. Come 10am this morning, I got my answer as firstly a Romanian (Renault-owned) Dacia Duster painted in the colours of the municipal police arrived, followed by the more severe-looking Gendarmerie, this time in a Peugeut and packing side-arms. Within half an hour only the legally parked motorhomes were left; we’ve no idea whether the police had had words or not, but our (for once strictly legal) space was much in demand.

40 minutes. That was our sat nav’s ambitious estimate of the time to nip down to the Dune du Pilat. Our sat nav’s never been to the French coast in August, so was understandably caught out by the fact there would be half a million cars vying for the same stretch of tarmac between us and our intended destination. For 2 hours we crawled, taken aback at one point as one fella lost all patience and sanity, driving his Renault down the roadside cycle path, kicking up dust with his offside wheels and squeezing back into the bumper to bumper traffic without a ‘by your leave’.

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As we rounded yet another roundabout at a snail’s pace, cars everywhere and all rules of the road gradually being eroded to naught, we caught sight of the dune. We’ve been driving through pine forest for the past couple of days now, the Forêt des Landes, an improbably large area of France which used to be swamp land crossed by stilt-wearing shepherds. The dune, which I’d half expected to be lame, turned out to be nothing short of extra-ordinary, standing sky-tall above this surrounding expanse of trees. Only thing is, it gets over a million visitors a year, and they’d all arrived today, 22 Aug 2013. The car park wasn’t just heaving, so was the entrance road to the car park, the roundabout at the end, and the road leading to it. There’s a whole world of heaving going on here.

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We pragmatically decided to avoid all of the fun, turning south along the road which runs parallel to the dune, spotting an empty road-side spot in which to fling Dave, immediately sinking his front wheels into the soft sand. The sun was hammering down, there were cars and motorhomes everywhere, we’d been stuck in traffic for hours, and now we were stuck in sand. Only one thing for it: dune climbing time.

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So in the glaring mid-day sun we three mad dogs and Englishmen found ourselves on the verge of expunging our stomach contents on the side of a near-vertical 110m high pile of sand, scrabbling our way ever upwards on the World’s Toughest Stairmaster. Nippers legged it past us but undeterred we dragged out sorry asses vertically until we were finally rewarded with a view out over the intake to the Arcachon Bay. It was beautiful. Tens of pleasure boats buzzed back and forth way below, mixing it up with the working barges servicing the Oyster farms attached to sand banks in the Atlantic.

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IT WAS LOUD UP THERE! Turn your sound down before watching the video below folks, it were reet windy like:

We sat and stared, recovered, wandered about a bit and shielded Charlie’s vulnerable eyes from the sandblasting effect of the wind. Finally a wee bit bored and cooked, we legged it off down the side of the thing, leaping like children, the thought of a probably broken leg put aside until we reached the bottom smirking and in one piece. Back at Dave we sunk cold water from the fridge, dug out Dave’s front wheels and reversed into a tiny first gap in the traffic using our floor mats for front wheel traction.

From there to here. In between we visited an aire which was €8 in 2011 and is now €15 a night. Hmmm, nah. We reversed back from the barrier and poured on southwards to the next place we new of, passing umpteen ‘no motorhomes overnight’ signs through the small towns on the way. This feels an odd part of the world, one of those places massively popular in July and August which I guess sinks back into a silent backwater in September.

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In the aire at Parentis-En-Born we’re parked up next to the service point (the only place left in the shade) and Kathy and Mike’s motorhome. It turns out Mike used to work for E.ON, the same company Ju and I worked for before this escapade, what a coincidence! They’re also travelling with their small pooch Chico. We’ve chatted about all things motorhome, E.ON, pooch and aires, picking up loads of great tips for our route back north. The nearby freshwater lake, with it’s oddly sandy beaches, has provided an hour’s entertainment for our respective canines, and we’ve sunk a few beers. Not a bad Thursday, bring on Friday.

Cheers, Jay

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6 Comments

    • Thanks Marlo! As usual, we don’t have much of an idea where we are but well get the map out when we get back to the van. Cheers, Jay

  1. “Floor mats for front wheel traction”. Jeez :) Nah, in a pickle like that always open a tinnie of water / barley / hops mixture and give it some thought. Those poor floor mats ….

    • Good thinking Marius, why didn’t I think of cracking open a sundowner! The floor mats are used to the abuse though, been stuck a few times we have… !-)

    • Hi guys – the dune was a real eye opener – it’s simply huge. No-one was flogging sand-boarding runs or, although I guess they’re an ecological disaster, I’d have been tempted to have a go! Cheers, Jay

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