Sunday, 24 September 2017

Somewhere else revisited

Right now we are camping at the foot of the Dune de Pilat, Europe's biggest, an escarpment of sand almost 2 miles long and reaching over 300 feet in height. The Atlantic washes up to its western face and a sea of pines trees stretches as far as you can see when you look inland from the summit.

Camping Pyla certainly does not misrepresent itself as being convenient for visiting the dune...

We have been here before, Laura was a toddler, so we guess it was the summer of 1997. What struck us is how different visiting places as a family was compared to travelling as a couple. I remember standing on the top of the dune watching distant thunder and lightning roll across the pine forest, then a veil of rain sweeping towards us. We made a swift exit. I recall racing Matthew down the slope in a series of giant bunny hops. The small model fishing boat he bought with his holiday money in the tacky tourist shop by the car park still sits on the shelves by his bed at home, though these days the room is only occupied for a few days in the year. 

So, although we realised back then that the dune was an interesting site, most of our time was spent enjoying the kids enjoyment, whereas today we were able to appreciate it on our own terms. 

It is an astonishing sight, a mini-Sahara towering above the pine forest. A path runs out of the campsite to the southern end of the dune. The site is popular with young para-glider enthusiasts, quite a few of them had gathered in the more remote end of the site in a bit of a hippyish encampment. 

We explored the dune for more than an hour which may not sound much, but precipitous sand rambling exercises muscles you do not even realise you have. It was exhausting yet exhilarating - not just the view of the golf d'Arcachon and the jungle-like canopy of the pine forest, but the forms and colours of the dune itself which changed subtly as the sun lowered towards late afternoon.

It is an awe inspiring sight.
Gill, near the top...full of awe.

If the wonders of nature become tiresome then the antics of the para-gliders provide plenty of alternative entertainment. It's one of those sports like fishing, surfing and sumo-wrestling where hours of tedious faffing about is followed by a disappointingly short burst of excitement. Reflecting on the fact that all these activities seems much more popular with men, I don't think you need to be a rampant feminist to posit a blindingly obvious Freudian connection!

One of the reasons we chose this campsite were the reviews on ACSI, Google and Campercontact seemed impossibly negative, the place was likened to a refugee camp - this one from Google was not untypical.

A refugee camp... really?
A very lactose heavy lunch as we attempt to eat the contents of the failing fridge.
In all honesty, the place was not so bad. The facilities were no worse than we've found in older sites across southern Europe. The setting is spectacular and you get a real 'camping in the forest' feel as well as being within a short stroll of one of Europe's natural highlights. Are you really going to let the lack of a toilet seat get in the way of being amazed by the landscape? Given the world's growing migrant crisis likening a less than five star perfect site to a refugee camp is astonishingly crass. (cue, slaps forehead, mutters grumpily, "people!"

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