… a miserable night’s sleep (which seems to be par for the course these days) tossing and turning for much of it on the sofa, I was up and about without too much effort.
It wasn’t the first time either, having had to leave my stinking pit once during the night.
But I prepared breakfast, and a little later, Alison came to join me and we had a nice cosy chat together.
Alison wanted to know what time we would be leaving, so I replied nonchalantly “about 45 minutes”.
“Gosh! I’d better get a move on!”
I’d forgotten about women, of course. For me, “getting ready” to go out involves putting my shoes on and that’s that. For women though, it’s a full military operation involving all kinds of things and can take anything up to a couple of hours.
While Alison was preparing herself I had a shower, prepared a flask of cold stuff and finally we made some sandwiches.
In the glorious, wonderful but very hazy early morning sunshine and heat, Caliburn took us along the coast road.
Through St Pair, Jullouville, Carolles and Genets, and all points south.
We stopped to take photographs along the way. After all, this is a part of the world that Alison has never visited before, and having left home rather smartish, we weren’t particularly stuck for time.
The motorway westwards was very busy and there were signs for “traffic jams ahead” – not surprising with it being the first Saturday in August, busiest day of the year on the roads.
But we weren’t long on the motorway turning off to head towards our destination for today, Mont St Michel.
Alison has never been here before, and it’s been almost 30 years since the last time that I was here.
And haven’t there been some changes in that time?
When I was here before, you used to just drive down to the water’s edge, park your car on the marshes making sure that you were above the tide line, and then walk across the causeway.
But not today, though.
There’s a huge parking complex (that costs an arm and a leg of course) a couple of miles away from the Mont, and a series of weird shuttle buses that operate a free service to the island.
There was quite a queue waiting for the buses and we had this horrible feeling that we were going to be there for hours, but these buses are really high-capacity.
The packers (you can’t really call them anything else) pack the buses like the Black Hole Of Calcutta and so within less than 10 minutes we had been whizzed on our way.
While you admire the entrance to the complex, I can set the scene by telling you about the visit to the Gentleman’s rest room.
This will give you some idea about what to expect (if you haven’t already guessed from the parking) when I tell you that a visit to the Gentleman’s rest room costs you €0:80.
Yes, over here on the island they have got you by the shorthorns.
And if that hasn’t convinced you, then the fact that the first restaurant that we came across was offering a bowl of vegetable soup for €18:00 and an omelette at €28:00 should do the trick.
But then, that’s how I remember it, and as other people have said so too.
Not for nothing did we prepare butties and a flask of cold drink before we set off.
The history of the place is quite interesting.
It’s always been a place of worship for as long as worship has known to be important.
There was quite some considerable evidence of megalithic tombs on the island where it is believed that the worship of some kind of pagan cult took place;
But Christianity arrived in 709 when a chapel in honour of the Archangel Saint Michael was erected here.
It subsequently became a centre for pilgrimages and it still continues in this role today. In fact, we encountered a group of pilgrims who had come on foot across the sands from Genets.
In 966 a Benedictine abbey was erected here, and the Dukes of Normandy became important benefactors. They gave a great deal of land to the abbey.
One of the reasons that the Ile de Chausey remains French today and didn’t become English as did the rest of the Channel Islands was that William the Conqueror gave the archipelago to the Abbey before he became King of England in 1066.
Mont St Michel has regularly changed hands between the Dukes of Normandy and the Dukes of Brittany. It’s currently in Normandy and was so during much of the 100 Years War.
But there’s an interesting little story about the island during that period.
This gateway here to the west overlooks the Breton coast. Normandy was to the south and east.
The English laid siege to the island during the Hundred Years War and hoped to starve it out. But as the tide went out, the island became accessible from the Breton side before the Normandy side.
Consequently the Bretons could nip over to the island with a load of victuals to resupply the island before the tide became low enough for the English army to cross the sands to stop them.
As a result, the island held out for so long that the English lost interest and eventually abandoned the siege.
There are a variety of ways to reach the Abbey.
The first, and probably the most interesting, way would be to be winched up by the medieval inclined ramp.
You can see the sone trackway here and right at the top are the remains of the wooden sledge to which they would attach the goods.
It would then be winched up from above until it reached the opening in the Abbey walls.
Today, there’s an electric winch and steel basket for supplying the abbey, but that doesn’t look half as exciting as the old system.
The more popular way is to climb up the steep street and then all of the stairs, following all of the visitors who take that way to the top.
But we stopped for a breather inside the church that’s half-way up, and noticed a back door out.
So we went that way and found ourselves going up a nice spiral, circular route that wasn’t anything like as steep, and with plenty of shady places to rest.
But at the Abbey, the €10:00 admission charge put me off. I would have liked to have gone in and seen the interior, especially the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy, but not at that price.
It’s good value if you are healthy though, because the admission allows you to climb right to the top of the tower where the views are stunning (or, at least, they would be if there wasn’t so much haze).
Nevertheless, the views weren’t all that bad from where we were standing.
There was certainly a good view of Avranches from where we were standing. And with a little bit of digital enhancement you can see the town quite clearly away in the distance.
Hard to think that it’s probably 10 or 12 miles away across the bay from where we are. Such are the benefits of having some decent equipment.
Alison didn’t feel like the climb either so instead we descended and went for a walk around the walls.
It’s a walled city and as far as I could tell the walls are 100% intact, as you might expect. It’s not possible to go out to the north of the island without passing through the Abbey.
The whole lot is in a remarkable state of preservation, which is hardly a surprise when you consider that this was one of the very first places to be listed when they started the Register of Historic Places in France
There’s another island a little farther out and I don’t remember seeing that from previous visits.
It looks quite inaccessible but when I blew up my photo (you can still do that kind of thing despite modern anti-terrorist legislation) I could see buildings – possibly World War II blockhouses – out there.
There were also people walking around out there, obviously taking advantage of the low tide.
And low tide it certainly was.
The tidal coefficient – the gap of the water level between high tide and low tide – was just 59 today. This meant that we weren’t going to be cut off.
The tidal coefficient can be as high as 120 and then the island is isolated from the mainland for a couple of hours. But the next one of these isn’t going to happen for quite a while, unfortunately.
We stopped on the way round where Alison took out a second mortgage on her house in order that we could have a coffee in one of the cafés here;
And on continuing our walk around the walls some obliging Asiatic guy took a photo of us both.
And Alison’s camera lived to tell the tale, which surprised me more than anything.
From there we climbed up again to a small rest area and when a place on the wall underneath the trees became free, we moved in and occupied the spot.
It was quite nice there, overlooking the causeway and the entry gates to the island, and we ate our butties in the shade as we watched the world go by.
By now it was early afternoon and the hordes were still arriving. We decided that we had seen all that we had intended to see and so we returned on the shuttle bus to Caliburn, where we were fleeced by the parking charges machine.
Since this new parking system and charges have been in operation, visitor numbers have plummeted. At one time, over 3.5 million people came here every year and there was even a railway connection to the site.
In 2013 there were just 2.2 million people and apparently numbers are continuing to fall. One of these “alternative” Tourist guides writes of “la mauvaise réputation du Mont-Saint-Michel qui fait payer cher des prestations médiocres” – “the bad reputation of Mont St Michel where the mediocre things on offer will cost a fortune”..
Still, it’s one of those places that you have to visit once in your life – preferably out of season – but you wouldn’t ever go back.
We headed off down the motorway, noticing the queues of vehicles heading west on the opposite carriageway, all heading to the Brittany coast.
It was a good idea to go out early in the morning because we missed most of that. I’d hate to be stuck in there right now.
Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I’ve mentioned a couple of times the “Cabane Vauban” – the stone hut on the headland of the Pointe de Carolles.
It’s another place that has been on my list to visit since I first noticed it. We’d seen a road sign for it on the way down, and so on the way back we went there.
Despite its very isolated location, there was quite a crowd of people there and they wouldn’t move out of the way when I wanted to photograph the building.
And so they are now immortalised for posterity.
The cabin was built as a lookout point for the excise me to survey whatever cargo was being smuggled into Avranches and Mont St Michel from the Channel islands during the 17th Century;
Some say, presumably because of the name “Vauban” being associated with them, that they are defensive posts to guard the bay. But whatever kind of defence you could launch from this cabin against an 18-pounder cannon on board an English ship would surely not be very effective.
There’s a good view down as far as Mont St Michel – or, at least, there would be on any other day when there wouldn’t be a heat haze shrouding the coastline.
There was also a lot of aerial activity.
I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the gyrocopter that flew over the cabane, but I was certainly quick enough to take a photo of the biplane that stuttered by overhead.
And much to my surprise, when I enlarged the photo I discovered that it was a “pusher”. That’s not the usual configuration these days. Most of the aircraft are “tractors”.
And it was making such a racket that I couldn’t help thinking “Goddam the Pusher“, although it probably wasn’t a biplane that Hoyt Axton had in mind when he wrote the song.
Back at Granville Alison wanted to go for a walk around the town and visited the shops. But it was far too warm for me so I dropped her off, gave her directions back here, and then drove back to my nice cool little hidey-hole on my rock.
When she came back we went for another walk, this time around the walls where we sat in the sun for quite a while and watched the people on the beach.
For tea, I had organised some gluten-free burgers which went down very well, and then once it became dark, we went back out.
it was the Nuit des Souders, when all of the blacksmiths in the area set up little stands all over the town and the port to demonstrate their skills.
There was even one ‘neath the spreading chestnut tree, but I couldn’t tell if “the muscles of his brawny arms are strong as iron bands”.
The music was unfortunately pretty poor, especially after last year’s exciting Russian rock group, even though they didn’t have the dancers from “Hellzapoppin'” with them on stage .
In the end, rather than listen to the music we went for a really long walk around the harbour and fell in with a couple of fishermen … “fisherPERSONS” – ed …fishing by the moonlight.
On the way back we called off at some of the galleries that were still open. But the only thing that caught my eye was, as usual, the most expensive thing on offer.
There were also a few of the soudeurs dotted about here and there along the hill too, so we had a good look at some of them too.
But nothing at all really exciting.
It had been a really long day so I wasn’t disappointed to return to my apartment.
We were both pretty tired – after all, it had been a really long day – so we called it a night.
Sunday morning tomorrow, and so a lie in.
At least, I hope so.
And I have plenty more photos of Mont St Michel so I’ll probably put them all on a separate page one of these days.
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