The Magic of Le Mont St Michel

Thursday dawned with the sound of a light drizzle on the camper van roof; however by the time Alf and I were out on the road the sun was shining brightly. It was sunglasses on time as we pulled out of the campsite and headed towards Le Mont St Michel.

So far on this trip we have managed to avoid places we have been to before in preference for new unknown venues. Today was to be the exception. I wanted to take Wendy back to Mont St Michel, a place that we had been to 25 years or so ago and I had been 6 years ago. The last time I had been with Hannah and Issy and we were en route from a sailing event in Flanders to one in Brest. Then we had been in our last motorhome and had camped at the foot of the island which gave a truly memorable view first thing in the morning. For the last couple of months I had been telling Wendy how I wanted to take her there so she could share this magical place too.

As we drove further west the clouds began to gather and soon there were the first drops of rain on the windscreen. Most of you will know of the travails we have had with our windscreen wipers in the last six months. This time they worked fine but the nearside (passenger side Geoff!) wiper blade gave up the ghost and parted company with the arm. Still thanks to having a Hymer we still have two blades working.

As we drove along the D75 we had some great views of  our destination dominating the otherwise flat landscape of reclaimed land. We found a lay-by and stopped so I could practice my landscape photography and the rule of thirds and had a  cup of tea too!

Just after we left the lay-by our sat-nav made its first mistake and tried to take us down a no-entry road. This was funny as I sort of remembered going this way last time. Anyway Wendy executed a test perfect three-point turn and we followed the road signs instead. These took us into a brand new carpark, some 3km from Mont St Michel, and indeed we had to park in the camper van only section which was furthest away. Why couldn’t we park on the salt marsh amongst the sheep peacefully grazing within a stone throw of the Mont?

It seems that in the last 5 years major work has taken place to preserve the setting of France’s first world heritage site (recognised in 1979). In the 60’s the damming the river had led to changes in the tidal flow around the island which had led to the silting up of the land and why we could in previous years park so close and farmers could have their flocks grazing up to the castle walls. Now the barrage has been moved back 2.5kms and opens and closes at different stages of the tide to ensure that any silting up is washed away. The causeway to the island has been reconfigured and the last 750 metres has been replaced with a gently curving bridge. This has allowed the tides to once again surge around the base of the island and in doing so scourge all the silt away and ensure that Mont St Michel will remain an island for the foreseeable future.

However the downside is that we have to park in a regimented landscaped carpark and pay €17.50 for the privilege (€11.40 for cars). Added to this is that the free bus shuttle doesn’t take dogs so Wendy, Alf and I had to walk the 3km there in the rain and back again.

Still the place retains all of its magic. It is a fantastic example of medieval and gothic architecture of truly Gormenghastian proportions. Any youngsters reading this (say under 40?) can forget about Game of Thrones or other historical romances – get yourself to western Normandy and see the real thing!

As we strolled back to the motorhome, clutching our chilled bottle of local farmhouse cidre, I thought that perhaps the theme-park atmosphere of the new carpark and its environs and even the €17.50 was worth it if it is going to preserve such a marvellous place for future generations – and enable the shop keepers to keep selling overpriced faux suits of armour to Chinese tourists. As my mood improved even the rain stopped, the sun came out and we heard our first cuckoo of the year. A fitting end to another splendid day.

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What will tomorrow bring?

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