Goodbye, Our Beach!

When we think about the beach, we think refreshing drinks with umbrellas, we think bathing suit, flip flops and bare feet. When we first arrived in Normandy, knowing we would live between the Utah and Omaha D-Day Landing beaches, and that we were there in spring through summer, we were pretty excited. On the map, it showed just how close to the North Sea channel we were-in bird flight.

For two months we drove in the direction of where thought the beach should be, and we did see the beach, with sandcastles and shells and hardly any people at all, but the sea was never there.

Until one day, during another drive to explore the neighborhood, we landed at the same spot only to see … not the beach but the sea! To be honest the place looked pretty drab. It seemed we were either staring out over a gigantic mud puddle, or at high tide, an unattractive pool of gray water. It was kind of disappointing.

I’ve described in another article about the beloved Norman tradition of foot fishing, that the tides are extreme. Now we understood just how extreme. We realized what we’d been seeing in the distance sometimes weren’t ships. They were islands with 17th century forts that appeared at low tide, and dipped back into the sea at high tide.

Admittedly, the move and my work absorbed so much of my time that I arrived here without having done a lot of research (other than the practical) and for once, I who read travel books cover-to-cover, didn’t care. My whole life I’ve wanted to live near the ocean. It has always been the place where I feel my best, where my body feels rejuvenated from breathing restorative iodine-rich air and I was so very ready for it.

There was definitely that! I loved the crispness in the air, the sound of sea gulls over the roof of the house, and I loved the wind and the rain. I loved walking among aromatic pastures, a spectator in a fluid show of wildlife and the goings-on in the lives of the cows and the horses that were our neighbors.

The bird flight thing on the map was spot on. I would have loved walking to the beach. We really were “that” close. But I’m not a bird and in Europe, the roads meander through the countryside in any way necessary, except in a straight line. This doesn’t bother me. It’s a more interesting way of living, when you can’t see straight ahead all the time. HA!

But, admittedly it doesn’t get you anywhere fast. Walks on the dyke at sunset were just the thing, and we rode our bikes or drove the lovely 8km there every so often. Then, something miraculous! As the tides turned their attention towards the summer and the sun warmed the marshes … sea grass began to sprout from the sea floor, the heather turned a sprightly fresh green and the sand went from muddy to golden!

Within weeks, this strange beach went from ‘meh’, to being a place of fragile beauty. At the right time of day, the area became the natural stage for a spectacle.

With the light just so, the landscape was set alight with a dozen tones of green and gold. As the sun dove in and out of rapid moving clouds, and a flock of birds moved to and fro into the wind, their bellies shone with the silver of elegance. Drawn against the moody grey skies of an approaching storm, storks proudly waded through the tidal brooks and sometimes when we were very lucky, the sunset turned the mud pools into a reflection of sparkling opals and rubies.

 We soon learned to hack the tide schedule and, even in tourist season when Normandy roads are paved in caravans, we learned there was a best time of day to comb the beach for shells, and not run into a single soul.

The season turned warmer. The sea grass began to sprout a kind of wheat. The heather debuted tiny flower buds. Summer storms turned the landscape into a moody and spectacular friend, while sunsets gave it something whimsical.

And … our dogs fell in love. They found a great deal of independence here and we saw their personalities change. Allowing them off the leash, Maxximus went from being a shy, reluctant giant afraid of his own shadow, to being a real explorer with an ever present smile of fun and freedom. In fact, he’s becoming a bit of a hellion!

Nyxie went from not being able to make the corner of our street in the States, to running and roaming. His most awesome moment came just after we stopped filming the dogs one day, when he leaped into one of the duck ponds and nosed a black wooden duck in the face as if to say hey, are you alive or what only to leave with obvious disappointment that it was not.

And Lillie …, every day she darted in and out of the tall grass with her nose either close to the ground, or lifted into the breeze. She showed us that she could be trusted to explore, that when called, she’d check in. And a lot of the time she’d just roooll and roll in the sand.

We’re elated to have been able to give them free exploration. They had so much fun. We saw their personalities grow in ways we’d hoped but not expected. We showed them how fun the beach could be, and they showed us new ways to enjoy it.

Now don’t go thinking the flip flops and umbrella drinks came out at any point during the summer!

Duck hunting is a serious profession in all seashore marshes and estuaries in France, and “our” Baie des Veys in Normandy was no different. While the cycle of ebb and flow took many hours to complete, it was clear that both day -and night shifts of duck hunters became pretty isolated in their roosts and as we became more familiar with the tides and the capricious weather patterns of a small peninsula, it taught never to be on the beach without appropriate waterproof boots, a sweater and rain jacket.

We loved every moment spent there. Even in a jacket and “wellies” the Baie des Veys and Pointe de Brevands (as our area beach was called) delivered magic. Weirdly, as summer turned its face towards fall and the fields next to the the beach were dotted with hay bales, we happened upon a list of the 11 most beautiful beaches in France about a week or so before we left Normandy … and even though it was now flea -and mosquito infested, we totally appreciated that our beach was one of them.

For more Normandy pictures, visit the photography page.


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