I suddenly find myself surrounded by the French? Luckily this part of the world is still Basque Country; marked by its curious Union Jack like flag of green, white and red. I arrived in the land of the old enemy a few days ago, after traversing the pass of Roncesvaux. At the head of the pass, when you can see the plains of France beyond the mountain valleys below, stretching into the milky distance, I rested for a while and read thro’ the Song of Roland. I ran thro’ the pages sat by the monument which reputedly marks the battlefield. Thirty kilometers of idle forest pottering later I had walked down into France, picking up some duty free gin for five euros at the border. Spent a couple of nights in the fortress city of St Jean Pied Du Port; a charming castle-dominated place nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees – like Kendal is the gateway to the Lakes. To take advantage of the cheap accommodation, I continued my pretence at being a Catholic Pilgrim, including a trip to church.
When it comes to jumping trains in Europe, The Austrians are Nazis, the Dutch are porn stars, the Italians are asleep and the French, however much it pains me to say, are the perfect gentlemen! In France, you are supposed to punch your ticket at a machine before boarding, and if you don’t you get fined. However, knowing I could plead ignorance with ‘Je suis Anglais,’ I didn’t get a stamp, & once I had arrived in Bayonne, via the last rippling rises of the Pyrenees & the valley of the jade river Nive, I went to the ticket office and reimbursed my eight euro ticket, saying that I had walked instead… FORMIDABLE!
I am now in Anglet, with the Atlantic in my ears and the scent of forest in my nostrils. I have hit surf country, the Newquay of France, and the place is full of bronzed, long haired, intellectually-challenged dudes from all corners of God’s globe. It’s really relaxing watching them have a pop, with the mountains of Spain and the Atlantic horizon as a backdrop. I was told a story about the place… a couple of summers back a South American boat was halted by customs… resulting in thousands of packets of coke being tossed overboard. These would then start to drift ashore right into the middle of the surfers.
Four kilometers around the wave-swept coast lies the grandiose millionaire’s playground of Biaritz… it cost me thirty euros just to ask someone where the toilets were! Four K in the other direction are the tall buildings and narrow atmospheric streets of Bayonne. The whole area is remarkably cool and now my mind has caught up with my body I am beginning to settle in nicely, musing on my coming sonnets, speaking schoolboy French, wandering the forest, challenging the waves & knocking back the cheap red wine.