It was only a short drive from La Colonne de la Grande Armée at Wimille to Wimereux and after only a few minutes we were parking the car again on the seafront where a lot of people were gathered to watch a sailing race just a few hundred metres out to sea.
The tide was fully in and surf was crashing over the sea defences and onto the pavement so we had to take care not to walk too close to the edge and get a soaking and stayed close to the back edge and walked past the rows of beach huts, all painted a uniform blue and white and each with a charming, sometimes obvious, sometimes esoteric, nameplate attached to it.
Wimereux became a popular seaside resort at the time of the Second Empire, a hundred and fifty years ago and today retains an air of sophistication that presents a slightly faded but still elegant seaside resort with hotels, bars, cafés and restaurants, and an alternately sandy and rocky shoreline.
This was a charming place full of families on the beach and I was struck by the fact that if the French continue to take their children to cultured and sophisticated places to enjoy simple natural pleasures such as this lovely unspoilt place this tradition is passed on down through families and will forever be this way, down through the generations. Contrast this with an English family that take their children to Skegness for ‘Games Zone’, fish and chips, penny arcades, bingo, candy floss and football shirts, which simply perpetuate all of the the disagreeable things about the English seaside.
Wherever I go I am always struck by the fact that everywhere has a tale to tell and at Wimereux it is the story of the first recorded death in an aviation accident (not counting Icarus of course). Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was a science teacher and one of the pioneers of aviation and he made the first manned free balloon flight on 21st November 1783 in a Montgolfier balloon. He later died when his balloon crashed near Wimereux on 15th June 1785 during, what must with hindsight surely have been, a ludicrously ambitious attempt to fly across the English Channel.
The sun was shining, the temperature was rising but there was a stiff breeze blowing in from the sea so we found a bar with protective glass panels and sat with a beer and enjoyed the view across the water, the competing sail boats out at sea and the beach activity that was increasing all the time as the tide started to retreat and more people were drawn down onto the caramel sandy beach.
After our walk along the seafront we left Wimereux and drove the short distance to our next destination on the beach and added the car to a ribbon of vehicles parked along the side of the road and next to the sand dunes that neatly separated the beach from the road. It was a short walk along a rugged path to the beach and when we reached it the tide was fully out and there was a wide expanse of sand that stretched for two kilometres all the way to the little town of Ambleteuse to the north.
Ambleteuse is a picturesque village that used to be a harbour and has a lot of association with England just across the Channel. The reason it is here relates to the temporary needs of various invaders for conquering people from either side of the English Channel. It is said that Julius Caesar used this convenient place to set out from for his invasion of Britain in 54 BC. Henry VIII of England had two forts built here to maintain a show of power towards the French kings. James II fleeing England after his abdication arrived here in 1689 and Fort Mahon, built to protect the harbour in the seventeenth century, was used by Napoleon to moor port of his England invasion fleet in 1805.
Nowadays Ambleteuse is a very quiet sophisticated seaside resort where fishermen’s houses line the seafront next to once grand nineteenth century villas which go back to a time when this was a popular place for holidays for people from Lille and Paris and it became a middle class holiday resort for those who enjoyed sea-bathing and hunting, shooting and fishing, playing golf, good living and fine dining.
At about this time our thoughts turned to dining for ourselves and a spot of lunch and we returned to Wimereux and returned to the restaurant that we had visited a couple of days earlier where we agreed not to order too much food and then went right ahead and did exactly that and worried again about spoiling our evening meal so we were careful and made sure that we left some on the sides of our plates so that we wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
As it was our final day we needed to purchase some cheap wine to take home and pulled in to do some shopping at a store called Auchan which was positively massive and for someone who doesn’t like shopping completely overwhelming in scale so we agreed to stay focused and after being momentarily distracted by the free samples of meat and cheese made our way straight to the wine section and made our purchases.
For our final evening we enjoyed drinks on the terrace where we chatted to fellow guests all of whom seemed to have stayed at this hotel several times before and were full of praise for the place and then we had a final excellent meal and at this point I think I knew that it was inevitable that I too would almost certainly become a returning customer myself.