Looking at the White Cliffs of Dover from the beautiful sandy beaches of Northern France adds a fresh perspective to an era of rampant European weirdness and echoes of a troubled history of deadly psychopathic vanities. Le Manche is a sunny stretch of water today. It is now occupied by a steady stream of giant ships seen like lumpy sticks floating on a horizontal level that seems both near and far. This is water that has been witness to more than its fair share of turmoil. The white cliffs of Calais at Cap Blanc Nez are the same bed of rock as those forming the patriotic song prone cliffs at Dover with or without the possibility of blue birds. Today they have French hang-gliders swirling bird-like on up-draughts and weak sunny thermals.The remnants of the land bridge that connected (what became) France to (what became) England during the last Ice Age are still dumbly standing proud.
The sedimentological mystery here is why did the English Channel coast get all the pesky flint shingle and France get all the beautiful white sand? The limpid quality of the light here reflecting off the shallow sand underlain waters creates the milkiness celebrated in the title of the Opal Coast or Côte d'Opale. The other sea mystery is why every third shop here on the opal coast seems to be a poissoniere or seller of shellfish and yet, connected by the same water and the same type of fishing vessels in England there is barely none to be had ashore. Do fish not like pebbles perhaps or maybe the roiling noise of a billion lumps of flint off the seafronts of Eastbourne or Brighton is upsetting their wellbeing. Is this the key to this particular fishy tale - an absence of sand and opalescent calm?
At Le Tourquet Paris-Plage all is calm inside the cake shop of Patrick Hermand where perfection in patisserie is arranged in little rows of symmetrical precision. This stuff is the real deal, the cat's whiskers of whisking and the current dose to avoid virulent outbreaks of soggy bottoms or dribbly ganache glazes. Everything here is absolutely faultless. It seems a shame to have to eat them.The next shop along the rue is a poisonniere filled with snowy crushed ice and hundreds of fresh scallops, in the shell, the size of soup bowls. Am I making this clear enough? Where have our perfect pastries and fresh seafood gone?
More macabre mysteries in the Fôret de Saint Frieux where the pine cones are huge and the saffron milk caps gloriously orange and spotty against a mat of long brown needles. Eaten to excess these fungi will stain your urine orange too. Two small boys are walking down the forest pathway triumphantly carrying the two halves of a horse's head stripped to the bone by wood ants. The smaller boy has the lower jaw and the other the main skull. They are very pleased with their find. Wild, wild horses live here and obviously also die here. Nature is a glorious mystery. They will never forget this day on the eve of Halloween.
Slightly further south is the Fôret de Crecy. It has thousands of beech trees, sparsely meandering fungi-hunters and the haunted wispy air of a nearly unremembered Anglo-French battle's slaughtered past. Nearby on the coast are the battered reinforced concrete remnants of Hitler's 'Atlantic Wall' with many a bunker left to remind of recent slaughters past. There are still shells of the explosive variety on the beaches and warnings not to poke them. Rail guns hereabouts flung massive shells across the whole width of the Channel and played lethal ping-pong with similar engines of war on the English coast.
At Etaples, the headstones of the dead from the battles of the Somme valley stretch down to the baie of the same name in neat white rows amidst leafy woodlands. Out in the Base de la Somme scallop fishing fleets continue the vibe by sparring over shellfish.
Atop a hollow stone column outside Boulogne, in an immaculately coiffeured green space and avenue, is Napoleon. Here the 'little general' addressed his 'Grand Armeé' before sending them to death and battle in Austerlitz after deciding not to invade England after all.
Booking the last St Pancras-bound Eurostar of the day out of Calais Fréthun on Halloween seemed like bagging the last seats on the last stagecoach out of Dodge City at one point. The Brexit Express, the die in a ditch, fright night with a witch, the last train to Leaverland and Little England. But no it isn't anymore, it's just a train going down a hole beneath an opal sea.