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Dune du Pyla

FRANCE | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [96] | Scholarship Entry

Winter vacation in France is probably the two weeks of the year that actual French people pass by their cosy firesides; recovering from January blues, enjoying vin chaud and cheese fondu and not, under any circumstances, engaging in the fool's game that led me inexplicably to Europe's tallest sand dune one February.

Our time in Bordeaux had, thus far, been plagued with problems (suffice it to say, couchsurfing does not always run smoothly). One morning, when the weather forecast was marginally better than the customary February freeze, we set off on a precarious escapade, blighted by irregular public transport and darkening inauspicious skies.

Our walk past quaint beach houses and small shops boasting sales of various day-at-the-beach paraphernalia would have been reminiscent of childhood seaside holidays if not for the herd of cataclysmic clouds looming towards us. The breeze escalated and rattled the wind chimes in a curiously sinister way as we - the sole errants on this dismal path - made our way to our slowly materializing destination.

As we reached the beach proper, it became abundantly clear that winter clothes are not the ideal for walking on sand. The prospect of making our journey up 110 meters of solid(ish) sand dune seemed formidable at best, but we'd come too far on our swashbuckling adventure to turn away at the last (only) hurdle. We lurched forth together; I fell pitifully behind.

After an excess of gasping theatrics (giving way to a multitude of humiliating photographs), and many temporary renunciations of our challenge, we made it. And it was mesmerising. The brooding clouds did nothing to diminish the view from the vantage point we had worked so hard to attain. In fact they did the opposite; the sea was angry, tempestuous and stunning. The dense forestry on either side of the dune gave an impression of arcane enchantment beneath the inky sky. The desolation of the scene felt impenetrable; it was ours.

We whipped out our student value picnic, -which included a tub of Lidl's own brand Nutella that had frozen solid - to reward ourselves. That's when the hailstones started, somehow transforming the experience into something exceptionally surreal. The tiny frozen raindrops remained solid and bright white for several seconds after falling, contrasting bizarrely with the golden terrain.

The landscape would doubtless have looked beautiful beneath the sunshine, but summertime tourism is decidedly mundane in comparison.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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