Glory of Green
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Stories from the Great Outdoors

 

When an online article at The Guardian told me wild camping in France is a legal grey area, it was like getting the very best Christmas present ever. I didn’t get a clear understanding of the implications of grey, though. Hide and hope not to be discovered? We are spoilt Norwegians – born and raised with the right to camp pretty much wherever we fancy – and living in Belgium we are chronically starved for the wonders of wild tenting. A legally grey area seemed like a splendid opportunity compared to the legislation in most of Europe – grey I can work with. All in all, playing hide and hope no one is seeking sounded good enough for us. Off we went on the wild side of everything. That’s good parenting for you. Rebel style. Aren’t the French supposed to be revolutionary? 

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In search of the sea

Sand dunes generally offer poor conditions for agriculture, and so they represent a welcoming deviation from the heavily cultivated Central European landscape and a refugee for species that are threatened by farming. 

The dunes d’Ecault lies on the The Opale Coast in France, facing the English Channel. Much of this coastline is quite built up however, with resorts and other kinds of human activities. We wanted unspoilt seaside and from what google could tell us – we would get it at the dunes d’Ecault. 

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Looking for the perfect hideaway

Reasoning November isn’t high season at the beach, we hoped it would be easy to find somewhere secluded amongst the dunes. Which might have been true – if it wasn’t pitch black and foggy when we arrived Friday night. Headlamps producing misty glories of light – with a somewhat flexible but still impenetrable wall of darkness surrounding us. Feeling adventurous only a few kilometres from the car, everything seemed totally hidden at the time. All cats are grey at night…

We carried our load a bit into the area, found what looked like nice dump in the landscape, and woke up only to discover that we had great views – and vice versa. It didn’t take long before a guy in full camo-outfit came around and amiably told us in beautiful, unintelligible, but still understandable, French, that we couldn’t stay. Happily, and with no intent, we had managed to avoid the hunting areas, that by the sound of dogs and shooting, lay close both to the north and to the south. We decorated our heads with our most colourful gear and started packing.

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As a wannabee vegan, but really only a 95 percent vegetarian, I prefer hunting wild animals over industrialised meat production. Still we had a clash of the titans when my kids went to war over animal welfare and right to live. 

My youngest, sure to be shot, suffered each blow as if she was the target herself, yelling at the hunters and the general cruelty of the human beings of the world for their barbarian ways, while the eldest rolled her eyes unsentimentally and made desperate remarks about the natural ways of predators. 

The family decibel level soon reached very preventive heights, and we were all perfectly safe from being mistaken for a deer, rabbit, bird or whatever they where aiming at. So comforting. With the constant bombardment and the howling dogs on top, it was the definitive highlight of our trip. Pure natural bliss. 

Day one continued with us taking the tent for a hike to find somewhere hidden. Which was absolutely no problem with the sun rising. Now we know where to pitch next time. 

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Like golden snow

Tent solidly placed on new and better location amongst the pines, we hiked solely on direction, the ocean being a very visible blue target. Parts of the area is covered in thick forest, other places it’s easy to hike, with small scrubs, lonely sculptural trees, grass and lots of fine white sand dunes rising and sinking to give your ass a nice little work out. 

If you enter the area like normal people, easy hiking paths will take you through the dunes and to the beach. We, on the other hand, chose to slide down the soft golden hills instead – stomach first. Leaving our temporary marks in the pristine surface of sand. Who needs snow now?

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Nearer the ocean we could hear the roar of the waves, and standing on the edge of the dunes, the three kilometres of sandy beach opened like a magnificent plateau in front of us. A few souls on two and four legs had decided to visit the same site this Saturday in November, but in general we felt undisturbed and in total freedom. We had sun, glittering in the waves of the cold Atlantic Ocean – waves constantly shaping sand into geometrical patterns. We had seagulls, we had seashells and the sound of the wind through the green straws – and then we had the brutal remains of world war two. 

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Remembering tragedy

After getting slightly wet, very sandy and sucking in the feeling of clean air, we sat down for lunch in the remains of one of the bunkers dotting the French coastline. The contrast between the peaceful environments and the horrendous history of the site, was stark and raised questions. 

This is how nature looks like today. It might have looked almost the same on a beautiful sunny day back in 1942. When does a person stop to notice? 

There are probably individual differences, but still. What does natural beauty feel like in conditions of war? Does it add to the surrealism of the situation? Does it feel like mockery? Can it give relief? I’m so glad to be able to say that I don’t know. On the other hand – some would say violence is the nature of humanity. At least we have a great capacity for it.

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Spring in War-Time

Feel the spring far off, far off,

The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—

Oh, how can spring take heart to come

To a world in grief, Deep grief? 


The sun turns north, the days grow long,

Later the evening star grows bright—

How can the daylight linger on

For men to fight, Still fight? 

 

The grass is waking in the ground,

Soon it will rise and blow in waves—

How can it have the heart to sway

Over the graves, New graves? 

 

Under the boughs where lovers walked

The apple-blooms will shed their breath—

But what of all the lovers now

Parted by Death, Grey Death? 

Sara Teasdale (written during WW1)

Chemin des Juifs

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Day two we packed up and drove over to the castle of Hardelot. After a quick pee at the castle (thank you very much), we walked around it to find the Chemin des Juifs (Road of Jews), a four-kilometre-long concrete road leading to the fortifications along the coast. 

The road was built by mainly Belgian Jews, male slave labourers who worked on different installations along the Adriatic coast for about three months before they were sent to Auschwitz, where nearly all of them were killed. Our youngest daughter is just beginning to grasp numbers at a scale relevant for understanding this part of European history. When we told her 6 million Jews were killed, she was able to make the connection to the population of Norway. It would be like killing everyone – and then almost 1 million more.

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The holiday feeling

Despite the horror of days gone by, the Chemin des Juifs is a beautiful walk today. You start off in a quiet and varied forest area and end up, again in the dunes and at the beach. Yes – we had to have some more of the sea before turning back to Belgium – and yes, we are addicted to the feeling of nature. It’s like very effective happy-pills. Carving out seats for our butts in the shallow sand cliff and having coffee and chocolate in the sun – to us – it was the perfect feeling of holiday, missing only one little thing. I forgot to bring sunglasses.

We promised each other to go back to the dunes in spring – bringing both sunglasses and bathing suits. I’ve even figured out that it’s possible to go horseback riding on the beach. If the camp sites are open, we’ll pay them a visit. If not, we’ll have to go hide in the forest all over again. In the grey area of the law.

Sincerely, Mr. and Mrs. Grey (with family)

Practical information

Google maps will take you to a parking near Camping de la Warenne, where we entered the area, as well as to Hardelot castle and the Chemin des Juifs. There are well marked paths in the area.

We use a four-person tent from Helsport. In late autumn and winter time you will need proper equipment like warm inner clothes made of wool, an outer water proof shell, good hiking boots, warm sleeping bags and solid sleeping mattresses. We even use to bring sheepskins, heat reflecting mats (the ones you use on car windows to keep them free from frost) and extra fleece sleeping bags. Bring extra clothes in case something gets wet. Socks, mittens and hats of wool is a must. Remember good headlamps and batteries.

Bring cooking equipment  that runs on gas. It’s nice to have a hot cup of something in cold conditions. We use Trangia. Check if you can make a fire where you’re going. If not, respect the rule. You do not want to burn down the nature you came to look at.

Bring home all your litter. All of it. Even toilet paper.   

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