A fortnight by the sea is enough to wash away all troubles. We set off to Newhaven Harbour on a blustery day, the youngest two children, Dirk and me, with backpacks containing what we needed to get by: tents, sleeping bags, clothes, plates and mugs. It was a risky venture; we’d always used a car to go on our camping holidays, and this one involved our 15-year-old daughter who likes her creature comforts.
But there’s something quite wonderful about walking (staggering in our case) out the front door into the unknown; a powerful sense of adventure accompanied us all the way. Mostly I felt like a cross between an 18 year old and a 3 year old, fully engaging with and savouring the new sights, sounds and smells as if for the first time.
We spent two days getting to the French southwest Atlantic coast, by ferry and train, to the best campsite in France, recommended by our friend Mark who cycled there recently. Ensconced on top of the biggest sand dune in Europe, surrounded by pine forests, we spent our time catching buses to remote surf beaches, being dropped on a sand bank for the day, foraging for oysters in the oyster beds, sleeping out under a tarp in thunderstorms and two whole days sunbathing on a chaise longues by a swimming pool with my daughter. Round the Basque coast of Spain to Bilbao, the language is from Mars and the food is even more earthy and ripe than that of France. Lewes seemed poncy after supper in a working men’s cantina, where the plates were loaded of cheap wholesome food, there was football on the telly and free bottles of beefy red wine on each table.
Arriving in Portsmouth by ferry from Bilbao, as we carelessly hauled on our backpacks for the 16th and last leg of the journey, I realised that the holiday was more than just a quest for the sun and the waves. We’d thrown ourselves in to the arms of fortune, and fortune had smiled on us.