As we approached Grandcamp Maisy, the waves knocked us playfully from side to side and the wind belted in from starboard. As usual I was helming while Sam anxiously consulted chart plotter, horizon and depth sounder. My job is much more fun, and in the bright sun and steady blow it was like riding a spirited horse. I belted out songs at the top of my lungs as the shape of the town resolved from a huddled skyline into distinct buildings.
The entrance to the marina is a narrow walled corridor that needles out from the coast. To hit it I had to aim slightly to starboard as the wind was pushing us quite hard. There were a few observers watching from the harbour entrance, and as ever I felt rather wonderful and mystical arriving by sea, forging through the elements to safety.
I aimed the boat perfectly, and as we pootled into the sunlit marina I was able to guide us with nary an untoward bump into a berth on the visitors pontoon.
As we tied up and took a breath, we felt our luck had changed. The air was summery soft, and rippling nests of light spangled the boats. I fried up a breakfast as Sam booked us in.
He came back with a sack of freshly caught scallops and some warm bread, and we spread our hamstery bedding on the deck to air.
We called a nearby farm registered on the WWOOFing website. The owner, Dominique, was surprised we had made it to Grandcamp Maisy- she’d expected to collect us from Isigny. It turned out we were 20 minutes’ walk from her homestead. Having bought the scallops, we decided to stay on Joker for supper that night and head to ‘Le Chateau’ in the morning.
Stretching my limbs in the sun, utterly comfortable and feeling the pride of another successful crossing, I was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that the stone face of winter had finally cracked a smile. I had a happy little weep. After succulent scallops, we slept with the hatch open for the first time in months.
At 10am Dominique picked us up in her car with our bags and drove us up the hill. As the car swung into the courtyard we wriggled in our seats like kids, utterly delighted.
‘Le Chateau’ is an arrangement of 16th century grey stone buildings, named for the castle grounds they were once part of. The actual castle was burned down in 1879, when the owner’s husband lost it in a game of chance and couldn’t face telling her.
Dominique, now 62, grew up next door with her aunt, when her grandmother lived at Le Chateau. Dominique fetched water from the well and worked in the garden and with the animals from an early age. Her grandmother raised cows, kept horses for travel and farm work, and grew her own vegetables. When her husband went to war, she took the reins of the land in her own hands, and never handed them back. Dominique often quotes her saying ‘A l’homme, la force. A la femme, la ruse’.
After raising 7 children, Dominique now lives here with her youngest son Hugues, a 20 year old fisherman who works on his older brother’s trawler. Her daughter Julie and her three children live next door where Dominique grew up. One of the buildings is a B&B– Dominique’s chief cash income.
We were shown to our room by Felicity, a regular helper from the UK who’s been coming here every holiday for the past three years. She’s studying French at Durham University and has become fluent, partly thanks to her time here. She’s practically one of the family.
The room’s warm yellow walls and wooden floors glowed in the morning sun, streaming through white and green drapes. Set with intricately carved wooden furniture, including a wide bed heaped with white and yellow covers. A complicated golden clock stood on the mantelpiece flanked by fans. The en suite bathroom with its deep green tiles and stenciled daffodils on the walls was about the size of our living space on Joker.
Slightly overawed, we put our things away and came downstairs. Dominique sent us out to explore the garden and pick 30 sorrel leaves for lunch.
The garden, the garden! Our feet, accustomed to wobbly boat and pontoon or hard concrete, squidged exquisitely on the tufty grass. Bees bumbled round our heads. A constellation of birdsong scintillated in our ears. Fruit trees elegantly fingered the air, shy buds about to explode into blossom. We wandered into a field at one end and were approached from all sides by frolicking baby goats and a fuzzy, serene donkey.
Lunch was potatoes with boiled eggs from the henhouse and tangy cream and sorrel sauce. Pudding was a buttery raspberry clafouti.
“I make dessert for every meal”, said Dominique.
Are we dreaming?