Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Narrow escape

In the early years of our travels to France, we spent a few days on the Normandy coast in the picturesque village of Honfleur. The hotel, overlooking the Seine Estuary, had once been the favourite hangout place of the French Impressionist painters.

It was late September and a sunny yet windy day. In the morning we had a lovely walk around the harbour. There was a lot of activity going on, with little fishing boats sailing in an out and people working on their private yachts that were moored at the quays. During our walk we had noticed a nice restaurant in one of the side streets and we decided to have lunch there. It was called ‘Le petit Mareyeur’ (The little fishmonger).

Le Petit Mareyeur - Honfleur*

When we arrived shortly after half past twelve, we found the place very busy, with waiters rushing around carrying large platters of sea food to the waiting patrons: lobsters, North Sea crab, shrimps, oysters, cockles, whelks, periwinkles, sea urchins … it all looked and smelled delicious.

We found ourselves a table for two in a corner and each had a dozen of langoustines with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and baguette.

On the way back to the hotel we decided to stop by the lighthouse and take an invigorating walk along the seafront. The tide was out and a large stretch of beautiful flat dry and wet sand reached all to way to the water's edge. There was a sign ‘’Baignade interdite’ (No swimming), but we ignored it as we had no intention to take a dip. We were both wearing rather heavy coats to protect us against the cold wind and we even kept our shoes on.

The walk out to the water’s edge was uneventful. The fresh sea air made our faces tingle and the screams of the seagulls overhead added to the overall feeling of peace and tranquillity. However, the walk back to the shore was quite a different matter. The closer we got inland, the further our feet sank in the wet sand. At some point we were both down to our ankles in the murky mess, when all of a sudden I felt my right foot being sucked down.

My friend, who had managed to free his feet from the suction, grabbed my hand and tried to pull me out. By that time I was up to my right knee stuck in the sand. In spite of my his help I was unable to free my foot and fell flat on my stomach on the wet sand. I could feel how the quick sand – because that’s what it was (not an octopus or other sea monster) was pulling me further down. I started to panic, when all of a sudden the ghastly sand made a loud gurgling noise letting go of my foot and leg. I almost lost my shoe, but managed to get hold of it just before it was ready to disappear beneath the surface.

Quickly, yet carefully treading we hurried to the safety of the stretch of dry sand and looked at the damage. I was covered from head to toe in murky, smelly sand, while my friend’s shoes and pants were stained with dark mud as well. There was no one in sight, and we ran back to the hotel, avoiding the main road and taking a small path through the bushes. In the garden of the hotel I hid behind a large rhododendron while my friend went to get the key to the room, before smuggling me in through a side door. We made it to our room without running into any of the other guests or hotel staff.

By the time we were upstairs I had started to realize what a narrow escape we’d had. Seeing the state of my clothes there was only one solution: to take a shower with all my clothes on. In the meantime my friend poured us both a large glass of Calvados from the mini-bar to steady our nerves.

Well, we both came out unharmed and even my clothes were okay once they were dry. My shoes, however, were ruined. And my nerves? Well, I still get a knot in my stomach when I think of what could have happened.

I know, we shouldn’t have ignored the sign, but then it said nothing about quick sand or walking on the beach being dangerous. We thought the warning was just against swimming because of the undercurrents caused by the in- and outgoing tide.

So, if you go to Honfleur, make sure to have a meal at Le Petit Mareyeur as the restaurant still exists. But please, avoid the beach … unless you like taking showers with your clothes on!

Le Petit Mareyeur
4 Rue Haute

F-14600 Honfleur
Tel. 02 31 98 84 23

Also check the link for reviews !


chm said...

As you say, that was a narrow escape. Wow!

You're right. In addition to "baignade interdite," there should have been a sign about "sables mouvants." These quick sands are really treacherous.

Jean said...

How terrifying for you. I had no idea that there could be quicksand on those beaches.

Carolyn said...

Scary! I'm glad you escaped with both shoes.

If I ever see such a sign, I'll remember chm's phrase, "sables mouvants," and substitute it for "baignade interdite."

Lynn said...

I have heard about the potentially treacherous sands around Mont St. Michel but nowhere else. I have walked many a sandy beach at low tide....your story is very scary and you were very lucky.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Very scary and yes what a narrow escape. It could of been horrendous, luckily you got out of there.

Yes I think you are right that it should say about the quick sands!

ladybird said...

Chm, Since then, I'm always very suspicious when I see a warning sign ... somtimes even a bit too much.

Jean, Neither did I. You see it on tv, but you never think it can happen to you!

Carolyn, You should have seen the state my shoes were in. I don't think I even wore them again :(
And yes, be careful, the next time you see a warning sign!

Lynn, I've been to other beaches were your feet tend to sink in the sand, but just for half an inch or so ... nothing as bad as this experience. But I've learned my lesson :)

ladybird said...

Hi Anne, Thank you for visiting, joining and commenting on my blog.

As I said in my post, I still get a knot in my stomach when I think of what could have happened. I haven't been to Honfleur since, so I don't know whether they've adapted/completed the sign!

Anonymous said...

I have an apartment in Honfleur and walk the sands frequently. This is the first time I have heard of such a problem with quicksand. I will ask the locals when we next visit about the problem and see if we can get a notice of warning placed at the end of the breakwater.

ladybird said...

Hi Anonymous, Thank you for visiting my blog and posting a comment. In fact the incident happened at the foot of the old lighthouse, on the part of the estuary beneath the bluff where the 'Ferme Saint-Simeon' is situated.

And it happened almost 30 years ago... so maybe the council has done something about the problem in the meantime. But it's good to enquire anyway, in order to prevent other people from living the same horrible experience.

Take care the next time you walk the sands and enjoy your vacations in France!