Why American bluebirds should be flying over the cliffs of either Dover or Dieppe is anyone's guess - maybe they escaped from a zoo?
Anyhoo, they flew us to victory in a World War so who am I to judge?
You can see the coast of France from the shithole that is Dover (it's only about 18 miles away), so I thought I should visit.
Well, it would have been rude not to :)
I didn't fancy Calais much, and I wanted to work my way westwards anyway, so I aimed my boat at Boulogne and set sail in a brisk beam breeze.
It wasn't so much that I'd underestimated the Channel tide (which runs at a surprising brisk pace in the middle - reaching over 3 knots at springs)
as that I just assumed I would be better able to make up for lost ground when I got closer to France and escaped the strongest tide.
So instead of holding my heading for Boulogne I allowed my course to drift eastwards - bearing away for the speed advantage,
and ending up on the wrong side of Cap Gris Nez
(The Grey Nose) headland
with a long beat between me and Boulogne.
My cunning plan of using the bay behind Gris Nez to get out of the adverse tide was defeated by the unexpected (to me) shallowness of the bay,
meaning I just had to grit my teeth and sail into the wind for hours, inching my way along the (rather dull) coastline making about half a knot.
I finally, and extraordinarily gratefully, arrived at Boulogne's absolutely massive outer harbour in the dark, against a strong wind and heavy sea.
Next time I'll make sure to hold the course I need from the get-go and avoid sacrificing ground for speed.
Funny story, I had always believed the phrase éminence gris
meant eminent pig
and so assumed the headland was called (which I thought appropriate)The Pig's Nose
Until I looked it up.
And then figured out that the former phrase must actually refer to grey men
. Live and learn.
The cliffs along the Normandy shoreline around Dieppe
(known optimistically as the Alabaster
quite closely resemble the more famous cliffs of Dover. Except dirtier-looking. But about as interesting.
Fortunately the actual harbour towns are really lovely, authentically historic in a way that British coastal towns are not,
having held on fiercely not only to their architecture (they are absolutely littered
and nary a cement tower block in sight) but to their traditional markets and small shops.
Between the chateau of Boulogne and the chateau of Dieppe you find the first St Valery, reached by sailing across a very long and tortuous stretch of the Somme,
(I doubt we ever fought over it since it spends most of its time underwater. On the other hand - I have
and called, not surprisingly, St Valery sur Somme.
The navigable channel is less than obvious and I was relieved to have a yacht to follow in.
Though I was less happy when he ran aground in front of me and I had to quickly plan my own course.
Turned out he was English anyway, and had no more idea than I did. Or apparently less.
The other side of the chateau of Dieppe (when you can finally escape the first) lies the second Saint Valery - this one en Caux.
Quite an old-fashioned harbour town with a thriving local fishing industry
(and some fine cheese shops selling fine truffled cheese
where you can find heaps of gleaming whelks
for those with more adventurous culinary taste.
For myself, next week I shall be mostly eating
this pot of Mae Ploy's Thai green curry paste...
Things I've learned whilst living on a boat:
- There may be a reason your toilet smells awful.
- The reason your toilet may smell.
- You will always discover an item of dirty laundry, immediately you finish doing the laundry.
- Boats do not heal themselves. Except for that compass bubble. That healed itself.
Some of these things may not be exclusive to life aboard ship.
reason my toilet smells awful is an unfortunate side-effect of adding a small device to the inlet pipe
which, ironically, is supposed to make the toilet smell better.
It's a pot of a hard disinfectant material which dissolves over time into the inlet water colouring and odourising the inlet water
in imitation of those blue tablets you get for real toilets.
Unfortunately, once the disinfectant block has completely dissolved, the container makes an ideal trap for sea-going algae, slime and scum to grow and fester.
Somewhat defeating the purpose.
I have no explanation for the disappearance of my compass bubble.
You'll need 4-6 per person
Saint Valery-en-Caux on Normandy's Alabaster
coast is a medieval fishing port which now does mostly tourism.
However, it does still boast an interesting quay of fish stalls where the six local fishing boats offload and sell their wares direct from the sea.
I noticed one of the stalls selling mounds of whelks (bulots
) which seemed particularly popular with the older locals,
so I thought I'd give them a go.
The only experience I've had with whelks is eating them pre-cooked and heavily vinegared in English coastal towns
where they resemble nothing so much as pickled tumours.
The fisherman managed to convey that I should boil them in water for 10 minutes then eat them with salt and pepper.
I soaked mine in a bucket of seawater for a few hours first to let them purge themselves of any grit (easy enough when you live on a boat floating in seawater),
then fished them out and gave them a thorough brushing while their little feet were wriggling and extending, to get rid of as much mud and sand as possible.
I'd seen recipes calling for them to be cooked in seawater, but to be honest I've not had much success with cooking things in seawater
(though I haven't tried lobster) so I used fresh water, and cooked them for about 8 minutes.
They were delicious! Pity I'd been put off all those years - but they did get a bit boring after a half-dozen. Garlic butter may be required.
You can prise your cooked whelk gently out of its shell with a slight twisting motion using a small knife, fork, pin or cocktail stick,
whereupon you'll find various whelky parts:
- A hard leathery plate called the operculum at the bottom of the foot which seals the shell when the whelk withdraws inside.
This part is inedible.
- The solid foot muscle closest to the opening of the shell, white with black speckles,
and definitely the tastiest bit.
- A mass of yellow, gelatinous, black-streaked and vaguely translucent guts, gills and organs which resembles the insides of a mussel
and surrounds the top of the foot muscle like a hooded cowl. Edible. Probably.
- A darker purple tubular proboscis which connects these latter two and is likely full of grit
- this is the whelk's toothed feeding tube which you can pull out and discard
Allegedly you can
eat the whole thing (apart from the operculum) once you've extracted it from its shell,
but I suspect that depends on how large it is.
The choicest part is definitely the foot muscle, and in my opinion for best results you should discard the innards, like those of a scallop.
I found these to have a slightly unpleasant flat, dead flavour and they're easily pulled away from the solid foot if you want to get rid of them.
Make sure you get the proboscis tube too.
As you eat them, try not to think of pickled tumours. Or foetuses. Or warts.
- malt vinegar
- melted garlic butter
Thoroughly brush off and rinse your whelks - if you can soak them for a few hours (or days) first in seawater (or salted water) all the better.
Simmer the whelks in plenty of water (possibly salted) for 5-10 minutes.
Prise the whelk out of its shell, pull free the solid white muscle and discard the leathery foot pad.
Snails in Garlic Butter
First catch your snails - about a dozen per person, depending on their size. Big fat juicy diners will require more snails.
Serve a dozen per person
Or you could have them donated by a kindly Belgian couple in France who were given them in turn by some locals who picked them off the beach
- where they were snacking on some tasty seaweed they'd found above the tide-line.
Now they need to be purged since some of the algae and detritus they feast on might not agree with the human digestive system.
Rinse them off with fresh water, then feed them on nice food for three days, rinsing them off in-between feeds. Cornmeal, oatmeal, flour or lettuce is good.
Herbs might also work - particularly dill, (snails end up tasting of what they've been eating apparently). You should see a lot of poo.
Finally they need to be dried for three days. Hanging them in a net would be ideal - I used a plastic bag with (small) holes punched in it.
There should be more poo.
Now they are ready to cook.
- lots of time
Throw your purged, dried snails in boiling water and simmer for 3 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain.
Gently prise the snails bodies out of their shells and wash in heavily salted cold water for 10-15 minutes, then rinse.
Meanwhile clean the shells thoroughly (I boiled them in the salted soaking water afterwards).
Mash finely chopped or pressed garlic with good butter.
Press some into a few choice snail shells, then push in a snail body.
If you have one of those fancy restaurant oven dishes with the little snail dimples, now is the time to use it.
Otherwise dot a small ovenproof pot or ramekin with some of the garlic butter, fill with the snails and a few stuffed shells for effect,
then top with the rest of the butter.
Bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 6 for about 15 minutes until the garlic begins to cook down and take a little colour.
Serve with some nice crusty bread and a really tiny fork.