The bluster of Berck sur Mer in the winter
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During a recent winter, I was spending a
day right on the Opal Coast in northern France. It was a very wet, blustery and
stormy morning. I thought it the perfect day to take a visit to Berck sur Mer.
I like so much being by the sea in such weather to marvel at the energy of
The very wide and flat beaches were being
battered by the elements and they were deserted. There were a few hardy couples
dragging their dogs along the promenade. The walkers seemed to love it all but
I didn’t think the dogs seemed quite so keen.
The sand along the beaches was billowing in
the gales as though World War Three had started. The sight of it all excited my
imagination. I staggered across the sand to the edge of the sea and sensed the
power of the oceans. It made me feel very much alive and in touch. The sound of
the weather was blasting in my ears. I delighted in the vigour of it all.
Berck sur Mer and windy weather are almost
synonymous. The culture of the town has evolved alongside the air currents.
Louis Bleriot, the famous French aviator from the previous century, invented
the ‘aeroplage’. This was the first sand yacht that was developed at Berck. It exploited
the natural propulsive force of the wind along a ground surface. Bleriot spent
his life making friends with the atmosphere.
The aeroplage has grown into a whole modern
day industry for the town. Nowadays, the beaches of Berck are covered with the
most light and streamlined and carbon fibre strengthened craft of the present
day. During the whole year the foreshore is usually awash with these land yachts
speeding across the sand delighting the people who have hired them. Not on the
day I was there though. The strength of the wind had defeated even them on this
occasion. The modern craft were all stored, cowering from the storm, behind the
defences of all the coastal sand dunes.
Berck sur Mer today is known everywhere too,
for its kite flying festival. This occurs during the month of April each year.
The supportive power of the atmosphere is exploited once more to provide lift
for the most obscure and colourful range of craft imaginable. The sky above the
beaches is awash with the most innovative selection of brightly decorated,
unmanned and line secured craft anywhere in the world. This annual event has
evolved out of an original period of unmanned kite experiments from the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries. Berck sur Mer, with the air and the sea and the sky,
have all grown up together.
Berck has always had an aerodrome as well.
It lies just inland from the coast and has been there since the earliest days
of pioneering aviation in 1917. This is yet another connection with the sky,
the wind and the elements. The aeroplanes flying from the aerodrome are all
light aircraft. They tempt their pilots to pit their wits against the natural
forces of nature as well.
Berck sur Mer connects easily with its
ancient sea culture. It knows all about the mariners and seafarers from long
gone centuries. It has been home to a maritime hospital since 1869. Seafaring
people can become ill due to their confinement at sea. They found solace and
cure for their marine induced health difficulties as they came ashore at Berck.
Some still do.
The sea air created by nature is a natural
cure for tuberculosis. Many patients recognise this and travel specifically to
Berck sur Mer to find relief from the disease. The old maritime hospital
nowadays concentrates on this speciality and harnesses nature to find relief
for its patients. Sea bathing has always been regarded as a natural cure for
Many of the great artists from the
nineteenth century came to Berck sur Mer just to paint nature at work. They
produced great art works depicting elemental forces sculpting the shoreline.
The paintings describe clearly the essential culture of the sea, the sky and
the atmosphere all working together. The famous ‘Berck School of Painters’
included Edouard Manet and Eugene Boudin. An exhibition of some of their greatest
works is presented in the Municipal Museum that was opened in 1979. This is
sited in the old gendarmerie in Berck’s town centre.
The day I visited Berck sur Mer allowed me
to enjoy the freshness and freedom of the resting seaside resort in the winter
months. I felt a closeness, a connection with nature which I found was
inspirational. The town was just being itself in its rawest form awaiting the
new intake of visitors before the year got properly going. The shops and cafes
along the sea shore were resting and sleeping. They all looked a bit tired of
life from the previous summer. They were just waiting for the world to wake up
Berck sur Mer rests very close to the
glamour and affluence of Le Touquet. The two towns have completely different
orbits. One is a sort of fake, virtual pretention but Berck sur Mer is of life,
vigour and real nature itself. Berck is a wonderful place to view nature at
work. It is a wonderful place to view the very edge of France and to view the
edge of Europe too.
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