sablet expanding outwards

LOOK, I KNOW SABLET HAS TO GROW, but did it have to right in the middle of my favourite view out of the village across to the Dentelles, the view I've been recording every time we come and in every season? The vista just one hundred yards from our little house here? is there no end to the disappearing vineyards around the town and their replacement with building lots and the itty bitty villas so universal and characterless that are growing like topsy all across France?

Perfectly good vines, clearly productive if somewhat aged, in the flush of springtime growth, suddenly grubbed up, so that yet another patch of infrastructure can get started ready to accommodate another five or so villas (there is the tell-tale planning notice loosely tied to a roadside cypress), just like the now-established villas I turned my back on to take these pictures, and the ten or so more that are just completing behind them, infilling down to the post office, and already the foreground to what was a wonderful view from la terrasse towards Cheval Longue (if one stood on a chair or leaned out a bit far). The results are shown below, two autumns ago and underneath, what we are getting now.

Sablet is setting out it seems to bring its housing stock into the twenty twenties, without much thought to what this may do the character of the town and its future attractiveness to visitors who are in no small part contributory to the well being and recovery of Sablet. Yes yes, people need somewhere to live, and the department expects the communes to come up with a plan to play their part. But the mayor is concerned that his town does not become commuter belt. How will he stop it though with access to Carpentras, Vaison and Orange being a matter of a few minutes? And how come that amongst the developments already up and running there are holiday complexes (beloved of the Belgians) how do these help with the housing situation? The open faced development below the old station had another such complex booked in but that plan seems to be stillborn,the ground is weedy and unkempt, where only three years ago neat vines grew.

The French way is to put in all the infrastructure (roads, pavements, street lights, drainage soakaways, power, even letterboxes) before any house begins to go up, but this system clearly reveals the hand of speculative activity. So far there seems to be very little slowing up in the purchasing of these prepared plots, and the 'real estate' goes up in very short order, so there is clearly demand for houses still in Sablet.

Of course this barely affects the old town. Up there it is already filled in (mostly) and anyway the majority of younger French folk don't want to live in older property, usually without gardens, they want smooth walls, air con and wired off patios. So I can report without telling a lie that the incomers who have bought the old houses of the centre, in and around the old walls and towers, those who use them as holiday homes and businesses, done them up, have done the town a service: it is acknowledged, by the Mayor, and other inhabitants who live centrally. So for those who live up there it is mainly the view that is changing, that's all. I just hope that Sablet continues to be a working town and to maintain it's particular character . . .

It will all blend in, in time no doubt, and the character of the centre should remain largely unaltered. But what about the school (capacity wise) and the other services of the town? At the moment they are very good and adequate. Will they remain so? The current Mayor will see to it no doubt, but he is set upon reducing any more development if he can, we believe . . .

When we first came here, we were delighted to be able to walk out into the vines within a minute or two of leaving the house, it was one of the reasons that Sablet appealed to us. Soon though we will be passing through small housing developments to do so and the vines will have retreated. Sablet will look just a bit less like a village. It's progress I'm told . . . luckily the old town stays as good as ever – difficult of access, damp, cramped, picturesquely awkward stuck up in the Mistral, sometimes noisy neighbours — still with the views though, and a solid fan base!

We of course are situated between these two camps: not in the old town but of it; so we have advantages and disadvantages.

Advantage? Well to walk out along one of the lanes below No.1 as dusk came in, hearing the nightingales exchanging pleasantries, being passed by by bats, crickets chattering and somewhere across the fields, either a Midwife Toad or a Scopes Owl giving out its asdic ping (they have almost identical calls and both are present!): satisfyingly remote from the count for round one of the French Presidential Election.

footnote: my favoured view  NB: this snap below links to the trio above and records where we are now, in July 2018 with my favoured view. Mrs Melling points out the olive grove planted in the foreground but that is little solace to me … where's my view? Going, going, gone forever…


phares enough

HAVING MADE OUR TRANSFER from Portsmouth to Bilbao (a first for me if not for Mary;  the sailing not as tedious an experience as I might have expected, given the 30 hours duration of this crossing) and having secured distant views of St Catherine's Light on the Isle of Wight upon leaving British waters, witnessed the majestic nightime sweep of the double beamed Cre'ach, the red flicker of Stiff, the scintillation of Nividic – guardians of Ile d'Ouessant in French waters, and been greeted upon our approach to Bilbao by the first Basque lighthouse of Cabo Villain at Gorlitz, we resolutely made our way to our hotel (just to be sure of where it was), then motored into the riverside centre of the city, parked underground, then wandered the streets around the singular Guggenheim Museum, having a reviving tapas or two, eyeballed the ornate railway station frontage, the theatre and/or opera house, crossed a few bridges, strolled a few pavements, etcetera etcetera; and thus concluded that Bilbao is a jolly fine city, with much impressive if not always very attractive architecture, and is well worth a visit. We had arrived early afternoon, having lost an hour as the clocks went forward then another because of the UK time difference, so we had the best part of a sunday afternoon to gain an impression.  The city is  considerably changed from Mrs Melling's time here some 30 something years back . . .

Spain has a very different attitude to the use of lighthouses than is to be found back in the motherland: light up the coast rather than only the dangerous bits, Trinity House style. Almost every cape along the northern basque coast sports some sort of light or other, and to visit them all is a very natural ambition for a pharofile, as I am sure you will concede. But if one is sidetracked by confusing mapping, the quest for a good breakfast, finding and using the wonderful transporter bridge to Portugalete–Getxo, illustrated left, not to be missed, as well as a roadside garage shampoo-and-set for the salt encrusted Berlingo (who was camped out on the spray drenched open deck for the crossing of the Bay of Biscay, suffering accordingly) time can become an issue. The coast too is tortuous, the roads serpentine, so something had to give. No stopping at Gernika, a mere drive through of San Sebastian . . . add in one or two errors occasioned by our misreading of signs, atlases and differing personal targets . . . so  the rather small haul of lights illustrated above may be readily understood.

We missed some stunners. It won't happen next time! The Cabo la Plata light for example, perched on a high cliff overlooking the entrance to Pasaia. I've ringed it on the distant snap I took so you'll not be left wondering, and borrowed the inset view of the establishment from Trabas.

I take full responsibility for the omissions. Mrs M was up for grabbing them all but I faltered, confused by the uncharacteristic inadequacies of the Spanish Michelin (too small a scale). and an overriding fear of not speaking the language (I blame my school, I was never even offered Spanish!).

Before crossing over to the French side of the Basque region we were able to visit Cabo Figuier and the light of Cabo Higuer. I know, its confusing, apparently 'f' and 'h' are often interchangeable in Spanish . . . but your correspondent wanted to see this last Spanish light before Fr. because that legendary demi god of phare illustration Jean Benoît Héron has produced an elevation of same and I include it here, risking fines and ignominy for copyright infringement, so that you can see the sort of illustration that got me hooked on lighthouses in the first place . . .

And so to Ciboure, for the first of a small handful of new French lights to add to my list.

Yes Ciboure—where for once our hotel room did not overlook the local plumber's yard, or face a blank wall, but instead looked straight down the harbour entrance, as good a view of the two St Jean de Luz lights as can be had from land (room 408, see the snap below). They flash green all night, but only out to sea so we were not troubled. This was our most favourite overnight stop, proper sea with proper tides, cidre bouche with our supper, comfy bed and spiffing sunset. I can quite understand why Madame Ravel brought forth her son Maurice in a house just opposite the anterieur light (although it didn't look like this one, which was built in 1938 to upgrade what was there before) and why young Maurice went on to compose such mellifluous music, because Ciboure is indeed mellifluous!

Our penultimate day en route took us to the Socua headland to tick off the black vertical stripe of that phare before breakfast then jamming through the centre of roadwork-wracked Biarritz, to eyeball Pointe St Martin. Wonderful although not ascendable on this particular day, built by Freznel himself (look him up he is pivotal in lighthouse dev). Biarritz? Superb location, not sure the town meets my exacting criteria, then off to the mouth of the Adour, and upstream, Bayonne. Interesting, but without lighthouses for some reason. So it was a late lunchtime setting off for the east, to a stop-over at the mysteriously disappearing Ibis at Castelnaudry, –it always seems to be on the next roundabout or two; followed by a morning's easy motoring to bring us into Sablet in time for lunch.

The wonderful Golf de Gascogne lighthouse poster by Héron above –sadly not in my collection, the search goes on– demonstrates further my fascination with all things phare. No? Well it does to me. This trip was all about that bottom row, we've 'done' all the others bar two and there is talk of addressing that shortfall on our way back home!! Watch, as they say, this space!

Why not get hooked on lighthouses too by visiting The Lighthouse Directory (all the world!) by clicking on this link? Go on go on you know you want to . . .


the antrim jolly

AS THE AUTUMN PERIOD in Sablet drew to a close we were comparing notes over a repast with Messrs Nelson and Surgenor, and the already mooted idea of a trip away to Antrim was suddenly firmed up, the excuse being the forthcoming seven oh anniversary of self, as an excuse, if any were needed. Without a moment's thought Louise blocked any potential booking for the house in Ballintoy, so that we would have the best of seaside shelter for our visit.

And so it came to pass. In early February, the three of us, – for Adam cleared his diary and other commitments to join his ageing parents – drove to Cairnryan (via Bath, and then a stopover in Ormskirk, much thanks to Janet and Phil) left the motor in the P&O car park and sailed in glorious sunshine across North Channel to Larne, (noted lighthouses illustrated below although distant Ailsa Craig is omitted through lack of space) where we were met off the boat, given the Coast Road and Glens of Antrim tour, and thence delivered unto John and Louise's singular dwelling in Culleybacky, all in Paddy's french reg (84) Renault people carrier. Driven by John, with Louise and Poncho also on the bridge. Supper and the rejoicing ran late into the evening, if memory serves . . .

And so our all-too-short stay began. A wet and a cold start saw us gaining The Titanic Experience in Belfast, a bit pricey but worth it, before we 'transferred' to Ballintoy, J&L's gem by the sea where they left us to our own devices but with the use of their car, and a goodsome basket of provender to meet our bodily needs. What a place! Just look at the view (that's it at the top of this missive).

And right in front of us the Rathin West lighthouse on Bull Point,  Rathin Island, which throbbed red throughout the night until daybreak! Wondrous!

We then had two full days of exploring and the weather improved enough to allow a wonderful walk along the Causeway Coast (world heritage status awarded) to score the Giants Causeway and dodge the National Trust's efforts to strip one of a large sum for the privilege when it is actually one's heritage, and the world's for that matter. Explorations of the coast proved Antrim to be top flight coastal scenery, with distant views of Scottish islands to add to the atmosphere. Back in the house we warmed our toes in front of the peat fire and slept in comfy beds to the sound of the breathing surf, a few meters in front of our windows. Balleycastle provided a fish supper one evening and then we had a first rate restobash in Portrush on our last night in Ballintoy, with J&L  — and proper Guinness.

This record, you understand, is a mere taster of the fun we had, the pleasure we took at the familiarity and peculiarity of our surroundings, the friendliness of one and all . . .

On our last day, after a walk to another NT money-maker (name escapes me but it's a footbridge to an island, we declined the several quid charge to set foot upon it)-- we drove back to Culleybacky, handed over the car keys then relaxed in the extensive and supremely comfortable accommodation that J& L occupy when not in Sablet: built, designed and owned by them. A grade, singular. Envy.

On sailing-back-day we took off in the Paddywagon to partake of an Ulster Fry in Belfast's St George's Market before John did some rather dodgy u-turns, backings up and snail pace driving amongst the grand streets of the city as well as the Falls Road etc . . . a regular sight seeing tour, and in a froggie van, so clearly incognito!

The ferry back was smooth and quick, a mere two hours before retrieving the family tumbril, then trudge down to Ormskirk, supper and chat as well as a meal out at The Cricketers with Janet and Phil then driving back to dirty Devon.

Wonderful wonderful!! Thanks to to all concerned; at last we have crossed the sea to the oft misunderstood Ulster, and what I saw I liked and want more of . . . please! John and Louise wondrous hosts. capital!

Click here for more pictures in Flickr album: antrim edge