Beach but not beached
A week sprawled on a sun-lounger is an appalling prospect but, hang on, even holiday resorts have sporting potential, finds Jonathan Young
AFTER a series of disastrous “dismounts” from the nag, I booked into the local sawbones for repairs on my right shoulder. “Ah,” he said, with the sort of sucking noise common to car mechanics, “not sure we can fix this. Too many years on the clock. We could fit a new joint but you’d probably need another in 15 years.”
Having thus failed the bodily MOT and been condemned like a human Cortina, I succumbed to familial pressure and trotted off to our nearby acupuncturist-cum-martial arts instructor. Nicknamed Kung fu Panda, his treatment begins with a 40-minute yak about anything from the price of eggs to the city centre’s traffic congestion. The real purpose of Kfp’s verbal rambling is to establish the flow of your life force and check out the bodily balance of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. That established, he then slides in the needles to redirect the life force to the injury.
It all sounds a little like eating dried bat to ward off the plague but it works and, having seen the Panda three times, I no longer have problems with the shoulder even after firing heavy artillery at high pheasants.
Part of this success may be down to heeding his advice on lifestyle. “Water’s an important element to you,” he said. “You need to be near it regularly for your spiritual health.” And while that may sound far too patchouli oil and joss sticks, there’s nothing that makes me happier than messing about on rivers and the sea.
The key bit, however, is “messing about”. I would almost prefer the horror of a DIY centre on a Saturday than sprawl on a beach sunbathing. Partly that’s because I am incapable of tanning, a reddish blotch being my best attempt at brown, but mostly it’s down to the sheer tedium of prolonged frying.
In Cornwall, this isn’t a problem. Usually you need a fleece even in August and there’s always something to do, from studying the fulmars and gannets to catching a wave on the bodyboard. If the surf’s a mere ripple, I grab the prawn net or try for a bass on the fly.
Distressingly, none of these options were runners when the family decided, back in January, that it was time for a “hot holiday” on a foreign beach where the only activity seemed to be applying more suntan lotion. The timing was exquisite. With at least six days’ shooting still to go after what had been a busy season I’d lost the moral authority to exercise a veto and, besides, the summer was a long way off.
Inevitably, the months trundled by and the situation had to be faced. We were going and there was no escape. The night before departure I checked out the resort (the very word confirmed my fears) on Google images. There was an admittedly golden shore but devoid of any surf and populated with skinny types, gerbils stuffed down their Speedos, parading through a spinney of beach umbrellas.
The next day our host met us at the airport and I donned my bravest facial expression, one perfected after years of dinner parties listening to women banging on about their children’s education. A kind and understanding friend, he’d planned a visit to the local fishing shop on the way to his house and its wares immediately promised sporting opportunities. for stacked in a corner, opposite a tutti-frutti of carp baits, was every implement known to mankind for foreshore foraging: vast shrimping nets, prawn nets and a medley of hooked rods for extracting lobsters and crabs from rocky crevices at low tide.
His 19th-century house, rooms lined in old, polished pine, nestled in the old part of the town, 90 seconds from the empty end of the beach and 10 minutes from the fish market. The following day we strolled through port to collect the breakfast croissants and I stopped to buy two-dozen native oysters, a bargain at six euros a kilo. Next to them were piles of cockles and clams, the latter a hefty 14 euros a kilo. “Are they local?” I asked the immaculately groomed lady manning the stall. Somehow deciphering my awful dog french, she explained that they were and could be gathered right here on the beach.
Here, then, was a chance for a little hunter gathering, without which no holiday is complete. Back at the house, my friend revealed that his uncle, a frenchman, had been an expert clam gatherer but that he’d not really paid attention. He did, however, have a couple of rakes that might help.
The following day, at low water, we walked over to the channel, the supposed mother lode for shellfish. Not a sign of activity but on the other bank a chap with dreadlocks was feeling about in the mud and slipping things into a small sack. Wading carefully over, my friend approached the Gallic Rasta, who seemed as pleased as a foreshore fowler to have his patch trespassed upon by incomers. However, the french are generally courteous and reluctantly he showed us how to knead the silt with both hands, feeling for the clams’ shells and after an hour of cut fingers we’d gathered half a bucket.
Not quite enough though for the planned spaghetti vongole, so the following day we changed tactic and targeted the cockles, soon filling both plastic buckets.
That night, I commandeered the kitchen, threw the pasta in boiling water and steamed our spoils in a brew of Muscadet, garlic, shallots, lardons, olive oil, butter and parsley. My hostess was thrilled not to cook and I had discovered yet another way to make a beach holiday a pleasure.
The Gallic Rasta seemed as pleased as a foreshore fowler to have his patch trespassed