Wednesday Wander – Rocher De La Vierge, Biarritz

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Biarritz, located on the French coast. I absolutely loved it – the light, the water, the people, the food – it was just wonderful. I’ve written about it here and here, but for today’s Wander I’m going to go back to the town’s origins as a fishing village, before Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie made it such a fashionable place to be.

For centuries, the principal industry in Biarritz was whaling. It wasn’t until the 18th century that it became known as a town for bathing, and the 19th century when it became fashionable due to the patronage of the Empress.

Nowadays, there are splendid hotels and a casino along the water’s edge but, if you wander a little further along the beach, you come to the old fishing village and harbour, the water clear turquoise against curving ochre rocks.

The old harbour walls remain and are used today – we spent a few minutes there watching a group of men launching a boat into the water. In the mid 1800s, Napoleon III decided he would like to build a large anchor point and sea-wall, connecting a nearby rock to the coastline. A wooden walkway was built between the two, and a statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of the rock to watch over the whalers as they returned to harbour.

The sea can get ferocious in these parts, however, and in the 1880s the wooden walkway was replaced by a metal bridge attributed to Gustav Eiffel (known for a rather more famous metal structure bearing his name). Today you can walk out to the rock and take in the glorious views, past archways of stone over dark blue water, sea birds wheeling overhead.

The day we went was warm and hazy, the water calm, though we had heard that the waves can splash as high as the footbridge on more stormy days.  Also, I think I may have found my dream house…

The Rocher De La Vierge is easily accessed via the coastal walk that runs along the main beach at Biarritz, past the Casino and town centre and leading to the excellent Aquarium. The views looking back are beautiful, as are those beyond, and the walk itself is quite gentle – I highly recommend it.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


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A Good Start

As I mostly work from home these days, I try to take myself out of the house at least once a week, and one of my favourite spots is a nearby cafe on the edge of the canal. The food is homemade and delicious, the staff friendly, and the interior replete with fairy lights, which suits me very well.

This morning I sat down with my notebook and my tea, and noticed this sign on their wall. I thought it a lovely way to begin the day (and the year).

And I thought I’d share it with you. Happy Friday, everyone!


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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Maiden Mother Crone, Part 3 – Balance

The next morning I woke early and went to breakfast – to find several of the group already there, including our guide. We hadn’t realised we were staying at the same place, so it was a nice surprise to catch up before the day began. The meeting place for the rest of the group was a short walk away, and I set out after breakfast, wandering past old stone houses and tall pines, glimpses of sunshine giving me hope the day wouldn’t be quite as wet as the previous evening. Nonetheless, I had worn my wet weather gear again. We had several sites to visit that day, and I wasn’t sure when we’d get back to the hotel.

When I think about the second day, the first stone circle we visited remains elusive, for some reason. I cannot quite grasp where we were or what we saw. Perhaps that’s because of what came after, at the place of the dead. Even though the locations of the rest of the weekend are clear, I had to look through my photos to remind myself where we were.

And now I remember. The church at Midmar.

When we arrived, pulling into the small car park, it was wet underfoot but not yet raining, green leaves reflected in puddles along the track that ran nearby. The church itself was charming, blue doors and window frames a bright contrast to the surrounding green and grey. And beyond, just peeping around the building, we could see what looked like part of a stone circle.

The church was built in the 19th century, perhaps deliberately in such a position so as to block the view from the stone circle to a nearby standing stone. The circle itself has been ‘tidied up’, as the sign put it, which meant removing one or two stones completely so hearses or wedding cars could be parked there, as well as replacing several other stones in positions not original to the site.

Despite these adjustments, the stones that remained still spoke, still held power and beauty. The great recumbent lay in place, flanked by its companion stones, their sharp smooth edges, so we were told by our guide, directing the eye to significant solar and lunar events, the circle aligned precisely with the movements of the sky. The church did not diminish their power –rather, there was a sense of unity there, of both temples cohabiting the same site, peaceful on their hillside.

Once again we were invited to find a stone that ‘spoke’ to us, a place where we felt comfortable within the circle. One stone caught both me and another of the companions, inviting us to look closer, to photograph its moss strewn surface, unable, unwilling to leave its side, even when urged to join the rest of the group. It wasn’t until I took a small stone, blessed, from my pocket and bent down, burying it in the earth at the base of the stone, that it released us. As I stood up my companion, who hadn’t been able to see what I was doing, said, ‘Shall we go?’

It was raining, of course, the weather that seemed to follow us from site to site returning, though with none of the wildness of the previous evening. We wandered through the graveyard afterwards, all of us stopping to admire the gravestone of a local artist, decorated with a beautiful tree-of-life sculpture (for more information about this grave, head over to Sue’s account of the day, and the comments by Running Elk).

Before we left, I went to the old tumbled stone wall and, through a space in the trees, took in the beautiful view. Like Easter Aquhorthies, this circle was built almost at the top of a rise – almost, but not quite – for a lovely sense of harmony with the land.

There was a peace to this place, a feel of tree and stone and endless time, even with the more modern church nearby. It felt in balance, as though all things were well. This was in contrast to our next destination…

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

A Monday Meander – Dragonstone Part 2

As promised, this is the second part of my Game of Thrones location visit, this time to the spectacular San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, on the coast of Spain.

San Juan de Gatzelugatxe is actually the name of the small hermitage located on the islet, a sanctuary dedicated to Saint John and dating back to the 10th century. The name of the islet, Gatzelugatxe, comes from the Basque language and translates roughly to mean ‘craggy fort,’ very appropriate.

The islet is joined to the mainland via a manmade walkway, which twists and turns up the rugged rock face to reach the monastery. There are two ways to reach the walkway – the first is a steep narrow trail, very rough underfoot, only wide enough for two people to pass. It starts at a restaurant perched high on the cliff, with excellent views over the small bay.

As we descended the kilometre or so to the walkway, the people coming uphill the other way looked completely wiped out, sweating and short of breath in the muggy weather. We found it easier going heading down, but our thighs still ached due to the steep and rocky nature of the path. It can be done in sandals (I did it), but I’d recommend runners and comfortable clothing.

As we descended we could hear the bell at the hermitage ringing. The tradition goes that if you ring the bell three times and make a wish, it will come true. Seeing the faces of the people coming uphill, I joked to hubby that perhaps they were wishing they didn’t have to make the climb back up again!

We reached the walkway quite quickly and paused, both to catch our breath and to take in the glorious views. The islet isn’t far along the coast from Zumaia and the spectacular rock formations of Itzurun Beach, so the landscape is quite similar.

With the mist looming low on the nearby hilltops, waves rushing, it wasn’t hard to feel transported to another time and place. The walkway and bridge have both been used in Game of Thrones as the entrance pathway to Dragonstone – it is on these stairs that Jon Snow ducks to the ground after seeing a dragon for the first time.

I saw no dragons, but it doesn’t mean the place is without magic. Aside from the beautiful scenery and wish-granting magic of the bell, there is also a statue of a saint sunk deep into the waters of the small bay. Tuna boats, before they head across the ocean to fish, all come here to circle the statue three times and ask for a blessing on their voyage and catch.

So, did I make a wish? Well, after the walk down, we decided that going all the way to the top wasn’t really for us. And, as we stood on the stairs, I wondered how on earth they’d got a film crew, equipment and actors in costume down the precipitous narrow path we’d just taken.

Then we noticed the road going back up. 😀

It made for an easier ascent, though it took a while. But much easier than we had thought. And I got to visit Dragonstone with my two favourite people. So perhaps my wish was granted, after all.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.