Home Features Life’s Simple Pleasures: Local holidays in the year of the pandemic

Life’s Simple Pleasures: Local holidays in the year of the pandemic

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Holidays and longer vacations in 2020 have largely been halted because of the pandemic. While frustrating, in one way it has been a revelation. It has forced us to seek our pleasures nearer to home. The British have coined the term “staycation” and in many ways, this new-found incentive to explore local treasures had been a blessing. It harks back to a simpler life when most people took their leisure relatively near to home.

Over the years we have been spoiled, with the world just a flight away. Usually, we would go abroad and try to discover new places and meet new people. Yet all this was turned on its head last summer as we were forced to look nearer to home. After much thought, we went to a place in Normandy where we had been at least a score of times over the years (being not far from home) and where we would meet as few people as possible.

So it was that we settled on the Cotentin peninsula and, more precisely le Cap de la Hague, a headland facing the British Channel Island of Alderney. Strangely, this area is nicknamed little Ireland. Of course the question of “which camera should I take” arose. I decided for the first time to take only one camera and no back-up— just my Leica X2. I thought it would be the perfect tool to photograph that particular area of coastline.

La Roche and Goury

The hamlet of La Roche where we stayed was just a stone’s throw away from Goury, the most westerly harbour of the peninsula. It is a pleasant walk that leads you to the harbour with its dry-stone walls and vegetable-gardens that line the sea. Goury is famous for its lighthouse and its double-lifeboat ramp but also for one of the strongest European ocean currents, Le Raz Blanchard. On the dry-stone wall, you can notice a protruding slab of granite which is dug into its centre to allow a wooden gate to fit in.

Cherbourg

The city has always been a key-defence point since the tenth century when a stronghold was first built. Later, King Louis XVI started the construction (completed by Emperor Napoleon) of what was to become the second-largest artificial harbour in the world.

In 1912 Cherbourg, was a stop-over for the Titanic before sailing to Cobh in Ireland on what was to be the start of its last journey. In 1944 on D-Day, the battle for Cherbourg started as early as the first morning of June 6. The town was liberated but almost totally destroyed by the beginning of July 1944. On a Sunday, fishermen usually prepare for a fishing campaign on their trawlers and leave for about a month. Cherbourg is also the town where the 1964 film “les parapluies de Cherbourg” was shot.

The coast south of Goury

A coastal path going south as far as Le Mont-Saint-Michel (St Michael’s Mount) passes through Goury and the beach in “La Baie d’Ecalgrain”, rising up to the headland of “Le Nez de Jobourg.”

This cliff walk is very popular and is probably one of the most beautiful in the area. But this particular stretch of coastline is quite treacherous, with millions of reefs hidden underwater, and this makes sailing in those waters particularly dangerous.

The local people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries took advantage of that particular seabed in a most unkind way. Before the lighthouse was built in Goury, they would light fires on the cliffs to entice merchant ships. The ships would wreck on the reefs. The locals just had to wait for the merchandise to be washed ashore. Later they would hide their loot in caves under the headland.

Port Racine

Racine is known as the smallest harbour in France. The place was first populated in Neanderthal times, and It is one of the highlights of the area. It hosts a fleet of small boats that mainly target lobsters, crabs and creels. The harbour itself is quite picturesque, and it is always a pleasure to watch people going or coming back from fishing.

Barfleur

The small harbour of Barfleur lies some 30 miles from Goury and is situated at the eastern tip of the Cotentin peninsula. The name Barbefloth dates back to 1066. The “fleur” comes from the Old English “fleod”, meaning incoming tide, and is still used in English—the flood tide. Bar is an abbreviation of Barbay or Barbey—the bearded one.

In the Middle Ages, Geoffrey de Monmouth mentioned the city of Barfleur in his “Historia Regum Britanniae”. And, according to legend, King Arthur left from Barfleur to fight against the Romans. In 1066 William the Conqueror sailed to Pevensey, East Sussex, from Barfleur with sailors and captains from Barfleur and later conquered England, becoming William I.

A commemorative medallion was set into a stone 900 years later to commemorate William’s crossing. Later in the Middle Ages, Barfleur was destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War.

Today Barfleur remains one of the few important tidal harbours. Fishers leave and disembark their catch when the tide is high, and the quays are always busy, with boats preparing to sail out to sea or moving in to discourage their bounty.

Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue

The city was known as “Sabco Vedasto” in the twelfth century. The term La Hougue was added later on. It comes from the Old Scandinavian term “haugr”, meaning a promontory overlooking the harbour. In 1346, the English kind Edward III landed in Saint-Vaast with 20,000 men at the start of the Crécy campaign which culminated in the acquisition of Calais.

Calais remained a part of England until 1558 during the reign of Queen Mary. Hearing of its loss, she is said to have declaimed, “when I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais lying in my heart.”

The city is also known for the battle of La Hougue between the French and English fleets in 1692 where the English fleet, under Admiral Edward Russell, first Earl of Oxford, destroyed several French ships which had been beached near the city.

During the Second World War, Saint-Vaast was the first harbour in Normandy to be liberated by the allied forces on June 21. Today, Saint-Vaast is famous for its oyster farms, which can be seen at low tide, and the fishing harbour and shipyard.

There is always something happening on the seafront. Opposite the city, the tiny island of Tatihou was originally a leper or quarantine colony. Early in the 20th century, the buildings were turned into a detention centre for young offenders. Today it’s a nature reserve that can be reached at low tide by foot or by an amphibian vehicle at high tide.

The little Leica X2 exceeded my expectations. I had no backup camera, but I did not miss the wider 28 mm lens of my regular companion, the Ricoh GR. The X2 proved a wonderful tool, with accurate colours that needed little or no post-processing.

Read more from Jean Perenet

25 COMMENTS

    • Thanks John for your kind comment. I’ve seen cheap SL as well. Different bulk but reading on the Panasonic 20-60 lens I haven’t decided yet. Too many possibilities. I’m in no hurry anyway. Buying a new camera requires long time thinking. It took me 5 years to buy the X2 and I spent a really long time weughing the pros and cons. That’s me and it the same for anything, which usually tries my wife’s nerves.

    • Thanks Andrea. This place is actually quite popular with Italians in the summer and you can spot Italian camper-vans on either side of the river Seine. Italy is on my wishlist but being close to France I think we’ll visit the country little by little.

  1. Really super to go traveling with you again, Jean. You make me feel that, when all this Corona lockdown is over, a return to my first “foreign” country, France is long overdue. Your pictures have such depth and detail – I’ve looked at them all full screen. John Shingleton persuaded me to take only the X2 on a trip to the UK last year, and I ended up being amazed at what I could do with it (a little cropping here and there). Have been bonding greatly with the D-Lux 7 just lately, but your article reminds me that the X2 is a not-to-be-forgotten gem. Grand plaisir – merci beaucoup!

  2. Thanks John for your kind and always encouraging comments. Corona has indeed been upsetting our lives for almost a year and I guess it will continue for a while if the W.H.O. projections are to be confirmed. The X2 is indeed a wonderful camera. Despite my use of the Ricoh GR, the Leica colour imaging is miles ahead of Ricoh. I wish the lens was slightly wider than 36mm and had a sort of close-up capability in some cases but that little asph 24mm elmarit is a gem of a lens. It is amazingly sharp, handles flare, coma and distortion really well when the ugly Kiwi lenshood is mounted on the camera but it is really useful. When shooting street I appreciated the 36mm FOV as you don’t have to get really close to people as you would with 28mm. The post processing of images is minimalistic as well. I’m thinking of upgrading to a 24MP camera but that will be a long process that may take some time.
    Thanks again and stay safe

  3. Thanks Jean — a wonderful coast and great photos. The X2 is very special; it was my fist “real” digital Leica, after many versions of the D-Lux and eventually retiring my M6. I still have it, and use it often – even today to catch the sun setting on the Hudson Yards towers. It has been all over the world and never let me down. And when one could go to events and parties it was my favorite stealth camera. It has been the back up for the TL2, and now for the SL2. I have to admit that when in doubt about weight the SL2 gets left behind…

    • Thanks Tony for the kind comment. I admit I’m happy to live along 300 miles of coastline from the extreme north of Normandy to the south west. It’s varied within a short distance drive. I have used leica cameras for almost 40 years now along with Contax cameras and Contax Zeiss lenses when they still existed. The X2 is a wonderful camera. Leica cameras are pretty addictive. I wonder what lens you use with your TL2
      Enjoy the weekend.

  4. A wonderful ‘trip’ for me via satellite following along with your story. Great pictures! I’m ‘landlocked’ here in the states. I’m a few hours from the coast, but once there, no place to stay- lockdown again. So I doubly enjoyed my ‘trip’, courtesy of you and the X2!

    • Thanks Bob for the kind comment. There’s a lockdown here as well and we can’t go more than a kilometre from home except for shopping or going to work so no chance to go to the seaside some 5 kilometres away but that will make a return to the coast all the pleasurable once the lockdown episode is over. The X2 was a perfect toom – small, stealthy and great imaging.
      Have a nice weekend

  5. What a lovely part of the world, Jean. There’s a whole world to explore close to home if one looks. I specially like the opening photo with its deep blue and orange tones. Probably where buying decisions are concerned I’m like Mike in that I’ll see a few reviews and arrive at a conclusion.

    • Thanks Farhiz for your kind comment. This smalll stretch of coastline is really wonderful and is certainly worth a visit. My “camera upgrading” is still in the “thinking” stage so I think it will take at least 6 more month before I take the plunge and buy a new camera.

  6. No matter where you live, or where you find yourself staying for no matter what stretch of time, there are nearly always pictures to be made as weather and light changes. Choice of camera is immaterial, though a simple tool – or better description , a reliable pocketable companion – encourages visual exploration. You prove that it can be done with the very basic Leica X2 (or X1 in my case) and I agree with you. Thank you for your interesting additional historical narrative, which often adds to our understanding of what we see about us as we travel.

    • Thanks David for the kind comment. I never leave home without a camera even when going to work. In that case the smaller the better.
      have a nice weekend

    • Thanks Wayne for the kind comment. I’m much indebted to John S when I chose to buy the X2 which is basically a X1 with more pixels and a different flash pop-up system. Por acine is full of photo opportunities especially when the tide is high.
      Have a nice weekend
      Jean

  7. Thanks for this entertaining read and lovely photos Jean. Your photos remind me of summers spent in Devon by the sea. Only one holiday in Normandy so far but you have whetted my appetite for a return visit. Fortunately we are close enough to France for an occasional ‘booze cruise’ (for the un-initiated a day trip from England to France for lunch and a visit to a hypermarket to fill the car with good wine and cheese) but how Brexit will change that tax wise I have no idea. I liked the shallow depth of field in some of your shots, for me the f/2.8 aperture is one of the X1’s strengths.

    • Thanks Kevin for your kind comment. One of my daughters lives between Exeter and Exmouth, so not really far from the coast and touring along the Devon coast is quite easy. With lockdown it has been difficult to cross the Channel lately. This particular area of Normandy is really beautiful. The 2.8 aperture of the X2 really helped to get some background blur, provided you get close enough to your focus point and the X2 imaging is outstanding
      Enjoy the weekend.

  8. Lovely photos as usual, Jean. I can see why the term ‘Little Ireland’ is used to describe some of the countryside. The 6 photos under La Roche and Goury could have been taken anywhere in the West of Ireland and Port Racine could be anywhere in coastal Ireland. I also really like your series with the fishermen as a mini essay on their way of life. I assume that you had to assure them that you were not a Government Inspector of some kind. Our fishermen tend to be suspicious of strangers with cameras and they are tough individuals. They have to be to do their job.

    I am glad you got to do a little bit of travel this year. My wife and I have stayed in Dublin for this whole year. We paid a few visits to County Wicklow and its mountains, when it was still possible to do this, but we are back into lockdown again.

    William

  9. Thanks William for your kind comment. The fishermen did not ask for anything. I wanted to do a series of the fishermen of the Welsh rock boat as they were going to sea for a month but did not want to intrude when they were with their wives and children. After their wives left, they were quite friendly and did not mind being photographed but taking photos of people is a much harder task in Europe than in Asia. The two locals that were on the right of the truck on the last image were trying to buy some fish before all their catch went to the fishmarket.

    Travelling has been really limited this year but we were fortunate to escape the city a couple of times. Like mant people we’re also back into lockdown at least till early Decelber. I have vivid memories of the Wicklow mountains where I went hiking many years ago. I was in Glendalough on a foggy day and the eerie atmosphere while walking among the remnants of the religious buildings was truly amazing.

    Enjoy the weekend

    Jean

  10. Sorry I am a little to enjoy this article Jean, work has been a shade manic.

    When you sent me those wonderful coastal images a few weeks back and said you had more, you were not kidding. I love these images, they show off those great Leica colours. I am envious u you I have managed to get out and see these unique places. I made my first coastal trip this year in early October to Brighton, I love the place but it isn’t Whitby, this is the first year in my entire life where I have not spent at least a day in Whitby.

    I will look forward to your next article.

    Also other Macfilos readers, please accept my humblest apologise on my fleeting appearances. Mike knows where I am, and my attention is a little focused on work this year. Hopefully next year some degree of normality will return.

    Best wishes and enjoy the weekend.

    Dave

  11. Thanks Dave for the kind comment. I love this bit of coastline. Back to lockdown so no way to get anywhere near the sea at the moment. We’ll probably have to wait till mid December. Hope work and covid lockdown will ease in the near future so you will be able to go back to Whitby.
    Enjoy Sunday
    Jean

    • Cheers. Our lockdown doesn’t end until early December, and we are likely to return to some form of tiered approach depending on where the worst outbreaks are.

      I am ever hopeful of getting one night in Whitby before the year is out, even if it ends up being New Year’s Eve.

      Enjoy Sunday.

      Best

      Dave

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