It’s a strange thing, but when you’re English in France, you can’t quite shake the feeling that no one is pleased to see you. The customs officials seem resigned to your presence; the hotel grudgingly accepts your money, (albeit in voucher form) and the bus drivers! Blimey, but of all the buses we took in France – and we took quite a few in our days on holiday – the bus drivers seem by far and away the least excited to make your acquaintance. Even when they’re robbing you blind.
There’s a place called Mont St. Michel. It’s about 55km from St. Malo, and appears, among many other places, in one of Lou Morgan’s books where it’s… well, you can read that for yourself… I’d heard of it, and had a vague idea that it might be spectacular, but my Mum (who I was travelling with) was absolutely determined that we go.
“It’s the first week of October!” she exclaimed. “Surely we’ll be the only visitors!”
There are certain signs you can get that a place might be a tourist trap. The first and most prominent one is when the local bus company charges twenty Euros for a return ticket to a destination whose geographically distant equivalents are only two Euros away. The fact that the bus driver doesn’t cackle with merry glee as he takes your money further suggests, if you weren’t already suspicious, that here is a man for whom the tourist holds as much interest as does a scrawny cow in an abattoir.
We got on the bus.
In my Mum’s day, you could drive to the foot of Mont St. Michel. No more. Car parks fill an otherwise flat and empty plain. At first glance, as you get off the coach, the suspicion grows upon you that you’ve been picked up and dumped in a particularly marshy and unappealing part of Essex. Then you look past the sign to the visitor information centre, and there, on the horizon, is a Tower of Silliness. No, let me re-phrase: a Tower of Awesome Silliness.
So, first it was an abbey. Then it was a bigger abbey. Then it was an abbey with fortifications. Then it was a fortified abbey with a bit of a town and a few spikey bits. Then it was a fortified abbey and town with spikey bits with bastions with cobbled streets and medieval houses and gargoyles everywhere and giant windows and epic views and imposing mastery of the landscape and as if all that wasn’t enough to get you going, for half a day it’s entirely cut off from the world by an epic tide. I mean, not just a little bit of a tide, not a small tide coming in and going out a few hundred metres – I mean an epic tide that obliterates the mud flats of the local area, spills across the land for miles around, floods dykes and ditches on every quarter and slices the only causeway to the isle in two on an habitual basis.
It is, in short, an island of awesome silly.
I’ll let pictures do some of the explaining here.