A religious experience

Hello and welcome to the latest blog on September 3rd 2021. This has been a momentous week for us as our trip back to the UK is now booked and feels like it might actually happen. We depart from Bilbao on September 7th on the overnight crossing to Portsmouth. We usually take the Eurotunnel but chose the ferry this time as we couldn’t face that long drive and we are also aware that our old van is showing her age and she probably wouldn’t appreciate such a long journey either. We haven’t seen our families for over a year, and our friends for 18 months, but we shall now spend almost a month on a grand tour, trying to see as many of them as possible.

With the garden at Le Shack back under reasonable control again, it began to feel as if we were just treading water, waiting for the departure date to arrive, and so we decided that a camping trip would make better use of the time. We found ourselves a small site, next to the river, only a forty-five minute drive away with cycle trails and walking from the door. One of the cycle trails went into Lourdes, a pilgrim town that we had not yet visited so it seemed there would be plenty to do.

A woodland site that we had almost to ourselves. You can just see our van by the hedge.
A rare patch of blue sky.

Lourdes is a strange place. It brought to mind childhood memories of a fading seaside town back in the UK, but instead of shops selling candy floss or sticks of rock, and arcades of jangling slot machines that were always so irresistible to me and my brother as small children, the shops in Lourdes were dedicated to separating the pilgrims from their money with a simply astonishing selection of religious memorabilia.

There weren’t that many people wandering the streets, although in a normal year as many as four to six million people visit this town. It became a sacred place in 1858 when 14 year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw multiple visions of The Blessed Virgin in a grotto near Lourdes. During one of these visitations Bernadette fell into a trance and began to dig in the earth. A puddle appeared, soon turning into a lake, the waters of which were reputed to have healing powers.

Pilgrims come from all over the world to see this now sacred spring but we found it all rather overwhelmingly commercial, and a bit depressing under grey skies. Just as we made the decision that we’d prefer to be cycling along the river, the heavens opened and we decided that a better option was to find a café, have a coffee and wait it out. We waited…. and waited, but the rain was persistent and there comes a point when the waiters are looking at you pointedly and you know it is time to either leave or buy lunch.

By the time we got back to our campsite we were soaked to the skin but a few hours later it dried up long enough to manage a short ride in the opposite direction.

We woke up to a steady downpour the next morning, with more of the same forecast for the next few days, and decided, reluctantly, that the weather had beaten us. We packed up and returned home. At least we had managed two nights away.

I’ll leave you with a picture of a contented cat. I emptied out my summer pots of their dead plants before I left and Spot has found one of them makes an excellent bed.

The blogs for the next month might be a little less regular but I will post when I can. At the moment we are keeping fingers crossed for a calm passage across the Bay of Biscay in a few days time.

All the best.

MJ

9 thoughts on “A religious experience

  1. During my only sailing trip across the Bay of Biscay, instead of the forecast Force 1 to 3, we encountered gusts of 70 knots. It was a bit bumpy! My various ferry crossings resulted in flat calms. Bon voyage…..

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  2. We felt the same about Lourdes, and the rather overpowering numbers of religious mementos. Very commercial. Have a good trip back to UK

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  3. A friend and I visited Lourdes in 1980. Even 40 years ago, it was quite the spectacle, to say the least. The one thing I remember was the plastic Virgin Mary bottles used to collect the sacred water. My other memory is having to visit a hardware store to find tent stakes (somehow I lost mine) and not speaking the language, ending up with meat skewers, which ended up working quite well!
    Have a great holiday back home, stay safe and well.

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    1. Ha! Who needs tent pegs when you can have a skewer. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in the hardware store. And you’ll be pleased to know the plastic bottles are all still going strong, racks of them in the shops in a variety of sizes, and all printed with a Lourdes logo which would explain of course why they are not cheap.
      MJ

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  4. Our only encounter with Lourdes was when we drove through trying to find a garage that would replace the tyre we had damaged during a day trip to Nay. This may have coloured my impressions of the place, but like you I found it grey and depressing and full of tourist tat. I have no desire to return! Good luck with your UK trip.

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    1. Poor old Lourdes. Not getting any good reviews! Still, it was interesting and has obviously sparked some memories for people. I assume your garden is getting another good dowsing. Ours certainly is and looking better for it.
      MJ

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      1. Actually, we’ve had only a few drops over the past couple of days, despite expecting more. The weather is set to be fine until mid-week. Following thunder storms, we are in for a good dowsing, by the look of it! Not a lot of rain in the past month, so looking dry. I never thought I’d welcome rain this summer!

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