As we are among the founder members of the little known WGMW Motorhome Chapter my wife Jan and I decided to spread our wings and set new horizons for the Chapter with a journey in the footsteps of a famous artist on a pilgrimage to the shellfish capital of France at Cancale.
We have recently bought a Swift Escape motorhome which has six seats with belts and six berths to cater for our grandchildren – Joshua, Lauren and Anna – and their parents of course, who joined us on this little adventure.
For the uninitiated, the Swift Escape is created on a Fiat Ducato chassis fitted with a 2.3-litre turbo diesel engine and a six speed manual gearbox. It comes with all mod cons including shower-equipped bathroom, kitchen, dining area and lounge. There’s also electric lighting and heating – what more could you wish for.
It proved the perfect transport system for us all and a welcome and warm home for little Anna, who is just six months old, Lauren, aged two, and seven-year-old Joshua.
The journey followed that of the painter John Singer Sargent who found inspiration on the north coast of Brittany. The American artist, the well paid darling of smart Victorian and Edwardian society who specialised in capturing the very essence of the lovely women of the day, had earlier in his life found time to chronicle the tough lives of the clog-wearing fisherfolk who populated this beautiful but rugged coastline.
His painting Oyster Gatherers of Cancale, showing women and children on their way to collect oysters on a bright but cold day, perfectly illustrates the arduous existence these people had, a world away from the warmth and privilege of the salons of Paris and London, where he spent much of his later years lucratively labouring at his easel. And his paintings also capture the very essence of this majestic coastline, the wonderful light – one of the reasons why it attracted him and other artists – and majestic scenery.
Cancale’s oysters are still revered as among the best in France and the sellers set up their stalls on the harbourside, cracking open half a dozen of the razor sharp shells for you and filling up a glass of tart Muscadet to chase them down. The beach looks much the same as in Singer Sargent’s day and the lighthouse depicted in his wonderful painting is still there.
Nearby is Erquy – renowned throughout France as the home of Coquille St-Jacques, or scallops as we know them – where a yearly festival is held to salute this wonderful shellfish.
Of course the trip wasn’t all about Singer Sargent and we spent many happy hours idling the time away in the market at Quintin, sauntering through the oak and chestnut woods at Bosmeleac and in lazy sunshine even occasionally sipping a drink in one of St Brieuc’s many street cafes.
It proved a resounding success for the Motorhome Chapter…at least we thought so.
By the way the other chapter members are Reg and Jo Burnard, who drive an Auto Sleepers Topaz based on a Volkswagen Transporter, and Andrew and Katherine Morland who are keen motorhome road testers.