A Facebook friend once posted a picture of the Dune of Pilat, where he had been. It looked so interesting that I couldn’t resist asking him where it was, and then decided that I had to go there myself one day. This was to happen in the spring of 2020 but, as everyone knows, a pandemic came along at that time that has completely disrupted our lives, including my trip to northern Spain that would take in en route the Dune of Pilat on the south western coast of France close to Bordeaux.

Fast forward one year and a bit, and people are starting to move around timidly again. It’s still a nightmare of documents, forms and certificates to take an airplane, so we decided to drive instead and encountered no problems or red tape at all to cross the border into France by car. My dream of visiting the Dune of Pilat became possible, and I wasn’t disappointed.

My travel companions were not so keen about a visit to a “sand dune”. We’ve seen a good few of them on the Belgian, the Dutch and even the Danish coast on the North Sea. They’re large mounds of sand with hardy shrubs growing on them and a view of the sea. Pretty. Often gusty. Been there. Done that.

Gianluca and I arrived there after endless traffic jams on the autoroute leaving Bordeaux towards the coast (note to prospective visitors to Pilat: DON’T go on a Sunday afternoon, especially if it’s summer and sunny). We parked and walked in a wooded zone in the general direction of the mass of humanity. Behind the top of the trees I could see a golden yellow peak – the dune. To be honest, it was a good thing there were a lot of people because we just followed a group of young visitors into a footpath until we came face to face with it: a huge, an enormous, an immensely massive mound of sand rising above us. You have to see it in real life to comprehend the size.

The youngsters took off their shoes and proceeded to climb up. This was our cue. What a youngster can do, so can a 15-year-old younger-ster and an older-ster who is getting too close to 60 for my liking. A few metres up and I thought, my God, what have I got myself into? Wearing my shoes in my hands and doing painfully slow progress on all fours up a slope that seemed like 45 degrees in elevation, hands and feet struggling upwards while sinking into loose dry sand under the hot sun. My lungs were burning, but I could notice that the youngsters weren’t going any much quicker than me. I’ve been through marathons and gruelling endurance activities. I’m reasonably fit. I’d wanted to come here for years so, clearly, the only way was up. Which is where we eventually arrived.

What a view.

What a panorama.

My non-Maltese speaking readers will not understand my commentary, which is more or less a brief summary of what I’ve written above, but they’ll be able to hear the wind effects. This was a relatively calm day, imagine how it is in stormy weather. The tiny figures climbing up the slope far away in the distance will give you an idea of the scale of this dune. By the way, it’s Pilat, as in this post’s title, and not Pilar as I mistakenly named the YouTube clip.

All the while up here, I was thinking about how we would eventually go back down. But it turned out to be surprisingly easy, although a novel sensation to me. The sand was so dry and fluid that my shoeless feet just flowed down along with the sand, as may be seen in the (also windy) clip below. All I needed to make sure was to stay upright, otherwise it was as easy to go down as it was difficult to climb up. Gravity helps, of course, as long as you have something – in this case, the friction provided by the sand – to mitigate the fall.

Errata corrige: Pilat, not Pilar.