The booze cruise is not dead - yet!
At daybreak, Silver Vixen and friend left our Oxford village in two cars. Destination Calais and my first ever booze cruise. As Euro-bevys unlimited have been available since Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, many may think I've left it late, but I've never needed several hundred bottles of wine before. On this occasion only, I give thinks to Theresa May. If she'd delivered Brexit on March 29th, the booze cruise would be dead in the Channel; currently it clings on until October 31st. Our mission is to supply the great Midsummer fiesta at a minimum saving of £4 a bottle. When facing 180 for dinner and dancing till dawn followed by 180 for a hog roast lunch, that's a no brainer.
On a desolate roundabout in the suburbs, we glimpse messages of alco-joy through the downpour. Arch rivals, Calais Wine Superstore and Majestic, offer free P & O Ferry or Eurotunnel crossings: day return for a £250 spend, overnight for £500. Majestic samplings can be completed back home so we'd pre-ordered La Gioiosa prosecco and Silver Ghost, a quaffable cab sav from Chile, at a saving of £6.50 and £4.00 a bottle respectively. Very nice and we'd collect just before the return crossing the next day. Majestic whites were non-starters so we taste on arrival in the Calais Wine Superstore: many are dismal, but Portugal's clean fruity Vidrigal Hot Spot Bianco at £2.29 a bottle is a winner. Naively expecting a sunny Sunday in three weeks time, we pick 36 magnums of rose for the hog. And a couple of cases of Malbec Beefsteak for luck, possibly our own....
Pre-order for collection the next afternoon, leave one car parked by agreement and let the real agenda roll. Seafood lunch in Calais and a half hour drive down the Cote d'Opale brings us to the first tee at Hardelot in time for a twilight round. The tee shot on Les Pins has launched many an obsessive's motoring mini break, not least because Ken Strachan has been offering the warmest of Scottish welcomes for a quarter of a century.
The club was founded in 1905, with Britain's Tom Simpson creating the classic Les Pins 26 years later. The decades took their toll on his vision, prompting Patrick Boissannas, an axe wielding young architect and golf historianfrom Paris, to use old photographs to restore the original design. He opened up the fairways by culling 3000 trees: o smany less to hit and coastal pine forest framed by lowering cloud, exactly what Les Pin promises on the tin.
With a tempest break at the 9th, we were pushed to reach Le Manoir Hotel within a five iron of the Le Touquet clubhouse ahead of the French kitchen closure at 21.00. But we did. Sweetbreads - calf or lamb pancreas - are an abomination in America, despised as offal in contemporary Britain, food for the gods in France. I gorged and wondered if Roaring Twenties predecessors - eloper H. G. Wells, illicit lovers Edward and Mrs Simpson, Bondian ladies man Ian Fleming - enjoyed them as much as I did. No matter, Le Manoir is a period icon, a three storey turn of the century villa, highly polished antiques within, herbaceous borders without.
As a scion of the Open Golf Club family, a force for visionary change in French golf management, the aimiable Boissonnas has been unleashed here too. In 2015, he returned Harry Colt's La Mer to its 1930s glory days. The Channel is out of sight behind the dunes, but the fairways are well within reach of sea breezes or, as we soon discover, coastal gales. Maybe that's why we had it to ourselves. While golf ace, Ian Fleming, watched my buddy with admiration, P.G. Woodhouse looked sardonically over my shoulder as I 'foozled' my way around the 10th best course in France (top100golfcourses.com).
If I could withstand further punishment, I'd complete a Cote d'Opale tour with Belle Plage, a layout that starts with a nature walk through the Marquenterre Reserve, and Wimereux, a sauvage track due north of Boulogne. Instead my inner duffer took refuge in the Hotel Normandy in the fishing village of Wissant. The mock Tudor building is impeccably time warped in the late 19th century, even down to the dust. Succulent rubbery whelks taste the sea: no doubt the US abhors them too, but they fuelled a return journey that came all too soon.
Full marks to Majestic and Calais Wine Superstore for efficient, super helpful English speaking service, with no queues, swift payment and cargo preloaded on trolleys to wheel to the cars. They've had their first bonanza in early 2019 when shelves emptied ahead of faux Brexit One. 'March has gone ballistic', said Marco Allard after the Superstore he co-owns sold as many bottles on one Saturday as it had in the equivalent week last year. Now they're basking in a second killing as millennial cruisers prepare for Brexit Two. If that's the end, they don't deserve it. Then again, nor do I.