Your cycle limps out of Le Havre. The back tyre was flat this morning, and the hotel proprietor brought you out a bowl of water. Too busy repairing the puncture, it is only at the top of the climb out of the town that that you realise the escalating groans of protest can no longer be ignored. The diagnosis is not good; the wheel is buckled and spokes snapped – serious therapy will be required. The choice is to descend back into Le Havre, or press on the 20 km to Etretat, and hope to find a cycle shop there. It’s a big hill you’d have to climb again, so you gamble on going forward.
Halfway at midday, you turn off the D road to lunch as close as you can to the sea. The basic, uncoloured roads on your map run out well before the blue, though you feel sure there will be a path down to the water. You find such a path but increasingly you gain the impression of being high up, so that you are not surprised to see the way end suddenly in a cliff edge, and beyond it, the sea. Unlike the night before, this is welcome isolation in which to eat a meal, the kind that’s thrilling, that depends upon being alone, the paradoxical danger and attraction of your insignificance mixed with an acute sense of being the one who is alone, the one who is there at the centre of the universe.
If this were the view from your high-rise in London, would you swap that sea of city, for this stretch of chameleon aquamarine, which today is deep blue with a hundred thousand eyebrows of white? Peering over the edge, as over the balcony down to the toy houses, people and cars floating in the noisy swell below, a blast of wind rises up from the drop, buffeting you. Stepping back with a shiver, the cliff edge shields you, and the wind is balmy where fifteen floors up the tower block, it howled and whistled unceasingly, the eerie sound mixed in with the ceaseless cooing of the pigeons who colonised the block’s refuse shoot.
You’re a world away from that now. You eat with a relish that the food served up by last night’s restaurant could never give you, sitting among untroublesome insects, wasps and butterflies, wild flowers and grass. And come the end of September, the blackberries growing here would have made it an even fatter lunch.
A toy yacht sails around the Port pétrolier that juts out into the sea to the north, and tacks into the coast. You wave as it passes beneath you, and see a glint of watching glass in return. Your eyes dance along with the yacht a while, till it is lost beneath the cliff face, to the south.