Visit to Phare de Cordouan – 7 August 2012

Should anyone, anywhere, have any doubt about it, the lighthouse at Le Cordouan is more than a bit special. And, one might be allowed to surmise, had Le Cordouan not existed, a Frenchman would have invented it, and made a work of art out of doing the job.

Phare de Cordouan at half-tideMany centuries ago, further to unsuccessful attempts by the Celts and Gauls to build a lighthouse here, the Moors and the Greeks were no more successful in their attempts in the 9th and 10th centuries.

And so it came about that, in 1584, Monsieur Louis de Foix, a French engineer and architect, was appointed and commissioned to build Le Cordouan, as it had already been known on the charts for some time. However, after limestone had been hacked out of the cliffs at Saint Palais just across the water, due to lack of funds and ill health, Monsieur de Foix died before completing his work, and it was another Frenchman, François Beuscher, who completed the construction 27 years later, in 1611.

But, in 1719, the lighthouse was demolished before being rebuilt with an additional height of 30 metres, up to the 67 metres high which exist to this day. So, we were all able to see and explore this magnificent monument to centuries of human endeavour, dramatic shipwrecks, loss of lives and valuable shipping in the treacherous waters, rip tides and sand banks at the mouth of the Gironde estuary. Waters which claimed the lives of at least two Royal Marine commandos in December 1942.

Tidal Doors Leaving the boat at low tide onto the causeway and into the entry doors which are submerged at high tide[/caption]On reaching the 67.5 m high lantern, and the magnificent viewpoint it provides, every one of the 311 steps cut in stone was worth it. And, after a well-earned breather, back down to the main building, the chapel and its stained-glass windows, the living quarters, the workshops and the king’s lieutenant’s double bedroom. And, finally, exit via the double tidal doors to the quayside and causeway and access to a sand bank, a quick swim and a picnic lunch in a one-off setting. And, if you were lucky, and happened to be near to the action, a dip into the mound of sandwiches which Pamela Prior had so thoughtfully prepared, and had kept dry, before so generously handing them around.

Not to be outdone by Pamela, the weather was exceptional and at its glorious British Olympics best. And, not least, there is a high quality video on Internet, and another work of art, and highly recommended to those of us who may possibly have been a little discouraged by the distance to Le Verdon, and the cost of the trip on the boat.

Our thanks to Anthony Dingle for organising this event, and also providing the report.
Photographs by Ian Couper