But why piracy in particular, you may well ask. Because I believe that pirates allow us to take a tongue-in-cheek slant on national stereotypes, and on the old aphorism “By their worst deeds ye shall know them.” And in a Europe increasingly de-natured and plagued by globalisation, we should relish rather than repress our traditional differences. Vive la difference, in more than one way.
For anyone who wishes to voyage in the flesh rather than vicariously, I highly recommend the Michelin Green Guides, which conveniently cover most of the French coast in three books: Normandy, Brittany, The Atlantic Coast. There are also more detailed guides in the series for some of the coasts covered. The pre-planned routes are well designed in terms of daily stop-offs and sites and cover the inland regions, which are not the subject of the present book. The Coasts of Spain and Portugal are covered in another two Michelin Guides. There is also an excellent Michelin website which will allow you to customise your own routes.
This book may give the impression that this was one epic journey from north to south, but in fact it is a collage of different trips along the coast, over a number of years, using a variety of means of transport, and also of my experiences in general of living and travelling in France and Spain.
So, arm yourself for an armchair voyage on the high seas of history. Suggested victuals: one bottle rum, one bottle absinthe, one bottle brandy, some limes, ship’s biscuit and hard tack.
Until relatively recently, the lamentable state of European roadways, and the non-existence of other forms of transport meant that the seas and navigable rivers were the strategic arteries both of national and international transport, both for goods and people. Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 18th or 19th century, there was little attempt to build new roads, nor to maintain the existing ones, such as they were. Access to, and control of the shipping lanes meant power, and wealth, and great mobility. No wonder then that so many fortifications line the coasts. Strange as it may now seem, the castles and watchtowers that line Europe’s shores were not built out of philanthropic foresight, for the purposes of adding foreground interest to picture postcards. They were built in deadly earnest, for defence.