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When I set out, my core premise, or excuse, for assembling the material in this book was, grosso modo: to seek out the former locations and remaining traces of pirate activity (in its widest sense: corsairs, privateers, buccaneers, invaders, smugglers) along what is roughly the Atlantic Coast, from Calais down and round into the gates of Mediterranean, ending more or less at Cadiz. And to speculate as to what the old corsair captains, or their latter day spiritual descendants, would find of interest along the coast today. As a result, it is a kind of scrapbook - or perhaps a Bouillabaisse - of history, geography, anthropology, piscatorial recipes, with a few linguistic croutons, and a gratin of humour thrown in. A sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Pirate Ports. It is a story of privateers and princesses, of smugglers and slavers, speculators and swindlers, of raiders, day-trippers and tourists, of lighthouses, wreckers and wrecks. And in particular, of the very “special” relationship that the English have had with the peoples and places of the continental coastline over the centuries. A relationship traditionally based on enmity, raids of one kind of another - more recently metamorphosing into an “entente cordiale” of shoppers, motorists and emigrants.

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.

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