Clacclacclacclacclacclacclac. Ah, the familiar sound of a family vacation. I turn around to see my dad standing on a small hill, currently on his 15th attempt at shooting the perfect panorama with his Fujifilm. A disapproving nod is followed by the 16th clacclacclacclacclacclacclac, while the rest of us eat our homemade sandwiches and stare out over the Strait of Dover.
The English shoreline is clearly visible from the top of Cap Blanc-Nez – the famous chalk cliff in northern France. Our hike starts at the Dover Patrol Monument, the obelisk dedicated to the British Royal Navy for its valuable role in defending the Strait of Dover during the First World War.
From the monument, we stroll along the top of the cliffs. The stunning views tempt visitors every day to ignore the signs warning them to stay clear of the edge, as chunks of the fragile chalk walls have suddenly broken off in the past. But this is a risk the young couple ahead of us seems to be willing to take for the perfect selfie.
After a few kilometres, the trail leads us down to the beach. Eight years ago, we spotted a stranded harbour porpoise here – a type of toothed whale – but now all we find is a lifeless jelly fish. “And a cat!” Fadi points to the cliff above us, where a black feline is sitting next to an old bunker, one of the landscape’s many souvenirs of its military past.
We stop for coffee in Wissant – the next town over – and admire the kite surfers’ determination to catch a wave on this windless day. At low tide, we follow the beach all the way back.
When we reach the staircase leading up to the parking lot, I sense some hesitation. “I have never swum in the North Sea before,” Fadi admits. The cold September breeze makes a warm coat no luxury, but Fadi packed his swim shorts nonetheless, eager to tick off another box on his to-do list. After a little persuasion, he decides to go for it, to an elderly couple’s great concern.
After his refreshing North Sea baptism, the winding trail lead us back up the cliff through grassy slopes, overlooking fields and sea.