Decor and equipment upgrades

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The West Wing apartment’s private garden. Ideal for lunch al fresco.

Spring is the time of year when our gites get their most detailed and critical inspection of the year, and an assessment of what needs to be done to maintain them to the high standards our clients demand.

This year Sandboys Dune and The West Wing have come under scrutiny.  We decided Dune needed a general freshening up, so we repainted throughout.  We also fitted a new TV with a larger screen, capable of receiving French digital HD channels as well as all the UK free-to-air satellite broadcasts.  This wasn’t quite as simple as just plugging in the new set, though, since changes to the French terrestrial broadcasting system meant we had to install a new, more sensitive aerial.  Lots of climbing up and down ladders!

The West Wing apartment has also undergone a decor facelift, particularly in the bathroom, kitchen and entrance hall.  We were always unhappy about the poor WiFi reception reported by some of our guests – many of them had difficulty logging on, and most had to sit by the lounge window to pick up a signal – so this winter we have vastly improved the situation with a more powerful WiFi repeater installed closer to the apartment.  This has made it possible to connect with most tablets and smartphones from any part of the living room and now even the bedroom.

We spent a few days and nights living in The West Wing apartment ourselves so as to be totally aware of any problems that might affect our guests’ comfort.  As a result a new, better kettle has been installed, and we plan a TV upgrade before the summer.  We can certainly endorse the good reports we received from guests about the fabulously comfortable new mattress in the West Wing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Bargains and Late Availability Deals

doisneau_kissWe’ve just added some deals to fill gaps in our booking schedule, so if you’re looking for a bargain, take a look at what’s available on our latest offers page 

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Self Catering Family Holidays – now all with free WiFi

Seaside holiday accommodation in FranceFor your best-ever family holiday, choose a Sandboys seaside house or an exclusive family apartment, in one of France’s most accessible and unspoiled regions – the Opal Coast, only an hour from Calais.

For couples (or very small families – parents + 1 baby under 2 years), we’ve created a romantic hideaway in the privacy of one wing of our palatial country house just a few miles inland, with superb beaches just minutes away in one direction, historic towns and lush green countryside in the other.

We’ve already been providing family holiday accommodation in this part of France for over 11 years, but we’re not content to stand still. Sandboys is a business committed to moving with the times and keeping up with the changing tastes and requirements of our clients, so all our holiday homes are equipped with flat screen TVs, DVD players and, of course, free WiFi.

Sandboys Dune – Family seaside house – sleeps up to 5

The Pines – Large family size accommodation in the entire East Wing of a spectacular house – sleeps up to 7

The West Wing – Spacious one bedroom apartment for couples (or 2 + 1 baby under 2 years)

Switch to Sandboys Desktop Website – for large tablets, laptop and desktop screens

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An unusual tourist hits the beach

wild boar on beachVisitors to Sandboys holiday houses at Fort Mahon may be lucky enough to see some of the wild deer that live in the woods and dunes surrounding the town, but the families of wild boar who also live there usually come out only at night and are rarely seen in daylight hours.

Still, our visitors have reported the occasional sighting – one cyclist enjoyed the rare sight of a whole family of boar crossing the road and paddling in the waters of the Authie river.  Another sighting took place at dusk in fields on the edge of town.  Golfers searching for errant balls on the famous Belle-Dune golf course occasionally spot a few of these shy animals resting in the shade of trees and bushes at a safe distance from even the worst mis-hit drive, but it’s very rare indeed to see wild boar on the beach.

This early morning visitor may have just been trying out the temperature of the water!

 

 

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Tides

Yesterday’s tide at Fort Mahon was a big one.  The tidal range – vertical height difference between Low Water and High Water – was 9.97 metres (32 ft).

To put this in perspective, imagine yourself standing in the garden of a two storey house, with a pitched roof, that someone has foolishly built exactly on the low tide mark.  At low tide the ground under your feet would be just damp.

Six hours later, at high tide, the house will have disappeared from view and you will be floating so high above it you won’t be able to touch its highest point with your feet.

Fortunately tides are easily predictable and the range rarely varies from forecast heights.  Fort Mahon takes advantage of these large ranges by making use of the vast expanse of fine sand that they expose for recreation.

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Gite maintenance ~ keeping ahead of wear and tear

gite picnic table repair and maintenance

At the end of every holiday season we plan our out-of-season gite maintenance work. Usually it’s a combination of minor replacements (of small electrical equipment, furniture, etc) and buildings maintenance (redecoration, interior or exterior painting, flooring, replacement of fittings and major equipment) and it gets done sometime between Christmas and Easter.

But, in reality, keeping up with the general wear-and-tear maintenance is an ongoing job – it never stops. We had already planned to replace the picnic table on the patio at Sandboys Dune before the start of next year’s letting season, and then, suddenly, the job became more urgent. The old timbers in its benches and table-top began to sag. The rot had finally weakened the most exposed wooden parts beyond repair, and it was no longer capable of seating a family for an outdoor meal.

Initially I thought of simply buying a new picnic table. This one was 8 years old, after all. When I found out how much that was going to cost I began to consider more economical (and ecological) alternatives.

gite picnic table repair and maintenance

The newly-restored picnic table, back on the patio at Sandboys Dune

On close inspection it was clear that the base of the table was relatively sound and that it was only the table-top and benches that needed replacement, so I went out and bought 15 euros worth of pine planks. These needed cutting down from 3 metres to 1.5 metres – done in a jiffy with my hand-held Bosch circular saw. Then these pieces needed cutting down from 22cm wide to 10cm – easy again with the same tool. Some 5 cm wide pieces were needed too – piece of cake! (anyone from Bosch want to sponsor this blog?).

Having cut all the right pieces and stained and varnished them ready to be installed, I took a look at the base section. It was in pretty good shape, but there were some design flaws which gave it a tendancy to wobbliness. With some deft cutting and shaping (Newstar electric mitre saw, Stanley Surform, Ryobi Orbital sander – blog sponsorship still available!) I installed some bracing that completely eliminated the original instability. More stain and varnish – job done!

One week later, the totally refurbished, sleek and glossy picnic table is back at Dune, ready for another 8 or 10 years.

By then I reckon it will only have cost our gite budget 2 euros a year in capital and maintenance costs – and even then it might only need a couple of cheap pine planks to last 8 more years.

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French TV visits the Sandboys region!

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This is a French TV programme about the Baie de la Somme region near where we live, and where our Sandboys seaside holiday houses are situated. The programme is in French, but we’re sure you’ll like the pictures and you’ll certainly be able to reproduce the delicious recipes, even if you can’t catch everything they say.

The hotel restaurant “Les Tourelles,” where they filmed the cookery demonstration, is about 15 minutes drive from the Sandboys houses in Fort Mahon, so you can eat the same dishes you see cooked here!

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Gite guestbook comments ~ and some chocolates

Gite cleaned, prepared, and ready for guests

It was a busy Saturday yesterday, as all three of our gites changed over on the same day.

This happens from time to time every year, of course, but not so often as you might imagine. Although our changeover day for the houses in the summer season is Saturday, we frequently have families staying two weeks in one or other of the gites. This tends to reduce the number of 3-way changeover days.

Gite cleaned, prepared, and ready for guests

This gite is ready for guests arriving!

Another factor is that the Garden Studio gite is let by the night at all times of year. Guests can arrive and leave on any day of the week and stay for anything from 2 or 3 nights up to 2 or 3 weeks, so the majority of arrivals and departures there are not on Saturdays.

But every now and then we have the whole lot to do on one day. This time, though, our guests did make it a lot easier for us. The Van De Rijts who were in the Garden Studio left at about 0830 to travel to Holland, so we were able to get into the apartment and have it thoroughly cleaned and prepared by soon after 1000.

Mr and Mrs Van De Rijt had left us a very kind comment in the Garden Studio gite guestbook, saying they had enjoyed a wonderful time and would be returning for another holiday. On top of that they left us a lovely gift of some rather special chocolates from the local patissier/chocolatier.

Then it was off to Fort Mahon, where although the De Boeck family weren’t quite ready to leave Sandboys Pearl, the Taylors had already left Dune and we got of to a prompt start with our cleaning, maintenance and gite preparation.

The Taylor family had clearly enjoyed their stay and left some kind comments in the guestbook, as well as a very nice letter – from which we would like to quote:

Dear Patrick & Sue

Sorry we didn’t get to meet you but we had to leave just ater 9 to get our shuttle – and a long drive to Cornwall!

Had a great time though and everything in the house worked really well – extremely well equipped compared to many holiday properties we have stayed in.

Lovely area – we usually go to Brittany but the cheap tunnel crossing makes this a really good alternative.

Many thanks,
The Taylor Family

Our thanks to the Taylors for such a glowing reference!

Finally we got to Sandboys Pearl at about 1230 and were sufficiently ahead of schedule to stop for a sandwich (we made them before we started work in the morning) and a drink. The De Boecks, too, had left a very kind comment in the gite guest book – although as it was in Dutch I could only guess at some of the words. However, what was clear was that they loved the house and they had had a good time in Fort Mahon. Their final sentence translates, “Thank you for this nice house which made our holiday”.

So this week the gite housework wasn’t as hard as it could have been, and the rewards, the comments, the letter and the chocolates, were even kinder than expected.

There was still the laundry, ironing and office work to do, of course.

Owning and running gites in France – that’s the life!

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New Tide Clock now on Sand-Blog

I thought I would go out sailing or rowing on the River Authie tomorrow, so I went online to check the time of High Water and found a useful Tide Clock for Fort Mahon that I could incorporate into the blog pages.You’ll find it on this page down near the bottom of the right-hand column.

Tide ebbing at La Madelon - River Authie

I built this boat last year for sailing and rowing outings on the River Authie

The tidal range (the difference between high and low tide) can be 20 feet or so on this coast, which explains why there is so much dry sand on the beaches to fly kites, do sand-yachting or just play on at low tide.  The tide here takes almost 7 hours to ebb, but only 5 hours to come back in, so it comes back in at quite a speed.  As it passes over the sun-warmed sand the water is warmed up – making it nicely warm to paddle and play in.

When the tide clock hand is at the top, it’s high tide at Fort Mahon.  When it’s at the bottom, it’s low-water.  You can gauge the state of the tide, and whether it’s rising or falling by where the hand is when it’s between high and low-water.  (It’s on French time, of course, which is one hour ahead of British time)

For me it’s important, because the boat can be launched easily on the river only when it’s about 2 hours either side of high water. Also, it’s hard work to sail or row downstream when the tide is flooding – or upstream when it’s ebbing.

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A Hot Monday in France : with a Parrot!

Wow! It was hot today

– and there was work to do, so there was no way a lazy day was in prospect. We got started early when M. Lannoy, the occasional gardener arrived at The White House. While he got busy in the early morning warmth we prepared the Garden Studio apartment for the next guests after the departure, yesterday, of regular visitors, the Griffiths.

By the way, the Griffiths tried the restaurant at Berck that we reviewed in our last blog post. They loved it and even went back there a second time during their 6 night stay. I seem to remember they also like the Auberge du Bahot, a little country-style place in the neighbouring village, but it’s not open on Mondays whereas “Les Pieds Dans L’Eau” at Berck is.

Our garden provides some shady places on a hot day

The West wing and Garden Studio apartment seen from a shady place in the garden

After the housework and some office work it was time to go out in the garden. By this time it was really hot, somewhere around 28 degrees in the shade. Of course, when you’re working in the garden there is no shade – at least, not when you’re mowing the lawn there’s not. Still I would rather have that job than the one Sue was doing – kneeling on the hot ground pulling weeds out of the flower beds. At least while you’re mowing you can look over the hedge and watch people passing by. Today a man, a holidaymaker I guessed by his clothes, went by on a bike with a parrot on the handlebars. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera on me, and anyway I was taken so much by surprise that he had gone before I could have taken a snap even if I’d had one.

There’s plenty of time to let the mind wander as you push a mower, so a plethora of questions formed in my mind. Was it his pet parrot, or had it just flown down and perched on the handlebars for a ride? Would it take off from time to time for a quick bird’s eye view of the terrain, or did it prefer to let the cyclist do all the work? Would it talk to the rider, give directions, perhaps, or even swear at him if he took a wrong turning? What would happen if the parrot was spotted by a hawk? Thinking about all these possibilities took my mind off the tedium of mowing, and even the discomfort of the heat.

It eventually got too hot to mow any more, so we both stopped for lunch. Soon, though, it was time for a major shopping trip to the supermarket (it’s less busy there between 12h00 and 14h00). And at least it was nice and cool in the shop.

After the shopping there was laundry to collect from one of the Fort Mahon houses and more office work to do – bookings to confirm and payment reminders to send, while Sue did gite laundry and ironing (another hot job). Finally it cooled off enough outside to go out and do some more mowing. At 17h30 the mower ran out of petrol. There was more in the jerry can but I took the hint and called it a day.

M. Lannoy continued his hedge trimming until 18h00. He had worked solidly in the blazing heat since 08h30, taking only an hour’s rest in the shade of our avenue of pines, at around 12h30, for his lunch.

Bravo! M. Lannoy. Thanks for working hard in the sun on a hot day – and for seeming to enjoy it.

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