24-Jan-2009 -- This is an unusual Confluence in that sometimes it's a water point and sometimes a land point, depending on whether one visits at high or low tide. Reading through previous reports, it appeared that timing is everything to ensure a successful visit. So, in addition to the usual CP essentials of camera, GPS and flask of tea, one should also be armed with a set of tide tables in order to avoid soggy feet or being swept off across the Channel to the UK.
Getting there is pretty easy. The point is situated between two of France's most important ports: 11 km from Calais and 27 km from Dunkirk. It is also just a few kilometres from the Gravelines nuclear power plant. The two ports are linked by the A16 motorway, and exit 50 takes you off towards the village of Oye-Plage. Carry on past Oye-Plage, pausing only to chuckle at the beautifully named hamlet of Le Tap Cul ('the Tap Arse'), the name of which puritans in the local council appear to be trying to make sound more polite by changing some (but not all) of the local signs to 'Le Tapecul' ('the See-saw'). The hamlet of Les Hemmes de Marck is clearly signposted, as is Plage des Hemmes - the beach upon which the target lies. There's even a convenient sandy little parking just next to the beach, at 650 m from the CP.
A walk on flat, wet sand takes you in a straight line all the way to 51N 2E, from where the views are of the sea to the North, the beach to the West (and in the distance, some industry near Calais) and East, and the trees that separate the beach from Les Hemmes to the South. A few shells are littered around the point itself, and seagulls come and go nearby.
The beach is popular for a relatively famous local activity - a sort of combination of beach buggy driving and paragliding, in which a sand buggy is pulled along by a large parachute at sometimes breakneck speed. It all looks like a jolly good wheeze, but I think I'll wait until summer before giving it a go. While I was at the point, a Norfolk Lines ferry en route to the UK passed to the North West. All in all, it's quite a nice spot, although some of its charm was probably lost on a freezing January day. Certainly, sun-bathers were noticeable by their absence.
The tide was about 100 m away from the point during my visit. Out of interest (or perhaps just plain nerdyness), I thought I'd compare the tide levels of previous visitors to assist future confluence hunters with planning a trip. So, using the information in previous reports and looking at the historic tide levels, we have the following:
Visit #1: 18 Jan 02: 1000: 0.98 m water: CP on land, far from sea
Visit #2: 4 May 02: 0700: 4.79 m water: under water, could only get 80 m from the CP
Visit #3: 10 Aug 07: 1830: 1.30 m water: on land, a couple of hundred metres to spare
Visit #4: 27 Aug 07: 1400: 5.38 m water: under water (but on land 30 mins later)
My visit: 24 Jan 09: 1624: 2.72 m water: on land, about 100 m to spare
These tide figures are, of course, calculated rather than actual, so there will be some margin of error. And the distances estimated from CP to sea are probably far from precise. However, it appears from the data we have that the point is on land up to a water height of, say, approximately 4 m. But once the water rises higher than that, it becomes a water point. This is good news for visitors, as the sea in this area is higher than 4 m for around only 8 hours a day (in two 4-hour 'high tide' periods). Which leaves 14 hours (in two 7-hour 'lower tide' periods) per day free for a successful visit.
One final thought that struck me: this is the lowest land-based CP in Europe (at -10 m, according to my GPS) and one of the lowest in the world (only Kazakhstan, Russia, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan can claim lower land-based CPs, none of which are coastal Confluences). This means that 51N 2E could well be the first CP that will change from a land- to a water-based point as a result of climate change. It would be very interesting, therefore, for future visitors to monitor this process. It will also present, I imagine, a thorny problem for the DCP coordinators who will have to decide at what juncture 51N 2E can no longer be considered a land-based Confluence and must join the ranks of the off-shore points. Of course, if climate change is as severe as expected, and sea levels rise accordingly, then eventually the whole of the département of Pas-de-Calais will disappear below the Channel, along with much of Belgium and Holland. A sobering thought, indeed.