4. Finding the beach

The beach is a location which features prominently in Grasshopper Island. The spot where Toughy, Smarty and Mouse are seen celebrating their arrival to the “uninhabited Island”. This beach first appears in Episode 2 entitled The Elderly Boy. So naturally, finding this location was uppermost in our minds. As it happens – this location was the easiest one to find.

While building our fan website – grasshopperisland.net – Uli had the idea of writing to Joy Whitby and was delighted to receive her support. Over the course of several emails, both he and I had opportunity to ask some specific questions about the production. Joy was very amiable and gave us some insight into how the TV production and the storybook came about. We were fascinated to learn that the majority of the production took place in Haute Corse (Northern Corsica). However some of the very early beach scenes, those featuring tall sand dunes and a tumbling Charles Hawtrey (The Elderly Boy), were actually filmed on a beach in Wales, UK!

It was during our occasional email correspondence that we enquired about the beach scenes specific to Corsica. Joy was very helpful and was certain that the beach was very close to L'Île-Rousse. This allowed us to shortlist two potential candidates. We believed it could either be Plage de Bodri or Plage de Ghjunchitu – both beaches located directly west of L'Île-Rousse. By chance, it was on the return journey from L'Île-Rousse to Calvi that we discovered which one. As we peered out of the windows aboard U Trinichellu (the little train), just five minutes from L'Île-Rousse, we had the most amazing overview of a beach below us. There – at the western end of the golden sands – were a distant cluster of rocks that we recognised immediately from the many scenes featuring Toughy, Smarty and Mouse!

“That's it – that's definitely it”, we proclaimed in gleeful certainty as the little train ambled along toward the little stop called Botri. It has been a lifelong dream of Uli to one day stand on the beach where Toughy, Smarty and Mouse began their Grasshopper Island adventure. The show had first broadcast on British terrestrial television in 1971 and in Germany two years later. It made such an impression on his young mind in 1973, that he made a promise to himself : to one day visit Grasshopper Island and walk on that beach! To retrace the steps of three brothers as they set off on their grand adventure of discovery. Now, as this little train ambled along it's single track more than 50 years later, he had set eyes on this very real place. It was a momentous moment. By now we were tired from our explorations. Evening was descending and soon the sun would set so we vowed to return by train the following day.

The next morning, there was a buzz of excitement in the air as we left Calvi and stepped onto U Trinichellu once again. Our destination : the golden sands of Plage de Bodri – repeating the meandering rail passage along the northern coast that would take just 25 minutes or so. In late April this train service comprises of just a single diesel railcar – and tickets are purchased from the conductor on board. This conductor also operates the doors and supervises boarding and departures. It's a nice, personable experience to interact with a real human – rather than a charmless vending machine, when purchasing a ticket. It's also a great opportunity to practice speaking French, and we both enjoyed these little train rides tremendously throughout our stay.

After a pleasant ride eastwards, passing through the little port of Sant'Ambroggio and the beachside village of Algajola, we soon disembarked at the stop called Botri. There was no station there – just a wonderfully basic platform upon which we stood to watch the railcar depart. Soon we were left with a balmy silence and the rather appropriate sound of one or two unseen grasshoppers, their legs chirping away to welcome us. We stood at an old iron gate directly beside the tracks which looked as if it had stood there for 100 years. Somewhere in the near distance, beyond the whispering wild grasses which swayed in the breeze – lay Plage de Bodri. For Uli the culmination of a childhood dream – 51 years years in the making. 

Our arrival at Plage de Bodri with the beach as yet unseen

The sound of the distant waves tumbling and crashing – seemed to beckon us and so we began walking. First impressions as we took the narrow track toward the beach, were surprise and wonder at how wild and natural the approach was. There were no apartment buildings – there were no concrete footpaths – no streetlights – because there were no streets. Just fields of wild grasses and seaside chamomile on each side, bounded by groves of juniper, thorn and heather. The sight and scents of wild flowers and pine were a treat for the senses as we walked downhill toward the waiting water. A natural mix of perfumes seem to linger at every wild place upon Corsica. It is claimed that Corsicans can smell the island out at sea long before her peaks and headlands come into view. You would do well to believe it.

Uli had become very quiet as we walked slowly and ever closer to the waiting sands. He had once described Grasshopper Island as his personal Shangri-La. I understood now exactly what he meant. After a minute or two, the beach revealed itself to us only as we stood on a pretty wooden bridge which crossed a small stream. On each side there stood a tall bamboo copse which until then had obscured the view. There we stood, our jaws having dropped open as we surveyed our view. There just twenty five meters away were an assortment of large boulders and rocks. The very rocks where Toughy, Smarty and Mouse once ran, jumped and spied Dr. Hopper upon a peddalo for the first time. Uli stood with glassy eyes, tears welling up as we both realised that finally – after all of the planning and all of the pandemic delays – we had made it. I outstretched my hand and shook his heartily proclaiming “congratulations”. He was understandably awestruck and emotional at achieving a lifelong dream.

So there we stood for several moments. Reflecting on so many things. Personally, I was completely astonished at how natural and unaltered this place was. I had been expecting there to be a car park, or some other human interventions in the half century since Grasshopper Island was filmed. But it really was practically unaltered. Soon our mutual awe was replaced with laughter and excitement as we left the slatted wooden bridge and glanced up and down Plage de Bodri which had now revealed itself to be around 200 metres long. There could be no doubt, this was the beach. The place where Toughy and Mouse discovered an old door that would soon become a bed platform. To prove it – dear reader – we created the comparison videos below.

Then and now: Mouse and Toughy discover an old door upon the beach
© Grasshopper Productions (1970) and GrasshopperIsland.net (2024)

After our wonderfully successful first days traveling between Calvi and L'Île-Rousse, we had now discovered four wonderful locations. As a reminder they were (1) The Pier where Lupus and Mr. Button disembark on their visit to the mainland, (2) The square where Mr Button eats pasta as he waits for Lupus and (3) The vegetable stall where Lupus interacts with some local people. Now – here we had located (4) the exact beach where the boys celebrated their arrival by jumping and circling their musical trunk! 

Then and now: The boys run down to the rocks upon the beach. Notice some erosion has occurred to the soil in the years since passed - the pathway is no longer there.
© Grasshopper Productions (1970) and GrasshopperIsland.net (2024)

We would stay here for a period soaking up the atmosphere – and Uli would dry his socks and shoes after an unexpected drenching from a friendly wave, as he stood transfixed on the shoreline, lost in his thoughts. 

Then and now: Mouse, Toughy and Smarty kneeling in front of a large boulder.
© Grasshopper Productions (1970) and GrasshopperIsland.net (2024)

What other locations might we find? We had just a few days left, and we were determined to continue our mission and track down the boys “little house”, the “post office” where Mr. Button writes to his sister and the “big house” where Lupus and Mr. Button resided. So check back soon to read about our next location success. Oh okay then, one more comparison video before we go.

Then and now: Mouse, Toughy and Smarty hiding behind some rocks.
© Grasshopper Productions (1970) and GrasshopperIsland.net (2024)


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