ANGELA BIRD'S

Northern France
What to do and see within 90 minutes of Calais

 

WHAT’S NEW IN NORTHERN FRANCE

 

 









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Shingle at Le Hourdel; La Colline aux Animaux; Bourdon German cemetery; BalParc amusement park; Esquelbecq’s Patate Feest;
Leaning WW2 tower at Oye-Plage.
All © Angela Bird

Here are some updates to information already in the guidebook,
plus extra places to visit that I was not able to include,
either because there was not enough room, or because they are new–or new to me–
since the book appeared in October 2007.

 

Area numbers relate to the section divisions in Angela Bird’s Northern France guidebook.

 

 

AREA 1:   DUNKERQUE, CASSEL  & FRENCH FLANDERS

 

BAILLEUL area

Musée Communal Marguerite Yourcenar  The opening times of this museum, dedicated to the first woman member of France’s elite Académie Française, have been extended, and a new phone number installed.
All year: Mon-Fri 10am-noon & 2-4.30pm; Sun 3.30-5.30pm. 2€, children free. 55 Rue Marguerite-Yourcenar, St-Jans-Cappel, 3km NW of Bailleul (tel: 03 28 42 20 20).

 

 

BERGUES

Ch’ti Tours  If you have seen the delightful 2008 comedy by Dany Boon Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (right, screened in the UK as “Welcome to the Sticks”), you will want to join this walking tour around the picturesque walled town of Bergues to see the film’s locations.  (If you haven’t, then you won’t be too interested!) 
The film’s fans might like to know that it is now available on DVD.


Musée du Mont de Piété   Alas, the small Brueghel painting referred to in the book has now been stolen from Bergues’ museum...
(THANKS TO JAMES, FOR THIS INFO)

 

CASSEL

Musée de Flandre  Long-awaited museum in the oldest building on Cassel’s cobbled main square. Its wood-pannelled rooms contain a collection of paintings of Flanders, and depictions of some of the many battles that have taken place around this town, a strategically high-point

Tues-Sat  10-12.30 & 2-6; Sun 10-6 (1 May-30 Sept, Sun 10-7). Closed 1 Jan, Easter Mon, 1 May & 25 Dec. 26 Grand’Place, Cassel (tel: 03 59 73 45 60). Admission 5 euros; children & seniors free.

 

 

 

CASSEL AREA

Maison de la Bataille  A battle of which we do not hear much in Britain is the Battle of Noordpeene, fought in 1677 in the plain below the hilltop town of Cassel. It was instrumental in helping French Flanders gain its independence from the Spanish Netherlands. This small modern museum (right), next to Noordpeene’s Mairie, tells local history, and also has a model of the battlefield. After a description of the battle and events leading up to it from one of the staff, and the screening of a 15-minute film showing the development of Europe during history, you set off round a couple of rooms with modern panels telling you all about famous locals such as a mayor, Joseph Duvet, who died at 103 and the itinerant salesman nicknamed “Tisje Tasje”, renowned for his story-telling and now immortalised as the village’s giant (who rests up in Hazebrouck museum between outings). Tisje Tasje is buried in the churchyard adjacent to the museum. Audio guides in English and Dutch as well as French. A small garden outside grows old-fashioned strains of fruit, vegetables and flowers. You can also walk the battlefield area from the neighbouring village of Zuytpeene. March to Dec. Wed-Sun 10am-12.30pm & 2-6pm. 3€, children 2€, under-7s free. 200 Rue de la Mairie, Noordpeene, about 5km W of Cassel (tel: 03 28 40 67 36). HHH

 

 

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CASSEL AREA

 

 

Le Jardin des Recollets  There’s a lovely garden to visit on the slopes of the Mont des Rcollets, a few km east of Cassel. You have to look carefully to spot it, off the Dxx, and there is a place that you can pull off to park the car before walkign down the drive.  (But first you must take a ticket at the estaminet Le Kasteelhof, on the top of Cassel hill.)  You could spend a good hour admiring the topiary, the rose garden, the colourful vegetables, and the views of the Flanders hills and valleys – some artfully framed by holes cut in the hedges. On east side of Cassel, on D948.
Thurs-Sun and by appointment. Tickets must be taken in Cassel, at the Estaminet T’Kasteelhof (at the top of the hill, by the windmill). 5€, under-12s free. (Tel: 03 28 40 59 29)

 

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DUNKERQUE


Parc Zoologique 
Bizarrely located beside a cemetery and a housing estate, in an area of docks 5km west of Dunkerque town centre, is a very small zoo opened only in 2005. A signposted path around the enclosures takes you to seals (also viewable from beneath the water), pelicans, flamingoes, some lively lynxes, a pair of depressed-looking brown bears and some gravity-defying marmosets. There are also goats, rabbits and a shaggy, long-eared donkey known as a baudet du Poitou.  1 Feb-30 Nov, daily 10am-5pm (1 Apr-30 Sept, daily 10am-6pm). Rue du Général-Leclerc, Fort-Mardyck (tel: 03 28 27 26 24). 3€, students & children 1.50€, under-3s free; family (2+2) 7€, (1+1) 3.50€. Wheelchair accessible.

 

 

 

 

GODEWAERSVELDE

 

Les Gigottos Automates   The days for visiting Bruno Dehondt’s wonderful life-sized animated figures (p53 of book), are now the 1st and 3rd Wed of month, 2-6pm (rather than every Wed).

 

 

GRAVELINES area

Musée des Jeux Traditionnels  A former farm, now a recreation area and park for the locals of Loon-Plage, offers a funny little museum of traditional pub games.  The first-floor “museum” area under the eaves is not as child-friendly as you  might imagine, as all the bagatelle, grenouille, darts and other items are fragilised by age.  However, down in a ground-floor room, you can have as many goes as you like on a large collection of more robust games, including various forms of billiards, bagatelle, table-skittles, etc.
Ferme Galamé, 645 Rue Gaston Dereudre, Loon-Plage (tel: 03 28 61 52 45). Admission (2012) 3 euros, children 2 euros.
Take exit 53 from A16 motorway, then N316 towards Loon-Plage. Continue at large roundabout towards Loon-Plage on D1, past new housing estate; pass town sign, then a small flowery roundabout (you can see the church ahead of you); look out for Rue Gaston Dereudre on the right, with a sign pointing to “PARC Galamé”

 

wacky game1.jpg

HAZEBROUCK area

ERROR!

Site de lancement de V1

 

HUGE apologies to those of you who have been looking fruitlessly for this site, mentioned on page 58 of the current book.

The area where the V1s were launched from is actually in another, smaller bit of forest, to the north-west of where I wrongly positioned it on my map and description.

The correct position for the site is on the east side of the D138 between Wallon-Cappel and Morbecque, about 3km SW of Hazebrouck centre.

 

 


NIEPPE


Musée d’Histoire Locale  At first glance, the local history of the small town of Nieppe, near the Belgian border, might not seem a subject likely to be of interest. However, as you read the documents on display in the series of candy-coloured, first-floor rooms of the moated 1920s mansion in the town centre, the implications of large-scale conflicts begin to sink in. The population of Nieppe halved during the 1914-18 war from 6,000 souls–a figure it reattained only in the 1970s. It fared badly in World War II as well, with its wind- and watermills and main bridge destroyed. Some pre-war pictures remain to show you Nieppe’s vanished heritage of churches and chapels. The rooms feature pictures of the family that once lived in this house, and some books by André Maurois, the writer who became France’s Culture Minister during the ?1960s and who served as a liaison officer between French and Allies during World War I. In the final room, the saucy head of Nieppe’s carnival giant, “Miss Cantine”, sticks her tongue out at visitors. Sun 2-5pm (1 Apr-30 Sept, Sun 3-6pm). Rue de Warneton, Nieppe, 8km SE of Bailleul (tel: 03 28 44 20 04). Admission free.


 


STEENWERCK


La Ferme aux Orgues  In the middle of a field near Bailleul is a barn housing an amazing collection of mechanical-music machines of every type, colour and shape. Monsieur Desnoulez has built up his collection over more than 30 years, and it contains pianolas, gramophones (with the most decorative horns you could hope to see), automatons etc. April to October; Sun 3-6.30pm. Admisison 6€, children 3€. 2 Rue de l’Hollebecque, Steenwerck (tel: 03 28 49 13 13). HHH

 

 

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WATTEN


WATTEN
Tourist information:12 Rue de Dunkerque (tel/fax: 03 21 88 27 78)

www.watten.fr.st /  otwatten@aol.com

Market: Fri.

Brocante: Trouvailles  Depot-Vente, on west side of river, in commercial centre, nearNetto and BigMat.

 

Approaching Watten from the north, across the marshes, you feel you are driving towards a huge cliff. It’s easy to imagine that this flat landscape would once have been under the sea. Watten (pronounced “wat-enn”, but usually referred to by the locals just as “wat”) is an attractive village at the junction of the broad river Aa and the Canal de la Haute Colme, whose waters reflect its colourful little houses. Lying 12km north-west of St-Omer, with one foot in Flanders and the other in mainstream France, the village is a point of transit for pleasure boats and laden barges travelling from the Channel and the North Sea to destinations in Belgium and the rest of France.
The Friday-morning market brings farmers and traders from the surrounding countryside to sell their produce. Streets are closed and given over to stalls displaying everything from flashy underwear to lovingly-laid-out leeks and lettuces.

Following the D213 along the reed-fringed river Aa towards St-Omer gives a chance to admire the scenery of these fertile marshlands. Tiny farmhouses seem lost under huge skies and little, green-painted lifting bridges recall paintings by Van Gogh.

Abbaye Ste-Marie-du-Mont  Take the steep road to the top of the hill above Watten to see the ruins of its once-great Augustinian abbey. Behind the wall of brick and stone, only the tower and the former bishops’ house have survived. Founded in 1072, the site has seen almost a thousand years of religious and military history. In a strategic position dominating western Flanders and St-Omer, the place was wrestled over by English, Spanish and French armies; more peaceably, in 1606 English Jesuits set up a training college here. After the Revolution the abbey was sold, and many of its stones used to build the windmill opposite (see below). However, its majestic tower was retained as a landmark for sailors. Exterior only; no admission to site. Rue de la Montagne (D26), 1.5km SE of Watten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Moulin de la Montagne
  “Mountain” (montagne) may be exaggerating a bit, but this stone windmill (right) offers unparallelled views over the Flanders plain towards the coast, and it’s easy to see why the occupying Germans used it as a lookout point in 1940. The mill was restored to working order in 1994, and is a focus of several signposted walks. Rue de la Montagne (D26), 1.5km SE of Watten.

 

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Watten: Moulin de la Montagne

© Angela Bird

 

 

 

 

AREA 2:   CALAIS, BOULOGNE, ST-OMER & WORLD WAR II

 


BOULOGNE




Les Annonciades/Bibliothèque 
The venerable building in the old town that houses Boulogne’s library was once a convent. Visitors can look inside the 17th-century chapel and visit the cloister garden, laid out in restful swirly patterns formed with box-hedging interspersed with colourful flowers. Tues-Sat 8am-noon & 2-6pm (1 July-31 Aug, Tues-Sat 8am-noon). 18 Place de la Résistance (tel : 03 21 80 46 52). Admission free.

 

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BOULOGNE area

 

Stèle de la Légion d’Honneur A chunky obelisk marks the position of Napoleon’s imperial throne during the first grand ceremony of the awarding of France’s highest honour, on 16 August 1804. Two thousand people were invested, in front of Napoleon and his entire army.  Terlincthun, nr Boulogne. Open at all times, admission free.

 

 

 

CALAIS

 

Cité Internationale de la Mode et de la Dentelle
The long-awaited “museum” devoted to Calais’ famous fashion and lace industries has now opened its doors in a former lace factory in the 19th-century St-Pierre area of the city.
It is divided into five sections: hand-made lace; industrial lace production; a workshop with four working looms; lace fashions in the 20th century; lace in the present and future.
LLL Quai du Commerce, CALAIS (tel: 03 21 00 42 30). Open Wed-Mon 10am-6pm (Nov to Mar 10am-5pm). 5 euros, children, seniors, students & disabled 2.50 euros. Closed public holidays: 1 Ja;, Easter Mon; 1 & 8 May; Ascension Day; 14 July; 15 Aug; 1 & 11 Nov; 25 Dec.

 

 

 
CALAIS


Fort Nieulay
  Vauban-built structure designed to control the locks that allowed Calais defences to be flooded rapidly in case of impending attack. Today you can tour the 18-hectare site. Mon-Fri 1-6pm. On Boulogne side of town, level with exit to tunne exit.  Guided tours.

Icéo  New leisure centre, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and ice-skating rink. Located to the west of the dual carriageway leading to the ferry port; leave this road at Junction 3, towards the city centre. 1400 Rue Roger Martin du Gard, 62100 CALAIS (tel: 03 21 19 56 56). Opening hours here.  4.90 euros for all day (3.90 for half-day); children under 16, 4 euros (3 euros); under 3s free.




NEAR LICQUES

 

Sanghen  A shrine to St Martin is hidden beneath a tunnel of hornbeam trees just inside the churchyard of a village near Licques. In the shadows, beneath a statue of the one-time Roman soldier cutting his cloak in half for a beggar, dozens of babies’ shoes and socks are hung above a holy spring. LLL Sanghen, 2km W of Licques.

 

 


NEAR MARQUISE


Église de Leulinghen 
The tiny stone church of a small hamlet is the unlikely site of many summit meetings between French, English and other nations during the early decades of the Hundred Years War. It is locked, so you cannot go in to see the nave, used by the French, and the choir, used by the English. Each delegation entered by their own door and would discuss the next crusade, royal wedding or military tournament. A panel outside shows you some charming pictures of the times. Leulinghen, 2 or 3km N of Marquise.

 

 


ST-OMER


Musée Henri Dupuis
  Near Place Foch is the former home of the 19th-century collector whose finest objects make up the displays at the Hôtel Sandelin. At present closed for extensive renovation, it contains an authentic Flemish kitchen and some of Dupuis’ left-over curiosities such as geological items, stuffed birds, pottery and objects, as well as paintings. Rue Henri-Dupuis (information on reopening schedule from tel: 03 21 38 00 94).

 

 

ST-OMER area
CLAIRMARAIS

Les Belles Echappées  In the rural marshland north of St-Omer you can rent an old-fashioned 2cv for a day to bounce around the lanes, or take a half-day ride on a tandem bike, or on an electrically-powered Solex bike.
Here's a May 2008 article from The Times article

And another from The Guardian
 
The actual site for Les Belles Echappées can be a bit confusing. Charges are
2cv : 160 euros a day
Solex bikes look like 36 euros for two, per ?half-day (these now have electric motors, rather than the old 2-stroke)
Tandem push-bike : 20 euros for half a day.
Ferme de l’Abbaye, Clairmarais (tel: 03 21 98 11 72).

 

 

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ST-OMER area
HELFAULT

La Coupole   The impressive World War II bunker is undergoing a refit for early 2010. There is to be a new section devoted to resistance workers who were shot by the Nazis.

 

 

 
WIERRE-EFFROY


La Colline aux Animaux

A friendly farm offering the opportunity to stroll through the fields and meet various domestic animals including donkeys, cart-horses, cheeky miniature goats, rabbits, wallowing pigs, ducks, geese and rabbits. Good for small children; might not hold bigger ones. Wear outdoor shoes, and allow around an hour for a visit. 1 Feb-31 Dec, Sat, Sun 10am-noon & 2-6pm (summer: Tues-Sun 10am-noon & 2-6pm ). Route de Belle (D238), La Maloterie, near Wierre-Effroy, 5km SE of Marquise (tel: 03 21 32 69 24). 4€, children 2€

 


Colline aux Animaux

 

AREA 3:   LE TOUQUET, MONTREUIL, HESDIN & THE SEVEN VALLEYS

 


BERCK


Le Succès Berckois  You can inhale the tangy fruit flavours even before you open the door of this town-centre shop in which the traditional boiled sweets of the same name are still made by hand in front of customers. 31 Rue Carnot (tel: 03 21 09 61 30).

 

Sweet smells at Berck

BERCK

Musée Opale Sud  Wouldn’t you know, as soon as you write up a place, it changes its name! Berck’s charming Musée Municipal – with its art and archaeology collections, displayed in an airy modern setting (see page 91 of book) - has just become Musée Opale Sud. Good English brochure given to English-speaking visitors.

BERCK-PLAGE

Sylvia Plath wrote a long, mournful poem about Berck-Plage, depressed by the crippled patients that she saw there in 1961. In his essay on the poem, Jack Folsom of Montana University fills in the background.

 

 

BERCK-PLAGE

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”  The unbelievably moving book by Jean-Dominique Bauby (editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine) chronicles Bauby’s thoughts as he lies in bed, in one of Berck’s sanatoriums, unable to move after a massive stroke in 1995. Selecting letters by blinking his right eye (the only part of his body that he can move) he manages to dictate this book letter by letter. Bauby died a few days after the book was published. Beautifully translated into English by Jeremy Leggatt.


Order a copy here, from Amazon.

 

 

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DESVRES

Musée à la Belle Epoque de la Faiënce de Desvres In May 2008 a new museum opened in this well-known pottery town. Set within the last factory to remain (which closed in 2006), it contains 2,500 pieces of Desvres pottery and 10,000 of the moulds used over centuries to make the output. The museum also features a shop for new and second-hand Desvres items. The hour-long guided tour (in rapid-fire French) is expensive if you are not already interested in pottery; but if you are already a devotee then you will learn a lot from the guide who is effectively showing off his own collection. They range from classic to kitsch, painted tiles to near-life-sized Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 114 Rue Jean-Jaurès, Desvres (tel: 03 21 32 76 30). Mon 2-6pm; Tues-Sun 9am-noon & 2-6pm. Admission 8€, under-12s free.

 

 

 

 A corner of the shop
at the Musée è la Belle Époque

DESVRES

Village des Metiers d’Art de Desvres  A centre for up-and-coming young craftspeople, this specially built space houses dozens of small workshops, a boutique selling some of their work, and temporary exhibitions. Visitors can peek into the workshops to see people at work creating jewellery, leather goods, ceramics and accessories. On the D341 (Chaussée Brunehaut) at Longfossé, as the road descends into Desvres from the west.  (It’s better signposted as you approach from the other, town side.)

 

 

ÉTAPLES

Musée Quentovic opening hours.

These have changed, and are now Mon, & Wed-Sat 2-5, Sun 2.30-5.30 (July & Aug, Mon, & Wed-Sat-Sun 10-12 & 2-6, Sun 10-12 & 2.30-6.30). Admission 2.50 euros.

NB  The museum is now closed on TUESDAYS,

 

 

ÉTAPLES

Maison du Port  The oldest house on the seafront of this fishing port has been renovated and opened as a centre devoted to studying and celebrating the internationally-renowned group of painters known as the Ecole d’Etaples. Artists came from Paris in the early part of the 20th century, up till World War I, to paint the coast and its light. During its changing exhibitions, the centre is open Fri-Tues 10-12.30 and 2-5.

1 Boulevard de l’Imperatrice, Etaples.

 

 

FRUGES area
AZINCOURT

Centre Historique Médiéval  The Agincourt battlefield visitor centre has recently received the loan of an extensive collection of medieval armour and artefacts belonging to Monsieur Brice Hourmilougué.

 

 

 

 

 

 

AREA 4:   AMIENS, CRÉCY AND THE WILDLIFE OF THE SOMME BAY

 

ABBEVILLE

Eglise St-Sépulcre  This 15th-century church has colourful modern stained glass by 20th-century painter Alfred Manessier. An 11-year project, it was finished in 1993, the year of Manessier’s death. Subjects evoked by the swirling, leaf-like shapes are the Passion and the Resurrection. 24 Rue Jean Macé.

Chalet de Blanquetaque  A strange brick house, built in the marshes in 1903 as a shooting-lodge, stands near the site where Edward III’s troops finally managed to cross the river Somme a few nights before the Battle of Crécy–though not without a fierce struggle against French forces who were guarding the ford. Recently restored, the house now holds a “Ramsar centre”, with information on the wetland flora, fauna, landscape and management. The English troops had crossed the river Somme by a ford at Blanquetaque, downstream from Abbeville, and near present-day Port-le-Grand. 

Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Monflières  The walls of this village chapel are covered inside with plaques expressing gratitude for prayers granted over the centuries. First built in 1160 after the Virgin appeared to a shepherd, it has been enlarged three times since and has been a place of pilgrimage since its earliest days. The chapel’s fame was such that Queen Marie-Antoinette presented a miniature dress made of cloth of gold (on show each year during the Heritage Weekend in mid September) to adorn the statue of the Virgin. A grassy area to the side is reserved for large open-air services. Pilgrimages take place on 25 March, Easter Monday, every Sunday in May, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday and Monday, and on 15 August. 2 Impasse de la Chapelle, Monflières (in NE corner of village), 4km E of Abbeville.

L'Espace Médiéval  If the Battle of Crécy has put you in the mood, you can re-live those times among the rather meagre ruins of the 15th-century fortress Château d'Eaucourt on the river Somme. Medieval-style activities, with lots of audience participation, include a warrior encampment, stone-sculpting and stained-glass workshops, leather-work and a blacksmith’s shop. 1 July-31 Aug, Wed-Sun 3-7pm. Eaucourt-sur-Somme, 7km SE of Abbeville (tel: 03 22 27 05 32). 5.50€, children 4€ (under-6s free). www.espacemedieval.com/ E-mail : contact@espacemedieval.com

 

 

 

AMIENS

Jardin Archéologique de St-Acheul  A series of quarryings between 1850 and 1918 in a suburb of Amiens led to an important discovery about the evolution of prehistoric tools. The exposure of many distinct layers of soil allowed archaeologists to track climate change over many millennia and to date accurately the tools and bones found here. More than 20,000 “biface” tools were unearthed, varying in length from 30cm down to 5cm. The St-Acheul prehistoric finds are among the most famous in the world, and have become the industry of reference of one of the principle civilisations. Many of the items from here are displayed at the Musée de Picardie.

The site lies today at the end of a long path among scrubby parkland, on the edge of a rather bleak housing estate, not a very prepossessing place for the “cradle of world prehistory”.  You can see clearly the different layers in a high “cliff”; a tall, semi-vandalised panel, see right, fixed to it indicates the different strata (the mass of tools were found in layer 4, showing that the Somme river was flowing at level 3 at the time). There’s a tower that you can go up (at weekends only) for a bird’s-eye view of the site. Daily 9am-noon & 2-5pm. Access to tower Sat, Sun 2.30-3.30pm. Rue de la Boutillerie, near Lidl store, off Chaussée Jules-Ferry (N29) 3km SE of Amiens (tel: 03 22 47 82 57). Admission free; tower 1€.

 

 

 

St Acheul site

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMIENS

 

Le Clos Alexandre  It’s surprising to find, in an unremarkable southern suburb of Amiens, this charming romantic garden laid out around a former hunting lodge. Behind its high walls, it is divided into “rooms”, with vegetable, rose, woodland, formal and orchard sections, interspersed with box hedges, espaliered fruit trees and witty sculptures. Mid Apr-30 Sept, Fri-Sun & public holidays 10am-noon & 2-6.30pm. 229 Rue des Quatre Lemaire, 3km SW of town centre via N1 Route de Paris, then D8 Rue St-Honoré (tel: 03 22 95 19 71). 5€, children under 12 free.

 


Le Clos Alexandre


AUXI-LE-CHATEAU


Église St-Martin
  High on its mound, Auxi’s tall church–yet another dedicated to St Martin–dominates the town. Inside it is surprisingly bright, with clear glass side windows and much use of white stone. Among the many items of interest are the intricately-carved vaulting and ceiling-bosses of the chancel (framed photographs are provided for close study, so you don’t crick your neck), three 16th-century frescoes on the south wall, and a 19th-century painting to the right of the organ loft that depicts the angel announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds, painted with his foot by Louis-César-Joseph Ducornet, who was born with no arms. Rue de l’Église.

 

 


LA CHAUSSÉE TIRANCOURT area


Cimetiere Allemande
  The largest German World War II cemetery, in which lie 22,187 soldiers–many, sadly “unbekannte”, or unknown–mostly killed either during the German invasion of May 1940 or the post-D-Day battles of June 1944. Compared with Commonwealth graveyards, it’s a sombre affair, with grass and birch trees, but no flowers–apart from a speckling of daisies among the grass. There’s an austere chapel, an office where you can look up names, and a toilet block. The number of chunky crosses looks impressive–yet closer inspection reveals that each commemorates six solders, so you have to try and imagine what it would look like with six times as many headstones. Rue du 8 Mai 1945, off D81 to E of village centre, Bourdon, 7km NW of La Chaussée.

Flixécourt  If you pass through this large village on the N1, 8.5km north-west of La Chaussée, you may wonder why it has such a semi-abandoned air, with empty houses and disintegrating factories. Like many along the banks of the Somme and its tributaries, it was once a flourishing part of the area’s textile industry, employing 70,000 people. They mostly worked for the Saint-Frères company, processing flax, hemp and jute that was grown nearby, or imported from India, turning it into sacks, ropes and string. The local saying was that you were born, educated, worked and died “Saint-Frères”, since the company effectively built and owned the whole place–from maternity hospital to graveyard.

Picquigny With its cobbled main square and twisting streets, Picquigny, 1km south-west of La Chaussée, on the opposite bank of the Somme, has an ancient feel to it. Pleasure boats assemble to pass through its lock gates, and ramblers pass through on the long-distance GR123. Above the village, the imposing ruins of a proud fortress that once protected this important crossing-point stand alongside the collegial church of St Martin. An inscribed stone in the churchyard commemorates the Paix de Picquigny, a treaty signed here on 29 August 1475 by the English king Edward IV and Louis XI of France. After having invaded France, from Calais, Edward was persuaded to leave the country with the offer of 75,000 gold crowns, plus an annual payment of  50,000 gold crowns. (Edward used much of this windfall to finance the 15th-century redevelopment of St George’s Chapel, at Windsor). He also undertook to have no further alliances with his brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy.

Head north-west on the D3 to glimpse the ancient Cistercian abbey of Gard, currently undergoing restoration, and the viewpoint across the river from a hill beyond Hangest-sur-Somme. Tourist office, Place du General de Gaulle, Picquigny, 1km SW of La Chaussé (tel: 03 22 51 46 85).

 

 

German WWII cemetery
at Bourdon


CRECY EN PONTHIEU


Forêt de Crécy
  Sunlight filters through the canopy of beech leaves in the 4,300 hectares of forest that stretch south-west from the town. In spring, the violets, cowslips and wood anenomes unfurl among the grassy verges, acorns sprout underfoot, and the birdsong is almost deafening. The Crécy tourist office can provide a map showing picnic areas and footpaths (10 hour-long signposted walks are indicated on trees by various-coloured paint marks). The wood is divided into rectangular sections, with “parcel” numbers neatly painted on the tree-trunks, so that with the map in hand you can be pretty sure where you are. Signs invite you, rather unnecessarily, to respect this wonderful woodland–and also remind you not to leave any valuables in your car during your walk. There’s a parcours “ludo-sportif” in the “Clairiere du muguet” Accessible from D11, 2km S of Crécy.

 



Crécy forest


FORT MAHON


Monument des Cadets de la France Libre
At the extreme south end of Fort-Mahon’s seafront, a roughly-hewn block of granite commemorates the heroic exploit of five young men who crossed the Channel in two frail canoes in September 1941 to join General de Gaulle’s Free French forces in London. Backing onto a half-hidden German blockhouse, it bears a faded plaque to Reynold Lefevbre and his four companions. Off Digue Sud, Fort-Mahon-Plage, 4km N of Quend-Plage.

 

 

 

Cadets’ monument


FREVENT area


Jardin de Marie-Ange
  Wonderful, imaginatively-planted “English”-style private garden tucked away behind a modern house. Though she classifies her soil as “terre à betteraves” (like a beet field), Madame Herduin has created a paradise of box-edged beds filled with perennials and decorative grasses, created a rose walk, designed rivers of Alchemilla mollis, laid out grassy paths lined with trees and shrubs around a frog-filled pond, an orchard of old apple varieties, a flower-edged vegetable plot, bulbs and hundreds of perennials in unusual combinations of colours. 1-30 June, Sat, Sun 10am-7pm (other times from Apr to Oct by appointment). 1 Rue du Stade, Croisette (tel: 03 21 04 47 47). 5€, children free.

 

 


RUE


Beffroi
  The most noticeable of the town’s historic buildings is the imposing belfry, that stands on the edge of the main square. Its 19th-century upper part rests on a 15th-century base. On heritage days you can climb the 75 steps to the guard-room to see some 17th- and 18th-century graffiti, then emerge onto the sentry-way for magnificent views across the flat countryside towards Crécy Forest and the Bay of the Somme. Early Feb-31 Oct, Mon 2.30-6pm; Tues, Thurs-Sat 10am-12.30pm & 2.30-6pm; Sun & public holidays 10am-12.30pm (1 July-3 Aug, daily 10am-12.30pm & 2.30-6pm).


Église St-Wulphy
  The original church on this site was constructed in the 11th century, and was an important landmark for sailors. The arrival of the “miraculous crucifix” shortly afterwards brought throngs of pilgrims so large that another chapel – the decorative St-Esprit chapel -  was built alongside in 1440 to accommodate them. Today’s church of St Wulphy was built in the 19th century to replace the first, irreparably damaged in a storm in 1798. The wooden choir stalls are decorated with wonderful carvings, some dating from the 16th century. Those on the north side include Moses and Aaron, and Jacob’s Ladder; on the south side, look for Adam and Eve being ejected from Paradise by an sword-wielding angel. The church is also known for its statues of the Virgin Mary and St Sebastian, on either side of the altar, and for several fine paintings by Laurent Bomy, a 17th-century Abbeville artist. Rue des Soufflets.


Rue market,
with belfry in distance


ST RIQUIER area


La Traverse du Ponthieu
  St-Riquier is on an old railway line now converted into a cycleway, bridlepath and pedestrian route. Its 18km winds through the green countryside, linking Cahours and Neufmoulin, to the west, with Oneux, Coulonvillers and Conteville to the north-east.

 

 


ST VALERY area


Pointe du Hourdel
  At the southern point of the Baie de Somme, a spectacular spit of shingle curves protectively around the mouth of the estuary. The houses of this small seaside village (rebuilt, along with the lighthouse, after World War II bombing) may not be very picturesque, but the setting is charming, with fishing boats leaning against the quay at low tide and a couple of restaurants serving oysters and other seafood. Its dunes hold unusual orchids and other plants, while the shingle is a favoured spot to find the increasingly rare sea-cabbage. At low tide you can dig for cockles in the shallows, or look out over the billowing mud flats towards Le Crotoy. On the seaward side of the point, you might see seals basking on the sandbanks. 10km NW of St-Valéry.

 

 

Shingle at Le Hourdel

 

 

 

AREA 5:  ARRAS, ALBERT & THE SOMME BATTLEFIELDS


ARRAS


Carrières Wellington  Just opened in March 2008 is a maze of tunnels beneath Arras created by New Zealand miners during World War I by joining up many existing cellars and passages. It enabled 4,000 Allied troops to remain concealed for weeks beneath No Man’s Land, ready to mount a surprise attack against the German lines on 9 April 1917. The surprise element of the attack is calculated to have saved thousands of Allied lives.
Warm, waterproof clothing (in case of drips from the roof) is recommended for the 90-minute guided visit along the wooden walkways far beneath the city’s streets. A torch would be useful for reading some of the inscriptions written by the soldiers and tunnellers on the walls. You are given headsets in your chosen language, that start and stop automatically when you are close to the item concerned, to provide sound effects on your visit. The visit includes a film about the progress of the war (keep your English-speaking headsets switched onf or this, as the main comemntary is in French), and about the Tommies’ life in Arras town – where they were allowed to shop only after the locals, between 7 and 9pm. The rough-hewn walls along the 350 metres of tunnels – part of the original 20 kilometres that were created - still bear faded notices: those written in black are from WWI; those written in red are from WWII. It’s a heart-stopping moment when you reach “Exit 10” – the hole through which the troops, after flinging off their greatcoats, went forth at 5am to do battle. Plenty of car-parking space by entrance. Carrières Wellington, Rue Delétoille (off Bapaume road, alongside Leclerc store), Arras (tel:  03 21 51 26 95). Closed most of January, & 25 Dec. Daily 10am-12.30pm & 1.30-6pm (tours at 10.30am & 11.30am; in afternoons every 30 mins; Sat, Sun every 15 mins). 6.80€.  Wheelchair access.


 

ARRAS

Le City Pass  If you are intending to visit every possible tourist and cultural site in Arras, it is worth buying the town’s “City Pass” (2008 price: 15€, children 8.50€). It covers admission to the belfry, the Historama slide show and the tour of the “boves” – all within the town hall – plus the Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) museum and the “Cité Nature” centre (p134 of book), which explains (in French only) the history of food. Paid for individually, these would come to more than 20€.  (But note that the “City Pass” does not include admission to the new Carrières Wellington site, above.) Buy from Arras tourist office.

 

 

 

AUCHONVILLERS

 

WWI Museum at “Ocean Villas” tearoom
Avril Williams has added a fascinating “museum” across the road from her renowned establishment on the Somme battlefields. Inside one of her barns, opened on 1 July 2008 by Major and Mrs Holt, is a beautifully laid-out collection of WWI material formed by military historian André Coilliot.
Outside, alongside the museum, she has set up a “memorial wall”, right, where those who wish to commemorate WWI ancestors can buy a “brick” and support the museum.
Here is a link to the collection of WWI and WWII material in its original setting at Beaurains, to give you an idea of what there is to be seen.
“Ocean Villas”, Auchonvillers, near Albert.

 

 

 

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Avril’s museum

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0
The memorial wall

BULLECOURT
near Arras

Musée Jean et Denise Letaille  A collection of WWI memorabilia, lovingly assembled over the years by a former mayor of the village – who sadly died in 2012, a few weeks before his museum’s official opening. In a renovated barn and adjacent room, it is devoted to the role played by Australian forces in the area during the 1917 battles around Arras. One room features leftovers from the battlefield; the other gives personal stories of some of those who died. LLL Tues-Sun 2-6pm. 1 Rue d’Arras, Bullecourt (tel: 03 21 55 33 20). 3€, children free.

 

 

bullecourt9small.jpg

DOULLENS

Musée Lombart  At last the art collection amassed by 19th-century chocoate magnate Jules Lombart has reopened to the public after many years of weatherproofing and building improvements. A purpose-built brick pavillion standing in a formal garden near the church contains an amazing collection of paintings (17th, 18th and 19th centuries), ceramics, and Egyptian curiosities. LLL Tues-Fri 2-6pm; Sat 10am-noon & 2-5pm. 7 Rue du Musée, Doullens (tel: 03 22 32 54 52). 2€, children free.

 

 

 


GLISY, NEAR AMIENS


Fly over the Somme battlefields At the airfield near Amiens, you can be taken up for an hour’s flight in a light aircraft over the Somme battlefields and the site where the Red Baron (German WWI flying ace Werner von Richthofen) was shot down.
 



Glisy airfield. 

 

 

AREA 6:   LENS, BÉTHUNE, BATTLES OF THE ARTOIS, & THE MINING BASIN

 


AUBERS area


Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery 
A few hundred metres farther north of VC Corner and off to the right, this little graveyard on an island surrounded by weeping willows and gently-quacking ducks is like balm to the soul after you have read the harrowing stories of the Attack at Fromelles. There could not be a more beautiful spot for these sleeping soldiers – from various World War I encounters in the area – to be remembered. All  year. Rue de Pétillon, D175, off D22C, 1.5km NW of Fromelles. 4.5km N of Aubers

New CWGC cemetery to be constructed at Fromelles  Following the discovery in early 2008 of the remains of 470 British and Australian soldiers in a mass grave, the decision has been taken to exhume the bodies and to reinter each one in an individual grave. Land has been given by the French authorities close to Fromelles church for the estimated 170 Australian and 300 British soldiers, who fell in the battle of July 1916. It is hoped that the bodies will be DNA tested so that attempts can be made for a full identification of each. Here is a website on which the descendants of the Fromelles dead can follow the plans and contribute information on their fallen ancestors. Off Rue de la Basse Ville, Fromelles.

 

Joseph Andrzejewski Collection  Inside the entrance-hall of Neuve-Chapelle’s Mairie (town hall) is a small display cabinet full of war relics that have been discovered in the commune. There are no signs; just walk in during opening hours and you are welcome to look at it. Among poignant items of everyday kit are military buckles and insignia, coins (in this sector, essentially German, Portuguese and Indian), helmets, English cutlery, clay pipes, buttons from German and British uniforms, decorated shell-cases, shrapnel, a Mills grenade, part of a Lee Enfield rifle, and the uniform-protectors for use when cleaning buttons. Notice, too, the glass trench-bottles, their pointed ends enabling them to be stood upright in the mud – conditions in which a normal flat-bottomed bottle would fall over. All year. Mon-Wed 9am-noon, Thurs 2-5pm, Fri 3-6.30pm. Mairie, Rue du Bois, Neuve-Chapelle, 4km SW of Aubers (tel: 03 21 26 08 84). Admission free.



 

Le Trou Aid Post
war cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUCHEL

Musée de la Mine Jacques Déramaux

Now open Tues morning as well as Thurs, 9am-noon.  But as tours are two hours long (see p157 of book)  it is vital to arrive at 9am to allow time for it. Best to call in advance, though to check on timings. Tel: 03 21 52 66 10. Admission charge raised to 5€, children 3€.

 

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Musée de la Mine Jacques Déramaux
Auchel

 

 
BRUAY LA BUISSIERE area

Labeuvrière  If you drive through this village on the D181E just south of the A26, you will be amazed to pass long brick wall decorated with ancient-looking pinnacles. Enclosed within are the grassy grounds of a one-time bishop’s palace; there’s a small romanesque church and an old house – once the episcopal residence – with 1589 carved above the door. All year. Rue Jules-Guesde (D181E)/Rue de l’Église, Labeuvrière, 8km N of Bruay.




Labeuvrière


ARRAS area


MONT ST-ÉLOI

ti (May to Sept) Mont St-Éloi (tel: 03 21 15 16 84)

Drive up the hill from the D341 at Écoivres, into the village 10km north-west of Arras that contains the abbey ruins (see below), which exert such an emotional pull when seen from afar in silhouette across the rolling landscape. There is a lovely grassy square near the abbey, with picnic tables and room to play; it’s also a start point for a 14km signposted walk.A nearby monument to a “dragon” is nothing to do with dragons! It refers to a French company of dragoons who had a terrible battle here with the Germans in May 1940; more than 50 of them are commemorated in the village cemetery.

 

Abbaye de Mont St-Éloi  More than 50 metres high, circled by cawing crows, two jagged towers are all that remain of an abbey founded in the 7th century and destroyed and rebuilt many times since. St Éloi (c590-659), known in English as St Eligius, became chief counsellor to the French king Dagobert and later a bishop. He is credited with creating a hermitage on this high spot, the nucleus of a powerful abbey that developed later and held sway over the Artois region until the Revolution. Its last abbot met his death at the guillotine in 1791, and the building was slowly demolished. Eventually the State bought the still-intact towers, in 1836. During World War I their prominent hilltop position made them an ideal lookout place and thus a target of heavy bombardment; afterwards it was decided to leave the towers in this ruined state as a poignant, highly-visible reminder of the devastation of war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Abbaye du Mont St-Eloi


ST POL SUR TERNOISE area

Circuit Automobile de Croix-en-Ternois  Up on the gentle rolling plateau above St-Pol is a motor-racing circuit that offers regular Formula 3, dragster and motorcycle events. The track is laid out so the spectators get a good view. You can also do karting and have race-driving lessons. 1 Mar-30 Nov. Usually weekends. Croix-en-Ternois, on N39, 3km W of St-Pol (tel : 03 21 03 30 13). Admission charges vary. www.circuitdecroix.com/

Oratoire de St Benoît Labre  Up the hill behind the Abbaye de Belval convent, a ruined chapel among the trees is now a place of pilgrimage for those who revere St Benoît Labre - the convent’s patron saint. Park near the shop and walk the last few hundred yards up the steep road, then follow a path in among trees and wild flowers towards the precariously crumbling walls of an abandoned church, bound together with thick branches of ivy. Below it, a tiny chapel dedicated to St Benoît has been created in the bottom part with an altar and half a dozen pews. Belval, 5km N of St-Pol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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