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13-20 September, France, led by Richard Bedford

Never lose touch with the person ahead or the person behind

Words by Richard Bedford.  Pics by Gary Malcolm and Richard Bedford

Six of us made the journey on September 13th from Scarborough and York to Escalles, just south of Calais. We were in two cars and had a trouble-free drive south to the Channel Tunnel. It was there that we encountered a delay, which although first thought to be a problem actually resulted in only a little time being lost. We reached our hotel by around 7pm French time, Hotel L’Escale, a tried and tested base for our first three nights.

September 14th. We drove to the nearby coastal town of Wissant to buy our lunchtime fuel supply at another known establishment, a French version of Spar. Then on to park at Cap Gris Nez for a lengthy cliff walk, past wartime defences set in the rolling hills; visibility was excellent and the English coast was easily seen just across the Channel. After some time, we struck inland in search of a huge German bunker, now a museum named “Batterie Todt”, after Fritz Todt, the man who designed Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” network of coastal defences in the 1940s. During the war, this bunker housed a massive cannon which could hurl shells across the Channel to strike the port of Dover. After our visit, we headed further inland, following various paths over fields and past farms to make our way back to Cap Gris Nez. However, having then returned to our hotel, we  again left cars behind and climbed Cap Blanc Nez, from where there are extensive views towards England and up the coast to Calais and beyond. Our day had allowed us to cover quite comprehensively this delightful, scenic area known as “La Site des Deux Caps.” 

September 15th. This was a day for exploring the often under-rated port of Boulogne, about 20 miles from our base. We walked up to the old town, explored the ramparts, which offer excellent viewpoints over the town and visited a very interesting museum and art gallery housed there. It was a warm, sunny day, perfect for wandering all around and then having a light snack in one of those continental pavement cafes. The one we found also gave us some respite from a particularly lively and large group of English teenagers who seemed to be on the move everywhere. It appeared that their teachers had also sought sanctuary in another café....

September 16th. Our next destination was Coucy le Chateau Auffrique, near the historic town of Laon, some 140 miles south-east of Escalles. This area had a rather more French feel to it; our hotel, the Belle Vue had an interior which reminded one of Cafe Rene in “ ‘Allo ‘Allo” and was situated in the old village high on a hill, surrounded by the remains of the original mediaeval castle, renowned for being once the largest in France. It has a long history and was once owned by royalty-unfortunately it suffered extensive damage in WW1. The views from here are most picturesque-we had time to explore both our immediate surroundings then walk down to the lower village, with its more modern buildings. 

September 17th. We embarked on a local walk of some eight miles, taking time first to visit the castle, with its imposing walls and towers, then following a waymarked trail which took us uphill and down dale, through woodland, across fields and into a couple of villages before bringing us back to the castle (a final climb) and then to our hotel. We all noted the peacefulness of the area and absence of continual traffic. 

September 18th. A day trip to Laon, “The Crowned Mountain,” so named because the cathedral, with its tall towers sits high on a steep hilltop and from a distance looks like a hill with a crown on top. We explored the old town, but found that many places were shut until mid-afternoon. We wondered about visiting the town centre, but local people told us that the town may be good for heritage and history, but not for shoppers! The afternoon then brought a change in the weather-thunderstorms began to move in and we decided to settle for having done a general exploration and make our way to a large Carrefour supermarket on the outskirts of town. This was an opportunity for a good, old- fashioned nose around and the purchase of fruit juices and mineral waters. 

September 19th. We were spending the final night of our stay back at Escalles, so we took a different route and went to Compiegne, to see the Armistice Memorial in its atmospheric forest clearing. This was where the Germans had to surrender at the end of WW1, in a railway carriage. When France surrendered to the Germans in 1940, Hitler sought to humiliate the French by using the same carriage for the process. He then had it destroyed. Today there is a very interesting visitor centre there, which houses a similar carriage from the same period, adapted and fitted out just like the original. We then had a long drive back to Escalles, arriving in time for the opportunity to relax and enjoy the late afternoon sun. 

September 20th-Moira’s birthday and the journey back to Yorkshire! Our trip was very enjoyable and we packed a good deal into the time. We were blessed with good weather in the main and our accommodation was clean and comfortable...and good food! I would like to thank the group- Pam Brearley, Moira Penrose, Gary Malcolm, Ray Johnson and John Mitchell, for their friendship, good company, enthusiasm and humour-John also for having been so helpful in using his car to help with transport! I think we all, as we motored back north on this day, wondered how time goes so quickly.

 

Pics below by Gary Malcolm
 

 

Boulogne, museum in the old quarter

Boulogne, Hôtel de Ville, Boulogne

Above and below: In museum, Boulogne
 

Above and below: At Coucy le Château
 


 

Richard seeks directions in Laon

 

Cathedral

Hotel in Coucy

Above and below:  Walking at Coucy

On the way to Compiegne

Armistice centre

Pics below by Richard Bedford
 


 


 

 
PRE-WALK INFO: (If supplied) Walk leader's description of start point/general information about route.

 

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