Once more unto the Breach

Tuesday 10th April 2012, Port-le-Grand, Picardy
We left Caen this morning and have been making our way along the French coast passing from Lower to Upper Normandy as we crossed the estuary of the Seine via the Pont de Tancarville. The river flows in winding meanders from Rouen down to the sea where white chalk cliff have been carved from the hillside by the river before it flows out into a wide flat alluvial plain with the pretty fishing port of Honfleur on one bank and the industrial port of Le Havre on the other.

Pont de Tancarville across the Seine Estuary

Continuing northwards we turned off along the coast road near the delightful village of Veulles-les-Roses stopping for a walk at Sotteville–sur-Mer and again at Quiberville.

Beach at Quiberville, Upper Normandy

Later we passed through Dieppe. It looks to be an interesting town, famed for its fish and grey shrimps. It is worthy of more time than we could spare today. It is an area we have visited before so decided instead to explore the estuary of the Somme with its salt marshes where salicorn (samphire) is harvested, its small fishing boats and many species of wild birds. The pretty coastal road took us through Cayeux-sur-Mer where many of the buildings are of brick and very much in the Flemish style. The town is a very popular destination with the Belgians who braved the wind on the beaches with their children. Indeed the atmosphere felt so very Flemish we began to wonder whether we’d inadvertently crossed out of France! Nearby we discovered the small coastal resort of Brighton!!

Brick-built Fishermen’s Church, Cayeux-sur-Mer, Picardy

The lighthouse at Le Hourdel stands amidst the marshes on the bar between the sea and the estuary of the Somme. The few houses clustered along the quayside where the small fishing boats unload their catches of Dieppois shrimps are built in the same typically Flemish style and around us children on school holidays were chattering in Dutch, yet we are still a couple of hours drive from the border! We lingered at this very pleasant spot listening to the gulls as they followed the fishing boats in across the bar from the open sea.

Marshes at Le Hourdel, Picardy

Fishing boats at the quayside, Le Hourdel, Picardy

By the time we moved on we needed to find a campsite for the evening. So we are now on a friendly site near Abbeville which we will investigate tomorrow. I think there may be others staying here but we’ve not actually seen anyone. The showers are heated which is a bonus when the price is just 12 Euros including the electricity!

Wednesday 11th April 2012, Arras, Artois
We spent a chilly morning exploring Abbeville. It’s very pleasant with building constructed predominantly in Flemish red bricks or weatherboard. The town obviously suffered during both the first and second World Wars so, although there are wonderful architectural gems such as the flamboyant gothic Collegial church of St. Vulfran, they stand amidst modern residential flats and shopping areas.

Street in Abbeville, Picardy

Main square with Collegiate church of St. Vulfran, Abbeville, Picardy

Façade of the flamboyant gothic church of St. Vulfran, Abbeville, Picardy

Detail from the façade of St. Vulfran, Abbeville, Picardy

None of the public buildings, churches or museums were open so, after coffee and croissants near the fountain on the main square, we continued on our way towards the Belgian border, the towns through which we passed becoming ever more Flemish in style.

We had expected to see British war graves cemeteries in the region of the Somme. We found just one solitary grave in a village cemetery. Instead however, we found ourselves seeking out the battlefields of an earlier age. We do not have any guide books with us to this area of France but, seeing a sign to the town of Crécy, we turned off to investigate.

British war grave from WWI in a cemetery near Crécy, Picardy

One of the major battles of the Hundred Years War between the English and the French the battle of Crécy was fought between the Edward III of England and the French king Philippe VI in August 1346 on rising ground just outside the village. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the English, led by the Black Prince, won a decisive battle, thanks in part to the superior power of the British longbow over the heavier and more cumbersome crossbow of the French. During the battle the French army was supported by Genoese mercenaries and by John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia. He was killed in the battle and as a sign of respect the Black Prince took his standard of three feathers and the motto “Ich dien” as his own. Henceforth it has been used by the eldest son of the reigning British monarch. Near the battlefield we found a monument commemorating the courage in battle of the elderly John of Luxembourg who was almost blind.

Battle of Crécy, 1346, Picardy

Battlefield of Crécy, 1346, Picardy

Monument to John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, Battle of Crécy, 1346, Picardy

Looking at our map we realised we were not far from another battlefield of the Hundred Years War, that of Agincourt, also an English victory, immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry V. We just had to go there! Abandoning what vague plans we had we headed across country to the site of the battle some 40 kilometres away. The reality was not as glamorous as Shakespeare’s play leads one to believe. The village has a museum of the battle but otherwise there is little to see. We found the viewpoint for the battlefield and looked out across peaceful agricultural farmland trying to imagine the troops lined up on either side and the frenzy of the battle held on St. Crispin’s day in October 1415. As at Crécy, the English troops were heavily outnumbered. As too at Crecy, English fighting tactics, particularly with the longbow, won the day.

Battle of Agincourt, 1415, Artois

Viewpoint overlooking the battlefield of Agincourt, Artois

Battlefield of Agincourt, 1415, Artois

The King’s Speech to his troops before the battle of Agincourt.

“..... This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.”

Well, after that the rest of the day could almost be an anticlimax! We reached Arras late afternoon and after mundane shopping for supper for all of us – a ready cooked chicken for us, diesel for Modestine – we found the only campsite in the area and settled for the evening as the sun set.