Category Archives: France

Postcard From Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont St Michel Postcard

From the Visitor Centre there is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

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Entrance Tickets – Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds Castle

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in France because, according to the Official Tourist Board, there are almost five-thousand but it seems to me to includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and just about two thousand five hundred in Spain.

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Newark-on-Trent, The English Civil War and The Castle

Newark Civil War Statue

After leaving the church I made my way through the elegant streets of Newark passing by half timbered medieval houses, grand Georgian mansions and rows of traditional shops.  In places it reminded me of The Shambles in York but without the crowds or the tourist tat shops.

My next destination was the National Civil War Museum because since my Dad bought me an Airfix model kit of Oliver Cromwell in about 1960 I have always been fascinated by the English Civil War.  I think this was a defining moment in my life, I immediately became a Roundhead, a Parliamentarian and later a socialist, on the side of the people fighting against wealth, influence, privilege and injustice.

There was also an Airfix model of Charles I but I had Cromwell first.

Crowell Charles Airfix

I also blame a book my Dad gave me about British heroes in which Cromwell was included but Charles Stuart wasn’t.

An illustration from the book…

Oliver Cromwell

In 2002 the BBC conducted a poll to identify the Greatest Briton and Cromwell came tenth, hard to believe that he could come behind Diana, Princess of Wales  and John Lennon but there you are, such is the nature of these polls and the mentality of the people who vote.  Two thousand years of history and Princess Diana and John Lennon make the top ten.  It leaves me speechless.

Due to its strategic significance linking north of the country with the south Newark had an important part to play in the Civil War and the town and its castle supported the Royalist cause and suffered in three destructive sieges which brought destruction, pestilence and disease to the town.  Parliamentary forces and their Scottish allies were desperate to oust the Royalist garrison. The last siege saw over sixteen thousand troops seal off the Nottinghamshire town and dam a river to stop water mills producing bread and gunpowder. An outbreak of typhus and plague added to Newark’s woes as the population swelled to six thousand as people fled to the town from the countryside, creating near starvation conditions.

A third of the inhabitants died and one in six buildings were destroyed.  Despite this calamity, the Royalist troops refused to give in.  The garrison were brave supporters of the King and the Cavaliers but eventually were obliged to surrender upon the inevitable capture of Charles.

It is an interesting museum but I found it a little disappointing, it is rather small and although it has some interesting exhibits the information boards and displays give only facts but not interpretation.  I wanted more than iron breast plates and plumed hats, more than flintlocks and helmets but I guess museums like these are for tourists rather than historians.

Newark Civil War Museum

I have always considered the English Civil War to be the most important conflict of modern Europe because this was a revolution which provided a blueprint for those that followed, principally the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The revolution begins with the moderates calling for reasonable and restrained reform for the exclusive benefit of the aforementioned wealthy and privileged who wanted even more power and wealth.  The problem with moderates of course is that they are on the whole reasonable people but by beginning a process of reform they provide an opportunity  for radicals and agitators to go much further and the English Revolution like those that followed swiftly gained pace.  After the radicals came the extremists, then war, then terror, then regicide.

The English Civil War swept away the supremacy of the Church of England, ended the Divine Right of Kings and embodied the principal of Parliamentary Sovereignty into UK politics.  It was the end of medieval feudalism and paved the way for the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the next century.  At its most radical period it introduced the principals of socialism and even communism through the power of the New Model Army and the social ambitions of the Diggers and the Levellers, both proto-socialist political movements.

It is a shame that King Charles had his head cut off but even after sixty years or so of being given that Airfix model I confess that I remain a loyal Roundhead rather than a Cavalier.

One thing that I did learn at the museum is that musket balls were made from lead and that 1lb of lead would make twelve balls and that this is the origin of the twelve bore shotgun.

Newark Castle 01

I finished my day at the ruins of Newark Castle. Prior to the Civil War it was a grand medieval showpiece fortress but today it is an empty shell. The Parliamentarian forces blew it up and left it derelict to make sure that it could never again be used as a royalist obstacle to parliamentary supremacy.  After the troops were obliged to leave it fell into disrepair and to the mercy of stone thieves who dismantled it as a convenient supply of building material until we are left with what we see today.

It is still rather grand, especially when viewed from the opposite bank of the River Trent but beyond the outer east wall nothing remains except the ghosts of history and pleasant modern gardens.

I had enjoyed my day at Newark-on-Trent and as I drove away I thought to myself that it was about time that I spent more days in the United Kingdom.

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Postcard From Île de Ré, France

Ile de Re Postcard

“The French cannot get the hang of queueing.  They try and try but it is beyond them… you see orderly lines waiting at bus stops, but as soon as the bus arrives the line disintegrates into something like a fire drill at a lunatic asylum….” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

Today we planned to take a bus ride to Saint Martin-de-Ré on the Ile de Ré that was about an hour’s journey away, so, knowing that the French are the World’s worst queue jumpers we arrived at the bus station in good time to find the departure point and stand with sharpened elbows at the front of the line.  There was no line of course, just a disorderly crowd of people that was steadily getting larger and more excitable as we waited for the bus.

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Thursday Doors – Vic-Sur-Aisne in Northern France

Vic-Sur-Aines France Picardy

Vic-Sur-Aisne turned out to be a rather interesting town. During the First-World-War it was almost permanently on the front line with fighting never far away. It sits equidistance between the major battle sites of the Somme to the north and Verdun to the east. What made it important was that it was a major railway interchange where troops would be transferred back and forth to the battle lines in between front line duty and periods of rest or to be hospitalised.

This meant that it came under regular enemy fire and even today the older buildings in the town show pock-marked battle scars where shells and bullets had picked away at the stones and the bricks.

You can read more about my visit to Vic-Sur-Aisne by clicking here.

Vic Sur Aisne Door

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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A Postcard From Northern France

France Postcard

My favourite part of all of France.

Something like ten-million British travellers arrive in Calais each year and then without looking left or right, or stopping for even a moment head for the motorways and the long drive south and in doing so they miss the treat of visiting this Anglo-neglected part of France; the Côte d’Opale is a craggy, green, undulating and often dramatic coastline stretching for eighty miles between the port towns of Calais and the Baie de la Somme and the mouth of the river.

English tourists may avoid it but it has been long prized by the French and the Belgians, who enjoy the informal seafood restaurants in fishing villages dotted along the coast and the miles of intriguing coves and sandy beaches that run all the way down this coast that looks across at the south coast of England and leaks away inland to a glorious countryside.

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Early Days, 1957 Part One – Sister, Scouting, Soccer and Space

1957 andrew-and-lindsay

In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born and I got a new hand knitted cardigan.

Here we are sixty years later, still smiling…

Andrew and Lindsay

But around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.

The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and shameless Anglophobe President de Gaulle.

Forty-five years later a majority in UK wish that de Gaulle had got his own way.

1957 europe common market

1957 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Boy Scouts which began in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant General in the British Army, who had served in  India and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset.

I joined the Wolf Cubs when I was seven years old and after I had passed all the tests and received my Leaping Wolf Certificate moved up to the Scouts when I was eleven.  At first I was in the Paddox Troop but later transferred to the Hillmorton, which was good for me because dad was the Scoutmaster, which gave me a bit of an advantage when it came to passing tests and getting badges.

This is me in 1965 wearing my version of the Aussie Baggy Green Cap.

swd774

I liked the Scouts and the quasi-military organisation that came with it with the uniforms and the kit inspections, the law book and solemn promise and the fact that I could legitimately carry a hunting knife on my belt without being challenged.  Boys stayed in the Scouts until they were sixteen but I never saw it through to the end; Dad fell out with the Group Scout Master, Harry Newman in 1969, walked out and never waggled his woggle again and that November I discovered girls and that hanky-panky was much more fun than gin-gan-gooly and that was goodbye to the Scouts, which was a shame because I was only a couple of tests away from my First Class Scouts badge at the time.

You can read more about the Boy Scouts in these two posts…

Age of innocence – Boy Scouts

Robert Baden Powell and Scouting

1957 lewisham rail crash

On a serious note there was a major train crash disaster in 1957 when two trains collided in thick fog which killed ninety-two people and injured another one hundred and seventy-three.  I mention this because the accident was in Lewisham in south-east London and only a couple of miles or so from the town of Catford where my grandparents lived and who we used to visit regularly.

In sport Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the almost unbelievable age of forty-four.  He has the record for the longest serving England career at twenty-three years and remains the oldest man to ever play for England.  Let’s face it; it is completely unlikely that this record will ever be beaten.  He didn’t retire from football altogether at this time though and he continued playing at the very highest level in the English First Division with Stoke City until he was fifty years old when he finally retired in 1964.

stanley-matthews

I can actually remember seeing Stanley Matthews myself because from about seven years old dad started to take me to Filbert Street to watch Leicester City.

Football grounds were totally different to the all seater stadiums that we are used to now and were predominantly standing affairs.  I was only a little lad so it was important to go early to get a good spot on the wall just behind the goal.  This required an early arrival and although matches didn’t start until three o’clock dad used to get us there for the opening of the gates at about one.

This must have required great patience on his part because two hours is a long time to wait for a football match to start standing on cold concrete terracing and I really didn’t appreciate at the time that all of this was done just for me.  In the 1960s of course it was common to have pre-match entertainment when local marching bands would give a thirty minute medley of tunes up until kick off time so at least there was something to watch.

lcfc-filbert-street

Footballers like Matthews were completely different from the prima donnas of the modern game; they got stuck in and played like men with a big heavy leather football, shirts that became waterlogged and uncomfortable in the rain and the mud and boots that would have been more appropriate for wearing down a coal mine.  What’s more it wasn’t unusual to watch the same eleven men play week after week because they just shrugged off the knocks that put modern players out for weeks.  An injury had to be almost life threatening to stop somebody playing in those days.

Off the ground there were two important airborne events in 1957 that were important for the future.  There was the first flight of the Boeing 707 which was to become important in increasing travel opportunities and in the USSR the sputnik programme began with the launch of Sputnik1, which was an event that triggered the space race between the two world superpowers the US and the USSR both bursting with testosterone and competing with each other to rule the modern world.

space racespace man